History makers

History was made in Japan today when goal-line technology was used for the first time in the opening match of the Club World Cup.

The historic moment came when J-League champion Sanfrecce Hiroshima beat Auckland City 1-0 Thursday.

By all accounts the technology played a blinder.

The magnetic-field-based system GoalRef will be used for the matches in Yokohama, while the matches at Toyota Stadium will be equipped with the camera-based Hawk-Eye system.

On the eve of the introduction of the new technology, FIFA confirmed that the referee still has the authority to overrule it.

“The referee has the final word when it’s about the goal-line technology system,” FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke told a news conference in Tokyo.

“If he has any doubt and if this doubt cannot be corrected by the provider who is on the site, then he has the right to say, ‘Sorry, guys. I don’t think I can rely on the system’,” he said.

“Again, the referee is the most important person. He’s the one who’s making the final decision and he has to keep this right for the final decision.”

It will be a brave or foolhardy official who overrules a decision made by a microchip coil within the ball emitting low magnetic waves.

Messi medical bulletin

Given the amount of attention Lionel Messi’s bruised knee has been receiving over the past 24 hours, you’d think he was about to give birth to a royal baby.

Fortunately, the injury, which was picked up in Wednesday’s Champions League game against Benfica, appears relatively minor.

“It doesn’t appear too serious as it is a knock to his knee but he will have to have tests now to find out exactly what the situation is,” said Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova.

“He is calm although a little worried as you would expect for a player with an injury who is waiting to know how serious it is.

Vilanova came in for some questioning over his decision to introduce Messi into a match, which for the already-qualified Barcelona, was essentially meaningless.

“I played him for the last 30 minutes to give him a run out and he didn’t play just to break the record as if that had been the case then he would have started.

“A player can get injured at any moment and at the end of the day we are Barcelona and we are playing in the Champions League.”

Indeed, although that argument is somewhat undermined by Vilanova’s decision to field what was effectively a B side against Benfica.

As for that record, and despite drawing a blank last night the odds of Messi eclipsing Muller’s total of 85 goals in a calendar year still look good. Also, help could be at had as Marca have unearthed footage which indicates that one of those 85 goals could have been wrongly attributed to the German striker. In which case, Messi would already be level with Muller’s tally from 1972.

The game in question was West Germany’s 4-1 victory over the Soviet Union: a match in which Muller scored four goals. However, one of those goals does indeed look like it should have been recorded as an own-goal against Soviet keeper Yevgeni Rudakov.

Chelsea boot

Twenty four hours after Manchester City completed the worst ever performance by an English club in the Champions League, fellow Premier League big spenders, Chelsea, brought a smile to the face of most neutrals, by becoming the first holders to fail to reach the knockout stages.

Ironically, after putting 6 past Danish cannon fodder  Nordsjaelland, Chelsea were knocked out despite being the highest scorers in the group stages. According to Chelsea keeper, and skipper for the night, Petr Cech, the players must shoulder their share of the blame. How very noble, had he not mentioned it himself I was all set to pin the blame on the ball boys for their failure to return the ball quickly enough.

“Unfortunately if you change your manager, you only change the manager. But the responsibility is on everyone,” he said.

“We are all in the same boat, the manager and the players. The responsibility is the same for everyone. You are a team.”

Fortunately for the players they, unlike their manager, are pretty much unsackable.

Cech was echoing the words of the injured club captain, John Terry, who had earlier issued a cliche-ridden rallying cry in the club programme.

“Let’s not beat around the bush. No wins in six games is simply not good enough and since I have been here I have not experienced a run like this,” he stated. “We as players have to stand up and take responsibility – stand up and stay together.”

Not exactly Churchillian.

Miracle of Celtic Park

Celtic manager Neil Lennon has saluted his players after Wednesday’s 2-1 victory over Spartak Moscow earned the Scottish champions a place in the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time in five years.

It’s an impressive achievement for a country whose clubs have not exactly excelled in Europe’s elite competition in recent years. Whatever happens now, Lennon’s managerial career will be remembered for more than him being the recipient of death threats.

“I’m very proud of the players,” he said. “They have performed a miracle.

“People laughed at me when I said that my target was to qualify.

“No-one gave us a prayer going into this group, but we have qualified and deservedly so. I think you could see the players progressing last year.

“It means the world to me.

“It’s a privilege to manage this club, but it’s not easy at times. There is a great expectation on you and getting into this group was vitally important for myself, to see where we could go.

“It’s nice to have on your record.

“It’s only Gordon [Strachan] that’s done it [in 2006-07 and 07-08], so to follow in his footsteps is great.

“But I’ve got a long way to go to emulate him and Martin [O'Neill], who had a huge influence on my career. The two of them have been great role models for me.”

Goal of the day

Wonder strike from Luis Alberto helped Cluj earn a memorable victory over Manchester United.

Quote of the day

”I sincerely thought it was the last ball I would be touching for a long time because of the pain. I tried to go ahead and shoot, but I didn’t have the strength.”

Lionel Messi reveals his inner drama queen. The latest reports indicate that the Argentinian might well be fit for Sunday’s game against Real Betis.

Asylum seekers

Eritrean players who disappeared from their hotel in Uganda over the weekend have sought asylum in the east African country, a senior Ugandan government official has confirmed.

Mass defections by Eritrean players are becoming commonplace as the country is ruled by a reclusive president with a penchant for executions, torture and detention of political opponents.

“It’s true 17 players and a doctor from Eritrea have come to us claiming that they feel unsafe at home and that they want asylum in Uganda,” Musa Ecweru, junior minister for disaster preparedness and refugees, told Reuters.

“So we have told police to stop hunting for them and we have also given them asylum seekers’ forms.

“They will be interviewed by a committee and they will be subjected to rigorous questioning to determine whether their reasons for fleeing their country are genuine.”

The Eritreans had disappeared from their hotel over the weekend after losing 2-0 to Rwanda on Friday during the Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations (CECAFA) competition.

In July last year 13 members of an Eritrean soccer club sought asylum in Tanzania while 12 members of the national squad disappeared in Kenya in 2009 after competing in a regional tournament.

Homophobia

The management board of an amateur club in Sweden has suspended its entire team for one year after players allegedly hurled homophobic remarks at opponents during a match last month.

Sorskogen team chairman Ketil Torp says the players denied making such remarks to the Stockholm Snipers, a team that prides itself for having members of different sexual orientations. He also says the match referee didn’t hear the remarks. Oh well, that’s alright then. Let’s pretend it didn’t happen.

Torp says the accusations were ”so severe” that the seventh division players were ordered to face the club board immediately after the game. The players refused to do so and received a £500 fine from the local football association.

The players had previously been penalized for offensive remarks and violence.

Do the maths

Kilmarnock manager Kenny Shiels says he include Manuel Pascali is his squad to face Celtic, despite the fact that the defender has not yet served a suspension.

Pascali was given a two-match ban following a red card against St Johnstone on 24 November.

“According to my mathematics, Manuel Pascali has served two full games,” said Shiels.

The Kilmarnock boss added: “He played for the first three minutes and got sent off against St Johnstone, which lasted 93 minutes.

“So, he has completed 90 minutes against St Johnstone and he missed last Saturday, so he will definitely be in the squad – if not starting.

Despite Shiels’ protest, Scottish FA rules clearly state he is incorrect.

The detail of the Judicial Panel Protocol outlines that, when a player is banned for two games following a red card for serious foul play, “the suspension will apply immediately to the player’s recognised team’s next two matches, irrespective of competition.”

Undeterred by the small matters of logic and reason, Shiels insists he is in the right.

“I think technically I’m right so I’ll play him and then see where that takes us.”

I think it takes you to a disrepute charge, but don’t let that stop you.

Suspension looming

FIFA has asked the Indonesian football federation to get its business in order by Monday or face suspension.

An ongoing feud between the Indonesian Football Association (PSSI) and the breakaway Indonesian Football Rescue Committee (KPSI) shows no sign of abating.

The two factions, who have their own rival leagues, signed a memorandum of understanding in June in which they agreed to run one league next season and hold a congress by December 10.

FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke wrote a letter to sports minister Andi Mallarangeng, saying Indonesia faced indefinite sanctions if the rows were not resolved at Monday’s meeting, the Jakarta Post reported.

“…in case of failure, the case would be brought before the FIFA Executive Committee on Dec. 14, 2012, in order to determine the sanctions, which could go as far as an indefinite suspension,” Valcke said in the letter, the report said.

“Unfortunately yet again, it seems that the set objectives will not be reached and we, therefore, anticipate that the PSSI will be sanctioned,” Valcke was quoted as saying.

“With the deadline approaching and in the current situation, we deem it important that the Indonesian authorities be made aware of the likely sanctions to be imposed on Indonesia.

“We are fully aware that Indonesia is passionate about soccer and that sanctions will have a major impact. We have tried tirelessly to solve the problems, but we are afraid that there will be no choice unless the objectives of FIFA and the AFC are met or that significant progress has been made.”

Any suspension would jeopardise Indonesia’s participation in the qualifying tournament for the 2015 Asian Cup which begins in February.

The national team were thrashed 10-0 by Bahrain, a record defeat, in a World Cup qualifier in February after many of their established internationals were prevented from playing because they had contracts with ‘rebel’ KPSI Indonesian clubs.

On Monday, the death of Paraguayan striker Diego Mendieta from a viral infection heaped further pressure on the PSSI.

Mendieta, who played for Indonesian club Persis Solo last year, wanted to return home but was unable to do so as the club owed him four months’ wages.

The PSSI said they would pay Mendieta’s family the money owed by the club as the team competed in a league which they did not recognise.

“If the PSSI is united and together, they can focus on managing the national football. If they are constantly in a state of conflict what happens is this,” KPSI member and Solo mayor Hadi Rudyatmo told the Jakarta Globe.

“Clubs are emerging but they can’t afford to pay salaries. If PSSI is united there won’t be any more club which can’t afford to pay its players.”

All in all it’s an unfortunate mess, with Mendieta destined to have played the role of tragic but symbolic victim of mass incompetence.

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