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FIFA deny claim they encouraged refs to be lenient

FIFA has refuted claims that it was deliberately encouraging lenient refereeing to encourage entertaining football while putting players at risk of serious injury.

Neymar injury vs Colombia

Neymar paid avery heavy price for an incompetent refereeing performance.

The furore had erupted after poor officiating of Spain’s Carlos Velasco in Brazil’s World Cup quarter-final victory over Colombia which saw hosts’ superstar Neymar carried off with a serious back injury.

Velasco has been retained among the refereeing teams for the concluding stage of the finals. This inexplicable vote of confidence appeared almost to undermine the robust defence of FIFA’s refereeing strategy raised by communications director Walter Degregorio today.

The world federation’s hierarchy was upset by a report in Germany’s Bild Zeitung that referees had been told to keep yellow and red cards to a minimum to maintain the standards of drama which have revived the World Cup’s reputation as a footballing showcase.

Degregorio, unusually, appeared at the daily media briefing in Rio de Janeiro to respond just one day ahead of the German national team’s semi-final against Brazil here in Belo Horizonte.

He said: “There are some serious allegations [about] a plan from FIFA telling the referees not to sanction players with yellow and red cards in order to have more entertainment and better TV ratings – in other words that FIFA is risking and tolerating that players like Neymar and others are injured.

Degregorio, who always speaks with the full and personal authority of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, added: “You can question every decision of every referee. That’s part of the game and something we have to accept and the referees accept.

“What we cannot accept is to question the decision on an ethical level saying this is a hidden plan from FIFA. We can go through all 60 games and you will never find a referee who does not make mistakes. But to say he was asked to do this is the difference.”

Degregorio would not comment on the choice of ‘surviving’ referees which is bound to be controversial, beyond even Velasco’s retention.

His point was deny that a deliberate policy of card-lite refereeing had been ordered by referees’ committee chairman Jim Boyce or by referees director Massimo Busacca, himself a former FIFA match official.

Degregorio said: “There are reasons why some referees stay and some go. You can also question this. My point is that to say that behind this is a mastermind – that there is a plan to make the game more dynamic, more spectacular – this is something we cannot accept.”

FIFA had been jarred into rebuttal mode by the fact that the Bild report had been picked up by various media outlets in Brazil ahead of both an imminent disciplinary decision over Neymar’s assailant, Camilo Zuniga, and the semi-final.

Degregorio added: “The big deal is that it has been reported in a few newspapers even in Brazil and I am here [at the media briefing] because I think this is important.

“This goes to the core business because protecting the core actors, the players, is the most important thing we have to do at FIFA . . . The players are the main actors and if Neymar is not playing it’s not good for us too. We would love to see him playing so how can you say this is deliberately made by FIFA to improve the entertainment?

“To say there is a FIFA strategy behind this to allow entertainment to prevail is a very serious problem. I don’t say that you cannot question the decision of a referee. That is normal. The problem is to suggest there is something behind that.”

Conspiracy theories have been rampant during the World Cup and have been propounded by managers and media of various nations. Uruguay was one such example over the Luis Suarez biting case while Brazil has been a ‘conspiracy focus’ from both directions.

As Degregorio said: “In the beginning I read stories that FIFA was doing everything to bring Brazil to the final because it’s good for the World Cup and the atmosphere. Then, a couple of days later, I read there was a conspiracy against Brazil by keeping Neymar out.”

Conti Cup Final on BT Sport

The FA WSL Continental Cup Final between Arsenal and Manchester City will be shown live on BT Sport next month.

Arsenal will be looking to lift the trophy for a fourth consecutive season when they take on City at Wycombe Wanderers’ Adams Park stadium on Thursday 16 October, kicking-off at 7.45pm.

Arsenal v Manchester City

The FA WSL Continental Cup
The Final
7.45pm, Thursday 16 October 2014
Adams Park, Wycombe Wanderers FC
Live on BT Sport 1

The match also marks Manchester City’s first ever FA WSL Continental Cup Final appearance, in their first season in FA WSL 1.

And as the exclusive live television broadcast partner of The FA WSL, BT Sport will be showing the action along with their a regular highlights programme, the WSL Review Show and other live games.

Tickets for the game are on sale now, priced at £5 for adults and £2.50 for children. A £10 family tickets (two adults and two children) and group bookings are also available.

Tickets can be purchased here or by calling 01494 441 118. For more information please click here.

Crystal Palace search for successor as Tony Pulis quits on eve of new season

Crystal Palace are on the lookout for a new manager after the shock departure of Tony Pulis just two days before the Premier League season starts.

Crystal Palace are searching for a new manager after Tony Pulis’s left the club on the eve of the new Premier League season.

Officially, Pulis leaves by mutual consent but it is believed to be his deteriorating relationship with the co-chairman, Steve Parish that lies heart of his shock departure.

The pair have been at loggerheads for months, with reports claiming Pulis was considering his position as far back as January, just two months into his Selhurst Park tenure. Since then he has transformed the fortunes of the club on the pitch, guiding them away from the relegation zone and leading them to an 11th place finish – their highest since the inception of the Premier League.

Pulis finished the season as the Premier League’s manager of the year, but the 56-year-old has become increasingly frustrated with the restrictions Parish has apparently put on him on the transfer market.

Ambitious targets

Ironically, Pulis left on the day that three new recruits arrived at Palace: Martin Kelly, Brede Hangeland and Frazier Campbell, all signed on Thursday, but it appears Pulis had set his sights on more ambitious targets, including Gylfi Sigurdsson and Steven Caulker who ultimately signed for Swansea City and QPR respectively.

Palace have also been linked with a move to bring their former winger Wilfried Zaha back to Selhurst Park after a torrid first year at Manchester United.

Speaking to Sky Sports News on Tuesday, Parish said that he would help Pulis sign the players he wants.

“It’s up to the manager, the players we sign. It’s not up to me. I’m there to help him get the squad he wants,” Parish said.

“There’s a sentimental value and I loved Wilf as a kid and he did sensational things for us

“I know the fans would like him back and that will play a part, but in the end the manager will decide what we do.”

The matter came to a head and it emerged that Pulis wanted more responsibility when it came to signing players.

Keith Millen, the assistant manager, will take charge for the opening game of the season against Arsenal while the other members of Pulis’s coaching staff, including Gerry Francis and long-time assistant Dave Kemp, have been asked to help him out until a successor has been appointed.

Among the list of possible candidates to succeed to Pulis, are former Cardiff City boss, Malky Mackay, who has close ties to Palace sporting director Iain Moody, ex-Celtic manager Neil Lennon and former Manchester United and Everton manager David Moyes.

Shaw: ‘We want the title’

Luke Shaw has declared he wants to finish off his first season at Manchester United by lifting the Premier League title.

The England left back arrived from Southampton earlier in the summer after representing his country at the World Cup in Brazil.

And as he prepares for his Old Trafford bow on Tuesday in the friendly against Valencia, the 19-year-old is setting his sights on a successful campaign.

"I have come here to win trophies"

Luke Shaw on his move to United

"You have got to be positive and, for me personally, I have come here to win trophies," Shaw told MUTV. "It is something everyone wants, not just me. Everyone in that dressing-room is looking to do it.

"We want to win the Premier League. Obviously there is no Champions League for us this season, so the main focus is on the Premier League and we all cannot wait to get started."

Shaw has pulled on the red shirt of United already during the club’s US Tour, but his upcoming debut appearance at the 'Theatre of Dreams' has him brimming with anticipation.

"As a kid, it’s a dream to play at Old Trafford," he said. "It’s one of the biggest arenas in the world, you would say.

"To know it’s going to be my home ground is something special. I can’t wait to get my first touch on the pitch just to relish it."

And on the challenge of their opponents, Valencia, Shaw says United will not be taking them lightly.

Luke Shaw warms up in USA

Luke Shaw figured in United's tour in USA

"Every game is serious. We want to improve as a team and the way we can do that is going into the game properly by using the scouts to discover what they are like and see how we are going to play against them. I think it will help us.

"The main thing is obviously the first Premier League game against Swansea, but we want to keep improving as a team and getting used to the formation so we will be flying when the season starts."

The full interview with Luke Shaw will be on MUTV on Monday from 18:30.

Winter World Cup not a done deal as Europe stands firm

Europe looking for compelling reasons to throw away over a century of scheduling tradition.

Qatar 2022 World Cup trophy

Europe’s clubs have cautioned that they do not consider a winter switch of the 2022 World Cup finals in Qatar to be a done deal.

Milan executive Umberto Gandini represented the European Club Association at a Qatar timing task force meeting with world federation FIFA on Monday.

Reporting back after the latest ECA general meeting, Gandini insisted that it would take “very, very strong” arguments to persuade Europe’s clubs to throw over a century of scheduling tradition.

Gandini said: “We have been given information on reasons behind the task force, the problems relating to the Qatar World Cup and the intention of the FIFA executive committee to view alternative options.

“There is a road map which should deliver a common view on which is the preferred by March 2015 for the FIFA exco to make a decision.”

Having set out the process, Gandini then summed up the mood among the ECA clubs.

He said: “The important point we underlined, together with the English Premier League, is that we must get very strong and decisive reasons for moving the World Cup.

“For example, conditions in Manaus at the World Cup this year are no worse than the ones expected in Qatar at the same time of the year and we played many other World Cups when the weather conditions were not ideal for football.

“There are also the technological investments that the Qatar organising committee put on the table when they won the bid so we need more information before accepting that the calendar should be disrupted.

“So far the European game gives more than 75pc of the players at the World Cup and it will be very, very important to have strong arguments convince the European game to disprut its season to stage the World Cup in the winter.

“The the moment the options are very simple: to stay in the natural slot of June and July or go to January/February of November/December.

“Other options are not being presented but we have the liberty bring up other solutions if we feel they are better than those on the table now.”

Gandini said he was confident that the FIFA-led consutation was a “genuine process” and ECA chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge insisted that the clubs were serious partners in trying to reach “a result which is acceptable for everybody.”

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Frank wants England passion

Frank Lampard insists England must show their fans what it means to represent the nation when they take on Costa Rica tomorrow.

The Three Lions’ exit from the World Cup was sealed on Friday when the Central Americans beat Italy 1-0, with Roy Hodgson's men having suffered back-to-back defeats against Italy and Uruguay previously.

But Lampard - who will captain a much-changed England side against Los Ticos - stressed the importance of leaving Brazil with a win.

Costa Rica v England

FIFA World Cup 2014
5pm BST, Tuesday 24 June
Estadio Mineirao, Belo Horizonte
Live on ITV1

He said: "This is about showing the pride of wearing an England shirt, whether it's a friendly or a game like this.

"It would be very easy to roll over and say it hasn't been our tournament, let's go home with three defeats.

“But if we can take anything from this tournament it's been the progression behind the scenes and, hopefully, a result tomorrow.”

He added: "It is possible to pick ourselves up and it's certainly a good test of character. It’s been a tough few days. We came here to do better than what's turned out to be the case.

"Now we are in a situation where we have to show we're men. Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Joe Hart have all said we're disappointed, but as grown men, as grown-ups, we have to move on."

Only Gary Cahill and Daniel Sturridge will keep their place in the team that lost 2-1 to Uruguay last week, with England boss Hodgson blooding his younger players tomorrow.

Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw, Jack Wilshere and Ross Barkley will all start alongside Lampard, as will Ben Foster, James Milner and Adam Lallana.

And Lampard has warned his team-mates to be wary of the threat of Arsenal striker Joel Campbell, who starred in Costa Rica’s 3-1 demolition of Uruguay and impressed again in the win over Italy.

He added: I am very aware of Joel Campbell from the Champions League last year. He's done himself big favours which will help him in the future.

"We have respect and give a lot of credit to Costa Rica. Maybe they didn't have any pressure on them [before the tournament] but they have preformed well."

Connolly in dreamland

Callum Connolly described England's win over Holland as "a dream night" after he bagged a brace in the hosts' 3-1 victory.

The Everton defender lined-up as left-back in a back four for Neil Dewsnip’s Young Lions, but it was his efforts at the other end of the pitch that had a crowd of over 2,500 inside Bury’s JD Stadium buzzing.

He said: “It was a dream night. Playing for England is a great achievement, but scoring for them is something else…and scoring twice - wow!

England 3-1 Netherlands

U18s International Match
Friday 5 September 2014
JD Stadium, Bury FC
Attendance 2,579

“I was made up with that, but more made up that we got the win.

“My family were all there and I’ll remember this for a long-time. It’s the most memorable night of my life.”

And it was not just luck that the 17-year-old found himself on the scoresheet, it was down to work on the training pitch with a manager he holds in high regard.

Connolly said: "We’ve been working on set-pieces in training and I’m glad as it's paid off for my first goal when I met Taylor’s [Moore] knock down.

"For the second, I saw Simsy [Josh Sims] running down the right and I knew he was going to beat his man, so I got myself in the box and luckily it fell to me and I put it away."

He added: “Neil’s a great manager and he’s really helped me this week. I’ve been playing left-back, so he’s helped me with where to go and my positional play. I was pleased I could reward him with a couple of goals for the faith he’s shown in me.”

Connolly defends against a Dutch attack

Connolly defends against a Dutch attack

Connolly’s first goal gave his side the lead on the stroke of half-time, but it was his second and England’s third that proved to be the final blow for the Dutch who had had their hopes raised after Alessio da Cruz reduced the deficit to 2-1.

Connolly said: “It was a bit nervy when they got one back, but we were still a goal up.

“We have a tight defence and we know we’ve got some great attackers who can score goals, so we were always confident.

"It’s been a good week. I thought I was only going to start one game, but I’m pleased to have started both and to have done well in each of them.

“I’m just made up – scoring twice and getting two victories.”

France 3-0 Honduras

France beat Honduras 3-0 in a match that will be remembered as the first ever World Cup match to use goalline technology

Karim Benzema smashes in his second and France's third goal of the tournament.

Karim Benzema smashes in his second and France's third goal of the tournament.

Date: June 15, 2014

Result: France 3-0 Honduras

Scorers:

France:

  • Benzema pen. 45
  • Valladares og. 48
  • Benzema 73

Venue: Estadio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre

Attendance: 68,351

Match overview: Since they won the tournament on home soil in 1998, the French have not scored in their opening game of a World Cup. Honduras have not scored in their last four World Cup matches.

Key moment: Wilson Palacio’s barging into Paul Pogba. The pair had history from an earlier clash which saw both being shown a yellow card. Palacio’s subsequent foul on Pogba resulted in a penalty and reduced Honduras to ten-men. There was no way back for Luis Surez’s side after that.

Man of the match: Mathieu Valbuena. There were several contenders in France’s midfield, but Valbuena, combining industry and creativity, was the standout performer.

Matter of fact: France enjoyed 71% possession against Honduras. That’s the highest seen at the World Cup since possession figures were first recorded in 1966.

Talking point: History was made with France’s second goal. It was the first time goalline technology had ever been used to determine a goal at the World Cup.

Stats:

Goal attempts

  • France 20
  • Honduras 4

On target

  • France 10
  • Honduras 2

Corners

  • France 8
  • Honduras 0

Line-ups:

France:

  • 01 Lloris
  • 02 Debuchy
  • 03 Evra
  • 06 Cabaye Booked (Mavuba – 65′ )
  • 04 Varane
  • 05 Sakho
  • 19 Pogba (Sissoko – 57′ )
  • 14 Matuidi
  • 10 Benzema
  • 08 Valbuena (Giroud – 78′ )
  • 11 Griezmann

Honduras:

  • 18 Valladares
  • 21 Beckeles
  • 07 Izaguirre
  • 08 Palacios
  • 05 Bernárdez (Chávez – 45′ )
  • 03 Figueroa
  • 17 Najar (Claros – 58′ )
  • 19 Garrido
  • 13 Costly
  • 11 Bengtson (García – 45′)
  • 15 Espinoza

Scorers:

France:

  • Benzema pen. 45
  • Valladares og. 48
  • Benzema 73

Red card:

  • Honduras: Palacios 43

Yellow cards:

  • France:  Evra 7, Pogba 28, Cabaye 45
  •  Honduras: Palacios 28, Garcia 53 Garrido 83

Referee: Sandro Meira Ricci (Brazil)

Women's Soccer team cancels game in Hawaii

U.S. Women’s Soccer team cancels game in Hawaii

U.S. Soccer has cancelled the U.S. Women’s National Team Victory Tour match scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 6, at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii, after a determination that the artificial turf surface is not suitable to hold an international soccer...

Valentino Mazzola, at the heart of the legendary Torino team

Valentino Mazzola was at the heart of Torino's legendary team that perished in the Sueprga tragedy.

Valentino Mazzola

The jersey of Valentino Mazzola, Torino Captain and midfielder, who died in the Superga tragedy, is exhibited in a Museum in Grugliasco, Turin

“He alone is half the squad. The other half is made by the rest of us together.” – Mario Rigamonti

A stone’s throw from the shoreline of the Adriatic Sea towards the heel of Italy’s boot shaped land mass is the Arena della Vittoria. It is no longer an away day for the Italian football supporter as i Galletti moved into the modern Stadio San Nicola in the early nineties.

Steeped in character and history it is somehow a forgotten place. Since 1934 it staged 945 Serie A and Serie B games and occasionally played host to the greats: Rummenigge, Platini and Maradona.

Perhaps the most special moment to have been witnessed there came from the boot of Valentino Mazzola on the 24th of April 1949. None of the 40,000 or so spectators at the time knew that this strike eleven minutes in would be his last goal in a competitive game for Il Grande Torino.

Ten days after the 1-1 draw at Bari, while returning home from a friendly against Benfica, the plane carrying the squad found itself in a heavy fog and crashed at the Basilica of Superga. There were no survivors. The team, i Granata, which contained some of the greatest names of their day in perhaps the greatest Italian club side ever had perished.

Torino had wrapped up their 5th Scudetto in a row just before the game in Portugal. Forced to field a youth team in the final four Serie A matches of the 1949 season the club didn’t have a Busby to turn to. Although Torino finished sixth the following season Il Toro never recovered. The squad was truly irreplaceable. Castigliano, Rigamonti, Fadini, Menti, Loik, Gabetto and Ossola were adored and looked up to. And they in turn looked up to the captain Mazzola.

The club became great with Mazzola as its attacking midfielder. His talent was limitless and his rolled up sleeves were a show of motivation to his teammates but a statement of intent to his opponents. In that famous maroon jersey he achieved major honours but in the blue of the national team he was perhaps an uncrowned king. In the aftermath of WW II poverty was rampant across Italy and the people needed an inspiration, a group of giants to look up to. The imagination of the nation was captured by the national team in a 3-2 victory against Hungary which contained a youthful Puskás. Italy’s ten outfield players that day were all from Torino.

He commanded every yard of every pitch he played on. In 1948 during a game against Genoa the Torino goalkeeper, the temperamental Bacigalupo, had been sent off. Mazzola, rather than delegating duties and running the game in the opponents half, rolled up his sleeves and played the remaining minutes in goal. Torino held on to win 2-1.

When he had the ball at his feet the supporters, which made up the 30,000 strong crowds at the Filadelfia would hold their breath in excitement. His class and skill on the pitch, two footed and great in the air, he was the hero the locals came to see. Over the course of his time at Torino he scored 118 goals in 204 appearances three of which formed the fastest tripletta in Serie A scored between the 29th and 31st minute against Vicenza in 1947. This record still stands today.

His first period as a footballer started when he turned out for his local Alfa Romeo team in Milan but became a regular for Venezia after a successful trial. Here he met Ezio Loik who joined Torino with Mazzola in the season of ’42. This partnership formed the structure of an era of great success and the five titles in a row could have been more but for the interruption of the war.

The war also killed off his international career. The chance to play under the spotlight of the world stage never presented itself. Cancellation of the 1942 and 1946 World Cups meant that Mazzola’s on the pitch success was limited to home soil and some of the best players Italy have produced never got their international recognition.

Football’s heroes help fans fall in love with the game while montages of Garrincha, Pele, Seeler and Beckenbauer recorded on that evocative sepia Kodachrome stick in the mind forever. They allow those of today to see how great those of yesterday really were. Without Mazzola and his teammates from Il Toro those images lack a certain echt. It’s a shame then that this player was from a pre football on film age, an age when word of mouth and newspaper print could secure a romanticised status.

Very few teams and players get to define their generation. The Torino squad of the mid 1940s skippered by Mazzola achieved that. He was one of the all time greats who sadly the modern hair style era of football has forgotten too easily. On those ‘definitive’ all time top ten player lists which do the rounds on various media it is unlikely Mazzola or indeed any player from Il Grande Torino appears. For all those involved with the club their knowledge of the calibre of excellence is perhaps all that matters. Absence is the best form of presence.

While remnant scraps of footage of the great team can be found after much digging around the web the Filadelfia stadium is just about the best tangible ornament which remains of Il Grande Torino. Time has been cruel to it however. The old stone and concrete rubble look sullen and it has deteriorated into the wreckage of a forgotten theatre where fans were once delighted and awestruck by their local idols. Movements have been made for a redevelopment of the site. How quickly these come into fruition is anyone’s guess.

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Perhaps one of the greatest players ever to play the game was surely the best to never play in a World Cup. He was deprived of greater club success during the war and despite winning a host of honours he never did get chance to reach his full potential. Had that accident not have occurred just what would have become of him and the club in the years that followed?

The current Torino side is enjoying its third successive season in Serie A and qualified for this year’s Europa League. It’s a team on the rise with more stability than in the previous decade. The Stadio Olimpico di Torino possesses some of the hallmarks of its older brother but has not yet seen anything like the wave of success of that victorious era.

There is only so much time for sentiment and the reality for the current crop of players can be satisfaction with a solid run in Europe. If this gradual improvement continues Il Toro may be locking horns with Europe’s greats.

By Ed Valentine

This article originally appeared in In Bed with Maradona