Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Handshake ideal has had its day

With the build-up to Chelsea's game at QPR dominated by the pre-match 'fair-play' handshake, and whether or not players who clearly do not get on would take part in it - rather than the game itself - is it now time to ditch this divisive FA ritual?

The football authorities will argue that the handshake promotes the FIFA 'fair-play' ideal and is designed to create a better atmosphere between players before a ball has been kicked on the pitch.

In the vast majority of games, they are nothing more than a visible part of the pre-match routine with little at stake but when players with considerable 'history' come face-to-face it becomes incendiary.

That was the case last season between Manchester United defender Patrice Evra and Liverpool striker Luis Suarez following their race row, and it was also a significant issue when Chelsea duo John Terry and Ashley Cole took to the pitch at Loftus Road with Anton Ferdinand in the opposition side.

There are likely to be several more pre-match handshakes this season dominated by a lack of one between players who have a considerable grudge to bear and again the focus of sport news networks will be on that rather than what is about to happen on the field.

Some fans, players, managers and pundits have been fairly critical of the handshake with their argument being that a traditional post-match embrace should suffice after 22 players have given their all over 90 minutes.

The handshake before the game was only introduced four years ago and was met by initial bemusement by fans and some players, who believed it should be saved until afterwards.

So, all things considered, it seems it is largely a pointless excerise and, when it becomes more of a talking point in news and sport updates than the actual game, it surely proves it's an idea that has significant flaws.

Monday, September 17, 2012

No panic after England draw

 England's 1-1 draw with Ukraine in their second World Cup qualifier has been criticised by the press but the result may well be looked back on as being a decent point against a side that could join them in Brazil in 2014.

Following the 5-0 hammering of Moldova in their Group H opener, punters betting on sports had expected Roy Hodgson's side to continue in a similar vein and brush aside the Euro 2012 co-hosts as well.

However, it was clear from the first few minutes at Wembley that Oleg Blokhin's side were a totally different proposition and, in the end, a draw was all England deserved from an overall fairly even game.

Hodgson said afterwards that he felt like his side had performed better this week than they did when beating the same opponents 1-0 in the summer and, such was the improvement from Ukraine, it is hard to disagree with him.

But still England's performance has been criticised by some who believe the draw embarrassed the Three Lions and they now predict a difficult qualification campaign awaits.

That is unlikely to be the reality, though, as Hodgson's side remain very much a work in progress and they will probably endure a few more uncomfortable live scores on the long road ahead to Brazil.

Credit must go to Ukraine for the way they tried to take the game to their supposed superior hosts and they were the better side when in front at the break. But credit must also be given to England for the way they responded in the second 45 minutes and their late rally ensured they deservedly picked up a point.

It may not look great on paper but, taking into account the three remaining sides England still have to play are Montenegro, San Marino and Poland, it cannot be seen as a major setback yet.

It remains too early to judge Hodgson's England and there will be ups and downs to come but one slightly disappointing defeat, if not performance, does not put their World Cup qualification in jeopardy.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Platini’s sharpened sword primed and ready

Michael Platini’s plans for Financial Fair Play (FFP) across Europe has come into effect after 23 clubs had their prize money withheld by UEFA for failing to comply with new rules.

The penalties see the likes of Spanish clubs Atletico Madrid and Malaga, Turkey’s Fenerbahce and Rubin Kazan of Russia put under scrutiny and are based on overdue payments to other clubs, employees or tax authorities. Though they are not among the favourites for European trophies, they are significant enough for the rest of Europe to sit up and take note.

UEFA’s insistence that clubs must live within their means is the central idea of FFP and Platini is right to begin his challenge on overspending powerhouses. For football will reach a point of no return should FFP fail to bring European club spending back into line. The latest moves have affected Betfair Champions League markets as punters wonder who is next in his sights.

British football has already witnessed a multitude of financially stricken clubs suffer off the backs of over-eager chairmen and uncaring owners. Leeds United, Portsmouth, Plymouth and Rangers are just four that have felt the full force of financial mismanagement.

Platini and UEFA are right to implement these FFP plans in order to prevent more Leeds Uniteds and Portsmouths from developing and this recent move should be widely praised by fans and pundits alike.

What is most pleasing about this decision is that it targets clubs that are failing to provide other clubs and their staff with a means of surviving. Withholding payments only deteriorates the sport and European football – currently billions on Euros in debt – needs this stick to drive them away from corrupting the game for good.

Platini has his critics are still wondering whether or not FFP will work, but this recent development can only be good for the game and will hopefully make the rest of Europe aware that they cannot simply spend their way to success.

Friday, September 7, 2012

High hopes of Celtic after European draw

Celtic have been gifted a chance to make the knock-out stage of this season’s Champions League after being drawn in a group they are capable of overcoming. Neil Lennon’s side will fancy their chances against Benfica and Spartak Moscow, although a scalp over Barcelona may be beyond them.

Nevertheless, Group G looks like it will go down to the wire and Celtic, who beat Helsingborgs 4-0 on aggregate in the play-off round, are in with a chance of progressing to the latter stages.

Lennon, who manages Celtic in the Champions League for the first time, knows his side are rivals for second place with Barcelona expected to run away with the group.

“I think Benfica will be strong, I think Moscow will be strong. They have got financial clout behind them but anything can happen in the group stages, particularly if we can start the group well and maximise the home advantage,” Lennon outlined in a recent press conference.

Celtic fans may be disappointed they drew arguably the best team in the world in Barcelona, yet this match may come to their favour, and their Champions league odds actually shifted upon news of the draw.

For with Barca expected to take maximum points from the group stage every year, Celtic can be comfortable in the knowledge their second-place rivals are unlikely to nick any extra points.

This puts serious importance on the games against Moscow and Benfica, yet if Celtic can take three points off each of their home games then anything is possible in the return legs. The Glasgow club may have a poor record away in Europe but will take solace in their 2-0 victory in Helsingborgs last month.

The Champions League is more than a fun few days out for Celtic fans and Lennon is more than aware of this as he prepares to advance from a group stage that could have been a whole lot tougher.

Elsewhere, Premier League champions Manchester City were dealt another tough draw, being placed in a all-champions group with Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Ajax.

The draw meant that their city rivals Manchester United moved ahead of them in the betting  , with the Red Devils set to take on Sporting Braga, Galatasaray and CFR Cluj