Monday, November 16, 2009

England v Brazil in Doha November 2009

Wind,rain and flooding - not ideal for watching football.
But that was in the UK.

In Doha it is hot and sunny.

Construct some high class hotels, an impressive museum , some American quality shopping centres in a location around a bay. Add in some skyscraper towers and a sanitised souq.

Bring in multitudes from the Indian sub-continent to do the work - work that visibly continues at a pace despite the economic downturn.

And you have an environment that is safe and secure with guarenteed weather.

The only downside being the tolerance of smoking in public places (and the likely boredom after being there for a while)

Doha - an attractive venue for many sporting contests, conferences and other prestigious events.
Such as...

England 0 Brazil 1 in the Khalifa International Stadium.

The locals made it family friendly with an opening presentation complete with flourescent lights.

In the game itself our reserves were always going to struggle against a stronger Brazilian team.

As usual we made some defensive mistakes - one by Wes Brown should have resulted in a red card for Foster. The referee kept it friendly and also let a number of other fouls go by.

We created little - Bent hardly had a touch from the minimal service he received - making it very difficult to assess him as a World Cup striker.

The stadium was stylish - like a lot of Doha - in an area next to a world class mall (complete with canal and gondola) and a striking tower.

It was also a stadium with an arch - like a number these days.

Prompting the question about Wembley -why did we not make more effort to preserve those unique twin towers ?

Afterwards I returned to my hotel via a bus from outside the stadium followed by a walk along the corniche to the accompaniment of noisy, ecstatic Egyptians celebrating their result against Algeria.

On this trip I did forgo any alcohol - it was available at a price in the larger hotels but was usually accompanied by a haze of smoke .

That wouldn't have been comfortable - unlike Brazil's victory.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Brazil October/November 2009

Football is popular in Brazil.

Through Sao Paulo passport control and straightaway you see a TV showing football. It was Fulham v Roma.
And to continue the UK connection the Brazilian news even covered the postal strike.

In Sao Paulo the metro still needs to be 'joined-up' -they are opening over 30 new stations in the next few years. So going from east to west is somewhat tricky - I chose an airport bus and taxi to get to my hotel near the Morumbi shopping centre.

But replenished with a caipirinha you soon feel better.

Braganca Paulista.

Bragantino 4 Fortaleza 1 in Serie B.

The bus takes about an hour and a half to get to Braganca Paulista from Sao Paulo.

Its an average, safe place with a nice lake and not much else.
Not too many fans turned out on this Friday night - in fact 418 paid including a dozen from distant Fortaleza.
The latter are battling relegation and this result did their cause little good.

Bragantino scored through a free kick from a narrow angle. They then went on to pick Fortaleza off as they were forced to attack, it didnt help that the visitors had a man sent off in the second half.

Via bus to Sao Paulo and a flight to Rio.

Maracana - Rocket Man.

Vasco da Gama 2 Bahia 1

The Maracana was used for this game due to amount of interest in the game and the limited space at Vasco's regular home ground. Personally I would have preferred the original choice.

Vasco are on the verge of returning to the top division and this result virtually ensured their promotion.

Their many fans (50,000) produced terrific noise and atmosphere but inevitably large areas of the stadium were sparsely populated.

But the Maracana is still the Maracana - the sense of scale, the curve of the stands - the history.
It made this writer think of the 1950 World Cup final and what it would have been like to be among those 200,000.

Anyway on this day Vasco and Bahia probed for long periods without producing much action until a defensive error allowed Fagner to break through and shoot in.

It took until the second half before the much maligned and generally inactive, top scorer, Elton secured the win with a flick and a great left footed volley.
Bahia got one back soon after but they were well held and like Fortaleza remain near the bottom. Bahia brought a couple of hundred fans placed in the lower tier and they were very much drowned out by the Vasco songs.

This being Rio I chose a metro ride on the Sunday morning to the Copacabana area, joining many locals (and tourists) packing the beaches. Which were thronged with thongs.

I join the Botafogo ultras.

well briefly.

Botafogo 0 Flamengo 1

I chose the metro and minibus taxi to get close to the Engenhao stadium.

The feeling of a clasico is soon evident - the amount of police, threatening local fans checking for away fans going down the wrong roads. A helicoptor overhead.

Apparently a sellout it was nowhere near full (25,000) presumably becuase ticket sales were restricted due to security concerns.

The stadium, modern with large two tier covered sides and much smaller ends is divided 50:50.

Prior to the start two sets of Flamengo ultras, the rubra negro and the torcida joven have a brief skirmish - they don't get on - and a large gap is formed between them in the stands.

The game is settled by Adriano (ex-Inter), evading two defenders, getting space and using his left foot to do the rest. Otherwise, as seems typical for some Brazilian strikers, he does little but wait for a chance to score. Despite this he is joint top scorer in the Brasileiro.

Botafogo contributed to their own downfall after Lucio Flavio's shot from the penalty spot is easily saved.

Flamengo though challenging for the title (at the time they were 3 points behind Palmeiras at the top) didn't look like Championship winners.
Mainly because after getting in front they wasted time continually and tended to defend rather than go for more goals.

Anyway it worked this time.

I exited briskly and immediately got caught up with the Botafogo ultras - they trying to find some Flamengo fans to attack - me to find my bus. We both dodged the ramaging police horses incl. one that charged along the pavement.
I made the bus and metro back to central Rio without further incident.

To Bahia state and Salvador.

Where there is an impressive historic centre - full of decaying, imperial style churches and steep cobbled streets.

Its an awkward bus ride to get to the Barradao to watch Vitoria - but its definitely worth it for a big night game such as :-

Fireworks in Salvador.

Vitoria 0 Corinthians 1

Outside the small crowded, hilly, streets are numerous stalls with beer and, well, meat - all adding to a typical big match in South America.

As the teams come out - Fireworks - you're not kidding - all around the home stands - red flares everywhere.

Generating a tremendous atmosphere.

And Corinthians brought a large group of fans cramming most of the left hand end.
The stadium, in a dip in this hilly area is basically 3 sides and mostly open.

The opposite side contains the dressing rooms and, apart from some trees, not much else.

So 20,000 plus noisy fans made this a night to remember - all this and Ronaldo too.
Yes he hardly moved around but there was the odd touch - and he did manage to allow space for young talent de Federico to beat the offside trap and score the winner.

The taxi ride, back to Rio Vermelho, was much quicker than the outward journey.

Then a flight to Recife - further north and again a better than expected experience.

Sport going down.

Sport 1 Coritiba 1

Loads more red and black in evidence as Sport fans chanted their team on to avoid relegation.

We had only played 2/3 minutes when some of the floodlights failed, fortunately they did come back after a 20 minute delay.

After which Sport attacked relentlessly providing a very entertaining first half.
But after going behind Coritiba fought back to equalise.

This was another game with plenty of atmosphere and a stadium with an Argentinian feel - different sized stands/terrace and fans at both ends.
22,000 or so watched and produced plenty of noise (though with only a small group from Coritiba)
Somehow it was not to be for Sport and I felt for them in their frustration.

This time I could stroll back to my, elderly, central riverside hotel via fairly deserted streets - transformed from the earlier noise and bustle

And back in Sao Paulo.

From where I took a bus trip of some hour and half to a hot Campinas to see promotion contending Guarani.

Easy Portuguesa.

Guarnai 0 Portuguesa 3

Plenty of Guarani green around with fans parading through the city centre to get to the ground, many with 'champs' t shirts.
Their stadium is also greenish (coloured) with medium level open seats and a covered side with a large terrace/stand above.
Another decent crowd of over 10,000 were not encouraged as Portuguesa took over in the first half , slicing apart the home defence to score three times.

Guarani failed to get too close and ended well beaten - they'll almost certainly still go up but not as Champions.

Lastly in a suburb of Sao Paulo reached via an efficient bus system and taking around a hour and a half :-

Just like watching Brazil.

Santo Andre 2 Gremio 0

I'd chosen this game as an alternative to Palmeiras v Corinthians as this original choice had been moved to Presidente Prudente (hundreds of kms away at the other end of the state) for security and monetary reasons.

But I did see a very enjoyable free flowing game to end the trip.

Santo Andre, in Brazilian yellow, looked a lot better than a bottom four team against a largely inaffective Gremio.
The home side scored through striker Nunes and benefited from an headed own goal by Rafael Marques soon after the break. Gremio made it worse by having Roberson sent off.

The stadium is two-sided with one side largish, open, including a section for the couple of hundred away fans and the other, smaller, with a curving cover. Around 1,500 attended.

I returned by three buses and went on to enjoy a memorable meal in a Churrascaria.

As is usually the case South America did not disappoint.

more pics at

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ukraine v England October 2009

Flares back in fashion.

Ukraine 1 England 0 in the Dnepro Arena.

Defensive mistakes that didn't really matter as we had already qualified or an inherent weakness that will continue to be exposed.

Take your pick.

Goals being conceded must frustrate coach Capello.
And the seeming reliance on livewire Rooney looks fragile.

Ukraine were certainly up for it, they passed well and limited England to few chances.
Their fans were eager with the flares. At the start, and when Shevchenko contrived to miss the penalty that followed Robert Green being sent off.

In Dnepropetrovosk the weather was not too cold, the scenery conducive and the xenophobic youths generally controlled. Much might well have been different with an alternative result or, worst of all, an abandonment.

Culturally I visited the History Museum, Monastery Island and joined the locals strolling around Park Shevchenka as the leaves fell and winter felt closer.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

U-20 World Cup in Egypt

Borg al Arab.

The Under 20 FIFA World Cup began in the 'new' Borg al Arab (military) stadium outside of Alexandria.

The stadium was being used for the first time for a major game despite being built over 3 years ago (for a failed World Cup bid)

Very surprisingly around 80,000 turned out , post-Ramadan, to enjoy an entertaining opening ceremony and the first game featuring the hosts and Trinidad & Tobago.

Yes there were thousands of the pastel coloured military service personnel trucked-in for the occasion but nevertheless it was an impressive beginning. Inevitably with president Mubarak attending (alongside FIFA president Sepp Blatter) many were still outside as the stadium was 'locked down' some 3 hours before the 8pm kick-off.

Egypt U-20 4 Trinidad & Tobago U-20 1

The local youngsters were not overawed by the surroundings or size of the crowd as they passed the ball well and went in front through a Messi-like dribble from Afroto. Though the Caribbeans equalised after an Egyptian error the hosts dominated the second half scoring through Arafat (twice) and Talaat.

Time for a coloured coordinated Mexican wave finished by some turf-kissing and much local celebration to get the tournament off to a bright start.


Its Friday - a day to savour.

The roads are relatively benign and many are at prayers.

I choose the metro then short taxi ride to the Cairo International stadium for the first game of a triple-header :

Italy U-20 0 Paraguay U-20 0

Its Italy so a nil-nil draw is never far away regardless of the age group.

A sparse crowd watched as both sides erred on the side of caution , both probably feeling confident of being able to progress beyond the group stages. It got languid at times in the 30 degree heat.

After a quick taxi ride, some dodging and weaving, and some searching I get to :

Al Salam.

A new stadium some 40 minutes or so from the main Cairo stadium , featuring an impressive centrally positioned video screen and holding around 20,000 when full.

Nigeria U-20 0 Venezuela U-20 1

A reasonable number of Venezuela fans had made the trip for their first ever major FIFA event and they generated some atmosphere in the stands. Nigeria also had support, presumably from local workers. As always the pastels were trooped in.

The impressive Del Valle slid in the winner for the South Americans and perhaps typically the Nigerians had a man dismissed. Nigeria battled hard later on but failed to get a breakthrough.

Spain U-20 8 Tahiti U-20 0

The third game of the day, also in the Al Salam stadium.

Its not every day that you see a team from Tahiti play.
Though the South Sea islanders did have an early half-chance that was it. The closest they got to the Spaniards was to present them garlands prior to the start.

A shellshocked Tahiti goalie may as well as not been there as Spain destoyed their opponents, particularly down the right wing. They eased off in the second half and still scored eight.


A hot Suez and another new stadium , this time with a good sized 40,000 capacity, named after president Mubarak rather than the usual military nomenclature.

Germany U-20 3 USA U-20 0

A strong looking german side fairly easily overcame a partly college based US team - that often looked like, well, college players.
Look out for the German left back (Kopplin) - also a long throw exponent and their striker Sukuta-Pasu.

South Korea U-20 0 Cameroon U-20 2

The second game of the Suez double-header.

The sometimes comically wild shooting of the Cameroonians versus the all action Koreans.

Cameroon won following a Korean goalie error and a second later in the second half.

Name of the tournament - Banana Yaya , the Cameroon no.4.

Al Salam.

Monday for another fraught triple header beginning with :-

Nigeria U-20 0 Spain U-20 2

A lob over the goalie for the first when put through and a Panenka-like chipped penalty for the second. Arsenal's Fran Merida ran this game.

True to form Nigeria have another guy sent off (Salami)


Italy U-20 2 Trinidad & Tobago U-20 1

Back in Cairo International stadium after a typically hair raising taxi ride, on a busy Monday, involving dirt tracks, going the wrong way along the main road and dodging a car stuck in a deep hole in the road.

As the hosts were playing later a decent crowd built up - mainly supporting the underdogs.

Albertazzi headed in the first but after a defensive mistake Junior Clarence converted the equaliser. It looked like Trinidad would get an impressive draw but a misplaced pass allowed Raggio to drive home the winner.

Egypt U-20 1 Paraguay U-20 2

The third game of the day and the main event. It is watched by well over 50,000 fans generating a vibrant atmosphere for their young team.
After a bright start from Egypt the South Americans quietened the crowd with a goal from Santander.
Arafat missed some half chances for the home side before Huth gets caught out and is red carded for holding back an Egyptian forward.
Afroto chips in the free kick for 1-1.

Into the second, and with a substitute goalie, Paraguay hold their own.
With various players succumbing to cramp the game ends with a corner headed back for Paniagua to volley home the Paraguayan winner from close range.

The locals disperse quietly though probably convinced that they will go through to the next phase anyway. And so it was.


It is the second biggest FIFA event in the calendar, after the main World Cup.

Though many major European football countries choose not to give it much support - England being a prime example - in Egypt there were plenty of takers.

Characteristically the play is more erratic (think Cameroon) , sometimes naive, and sometimes the players struggle to last the pace. But often the games look similar to full Internationals, as do the tactics employed (think Italy)

Egypt itself and Cairo in particular went from the relative heaven of the holidays after Ramadan to the mayhem we expect with snarled up roads and pollution.

Though Sepp Blatter thought that Egypt could stage the next African (full) World Cup it is hard
to see the infrastructure being capable.

more pics at

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ireland September 2009

The Luas Derby

Shamrock Rovers 1 St Patrick's Athletic 0

Now in their new stadium in Tallaght, with two stands open and a big crowd of over 5,000 there was a definite buzz around this game.

The ultras could do their thing and their team did theirs via an early Twigg penalty.

St Pats had a man sent off in the penalty incident and though the visitors did better in the second half it was not enough.

With Bohemians losing it was a very good night for Rovers as they closed in on top place.

Afterwards I took the Luas back to Red Cow.

Done good.

Portadown 1 Dungannon Swifts 4

Newly promoted Portadown have a decent ground including an older main stand and two newer stands, plenty of room to accommodate around 300 for this fixture.

After a dull, goalless, first half the Swifts pressed on to a convincing win against a limited Ports team.

Better game.

Newry City 1 Cliftonville 2

This was good entertainment for a higher than usual (Sunday) crowd , though with less goals than at Portadown. Both teams pushed forward from the start and the home side edged the first half.
But the Belfast team came out top in the 2nd scoring with two short range goals to seal the win.

No game.

Carrick Rangers v Ballyclare Comrades

Carrickfergus was mostly shut on this Monday night though the pub I went into was lively enough.

The Comrades brought some 'ultras' but they and the rest of us didn't see any football as the floodlights flickered and expired. A few minutes hanging around and the game was abandoned.


Ireland 1 South Africa 0

From Belfast to Dublin by bus , then hire car to Limerick for this friendly.

Played at Thomond Park, home to Munster rugby and prior to redevelopment the ground were the touring All Blacks were once defeated.

Ireland picked various reserve players.

South Africa passed well and dominated possession but lacked any punch up front.

Pienaar was typically prominent.

But it took a Liam Lawrence free kick to show them how it should be done.

Without a Benni McCarthy Bafana Bafana will struggle to score at the World Cup finals.

Reds beat Blues.

Cliftonville 4 Linfield 0

Sometime later in North Belfast.

Solitude was vibrant for this feisty game though the main stand was not open and opposite was just the TV cameras (and a view of the countryside)

The Reds fans were behind one goal and the Linfield fans at the other with plenty of characteristic police vans outside.

One flag was against the famine but there was no goal famine for Cliftonville as they scored decisive goals and benefited from Linfield having a man sent off.
It was a memorable win for the home side.

After a ten minute wait to allow the away fans to disperse I walked back to the city centre through ever quieter streets and passing the odd hooded figure.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

USA July 2009

"I gotta ask you a question - where do you come
from ? "
"Ingerland ... i knew it."
"Is it true they all dress up smart in Ingerland..."
"I wanna go to Ingerland..."

New York.

New York is hot and for once passport control is quick and painless.

New home win.

New York Yankees 8 Seattle Mariners 5

At the new Yankee stadium - opposite the old one but without the memories.
At least the old site will not become the usual car park but will revert to a park with sports facilities, hopefully with some of its original structure preserved.

We had an hour of rain delay before the start - time for a couple of drinks to get in the mood.

The ballgame was slow to get going but had a great finish with the Mariners equalising at 5-5 before the home side scored three in the bottom of the 8th to complete the win.

A late 11.30pm finish, the subway from Queens and some sleep before an early flight to LA the next morning.


Three days based in Carson, LA for a mix of baseball and football.

Bees stopped play or Houston we don't have a problem.

San Diego Padres 2 Houston Astros 7

It takes around 2 hours to drive south from LA to San Diego - past typically evocative place names like Long Beach, El Camino Real and Mission Viejo.
On the way I stop some surfers and ask where I can get a coffee - its somewhat different here than New York.

San Diego Petco Park is centrally situated and once inside you have a nice view of the downtown skyline.

For this afternoon game it was kids day. One way to ensure the many empty spaces were filled and also - tickets at half price ($7.50)
The (presumably larger than normal) all-you-can-eat seats were not full either.

Yet another delay - this time of about 50 minutes. Amazingly caused by a swarm of bees gathering around a jacket left on a chair near left field.
A pest control guy was called and eventually he administered the appropriate spray.
Frustratingly this happened in the 9th innings, not that it made any difference to the progressive Astros who had been well in control throughout.

The later finish meant enduring the rush hour traffic up highway 5 back thru Orange county to LA.


The Gold Cup is a biennial event involving 12 teams qualifying from the North American, Central American and Caribbean regions. It is usually won by Mexico or the USA (Canada being the only other champion)
It began at the Home Depot stadium in Carson.

One Ali.

Canada 1 Jamaica 0

the first of the double headers.

A single goal by ex-MK Dons striker Ali Gerba was enough to beat the Reggae Boys.

Both sides created chances and generally Jamaica edged the possession but the single goal clinched it. Canada produced a competent defensive performance.

El of an atmosphere.

El Salvador 2 Costa Rica 1

Home Depot livened up considerably for the second part of the double header as thousands of blue shirted El Salvador fans filled most of the stadium , generating plenty of noise using their own version of the vuvuzela (see South Africa blog)
Their team did them proud.

El Salvador closed down the favoured Ticos scoring first through Romero, getting pegged back in the second half, but then capitalising on a defensive error for a great win.

Definitely not a typical Home Depot atmosphere.

Pre-Beckham win.

Chivas USA 0 LA Galaxy 1

This MLS 'Superclasico' bore little resemblance to any in South America. Nor did it compare to being with the El Salvador fans the previous weekend.

But it was a better than normal MLS atmosphere with the Chivas 'ultras' at both ends of the stadium and a contingent supporting LA G in the right hand corner.
Inevitably we had the 'best dressed man feature' , many late arrivals and a soccer-mom singing the National Anthem.

Apparently the man himself watched from the stands as the Galaxy secured their win via a Edson Buddle header after about half an hour. Generally Chivas struggled to create chances although Atiba Harris (St Kitts) looked useful.
23,409 attended - not a sell-out.

Toto, I've a feeling we are in Kansas.

But is it Kansas City , Kansas or Kansas City, Missouri ?

Confusing it may be but there is definitely much less traffic than in LA amongst the wide open spaces of each Kansas City.

Kamara strikes the pose.

Kansas City Wizards 0 Houston Dynamo 1

In the Community America ballpark - a minor league stadium with awkwardly placed stands.

We had fireworks , it being 4th July , Harleys, US flags, military personnel and obviously the star spangled banner. It was back to a typical family orientated MLS event complete with an all-you-can-eat-section.

Many of the mums would probably have related to Kei Kamara putting on a white glove and striking a Michael Jackson pose after heading in the winner.
Some orange shirted fans from Texas ('Texian Army') had made the trip to see the high flying Dynamos win a decent game with both sides creating good chances.

Still in Kansas City (one of them) and back to the baseball.

Impressive scoreboard.

Kansas City Royals 6 Chicago White Sox 3

To the Kauffman stadium - 36 years old but the sixth oldest stadium in major league baseball.
It has a very impressive scoreboard, fountains and a waterfall.

Just a smallish turnout over the holiday weekend to see the generally underperforming Royals finish this series of games with a win. There were two home runs - one for each team.

Very pleasant weather and this time no interruptions for rain (or bees)


Lets go Cubbies.

Chicago Cubs 4 Atlanta Braves 2

I walked down Clark to Wrigleyville.

For surely one of the best atmospheres and suroundings in baseball.

An historic venue. The adjacent streets with the roof-top views and the ivy clad walls.

A full house to see the Cubs win.

They bring out the 'W' flags to signify the result and all stay behind to sing the song - Hey Chicago whaddya say , the Cubs are gonna win today....


The flight to Columbus was not full.

Small crew.

Jamaica 0 Costa Rica 1

Not too many in the 'soccer-specific' Crew stadium (with a concert stage at one end) for these games. Those that watched saw Costa Rica get the win over an unlucky Jamaica who had a man dismissed.

Canada 1 El Salvador 0

Canada defended well as El Salvador couldn't create much. Again it was Ali Gerba who got the winner - a chip over the goalie. The El Salvador fans turned out in reasonable numbers amongst the 7,000 crowd.


I stayed near the awesome Texas Medical Centre - the largest such centre in the world.

The area is thronged with medical staff (and patients)

Nearby downtown is mainly, well, downtown with many of the shops being underground and air-conditioned against the hot conditions up top.

Meanwhile in Reliant Park the Astrodome waits - aloof and still apparently preserved.

Next to it is the impressive , air conditioned (it was 37 degrees outside) Reliant Arena where we see the next Gold Cup games. The record crowd was set when one Miley Cyrus gave a concert (see later)

Guadeloupe are good.

Guadeloupe 2 Nicaragua 0

Guadeloupe passed well and looked like a competent side, not too surprising as they have various players in the French league.
Nicaragua were moderate and didn't do much better when Guadelopue had man sent off.

Captain Auvray and Ludovic Gotin got the goals.


Mexico 1 Panama 1

Some 47,000 tickets were sold for this second game.

And to continue a theme we had a prolonged delay, not for rain (we were indoors) or bees, but when Ricardo Phillips of Panama refused to leave the field after being sent off. His route to the dressing room being bombarded by unhappy Mexican fans.
Phillips was the third man to be dismissed in a game where the two sides didn't get on too well.

Mexico had scored first from a Dos Santos (of Spurs) pass.
But Panama fought back with striker Perez (of Pachuca) getting the equaliser.

It was a disappointing performance by the Mexicans.

Incidentally Phillips had been sent off for pushing the Mexican coach (Aguirre - who was also dismissed) when retreiving a ball from the touchline.


Meanwhile in Miami (via Fort Lauderdale for this visitor) a smallish university stadium hosted the final group games for Costa Rica and co.

No vice.

Costa Rica 2 Canada 2

Goals though.
The Ticos brought plenty of fans to see their team draw with an understrength , already qualified, Canadian side.
They saw four first half goals including a classy free kick from captain Walter Centeno.

No goal, no cry.

El Salvador 0 Jamaica 1

El Salvador had the fans but their team underperformed, succumbing to a late winner by Omar Cummings of the Reggae Boys.
It meant that Jamaica would squeeze through to the semi-finals despite being very wayward up front.
17,000 eventually made it to this stadium in steamy conditions.


finally to the desert and the cactii - Phoenix, Arizona - renowned for its heat and it didn't disappoint - at a scorching 43 (or 110) degrees.

As in Houston the games were (thankfully) played in an indoor air-conditioned arena , the 60,000 University of Phoenix stadium, home to the Phoenix Cardinals NFL team.
From a distance it looked like a large spaceship had landed in the desert.

Beginning with a sparse crowd the attendance built up to over 23,000 as the Mexicans came in.

Like many stadiums in the US it isn't that easy to get to unless you have a car - a factor that must affect the crowds at these kind of events.

Panama stroll.

Panama 4 Nicaragua 0

Easy for the Panamanians after they got the first goal.
Nicaragua had a man sent off and never threatened. The strength of the taller Panama team told as they converted the crosses against the smaller Nicaraguans.

More dismissals.

Mexico 2 Guadeloupe 0

Guadeloupe decided on a cautious approach against a determined Mexico side with something to prove. Both had already qualified for the next phase but Mexico needed to build some momentum both for the Gold Cup and, more importantly, the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

Again the team playing Mexico had two men sent off.
Obviously it didn't help any possible Guadeloupe comeback after Mexico had taken the lead.
They had been one of the more watchable and capable teams but this night wasn't one of their best.


In the USA you tend to see the future - so look out for 'Fatburger' and 'Potbelly' restaurants and all-you-can-eat sections in stadiums.

Perhaps we'll be speaking even louder on our mobiles (cellphones) like the lady on the train in Houston -

"I'd like to get my kitten neutered"
"ok - I've got that date - can I ask a question"
"the cat is very wild - do you know how old it is "
" 4 weeks - and its ...feral..."
"what if I can't get the cat under control..... euthanasia..."
"I don't want that"
She ends the conversation and speaks to one of her children.
"can you look up 'feral' on the Internet please and call me back, oh and find out how long it takes to break in the cat"
(just before my train stop)
"it means its wild - why did they let us have a wild kitten ? and it might take over a month to control it .....i want to keep the cat ...." (phew)

And in Hooters...

"I gotta ask you a question" "where do you come from" "I knew it ...Ingerland"
"I love Ingerland.... I'm 21 and I wanna go to Ingerland"

"Is it true they all dress up smart in Ingerland ?"

And so the tip was (slightly) higher.

more pics at

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Confederations Cup in South Africa 2009

Highveld Drifter.

Johannesburg .

I declined the offer of a small gun on my first evening in Johannesburg.

A satnav would have been more useful especially when negotiating the downtown area in the dark after an evening game.

The signs to the stadiums are reasonably prominent but the general city signage is very poor.

But the weather, during my week or so, was pleasant enough - it might be winter but it generally felt more like a typical English summer.

You see stadiums that are reasonably crowded considering this is not the World Cup though tickets were relatively expensive for the locals.

The atmosphere was, inevitably, noisy with the vuvuzelas (horns) a constant backdrop.


South Africa 0 Iraq 0 at Ellis Park.

Ellis Park is near to downtown Jo-burg and does need a bit of smartening up but it can generate some atmosphere.
Prior to kick-off we saw a fairly basic but effective opening ceremony followed by some speechs , first by a passionate Sepp Blatter, then briefly by president Jacob Zuma.
Perhaps more entertaining was the Mamas football game as seen in an advert on the large screen - very funny.

After a moderate, error strewn, first half the hosts picked up their play and dominated the defensive Iraqis.

But they couldn't score.

The crescendo came when Bafana Bafana nearly scored but for their own player stopping a shot on the goal line.

Head Homos.

Egypt 1 Italy 0 at Ellis Park.

Before the start they had been trying to cover the prominent bare patchs on the pitch.

Some 52,000 tickets had been sold for this one and both teams had their support though the locals favoured their fellow Africans.

A header by new man Homos (given man of the match) got the Egyptians their first ever win over World Cup holders Italy. He had covered plenty of Ellis Park - nearly 12km.

But it was their goalie El Hadary who produced some great saves to secure the win. Much as Italy tried , especially Iaquinta , they couldn't break through.


Pretoria is somewhat easier to negotiate than Jo-burg. Again it has a well established stadium, in a rugby hotbed, located near to the centre. Again it feels like it needs a bit of updating.

But the surroundings are OK with some restaurants/coffee outlets within a short walk.

Double Rossi.

Italy 3 USA 1 at Loftus Versfeld.

Italy had good support in the 34,000 at Loftus for their initial encounter with the USA. The Americans played most of the game with 10 men after having a man (harshly) sent off.
However they did score first through a Landon Donovan penalty.

It took the substitution of New Jersey born Guiseppi Rossi to change the game. His two goals, the first a cracker, and another great strike by de Rossi sealed the match for Italy.

Samba stroll.

USA 0 Brazil 3 at Loftus Versfeld.

A comfortable win for Brazil who started quickly with a goal by Felipe Melo. This was followed by a second from Robinho.
We sat back and enjoyed some Kaka magic.

The impressive Maicon clinched the victory in the second half.

Again the Americans suffered a sending off , not that it affected the result.

Italy fail to deliver.

Italy 0 Brazil 3 at Loftus Versfeld.

In this final group game Italy needed to at least equal the Egypt result to progress to the semi-finals. Thats what we thought - not expecting the turn of events that allowed USA to jump ahead of both.

So it was a lacklustre effort by the World champions - a game too far maybe.

A sellout crowd of around 41,000 mainly supported the Brazilians and they watched the yellow shirts score twice through Luis Fabiano and finish off with an own goal by Dossena.


Some 4 and a half hours down typically straight roads from Jo-burg is Bloemfontein

The Free State stadium is another enhancement of an existing structure.

Arguably the best atmsophere at this event was in this stadium with the local Celtic fans leading the singing and dancing that eventually circulated the stadium.
The vuvuzelas were less evident.
And the small groups of Spanish fans, along with other foreign visitors, enjoyed the occasion.

Just one is enough.

Spain 1 Iraq 0

Iraq parked the bus setting out to defend resolutely and hoping to pinch a goal.

They did the running - an average of 1km more per player than Spain.

It took the European champions 54 minutes to complete the victory with a Capdevilla cross being glanced in by David Villa.

That was enough.


Even farther away for a day trip Durban is some 6 hours each way from Jo-burg.

The test is to stay alert along the quiet roads amongst the early morning fog and the odd speed camera.


South Africa 26pts British & Irish Lions 21pts.

Compare and contrast : Rugby vs Football.

Large hospitality areas , cars parked close to the stadium, with barbecues set-up, as against a large cordon sanitaire at the Confederations Cup football games.

Jugs of beer for the larger rugby fans.

Plenty of red shirted Lions fans arriving in groups very prominent in the 47,000 crowd.

However there were significant numbers of empty seats due to the very high prices (around £85)

But the most significant clue came as I wandered around outside the stadium .

Here you could buy a receiver through which you could listen to the referee as he gave his decisions.

Within a minute of the start it was obvious why this was important as the first penalty mystified many including this inexperienced rugby watcher. The theme would continue with much play being shrouded in doubt.

The video replays too were hard to discern and often took ages to decide.

The Lions players themselves spent some time asking for clarification from the referee regarding his penalty decisions.

Football has far more clarity.

It also doesn't tend to produce the sort of one sided score that we saw in the first half. Even though the Lions did get back into the game in the second half to provide some late drama.

Apart from during the anthem (just one) the noise levels were moderate and the many Lions fans didn't seem to sing much.


So overall the time went well with some decent games in noisy, vibrant stadiums.

And the comparison with rugby proved once again that football provides the superior experience.

Clearly the challenges for 2010 will be to maintain a reasonable level of transport facilities and logistics to serve the much larger number of visitors. And keep them safe - at least from major incidents.

Unlike most World Cups a lot of this one will be experienced in the dark southern hemisphere winter.

As in most places in Africa you have to adapt to prosper.

But in the stadiums it will certainly be a World Cup to remember.

more pictures at

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Kazakhstan v England June 2009

Easy enough in the end.

Kazakhstan 0 England 4 played in Almaty.

Contrary to some reports this match was not sold out and there were plenty of tickets available on the day of the game.

The locals produce some atmosphere early on (especially when the disallowed goal went in) but generally were subdued and not intimidating.

But for twenty minutes it did look somewhat dodgy for England as Kazakhstan started quickly.

However when Ostapenko went off injured - he had headed the disallowed goal - the momentum seemed to shift.

When Barry had headed in at the far post and Heskey had followed up Gerrards clever shot for a 2-0 half time lead it became comfortable.

The Kazaks couldn't really hurt England anymore.

A spectacular Rooney overhead and a decisive Lampard completed the win.

So South Africa is now very close - are we one of the favourites - judged on qualifying results we might be.

Almaty was hot and often sunny for most of my days in the city.

I'd travelled via Istanbul , for the London to Turkey trip amongst numbers of Red Bull engineers and associated staff going to the Formula 1 race (and surprisingly - as this was an Easyjet flight - one Jenson Button)

You do a lot of walking in Almaty - the grid like streets are well spread out. And it has no conventional centre.

The city view from the cable car is uninspiring - various tower blocks and some greenery but nothing to make the heart beat faster.

You would need to venture further out into this vast country to experience more spectacular scenery though the snow capped mountains to the south of Almaty provide an attractive backdrop.

For culture the State Art Museum presents some modern Kazak art (again uninspiring) and the much more interesting genre art plus inevitably some Russian paintings.

The larger and more impressive National Museum captures more of the spirit of the country.

So, as long as you didn't take a taxi ride into the forest, the visit was satisfactory enough with a flattering result and another big step towards the World Cup finals.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Lille 30th May 2009


Lille 3 Nancy 2

As a precursor to the game I enjoyed the sunshine and some fine Belgian beer whilst watching the FA Cup final in an Australian bar.

In the evening it was a short metro ride to get to the Metropole stadium and join the close to capacity crowd for this final game of the league season.

Most waved their flags (apart from the Nancy fans)

Lille had the better of the first half scoring through Vittek and Rami though Nancy did pull one back from defender Ouaddou near the break.

Then Youssouf Hadji squeezed in a free kick to equalise for the visitors.

However all turned OK for the locals when Plestan converted from a corner.

Lille thus confirmed their place in the next seasons Europa League.

The following day I returned (flagless) via the Eurostar.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Italy May 2009

Frustration for Livorno.

Livorno 0 Albinoleffe 1 in Serie B.

The 5 fans supporting Albinoleffe went home happy after this one.

Its a fairly long walk from the central station to the stadio Armando Picchi and in the hot weather a stop for refreshment is definitely required.

The stadium itself is a typical bowl with mostly open seats , a track and cover for the main stand.

The more vociferous home fans to the left at times produced some good noise but in the end it was mainly shouts of frustration from around the ground as the home side failed to deliver.

Lots of probing but not many chances.

The winner came from full back Perico after a fortunate deflection allowed him through on goal.

Substitute Diamanti hit the post but after that Livorno just made it worse by having two men sent off in the closing minutes.

They will still take part in the play-offs though.

Del Piero the master.

Siena 0 Juventus 3

Plenty of tourists in the historic city centre and plenty of fans coming to watch this encounter.

The quirky, segmented stadio Artemio Franchi , on lower ground close to the centre , was nearly full with typically large numbers of Juve fans.

It was hot and the fans in the sunshine (most of the stadium is open) were sprayed with water to cool down.

The Juve supporters saw their team totally dominate.

Siena had an early free kick that went wide but after that they never got close to Buffon.

Juve were in control with the 36 year old Nedved and Alessandro Del Piero running things.

Despite looking laboured at times Del Piero made one goal for Marchisio and scored two himself.

Post-Ranieri Juventus had looked sharper throughout even when the game became somewhat languid in the 30 degree heat. They might have scored 3 or 4 more.

The drummers in the Curva Robur had been silenced long before the end.

more pics at

Saturday, May 16, 2009

France May 2009

Kezman converts.

Le Mans 0 Paris St Germain 1

A two hour TGV ride from Paris to Le Mans.

And a good turnout saw the visitors from the capital secure a win to please their support.
Their fans were positioned mainly in two pens (Boulogne and Auteuil ?) at one end and they produced plenty of flares - their Le Mans counterparts plenty of smoke.

PSG tended to dominate and probably should have got more than just the one goal slotted by Kezman.

Other familiar names such as the promising Sessegnon , Luyindula , Rothen and a certain Claude Makelele were in the Parisian team.

Brilliant Malenga.

Chateauroux 1 Clermont 0

via Paris to Chateauroux for a Ligue 2 game that was to move the home side out of the relegation zone.

The stadium is a reasonable size with similarly covered stands on all 4 sides.

Just a few fans came from Clermont including some bare chested 'ultras'.

It was generally a closely fought encounter that was determined by some brilliance from substitute Malenga - a superb over head kick.

He had changed the game not only scoring but also going close with a subsequent header.

The rest was even.

Two Savidan strikes.

Caen 2 Sochaux 0

Meanwhile in Normandy Caen feels more Anglo-Saxon despite the statue of Joan of Arc and a street named after William the Conqueror.
And the centre and chateau area is vibrant with plenty of bars and restaurants.

Nearly 19,000 throng the neat, two tier , enclosed stadium for this six-pointer with both teams near the foot of Ligue 1. The locals in the Normany Kop produce some reasonable noise to encourage their team.

In a closely fought first half Caen had a very good shout for a defender getting a red card as centre forward Savidan was brought down.
But Savidan would have the last word with two typical strikers goals in the second half. His thirteen goals make him one of the top scorers in France.

Dalmat did well for the visitors, including a free kick that clipped the bar, but otherwise Sochaux were well contained by Caen.
As a result of this defeat they drop into the bottom 3.

more pics at

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Spain May 2009

A few days before they play Barca in the Spanish Cup Final the Athletic flags and shirts are very prominent in the Basque capital.

The club shop in Bilbao city centre is particularly busy.

Pride in their club is evident and the locals can be proud of their culture.

Especially the Fine Art Museum and the impressive architecture and modern art of the famous Guggenheim Museum.

Good Aperitif.

Athletic Bilbao 1 Real Betis 0

But not good for Betis who are uncomfortably close to the lower part of the league table. They couldn't beat a virtual Athletic reserve team.

The 32,000 locals produced a better than average Spanish football atmosphere in the San Mames.

Plenty of scarves being waved and much celebration ahead of their trip to Valencia for the Copa del Rey final.

Bilbao can thank Armando in goal for keeping Betis goalless as he made one excellent save from an Oliveira header.

Ion Velez tapped in the winner in the first half after a move down the right.


Real Valladolid 0 Numancia 0

This local derby was better attended than I expected and it included a large contingent from Soria. Numancia needed all the help they could get being bottom of the league and generally looking limited and lacking in confidence.

The appropriately decked violet and white stadium is unusually characterised by a large number of corporate boxes behind one goal.

Those present saw a very moderate game with few clear cut chances despite numerous Valladolid corners.

Numancia did better in the second half and forward Aranda might have chipped the winner but shot over.

Similarly Ogbeche should have scored with a header that went wide.

At least the sun was shining for most of the game.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Greece April 2009

Overlooking the West Africans dodging the police with their bags of goods is the magnificent Acropolis.

Whilst in Syntagma square there is a small display commemorating the Armenian 'genocide'.

Nearby the dogs enjoy the sun and the locals the cafes and shops.

Further history and culture is on display in the National Gallery and National History Museum where you can learn how modern Greece developed from Ottoman rule to where it is today.

Athens is mainly bright and sunny in April.

Greek goalfest.

Asteras Tripolis 3 Panionios 4

My combination of football and culture took me down to the Peloponnese. The drive memorable for the super bikes powering through the traffic.

To Mycenae for a look at a site of a major civilisation from over 3,000 years ago thriving and then collapsing hundreds of years before Classical Greece.

Then to modern day Tripoli where Asteras played the modern Athenians of Panionios.

In cold, breezy conditions this final game of the regular league season served up a veritable goalfest before 1800 spectators including around 40 fans supporting Panionios.

Star player for Asteras Argentinian Mauro Milano scored two and Moroccan Zairi produced a very entertaining cameo of tricks but Panionios ended up edging the game with substitute Goundoulakis slotting the winner.

Back in Athens at around midnight on a Sunday the bars are quiet and the dogs have found somewhere warm to sleep.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Turkey April 2009

Strong Sivas.

Denizlispor 0 Sivasspor 2

A 3 and a half hour drıve from Antalya through some interesting mountainous country and you find Denizli - feeling like a prosperous business-like city busy with shoppers on a Saturday afternoon.

In the centre is the Ataturk stadium 3 parts open with well filled lower tiers - any away fans are up above my head. Fortunately in an area prone to rain (due to the mountain backdrop) the fans had only a light shower to endure.

League leaders Sivasspor scored two first half goals through Sedat Bayrak and Tum after which they defend efficiently enough to frustrate the home team. So they maintained a clear lead over Besiktas at the top.

Solid in defence Sivasspor have a Sebastian Veron lookalike in midfield (Erdogan) and Yildiz up front.

They're confident and compact with a good team spirit, helped no doubt by those huddles.

Maybe they'll go close to a first ever title.

Ten men too good.

Antalyaspor 4 Genclerbirgili 2

Back ın Antalya this encounter had plenty of goals to keep the local ultras happy.
An inner city stadium , as in Denizli, a setup much favoured by this writer.

Surrounded by apartments, atmospheric, traditional and just a short walk from the old city. Plenty of red and white in evidence.

The various ultras (curva nord , south and the sides) stoked up the chanting as Antalya fought back from 1-0 down to win 4-2 having played for over the half the game wıth ten men.

Tunisian Zitouni got two , Dos Santos scored a somewhat generous penalty whilst Pektemek replied with two for the team from Ankara. Genclerbirgili had less than ten fans accompanied at times by about 40 police.

After Genclerbirgili had scored first Antalyaspor had Ozturk dismissed (foot up) but they equalised soon after for 1-1 at the break.

In an entertaining second half , watched by around 5000, with some viewing from the apartments Antalyaspor overcame their disadvantage to complete a tremendous win.

The next day when returning the car I happened to mention I drove to Denizli - the man from the rental company was surprised I'd gone so far as he'd never been there.

more pictures at

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Ivory Coast March 2009

Post War

Some 3 or 4 years after the civil war ended the Ivory Coast is not thronged with tourists.

But the major hotels in the commercial capital Abidjan are well filled with players and others involved in the African Nations Championships (CHAN)

The competition involves only locally based players and was to be played at two locations - Abidjan and in the former rebel held area of Bouake.

Near the lagoon the Hotel Golf provides an oasis of calm with its views of the city skyline. As well as housing the Ghana team and its some its supporters one floor is occupied by the rebel leaders.

Apart from such people your correspondent noticed American evangelists, one called Lou , a french Benny Hill lookalike (evoking memories of his performance in the Italian Job) accompanied by a local lady and various business types.

At the weekend the central areas of the city are very quiet but during the working week the place is transformed with streets jammed with cars and street vendors.

But for real mayhem and seeing 'real Africa' you need to go to Adjame.

There the route to the bus station is through narrow, unmade roads filled with a seething humanity.

All this in heat of 30 degrees plus.

Lightweight Elephants

Ivory Coast 0 Senegal 0 in the Felix Houphouet-Boigny stadium in Abidjan.

Only around 3000 turned out to see the already eliminated home team play their final group game and they had plenty of room to find some shade.

It was soon evident that these Elephants were distinctly lightweight, especially in attack.

The much taller and stronger Senegalese did just enough, only needing a draw to qualify for the semi finals.

It was only near the end that the Ivory Coast got closer to breaking their duck. But they failed to do so and the locals would transfer their allegiance to Ghana.

Libya feel the heat.

Zimbabwe 0 Libya 0 in Abidjan

Another goalless game in this final Group B match played in very hot conditions before maybe 500 people.

Libya were the better team in the first half but having failed to score ran out of steam in the second. They had the best player in forward Ahmed Osman but even his trickery was blunted after the break.

Most of the action happened in the last few minutes with Zimbabwe's captain Banda missing a great chance to win the game.

The draw meant that both teams went out of the event.

Into the rebel area.

It takes around 4 hours on the bus to get to the Ivory Coast capital of Yamoussoukru.
You pass 3 or 4 police roadblocks and have various stops for refreshments.

Yamoussoukru is much quieter and more relaxed than Abidjan.

It can boast the presidential palace and a magnificant Basilica - claimed to be the largest Christian place of worship in the world.

Some might say the $300m , plus large maintenance costs, could have been better spent on infrastructure and alleviating poverty.

The President hotel offered very comfortable accomodation and the chance to mix with more players.

And in the evening the maquis have outdoor cooking (no cutlery) in pleasant enough surroundings.

An hour and a half further north and into the rebel held area of Bouake.

Somewhat disappointedly there were no 'gun totting' soldiers in evidence.

And the locals did turn out in large numbers to see this first semi final.

Ghana into the final.

Ghana 1 Senegal 1 (Ghana won 7-6 on penalties) in Bouake

Rather surprisingly there were large queues of fans keen to see neighbouring Ghana play the Teranga Lions. It would take until half time before the stadium was filled.

This was a battle between the tall , sturdy Sengalese and the stockier more skilful Ghanaians.

And in particular the talented Ghana forwards and the frugal Senegal defence.

Ghana scored first through striker Antwi but soon after Senegal equalised from a fortunate free-kick deflection. That seemed to deflate Ghana a little.

Into the second half and extra time with no further scoring as the game became more attritional.

Ghana seemed to be happy to go penalties and their confidence and concentration paid off as Senegal 'blinked first' with Djilabodji shooting over.

The crowd dispersed happily enough.

Fifth for Given.

Senegal 1 Zambia 2 in Abidjan

Back in Abidjan for the third place playoff game between the two semi final losers.

A couple of thousand were in the stadium mainly concentrating on finding shade in the heat and humidity.

Senegal gave some squad players an opportunity and it may have cost them the game.

They did score first through Sow from a neat pass by Badiane.

But the Zambian coach, Herve Renard, made a couple of substitutions at the interval and the Chipolopolo forwards did the rest. Event top scorer Given Singuluma scored the second and his fifith of the tournament to seal the win.

Rather incongruously there was a presentation on the pitch to award the Zambians their third place medals.

Heart of Sunshine.

DR Congo 2 Ghana 0 the CHAN final in Abidjan.

So to the final.

Some were queuing from 9am to get the (free) tickets to see the favourites Ghana win the first edition of this event.

They piled off the buses in numbers and endured some light rain showers prior to the 4pm kick off. Security was tighter as the president of the Ivory Coast will be attendance.

We had music, dancing and an entertaining simulated football game (sans ball) before the kick off. Followed by the presidential entourage, complete with various limousines, making an entrance.

The stadium is just about full and expecting Ghana to win.

Ghana do their prolonged huddle (all huddles are getting longer) and DRC their communal prayers.

From the start DRC settled quicker and passed it around. It was not long before the impressive (and best player award winner) Mputu causes danger though the teams go in goalless at half time.

Soon after DRC get the breakthrough as Kaluyituka heads in at the far post. Though Ghana did try to step up the pace they seemed tired and in the end frustrated.

Mbenza's goal settled the game and though DRC did tend to overindulge the tricks the crowd by now had switched allegiance and recognised a worthy winner.

The Leopards, especially goalie Kidiaba, enjoyed their celebrations as captain Gladys Bokese collected the trophy from president Laurent Gbagbo.


Time will tell how this event progresses.

But, in the main, the quality of these five games was good despite lacking many obvious standout forwards. Some of the players are sure to find places in European leagues.

Certainly it meant a lot to DR Congo who had large crowds greet them on their return to Kinshasa.

In 2011 the competition , with 16 teams rather than 8, is scheduled to be in Sudan.

An interesting choice of location given the present political situation.

Time will tell how the event progresses.

for more pics see

Monday, February 09, 2009

Spain & Portugal February 2009

El Kun.

Recreativo 0 Atletico Madrid 3

Weather issues caused flight cancellations and 7 abortive hours at Luton aiport.

Enacting 'Plan B' I eventually left for Spain two days later and drove from Malaga to Huelva for the first of six games in Iberia.

The first half of this one was a Kun Aguero master class - what price for him on this performance ?

He linked up superbly with Diego Forlan to score one himself and make two more for the Uruguyuan.

Recre had no answer.

Though they did miss various chances and should have got at least one consolation.

A good sized crowd of over 17,000 sat mostly in silence , apart from whistling their teams (and the referees) performance.

The stadium is characterised by a very tall main stand and three much smaller , open sides.

And the weather though cooler later thankfully bore no resemblance to the UK.

Somewhat splashy.

Pacos Ferreira 1 Belenenses 1

From Huelva, near the Portuguese border via Faro to just north east of Porto.
It rained , heavily at times, prompting some thoughts of a possible postponent (and bringing Plan C into action)
But despite the surface water the pitch held up well.

A moderate crowd of less than 1000 , including 20 Belenenses fans behind one goal, watched these two lower table teams tend to cancel each other out.

Belenenses scored an early goal through the hard working Saulo after a move down the left.

But Pacos equalised when Cristiano shot in decisively left footed .

The weather , thankfully, improved later on but neither side got too close to securing a winner.


Spain 2 England 0

A well filled and atmospheric Sevilla stadium saw England get a status report against the European champions.

The report card showed that we are not a top level team (yet).

We passed it around but Spain did it better.

And not many English forwards (Rooney ?) would have taken the first goal as well as David Villa.

The second half began with too many changes by England (a la Eriksson) surely meaning it would be harder to assess individuals perfomance within the system.
Better to make a few changes and adjust accordingly.

Beckham got his 108th cap, equalling Bobby Moore, and showed his fitness and re-confirmed that despite the obvious off-field distractions he can still do 'a job'.

Spain have never lost at the Sanchez Pizjuan and they still havn't.

Late Action.

Real Murcia 2 Real Sociedad 0 in the Segunda.

Murcia is a medium sized city with an impressive newish stadium (the Nueva Condomina)
Real have a good sized following considering they are not particularly well placed in the Segunda division.
Over 14,000 endured some windy weather in the stadium or more pleasant conditions in the nearby (equally impressive) shopping centre.

Relegated Sociedad were better placed in the league.

After an even first half the action warmed up later in the second as two defenders, one from each side, got sent off.
Then in the last few minutes sub. Sikora firstly set up Mejia then scored himself to send the crowd home happy.
I took some time to get out of the car park and further time trying to find my way back to my Murcia hotel - not atypical.

That was on Saturday and on the Sunday I drove back to Andalucia to watch two games on the Sunday.

One is enough.

Roquetas 1 Guadalajara 0 Segunda B Group 4

Not the most salubrious part of Andalucia.

Two stands , one larger covered , one smaller and uncovered with a track around made up the stadium. Plenty of room for the 200 or so who watched this third level encounter played at 11.30 am.
An early goal was enough for the home side to get the win. Otherwise it was fairly even with Guadalajara unable to break down the Roquetas defence.

Not too far away is Almeria.

9 man triumph.

Almeria 3 Real Valladolid 2

The best game by far.

15,000 saw a famous win for the home team in the Mediterreanean Games stadium.

A typically small group of away fans were placed in a segment behind the goal.

Valladolid had started well , scoring from an impressive Pedro Leon free kick and consolidating the lead when Goitom had an easy job of knocking in a cross. So far so good for Real V.

But Almeria have a good home record and they scored three second half goals and had two men sent off.
Firstly Crusat converted a Kalu Uche cross.
Then Bruno is (rather harshly) sent off for a late tackle.

Again Crusat combines with Kalu Uche for the Nigerian to head home at the far post.

But the game ends for Uche as he gets a red for fending off an opponent.

Immediately after this the nine men get the winner as a defensive mix up, with Justo Villar way out of goal, allows top scorer Negredo to lob it in to an empty net.

Valladolid have a defender sent off for two yellows and despite some pressure they fail to get an equaliser.

Almeria waste time, more players are booked , but they hold on for a famous win.

more pics at

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Morocco Janury 2009

Take me to the Kasbah (or a game)

The first flight out of Luton is to Marrakech at 6am. So it meant a very early start for this traveller.

It was surely too good to be true to see a top level game on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Morocco.

And so it proved , despite various websites indicating games on consecutive days at Safi, Agadir and Marrakech the reality was somewhat different.

With a late shuffle the fixtures were changed and all three of those matches were now on the same day, at the same time.
So my trip to the coastal city of Safi , three hours on the bus, was not to include a game after all.

My plans rescheduled I returned to Marrakech for a Saturday game and a match in Khourigba on the Sunday.

Fes miss pen.

FAC Marrakech 0 MAS Fes 0

Played in the characteristically pink/red shaded Stade El Harti on an artifical pitch in the centre of Marrakech.

A reasonable group of away fans were in the attendance of 3500.
It was cool , dry and overcast.

The game started at a good pace with some half chances spurned.
Though Marrakech did most of the pressing it was Fes who had the best opportunity after 11 minutes when Benhenia was brought down. But Baqqali's penalty was saved.

Then the home coach was sent away from the dugout for persistent arguing - he was a hero to the home fans.

As the second half develops the pace is slower and Fes defend deeper. Despite the game getting stretched later on there is no breakthrough.

Meanwhile in the centre of the city the horse and carts , donkeys and sundry mopeds mix in the streets.

Some negotiate the narrow streets of the Medina whilst in the main square the snake charmers and fortune tellers (maybe I should have asked them about the fixtures ?) draw the crowds.

Wydad strike in the Phosphates.

Khourigba 0 Wydad Casablanca 1

Khourigba is a mining town some 250 km or so from Marrakech.

My trip began and ended in Marrakech but with a story in-between.

Given that there was no bus until around midday - how do you get there in time to see the 3pm game and get back.

My decision was to negotiate with a 'grand taxi' driver for him to take me to Khourigba , wait and then bring me back after the match.

100 euros was the deal.

He would use the bosses' (better) car.

Firstly he had to get written police permission to drive outside of his regulated limit - that took around 20 minutes.

Then we changed cars (and water caps) whilst i had a look at the tyres (ok)

We set off and proceeded to go around in circles for about an hour as the police had closed all the relevant city exits due to the Marrakech marathon (i'd seen some of the runners starting off earlier)
I saw some nice and some not so nice areas of Marrakech.

We stopped two or three times to ask and it was evident that many others had the same problem.

Eventually it took an off-road manouevre and some aggressive driving to get through to the Fes road.
It was now after 11 am.

An hour or so up the road we stopped for a mint tea for me and a meal for the driver.

By now my emotions started to go from pessimism that we'll never make it then to optimism -maybe we will get there by kick off .

This went on for the next 3 hours.

Though the driver knew of Khourigba he'd probably never been there so my map, purchased earlier, was to prove useful.

But my decisions about the route lacked local knowledge and what might seem to be a reasonable road on the map (and in Europe) does not necessarily apply in Morocco , especially as it was raining.

So the driver checked with a local as we reached one town and following a slight diversion we got back on the best route.
Meanwhile I scanned the petrol gauge which seemed kind of low - this I mentioned but our man was confident we would be OK.

Sensing my concern about the time (he didn't have a watch) he pressed on and then gets stopped for speeding resulting in a 40 dirham (about £3.50) fine and further delay.

Up the road at the last town before Khourigba I say we won't make it - he says we will and asks a local policeman how far we have to go, answer 40 km.
It is now 2.25pm.

Fortunately it is a straight road and we must be going at 80 mph (though as the speedo doesn't work it is hard to be accurate)

We arrive in Khourigba and ask someone for the location of the ground - not too far.

A short drive , a short jog and I'm there 5 minutes before kick off.

Just time enough to take a few pictures and absorb the scene in the Phosphates stadium (guess what Khourigba produces)
The main group of home fans were opposite whilst the couple of thousand Wydad fans were squeezed into a small terrace curving behind the goal and in another section next to the main stand.

This felt like a typical game between a small club and much larger and more famous visitor.

Though actually Khourigba were higher placed in the league - not that it seemed like it on the balance of play. The red shirted Wydad team played more aggresively and were certainly well supported by their noisy fans.
The game was played at medium pace on a difficult pitch.

The result was determined, in added time at the end of the first half, by a controversial decision to award a goal as Doulyazal's chip was adjudged to have crossed the line.

Khourigba mostly struggled to create much apart from a few set peices and Wydad should have wrapped it up with a 2nd goal.
But one was enough.

I left, walking past various fans waiting outside and found my grand taxi for the return trip to Marrakech.
Which was not quite as fraught as the outward journey.
However I was glad not to be driving as most of the trip was in the dark and it needed keen eyesight to spot the odd horse & cart, cyclist or pedestrian along the unlit roads.
Again we stopped at a town familiar to the driver - tea for me and a break for him.

On the way out of town he noticed a gendarme this time not catching us for speeding but hitching a lift. After a discussion (and my agreement) the policeman and a colleague squeezed into the front seats.
It gave the driver someone to talk to (in Arabic) for the last hour or so and no doubt a friendly gendarme is a useful contact for any taxi driver.
It didn't stop him speeding, driving without a seatbelt or talking on his mobile whilst motoring along.

But live and let live.

more pics at

Monday, January 19, 2009

Cyprus January 2009


Its warm, bright and sunny this time of year particularly in the coastal areas of Cyprus. At times it feels like a summers day in England. And there are plenty of Brits around either visiting or resident and they are well catered for with restaurants serving english breakfast, numerous pubs, The Sun and driving on the left.

Yes the resorts do have an out-of-season feel and in some places it seems like there is a restaurant for every tourist.
However there are interesting uncrowded historic sites to visit and (rocky) scenery to enjoy.

Not surprisingly the football can offer some Greek passion.

The Right wins from the left wing.

Omonia 0 APOEL 1

Close to 20,000 packed the GSP (National) stadium, some 5km outside of Nicosia, for this local derby. Cars and scooters parked where they could and probably in places they shouldn't.
Unusually for many European derbies this one had the stadium split with a side and an end for each set of fans. The left wing greens of Omonia against the right wingers of APOEL with their Greek flags.

Most seem to mix OK apart for the younger ultras who clashed at half time needing to be separated even further by the police. More worringly there had been some violence towards Turkish cypriots in Nicosia apparently caused by extremist football fans. Altogether 45 people, including police, were injured on the day.

Back to game and Omonia played very cautiously and it was APOEL who looked more likely in the first half.

All the action came at the end of the half as Ndikumana was sent off following a clash of heads. This triggered the fighting in the stands and some serious abuse for the referee.

APOEL scored their goal early in the 2nd , predictably down the left as Kaseke, the replacement right back, was unable to stop the bandaged Alexandrou from shoooting in off a defender.

Omonia eventually had to get forward and they did hit the bar with a neat chip by Aloneftis. But despite a prolonged period of injuries and delays (including one when the referee briefly took off the players following excess smoke being on the pitch)

The win meant APOEL joined Omonia at the top of the Cyprus Premier League and to give it (unneeded) added spice both teams are currently level on 19 titles apiece.

So a more than lively derby in a stadium (track-less for a change) that could generate some atmosphere.

Even in Larnaca.

AEK Larnaca 1 Alki Larnaca 1

A lower scale of derby in Larnaca , watched by some 2,500 in the Zenon stadium (with a part covered main stand , track and open seating opposite)

Lower key but not without some passion as AEK's Megahed (sic) was sent off after two yellow cards in quick succession - a coming together of heads and for blocking a defender.

AEK came out to attack, generally with long balls , and they eventually scored a contestable goal at the end of the 1st half. A cross/shot by Gonzalez seemingly taken over the line by the goalie.

At least 3 Alki players were booked for protesting the decision.

In the 2nd the apparent injustice galvanised the away team and they had the initiave , especially after the dismissal, scoring through Lima following a passing move.

AEK , second from bottom , were probably grateful to hold on for the point.

No breakthrough in Limassol.

AEL Limassol 0 APEP 0

The Tsirion, home to AEL and Apollon, is an attractive stadium with two similar two-tier covered stands curving around the pitch. On a coldish night nearly 3,000 turned out to see this stalemate between the home team and the pink shirted visitors from Pitsilia.
Not that the game was particluarly negative as we witnessed some decent attacking play but in the end not too many decisive chances.

more pictures at

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Portugal January 2009

Cold & Damp;  Even.

Vitoria Guimaraes 0 Estrela Amadora 0

Two low scoring middle of the table teams did what comes naturally - failed to score.

Some 50km or so from Porto is Guimaraes. It has an historic centre and a stadium that was used for the Euros.

On this Saturday evening most of snow had been cleared from the pitch and over 11,000 came out to see the game.

Generally Vitoria struggled to create chances and it was Amadora who had the stand-out player in Silvestre Varela. He sped down the left and produced more danger than anyone else.
But none of his crosses were converted.
Despite an extended period of added time and various corners Vitoria couldn't get the winner.

So the White Angels, the local fans, went away frustrated.

Class from the Azores.

Oliveirense 1 Santa Clara 2

An early, 11.15am, start for this second level (TV) game pitching bottom team Oliveirense against 2nd in the table Santa Clara.

The team from the Azores treated us to two superb goals as their extra class overcame a good effort by the home team.

The prolonged injury time, needed because of the time wasting by the away team, nearly produced an equaliser as Oliveirense didn't really look like a relegation threatened side.

At least it was bright & sunny for the 740 spectators.

Navy beats Academe.

Naval 2 Academica 1

From Oliveira de Azemeis to Figueira da Foz.

In an older style ground , with just over 2,000 present, this local derby did at least bring out a good number of away fans for my second game of the day.

Though the first half was not too exciting the second speeded-up as two defensive mistakes, one by the goalie, cost Academica the game.
Substitute Sougou did chip one in for the Coimbra team but amidst the typical stoppages and delaying tactics Naval managed to hold on for the win.

O Porto

Porto 0 Trofense 0

My third game of this Sunday took me back to my base in Porto.

The Dragao was reasonably well attended on this cold night especially by the away fans - some 1,000 of them. For Trofense this is their first season in the Portuguese top level.

Their team survived some scares as Porto could have scored in the first minute and no doubt then it would have been a different game. But later in the first half the away side held their own and settled into the contest.

Into the 2nd half and it became attack against defence as Porto dominated possession whilst Trofense produced the odd breakaway. We had Hulk headers but no goals.

Just like the other games the game ended with ultra time wasting and ultimately frustration for ex-league leaders Porto.

more pics at