The Football Association have ruled out the possibility of playing England’s friendly match with Holland behind closed doors. The game was called off on police advice, following the riots which have hit London in recent days, but it had been suggested that Wednesday’s fixture could be played in an empty stadium.

“Anyone who has played in a closed-doors game comments about what a hollow, meaningless experience it is,” said Club England managing director Adrian Bevington. Nothing like the joyful, exuberant jamboree England fans have grown accustomed to in recent years, then.

The ongoing disturbances across England have also prompted calls for some Premier League matches to be called off this weekend.

In the absence of an informed opinion on the possible security issues, Tottenham forward Rafael Van der Vaart, who was due to be involved in Holland’s game at Wembley, stepped up to the mark to pass comment.

“I ask myself whether the league matches at the weekend will be able to go ahead. Right now, I can’t imagine it,” said the Dutch international. “I saw the TV pictures from London and the chaos there at present is unbelievable. With things as they are, there is simply no way to organise a big international match safely.”

Super Mario

Mario Balotelli, described at the weekend by former Manchester United defender-cum-TV pundit, Gary Neville, as “an embarrassment” to his club, will not, as rumoured, be returning to Italy.

The Manchester City striker, whose reputation not only precedes him, but also follows him around like a bad smell, was linked with a move to Napoli, in part-exchange for Ezequiel Lavezzi. However, the speculation has been scotched by Napoli President Aurelio De Laurentiis, who fears Balotelli could undermine team spirit.

“Balotelli? He has a strong personality. I am afraid that he can destroy our group,” said De Laurentiis.

Goal of the day

A second half hat-trick from Thievy Bifouma won the 22nd Copa Catalunya for Espanyol. This, his third, was a magnificent solo effort.

Match fixing

FIFA’s head of security, Chris Eaton, has warned this week’s series of international friendlies are vulnerable to match-fixing.

“They’re more vulnerable than most, absolutely,” Eaton told Bloomberg. “We’ll always make judgments about those that are most vulnerable. There are some we’re looking at.”

Eaton was speaking in the wake of world football’s governing body handing out lifetime bans to seven officials. The bans against four Hungarian officials and three from Bosnia, followed an investigation into matches games played in February in Antalya, Turkey. Estonia and Bulgaria drew 2-2 and Latvia beat Bolivia 2-1. The matches originally aroused suspicion because all seven goals came from penalty kicks. As fixes go, hardly the most cunning.

Friendly action

With over 50 international friendly matches being played tonight it promises to be a busy time for FIFA’s security team.

Away from the potential for match-fixing though, there are several appetising encounters taking place including Jurgen Klinsmann’s first game in charge of the USA against Mexico, World Cup holders Spain face 2006 winners Italy, while arguably the pick of the bunch is Germany meeting with Brazil.

Unsurprisingly, the timing of the friendly matches has come in for some criticism, and it will come as no great shock to discover that one of the more outspoken critics is head of the European Clubs Association (ECA) Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.

“I know that Brazil is an attractive game. But this slot has to be scrapped, and the (post-season) June dates as well,” he told Bild am Sonntag.

“All clubs in Europe are very dissatisfied with the situation … The calendar is done by FIFA which means everything for the federations and nothing for the clubs. The ECA will not stop raising the issue until certain things have been solved in a democratic way.”

New Messi

Having been identified as the person who could rightly be described as the new Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi won’t be too surprised to learn that the search for his  successor has already begun. He may, however, be taken aback to discover that the latest person to be called the next Lionel Messi is a seven year-old boy.

Leonel Angel Coira has become the youngest player to have been signed by Real Madrid. The child, who already lives in the Spanish capital, was spotted in a practice session and will begin training with the Real Madrid youth teams in September.

He said: “My dream is to meet Messi, play in the first division with Madrid and for Argentina in the World Cup.”

The youngster was also courted by Atletico Madrid, but his father, Miguel, said he preferred the mood at Real.

“After try outs with both clubs, he felt more comfortable with Real Madrid,” he said. “I trust the club a lot. I know they will take good care of him.”

Isn’t that your job?

Anyway, here’s a brief snippet of Coira in action.

On the move?

Samuel Eto’o, whose agent has been pimping around Europe for much of the summer, could soon be set for a shock move from Inter to Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala.

“We have practically reached an agreement with Anzhi,” Eto’o agent, Claudio Vigorelli stated. “Hopefully, the clubs will now also agree between themselves.”

It is being claimed that the Russian outfit have made Inter an offer of between €30m and €40m for the Cameroon striker. It is also being suggested that the player himself will net a massive €17m a season, and one would imagine that Vigorelli won’t do badly out of any deal.

Staying put

One player who will resist the lure of the Russian rouble is Andrei Arshavin, who has rubbished rumours of a move to Anzhi.

Breaking ranks with his Arsenal team-mates, most of whom appear intent on leaving the club this summer, Arshavin insisted he was staying at the Emirates.

“I’ve already said, and can only repeat, that this season I will be at Arsenal,” Arshavin was reported as saying in an interview with Sport Express newspaper.

Rather touchingly, if a little naively, the Russian added that his aim for the season was to “win a trophy” with Arsenal.

Hiddink quitting?

Turkey coach Guus Hiddink says he will quit as Turkey boss if it is proven the country’s elite league is riddled with corruption.

In July some 30 people were charged and jailed pending trial as part of the probe into match-fixing and bribery in Turkey.

“If I notice anything untoward, I’m quitting,” Hiddink said in an interview with De Volkskrant.

“Football is… a great and beautiful industry which provides employment to a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean these kinds of things should be allowed to happen. On the contrary.”


Atalanta’s return to Italy’s top flight may prove a short-lived affair. The club will start the new Serie A season with a six-point penalty for their involvement in the country’s latest match-fixing scandal, while skipper Cristiano Doni has been banned for three and a half years, a verdict which will almost certainly end the 38-year-old’s career.

Retired player Giuseppe Signori, a former Italy international, has been banned from football activities for five years, and Benevento goalkeeper Marco Paoloni, who allegedly drugged his teammates when he was with Cremonese last season, was also banned for five years. All things considered, he got off lightly. Although the possibility of him finding future gainful employment within the game, do look exceedingly remote at the moment.

In Serie B, Ascoli were penalized six points and fined €50,000, while and Verona and Sassuolo were each fined €20,000.

 In the third division 11 clubs were sanctioned; and two amateur teams were also sanctioned.