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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bringing the big guns...

The U.S. have a pair of upcoming friendlies next month October 9th vs. Poland and the 12th vs. Columbia, and apparently Bob Bradley isn't messing around with too many newbies in the roster.

The only notable omission, which makes sense, is Landon Donovan, who is immersed in the MLS playoff jockeying. But Bradley has called upon his son Michael as well as notables Clint Dempsey, Maurice Edu, Jozy Altidore, Tim Howard, Steve Cherundolo, Carlos Bocanegra, Benny Feilhaber, Stuart Holden and Oguchi Onyewu.

There were two big new names also called up for the squad, one of which has been mentioned on numerous occasions the other who is a bit of an unknown.

Jermaine Jones could finally make his US MNT debut. The Schalke player and former German international, who was raised in Germany but has an American father, could be an interesting addition to the mix. He brings the toughness and fierce intensity to the squad with his experience in the Bundesliga.

The other player is former North Carolina defender Eric Lichaj, who signed for Aston Villa in 2007 and finally made his debut with the senior Villa side this year. Besides that I don't know much about the young kid, but I do know the US are most vulnerable on defense where they have seemingly failed to develop any young players at that position of any real quality lately. If you look at the World Cup the guys that did play well on defense were old -- Cherundolo and Bocanegra. Onyewu is getting up in age, and seems to be slipping after sustaining a patella tendon tear last year. Jay Demeritt is also old and although he was great at the Confederations Cup in 2009, struggled mightily this past summer at the World Cup.

Omar Gonzalez, another young defender many see as the future center defender for the MNT, also will not play as he joins Donovan and Edson Buddle in the Galaxy's playoff push.

Here is the complete list:

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa, England), Tim Howard (Everton, England)

Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra (Saint-Etienne, France), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover, Germany), Clarence Goodson (IK Start, Norway), Eric Lichaj (Aston Villa, England), Oguchi Onyewu (AC Milan, Italy), Michael Parkhurst (Nordsjaelland, Denmark), Heath Pearce (Dallas), Jonathan Spector (West Ham, England)

Midfielders: Alejandro Bedoya (Orebro, Sweden), Michael Bradley (Borussia Moenchengladbach, Germany), Maurice Edu (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland), Benny Feilhaber (Aarhus, Denmark), Stuart Holden (Bolton, England), Jermaine Jones (Schalke, Germany), Brek Shea (Dallas)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Villarreal, Spain), Clint Dempsey (Fulham, England), Eddie Johnson (Fulham, England).

Fuckin-A Fab

Something new and different, my home boy Cesc Fabregas got hurt again to to start the 2010-11 campaign on a very fluky play in which he blocked a Sunderland defender's clearance from 35 yards out, the ball hit his boot so hard that it flew in over the goalie's head for a goal, but somehow damaged his hamstring.

As Arsenal fans know, Fabregas has struggled to stay healthy in the premier league in recent seasons like last year when he broke his leg scoring a penalty in the Champions League. He's such an important player, so inspirational, so talented, and I don't want to call him a flower because he takes a lot of hard knocks, but unfortunately he has been injury prone.

Cesc Fabregas could miss Saturday's Premier League game against Chelsea with a hamstring injury - but Arsene Wenger will give the Arsenal captain until the last possible moment to prove his fitness.

Cesc Fabregas


Cesc Fabregas' closing down was rewarded with a freak goal - and an injury

Wenger also confirmed that Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen will certainly not travel to Stamford Bridge, having failed to recover from an Achilles injury, and Abou Diaby remains a doubt with an ankle injury.

"I don't know about Cesc" said Wenger. "It looks a 50:50 but a 50:50 balancing on the negative side. I will find out on Saturday morning."

Wenger conceded earlier this week that his captain had "little hope" of featuring against the champions, but it seems as though the World Cup winner will be given every opportunity to play.

Fabregas injured his hamstring in the process of scoring a freak goal against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light two weeks ago, when a clearance by Anton Ferdinand ricocheted off him and into the net.

Jozy vs Chicharito

Rich and I have been hoping like all U.S. fans that Jozy Altidore would start to find his way into the lineup for Villarreal -- the club who signed him from the states a couple years back -- or another big club in Europe somewhere.

His tenure with Hull City last season was not spectacular as he really struggled to score goals. But that was more an issue of the service he was getting from the team that was relegated with a sub par, below average and overall shitty midfield.

Anyway Jozy has gotten a little time with the Yellow Submarine and started today in their Europa League match alongside fellow American-born turned turncoat Italian international Guiseppe Rossi. Rossi scored in the match, Altidore apparently missed a pair of good chances.

Now I don't mean to put down Altidore, and he's had to face a lot of pressure at an early age (he's not even 21 yet), but as we've stated before it appears Mexico's Javier Hernandez or El Chicharito has passed the American in terms of development.

Chicharito opened his Champions League account yesterday with a huge away goal at current La Liga leaders Valencia in a 1-0 Manchester United win. Chich also appears to be Alex Ferguson's go-to guy for goals off the bench as he was the first player called upon during the match and has played that role to perfection a couple of times already.

I think it won't be long before Chich assumes a primary role up front for Man U, maybe perhaps in place of a guy like Berbatov later this season or next year. Regardless he is playing for perhaps the best manager in terms of developing young talent in the world -- see Cristiano Ronaldo, see Wayne Rooney, see Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, and on down the line.

Meanwhile Altidore is struggling to find a club where he break through into the starting lineup on a regular basis because he has struggled to bury goals. I love Jozy's potential and his athleticism is something you normally see out of NFL running backs, but at some point he needs to deliver the goods.

Messi wins the Golden Boot

Even if you didn't know anything about soccer, if you watched Lionel Messi for five minutes, you could tell that he is not your average player.

He is truly one of the special ones now and that we'll ever see in our lifetimes so enjoy every moment that the Argentina and Barcelona star delivers to us.

Today, Messi won the Golden Boot, given to top scorer in European domestic leagues last season.

The Argentine forward received the prize Thursday after scoring 34 league goals to help Barcelona retain its Spanish La Liga title.

Messi joined Marco van Basten, Ronaldo and Cristiano Ronaldo as the only players to win the three major individual awards: the Golden Boot, FIFA Player of the Year and the Golden Ball, given to Europe's top player.

Chelsea's Didier Drogba and Udinese's Antonio di Natale were tied for second place with 29 goals apiece.

Luis Suarez scored 35 goals last season for Ajax in the Netherlands but failed to win due to the points system that compensates for the degree of difficulty posed by the major European leagues: England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France.

Messi had failed to score a single goal at the World Cup in South Africa. Even so, former Argentina coach Diego Maradona said Wednesday that Messi deserved the award and hoped he would "win many more."

Messi is the second Barcelona player to be honored by European Sports Magazine. Ronaldo earned the club's first Golden Boot by scoring 34 goals in the 1996-97 season.

Barcelona captain Carles Puyol applauded Messi's ability and character.

"He is the best in the world, but he is humble. He improves every day," Puyol said before the awards ceremony. "He is the best player in the world and he demonstrated that he deserves this award."

Messi has scored two goals in three games in the Spanish league this season.

He turned 23 this summer so fingers crossed, this will be the first of many Golden Boots for our main man.

Holden gets extension with Bolton

I don't really know why, maybe because of his position (midfielder) but one of the U.S.' best young players, that gets absolutely no hype is Stuart Holden.

Hopefully more American soccer fans will start to respect him and his game, today he signed a two-year extension with Bolton in the English Premier League.

It has been eight months since he made the big leap to England from the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer. So I think it's safe to say he's done an adequate job so far.

The 25-year-old from Texas, who was born in Scotland, had been signed through this season. The club announced Thursday he agreed to a deal through 2012-13.

Holden initially joined Bolton in January on a short-term deal. The Netherlands' Nigel de Jong broke Holden's right leg during a March 3 exhibition against the U.S., restricting Holden to just three appearances last season, but he has started each of Bolton's six Premier League matches this season.

A member of the U.S. World Cup team, Holden says the injury "made me more determined to make an impact when I came back for preseason."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Go on Charlie!

His comeback didn't happen at the 2010 World Cup but fear not, U.S. youngster Charlie Davies is on the mend with his club team, FC Sochaux, in France.

We're coming up on a year since his near fatal car accident outside Washington, DC and the Boston Globe's Frank Dell'Apa caught up with the former Brooks School and BC star.

He has some interesting insights into what he thought when he woke up in the hospital after the accident and also possibly wrapping up his career with the New England Revolution.

Davies is targeting the Gold Cup next summer as his big return to the national team. Even if he never plays for the U.S. again, he'll always be a personal favorite. However, he's an easy guy to rally behind and hope the best for professionally and with his life outside soccer.

As for Davies’s future, he said, “I would love to play in the US. The Revolution would definitely work for me. The idea for me is very appealing to play in the United States. But it’s really important for me to succeed in Europe before that.’’

As the World Turns starring Wayne Rooney

It's been a rough couple months for England and Manchester United star striker Wayne Rooney.

First he was a shell of himself at the 2010 World Cup last summer as the Three Lions submitted their usual weak sauce performance. Next, Rooney is hit with the latest scandal (in a young career full of them) when it comes out that he was going to prostitutes when his wife was pregnant. Nice.

Finally, he's out for three weeks with an ankle injury.

You can't feel sorry for any of these things but when healthy, anyone will tell you that he's one of the most dangerous goal-scorers in the world.

Rooney has not travelled to Valencia for Manchester United's Champions League game on Wednesday and manager Sir Alex Ferguson confirmed that the striker will almost certainly miss England's game with Montenegro in two weeks' time.

''It will be two to three weeks,'' said Ferguson. ''But it depends because Wayne has done quite well with his recovery from injury in the past. It is a straightforward ankle injury. And it is not the same one he did in Munich. Nobody likes to be injured but he is. There is nothing you can do about it.''

So get well Wayne and stay away from those expensive hookers!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Read in between the lines: Ballack is done with national team football

You may remember my last post about Michael Ballack when I predicted that the legendary midfielder would likely never suit up again in a meaningful game for the German National Team.

Anyway it seems I may have a little Nostradamus in me as Jogy Low reiterated that sentiment a week ago after Ballack suffered his latest injury at Bayer Leverkusen -- a micro fracture of his left shin.

Here's his quote: ''Generally speaking, and this does not only apply to Michael Ballack, everybody has got to realise when their time at the top is over,'' said Low to the Badische Zeitung newspaper. ''After this latest injury setback, we are going to have to see whether Michael Ballack makes it to Euro 2012, when he will be 35.''

As I stated before Ballack is a legend and one to be commended for everything he poured into this team for 10-plus years, but his time is up, the game has passed him, and there are simply better-younger players at his position in the German National Team pool like Schweinsteiger, like Ozil, like Khedira and more are coming up through the ranks each year.

So here's where I say thank you Michael. You provided great thrills even when critics said Germany was no longer a world power, you showed they will always have to be a team to contend with.

News and notes

Time to get back to business and there is plenty of little tidbits here and there to digest.

We'll start with Bayern Munich, who already were dealt a blow to start the season with Arjen Robben out due to a lengthy hamstring injury, now the club is going to be out with its other star winger Franck Ribery. The French midfielder damaged ligaments in his ankle and appears ready to miss four weeks. Munich have struggled a bit to start the season currently residing in seventh place in the Bundesliga although they knocked off second place Hoffenheim yesterday, but they should have plenty of time to get back to the top of the table.

It appears the Mexican boys like to party a little bit starting with Arsenal forward Carlos Vela and Celtic defender Efrain Suarez. The Mexican Federation suspended the pair for a lengthy six month span as well as fining them because they apparently broke four federation infractions. Others involved in the incident include Giovani Dos Santos, Rafa Marquez, Javier Hernandez, Carlos Salcido and a few others you haven't heard of.

Truth be told although the six months seems like a harsh finding it's really a hollow punishment really should have no bearing with their place on the team. Mexico may play Argentina in that time frame, but they don't have any matches in that time frame that count towards any major international tournaments. And once their suspsensions are up they will be right back with the team undoubtedly because Suarez is one of their best defenders and Vela is one of the rising young guns on this talented young team.

Remember the bozo referee Byron Moreno who was the man in the middle for the strange South Korea vs. Italy quarterfinal in the 2002 World Cup. Probably not, but anyway he essentially handed the home country South Koreans the win with a slew of bad calls including a poor red card for Francesco Totti and disallowing another clear Italian goal for offsides. Honestly it was one of those cases where Italy got a dose of its own medicine because they are one of those teams that love to deceive through diving and other poor tactics, but clearly if you watch any highlights from that game the Italians were jobbed.

That news makes me a happy man because I hate Madrid Sneijder for me was the Fifa player of the year this year helping Inter Milan win the Champions League and guiding Holland to the World Cup final. Madrid have already snapped up a pair of German central midfielders and had they gotten Sneijder they very well might have been unstoppable.

As I just mentioned Madrid scooped two German midfielders -- Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil -- two guys that have apparently been earning plenty of playing time and making their marks. Ozil if you will remember was the supremely talented left-footed German, who made several blistering counter attack runs helping to knock both England and Argentina out of the World Cup. Khedira was not quite as well noticed, but a vital part of that team, and both are young guns with bright futures.

"I am very happy that Ozil and Khedira are at Real Madrid with a great coach like Mourinho," Low said. "It is a good step for them. Spain has high quality football, especially with Barcelona. I love the way they play, with speed and with great technique."

Monday, September 20, 2010

Shady goals lead to shady fines in the EPL

One of the craziest finishes in recent EPL history took place on Saturday as Arsenal looked like they would hang on for a 1-0 win at Sunderland.

They survived the allotted four minutes of injury time so they were understandably shocked when Darren Bent banged home a rebound in the 95th minute. There was no reason for the additional time after the first four minutes and that's what Arsenal coach Arsene Wegner was so pissed that he reportedly pushed a referee following the goal.

Today, Wegner was formally charged by the Football Association with a misconduct charge.

The Arsenal boss remonstrated with match officials and appeared to prod the fourth official, Martin Atkinson, in the back. The FA has taken a dim view of his actions.

A statement from the FA read: "Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has been charged with using insulting and/or abusive language and behaviour amounting to improper conduct. The charges relate to Wenger's conduct towards match officials at the conclusion of Arsenal's match against Sunderland on 18 September.

"Under The FA's new fast-track procedures, Wenger has until Thursday 23 September to respond to the charge and he has been offered a standard sanction of a one-match touchline ban and an £8,000 fine should he accept the charge. If he denies the charge, the case will be heard by a Regulatory Commission."

Wenger could not see why any additional time should have been played beyond the allotted added time.

Speaking after the match, refereed by Phil Dowd who sent of Gunners midfielder Alex Song for two yellow cards, the Arsenal manager lamented: "It was outside the four minutes. I know the referee can give more than four, it's a minimum of four minutes, but in the four minutes nothing happened to justify the extension of the time. But I cannot do anything about that."

Asked about a suggestion he had put his hands on Atkinson, Wenger replied: "Take the pictures and look at it. I complain to nobody, especially not to you."

Last season, Wenger received an apology from referees chief Keith Hackett over his dismissal during the Gunners' 2-1 loss to Manchester United during August 2009.

Wenger was sent to the stands by referee Mike Dean in the dying moments at Old Trafford on the advice of fourth official Lee Probert after the Arsenal manager kicked a water bottle following a disallowed goal which would have been a last-minute equaliser.

After his sending off, Wenger was unaware of where to go and firstly moved to the Arsenal dugout, then the main stand before being ushered along the touchline to the tunnel.

If it's true or not doesn't really matter since Wegner will likely pay in one form or another. I don't hold it against him one bit since it was a joke call that went against his team on the road against an underdog. Arsenal got jobbed: he knows it, Martin Atkinson knows it and the FA knows it too but the later two are trying their best to cover up for each other.

Would you like a swift kick to the nuts?

Finding out after the fact is never good in anything. So as much as I'd like to ignore it, it's too big of a story to simply bury my head in the sand when I found out how close the U.S. men's soccer team was to hiring Juergen Klinsmann.

I was beside myself reading the German legends comments so I can only imagine Shimer's (hopefully he'll weigh in soon as well).

Juergen Klinsmann said he negotiated with the U.S. Soccer Federation for nearly a month to become coach before ending talks when the USSF wouldn't put his authority in writing.

The USSF rehired Bob Bradley for a second four-year stint after ending talks with Klinsmann, who coached Germany to a third-place finish in the 2006 World Cup.

"We had conversations, maybe about three or four weeks period of time, and very positive conversations. But we didn't get it to a positive ending because we couldn't put into writing what we agreed to verbally," Klinsmann said during an interview broadcast Sunday on the Kansas City Wizards' pregame show.

"It's obviously always about authority. When you have conversations with a club team or a national team, it's who has the last word in what issues, and that's where we couldn't get into the written terms," Klinsmann said.

"Verbally we agreed on that the technical side is my side, and I should have a 100 percent control of it. Written terms, they couldn't commit to it. At that point I said, 'Well then, I can't get the job done because I have to have the last say as a head coach for my entire staff, for all the players issues, for everything that happens with the team.' Unfortunately they couldn't commit to that, and that was basically the end of our talks, and then they agreed then to continue with Bob as the head coach, and that's totally fine."

Klinsmann also held talks with USSF president Sunil Gulati in 2006 but ended them when he wasn't guaranteed access to top Major League Soccer players for both the CONCACAF Gold Cup and Copa America the following year.

In announcing the decision to rehire Bradley last month, Gulati wouldn't discuss whether he spoke with other candidates.

We like Bob Bradley and we support him but as we've said multiple times, he's the safe choice. He's a taskmaster and he's done a fine job since he took over. Still, what is his ceiling? Does anyone else feel like we've gone as far as we can with Bradley so we might as well look for someone that can take us to another level?

There are so many questions that will be left unsaid but I guess after digesting this garbage, it's best to move on. However, this one will stick in the back of my mind for a long, long time. Particularly when I watch Bradley do anything but win every game 5-0 from here on out.

Who wants to take a quick trip to Thailand?

The world's most famous soccer player (as opposed to best, sorry Messi) David Beckham is taking a trip to Thailand, to help boost England's World Cup bid.

David Beckham will guide players and coaches in Trinidad this weekend to help boost support for England's World Cup bid.

The Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder's trip coincides with the final of the Under-17 women's World Cup in Port-of-Spain, which will be attended by FIFA president Sepp Blatter and vice president Jack Warner.

As president of the CONCACAF confederation, Warner holds one of the 24 votes on the FIFA executive committee, which will decide the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup in December.

England, which is in the running for either event, has pledged to invest in developing football globally in conjunction with Beckham's academy.

"It is heartening to know that a man of such international stature remains committed to the development of talent worldwide," Warner said in a statement released Monday by England's bid team. "This is a remarkable opportunity for the 200 participants. The fact that, despite his busy schedule, David has taken the time to open this festival, to share his knowledge with the children, is testament to his character."

Beckham pledged to make the trip when he met Warner in Cape Town last year.

"Trinidad and Tobago have produced some excellent players over the years and the islands are full of young people who love football," Beckham said. "I am really looking forward to seeing the young girls and boys from all backgrounds and their coaches at my academy.

"Encouraging young girls to play football has always been an important part of the thinking behind the academy and it will be great to take this opportunity to also see some of the world's best young women play in the Under-17 final."

Will the paparazzi follow Becks all the way over there? Will Victoria also make the journey? So many non-soccer related questions which comes with the territory when you're talking about Becks these days.

Everybody can breath a little easier now

Well the bad news is that the world's greatest soccer player will miss a few games.

And the good news is that it could have been much worse for Barcelona and Argentina superstar Lionel Messi who damaged ligaments in his right ankle on Sunday.

Lionel Messi will miss at least two games after damaging ligaments in his right ankle during Barcelona's 2-1 win at Atletico Madrid.

Barcelona says medical exams performed Monday on the Argentine star's ankle ruled out any fracture, as expected.

Messi will miss Spanish league matches against Sporting Gijon on Wednesday and Athletic Bilbao three days later. Barcelona plays Rubin Kazan in a Champions League match Sept. 29.

The 23-year-old world player of the year has scored seven goals in six games this season. He was injured after a challenge from Atletico defender Tomas Ujfalusi during extra time of Sunday's game.

You have to believe Barcelona's training staff won't let their franchise risk anymore injury, especially in a Champions League game that they should roll in even if I was starting over Messi.

Thierry Henry much more of a badass than you might remember

Can't say I've been watching MLS (at all) but I did find it interesting that Thierry Henry was fined $2000 by the league for kicking the ball that injured Dallas goalkeeper Kevin Hartman.

Following a goal by Red Bulls teammate Mehdi Ballouchy in Thursday's 2-2 tie, Henry kicked the ball toward the net. The ball struck Hartman on the right knee, injuring his medial collateral ligament,

MLS's disciplinary committee said Monday the actions by the former Arsenal captain were unsporting. Henry apologized to Hartman and called it "one of those stupid things."

So I guess stay tuned to the New York Red Bulls and what this wild card Henry will do next for an encore.

U.S. going back to South Africa (for one night only)

The U.S. men's national team will make a familiar trip in November: back to South Africa, site of World Cup 2010, for a friendly with South Africa.

The U.S. Soccer Federation said Friday that the Americans will play an exhibition against the Bafana Bafana in Cape Town on Nov. 17.

It will be the fourth trip to South Africa for the U.S. in three years, following a November 2007 exhibition at Johannesburg's Ellis Park, the 2009 Confederations Cup and this year's World Cup.

The U.S. will be missing players involved in the MLS Cup final, scheduled for Nov. 21 in Toronto. The Americans also could be without players in the Mexican playoffs, which open Nov. 20-21.

The Americans host Poland on Oct. 9 at Chicago and Colombia three days later at Chester, Pa.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Vladimir Petrovic, your new coach of Serbia

Big doings in Serbian football: Radomir Antic was fired as Serbia's soccer coach on Wednesday and replaced by Vladimir Petrovic.

The former Real Madrid and Barcelona coach had been suspended for four matches by FIFA after insulting a referee at the World Cup, where Serbia was knocked out in the first round despite beating eventual semifinalist Germany.

Without Antic, Serbia won its opening European Championship qualifier against the Faeroe Islands, but tied Slovenia.

Petrovic's first games in charge will be against Estonia and Italy next month in Group C of Euro 2012 qualifying.

Petrovic, a forward for Arsenal and Red Star Belgrade, has been coaching Romanian club FC Timisoara. Petrovic previously coached China's national team, but he was dismissed in 2008 after the Asian nation was eliminated from qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.

Petrovic was hired by Red Star Belgrade in 2009, but was fired after less than a year in charge.

Messi, Tevez, Higuain and Co. coming to America (sort of)

It is fitting that a day after Messi scored two brilliant goals for Barcelona in a Champions League win, comes the news that his national team (Argentina) could be playing a pair of exhibition games in the U.S. in March.

Henry Cardenas, whose Cardenas Marketing Network announced a partnership in February with the Argentine Football Association, will meet next week with officials of the U.S. Soccer Federation and Mexico Football Federation. He hopes to arrange games for March 24 and March 28, which is during a FIFA fixture window.

"Nothing has been finalized," Cardenas said Wednesday. "We would love to play the United States and Mexico. If not, it could be Canada."

With Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez, Gonzalo Higuain and Javier Mascherano, the Albiceleste are among international soccer's top attractions.

Cardenas said several sites for the games were under consideration, but the East Coast was less likely because of cool March weather.

Argentina last played against the U.S. in an exhibition at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., drawing 78,682 for a 0-0 tie on June 8, 2008.

Argentina will be preparing to host the Copa America, South America's championship, from July 3-24.

Clearly given the timing, don't expect Argentina to come to Gillette. If they do show up in the States, you can bank on the fact that it will most likely be in California, Floria and or Texas. Those are my best guesses of places that could accomidate such a big event.

The Best Fake Team You'll Ever Find

Other than when they were in the 2006 World Cup, I can't say I'd ever really heard of Togo, let alone followed their national team.

I completely underestimated the African country though as they made news recently for a bizarre incident: The Togo team that lost 3-0 to Bahrain in an exhibition last week was "completely fake," the chairman of Togo's interim soccer federation told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Too often these days, sports are too serious or devoid of fun but it's good to see that Togo don't follow by society's normal rules.

Seiyi Memene said the federation did not know the players who claimed to represent Togo in the match at Bahrain's National Stadium in Riffa last Tuesday.

"We cannot send our players to play friendly matches abroad without the approval of FIFA," Memene told the AP. "The players that took part in the friendly match against Bahrain were completely fake. We have not sent any team of footballers to Bahrain. The players are not known to us."

Nabine Gnonh, chief of staff at Togo's sports ministry, said both the ministry and the federation now have opened an investigation.

"We don't have precise information at this point," Gnonh said. "We haven't received the list of the players who played this match and we still have to check if they were members of the national team."

When I heard about this joke of a story, I was reminded of the apropos saying: the truth is always stranger than fiction. I mean really, could you make this up?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Poor Theo Walcott, his bones is very brittle they is

Picking up tons of injuries or not being in shape when you're still at a very young age (21) professionally is never a good sign of things to come.

I shutter to use the Michael Owen comparison but Theo Walcott's career is taking an ominous turn that looks exactly like Owen's: playing for England at a ridiculously young age (17) which gets everyone's expectations way too high then never getting healthy or fit enough for the club team.

Adding to England's woes (Defoe's injury), Walcott will be out four to six weeks with an ankle injury of his own.

Walcott turned over on his right ankle in the early stages of England's 3-1 win over Switzerland and was stretchered off before being taken to hospital for scans on the problem.

Arsene Wenger now admits that with Nicklas Bendtner still out for "three to four weeks" and Robin van Persie absent until the end of October, his attacking options have been hit further by the loss of Walcott.

The news comes as a cruel blow to a player who has suffered extensively with injury problems in recent seasons, but had scored four goals in his past two appearances for the Gunners.

"The tackle looked quite bad," Wenger said. "When you see how it turned his ankle I thought it would be three or four days or it would be four to six weeks. Unfortunately it will be four to six weeks.

"We had some good news about the scan because at some stage we were scared it could be worse. But overall it is a question of patience and rehabilitation."

Defoe out six to eight weeks with ankle injury

Watching Jermain Defoe score a hat trick against Bulgaria in a Euro 2012 qualifier last week, I texted back and forth with Shimer raving about how he was playing the best soccer of his life.

Such is the cruelty of sport that it all came crashing down with the news that Defoe will miss the next six to eight weeks with the ankle injury he picked up vs. Switzerland earlier this week.

Defoe is now due to miss the first half of Spurs' maiden Champions League campaign and is also a major doubt for England's next Euro 2012 qualifier against Montenegro at Wembley on October 12.

"Even if it's a bad sprain, you're still talking about six weeks or so, because it's a nasty one," Redknapp said.

Defoe, who scored a hat-trick in Friday's win over Bulgaria, had been expected to miss both internationals in the past week to undergo groin surgery but the operation was eventually shelved.

Defoe has been fitted with a protective boot and was on crutches at Spurs' training ground on Thursday.

The striker is likely to miss games against Werder Bremen, FC Twente and Inter Milan in the Champions League, the Carling Cup date with arch-rivals Arsenal and a clutch of Premier League games, including the trip to former club West Ham United.

The news contradicts comments from the player on Wednesday which suggested the ankle injury would not be a problem. He said: "I jarred my ankle or my knee but it feels alright. I've always said I'll do my best to make sure I'm out there. I've just got to rest it (the injury). I'll just keep icing it and I'm sure I'll be okay."

Injuries never happen at opportune times but Tottenham has to be especially upset since they're trying to do something in its Champions League matches while also maintaining a good start to their EPL campaign.

Portugal fires coach Carlos Queiroz

Sometimes one mistake can cost you a job at least that's what former Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz is probably muttering in a Lisbon bar right about now.

In a move that was expected, he was fired today.

It all stems from his overreaction to doping tests of his players before a World Cup match this summer (for which he recently received a six-month suspension).

Queiroz had two years left on his contract and his dismissal was expected. The country's soccer federation said in a statement it made the move "given recent events and after analyzing the national coach's current situation."

The federation will begin looking for a successor, although it gave no clues about candidates. Neither federation officials nor Queiroz was immediately available for comment.

Queiroz has denied wrongdoing regarding his suspension and is appealing the ban. The coach has said he was angry because the unannounced early-morning tests disturbed the players. Queiroz acknowledges using inappropriate language.

In a mixed showing at the World Cup in South Africa, Portugal went out in the second round in a tightly-contested 1-0 loss to eventual champion Spain.

Portugal has just one point from its first two 2012 European Championship qualifiers. A 1-0 loss at Norway on Tuesday came after a 4-4 draw at home against lowly Cyprus last week, constituting Portugal's worst start to a qualifying campaign since 1996.

The squad, missing injured players Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe and Jose Bosingwa, looked unsettled and shaky in both games. With Deco and Simao Sabrosa both recently retired from international soccer, the team lacks an inspirational playmaker.

The 57-year-old Queiroz began coaching Portugal in 2008 and leaves with 15 wins, eight draws and three losses.

Previously, he was Alex Ferguson's assistant at Manchester United for five years. In his three-decade coaching career, he also worked in Major League Soccer, Spain and United Arab Emirates.

I was not a fan of his style but you can't argue with the team's record under Queiroz. The fact that they aren't playing well at the moment in Euro 2012 qualifiers made this decision even easier.

Hopefully the next man to lead Portugal remembers that with all the talent at his disposal, the team should aim to score goals not just run around for 90 minutes without much desire to put the ball in the net. End of rant.

David Beckham is still alive? And he still plays for the Galaxy?

David Beckham was activated on Thursday by the Los Angeles Galaxy, meaning he can play on Saturday in their match vs. Columbus.

"I think I could possibly be on the bench," Beckham, who in March tore his left Achilles' tendon while playing for AC Milan, said after training Thursday.

"Obviously, it's down to talking to the physio, the guys I've been working with and, obviously, the manager and deciding, but, fingers crossed, I'll be eligible to be on the bench."

Getting on the field is altogether something else. Beckham doesn't have the match fitness to contribute a whole lot, especially in a match so important to the Galaxy (13-5-5) and Crew (13-5-5), who are atop the Supporters' Shield standings. But he'd love the chance.

"I think I can play at some point of the game," he said. "With not playing for six months, there has to be kind of a careful ... a few minutes here and there. If I can play 10, 15, 30 minutes, then hopefully I can do that."

Galaxy coach Bruce Arena isn't so optimistic.

"I don't think that's likely," he said. "All taking him off the disabled list simply means [is] he's eligible [to play] in a game. You're required to be on [the injured list] for six weeks, and we're at the end of the six-week period.

"We fully expect him to be involved with our team for the month of September. All the decisions are going to be based day to day and week to week."

The 35-year-old Beckham says he thinks he could play for "quite a few more years," growing excited about the Galaxy's playoff push and the still-faint possibility of returning to the English national team someday.

Beckham is less interested in playing again for a European club. After several years of nearly nonstop play, Beckham indicated he's likely to decline a loan to AC Milan or another team in favor of a more relaxing winter.

"I need that -- my body needs that," Beckham said. "I've been hitting it quite hard for the last couple of years, and this injury is because of that, so I think now it's time maybe for me to look at myself and look at my fitness."

While focused on Los Angeles' remaining season, Beckham hasn't written off the possibility of playing again for his country. England manager Fabio Capello was widely criticized last month for saying Beckham was too old to play for the national team again, forcing Capello to backpedal.

"I've always had a good relationship with Fabio, and that's not changed," Beckham said. "He's England manager, and he has to look to the future, look to some great, talented young players coming through. These players need to be given the chance, and they will be. But obviously the manager is aware that there needs to be some old heads in there, and some experience.

"If I'm part of that, then great, but like I said, my main objective right now is to get myself fit and playing again."

My thoughts and opinions on Becks have been expressed long ago so I don't really have anything new to add here other than I wish him good health and no further injuries before his playing days are over.

Costa Rica hires a new coach, preferably one that doesn't let them miss the World Cup

Say what you want about CONCACAF (namely that it's terrible) but you have to admit that Mexico and Costa Rica are quality teams and always the U.S.' biggest tests in qualifying and tournaments.

Ricardo La Volpe was hired to be Costa Rica's new coach as they try to move on from their choke job extrodinaire against the U.S. last fall that cost them a spot in the 2010 World Cup.

He's from Argentina and he last coached Mexico at the 2006 World Cup.

Costa Rica played in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and has been a force in Central American soccer. It failed, however, to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa and has fired two full-time coaches in the last year -- Rodrigo Kenton and Rene Simoes. The team has been handled recently by interim coach Ronald Gonzalez.

La Volpe coached Mexico to the round of 16 at the 2006 World Cup, where the team lost to Argentina. La Volpe is expected to begin coaching Costa Rica in January and will be on the bench for next year's Copa Centroamericana, the regional championship.

La Volpe is known as an outspoken coach. He met with Costa Rican officials several weeks ago but reportedly balked at signing after disagreeing on compensation if he were fired. His salary is reported to be $50,000 a month.

Costa Rica was only 20 seconds from qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. The Ticos led the United States 2-1, a score that would have allowed them to advance. But the Americans scored in the closing seconds in stoppage time to salvage a draw.

The tie gave Honduras the third automatic qualifying spot. Costa Rica subsequently lost a playoff against Uruguay for the final spot in the 32-team World Cup.

Costa Rica had been first in its qualifying group early on, but three straight losses to Honduras, Mexico and El Salvador sent them tumbling and cost Kenton his job. Simoes was called in to coach the last three matches against Trinidad, the U.S. and Uruguay.

Let me be the first to welcome La Volpe aboard and wish him plenty of losses when he plays our boys.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Get well soon Diggler

As self-proclaimed members of the Dirk Kuyt fan club it pains us to tell you that our boy hurt his shoulder in practice with the Netherlands and his club coach, Roy Hodgson of Liverpool, think's Kuyt could be out for longer than four weeks.

Kuyt sustained the injury during training with the Netherlands national side this week and was immediately ruled out for four weeks by Liverpool's medical staff.

While Kuyt said earlier on Wednesday he hopes to be fit to face his former side FC Utrecht in the Europa League on Septemer 30, Hodgson is concerned that the Dutchman may be unavailable for a prolonged period of time.

"It could be more than four weeks," Hodgson said. "It's one of those injuries where it's very difficult for the doctor to say and I think four weeks is a very conservative estimate. If we're lucky it could be earlier, but it could be longer. We have to be very careful because it's the type of injury that has to be treated with a lot of respect.

"It's a great blow for us because Dirk is an important member of our first team. He does a job which is not easy to replace because he has all the qualities required for that role on the field.

"I was very sad to see such a thing happen, especially in a training session. It would have been bad enough to happen playing for the national team in a competitive match, but for it to happen in training was even more of a blow.

"He's a quick mender and he has a great mentality and attitude towards recovery, so he will be back as quick as is humanly possible. But we're looking at least a month and possibly longer."

PS. Have you ever heard any pro athlete described as a slow healer? Haha, to hear coaches and managers tell it, every pro athlete that ever lived is a fast healer and ahead of schedule every time they get injured.

Balotelli plays one game with Man City, gets hurt

Chalk it up to the fact that he played in Serie A but I can't believe it took this long for us to mention Mario Balotelli.

The Italian bozo is one of soccer's great headcases and he's already made quite an impact after his transfer from Inter Milan to Manchester City. Or maybe not and he scored a goal in his first game (an exhibition) but also tore his meniscus in the same match and will be out six weeks.

Like most bozos at this level, he's very talented (hence why he's stuck around) but he is kind of a poor man's Craig Bellamy in terms of nuttiness (not that crazy) and skills (good not great).

Balotelli made his long-awaited move to Eastlands from Inter in mid-August but, having made an instant impact with a goal on his debut against FC Timisoara, he sustained an injury in the same match.

A statement on the club's official website read: "Striker Mario Balotelli is to undergo surgery on his injured knee that could rule him out for up to six weeks.

"The Italian's injury is to the lateral meniscus, one of the two most crucial structures in the knee, and medical wisdom is to try and encourage the problem to heal without recourse to an operation.

"It was hoped that the symptoms would settle down but, once Balotelli began to step up his recovery programme this week, it became clear that action would need to be taken."

Balotelli has now flown back to Milan for the operation.

Seeing that disgusting haircut makes me wonder if Cisse is still alive? Last I heard, I think he was playing in Turkey (no joke).

Aston Villa decides to have a manager

Most times when you have a coaching vacancy for a professional sports team, you try to fill it as quickly as possible while also doing your diligence to find the best candidate at the time.

Aston Villa certainly took their sweet time but it looks like they scored big time by bringing Gerard Houllier aboard.

At first the name didn't ring a bell since most recently he was technical director for the French national team (insert joke here) but further down on his resume were winning stints at Lyon and Liverpool.

French Football Federation (FFF) president Fernand Duchaussoy had earlier announced that Houllier had resigned his role as technical director of the French national team to return to full-time management.

"Yes, it's true we're letting him leave for Aston Villa," Duchaussoy told RTL radio. "He's been a friend of mine for a long time, and is someone I admire a lot. It was a personal choice on the part of Gerard Houllier. He wanted a new adventure. It is his main motivation and is a unique opportunity to relive the sensations of the past."

Villa confirmed the appointment shortly afterwards, and Houllier told the club's official website: "I am very happy and proud to join this great and historic club. It was a very difficult decision for me to leave the FFF but I could not turn down the opportunity to manage a club whose approach, both on and off the pitch, I have long admired.

"Aston Villa is one of England's biggest clubs and has an amazing set of fans. This is a tremendous challenge and one I am very much looking forward to taking on."

Chief executive Paul Faulkner added: "Two of the key qualities we identified as being of crucial importance in our search for the new manager were experience of managing in the Premier League and a strategy for building on the existing strengths in our current squad, and Gerard Houllier comfortably satisfies these criteria.

"In fact, he stands out as a football man who understands the ethos of our club and shares our core values. We look forward to working with Gerard and supporting him and we ask our supporters to get behind the new manager and the team as we look to build on the progress we have made over the past four years in all areas of the club."

Houllier, 63, takes charge with immediate effect, and is set to lead his side out for the first time in Monday's Premier League game at Stoke.

His last full-time management role was with Lyon, where he won the Ligue 1 title in 2006 and 2007, and he previously had a six-year spell at Liverpool in which he clinched trophies including the UEFA Cup and FA Cup.

Capello booking his trip out of England in 2012

My extended break allowed me to ponder such deep questions as who do the English national team fans most remind me of (in American sports)? Well I have to say they are a combination of Cubs fans, Cowboys fans and Notre Dame football fans.

And don't misconstrue this since I love the Three Lions but the way they get way too high over a win and similarly way too low over a loss is quite reminiscent of our most bandwagon teams' fans (mentioned above).

That was a long-winded and random introduction to the news that England's coach Fabio Capello confirmed that he'll retire after Euro 2012.

England has looked good in Euro qualifiers this past week: beating Bulgaria 4-0 behind Jermain Defoe's hat trick and Switzerland 3-1. I would have written about those wins but I mean really, are they noteworthy?

Capello's contract ends after the tournament in two years' time, or earlier if England should fail to qualify, by which time he will be 66.

Speculation had been mounting the FA would be forced to end his £6million-a-year deal prematurely after a terrible World Cup but England's flying start to qualifying for Poland-Ukraine 2012 has made Capello comfortable to confirm he will see out his contract and then call it a day.

England's impressive victories over Bulgaria and Switzerland raised the possibility that Capello could consider another World Cup at the England helm to right some of the wrongs of South Africa.

But asked whether he would be finishing up after Euro 2012, he said: "Absolutely, yes. We have to qualify first of course but after that I will be too old. I want to enjoy my life as a pensioner.''

Meanwhile, Capello has hinted that Steven Gerrard could take on the captain's armband permanently. The Liverpool skipper took on the role when Rio Ferdinand, himself John Terry's replacement, suffered an injury before the World Cup which ruled him out of the tournament.

Gerrard has thrived as captain post-South Africa, playing a leading role in his preferred central midfield role. When asked whether Gerrard had done enough to get the job full time, Capello clearly didn't want to upset Ferdinand but he refused to rule anything out.

He said: "Is there another question? For me, the performance of the player is important, not the armband. It is not a priority for me. It is more about the players, the performance, the next game. Another question, please."

Capello was happy to discuss Gerrard's performance in midfield, where the injured Frank Lampard's absence has forced a reshuffle that has brought more balance to England's engine room.

Capello said: "I am playing him like a midfielder and, this season, he has started playing fantastically."

I'm going to take a wild guess and say England qualifies for Euro 2012, only to choke in it.

Argentina's lame-duck coach gets to stay on through the holidays

Welcome back friends. Shimer and I have been taking it easy the last few weeks but it's time to get back in the groove. Some coaching and injury news today; the European Leagues have been on hold the last few weeks with Euro 2012 qualifiers but everything will get rolling again this weekend.

We'll start with the news that Argentina interim coach Sergio Batista (wish he still rocked a beard like that) will stay with the national team through the end of the year.

It's apparently a reward for his good work so far: a 1-0 win over Ireland in his debut and a 4-1 win over Spain on Tuesday.

As we all remember, he replaced Diego Maradona after Argentina's choke job at the 2010 World Cup vs. Germany.

Argentina has games against Japan and two against Brazil remaining in 2010.

Luis Segura, a high-ranking member of the Argentine Football Association, confirmed after Tuesday's victory that Batista will stay on in the job. He said other candidates will be evaluated at year's end.

Others thought to be in the running are Alejandro Sabella of Estudiantes, Miguel Angel Russo of Racing Club and Carlos Bianchi, who is without a club.