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Topics - JDB

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The true reason US fears Iranian nukes: they can deter US attacks
GOP Senator Lindsey Graham echoes a long line of US policymakers: Iran must not be allowed to deter US

Glenn Greenwald, Tue 2 Oct 2012 15.27 BST

In the Washington Post today, Richard Cohen expresses surprise that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is "starting to make some sense" and "wax rationally". Cohen specifically cites this statement from the Iranian president last week:
"Let's even imagine that we have an atomic weapon, a nuclear weapon. What would we do with it? What intelligent person would fight 5,000 American bombs with one bomb?"

Cohen's surprise notwithstanding, numerous Iranian leaders, including Ahmadinejad, have long made the same point. And it's a point so obvious it should not even need to be made. No rational person takes seriously the claim that Iran, even if it did obtain a nuclear weapon, would commit instant and guaranteed national suicide by using it to attack a nation that has a huge nuclear stockpile, which happens to include both the US and Israel. One can locate nothing in the actions of Iran's regime that even suggests irrationality on that level, let alone suicidal impulses.

That Iran will use its nuclear weapons against the US and Israel is rather obviously the centerpiece of the fear-mongering campaign against Tehran, to build popular support for threats to launch an aggressive attack in order to prevent them from acquiring that weapon. So what, then, is the real reason that so many people in both the US and Israeli governments are so desperate to stop Iranian proliferation?

Every now and then, they reveal the real reason: Iranian nuclear weapons would prevent the US from attacking Iran at will, and that is what is intolerable. The latest person to unwittingly reveal the real reason for viewing an Iranian nuclear capacity as unacceptable was GOP Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the US's most reliable and bloodthirsty warmongers.

On Monday, Graham spoke in North Augusta, South Carolina, and was asked about the way in which sanctions were harming ordinary Iranians. Ayman Hossam Fadel was present and recorded the exchange. Answering that question, Graham praised President Obama for threatening Iran with war over nuclear weapons, decreed that "the Iranian people should be willing to suffer now for a better future," and then – invoking the trite neocon script that is hauled out whenever new wars are being justified – analogized Iranian nukes to Hitler in the 1930s. But in the middle of his answer, he explained the real reason Iranian nuclear weapons should be feared:
"They have two goals: one, regime survival. The best way for the regime surviving, in their mind, is having a nuclear weapon, because when you have a nuclear weapon, nobody attacks you."

Graham added that the second regime goal is "influence", that "people listen to you" when you have a nuclear weapon. In other words, we cannot let Iran acquire nuclear weapons because if they get them, we can no longer attack them when we want to and can no longer bully them in their own region.

Graham's answer is consistent with what various American policy elites have said over the years about America's enemies generally and Iran specifically: the true threat of nuclear proliferation is that it can deter American aggression. Thomas Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute and the New American Century Project has long been crystal clear that this is the real reason for opposing Iranian nuclear capability [my emphasis]:
"When their missiles are tipped with warheads carrying nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons, even weak regional powers have a credible deterrent regardless of the balance of conventional forces … In the post cold war era, America and its allies, rather than the Soviet Union, have become the primary objects of deterrence and it is states like Iraq, Iran and North Korea who most wish to develop deterrent capabilities."

He added:
"The surest deterrent to American action is a functioning nuclear arsenal …
"To be sure, the prospect of a nuclear Iran is a nightmare. But it is less a nightmare because of the high likelihood that Tehran would employ its weapons or pass them on to terrorist groups – although that is not beyond the realm of possibility – and more because of the constraining effect it threatens to impose upon US strategy for the greater Middle East. The danger is that Iran will 'extend' its deterrence, either directly or de facto, to a variety of states and other actors throughout the region. This would be an ironic echo of the extended deterrence thought to apply to US allies during the cold war."

As Jonathan Schwarz has extensively documented, this is what US policy elites have said over and over. In 2001, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned:

"Several of these [small enemy nations] are intensely hostile to the United States and are arming to deter us from bringing our conventional or nuclear power to bear in a regional crisis."
In 2002, State Department official Philip Zelikow said that if Iraq were permitted to keep its WMDs, "they now can deter us from attacking them, because they really can retaliate against us." In 2008, Democratic Senator Chuck Robb and GOP Senator Dan Coates wrote an incredibly hawkish Washington Post op-ed all but demanding an attack on Iran, and wrote:

"[A]n Islamic Republic of Iran with nuclear weapons capability would be strategically untenable. It would threaten U.S. national security … While a nuclear attack is the worst-case scenario, Iran would not need to employ a nuclear arsenal to threaten US interests. Simply obtaining the ability to quickly assemble a nuclear weapon would effectively give Iran a nuclear deterrent."

The No 1 concern of American national security planners appears to be that countries may be able to prevent the US from attacking them at will, whether to change their regimes or achieve other objectives. In other words, Iranian nuclear weapons could be used to prevent wars – ones started by the US – and that, above all, is what we must fear.

(Graham's questioner said that she believed Iran was not committed to developing a nuclear weapon, and Graham responded that Israeli leaders had reached the opposite conclusion. That is simply false.)
Whatever one thinks of Iran, the signal the US has sent to the world is unmistakable: any rational government should acquire nuclear weapons. The Iranians undoubtedly watched the US treatment of two dictators who gave up their quest for nuclear weapons – Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Libya's Muammar Gaddafi – and drew the only reasoned lesson: the only way a country can protect itself from US attack, other than full-scale obeisance, is to acquire nuclear weapons. That is precisely why the US and Israel are so eager to ensure they do not.

Colin Powell's New Book: War With Iraq Never Debated

Huffington Post

WASHINGTON -- In his new book, former Secretary of State Colin Powell provides what may be the most authoritative confirmation yet that there was never a considered debate in the George W. Bush White House about whether going to war in Iraq was really a good idea.

In a chapter discussing what he calls his “infamous” February 2003 speech to the United Nations where he authoritatively presented what was later exposed as gross misinformation about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, Powell notes that by that time, war “was approaching.”

“By then, the President did not think war could be avoided,” Powell writes. “He had crossed the line in his own mind, even though the NSC [National Security Council] had never met -- and never would meet -- to discuss the decision.”

The National Security Council, which was at the time led by Condoleezza Rice, is the president’s foremost advisory body for national security and foreign policy.

The book, “It Worked For Me: In Life and Leadership,” which will be released May 22, is largely a series of leadership parables from Powell, who now spends a lot of time on the lecture circuit. The Huffington Post obtained an advance copy.

Bush insisted in his own 2010 memoir, "Decision Points," that the invasion was something he came to support only reluctantly and after a long period of reflection. During his book tour, he even cast himself as “a dissenting voice” in the run-up to war. “I didn't wanna use force,” he said.

But Powell supports the increasingly well-documented conclusion that there was actually no decision-making point -- or decision-making process -- during the events between the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, which had nothing to do with those attacks.

Former CIA Director George Tenet made an admission similar to Powell’s in his own 2007 memoir. "There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat," he wrote. Nor "was there ever a significant discussion" about the possibility of containing Iraq without an invasion.

Indeed, history shows that Bush had long wanted to strike out at Saddam Hussein and was trying to link Iraq to 9/11 within a day of the terrorist attacks.

The first concrete evidence was the Downing Street Memos first published in 2005, which documented the conclusions of British officials after high-level talks in Washington in July 2002 that “[m]ilitary action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

An analysis of the historical record by the National Security Archives in 2010 concluded that, “In contrast to an extensive record of planning for actual military operations, there is no record that President George W. Bush ever made a considered decision for war. All of the numerous White House and Pentagon meetings concerned moving the project forward, not whether a march into conflict was a proper course for the United States and its allies. Deliberations were instrumental to furthering the war project, not considerations of the basic course.”

The war, which President Barack Obama officially brought to an end Dec. 31, cost the U.S. government around $3 trilllion, left 4,487 U.S. servicemembers dead and killed more than 100,000 Iraqis. The Pentagon counts 32,226 U.S. servicemembers wounded, but the toll, including cumulative psychological and physiological damage, may be as high as half a million.

In Powell’s explanation of how he came to provide the misleading and inaccurate account of Iraq’s WMD capability at the UN, the former secretary of state points an incriminating finger at Vice President Dick Cheney’s office -- confirming previous reports such as the one by Karen DeYoung, in her Powell biography.

In the new book, Powell describes his reaction to the initial “WMD case” from the White House. “It was a disaster. It was incoherent,” he writes. “I learned later that Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, had authored the unusable presentation, not the NSC staff. And several years after that, I learned from Dr. Rice that the idea of using Libby had come from the Vice President, who had persuaded the President to have Libby, a lawyer, write the ‘case’ as a lawyer's brief and not as an intelligence assessment.”

Powell gives himself credit for rejecting continued appeals from Cheney to add “assertions that had been rejected months earlier to links between Iraq and 9/11 and other terrorist acts.”

All in all, Powell acknowledges that the speech was “one of my most momentous failures, the one with the widest-ranging impact.” But he also concludes that “every senior U.S. official would have made the exact same case,”

He adds: “I get mad when bloggers accuse me of lying -- of knowing the information was false. I didn’t.”

The lesson of all this, Powell writes, is to follow these guidelines: “Always try to get over failure quickly. Learn from it. Study how you contributed to it. If you are responsible for it, own up to it.”

But Powell didn’t exactly own up to this for years. His former chief of staff, Col. Larry Wilkerson, first went public in 2005 with details of a secret cabal led by the vice president which hijacked U.S. foreign policy and hoodwinked the president. Wilkerson also argued for years that there was never a formal decision to go to war. Powell conspicuously failed to back him up at the time.

So what does Wilkerson make of Powell’s conclusory lessons? “Powell’s rules are for everyone else,” he told HuffPost on Wednesday.

General Discussion / An Interracial Fix for Black Marriage
« on: August 08, 2011, 05:42:41 AM »
An Interracial Fix for Black Marriage

Black women could find more partners across the race line—and it might just spur more black couples to wed


"At this point in my life," says Audrey, age 39, "I thought I'd be married with children." A native of southeast Washington, D.C., and the child of parents who are approaching their 50th wedding anniversary, Audrey seems like the proverbial "good catch"—smart, funny, well-educated, attractive.
Audrey earns a good living, too, with an income from management consulting that far surpasses what her parents ever made. Her social life is busy as well, filled with family, friends and church.
What Audrey lacks is a husband. As she told me, sitting at a restaurant in the fashionable Dupont Circle neighborhood of the nation's capital, "I'm trying to get to a point where I accept that marriage may never happen for me."

Audrey belongs to the most unmarried group of people in the U.S.: black women. Nearly 70% of black women are unmarried, and the racial gap in marriage spans the socioeconomic spectrum, from the urban poor to well-off suburban professionals. Three in 10 college-educated black women haven't married by age 40; their white peers are less than half as likely to have remained unwed.

What explains this marriage gap? As a black man, my interest in the issue is more than academic. I've looked at all the studies—the history, the social science, the government data—and I've spent a year traveling the country interviewing scores of professional black women. In exchange for my promise to conceal their identities (in part by using pseudonyms, as I've done here), they shared with me their most personal experiences and desires in relation to marriage and family.

I came away convinced of two facts: Black women confront the worst relationship market of any group because of economic and cultural forces that are not of their own making; and they have needlessly worsened their situation by limiting themselves to black men. I also arrived at a startling conclusion: Black women can best promote black marriage by opening themselves to relationships with men of other races.
Audrey and other black women confront a social scene in which desirable black men are scarce.
Part of the problem is incarceration. More than two million men are now imprisoned in the U.S., and roughly 40% of them are African-American. At any given time, more than 10% of black men in their 20s or 30s—prime marrying ages—are in jail or prison.

Educationally, black men also lag. There are roughly 1.4 million black women now in college, compared to just 900,000 black men. By graduation, black women outnumber men 2-to-1. Among graduate-school students, in 2008 there were 125,000 African-American women but only 58,000 African-American men. That same year, black women received more than three out of every five law or medical degrees awarded to African-Americans.
These problems translate into dimmer economic prospects for black men, and the less a man earns, the less likely he is to marry. That's how the relationship market operates. Marriage is a matter of love and commitment, but it is also an exchange. A black man without a job or the likelihood of landing one cannot offer a woman enough to make that exchange worthwhile.

But poor black men are not the only ones who don't marry. At every income level, black men are less likely to marry than are their white counterparts. And the marriage gap is wider among men who earn more than $100,000 a year than among men who earn, say, $50,000 or $60,000 a year.
The dynamics of the relationship market offer one explanation for this pattern. Because black men are in short supply, their options are better than those of black women. A desirable black man who ends a relationship with one woman will find many others waiting; that's not so for black women.
If many black women remain unmarried because they think they have too few options, some black men stay single because they think they have so many. The same numbers imbalance that makes life difficult for black women may be a source of power for black men. Why cash in, they reason, when it is so easy to continue to play?

Black women who do marry often end up with black men who are less accomplished than they are. They are more likely than any other group of women to earn more than their husbands. More than half of college-educated black wives are better educated than their husbands.

The prevalence of relationships between professional black women and blue-collar black men may help to explain another aspect of the racial gap in marriage: Even as divorce rates have declined for most groups during the past few decades, more than half of black marriages dissolve.

Cecelia, a corporate lawyer who graduated from Columbia Law School, married a construction worker. When he relocated from Denver to her brownstone in Harlem, it took him the better part of a year to find work. "It was a huge strain on the relationship," Cecelia told me. She didn't mind his being out of work, but he did. "He was uncomfortable living off me," Cecelia said. The marriage didn't last.

So why don't more black women, especially the most accomplished of them, marry men of other races? Why do they marry down so much and out so little?
Black women lead by far the most segregated intimate lives of any minority group in the U.S. They are less than half as likely as black men to wed across racial lines. Only about 1 in 20 black women are interracially married.

Part of the reason, again, is the market. Numerous studies of Internet dating confirm that black women are the partners least desired by non-black men.

But that's not the whole story. Even if a majority of white men are uninterested in dating black women, that still leaves more than enough eligible white men for every single black woman in America. Moreover, many major urban areas have large numbers of Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern and Latino men, some of whom, according to at least one study of Internet dating, are more responsive to black women than are black men.
To understand the intimate segregation of black women, we must go beyond the question of whether black women are wanted and look instead at what they want. For some black women, the personal choice of an intimate partner is political. They want to help black men, not abandon them. As one woman told me, "If you know your history, how can you not support black men?"
Others prefer black men because they don't think a relationship with a non-black man would work. They worry about rejection by a would-be spouse's family or the awkwardness of having to explain oneself to a non-black partner.

As one 31-year-old schoolteacher in D.C. told me, "It's easy to date a black man because he knows about my hair. He knows I don't wash it every day. He knows I'm going to put the scarf on [to keep it in place at night]." Discussions about hair may seem trivial, but for many black women, just the thought of having the "hair talk" makes them tired. It's emblematic of so much else they'd have to teach.
Some black women resist interracial marriage for a more primal reason. Long before Cecelia began her ill-fated relationship with her now ex-husband, she dated a white law-school classmate. They broke up because she couldn't imagine having children with him. "I wanted chocolate babies," she explained to me.
Given her milk-chocolate complexion, green eyes and curly hair, Cecelia worried that a biracial baby might come out looking white. Cecelia wanted chocolate babies not just so they would stay connected to black culture, but for another reason as well: So that no one would ever question whether they were hers. With biracial children, she feared that she might be mistaken for the nanny. Many black women share her anxiety about having a biracial child.

What would happen if more black women opened themselves to the possibility of marrying non-black men?
To start, they might find themselves in better relationships. Some professional black women would no doubt discover that they are more compatible with a white, Asian or Latino coworker or college classmate than with the black guy they grew up with, who now works at the auto shop.

By opening themselves to relationships with men of other races, black women would also lessen the power disparity that depresses the African-American marriage rate. As more black women expanded their options, black women as a group would have more leverage with black men. Even black women who remained unwilling to love across the color line would benefit from other black women's willingness to do so.
It's hard to resist the paradoxical possibility that, if more black women married non-black men, then more black men and women might, in time, marry each other.

Top European clubs threaten to break away from Fifa and Uefa

• ECA teams unhappy about finances and international fixtures
• Clubs may bypass governing bodies and run their own affairs

Matt Scott,   
Wednesday 27 July 2011

Clubs are poised for a showdown with the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, unless they get assurances from the football's governing body. Photograph: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters
European clubs will break away from Fifa and Uefa and create their own super league unless the world governing body urgently addresses their growing concerns over international fixtures and finances. It would be the most radical development in the history of football since the first World Cup in 1930, ripping up the established world order of the game and seizing power from Sepp Blatter, Fifa's president.

The Guardian can reveal the background to Karl-Heinz Rummenigge's comments on Tuesday about a "revolution" for football: a European super league that would see the clubs seize control of their own affairs from the regulators. The European game is currently ordered through a memorandum of understanding between clubs and Uefa that was signed three and a half years ago. It runs until 2014, and when it expires the top European clubs will no longer be legally bound to play in Uefa's Champions League or, crucially, to release their players for international friendlies or tournaments, including the World Cup.

In a reflection of their belief that Fifa lacks legitimacy – especially in the wake of the damaging bribery allegations currently surrounding the organisation – the clubs will not shrink from breaking away if they do not receive sufficient guarantees.

A board member of the European Club Association of which Bayern Munich's Rummenigge is president told the Guardian on Wednesday: "The fact that Bayern Munich, who have always been close to the institutions, are being so vocal and loud about the situation is a clear sign we're very close to breaking point. We have a memorandum of understanding with Uefa that expires in 2014. After that time we can no longer be forced to respect Fifa statutes or Uefa regulations. And we won't be obliged to compete in their competitions."

When asked what that would mean for clubs' finances if they were to withdraw from the Champions League, which generates tens of millions of pounds a year for his organisation's richest and most influential members, the ECA board member responded: "Don't be naive. Don't think there would be no alternative competition."

Although the ECA has a broad constituency, representing 197 European clubs, it is the interests of nine in particular that will drive this agenda. They are Real Madrid, Milan, Liverpool, Internazionale, Manchester United, Barcelona, Arsenal, Chelsea and Rummenigge's Bayern. When the Guardian contacted the four English clubs for their views on the matter, all declined to comment. However, a director at one of the clubs said: "[Financially] there is a lot of unfulfilled potential in football as it stands."

The English experience of the past 20 years, since a breakaway group of the leading clubs withdrew from the Football League to form the Premier League (albeit under the auspices of the Football Association), has been exceptionally lucrative for the game domestically and the hawks within the ECA are pushing for a replica at European level.

The news will not come as a surprise at Uefa where in some quarters there is a long-held view that the clubs will seek to go their own way. This has arisen from a number of points of conflict with the world football authorities. As revealed by the Guardian last month there is considerable disquiet about perceived moves to expand the international calendar, forcing clubs to release their expensively remunerated players to national associations without any payback. Fifa denies there have been any discussions about the subject but the ECA source claimed that the matter will be ratified at a Fifa executive-committee meeting in the autumn. As is consistent with relations between Fifa and the clubs, the decision will have been taken without any formal negotiations with the clubs about how the additional fixtures would be accommodated.

There is a further grievance, this time with Uefa about insurance. The ECA alleges Uefa has pulled back from its commitment to provide insurance for players who are called up for international duty. "Uefa said we would have our insurance after their presidential elections [in March]," the source said. "Now the elections have taken place and we're still waiting for talks." A spokesman for Uefa did not respond to the Guardian's call.

Yet despite the details of the enduring dispute between the clubs and Fifa and Uefa, there is an overriding financial motive. "When you have every club losing money every year and the only winners the players and Fifa," the source said, "how can that be allowed to go on?"

Six key questions on why top clubs could stage a European revolt

Football / Surreal Football's - Transfer Flowcharts
« on: July 12, 2011, 10:38:43 AM »
Some funny flowcharts presented at Surreal Football

I'll just post a couple but you can find all of them HERE.


Football / Zonal Marking.Com's European Team of the Season
« on: July 08, 2011, 11:13:22 AM »
ZM’s European Team of the Season 2010/11

A self-explanatory list of eleven starters, and eleven substitutes.

Edwin van der Sar, Manchester United

A disappointing performance in the Champions League final was a cruel way for an outstanding career to end. The Dutchman’s 21st and final season of professional football was arguably his best, and it’s difficult to remember a footballer in modern times going out at such a high level – Zinedine Zidane may come to mind, but he wouldn’t have been considered Europe’s top midfielder in 2005/06, his final campaign, whereas van der Sar was the best goalkeeper around in 2010/11. His main quality was not his shot-stopping skills, his command of the box or his ability with his feet, but his ability to inspire calmness and confidence in the Manchester United back four.

Daniel Alves, Barcelona

In a team full of technical quality, Alves’ main threat comes from his physical ability. Opponents know exactly what he’s going to do – scamper up and down the right touchline all game, but if they can’t compete with his speed or stamina, the Brazilian is almost impossible to stop. His energy levels are quite extraordinary, and he provides the attacking width that lets Barcelona’s right-sided forward coming inside without losing the width the club has always loved to play with. Defensively he is occasionally suspect but nothing like the weak link some make out, and his defensive work has often been done preemptively, by pushing the opposing left-winger back into his own third of the pitch, like in the game against Sevilla.

Mats Hummels, Dortmund

Hummels’ partnership with Neven Subotic was Europe’s best this season, but there was no doubt who the main man was. Hummels went from ‘promising’ to ‘world class’ within the space of a few months, consistently turning in superb displays and attracting attention even in a side full of star performers in 2010/11. Hummels is an intelligent, composed defender who is positionally excellent and has great anticipation skills – he rarely dives into tackles, demonstrated by the fact he only picked up two bookings in the league all season, and has a great leap for aerial contests. He’s also useful on the ball, and scored four times with headers, including the clicher in the crucial away win at Bayern.

Thiago Silva, Milan

Serie A’s best defender has an even more enviable disciplinary record than Hummels, having collected just a single booking in 2010/11, proving that the best defenders spent as little time as possible sliding around on their backsides. Being the star performer in a backline also containing Alessandro Nesta shows what a fine defender Silva has become – cool on the ground, dominant in the air, he’s been Milan’s most reliable player by a long way. He even tried his hand at playing in midfield with some success, but it’s at centre-back where he will come to be regarded as one of the best in the world.

Marcelo, Real Madrid

For the second season in succession, left-back has been a little lacking in quality across the continent. In all probability, Marcelo will not be Real Madrid’s first-choice left-back next season, with Fabio Coentrao seemingly on the brink of joining from Benfica – but that’s extremely harsh on Marcelo, who is one of three Brazilians to make this side’s back four. Like Alves, he is at his best going forward – and his runs were so crucial in Cristiano Ronaldo’s record-breaking season – when Marcelo provides width, Ronaldo can come inside and shoot – when Marcelo isn’t playing, such as against Lyon, Ronaldo is much less effective.

Xavi Hernandez, Barcelona

At the start of the season in which he became Barcelona’s record appearance holder, there were reports that Xavi’s troublesome Achilles injury would cause him to miss a significant number of minutes this season. Until Christmas, he only completed three league games. Being nursed through the first few months of the season helped him stay fit for the second half of the season, and he ended up excelling yet again – breaking more passing records and coming up with some crucial goals – the opener in the 5-0 against Real Madrid and and ‘equaliser’ (over two legs) against Arsenal. The consistency of his performance over the past three years is astonishing.

Nuri Sahin, Dortmund

Playing as part of a fashionable double pivot in midfielder, Sahin was frequently the driving force in Dortmund’s excellent displays. A busy player but also technically superb, the Turkey international is a complete midfielder – you could ask him to hold, to play a box-to-box role or work as a playmaker, and you’d still be sure of a good performance. Sahin plays clever passes rather than spectacular ones – he moves forward and looks to slide the ball through the defence with his stronger left foot, and his quick thinking has been crucial in Dortmund’s transitions on the break. He also came up with some important goals, notably excellent strikes home and away against Bayern.

Theo Janssen, Twente

It’s often tough to assess the true ability of players in the Eredivisie, such is the difference in quality between top and bottom. Janssen earns his place on this list, however, by his frequent star performances in the biggest games. He scored two in the first league meeting against Ajax, another two (including a superb run from his own half) in the crucial 2-0 win over PSV, and also netted a belting, if ultimately futile, long-range effort in the final day title decider against Ajax. In the four games against two title rivals, five goals is pretty good for a midfielder, and his displays across the season have seen many name him the Eredivisie player of the year.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid

Ronaldo’s goalscoring heroics have become so routine that it’s worth considering again what he achieved this campaign – the first La Liga player in history to score 40 goals in a season (from only 32 starts) as well as becoming the first player to win the European Golden Shoe in two different leagues, a record which shouldn’t be overlooked considering how many players have excelled in one country, then looked poor in another. He has the ability to completely dominate a game – see the 4-2 win over Villarreal, when he scored a hattrick and set up the other – despite the fact that Real were second best for much of the contest. He also won the Copa del Rey final with a brilliant header that would be regarded as ‘classic Ronaldo’ if it wasn’t for his supreme talent in other aspects of the game.

Edinson Cavani, Napoli

Cavani opened his Napoli account just eight minutes into his debut against Fiorentina, and went onto have his best season by some distance. He turned in some magnificent individual performances – his hattrick of headers against Juventus, his double against Roma and his hattrick in possibly the most entertaining game of the season in the crazy 4-3 win over Lazio spring to mind. Able to play wide or through the middle according to how Walter Mazzarri wanted to set up tactically, Cavani was more often than not outstanding in his all-round game, not just in front of goal. Napoli were one of the season’s success stories, a side most neutrals loved to watch, and Cavani was the main reason.

Lionel Messi, Barcelona

Messi scored in ten consecutive games earlier this season. The game that broke that spell would generally be considered a low point – expect for the fact that it was the 5-0 win over Real Madrid in the Clasico, where Messi picked up two assists and caused havoc with his deep positioning. His role as a false nine has gone from Barcelona’s ‘alternative’ to being their standard shape, and at the heart of a side Messi’s influence is at its greatest. Some of the goals he has scored have been phenomenal, and he has the knack of providing moments of genius at crucial times – the brilliant ‘three-four’ with Pedro Rodriguez against Villarreal in the best technical game of the season, the flick and finish over Manuel Almunia when Arsenal were set to keep a first half clean sheet in Barcelona, the ridiculous run in the last minute of the ugly Clasico first leg, and then the thump past van der Sar in the Champions League final.


Victor Valdes, Barcelona

He often only has to make one save a game – but he generally does so excellently, and also sweeps out of his goal to great effect to enable Barca’s high line to work.

Mathieu Debuchy, Lille

Probably not Lille’s star performer in their run to the French double, but consistently excellent at right-back – fearsome tackling, powerful running from deep, and composure on the ball too.

Nemanja Vidic, Manchester United

The best penalty box defender on the continent in Europe this season. Supreme in the air, and only failed to make the XI because of a few dodgy displays against pace – notably away at Aston Villa and West Ham – tricky moments Hummels and Silva didn’t encounter.

Vincent Kompany, Manchester City

Powerful and pacey, but also good at reading the game and making decisions, and probably City’s true leader despite Carlos Tevez wearing the armband.

Fabio Coentrao, Benfica

After a breakthrough season in 2009/10, Coentrao has become established as a key player in the past twelve months – sometimes used as a left winger, but will spend most of his career at left-back, almost certainly away from Benfica.

Arturo Vidal, Leverkusen

Primarily an energetic player but also one with great ability on the ball, and an ability to score good goals.

Andres Iniesta, Barcelona

Injury disrupted his previous two campaigns, but this was his best for Barca, featuring some crucial, brilliant through-balls, for Xavi v Real Madrid (5-0), for Messi v Arsenal (3-1) and Pedro v Real Madrid (1-1).

Mesut Ozil, Real Madrid

A great debut season in La Liga for one of the most intelligent players around. Ozil has the ability to hurt teams both on the counter-attack and when opponents sit deep, and his movement off the ball is extraordinarily good.

Alexis Sanchez, Udinese

Started the season playing poorly on the wing as Udinese lost their first four games – then became a top-class player when played in a new role as a trequartista.

Giuseppe Rossi, Villarreal

Brilliant movement, excellent link-up play, and some goals from ludicrous positions.

Falcao, Porto

A fantastic finisher, particularly adept in the air. Won the Europa League with a trademark header, and consistently scored throughout the season, including five in four games against Benfica and Sporting, and a hattrick in the semi against Villarreal.

Football / Fan Power at It's Best- AFC Wimbledon in League Two
« on: May 24, 2011, 05:57:47 AM »
AFC Wimbledon celebrate 'phenomenal' rise to League Two

The new Crazy Gang's fifth promotion in nine years, this one at Luton Town's expense, has warmed the hearts of football romantics

Sachin Nakrani at Eastlands,   
Sunday 22 May 2011 17.06 BST

The 10.20am that departed from London for Manchester on Saturday was heaving with AFC Wimbledon supporters, and as they packed into the carriages few could fail to notice the electronic signs situated above the majority of the seats. "Available until Milton Keynes", they read. Rarely has a Virgin Pendolino carried a more pertinent message.

It was when the original Crazy Gang were stolen away from them and relocated to Milton Keynes in the summer of 2002 that the fans who journeyed north on Saturday withdrew their support and, instead, directed their energies towards creating a new club in which to believe. It took less than 12 days after the Football Association rubber-stamped the creation of MK Dons for AFC Wimbledon to be formed by a collection of supporters known as the Dons Trust and begin life in the Combined Counties League. No one then could have known of the journey all involved would take in the next nine years.

"This is a phenomenal achievement," said the AFC Wimbledon manager, Terry Brown, moments after his side had clinched promotion to League Two, beating Luton Town 4-3 on penalties after 120 minutes of goalless stalemate at Eastlands. Indeed it is. For a club to go from holding trials on Wimbledon Common for a squad that would initially contain the likes of MC Harvey from So Solid Crew to preparing for matches against one-time Premier League clubs such as Swindon Town and Bradford in less than a decade is a story which, rightly, has captivated football romantics. What makes it more remarkable is that despite Wimbledon scaling up in that time – the wage bill has increased tenfold from an initial £36,000 – the club essentially remains the same.

"We've been driven on by fan power," added Brown, who became the club's manager in May 2007 and got the club promoted from the Blue Square South last summer. "We have 35 volunteers who do every job around the club. We look after them and they look after us. That ethos won't change now we're in League Two, when we'll have the smallest wage bill in the division by a mile. But that is what Wimbledon has always been about; being the underdog and fighting for everything they can get."

Few embody that spirit better than the Wimbledon goalkeeper, Seb Brown, who grew up supporting the club and, aged 10, was at the Dell when the original side were relegated from the Premier League in 2000. He was part of the supporters' protest against the move to Milton Keynes and watched from the sidelines as the club began life in the ninth level of the English league system.

"Back then I was standing behind a rope watching pub players," said the 21-year-old, who was working for a car rental company as recently as 12 months ago. "To go from that to where we are now is meteoric."

The keeper's part in the rise will never be forgotten. He saved two penalties in the shoot-out on Saturday before the club's captain and top-scorer Danny Kedwell crashed home the shot that sealed Wimbledon's promotion alongside the Conference's runaway champions, Crawley Town.

A Wimbledon goalkeeper saving a penalty in a major final, where have we heard that before? Comparisons with Dave Beasant's heroics in the club's 1988 FA Cup final win over Liverpool are obvious and the man known as "Lurch" has been graceful enough to describe the current side's rise into the Football League as a greater achievement than that which took place at Wembley 23 years ago.

The class of 2011 certainly deserve their moment in the spotlight, which includes a summer trip to Las Vegas, promised to them by the club's chief executive, Erik Samuelson, on the proviso that they clinched promotion. Sin City awaits the arrival of the new Crazy Gang.

Having achieved five promotions in nine years, Wimbledon's natural desire is to go up again next season. That will be a difficult task but should they pull it off, the club could find themselves in the same division as MK Dons, a fixture that would prick the attentions of all neutrals. But at Wimbledon's base at the Kingsmeadow Stadium, home of Kingstonian FC, it would barely raise a mention. "They're not a real football club," said Ivor Heller, the club's commercial director. "They don't exist in my eyes."

There is much greater warmth from within Wimbledon for Luton, who also see themselves as victims of the FA. Relegated from the Football League for the first time in 2009 having incurred a minus-30 point penalty for repeatedly lapsing into administration and breaking rules on paying agents, the club that won the League Cup in the same year Wimbledon shocked Liverpool must now prepare for a third year in non-league darkness.

"I can't put into words how bad we feel at the moment," said Gary Brabin, the Hatters manager, after his side's defeat at Eastlands. "We truly felt it was going to be our day."

It certainly would have been had Jason Walker's header on 87 minutes contained more momentum. Instead it clipped the far post and fell into Brown's grateful grasp. Wimbledon had their own chances in extra-time, none more glaring than the header Ismail Yakubu directed wide on 119 minutes from an unmarked position.

The miss did not matter as Wimbledon ultimately made it through. At a time when football's reputation is being corroded by soaring debt and political scandal, theirs is a story to gladden all hearts.

Bye South Africa, thanks for being had by us

Tom Humphries
The Irish Times - Monday, July 12, 2010

LOCKERROOM The local people who have put so much of their heart and soul into the last month, are really just extras with local accents. Backdrop.

SO SOUTH Africa’s World Cup comes to an end, the beloved country’s “time to shine” runs out and this morning it’s back to the hump and grind of everyday living. As the sun rises, the flatbed trucks will take to the highways of Johannesburg, filled at the back with men from Soweto crouching and holding the side for balance as they are taken away for a day’s labour. Meanwhile, the world will be evacuating through Oliver Tambo International with the odd gratuity and thank you fluttering behind.

The more World Cups you go to, the more you feel you are part of an ongoing confidence trick. The South African people who have put so much of their heart and soul into the last month are really just extras with local accents. Backdrop.

Everything else takes place as part of a franchised operation which, while retaining its slickness, is only seen every four years. The media tent this is being written in could be anywhere in the world (in fact, it was imported from Germany, Fifa finding the local makes unsatisfactory). The hospitality tents outside. The system of shuttles and traffic control. The corporatised travel and accommodation operations. The crowd control. All the same. Even the interior of the stadiums feels the same.

The trick every four years is for the usual corporate bandits to fool the local population into believing this World Cup is theirs. And then to depart with the bill still on the table.

The stadiums here cost two billion rand more than they were supposed to and the host cities got to pick up the excess tabs. Can there ever be a World Cup without cost over-runs? Not really if you are selling steel and the man from the World Cup comes looking to buy as much steel as you can give him. Well, let’s just say you see him coming from a very long way away. The same if you are a labour leader.

And then you have to deal with Fifa. And their likes and dislikes. Fifa had €2.6 billion in TV and marketing rights tucked away before a ball was kicked here and unconfirmed reports suggest they retain 94 per cent of total profits.

The German World Cup yielded €2.3 billion in profits.

This World Cup will cough up more. You would think they would be happy.

Yet, for instance, Cape Town had wished to revamp the existing Athlone Stadium to host its World Cup Games. Athlone Stadium. Fifa did not approve. The surrounding area was too depressingly run down. TV wouldn’t like it. In Durban, a 56,000-seater World Cup stadium was constructed a couple of hundred yards away from the existing Kings Park Stadium, which holds 50,000.

Speaking of coming from a very long way away, the South African tourism industry was rubbing its hands at the prospect of attracting over three million tourists in their winter season.

No figures are available yet but every hotelier and taxi driver you speak to expresses disappointment.

Rightly so. Forecasts are down hugely since the heady days when the South African bid succeeded. Match AG, looking after the World Cup accommodation needs for the sixth tournament in a row, were forced to dump 450,000 pre-booked rooms back on the market.

The one place which is visibly thriving, stuffed all the time with tourists, is the white enclave of Sandton in Johannesburg; its fine restaurants and couture shops and American-style malls have been the official and unofficial centre for the World Cup. But Sandton didn’t need the World Cup. Sandton, they say, is the richest square mile in Africa.

For South Africa, the overall cost of running the tournament increased tenfold from bid to ball being kicked.

A nation crawling from the wreckage of recession with an unemployment rate of 24 per cent has chucked €4 billion in the direction of the world’s richest sport and its corporate partners.

And the corporate partners know how to use the muscle. In the World Cup zone you can only use an ATM if you have a Visa card. McDonalds are everywhere. This column attended a domestic league match here during a working visit eight years ago and the walk to the stadium was a long ramble and graze through a never-ending line of street vendors. For the World Cup, that particular flavour of Africa has been disappeared. Sponsors’ tents are the only thing selling anything within the commercial exclusion zone around the grounds.

The humourless nature of this pin-striped Mafia pervades everything. The heavy-handed treatment of the brewer Bavaria Beer for its amusing skirmishes was no surprise to those who had watched the local budget airline, Kulula, suffer the threat of legal action for using the mildly amusing slogan “the unofficial national carrier of you know what”. Even the acts which opened and closed the tournament to such high visibility were bought in from a international promoter with just a token smidgin of African music thrown in.

Africa has seen worse obscenities so some perspective is necessary but with 355,000 unsold tickets left in a country where the host population had neither the money nor the infrastructure to be ordering them online, the South African government (never the parasitical Fifa) were forced into buying huge swathes of tickets for their own people and selling them at hugely subsidised rates.

That move chomped a huge part of the revenue stream they had been depending on but it was better than having Fifa and its broadcast partners bellyaching about half-empty stadia.

People are backdrop.

So we take our leave today and tomorrow, waving goodbye and telling our friends they were great. Which they were.

This was an open-hearted and generous World Cup. But we are first worlders and mé féiners and it is impossible to escape the feeling that once again South Africa has been pillaged for our pleasure and gain.

Farewell then, South Africa. Hope you enjoyed having us. Hope you enjoyed being had by us.

2010 World Cup - South Africa / Friday could be a sad day
« on: June 24, 2010, 08:07:09 PM »
If Switzerland beat Honduras 2-0 or more either Spain or Chile definitely going home.

If Honduras could tie or beat them then both teams could go through with a draw or a Spain win.

Expecting a real good game. If these two teams go at it this will be a hell of a game. Too bad Chile throw way so much goal against Switzerland and Honduras.

Entertainment & Culture Discussion / TESTOSTERONE OVERLOAD
« on: April 01, 2010, 06:13:11 PM »
This can't be right - Stallone, Statham, Rourke, Terry Crews and Jet Li

Plus Stallone Arnold, Bruce Willis

Plus Steve Austin, Dolph Lungren and Eric Roberts

All in one flecking movie. Best ensemble of badasses since the Dirty Dozen.

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And this actually looking  surprisingly promising, the A-TEAM remake.

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Football / Six of the Best Footballing Brawls - Toros Neza vs Jamaica
« on: March 19, 2010, 11:33:49 AM »
The Joy of Six: Footballing brawls

Posted by Scott Murray Friday 19 March 2010 10.36 GMT

This clip is good kicks, literrally and figuratively.

5. Toros Neza 0-1 Jamaica, friendly (yes), 1997
Jamaica had reached the final pool in the north and central American qualification tournament for the 1998 World Cup, and harbored real hopes of reaching the finals for the first time in the country's history. Three teams from a six-strong group would make it to France: with Mexico and the United States hot favourites to grab two of the places, and Canada a complete waste of space, the final spot was expected to be a three-way contest between Jamaica, Costa Rica and El Salvador.

Jamaica had started the group solidly, holding the USA to a 0-0 draw at home, so with a testing fixture in Mexico City coming up, their Brazilian coach Rene Simoes decided to do the professional thing and spend plenty of time acclimatizing in the Mexican altitude. Sadly that would be just about the only professional decision made on the trip.

Simoes arranged a game with local team Toros Neza. Sadly it descended into light farce. On 19 minutes, Toros Neza's German Arangio was scythed down by an errant Jamaican challenge – and responded by getting up and crumping his fist into his aggressor's face. The act provoked a full-scale melee between the two teams involving haymakers and highkicks which continued for five minutes – at which point several of the Jamaican team left the field and came back tooled up. With their players waving bricks, broken bottles and, preposterously, a chair, the referee had no option but to call the game off there and then.

"That is not normal behaviour," one Neza player remarked after the match. "It isn't possible that they react like this in a friendly." Simoes argued that his team simply lacked international experience – though he was hardly one to talk; having forgotten to inform the Mexican FA that his squad were setting up camp pre-qualifier, the Jamaican FA were hit with a fine by Fifa. Whether the acclimatisation period was worth all the bother is a moot point: Jamaica were shellacked 6-0 by Mexico. Jamaica would make the finals, though, beating future hosts Japan 2-1 in a glorious valedictory game in Lyon.

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General Discussion / A great article by ....PAT BUCHANAN ?!
« on: March 08, 2010, 08:44:04 AM »
Very rare for me to find almost whole hearted agreement with a Pat Buchanan article. But at  time when the "deficit" is a chew toy for the political dogs of war (on both sides) you really wish that people could have an honest debate about what the budget is spent on. You also regret that in the grief and anger of 911 has been used to ramp up military activity at a time when it is probably less needed than ever before.

Liquidating the Empire

Pat Buchanan

A decade ago, Oldsmobile went. Last year, Pontiac. Saturn, Saab and Hummer were discontinued. A thousand GM dealerships shut down.

To those who grew up in a "GM family," where buying a Chrysler was like converting to Islam, what happened to GM was deeply saddening.

Yet the amputations had to be done — or GM would die.

And the same may be about to happen to the American Imperium.

Its birth can be traced to World War II, when America put 16 million men in uniform and sent millions across the seas to crush Nazi Germany and Japan. After V-E and V-J Day, the boys came home.

But with the Stalinization of half of Europe, the fall of China, and war in Korea came NATO and alliances with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, Pakistan and Australia that lasted through the Cold War.

In 1989, however, the Cold War ended dramatically with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the retirement of the Red Army from Europe, the break-up of the Soviet Union and Beijing's abandonment of world communist revolution.

Overnight, our world changed. But America did not change.

As Russia shed her alliances and China set out to capture America's markets, Uncle Sam soldiered on.

We clung to the old alliances and began to add new allies. NATO war guarantees were distributed like credit cards to member states of the old Warsaw Pact and former republics of the Soviet Union.

We invaded Panama and Haiti, smashed Iraq, liberated Kuwait, intervened in Somalia and Bosnia, bombed Serbia, and invaded Iraq again — and Afghanistan. Now we prepare for a new war — on Iran.

Author Lawrence Vance has inventoried America's warfare state.

We spend more on defense than the next 10 nations combined.

Our Navy exceeds in firepower the next 13 navies combined. We have 100,000 troops in Iraq, 100,000 in Afghanistan or headed there, 28,000 in Korea, over 35,000 in Japan and 50,000 in Germany. By the Department of Defense's "Base Structure Report," there are 716 U.S. bases in 38 countries.

Chalmers Johnson, who has written books on this subject, claims DOD is minimizing the empire. He discovered some 1,000 U.S. facilities, many of them secret and sensitive. And according to DOD's "Active Duty Military Personnel Strengths by Regional Area and by Country," U.S. troops are now stationed in 148 countries and 11 territories.

Estimated combined budgets for the Pentagon, two wars, foreign aid to allies, 16 intelligence agencies, scores of thousands of contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our new castle-embassies: $1 trillion a year.

While this worldwide archipelago of bases may have been necessary when we confronted a Sino-Soviet bloc spanning Eurasia from the Elbe to East China Sea, armed with thousands of nuclear weapons and driven by imperial ambition and ideological hatred of us, that is history now.

It is preposterous to argue that all these bases are essential to our security. Indeed, our military presence, our endless wars and our support of despotic regimes have made America, once the most admired of nations, almost everywhere resented and even hated.

Liquidation of this empire should have begun with the end of the Cold War. Now it is being forced upon us by the deficit-debt crisis. Like GM, we can't kick this can up the road any more, because we have come to the end of the road.

Republicans will fight new taxes. Democrats will fight to save social programs. Which leaves the American empire as the logical lead cow for the butcher's knife.

Indeed, how do conservatives justify borrowing hundreds of billions yearly from Europe, Japan and the Gulf states — to defend Europe, Japan and the Arab Gulf states? Is it not absurd to borrow hundreds of billion annually from China — to defend Asia from China? Is it not a symptom of senility to borrow from all over the world in order to defend that world?

In their Mount Vernon declaration of principles, conservatives called the Constitution their guiding star. But did not the author of that constitution, James Madison, warn us that wars are the death of republics?

Under Bush II, conservatives, spurning the wisdom of their fathers, let themselves be seduced, neo-conned into enlisting in a Wilsonian crusade that had as its declared utopian goal "ending tyranny in our world."

How could conservatives whose defining virtue is prudence and who pride themselves on following the lamp of experience have been taken into camp by the hustlers and hucksters of empire?

Yet, now that Barack Obama has embraced neo-socialism, Republicans are about to be given a second chance. And just as Rahm Emanuel said liberal Democrats should not let a financial crisis go to waste, but exploit it to ram through their agenda, the right should use the opportunity of the fiscal crisis to take an axe to the warfare state.

Ron Paul's victory at CPAC may be a sign the prodigal sons of the right are casting off the heresy of neoconservatism and coming home to first principles.


This is a sad story now. I magine what the lady and her family must be going through.

Caster Semenya withdraws from race in South Africa

David Smith in Johannesburg
Friday 11 September 2009 17.04 BST

• Leaked sex test reveals she is a hermaphrodite, say reports
• South Africa minister threatens 'war' if she is disqualified

Athlete Caster Semenya has pulled out of her return to competitive sport amid growing fears over the psychological impact of rumours about her sex.

The 18-year-old withdrew from a cross-country race in South Africa tomorrow after it was widely reported that a leaked sex test reveals she is a hermaphrodite. Her coach, Michael Seme, said she will not run because she is "not feeling well".

South Africa condemned the international media reports as an invasion of the teenager's privacy and threatened a "third world war" if the women's 800m champion is disqualified from athletics.

The process by which Semenya's most intimate physical details have become a public talking point intensified when Australia's Sydney Daily Telegraph said that she had no womb or ovaries, but internal male testes which were producing extraordinary amounts of testosterone.

The strain of the ordeal began to show on Semenya's family. When her mother, Dorcas, was contacted by one newspaper for a response, she wept and demanded: "What do you want me to do?" Semenya's father, Jacob, said people who believed his daughter was not a woman were sick. "They are crazy. Are they God?"

Both the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the media were condemned today for failing to respect Semenya's human rights.

Jacob Zuma, the South African president, said: "We have a girl who has performed and won. I don't think we should play with people's lives and privacy. Why should we not respect the privilege between doctor and patient?"

His sports minister, Makhenkesi Stofile, said it would be unjust for the IAAF to exclude Semenya from competing as a woman. "I think it would be the third world war," he said. "We will go to the highest levels in contesting such a decision. I think it would be totally unfair and totally unjust."

Stofile said his department was consulting a top legal firm about action against the IAAF over human rights violations. "What is disconcerting is that the pattern being followed in releasing these purported results is the same as the one being used when Ms Semenya's humiliation started," he said.

"We see the media being the ones breaking the story, while those close to the matter are pleading ignorance. Just like before, Caster's human rights are not respected at all. The humiliation she and her family suffered is still continuing. We are even seeing the greed factor starting to outstrip genuine concerns for her rights and future wellbeing."

Stofile continued: "No one doubts her gender anymore. Now the issue is of the percentages of her gender; this is as disgusting as it is unethical. Caster is a woman, she remains our heroine. We must protect her."

A group from Semenya's home province, Limpopo, urged all participants in the controversy to consider the teenager's feelings. The Limpopo Progressive Women's Movement said: "We want to urge all role players in this sad saga to be more sensitive in how they handle it going forward. Stop the leaks, stop the double standards and stop hurting Caster and her family ... How can we victimise a national hero like this?"

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the ex-wife of former president Nelson Mandela, joined the condemnation. "The poor innocent child is a victim of all this, and it is not of her making," she told South Africa's Star newspaper. "I do not understand how any sane person can blame this child for a biological problem which is not of her making."

The IAAF, facing another embarrassing leak, declined to confirm or deny the Australian report but said it should be treated with caution. The body's spokesman, Nick Davies, said it had received the results of Semenya's tests but would not release them until 20-21 November.

"I simply haven't seen the results," Davies wrote in an email to the Associated Press. "We have received the results from Germany, but they now need to be examined by a group of experts and we will not be in a position to speak to the athlete about them for at least a few weeks.

"After that, depending on the results, we will meet privately with the athlete to discuss further action."

After dominating her race at the world championships in Berlin last month, Semenya underwent blood and chromosome tests, as well as a gynaecological examination. The IAAF has said Semenya probably would keep her gold medal because the case was not related to a doping matter. But it is less clear whether she would be allowed to compete again if she proves to be a hermaphrodite.

Football / The Joy of Six: Free Kick Specialists
« on: August 28, 2009, 11:40:46 AM »
The Joy of Six: free-kick specialists

Posted by Rob Smyth Friday 28 August 2009 12.28 BST
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1. Zico
"Make the goalkeeper work." So plead legions of pundits, who themselves couldn't hit a cow's arse with the proverbial one during their playing days, every time there is a free-kick within range. Zico certainly did. He worked a goalkeeper like a cameraman works a model. It is hard to believe that anybody hit the target so often – and not just the main target, but a target within the target. Zico could hit either top corner or either bottom corner as if to order. This was not just a gift of nature; he nurtured his sublime talent through incessant practice. After training he would hang a shirt in each top corner and challenge himself to take one of them down from 20 yards. (His former team-mate, the Milan manager Leonardo, reckons he did so 30-35 times out of 50 each day.) He had a metal silhouette made to simulate the wall. And he analysed his craft forensically, placing huge importance on the standing foot.

He was amply rewarded for his hard work. In his first season in Serie A, with Udinese in 1983-84, Zico seemed to score a free-kick a week. That said, free-kick isn't really the right word; with Zico it was more a free-pass. He would stroll up and, with his body leaning back like a broken Subbuteo player, simply caress the ball with the instep where he wanted. Gravity always wins - even Jaap Stam's penalty came to earth last week – but it never won as quickly as with Zico's free-kicks. He was masterful at getting the ball up and down to score from 18.000001 yards – an art that is now lost, probably because of today's lighter footballs. He was so good that defenders inevitably tried to reduce the 10-yard gap; in one game against Juventus, a free-kick took between four and five minutes because the defenders kept encroaching desperately.

Zico had one other special ability: a combination of mental strength and quick-wittedness that enabled him to play chess with the opposing goalkeeper. If it's notoriously bad practice for a penalty-taker to change his side, it is the opposite for a free-kick taker. Before one match in 1984, the Fiorentina goalkeeper Giovanni Galli decided to sledge Zico, announcing to the media that he knew Zico would put any free-kicks in the bottom-right corner. With delicious inevitability, Zico stuck one in the bottom-left corner while Galli danced around like a cat on a hot tin roof in the centre of his goal, scared to put his weight on either foot lest he be made to look a complete fool. He was anyway; after all, if you come at the king, you best not miss. Zico certainly didn't. Physically and mentally, nobody worked a goalkeeper quite like this.

2. Ronald Koeman
Given how significant a part they play in games, it's surprising how few direct free-kicks have been scored in World Cup or European Cup finals, never mind decided them. Consequently, Ronald Koeman's exquisite howitzer for Barcelona against Sampdoria in 1992 will always have a special place in football history. We tend to associate Koeman with that particular type of free-kick, where he would lace the ball in a manner that was paradoxically sledgehammer rather than silk, yet if anything he was more adept at the seductive, shorter-range curler. As with his penalties, when he would charge towards the ball like a man with murder in mind only to tap it gently into the net, part of the skill was in the deception. With Koeman, there was more than one way to skin a defensive wall; as all Englishmen know well, he could flippin' flip one as well. And while there is a very powerful argument that the greatest Dutch free-kick taker of all is Pierre van Hooijdonk – a Dutch magazine once calculated that he had scored over 50 in his career – there is no doubt who scored the most important.

3. Didi
Given the advancements in football over the last century or more, it's surprising how few innovators are formally recognised: we have the Cruyff turn, the Makelele role, the Panenka, but there aren't as many as you might expect. One player who certainly qualifies is the Brazilian genius Didi, the first man to bring artistic life to a dead-ball situation. Didi patented the folha seca (dry leaf), or what would become known as the banana free-kick, first demonstrating it to the world at the 1954 World Cup. It's routine stuff now, but then so are the Beatles' songs. At the time such invention was unthinkable. Brazil has become the spiritual home of the free-kick, and as well as the obvious names this list could easily have included the Corinthian pair of Neto or Marcelinho Carioca. But in this particular sphere, it was a man from the tail end of football's Corinthian age who really set the ball rolling. And dipping and bending into the top corner.

To read another Brazilian genius, Rivelino, talking about his country's free-kick prowess, click here

4. Alan Suddick
Any reflection on British free-kick expertise tends to begin and end with the golden ball-striking of David Beckham, but that is an insult to a genuinely rich history. Liverpool's Donald McKinlay was an outstanding exponent either side of the first world war, and Peter Lorimer, Bobby Collins, Ted Phillips, Cliff Holton and Matthew Le Tissier are all worthy of mention. Yet none can compare to Alan Suddick or Blackpool and Newcastle. Suddick was a free amigo who, though he had a wonderful, maverick talent that was compared to that of George Best by the Newcastle legend Bobby Moncur, was best known for his outrageous free-kicks. He would crouch down so that the keeper could not see him, and then bend the ball so viciously that it was a surprise Uri Geller didn't claim credit for it. This, too, with the old leather footballs that barely deviated off the straight in a hurricane.

He didn't so much make the ball talk as sing like a canary. "Suddick took one from the edge of the penalty area and it was the most remarkable 'banana' kick I have seen," wrote Paul Fitzpatrick in this paper in 1968. "Didi himself would have watched it with awe." Suddick became so known for his banana kicks that, when he passed away earlier this year, his old team-mate Glyn James laid a banana-shaped wreath behind the goal at Blackpool.

5. Sinisa Mihajlovic
After Blackpool, we have the big dipper. Sinisa Mihajlovic would charge in off his long run to take his free-kicks, which would set off like a space exploration vehicle only to descend absurdly as they homed in on goal. There have been more visceral left-footed free-kick takers, mainly because Mihajlovic eschewed the outside of his left foot – we're thinking of that famous goal by a Brazilian left-back here* – but none as remorselessly effective. We're not sure that anybody else has scored a hat-trick of free-kicks, as Mihajlovic did for Lazio in 1998, with either foot. And we're certain that nobody can match his record of 27 free-kicks in Serie A.

Nor has anybody lived for free-kicks quite like Mihajlovic. Towards the end of his career at Internazionale, it was sincerely suggested by some that he was basically being picked to take free-kicks. A few years earlier, Mihajlovic told some bald bloke that "I don't know if I'd play football if there were no free-kicks". His skill was honed from childhood, when he would drive neighbours to distraction by practising at all hours, smacking the ball against the metal yard gates. By his early teens his free-kicks were so powerful that his father had to replace those gates every few weeks. Rarely has money been so well spent. Every time he dipped into his pocket, he gave Mihajlovic the chance to hone the big dipper that would make his name.

* Don't you dare say Roberto Carlos was a great free-kick taker. Don't you dare

6. Juninho Pernambucano
Most free-kick specialists are like Olympic sprinters: they have an optimal distance and are notably less successful when taken away from that. David Beckham, for example, is less effective from 20 yards, and Ronaldinho from 30. Juninho Pernambucano is more like Usain Bolt: whatever the distance, or indeed the angle, he is almost equally devastating. No player has been so eclectically electric from free-kicks. His range is the same as that of most English males on the prowl at 1.45am on a Saturday morning: 18-45, with no real preference either way. He also takes all manner of free-kicks. Booming, swirling strikes with the instep; gentle, placed curlers; head-down blasters that are past a hapless goalkeeper before he can say Juninho Pernambucano; and, of course, the wobbling knuckleball that he, ahem, copied from Cristiano Ronaldo. He has allied this variety to a remarkable consistency: in eight seasons at Lyon he scored an absurd 44 goals from free-kicks. Few specialists, in any sphere, have been quite so special.

Football / Maldini - 'nuff said
« on: May 26, 2009, 07:27:54 AM »
One of the greatest of all time hanging up his boots this season.

Maldini the one and only bows outThe Milan legend retires at the end of the season with records in the game that will go unmatched

Paolo Maldini, Milan legend, is about to wave goodbye for the last time as a player. Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images Sport

The year is 1985. Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev are figureheads of the cold war. At Heysel Stadium 39 spectators are killed at the European Cup final. Live Aid concerts raise £50m for victims of famine in Ethiopia. DNA is first used in a criminal case. Roger Moore steps down as James Bond. And a 16-year-old coltish defender with a famous name makes his debut for Milan at half-time in a Serie A match at Udinese.

He is the son of Cesare Maldini, a former European Cup-winning captain for the club. He trots on at half-time and glides through his overture on impressively long, strong, limbs. He looks calm, classy, eminently comfortable. Milan's fans reckon young Paolo is a chip off the old block. Some 25 seasons later, his footballing achievements beggar belief.

This weekend the 41-year-old pulls on the shirt of the club he joined at the age of 10 for the 901st time. With more than 1,000 professional matches under his belt – every single one of them in the rossonero of Milan or the azzurro of Italy – Maldini will make his farewell bow at San Siro. His career has cranked on and on, past so many milestones (they announced they would retire his No3 shirt several years ago) it is hard to know where to begin honouring the end. The club's official website has tried to sum it up with a simple tribute that has run all week long: 25 SEASONS. 900 GAMES. ALWAYS AND ONLY MILAN. GRAZIE PAOLO!

A quarter of a century in the first team of any club is a staggering enough feat. To do it at one of the world's elite teams, sweeping up five European Cup medals and seven Serie A titles along the way, sets a benchmark that looks unmatchable. To put it into perspective, 35-year-old Ryan Giggs would have to play on for Manchester United for another seven years to equal Maldini's length of service. Real Madrid's Raúl, who turns 32 in the summer, will need to continue for another 10 years. This is a man who has won the European Cup in three different decades.

There will be no special party. It is his choice. He just wants to use the last two games of the season to say goodbye, first to the people who love him at San Siro, then to the greater family of Italian football with an away game at Fiorentina. The man has always done things with irresistible, understated charm.

And that is the real legacy of Maldini. The statistics only tell part of the story. They don't tell you anything about the elegance and gallantry with which he played. All the negative stereotypes of Italian defensive arts – niggling and pinching and sly shirt tugging – were unnecessary for Maldini. Probably the best left-back ever created played purely as well as powerfully.

He has so much going for him it is hard to know if he is more adored by the men or women of Italy. But Maldini has never been big-headed. Always professional. His reaction to his landmark 1,000th game (a 0–0 draw at Parma) said it all: "These are numbers which will remain in history – too bad we did not get the three points."

So what next for Il Capitano? Milan are almost certain to find a role for him within the club if he wants it. Likewise the Italian Football Federation. But he will take a well-deserved summer holiday. "I want to pull the plug out for a little while, at least until September. Only then will I think about what to do with my future." That is unlikely to be in coaching, though, which he describes as "the job which unites all the things that I don't like about football together".

The end of the fairytale? Not necessarily. The third generation of Milan's Maldini dynasty, Paolo's 13-year-old son Christian, plays for the club's junior ranks, and over one million people have viewed a video of his youngest, Daniel, effortlessly dispossessing Clarence Seedorf on YouTube.

If Paolo gets half as much contentment watching his boys as Cesare did, it won't just be Milan who are the lucky ones. Watching the recordman throughout his extraordinary career has been a pleasure for all of us.

Football / EPL Relagation thread.
« on: May 24, 2009, 07:58:02 AM »
Sunderland, Hull, Newcastle and Boro.

Two out of 4 to go down.

To be honest Boro doesn't have a chance. They need Hull to lose, Newcastle to lose or draw and then they have to beat West Ham ( a team with a tight defence) by 3-5 goals depending on whether Necastle draws or loses.

The real drama of course is what United does. They will play a weak side, probably weaker than the side the played Everton. I really wish Ferguson would play a strong side so people wouldn't run they mouth.

I remember when a weak side loss at home to West Ham, a couple years ago, I feel it for Sheff. Utd but United have a Champions League in 3 days ( as opposed to 10 days in most seasons) and Barcelona rest they whole side. Hopefully the second stringers will beat Hull and nobody would complain but I could see Hull at least drawing.

For the rest of games I can't see Newcastle or Sunderland winning. But I can see Newcastle drawing and Hull avoiding defeat to send  Newcastle down. All these teams have been piss poor so the table might well end up the way it is now.

In all the debate about weakened sides on the final day peopel does forget that l through tthe season teams play weakened/uninterested teams under different circumstances. Whether the game falls before a CL or Cup game. Or whether yuh play a team that already achieve safety and have nothing to play for teams have been playing weak teams all throughout teh season.

Football / Soaring Swans Epitomise Martinez's Premier League Ambition
« on: February 15, 2009, 05:56:41 PM »
Soaring Swans epitomise Martínez's Premier League ambition

Posted by Stuart James Saturday 14 February 2009 15.39 GMT

Swansea's flowing football, a hallmark of their renaissance under Roberto Martínez, was a delight to watch against Fulham

Earlier this week I asked Roberto Martínez whether he thought that Swansea City, playing his brand of expansive, free-flowing football, could hope to survive in the Premier League were they to win promotion this season. The Spaniard did not hesitate. "Many little things can influence whether you are successful or not so, without a doubt, we can be successful playing that kind of football without having the financial power that everyone else has, even in the Premier League."

Some might scoff at the Swansea manager's response but anyone who has watched the Welsh club over the past 18 months cannot have failed to be impressed with their renaissance under Martínez. Shrewd recruitment combined with an unwavering belief in how the game should be played helped to propel Swansea into the Championship in his first full season in charge and there is no reason to believe that another promotion is beyond them this term.

They were certainly more than a match for Fulham during an opening 45 minutes that Swansea dominated – but somehow they ended up going in at the interval behind following Garry Monk's unfortunate own goal. So fluent was Swansea's movement that, at times, it was difficult to discern the Championship team's formation. It was actually 4-1-2-3, the system that Luiz Felipe Scolari favoured during his brief reign at Chelsea. Either Martínez is better at getting his message across than the Brazilian or Swansea's players are more open-minded.

Either way, there was much to admire in the way that Swansea retained possession with their neat triangles before opening Fulham up with a probing final ball. No more so was that apparent than in the 25th minute when Swansea completed 13 passes – and remember this is against a Fulham side that sit 10th in the Premier League and had lost only twice in their previous 15 matches – before Angel Rangel broke free on the right. The full-back's low cross was met by Mark Gower, who had struck the post in the fourth minute after linking adroitly with Jason Scotland. This time Mark Schwarzer was forced to scramble across his line and save. It was a passage of play that typifies everything Swansea represent under Martínez.

If there was one criticism in the first half it was that Swansea did not have a cutting edge to complement the rat-a-tat passing in the middle of the field that was so easy on the eye whilst making life visibly uncomfortable for Fulham. Not that taking chances seemed such a problem seven minutes into the second half. Scotland, fed by the effervescent Gower, produced a wonderful piece of skill to flummox Aaron Hughes on the edge of the penalty area before arrowing a true left-footed shot beyond Schwarzer.

It was the Trinidad & Tobago striker's 12th goal in as many games and provided further evidence of Martínez's ability to spot a player. "We had to forget about the nationality and bring quality players," explained the Swansea manager, who signed Scotland from St Johnstone in 2007. "We wanted players who were all married by the same beliefs, which is wanting to be successful and being at an age when you are hungry for success. The recruitment has been vital in that respect."

Whether those players would be capable of performing at the same level in the Premier League remains to be seen – Martínez argues that it is easier to play football the higher you move up the ladder – but after watching their impressive display here, allied to the convincing victory at Portsmouth in the previous round, it makes you think that the Swansea manager at least deserves a chance to test his theory.

Football / Liverpool vs Chelsea
« on: February 01, 2009, 09:44:01 AM »
Mods forgive meh but I didn't know which "forever" thread to post this in. The one for the shitty side or the one for the shittier side. Don't know which is which to bo honest.

Both sides need a win but Liverpool have Chelsea number. I predicting a Liverpool win because Rafa whole MO is to build a side to not get beat by Champions League teams.

I know Chelsea fans feel there has been a resurgence since the Old Trafford slaughter but they ent beat nobody good and they not looking good at all. Chelsea will be happy with a draw. Hopefully it is a 0-0 and I could get some Fantasy League points.

Football / Premier League Goes to War on Internet Pirates
« on: January 22, 2009, 08:26:50 AM »
Premier League goes to war on internet pirates

Action wanted on broad front to combat rogue websites
• League fears illegal broadcasts will reduce its income
Owen Gibson

Thursday 22 January 2009 00.32 GMT

The Premier League is planning an aggressive campaign to protect its intellectual property rights in an attempt to clamp down on rogue websites that show football matches for nothing and pub landlords who broadcast foreign feeds, amid fears that they could damage its income from broadcasting rights.

Having recently recorded a surge in the number of people watching via websites that transmit live pictures from overseas broadcasters or allow users to share vision using "peer-to-peer" video sites, the league is determined to push the issue up the political agenda.

Premier League lawyers want the culture secretary, Andy Burnham, and the business secretary, Lord Mandelson, to crack down on copyright infringement by making internet service providers responsible for the actions of their subscribers, and appoint an "IP tsar" to coordinate action across government.

Having been vigilant for years against wholesale piracy the league's lawyers have recently taken a high-profile lobbying role in the UK, Europe and internationally. The league has been liaising with sporting authorities around the world, media owners and other affected parties to highlight the need for urgent action and more consistent enforcement.

The chief executive, Richard Scudamore, last week told the all-party IP group of MPs that the government needed to take a harder line and do more to implement the recommendations in a report on copyright by Andrew Gowers. Stephen Carter, the communications minister, is due to unveil a draft report on the future of Digital Britain next week.

"The ISPs have got to take more responsibility," said a Premier League lawyer. "We have sent over 700 cease-and-desist letters and had an 87% success rate this season. [But] one of our problems is that often the sites reregister a domain name, using false names and addresses, and sign up with an ISP in a less protected country – 60% of peer-to-peer activity has been coming out of China. ISPs have to take on a stronger role and have a better enforcement policy."

The league said that when officials from countries traditionally seen as "safe harbours", such as China, were confronted about piracy, they typically asked why more was not being done by the UK government or within Europe.

Already millions of computer users across the world watch matches live without paying a subscription fee. The Premier League fears that the mainstream use of broadband and the increased popularity of watching video online make widespread piracy a very real prospect, which could seriously reduce the amount broadcasters are prepared to pay.

Sporting authorities are terrified of following the path of the music industry, which saw its business model collapse after it failed to combat digital piracy. The league made £625m from its overseas rights deals last time around and a total of £2.7bn overall, and is banking on another increase after 2010 to compensate for a potential dip in domestic income.

The Premier League recently led a coalition of 27 sporting bodies to prepare a background report for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development at the behest of the G8. The report said unauthorised live streams of some sporting events were already being watched by more than one million people.

Websites that offer access to live unauthorised coverage from PCs, usually sourced from overseas broadcasters in the Far East or around the world, have been popular with a small minority of web users unwilling to pay for a TV subscription for some time.

Poor quality pictures and audio, combined with the determination required to track them down, previously made them a niche pursuit. But with feeds now of a higher quality and easier to access there are fears that more and more cash-strapped fans will turn to them.

And with many of the illicit feeds originating from China and elsewhere around the world, the Premier League is reliant on specialist internet firms to track them down and persuade internet service providers to punish individuals.

Late last year, the Premier League threatened action against the US website,, which allows its users to share and stream footage from all over the world. It has also launched a high-profile class action against YouTube, which is expected to be heard in the US later this year. The original class action, launched in 2007, was recently superseded by a second complaint at the end of last year.

Scudamore has been bullish about the prospect of the value of its media deals holding up despite the global economic slump that has affected media companies and their advertisers, because live Premier League crucial is considered so crucial to their business models.

Major US sporting bodies are also taking the prospect of revenue loss from illicit online viewing seriously. Major League Baseball, the National Football League and the National Basketball Association have all taken steps to stem the rising tide of online piracy. MLB employees three people full-time to monitor illegal broadcasts and last year recorded 5,000 separate incidents.

Football / Religious Footballers
« on: January 21, 2009, 10:36:25 AM »
Series: The Knowledge

"Kaka has made it pretty clear that he 'belongs to Jesus'," wrote Jamie Jones, with reference to the 2007 Champions League final we'll be bound. "But have any other players publicly displayed their religious views on the field?" he asked.

O yea, came the reply from many of the Knowledge brethren. First in line, like an eager Catholic queueing up to receive booze and biscuit from the priest, is Rob Davies. Rob resides in Walsall, and it seems he is not the only one. "The Brazilian striker Junior scored for my hometown club," he writes, "and celebrated by lifting up his top to reveal a T-shirt with the slogan 'Jesus lives in Walsall'." Not that Rob was particularly impressed. "Jesus must have lived in Derby as well, because that's where Junior went the season after."

While Mr Christ's exact address may remain a moot point, there is one thing we know for certain. And that's that he loves us. This is because, in addition to Kaka, we've also been told by numerous other Brazilian internationals. "Almost the entire 2002 Brazilian squad seemed to have similar slogans under their shirts when they won the World Cup," notes Mohammed Choudhary, he of the amazing X-ray eyes. Of course we jest: Mohammed is no doubt referring to the likes of Lucio and unused substitute Kaka cavorting about in their vests, but only half the team scrawled religious messages on captain Cafu's shirt before he lifted the trophy. "Lucio still does it at Bayern Munich," adds Rajan X, who may or may not be a distant relation of Malcolm.

Speaking of Muslims, and indeed Bayern, Paul Haynes reports how "Franck Ribéry raises his hands to Allah at the beginning of every match as he enters the playing area". As does, Mohammed Choudhary adds, Fredi Kanouté of Sevilla: "He has always been quite open about being a Muslim. Whenever he scored, he would open up his hands in supplication, like most Muslims do after their prayers. He tried to cover the advert on his Sevilla shirt because gambling is against his religion." Kanouté was even fined €3,000 by the Spanish Soccer Federation for celebrating a goal against Deportivo de La Coruña by lifting his shirt to reveal a T-shirt with the word 'Palestine' adorning it, plus other Arabic words. Article 120 of the rules and regulations in Spain prohibits players from displaying religious or political messages on the pitch.

Getting his message across on the field was something devout Christian Marvin Andrews was only too happy to do while at Rangers. "I don't remember any T-shirts," writes Ciaran Carey, "but he publicly declared having sought God's advice on transfer matters and also spurned an operation on a cruciate ligament injury, declaring his faith would see him through." Reinforcing his religious outlook, Andrews explained to Small Talk in 2007 why homosexuality "is against the word of God", adding that "the Bible said that it's an abomination to God; that God created a man to be with a woman or a woman to be with a man. Simple as that." The Knowledge also vaguely recalls listening to Andrews being interviewed on Radio Five Live in the immediate aftermath of Rangers' 2003 SPL win. Upon being asked for his reaction, Andrews sobbed uncontrollably for the best part of a minute, before screaming "I love God" for another 60 seconds or so. It was an improvement on "the boys done good", at least.

Email us at the the usual address if there are any other examples we have missed.

This kids are the best.

German lovers – aged six and five – try to elope to Africa

Mika and his girlfriend Anna-Bell found on way to airport with lilo, swimming trunks and a witness for the wedding in tow, Monday 5 January 2009 17.40 GMT
Anna-Bell, Anna-Lena and Mika at the police post at the main railway station in Hanover, central Germany, after being caught heading for the airport so Anna-Bell and Mika could 'get married in Africa'.

It is a dream that has been shared by lovers across the centuries – the chance to elope to exotic lands. But few would have been as bold and spontaneous as six-year-old Mika and his five-year-old sweetheart Anna-Bell who, after mulling over their options in secret, packed their suitcases on New Year's Eve and set off from the German city of Hanover to tie the knot under the heat of the African sun.

The children left their homes at dawn while their unwitting parents were apparently sleeping, and took along Mika's seven-year-old sister, Anna-Lena, as a witness to the wedding.

Donning sunglasses, swimming armbands and dragging a pink blow-up lilo and suitcases on wheels packed with summer clothes, cuddly toys and a few provisions, they walked a kilometre up the road, boarded a tram to Hanover train station and got as far as the express train that would take them to the airport before a suspicious station guard alerted police.

"What struck us was that the little ones were completely on their own and that they had lots of swimming gear with them," said Holger Jureczko, a police spokesman. He described Mika and Anna-Bell as "sweethearts" who had "decided to get married in Africa where it is warm, taking with them as a witness Mika's sister".

Anna-Bell told the German television station RTL: "We wanted to get married and so we just thought: 'Let's go there.' "

Mika said: "We wanted to take the train to the airport, then we wanted to get on a plane and when we arrived we wanted to unpack the summer things and then we wanted to go for a bit of a stroll in the sun."

Mika and Anna-Lena's mother, who was not identified, said she had known nothing of her children's plan. "I'm still in a state of shock. I thought 'I'm playing a part in a bad movie.' When we realised the kids were missing we went looking for them." But only when the police called did they realise what had happened.

Asked why they failed to let their parents know, the children said they thought they would not be gone for long.

Mika told police he instigated the plan having been inspired by a winter holiday with his family in Italy. "Based on this the children began to make plans for the future," Jureczko said.

To allay their disappointment at being caught, Hanover police gave them a tour of the police headquarters. Jureczko said: "They'll have the chance to put their plan into action at a later date".

Football / Legend Giggs drops a retirement hint
« on: January 06, 2009, 09:50:52 AM »
Legend Giggs drops a retirement hint

Soccernet staff

Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs has dropped a strong hint that could retire from football at the end of this season. The 35-year-old former Wales captain's current deal with United expires at the end of the season and he is yet to begin negotiations on an extension. 
Giggs, scoring here against Celtic, has scored in 15 consecutive Champions League seasons. (Empics)

United winger Giggs, who holds the club's all-time appearance record and recently overtook Bill Foulkes as the player with the longest spanning United career, told The Sun: "I will keep playing as long as I enjoy it, I am fit and the manager wants me.

"If one of those three things stops, I will consider retiring. It could be at the end of this season."

Giggs' 28 winners medals include two Champions League victories, a record 10 Premier League championships and four FA Cup wins.

"I am at the end of my contract in May," said Giggs. "So we will see. At the minute there hasn't been any contact with United.

"I am as fit as I ever have been. The only difference is recovering from the game."

Despite the onset of time the one-time flying winger was able to play a full part in United succcesses in 2008, scoring the goal that clinched the league title at Wigan in May and scoring the decisive penalty as United won the Champions League in Moscow.

"Today, victories and titles make me happier than when I was younger," he said. "Because I know that they could be my last."

Giggs is the only United player to have played in all 10 Premier League-winning teams, the only player to have scored in 12 consecutive Champions League tournaments and the sole player to have scored in every Premier League campaign since its inception.

He said United had not started contract extension talks but his agent Harry Swales told the BBC: "Ryan says he can still play on for a few more years. We haven't spoken to United yet but I'm sure it will happen in due course."

Football / Sorry Sydney's sad decline
« on: January 06, 2009, 09:42:42 AM »
Sorry Sydney's sad decline

Jason Dasey

Going into the match at the former home of Sir Donald Bradman, coach John Kosmina joked about his team throwing down some spinners and googlies. But a rare A-League game at the Adelaide Oval turned out to be no laughing matter for struggling Sydney FC. A disastrous defeat - their fourth straight in the Hyundai A-League - to table-topping Adelaide United ended the finals' hopes of the one-time glamour club and saw them sink to an all-low. A change of ownership in March can't come soon enough for the inaugural A-League champions; Coach Kosmina will almost certainly be shown the door and star striker John Aloisi could join him. Aloisi, who missed the Adelaide game through injury, has become a tragic figure of Shakespearean proportions.

Barely three years after converting the penalty that sent Australia through to the 2006 World Cup, the inspirational icon has become a millionaire marquee muppet, booed by his own fans. Fellow new recruits Mark Bridge - disappointingly benign up front - and Stuart Musialik haven't done much better. Another man to have worn Australia's colours, Simon Colosimo has missed most of the season through injury. Tony Popovic's body finally gave way mid-season and fellow national teammate Steve Corica - taking over the captain's armband - also seems to be on his last legs as a professional player. Sydney have some outstanding juniors coming through but the club - both in a playing sense and off-the-field - are in desperate need of inspiration and direction.

Ever since Dwight Yorke was allowed to head back to England after energising the side in their championship winning first season, Sydney FC have been going backwards. Indeed, seeing Sydney FC's declining crowds and failure to captivate a notoriously-fickle sporting city, a new western Sydney franchise - likely to enter the competition in 2010 - would fancy their chances of succeeding where the light blues have miserably failed.

Kosmina, Aloisi and defender Iain Fyfe - all born in the South Australian capital - might be secretly admiring the contrasting success story of their hometown club. Of course, Fyfe will be joining Adelaide United next season, Kosmina is their former head coach and don't be surprised if Aloisi turns up on the books of the Reds down the track if he's cut loose from Sydney FC. 'Less is more' could well be the motto for economical Adelaide: they're everything that wasteful Sydney aren't: cohesive, resourceful and successful. Making the AFC Champions League final and winning two games out of three at last month's FIFA World Club Cup in Japan was a magnificent achievement under the outstanding Aurelio Vidmar, a one-time assistant to Kosmina. And with an average age of just 24, things will only get better for the Reds if they can hold onto the nucleus of their squad.

Their performance against Sydney in front of a bumper crowd of 23,002 was a long way from their best but smart and clinical Adelaide - perhaps mindful of their seven games in 31 days - still did enough to win comfortably. Just like 'The Don' more than half a century ago in Adelaide, the Reds are the best in the land and have the runs on the board.

SAfrican official who exposed 2010 graft killed

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) -A senior South African official who blew the whistle on alleged corruption in a 2010 construction project has been shot dead, the South African Press Association reported Monday.

Jimmy Mohlala was shot outside his house in the eastern town of Nelspruit as he tried to run away from two gunmen, police spokesman Philip Fakhude told SAPA.

Mohlala's 19-year-old son was shot and wounded in what appears to be a botched carjacking. Fakhude, however, said the motive was not yet known and that police were not ruling out murder.

The 44-year-old Mohlala, the speaker of the Mbombela local municipality in Nelspruit, had been instrumental in exposing tender irregularities in the building of the town's 2010 World Cup stadium.

This led to the suspension of some senior officials in the municipality. The provincial government was forced to take over the management of preparations for the football tournament.

Early last year, the ruling African National Congress asked Mohlala to resign but he refused.

At the time of his murder, the party was in the process of taking disciplinary action against him, SAPA reported.

South Africa will host the continent's first World Cup but preparations have been bogged down by rising costs, construction delays and security concerns. South Africa has one of the worst murder rates in the world with at least 50 people being killed a day.


General Discussion / Man in Santa suit kills 9, self on Christmas Eve
« on: December 27, 2008, 08:12:53 AM »
Man in Santa suit kills 9, self on Christmas Eve

By CHRISTINA HOAG – 16 hours ago
COVINA, Calif. (AP) — A ninth body was found Friday morning at the charred site of a Christmas Eve massacre where a recently divorced man dressed as Santa shot indiscriminately at partygoers and destroyed his former in-laws' house with a homemade device that sprayed flammable liquid.

The attacker, Bruce Pardo, reached a Dec. 18 settlement with his ex-wife, who along with her parents was believed to be among the dead. His lawyer and a fellow church usher were among those who said they had never seen anything to indicate he was capable of such a brutal crime.
Pardo's attorney, Stanley Silver, said his client seemed cheerful when he left a message two days before the shooting and was trying to pay $10,000 to finalize the divorce proceedings.
"All of my dealings with him were always pleasant and cheerful," Silver said. "I'd never encountered him when he was ... angry or unpleasant at all."
Pardo left the scene of the killings and was found dead Thursday, of a single bullet to the head, at his brother's house.
The body of his ninth victim was found Friday morning when investigators resumed searching what was left of the two-story home on a cul-de-sac in Covina, 25 miles east of Los Angeles.
Eight bodies were recovered Thursday from the destroyed house; it was not yet known where the gunfire or the flames killed them. None of the dead or missing has been identified.

The bloodbath began about 11:30 p.m. Wednesday when an 8-year-old girl attending a Christmas Eve party answered a knock at the door. A man dressed as Santa and carrying what appeared to a present pulled out a handgun and shot her in the face, then began shooting indiscriminately as partygoers tried to flee.
The gift-wrapped box Pardo was carrying actually contained a pressurized homemade device he used to spray a liquid that quickly sent the house up in flames. Court documents showed Pardo had been employed at the radar division of ITT Electronic Systems, a military defense supplier, until July.
Pardo, 45, had no criminal record and no history of violence, according to police, but he was angry following last week's settlement of his divorce after a short marriage.

"No counseling or delay could help restore this marriage," the settlement stated. "There are irreconcilable differences, which have led to the complete breakdown of the marriage."
A court summary of the divorce case showed that Sylvia Pardo filed for a dissolution of marriage on March 24, 2008. The summary indicated she and Bruce Pardo reached a settlement on Dec. 18 and were separated after about two years of marriage.

Court documents show Sylvia Pardo got the couple's dog, the wedding ring and $10,000 in the settlement agreement, while he got the house. In June, the court ordered Bruce Pardo to pay $1,785 a month in spousal support and put him on a payment plan of $450 a month for $3,570 that was unpaid.
Pardo's attorney said the man had trouble making the payments after he lost his job in July, but spousal support was waived in the settlement signed earlier this month.
Pardo wrote in a legal declaration that he had been denied a severance package from his previous employer and state unemployment payments in August. He said he was "desperately seeking" work.
He also complained in a court declaration that his estranged wife was living with her parents, not paying rent, and had spent lavishly on a luxury car, gambling trips to Las Vegas, meals at fine restaurants, massages and golf lessons.
Investigators seeking further information about Pardo's motives have begun searching his home in the suburban Los Angeles community of Montrose.
Christmas lights decorated the roof of Pardo's home and plastic nutcracker soldiers and striped candy canes were attached to a fence that edged a neatly trimmed lawn. A black Cadillac Escalade and a white Hummer were parked in the driveway.
Neighbors frequently saw Pardo working on his lawn and walking his dog, a big, brown Akita. Pardo served regularly as an usher at evening Mass at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Montrose, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Jan Detanna, the head usher at the church, was stunned when told about the violence.
"I'm just — this is shocking," Detanna told the Times. "He was the nicest guy you could imagine. Always a pleasure to talk to, always a big smile."

Two people wounded in the attack are expected to recover: the 8-year-old who was shot and a 16-year-old girl shot in the back. A 20-year-old woman broke her ankle when jumping from a second-story window and was recovering.

David Salgado, a neighbor, said he saw the 8-year-old victim being escorted to an ambulance by four SWAT team members as flames up to 40 feet high consumed the house.
"It was really ugly," Salgado said.
Another neighbor, Jan Gregory, said she saw a teenage boy flee the home, screaming, "`They shot my family.'"
When the fire was extinguished early Thursday, officers found three charred bodies in the living room area.
"They were met with a scene that was just indescribable," police Chief Kim Raney said. Investigators found five more bodies amid the ashes later in the day. Coroner's Lt. Larry Dietz said the ninth body was found Friday morning.

Following the shootings, Pardo quickly got out of the Santa suit and drove off, witnesses told police. He went to his brother's home about 25 miles away in the Sylmar area of Los Angeles. No one was home, so Pardo let himself in, police said.

Police were called to the home early Thursday, and officers found Pardo dead. Two handguns were found at the scene, and two more were discovered in the wreckage of his former in-laws' house.
A car that Pardo apparently parked near his brother's home exploded Thursday evening and more ammunition was found in it, Los Angeles police Sgt. Francisco Wheeling said. She had no immediate details on what set off the explosion. No one was hurt.

Football / Modern Evolution of Formations 4-4-2 vs 4-2-3-1
« on: December 18, 2008, 11:42:27 AM »
The Question: why has 4-4-2 been superseded by 4-2-3-1?

The coming of 4-2-3-1 was a natural progression from 4-4-2, and in the last five years nearly all tactical innovations are developments of the formationComments (49)
At what turned out to be Roy Keane's final press-conference as Sunderland manager, after the 4-1 defeat to Bolton, he admitted his side's 4-4-2 formation had been part of the problem. Kenwyne Jones and Djibril Cissé may be a forward pairing that, given their power and pace, will terrify defences, but it doesn't really matter if, as happened in that Bolton game, the midfield four are outnumbered and - outplayed - by an opposition using five midfielders, rendering them unable to work the ball into dangerous areas.

Fielding five midfielders was for a long time considered a negative tactic, but that is dependent entirely on the make-up of the five. It is still a commonplace of English punditry to speak of teams not playing "two up" as being negative, but even a glance at a team-sheet should show what nonsense that it. Take, for example, France in the Euro 2000 final with Youri Djorkaeff, Zinedine Zidane and Christoph Dugarry playing off Thierry Henry, or Portugal in the same tournament with Luis Figo, Rui Costa and Sergio Conceicao playing off Nuno Gomes. Take Spain in the final of Euro 2008, with Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregás, Xavi and David Silva arrayed behind Fernando Torres.

As ever in tactical matters, the sense is that British football lags behind. In Spain, for instance, 4-2-3-1 was common by 2000, and within a couple of years had become almost a default. Perhaps that is not surprising, for it was in Spain that the formation first developed as something distinct from 4-4-2.

Once sides had started using their playmaker as a second striker – a trend that emerged at the 1986 World Cup – the coming of 4-2-3-1 was inevitable. Initially a holding midfielder would be deployed to pick him up – hence the late-nineties boom in players capable of playing the Makelele role – at which point the deep-lying forward would start drifting wide to find space. If the holding player followed him, that created space in the middle, so an additional player would be dropped deeper as cover, with knock-on effects for the more attacking midfielders.

Or the evolution could come from the other direction: a side playing 4-4-2, with the wingers pushed high and one of the centre-forward dropping deep, is effectively playing a 4-2-3-1. When Manchester United beat Barcelona in the 1991 Cup-Winners' Cup final, for instance, they had Bryan Robson and Paul Ince holding, with Lee Sharpe and Mike Phelan wide, and Brian McClair dropping off Mark Hughes. Everybody still referred to it as 4-4-2, but it was in effect a 4-2-3-1.

Self-conscious symmetry in Spain

The first to deploy the new formation self-consciously, at least according to the Spanish coaching magazine Training Football, was the Real Sociedad coach Juanma Lillo while he was in charge of the Segunda Division side Cultural Leonesa in 1991-92. "My intention was to pressure and to try to steal the ball high up the pitch," he explained.

"It was the most symmetrical way I could find of playing with four forwards. One of the great advantages is that having the forwards high allows you to play the midfield high and the defence high, so everybody benefits. But you have to have the right players. They have to be very, very mobile and they have to be able to play when they get the ball. You have to remember that they're pressuring to play, not playing to pressure."

At Leonesa, Lillo had Sami and Teofilo Abajo as his two pivots (the system in Spain is known as the "doble pivot"), with Carlos Nunez, Ortiz and Moreno in front of them and Latapia as the lone forward. Seeing the success of the system Lillo took it to Salamanca. There, according to an editorial in Training Futbol, the players reacted with "faces of incredulity because they thought it was a strange way to play; they responded to the positions they were told to adopt and the distribution of each line of the team with the same sense of strangeness and surprise as someone who had just come face to face with a dinosaur." Nonetheless, it took them to promotion.

The formation rapidly spread. Javier Irureta had been using it with Deportivo la Coruna for a couple of seasons before they won the league title in 2000, and when John Toshack returned to Real Madrid in 1999, he deployed Geremi and Fernando Redondo as his holding midfielders, with Steve McManaman, Raul and Elvir Baljic in front of them and either Anelka or Fernando Morientes as the lone striker.

4-2-3-1's transfer to England – at least in terms of a recognition of it as something distinct from 4-4-2 – came with Manchester United as an emphatic 3-2 home defeat by Real Madrid in the Champions League in 1999-2000 convinced Sir Alex Ferguson that the more orthodox 4-4-2 he had employed to win the treble the previous season had had its day in European competition (although he maintains, with some justification, that he has never played 4-4-2, but has always used split forwards).

Pro-active or reactive?

The great advantage of using the two holders is that it provides a platform on which more creative players can express themselves, effectively allowing dribblers back into the game, but for a purist like Arrigo Sacchi, it is a retrograde step. His AC Milan side won the European Cup in 1989 and 1990 playing a highly fluid and compact 4-4-2. "Today's football is about managing the characteristics of individuals," he said. "And that's why you see the proliferation of specialists. The individual has trumped the collective. But it's a sign of weakness. It's reactive, not pro-active."

Like Valeriy Lobanovskyi, Sacchi was a devotee of universality, believing that if players were capable of operating in multiple positions, they could create an interactive "energy-system" whose effectiveness was greater than the sum of the effectiveness of the individuals within in. It was during his brief spell as sporting director of Real Madrid in 2004, that Sacchi realised just how far football had drifted from his ideals.

"There was no project; it was about exploiting qualities," he said. "So, for example, we knew that Zidane, Raul and Figo didn't track back, so we had to put a guy in front of the back four who would defend. But that's reactionary football. It doesn't multiply the players' qualities exponentially. Which actually is the point of tactics: to achieve this mulitplier effect on the players' abilities. In my football, the regista - the playmaker - is whoever had the ball. But if you have [Claude] Makelele, he can't do that. He doesn't have the ideas to do it, though of course, he's great at winning the ball. It's all about specialists."

In that he has a point, and it may be that today's celebrity players, who enjoy such freedom of movement under modern transfer regulations, would never sublimate themselves to a system as Sacchi demanded his players should. Even at Milan, for all his success, Saachi ended up falling out with Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit.

Offside considerations

There is a question, anyway, as to whether Sacchi's style could operate in the same way today. His ideal was a maximum of 25m at any moment between centre-back and centre-forward, but that level of pressing demands a high offside line. It may be that the liberalisation of the offside law in recent years has rendered that impossible; certainly few teams operate an offside trap any more.

Lillo, intriguingly, acknowledges that his high-pressing game was conceived to take advantage of the old offside law; his thinking may have diverged from Sacchi's, but he is just as much a part of the tradition of Lobanovskyi and the Total Football of the Dutch. The difference perhaps is that while 4-2-3-1 allows a high defensive line, Sacchi's style of 4-4-2 demands it. The changes to the interpretation of the offside law mean that defences tend to play deeper these days, and the game is therefore more stretched than it was even a decade ago; given that, it is perhaps logical to split the midfield into holders and creators and so play in four bands rather than three. This is not new: the W-M, a 3-2-2-3, was also a system of four bands.

Recent developments

All of which begs the question of whether, given many 4-4-2s were effectively 4-2-3-1s, it matters what we call it. Should we really hail Lillo as a pioneer, when his breakthrough was to do self-consciously and give a name to something that was already happening? Isolating and naming something, though, as Wittgenstein argues, is a highly significant step. Once an idea is understood fully enough that it can be described by a simple term – 4-2-3-1 – then work can begin on developing it. What happened in Spain in the early part of this decade, as the basic template moved from 4-4-2 to 4-2-3-1, was nothing less than a paradigm shift.

Almost every tactical innovation of the past five years can be seen as developments from a 4-2-3-1. That is true of Roma and Manchester United's experiments with strikerless formations, but also of the fluid 4-3-3 of this season's Barcelona.

One of the great advantages of the 3-5-2 was the flexibility offered by the use of three central midfielders. Slaven Bilic still speaks disbelievingly of the flair of Croatia's trio of Robert Prosinecki, Zvonimir Boban and Aljosa Asanovic in the 1998 World Cup, but against Germany in the quarter-final, Prosinecki was replaced by the much more defensive Zvonimir Soldo. Two years later, Italy's interpretation was a stage more defensive: a 3-4-1-2, with Demetrio Albertini and Luigi Di Biagio holding and Stefano Fiore operating as a playmaker.

Midfield flexibility

The triangle of two holders and the central creator in the 4-2-3-1 is similar in that it allows the tone of a side to be changed without a major tactical overhaul. Advance one of the holders and a 4-1-4-1 is created. It was that system to which Spain switched in the Euro 2008 semi-final after Fabregás had come on for the injured David Villa. They retained the shape for the final and, counter-intuitively, probably produced their best football after their top scorer had been ruled out.

More subtly, if United play Anderson or Paul Scholes alongside Michael Carrick, their emphasis is more positive than if Darren Fletcher and Owen Hargreaves occupy the roles. Away against Roma in the Champions League last year, the central creator was withdrawn, forming a 4-3-3 with Carrick, Scholes and Anderson as the midfield, and Park Ji-Sung, Cristiano Ronaldo and Rooney as the forwards.

It is essentially a more attacking version of that shape that Barcelona tend to operate – the two wingers slightly withdrawn off a central striker, with, usually, Xavi Hernandez advanced of two more defensive midfielders. And there is, frankly, no better football in Europe at the moment, in terms of both aesthetics and results.

All tactical systems are relative and, as Lillo stresses, all are reliant on the players available and circumstance. It may be that the overwhelming dominance of 4-4-2 in English thinking means it retains a valuable function, but the closest any of the Big Four come to using it is Arsenal's fluid 4-4-1-1. At the highest level, the paradigm has already shifted: 4-2-3-1 is king.

General Discussion / What is the fascination with Guns?
« on: October 29, 2008, 09:48:16 AM »
Grieving father says he gave son, 8, permission to fire Uzi

By David Abel and Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff, and Matthew P. Collette, Globe Correspondent

Dr. Charles Bizilj stood 10 feet behind his son this weekend at a "Machine Gun Shoot" in Westfield, where the third grader aimed an Uzi at a pumpkin in the distance.

As Bizilj reached for his camera, the boy clutched the gun in his arms and squeezed the trigger. The Uzi flipped backwards and 8-year-old Christopher Bizilj fatally shot himself in the head.

“It was all a blur,” Dr. Charles Bizilj said this afternoon in a telephone interview. “I’m still in the grieving process.”

Christopher was accompanied by a trained professional as he held the 9-mm Micro Uzi machine gun at the Westfield Sportsman's Club Sunday afternoon, but Bizilj said he doesn’t think the shooting guide was holding the weapon as his son pressed the trigger.

“This accident was truly a mystery to me,” he said. “This is a horrible event, a horrible travesty, and I really don’t know why it happened. I don’t think it’s relevant that he wasn’t holding the weapon.”

He said his son, a third grader who loved to hike and bike, had experience firing handguns and rifles. But he said this was the first time he had fired an automatic weapon.

"I gave permission for him to fire the Uzi,” Bizilj said. “I watched several other children and adults use it. It’s a small weapon, and Christopher was comfortable with guns. There were larger machine guns with much more recoil, and we avoided those.”

Bizilj, the medical director of the emergency department at Johnson Memorial Hospital in Stafford Springs, Conn., said that his son was “very cautious, very well trained, and very much enjoyed firing.”

When his son pressed the trigger Sunday, it was the first gun he had fired all day. “It took about an hour to get there, and it was something he was looking forward to for months,” Bizilj said.

The annual Machine Gun Shoot and Firearms Expo is a two-day event. Police are investigating whether the Westfield Sportsman’s Club and the group running the event were licensed. “We haven’t confirmed whether either have been licensed,” said Westfield Police Lieutenant Hipolito Nuñez.

The sportsman's club boasted in an advertisement for the event posted on its website that the $5 entry fee was waived for children under age 16 and there was "no age limit or licenses required to shoot machine guns."

"It’s all legal & fun," the advertisement says. "You will be accompanied to the firing line with a Certified Instructor to guide you. But You Are In Control – "FULL AUTO ROCK & ROLL."

Shooting targets for the event included vehicles, pumpkins, and "other fun stuff we can’t print here," according to the advertisement.

Christopher Bizilj was firing the weapon at an outside firing range and was wounded once in the head when the recoil forced the gun to rotate upward and backward, Nuñez said. The boy was taken to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. He was pronounced dead at the hospital with one gunshot wound to the head. No one else was injured.

State law requires anyone under age 18 to have parental consent and a licensed instructor to fire an automatic weapon. Otherwise, there’s no minimum age to fire such a gun, Nuñez said.

“We do not know at this time the full facts of this incident, and it's being investigated," Nuñez said.

The event at the club was organized by C.O.P. Firearms & Training, an Amherst company that, according to its website, organizes machine gun shoots throughout New England. Officials from that group also could not be reached.

Football / Bahrain show Abu Dhabi that money can't buy international success
« on: September 05, 2008, 06:53:43 AM »
Bahrain show Abu Dhabi that money can't buy international success

They may be the poorest Gulf state, but Bahrain have a better shot at qualifying for the 2010 World Cup than the UAE or Qatar

James Montague
September 5, 2008 12:03 PM
That was the 72 hours that was. Alan Curbishley walks the plank in a huff, Kevin Keegan throws his toys out of the pram - at Dennis Wise's head - and Dimitar Berbatov's on, off, on, off, on, off, on move to Manchester United finally materialises. Oh, and there's the small issue of Manchester City's new trillionaire owners from Abu Dhabi and the end of football as we know it. Suddenly the world has woken up to a new era of Monopoly football, an era where the phenomenal wealth and influence of the emerging Middle East will be felt with a force that makes the average Russian oligarch look like a market trader. But with the Premier League on an international break, and the press hungry for more, could this be the first time in history that the footballing world actually pays some attention to the start of the final stage of Asian qualifying for the World Cup?

Whilst Europe kicks off its campaign this weekend, Saturday sees two groups of five teams embarking on the last stage of a qualifying process that began last summer. The top two from each group go to South Africa automatically, while a third place play-off works out who will play the winner of the Oceania group. Which will probably be New Zealand. Around the Gulf Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran and, of course, the UAE - who will no doubt have both Sheikh Khalifa of Abu Dhabi and Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai in the stands when they welcome mighty North Korea - will all go into the final round believing they have a great chance of reaching the finals. After all, the three teams on the Arabian side of the Gulf have lavished huge amounts of cash on their squads, arranging top class friendlies, training camps in expensive European cities and hiring big name foreign coaches to spearhead their charge. Yet there's one Gulf state, the ugly duckling of the Persian Gulf, that may well pip all of them to the post to become the smallest ever nation to qualify for a World Cup finals: Bahrain.

With a population of just over 700,000 Bahrain is far smaller than the current record holder Trinidad and Tobago. And whilst the rest of the Gulf is preoccupied with garish adornments, Bahrain remains the odd man out, doing things very differently to their neighbour, the UAE. For one, it has a majority Shia population, yet is ruled by a Sunni royal family, a state of affairs that has led to riots, deaths and an attempted Shia Islmaist coup in the early 1980s. Since the turn of the century the king, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, has charted a course through choppy political waters, giving more power to Bahrain's simmering Shia majority, loosening the ban on political parties and instigating universal suffrage whilst trying to eschew the grand pissing contests with its neighbours in favour of a healthy and well regulated bank sector. You'll even find a synagogue in Manama, something you'll resolutely fail to find in the absolute monarchies in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh.

Bahrain is also the poorest Gulf state. While the Bahraini Khalifas didn't come close to the $200m (£113m) needed to trouble the 15 richest royals in a recent Forbes poll, Sheikh Khalifa of Abu Dhabi had his wealth conservatively estimated at $23bn (£13bn), and Sheikh Mohammed at $18bn (£10.2bn). Yet Bahrain has in recent years consistently produced national football teams of higher quality than the UAE. As many as 14 Bahraini players were playing professionally abroad before their failed bid to reach the 2006 World Cup, where they came within one goal of beating Trinidad and Tobago in a play-off. The UAE, which kept all of its players close to home, didn't even make it to the final qualifying round. "The defeat against Trinidad and Tobago was hard as we were so close to qualifying for the World Cup finals for the first time ever," Bahraini midfielder Mohamed Salmeen told MSN. "It will be very hard to forget that moment but we will try our best to erase the bad memories by producing good performances this time around and qualify for South Africa."

This time, qualification has been put in the hands of a journeyman manager from the Czech Republic. The Reds have flourished under the guidance of Milan Máãala, the kind of thick-skinned coach who would survive a nuclear winter. Somehow he has kept his head above water by traipsing from Middle Eastern club team, to national team, to club team again, being sacked by virtually everyone along way. But after dispensing with rivals Oman, Bahrain shocked the region by beating Japan in the previous round, virtually securing their passage to the last ten and sending out a warning that Bahrain had the potential to beat the best in Asia. "This was my fifth match against Japan, and today we finally beat them!" Máãala said afterwards, referring to the fact that he had previous lost 4-1 to Japan whilst coach of Saudi Arabia, which cost him his job, and a further three times whilst in charge of Oman. "I can't tell you how glad I am."

His only worry now seems to be the timing of matches. The opening group games take place during the holy month of Ramadan when his squad of Muslim players will not be allowed to take on any fluids or eat food during daylight hours. This is less of a problem for Japan's first two opponents Japan and Qatar - as several of the latter country's players have been naturalised from Uruguay. The Qataris have long been the bane of Fifa's life after repeatedly trying to get around the issue of having crap footballers by stealing the unwanted flotsam from elsewhere. First they tried buying citizenship for three Brazilian players to help them qualify for the 2006 World Cup and, after that failed, started naturalizing a string of South American players who had played for a few years in their lucrative Q League.

It is thought that Fifa's decision to tighten up its own naturalisation rules was largely down to Qatar's moss-like ability to find cracks in apparently watertight legislation. In fact, they sailed so close to the edge they narrowly escaped censure for fielding an ineligible player in the previous round, the (former) Brazilian Emerson. His status was at the centre of legal action from the Iraqi national team after he was part of the side that ended their hopes in the competition earlier in the year. It transpired he had a fake birth certificate and therefore wasn't eligible to play for Qatar at all. Whilst Emerson was banned, the protests for Qatar to be thrown out fell on deaf ears (Fifa ruled there was no way the Qatari FA could have known it was fake) and Jorge Fossati's team will be competing with Bahrain and Uzbekistan for that all important third spot. Japan and Australia should take the top two places.

Saudi Arabia, in the same group as Iran and both North and South Korea, will do what they always do in these positions - qualify with relative ease. The last time the Saudis failed was in 1990, the year that the UAE, the fifth and final team in that group, made their one and only appearance in the finals. Back then one Carlos Alberto Parreira, later to win the World Cup with Brazil, coached the UAE to three successive defeats, but not everyone lost out. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, then president of the UAE and father of the current leader, Sheikh Khalifa, whose fortune is leading to a run on dish dasha head dresses on the blue side of Manchester, promised a Rolls Royce to anyone on the team who merely scored a goal. Two national team players came home to find a new car parked in the driveway. One suspects that, with Bruno Metsu at the helm on a huge contract, expectations will be a tad higher this time around.

Sulieman Al Fahim, the figurehead of the Abu Dhabi United Group, has already stated his wider intentions; that the investment in Manchester City will not only raise the profile of Abu Dhabi but also be a shop window for his country's footballers. The aim is to see more UAE players, like Ismail Matar - who won the Golden Ball at the 2003 World Youth Championship - and his strike partner Faisal Khalil trying to break into European teams (read: Man City).

The UAE have a tough task ahead of them and the best they can hope for is a third-place play-off with Bahrain, which would be a fascinating prospect. The cash rich, time poor Emiratis may want the world and everything in it tomorrow, but international football is a great leveller, a place where you have to play with the hand god dealt you, unless you're in charge of Qatar, of course. Bahrain's national football team has far outshone the sneaky Qataris and the lavish Emiratis in the past two qualification campaigns. This is one honour the Nahyan billions can't buy.

The Guardian

General Discussion / P Diddiot
« on: September 02, 2008, 06:59:44 PM »
I am not a hator but there is a person that I detest, Sean Coombs.

Good businessman, knows a good hustle. Can't hate because the man have money and the means to make more.

Arguably a talented producer i.e. decent at taking pre-produced popular music and re-introducing it to unsuspecting masses.

But every other creative venture that he tries to display he is horrible at and his success is purely due to his strong brand and not any outstanding creative talent.

Not a good solo performer or recording artist. On stage he has the charisma of a shell-top sneaker and I would be surpised if ANY of his rap albums make the list of the best 200 rap albums of all time. He has a career built entirely on the death of Biggie.

Always trying to "dance" onstage or in a video, the most pitiful one-two step moves that you could imagine yet we wouldn't stop.

Horrible when trying to sing a melody on a song, even with a heavy dose of voice modulation and layering.

Terrible actor, although not as bad as his singing or dancing. In fact I take that back I have seen his "reality" shows where he tries to be a charismatic shot-caller and entrepreneur, a la Trump, and I have to say that his acting is worse than I first remembered.

Now comedy and a return as a political activist. Anybody remember the assinine "Vote-or-Die". The presence of this shit-fly and other well-meaning but self-promoting celebrity idiots did nothing to help Kerry in 2004 and now they trying their level best to sink Obama.

Case in point the Diddy Blogs.

In This One he is supposedly trying to be witty and conversational and all he does is show that he is partially illiterate, fully ignorant and cannot express a coherent opinion or present an argument. Love the fact that HE is not going to let McCain get away with

In This One, again trying to be funny, again looking like an idiot.

Football / Six Inspired Transfers (incl. Dwight Yorke)
« on: August 29, 2008, 08:27:19 AM »
The Joy of Six: inspired football transfers
As this summer's transfer deadline approaches, look back at six of the most successful deals ever done
Rob Smyth
August 29, 2008 11:05 AM

1) Diego Maradona (Barcelona to Napoli, £6.9m, 1984)
To associate the inspired transfer exclusively with the bargain is as restrictive as the inclination to associate beauty exclusively with the aesthetic. Just as heart-bursting beauty can be found by watching a bag blowing in the wind, so you can still sniff value even when paying through the nose.

As such, it feels apt that Maradona is the only footballer to break his own world-record transfer fee. Sometimes the most important thing is simply to identify the bleedin' obvious - true greatness, slap down some notes on the table and say, "Let's have some of this, then". That's what Napoli did in 1984. While Milan, Inter and Juventus faffed (Maradona was in a hurry to move as he was completely skint), they did the necessary.

Maradona had nothing to his name when he joined Napoli, but the champagne flowed over the next few years: he heads a select list of players (Alan Shearer is another) whose signing almost single-handedly brought unimaginable joy to a small or underachieving club. Napoli had finished a point off relegation the previous season.

Those corkscrew curls might occasionally have looked in need of some L'Oreal lovin', and there were issues with social dandruff as well, but there is no question that Maradona was in genuine "Because I'm worth it" territory.

2) Lee Dixon and Steve Bould (Stoke to Arsenal, £350,000 and £390,000, 1988)
Arsenal's legendary 1990s back five were so similar that it felt like they had emerged from the same sporting womb, when in fact they were adopted from all over the place to partner the club's natural child, Tony Adams. Even when Bould and Dixon were bought from second-division Stoke, it was at different times: Dixon in January 1988 and Bould in June.

In those days you could find a proper player in the lower divisions: if talent is concentrated strictly in a pyramid these days, back then it was more like Marge Simpson's hair, only squashed a bit at the top. A staggering number of players not only made the leap to the top, but looked comfortable straight away. Dixon and Bould were good enough to play 63 of 76 league games in Arsenal's championship victory in their first season. Imagine a team winning the title this year with Cardiff's Kevin McNaughton and Roger Johnson in their defence. Presactly.

But George Graham had obviously seen something - possibly two right hands going in the air and appealing for offside 50 times a game - and it was a remarkable achievement to compile such a formidable defensive unit from such disparate parts. There have been more famous and exciting double signings in English football (Ardiles/Villa and Mühren/Thijssen, mainly), but none as remorselessly effective. In signing them, Graham ensured bread would be on the table not for today or tomorrow, but for an entire decade.

3) Peter Shilton (Stoke City to Nottingham Forest, £250,000, 1977)
Peter Taylor made so many wonderful signings during his time in the Midlands: Ade Akinbiyi, Trevor Benjamin, Juni ... Let's try that one again.

Peter Taylor made so many wonderful signings during his time in the Midlands: Dave Mackay, Roy McFarland, Kenny Burns, Larry Lloyd, Frank Clark. But his best might have been the one so obvious that even Brian Clough, a notoriously modest judge of a player, knew it was a good deal. The key with signing Shilton, 27 and with nearly 400 league games already under his jockstrap, was not the player but the fee: a goalkeeper-record £250,000 for somebody whose role was so disparaged at the time it was a bit like paying £50,000 for a cleaner.

But Clough and Taylor knew the importance of bricks and mortar. They knew that Shilton was this close to being perfect. Seriously, if you are under 35, you have no idea of how magnificent this man was. This was the signing that Taylor, a goalkeeper himself, had waited his whole life to make, like a kid who had saved up his pocket money for years. In his autobiography he wrote: "I had been obsessed with him since he was 19 and already a fixture in Leicester City's first team."

Serendipity also came into it. Shilton's Stoke City, who were relegated the previous season as Forest were promoted, had their first game of the season away to Mansfield. The full horror of what lay ahead hit Shilton right between the eyes, and after a dose of the I'm-a-celebrity-get-me-out-of-heres he was off to Forest. In his first season they won the league; in the next two they were champions of Europe.

4) Sol Campbell (Tottenham to Arsenal, Bosman, 2001)
This article could have dealt solely with Arsène Wenger's signings and still omitted some gems; in English football, only Peter Taylor has had a keener eye for a player in the last 50 years. Yet for all the obscenely accomplished unknowns he has unearthed, Wenger's best signing, like Taylor's, might have been somebody we all knew intimately: Sol Campbell.

The deal wasn't quite the banker that it looks in hindsight. It's important to remember that Campbell was 26 and still a little erratic. And of course it took courage to strip Tottenham of their finest, however obvious the schadenfreudian trip. Yet Wenger saw in him the monster who would totally dominate the next few years at club and international level: astonishingly, in Campbell's first three seasons at Arsenal, they only lost one away game in the league when he was on the pitch (at Everton in 2002-03).

It's difficult enough replacing one great player - Kenny Dalglish famously managed it at Liverpool - but Campbell almost single-handedly replaced a great back four. Never mind Lauren, Keown and Cole: when Campbell was on one, as he frequently was in that period, Wenger could have played Lauren Laverne, Martin Amis and Ashley from Coronation Street and still kept a clean sheet. Without him, Wenger would have not won a league title for more than a decade.

5) Mickey Evans (Plymouth to Southampton, £750,000, 1997)
There is a flawed but potent discourse in football about strikers whose mid-season signing has cost their new side the title: Rodney Marsh, Tony Cascarino and Faustino Asprilla are the principal examples. At the other end of the table, there are loads of examples of forwards whose mid-season purchase has saved their new side from relegation. Kevin Campbell's nine goals in eight games at Everton in 1998-99 stand out, as does Christophe Dugarry's holiday romance at Birmingham in 2002-03, when he even made a silk purse out of Geoff Horsfield.

In the 1996-97 season, there were instances at three different clubs, starting with John Hartson and Paul Kitson at West Ham, and Darren Huckerby at Coventry. The other was the unknown striker Mickey Evans, picked up from Plymouth by Graeme Souness in March to help Southampton in their annual relegation dogfight. He did that and more: at the start of April, with Southampton bottom and five points away from safety, he scored four goals in as many games, including two in a massive win at Nottingham Forest. Evans became the most unlikely winner of the Premier League Player of the Month award (the silver medal goes to Alex Manninger). Those were the only league goals he scored for Southampton - Souness departed in the summer, and new manager Dave Jones didn't fancy him - but his place in history was secure.

6) Dwight Yorke (Aston Villa to Manchester United, £12.6m, 1998)
We all know Eric Cantona was Sir Alex Ferguson's greatest signing, but at £1.2m it wasn't that much of a risk. Signing Cantona's eventual replacement, Dwight Yorke, was a different matter; it took stones of granite. Partly because Ferguson was loosening the purse strings for the first time in nine years, and possibly the last if he got it wrong; partly because most observers, neutral and partisan, thought Yorke, scorer of a modest 73 goals in 232 league games for Villa, was hideously overpriced; but mainly because Ferguson had absolutely no support for the purchase within his own club.

Yorke had barely scored a goal against United (just one, a penalty) but the loose-limbed mischief of his performances against them had wowed Ferguson. Yet Ferguson's assistant, Brian Kidd, wanted John Hartson - no, you don't need to adjust your screen - and thought Yorke didn't have the "remarkable range of exceptional abilities", particularly dribbling, that so interested Ferguson. Staggeringly, most of the directors took Kidd's side, to the extent that Ferguson asked the board if they wanted to "call it a day". Having called their bluff, he got his man - and in his first season Yorke delivered 29 goals, more than 20 assists, the partnership from heaven with Andy Cole, the treble and a knighthood.

The Guardian

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