World Cup draw

France coach Laurent Blanc was unhappy with his side’s draw for the 2014 World cup qualifiers. Already holding the short straw by being ranked among the nine teams in the second tier, the 1998 winners and 2006 runners-up, were then drawn in Group I alongside holders and current world number one, Spain.

“I don’t understand why France are in the second group, why Greece, Norway and Croatia are ranked higher,” Blanc told reporters. Don’t worry Laurent, no one does.

“We had to face one of the top (seeded) teams, and we got the biggest,” he added. “We should have been in the first group – and now we have drawn the best team of the last World Cup, but then, you have no choice.”

Spare a thought too for the other countries in the group: Belarus, Georgia and Finland, all of whom must feel like they are there to make up the numbers.

Goal of the day

The FIFA Under-20 World Cup is underway and as expected, pre-tournament favourites Spain and Nigeria, earned convincing victories in their opening matches against Costa Rica and Guatemala respectively.

The goal of the day, though, came from Australia’s Tommy Oar, who secured a draw for his side against Ecuador, courtesy of a stunning free-kick. One could almost imagine the Alan Partridge voice-over: “Shit!! Did you see that?! He must have a foot like a traction engine!!”

Boo boys

Arsenal’s pre-season continued where the old season left off with the team being booed from the pitch by irate supporters after their failure to win a competition.

In typical fashion, Arsenal went ahead against New York Red Bulls, missed a host of chances and gifted the opposition a late equaliser. Plus ca change, as they say in the Gunners dressing room.

The game was notable for the return to the Emirates of former Arsenal striker Thierry Henry. The French striker had requested special dispensation to play the second half of the game in Arsenal colours, but those party poopers at FIFA turned him down. After his handball shenanigans in the 2010 World Cup play-offs, it’s Henry can hardly expect to be on FIFA’s Christmas card list.

“Arsenal asked me and I said, ‘yeah, why not?’ It was the plan but they have some weird rules and FIFA or the ref or whoever it was, denied it,” Henry said.

Meanwhile, there was renewed speculation about Cesc Fabregas’ future at Arsenal after the Spaniard was spotted leaving the game at half-time. His premature departure was glossed over by Arsene Wenger, who insisted that Fabregas’ move to Barcelona, though a possibility, was not an inevitability.

“Cesc loves this club deeply and he loves Barcelona deeply, too,” said Wenger. “An honest player can love two clubs. But he cares deeply about this club and that is why I hope we can keep him.”


Sepp Blatter took the opportunity of the 2014 World Cup draw in Rio to remind tournament hosts, Brazil, of their obligations.

“The World Cup is not a circus which arrives, sticks around for a couple of weeks and then leaves town,” Blatter told O Globo. “It must leave a legacy.”

If 2010 is anything to go by, provided Brazil construct a number of shiny new stadiums, most of which will never come close to being filled again, at a massive and lasting cost to the tax payer, then the 2014 legacy will be assured.

FIFA watch

Where Karl-Heinz Rummenigge leads, others follow, and like a faithful little dog – a role he has perfected working under the Glazers at Old Trafford – Manchester United chief executive David Gill has backed the call for a curb on the number of international friendly matches.

“The calendar is wider than just the European situation but it is clear, we provide the players. We are a key part of the game,” said Gill. “There are some issues. The way the calendar is constructed, the number of dates FIFA put in, insurance.”

Gill, incidentally, was speaking on United’s return from a five-match North American tour. Presumably, when Manchester City recover from their jet lag and Chelsea and Liverpool get back from their tours of Asia, they too will waste no time complaining about the number of pointless fixtures their employees have to play.

Goal of the day 2

Showing the alertness of an Indian cricketer on the stroke of tea – apologies to non-cricket followers -Kashima Antlers’ Yuzo Tashiro sneaked up unaware to leave egg on the face of the dozy Cerezo Osaka keeper Jin-Hyeon Kim.

Super Mario

On a quiet news day, you can usually rely on Mario Balotelli to provide some good copy and thankfully, today is no exception.

With Carlos Tevez inching towards the exit door, Emmanuel Adebayor keeping his head down in the hope of earning a permanent move to Real Madrid, and Craig Bellamy poised for a switch to Celtic, there is a gaping vacancy looming at the Etihad stadium for a disaffected, disenchanted striker who can’t keep his mouth shut. Balotelli certainly appears to fit that bill.

The Italian, and this won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has followed the forward’s career since he arrived in England, is not happy living in Manchester.

“I’m not happy at Manchester – I don’t like the city,” he told Sky Sport Italia.

To be fair to Balotelli, unlike many of his team mates he’s not using this as an excuse to angle for a move.

“I’m happy with the coach and within the team, but you can’t have everything in life,” he added, displaying hitherto unseen levels of wisdom and mturity. “I miss Brescia, my home. I miss my family and my friends, but I think this experience in England will help me grow as an individual. I don’t know if I will stay until the end of my contract. I’m here for now and then we’ll see.”

Dive of the day

It will take a while for FC Twente midfielder, Peter Wisgerhof, to live down the dive he took during FC Twente’s Dutch Cup tie with Ajax. To describe the effort as theatrical, would be an insult to the acting profession.

On the move?

Inter coach, Gian Piero Gasperini, has acknowledged that Wesley Sneijder has been the subject of a bid. The Dutch midfielder has been linked with a move to Manchester United throughout the summer, but this is the first time the Italian outfit have admitted that they have received an offer.

“I appreciate there’s been an offer, but it’s with Inter the negotiations should take place,” said Gasperini.

Sneijder, for his part, has given the first indication that he might leave Inter.

“There is always a chance something will happen but we will see,” he said. “What is going to happen we will see, but I am a happy guy.”

And so he should be. His current salary is reported to be £250,000 a week and whatever happens, he’s unlikely to take a pay cut.


The Swedish championship match between Malmo and Djurgardens was abandoned after 12 minutes on Saturday after firecrackers were thrown on to the pitch. Sadly, this is the third match this year that has been called of prematurely as a result of crowd trouble.

“With so many and such powerful explosions, we didn’t dare to continue,” referee Martin Hansson told local media. “In that case we have no choice but to abandon the match.”

The footage (below) doesn’t appear to merit an abandonment, but Hansson may have been mindful of a similar incident in a match between Syrianska and AIK Stockholm earlier this year, when linesman and a ball-boy were hit by firecrackers.