The Football Ramble
Est 2007. The most entertaining voice in football

Ronaldo: A short tutorial

19 September 2014

In case we didn’t make it clear how we feel about O Fenomeno when he turned 38 yesterday, here’s Zlatan to take you through it. (Watch it with the sound up).

Excellent. Now everybody knows where everybody is.

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By Kelly Welles

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H/T @S_derlund

Champions League Chuntering: Why do you have to be a Hart-breaker?

18 September 2014

Bayern Munich 1-0 Manchester City

boateng

Joe’s Hart wasn’t the only thing shattered when Jerome Boateng soared into the air in the final moments of Bayern Munich’s tie vs. Manchester City last night. The irritating pretension of not celebrating a goal you’ve scored against a former club also took a pounding, but if the former City defender was expecting praise for securing the three points, he would have been sorely disappointed.

Seconds after his fly past the dug out, Boateng was strangled by manager Pep Guardiola, who is presumably leading by example in his quest for more aggressive football.

Either that, or he’s found Felix Magath’s tips for terrorising a top flight team nestling in amongst the discarded sweet wrappers and used lederhosen stowed in his desk drawer.

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Roma 5-1 CSKA Moskow

totti
According to BBC Sport, Gervinho has now scored “as many goals in one Champions League game for Roma as he did in 11 matches for Arsenal.” His two goals (not quite as impressive when you put it that way) contributed to a heavy defeat for CSKA, whose fans responded in the time honoured tradition by smashing shit up.

 

 
Come on, guys. Football meant to be fun for all concerned. Tell ‘em, Totti, there’s a lad.

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Chelsea 1-1 Schalke

Julian Draxler. Getting on it and sailing it home.

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Ajax 1-1 Paris St Germain

While this gif boasts not one, but two hugely prominent features.

FIrstly, Lasse Schone’s wonderful freekick for Ajax’s equaliser.

zlatan

The second is hidden beneath Zlatan’s right hand. RIGHT hand. We’re making no assumptions about any other prominent features he may or may not have.

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By Kelly Welles

The Patented Luke Moore Penalty Algorithm (Patent Pending)

18 September 2014

 
As you’ll be aware, the patented Luke Moore Penalty Algorithm (patent pending) was a crucial factor in your enjoyment of the World Cup.

Indeed, a recent survey concluded that 97% of the Ramble demographic would be UNABLE to continue enjoying football without access to the algorithm. Fearing that without immediate action, the game as we know it might die out, Luke spent several minutes over the summer testing and developing the algorithm, eager to play his part.

His findings were presented to an audience of respected academics in the United States, with early exit polls indicating that football is now safe.

The Football Ramble. Influencing the game. You’re welcome.

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By Kelly Welles

Champions League Chuntering: Smart casual

17 September 2014

Borussia Dortmund 2-0 Arsenal

You might be forgiven for missing the details of Borussia Dortmund’s dismantling of the Arsenal facade last night.

Tight marking, doubling up and constant pressure were the themes and all were executed with a precision that will both terrify and inspire Anderlecht and Galatasaray, who will play both sides later in the group stages.

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Arsenal’s self-expression, arguably their most reliable weapon, was stifled from the off and the stats reflect the efficiency with which Dortmund did their work.

If it wasn’t pretty on the pitch, it was even worse off it.

The match officials forgetting their shorts and having to wear the grubby ones from the bottom of the changing room cupboard was distracting enough, without Jurgen Klopp’s decision to come straight to the game from a day on the couch eating Doritos.

arsene

It was effective though. Don’t be surprised if Arsene tries something a little different for the return fixture.

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Real Madrid 5-1 FC Basel

 
Real Madrid’s poor start to the domestic season was not reflected in the opening match of their Champions League defence - the latest generation of Galacticos queuing up to take their turn in front of goal.

Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, James Rodriguez and Karim Benzema all struck to leave Basel languishing at the bottom of the table on goal difference and Cristiano contemplating the very real possibility of having to share the accolades.

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Theoretically, that means less of this…

put

... and more of this, which we’ll take all season long.

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Juventus 2-0 Malmo FF

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The Football Ramble are not impressed.

Have a word, Pirlo.

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Benfica 0-2 Zenit St Petersburg

“HELLO ROMAN? ARE YOU WATCHING?”

Andre Villas Boas’ Zenit side also enjoyed a winning start to their campaign, beating Benfica 2-0 and bringing to an end a staggering run of 51 games unbeaten.

Hulk scored on five minutes, earning an ‘I scored the first goal in a Champions League campaign’ which our fact checking dept has advised is relevant only to those who enjoy pub quizzing and ITV phone-in competitions.

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Nonetheless, his contribution to the game was roundly booed by Benfica fans upon his substitution. He was clearly mortified.

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By Kelly Welles

Flashback Football: Now you’re just showing off

16 September 2014

save

See that? That bloke diving to his right, realising he’s made a mistake, scrambling to his feet, diving to his left and making the save anyway ISN’T EVEN A KEEPER.

 
He’s Michael Tarnat, a man who began Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga fixture vs. Frankfurt in September 1999 in defence, before watching not one, but two keepers capitulate to injury and manfully stepping into the breach.

You want more?

 
When he played for Manchester City he scored this absolute blunderbuss of a free kick.

Tarnat is now a talent scout for Bayern Munich. Figures.

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By Kelly Welles

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H/T @gabeh7.

Tim Wiese: Natty or no?

16 September 2014

wiese

We all gain weight when we’re made redundant. It’s a natural human reaction.

But former Germany, Werder Bremen & Hoffenheim goalkeeper Tim Wiese has let us all down by not only gaining the correct kind of weight (muscle mass vs. fatty fatty fatster) after being given his marching orders in January, but simultaneously paving the way for a new career.

wiese 2

Apparently, Wiese, who used to look like this (above), has been approached by WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) with a view to spearheading their foray into German broadcasting.

And why not? Would you pick a fight with him?

Next week: Ade Akinfenwa applies to the Royal National Ballet.

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By Kelly Welles

Weekend Highlights: Message in a bottle

15 September 2014

A quick snurfle around the Premier League fixtures first, good Ramblers, then a nosedive into the cool, clear waters of European football.

At least that was the idea. The waters at the end of this post are anything but cool and clear. Eurgh.

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alan
Basic, Alan.

“I’m not sure he’ll be the main man, but he’ll certainly be mainer than he was at Old Trafford.”

                                    Alan Shearer on Danny Welbeck, 5Live’s Weekend Preview.

It’s lucky that Danny Welbeck’s footballing ability outweighs Alan Shearer’s grasp of the English language, isn’t it?

arsenal

The latest addition to the Wenger Boys (football’s answer to One Direction, but boasting a better barber) looked bright and bushy tailed on his debut, despite failing to score with a beautiful chip that came off the post. The final score and Pellegrini’s protestations aside, there was a sparkle about Arsenal and a sense that the opportunity is there for the one they call Welbs to become something of an Emirates icon.

He’s got time on his side. It took some geezer called Thierry Henry nine games to score his first goal for the Gunners and at the time he was mocked in the press for his wayward shooting.

Whatever happened to him?

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pard

Having been summarily banned from discussing anything to do with Newcastle United, I shall congratulate Southampton and Ronald Koeman for proving the naysayers wrong and move swiftly on to Mario Balotelli - a man who, if he continues to be bothered by defenders of the calibre of Philippe Senderos - is likely to prove them right.

lambert

Balotelli had a mare during Liverpool’s 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa, struggling to shrug off the attentions of the former Arsenal man and accumulating a grand total of 2 shots on goal - the same number as Dejan Lovren. Indeed, if we’re going to get all statty on yo ass, Super Mario currently resides at No. 304 on Squawka’s Player Rankings Index, between David Meyler and Jonathan Walters.

At least it’s not just him any more.

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gourcuff

He was probably hoping for a low key return to the first team after a string of injuries, so Yoann Gourcuff would have been delighted to have seen his pretty face badly photoshopped onto a body full of arrows before Lyon’s 2-1 over Monaco.

L’Equipe didn’t leave it there, either. If you have more time on your hands than you can reasonably handle, click on this link and you can hover over each injury to learn what it was and what date it occurred.

“Blessure à l’adducteur gauche” is a far finer way to say “hip injury” anyway, isn’t it?

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While we’re on the subject of languages we yearn to learn but can never be arsed, pastry eating lady handler Antonio Cassano may have lost the war when his Parma side were defeated 5-4 by AC Milan on Sunday, but he certainly landed a rabbit punch.

As the teams were making their way out of the tunnel, Milan defender Ignazio Abate shouted the Italian equivalent of “Come on, boys!” at his teammates.

Cassano, known across Italy for his diplomacy skills, responded with a helpful “Abate! Shut up, for fuck’s sake!”.

He’s a tool bag, isn’t he? We still love him though.

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urine
Urine not pictured. Thankfully.

If you haven’t eaten yet, best avert your eyes from this next story, which takes ‘bants’ to new and gruesome levels.

According to Swedish daily AftonBladet, a bunch of people claiming to be FC Baden fans convinced a ballboy to pass them the opposition keeper’s water bottle during their 1. Liga Classic fixture vs. Muri on Saturday. Hilariously, they refilled it using their own ‘water supply’ and passed it back, gleefully screaming “You are infected! You have AIDS!” when Reto Felder drank from it.

There’s plenty we could say about this, but quite honestly, if you need clarification on how revolting and utterly pathetic this kind of behaviour is, you probably need more help than we’re qualified to give you.

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By Kelly Welles

Jérémy Ménez: Getting the admin out of the way early

15 September 2014

Dear Mr Ibrahimovic,

We are sorry to inform you that your application for ‘Goal of the Season’ has been rejected.

Our staff have carefully reviewed your material, and while outstanding, it doesn’t come up to the standard required for this level of competition.

Thank you for your interest and we look forward to receiving further applications from you in due course.

Regards,

Football.

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By Kelly Welles

 

Aston Villa: Fear as a motivating factor

12 September 2014

keane

Surprised to see Aston Villa are third in the Premier League?

Don’t be.

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By Kelly Welles

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H/T AViD from the FR Forum.

SSC Napoli: Disappointing in denim

11 September 2014

Several Rambles ago (none of us can remember when, but 76% of us are convinced it actually happened), the Ramble discussed the viability of a full denim kit.

shirt

And while we admire Napoli for making the effort, we have to say we’re a little disappointed with the execution of their 2014/15 away ‘look’, which attempts to project the sartorial elegance of the early 80’s onto the very backs of Gonzalo Higuain and Marek Hamsik.

shorts

The kit looks fine at first glance.

socks

But the catwalk aficionados among you will immediately note that the key elements discussed during that incendiary Ramble episode (seriously, can you remember which one? We’re starting to look like dicks here), specifically the requirement that the shirt, shorts and socks should be made of denim, have not been fulfilled.

boots

And there are no boots to complete the look. We’ve had to find our own.

Ramble verdict: Must do better. Now take yer denim-lite and get in the sea. Seriously.

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By Kelly Welles

Jose Mourinho: Hitting below the hairline

11 September 2014

pep

If one enjoys what he does, one does not lose his hair. He’s got a bald head. Guardiola does not enjoy the football. “

                                                                                  Jose Mourinho on Pep Guardiola.

It’s Freud vs. Jung all over again, isn’t it?

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By Kelly Welles

Boot Porn: The ‘Nigel Tufnel’

10 September 2014

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Or to give it it’s ‘official’ name, the Puma EVOSPEED 1.3 X-RAY LE.

2

A replica of the “exact inner structure [of the foot], done in a football boot. Exactly medically accurate. See?” **

nigel

** Seriously. If you don’t know who Nigel Tufnel is, buy, rent or download yourself a copy of ‘This Is Spinal Tap’, sit back, watch it, then come back and see us. You’ll be a better person for doing it.  wink

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By Kelly Welles

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Boot images via soccerbible.

Inexplicable Photo Of The Week: Wedding Belles

10 September 2014

davro

Our crack team of investigators (me, Google, Twitter) have learned that alleged comedian Bobby Davro was a guest at Kieron Dyer’s wedding last month.

It must have been effing mental at that reception. Mental.

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By Kelly Welles

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H/T @DavidHartrick.

Diego Fagundez: Only in America. Please.

9 September 2014

gunner

In England we have Gunnersaurus, who fires gifts into the Emirates crowd with his comedy cannon.

He is rarely involved in goal celebrations but has been known to join in the odd tribute before a game. With confusing results.

 

In the United States they have the Minutemen. They wear American Revolutionary War costumes and carry muskets. When the New England Revolution score, they fire their (loaded with blanks, but still) muskets into the air.

This seems like a marvellous idea when you have players like Diego Fagundez knocking around. Mario Balotelli?

Probably not so much.

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By Kelly Welles

Lionel Messi: I owe it all to Darren Bent

9 September 2014

 

At first glance, this stunning footage (shot prior to Argentina’s friendly with the USA on March 26, 2011) of Lionel Messi scoring twice from one kick is just further confirmation that he is the finest player ever to tread god’s green turf.
 

 

Then you remember Darren Bent did it for Sunderland in a Premier League match in 2009 and you’re confronted with the possibility that, for at least thirteen seconds of his life, Lionel Messi might have been inspired to emulate the work of England’s second most unfortunate striker.

It’s a funny old game.

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By Kelly Welles

Emile Heskey: SHOOOOOOOOOOOT!

8 September 2014

Very clever, Soccer AM.

There does come a point when you’re just mocking the afflicted though, doesn’t there?

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By Kelly Welles

Weekend Highlights: Nut jobs & near misses

8 September 2014

high

So do me under the Trade Descriptions Act. See if I care.

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The teams in Group G haven’t played a competitive game yet, but a small snag like that isn’t going to keep Zlatan Ibrahimovic off the front pages.

He scored twice in Sweden’s friendly vs. Estonia, the second a typically audacious back heel that not only broke Sven Rydell’s record of 49 international goals, but completed Zlatan’s record of scoring in every sixty second period of 90 minutes.

You will remember Cristiano Ronaldo achieved this feat in February, but even the shiny Portuguese would have to admit, how Zlatan got there was infinitely more inspiring than most.

 
Even we English have managed to come to terms with that, so there’s still hope.

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In actual, meaningful, results-based football, Scotland came within a whisker of a fabulous draw against the world champions - Thomas Muller ruining the party with a 70th minute winner after Ikechi Anya’s equaliser.

Charlie Mulgrew was sent off in the final few minutes after receiving a second yellow card. I didn’t watch the game but am reliably informed neither was shown because he was waving Little Charlie about, or even pretending to. Which must be a relief to everyone.

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gib

The Polish national team proved they have no respect for essential services after trouncing a largely part-time Gibraltar side 7-0.

The Gibraltar line-up featured two police officers (not quite a Police Machine - just a wheel, or perhaps even a designer mudflap), a fireman, an electrician, a couple of clerks and a Customs dude alongside two professionals.

Robert Lewandowski scored four and wants to hope his iPad doesn’t short circuit and catch fire while he’s entering Gibraltar carrying more than a litre of Alcoholic Beverage, Spirits, liqueurs or cordials’ because no one’s going to rush and help him.

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Bet he didn’t think of that while he was dancing through the Gibraltan defence, did he?

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After the first round of fixtures, Portugal are the team most likely to be found driving to the Iberian equivalent of Dundee in their bare feet.

The Guardian described the Ronaldo-less side “slumping” to a 1-0 defeat against Albania, which shattered their “hopes of bouncing back from a miserable World Cup”.

crisps

Keep an eye on their shirt sponsors. If it changes to Toblerone for the next competitive fixture, we’re on.

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nuts

Oh, and England’s goalkeeper has ‘gone nuts’. And by ‘gone nuts’ we mean, someone at the Daily Mail presumably spotted a couple of agency photos of Joe Hart eating and flicking nuts off a balcony in Basle, went to their editor with the ‘gone nuts’ headline proposal and was not immediately fired.

Is it vaguely reassuring to learn that England Football is not the only organisation in need of a top down review? No. No it’s not.

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By Kelly Welles

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Images: @jfpenman, @mailsport, @foxsoccer.

Diego Corner: LIVE from the Vatican

5 September 2014

 
He’s not fist pumping because he met the Pope. He’s fist pumping because he got into the Vatican without attracting the attention of the Italian tax authorities.

Allegedly.

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By Kelly Welles

Rainbow Laces: Is your homophobia keeping you warm?

5 September 2014

 
While Paddy Power’s ‘Rainbow Laces’ campaign received a lot of positive coverage last year, many (including us) questioned whether encouraging top flight players to brighten up their already blinding footwear was a little low key to promote real change.

We feared that while certain players might use the campaign to ingratiate themselves with a cause they deemed worthy and popular, real solidarity and progress would only be assured if a significant number of big name players got involved.

To those supporters out there who hurl homophobic insults at players and fans from those spaces in football built on insecurity, fear and ignorance: how’s it feel in there?

Getting a bit tight now, is it?

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By Kelly Welles

CLICK HERE FOR FREE BOYFRIEND POINTS!!!

4 September 2014

thu

Pissed off your ladywoman friend?

Well, if you haven’t yet, FIFA 15 is but 20 days, 9 hours, 18 minutes and 15 seconds away, so you’re going to soon.

red2

When that happens, just show her these photos of a recent wedding in Kenya, posted by our friends over at 101greatgoals.

While you might have attempted to convince your wife-to-be that theming your wedding to your club affiliation was a brilliant idea, you didn’t/aren’t going to go through with it.

Regardless of your crime(s), next to this guy, you’re a saint.

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By Kelly Welles

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Images via redpepper.

Alfreð Finnbogason: She fell over! She fell over!

4 September 2014

 
Aside from having one of the finest names in world football, Alfreð Finnbogason was the top scorer in the Eredivisie in the 2013/14 season, and last night was set to receive an award when it all got a bit too much for him.

Same thing happened to me once, while I was doing computer games presentation for HMV. I’d smoked too many menthol cigarettes to ease my nerves and collapsed onto a flipchart.

He’s an athlete though. Unlikely to be dim enough to smoke. Or be working in retail with Christmas coming up, for that matter.

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By Kelly Welles

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H/T @simonjjames.

Sky Sports HQ: Could it be that… It’s just an illusion?

2 September 2014

prunty

Now that the yellow smoke has cleared and Jim White has been encased in carbonite for the next six months, you’re ready to take a breath and focus on the hundreds of big money, potentially season-changing moves made in the transfer window.

falc

You heard each voice rise an octave as it breathlessly relayed information about planes potentially landing at Manchester Airport, lower-tier Premier League clubs making audacious bids for ex-Spanish superkids and trying desperately to remember something, anything, about Micah Richards’ career.

You watched footage of expensively customised sports cars driving at speed in and out of training grounds and presenters visibly questioning their career paths as the day progressed and the crowds behind them swelled to proportions that usually attract the attention of the riot police. You’ll have noted the colour co-ordinated accessories the presenters were wearing and thought to yourself:

“It must have been massive, surely?”

keys

Oh you poor neophyte, you. But who can blame you? Say what you like about Sky Sports, but they are masters of sleight of hand and illusion. A finely oiled propaganda machine with controls set specifically to the task of making you believe that the product they are shilling is so bloody SHINY!!!! EXCITING!!!! ESSENTIAL!!!! SUPER!!!! LIFE-CHANGING!!! that you can’t survive without it. Richard Keys’ entire career is a testament to their capacity for diabolical delusion.

And in that regard, they played a blinder, giving the rest of us something to exercise out mocking chops on for days, if not weeks, to come.

They managed to spin out a vague rumour involving a prolific Colombian striker’s move to a Premier League club desperately in need of some defensive muscle for over nine hours.

burnley

They made George Boyd’s repeated walks across a car park looked decisive and purposeful.

They induced mild peril by allowing a load of baby Arsenal fans to play on the opposite side of a main road.

dildo

They wilfully expose their journalists to a barrage of verbal abuse, jostling and one fingered salutes in the hope that eventually, some pillock might stick a dildo, a rubber doll or a rude word in their unsuspecting ear, knowing that it will spread as efficiently on social media as unauthorised photos of celebs in the nud.

stram

But our grudging admiration has a limit. Did they mention Spurs’ capture of Montpellier defensive midfielder Benji Stambouli, who really looks like a young Andrea Pirlo (sans beard)? No.

Was there more than a tacit acknowledgement of the fact that the Rambler’s Official ManCrush, Niko Kranjcar, has returned to the familiar auspices of Harry Redknapp’s mobile dressing room, currently located at Loftus Road? Nope.

kranj

Did they offer due coverage to players with ace names like Rakish Bingham who went from Wigan to Mansfield on a free or Yanic Wildschut who trod the well worn path from Heerenveen to Middlesbrough?

No, they didn’t, Ramblers. They might have a clothing budget, a proper studio and unfeasibly big iPads but we know what you really want and we’ll continue giving to you.

Right in the ear, yeah?

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By Kelly Welles

In Numbers: The Mathieu Valbuena Height Differential

2 September 2014

valbuena

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Height: 5 feet 5¾ inches

Ligue 1 Title x 1
League Cup x 3
Champions Trophy x 1
Most Assists In A Season x 1
International Caps x 38

Number of times we suspect he’s been told he’s too small to be a footballer x 8704 and counting.

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By Kelly Welles

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Image via @lanadawood

Weekend Highlights: And it was all… yellow

1 September 2014

gazbo
The gazebo in the car park of live football.

I’ll level with you. I’m writing this with half an eye on Sky Sports Transfer Deadline Day.

So far I know that Radamel Falcao is/might be in and around a plane to Manchester airport, Harry Redknapp is at QPR’s training ground (presumably testing car windows for speed of descent and comfort) and self-awareness (like Falcao) is a foreign concept to array of anchormen and women pointing and poking at incongruously large electronic screens.

yellow

If they had even a jot of the stuff, they wouldn’t still be finding humour in Adam Leventhal’s yellow socks as they move into their fourth hour of broadcasting.

I’m not. And neither is Gary Cotterill.

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The Most Envied League In The World™

Even Pardew, a known abuser of the elderly, knows better than to approach Warnock.

It’s as you were in the Premier League, with Manchester United drawing against supposedly inferior opposition, Diego Costa scoring, Arsenal paying the price for want of an experienced goal scorer and mayhem breaking out in the vicinity of Neil Warnock.

balo

Mario Balotelli had a debut to forget, but Liverpool showed their mettle anyway, beating Spurs 3-0 and leaving Mauricio Pochettino with some work to do. Last week’s 4-0 win over QPR offered Spurs fans hope that the former Southampton manager had turned alchemist and found a way to make £100m worth of football talent work together on a pitch, but it looks as though a little more time with the Bunsen burner might be required if they’re going to trouble the top four.

Chelsea are top after three wins out of three, while Swansea City are breathing down their necks on goal difference alone. Two draws and a heavy defeat to the aforementioned Swans put West Brom in the bottom three alongside Crystal Palace and Burnley.

Everywhere Else

schalke

Schalke picked up a handy point against all-conquering talent beasts Bayern Munich at the weekend, but despite the presence of new signing Xabi Alonso, the most excitement was to be had off the pitch.

The German club, whose nickname is The Miners due to their historical links with the local mining community, have transformed their tunnel into what is effectively a mine entrance. This is a lovely idea unless you’re a local miner, in which case the stadium tour you booked a few weeks ago is going to be very disappointing indeed.

Pretty stunning for the rest of us, though. Amazing what a bit of imagination can do to brighten up a subterranean journey , eh London Underground?

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Real Madrid’s insistence that pink is the colour of fear took a blow last night as Real Sociedad came back from two goals down to beat the Champions League winners 4-2.

francis

Like Gerry Francis’ hair, Madrid are absolutely terrifying at the front with innumerable options available, but the back has suffered through a chronic lack of attention over the years.

Madrid were two up within fifteen minutes, Sergio Ramos and Gareth Bale scoring early, but Sociedad were on terms by half time after goals from Inigo Martinez and David Zurutuza. Zurutuza put them ahead on ‘65 before Arsenal Hall of Famer Carlos Vela secured the win with a roofer.

Not a chip, sadly.

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By Kelly Welles

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H/T @IdleandWild

Xabi Alonso: Mixing the grape & the grain

1 September 2014

xabi

Xabi Alonso was in Munich for approximately fifteen seconds before he was manhandled into a cupboard, forced into a pair of lederhosen, had a beer glass stuffed into his sweaty little hand and was thrust into a throng of excitable footballers for a photo session.

bantz 2

The shoot for Bayern Munich sponsors Paulaner was far removed from the demure GQ ads the midfielder was used to in his role as cultured midfield maestro for Real Madrid, but he appeared to cope well with the lad bants that beer, shorts, checked shirts & the involvement that Bastian Schweinsteiger invariably bring.

bantz

And while Bayern only managed a 1-1 draw with Schalke in the second game of the Bundesliga season, we anticipate that given time, he’ll find his feet (currently clad in traditional Bavarian Haferl shoes) and take the young ‘uns under his wing.

gotze

Y’see? Like a ginger bearded, unfeasibly hot duck to water.

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By Kelly Welles

Cristiano Ronaldo: Orange is the new black

29 August 2014

orange

Quote:

“Everyone can see, make their own judgements, the people in the world of football are intelligent. It would be a very interesting question for him. I cannot be honest about it.”

“If I said everything that I think, I would be in prison.”

                                          Cristiano Ronaldo on his rivalry with Lionel Messi.

Is he TRYING to force someone into staging an intervention? Seriously?

Although, to be fair, that colour really does bring out his eyes.

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By Kelly Welles

Karim Benzema vs. Captain Slow

29 August 2014

 
It’s a trope of motoring show Top Gear that James May never beats anyone or wins anything.

His nickname is Captain Slow, he’s famously cautious when it comes to vehicle selection (where rules allow, he will always select a Volvo for challenges) and notoriously awful at utilising the allure afforded to him by fame and proximity to Jeremy Clarkson.

 
On every measurable scale, Karim Benzema should thrash James May.

But as you can see from the above clip, the Real Madrid forward made a rookie mistake when arriving at training in his black and chrome Bugatti Veyron. One hand on the steering wheel, the other probing his expensive teeth, he wanted to appear as though he couldn’t have cared less whether he was driving £2m worth of supercar or a milkfloat.

You’ve just shilled that much money on a car engineered, crafted and designed to be the most powerful, beautiful means of transport on this planet and you don’t care?

 
You’re a prat, Benzema. May might be jiggling around in an orange jumpsuit, but at least he’s getting something from the experience.

Take some tips from the newly crowned Captain Cool. You could use them.

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By Kelly Welles

The centre back has replaced the goalkeeper! They think it’s all over…

28 August 2014

moti

Our stringent editorial policy wouldnt usually allow for two stories on the same subject on the same day, but those standards drop like Mirko Vucinic’s shorts when goalkeepers are involved.

 
If you weren’t watching last night’s Champions League qualifier between Ludogorets Razgrad and Steaua Bucharest, you won’t know that Razgrad’s keeper, Vladislav Stoyanov, was sent off in the final minute of extra time.

Seconds before the game, then 1-1 on aggregate, went to penalties.

In a coincidence that sent all experienced Ramblers into paroxysms of joy, all three substitutions had been made and Razgrad centreback Cosmin Moti was forced to don the jersey.

After coolly knocking in the first penalty.

He saved two penalties, propelling his side into the Champions League proper and prompting us to question why his childhood dreams should be fulfilled and not ours.

The cheery dancing git.

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By Kelly Welles

Volkan Demirel: In the air tonight

28 August 2014

 
They’re used to blokes getting overexcited and trying to plant things in inappropriate places at Fenerbahçe, but eyebrows were still raised on Monday when goalkeeper Volkan Demirel launched his crotch at hapless pelanty taker Felipe Melo after he skied the decisive strike in the Turkish Supercup.

After initially making a dart to his left post, Demirel took a decent run up and smashed Melo with his hips. It’s unclear quite what he was trying to do, but we can confirm that Melo’s face bore none of the hesitation marks the centre circle of the Şükrü Saracoğlu stadium did after Souness and his infamous insertion.

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Former Chelsea and Liverpool midfielder Raul Meireles celebrated Fener’s win in a much more respectful manner. By posting a picture of his ruddy great beard next to the trophy.

Better.

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By Kelly Welles

Manchester United: Glazed & Confused

27 August 2014

moyes

It depends on your perspective really.

If Manchester United have been the bane of your life since you became aware of football, it’s tough not to revel in their sudden collapse. If you’re a United fan who knows nothing but success, it’s virtually impossible not to question the entire fabric of your existence.

If you’re David Moyes, your currency in the job market rises with every conceded goal, mistimed pass and manager signing autographs after a 4-0 hammering by a League One side. If you’re Louis van Gaal, the exact opposite is true.

di maria

If you’re Angel Di Maria, Marcos Rojo, Ander Herrera or Luke Shaw, it’s difficult to figure out how the luxury liner you just stepped aboard turned into a leaky, rudderless rowing boat while you were having your medical.

But whatever category you happen to fall into, don’t get comfortable. As we all know, Manchester United have been in decline for sometime. Fans have been complaining about the lack of investment in their club since before Ferguson retired, and while the Glazers have been keeping a fairly low profile recently, the amount of fundage they are eking out of the club in the form of interest payments, share issues and all manner of complex financial finagling continues to rise.

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But while a resurgence of the green and gold protest movement is virtually a certainty, United’s form over the next few months is not.

Yes, the club responsible for some of the most awe-inspiring (if thoroughly bloody irritating) moments in recent football history currently look as though they’ve just been introduced to one another and the concept of kicking a ball in anger, but shortly after his appointment, Louis van Gaal said it would take at least three months to sort the team out and given his track record, it isn’t entirely implausible that he could do so.

He may as well not have bothered saying it, of course. Big clubs don’t get time to perform structural repairs in English football, and even if the press acknowledge a ‘transitional phase’, a manager better be smart enough to make the necessary adjustments while retaining some sort of form. We all know the drill.

The press scent blood in the water (and the opportunity to assert their ‘influence’ on the game), the pressure mounts as results fail to improve, the board are cornered in shallow water and forced to sacrifice an appendage. The manager is sacked, the press is temporarily sated and the whole cycle starts again.

buccs

Which is precisely why the Glazer family, whose lack of interest in club affairs is frequently cited by fans as the reason why they’re in this predicament in the first place, may turn out to be Manchester United’s saving grace. They’re unlikely to be as vulnerable to the whims of the English press from their Florida base, particularly since they’re currently copping a ton of heat about their handling of their other sporting franchise, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Where another club might bow to the pressure, they might just ignore the calls for van Gaal’s head and afford him that rarest of football commodities. Time to implement his philosophy.

Of course, he might fail. He might be out before Christmas. And that may well be in the interest of neutrals who spent last night rolling around on the living room carpet as the goals piled up at Stadium MK. You might think it was bad before, but can you imagine (with all the love in the world, United fans, you know it’s ruddy true) what they’ll be like if van Gaal does engineer some sort of miracle? 

It doesn’t bear thinking about.

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By Kelly Welles

Weekend Highlights: Are you Havenaar laugh?

26 August 2014

pete

If this is a terrible round-up of the weekend’s action, just bear in mind that I didn’t set the standard.

That was Pete Donaldson, who, when asked to sign a t-shirt for a gentleman’s birthday pressie, drew a penis.

Do you see?

Saturday 23rd August 2014, Goodison Park, 7.15pm

Despite a horrible collapse at the end of last season, an FA Cup triumph and a bright performance in the Community Shield gave Arsenal fans reason for optimism.

Apparently, they were so disconcerted by this, the club immediately took steps to restore the more familiar climate of fear & loathing at the Emirates; first by failing to augment their strike force, then swerving perilously close to losing their opening league matches.

Saturday 23rd August 2014, Goodison Park, 7.17pm

The resulting mess ensures that the welcoming committee for Besiktas on Wednesday will include one broken Frenchman, an unconvincing youngster with a hamstring strain, a Chilean who, while incredible, has yet to feel his way into the team and Lukas Podolski, assuming he’s not out assaulting the elderly again.

Everyone is happier for it, though. The press can compile a list of players Arsene should have bought, the club are under huge pressure to sign someone before Jim White draws the transfer curtains and they have a proper fixture with Manchester City coming up soon.

The perpetual fear is like a warm, comforting duvet now, isn’t it?

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spurs

Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs sit comfortably astride the top of the Premier League table after handing former manager Harry Redknapp’s QPR an undignified battering upon his return to White Hart Lane.

But while Redders Snr headed home for a plate of pasta and a chat with Sandra, fans of other teams challenging for Champions League places were left pondering the horrifying (to them) possibility that Spurs might actually get their shiz together this season.

boas

It’s a little early to be casting judgement on a team’s sustainability, but lest we forget, the club made some significant purchases before Andre Villas Boas’ knees finally buckled and if, as it would appear from their first two performances, Pochettino is capable of teasing a bit of form from them, Spurs could be a force to be reckoned with.

A rare yet unifying joy for Manchester United and Arsenal fans there.

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di maria

Shut your noise! Facking old caaant!”

Meanwhile, over in La Liga, Angel Di Maria wished coach Carlo Ancelotti a hearty farewell before jumping on a plane to negotiate the inordinately large paycheck digging Manchester United out of trouble will require.

Will Madrid miss him? It’s hard to say, but fans might have been a little disappointed by the 2-0 scoreline, given that opponents Cordoba were promoted after finishing seventh in the Segunda division last season.

Perhaps Cristiano Ronaldo was distracted by the fact he did not win his own personal ‘Most Handsome Man on the Pitch’ contest for the 276th consecutive match.

havenaar

That honour goes to former Vitesse and current Japan/Cordoba striker Mike Havenaar, whose cheekbones are enough to send even the most heterosexual of men running for their secret stash of Niko Kranjcar ‘research’ photos.

JUST LOOK AT HIS FACE!

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barca

In Barcelona, Lionel Messi scored twice and a black cat strayed onto the pitch. We can only assume the Ghanaian witch doctor that tried to nobble Ronaldo is involved and would urge everyone to keep a watchful eye on Lionel Messi’s fitness.

And Luis Suarez’s gob.

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Speaking of biting satire (sorry), spare a thought for Bari’s Giuseppe De Luca, who was both bitten by an opponent and sent off at the weekend. Apparently the striker was mildly perturbed by Gianmario Comi’s friendly nuzzle and failed to remain calm was explaining what had happened to the ref.

He was red carded and had to watch Comi score an equaliser and his team, Avellino, go on and win the tie.

That may come up in the ref’s review.

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By Kelly Welles

Andrea Pirlo: Unlikely to become impressed any time soon, either

26 August 2014

 
Juve’s latest social media campaign requires you to impress Andrea Pirlo with your skills.

Given that he remains unmoved by an axe balancer, an opera singer and a couple of flirty surfers, it’s highly unlikely that staring intently into his eyes before dribbling all over his smart Jeep trackie top and collapsing into a heap at his feet is going to impress football’s official arbiter of cool.

Effectively rules us out then, doesn’t it?

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By Kelly Welles

Bayern Munich: Entertainment oversight

22 August 2014

friends

Bayern Munich today released the annual mirth-fest that it is their store’s merchandise catalogue.

Included among the usual array of baffling products (Bayern duck, anyone?) this ‘Football Friends Album’ is available for the bargain price of £7.96.

jay

We can only assume The Inbetweeners hasn’t made it as far as the Bayern Munich marketing department. 

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By Kelly Welles

The Day The Banter Died

22 August 2014

m

Passed over. Expired. Kicked the bucket. Jumped the shark. Whatever.

It finishes here.

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By Kelly Welles

Matilde Mourinho: Cheers, Dad!

21 August 2014

 
Your ears do not deceive you. After thanking Didier Drogba for his nomination through gritted teeth, Jose Mourinho nominates Bryan Adams, James McEvoy and his own daughter to do the Ice Bucket Challenge.

It’s not an act, is it? He really is a bit of a mental.

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By Kelly Welles

Football Manager: C’est Magnifique!

21 August 2014

shiteraw

Being clever types who probably know more about football than all of us put together, most of you will be familiar with the concept of Football Manager regens.

dunc

For those too busy/lazy/baffled to have time for an online career in football management, regens are “youth players created by the game to replace retiring players. Every team gets a youth intake once per season, effectively making the game endless.” (H/T Wilko!)

bent

Why do you care?

Well, as we know from Puma’s recent marketing gaffe, computers don’t yet pick up the hilarity available in some combinations of letters, and while most FM regens enjoy conventional names, the occasional beauty is thrown up.

lubo

This post is but a small selection.

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By Kelly Welles

H/T @HEGS_com.

Fantasy Football: A warning to you all

20 August 2014

marilyn

If you have, or were planning to have, a crack at fantasy football this season, please ensure you read the small print.

jj

According to the mighty deadspin.com, a gent named Henry Stern failed to do this, came last in the league and was required to recreate a number of iconic images in his pants.

mom

The result is this utterly brilliant calendar, which Henry popped onto his Instagram page, confirming what an all round good chap he is.

tennis

It has actually given me an idea for a Ramble fundraiser too.

I’ll need a camera, an electric cattle prod, four glittery thongs and several pints of natural yoghurt.

miley

Should all be in Pete’s holdall. I’ll keep you posted as to my progress. wink

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By Kelly Welles

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Images via Instagram.

The Football Ramble Corner(s) of the Week

20 August 2014

Best use of a corner flag as prop since Lee Sharp’s Elvis impersonator…

 

 
or Keisuke Honda’s attempt to pass the ball to Felix Baumgartner?

It’s tough to pick a winner from these two gloriously squandered set pieces, but between them, Ashley Young’s avian incursion and Santi Cazorla’s vanishing face, we can only conclude it’s going to be an epic season.

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By Kelly Welles

Puma Marketing Dept 0 Football Fans 1

19 August 2014

In theory, it was a fantastic idea.

Visualise them sitting around a polished glass table in Puma Marketing HQ and you can almost see the heads nodding and soft hands clapping as the newly sacked Ideas Guru presented the latest initiative to engage punters with the brand and its principal players.

reus

“Get them to tweet us the name of a player using the hashtag #fastergraph.” Ideas Guru said, running a moist finger tip over a neatly coiffed eyebrow. “We’ll send ‘em back an image made out to them. The players can be involved, the fans get a personalised gift. It’ll be brilliant.”

reus1

It only became apparent how brilliant when when a bunch of nefarious fans figured out how to exploit the flaws in the technology.

falcao

Thank you Mr Cocaine, Mr IsWank and Ms IsBetter. Your work here, like that of the Puma Ideas Guru, is done.

kun

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By Kelly Welles

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Images via buzzfeed, thedrum, independent.

Richard Keys: ‘Funny Bloke’

19 August 2014

 
He must be getting sick of this now.

Unfortunately for him, the rest of the world is not.

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By Kelly Welles

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Via @Vine_Football.

Weekend Results: Tony Pulis will have two-footed the telly!

18 August 2014

And with that statement, made after Crystal Palace conceded to bring Arsenal level in Saturday’s late kick-off, Gary Neville captured the thrilling unpredictability and outright lunacy thrown up during the opening weekend of the Premier League.

Well, most of it anyway.

With David Moyes gone, it seemed like aerial threats had, for the time being, been suspended from the skies above Old Trafford. Unfortunately for Ashley Young, this time it wasn’t (just) the fans showing their displeasure at a fairly lacklustre performance, but the local wildlife too, and while speculation abounds as to whether a bird did actually crap in his mouth or not, it’s a fairly damning indictment of the current situation at Old Trafford.

Congratulations must go to Swansea City, who didn’t allow the change of regime at Manchester United, not to mention an excellent pre-season, to distract from the fact that the Reds were eminently beatable at home last season and despite Louis van Gaal’s tactical switch ups, still looked unconvincing and disorganised, especially at the back.

va

If he wants to be optimistic, van Gaal now has the opportunity to prove his worth as a manager. He’s going to have to identify the players he needs, convince them to join a club without Champions League football for the foreseeable future, and sort out all the ones he’s got, all with the press watching him like a hawk, the precedent of Moyes/Woodward transfer farrago hanging in the air.

Let’s hope he can stay out of their line of fire, eh?

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One embarrassing squirt in and around the face is an accident. Two looks like a campaign of terror against overpaid footballers.

We honestly thought it would take longer than five hours for someone in the Premier League to make a mockery of Sky’s latest promotional tagline, The Most Envied League In The World™. In retrospect, it’s obvious. We never cope with the implementation of any technology well (see also: J.Pearce, Goal Line Technology) and with all the attention surrounding the unholstering of the vanishing spray in our elite domestic league, something was bound to go horribly wrong.

Cheers John Moss. At least we got it out of the way early.

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Other things likely to cause long term damage to the eyesight included Remy Cabella’s hair, Lee Cattermole’s fifth minute strike to put Sunderland ahead against West Brom and for West Ham fans in particular, Mark Noble’s first half penalty miss, which, when viewed in conjunction with débutante Eric Dier’s 90th minute strike, looks all the more horrendous.

Still, at least Sam Allardyce is in familiar territory. The Hammers are currently bottom of the table after that frustrating defeat, with Stoke & Newcastle United keeping them warm. At the other end, Manchester City are top, with Arsenal and Liverpool bringing up the rear. Leicester City are ninth after a 2-2 draw with Everton but The Nuge didn’t score so we’re not sure if it counts.

He doesn’t seem to think so.

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By Kelly Welles

Fred: On and on and on and on and on and on…

18 August 2014

 
We’re getting close to a YouTube montage situation here, people. I’m thinking a choice selection of World Cup misses interspersed with panoramic face palms and the now notorious sadface on the bench, all soundtracked by The Longpigs heart wrenching ode to never-ending pain : On and On.

This penalty miss deserves a looping crescendo, wouldn’t you say?

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By Kelly Welles

Ashley Cole: Taking part & joining in

15 August 2014

ash

WATCH THE VIDEO HERE.

He’s moved to an Italian club, featured in a brilliant internet meme that shows no sign of abating and now, seconds prior to dumping a bucket of iced water on his head, called for ex-Chelsea team mates John Terry and Didier Drogba to do the same.

If Ashley Cole carries on like this, it’s going to be increasingly difficult to justify our enmity towards him, it really is.

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By Kelly Welles

The Football Factory: YOU are the product

15 August 2014

walk

Got a ticket for a game this weekend? What did it cost you?

If you’re planning to attend a Premier League fixture, chances are you’re at least thirty quid lighter. Significantly more if you’re visiting a Category A match, not planning on fasting for the day or walking to the stadium. Even a ticket for a lowly League 2 fixture can come in at around twenty of yer English.

Not a lot in the grand scheme of things, but that’s a lot of cash out of a family budget to chuck away on leisure. Especially when half the time you come away wishing you’d fallen in love with another sport entirely.

crowd
Arsenal vs. Birmingham City, 1933.

With football in its current form beginning life as a distraction from the hideous realities of manufacturing work during the Industrial Revolution, it’s ironic that in 2014, research by Sheffield Hallam university has posited that ordinary fans are now more likely to be of a “higher social class” because of the expense involved in attendance.

Dan Plumley told the Telegraph: “The profile of football fans is changing in the modern game as more affluent people are now watching more football games in stadiums and clubs.”

banner
Not so Manic, now.

Around a hundred football fans marched to Premier League HQ ahead of a Football Supporters Federation meeting with Chief Executive Richard Scudamore yesterday, in order to promote their initiative for a cap on ticket prices for Premier League away fixtures. At present, the criteria for away ticket prices is decided by the home team but the FSF believes away fans should be paying no more than £20 per fixture - with clubs subsiding prices from the ever increasing TV revenues.

A Guardian survey published in 2013 showed that English top flight football is the most expensive of the elite European leagues. It compared the cost of the cheapest and most expensive tickets available in the Bundesliga, Serie A, La Liga and Premier League, and while La Liga wins the price for the most expensive single ticket (£121.87), you can still get into top flight games in Germany, Italy and Spain for less that it costs in England. This is with predicted TV revenue for the clubs of £5.5billion between 2013 and 2016.

According to the Liverpool Echo, a similar FSF march last year “led to the creation of the Away Fans Fund, which saw each Premiership club handed £200,000 to subsidise away ticket prices”, but this small success is counterbalanced by the news that eleven of the twenty current Premier League clubs have raised the price of their cheapest season ticket more expensive.

This implies a truth not many football fans will be happy to face, but that most of us have long suspected. That the football clubs we love no longer have our best interests at heart and while people are still buying tickets, they will continue to increase prices until demand drops off.

For the record, the FSF have already stated they don’t believe in boycotting matches, claiming that, “It’s our game, we were here before the owners came and we’ll be here after they’ve gone.”

It’s a lovely sentiment, for sure. One we’d all like to buy into. But like football being a distraction for the masses, it’s one that increasingly feels as though it belongs to another age and time.

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By Kelly Welles

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Images via National Media Museum, Liverpool Echo.

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Have a look at the FSF’s work here.

The Life & Times of: Bafétimbi Gomis

14 August 2014

The latest in an occasional series, during which we gently peel back the veneer of professional respectability a footballer has built up (or not, in the case of Sammy Ameobi) to reveal what kind of an impact ‘living the dream’ has upon the human psyche.

Friends of football, enemies of sartorial elegance, fans of Swansea City, please welcome Bafétimbi Gomis!

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clothing

Forewarned is forearmed, as they say, and the first thing you need to know about the ex-Lyon striker is that he has a rich and varied history of upsetting clothing.

mous

He’s versatile too. When dressed like a normal human being, he retains his ability to terrify small children using just his facial hair alone.

bafe naked

But don’t for a moment think he’s obsessed. Indeed, Bafé has been identified by several media organisations one unreliable writer as the Premier League player most likely to appear naked behind Gary Monk while he’s being interviewed.

dent

But it’s not all fun and games. Bafé is a responsible adult, keen to highlight the importance of good dental hygiene…

car

...and the dangers of irresponsible driving.

mascot

While on the pitch, unless he improves upon his goal record for Lyon (0.35 goals per game) goal celebrations are unlikely to form a large part of Bafé‘s legend.

Which will undoubtedly come as a great relief to Cyril the Swan.

Welcome to the Premier League, Bafster! We look forward to a long and fruitful relationship with your social network accounts!

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By Kelly Welles

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Images via facebook.

Clint Dempsey: You want a Deuce with that?

12 August 2014

Rap aficionado. Banger of G’s. Knotter of pockets. Exchanger of shirts with kids for handfuls of popcorn.

Stop it with the awesome, Clint. You’re killing us.

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By Kelly Welles

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Via the very excellent mlssoccer.com.

 

“Jurgen Klopp’s Wedding Photo”

12 August 2014

klopp

Published on Squawka’s Twitter feed yesterday, this photo of Jurgen Klopp with the Dortmund mascot is, at best, vaguely amusing.

Mostly because Jurgen Klopp is in it.

With @iamscassidy’s caption (post title), it instantly becomes everything that is right with modern football.

Hat well and truly tipped, as they say.

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By Kelly Welles

In and around: The Football League

11 August 2014

oyston

How selfless of ‘Super’ Karl Oyston.

Without his sterling work over the last few weeks, we’d be sitting here now with no idea how farcical it would look if someone forgot to tell the chairman of a Championship football club when the season kicks off.

How utterly humiliating it would be for everyone involved, especially the manager, to issue a team sheet that’s two players light because no one remembered they needed to be registered.

How unsettling it would be for fans to watch the custodians of their club - a club that just four years ago was competing in the Premier League - engage in embarrassing public spats over who owns what and accusations of financial irregularities and asset stripping.

oyston

And for those of us who aren’t Blackpool fans but football fans, the knowledge that all of this is taking place with the tacit approval of the FA, because their ‘Fit & Proper Person’ test is, as we’ve long suspected, as efficient at seeking out and eliminating undesirables as blind, pensionable Bloodhound with a streaming cold.

That’s why Karl Oyston is on holiday. Not because he thought the league season begins this week, like a lot of people who purport to ‘like football’. But because he’s done us all a favour. We’d all be striding ignorantly through the weekend otherwise.

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psycho

Is that why Stuart Pearce spent so long milling about in the tunnel before emerging to a rapturous crowd at the City Ground? Under the circumstances (including the fact that he’s still ‘ironing out’ the details of his relationship with club chairman Fawaz Al Hasawi) anything other than a solid performance would have been a disaster.

As it was, Forest were able to hold Blackpool off until they faded and scored two in five minutes to secure their first three points of the season. How long it’s going to be before Blackpool can do the same is anyone’s guess.

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magath

Elsewhere, Bournemouth stormed to the top of the Championship table with a 4-0 battering of Huddersfield, who dispensed with the services (with the disconcertingly vague ‘by mutual consent’ epithet firmly in place, of course) of Mark Robins shortly afterwards. He therefore wins the annual Manager’s Sack Race at a canter, which will be of great comfort to him.

Ipswich Town made Fulham look thoroughly unprepared for life in the league by beating them 2-1 while Middlesbrough continued their good run of form under Aitor Kuranka with a 2-1 win over Birmingham. Birmingham manager Lee Clark said afterwards: “I have total belief in the players and we can bounce back,” which is unlikely to fill the faithful with confidence.

mcd

Brian McDermott was unavailable for comment after Leeds United slumped to a 2-0 defeat at Millwall, but we presume it wasn’t the worst day of his life.

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don

In League One, Doncaster Rovers threw off the disappointment of missing out on becoming part of the One Direction asset portfolio, by beating Yeovil 3-0.

Former Middlesbrough striker Curtis Main scored on debut for Rovers, with Harry Forrester and Theo Robinson also getting on the sheet, while MK Dons got off to an horrific start - conceding two to Gillingham at home before scoring four unanswered goals in the second half and storming to victory. They are second. 

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chelte

League Two is where many of the Ramble’s ‘associated teams’ ply their trade, and it’s fair to say it was a weekend of mixed results. Portsmouth drew 1-1 at Exeter City while Pete Donaldson’s Hartlepool (now their official title) lost 1-0 to Graham Westley’s Stevenage.

Cheltenham Town (my hometown club, don’t ‘cha know) beat Bury 1-0, but lost new signing Asa Hall to injury after eight minutes and forced players to pose with Whaddney The Robin.

It’s going to be like that, is it?

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By Kelly Welles

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Images via fulhamfc.com, Twitter, Facebook.

Diego Maradona: A system of… Headslapping

11 August 2014

 
At least he put the kid down first. Perhaps he’s mellowing with age.

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By Kelly Welles

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H/T The Secret Journalist.

Newsflash! Actual news is happening!

8 August 2014

friends

Today there’s simply too much news to ignore in favour of sarcastic caption posts, so here’s a quick round-up.

You’re welcome.

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In transfer news, BBC Sport confirmed that Arsenal have accepted a bid of £15m for defender Thomas Vermaelen, while Liverpool continue to nonchalantly circle PSG’s Edinson Cavani.

Southampton have had an audacious £9.5m bid for Argentina and Sporting Lisbon left back Marcos Rojo rejected but another World Cup starlet, DeAndre Yedlin, looks close to 2.75m deal with Spurs.

The Real Madrid dragnet continues through international waters, relentlessly hoovering everything pretty enough into its already overpopulated hold.

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thong

Someone must be smiling over Ronny Deila. His Celtic side received an unlikely reprieve in the Champions League after a UEFA disciplinery board investigation confirmed that opponents Legia Warsaw had fielded and ineligible player in the second leg of their qualification fixture. Celtic lost the fixture 6-1 but were awarded a 3-0 victory for the game Bartosz Bereszynski played in, resulting in an aggregate scoreline of 4-4, and the Bhoys squeaking through to the play-offs on away goals.

They’ll be underpant dancing on the streets of Glasgow tonight, Ramblers!

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boyband

Once the admin had been sorted out, the play-off draw could take place. The Wenger Boys (eat your heart out One Direction) will play Besiktas and Celtic have got Maribor but the two most interesting ties involve clubs from outside the UK. Ligue 1’s Lille will face Porto, while Rafa Benitez’ Napoli will have to work out a way past a notoriously awkward Athletic Bilbao.

The Europa League play-off ties were announced next - highlights included Spurs vs. AEL Limassol while Hull City’s reward for beating AS Trencin is a tie against Belgium’s Lokeren.

For the full draw, click here.

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ravel1

Since Bite-gate, there’s been a lot of speculation in the media about what it would actually take for a player to make himself unemployable. Thankfully we should have an answer soon, as Ravel Morrison appears to be on a personal crusade to do exactly that.

This week the former Manchester United noodle has been remanded for threatening to throw acid in a former girlfriend’s face and blow up her home. The Guardian stated that he was initially “arrested and charged with two counts of common assault after allegedly punching and slapping Reah Mansoor and her mother Parveen Mansoor” after a night out in Salford..

ravel

Upon release from Strangeways (presumably in case anyone had mistaken him for an idiotic thug and not an extremely wealthy, talented and fortunate young man) he posed in an Arsenal shirt, effectively throwing West Ham supporters’ faith in him back in their faces.

We’ll keep you updated on his quest for infamy. It won’t be long now.

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suarez

Meanwhile, ole’ Toothy himself is at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland for an appeal against his fourth month ban from “all footballing activity” for biting Giorgio Chiellini. At the time of publication no verdict has been reported.

Probably still chewing it over.

Ahem.

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By Kelly Welles

Claire Lavogez: Kicking like a girl

8 August 2014

 
Chip and a punt?

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By Kelly Welles

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H/T @TifoMagazine.

The Return of the Ramble Live!

7 August 2014

luke

Some months ago, the Football Ramble unleashed themselves on the Arcola Theatre, Olde London Town for the first ever Ramble Live experience.

Once the smoke had cleared, the smears of yoghurt had been pressure washed off the floor and the butcher’s grass carefully placed back into its chilled cabinet, the boys were surprised (and delighted) to discover that not only had it been a great success, but you lot were clamouring for more.

Your wish is our command. We’re delighted to announce that on Sunday October 12th, Marcus, Luke, Jim and Pete will be unleashing their special brand of football-based ‘entertainment’ on the Prince Charles Cinema, 7 Leicester Place (just off Leicester Sq), London, and you could be there to watch it unfold.

Tickets are available, priced at £11 for members and £13.50 for non-members, here, and given the staggering rate at which they sold last time, it’d probably be in your interest to snap yours up sooner rather than later.

Now will you stop complaining about our summer hiatus?

Will you hell.  But we love you all anyway.

BUY TICKETS FOR THE FOOTBALL RAMBLE: LIVE ON SUNDAY 12th OCTOBER

Michael Owen: Don’t stop ‘til you get enough

7 August 2014

 
You thought that Michael Owen’s outrageous and frequently hilarious hubris had retired with him, didn’t you?

You were wrong. The man who shook the world (in his day) was having a kick about with Conference Premier side Chester FC when struck the ball into the goal so hard, the net needed fixing.

Did you get that? He hit it so hard, THE NET NEEDED FIXING. OKAY?

Good. As you were.

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By Kelly Welles

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H/T @waatp.

Cristiano Ronaldo and the non-committal facial fitness shill

7 August 2014

sag

Really, Cristiano?

 
Are you sure?

Because while we’re certain the aforementioned sagging is high on your list of worries, you don’t seem to be sufficiently bothered to actually demonstrate this ‘facial fitness’ device in the advertisement.

pao

It makes us suspect that you know that using this thing makes a person look like they’re in need of an intervention.

Were you hoping we wouldn’t notice?

fess

You should know us better than that by now, mate.

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By Kelly Welles

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Images via shlab.com.

And now, a word from our sponsor…

6 August 2014

UPDATE: Kenny got in touch with us after we posted this. He told us that the video was filmed 45 minutes after the final whistle.

Big up the AIK fans!

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By Kelly Welles

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Image via Instagram.

 

Ezequiel Lavezzi: ‘In and around’

6 August 2014

lavezzi

If you haven’t yet typed ‘Lavezzi’ into Twitter’s search facility, you’ve missed the boat.

Everyone and their cousin Zlatan has done it, seen the resulting photographs, laughed, and immediately tweeted “I always said Lavezzi was good in (and around) the box”, before photoshopping Ashley Cole into one of the images and sitting back to admire their work.

lav

Modern football, eh?

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By Kelly Welles

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Images via Twitter.

Clermont Foot: Slouching towards equality

5 August 2014

brest
Some men playing football yesterday.

Clermont Foot were beaten 2-1 by Brest in a Ligue 2 fixture last night. Most mainstream British press outlets wouldn’t usually cover Ligue 1 fixtures in any detail, let alone second tier French football, and yet it’s no surprise that a significant number are carrying match reports this morning.

That’s the point of a publicity stunt, isn’t it?

costa
Helena Costa.

Forgive my cynicism. I was as pleased as any civilised football fan would be to read that Clermont had appointed Helena Costa, former Celtic scout and Benfica youth team coach, as their manager back in May. For as long as I’ve been a fan of the game I’ve seen no reason why a woman should be any less competent at organising and motivating a group of athletes to win football matches than a man, and as far as I’m concerned, the arguments that women can’t cope with ‘dressing room banter’ and male nudity should be left in the playground where they belong.

But I was nervous that the club had made the appointment to attract attention, not because Costa was the best candidate for the position. When she quit just six weeks later, claiming she had been marginalised and treated “like a face to attract publicity, I thought about having a head desk moment. When they appointed former France captain Corinne Diacre to the job just a few days later, I did.

prinz
Birgit Prinz breathes a sigh of relief.

Mostly because I still remember when Perugia boss Luciano Gaucci tried to buy former FIFA World Player of the Year Birgit Prinz in 2003, describing her thusly:

“She is very beautiful, and has a great figure. I can assure you that as a player, she’s very good.”

The transfer fell through. A blessing in disguise for Prinz whose career may never have recovered from playing alongside the club’s other star signing, Saadi Gaddafi, son of the Colonel.

Upon reflection though, I’ve decided to remain positive. History shows us that while progress does sometimes just happen naturally, a kick up the backside never did it any harm either. So what if Clermont want to grab a bit of attention for themselves? Their football is unlikely to capture the imagination of the average punter, and they wouldn’t exactly be the first club (or governing body, for that matter) in history to make a decision motivated by a desire for acknowledgment on the wider platform, and the subsequent rewards available.

training

Transition sometimes needs to be forced. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The majority of people I know who demand equality believe that women should simply be offered the same opportunities as men. If they don’t possess the skills to do the job, they’ve no more right to be there than the next person. Male or female. 

If Corinne Diacre is competent at her job – that is capable of organising and motivating her players to play good football, perhaps finish higher in Ligue 2 than fourteenth, where they ended the 13/14 season – then great. If she can carry the weight of the world watching her while she’s doing it, even better. She’ll set a precedent for others to follow.

Many clubs won’t dare to go there. But some will see that competent management and an ability to understand the rules and conventions of football is not particular to the male species, we’re simply conditioned to believe that’s true because it’s all we’ve ever known. Women will be appointed in more significant roles. Some will be great. Some will be terrible. That too is not particular to the male species.

And it’ll be brilliant for the game. Who knows what new perspectives women could bring to football? Perhaps once we’ve got over the notion that a professional female would run screaming from a dressing room if she accidently saw a penis, we might find out that some male athletes actually benefit from a female approach, mentally and emotionally. Maybe not. But shouldn’t we at least give it a chance?

In the meantime, good luck to Corinne Diacre and Clermont Foot. You’re all going to need it.

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By Kelly Welles

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Images via clermontfoot.com.

And the award for the most inexplicable photo of the weekend goes to: Lazio!

4 August 2014

lazio

The reason why guests at the reception were refusing iced beverages became abundantly clear when this shot from the catering tent was circulated.

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By Kelly Welles

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Image via Facebook.

Pre-Season Prattle: To Hartlepool & back

4 August 2014

Chelsea 0-3 Werder Bremen

lamps
Chelsea fan groups have stated they don’t ‘begrudge’ Frank’s loan move to Manchester City. Which is super of them.

Unbeaten across five pre-season fixtures and with an array of shiny signings, the Chelsea Charabanc appeared to be powering on as usual, despite the loss of top scorer and midfield engine Frank Lampard and left-lingering telecommunications buffoon Ashley Cole.

drogba

Atletico Madrid hero Thibaut Courtois was back in the side for yesterday’s fixture vs. Werder Bremen as well as club ledge Didier Drogba, who re-signed on a one year deal just last week, but neither were able to prevent the home side from scoring three unanswered goals.

courtois

In an admirable effort to reassure fans that normal service will available during the new season, John Terry selflessly handled the ball in the area to concede a penalty for the first while Ludovic Obraniak was unmarked to nod in the second before half-time.

The third came late, and while the game was already lost, neutrals may be interested to learn that the scorer was one Felix Kroos, younger brother to World Cup hero Toni.

kroos

As far as we’re aware, Real Madrid have not put a bid in for him. But y’know. It’s only a matter of time.

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Real Madrid 1-3 Manchester United

rooney
Ominously, Young has already beaten his goal tally for last season.

Neutrals will be regretting not making hay while the Moyes shone at Old Trafford. The Reds are unbeaten in four but have scored thirteen goals across those games - with a newly rejuvenated Ashley Young claiming four of them.

The winger, and the rest of United’s under-performing stars from last term for that matter, are thriving in Louis van Gaal’s tweaked 3-4-1-2 system, which is fantastic news for fans keen to see their team reclaim Champions League football at the first time of asking, and adds even more frisson to tonight’s International Champions Cup Final vs. perennial rivals Liverpool.

gigs
A newly demoted Ryan Giggs smiles through the pain.

Not such good news for aerial advertising companies though, but we can all probably live without any more of that nonsense.

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England 4-0 Sweden

Lianne Sanderson was more than happy to dispel the myth that terrible hairdos are a product of the men’s game.

Despite warnings from Pete Donaldson about the dangers of standing about in the Town End of Hartlepool’s Victoria Park, England’s women were victorious against Sweden in a friendly, putting four past the team ranked fifth in the world.

The ever reliable Karen Carney scored first and last, but the plaudits of the day were reserved for Liverpool midfielder Fara Williams, who earned her 130th cap in the fixture. That’s more appearances for England than Peter Shilton.

fara

If you’re not familiar with the gap between elite men’s football and elite women’s football, you might be interested to know that for approximately six years during her career, she was homeless.

cundy

Of course, if you’re a massive pillock, all you’re be interested in is the fact she’s a woman and probably feel as though comparing her England record to that of a bloke is ‘a joke’.

It must be reassuring to know you’re not alone.

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These new skintight kits are all well and good if you’re built like Alexi Sanchez. Fortunately, Jim says most Arsenal fans are.

In other news, Arsenal have lost their own tournament for the fourth consecutive year, although this time they have Martin Atkinson to thank rather than their own ineptitude.

 
Arsenal were 1-0 down to Monaco when Atkinson gave a free kick for the above tackle on Chuba Akpom at the behest of his lino, despite it being a clear penalty.

arsene

Arsenal fans shouldn’t be too depressed though. And if you are, well, here’s a picture of Arsene from his Monaco days, to cheer you all up.

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If that wasn’t enough to confirm your myriad suspicions about referees, how about Howard Webb using a penalty in a charity game to show off his skillz?

Yep. That was a sort of Panenka. Clattenburg is preparing his rabona as we speak.

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drenthe

Finally, you may be aware of the soft spot we at the Ramble have always had for Royston Drenthe. Up to now, none of us have been able to explain exactly what it was about the Reading midfielder that bewitched us, but a photo we saw over the weekend confirmed suspicions that he’s a man after our own hearts.

Drenthe reportedly hosted a FIFA 14 tournament at his house at the weekend, an event he transcribed via a series of Instagram photos.

So far, so footballery, you might think, but look at that top picture again. Is that a barbecue on the left? Is Royston Drenthe channelling the footballing spirit of Lee Sharpe? Can we expect news of a fan club, promises of C90 cassettes in the post? Inedible food burned by a slightly drunk man in one of those horrible plastic pinnies?

ramsey
Not you.

Royston, mate? Can we score an invite? We’re surprisingly efficient with localised blazes.

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By Kelly Welles

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Images: Facebook, Instagram.

Jurgen Klopp: A different approach

1 August 2014

klopp

At the end of last season, Felix Magath sent his players to Nepal, where they were instructed to climb Mount Everest**, unaccompanied and unaided, and then find their way back to Fulham’s training ground for bleep tests.

They’re not back yet, but while we’ve been waiting, we’ve been wondering whether it’s necessary to take such a severe approach to pre-season.

Take Jurgen Klopp, for instance. A quick glance across Borussia Dortmund’s Facebook page demonstrates that while Kloppy’s sessions are filled with vigorous exercise, there’s plenty of good cheer and merriment. On top of that, he still appears capable of finding time for serious football business. Klopp’s training regime includes:

cycling

Cardio in a cape.

kick

Player discipline.

hiding in plain sight

Conducting psychological experiments on his players.

perusing

Perusing the transfer market in search of up and coming players.

shave

Personal hygiene.

nobby

It just shows you, as long as you’ve got a solid backroom staff to rely on, you can achieve almost anything.

Food for thought, Mr Magath? We think so.

**possibly.

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By Kelly Welles

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Images via facebook, twitter.

Nico Mendez: Do not adjust your face

1 August 2014

robben messi

Football caricatures are ten a penny at the mo - the earning potential of a few sketches of players being significantly higher during an international football tournament - but these, by artist Nico Mendez, are by far the best we’ve seen.

suarez

Nico doesn’t limit himself to footballers either. All manner of celebrity imperfections are exaggerated to hilarious effect on his Facebook page, and he’s not afraid to turn his unforgiving eye on himself either.

nico

I suppose when you’re that good looking and talented, you can afford to.

Git.

rooney

riquelme

z

zanetti

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By Kelly Welles

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All images ©Nico Mendez. Check out more of his work on Facebook.

Cesc Fabregas & Eva Carneiro: Initiation rites & wrongs

31 July 2014

 
And there we were thinking the Macarena couldn’t get any worse.

Cheers for that, Cesc, Eva & the rest of the Chelsea crew for encouraging them. 

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By Kelly Welles

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Via Instagram. H/T @jennyra3.

Real Madrid vs. Roma: Friendly fires

30 July 2014

 
The confluence of events enabling Luis Suarez to be banned from both international and club football for such a significant period of time that his first game back would be against his new club’s arch rivals was so serendipitous, we almost believed that Pepe would have taken anger management classes, just to counterbalance fate.

realroma

Thankfully, we don’t have that kind of influence over world events just yet. And the Portuguese madman has once again proved he’s as capable as ever of getting into rows, offering hope that his encounter with Suarez in October will be the meaty affair we’re all secretly hoping for.

pepe

Last night, Seydou Keita refused to shake Pepe’s hand prior to Madrid’s friendly against Roma in Dallas; a move that has been linked back to an unpleasant incident between the pair in a Supercopa game back in 2011, when Keita accused Pepe of calling him a ‘monkey’.

Keita then threw a bottle of water at Pepe, narrowly missing the defender’s head, but provoking El Clasico-esque scenes between the players.

 
At some time during the festivities a football match broke out, Sergio Ramos got nutmegged (2.26) and Fransceco Totti scored the decisive goal.

Best fighting trousers on, Ramblers! The real El Clasico is going to be a barnstormer this year.

Assuming Pepe doesn’t get himself a ban. That’d be suitably ironic.

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By Kelly Welles

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Images: larepublica, Twitter.

Southampton. Fight or flight?

30 July 2014

morgam

Hours after Morgan Schneiderlin took to the social networks to express his displeasure at Southampton’s refusal to let him leave for Spurs, rumours abound on Twitter that there has been a punch-up at Southampton’s training ground involving “three senior figures”.

koeman

That’s good news for Southampton fans, surely? The squad has been pillaged to such an extent it must be a relief to learn that they have some “senior figures” left.

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By Kelly Welles

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Images via Twitter.

Things done changed Pt 2: Get your kits out for the lads

29 July 2014

robben
Nope. Still looks like a weird Barcelona/Crystal Palace hybrid.

It’s fortunate that football fans operate their finances to a model perfected by FIFA.

Without those massive surpluses, there’s absolutely no way we’d be able to afford our respective club’s home, away, third, Champions League and training kits, new boot silos, not to mention all the other miscellaneous tat that emerges at this time of the year, literally days after we’ve shilled the best part of a hundred quid on our national team’s shirt.

waffle

So once you’ve taken delivery of the essentials - your St Pauli waffle iron being the priority - where do you start?

bale madrid

Real Madrid have turned their metrosexual up to eleven with this season’s away kit.

While the 2014/15 home shirt stays true to the Los Blancos tradition, the Galacticos have gone all Priscilla Queen of the Desert with their travelling garms and they’re as fabulous as you might expect. adidas’ detailing has been superb in recent months - the grandad collar we’ve seen across several of their designs is present here - and the font and three stripes look seriously classy against the innovative colouring.

kit

Barcelona fans have already described it as “ugly” and “not very masculine”, presumably having forgotten that just a few short years ago they were sporting one of the most hideous away kits committed to polyester. And that’s before we’ve even mentioned the ‘Solero’ unpleasantness.

As for the masculine thing? Tell it to Pepe.

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leonesa

No shirt highlights package would be complete without mensh of the mayhem currently abounding in the lower tiers of Spanish football.

Above is the new Cultural Leonesa home shirt, which, as you can see, has been designed to resemble a shirt front with dickie bow. Of all the shameless attempts to attract the world’s attention, this is our favourite, simply because of it’s versatility. Wear it to the game, then straight onto the black tie do afterwards without having to go home and change. Win.

lugo

The new kits from CD Lugo offer similar convenience. Out in the pub and too drunk to order another beer? Simply point at your shirt and Bingo! A fresh pint will be winging its way across the bar at you and if your mate is wearing the away shirt, probably some poisonous bar snacks too.

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nike

Both of the behemoth boot manufacturers had a decent enough World Cup – the adidas adizero F50 claiming the most goals scored while Mario Goetze’s winning punt in the final was channelled through Nike’s Magista – but don’t be thinking either are sitting on their laurels.

adidas

Both companies have issued variations on their World Cup silos for the new season. Nike have rejected the blinding colourways of World Cup glory with a Stealth Pack, boasting what are essentially blackout versions of the HyperVenom, Superfly IV, Vapor X, Magista,  & Tiempo, while adidas have gone the other way, updating the classic Predator with colourful version of their Battle Pack design.

warrior
Warrior have also been busy. In between finding time to design kits for the likes of Sevilla and Porto, the up & coming apparel company have issued classy colour upgrades to their Gambler and Skreamer silos, while Puma have followed up their gorgeously mismatched evoPOWERs with designer evoSPEED colourways.

camo

These BAPE ones match Mario Balotelli’s Bentley Continental GT too.

It’s the beautiful symmetry you find in football that keeps us coming back, y’all.

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By Kelly Welles

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Images: footyheadlines @RealDaniGladdy , soccerbible.

Jim White wants to fill your void!

29 July 2014

jimwhite

Not like that. Filthy.

No, the denizen of Sky’s Transfer Deadline Day coverage has been reanimated a few weeks ahead of schedule to help hapless football fans struggle with the reality of having to straddle the chasm between the World Cup and the new Premier League season starting.

jim

Apparently, if you call 0333 202 2177, Jim’s dulcet tones will soothe you through the pain, right up until the 16th August when Sky’s coverage of the BestLeagueInTheWorld™ recommences, and an entirely different kind of pain begins.

Look at those hilarious photos. The Sky Sports marketing department is literally on fire, Ruud.

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By Kelly Welles

Things done changed Pt 1: He did what now?

28 July 2014

cesc

What the hell is that?

You leave football unattended for ten days, and when you return, you find that not only has it gnawed through its lead and run off howling into the wilderness, it did so after shaving its head and slipping into a smart new Chelsea shirt.

Oh Cesc, we never knew you. And that, beloved Ramblers, is just the start of it. Over the next couple of days, we’re going to take a wander through some of the more startling sights of the closed season, including new kit releases, transfers and holiday photos.

muller2

Because while you lot might insist you’re serious football fans with no interest in pictures of babies, audacious swimsuits and players rolling about on the deck of expensive yachts, our traffic stats tell an entirely different story.

It’s okay. We won’t tell if you don’t.

First up, we have Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan scoring a hat-trick in an exhibition match to celebrate the opening of a new stadium in Istanbul.

Erdogan, who once dismissed recordings of telephone conversations between himself and his son during which they allegedly discussed hiding large sums of money, as “a treacherous attack” and a “shameless montage”, watched his team concede three before nipping on, restoring parity and nipping back off, all completely legitimately.

yerkel

His former assistant Yusuf Yerkel was not present. A shame really, as the last time he was seen in public, kicking an anti-government protester, he appeared to have a right foot like a traction engine.

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gotze

How many man points does one receive for scoring the winning goal in a World Cup final? Enough to cancel out the embarrassment of being photographed looking like a petulant toddler who’s just slipped over in some mud in front of a girl and is about to embark on the mother of all tantrums?

We’re going with ‘barely’. You’ve had yer one, Goetze.

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ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo has had a busy off season.

 

 

He’s designed some shoes, shown an uncharacteristic burst of good humour with a Michael Jackson impression (although he did laugh a little too heartily at what was essentially his own gag) and visited Japan to shill ‘facial fitness’ devices that looked like sex toys.

ron2

Footwear and sex are both lucrative industries. You can’t blame the man.

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torres

Has all this left you feeling a little disorientated?

Fear not, because while all of those about you are losing their heads (or at least shaking them in a committed yet confusing manner) Fernando Torres remained solidly consistent during Chelsea’s friendly vs. Olimpija, missing an absolute sitter.

diego

That, and the fact that El Diego is rumoured to have a new girlfriend twenty-eight years his junior almost restores the balance, doesn’t it?

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By Kelly Welles

World Cup Round-Up: Chewing it over

14 July 2014

lineker

Unless you’re old enough to remember football before the 1990 World Cup semi-final, the impenetrable assurance and efficiency of the German national team will have been just history to you until last night - a reference point of the past like Brazil in 1970, Hungary during the fifties and the total footballing Netherlands side of the seventies.

manpile

That’s not to say they haven’t achieved since a broken Gary Lineker offered his somewhat backhanded compliment after England capitulated to West Germany in that semi-final penalty shootout, but they’ve arguably lacked the cohesion and ruthlessness required to carry them through the seven games required to win a World Cup since that time.

The fact that it was the 5-1 defeat to England in 2001 that contributed to the decision to rethink their strategy is even more ironic now, given that they won this tournament at a canter while the Three Lions have been on the beach for two weeks. 

Is anyone ready to have that conversation yet? No? Ok.

 

Let’s concentrate on the positives instead, shall we?

There were so many highlights in this competition it would be impossible to list them all, but now the clouds of gas emanating from British pundits and summarisers has finally cleared we can see that Germany were easily the best team of the tournament.

From Neuer’s control of his penalty area and beyond to Muller’s GPS-like accuracy when it comes to popping up in the box, they are a team in the traditional sense of the term.

brazil

They had their stand out players but the strength in depth to perform even when they weren’t firing. They tested the referee without invoking his wrath. They had self-belief in buckets but even when they battered the host nation 7-1 in their own backyard they managed to do so without hubris. They didn’t fall apart when one of the best players in that game, Sami Khedira, was injured in the warm-up, forcing a last minute change.

And when the moment finally arrived, so typically in the dying minutes of extra time, a twenty-two year old came off the bench with the words “show them you’re better than Messi and can decide the World Cup,” ringing in his ears and did.

The Little Maestro himself, winner of four Ballon D’ors, breaker of so many records it’s actually a record itself (probably), could only dream of such composure in front of goal.

fred

It was a fitting end to a tournament that offers plenty for historians to chew over, not least the dismissal of a forward for biting a defender. The end of a football dynasty. A crushing, humiliating defeat for a country who took a game and made it beautiful. A terrifying, gigantic insect attaching itself to a penalty taker. Fred.

And while they’re doing that, we’ll be concentrating on adjusting to a life that doesn’t include three football matches per day and the knowledge that even when that joy does return, we’ll all be four years older, four years fatter and four years further away from representing our country at the highest level of football.

rihanna

On the plus side, at least Rihanna will be too old for ligging at football matches. Hopefully.

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By Kelly Welles

World Cup Round-Up: Ain’t that a kick in the head?

10 July 2014

arg

If ever there was a game in need of the Football Ramble’s guide to improving football, this was it.

The eight goal thriller of the previous evening loomed large over Netherlands vs. Argentina. Couple that will well drilled players knowing exactly who the other team’s key men were and stifling them accordingly and it becomes obvious that this was always going to be a tight, attritional game that set foot on the slippery slope towards penalties in the first half and rarely looked willing or able to step off.

polo
Undoubtedly better.

So, having sat through ninety minutes of turgid footie, a further thirty minutes of extra time and a penalty shoot out are you seriously telling me a twelve foot pit full of water behind the goal line or electrodes in players boots programmed to issue electric shocks at a manager’s whim wouldn’t have improved this as a viewing experience?

cillesson
Confident, isn’t he?

There was the odd stand out moment. Net puppy Jasper Cillessen attempting to prove van Gaal was a fool to take him off last time round (he wasn’t) by chucking in not one, but two drag backs as terrifying Argentinian goalscorers bore down upon him at speed.

kickinthehead

The opportunity to debate once again exactly what evolutionary factors were in play when South American blokes developed skulls seemingly impervious to kicking.

 
Not to mention Arjen Robben’s stoicism as he turned away from his wife and howling, disconsolate son after approaching them in the stands.

What? You wanted proper football related highlights? Did you see the game?

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By Kelly Welles

Clint Dempsey: You’ve got what in your pocket?

10 July 2014

 
Here it is, folks. Clint ‘Deuce’ Dempsey & XO’s first release from the album The ReDUX.

Apparently, he likes big knots in his pocket and fresh kicks when he’s walking.

Surprisingly honest for a man in his position, wouldn’t you say?

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H/T @JJAQuigley for the spot.

Lionel Messi & Louis van Gaal: New balls, please!

9 July 2014

mess

And if last night wasn’t traumatic enough for you, here’s what we have to look forward to in tonight’s semi-final, according to Dutch daily De Telegraaf.

Wow.

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By Kelly Welles

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H/T @MessiStats.

World Cup Round-Up: Embarrass ‘em!

9 July 2014

There was a point where it did get a bit embarrassing.

In the brief moment between the third and fourth goals maybe, when an almost imperceptible wave of realisation seemed to wash over the German players and for a second they understood the magnitude of what they were doing, and more importantly, what they could do.

luiz

The founders of o jogo bonito playing in their first World Cup on home soil since 1950.

A seemingly unbreakable bond between each other and their supporters, forged to drive them to glory despite the loss of their captain and their talismanic striker.

The romance and joy that would transcend football and lift a troubled nation.

Crushed beneath the might of a German side with a job to do.

♫ 7-1, even Sami scored, 7-1, even Sami scored ♫

It wasn’t the scoreline, although that was catastrophic enough. It wasn’t even the manner of the defeat or the ease with which the Germans shifted the ball around the broken Brazilians - whose faces reflected the disbelief, heartbreak and humiliation - and smashed it into the net time and time again.

It was the message.

The beautiful game isn’t yours any more. You might have given birth to it, nurtured it and cared for it for all this time but now it’s out there in the world and can choose to live with whoever wants it the most.

Luiz Felipe Scolari called it “The worst day of my life.”

Until he loses an FA Cup third round fixture to Rochdale, we can’t test the veracity of that statement, but we’ll hazard a guess that he’s feeling worse than our beloved Brian McDermott right now.

And for some considerable time to come.

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By Kelly Welles

New sheason, new shirts, shorts & shinnies

8 July 2014

Having not wasted £90 on an England shirt, you should be perfectly positioned to cough up for some club apparel to celebrate the new domestic season.

Fortunately for you, kit manufacturers know this and have taken the opportunity to flood the market with exciting new footie wear in the hope that you’ll ignore your other half’s pleas for financial sanity and insistence that a fifth shirt in two years is not necessary.

Here are some of the items you could be wearing to your local pub’s singles night in just a few weeks time.

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Manchester United (2014/15 home shirt)
manutd

It’s red and black, the launch video emphasised strong links to the local area as well as the importance of tradition at the club. 

Which is presumably why they chose an American car company who’ve just pulled out of Europe due to poor market share to sponsor them.

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Inter Milan (2014/15 home shirt)

badges

While the internet was busy speculating about how many refreshments the Inter Milan decision makers had had before writing this press release about amendments to the club badge, they sneaked this new home shirt out.

shirt

Are they hoping the hardcore don’t notice that a new pinstripe look has replaced the iconic stripes or is this simply a matter of keeping up with the noisy neighbours?

On the plus side, it’ll go beautifully with a work suit.

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Everton (2014/15 home shirt)
everton

Not being fashion aficionados in any sense of the term, we have no clue whether the narrow stripe is en vogue on the catwalks of Paris and London. It does appear to be de rigeur among kit manufacturers though, with Umbro being the latest to experiment.

The new Everton home shirt boasts not just any old stripe, though. What you see here is a “textured micro shadow stripe”, which along with navy grandad collar and dropped hem make one of the cleanest footie blouses we’ve seen in a long while.

It comes with a free stick on pencil moustache and hipster sideys too. And if it doesn’t, it should.

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Liverpool (2014/15 third kit)

lfc

There’s no such thing as bad publicity. Warrior tested this theory fully with their first go at Liverpool’s third kit, but fans will be relieved to see that the American manufacturer has taken a less migraine inducing approach with this season’s effort.

lfc

Admittedly it’s not perfect. There’s a sash - a difficult look for a grown male to pull off at the best of times - but it’s blended quite nicely with the black and grey stripes and is an effective way of getting the traditional red into a design without making it look forced.

Or like you might find a 3D image of Luis Suarez’ gob in it if you cross your eyes and stare.

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Azzurri Shinpads

bonnuci

Still got some cash left over? Looking for a way to make yourself stand out on the pitch for reasons other than your footballing ineptitude AND donate to charity to placate your still furious partner?

Juventus defender and armed mugger puncher Leonardo Bonucci is auctioning off these ace limited edition World Cup shinpads to raise money for Live Onlus - a charitable project dedicated to raising money for local causes.

buffon

Players featured include Gigi Buffon, Mattia De Sciglio and Salvatore Sirigu as well as the lad himself.

de rossi

Unsurprisingly, the Daniele De Rossi ones are already gone. They really thought the Colosseum could contain him?

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By Kelly Welles

Hello? Is that the illiterate tattooist? I’ve got a brilliant idea…

8 July 2014

tatt

Getting a tattoo to commemorate a player being sent home from a major tournament for biting the opposition is a poor judgement call at best.

We’re hardly ones to criticise. But at least all our crap tattoos are spelt correctly.

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By Kelly Welles

H/T @BbhoyMcCallion, via 101greatgoals.

Alhaji Kamara: Keep on running

7 July 2014

 
Norrkoping striker Alhaji Kamara responded to a second yellow and subsequent red card in his side’s Allsvenskan fixture vs. Orebro yesterday by running off the pitch, screaming his little heart out.

No idea why. It’s not as if Kenny Pavey was after him.

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By Kelly Welles

World Cup Weekender: Angels & Insects

7 July 2014

France 0-1 Germany

The good news is, France didn’t explode in an embarrassing mess all over the World Cup’s trousers. The bad news is that this defeat to a reportedly flu-raddled German side ruins the somewhat bipolar World Cup cycle that began with that magical victory in 1998.

Since then, they’ve either gone out in the group stages or got to the final.

Maybe they believed this cycle would continue, hence the somewhat relaxed approach to training last week, although it has to be said that Germany, with their stubborn high line and stingy midfield, looked the more likely.

Mats Hummels’ twelfth minute strike settled the encounter and the Germans were relatively comfortable sitting it out, repelling Karim Benzema’s raids into the box and some lovely creative work from Mathieu Valbuena and the angelic Antoine Griezmann, although the latter fell victim to his own naivety on one or two occasions.

griez

Not to worry, France fans. If he continues keeping the company he has been, naivety will be but a fond yet distant memory.

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Brazil 2-1 Colombia

insect
Insect or FIFA drone?

And so it transpires that medics in Fortaleza weren’t the only people filmed treating Neymar’s spine irresponsibly.

 

 

In the hours after it was confirmed that the 22-year-old Brazilian talisman was out of the tournament with what is essentially a broken back, Argentina fans were filmed waving what we only hope is a plastic replica of his spinal column.

Seriously. If that is actually Neymar’s spinal column, the authorities should be concerned. That would be the most serious breach of World Cup security since those Chilean fans invaded the Maracana media centre.

Has anyone seen those guys since they were marched round the back of the stadium, by the way?

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Netherlands 0-0 Costa Rica (Netherlands win 4-3 on penalties)

costa

Could’ve been us, y’know.

If England had been true to previous tournament form, it would have been us crashing out on penalties after holding a technically superior side to 0-0 for one hundred and twenty minutes.

Take a moment to think about that, Ramblers. How would we feel about Louis van Gaal’s inspired keeper substitution if Tim Krul had saved penalties from Stevie G and Gary Cahill instead of Brian Ruiz and Michael Umaña? Would the media have sought to prove an injustice, thus raising hackles against the new Manchester United manager before he’s even through the door?

robben

Would Arjen Robben have been demonised via a series of cruel tabloidy memes for his ruthless exploitation of a match official’s inability to read minds, thus rendering a move to the BestLeagueInTheWorld™ impossible and his career essentially a failure?

Fortunately, these are questions we don’t have to answer because while England failed to launch, Group D whipping boys Costa Rica had a stormer. Sigh.

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Argentina 1-0 Belgium

 

Argentina haven’t exactly lit a pale blue touchpaper with their performances so far, but confidence isn’t a problem. While their fans were busy swinging their rivals replica body parts in the air, players celebrated this narrow victory with a terrible rendition of ‘Bad Moon Rising’, although taking care to ensure that the camera operator was so inept, the footage wouldn’t be admissible in a court of law.

higgy

Worse still, the amended lyrics referred to Argentina’s intention to metaphorically widdle all over Brazil’s doorstep and Diego Maradona’s superiority to Pele.

As yet we have not been able to obtain a response from Pele, but can only assume it will look something like this.

pele

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By Kelly Welles

World Cup Anime: Cats, not lions? What are they implying?

4 July 2014

england

Everyone has an angle during the World Cup but this collection of anime mascots is among the most interesting to emerge from our overstuffed inboxes.

france

nigeria

Compiled by an as yet unnamed artist, the pieces riff on cultural reference points from each nation, and while one or two are unnecessarily ‘vivid’ (for vivid, read unsettling and bafflingly crass), the majority are spot on.

spain

us

Especially Switzerland. We cannot emphasise that enough.

switz

Switzerland. For all your cheese and multipurpose knife needs, yo.

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By Kelly Welles

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Images: escapistmagazine via @hbandsandhbreak.

France: Coming from behind?

4 July 2014

 
How have France reacted to the news that up to seven Germany players are suffering from ‘flu-like symptoms’ in the run-up to tonight’s quarter-final game?

Extra doggies? Double training sessions? One touch passing drills?

Nope. They’re seeing whether they can score from behind the goal. Confident, much?

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By Kelly Welles

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H/T BBC Sporf.

Your World Cup Wind Down Survival Kit

3 July 2014

nuge

Are you languishing in a pit of despair now that the World Cup has selfishly removed your right to watch three football matches a day? Are you unclear how you’re going to make it through the rest of the summer?

Fear not, fair Ramblers. Here is a picture of David Nugent in a bra to ease you through the suffering.

Vive la Difference!

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By Kelly Welles

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H/T Adam Feneley‎!

World Cup Round-Up: Bare Force One

2 July 2014

Argentina 1-0 Switzerland

 

Retirement has been hard on Claudio Caniggia.

Another day, another heartbreaking defeat for a ‘plucky’ team who didn’t stand a cat in hell’s chance before kick-off.

Argentina’s creativity, which has been sluggish out of the blocks throughout the tournament, was stifled by a disciplined Swiss side who came agonisingly close to a breakthrough on more than one occasion.

 

Well hellooooooo, laydee.

It was an awkward one for the viewing public. The allure of the underdog was overwhelming as time passed and Argentina failed to fire, but any desire to see Switzerland turn them over was quickly extinguished by the sight of Sepp Blatter in the stands and the subsequent realisation that being a Swiss national, in theory he would be supporting them.

calf

Best to concentrate instead on Xherdan Shaqiri, who aside from a turn of speed that belies his podgy frame, has calves as big as his head.

It’s the incisive football analysis that keeps you coming back, y’all.

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Belgium 2-1 USA

howard

Meanwhile, American citizens are currently considering a revamp of their entire political system that would facilitate the promotion of a certain Tim Howard to the White House.

President-elect Howard, who has been plying his trade in the United Kingdom for eleven years now (you’re welcome, United States) broke an actual world record in last night’s fixture, making fifteen saves against a Belgium side who finally lived up to their pre-tournament billing.

howard
The Republicans will just love him.

Indeed, it was eccy time before Belgium put something together to outwit the heroic Bearded Man of North Brunswick, former Chelsea poppet Kevin De Bruyne bundling a loose ball into the net on 93 minutes and Romelu Lukaku doubling the lead twelve minutes later.

 
But we’ve all seen Rocky enough times to know that US sportsmen never say die, and although the Belgium one-two had them rocking, there was enough time for the sprightly sub to run on and score a volley on his competitive debut. Belgium, who obviously haven’t seen Stallone’s finest moment on film, managed to repel efforts towards an equaliser and the United States was left to rue what could have been.

While presumably eyeing up the possibility of a sequel in four years time.

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By Kelly Welles

World Cup Round-Up: Now is the end of the gamble

1 July 2014

Germany 2-1 Algeria

 

Faithful Ramblers will remember that when Manuel Neuer signed for Bayern Munich from their rivals Schalke, he was presented with a code of conduct by the Munich Ultras. This included (but was not limited to) never approaching the South Stand where the Ultras sit, never to use their megaphone to initiate chants and never, under any circumstances, to kiss his club badge.

Presumably they didn’t want him to get his Schalke cooties on it.

neuer

Arguably if he’d have been as tolerant and respectful of football convention last night, his country (including those genius Ultras) might be waking up this morning to the knowledge they’d just been unceremoniously booted out of the World Cup by a team who had never made it past the group stages. His marauding, sweeper ‘keeper turn contributed heavily to Germany’s progression into the next round and at times, put his defenders on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

Let’s just hope the free kick farrago was a mistake. Because if they’re doing that kind of thing for shitz and giggles in a last sixteen match, there’s no hope for anyone. No matter what continent they hail from.

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France 2-0 Nigeria

 

The upshot of all that is that the French are now arguably the most sensible team in their next fixture - a feat their conduct hasn’t allowed for in quite some time. They left it late against Nigeria, who were punished for their profligacy in front of goal; firstly by the comedically coiffed Paul Pogba and then by their own Joseph Yobo.

The upcoming quarter final could either be the most dour game in World Cup history, or a veritable circus of fistfights, pratfalls and suicidal shot stopping.

If only England were still involved.

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By Kelly Welles

Mauricio Pinilla: One centimetre from classy

1 July 2014

pinilla

So near to glory… and yet so far. He’s making a habit of this, isn’t he?

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By Kelly Welles

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Image via @tattoorockers. H/T @JonHyde1871

World Cup Weekender: Das Boot

30 June 2014

Brazil 1-1 Chile
Brazil win 3-2 on pelanties

mull

While Howard Webb’s ability to walk unmolested through the streets of Brazil took a serious knock during this tense opener to the weekend’s action, unusually for a British official at a major tournament, his decision making ability did not. After several thousand replays from every conceivable angle, it was proven that Webb’s assistant, Mike Mullarkey, was correct in his assertion that Hulky controlled the ball with his shoulder. He was also quite brave, given his proximity to the terrifying forward.

Brazil still don’t appear to be firing on all cylinders though, and after sneaking through via the penalty hatch will face a far sterner test vs. Colombia next Friday. Is it too soon to say highlight of the quarter finals? Probably.

But it is.

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Colombia 2-0 Uruguay

james

As the ball hung in the air and the fresh faced 22-year-old turned his head to check the defender and goalkeeper’s positioning before chesting it down and smacking it perfectly into the back of the net, did anyone else think back to Roy Hodgson’s youthful England side and smile a rueful smile?

Thought so. Sigh.

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Costa Rica 1-1 Greece
Costa Rica win 5-3 on pelanties

ruiz

The sheer bloody-mindedness required for Costa Rica to see this through to the bitter end while down to ten men should stand them in good stead when they play The Netherlands next Saturday, but it pays not to be too hasty in this World Cup. A few weeks ago, we were writing them off as the guaranteed whipping boys of Group D; a team likely to have been mauled into a malleable pulp by the time England got to them.

We all know how that turned out.

Assuming they can avoid becoming Robbenry victims, there’s no reason whatsoever that they can’t do some damage to the Netherlands and possibly wend their merry way through to the semis.

Imagine the scenes, as a certain Spellsy might say.

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Netherlands 2-1 Mexico

arjen

In this tournament, every good refereeing decision prompts an equal and opposite poor refereeing decision. Unfortunate Mexico were on on the wrong end of two contentious calls during this game, the final one inevitably involving the ability of a 5ft 10ins footballer with otherwise excellent balance to stay on his feet when standing in a chalk box.

Mexico more than held their own for long periods of the game and while no one would have begrudged The Netherlands’ moving through to the quarter-finals off the back of a cracking strike, it wasn’t just El Tricolor fans left feeling bitter at the manner of their exit.

It’s a shame, really. Their group stage performances were thrilling but if they go on to win the darn thing, it’s always going to feel like it’s because Arjen Robben dived.

Which frankly sucks.

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By Kelly Welles

Our Book of the Week: Every Boy’s Dream by Chris Green

27 June 2014

cover

One thing is for sure. If England performed well and won an international football tournament, we as a country wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves. As the team arrived home and strode down the steps of their official plane brandishing one of the few massive shiny trophies that Sergio Ramos hasn’t thrown under the wheels of a passing bus, we’d simply stare, our mouths hanging open as our minds frantically tried to rearrange the images into something recognisable.

It’s something of a relief then, that the chances of that happening in the near future are hovering at around the same level as the ambient temperature of the Uruguay dressing room right now and we can throw ourselves into the biennial inquest with significantly more gusto than any of our players demonstrated during the tournament.

The usual questions have been dusted off and are being presented in various iterations as we speak; why are England so consistently poor in major tournaments; why can’t English players translate their excellent domestic form for their country; why do they look so miserable all the time?

Why didn’t we just appoint Harry Redknapp?

england

In order to avoid desperate, recidivist measures such as the above and the same cycle kicking off again in late June 2016, we must look deeper than the simplistic “too many foreigners” in the game argument and drill down into the stuff we as a nation find deeply uncomfortable. This includes, but is not limited to, recognising we no longer own the game of football.

Other countries, upon realising that their national team was not performing as expected, have examined their systems and reset, sacrificing short term success  for long term progress. We sack managers and spend £120m on a sparkly new National Football Centre that our first team don’t use that often because it’s in the wrong place.

And that isn’t even the most annoying bit.

In his 2009 book, ‘Every Boy’s Dream’, Chris Green sets out the situation in plain, unvarnished terms. Having interviewed many people involved in the game, from parents of prospective talents to former heads of youth development at the FA, he concludes that inadequate training resources (including unqualified, inexperienced coaches), power struggles between the three governing bodies (the FA, the Football League and the Premier League), the trawling of pre-pubescent talent by Premier League academies and too much organised football are all contributory factors to England’s malaise.

The book, which is refreshingly accessible given the layers of bureaucracy and corporate aggrandising involved in the subject matter, explains how the inception of the Premier League not only slashed the funding available for training facilities in the lower tiers of football but increased competition for talent between financially secure clubs.  Despite rules being in place regarding the age a boy can be signed and the distance he is allowed to travel for training, Green describes how parents can become so dazzled by the opportunities available to a talented youngster that they will drive their kids hundreds of miles a week to play for twenty minutes. 

Unsurprisingly, the clubs show slightly less commitment when it comes to releasing them.

If you’ve heard former England right back and FA England Commission member Danny Mills’ summarising for BBC 5Live, you’ll have heard him mention a few of these ideas between throwing buckets of water at Chris Waddle. He has articulated the climate of fear within which young players must ply their trade; fear of ridicule, fear of making mistakes, fear of being dropped and losing their chance of a lucrative career in the most glamorous sport in the world.

Players look like they’re scared and under pressure while wearing an England shirt because they are.

Whether he’s read ‘Every Boy’s Dream’ or his personal experiences have contributed to his opinion, I can’t say, but in theory at least, it should be reassuring to have someone on the FA England Commission who is apparently aware of the scale of the task ahead if we’re ever going to truly be able to say we are be proud of our team. But while their recent report paid lip service to matters such as grassroots training and the prioritising of the Premier League over England, it’s perfectly clear that fundamental changes to football’s existing structure are not on the agenda.

Instead of reading that in an attempt to understand the deficiencies of the England national team, read ‘Every Boy’s Dream’. When you’re fully acquainted with the information that we’re supposed to believe was available to a writer but not those charged with improving football, you won’t feel any better but at least you’ll be a little clearer as to where the problem lies.

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By Kelly Welles

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Every Boy’s Dream is among several excellent football books published by Bloomsbury and available for 30% off during the World Cup. Check them out here.

World Cup Round-Up: The ‘Hands-Off’ Approach

26 June 2014

Nigeria 2-3 Argentina

messi

As far as Diego Maradona is concerned, this is an absolute disaster. Aside from his prowess with the ladies, his position as the greatest footballer ever to emerge from Argentina is vital to maintaining his substantial ego and Lionel Messi’s failure to perform at an international tournament was the only thing keeping the El Diego blimp inflated.

Now look what’s happened.

digeo

The diminutive forward, whose domestic season is widely perceived to have been patchy, scored two in this game, propelling him to four in the tournament and position of joint top scorer with Neymar.

diego

Three wins from three games sees Argentina, who were rescued from what could have been an embarrassing draw to Iran by a Messi special, finish top of the group but despite this defeat Nigeria have done enough to qualify as runners up. But El Diego’s eyes will be firmly fixed on the Switzerland fixture and beyond, chewing his onion and fearing the worst. Leo needs two goals (finished with the foot or the hand) and two assists to nail his predecessor’s record in Mexico ‘86.

If that happens, Messi’s only hope of survival is to sign for Napoli.

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Bosnia-Herzegovina 3-1 Iran

 

If Iran had just managed to hold on for another couple of minutes, they might have taken a point off Argentina. Or three. And since we all love a bit of extrapolation during World Cup time, that boost might have been sufficient to propel them past Bosnia-Herzegovina and they might have won the group and gone on a run and maybe even won the tournament!

 

Alright, but still, people! Iran! You’ve got to hand it to them. While most of us were eyeing Bosnia-Herzegovina as the potential spanner in Argentina and Nigeria’s works, Iran’s spirit and intensity helped them push opposition teams far further than we could have imagined. They can leave the tournament with their heads held high, which is considerably more than some, more ‘politically evolved’ societies can claim.

Sadly, England will be too busy pointing out that Queiroz has resigned to notice the irony.

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Honduras 0-3 Switzerland

shak

Picture the scene. In the unlikely event that Switzerland beat Argentina, they could, at least theoretically, face the USA in quarter-finals. If that does happen, the World Cup would probably have exploded anyway, so why bother with a game? Instead, let’s have legendary rap superstar and all round G, Clint ‘Deuce’ Dempsey facing off with Xherdan ‘It’s puppy fat!’ Shaqiri in a rap battle.

 

Both have shown promise in the area before, the centre circle would be perfect for all their mates to stand around shouting while wearing impossibly large headphones and, as is traditional in these affairs, they would be spitting insults at one another while all the time hating on ‘The Man’, who is in fact, FIFA.

No one loses.

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Ecuador 0-0 France

“It’s not their [the players] fault,” Didier Deschamps told a press conference after this feisty but ultimately fruitless draw that sees France qualify as group winners. “Let them be happy. We didn’t win this match and we tried everything, but it’s not my role to tell them to cool down.”

dom

Um, isn’t that approach Raymond Domenech took? And look what happened to him!

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By Kelly Welles

World Cup Round-Up: With Teeth

25 June 2014

chi

It was 175-1, apparently.175-1 for the man voted PFA Player of the Year to bite an opponent during the most prestigious football tournament in the world.

For most of us it would have been a point of amusement prior to kick-off, a reference to a time before Suarez sorted his head out and supposedly left the on-pitch amateur dramatics - a series of murky deeds ranging from the mundane (diving), via the idiotic (racism) to the absolutely inexplicable (biting) - behind him.

suarez

Watching the game last night with a friend who doesn’t generally follow football but is sufficiently aware of the game to know Suarez’ teeth had offended before, remarked “Once is bad enough, but twice? He’ll get a lifetime ban for that, won’t he?”. I was forced, reluctantly given this is the sport I love, to advise that this was Suarez’ third offence. Not second.

Their facial expression said it all.

bak

Once is madness. When Suarez bit Otman Bakkal in 2010, he was Ajax captain but his disciplinary record was already questionable. His deliberate handball in the quarter-final of that year’s World Cup and subsequent cheering after Asamoah Gyan missed the resulting penalty had not endeared him to an audience who felt Ghana had been robbed of their rightful place in the semi-finals. But a seven match ban was served and the assumption made that Suarez would mature in time and learn to control his peculiar impulses.

By the time he bit Branislav Ivanovic three years later, there was little evidence he had. In December 2011 he had been found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra and served an eight match ban. His frequent and occasionally hilarious attempts to con officials by throwing himself to the ground were felt by some managers to be having such a significant impact on matches that calls for retrospective punishment became deafening.

sua

He served a ten match ban for that bite. Internet meme producers exploded.

Until he sank his teeth into Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder last night, it remained something of a joke. We were assured by Suarez’ club (whose backing of the player during the aftermath of the Evra incident was described by some as ‘shameful’) that he had grown up and accepted responsibility for his actions, and towards the end of last season Suarez indeed played a key part in Liverpool’s push for the Premier League title, attracting interest and bids of up to £80m from Real Madrid, if press reports are to be believed.

His career, encompassing all of the above as well as the absurd ability he has on the field, is now on a knife edge. Pending a FIFA investigation, he is unlikely to feature in this tournament again, and without his prowess Uruguay are unlikely to progress any further. His football future in the long term hangs in the balance too, with the possibility of a two year ban already mentioned.

Unfortunately, given the joy (and agony) he is able to unleash on the field, his inability to control his impulses must be severely punished if only to eliminate the ludicrous possibility of defenders losing concentration because they’re afraid of being bitten. Liverpool will suffer, Uruguay will suffer, football will suffer, but Suarez has defined his own career and must accept the consequences.

Back in 2013, in the aftermath of the Ivanovic bite, the BBC interviewed sports psychologist Dr Thomas Fawcett, who responded to claims that Suarez had been offered anger management therapy with a eerily prescient statement.

“It’s in the man.” he said.

“I would think that in five years’ time if there was a certain nerve hit or chord rung with Suarez in a different situation he would react in the same way.”

Five years? It took less than two. It seems the odds are not in Suarez’ favour.

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By Kelly Welles

World Cup Weekender: A word from our sponsors

23 June 2014

diego

After last week’s rather ambitious attempt to watch all the games and report on them resulted in excessive drinking, snacking and hallucinations of Pete Donaldson in his Morph suit, a more reasoned approach was adopted for this weekend’‘s round of games. I watched what I could and ignored the ones I couldn’t.

Anyone who believes this simply isn’t good enough should contact our new Complaints Officer (pictured above) who’ll be glad to assist you.

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Italy 0-1 Costa Rica

lineker

With Gary Lineker leading the charge, a significant proportion of England fans slipped into the Italy shirts they happened to have knocking around and professed allegiance to the Azurri in a one time only deal.

balo

The power of England was instantly transferred to Italy and, of course, our only hope of World Cup glory stumbled to a dismal 1-0 defeat with all their best players looking like they were carrying their own personal Sam Allardyce on their backs.

It was like being knocked out all over again, but I do wonder how many of those fans, if pressed, would admit to genuinely wanting to go through to the last sixteen of a major tournament via the backdoor at the expense of another, better team? Particularly a major tournament that has already given us some astonishing football, heroic goals and controversy aplenty.

If many answer yes, those conducting the biennial inquest could do worse than add that to their agenda under the header ‘Tragic state of affairs.’

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Switzerland 2-5 France

 

According to the runes, France a due a good tournament and as though through sheer force of will alone, it looks like they’re going to have one. Eight goals in two games so far, six different scorers, and as yet no reports of major disruption in the team seem to have proved Didier Deschamps was correct to leave certain parties at home, although Samir Nasri’s girlfriend Anara Atanes seems determined to convince the world the Manchester City midfielder is happier on the beach.

nasri

Don’t panic if you’ve opted for Switzerland as your second team though. Providing they recover from this battering, their first round win against Ecuador and anything vs. Honduras on Wednesday should see them comfortably through. Which is why it’s fine for us to summarise the game with this picture illustrating just how tiny Mathieu Valbuena actually is.

Again.

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Germany 2-2 Ghana

muller
Headbutted(ish) in the first game, Thomas Muller completed a facial injury double in this tightly contested match, taking John Boye’s shoulder full in the chiselled cheekbone. As is usual when a large bone moving at speeds hits a much smaller, more delicate bone, Muller’s face exploded and he required several minutes of medical attention.

This clarification is necessary because anyone who watched England vs. Uruguay might be labouring under the misapprehension that the normal response to this particular injury is to fall unconscious for forty-five seconds, then leap to your feet and start bellowing at anyone who has the temerity to tell you to leave the field of play.

pereira

Alvaro Pereira, ladies and gentlemen.

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Argentina 1-0 Iran

 

Fear not, Iran! Your government might be panicking at the prospect of people enjoying the World Cup to such an extent that they’re threatening crackdowns on public gatherings, but support for your team was not in short supply for this fixture vs. tournament behemoths Argentina.

iran

After half an hour or so it was tough not to scream support for the men in red who suppressed Argentina’s talent and verve so stoically and at times were a forehead’s breadth away from taking a 1-0 lead. Typically it was Lionel Messi who dug out his colleagues, making space for himself on the edge of the eighteen yard box before smashing one past goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi in the 91st minute.

messi

Son Thiago was on hand to see his Dad save the day. He’ll need to get used to that shirt. If the rest of La Albiceleste don’t pull their fingers out, he’s going to be getting a call up a little earlier than expected…

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USA 2-2 Portugal

 

Speaking of last gasp goals by teams who should have been a country mile ahead, congratulations to Silvestre Varela, who saved Cristiano Ronaldo the embarrassment of losing to SAWKER small fry. They aren’t supposed to be a force in world football but the USA outshone Portugal for long periods of the game - one of the highlights being another goal from everyone’s favourite rap star, Clint Dempsey.

demps

How does that man find the time to be a hero for his country, make an actual, proper album and be Jeff Goldblum’s real life successor, all in one lifetime?

This is why, Landon. This is why.

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By Kelly Welles

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H/T @Barzaboy.

World Cup Round-Up*: Clever girl!

20 June 2014

 
Uruguay 2-1 England

¡Buenos días! What a fantastic morning to be from Uruguay!

You have to love the World Cup don’t you, with its playful manipulation of expectation and wilful urge to make perfect patterns from peoples raw emotion. Ignominious defeat in the opening game is forgotten as the country basks in the joy of comprehensively beating the mighty England, Home of Football™, 2-1.

 
A talismanic striker - a man who just four weeks ago was under the surgeon’s knife after spending two seasons provoking ire and controversy from the Premier League faithful - returns to the field of play and becomes a hero. First from a moment of genius by the most ludicrously rock star-esque footballer to squeeze into the unnervingly tight Uruguay shirt, then via the second most unfortunate error his captain has made this year.

rooney

It was like poetry in motion, unless you happen to be from Croxteth, in which case your failure to change the game is punishable by a picture of your four-year-old son appearing on the front of the ‘nation’s favourite’ newspaper.

townsend

Look, it’s either this or wallow in the same old depression that descends upon around this point every two years. This or bitch on social media or radio phone ins about how Roy got it wrong, how the team got it wrong, how we’re not good enough. Listening to Chris Waddle’s now traditional biennial rant and Andy Townsend’s increasingly nonsensical use of the term ‘in and around’.

Can’t be arsed. Even if Mario Balotelli does earn the right to kiss the Queen.

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Colombia 2-1 Ivory Coast

colom 
Joe Hart’s efforts at the National Anthem aside, would England have celebrated like if they’d scored the winning goal? No.

col2

Instead of a media post-mortem that drills down into the personal/professional failings of England players and the ‘ineptitude’ of the manager and a Football Association that leaves tyre marks in its haste to depart before anyone attempts to engage it in serious discussion about youth policy, why can’t we just spend the next four years practicing and perfecting a victory dance?

Would the outcome be any more depressing? Really?

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Japan 0-0 Greece

 
Right, that’s enough complaining. Other football matches have taken place, y’know. Matches that are just as important to the countries involved as England vs. Uruguay was to England. Ask the bloke in the picture.

Theoretically, both Japan and Greece could still qualify for the knockout stage of the tournament if results go their way. After this 0-0 draw, “Japan face Colombia, who have already qualified with six points, and a win could still take them above Ivory Coast, whose current tally is three points while the Greeks must defeat the Ivorians and hope that Japan’s result gives them a chance to finish…               

Ah, bugger it. I’m off to Photoshop the lads into some Game of Thrones posters. Speller will love that.

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By Kelly Welles

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Images: buzzfeed, Getty.

World Cup Round-Up: The highlight of the tournament so far

19 June 2014

Australia 2-3 The Netherlands

hat

People, the highlight of the tournament so far occurred during this match and it’s only appropriate that we pause to bask in its inescapable glory. We’re barely a week in and there have been many pretenders to the much contested throne - the free-kick squirty, Chiles thinking he was being stoned to death, the memes - but one moment stands head and shoulders (Not you, Joe) above the rest.

Ladies and gentlemen. I give you the OranjeBoom windmill hat. Go home, Ghanaian Pot Man imposter. Leave town, Timotei ad applicant. You have been trounced.

 
You won’t have seen this if you were listening to the game on BBC 5Live, but you will have heard the sound of Robbie Savage actually exploding after Timmy Cahill’s awesome equaliser just a minute after Arjen Robben opened the scoring for them Nethers.

Your hapless correspondent happened to be on her way back from work when the goal went in and can confirm he was still honking after the final whistle, presumably while his co-commentators picked teeth and hair out of the furnishings and their soft tissue.

Despite punching well above their weight for the majority of their two games, the defeat means that Australia cannot progress to the knock-out phase of the tournament, but panic ye not. If other results across Group’s A & B fall in a particular way, The Netherlands, who retain an unfathomably capacity for looking unthreatening despite fielding some of the most attack minded players ever seen in football, could end up playing Brazil in the last sixteen.

That’s Brazil, who retain an unfathomably capacity for looking unthreatening despite fielding some of the most attack minded players ever seen in football.

sav

During the commentary of that game, Savage will propel himself into space, through a wormhole and into an alternative reality (preferably one where possession of a permatan is a criminal offence, or drift into a long, peaceful sleep lasting roughly three weeks.

Either works.

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Spain 0-2 Chile

 
Canadian people are smooth, no? Just look at lino Joe Fletcher here, casually shrugging off a handshake snub as though he hasn’t got a care in the world. I posted this not only so you could admire Mr Fletcher’s panache, but also to help you remember what a smiling, relaxed Iker Casillas looks like.

It may be a while until you see that again.

fans

You see, unless you’re one of the Chile fans who broke into the Maracana prior to the fixture and ended up being ‘detained’ by the military police (you can read about how that goes here, information fans), you will have heard by now that the most extraordinary period of footballing dominance we’re ever likely to see in our lifetimes has ended.

tatt

No more commemorative tattoos, no more tiki-taka, no more supercilious pursing of lips as the office irritant who hates football picks them out of the hat in the work sweepstake and starts telling you how brilliant they actually are.

We know how brilliant they are/were. It was absolutely incredible and in years to come it’ll become the stuff of myth and legend. And we’re the lucky buggers who were there. Brilliant, eh?

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Cameroon 0-4 Croatia

 
It was a relief to see Croatia’s boys throw off the embarrassment of a paparazzi (L: plural) pool intrusion to stick four past a heatstroke afflicted Cameroon team.

headbutt

It was definitely heatstroke. There is no other reason (Daniele De Rossi aside, obv) that professional footballers would be getting themselves sent off before half time in a crucial World Cup group game for smacking a man in the back when he doesn’t even have the ball, then later headbutting one another.

Still. At least Benoit Assou-Ekotto can look forward to an enthusiastic welcome back to White Hart Lane now his tournament is over.

Assuming he can justify that headbutt, obviously.

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By Kelly Welles

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Images via Twitter, 101greatgoals.

World Cup Round-Up: Guillermo the Octopus

18 June 2014

Belgium 2-1 Algeria

kom

It’s ironic that now Belgium have finally put together a football team capable of competing at elite level, the country is on the verge of splitting.

This issue, which is precisely the kind of thing England fans could and should expect if we ever manage to put together a team that plays convincing, coherent, consistent football, is one of the reasons why I might have offered my support to the Belgians if they hadn’t been touted by every pundit, expert and human being vaguely acquainted with the sport of football as the World Cup’s ‘dark horses’. As it was, I supported Algeria.

Sorry guys.

algeria

One of the most unfancied teams of the tournament, Les Fennecs (The Desert Foxes. Good) nonetheless scared the living crap out of the Belgians, who to be fair to them, were operating beneath the weight of so much expectation, it’s amazing they managed to crawl out of the dressing room and onto the pitch.

Manager Vahid Halilhodžić has indeed transformed the lumbering, heavy footed Algerians of 2010 into solid, impenetrable mass that even the fleet footed Eden Hazard found tough to break through. Sofiane Feghouli’s penalty was their first World Cup goal since Mexico ‘86 and they hung onto their lead as though it had the power to make up for every single minute of those twenty-eight years.

fellaini

It would take something special to beat them, and while it might not be to everybody’s taste, Marouane Fellaini’s afro is certainly that. The gangly Manchester United man, who failed to score in sixteen appearances with his club last season, rose like a salmon with a comedy wig on to equalise after Marc Wilmots’ late reshuffle, just ten minutes before Dries Mertens smashed in one of Eden Hazard’s finest runs of the game.

For fifty odd minutes, Algeria were a hair’s breadth away from smashing Group H wide open. #MoyesOut indeed.

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Brazil 0-0 Mexico

och

If nothing else, this increasingly frantic but ultimately non-scoring draw has unveiled the first essential signing of the summer. With almost indecent haste, Arsenal and Liverpool have reportedly expressed an interest in Guillermo Ochoa, whose heroic handiwork against Brazil’s strike force is far better explained through graphics than increasingly hysterical prose.

That pic is just from the first half - presumably the image generating machine blew up when requested to do the whole game.

2

He was ruddy everywhere, prompting mass hysteria to and memes to break out on an unprecedented level.

Both Arsenal and Liverpool should be careful what they wish for though. In these times of instant communication a man’s career can peak and trough at record speed and he may well be old news by July 13th. Even before I’ve finished writing this sentence. Let alone by the time Arsene Wenger has made a decision.

time

He’s already been on the front of Time, for goodness sake.

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Russia 1-1 South Korea

Dear Rob Green. It isn’t you. It’s him.

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By Kelly Welles

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Images: @dankarz, instagram, pitchpundit.

Landon Donovan: Built-in redundancy

17 June 2014

 
A long, relaxed, slow up-yours to Jurgen Klinsmann from the USMNT’s out of favour striker.

Nice work, Landy. Although if you’ve got that much time on your hands, you should probably consider upgrading to a PS4. The resolution on your World Cup winning goal would then be as sharp as the point you’re making.

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By Kelly Welles

World Cup Round-Up: That’s a dig!

17 June 2014

Germany 4-0 Portugal

gb

You can’t help but feel that Jogi Löw watched Germany’s arch-rivals rip Spain a new one last Friday night, raised an eyebrow, made a note in his Filofax and, next training session, simply instructed his players to beat Portugal by four clear goals.

The fact that their opponents were Portugal was neither here nor there, the message lay in the manner of the victory and the efficiency with which the task was carried out. Top of the group? Check. +4 goal difference? Check. Onto the next game.

pepe

Of course, Portugal had a mare, lost Pepe to a soft red card (you’d imagine he’d have worked this provocation business out by now, wouldn’t you?), Fábio Coentrão and Hugo Almeida to injury and any confidence whatsoever in Raul Meireles’ beard, pretty much confirming that fate is not going to extend a helping hand towards Cristiano’s World Cup legacy. Which is tremendously sad for the tanned trickster, even if you dislike his shtick.

Jogi Löw extended a hand, of course, but the only thing that Ronaldo is going to contract from that is a staph infection.

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Ghana 1- 2 USA

 

Bugger the football - in these environs at least, the re-emergence of the Ghanaian Pot Man was the most eagerly anticipated part of this fixture. And sure enough, amongst the usual array of vikings, lunatics and applications for the next Timotei advert, there was a man with a pot on his head.

pot

Whether this was the real pot man or not was a matter of some debate on Twitter, the general consensus being that the fella in question looked a little younger and less, shall we say, experienced, than the chap we’ve come to know and love.

Sadly Ghanaian merriment (and fire hazards) were confined to the stands as another Ramble favourite Clint ‘Deuce’ Dempsey, scored what turned out to be the fifth fastest goal in World Cup history, Sunderland Hall-of-Famer Jozy Altidore was carried off the park with a suspected hamstring strain and Andre Ayew’s 82nd minute equaliser was cancelled out by John Brooks’ winner.

In case you hadn’t heard, Brooks’ Wikipedia entry on Monday read as follows: “John Anthony Brooks, Jr. referred to as John Brooks (born January 28, 1993 in Berlin) is a German-American footballer. He is the greatest American since Abraham Lincoln.”

Landy-who?

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Iran 0-0 Nigeria

Nothing - Nothing to see here.

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By Kelly Welles

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Images: @smoelle

Croatia: Bottom. Of the table

16 June 2014

croatia

Croatia have reportedly banned the media from their camp after photographs of squad members skinny dipping were posted online.

Or, as Google Translate would have it, “The world has seen “tools” at their disposal Croatian footballers, there were exhibits for the title of “those” magazines. But instead of accepting it as a pastime and a little wit photographers, who from day one is not allowed to come near the camp even at gunpoint, players could hardly wait to declare silenzio stampa. As of today there is no statement. They want to punish the media, and actually penalize the audience ... Niko Kovac just shrugged helplessly.

Even at gunpoint, they reckon. If that’s the case, Niko Kovac has got more to worry about than some photos of a few sculpted backsides…

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By Kelly Welles

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Image via sbs.

World Cup Weekender: The Sick Boy Method

16 June 2014

It was Renton-esque. The carrier bag full of food items that could be consumed by the handful. Fluids, both alcoholic and isotonic, to ensure that the peaks and troughs of merriment and the morning after weren’t too altitude sickness inducing. Ditto Ibuprofen. The ceremonial boarding up of the living room door.

It was Friday, 7.55pm. I was planning to ease into the ten games of my World Cup Weekender with a straightforward, if competitive and entertaining 2-0 victory for Spain, with an appetising side of Dutch unravelling.

van

The door was already swinging on broken hinges by the time the first SuperVan photoshop came out. It’s often hard to convey the magnitude of what happens in ninety minutes to people who don’t care about football (especially when you’re covered in crisp dust and cider) but the world champions’ utter capitulation to a Dutch side who had finally managed to channel their not inconsiderable frustration at a common enemy, seems to have caught the imagination of all but the most hardened cynics.

Arjen Robben’s focussed aggression. Daley Blind’s crosses. RvP’s staggering header. The actual sound of Iker Casillas breaking. Seeing Manchester United’s out of favour striker race to the touchline for a high five with his manager, remembering they’re both working for the same team next season and having a panic attack. The whole thing captured in one photo, cheerily retweeted by Nigel De Jong (top)

It was all there. In the second flippin’ game.

campbell

Had the weekend peaked to early? With an England game on the horizon it was tempting to believe so, especially after watching a heartily unfancied Australia put in a plucky, if unsuccessful performance against Chile and the supposed Group D whipping boys Costa Rica storm to an inconvenient 3-1 victory over Uruguay and simultaneously offer Arsene Wenger another selection headache.

balo

But although the final result of the Manaus match up leaves England in third place on goal difference, the general feeling is one of positivity among supporters - an unfamiliar and slightly disorientating position.

lewin

Obviously Wayne Rooney has been criticised. The Italians spotted the space freed up by the Manchester United striker’s unwillingness to track back early and exploited it time and time again. England failed to deal with the anticipated threat of Pirlo and Veratti, as well as the unanticipated and relentless penetration by Candreva and Marchisio. The defensive frailties. Gary Lewin.

sterling

Indeed, the only thing missing from England’s performance was the terrible malaise that seems to descend on our players whenever they pull the shirt over their heads. Raheem Sterling’s audacious shot from outside the area may not have counted, but the jolt of excitement it produced lifted most off the sofa. The possession and one touch passing that has been absent from England’s playbook for so long, we forgot what it feels like to love our team.

England lost. But so did Uruguay. It’s the worst case scenario for us in that there’s still hope. At least until Luis Suarez is passed fit for Thursday.

ic

Having confirmed that consumption of all the energy drinks in the world couldn’t keep me awake for Ivory Coast vs. Japan, I was forced to hit the record button and only saw the Elephants trample over Japan’s 1-0 lead via the highlights. But a good night’s sleep stood me in good stead, and by the time Switzerland’s Haris Seferovic shattered Ecuadorian hearts with a 92nd minute winner, I was practically awake.

 

 
Indeed, France’s fairly straightforward 3-0 victory over Honduras would have been quite an enjoyable experience if Richard Keys hadn’t started piping up about goal-line technology but faith was restored by who else but Lionel Messi, who had a mare in the first half, then produced an epic second goal from nothing, which turned out to be the winner.

He’ll do that.

Liver function allowing, I may consider pulling another World Cup weekender, although you’re probably better off relying on more conventional and experienced pundits for more informative World Cup coverage.

henry

From Glenn Hoddle’s camel toe via Clarke Carlisle’s misunderstanding of eligibility in international football, through Phil Neville’s reassertion of fraternal inferiority to appreciation of Thierry Henry’s cardigans, it’s all being played out against a backdrop of confusion as to why Robbie Savage is there at all, and dare I say it?

The major news organisations have it totally covered, and it’s almost as good as the actual footie.

Almost.

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By Kelly Welles

Brazil 3-1 Croatia: A plinth among men

13 June 2014

There was a game, but you almost certainly watched it and if you’re still not clear on what exactly happened, you can read about it virtually everywhere this morning.

Here’s what we saw from the Ramble sofa. At least until the fistfight broke out over the canapés and we lost Pete down the back.

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The Anthem

 
Why we’re surprised that people are overwhelmed by the prospect of doing something they’ve trained for and dreamed abut their entire lives, I don’t know, but Brazil’s passion was gratifying and moving nonetheless.

By the way, whoever told David Luiz that you can actually sing a competition into submission is very irresponsible.

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Ball on a plinth

brazuca

A reassuring start.

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Luka Modric’s hair

modric

You probably saw he’d had it cut after celebrating Real Madrid winning the Champions League trophy (Sergio Ramos and the chewing gum in the bus back, perhaps?) but we got to see Modric’s smart new haircut in all its Croation glory last night.

Hopefully people will stop saying he looks like Gail Platt now.

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Niko Kovac threatening Jogo Low’s status as style icon.

Was Adenir Silva acting on Joachim Low’s orders here? Did he intend to finish off Niko Kovac after the inexperienced international manager encroached on Low’s status as ‘most stylish manager’ with his snappy suit and delicate features?

You can see why he’s upset…

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The ‘encroachment’ squirty

squirty

Has whipping a can of what is ostensibly shaving foam out of a holster ever elicited such excitement from a global audience?

No. No it hasn’t.

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The penalty/referee howler

ref

On BBC5Live this morning, they interviewed Graham Poll. That’s how bad this one was.

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Marcelo’s own goal

marcelo

Gareth Barry-esque.

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The inevitable conclusion

the end

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By Kelly Welles

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Images: @br_uk, cnn.com, Elsa/Getty Images South America, @BeardEric, yahoo.

Hooters: Massive boob

12 June 2014

 
Are you excited? Too excited?

Allow Hooters (the owl and breast themed restaurant people) to temper the thrill of a South American World Cup with this execrable advert featuring golfing madman Jon Daly.

It’s Woodgate-esque.

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By Kelly Welles

World Cup Crib Sheet: Group H

11 June 2014

Belgium
Manager: Marc Wilmots Special Skill: His nickname is “The Bull of Dongelberg.” ‘Nuff said.
Shirt: Built in stains.
Slogan: “Expect the impossible!”

hazard

You can’t blame their optimism, but the well of joy one might have plundered in touting Belgium as tournament ‘dark horses’ ran dry a long time ago. And while we’d like to think that an unbeaten qualifying campaign, a team boasting talented football luminaries in virtually every position and a squad offering a healthy mix of experience and youth is behind the surge in support, it’s far more likely that familiarity is to blame.

fellaini

Eleven of the final 23-man squad currently represent Premier League teams, meaning we’ve had the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of their golden generation without even having to change channel.

Captain Kompany’s hard fought title push. Eden Hazard’s absurd skill. Adnan Januzaj’s pace and creativity.

courtois

And Jose Mourinho’s vexation at Thibaut Courtois’ abilities in big games was a moment savoured by non-Chelsea fans everywhere.

But while their progress through the group should be relatively straightforward, a booby trap of a last sixteen awaits them. Should Belgium win Group H and results in Group G go as expected, they’ll face Portugal. If they finish second, they’ll get Germany. Literally (Ruud), anything could happen, but given our over inflated sense of our own importance, it’s obvious. They’re going to end up going out to Germany on penalties and blame us for jinxing them.

wall

That could work out really badly.

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Algeria
Manager: Vahid Halilhodžić Special Skill: He’s an actual Knight. So unlikely to need one.
Shirt: White with pale green applications.
Slogan: “Desert Warriors in Brazil!”

rooney

I’ll be honest. The last time I was taking any significant interest in what the Algerian national team were doing, a slightly overweight, sweaty shadow of a footballer strode past the camera mouthing off at England fans and obscured my view.

alg

Since that heady 0-0 draw in Cape Town, little has changed as far as England are concerned, but Algerian football has experienced something of a shot in the arm.

The heavy footed, aging squad of 2010, who crashed out of the group stage without scoring a single goal, has been transformed by coach Halilhodžić‘s philosophy of pressing, dynamic football which propelled them through the first stage of World Cup qualifying with five out of a possible six wins.

Halilhodžić will have been most gratified by their stubbornness in the face of defeat, though.

guns
Guns were not used.

3-2 down after the first leg of the final play-off vs. Burkina Faso and they managed to finagle their way through - Madjid Bouguerra’s 49th minute goal decisive in the end.

While they’re unlikely to challenge, fixtures against them will be awkward and and their capacity to nick a point here or there could make things very difficult for Russia and Belgium.

Let’s hope their fans support them regardless, eh?

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Russia
Manager: Fabio Capello Special Skill: Survival
Shirt: Out of this world.
Slogan: “No one can catch us!”

pav

The excitement that greeted Russia’s unexpected trouncing of the Czech Republic in their first group match in EURO 2012 implied a will existed to see a sleeping giant start kicking arse and taking names.

Unfortunately, an all mouth and no trousers approach to their remaining games - a draw with Poland and a 1-0 defeat to Greece - saw them exit the competition with their tails between their legs and a negligible fine for fan violence.

Will we see that level of excitement this time? Well, the absence of Andrey Arshavin is stab in the heart of facetious merry making, but Fabio Capello stripped him of the captain’s armband and dropped him after he mouthed off at fans. He has not been selected for Russia’s first World Cup finals squad since 2002, which seems unnecessarily harsh…

arshavin

Until you see his holiday photos.

Having steered Russia through the qualifying stages with consummate ease, the former England manager will be relying on his defence to minimise goal scoring opportunities; a wise policy given his own forwards have only scored eighteen league goals between them last season.

alan

Losing the midfield creativity of Roman Shirokov was a massive blow, but Alan Dzagoev, who scored two of Russia’s four goals in that game vs. Czech Republic will be keen to rekindle the interest that saw him linked with several clubs in 2012.

For now, Capello remains cautious. “Many people think it should be easy for us, but I want to tell them they are wrong.” he said recently.

capello

You can’t blame him. It’s not as though he hasn’t seen teams through fantastic qualifying campaigns only for them to inexplicably collapse when it matters.

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Korea Republic
Manager: Hong Myung-Bo Special Skill: Aerial threat
Shirt:Unique collar.”
Slogan: “Enjoy it, Reds.”

air

The fact that they used forty-five different players in qualifying implies that new(ish) manager Hong Myung-Bo isn’t entirely clear about his first choice eleven - never ideal when playing in an international tournament. But teams like Korea Republic know they’ll need a little luck to carry them through the group stages, so what could be better than channelling it directly from the man who captained them to their best ever finish in a World Cup?

hall of famer

He’ll be fine, even if they do foul it up. The South Korean people are notoriously generous. Guus Hiddink, who managed them to that historic fourth place in 2002, had a stadium named after him, received honorary national citizenship and is credited in some quarters with redefining “national citizenship and identity”.

And he didn’t even play!

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By Kelly Welles

John Oliver: Many guys, one cup

11 June 2014

 
There’s going to come a time in your World Cup experience when you have to explain to someone who doesn’t watch football why there are people rioting outside the stadia. Why the population of Brazil, known for their passionate love of the game, are protesting against its most prestigious tournament being held in their country. Basically, you’re going to have to explain why everybody hates FIFA.

This, by former Daily Show contributor John Oliver, should help.

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By Kelly Welles

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H/T @lozil.

World Cup Crib Sheet: Group G

9 June 2014

Germany
Manager: Joachim Löw Special Skill: Wardrobe management
Shirt: Nerve wrackingly nice.
Slogan: “One Nation, One Team, One Dream!”

“IT’S FIVE!”

We only have ourselves to blame for this, y’know. Arguably, if England hadn’t beaten the Germans 5-1 (even Heskey scored!) in their own backyard back in 2001, they wouldn’t have been forced to rethink their entire approach to international football.

If they hadn’t rethought their entire approach to international football, they may not have produced a generation of players capable of challenging the best in the world, to the point where every group they’ve started a major tournament in since 2010 has been designated the ‘Group of Death’.

And in the cases of World Cup 2010 and EURO 2012, finished top of that group.

four
Ah, crap.

It probably stings so much because a lot of England fans feel that a similar adjustment could have prevented, or at least, minimised the humiliation of that 4-1 defeat in Bloemfontein, but while that might be true, it shouldn’t detract from Germany’s achievements in recent years.

They lost to eventual winners Spain in 2010, finalists Italy in 2012 and while Brazil remain outright favourites, the Germans are 6/1 to win the tournament - same odds as Spain.

reus

That’s a big old deal for a Northern European team and despite losing Marco Reus to ankle ligament damage vs. Armenia, it’s lunacy to think they’ll do anything other that win the group again, cruise through their last sixteen fixture against either Belgium or Russia (sorry Korean Republic and Algeria, but even you probably don’t fancy you chances) and potentially throw a massive spanner into Argentina’s World Cup works in the quarters.

Before you scoff, this has actually happened already, albeit on FIFA.

On the plus side, that will be cheering to England. We’ll probably need a bit of perking up by then.

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Portugal
Manager: Paulo Bento Special Skill: Chopsy
Shirt: Stripes vary in width from great to so narrow you can barely see them. Mirroring the distribution of talent?
Slogan: “The past is history. The future is victory.”

eder
Alright, who’s the guy in the middle then?

While there are seven hundred and thirty-six players registered to play in this year’s World Cup, it’s not a democracy. The vast majority of these players will experience their moment in the Brazilian sun, but their contribution to the competition as a whole will be a footnote; remembered perhaps by their fans and fellow countrymen but not by the viewing public at large.

Cristiano Ronaldo is not one of these players. Having single-footedly propelled his team to the tournament via an astonishing second leg play-off performance, he put to bed any concerns about his ability to play under pressure, but now a persistent knee injury could threaten his chances of featuring in the opening group fixture vs. Germany. And what with this being the ‘Group of Death’ (and Doom), his presence could be decisive in who proceeds to the knock-out stages and who goes home.

Football, eh?

fabio
Sought after, despite an unnerving resemblance to Limahl.

Is it unfair to cast the likes of Fabio Coentrao, Pepe, Bruno Alves & Joao Moutinho, Nani & Raul Meireles in supporting roles? There’s no denying that the terrifying central defensive partnership of Bruno Alves and Pepe will be useful against the likes of Germany, while Coentrao’s marauding runs have caused all manner of problems for La Liga right backs this season, although any hopes Manchester United fans had of him replacing Patrice Evra appear to shattered after reports that he will sign a new contract with Madrid shortly.

beeard
Beard v2.0.

But game changers? A few years ago, you might have said Nani, but thirteen appearances for Manchester United last year tell their own story about his career progression, while Raul Meireles’ form seems to be inversely proportional to the size of his beard now he’s in the Turkish Süper Lig.

ron

It feels reductive, even Lovejoy-esque to say it, but if we’re going to see Portugal get out of the group, it’s probably going to involve having to sit through more of the above. Whether that’s reason enough to keep one’s fingers crossed for another flare up of that left patellar tendinosis is a dependent on how inadequate the above makes you feel, I suppose.

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Ghana
Manager: James Kwesi Appiah Special Skill: Self-proclaimed under-dog. We’ll see.
Shirt: Essentially a patterned frock.
Slogan: “Black Stars: Here to illuminate Brazil..”

dark

The fact is that even if black or dark stars’ existence had been proven, they would, by their very nature, fail to emit light. So even if Ghana tear up the table, thrash Germany, Portugal and the United States, floodlight failure will remain a real threat.

ayew

Can they do it? Well, romantic Ramblers will tell you they can, and will argue until they’re blue in the face that there’s always an upset in a major tournament. They’ll then turn a bit pink when they advise you that not one, but two of Abedi Pele’s sons, Jordan and Andre Ayew, will feature at some point and that fate owes Ghana a break after their upsetting exit from South Africa 2010.

They may have a point, even they have got crisps in their beards. With Michael Essien, Portsmouth Hall-of-Famer Sulley Muntari and Kevin Prince-Boateng all named in the squad the Ghanians are hardly short of self-belief and talent, which may be sufficient to propel them past Portugal if the injuries reach critical mass and the USA sans LandyCakes, but they’ll probably run out of gas before they get anywhere close to bettering their last World Cup placing.

gyan

At least we’ll get a chance to see Gyan. Unless you’re an ardent follower of Sunderland Reserves or UAE football, you probably won’t have seen hide nor hair of him since that post penalty facepalm.

Don’t worry though. He’s been having a blinding time.

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United States
Manager: Jurgen Klinsmann Special Skill: He can fly.
Shirt: All white. But the away shirt is nicer.
Slogan: “United by team, driven by passion.”

altidore
Look away now, Sunderland fans.

Andrey Arshavin’s performance for Russia in the opening game of EURO 2012 was something of a revelation for Arsenal fans, and Sunderland fans also can look forward to the same confusion if Jozy Altidore carries his cracking qualification form into the tournament proper.

The striker scored just two goals in thirty appearances for the Black Cats last season, but a flurry of goals including two decisive strikes vs. Nigeria earned him a striker’s berth ahead of Landon Donovan.

donovan

Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision to leave the USMNT’s golden boy at home has been met with considerable criticism, not least because if Altidore suffers a relapse of his Sunderland form, the team will have to rely on internationally inexperienced San Jose Earthquakes striker Chris Wondolowski and AZ Alkmaar’s Aron Johannsson.

Will the experience and recent good form of Clint Dempsey be sufficient to pull them through? Against weaker opposition perhaps, but with just under half of the squad playing their club football in the MLS, it’s difficult to see how they’ll make their way through the group unscathed.

yedlin

Still, if all else fails, they have DeAndre Yedlin in defence. His selection of unmanageable hairdos alone will scare the living crap out of most strikers.

Yes. Even Lukas Podolski.

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By Kelly Welles

World Cup Crib Sheet: Group F

6 June 2014

Argentina
Manager: Alejandro Sabella Special Skill: Not being Diego. Twice.
Shirt: The iconic blue & white stripes with a modern twist.
Slogan: “Not Just A Team, We Are A Country.”

arg

Wait. Is that slogan a trick? Are they trying to lull us into a false sense of security? We’ve all read the stats - we know that no European team has ever won the tournament when it’s been held on South American soil, ya da ya da - so why the straightforward statement of self-determination?

Keep it on the down-low, then explode out of the traps and hammer everyone 5-0? Has Lionel Messi’s indifferent run of form at the latter stage of last season also been a ruse? Oh god. Are we overthinking this?

pal

Alright, it’s unlikely that anyone will underestimate Argentina, given that their attacking options alone read like a who’s who of footballing genius. Before the rest of the group even start thinking about the diminutive Barca midfielder, there’s the small matter of containing Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Angel Di Maria. Not to mention the follicular anarchist that is Inter’s Rodrigo Palacio.

They’ve been banging ‘em in with aplomb all season, and we have no reason to believe they’re going to dial it down when a relatively kind draw has made the path to the final that much easier to navigate.

messi
Tissue! Dirty boy!

So where are the weaknesses? Well, despite that terrifying wealth of talent, tournaments are won and lost on the form of a player like Lionel Messi and he hasn’t looked the sharpest in the weeks leading up to the finals.

His main contribution in the 0-0 draw in a friendly against Romania a few weeks ago was to throw up on the pitch again and while his health issues haven’t prevented him from playing, he failed to score in Wednesday’s 3-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago, although he had a free kick come off the post.

gerrard
Whoops, sorry Liverpool fans.

When viewed in conjunction with the flaws in defensive positions, and the kind of “never going to get a better chance to win it” pressure that did for Liverpool last season, it’s easy to get carried away and write them off.

Do so at your peril though. Javier Mascherano is more than capable of marshalling a defence, Pablo Zabaleta is no slouch either and a poor season by Lionel Messi’s standards involves scoring 41 goals for his club.

That boy, eh? 

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Bosnia-Herzegovina
Manager: Safet Sušić Special Skill: Gerd Muller rates him. What more do you want?.
Shirt: Late but great.
Slogan: “Dragons In Heart, Dragons On The Field!”

dragon
That’s quite categorically not a dragon, is it?

Now that’s more like it! Imagine how brilliant it would be if, come game time, Argentina take to the pitch to face an ACTUAL team of dragons. It’s not going to happen, but just think about, it yeah?

Back in the real world, the draw has also been kind to Bosnia-Herzegovina, but internal wranglings could present challenges to the only tournament débutantes this time around, despite their finishing qualifying at the top of the group with a shed load of goals.

Fans of Premier League football will be familiar with Edin Dzeko’s tendency to speak his mind and the Manchester City forward was quick to condemn fans’ negative response to the team after they lost 2-0 to Egypt back in March.

dzeko

Fortunately, there is quality throughout the team and if they perform even half as well as they did in qualifying, you can be sure the hugely patriotic fans will be right behind them. You’ll already have seen Asmir Begovic’s proactive build-up play but Bayer Leverkusen’s Emir Spahić, Roma’s Miralem Pjanić and Vedad Ibisevic from Stuttgart have all proved themselves this season.

Keep your eye out for Nigeria vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina on 21st June. That, dear Ramblers, could be the decisive fixture in the group. Dragon suits or no dragon suits.

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Iran
Manager: Carlos Queiroz Special Skill: Not averse to the odd bout of controversy. Wonder where he learned that?.
Shirt: Features wildlife.
Slogan: “Honor Of Persia.”

iran

It’s a testament to Carlos Queiroz’ managerial nous that he was able to haul the Iranian national team across the qualifying line, but even with a comparatively kind draw it will probably prove too much to ask to have him to take them any further.

ali

The heady days of Ali Daei are long since passed and unless something inexplicable happens in their opening fixture (like Nigeria failing to turn up for the game), the most we can look forward to is Adrian Chiles having an absolute mare with his pronunciation.

Reza Ghoochannejhad, Hashem Beykzadeh & Sepahan Isfahan, we look forward to your participation with interest!

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Nigeria
Manager: Stephen Keshi Special Skill: Not afraid to change his mind.
Shirt: A bit cucumbery.
Slogan: “Only Together We Can Win.”

Only sings when he’s winning, apparently.

Pressure is a feature of tournament football, but extra focus is probably required when failure could mean suspension of the national team. Long time Ramblers may remember the hilarity/horror that greeted President Goodluck Jonathan’s decision to test the theory of whether football and politics mix after Nigeria failed to win a game in South Africa and crashed out. Then FIFA piped up and the whole situation evolved from farce to full-on headdesk festival.

It’s a wonder they still exist as a sporting entity, really.

nigeria

The bad news is that Goodluck Jonathan remains in power, but the things appear to have settled down a bit since Stephen Keshi took the helm and under his command the Super Eagles beat Burkina Faso to the Africa Cup of Nations in 2013. Qualification for the World Cup was bumpy but the quality and experience Keshi has to call on should be sufficient to ensure that Mr Jonathan shouldn’t be forced into making any irrational decisions.

Not to do with football, anyway. Lolz.

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By Kelly Welles