Friday, November 30, 2007

Benfica-F.C. Porto: Top Two in Portugal Clash

It's not the derby that Benfica-Sporting is in Portugal, but tomorrow's battle of the top two in the standings is a close second. Porto leads Benfica by four points and a win goes a long way toward another national title for the northerners. A Benfica win draws Porto back to the pack and gives hope to Sporting, Guimaraes and Setubal, who are gasping to stay within distance of the leaders.

Porto is truly a latecomer to the derby wars in Portugal, but for two decades, it's been the best team in the country and merits its spot among the big three. It has won 16 championships since th e 1984-85 season and three European titles (one European Champions Cup, one UEFA Cup, one Champions League). Benfica's 2004-2005 championship was its first since 1993-1994.

For some perspective, Benfica were kings of Portgual from 1959-1977, mainly on the backs of titans like Eusebio, Humberto Coelho and Bento, one of the greatest keepers in European history. Benfica won two European titles with Eusebio and was in the 1982-83 UEFA Cup final, where it lost to Anderlecht. For decades, Portuguese soccer went no deeper than two clubs: Benfica and Sporting. If Benfica had an off year, Sporting stepped up and took the title. Between 1946-1947 season and 1983-1984, Benfica and Sporting shared every title but four, all of which were won by Porto.

Since, however, Porto has been the dominant club with a cluster of stars on the field like Gomes, Madjer, Jardel and Jose Mourinho on the bench. Porto has won four of the last five Portuguese championships and hasn't missed a beat since Mourinho's departure--which include the pillaging of the club's best players such as Deco, Ricardo Carvalho and Paolo Ferreira.

Now, this probably says more about the overall quality of the Portuguese league than it does about the big three. Scandal and financial strife has hit Benfica, and whispers of corruption and investigations always haunt the top brass at Porto. Sporting, meanwhile, continues to cultivate some of Europe's brightest young talent -- and sell it off immediately.

Still, the stadia are full when Benfica-Porto, Benfica-Sporting and Sporting-Porto clash. They have rabid following, worldwide too with large numbers of immigrants worldwide supporting the clubs. And tomorrow should be no different.

Porto is truly Portugal's super team and it comes into tomorrow's match on the heels of a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Liverpool. Porto, however, didn't need a result at Anfield and was looking ahead to Benfica a little bit, no doubt. It's the new classic in Portugal, and here's hoping it's a good match.

"Talking to the Doll" has a good preview of the match.

This video is in Portuguese, but it's got some vintage Eusebio highlights:

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Can Juventus Bury AC Milan in Serie A?

Serie A is slipping away from the reigning European kings AC Milan, who currently trail leaders Inter by 11 points and host Juventus tomorrow. Juve trails Inter by 3 points and is back in Serie A after banishment to Serie B last season as part of its sentence in the match-fixing scandal.

The bigger scandal for tomorrow's game, however? Milan has yet to win at home this season, losing twice and drawing four matches. Milan won't have Ronaldo either -- ho-hum, how will it survive -- after surprise, surprise an evaluation of his current injury revealed he's not ready yet. Defender Marek Jankulovski is still out, but Filipo Inzaghi is expected to play after missing this week's match against Benfica in the Champions League.

Juve, on the other hand, can't do much wrong this season. Juve spanked Palermo 5-0 in the last round of Serie A, and scorer Alessandro Del Piero having a hard time finding playing time of the bench. Del Piero scored twice in a reserve role against Palermo, but cannot unseat rejuvenated David Trezeguet and his 11 goals this season.

The game is on Fox Soccer Channel; kickoff is at 2:45 p.m. ET.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Wink: Thierry Henry Headed to MLS (some day)

So Thierry Henry is bound for MLS. Says so right on Sports Illustrated's Web site. Yep, he's coming to America. Messi? Ronaldinho? Camp Nou? No thanks. Give him Twellman or DeRosario; set up him at the Home Depot Center. After all, he's good buddies with hoop star Tony Parker and also struck up a friendship with Deron Williams at Parkers nuptials to Eva Longoria. Naturally where else would a top 5 striker in Europe end up but in the good ol' U.S. of A., the world's football hotbed.?

Somebody better tell Henry quickly that the only football Americans care about is shaped rather oddly.

And somebody better tell Sports Illustrated that the MLS and America is where once-great footballers come to die--well maybe not die--but at least close down their careers.

Outside the outlandishness of the thought that Henry might some day play quality minutes in MLS, the interview does offer some insight. Eto'o will come off the injury list soon. How will you, Ronaldinho, Messi and he all play at once?

Henry: I'm not the guy in charge -- there's only one guy who can tell you that. But that definitely can be and will be something great because Sammy is a great player. But whoever's out there on the pitch is going to have to help Barcelona win. That's the most important thing. Arsenal is still undefeated this season, and you were quoted as saying the team may actually be better off without you because of its style of play.

Henry: I don't know about that. People like to tweak quotes and that sounds better. Before I arrived and when I left, Arsenal has remained Arsenal. Players come and go. When I watch them play, I see the same Arsenal -- moving the ball, playing one-two touch football, scoring the Arsenal way. It's the same thing. It's been like that the last the 11 years. The only thing that might change is [manager] Arsène Wenger. If he leaves, they stop being Arsenal. You left a club known for producing amazing young players, but Barcelona might be even better in that regard.

Henry: It's just ridiculous. You see one coming through one year, the next year it's another one. Recently they've had guys like Bojan Krkic and Giovani dos Santos coming through. But some of these older guys came through the system, like Xavi and Carles Puyol. Even Cesc Fàbregas [of Arsenal] came from here. Both clubs are known for that, but it is amazing how every year Barça seems to have like one or two players being called the next big star. It becomes almost normal, but that's just the way it is.

Henry also laments never having won the Champions League with Arsenal. Guess what TH14, you won't get it again this year. In fact, your former club is in better shape to win the big-eared cup than Barca. Luck just seems to avoid some guys. At least he's on a first-name basis with Eva.

Of Liverpool, Rafa Benitez and Money Well Spent

Here's the biggest no-brainer, duh-analysis you're going to get about Liverpool's 4-1 over F.C. Porto yesterday in the Champions League: Money Rules.

Those of you who long for the days when players were entrenched at their clubs, playing for the love of the color of the shirts on their backs, forget it. Captain Obvious calling: "Those days are over." Euros, pounds, dollars make the football go 'round, and it's never been more true than right now, especially in the FA.

Rafa wants more money to buy more players, after getting a boatload to buy players in the offseason. Yesterday, Liverpool--well Rafa anyway--got a return on its investment when Fernando Torres potted two goals. The win over Porto not only saved Rafa's job, but put Liverpool in prime position to keep moving forward in the Champions League, which I hear pays better than the UEFA Cup!

But on the other end, Liverpool's American owners want to put a cap on Rafa's spending during the coming January transfer period. They also suggested that Rafa concentrate on coaching and less on his Christmas player-wishlist. This of course came on the heels of Rafa's very public tongue-lashing of his bosses, proclaiming they don't understand the ways of the footballing world, much less how the transfer period works. Well, put the claws away ladies! Neither of you is correct; and both of you are correct.

Today, however, Rafa has the cache over the Yank duo of bill-payers. He's got legions of Liverpool supporters on his side, a European championship trophy on his mantle, a second-place medal around his neck, an FA Cup on his mantle too--and don't think Liverpool can't come back and win the Premiership this year. It's hard to knock success and even harder to justify sacking a manager who's winning and capable of winning more. He's got a viable plan for winning, and proved it yesterday. That kind of direction and focus is invaluable; could Liverpool afford to watch him leave and take that ability to another European team? When Jose Mourinho left Chelsea, his stock was never higher. The same would be true for Rafa, who, like Mourinho, could name his price at Inter for example and his absence would be lamented for months by Liverpool fans, just like their Chelsea brethren.

Winning cures many ills, but it's money well spent that makes the football go 'round. Rafa spent his owners' money well. Fernando Torres had a brace of goals, Liverpool looks right to qualify for the knockout stages where Rafa knows how to win--um, just ask Mourinho. Rafa is money well spent.

More on Liverpool and Rafa:

Thousands march in support of Rafa
Rafa's thank-you to Liverpool fans
"I want to be involved at Anfield"
Benitez brushes off transfer row

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Redknapp For Manager; Not Anymore

England managerial contender Harry Redknapp is in the clink at this hour, one of five men including his boss Portsmouth CEO Peter Storrie, arrested in connection with a corruption investigation dating back to 2003. The two are said to be cooperating as police have levied charge of conspiracy to defraud and false accounting. Officials are looking at suspicious player transfers, and apparently Redknapp is being looked at for illegally approaching players about said transfers.

This is another deathblow to English football, which is under assault on, and now, off the field.
Redknapp has been considered a potential future manager for England and has been outspoken about revamping the Champions League format.

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Liverpool, FC Porto, Starting Eleven

Here's the starting eleven for Liverpool and FC Porto today:

25 Jose Reina (G)(G) Helton 1
17 Alvaro Arbeloa (D)(D) Bruno Alves 2
23 Jamie Carragher (D)(D) Marek Cech 5
3 Steve Finnan (D)(D) Milan Stepanov 4
4 Sami Hyypia (D)(M) Paulo Assuncao 6
19 Ryan Babel (M)(M) José Bosingwa 12
11 Yossi Benayoun (M)(M) Mariano Gonzalez 11
8 Steven Gerrard (M)(M) Luis González 8
20 Javier Mascherano (M)(M) Przemyslaw Kazmierczak 25
9 Fernando Torres (F)(M) Ricardo Quaresma 7
10 Andriy Voronin (F)(F) Lisandro López 9

Champions League Matchday 5 Wraps Up

Champions League Matchday 5 concludes today with some great matchups: Benfica-Milan, Porto-Liverpool, Celtic-Donetsk. has today's match previews.

101 Great Goals chimes in on Rafa's future.

And here are 10 reasons why Manchester United can win the Champions League.

And BTW, if you're watching Rosenborg-Chelsea today on ESPN2, be prepared for a snowy pitch. The last game between these two was Jose Mourinho's swan song. Replacement Avram Grant is currently on a 14-match unbeaten streak, and a win today puts Chelsea in the knockout stage of the Champions League. Rosenborg, meanwhile, is second in the group after a pair of wins over Valencia and the 1-1 tie against Chelsea.
'The players like to win. We are never happy when we don't win. The first game seems a long time ago now but the ground was half-empty, the fans were booing and the result was not so good."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Live Blogging: Fox Football Fone-In, Part II

Closing out the England bashing:

  • Ferdinand and Terry; or Rooney and Owen: Which was the bigger loss? Losing the backstops was probably bigger; Stephen laments the retirement of Jamie Carragher--Carragher and Terry too formidable.
  • If playing for England is so important, why can't Lampard and Gerrard find a way to play together if the shirt on your back is indeed so important? Excellent question.
  • Hmm, when England gets together, it's like a couple of days off because the best managers in the Premiership are hard-ass foreigners. The difference may be more a matter of respect for football intelligence than their passport.
Eight more to chew on:
  1. The World Cup draw is next: England plays Borat! Hilarious. BTW, check out Martin Samuel's column on this subject. Outstanding.
  2. Stephen snides England will qualify easily from this group. Nick whines about qualifying being longer than Euro
  3. If Liverpool loses Wednesday against Porto, Rafa is fired? Stephen nails him as an imbecile. And he's right to a point; these American co-owners spent their money to buy the club, they have a say. But they also gave Rafa a blank check of sorts over the summer for Torres, et al.
  4. Back to the poll tonight: Foreign up 7-1.
  5. Back to the callers: Point well made--other nations hire inexperienced coaches, such as Van Basten and Klinsmann, it's all about the players. But these guys had a pedigree of winning, World Cups, Euros, Champions Leagues; something Alan Shearer wouldn't have coaching England. If they don't respect McClaren, why Shearer.
  6. Limiting foreigners in England? Nick wants a cap because foreigners are taking English jobs. Bunk; and he knows it. It's fabricated disagreement. Stephen's right: Doing so waters down the level of play in the Premiership. "Right now, it's a grand league."
  7. There are no young stars in England. 60% of Premiership players are foreign, compared to Italy's 30%. Kinda helps Nick's point. Stephen's counter: Arsenal has used the most foreign players, Derby the most English. The standings say enough there!
  8. How many English players walk into Spain, Holland and earn starting spots on top clubs? Not many.
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Live Blogging: Fox Football Fone-In

Bitter are the boys tonight. Bitter over England's ouster from Euro 2008; naturally they have to recap since it's their first show since Wednesday's 3-2 loss to Croatia.

Some interesting observations from Nick Webster; mainly that David Beckham's entrance into the game was a sad statement that England is no longer a football team, "but a set-piece team."

Another great line: "Shaun Wright-Phillips couldn't deliver a pizza. Shocking."

More interesting observations:
  • Not even Wembley is immune from their barbs. To their credit, the boys are crapping on the American football lines showing through on the field leading them to postulate that the FA is all about the money (duh).
  • Tonight's poll question: Should England's next manager be foreign?
  • England doesn't have the technical ability any longer, that kids don't get enough touches compared to other countries and the fundamentals aren't instilled from the outset.
  • Caller makes a good point: Can you make a proper English team from the top 4 in the Premiership? Rhetorical question? Well, no. And the answer is, No.
  • Who's next for England? (McClaren's was the shortest tenure in England history) After calling the FA incompetent, Stephen stresses the importance of finding someone before some key jobs open up, especially Liverpool
  • Mourinho's name comes up first, naturally. The England job would enable him to not save a club, but an entire nation, Stephen says!
  • Fabio Capello wants the job too, and says he can fix the mental aspect of England's game, which is more crucial than repairing its technical chops. Capello is a winner, including the Champions League; he might be the man, especially for the longterm, unlike Mourinho, who has called coaching internationally an "old man's game." BTW, Capello doesn't speak English!
  • Louis Van Gaal. Doesn't represent what England needs? 12 major trophies, including the Champions League. Nick say yes, Stephen no.
  • Luis Filipe Scolari. He can beat England! But Scolari's unavailable until after Euro 2008, which doesn't fit for England.
  • Stephen has 3 World XIs sans English players. Nick says Rooney gets in there.
  • The callers want a foreign coach, 4-1 so far. "Playing Crouch in the middle without service is like jumping off the Empire State Building." Huh. I get it, but....

Champions League Matchday 5 Wrapup

Sevilla isn't quite ready to slink back to the UEFA Cup for a three-peat run. No, it instead qualified for the second round of the Champions League with a 3-1 win over Arsenal, which had already clinched its spot in the knockout stage.

Soccernet has the complete Day 1 roundup, leading off with Roma's 4-1 win against Dynamo Kiev, which eliminated Sporting and moved Roma into the second round.

Tech guru Matt Asay has more on the Arsenal setback

The Offside-Italy has more on Roma and Inter advancing.

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Manchester United Advances in Champions League; Sir Alex Schools Bento

Manchester United won its Champions League group today by virtue of a 2-1 win over Sporting at Old Trafford. Sporting was valiant, taking a 1-0 lead into the locker room at halftime, which is exactly where the game was won. Sir Alex Ferguson schooled his counterpart Paolo Bento in the second half, inserting Ryan Giggs and shifting the tide of play in midfield. Giggs outclassed the injury-plagued Sporting side which had no adjustments to match Ferguson's.

The irony has to be thick for Sporting, which supplied Man. U. with its future in recent years, having sent over Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani. Sporting's academy is is a sensational venue for young talent, and such sell-offs are the way of life for a big fish in a small pond such as Sporting, which has to sell its best players to satisfy shareholders. The club is a perennial contender in Portugal, an occasional winner and once in a while, pulls off something special like its 2005 run at the UEFA Cup final. But much like that day against CSKA Moscow and yesterday against United, Sporting comes up short in talent and resources.

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Starting Eleven for Manchester United, Sporting

Edwin Van der Sar is on the bench for United as it hosts Sporting in the Champions League. Here's the rest of the starting elevens for today's game:

G- Kuszczak
D- Evra
D- Ferdinand
D- O'Shea
D- Vidic
M- Anderson
M- Carrick
M- Fletcher
M- Nani
M- Ronaldo
F- Saha

G- Patricio
D- Abel
D- Had
D- Polga
D- Sousa
D- Veloso
M- Moutinho
M- Izmailov
M- Romagnoli
F- Liedson
F- Purovic

This looks primed for the upset. I'll stick by my Sporting 1, United 0 prediction

McLeish Out in Scotland; Henry Out for Barcelona

Two breaking news pieces:

Alex McLeish has quit as Scotland manager. McLeish was in line for a job at Birmingham in the Premier League, and reportedly the Scottish FA scuttled that opportunity, apparently to McLeish's chagrin.


Thierry Henry's aching back and sore groin will keep him on the sidelines today as Barcelona travels to Lyon in the Champions League.

More on McLeish from Granite City, Dave Hill, and Caught Offside.

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Champions League Matchday 5 Preview

Champions League Matchday 5 is at hand and below are some links to previews to today's matchups:

Soccer by Ives
Sporting Life UK -- Arsene Wenger story
Guardian -- Olympique Lyon in danger of ouster

On TV today:

ESPN2 has Man.U. vs. Sporting at 2:45 p.m. ET (ESPN Deportes at 7 p.m. ET)
ESPN Deportes has Lyon vs. Barcelona at 2:45 p.m. and 9 p.m. ET (this game is replayed on ESPN Classic at 5 p.m. ET)
ESPN Deportes has Inter vs. Fenerbache at 5 p.m. ET

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Champions League, Manchester United: A Sporting Chance

ABola out of Portugal is reporting that Sir Alex Ferguson hopes Sporting isn't awed by its surroundings tomorrow at Old Trafford, and steps up its game against Manchester United in the Champions League. Ferguson, however, is talking out of both sides of his mouth. He knows that a win tomorrow puts United in first to stay in the group and improves its seeding in the knockout stage. It also renders United's trip to Roma for the final group stage match Dec. 12 meaningless.

This is what he wants more than anything considering what's happening in the Premier League at that time. United takes on Liverpool on Dec. 16, and would like nothing better than not to have to play his best side four days prior in European play.

United-Sporting is tomorrow's ESPN match and all signs point to a big United win. Sporting is rattled by injuries and is slumping, 10 points behind leaders F.C. Porto, which travel to Anfield Wednesday.

United, meanwhile, is on Arsenal's heels in the Premier League and scoring almost at will, especially in Europe.

But Sporting played United tough in the Champions League opener in Lisbon before falling 1-0 on a Cristiano Ronaldo goal. Sporting needs to show some heart tomorrow to pull out a fortunate win. A win in the final matchday against Dynamo Kiev could catapult the Leoes into the knockout stage ahead of Roma. That too, however, could depend on Ferguson, who swears that he will put his best team on the pitch against Roma should the game impact Sporting and Roma's progress and in Europe.

And herein lies the trouble with the Champions League. There's little incentive in this format for the leaders to play at full strength later in the Match Day stages. This opens many teams to speculation about their motivations in these matches, and exposes the whole process to allegations of shady machinations for certain positioning and influencing which teams advance. Makes a guy harken for the days when the Champions League was just about the champions, and it was knockout play from the get-go.

So here's hoping Sporting beats United and Roma loses tomorrow to Dynamo. For selfish reasons, it makes this group a little more interesting for at least one more round.

U.S. Soccer Needs Euro Flavor to its Schedule

Stateside Footy is calling for a friendly between the U.S. and England. Why? He says to put the U.S. in front of quality competition, and also to gain some marketing muscle by making it David Beckham’s 100th cap for England. I think it’s a great idea, but Footy’s off on one point; it shouldn’t be at Wembley. Instead it should be at the Home Depot Center in LA. Or if England insists on giving Beckham his 100th cap in front of the home fans, then fine, but turn it into a home-and-home type of series with the second leg and 101st cap held in LA. Call it the President’s Cup or something ridiculous like that, and have G.W. Bush hand out the trophy in his final grand gesture as Commander in Chief.

Seriously though, the bigger picture here is getting the U.S men’s national team to play better competition leading up to the World Cup. Where is the value in playing Trinidad & Tobago? How does the U.S. benefit by playing Guatemala and El Salavador? Granted, these are CONCACAF teams and are, in some cases, mandatory World Cup qualifying foes, but the U.S. aren’t minnows any longer. You don’t see Italy scheduling warm-up matches with Malta and Moldova.

A look at the U.S. schedule this year indicates some progress in this direction. The U.S. played Denmark, Mexico, Sweden and Brazil this year, along with Gold Cup--which it won--and Copa America--where it miserably wilted.

The U.S. turned in positive results against Denmark (3-1 win) and twice beat Mexico (2-0 in a friendly, and 2-1 in Gold Cup final), but was humbled in the Copa America by Argentina, Paraguay and Colombia; then lost to Sweden and Brazil in friendlies immediately after Copa America. The U.S closed out the year with 1-0 wins over Switzerland and South Africa. Ho-hum.

Let’s get this team in front of hostile crowds on a regular basis. Toss some dollars around and play England in London, France in Paris and Italy in Rome. Take your lumps if need be, but the payoff in South Africa could be immense.

Stateside Footy is right. Play England in a friendly or two. Put yourselves out there as a willing opponent for other European powers leading up to Euro 2008. Act like a world power, and some day, you just might be one.

Soccer by Ives has the CONCACAF World Cup draw.

US Soccer Spot has his analysis too

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UEFA World Cup Qualifying Draw Analysis

Someone at FIFA has a sense of humor. Why else would England and Croatia be paired in the same World Cup qualifying group less than a week after Croatia showed England the door from Euro 2008?

The European groups are pretty bland to be honest. Group 1 is a killer with Portugal, Sweden and Denmark clawing for one automatic berth. But the remaining eight have a pretty clear-cut winner (I'm not making predictions today, but you can figure it out yourself).

The nine group winners qualify for South Africa, and the eight runners-up with the best records will go in to four playoff matchups, knockout style, to produce four more finalists, 13 in all from Europe.

Going group by group:

  1. Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, Hungary, Albania and Malta.
  2. Greece, Israel, Switzerland, Moldova, Latvia, Luxembourg
  3. Czech Republic, Poland, Northern Ireland, Slovakia, Slovenia, San Marino
  4. Germany, Russia, Finland, Wales, Azerbaijan, Liechtenstein
  5. Spain, Turkey, Belgium, Bosnia, Armenia, Estonia
  6. Croatia, England, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Andorra
  7. France, Romania, Serbia, Lithuania, Austria, Faroe Islands
  8. Italy, Bulgaria, Ireland, Cyprus, Georgia, Montenegro
  9. Netherlands, Scotland, Norway, Macedonia, Iceland

If you’re looking for analysis of the UEFA groups, try:

Soccer by Ives


Euro Football Highlights blog

Road to 2010 Final blog

Rafa On Outs at Liverpool: Culture Clash with American Owners

The English press is having a field day with Rafa Benitez’s flap with Liverpool’s American co-owners George Gillett Jr. and Tom Hicks, predicting that the Anfield boss won’t last the season.

The flap is over Benitez’s angst over the owners’ insistence that player transfers be handled through chief executive Rick Parry. Benitez bristled at that notion as he tried to lock up Javier Mascherano to a long-term deal with the Reds, and pursued Racing Santander’s Garay, a defender. Liverpool is six points off the pace in the Premiership with a game in hand.

This has disaster written all over it. Rafa has won a Champions League and an FA Cup at Liverpool, and finished second in Europe last year in an unlikely run at a second title. He’s done it primarily with an array of Spanish and French imports, making Anfield one of the true melting pots of English football. Rafa’s style isn’t always the most amicable, but it’s difficult to argue with the results. That’s definitely stoking his fire as he tangles with Liverpool’s new American owners over players.

And there’s the rub. Rafa has said publicly that the American brass aren’t familiar with the way things are done during the transfer windows, and that they should essentially step aside until they learn the ropes.

The conflict comes on the American end. Culturally, American sports separate their on-field coaches from the front office. True it’s done to some degree in football, but with winning comes some cache. If you’re a manager of a big club, you get to buy the players. Gillett and Hicks are used to a general manager who buys the players, and a coach who coaches them on the field. Hicks lashed out at Benitez, telling him to “quit talking” and worry about coaching. The co-owners have said they’ll see him in mid-December to talk about transfers.

The rub is, Rafa may bolt before then--or be asked to leave. Could Liverpool survive this kind of turmoil? Doubtful any club in contention would thrive in a mid-stream coaching change.

The odd thing is that Gillett and Hicks have already opened their wallets and given Rafa the green to bring in Ryan Babel, Fernando Torres and Benayoun. Liverpool had a torrid start to the English season and looked like it would run away from the pack, but it has cooled considerably. Its balky showing in the Champions League thus far isn’t helping Rafa’s case for more power internally. Liverpool takes on F.C. Porto Wednesday in the Champions League when a loss essentially ends their bid for a third appearance in the finals in four campaigns. Could it end Rafa’s reign at Anfield?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Colombia Conteds in CONMEBOL: Anyone Seen Carlos Valderrama?

Wondering what might be the hottest football nation right now? Well, it's certainly not England. No, the answer isn't even a European squad, not even Italy.

No, it's Colombia.

With World Cup qualifying well under way in the Southern hemisphere, it may be easy to overlook the boys of Bogota, but this week's 2-1 win over Argentina in the altitude of the capital city is bound to earn Colombia some notice. In fact, if you've been paying attention at all, you'll know this team hasn't lost in quite a while. It has pulled 8 points from four World Cup qualifiers, including this week's shocker over Argentina. In fact, Leo Messi's goal was the first Colombia surrendered in qualifying; Colombia has beaten Paraguay and Venezuela 1-0, and held Brazil to a 0-0 draw. Yes, that's 4 of a possible 6 points against Argentina and Brazil, probably the Nos. 1 and 2 squads in the world.

This is a stark turnaround for Colombia, which last lost July 2 in Copa America to Argentina, 4-2. It humbled the U.S., 1-0, and has not lost since.

Colombia is just one great story in South American qualifying. Paraguay leads CONMEBOL qualifying with 10 points. Unfortunately, we won't see a return to qualifying until June, which is probably bad for Colombia and its current momentum. The top 4 teams in CONMEBOL qualify, and the fifth-place team takes on a CONCACAF team for another World Cup spot.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

England Coach McClaren Fired: End of an Error

Introductions are in in order this morning, as we search through the rubble that is the England national team looking for Steve McClaren's career as manager. Sacked hours after Croatia's devastating 3-2 win at the New Wembley, McClaren is the second casualty of the Euro 2008. The first? Well, that's the summer of 2008, of which, England football fans have been robbed.
Anyway, back to the introductions. Mr. McClaren, allow me to introduce you to Mr. Ryan, Mr. Greg Ryan.
Mr. Ryan, like you Mr. McClaren, was sacked hours after his team was eliminated from a major championship. Greg Ryan? He, of course, is the former manager of the U.S. Women's National team. He, of course, is the man who inexplicably pulled his seasoned starting keeper, the one who had been in goal for many wins in a 50-match unbeaten streak. He, of course, watched his over-managing and poor strategy cost the U.S. women in the World Cup semifinals. As a result, he, of course, watched his career go up in flames.
Mr. McClaren, the irony is thick in the room today. Yes England was devastated by injuries and suspensions, but ultimately, you, Mr. McClaren, like Mr. Ryan, were your own worst enemy. You tinkered in desperation. You pulled Paul Robinson in favor of a green Scott Carson. Less than 10 minutes in, Carson had given up a horror of a goal and the snowball was steaming down the mountainside taking dead aim at England's hopes for qualifying for Euro 2008 and your career.
You also inserted young Gareth Barry in the midfield and Shaun Wright-Phillips in an attacking position. Barry and Frank Lampard had no cohesion and no plan to attack the Croatians. Phillips, well, he's no Beckham. Beckham may be on the downside of his career, but the man understands how to play and can still execute from the wing. In an elimination game, there is no substitute for experience. Right Mr. Ryan? You see Mr. McClaren, Mr. Ryan too learned the hard way.
Down 2-0, Beckham came in and fed Peter Crouch the feed he needed to tie the game and give England hope. Ultimately, you likely got what you deserved. English football, however, did not. The Euro won't be the same next summer; all but one of the powers will be present, and for that, the tournament will be poorer. In the meantime, this should spur England to do the right thing, and hire the right manager, be he foreign or domestic and right this ship in time for South Africa, else we might be having this same conversation again in two years.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Preview: Euro 2008, Final Day of Qualification has a great table-setter for today's menu of Euro 2008 games.

Day of Reckoning for Euro Hopefuls

Portugal-Finland, Euro 2008: Another Elimination Game

Is Portugal primed for a major upset and an exit visa right out of Euro 2008? The team hosts Finland today. A tie gets them in behind Poland. A loss and a Serbia loss by a bunch to Poland and Finland has a puncher's chance of getting in.
Finland, however, cannot score goals despite Jari Litmanen and Sami Hyypiä prominent on the field for the Finns. Finland tied Portugal 1-1 in their first meeting during qualification. Most recently, the Finns beat Azerbaijan 2-1 after three straight 0-0 ties.
Portugal, meanwhile, has won three straight after a rough patch of draws, a loss to Poland and the suspension of coach Luis Filipe Scolari after taking a punch at a Serbian player during a 1-1 tie in July.
Portugal's success has been in spite of a rash of injuries, especially on the back line, to Ricardo Carvalho, Miguel and Paolo Ferreira.
Finland coach Roy Hodgson told
"We will try to defend well and score when we have a chance. I know this sounds dull but that's the best answer I have. I am very confident that we are capable of fighting for a win and will not be nervous. The task is tough but I believe in my team. They are up to it."

England Goes Green for its Final Euro Qualifier Today.

A few posts back, I mentioned Scott Carson's start today in goal for England opens Steve McClaren up for second guessing, even though it's probably the right move to banish Paul Robinson to the goalkeeping hinterlands.
But Shaun Wright Phillips? Starting in a midfield spot? In an elimination game? And David Beckham on the bench? OK, Becks isn't at national team form, but Wright-Phillips hasn't shown any reason why he should be in the Starting Eleven over anyone.
Gareth Barry takes Becks' spot in the midfield and is likely to take a defensive stance against Croatia. Owen Hargreaves is on the bench keeping Becks warm.
ESPN, meanwhile, is reporting that the pitch at Wembley hasn't recovered from the NFL trampling it a few weeks back. Steady rain lately in London isn't helping any either. A sloppy track, an inexperienced keeper, a shorthanded back line (no John Terry or Rio Ferdinand, remember?), and a young midfield: this isn't exactly a solid recipe for victory for England.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Live Blogging: FFF, Part II

Scott Carson gets the start for England tomorrow; Paul Robinson is finally banished. Another second-guess in the making? You bet.

Dwayne De Rosario joins on the phone. He's a four-time MLS champion, including the last two with Houston. He also has two with the Galaxy.

  • No Ching in the MLS final? No biggie he says.
  • The adjustment to 3-5-2 was the key to the title and closed off New England, which was having way too much midfield freedom, he says.
  • Taylor Twellman is very deceptive; sometimes you feel like he's not in the game, then he makes a play. Calls him world class too.
  • Dominic Kinnear is especially good with unseasoned players; every player feels part of the big picture and that's a big ingredient in the Dynamo's current run of championships.
  • He admits to little interest in him from European clubs.

Live Blogging: Triple-F

Max Bretos joins Stephen Cohen. He's shaky and nervous, kinda awkward to watch.

Tonight's poll: Should McClaren go win or lose tomorrow? I think the majority will rule McClaren loses his spot as England manager.

Stephen is pushing for Jose Mourinho to do spot duty for England should they get in. Having Mourinho sit in for a six-month gig is unlikely. Mourinho's been pretty adamant he doesn't want the England job now (or any international job for the time being), and there's no reason to think otherwise. Mourinho's destined for Inter Milan, and he could be joined there by Riquelme, who should be liberated from Spain during the January transfer window.
If England gets in, it's too difficult to let McClaren go at this point. Why would the FA open itself to second guessing at that point?

Chris Sullivan, Fox Soccer analyst joins the show for some commentary on US-South Africa friendly.
  • He says the altitude took its toll on the U.S. in the second half against RSA. Should be a hot topic for the World Cup 2010. Last altitude World Cup, '86 in Mexico.
  • Praises Bob Bradley for his reliance on youth; ie Altidore, Adu, et. al. getting used to putting on the jersey and traveling abroad to represent the U.S., a good dry run.
  • U.S. won 12, lost 5 and tied 1 match in 2007
  • Benny Failhaber is out of position with the US men's team and can't get on the field for Derby County, neither of which is helping his current form.
  • Gives the U.S. a grade of B for 2007
  • Says Bradley wasn't allowed to take his best team to Copa America.
  • Failhaber needs to be in Spain, France, Holland, a lesser profile league than England where skill and technique is taught and stressed.
  • All three give high marks to Bob Bradley who has apparently won them all over after some skepticism early on. "He's absolutely the right guy," Cohen says.
  • Sullivan: Landon Donovan still has and deserves a starting spot with the U.S. men's national team. "He can run with Kaka."

Final Day of Euro 2008 Qualifying

Busy day tomorrow with the final day of Euro 2008 qualifying at hand. Going group by group:

A -- Poland is in. Portugal is 3 points up on Finland and the two play tomorrow. A tie gets Portugal in. Finland needs a huge win to get through on goal differential
B -- Italy and France are in, but sentiment is still with Scotland.
C -- Comes down to Turkey-Bosnia. Turkey wins, it's in. Norway should beat Malta and would join Greece should Turkey falter.
D -- Czechs and Germany are in.
E -- Croatia awaits either England or Russia
F -- Spain is in. Northern Ireland needs to beat Spain by a bunch, otherwise, it's Sweden, who takes on Latvia.
G -- Romania and Holland are in.

So after tomorrow, the field should look like

Czech Republic

Anyone Seen Steve McClaren?

Just call England manager Steve McClaren "Loo" from now on.

McClaren told the English press he was on the pot as Israel closed out its upset win over Russia Saturday, injecting some fresh air into England's hopes for qualifying for Euro 2008. McClaren admitted to a bellyache in the closing minutes while watching the game at a hotel with his three sons. Chip, Ernie and Robbie let out a big cheer as Omer Golan's goal sunk Russia and propped up McClaren's boys.

Maybe McClaren should do likewise tomorrow as his boys battle Croatia, needing only a tie to qualify for the continental championships.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Rev-olting Predicament: Revolution Lose MLS Cup--Again

Give Steve Nicol his due; four MLS Cup appearances in six years; six straight appearances in the conference championships, A.K.A. the MLS semifinals. He's the best there is among MLS coaches. So what does the guy have to do to win it all? Here are some links to some takes on yesterday's MLS Cup from the Nicol point of view:

Revsblogger's Recap
Major League Soccer Talk

BTW, the comparison to the Buffalo Bills is unfair. Sure the Revs have been to four finals and lost them all, but Buffalo was competitive in only one of those games and found a heart-wreching way to lose it. The Revs have lost by a goal all four times. Ouch.

One more nugget for you; results of the Climbing the Ladder MLS Cup survey

MLS Commissioner Garber Puts on Smoke-and-Mirrors Show

Extremely interesting read-between-the-lines interview with MLS commissioner Don Garber in the New York Times on Saturday as a lead-in to yesterday's MLS Cup. Garber is a marketing guy and he's doing his best to put MLS on the map, but it's really a smoke-and-mirrors show for Americans.

Football fans understand what MLS is. It's second-tier football at best, and that's fine. It's an outlet here in the states for football fans to see the game in person and build loyalties with teams in their particular region. The league is growing, and I guess there's revenue with this single-entity business model--notice I said revenue and not necessarily profit. Though apparently, the league makes $30 million annually from television, which is decent money that rivals what the NHL gets I'm sure.

But the deception really gets deep when Garber starts talking about Beckham and Blanco and a host of Brazilians and Argentines and Colombians being an indication of progress and success. Talk about spreading it on thick. Talk about perpetuating an illusion. Let's get serious Mr. Garber, and you know it to be true, that Beckham is done as a player. Blanco too on a serious level. If they weren't, they wouldn't be playing here. Same goes for the Brazilians and Argentines and Colombians MLS has signed; if they were any good, they'd be in Europe.

You need look no further than prodigy Freddy Adu, signed at 14 for millions, and more from NIKE. He was nurtured, if you can even say that, in MLS and the first chance he got, he bolted for Europe. Ditto Clint Dempsey, DeMarcus Beasley, Tim Howard and a host of others. The U.S. National Team is probably unrecognizable to most MLS fans, because the majority is abroad.

Fact is: Beckham and Blanco were brought here to sell jerseys; Garber's clutching to the jersey sales numbers in the Q&A, see for yourself. They weren't brought here to grow the game, they were brought here to grow MLS' Q-rating.

Garber has some illusion of MLS becoming a major U.S. sport. No. It won't. It's been said before; there's too much competing for the same money and attention here. And the press hates soccer. It won't happen.

In closing, I'll excerpt the last question from the Q&A, which is a great one by Jack Bell:

Q. A number of Americans — Malcolm Glazer, Tom Hicks, Randy Lerner — have invested in teams in England. Why don’t they buy into M.L.S. instead?

A. There is no shortage of wealthy people who have an interest in M.L.S. My only concern would be if we had a shortage of investors.

The best thing that could ever happen for soccer in this country is to have people invest in soccer, whether in the United States, England or Spain. But one would argue there’s less stability and logic to the English football system than all would hope.

Can you smell the B.S.?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

U.S. Wins Football Friendly at World Cup Host South Africa

The U.S. left its A-game on safari this week in South Africa, but still managed a 1-0 win and the Nelson Mandela Challenge Cup (um, ok). Read some good takes at:

Golan Heights

Omer Golan is a household name in England today. With a marvelous finish to a memorable final 5 minutes, Golan's goal lifted Israel over Russia Saturday, 2-1, and put England in position to qualify for Euro 2008 with just a tie Wednesday against Croatia.

That's a good thing. I'm all for dynasties in pro sports. I love it when there's a team to beat. I love it when a tournament is loaded with teams that should be there and the minnows are left in the ocean where they belong. I want the New England Patriots to go 16-0; I love it when the Steelers and 49ers win two or three Super Bowls in a row. And England, France, Italy, Germany, Spain and Portugal better be in Euro 2008, or the tournament just isn't right.

Cheers to Omer Golan and a thoroughly entertaining Israel team that didn't bow to rude Hiddink and his Ruskies, who expected to swarm through Tel Aviv and waltz into Euro. It wasn't easy, Russia didn't lay down and had a ball ricochet off the post seconds before Golan's goal (look closely, it would have been an own-goal).

Golan started the play that resulted in the game-winner with a tremendous defensive tackle in the Russian end. Golan had the sense to get up, stay onside, and bury the give-and-go winner. Minutes later, Israel should have made it 3-1 on an awesome half-volley in the box, but was denied.

In the end, Russia was denied, England inched closer to Euro, and all is right with the tournament.

Quickly, here's a look at the qualifiers.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Early Start for U.S.-South Africa Friendly

Just a reminder that the U.S. men's national team is in South Africa tomorrow for a friendly against the 2010 World Cup hosts. The game starts at 9 a.m. ET and is availabile on Fox Soccer Channel. Get up early. Tune in for live blogging.

Below is the U.S. roster:
GOALKEEPERS: Tim Howard (Everton FC), Brad Guzan (Chivas USA)
DEFENDERS: Carlos Bocanegra (Fulham FC), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Dan Califf (Aalborg BK), Oguchi Onyewu (Standard de Liege)
MIDFIELDERS: Freddy Adu (SL Benfica), DaMarcus Beasley (Glasgow Rangers), Michael Bradley (SC Heerenveen), Maurice Edu (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Derby County), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Eddie Lewis (Derby County)
FORWARDS: Josmer Altidore (New York Red Bulls), Clint Dempsey (Fulham FC), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy)
Will be interesting to see if Freddy Adu plays and how much action Josie Altidore sees.

Carson In For England Friendly; What is Future for McClaren, Robinson?

England rejoices. Paul Robinson is out as England goalkeeper--at least for tonight's friendly against Austria, which is four days ahead of a do-or-die Euro 2008 qualifier against Croatia. Youngster Scott Carson gets the call and Robinson sits, much to the glee of the fans and pundits who've watched shaky play between the posts from Robinson for months. It's safe to say the McClaren-Robinson connection has made England's posture in Euro 2008 tenuous.

McClaren need look no further than the mess former U.S. women's coach Greg Ryan made at the women's World Cup with his goalkeeping situation to understand how closely tied a coach's tenure his with keeper. Ryan, to review, inexplicably pulled Hope Solo in favor of grandma Brianna Scurry in the World Cup semifinals against Brazil. The result was a 4-0 loss to Brazil, anger and dissension from Solo and ultimately, Ryan sitting on the unemployment line.

England needs a hopeless scenario of help to qualify for the continental championship, and surely McClaren's days are equally as numbered. Bottom line: A coach needs to put his best players on the pitch in order to give them the best chance to win. Paul Robinson is not the best England has, yet McClaren stubbornly sends Robinson out there figuring the odds are with him and things will eventually turn around. Robinson doesn't have the make-up to be a high-profile national team coach. Just ask Tottenham fans. Robinson is signed there through 2012, and for its investment,
Tottenham is mired in 14th place in the Premiership with 11 points and 24 goals against. Only one club has given up more: bottom dweller Derby County with one win and six points. By the way, that's one win fewer than Tottenham.

Is it all Robinson's fault? Of course not. But winning breeds winning, and Robinson obviously doesn't raise his game when conditions are adverse. It will be interesting to see how Carson does tonight. Carson's doing well with Aston Villa, which is on the cusp of a spot in Europe next year. McClaren, however, has put himself in a no-win situation. If Carson does well, the clamoring for him to be in goal against Croatia is going to be deafening. If Carson fails, McClaren is almost forced to go with Robinson--which is likely his plan any way--and another shaky outing not only seals McClaren's fate as England manager, but resigns fans to the fact that the national team won't be involved in the game's second biggest tournament.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fergie and Wenger: Pirates Who Must Be Stopped

Sporting Clube de Portugal, affectionately Anglicized as Sporting Lisbon, has in recent years morphed into a farm club for Manchester United. Sporting's academy is probably the best in Europe producing over the years in no particular order Paolo Futre, Luis Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, Ricardo Quaresma, Simao Sabrosa, Joao Moutinho, Miguel Veloso and a host of others. Ronaldo and Nani are the shiniest spokes on that wheel and they're going to carry United likely to another Premiership title and deep into the Champions League.

Carlos Queiroz, former Sporting and Portugal coach, sits at the right hand of Sir Alex Ferguson and is the direct link to the academy and forged the relationship between the two clubs, which has paid off handsomely in cash and resources for Sporting, and championships, glory and fortune for United.

UEFA kingpin Michel Platini, however, says enough. He chastised Ferguson and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger for their pillaging of these smaller clubs and wants it to end. Platini says the development of youth players in England, for example, is floundering because resources are driven elsewhere. There's talk of a cap on international players in England and Steven Gerrard has given his tacit OK on that.

Platini says: "I am totally against this philosophy. I like (Sir Alex) Ferguson, I like Arsene Wenger - they're good friends of mine - but don't like the system to pick the best players from all the youth categories in all the countries. It's difficult for those countries.

Soccernet says: Platini believes players need to be nurtured in their country of origin until they turn 20 or 21 and pointed out that in England there are regulations preventing clubs poaching young players from each other. He said: "I want to protect the people of 14 years old, 15 years old."

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BigSoccer: Society, not Soccer to Blame

BigSoccer cuts to the chase on hooliganism in Italy
. Social woes and not football are the root cause of hooliganism, and on many levels they're correct. Not to get too liberal-PC-boorish, but when there's little to connect you in life to something outside of a dead-end job and worse, a going-nowhere life, you sometimes seek out others just like you and unite under a single cause. Unfortunately, hooligans do it under the banner of a football club or national side, and ravage what's in their way.

Here's an interesting passage from the BigSoccer post:

Specifically, what provoked the anger of ultras groups last Sunday was not only the killing of "one of them" (never mind that the kid was not an ultra nor by anyone's definition a violent or anti-social element of society), but the fact that authority figures from both the Italian federation and police determined that the "show must go on" and games would be played as if nothing happened. When a police officer died (in a friendly fire incident?) in February 2007, the league was stopped and a huge national period of mourning came about. Here was the case of a fan, one of "them" - again, as perceived by exremist groups - being killed and the league was to go on as scheduled. As if his death was insignificant. "Death is the same for all" a banner would go on to read in Parma, a more civilized expression of the frustration felt by many fans, and a pun on the Italian legal motto which states "the law is the same for all." But by allowing games to be played, the ultras saw this as a case of "the system" not giving a shit about "one of them," treating them rather as second class citizens, something which these extremist groups are used to feeling.

So much for today's lesson in Sociology 101.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Kaka Fears For Italy's Future

Following up on today's post on the scandal in Italy, here's an interesting piece from Soccernet with Kaka warning that Italy is losing football credibility and the violence will drive stars away from signing with the big clubs.

Serie A on Borrowed Time?

A not-so-funny thing happened on the way to the Inter-Lazio game last weekend in Italy. A Lazio supporter was murdered--accidentally--by a policeman touching off a terrible night of violence in Italy and plummeting Calcio back into the abyss.

The wounds of the bribery scandal that sent Juventus, Lazio and Fiorentina to Serie B and stripped other top clubs of points in the standings still sting. And now this terrible tragedy compounds things to new depths.

But this tragedy has nothing to do with the inner workings of football. There was no match-rigging conspiracy at play here. There was no network of club officials pulling strings to ensure favorable refereeing at their matches. This was the case of an officer pulling the trigger on an innocent man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Gabriele Sandri's biggest crime was stopping for gas nearby where Lazio and Juventus supporters were slugging away at each other in a fit of testosterone rage over club and country.

So who's to blame. Well, Michel Platini is pointing a finger at the Italian government. He says they need to step in much the way the English did to clean up hooliganism at clubs. Sandri's death was the second football-related death in Italy this year. Enough.

"(Platini's) view is that soccer is not to blame, nor the majority of real Italian soccer fans, but it is a minority of extremists who take over fans clubs and are not interested in football who are to blame. The Italian authorities need to clean up these supporters clubs, otherwise the small minority is going to continue to ruin the game for the majority of Italian supporters who are terrific fans of the game," says William Gaillard, special adviser to Platini.

Right now, local authorities essentially act as security at stadia in Italy and Platini would like to see it centralized. Football is critical to the economy of Italy and it needs to be policed with the highest of scrutiny. Dedicated training of authorities is required, much the way the English handle it.

It's time for Italy to rein in this "small minority" of fans. If the Italian government cannot handle it, get help from the EU. Football is a pastime, but it's a financial, social and cultural center as well. Grown men do no weep when the dollar falls against the Euro, but they do if Roma falls to Lazio. That emotional attachment is why fans adore football. To have it ruined by selfish pigs with an evil agenda is evil itself.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Live Blogging: Fox Football Fone-In, Part III

Wrapping up soon. I love this show; love the contrived conversations. It's great.

  • Roman Abromovitch is offering each Russian player 100,000 pounds to beat Israel Saturday, a win that would qualify Russia for Euro 2008, and knock out England. Abromovitch knows that he owns a club with a glut of England nationals? Right? England's in huge trouble: No John Terry, no Rooney, no Rio Ferdinand, no hope.
  • Is Scotland catching Italy at the right time given the mess Italy football is in? Stephen theorizes Italy is dying to get out of the country and it won't faze them to be away from home in a hostile park with a lot on the line. And even if Italy loses, they still can beat the Faroe Islands and get in.
  • Who's the eventual replacement for Steve McClaren? Rogers has to crack: It's Jose. Stephen: No Chance.
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Live Blogging: Fox Football Fone-In, part II

  • They've got a poll going tonight on whether Italy should shut down Serie A this weekend in light of last weekend's tragic shooting at the Lazio-Juventus game. More analysis in the morning on the shattered state of Italian soccer, but right now, those polled don't want to shut it down. It's 7-3 now; and most are saying there would be mayhem in the streets if the games were off. Poll ended up 8-7 in favor of no.
  • Here we go again, trying to drag MLS and American football into a conversation about creating a global brand around soccer here. Why would any club in Europe be interested in a North America-Europe version of the Champions League? Bulletin: Europe doesn't need North America to sell is football; doing just fine boys. Is anyone in Europe wondering about the L.A. Galaxy and David Beckham's injuries? MLS is fun, but as Stephen just said, it's a third-tier league. Kudos to American fans to want to equate their league and clubs with the best Europe has, but they're not there yet.
  • Mr. Gullitt: Welcome to the MLS SuperDraft. Huh? I want to see his face.
  • Rogers is convinced Landon Donovan is headed back to San Jose to the new MLS franchise. Adds: Donovan won't get another sniff from a European club. "He's blown his chances." Donovan, meanwhile, was not called up for Saturday's friendly against South Africa.
  • Tim Cahill's bicycle kick was better than Taylor Twellman's.
  • Alex McLeish leaving Scotland for the Premiership? Discuss.
  • Dreadful discussion about the bottom of the Premiership table Derby bashing is passe.
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Live Blogging: Fox Football Fone-In

Fox Football Fone-In is a weekly treat. Tonight, Revs head coach Steve Nicol is on as we speak and Stephen Cohen, right, and Howard Rogers are tossing the usual softballs. But they did ask him an interesting one about English clubs cherry-picking his best players. Nicol said Michael Parkhurst and Shalarie Joseph are drawing attention. I was never a Shalarie Joseph fan, but the guy is turning into a presence as an attacking midfielder. Parkhurst is solid too. Neither one is Clint Dempsey, but few American players are.

Other Nicol highlights:

On Ruud Gullit taking on the Galaxy job and a perceived lack of ambition coming here for solely the money: "Ruud needs to do his homework before he gets here." "The trouble starts when things not going right, and you have to change your rosters. It's not like Europe where you take $10 and buy another player. All starts at the draft for him; it's going to be a whole new whacky world for him."

On a soccer specific stadium in Boston/Foxboro: "I have to be careful what I say. I know the Kraft family is actively looking for a spot for a stadium. I've seen plans."

On Premiership: "I've actually enjoyed it far more this year. Lot more goals--with teams like Derby struggling--going to watch a game on Saturday, you're going to go to the Premier League."

Here's hoping Nicol gets his championship Sunday.

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Carvalho: See You in January

Portugal lines up for its final two Euro 2008 qualifiers in the next 10 days against Armenia and Finland, but Selecao das Quinas fans won't have Ricardo Carvalho standing guard in front of goalkeeper Ricardo. Word is in that Carvalho is done for two months with a back injury. ABola out of Portugal is reporting Carvalho has a problem with three vertebrae.

Scolari has called up Marco Caneira, Bruno Alves, Miguel, Fernando Meira, Jorge Ribeiro, Bosingwa and Pepe on the back line. Is this a crushing blow? No, but it doesn't help. Portugal is three points clear of Serbia for the second qualifying spot out of its group, and one point back of Poland for the group lead. Armenia is done and Finland has a puncher's chance because it's tied with Serbia in points but trails badly on goal differential.

Chelsea will feel Carvalho's absence more than the Portuguese national team. The Blues are regaining form, but this won't help their hunt for the top of the Premiership.

UPDATED: Nov. 16, 2007 -- Sporting's Abel gets his first call-up to replace the injured Carvalho. He's 28 and he's thrilled. "I'm delighted to be here. This was one of my goals but I didn't know if it was ever going to happen – and it wasn't ideal to come in because a team-mate was injured," he said.

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