Snow patrol

FIFA have confirmed that they have received a protest from Costa Rica who were unhappy at being forced to play Friday’s World Cup qualifier away to the United States in a blizzard.

“We can confirm that FIFA has received a letter from the Costa Rica FA regarding last Friday’s World Cup qualifier,” said soccer’s governing body in a statement.

“FIFA will now analyze the content of the letter and next steps will be determined in due course.”

Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto said the match was an “embarrassment to football” after his side lost 1-0 in Denver on a playing surface that was borderline playable at kick off but deteriorated as the game progressed, culminating in the referee taking the players off early in the second half to allow groundsman to clear the snow off the pitch.

The Costa Rica Football Federation (Fedefutbol) said in a statement on its website that there were four parts to its protest.

It said the conditions were a threat to “the physical integrity” of the players and said stadium officials had come on to the pitch to clear the snow while the ball was in play.

Furthermore, the pitch markings “disappeared” and the “the movement of the ball became impossible due to the quantity of snow on the pitch.”

Fedefutbol also demanded sanctions for “all the officials who were involved in the decision to keep playing this game.”

“The complete opposite happened in Europe where the snow forced the match between Northern Ireland and Russia in Belfast to be postponed,” it added in a separate statement.

“We don’t want to create false expectations but we are fighting for rights which we think we violated during this match,” said Fedefutbol treasurer Rodolfo Villalobos.

If you look at photos of the match or any of the video footage, it’s hard not to conclude that the Costa Ricans have a very strong case for the game to be replayed.

Political activist

Cristiano Ronaldo is an unlikely political activist: like many footballers, he appears vain, superficial, more interested in the personal than the political. Or at least that’s the perception many people have of the Portuguese winger.

However, there are claims that Ronaldo used Portugal’s World Cup qualifier with Israel at the weekend as a way of showing solidarity with the Palestinian cause.

While his team-mates swapped shirts with their opponents, Ronaldo pointedly shunned requests from Israeli players and marched straight off the pitch.

If Ronaldo really was staging a subtle, one-man protest, it wouldn’t be the first time the Real Madrid man has demonstrated an affinity with the Palestinians.

In November 2012, it was revealed that Ronaldo had donated €1.5 million to Palestinian children in Gaza. He gave the Golden Boot he was awarded in 2011 to be sold at auction to raise funds for schools in Gaza.

Then again, this may be simply a case of a player being frustrated with a disappointing personal performance. No one knows and it’s unlikely we will ever know.

Here he is, walking away off the pitch.

Goal of the day

Aiman Al Hagri cuts eludes two defenders before unleashing a lovely curling effort beyond the keeper to put Yemen ahead against Malaysia.

Quote of the day

“It’s not easy to choose a new destination after working in England, Portugal, Italy and Spain. Maybe I could return to somewhere I’ve already been. Watch out for surprises.”

Amid claims by a former assistant that he will be returning to Chelsea next season, an enigmatic Jose Mourinho gives nothing away regarding his next managerial appointment.

Could have been worse

Luis Felipe Scolari and Fabio Capello, two coaches who must have mixed feelings about English football, return to London for an international friendly tonight, as coaches of Brazil and Russia respectively.

Both arrived in England with glowing resumes, but both departed with bulging bank balances, but from a professional point of view, neither will feel they enhanced their reputations while in the UK.

Capello, like many before him, wilted in the capacity as England coach under the strain of trying to reconcile unrealistic national expectations with the reality of the limited players he had to work with. He soon realised he was wasting his time and by the end of his tenure there were few who didn’t think he was in the job just for the money.

Scolari, brought in via Stamford Bridge’s revolving door, was expected to marry the winning mentality of Jose Mourinho with the aesthetics of the modern day Barcelona.

Sacked after 8 months, Scolari complains, with some justification, that he was not given enough time to make his mark at the club.

“I believe my time at Chelsea was not as bad as people have been talking about,” Scolari said. “I don’t think (I was given enough time) but it was a decision from the management.”

Scolari was sacked by Russian owner Roman Abramovich so the club could “maintain a challenge for the trophies we are still competing for”.

“Actually I want to thank Chelsea for the chance to come and work here,” Scolari added. “Living in London with my family was one of the greatest experiences of my life. The only thing I didn’t like was the cold. I’d forgotten.”

Tonight, though the weather will be freezing, he can expect a warm welcome at Stamford Bridge.

Lone Rangers

Rangers chief executive Charles Green is convinced that the club will be playing in England within five years.

He said: “Whether it is next week, because the English authorities change their mind, or in five to 10 years, Rangers and Celtic will leave Scotland.

“I would like to think within five years.

“I say to English clubs, ‘Don’t be afraid of the unknown’. There will be cross-border leagues and that 
will change the face of European football. These doors are opening.”

Unfortunately for Green, English football does not want Rangers, Celtic or any other Scottish team – although if pushed the preference would be for a club that does not bring with it over a century of sectarian baggage. Undeterred, the Rangers chief is convinced that when they see the financial benefits, that viewpoint will change.

“Why would football clubs or football authorities not want Rangers and Celtic?” he responded Green. “If they say, ‘It wouldn’t add anything into the game’, they are lying.

“I watched Southampton play Wigan. The stadium wasn’t full – there were empty seats. Now there is no way any team Rangers play will have empty seats.

“That is what football wants – to bring the money in. Not just to keep banging on Rupert Murdoch’s door and say we want more cash.”

Leaving aside the ethics of a Scottish team parachuting into a neighbouring league, let us be clear about one thing here: Green has no interest in the fate of Scottish football, English football, Celtic or even Rangers. What interests him is the money that will pour into Rangers coffers should they ever be admitted to the English football pyramid.

Sounding increasingly like David Brent, Green continues with his ‘radical’ agenda.

“Where I get frustrated is when people say, ‘These are the rules’. Well, change the rules,” he added. “If the FA and the English Football Leagues want to deny it, I would go to court. I think that it’s sad.

“I don’t ever want to go to court. The club secretary is in contact with the FA and we are trying to fix an appointment for me to meet them. This is not Cheryl Cole v Ashley Cole. We want to talk face to face.”

Cretin!

Wishful thinking

Rumours that Roman Abramovich had been detained in America by the FBI swept like wildfire through the Twitterarti today. Sadly, those of you wishing to see an implosion of Chelsea’s expensively assembled empire, will be disappointed to learn that the reports were without foundation.

“It’s not true,” said John Mann, a spokesman for Abramovich, in response to a report on the web site of Russian financial daily RBK that the Chelsea owner had been held by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“He is in the U.S. but he has not been arrested or detained,” said Mann, who is Abramovich’s Moscow spokesman.

Abramovich is a major shareholder in London-listed steel firm Evraz, whose shares fell by more than 6 percent at one point. Amazing what a rogue statement can do for an individual’s wealth.

Showdown

A showdown is looming between the Nigerian government and FIFA over the latter’s decree that there should be no discrimination against lesbian footballers.

The Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Sports, Godfrey Gaiya, says the world football governing cannot impose its views on the country.

“Nigeria is right by banning lesbianism, the laws of the land do not recognize lesbianism,” he said. “It’s not in our constitution. Nigeria’s legal system doesn’t permit homosexuals, be it male or female footballer.”

The lawmaker said he is in support of the position taken by the chairman of the Nigerian women football league, Dilichukwu Onyedinma, on the ban of lesbians from playing for the Nigerian national teams.

“I support her completely because I don’t think that FIFA rules surpass Nigerian rule and national law. If the chairperson said it’s illegal in our teams, meaning she hasn’t done anything wrong and I support her statement,” he said.

He said Nigerian officials cannot support any form of homosexuality because it is illegal in the country.

“If Nigeria is in support of lesbians in the female teams, I think it’s double standards.

“It’s against the rule of the land and not good for the image of this country, we will not subdue and surrender ourselves to any moral quote,” he said.

“We are waiting for FIFA to tell us that we have gone against their rules by stating the particular article and section of the FIFA rules and regulations where it (homosexualism) is stated. I have gone through FIFA statutes and I didn’t see it there.

“I stay by the laws of the land and what it says.”

This one looks set to run and run.

Miracle worker?

David Beckham made his first appearance in China at the weekend as part of his new ambassadorial role to promote football in the country.

The new appointment is seen as an attempt by the Chinese Super League (CSL),  to inspire young people to participate in the sport, after its image had been tarnished by a string of corruption and match-fixing scandals that resulted in dozens of referees, officials and players being jailed or banned.

It’s a tough sell, even for a master in the art of hard sell like Beckham, and initial impressions indicate that the Paris Saint-Germain man will have his work cut out to overcome the level of cynicism that currently surrounds the sport in China.

Beckham’s schedule in Beijing, Qingdao and Wuhan includes visits to local schools and football clubs, kickabouts with young students – still wearing his suit – as well as news conferences.

Inevitably, given the corruption scandals that have beset Chinese football in recent years, Beckham was forced to deflect questions about recent misdemeanours.

“What has gone on in the past? I am not a politician so I have nothing to do with it,” he said in Beijing. “I am not here to clear up anything. I am here to educate the children and give them a chance of becoming professional footballers.”

Despite his positive outlook, critics said there is little he can do for Chinese football.

“I really don’t think it’s necessary and worth the money. China should spend its money training young players because Chinese football needs its own rising stars,” wrote one user on China’s popular Twitter-like service Sina Weibo.

“Fundamentally, what Chinese football needs is establishing good order, improving rules and regulations and creating an environment where more and more kids come to play and are able to develop,” Zhang said. “It is more important than appointing an image ambassador.”

“Little Becks (Beckham’s nickname in China) has neither played in China like Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka, nor does he have coaching experience like Omar Troussier and Bora Milutinovic. He has no connection with the CSL, except rumors about him and Shanghai Shenhua Football Club. So (we) have to admire Mr and Mrs Beckham’s ability to make money,” the Changsha Evening News commented.

Indeed.

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