The joke is you, Sepp Blatter

The way Sepp Blatter blerted out the news of the FA of Irelands request to be let into the 2010 World Cup as the 33rd team was nothing short of a disgrace.

Blatter thought it was funny to announce the news while laughing to a giggling assembled audience at the Soccerex conference which he was addressing in Johannesburg on Monday. It was done in a manner which was beyond belief, even by his pathetic low standards.

To put the incident in isolation and find it funny is bad enough, but look at the bigger picture leading up to this.

The whole world witnessed football at it’s cheating worst when Henry handled the ball into the goal. Football was made to look stupid for it’s inability to embrace technology and it’s inability to deliver any sort of justice. A decent referee’s career probably lies in tatters and Blatter finds it funny, the fact that football is probably being laughed at around the world for these reasons and more, while he is in charge of it is obviously funny to the man.

I think you’re missing the point Sepp, you are the real joke around football.

Here we had Blatter, the leader of the governing body of World football ridiculing one of his member Associates in public in full view of the world, insulting, not just the FAI but the whole of the Republic of Ireland. Where else could the leader of a major organisation or company get away with such behaviour?

The very least the FAI deserved was to have their request treated with respect, even if it was never likely to see the light of day. It should have been dealt with along the proper channels and ultimately rejected along the proper channels, with discretion and respect, not in Blatter’s way of using it in an attemp at what amounted to stand up comedy for a cheap laugh to try and make himself look good.

This man is a joke and a disgrace and in my opinion should be removed from football for the good of the game.

No justice for John Kennedy

The recent news that Celtic and Scotland’s John Kennedy has decided to retire due to the on going problems from the knee injury he sustained at the hands of a vicious assault from Ionel (Vio) Ganea, wasn’t, in my opinion greeted with the outrage it should have been.

As an Englishman I have no allegiance to any Scottish Premier League side before anyone thinks I’m a biased Celtic fan, as I’m not.

As a football fan I remember too well watching the replays of that tackle on Sky Sports with disgust and also reading Ganea’s sickening remarks afterwards about how he made the tackle because it was a physical game – he all but admitted he had done it deliberately as I recall.

At the time and even now it still makes you wonder about the justice in football that a ‘person’ can do that and walk away scot-free while another persons career and (maybe) life lies in tatters.

The debate about retrospective punishment is a well troden one and one with no simple answer too, but if ever there was a time to look at a change in the rules then surely that was an incident to bring it to a head.

The fact that Kennedy has shown such dignity in the five and a half years and eight operations since that assault is remarkable, he is clearly a man at ease with himself and this must be one of the reasons why he has been able to move on without bitterness.

We can only hope that for Kennedy this might signal the start of a new career, maybe in football, where he can go onto achieve success in some other way, to try and replace what he has been robbed off, after all he has some good contacts in the game from his time at Celtic and his all too brief Scotland career.

As for Ganea I don’t really care what he went onto do and wouldn’t waste any of my life researching him, we can only hope he endures some sort of footballing ‘Karma’

Is Henry the new Maradonna?

Thierry Henry’s name has been dragged through the mire in the press on Thursday. In Ireland as you would expect he has been slaughtered, accused of playing Gaelic Football, Facebook groups set up against him and numerous doctored images of him cheating flying around the internet.

Surprisingley the uproar on this side of the Irish sea has been very hysterical as well with suggestions of possible punishment for him ranging from being banned from the World Cup, given a ten match ban and I even heard a call for him to do the decent thing and retire from international football.

The one thing that has struck a cord with me is that most insulting of English insults being thrown at him – being called as bad as Diego Maradonna, this is the ultimate insult to be given from an English football fan for me and it shows how much Henry has gone down in the English football fans regard.

Sadly for a great footballer like Heny, who lit up the Premiership for years and was well respected by fans all over the country for his exciting play and seemingly good sporsmanship it would appear that his lasting legacy now will always be that handball.

Algeria finally see off Egypt

Forget Thierry Henry’s handball or the other three Eurozone qualifiers, the real talking point of World Cup qualification on Wednesday was part two of the Algeria and Egypt saga.

Going back to last Saturday, Egypt beat Algeria 2-0 in Cairo (the second and decisive goal came 5 minutes into injury time to cause further controversy), this meant that the two teams finished totally level on points, goal difference and head-to-head results, meaning they had to play again in Wednesday nights winner takes all play-off on neutral ground in Khartoum.

To say we get carried away with things in the UK when the likes of Celtic and Rangers clash or Liverpool play Manchester United would be a fair comment, we think that these sort of games bring out the worst in certain elements of our society.

To compare these such games with Wednesday (and Saturday) nights fixtures between these two North African states would be laughable. For a start on the Thursday before the first game in Cairo, Algeria’s team bus was heavily stoned on the way to their team hotel in Cairo, resulting in injuries to three of the Algerian squad.

There was then trouble in both countries’ capitals, Cairo and Algiers after Saturdays match when supporters from both countries clashed in running street battles, with troops having to be deployed in Cairo to protect Algerian fans and their players and officials.

There was also a diplomatic row after the game, after a series of attacks on Egyptian businesses in Algiers, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit felt the need to issue strongly worded comments towards the Algerian government.

In wasn’t just in the two participating countries were all the trouble took place. In Marseille over 500 police had to be deployed to try and calm violence that erupted in the View Port area after Egypt’s second goal went in, violence that seen shop windows smashed and boats set alight resulting in two sinking.

Marseille has a strong North African community living there and as I remember seeing when I was over there for England’s game in the 1998 World Cup they are not afraid to come out and make their presence felt.

The bitterness between the two teams goes back a long way and there has been serious trouble in the past, particulaly when in 1989 Algerian, Lakhdar Belloumi ‘bottled’ the Egyptian team doctor, resulting in him being blinded in one eye and an Interpol arrest warrant being issued against Belloumi for the attack.

Makes the Alex Ferguson pizza throwing incident look fairly futile.

Anyway after 90 minutes on Wednesday night, with 15,000 Sudanese riot police on stand by, Algeria finally put the issue to bed with a 1-0 win with a goal from Centre-back Antar Yahia in the 39th minute, and that was that until the next time.

Moaning Foster lucky to be in England squad

Ben Foster expressed his disappointment with the goalkeeping situation at Old Trafford with comments he made after playing for England in Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Brazil.

Foster said “I’m third choice for United yet I’m playing for my country, it’s very disheartening not even to be on the bench, but I can’t go saying ‘I want to leave’ or anything like that.”

The fact is that Foster had an extended run of games at the start of the season and had a glorious opportunity to prove to Alex Ferguson that he he is the natural successor to Edwin Van der Sar, but he blew it.

He also went on to say “I thought I started off well but then there was a period of two or three games where I made a few mistakes, but they were the only ones I made really and I was disappointed to find myself out of the team.” I assume he might be referring to the Man City and Sunderland games.

Err not sure about that, what about the mistake that cost United the Charity Shield at the start of the season, or Arshavin’s goal from 30 yards out that he pushed into the roof of the net at Old Trafford in August

The fact of the matter is that Foster looked anything but secure and more than played his part in making the Man United backline look unsure and it was blatently obvious that the back four lacked confidence in him.

It was no surprise to see Van der Sar back in the team as soon as he was fit, the only surprise was that Ferguson didn’t throw Tomasz Kuszczak in while he waited for the Dutchman to return such was the performances of Foster.

Foster’s remark – “that he is playing for his country” – can be easily explained as well, you’re only there as we have no one else, we have a shortage of reliable goalkeepers in this country and you are one of few who is fit and available at the moment. You’re not there on merit, thats for sure.

Foster is 26 now and should be coming into his prime, he arrived at Manchester United in 2005 as an exciting prospect but has so far failed to kick on and improve, he had a season long loan at Watford early after signing for United where he didn’t exactly set the World on fire either, he did manage to join that elite club of conceding from the opposite goalkeeper in his time there though.

With David James injured, Rob Green far from convincing, you have only Foster, Robinson, Hart or Kirkland as alternatives to pick from really. If James dosen’t make South Africa, England are really struggling. Joe Hart looks promising but is he ready to go to the World Cup? Foster, Green and Robinson all are error prone and Kirkland probably has too many fitness issues for Capello’s liking.

There is a massive chance there for Ben Foster with the weakness in the goalkeeping position, it is up to him to prove us wrong and show he up to the task.

Wenger set to moan again

Expect to hear Arsene Wenger moaning and whinging again about international friendly football, joyriders etc, after the news that Robin van Persie sustained a partially ruptured ligament in his right ankle during Saturdays match against Italy.

The early prognosis is that it is likely to keep him out of action for around three months, in this instance I do feel a bit sorry for Wenger as his team look like they might be in the title race for the long haul this season and van Persie was proving to be one of the main reasons behind this with seven goals in his eleven appearances to date.

With not a massive amount of experienced strikers to fall back on, the next few weeks should go a long way to telling us if Wenger’s squad is up to the challenge or not. Maybe this is the time for Eduardo to step up and show us what he is capable of.

If Arsenal are to maintain their title push their squad would have been tested at some stage of the season, expect Wenger would have hoped that it would happen later in the season rather than sooner though.

In the football betting, Arsenal have drifted in the betting to win the Premier League on the back of this news.

Burley on the brink

If the reports doing the rounds today (and judging by the online bookmakers response) are to believed then it looks like George Burley will finally be put out of his misery later this week and sacked as manager of Scotland.

It would appear that the meeting isn’t about making a decision as to whether or not to sack him but as to what package to offer him to quit, apparently conversations between members of the SFA board took place on Sunday morning when it looks like the decision to get rid of Burley was made.

Either way the fact that Burley’s position is on the agenda for the second time in a matter of just over two months must make his job virtually untenable anyway.

There is an arguement – and I’ve heard it said by plenty of ex players on television today – that there is no one out there to replace Burley so whats the point in getting rid of him, a position I thought to be the right one at the end of the World Cup qualification campaign when his job last came up for discussion.

The problem is now that he appears to have little (or no) support from the board or the players and at least a new manager may come in and wipe the slate clean opening the door for some of Scotland’s discarded or retired players to come back into the fold, players a country like Scotland can’t afford to be without such is the small pool of players they have to choose from.

Much as I would be loathed to see the likes of Kris Boyd, Lee McCulloch, Barry Ferguson and Allan McGregor come back after the way they behaved towards Burley and Scotland the fact is they can’t afford to have players like that not in the squad.

I know Gordon Smith said that McGregor and Ferguson would never play for Scotland again but it would surley be up to the incoming manager to make that decision, although in Ferguson’s case surely too much damage has been done with his attack on the SFA on the eve of the Holland match.

For the sake of all – and I include George Burley in this who has been a good manger over the years and comes across as a decent bloke – maybe a parting of the ways is best all round.

International Football Betting

5pm Brazil V England played in Qatar

If you wish to indulge in some football trading, you won’t be surprised to find that Brazil are the favourites at a best price of 11/10 with Totesport (a £10 Totesport Free Bet is available to new customers). Can’t see that price lasting long as England have a reserve side out, the rest of the main bookmakers have Brazil at Evens which considering England’s team is still a good price. The draw is 12/5 with Sky Bet, while England are 14/5 with Bet365.

Personally I don’t like backing friendly matches but Brazil do look a good price.

8pm Republic of Ireland V France

This is the big game of the weekend for me, Trapattoni has named 10 of his team and looks like the selection between Aiden McGeady and Liam Lawrence for the final place will confirm whether Ireland go for a first leg lead or whether he will be happy taking a 0-0 to Paris on Wednesday night.

With Trapattoni being an Italian it is hard to imagine him doing anything other than giving the final place to Liam Lawrence and playing for a 0-0 draw

My only concern there is Ireland’s inability to keep a clean sheet, in the recent home fixture against Italy they played well but seemed to lack that bit of know-how and managed to concede twice, once late on with the game won.

It’s that lack of experience and (maybe) quality at the back which makes me doubt the Irish can hold out for a clean sheet. On the flip side they probably should have won both the home and away group fixtures against Italy, having played well enough to do so. For these reasons they shouldn’t be intimidated by the French.

Another boost for the Irish should be that all the reports coming out of France suggest that they don’t fancy this fixture much and that confidence isn’t currently very high in the camp.

The French teams big names seem to be an unsettled bunch under the less than popular Raymond Domenech, I can remember during the World Cup in 2006 there seemed to be a massive lack of respect for Domenech from the senior players and Thierry Henry has been critical of the situation with the manager over the last few weeks.

If Ireland as expected go for the clean sheet and try and keep it tight the Under 2.5 goals is 8/15 with Blue Square and Paddy Power, while 0-0 is 13/2 with Sky Bet

In 90 minutes betting Ireland are 12/5 with Bet365 and most other online bookmakers. The Draw is 11/5 with Boylesports and France are 6/4 with Betfred.

To qualify for the World Cup France are favourites at 1/3 with Ladbrokes. Ireland are 13/5 with William Hill (a £25 William Hill Free Bet is available to new customers).

There are also hundreds of pounds worth of free bets available if you wish to use them for matched betting.

Congratulations New Zealand

New Zealand added their name to the growing list of teams to qualify for next years World Cup finals in South Africa with a 1-0 aggregate win over Bahrain in front of 35,194 fans in Wellington, the largest crowd ever to attend a football match in New Zealand.

They played Bahrain over two legs in a Asia/Oceania play off after winning the Oceania zone, a task made somewhat easier by Australia playing in the Asia zone after the Aussies finally got FIFA to make changes to the qualification process to make it easier for them. Thank God for FIFA’s policy of corruption!

It is the first time the Kiwi’s have made the finals since the 1982 tournament in Spain. They almost came unstuck though as with the score at 1-0 in the 50th minute Sayed Mohamed Adnan missed a penalty which would have given Bahrain a priceless away goal. In the end Rory Fallon’s headed goal in the 45th minute was enough to send New Zealand through sparking mass celebrations.

Well done to the Kiwi’s.

There are free bets available from online bookmakers if you wish to back New Zealand at the World Cup, these free bets can also be used for matched betting purposes.

Looney toon caper continues

The news Mike Ashley was going to sell the naming rights to St James’ Park made me shake my head and laugh when I first heard it, I could already hear all those Geordie fans shouting at their TV’s and radio’s at this latest apparent act of betrayal.

I then heard a disgruntled Newcastle fan on a radio station claiming that all the Geordie’s don’t shop at Sportsdirect.com as it is a down market shop not good enough for them, personally I found this remark small minded and stupid considering since Newcastle were relegated this shop has helped bankroll the club.

Here was a loyal Newcastle fan refusing to shop in the place that funds his club, the kind of loyal supporter that got Newcastle relegated by forcing the owner to stupidly sack Sam Allardyce and then last season employ a TV pundit with a rather large ego and – as Joey Barton pointed out – not a clue how to manage a football team, to try and keep them up. Who needs loyal fans like that?

When later in the day I heard that the Mecca of football – in the eyes of those small minded people too good to part with money in the shop currently bankrolling their club – was to be renamed sportsdirect@St James’ Park Stadium I couldn’t help but wonder was Mike Ashley deliberately trying to annoy the fans or was this just a practical business decision.

Not only has he pissed them off by daring to rename their beloved ground, he has then rubbed their noses in it by using his sportsdirect brand as the naming sponsor for the rest of the season.

Surely Newcastle fans should be happy to be incorperating a successful multi-million pound business into the name of their ground? The players wages have to be paid somehow, or would you rather the club to go into administration instead?

By the way, where is the money coming from to pay your hero Kevin Keegan off?

It’s time to wake up and live in the real World, you have a large wagebill, you have a large cash hole to fill since getting relegated, the money from Sky is no longer there, if selling the naming rights keeps the squad together and gets you promoted would it really be that bad?

This is a typical case of football fans wanting it both ways, they expect success but don’t want to know about the difficult decisions needing to be taken to fund it.

Slagging off Mike Ashley is not going to get you promoted or pay the wage bill, the man is funding the deficit created by your well planned relegation last season. Surely it’s time to get off the blokes back and work with him rather than against him in trying to get back in the Premier League?

After all if he pulls the plug where will you be? Remember all those loyal Geordie business men were not interested in buying their beloved club when it was up for sale.