Author Archives: itharrison

Growing middle class on deadline day

Let’s be honest. Who really thought Sunderland, Stoke and Birmingham would be the clubs making the biggest splashes on the final day of the summer transfer window? Sure, England’s biggest teams had taken care of most of their business already. But it was still a surprise, as the final hours ticked away, to see a club-record 13 million pounds splashed out to bring Ghanian World Cup star Asamoah Gyan to Wearside from French club Rennes. Who knew the Black Cats even had that kind of cash? You’ve sure got to turn over a lot of couch cushions to come up with that kind of loose change.

Only slightly less surprising was the triple swoop made by Birmingham, who landed former Arsenal midfielder Alexander Hleb on a season-long loan from Barcelona, defender Martin Jiranek on a one-year deal from Spartak Moscow and Chilean winger Jean Beausejour from Club America in the Mexican League.

The Potters, meanwhile, added four players to a team yet to record its first league points of the season, with Icelandic striker Eidur Gudjohnsen joining on a season-long loan from Monaco and former Arsenal, Birmingham and Liverpool man Jermaine Pennant coming over on loan from Spain’s Real Zaragoza until January.

The combined effect is a serious thickening of quality for some of the Prem’s mid-table teams. There aren’t many easy weeks in the EPL, even for those at the top, and those teams should all be strengthened by their deadline day dealings. The moves also make life harder for the unlucky few clubs left scraping to stay in the top flight.

Tottenham, as usual, left it late, leaving fans to play the ‘vaiting game’ over the status of Dutch midfielder Rafael van der Vaart, whose cut-price, 8-million pound move from Real Madrid reportedly requires Premier League approval, given that Arry and co. didn’t even start  on things until two hours remained in the transfer window. Yids will be hoping the deal gets done, if only so that Sylvie van der Vaart, his lovely missus, can brighten up the scene down the Lane.

As they prepare for a debut season of Champions League football, with Inter Milan looming large in Group A, Spurs decided not to parcel anyone out of North London, holding on to Robbie Keane and Jermaine Jenas, and bolstered their goalkeeping corps by finalizing the long-awaited arrival of Croatian Stipe Pletikosa on a season-long loan from Spartak Moscow. Things didn’t pan out yet for Tottenham’s other trialist, South African defender Bongani Khumalo, but he may still join in January.

Elsewhere, Man. City said so long to Brazilian bust Robinho, who set sail for AC Milan, Everton’s Joseph Yobo was loaned out to Turkey’s Fenerbahce, Liverpool finalized the signing of Paul Konchesky from Fulham (so much for Uncle Woy’s pledge not to plunder the Londoners) while letting Emiliano Insua leave for Galatasaray.

So, no more moves until the New Year, and we now await the naming of 25-man rosters for the next four months on Wednesday. Could be some difficult decisions to make at some clubs. Stay tuned.

Ian Harrison

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Luck of the draw? Yids learn CL fate

Welcome to the Champions League, Tottenham. And just in case you weren’t sure who the best team in the tournament was, it became painfully evident as teammate after teammate from reigning title holders Inter Milan sauntered up to the stage during today’s draw in Monaco (a painfully long event but one surprisingly well photographed by audience members) to receive player of the tournament awards. Goalkeeper Julio Cesar, defender Maicon, midfielder Wesley Sneijder and striker Diego Milito (who also won player of the year) were each honoured with a small trophy and the opportunity to pick little balls out of a cup and reveal the teams within. And when all was said and done, Spurs found themselves in Group A alongside Inter’s star-studded cast. Will the Italian treble winners still be the same team with Rafa Benitez at the helm? We’ll find out when the Serie A gets rolling this weekend.

Of course, it’s a better draw for Spurs than they would have faced in Group G, whose teams have won a combined 20 Champions League crowns and finished runner-up nine times. At least, with Germany’s Werder Bremen and Holland’s FC Twente rounding out Group A, the last three teams are fairly evenly balanced, meaning second place and passage to the knockout round should be up for grabs. Despite their lofty UEFA coefficient, I’d rather face Bremen (third in the Bundesliga last year) from Pot 2 than any of Real Madrid, Roma, Valencia, Marseille, Panathinaikos or Benfica. Twente, who won their first Eredivisie title last season but saw Schteve leave for Germany over the summer, were one of the highest ranked teams in Pot 4. It’s also a kind geographical draw for Spurs, with no lengthy excursions to Kazan, Donetsk or Tel Aviv required.

Whoever the opponent, health of key players is a big issue for Spurs with the first matchday just over two weeks away. I’ll be happy as long as Welsh winger Gareth Bale, who set up all four goals in Wednesday’s famous 4-0 win over Young Boys, is healthy and ready to run. He’s been become  simply brilliant since Arry told him to stop messing with his barnet.

Fans of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United, all Pot 1 teams, are undoubtedly feeling pretty comfortable about their team’s chances of progression to the round of 16, with all three London clubs dreaming of a berth at the Wem-ber-lee final. In Manchester, the police force is already bracing for trouble when Rangers visit, based on their experience from the UEFA Cup Final in 2008, while the tie gives Sir Alex gets a chance to face his former team.

What’s also shocking is the number of big names  who’ll be watching from the wings this Champions League season, including Liverpool, Sevilla, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Porto, Sporting Lisbon, Olympiacos, Villareal, Zenit St. Petersburg, Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe.

In today’s Europa League playoffs, a reeling Aston Villa met their match in Rapid Vienna for the second successive year, with a Stiliyan Petrov penalty miss proving fatal, while Celtic’s European misery continued with a 4-0 defeat at Utrecht. Liverpool and Manchester City, however, both booked passage to the group stages, with the Reds reversing an early 1-0 deficit at Trabzonspor and Citeh easing to a 2-0 win over Timisoara.

On this side of the Atlantic, current MLS champions Real Salt Lake watched a 3-1 lead turn into a 5-4 defeat at Mexico City’s Cruz Azul in CONCACAF Champions League play Wednesday night, meaning all four teams in Group A, including Toronto FC, have a win and a loss through two matches. As for TFC, they were busy today announcing Doneil Henry as the first academy player to sign a pro contract.

Ian Harrison

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Yid Army invades New York City

I’ve finally cooled off from my time in the blast furnace better known as New York City, where I spent the past few days and saw Tottenham take on Sporting Lisbon in the back half of the Barclays Challenge at Red Bulls Arena.

Our long weekend in the red hot Big Apple, which also featured a game at Yankee Stadium, plenty of tasty eats and some gentle walking tours between Manhattan bars, was certainly a lot of fun, and a great chance to see my Yid Army without crossing the Atlantic. But thanks to the long travel and blistering heat and humidity, ’Arry still seems a bit hot under the collar, unsure of whether a three-game swing from California to the Empire State and back home was the best way to prepare for his team’s inaugural Champions League campaign.

Spilt milk now, of course, and hopefully a few dollars and pounds earned for a bolstering of the back line before qualifying begins, especially now that Jonathan Woodgate looks less and less likely to be fit anytime soon, while Ledley King also remains a doubt.

Tottenham take the field to face Sporting at Red Bulls Arena.

Tottenham played four right backs against Sporting, with Alan Hutton in his regular role, Vedran Corluka, Kyle Walker and Kyle Naughton rounding out the defense. Redknapp used the US tour to fiddle around up front with his formation up front a bit, and even though Robbie Keane looked good up front against the Portuguese, there’s still no guarantee he’ll be a Yid when the transfer window closes. It was great to see 90 minutes of strong running by Gareth Bale and passing from Tom Huddlestone, interesting to watch Adel Taraabt, who unfortunately didn’t distinguish himself too much, unlike Jonathan Obika, who came on as a substitute and blasted home the tying goal.

That strike, and a late Huddlestone miss from half with the keeper out of his net, meant the matched ended a 2-2 draw. It was certainly entertaining and the Spurs support was surprisingly and pleasantly vocal…our tickets were at the other end of the ground but we moved down and sat behind the rowdies for the second half to join in the singing, which was a blast. We totally drowned out the Sporting fans, even though there’s a big Portuguese community in Newark, across the river from where the Red Bulls play in Harrison, New Jersey. Didn’t see too much of the town that bears my name, but the land around the brand new stadium was pretty desolate. They’re planning to develop the area with shops and restaurants, but for now it’s the same forlorn industrial wasteland so commonly associated with the Garden State.

I haven’t had too many nice things to say about Thierry Henry over the past while, not much of a surprise considering he’s a cheating ex-Gooner, but I am pretty impressed that he travelled to his first Red Bulls game the same way I did – by paying $1.75 for the four-stop, 20-minute PATH train ride from the World Trade Center site in Manhattan. Speaking of which – this was my first trip to NYC since April, 2001 and thus my first look at the hole in the ground in lower Manhattan. It’s hard to imagine the old WTC anymore…I had to watch Tribe Called Quest’s Electric Relaxation video when I got home to remind myself. With the twin towers gone, the Empire State Building is back to being the anchor of what Kurt Vonnegut once called ‘Skyscraper National Park.’

Inside, the stadium offers comfortable, covered seating and solid sightlines of the (thinning) grass pitch, with two levels of private boxes replacing the upper deck on the side of the pitch behind the benches and press seating blended into the stands, as at some European grounds. The concourses are a bit narrow and crowded but offer a wide selection of ethnic foods, like empanadas, Brazilian food, and several European beers. Not surprisingly, a can of Red Bull ($3) is cheaper than a bottle of water ($4).  Overall, a solid soccer experience. We stayed for the first 15 minutes of the Red Bulls’ 2-1 win over Manchester City (one of two losses by Manc clubs to MLS opponents on the day, with United losing by the same score to the KC Wizards), enough time to see a glowing welcome for Henry and NY’s opening goal. The flag-waving supporters clubs behind the goal were in full voice, although they were led in their cheers by a dude with a megaphone.

At the game with my Futbol Guapa.

Finally, here are a couple more soccer stories that caught my eye today (not including Diego’s ouster in Argentina, which Dr. Z will likely chime in on later). First, a new survey says only seven percent of people wouldn’t accept a gay footballer, which could mean fewer offers of reporter sister sex from Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Of course, there’s still plenty of love for hot women in the football world, which is why it’s news that some lucky crooks in Brazil got to pluck a cell phone from between curvy Paraguayan Larissa Riquelme’s mountainous mammaries. A grand theft, indeed.

Ian Harrison

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Swiss bliss is Spain’s pain as hosts look like toast

Spanish fans in Madrid can’t believe the score against Switzerland.

The upset of the tournament so far, and one of the biggest upsets in decades, has turned Group H into a dogfight for reigning European champions Spain, who went down to Switzerland 1-0. The deciding score came early in the second half, a scrappy goal by Gelson Fernandes, who bundled the ball in after a collision between Spanish keeper Iker Casillas and Swiss forward Eren Derdiyok. Spain’s Xabi Alonso hit the bar late on, but the Swiss held on for a famous win, and will vie with Chile (who broke a 48-year winless streak at the World Cup by beating Honduras 1-0) for control of the group, while Spain will have its work cut out to avoid second place and a possible match-up with Brazil in the round of 16.

The late game saw the hosts lose keeper Itumeleng Khune to a somewhat dubious red card while Diego Forlan scored twice, including once from the spot after Khune was dismissed, in a 3-0 victory for Uruguay, which was hardly the way anyone in South Africa wanted to mark the 34th anniversary of the Soweto student uprising, and did little to make anyone feel better about the disturbing news of strikes by poorly-paid security guards and protest marches against the FIFA fatcats, who won’t even let a bunch of women in orange miniskirts get their party on. It’s no surprise, but a bit of a shame, that Bafana Bafana are likely to bow out after their final Group A game against France, making them the first host team ever not to reach the knockout round.

It seems the World Cup may also be over for Italian netminder Gianluigi Buffon, whose back is a bit wonky. Maybe the long flight down didn’t do him any favours. At least he probably travelled in more style than CBS correspondent Steve Nash. As for our correspondent, the Happy Hoofer was posing for pictures in Abu Dhabi this morning, killing time while waiting for a connecting flight (he’s the one on the right).

While Portugal were busy trying to get Cristiano Ronaldo’s yellow card rescinded, there was more fun elsewhere. With his team set to face the Red Devils of South Korea tomorrow, Argentina boss Diego Maradona was made available to a hungry pack of media wolves today, and didn’t disappoint, firing off shots at Pele and Michel Platini (damn French and their lack of social skills), revealing that Juan Sebastian Veron would not start because of a calf injury, and producing several other Maradona musings. Can’t wait to see his antics on the touchline tomorrow, and what suit his daughters dress him in.

Ian Harrison

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What a calamity!

Robert Green

Okay, so England hasn’t lost the World Cup yet, but Saturday’s 1-1 draw with the US certainly felt like a defeat. It all started brightly, with Steven Gerrard scoring an early goal after some nice work by Wayne Rooney and Emile Heskey, not that UK viewers got to see it live.  But Robert Green’s blunder on Clint Dempsey’s daisy-cutter from outside the box in the dying minutes of the first half handed momentum and confidence to the Americans, and realized one of the worst fears of England supporters: the unsteady situation in goal.

The decision on who would get the start apparently came down to the final hours before kickoff. With David James’ fitness still in doubt and Fabio Capello said to have been unimpressed with Joe Hart’s distribution in this week’s friendly against Platinum Stars, it was West Ham’s Green who finally got the call even though, as this BBC article reveals, Opta statistics claims Green made more errors leading to goals than any other player in the Premier League last season. You can debate whether experience should count over form, particularly in a big tournament like the World Cup, and whether Hart would have been affected by butterflies in his World Cup debut. Now, however, the big question is whether Green will start again in this tournament. His teammates are behind him, even if the manager remains noncommittal. Stevie G suggested the ball may have been to blame, but I’m not so sure.

A poor 30 minute cameo by James Milner, the injury suffered by the talented but fragile Ledley King, and the way Jamie Carragher was exposed by Jozy Altidore in the second half (even with Green earning some measure of redemption by turing the American’s shot onto the post) all set off alarm bells. Yes, England had some chances after the break, with Heskey and Shaun Wright-Phillips wasting opportunities to beat the impressive Tim Howard. But even though it’s not exactly doom-and-gloom time just yet, it sure feels depressing.

Ian Harrison

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Kickoff!! Day one at the World Cup

The first day of the World Cup! I was like a kid on Christmas morning, up at 5:00 am. Think that may have had more to do with late-night beers and chicken wings with Brent and Kev the night before…damn that habanero pepper sauce!! But after enjoying the sight of a dung beetle  crawling around on a soccer ball at the opening ceremonies, and shedding a silent tear for Nelson Mandela, I settled in for South Africa v. Mexico.  My prediction of 1-1 in that match came true, a good start for the hosts and the tournament in general, although plenty of people were left confused by Mexico’s offside goal in the first half. There was no doubt, of course, about Siphiwe Tshabalala’s wonder strike that gave Bafana Bafana the lead, a worthy goal to open the finals. Even Rafa Marquez’s reply 12 minutes from time that brought Mexico level couldn’t silence thousands of vuvuzela’s buzzing at full volume, and the opener was in the books. Must say I’m not wild about the format of the BBC online match report – maybe I’ll grow to like it.

After breaking for lunch, my forecast of three goals and a Uruguay victory in their game against France proved wildly optimistic. The scoreless draw was mostly dreary affair, with young Uruguayan Nicolas Lodeiro shown red after a disastrous 16-minute spell as a substitute, and Thierry Henry, of all people, demanding a handball after blasting the ball off Mauricio Victorino’s right arm, an arm that was drawn in to Victorino’s side. Whatever, Thierry. That’s like Diego Maradona calling for more fair play. Oh, right. Whatever, Diego.

Another big day coming up tomorrow, with Diego’s Argentina getting set to open up against Nigeria. But my favourite story of day one was news of the double delays suffered by Team USA, stuck behind elephants on the roads of Rustenburg. If they think that’s bad, wait till they get thrown to the Lions on Saturday. Come on En-ger-land!!

Ian Harrison

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Who’s horny for the World Cup?

So, the infamous vuvuzelas will officially be permitted at World Cup venues after noise tests at Soccer City stadium, the site of the final. It’s the right decision in terms of protecting South African football heritage, not to mention and provide a big boost in games featuring the host nation, but also ensure that thousands of people will be exposed to dangerously loud noise at every match. Even on television, as anyone who watched last year’s Confederations Cup of this year’s Africa Cup of Nations can attest, the droning sound can be annoying at high volume, which is a shame because I prefer watching sporting spectacles loud enough to hear the crowd…assuming they’re chanting and singing, not blowing their lungs out on the same cheap, plastic horn I once bought at a Hamilton Tiger-Cats game in 1987.

Ian Harrison

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