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Friday, March 31, 2006

"I dont know how to pronounce his name. I've tried, but I can't."

It's Friday, and TDH was thinking about about using this space to worry about Scott Parker's suspected glandular fever or to update you, loyal readers, on the latest match in the Ecuadorian league. But instead, because TDH's purpose is to entertain, here's a little rundown on some of the nicknames from yesterday's Seleccion:

Julio Cruz - "The Gardener"
Hernan Crespo - "Little Valdano"
Lionel Messi - "The Bionic Flea"
Sergio Aguero - "Kun"
Carlos Tevez - "Apache"
Pablo Aimar - "The Clown"
Juan Roman Riquelme - "Romy" "JR" "Topo Gigio"
Maximiliano Rodriguez - "The Wild Animal"
Luis Gonzalez - "Lucho"
Juan Sebastian Veron - "The Little Witch"
Esteban Cambiasso - "Cuchu"
Javier Zanetti - "Pupi"
Martin Demichelis - "Micho" "Mariscal"
Juan Pablo Sorin - "Juampi"
Daniel Diaz - "Cata"
Gabriel Heinze - (apparently none)
Walter Samuel - "The Wall"
Lionel Scaloni - "Lio"
Roberto Ayala - "The Mouse"
Nicolas Burdisso - "Nico"
German Lux - "The Bean"
Roberto Abbondanzieri - "The Duck"
Leo Franco - (apparently none)

To sum up, Argentina could end up with a mouse and a wall defending a duck while a gardener and a bionic flea chase the ball around up front. Not bad, eh?

As TDH thinks more about La Seleccion, the likelihood that Pekerman will diverge only increases. He coached Coloccini, Ponzio, Placente and Saviola in the youth side. It wouldn't be a surprise to see one or more of them, alas, in the squad.

But back to the entertaining stuff - anyone care to recommend similarly graphic nicknames for the England team?

"Argentina are the second best team in the world, and there is no higher praise than that."

Well, if it only depended on talent, they might be second best. But these guys aren't exactly stars at playing together. Maybe the problem is that there aren't many outfield players who fit into one obvious category. It makes drawing up a squad list into quite a task, too. Is Aimar a forward or a midfielder? Is Sorin really just a defender? What about Zanetti?

In this spirit, TDH presents 20 outfield players along a spectrum, running from out-and-out striker to last-man defender, plus three keepers. So here's the list, with some reasons why.

Julio Cruz (Inter Milan) - Sometimes La Seleccion, despite its taste for scrappy kids rollicking around up front, will simply need a battering ram. Cruz is it, and he's had good success in Italy this year.

Hernan Crespo (Chelsea) - He can be silent for ages at a time, but he always seems to show up out of nowhere when the Blues need a goal. A supersub early in the season (and perennial top three man in TDH's goals per 90 minutes) he's rested and has recently become used to the starting role.

Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - If he's healthy, he gives you a cutting edge on the right or in the center. He works well with Riquelme in the Ronaldinho role.

Sergio Aguero (Independiente) - A stocky kid like Tevez, he also shares Carlito's combination of striking and playmaking skills. His style, however, is completely different; more slicing, less scrabbling.

Carlos Tevez (Corinthians) - A non-stop worker who can sit behind or to the side of a bigger forward, he's the Young Joe of the squad, probably destined to play on the wing.

Pablo Aimar (Valencia) - An understudy for Riquelme, as far as most people are concerned, and not so well-liked at home. But as you can doubtlessly see, loyal readers, the Argentines can - and may have to - play more than one kind of game: small and quick, or a more conventional 4-4-2 with big forwards. In the latter, you'd want Aimar, rather than Riquelme, as your Fat Frank.

Juan Roman Riquelme (Villareal) - The puppetmaster of the front half, when he's on his game. The key will be to find midfield combination who can protect him and yet still feed him from behind.

Maximiliano Rodriguez (Atletico Madrid) - A young midfielder who can score a goal or two as well as commanding the center pretty competently; he could make a mean combination with Aimar in a second-string or English-style XI.

Luis Gonzalez (Porto) - More midfield backup. But the man has a tattoo of Maradona's signature, which must count for something.

Juan Sebastian Veron (Inter Milan) - Cambiasso desperately needs a solid and trustworthy partner. In the past, Argentines looked to Veron to do everything, driving the entire offense and anchoring the first line of defense as well. Now that Riquelme is doing the first part, he can do the second. And guess what? He just happens to play with Cambiasso week-in, week-out.

Esteban Cambiasso (Inter Milan) - The locals have gone off him a bit; a female friend of TDH recently called him "a bad Redondo, and Redondo was pretty bad." But with Veron as his partner, he's shown an ability for calm distribution.

Javier Zanetti (Inter Milan) - The old leftist still has plenty of fight in him, and he's shown that he can play the holding midfield role as well as most. He makes a great combination in the locker room, too, with his humility and patriotic drive.

Martin Demichelis (Bayern Munich) - La Seleccion need this man, if only because he's one of the few genuinely big bodies at their disposal. He's been playing in midfield lately, but he should probably drop back into defense against teams with big strikers... a category that includes, as TDH has pointed out before, every other team in Argentina's group.

Juan Pablo Sorin (Villareal) - Sweeper, libero, whatever you want to call it, he's it. His runs forward can leave the back exposed, and his shot is so terrible that it's been banned on three continents. But, let's face it, he has a nifty habit of disrupting whatever the opposition is up to.

Daniel Diaz (Boca Juniors) - Diaz isn't known to many outside Argentina, but he's a mature defender and a dangerous attacker, too. He brings experience and a fine work ethic.

Gabriel Heinze (Manchester United) - If he's healthy, he's a lock. His earlier games for Manure were world-class.

Walter Samuel (Inter Milan) - Samuel's best days are over, but it would be hard not to pick him. He'll be calm in a crisis, of that there can be no doubt. If Sorin goes down injured, he'll anchor the defense.

Lionel Scaloni (West Ham) - With Crespo and the ill-starred Julio Arca, he's the third Argentine to hold down a starting role in the Premiership. Think of him as La Seleccion's Luke Young.

Roberto Ayala (Valencia) - When he's healthy, one of the most consistent defenders in the game; benched in the last Cup, but still worth a spot in the squad.

Nicolas Burdisso (Inter Milan) - Yet another Argentine who wears the black and blue stripes these days, he's a creditable backup in central defense.

German Lux (River Plate) - No movie star, but competent; he'll be a solid number two.

Abbondanzieri (Boca Juniors) - The people's favorite, but he looked like a complete muppet in the first half against Croatia. He showed his natural saving ability later, but that's not enough.

Leo Franco (Atletico Madrid) - Franco is hot right now, having saved two penalties against Sevilla, and he seems to 1) care more than Lux and 2) have more professional confidence than Abbondanzieri.

After the sorry display against Croatia, Pekerman will want to shore up the midfield. It wouldn't be such a bad idea to rely on his veteran defenders a bit more, either. Argentine teams often play a 2-2-2-2-2, and that's pretty much how TDH's sees La Seleccion's starting lineup. Let's try a 4-2-2-2, in any case: Crespo and Messi; Riquelme and Tevez; Cambiasso and Veron; Heinze, Sorin, Demichelis and Zanetti; then Franco.

TDH has knowingly left out possibles like Diego Milito and Javier Saviola (two regular scorers), Javier Mascherano (a promising but unproven youngster), Palacio (Boca's rather boring but effective starlet striker), Colocchini (villain of the Croatia game, in TDH's opinion), and recent in-form man Daniel Montenegro. There's still room for Pekerman to wiggle. But TDH believes he'll be best served by picking the players who'll know their roles and work together, rather than the darlings of the hype machine.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

"But to be fair, Arsenal are a quality side."

TDH has been busy doing business in the big city - that's THE Big City - where football is a zillion miles away from the minds of the masses rushing through the skyscraper-shadowed streets. But football rolls on....

Is this finally Arsenal's year? A strong start against Juve certainly bodes well for a trip to the semifinals. Inter or Villareal there wouldn't seem to be such an enormous challenge.

A Gooner TDH encountered in TBC felt as though the kids were finally coming along, even Hleb, who, he said, "could have been sent back to Belarus a few months ago." But as TDH has said before, let's face it, the important thing is that this team is playing some of the world's most entertaining football at the moment.


Did TDH hear someone asking about Sergio Aguero? TDH has been an Independiente fan since the days when Menotti made the home stand cough while Forlan, Cambiasso and Mondragon bossed the opposition. Aguero is a slippery little thing, perhaps more versatile than Tevez, not necessarily with the same powerful potential as Messi. He's also 17.

Apparently Villareal have already dangled 20 million euros for Kun's services. Independiente fans, TDH can tell you, are ready to sell. That kind of money can buy enough players to replace even an effervescent young talent. But doubtlessly, Argentina's Red Devils will be waiting for the bigger boys to call.

In the meantime, Kun has been biding his time for a World Cup spot. And as TDH will explain later this week, he's got good reason for anticipation.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

"A football team is like a piano. You need eight men to carry it and three who can play the damn thing."

The Magpies need more piano carriers....

Just a quick one from TDH to bemoan the performance against Charlton. Defense was again our undoing, but come on, Charlton? The lacuna in form against the top three was understandable, but this game should have been closer. You can't account for an own goal, but still, talent-wise Charlton has to be considered an inferior team. The underachieving continues.

So: new manager, now. The lack of talk around the job has been somewhat disturbing. It's a crying shame that the England post is available in the same year; people will be waiting to see what the FA do before tendering their resumes to Tyneside. The problem is, we need a new manager before the LMA's ridiculous deadline passes. So we'll probably end up with a slightly inferior candidate - or at least, no one who fancies his chances in Soho Square. What a fiasco, and all because of a silly labor market regulation. Frank Clark, eat TDH's shorts.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Special: A Brush With the Pros

Just imagine it: There TDH was, suffering at 4:45 am in the check-in line at Buenos Aires's Ezeiza airport for a quick flight to Sao Paulo. But out of the corner of TDH's eye, there they were, two bearded guys standing next to an enormous stack of what looked like laundry bags - and wearing Palmeiras polo shirts.

Now, TDH thought, fair enough, Palmeiras played Rosario Central earlier in the night and they're sending the support staff home, but surely the team itself won't have to take the redeye. How wrong TDH was! In the departure lounge, one after the other, in filed the rest of the staff and the entire team, all wearing the same polo shirts. Even Washington, shaven-headed scorer of two fantastic goals, trundled in towards the end.

And then the most surreal thing happened. The televisions in the lounge were showing ESPN Latin America's SportsCenter... and, after a bit of Atleti-Sevilla, the whole team watched their own highlights! They slapped Washington on the back as his goals came on, and were silent when Rosario tied the match, which ended 2-2. Then they all filed onto the plane - the old graybeards into business and the players into economy.

TDH sat across from Emerson Leao, the coach and former Brazil keeper. At the other end, TDH stood next to one of said graybeards as he fondly held the arm of the Palmeiras keeper, Sergio, on the bus to the terminal. A thrill for TDH, all the way.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

"I looked around, and it was the usual prostrate Klinsmann."

Time to clean up the scraps from this week. First of all, TDH won't hear any jeers about the US team that fell 4-1 to Germany in Dortmund. From Europe, Bruce Arena only called two of our Bundesliga players and Reading's Bobby Convey. It was hardly our strongest team.

Germany, on the other hand, brought the full complement: Ballack, Klose, Podolski, Asamoah, Kahn... they even made Lehmann fly in to sit on the bench next to Schweinsteiger, Borowski, Neuville and the rest. Klinsmann clearly needed the win to salvage his reputation after the Kaiser laid into him. Arena gave it to him. TDH is sure the two coaches shared some of the fine local beer afterwards. After which, of course, the former Tottenham man probably ended up in his customary position.


Earlier in the week, Chivas took down Sao Paulo in a fabulous atmosphere up in Guadalajara. The first Chivas goal was scored by Adolfo "El Bofo" Bautista, a player with enough personality for an entire team. El Bofo, who shaves his head before every game, also has one of the best celebrations in football: he takes off the goal-scoring boot and throws it into the crowd, then a well-prepared steward brings him a new shoe. You can read more about him here.


What a fiasco in Madrid last night. Atleti took on Sevilla in a battle for UEFA Cup places (such excitement!), but sloppy officiating, a controversial sending-off and a whole lot of Made in Spain simulation had riled up the players and the fans by the time the second half got underway. The Vicente Calderon boiled over, though, when Sevilla were given a goal in the 76th minute. The decision was correct - Puerta was never offside, though his teammates away from the play were - but the fans and players went apesh*t anyway.

The Sevilla keeper claimed he'd been hit by a missile. It wasn't visible on tape, but then again, you'd be willing to take his word for it in that atmosphere. The ref started to take the players off the pitch. The home team wanted to stay on, though, suspecting Sevilla was trying to get an early result. About 25 minutes later, they came back. Within minutes of the restart, Atleti had two more players sent off for extremely cynical fouls. Only about a minute of injury time was played, despite the prescription of four. The whole sad tale, a dozen cards and all, is here.

Atleti's play after the restart was completely unprofessional and could have resulted in several injuries. They really were overgrown boys, showing no ability to look beyond the bitter end of one match. Is a single retributive clip more important than someone's entire season, or career? Grow up.


Finally, the England coaching stakes are hotting up. Curbs is definitely in the picture; Hiddink, alas, has ruled himself out. Big Phil wants to be included, and so does Fabio. Meanwhile, Psycho keeps talking himself down while every other middle-aged man in England says he's the one. Well, England could do a lot worse than any of these guys. Curbs may be the weakest of the four, but who's to say he'd be any worse than Allardyce or Maclaren? Certainly not TDH.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

"They are nearer to being out of the FA Cup now than at any other time since the first half of this season, when they weren't ever in it anyway."

'Twas a sad day for the Toon as Uncle Alan faced the prospect of retirement without winning a trophy with his hometown club. A crummy win it was, too, for the Billionaire Boys Club, with the only difference being an early deflected goal. Chelsea lacked the cutting edge so much that the local commentators were saying "Donde esta Crespo?" midway through the first half. (Okay, they always say that....)

There were a few barely consoling positives: the Boumsong-less defense (thank you!) held up well against the Blues, Kieron Dyer worked hard for an entire match, and Steve Carr made a credible return to action. But TDH must ask why Emre, arguably the most talented player in the squad, didn't get the start. Has Bowyer really looked so impressive in practice? If so, perhaps he should have started as a forward instead of Ameobi. The big man won quite a few balls in the air, but with zero end product. He's still a bench player masquerading as a Premier League starter.

TDH wondered, too, why Roeder used only two of his substitutions. The question was answered by looking at the bench. Why take both Lee Clark and Amady Faye to south London? If you want a bolshy midfielder, choose one or the other. The squad needed another striking option, like Luque.

It was the luck of the draw, TDH supposes, that our Magpies had to visit a ground where they hadn't won since 1987. It was always going to be a tough job, and they acquitted themselves decently. Perhaps with Owen on the pitch, the result could have been different. But we can't put all our hopes in one man.

As TDH pointed out at the beginning of the season, Souey got rid of players who'd scored 42 of our 84 goals in all competitions last year. So far this year, we've scored 40, albeit without the European action. We now have exactly eight games left. We must have more scoring power before the next season starts.

"There’s a snap about Liverpool that just isn’t there."

Okay, okay, let's not get too excited about the 'Pudlians peeing all over Bruce's Brum Bums at St. Andrew's. Morientes only tickled the nets because Gerrard served up a chance that the 968-year-old woman who lives downstairs from TDH in Hong Kong could have put away. Cisse added yet another to his tally of The Ugliest Goals Ever Scored, with a deflected shot that squirmed under Maik Taylor. Only Crouch and Riise were truly dangerous, with Gerrard in the wings (so to speak).

Still, TDH is grateful that the Koppers didn't open up this particular can of whoop-ass on Tyneside at the weekend. Something is clearly starting to work for the unprepossessing Rafael Benitez Maudes, CPA. Did you know, loyal readers, that as part of his contract Mr. Benitez also does Liverpool's taxes?


Ah, Samuel Eto'o. He was at his predatory best against Getafe - grabbed a brace, could have had more. All he does is score! Rijkaard must be hoping that the next African Nations Cup takes place in 2056. Oh, and there was a touching scene as Van Bommel consoled the future Pichichi winner after a miss. Those guys play football so guilelessly! Well, all of them except Belletti, that prick.


Finally, Wembley. TDH will most definitely not be one of the first fans to sit under that enormous arch. Hmm, running a little late, are we? Costs well over budget? Steel beams snapping? Three thousand workers evacuated? Er, TDH will wait to see what happens when England score and 90,000 Home Counties yobs start pogoing....

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

"There's a little bit of a South American touch, if that's not Irish."

With little action in Europe (except a few commiserations for Psycho's Psyde), TDH is taking another opportunity to share the glories of South American football with the wider world.

Last week brought one of the few classic ties in the early rounds of the Copa Libertadores: River Plate v Palmeiras. TDH is no fan of River, but Academy Award winners Gallardo and Oberman weren't playing, which made the match watchable. By the end, TDH was wondering how in the world Palmeiras was third in the Paulista championship. It wasn't even close.

Daniel "Rolfi" Montenegro set up a classic first goal that drew a thunderous, eerie rumble from the crowd at the Monumental, before the usual high-pitched cheers began. Then Montenegro scored a 40-yard, top-corner laser from a free kick for the second one. (Forty yards is no exaggeration - TDH saw the replay.)

The third goal, also by Montenegro, came in open play from a precision shot in the second half. And then he set up the fourth. Scoring the fourth goal so moved Gonzalo Aban that he lay flat on his back for a whole minute. Then, as his teammates pulled him to his feet, he wiped away tears with his dirt-stained jersey.

Locals don't seem to think Montenegro is Argentina's very own Fat Frank; they say he's just having a good run of form. But TDH thinks he should get a look-in for the World Cup if he keeps going like this for another six weeks. Riquelme can't do it all the time, all by himself, especially with Serbian heavies gunning for him in the first round.


A mere 2,700 miles away, Liga DU de Quito took on Uruguay's Rocha in the high Andes. The altitude (9,300 feet) seemed to be getting to the visitors as Liga took an early 2-0 lead. In the second half, The Fog descended. As the hapless Uruguayans ran around in circles, Liga lashed in their third and fourth goals - you could barely see them on television. And then, with the scoreline at 4-0, the fog suddenly lifted. Coincidence, or the mystical magic of the Andes?

Monday, March 20, 2006

"It was never part of our plans not to play well, it just happened that way."

What happens when a far from immovable object meets an increasingly irresistible force? The answer was on show at St. James's Park. The Magpies are still vulnerable, and the Men from Merseyside were hitting their stride.

There was one defining question in the match. What, loyal readers, is the best possible thing that can happen when you're playing a superior team whose strikers, one of whom is over two meters tall, are finally starting to score? How about having your centerback sent off? How about having your centerback sent off for substituting dirty play for skill?

The answer? Bench, bench, bench. TDH is almost glad to have an excuse to say it. Let's hope Roeder can train up a different back four. At least, let's hope we look a little better in that FA Cup tie against the losers of the southwest London derby.


...which leads TDH to ask, what's happened to Chelsea's consistency? Their recent form has hardly been dominant. Maybe we all forgot that 1-0 wins can't be relied on forever; each one is a knife-edge, and hardly a sure thing. Even if a team strings a bunch of them together, it doesn't mean they're bulletproof. When Arsenal had their perfect season, they were winning 3-0, 4-1, etc.

TDH thinks part of the problem is Fat Frank's form. What's happened to him? He's been missing in action in Chelsea's last few important matches. A bit of mid-season fatigue wouldn't be surprising, but he absolutely has to regain his fitness before the World Cup.

TDH wouldn't object to seeing him on the bench, too, for a bit of rest. He's started 39 matches and subbed into two - only Gallas comes close, with 37 and one. Of course, losing that FA Cup tie would also help to cut down on the fixtures....


Finally, TDH would like to say that it's about time Barca dropped Thiago Motta. Yeah, he's big, he's Brazilian, he's a Barca youth product. Undoubtedly, Rijkaard thought he'd help out Puyol and Marquez by putting more bulk in midfield. But honestly, he's not up to scratch.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

"When I went to pick the ball up a couple of times, even the stretcher staff were making monkey chants."

Finally, FIFA has decided to do something somewhat serious about racism in football. Here's the scoop from Soccernet:
Clubs whose fans are guilty of racist abuse can be deducted points or even relegated under new regulations approved by FIFA's executive committee today.

The new penalties range from match suspensions to deductions of points; three for a first offence, six for a second and relegation if there are further offences.

FIFA have ordered confederations and member associations to incorporate the new penalties into their regulations, and have threatened to exclude associations from international football for up to two years if they fail to do so.
It actually sounds like the sort of thing that could make a difference, as long as the criteria for the penalties are clear and unwavering. If the Soccernet story is accurate, Zaragoza could face relegation if its fans behave similarly next year.

The question is, will the Spanish and Italian FA's stick to the letter of the law, or will they try to get around the apparent strictures Sepp has suggested? And Sepp, if you really manage to pull this off, all is forgiven. Okay, everything except the comment about women's uniforms. But seriously, everything else.


Well, you might as well call it the Former Soviet Bloc Teams Coming to Beat Your Ass Cup, but FSBTCBYA Cup doesn't have much of a ring to it (unless you're Bulgarian, in which case it's the name of this year's Eurovision song contest entry, "I Love You, Pass the Cabbage").

TDH will settle for Underdogs from the East Finally Arising, or some more appropriate nonsense. In any case, the message is clear: Levski Sofia! Zenit St. Petersburg! Rapid Bucuresti! Steaua Bucuresti! They're all going to get medieval on those soft, Western European pretty boys....

Okay, either that, or TDH will watch in astonishment on May 10 as pigs fly over Eindhoven and Boro take home a European trophy.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

"Sometimes in football you have to score goals."

Well, Liverpool's goal drought appears to be most definitively over, after the 5-1 trouncing of Fulham. Okay, the Pharaohs' own youngster, Michael Brown, scored one of them, but in the second half the rout was on.

From where TDH was sitting, there was only one problem with this state of affairs. It had to do with this man, Juan Manuel Pons. The local Fox Sports man insists on singing ridiculous ex tempore lyrics over canned music every time someone scores a goal. He prefers guitar rock, from classics like "Hey Jude" and "Eye of the Tiger" to more recent hits like Lenny Kravitz's "Fly Away."

Senor Pons may be unique in this world, but he's only making a fool of himself while the rest of us turn down the volume. It's a wonder that his partner, one Christian Bassedas, puts up with it. How much are they paying you, Christian? Probably more than we did... except now it's in pesos.

(Thanks to for digging up a picture of Pons, that ponce.)


Whatever happened to the Roma of old? TDH will tell you: no Batistuta, no Delvecchio, no Cassano, no Samuel, no Cafu, injured Montella, injured Totti. It's a wonder they're still heading for a Champions League slot.

In fact, besides Juve and Milan, is Serie A actually much good any more? A decade ago the league was pretty clearly the world's best, or at least where all the top players wanted to go. Now you could argue it's sunk to third. Not enough money? More like not enough sexy football.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

"Italians can never win from you, but you can lose to them."

TDH took in the final Champions League match of the Round of 16, watching what is now the world's greatest showcase of Argentine players, if not the world's showcase of the greatest Argentine players. Zanetti, Veron, Cambiasso and Samuel - all except Cruz - got the start. And the television director treated us to a gratuitous shot of almost-Argentine Recoba pulling on his shorts.

TDH couldn't help but wonder if Pekerman should consider bringing Veron back into the team to link up with Cambiasso. With Demichelis practically missing in action against Croatia, the ex-Independiente man couldn't handle the midfield by himself. Why not use two guys who always play together? Well, because he's Veron, for a start, but maybe there's a chance....

Stankovic's goal was a carbon-copy (or perhaps the original, as it was a bit sharper) of Gallas's strike at the weekend: start at the top corner of the box, cut back in across the defender, smack the ball across the keeper and into the side netting. Given that a frustrated center back and a guy who was also derided for his "defensive headers" in the Ajax box can pull off this trick, TDH is sure we'll be seeing bags of wondergoals in next week's matches.

Okay, TDH is sure that Mara is annoyed at Inter's success, but let's face it, the better team probably won this one. By the way, has anyone ever seen Materazzi and John Turturro in the same room?

"It's thrown a spanner in the fire."

Once more TDH has cast a glance across the table. With just about 10 matches to go, the Magpies still find themselves within 10 points of the Champions League and 7 of the UEFA Cup. The latter goal may still be possible! Oh yes! At least, it's something worth fighting for. But the FA Cup looms....

...which brings us to the utterly ridiculous, pointless and unnecessary League Managers Association, whose made-up "Pro License" would rule Roeder and Shearer out of finishing the season as coaches. If the team, by some miracle, were to make the FA Cup final, who would be the coach?

The point is, we shouldn't even be asking this question. The club should be able to have whomever it wants as a coach, rather than kowtowing to some silly, rent-seeking regulation set up by an organization that's only interested in its own importance, with this idiot as its public face. F*ck 'em, says TDH. Take them to court for restraint of trade. Make 'em pay.


ESPN helpfully informs us that 847 matches were played in World Cup qualifying, with about 2,500 goals scored. Seems a bit excessive, except when you realize than almost 200 teams were involved. In fact, given that the European and South Americans teams played about 10 matches apiece, it means that most teams only had a few chances to prove their mettle. Enough to separate the wheat from the chaff, or unjustly abrupt? There will always be some idiosyncrasies inherent here, and the quality of football in the finals will be the likely victim.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

"I'm much more mature than I was 12 months ago."

Well, the honeymoon on Tyneside is over. Nothing like England's introspective Leo Tolstoy to bring the Magpies back down to earth, eh? The young Charles Dickens wrote a new chapter in Roeder's short history, after Ramage left a preposition dangling temptingly in front of him. And Cervantes wasn't done yet, sending Given the wrong way with an impetuously sollipsistic strike.

TDH was starting to take comfort from the fact that the lads held the Red Mist at bay for the next 80 minutes, but then TDH remembered that this was basically because of Given and Parker, the usual stalwarts. The Toon are still some distance from reaching the next level. European hopes may be dashed after the next couple of results. It will be an important summer.


Other results, in brief:
  • No one could have been more surprised than TDH that Bolton, not West Ham, provided most of the entertainment in their fast-paced tie yesterday.
  • Normal service was resumed as the Merengues slept through a 0-0 draw with Valencia that contained about one percent of the football in the Champions League match of the identical scoreline.
  • Mourinho and his players still love each other madly.
  • Boro can beat Roma but not Darren Bent.
  • Why did Pompey's first victory under Harry have to come against dear old City? It ain't right.

Friday, March 10, 2006

"Not many teams will come to Arsenal and get anything, home or away."

Yeah, but that was the old Arsenal. TDH was a little sad to see the Gooners draw Juve, as there's no doubt Paddy & Co. will assert themselves and disrupt the Goon Show the way so many English sides have this year. Still, Arsene's men are clearly on a roll.

All that could end if Liverpool avenge their own Champions League exit on Sunday. Of course, TDH won't be paying much attention to that clash, what with the inevitable Geordie glory at Old Trafford occurring just previously, ahem....

TDH must also complain about the ridiculously easy path Villareal have had in this tournament. Honestly, their football has not been so entertaining lately, Riquelme or no. If they can squeeze out a couple of goals against Inter/Ajax, then they'll be in the semifinals. Ho hum.


Sometimes the world is good enough to give TDH a reminder of the correct order of things. Two major international figures signed book deals this week. Alan Greenspan netted an advance of $8.5 million. Wine Hrooney came up with 5 million pounds, or $8.6 million at today's exchange rate. Go on my son! Here's what the boy wonder had to say about it:
"The last few years have been brilliant for me, and I'm very excited about bringing out my first book this year and all the other books that will follow."
Well, if he has the same talent writing his books as his press statements, there should be no problems....

Thursday, March 09, 2006

"We're calling him the young player of the year, but he's only 20 years old."

TDH would like to do a public service to European scouts by occasionally telling them about players to watch for in the Copa Libertadores. Yeah, you're welcome.

Last night TDH saw Wason Renteria of Porto Alegre's Internacional come on against Pumas and change the game right away. The Colombian's first touch was a poached goal, and then he put on a show. It's rare to see a big man (6'1" or 186 cm) with such a combination of balance, tricks and strength. He's 20 years old and scored twice against Italy in last year's World Youth Championship.

Also at the top of the list is Humberto Suazo of Chile's Colo Colo. The stocky striker is surprisingly slippery and scored a hat-trick against mighty Chivas. He's like a battery cell, never stops running, and he's only 24. Plus, his name is fun to say.


Jack Charlton must be driving brother Bobby crazy with his apostasy about Rio, but let's face it - the man's got a point when he says English defenders, specifically Rio, shouldn't play football. The team has plenty of midfielders to do that. Just get the ball out of the box, thank you very much.

And as for Sol being past it, well, he might have a good World Cup left in him if he can get his head straight. After that, hmmm....


By now many of you may have seen Riquelme's supposed wondergoal ("Golazo! Golimpico!" raved the completely unbiased local commentators) against Alaves at the weekend. Basically it was a corner with fairly good pace that curled straight into the goalkeeper's body. He muffed it and the ball crossed the line.

Seriously, corners directed into the goal mouth itself are a keeper's dream - it's when they arrive head-high on the six-yard line that the problems usually start.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

"The best thing for them to do is to stay at nil-nil until they score."

Well, that has to be the most entertaining 0-0 draw TDH has ever seen. Non-stop action, quality football, tons of chances, amazing saves, even sporadic bouts of sportsmanship - the game had everything except goals, and TDH didn't miss them much.

Madrid were unlucky not to get that early penalty on Ronaldo, though TDH recognizes that Gilberto's boot touched the ball... eventually. And the Highbury faithful had to know that trying to wind up Beckham late in the game was a bad idea. As soon as they started riding him, he struck his first decent cross of the game. Earlier the man was spraying balls into the stands like one of these. A more on-song Beckham could easily have led to a different result.

In the next round, TDH hopes Adebayor will get a start in place of Reyes. He's got to be one of the hottest prospects in the Premier League right now. In any case, the Goon Show has a lot of young players who are developing really well. In a couple of years, if Walcott starts scoring and they pick up a big midfielder, they should be back to their best.

For the time being, though, TDH doesn't expect the Gooners to go much further. The first team with composure (hello Milan) will probably turn them upside down. Good-bye English hopes. But speaking of Milan, Mara, give us some effusive comments whenever you feel like coming down from that cloud....

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

"I felt sorry for the match ball. It came off the pitch crying."

SNORE! That was all TDH had to say after watching Barca v Chelsea. By the end, TDH didn't care if Chelsea came back or not. All TDH wanted was for someone, somewhere to show a bit of talent on the pitch. No surprise who did, eh? That penalty was clearly ridiculous, but, of course, it didn't matter.

Chelsea looked like cold jellied eels, and the ball kept slipping away from them. They were completely unable to pass it around on the ground, and the airborne attempts went awry most of the time. Has Duff done anything worthwhile this year? And Fat Frank was MIA once again. Credit to Rijkaard for figuring out how to gum up the Chelsea works.

Too bad for the plucky Gers, too, who couldn't hold on at the Madrigal. Ah well, happy days in Spain and that other country to its east tonight. Of course, none of those folks will cry if The Goon Show hand the Merengues their sombreros tomorrow.

The away goals rule also ended the story for Werder Bremen. Incidentally, the Argentine commentators never tire of reminding us that Camoranesi is from Tandil, the Argentine salami capital. And did TDH mention that they've started calling Ronaldinho "Jar-Jar Binks"? Kempes didn't allow himself to laugh, good man.

"We're football people, not poets, but obviously I'm disappointed with the result."

Bye-bye, Mick old man. Even you, sooopergenius that you are, couldn't save the poor old Mackems. Well, what are the chances that Kevin Ball will come up with 13 more points than Birmingham in the remaining 10 matches? Even if the Brum failed to take a single point, the Mackems would at the very least have to win two and draw the rest. Impossible, says TDH. They'll be down well before we come calling for match number 35.


Yes, Arjen Robben is an amazing talent. Yes, TDH was chuffed to see his name in the guestbook at a rural hotel in the Home Counties not too long ago. But no, TDH won't be cheering for his red card appeal. TDH's attitude has nothing to do with the grounds for debate. But let's face it, the Flying Dutchman Mark II has had it coming. He's one of the biggest divers and simulators in the Premiership, and TDH hopes he'll get the message.


Finally, how about this for a bolt from the blue: an editorial masquerading as a news story from Soccernet's editor, John Brewin. Seems he's had enough of ex-ref Jeff Winter's mouthing off... so he's decided to get into the act himself. Not an unentertaining read.


TONIGHT/TOMORROW: What else? Champions League!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

"The one thing you can't do is worry about tomorrow."

Okay TDHers, the question has been begged: Is Glenn Roeder the man to take Newcastle into the pre-Shearer age? Perhaps it's too early to ask, but Roeder's short record demands attention. Suddenly, here we are, just seven points away from the Champions League, for f*ck's sake!

The biggest miracle of Roeder's young tenure has to be not the scoring, not the revitalization of the attack, but the strengthening of the defense. Out of nowhere, Boumsong is turning in decent performances. Babayaro no longer looks like such a has-been. What the hell is going on? Was Souey really that bad, or is Roeder a genius?

And then Uncle Alan comes off the bench to score what had heretofore been a very rare Sheareresque goal. And Roeder could even joke about it! Okay, by now you've sense TDH's mixture of joy, awe and confusion. Comment away.


TDH has a more academic point to raise, too. Charlton fought well against Liverpool, and US fans will have been pleased with Jonathan Spector's stalwart 90 minutes against Cisse. But was Robbie Fowler's goal correctly ruled out for offside? Cisse, who TDH believes was the offside player, was nowhere near the play, nor could you claim that he drew a defender away from Fowler. Doesn't the current FIFA rule allow the goal? Perhaps someone can enlighten us.


Finally, here's to TDH's Argentine team, Independiente (former home of Forlan, Cambiasso, Mondragon and other greats) for surviving a missed penalty by their star, Aguero, and a red card to pull out a 2-0 win against Tiro Federal. Okay, it was against Tiro Federal, but still. Independiente has already won the Superclasico de Avellaneda, against a Simeone-led Racing (TDH particularly enjoyed the humbling of that cheater), but perhaps greater things are on the way....

Friday, March 03, 2006

"We have run a marathon and fallen just short so we need to boost the squad to get us over that final hurdle."

Okay, 'Tache says there probably won't be any surprises in the England squad come Cup time. Yet there are still a couple of question marks. Here goes, one last time.

Sven will have Robinson and two other keepers that TDH honestly doesn't care about so much. England doesn't lack for competent backups. In defense there will be Terry, Ferdinand, King, Carragher, Cole, Bridge and Neville. The question mark is over the last spot. Will Sven play Carragher as a utility man, backing up either the center-backs or 'Tache? If he does, he could pick Brown. But if he wants a real right-back, then he'll pick Young.

In midfield, obviously Lampard, Gerrard, Beckham, Cole, Wright-Phillips, Carrick. Sven likes Jenas and, barring a miracle, will pick him. Any manager would be tempted to take Richardson, who gives you an unpredictable something extra. TDH certainly wouldn't object. Jenas is the one who just doesn't seem special enough. Anyone want to stick up for him?

Up front, Rooney, Owen, Crouch and hmm. No one knows exactly what Sven thought of Bent. TDH still likes him. Defoe hasn't been consistent, either. If Bent is out of the running, TDH would be very tempted to pick Dyer - and TDH is not alone. If Dyer's healthy, his speed disrupts defenses with ease. The thing is, if he does get the ticket, the other guys will wonder what the hell's been going on for the past six months.

Perhaps the right way to think about this is to look at the teams England is likely to face. Unless something crazy happens, England should win its group. That will set up a match with anyone's guess among Poland, Ecuador and Costa Rica. (Yes, Germany also has an easy group.) Assuming England can win that one, which doesn't sound unreasonable, the favorites to meet them in the quarterfinals will be Argentina, the Netherlands, Portugal and Mexico, in that order. Argentina is soft - pick a battering ram; the Netherlands are young and strong - pick someone quick to evade them; the Portuguese are old at the back - probably doesn't matter; the Mexicans aren't used to playing against anything like the English style - pick someone to pummel them.

Overall, seems like you'd want a big lad. The thing is, even Bent is only 5'11" and 161 lbs. If Sven had seen this coming a bit earlier, he might have gone for TDH's surprise package: Marlon the Man. He's 6'1" and 187 lbs, plus he's a genuinely creative player who uses the whole field and crosses the ball exceptionally well. Come on Sven, give Harewood a chance! Say something, Pardew!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

"Sometimes I sit on the bench and think, 'Man, is this a friendly match?'"

TDH, having failed to seek out a Uruguayan bar with satellite television in Buenos Aires, was a bit miffed at having to make do with Argentina v Croatia and live scores on the Internet. But that feeling ebbed a bit after the first five minutes or so, in which the teams in Basel combined for three goals.

Pekerman basically played the match as though it were the real thing; he made three changes, and unsurprising ones at that. Croatia nicked it in the last ten seconds of scheduled extra time. Observations:

1. Abbondanzieri, though very popular here with Boca, couldn't hack it on the big stage. Okay, he was returning as a starter and Sorin had been left on the trainer's table at the last minute. But he and Coloccini showed an absolute physical inability to communicate, which led directly to Croatia's first goal. And there were plenty more, if less costly, mixups later.

2. Tevez, Riquelme and Messi are an extremely dangerous combination. Occasionally Crespo got into the act, too, but it was clear that "los pibes" were in charge of the attack. Messi took his fantastic goal as though it was something he'd do for fun in a back alley with his pals. The Croats started playing dirty with him late in the game, but this time, at least, he didn't roll around on the floor.

3. Outside of those three guys, Argentina played a very disorganized game. Cambiasso and Demichelis didn't do much to help matters. The whole thing rotated around Riquelme. Even when Sorin is playing, there's a twilight zone between his position and Roman's. That's where teams like Holland will hurt them.

4. The Argentine defense cannot deal with a big striker. Dado Prso is no genius, but he threw his weight around and completely dominated the back four. Largely because of him (and to some degree because of a good work rate), the scoreline did not reflect Croatia's general mediocrity. Argentina will have to face Horseface, Drogba and Savo Slobo before they get out of the group stage. Bad, very bad.


And then, after the Argentina match finished, presto, there was second half of the England match, live and direct! (Argentines wouldn't have known whom to support, given the England-Scotland-like relationship between their country and Uruguay.)

Bent was eager, but the result, unfortunately, was his being caught offside a few too many times. Carrick certainly didn't disgrace himself, but the lack of Fat Frank was clear. Rooney, as always, seemed to be everywhere at once. Have you ever seen a No. 9 make so many tackles? Incredible.

Young Joe also did a ton of running, set up Crouch - it was just a matter of how long it took for the Empire State Building to get decent service - then somehow missed a one-on-one, and finally won the match. Yes, Mara, besides Rooney, he was the star man. His Chelsea form is no fluke.

In the end, we didn't learn too much new. Sven was protecting his top players, he still has his other favorites, and he's willing to risk losing a friendly as long as he gets to stick with his game plan.


The US grabbed a quality result against Poland in Kaiserslautern. Arena is still trying out some US-based players, mostly from, er, the Kansas City Wizards. But most of the starters were tested European quality. At the very least, the boys are showing a consistent ability to perform at a high level. Even though our chances of making the quarterfinals again are pretty tiny, given the likelihood of facing Brazil in the Round of 16, we'll be more than credible.


Finally, did anyone see Italy v Germany? Did anyone predict Italy v Germany?

"No money in the world can buy a white England shirt."

A shot of squad news reaction before tonights matches:

TDH has been campaigning for Bent and is glad to see him getting his chance, even if it's against a depleted version of a half-decent team. Given the re-injury of Mr. Tapped Up, we could be seeing a preview of England's starting back four in 'Tache, Rio, Terry and Bridge. TDH hopes that Sven lets Terry wear the trousers in that one. It's the same old knock on Rio: bags of talent, occasional moments of glaring muppetry. JT's got to be the last man on the line.

There will be no Fat Frank in midfield, so tonight will be an especially good test for Carrick. With Young Joe (legitimately) and Stevie G (less so) straying forward all the time, he'll have a lot of ground to cover. TDH is secretly hoping that Carrick tires out, Jenas comes on for him, and then JJ makes an even bigger mess of things. Maybe then the calm and collected Mr. Parker will get his chance. Ah well, we can hope.

The US will probably be fielding something close to TDH's first-choice XI against Poland, in a rematch of the 2002 World Cup group stage. It'll be interesting to see whether Arena can find a decent strike partner for McBride, with Beasley and Donovan likely to be providing even more scoring potency from the wings. Is that an argument for a Chelsea-style 4-5-1? Not necessarily. McBride has shown at Fulham that he can play well with all manner of goal-minded fellows (Boa Morte, Radzinski, Malbranque, John, etc.) plowing into the box. The question will be distribution. Without John O'Brien (ADO Den Haag) or Claudio Reyna (Man City) in the squad, the US will only have domestically based options in that position.

Meanwhile, the Argentine team to face Croatia looks to be pretty much what you'd expect. Only Abbondanzieri (in lieu of Lux) and Tevez were asked to make the trip from South America. Prodigal son Lucho Figueroa, as well as starlets Palacio and Aguero, will have to wait their turns. We'll see if Roman can pick the hulls from the Croats....