Paraguay have performed the novel feat of reaching the final of Copa America without actually winning a game. Gerardo Martino’s side, who drew all three group matches, followed up their 0-0 draw with Brazil in the quarter-finals, with another goalless thrill-fest against Venezuela. Crucially, as in their previous game, they proved more adept from the penalty spot than their opponents.
The final, against Uruguay, takes place on Sunday, kick-off 4pm local time. Or, if you want to cut to the chase, just tune in at about 6pm for the penalty shootout.
The semi-final was not without incident, with Venezuela hitting the woodwork three times, while Paraguay were forced to play the final 20 minutes with ten men following the dismissal of Jonathan Santana. However, the real action took place after the game had finished, when players from both sides became involved in a mass brawl.
Here are the highlights (lowlights?) of the punch-up.
Not for sale?
Milan have moved swiftly to deny reports that they are being sold by the club’s parent company. Last week Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani admitted that the club’s budget had been “hit hard” by the news that president Silvio Berlusconi’s Fininvest company had been hit with a €560 million fine.
However, Fininvest released a statement on Wednesday to deny speculation that part of or all of the club is set to be sold.
“We can categorically confirm that these fanciful hypotheses and scenarios (of selling the club) are totally unfounded,” they stated on Milan’s official website.
Just when you thought things couldn’t get any more sinister on the match-fixing front, along comes FIFA’s head of security, Chris Eaton, to warn about young footballers being “trafficked” by gambling syndicates.
Eaton claims that junior competitions are the breeding ground for the recruitment, which he believes represents a threat to the integrity of the sport.
“It is a form of trafficking, in my view – trafficking for criminal purposes,” Eaton told the Independent. “It is only anecdotal evidence at this stage but it is clear. They (the match-fixers) often target people from humble origins.
“They will go to junior competitions and recruit families of players basically through the attraction of cash. ‘I can get you a contract, or a game in Europe or in South America’. They will invest in the development of players and officials and then they expect payment – they want their cut.
“These people are criminals, they are organised. They are well-funded and have a long-term plan. They are a real and present danger to the sanctity and ethics of sport. I would not understate its seriousness.”
Twenty four hours before he is scheduled to attend a FIFA Ethics Committee hearing, suspended Asian football chief, Mohamed Bin Hammam, says a campaign has been orchestrated against him within “certain quarters” at FIFA to “eliminate” him from the game. I think it’s fair to assume that when he says “certain quarters” he actually means Sepp Blatter.
The Qatari stands accused of bribing members of the Caribbean Football Union in return for votes during his FIFA presidential election bid last month, but he is determined not to go down without a fight.
“There can be no doubt there has been a campaign waged within certain quarters to ensure that I am seen to be guilty and eliminated from football in the court of public opinion, even before my hearing has started,” he wrote on his personal website on Thursday.
“Why was the FIFA Ethics Committee in such a hurry to suspend me before the FIFA election took place, and then begin to search for evidence to find if I am guilty or not? Why have I not been treated in a similar way to others who, according to the Ethics Committee, received inducements?”
FIFA says the nine candidates will be examined over the next few years by the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology. FIFA’s rule-making body, IFAB, will study the results in London next March and invite the best systems to a second round of trials.
“Each company’s respective technology will be scrutinized across a broad range of criteria, in both daylight and floodlit conditions,” FIFA said.
First, the nine candidates must show their technology’s “recognition of free shots on goal, with 100 percent accuracy required, as well as static and dynamic accuracy tests, to 90 percent accuracy in the first phase.”
FIFA also requires that the match referee must know within a second if a goal has been scored.
The message is relayed “with both a vibration and visual signal required to be sent to the referee’s watch. This indication must be received wherever the referee is positioned on the field of play, or within the technical areas,” FIFA said.
FIFA’s reluctance to embrace goalline technology is understandable, but given the rapid advances in telecommunications fans attending matches may soon be able to watch games on their mobile phones. Which raises the possibility, that in the near future, the only person in the stadium who won’t know that a goal has been scored, will be the hapless referee.
In a rare display of modesty, Jose Mourinho has played down comparisons between himself and legendary basketball coach Phil Jackson.
“No, no, no – I’m not the ‘Zen Master,'” Mourinho said after his team defeated Chivas 3-0 on Wednesday night. “Basketball is basketball. Soccer is soccer. He’s special in the basketball world, but it’s impossible to compare. Of course I know him, he’s big.”
Jackson earned the nickname, the Zen Master, as a result of his holistic approach to coaching which was influenced by Eastern philosophy.
Mourinho earned the nickname ‘The Special One’ as a result of his belief that he was a cut above his fellow coaches.
Sir Alex Ferguson has been enthusing about football’s potential for growth in USA. After paying their dues flogging the North American circuit for a number of years, United are finally set to make it big in the States, believes the veteran front man.
“We think that the United States is an emerging country in terms of soccer and there’s also potential for us to increase our support base, which we’re always conscious of,” he said after United’s 7-0 friendly win over Seattle Sounders.
“We had good support tonight. It’s pleasing to us when we try to spread the gospel about the way we play, the romance of the club, the history of the club.”
A more plausible explanation for United’s popularity oveseas came from Danish goalkeeper, Anders Lindegarrd, who obviously missed last week’s branding meeting.
“The way the club has managed to market itself is extraordinary,” he said. “It’s the biggest sports brand in the world and that’s because there’s some people in the background who know how to run a football club.” Indeed.
Rain stopped play
A lucky break for Belgium who were trailing Spain 1-0 in an Under-19 European Championship in Romania. With the game only 20 minutes old, the heavens opened and the referee, fearful for the players’ safety, took the unusual step of abandoning the game.
The match will now be replayed in its entirety.
Demonstrating the ambition and hunger that has characterised his entire career, Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka has confirmed that he has no intention of leaving the club, even if he is now surplus to requirements at Stamford Bridge.
Amid reports that Chelsea are poised to sign Belgian striking prodigy Romelu Lukaku, and already facing stiff competition for a starting spot from the likes of Fernando Torres, Didier Drogba and Daniel Sturridge, Anelka insists he is going nowhere.
Anelka said. “Even if there’s an offer from someone else, I don’t care because I am seeing out my contract at Chelsea, one more year. I said in the beginning when I signed that I wanted to stay until I finished my contract. I still have one more year and I’m happy.”
Barcelona’s Xavi has finally embraced the club’s new “Softly, Softly, Catchee Monkey” approach to the pursuit of Cesc Fabregas.
The midfielder has apologised to Arsene Wenger for his earlier suggestion that Arsenal club captain, Fabregas, was “suffering” at the London club.
“I’m sorry, my intention was not to offend Wenger or Arsenal’s interests,” Xavi said in a press conference.
“He is obviously an Arsenal player and has a contract (with them). I will not go into a war of words as it all seems absurd to me.
So far so good.
“I have just looked after the interests of Cesc and Barca, and we know that Cesc has the desire to come.” Oops! He just couldn’t stop himself.