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Are home-loving Six Nations referees becoming a law unto themselves?

» vantise 11/11/14 07:16:09  » soccer » comments: 0

vantise Anyone who thinks referees are bit‑part characters does not watch enough modern Test rugby. One weekend into the Six Nations Championship and Ireland are already weighing up whether to make an official complaint regarding the French official Romain Poite. A penalty count of 13-5 against the Irish almost sunk them in Rome, made worse by Nick Mallett's revelation that Poite had previously written to the Italian Rugby Federation apologising for his handling of the same fixture 12 months ago.

Cue conspiracy theories and much Irish muttering. The possibility that their front row might have been skewered by a superior force was, clearly, inconceivable. Yet, as observed last week, the 35-year-old Poite is renowned for his stern refereeing of the scrummage and, with the International Rugby Board on the warpath over collapsed scrums, there was always a good chance of acrimony. Ireland knew trouble was brewing the moment Poite's appointment was announced.

Every coach in the Six Nations nowadays can tell you more about a leading referee's quirks than he can his ownwife's. Under forensic scrutiny all sorts of trends emerge. Did you know, for instance, what was unusual about Louis Deacon's sin-binning for a blatant professional foul on Friday nigh http://www.sellsoccerjerseys.com t? It was England's seventh yellow card in their past 16 Six Nations matches. More pertinently, all the previous six were brandished by South African referees. Given the assortment of nationalities who take charge of England games, it is an extraordinarily lop-sided statistic.

There are other curiosities, for instance the rarity factor of Craig Mitchell's yellow card. On Friday he became the first Welsh forward infive years to be sin-binned in a Six Nations game at the Millennium Stadium. Think of all the hundreds of rucks, mauls,lineouts and collapsed scrums at which Wales – like everyone else – have tried to pull a fast one. Do referees subliminally bow to the urgings of the home crowd? There is plenty of evidence to suggest they do.

Ireland, even more remarkably, have lost only nine men to the sin-bin in the 11-year history of the Six Nations, including Denis Leamy on Saturday. That's less than one per season. It is an almost freakishly low figure, unless you believe that every Irish player is a finely calibrated model of restraint.

Drill the Ireland stats down further and you find that one man – Jonathan Kaplan – is responsible for almost 40% of their yellow cards, while in the past two seasons only English referees have car cheap soccer jersey ded them. And who is taking charge of this weekend's Ireland-France game in Dublin? England's Dave Pearson, the same Pearson who has flourished three yellows in his four championship games to date. Suddenly it is easier to understand why Declan Kidney is so keen to ensure a level playing field this weekend.

As for those in France tempted to imagine that dark anti-Gallic forces are at work, there is bad news. Did you hear Wayne Barnes speaking to the French forwards in their native tongue on Saturday? And did you know France have had only one player sin-binned on home soil in the Six Nations in the past decade? Or one solitary yellow card anywhere in the tournament since 2006? So much for the cliché of habitual French indiscipline.

One could go on. The fact is that certain referees seem to give certain teams more leeway than others, particularly in front of their home supporters. It is not a question of dishonesty; it is simply the way it is. It is one of the main reasons why winning away is so hard, particularly now Italy are reliably competitive at the Stadio Flaminio.

As for England they will not be complaining about this Saturday's Twickenham referee, Craig Joubert. For a start the 33-year-old South African was in charge of t Thailand Barcelona Jerseys 2015 heir spectacular contest against Australia in November. They will be hoping to retain that game at the forefront of his mind, rather than Ireland in Dublin in 2009 when Joubert yellow‑carded Danny Care and Phil Vickery and Ireland won by a point.

More of a worry is New Zealand's Steve Walsh, with whom they have a bit of history, for the France game on 26February. And who is whistling the Scotland game a fortnight later? Why, none other than Monsieur Poite. Even as Kidney pores over the footage from Rome, at least two rival coaches will be doing likewise.
French lessons

Another week, another England player re-energised by a spell playing club rugby in France. Tom Palmer, just like Jonny Wilkinson and James Haskell, cannot speak highly enough of the French experience. The Rugby Football Union's impending post-World Cup clampdown on foreign-based players representing England makes sense on paper but the expats are having the (well-paid) last laugh.
Worth watching this week ...

Richie Gray (Scotland)

If he plays half as well as he did in Paris, Scotland will know for sure they have a new giant in every sense. The 6ft8in Glasgow lock, still only 21, is just the sort of marauding opponent Wales could do without at the moment.

Messi v Ronaldo and much more. Is this the best night of friendlies ever?

» vantise 11/11/14 07:15:11  » soccer » comments: 0

vantise International friendlies, who needs 'em? Well, national associations, for a start, as well as stadium operators and various others who rely on the revenue they provide. Most national team managers, too, would argue that they need these opportunities to test different combinations of players so that they know their strongest teams when the competitive games roll around.

But for many fans the prospect of a midweek round of international friendlies inspires nothing but tedium. The players seem little more enthusiastic – withdrawing at the first hint of a niggle – and the clubs who pay their wages are positively hostile. Who, after all, wants to see their star player pick up an injury in a non-competitive fixture, especially as we move into the final third of the season?

And yet if there was ever a round of international friendlies that should capture the imagination this is surely it. England have had more glamorous appointments in recent years than a trip to Copenhagen but elsewhere France take on Brazil in a repeat of the 1998 World Cup final, and Germany have the chance to exorcise their 2006 semi-final defeat to Italy at the very ground where it took place. And then, of course, there is the small matter of Lionel Messi v Cristiano Ronaldo http://www.sellsoccerjerseys.com – Pt CMXLVII.

The last two winners of the Ballon d'Or may be sick of hearing about each other by now but a year and a half after Ronaldo's arrival in Madrid few others have lost their appetite for seeing them pitted against each other. Their personal duel was to the fore again this weekend after Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick against Atlético Madrid, taking his personal tally for the season to 24 league goals. Ronaldo followed up with a brace against Real Sociedad that put him on the exact same number. In all Messi has 82 goals in his last 83 league games for Barcelona. Ronaldo has 50 in 51 for Madrid.

"I don't have an obsession or a direct rivalry with Messi," Ronaldo said in an interview with the Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport recently, but tellingly he went on to say he wanted to be "the best of all". For that reason alone he will know that the comparisons are inevitable. A friendly it may be but this fixture – the first between the two countries in 40 years – is set to be broadcast live in more than 85 countries. For reasons of pride alone neither can afford to take it lightly.

Indeed, the meeting is perhaps even more enticing for the fact it will remove both players from their usual context. Barcelona are seven points cl wholesale soccer jersey ear in La Liga and along with Messi also happen to own the players who finished second and third in this year's Fifa Ballon D'Or voting. Barcelona won 5-0 when they met in November. If some would argue that there is disparity, too, between Argentina and Portugal then it is still compelling to see how each performs when removed from their comfort zone. Neither player shone particularly brightly at the World Cup in the summer.

The fixture has generated more buzz in Spain than the country's own fixture against Colombia but that is not to say the world champions are treating their own appointment with contempt. The Spain coach, Vicente del Bosque, has endured little of the difficulty faced by England's Fabio Capello when it comes to players withdrawing and no more than one or two changes is expected from the team that beat Holland at Soccer City in July.

In Germany, likewise, a fixture against Italy was always going to be taken seriously and especially one at the scene of their 2006 defeat in Dortmund. Even before that Italy had been something of a bogey team – one which they had never beaten in a major tournament, and one which knocked West Germany out of the 1970 World Cup semi-final in what would be dubbed the Game of the Century. Joachim Lö Thailand Inter Milan Jerseys 2015 w has a full-strength line-up to choose from, barring the legitimately injured Mario Gómez.

Italy's side may be more experimental, but no more so than they have been in every game – including the competitive ones – under Cesare Prandelli as he seeks to introduce a new generation of players after such a poor World Cup showing. The Brazilian Thiago Motta will win his first cap for Italy and Giampaolo Pazzini and Antonio Cassano is likely to start up front.

The same - as far as experimenting goes – could be said for Mano Menezes at Brazil and Laurent Blanc with France. The Arsenal midfielder Abou Diaby could start for the French while Lucas Leiva may partner Atlètico Madrid's Elías in the centre of midfield. The Milan pair Robinho and Alexandre Pato is likely to be given the nod up front.

In short, if there was ever a round of fixtures that could revive interest in the international friendly, this should have been it. But if the overwhelming sentiment, among English supporters at least, remains one of ennui then fans should at least be grateful for small mercies. England, at least, are only playing once. Tonight Sweden, Cyprus, Romania and Ukraine – engaged in their own mini-tournament – will each play for the second time in as many days.

Groundhog Day has Arsenal falling short of their goals yet again

» vantise 11/11/14 07:13:54  » soccer » comments: 0

vantise Ever had the feeling you have lived this scenario before, again and again and mind-numbingly again? If the thought went through the minds of Arsenal's players as they woke up this morning after a long and cheerless journey back from Bolton, it would hardly be surprising. There must be something maddeningly familiar about a season of same old, same old.

As Stan Kroenke could confirm, if he has a moment to touch base with his London franchise to find out how their bid for the annual Champions League windfall is rocking along, today is officially Groundhog Day in the US.

The date 2 February is celebrated with particularly enthusiastic crowds gathering in Pennsylvania to see if Punxsutawney Phil, the most famous of all groundhogs, comes out of his burrow to represent good news about when the big freeze is going to give way to a hopeful spring. For those who are interested, according to the Washington Post, this year the forecast from Punxsutawney Phil was chilly.

And so Arsenal's Groundhog blundering in the Premier League returned after the brief fillip of an FA Cup lift. Again at Bolton they bumbled and stumble http://www.sellsoccerjerseys.com[/ [url=http://www.sellsoccerjerseys.com]http://www.sellsoccerjerseys.com url] d in front of goal and let a decent opportunity slip. Although most of the half-hearted January transfer speculation concerned defenders to ease their full-back crisis, the area of the team that clearly requires urgent bolstering, the goalscoring department, was barely discussed. Arsenal made a phone call about Lukas Podolski early on but, receiving little encouragement, elected to forget it and hope for the best.

Bobby Zamora? Pah. Papiss Demba Cissé? Bah. Djibril Cissé? Gah. You can imagine Arsène Wenger turning up his nose at the idea of anyone coming in to assist his attack, and yet it would be fascinating to know exactly where he thinks his team's goals are going to come from in the second half of the season.

Nostalgic though it is to welcome Thierry Henry back on a temporary basis to help out, that move alone was never going to be enough to offer the required support to Robin van Persie. Arsenal's experience at the Reebok outlined exactly why more options are needed. The top scorer saw two classy efforts strike the woodwork but, on an occasion when he could not find the target, his team-mates strained to off Thailand Soccer Jersey Thailand Soccer Jersey er a convincing alternative. Theo Walcott, who wants to be a striker, again fluffed his lines from centre stage. Alex Oxlade‑Chamberlain had another encouraging game but it is early days to expect him to be a reliable scorer. Meanwhile, with Arsenal desperate for a goal, the South Korean striker Park Chu‑young did not come off the bench.

The team's league goal statistics this season are revealing. Miles below Van Persie's collection, Gervinho, who is away with Ivory Coast and will not be back in contention for a few more weeks, has four. Walcott has three. Marouane Chamakh has one. Andrey Arshavin has one. Park zero. The backup from midfield has not been particularly rewarding either. Mikel Arteta has three. Aaron Ramsey, Alex Song and Yossi Benayoun one each.

Perhaps the most damning indictment of the fact Arsenal's problems keep repeating themselves is that the transfer window opened and closed without much expectation of Wenger doing anything particularly constructive. For the manager to ignore the obvious and bring in a promising teenager from Borussia Dortmund, who fits the Arsenal blueprint so well he has al [url=http://www.sellsoccerjerseys.com/en/spanish-club-soccer-jerseys-c-8 Thailand Barcelona Jerseys 2015 /barcelona-soccer-jerseys-c-8_35/]Thailand Barcelona Jerseys 2015[/url] ready lost a chunk of his burgeoning career to a long-term injury, was almost funny.

As the market proved, there has never been a worse time to sign players, with the economic climate, financial fair play rules on the horizon, squad restrictions and a European Championship looming at the end of the season all contributing. In January players are overpriced, and a little anxious about jeopardising their international aspirations.

But by not even making any attempt to improve the goals-for column, the club leave themselves wide open to criticism about lack of ambition. The blogger Arseblog summed it up well: "You know, people go on about how long it's been since we've won a trophy but I can live without trophies if I feel like the club is doing everything it can to achieve them. If we give it everything and fall short then I don't think too many people would complain. But it doesn't feel like that at the moment."

All is not completely lost, though. Chamakh will soon be returning from the Africa Cup of Nations. It was hoped he would pick up some form on international duty. Instead he just picked up an illness.

New McLaren is a beauty but Hamilton and Button really need a winner

» vantise 11/11/14 07:12:51  » soccer » comments: 0

vantise Any chance to visit McLaren's Technology Centre, Sir Norman Foster's swooningly beautiful kidney-shaped low-rise building, with its mirror-like lake and elegant landscaping, offers a treat to the eyes, particularly on a glittering winter morning. On Wednesday there was another beauty on hand in the shape of a new Formula One car, the MP4-27, with which the Woking-based team intend to recapture their pre-eminence.

Unveiled by Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button in a ceremony streamed to sponsors and fans around the world, the new McLaren-Mercedes conforms to regulation changes which ban last year's exhaust-blown diffusers and impose restrictions on the height of the nose section. It is said by the team's technical director, Jonathan Neal, to be an evolution of last year's car, which started the season badly but had more or less caught up with its chief rival by the end of the year, winning six of the seri http://www.sellsoccerjerseys.com [url=http://www.sellsoccerjerseys.com]http://www.sellsoccerjerseys.com [/url] es' 19 races. Button finished second to Sebastian Vettel in the drivers' championship, while the team were runners-up to Vettel's near-invincible Red Bull in the constructors' standings.

"Our biggest problem last year," Button said after pulling the dust sheet off the new car, "was that we couldn't get in the laps in the test sessions because of reliability problems, so we couldn't work on fine-tuning and getting the balance right."

Martin Whitmarsh, the team's principal, agreed. "It was an abysmal start," he said. "We didn't have reliability or pace. But we've put a lot of work into this car and we don't think we're going to see a repeat of that."

The ambition for the coming campaign is to start on the front foot, confirming that the design decisions taken during the 12-month gestation period of the MP4-27 were the right ones. Last year's U-shaped sidepods have gone, replaced by a more sh Thailand Soccer Jersey[/u [url=http://www.sellsoccerjerseys.com]Thailand Soccer Jersey rl] apely design around the car's hind quarters. The nose is more shapely than had been expected, given the stipulations of the new rules.

"It going to make a big difference, and it's given the aerodynamicists a lot to think about," Button said. "The new regulations take away rear downforce, but I've driven cars without it before, and basically you just rebalance. When I first drove it in the simulator it needed quite a bit of work, but I'm happy with the direction we've taken."

In theory, a car with less grip at the rear should suit Hamilton better than his team-mate, who is said to prefer a car with even downforce front and rear. "Our styles of driving are a little bit different," Button said, "but the way we set up a car is pretty similar."

Hamilton emphasised the team's ability to catch up with their rivals' technical breakthroughs, as they had to do last year when they found themselves la [url=http://www.sellsoccerjerseys.com/en/english-club-soccer-jerse Thailand Arsenal FC Jerseys ys-c-6/arsenal-soccer-jerseys-c-6_21/]Thailand Arsenal FC Jerseys[/url] gging behind Red Bull's use of exhaust gases to increase grip. "We're the strongest team in terms of development," he said.

This year they will be hoping that it is others who need to do the catching up, but they are sharply aware that Red Bull's standards are unlikely to drop. "They're not suddenly going to build a bad car," Button said.

The new McLaren will undergo its straight-line aerodynamic test in the next few days in the hands of Oliver Turvey, one of the team's test drivers, before being taken to Jerez for the first test sessions of the season, from 7-11 February, at which point the world champions of 2008 and 2009 will get their hands on it.

"As you can see, it's a beautiful car," Button concluded. "Some of those you'll see will not be. To me, that's important."

Whitmarsh had a quick retort to that. Formula One cars become beautiful, he said, when they start winning races.


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