The not so beautiful game – The treatment of Sulley Muntari

Yet again football in Italy has failed to properly deal with the racism issue. This time Pescara midfield Sulley Muntari was the victim in a Serie A game between his club Pescara and Cagliari. Having received abuse, the Ghanian and former Portsmouth player went over to the fans who he had identified as those ones shouting racist chants. Having confronted the racists, I chose not to call them fans as decent football supporters don’t result to such levels, Muntari spoke to the referee. Thinking that the referee would deal with the matter, he was surprised to be on the receiving end of a yellow card. What was he given the yellow card for? dissent. I mean come on, if a player gets punished for reporting racism to a match official, then we are in trouble. Naturally the player walked off the pitch letting the game carry on.

It is appalling but yet not surprising to see the Italian FA failing to deal with the racism problem once more. We have seen time and time again that the racism problem raises its dirty head once more. Another example of failure to deal with racism is the treatment of Mario Ballotelli. The football enigma has been often a victim to the disgusting racism with the n word and monkey taunts. On one occasion was seen to be crying whilst on the bench having been on the receiving end of abuse. The response by his manager, Clarence Seerdorf and his players? Nothing to do with racism, but his passion for the game causing him to get upset.

What it needs is for a ban of some sort by either UEFA or FIFA on the Italian Football Association to make them realise that they need to take things more seriously. Handing out fines will simply not do.

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Expansion failure – Euro 2016

So Euro 2016 is done and dusted and Portugal are the European Champions having beaten France in extra time. UEFA and Portugal fans will naturally be happy, but those of a classic footballing mind will no doubt be in despair at the result. Some may ask and wonder why I feel the expansion to 24 nations has been a failure and I shall tell you why.

The expansion meant that not only did the top two of each group qualify but you had the top four best third placed nations reaching the knock out stage. Don’t get me wrong, it was nice to see Northern Ireland make the knockout stages but they had lost two out of the three games and in any other tournament that would hardly have been a route into the next round of a competition.

With the expansion it meant more games being played, so you would think that more goals would be on the cards. There were more goals but then there was at the same time more games. The goal per game average was lower than Euro 2012. In Euro 2012 there were 76 goals in 31 games, this was an average of 2.45. In Euro 2016 there 108 goals in 51 games  which equalled 2.12 goals per game. This was one of the lowest averages for sometime. Many games were 0-0 at half time and to be honest, sitting through the first 45 minutes in a game with no goals and little action is not the best way of enjoying a tournament. Fans want to be excited and to be honest the fans seemed to have more passion than some of the players.

Before the tournament I had been quite excited about the expanded tournament, but sadly that excitement dwindled with only a few standout games. Despite concerns, it seems UEFA are not going to budge from the 24 team set up at Euro 2020, where it will  be hosted across the European continent.

If no change comes and the tournament football still disappoints, there are two options that UEFA should take. That is either revert back to 16 or increase to 32 and have top two only. The increase to 32 would make the current qualification process more tricky, something that the governing body may not wish to look into.

Euro 2016 Last 16 review

The group stages were finally over and it was down to the finer points of tournament football, yes that’s right the knockout stages. With the expanded tournament and four best third place nations joining in on the fun, we would see some interesting matchups and first time records.

Kicking off the knockout stages were Switzerland and Poland. This one seemed like it was always going to be a tight affair. The Swiss managed only two goals as did their opponents. Their defence was even stingier with only the Swiss conceding a single goal out of the two nations, so it seemed inevitable that the two sides would end up going to penalties after seeing one of the goals of the tournament.

Wales and Northern Ireland came face to face in a game where one home nation would be guaranteed in the quarter finals saw a quiet start but then the game got going when the tackles flying in. Gareth Bale was not as busy as he was previously, but it just took one moment for him to make impact and he didnt even score. His cross put pressure, with Kanu-Robson waiting in the centre, on McAuley who in trying to deny the Wales player, could only put it in his own net. It was a terrible way for the Irish to go out having contributed so much, but that is how the game goes.

Croatia faced a Portugal side who looked like they could be there for the taking. Croatia looked like the dark horse of the tournament, whilst Portugal were grateful for the expansion of the group stage qualifiers as they finished third. Sadly though for what seemed like a potential game of the tournament, it turned into a dour affair where the game entered into extra time. The stats showed a disappointing reflection of the match. Croatia had 17 shots and none on target.Portugal had 6 shots and two on target of which one came in the form of the winning goal in extra time. Ronaldo too was also below par again. Whilst Poland only won on penalties, Portugal will have to be better prepared when facing an unpredictable Poland side.

France came back from an early set back to beat the Republic of Ireland. The Irish took an early lead through a penalty and held the lead to half time. The lack of firepower would sadly be the downfall of the Irish. The goal would be the only one of the six that they would get on target. The French however would bounce with two quickfire goals leaving the Irish rocked. The final to Irish hopes would come just a few minutes later when they were reduced to 10 men following Duffy’s red card. Irish eyes may not have been smiling but at least they could go home with some pride.

Germany faced Slovakia  in a game that showed England’s scoring issues when they took apart Slovakia with a 3-0 hammering. The World Cup holder were in fine form and really should have been more. An interchangeable line up dominated possession having just over 60% but unlike other nations they converted that possession into shots and goals. A total of 21 shots with 7 on target. The Germans nette through Boateng, Gomez and Draxler and based on this performance, they look like sure fire favourites.

The pitiful opening performance from Belgium seems a very long time ago and they showed in this last sixteen tie against Hungary that they should not be underestimated although to be honest had the Hungarians taken their chances when it was 1-0, they might have made it a little more difficult for the hotly  tipped Belgians. They shall go home with some pride and positivity as they look towards the Russia 2018 qualifying campaign.

In what was to be an unexpected big nation tie, defending champions Spain fell to a second defeat in a row. Spain seemed out of sorts for a team looking to defend their title and had it not been for David De Gea, it could have been the reverse scoreline from their Euro 2012 final match up. It seems that it could well be the end of the dominant Spain on the international front and when the second goal went in to finish off the game the faces of the Spanish players said it all.

They say about leaving the best till last and they certainly did…from an Icelandic position. England were taking on Iceland in what should have been a win albeit a narrow one. Sadly it was the same old story and an embarrassing exit. Apart from the penalty England barely turned up. We saw Sterling start, misplaced passes, goalkeeping blunders, Harry Kane taking free kicks.

Fair play to the Icelandic team who have impressed and taken the tournament by force. French fans beware of what may come.

Euro 2016 – My predictions The group stages Part 1

It’s that  time again, yep a major football tournament finals finally arrives. Eighteen years after the World Cup was there, we are back in France. Euro 2016 sees the first expanded Euro finals for years and sees it take a leaf from FIFA’s book. With the top two in each group qualifying together with the best four third place teams. So thanks to Sky Sports wall chart predictor, I give to you my predictions.

Group A sees host France battle it out with Switzerland, Romania and new boy Albania. for me its a case of no surprises. Les Bleus, whilst opening up with  a draw against Romania, find themselves beating the Swiss and new boys Albania. Romania also remain unbeaten and it comes down to goal difference and the host nation taking top spot. The Swiss having managed two pre tournament friendly wins, will  continue to see their disappointing form continue as they only muster a win against debut nation Albania.

Group B is the interesting one for Home nation fans as it features England and Wales. They are joined by Slovakia and Russia. It looks to be a tight group. England go into the group with genuine positivity of progressing far in the tournament. Wales in the first finals since 1958 look to stake a claim in the top two. The Russians and Slovakians look to upset Engand and Wales, but in my opinion they will fall far short.

This is how I see Group B finishing. England will top the group whilst Slovakia will battle for second against Wales.finish second. What will lack in experiencec for Wales, will be made up with passion and unpredictablility. The Welsh will make it a home nations top two. Russia having struggled pre tournament will struggle in the finals only gaining two points.

Group C sees another home nation in the form of Northern Ireland. The Irish face a tricky group but they are on a great run and could certainly throw a spanner in the works. I cant see them finishing in the top two but they could find themselves finishing a respectable third. In their group are Germany, Ukraine and Poland. Germany will look to add to their World Cup win and bring the Spanish dominance to an end. An uninspiring pre tournament run will of course count for nothing as the Germans turn it on for the main event. Poland will look to push forward and make up for the disappointing Euro 2012 performance that saw them finish bottom of their group.

Group C will end with Germany pipping the Poles to second, Northern Ireland finishing third with the Ukraine missing out once more.

Well thats all for Part one, the next part will be coming very soon.

Euro Championship 2016 – Qualifying Review Part One

So the European Championship qualifiers reached the third round of games and two match day rounds that produced some interesting outcomes and some not so welcome scenes. For the UK representatives it would continue to be a good start, for the defending champions however it would not be a straightforward one.

Group A

Iceland and the Czech Republic appear to be storming away from the pack having both maintained 100% records. Iceland currently lead the group with 8 goals scored and 0 conceded, which considering they have played the Netherlands, is quite an impressive feat. The Czech Republic who rival them for the lead and the notching of 8 goals have also played the Dutch. It seems at this rate the Dutch will be hoping to get home victories against the Czech’s and Icelandic sides, otherwise the Orange men will be battling to even make the third spot and a playoff place. Turkey surprisingly find themselves bottom of a group that features Kazakhstan, who claimed their only point so far against the Turks. The Dutch will be hoping that Latvia don’t pick up points although they can be relieved that their only points have come from draws against Kazakhstan and Turkey.

The final round of qualifiers in 2014 will see the Dutch travel to Latvia and the Czech’s taking on the Icelandic team. A victory for the Dutch is essential anything else and in theory it could already be curtains for the side that has impressed so much previously under Van Gaal. They will of course be hoping that there is a winning outcome in the Czech Republic v Iceland game to give them a hope of automatic qualification.

Group B

This group contains one of the home nations, in the form of Wales. They weren’t given the greatest qualifying group, what with the likes of Israel and Belgium, but they would do themselves no harm by getting off to the best start that they could. Despite being only facing Andorra, Cyprus and Bosnia Herzegovina, the Welsh would have hoped to get close to maximum points as they possibly could. That is of course what they achieved. A total of seven out of nine gives them a really good start especially as they will be facing the hot favourites Belgium who have played a game less than the Welsh. Notably, the Belgians could only take a point from their meeting with Bosnia. Israel will also find themselves believing that they have their best chance of making their first ever European Championship finals and second only major international championship finals.

Match Day Four sees Wales and Belgium clash which gives the Israeli team a chance of going top if they beat Bosnia and the Welsh lose. Group B in fact looks a close one to call and could end up going to the final round of qualifiers to see who goes through automatically and who goes to the play off if the best third place team isn’t from this group.

Group C

Spain who were going into the qualifying as defending champions, had looked to maintain a positive start to their qualifying, but came unstuck against a surprise Slovak side. Slovakia, captained by Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel, lead his team to victory. The Ukraine who seemed the natural threat to the Spaniards find themselves level pegging with the holders having themselves lost to Slovakia. Naturally it would appear that the top three would come from either Slovakia, Ukraine or Spain but given the nature of how football seems to run these days, you wouldn’t be surprised to see Spain either missing out or having to hope they are the best third place team, or the possibility of a play off which given they are the holders will certainly be a bitter pill to swallow.

The next round of group fixtures should see Spain return to form with a home game against Belarus, the Ukraine keep the pressure on with a trip to Luxembourg and Slovakia playing Macedonia. Given the World Cup disaster, qualifying automatically would not only be a standard practice for the Spanish, but also a matter of footballing importance.

Group D

This group was certainly a mix. World Cup winners Germany, home nation Scotland, Republic of Ireland, Poland and newcomers Gibraltar. Given that the World Champions were in this group, it would seem that one thing was going to be guaranteed, Germany would steam roll their way through the group. With the first round of matches having taken the expected route. Match Day 2 saw the Irish maintain their 100% record with a victory against the new boys Gibraltar. Scotland bounced back with a win over Georgia, but the surprising result of the night saw Poland beat Germany 2-0 in Warsaw. A result not many would have come to expect. In the next game for Germany, victory was denied against Ireland in injury time. John O’Shea grabbed a point to maintain the Irish unbeaten record and a total of 7 points from 9 games. Scotland faced a tricky tie away to Poland and given the Polish win over Germany, not too many would have given the Tartan Army much hope. The Scots though had other ideas and looked certain to score a famous victory. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be as the home side levelled in the 76th minute. The visitors could be pleased with their performance which could have seen them go second behind Ireland.

Next up The Irish face Scotland, Germany can bounce back against Gibraltar and Poland travel to Georgia. As this group moves closer to the halfway point, it is something to most certainly keep an eye on.

That’s it for Part One, look out for Part Two of the review plus more over the next few days. Don’t forget that you can find more observations and thoughts by following Match of The Doy on Twitter.

UEFA still not serious on Racism

It seems to be a broken record with UEFA. They claim to be tough in dealing with racism. Unfortunately it seems not the case. Following the banner unveiled in the Partizan v Spurs match, UEFA handed out their punishment. Was it a heavy fine? lengthy stadium ban? No unfortunately UEFA handed Partizan Belgrade a fine of 40,000 euros and the closure of Sector K against Besiktas this month. As well as the banner, the Partizan fans were investigated for three other offences. These offences had included setting off of fireworks, invading the pitch and pointing a laser pen.

A UEFA statement released stated:

“The fight against racism is a high priority for UEFA. The European governing body has a zero-tolerance policy towards racism and discrimination on the field and in the stand”

Adding to the statement UEFA stated:

“All forms of racist behaviour are considered serious offences against the disciplinary regulations and are punished with the most severe sanctions”

“Following the entry into force of new disciplinary regulations in June 2013, the fight against racist conduct has been stepped up a level – resulting in stricter penalties to deter any such behaviour”.

Now I don’t mean to come across as cynical, but since when did a 40,000 euro fine a sector ban for Partizan’s next European home game, be a result of tough new stricter penalties. They need to be tougher. A fine and partial ban is hardly going to deter fans from causing anymore problems.

Of course it’s not the first offence that Partizan fans have been involved in trouble. In 2007/08 Partizan were disqualified from further competition. Surely given the fact that Partizan have history, tougher punishment for the club should have been handed out. I guess nothing should surprise us anymore when it comes to UEFA and their inability to handout a substantial punishment.

The idea of 40,000 euros being a reasonable fine is just in fact a complete joke when Niklas Bendtner was fined at Euro 2012 a sum of £100,000 and a match ban for revealing some branded underwear.  How on earth can UEFA be taken seriously on racism when they hand out bigger fines for what is in contrast a trivial issue.

I feel until UEFA take the option of banning a nation, like they did to England after the Heysel Tragedy, then whatever they do, whatever they try to do or say should be taken with a pinch of salt because until then, no fans will have faith in the organisation to deal with the issue that hounds the game across the globe.