City United in grief

Manchester, regarded by some of its inhabitants as the centre of the footballing universe, woke up this morning contemplating the coming months without Champions League football. If that wasn’t bad enough, United and City now face the ignominy of playing on Thursday nights in the Europa League. A competition many supporters treat with disdain, although the entry of the two Manchester clubs will ensure that their scorn mutates into open ridicule.

While considering the ‘plight’ of the pair, it’s hard not to feel a sense of schadenfreude: one, the world’s richest club; the other, the self-proclaimed biggest club in the world. Yet, neither good enough to reach the last 16 of Europe’s elite competition.

For some, it’s been all too much to take in. Patrice Evra for instance, considers the prospect of playing Europa League football to be beneath him.

“It’s embarrassing to be in the Europa League,” said Evra.

“I’m not ready for it and the way I feel now it’s Champions League or nothing. It feels like a dream.

“I feel I’ll wake up and we will have qualified. But it’s not a dream, it’s the reality and we should have woken up earlier.”

United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, who seemed bemused rather than angered by his side’s inept performance, took out his frustration on Roy Keane after hearing the former United skipper had criticised his players on television.

“Roy had a chance to prove himself as a manager and it’s a hard job,” said Ferguson who, whatever his mood and whatever the circumstances, can always summon up a suitable barb to slay an adversary.

As for City, the embarrassment is alleviated somewhat by the fact that this was the club’s first campaign in the Champions League. Coach Roberto Mancini, though disappointed, has vowed to try and win the Europa League.

“We are disappointed because we wanted to go through in the Champions League,” he said. “I am personally very sorry for the club, our supporters and my players.

“For Manchester City it is an important trophy. We need to win more trophies, if possible. I can understand at this moment thinking it is not – it is not the Champions League.”

The fix?

While Manchester mopes, Amsterdam fumes, after an unlikely sequence of events denied Ajax a place in the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time in 9 years.

The Dutch side went down 3-0 at home to Real Madrid, although they were unfortunate to see two goals wrongly disallowed while trailing 1-0.

Nevertheless, the Dutch side’s place in the last 16 was assured, providing Lyon didn’t rack up a cricket score in their final group game at Dinamo Zagreb. With the scores in Croatia level at half-time, this seemed unlikely.

It’s unclear what happened to the Dinamo players during the interval, but they come out after the break playing like men possessed – possessed of a lethargic kind of apathy rarely associated with motivated professional athletes.

There have been allegations of a fix, but the evidence to support the claim is pretty flimsy. For example, much has been made of Dinamo defender Domagoj Vida winking at a Lyon player after the the 5th goal went in. But, the footage is inconclusive and open to several interpretations. Just as well that Dinamo Zagreb or any of their employees have no recent history of match fixing. Otherwise, the conspiracy theorists would have a field day.

To muddy the waters further, French online gaming authority (ARJEL) have opened an investigation into the game. UEFA have found no evidence of bribery and it looks as if this unlikely scoreline will come to be seen as an outlier rather than as an example of anything sinister.

In the firing line

Dinamo Zagreb coach Krunoslav Jurcic has paid the price for the dreadful second half performance by his players.

Dinamo director Zdravko Mamic sacked Jurcic after the match in Zagreb, apologising to fans and saying he is “ashamed after this defeat.”

Dinamo’s record in this season’s Champions League has been abysmal: a goal difference of 3-22 after six consecutive group-stage defeats is the worst in the history of the competition.

Quote of the day

“The basic requirements for a host country have been perverted. I have never understood how such a small country can be awarded one of the most important sports events in the world, especially as Qatar were in last place on the grid before the decision was made.”

German Football Association president and FIFA Executive Committee member Theo Zwanziger discusses the decision to award Qatar the 2022 World Cup. Coincidentally, Zwanziger’s vote went to Australia.

Russia denies hacking

The Russia 2018 World Cup organising committee says it has no knowledge of the ongoing FBI investigation into alleged impropriety during FIFA’s bidding process.

It is understood that the FBI claim to have “substantial evidence” of outside organisations attempting to hack the email accounts of the USA’s bid for the 2022 tournament, and believe England’s 2018 bid may have also been targeted.

In a statement the Russia 2018 organising committee said: “We at Russia 2018 are proud of the way we conducted ourselves throughout a long and highly competitive campaign; as an LOC, we are driven by exactly the same transparency, commitment to excellence and spirit of Fair Play that underpinned our successful bid.

“Right now, our focus is on ensuring the momentum behind our preparations continues to build. We are already looking forward to welcoming the global football community to a celebration of the values we all share and the game we all love in 2018.”

Paying the price

The Korean Football Association says it decided to fire national team coach Cho Kwang-rae to ensure the country qualifies for the 2014 World Cup.

Cho had been under pressure since South Korea’s shock 2-1 defeat to Lebanon in a World Cup qualifier last month.

“I met coach Cho on the evening of the seventh and told him of the decision,” said Hwangbo Kwan, chairman of the KFA’s technical committee.

“After the defeat in Japan and then in Lebanon, we studied the problems in the national team closely and on the basis of those, we made the decision. We have studied the best way for Korean football to get through qualification for the World Cup.”

Goal of the day

Emmanuel Eboue’s solo effort opened the scoring for Galatasaray in their 3-1 win over rivals Fenerbahce.

Rooney ban reduced

Good news for Wayne Rooney who has seen his three-match international ban reduced to two games, meaning he will be available in time for England’s final group game against hosts Ukraine.

Rooney made a personal appearance for his appeal at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, just a short hop from Basel where he failed to turn up the previous evening.

Dalglish on the warpath

One person unhappy at the FA’s decision to appeal against Rooney’s ban is Kenny Dalglish.

The Liverpool boss said: “I find it a bit strange the FA are supposed to be setting an example for things yet they appeal against Wayne Rooney’s ban.”

What has really angered Dalglish is not so much the FA’s defence of Rooney, but their treatment of Liverpool striker Luis Suarez.

“The fact it has taken nine weeks to get a decision on one of the other charges is a bit of a joke as well,” the Scot told a Liverpool press conference.

A screen was then lowered on which the club played what they said was a series of unpunished infringements against Suarez during Monday’s game at Fulham.

“The people at Liverpool and anyone who has any leaning to the club – be it staff, players, supporters – they will stand by him and they know what the truth is.

“If anyone wants to see the truth from the other night it is on the screen.”

Recriminations, accusations of unfairness, claiming officials are not impartial, random use of the word ‘fact’… we’ve been here before. With Rafa Benitez. And look how that turned out.


Afghanistan beat Bhutan 8-1 to advance to the semi-finals of the South Asian Football Federation Cup for the first time, although the victory was overshadowed by events back home.

The match was played a day after a bomb exploded in the Afghan capital, Kabul, killing more than 50 people, including four family members of one of the team’s players, Mustafa Madar. Two former national team members and an Under-17 team player also were wounded.

“We were so happy when we came here, but on hearing this sad news, I just cannot stop crying. Now I have to control myself as we have a chance in this tournament,” Madar was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India.

Coach Mohammed Yusuf Kargar dedicated the win to the victims of the attack.