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CL draw: Spurs get San Siro return

When Tottenham was drawn against Young Boys of Bern in Champions League qualifying back in August, it was a dream draw for the North London’s debutantes, the easiest opponent Spurs could have faced at the final hurdle before the group stages of the competition.

And although they nearly bolloxed things up by falling behind 3-0 in the opening 30 minutes of the first leg, Spurs recovered to sweep past the Swiss side and move on to the tournament proper, where their only slip-up in six matches was a 4-3 defeat to Inter at Milan’s San Siro. A 3-1 triumph in the return leg at White Hart Lane put Tottenham on top of Group A to stay, meaning they’d avoid some of Europe’s heaviest hitters in this morning’s draw for the Round of 16.

This time, there was no dream draw, and Tottenham must go back to their house of first-half horrors to face Inter’s crosstown rivals AC Milan in February. The best scenario this time, if it could be considered as such, was probably FC Copenhagen, the first Danish side to reach the last 16. But even as a group winner, Tottenham still faced the prospect of many problematic opponents. And in the Rossoneri, current Serie A leaders, Tottenham have drawn one of the toughest. Sure, Marseille, Lyon and Valencia wouldn’t have been cakewalks, either, but this promises to be a stern, serious test.

Spurs, who will hope to be healthier in 10 weeks time, will be coming home for the second leg, of course. And our man ’Arry isn’t afraid of the big, bad boys from Northern Italy, saying he’s happy to keep measuring his squad against the best.

Of course, as North London squads go, Tottenham’s draw looks far better than neighbourhood rivals Arsenal, who face the daunting task of a battle with Barcelona, the same team that knocked them out of the tournament last year, and beat the Gooners in the 2006 final. Good luck with that one, lads.

Rather than Spurs, it was West London’s Chelsea who got the great Dane draw against Copenhagen, while Manchester United will meet Marseille. Inter got Bayern Munich in a rematch of last year’s final. Will the embattled Rafa Benitez still be in charge by then?

Meanwhile, the scabby Europa League teams also learned their fate today, with Man. Citeh drawn against Greece’s Aris Salonika, the team that knocked title holders Atletico Madrid out of the tournament. Obi Woy’s Liverpool get Sparta Prague, and Tottenham’s old adversary Young Boys, still alive in this competition, get Zenit St. Petersburg, who were UEFA Cup winners in 2008.

Finally, speaking of Swiss men and young boys, FIFA head of corruption president Sepp Blattter has apologized for his recent remarks urging homosexual fans to refrain from gay sex in Qatar. I give old Joseph a piece of my mind in my weekly Toro Magazine column today.

Ian Harrison

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FIFA foes fume over World Cup choices

Blatter giveth... and he taketh away.

Two new frontiers of football were opened today, when FIFA announced the sites of its 2018 and 2022 World Cups: Russia and Qatar, respectively.

FIFA officials say they are following the same philosophy that gave South Africa and Brazil a kick at World Cup glory.  That is, they believe they are ahead of an economic wave, and that emerging nations hold the future of the game.

Like bullets with butterfly wings, countries with dark histories of oppression and poverty will now be shining beacons of economic prosperity… and FIFA is doing its part. Nations like South Africa/Brazil/Russia/Qatar will emerge from their shadow of aparthied/absolute squalor/communism/massive economic inequality to build soccer stadiums that will save the world.

You’ll forgive my cynicism when I say, “Pfffffft”.

It appears that Russia and Qatar get the goodies because they can afford to play ball.  According to recent media reports, oil-rich Russia and oil-richer Qatar (a bit of a theme, no?) can afford to open their wallets, while keeping their mouths shut.

England? Never had a chance.  CONCACAF President Jack Warner has made no effort to hide his loathing of the United Kingdom… and recent eks-poh-zayz by the Sunday Times and the BBC alleging that he took some serious graft did not help their chances.

England’s bidding committee promised state-of-the-art stadiums that host the world’s most lucrative football division, the Premier League, with global marketing appeal.  They have shiny new infrastructure in anticipation for the 2012 Olympic games.  And they have a rabid fan base that is apropos for the game’s birthplace.  England promised FIFA money, money, money.  But not this time.

A dejected Prince William

England is also a democracy that must jump through level after level of bureaucratic hoops to get anything done.  Despite appearances, Russia remains under the thumb of Vladimir Putin… and Qatar is a kingdom — and not the nominal one we have in the UK and the Commonwealth.

It may be true that Russia and the Middle East and Africa and South America are untapped markets, whose ability to host world events will grow as their economies rebound from the world recession.  It could be that the old North American and European powerhouses are tired and unable to sustain themselves for much longer.

But don’t believe for one minute that FIFA officials gave Russia and Qatar their rights on the basis of macroeconomics.  They were just following the money… and riding the wave.

Brent Lanthier

Note: At The Rails is neither confirming nor denying any of the allegations made against FIFA officials.  It is merely reprinting media reports.  Many of the allegations were originally made in the Daily Mail and on the BBC by journalist Andrew Jennings.  His website, Transparency in Sport, expands on his theories. You can also read his book, Foul, as well as the Lord of the Rings… where he makes several allegations against the International Olympic Committee.

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