England Live Up To Three Lions Tag

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England Equal U-20 Un-winner Record!

By recording a 0-0 tie against Mexico last Friday, their lucky 13th game without a win, England have equalled Mexico for the dubious title of “team-playing-most-games-without-a-win-in-the-U-20-tournament- finals”!

Moreover, England’s progression into the final 16 knock-out stage despite the complete absence of anything so unsightly as a goal, for or against, in any of their three games so far this tournament(thanks in no small part to a fantastic penalty save by keeper, Butland against Mexico), brings England’s hitherto secret aim, of becoming the first side ever to win any football tournament not only without winning a game but without scoring or conceding a goal, amazingly, that much closer.

England’s steely resolve to win the tournament with a blemish free goal stats sheet will  be severely tested when they face high-scoring, maximum-point Nigeria in the first knock-out round this Wednesday.

However, as a loss, or even a win on penalties, would see England claim the “Most Unwinnerish” team title all for themselves, Wednesday’s game is a win-win for England, providing, of course, the unthinkable doesn’t happen and they actually win against Nigeria*!

So let’s raise an Aguadiente toast (Colombia’s national liquor) to England’s perfect 10-0-0 winning formation!

Altogether now, “Nil-nil to the England!  Nil-nil to the England! Nil-nil to the England! Nil-nil to the England!”.

* A win on penalties isn’t really a win, just as losing on penalties is never actually a loss, especially against Germany.

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England in U-20 Battle of Un-winners!

England go into their third U-20 Group F game in Colombia tomorrow having failed to win in any of their 12 games since their last win at the 1997 Malaysia U-20 tournament.

Failure to win their game tomorrow against Mexico will see them equal the tournament’s “most games played without a win” record of 13 games, a record currently, presumably unhappily, held by, of all teams, Mexico!

Still goalless after their first two games, England need the win to be certain of progressing to the knock-out rounds whilst Mexico needs only the draw.

Should make for quite the game, even if, probably, not a goal-fest!

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Roast Turkey

Associated Press reports that following a probe into match fixing in Turkey which has seen over 30 people, including Fenerbahce president Aziz Yildirim, charged and Emre Belozoglu, the Turkish national captain, questioned by Turkish prosecutors, the Turkish Football Federation has pushed the start of the season back by over a month until September 9th.

Meanwhile the Preliminary Draw for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil has been made with Turkey being drawn in European Group D along with Netherlands, Hungary, Romania, Estonia and Andorra.

Belize, which had been in danger of missing the draw, finds itself with Grenada, Guatemala and St Vincent in North & Central America Group E after FIFA temporarily lifted, from July 7 till August 15, its 17th June suspension of the Belize Football Federation (FFB) on account of “severe governmental interference”.

Having renounced the FFB’s right to represent Belize, after its alleged failure to properly register as the “National body for the administration of football in Belize”, the Belize government threatened to withdraw police services for the home second leg of Belize’s tie with Trinidad and Tobago resulting in FIFA’s suspension of the FFB and the postponement of the game.

Good to know where FIFA stands on compliance issues.

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United Play Halle Berry?

Rumours are flooding the internet that Manchester United’s poor performance in the Champion’s League final against Barca Saturday was in part due to a last-minute injury to talented Ecuadorian striker Valencia who saw his place in the team taken by Valencia look-alike and former Bond girl, Halle Berry who was at Wembley hoping to reignite her film career with the aid of twittered rumours.

As much as this would explain Valencia’s woeful performance, Fixball has it on excellent authority (having initiated this rumour in the first place) that there is absolutely no truth whatsoever to the rumour and the reason for Valencia’s terrible performance is  that he isn’t as good at football as Halle Berry is at coming out of the sea in a tiny bikini.

To be clear, this is an entirely fabricated story except of course for the bit about Halle Berry’s talent for emerging from water wearing small bikinis, a talent which, hopefully, will again be on display for all to enjoy later this year when she stars in “Dark Tide”,  “a thriller centred on a diving instructor who returns to deep waters after a near-fatal encounter with a Great White shark”.  (Thanks IMDB.com)  Lucky shark!  Ding dong!

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Barca Destroys United 3 -1 ! What was Sir Alex thinking?

Who could have predicted that! For a clearer picture of just what a humiliation it was for both United and the Premier league, check out the BBC’s match statistics.

Barca had 68% possession against United’s 32% !!  The only time you expect to see possession stats like that is when a Premier league takes on a non-league team in the third round of the FA cup!  No offence to non-league sides intended.

I’d love to say nice try United but, except for the Rooney goal, as the stats imply, with Nani and Anderson on the bench. Berbatov not even getting into kit and Evra, Vidic and Ferdinand not much closer to Messi when he scored, I’m not sure United tried their best (not that I think it would have affected much other than the possession stats if they had).

One interesting observation arising from the Canadian coverage I saw was that although Sir Alex’s touchline dressing-down of Rooney took place a minute and a half before half-time, well after Rooney’s 34th minute equalizing strike, Rogers Sportsnet slipped it into their game highlight reel immediately after Pedro’s opener so to anyone who missed the incident, it looked for all the world as if Rooney’s strike was due to some incredibly inspirational, even if critical, words from mercurial manager, Sir Alex; as opposed to the actual order of events which possibly explains United’s incredibly lacklustre second half performance since what player is likely to be inspired by the sight of their manager desperately bollocking their best performing player in front of 87,000 fans and probably, the largest global tv audience since the wedding.

Just think.  Would Wills have been quite such a happy chappy and the wedding so globally well-received if Kate, right after that kiss, had been caught on camera wiping her face and spitting into a hanky saying, “Onions, Will!  Yeugh!”?  I too think not.

Then again, United were being outclassed well before Sir Alex began moaning so, perhaps, without it, they might have peformed even worse.

Sir Alex’ has been a fantastic career without compare in British football but now, having taken United to a record 19 championships, maybe this time it really is time to call it a day and take a chance on someone younger, like Giggs or Scholes, just like Barcelona did a few years ago with Pep Guardiola.

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Barca v United – lambs to the slaughter ?

Possibly the greatest club side of all-time versus probably Fergie’s weakest United.

Even if Nani and Chico play the games of their lives and Rooney remembers he is the best footballer qualified to play for England since Ryan Giggs, there is simply no way the current United team should win this game.

The thought of Vidic and Ferdinand conspiring to stop Messi is either far-fetched or unpleasant and only invites premonitions of Villa, Iniesta and Xavi rampaging through in the spaces left everywhere else.

In fact, if Barca don’t win – and by a hatful – questions  – the sort that weren’t asked when England lost to Ireland in the cricket world cup – should, perhaps, be asked.

Yes I’m a Leeds fan (sort of) and yes, Leeds fans have a history of glorying in the Red’s failures but I’ve rarely laughed as long as when Solskjaer potted the 1999 winner against Bayern or had my jaw drop as far as it did when Hughes drilled that 1991 “up-yours” against his then-unappreciative former employer, Barca, so when I say this United do not have a chance, I’m pretty sure it’s not because of Champions league envy!

In my humble opinion, the only hope Manchester has of lifting the cup is if the Barcelona machine can be defeated from within by the same sort of off-field tactics Lord Triesman is accusing certain FIFA officials of having succumbed to in the recent world cup elections!

Unfortunately for United, despite Barca’s willingness to embellish fouls to the point of gamesmanship, if not actual simulation, I believe the thought of throwing a game is as far beneath Barcelona as it is beneath United even if the same has not always been true of every side in Europe.

United finds itself in the final thanks in part to almost unbelievable fluctuations in Schalke’s performances, a side which was capable of defeating Inter in both legs of the quarters (including scoring an amazing “5” at the San Siro) yet which rolled over in both legs of the semi against United (apparently forgetting, for most of the first leg in Schalke, that attack was even an option).

The result of those Jekyl and Hyde-esque performances is a showcase champions league final between the recently crowned champions of the English Premier League, supposedly, the most prestigious league in the game and the champion’s of Spain’s competing La Liga, a clash which will draw a massive global audience.

On paper it really is a genuine Champions’ final but in practice we are more likely to witness a lambs to the slaughter bloodbath with United playing the following day’s Sunday roast.

As downhearted as United and their fans are almost certain to be after their wake-up call, I predict the real losers will be the English premier league and all those who have come to rely on its worldwide tv revenues (ironically, something which I believe would only benefit English football!) whilst the winners will be the La Liga shareholders who will be hoisting Messi et al all the way to the bank.

United’s (and the premiership’s) one on-field hope?

That Barca will engage in the sort of conduct that had UEFA mount an investigation in the wake of their Real semi-final.  Should Barca try anything like a repeat performance of that on Saturday, the Wembely crowd, many of whom will be there for the chance to celebrate Messi, as the best player of his generation, will turn against the Catalan giants like pee on an electric fence and if that happens its an entirely different ball game.

In short.  If Barca play football as they can, they will win and win comfortably.  If Barca start play-acting, even if in response to physical intimidation, we might see a match, albeit an ugly one.   Given what’s at stake, both for Barca and La Liga, I would be very surprised (not to mention disappointed) if Barca are not on their very best behaviour Saturday night.

Football, though, is a funny game and so, as an incorrigible optimist, it will be the memory of goals like Solskjaer’s and Hughes’ which will ensure I’m glued to the tv Saturday, hoping for goals of the quality of Messi’s magic second against Real or as unrealistic as it is, a repeat of Rooney’s incredible Manchester-derby deciding overhead!

Here’s hoping!  After all miracles do happen, even if not often at Wembley.

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