Fears grow over Ukraine

In the wake of a threatened boycott of Euro 2012 by a number of European politicians comes further food for though for people planning to travel to Ukraine for this summer’s finals.

In a briefing released today on human rights violations in Ukraine, Amnesty International has demanded urgent reform of the country’s police force.  The report cites numerous cases in Euro 2012 host cities in which police have tortured people in an attempt to extort money, extract a confession, or simply because of the victims’ sexuality or ethnic origin.

John Dalhuisen, Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International, has warned: “Failure to do so will encourage them to continue acting as a law unto themselves and put Euro 2012 fans in danger from a force that is out of control.”

It’s worth stressing that there is no evidence to suggest that visiting fans will be targeted by police during the finals but equally, there’s no harm in being forewarned about any potential problems you might encounter.

The statement comes on the day that campaign for the release of jailed former PM, Yulia Tymoshenko, received backing from the United States Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

However, within Ukraine, there was a mood of defiance, with a foreign ministry spokesman claiming the issue was being manipulated by opponents of the current regime.

“Sport is sport and politics is politics. All of this is nothing but artificial manipulation,” Oleg Voloshyn told AFP.

Sportsmanship alive and kicking

The AFC Champions League match between Al Nasr and Sepahan featured a rare moment of genuine sportsmanship.

Al Nasr put the ball out of play to allow one of their players to receive treatment. Sepahan then gave the ball back but striker Xhevair Sukaj was unaware of the tacit agreement to return the ball and advanced on goal. Al Nasr keeper Abdualla Moosa Ali reacted by bringing down Sukaj in the box to earn a red card and concede a penalty.

Sepahan coach Zlatko Kranjcar ordered Omad Ebrahimi to miss the penalty on purpose and he gently rolled the kick back to Al Nasr’s substitute keeper.

The incident was reminiscent of a English Premier League match in 1997, when Liverpool’s Robbie Fowler was awarded a penalty after it appeared he had been brought down by Arsenal keeper David Seaman. However, the striker turned to the referee and mouthed “No, no”. He had simply tripped. Seaman had not touched him. Alas, the story does not have a happy ending. Although Fowler (unintentionally) missed the subsequent spot kick, his colleague, Jason McAteer, slammed in the rebound and was soon engulfed by delirious team mates, including the sheepish Fowler.

Renaissance man

BBC TV’s flagship news programme Newsnight was looking to interview an articulate, English current international, prepared to speak intelligently to a highbrow audience about the appointment of Roy Hodgson as the new England manager. Obviously, they were unable to find one at short notice , but QPR midfielder Joey Barton – 1 international cap, 1.4 million Twitter followers and 2 criminal convictions – was at a loose end, and never short of an opinion or two, was only too happy to chew the cud with the notoriously confrontational Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman.

Paxman knows little about football, which was fortunate for the QPR man, who was unable to shed too much light on Hodgson, having never been managed by him.

You can see the discussion here.

Figure of fun

England, birthplace of football, home of one of the most sophisticated print media in the world, has delivered its verdict on new national team manager Roy Hodgson.

As you can see from today’s front cover of the country’s biggest selling newspaper, the matter has been dealt with a degree of seriousness befitting such a high profile appointment.

This, one can assume, is just the start of a prolonged campaign to chip away at Hodgson’s credibility. It will see an essentially decent man subjected to months of ridicule and scorn, before eventually being hounded out of office by a baying mob of journalists whose desire to see England do well is overshadowed by their need to sell papers at any cost.

Whether the general public will go along with this charade remains to be seen. One hopes that the newspaper is out of step with the general mood of the populace, who just might be prepared to deliver their verdict on Hodgson after he has started work rather than before. Encouraging news in this regard comes with the announcement that the Sun’s aforementioned front page has resulted in a huge number of complaints being received by the Press Complaints Commission.

Some of the people, some of the time…

Stat of the day

Fulham’s 1-0 win against Liverpool on Tuesday night was their first ever at Anfield.

Moreover, the result mean that former Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson, has won as many league matches at Anfield this year as current Reds boss Kenny Dalglish.

French farce

French league leaders Montpelier are doing their utmost to keep the title race alive in France. The unfancied front runners had a wonderful opportunity to extend their lead at the top of La Ligue to nine points with 3 games remaining, but Tuesday’s game against Evian ended in a chaotic 2-2 draw with 4 players sent off. Must have been something in the water. 

Souleymane Camara nearly won the game for the home side but his penalty kick was saved in stoppage time. The striker could perhaps be excused his miss, as he waited for five minutes to take the kick as the teams fought on the pitch, leading to the dismissals of Younes Belhanda, Cedric Mongongu, Gregory Lacombe and Saber Khelifa.

Slow boat to China

Paraguay striker Lucas Barrios is to leave German champions Borussia Dortmund to join Chinese Super League side Guangzhou Evergrande, the Bundesliga club has confirmed.

Barrios becomes the latest player to forego a career in Europe in favour of the Chinese gravy train, but unlike many who have headed to the Far East he is, at 27, one of the few who could be considered to be at or close to his peak.

His fee, reported to be around 9 million euros, is a record amount paid by a Chinese club.

Barrios joined Dortmund in 2009 from Chilean club Colo-Colo where he scored 49 goals in 53 games. He has won two successive league titles with Dortmund, scoring 39 goals in 82 games, although this season he has been out of favour at the Westfalenstadion this season.

50 per cent

Diego Maradona has revealed that there is a 50-50 chance that he will leave UAE outfit Al Wasl. From a man who uses the threat to quit as his default bargaining chip, this is hardly groundbreaking news. The fact that the club are clearly unperturbed by his latest outburst, possibly is.

The Argentine legend has insisted he needs new players if the club wants to challenge for titles and said that if this doesn’t happen, he could quit.

“If I am not able to recruit new players to make the club more competitive then there is a 50 percent chance I will leave,” Maradona told reporters.

“Due to the lack of players I currently have, I find myself unable to rest some of my key players. I have to play them as I have no choice.

“At the end of the season, I will either be packing my bags to leave or I will remain on top of my job. I am not here for a holiday, I am here to work and that is what I want to do. If I cannot do that then I might not be able to continue.”

The prospect of losing Maradona has clearly rattled Al Wasl: they responded by claiming they were already looking for a “high profile” replacement for Maradona, should he decide to leave, with Italian pair Marcello Lippi and Gianfranco Zola linked with the club.

There may be trouble ahead…

Rennes’ Yann M’Vila was forced to miss his side’s clash with Ajaccio last weekend after his arrest for allegedly attacking a teenager, leaving scouts from Arsenal and Inter angry.

M’Vila is said to have punched a 17-year-old boy during a heated argument.

M’Vila’s lawyer, Thierry Fillion, told L’Equipe: ‘Yann has acknowledged that it was an inappropriate response but was provoked by the betrayal of the trust he gave to this young man. 

’As it stands, no decision has been taken yet by the Rennes prosecutor on this case but the file will be forwarded to him within eight to 10 days.’

The 21-year-old midfielder was due to be watched by scouts from Arsenal and Inter, but were instead left disappointed after the player opted not to play, citing ‘personal reasons’.

This isn’t the first time that M’Vila has been in trouble with the police.

In January 2010, he is said to have attacked a restaurant owner following a bout of road rage, while he was in court just two months ago, when a prostitutes were jailed for robbing him and a friend before a match.

M’Vila was also involved in a furious training ground row with fans earlier this season, when Rennes’ poor performances on the pitch saw some supporters storm the players car park, leading to the France ace confronting several members of the mob after one kicked a wheel on his car.

The news will leave many questioning whether M’Vila has the temperament for life at one of Europe’s bigger clubs, although with a charge sheet like that, the Premier League looks to be his spiritual home.

Changing of the guard

Spain could crown new league champions this evening with Real Madrid travelling to Athletic Bilbao knowing a win will guarantee them the title.

Such an achievement will represent a personal triumph for coach Jose Mourinho, who will have won four league titles in four different countries. The Portuguese aware that he was on the threshold of making history, even broke his self-imposed media silence.

“I’ll do what I always do,” he said, “I’ll be as quiet and hidden as possible.”

Meanwhile, across Spain, Pep Guardiola has revealed that his decision to quit Barcelona had nothing to do with his rivalry with Mourinho.

“Did Mourinho influence my decision to leave? Not at all. I had other opponents as well, but other coaches don’t make you tired. Day-to-day work and winning does,” Guardiola stated at a press conference.

Asked whether he would ever return to the club, Guardiola was non-committal.

“Will I again be Barca coach in the future? I can’t answer that now. I really don’t know,” he said.

His former mentor, Johan Cruyff is convinced that Guardiola would eventually return to Barcelona, but not necessarily in a coaching capacity.

“Whether it will be as Barcelona coach, it is not known.”