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Blog - FIFA

Beauty and the Beast

Few of us like Mondays but The Fifth Official does, for it brings with it a chance for him to point the finger and laugh. Here he pulls out the pretty, the puzzling and the downright pig-ugly from the past week in football.

Snow joke

Here we go again then. One by one the weekend's fixtures dropped like flies as snow paralysed a country that still laughably likes to think of itself as one of the most advanced in the western world. One second thousands of people were frolicking down Oxford Street with gay abandon until a fleck of snow brushed the pavement, a wave of panic descended, public transport ground to a halt and folk started screaming like it was the end of the world.

For the first time ever, football fans actually envied the people of Sunderland and Blackburn as they emerged as unlikely contenders in the race for "best place to be on the Saturday before Christmas". Everywhere else, the story was sadly predictable as the health and safety henchmen moved in swiftly to shut down any situation that may have resulted in an outbreak of football fun.

In remarkable bouts of foresight, Sunday's games were even called off before 3pm on Saturday. Quite why it wasn't possible to get a Midlands derby on when the teams are ten miles apart shows a lack of application from all concerned. You're probably as bored with me moaning about the weather as I am moaning about the weather, but get used to it - the big freeze is going to last until February.

Big Sham gets plucked

How ungracious of Blackburn to pluck Big Sham from his role as chief nugget in the chicken empire just hours after I'd filed last week's missive. Sham will be starting to get a complex about his non-football approach at this rate. Just like Mike Ashley did at Newcastle, when Venky's took over promising attacking swagger, the big lad must have seen a (chicken) coup coming.

The poultry farmers have demonstrated perfectly so far that nothing they say is worth listening to. Firstly, a Venky's spokesman said they would be happy to finish in the top 10-12. Then they said there would be no immediate changes weeks before sacking Sham. Then they said they were targeting the top five and considering Maradona for the position, except the next day they weren't because caretaker Steve Kean could have the job until the end of the season. Except now he can't.

Kean's confusion probably rose a notch when he saw West Ham had selected a Boffin in goal for Saturday's game. Sadly for the Hammers, the Boffin didn't appear to be in Ruud health as he was beaten from close range by a vicious thighed effort from Ryan Nelsen. Despite a late equaliser from Junior Stanislas, Avram's days are fast running out and you know very well who that could spell good news for.

Craig Gordon Banks

There's a fair amount of hyperbole flung around on an ordinary day in the Premier League, so given the paucity of action this weekend the pundits had to ham up whatever morsels they were thrown. This, of course, was good news for Sunderland's goalkeeper Craig Gordon Banks, as his extremely good save was catapulted into the 'save of the century' category.

To give the man his dues, it was a pretty miraculous effort. As Zat Knight prodded one of his lanky legs at the ball from two yards out, he can't have envisaged Banksy hurling himself back and across, like a good dosey-do, to somehow divert the ball away from the net and up over the crossbar. It was reminiscent of the real Banksy's save from Pele in 1970 in that it took gravity on and won. It was also the difference between one point and three, sixth place and seventh.

The game's other highlight was a touchline row between the Elephant Man and Owen Coyle, who refused to give up his shorts and socks get up despite the thermometer plunging to minus five. Odd to see a scantily clad, skinny man trading insults with a chap carrying far more insulation (and nose wounds) who was fully wrapped up in a winter coat. What were they arguing about? Yep, you guessed it, a Lee Cattermole reducer. Shock horror.

Inter the precipice

Given the limited domestic action, one was forced - under some duress I might add - to watch FIFA's showpiece Club World Cup final; the trophy that no-one but those involved cares about. I'm sure Rafael Benitez couldn't give a toss about it before the Serie A season started, but he soon changed his tune after prevailing over a run of form so rotten it makes Woy's start to the campaign at Liverpool look stealthily impressive.

But as soon as Rafa's side had secured a comfortable win over ageing Spanish crooner, TP Mazembe Englebert (Humperdink) he clicked neatly into valedictory mode, as if his victory over the Congolese side represented a defeat of a Harlem Globetrotters style XI, comprising the finest players known to man. He promptly handed president Massimo Moratti three options - give him the dosh to add five players to a squad that has just won a domestic treble and a European Cup; keep blaming him for his failure to get the best out of the best squad in Europe; or three, pay him off and boot him out.

I'll wager Moratti will plump for a dash of option two Rafa, swiftly followed by a slice of option three. Simple.

Beauty and the Beast

Eight wins out of eight at home for Jose Mourinho, with 26 goals scored, but strangely, it all feels rather forlorn at Real Madrid. They may have only dropped just seven points all season but still things just seem rather pointless, given the imperious form of their title rivals.

On Sunday night, Real laboured past Sevilla in a match that even Jose admitted must have been worse than a clash in the Vietnamese league. It was truly terrible fare, full of niggly fouls, diving, cards galore and even a little spat between the two benches, despite the two teams having little in the way of previous form for scrapping each other.

The previous day showcased an altogether more civilised affair, even though it just happened to be the Barcelona derby. Pep Guardiola's side are deep in another phase of orgasmic football, where tiki-taka ends in a total tonking for their oppo. They emulated another European giant (of comedy) Newcastle, by thumping their derby rivals 5-1 (there the comparison ends stone dead). In fact, they haven't scored less than three in a league game since back in October, and one of those was a 5-0 spanking of Jose's lot.

In a predictably raucous atmosphere, the game was on a different plain to Real's ding-dong, even in the class stakes. That's because the home fans let up on Andres Iniesta, and even offered him a standing ovation as he was substituted, thanks to his t-shirt tribute to sadly departed Espanyol defender Daniel Jarque after he scored the goal that won Spain the World Cup back in July.

Barca have won more games than Real, scored 12 more goals, conceded three less. They've hit the net 37 times in eight games. All of which leads one to say: Good luck, Arsenal.

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