Sean O'Conor

France

Friendly Fire

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Down and Out in Paris and London in the International Break FRANCE 2:3 COLOMBIA Stade de France, Paris
COLOMBIA 0:0 AUSTRALIA Craven Cottage, London
It was the March international break and I opted to nip over to Paris on the Eurostar to check out two of the World Cup finalists before heading back to London to see another.

French revenge could light up the Euros

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Let us be honest, the Euros have been a bit of a damp squib this time around.
Northern Europe has had a wet and cloudy June and this seems to have been reflected on the field of France 2016. The free-flowing football of Brazil 2014 is a bit of a memory, perhaps a telling comment on the tactics-heavy European teams.

A Decent Start to the Euros

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FRANCE 1:0 ROMANIA SWITZERLAND 1:0 ALBANIA WALES 2:1 SLOVAKIA ENGLAND 1:1 RUSSIA
Two days in and the 2016 European Championship promises to be a reasonably entertaining and attacking tournament.
France happily won what had been a typically frustrating opening game thanks to Dmitri Payet's Roy of the Rovers winner.

Platini's Fall to Earth

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THE GREAT FRENCHMAN'S FOOTBALL LIFE IS NOW HISTORY
Michel Platini's football career looks finished and whatever the circumstances, the sport has lost a major figure.
Even if he was corrupt and untrustworthy, his status as one of the greatest footballers of the modern era and the greatest French player of all time means his exit stage left from the game is tinged with a little melancholy.

russia 2018

A Date From Hell?

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ENGLAND & RUSSIA ARE THE BEST OF ENEMIES HEADING INTO THE WORLD CUP

Many a lonely man has fallen in love with a beautiful Russian woman online and sent her cash, only to find out she has taken the money and run and was probably never even a woman in the first place.

This summer the Football Association has a date to keep with Mother Russia herself but is currently squabbling with her like a betrayed groom to be, even threatening to call the whole thing off.

Futbol's Going South

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CONMEBOL NATIONS MUST UP THEIR GAME BEFORE RUSSIA 2018

What would a World Cup be without the South Americans?
The opportunity to test the best of European football nations against the faraway empire of CONMEBOL is so exciting because it only happens every four years.

Yes there is the Confederations Cup now and the World Club Championship as well but in effect the two poles of world soccer only cross swords for the FIFA World Cup.

Futbol's Going South

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CONMEBOL NATIONS MUST UP THEIR GAME BEFORE RUSSIA 2018

What would a World Cup be without the South Americans?

The opportunity to test the best of European football nations against the faraway empire of CONMEBOL is so exciting because it only happens every four years.

Yes there is the Confederations Cup now and the World Club Championship as well but in effect the two poles of world soccer only cross swords for the FIFA World Cup.

Garcia fallout and the 2026 World Cup

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With little on the field to get excited about, my thoughts turn to football politics.

The Michael Garcia report on the 2018 and 2022 World Cup awarding decisions has finally been published, but sadly did not provide enough ammunition to charge Russia and Qatar or strip them of their World Cup hosting.

Garcia fallout and the 2026 World Cup

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With little on the field to get excited about, my thoughts turn to football politics.



The Michael Garcia report on the 2018 and 2022 World Cup awarding decisions has finally been published, but sadly did not provide enough ammunition to charge Russia and Qatar or strip them of their World Cup hosting.

English football

City's millions sweep Arsenal aside

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GUARDIOLA BAGS HIS FIRST SILVERWARE AS ARSENAL STRUGGLE AGAIN

League Cup Final: Manchester City 3:0 Arsenal

Pep Guardiola has finally won a trophy in England, albeit the least prestigious, the League Cup. Yet no-one could begrudge the stunning improvement he has made to Manchester City this season.

City's millions sweep Arsenal aside

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GUARDIOLA BAGS HIS FIRST SILVERWARE AS ARSENAL STRUGGLE AGAIN

League Cup Final: Manchester City 3:0 Arsenal

Pep Guardiola has finally won a trophy in England, albeit the least prestigious, the League Cup. Yet no-one could begrudge the stunning improvement he has made to Manchester City this season.

UEFA Champions League

The Champions League resumes

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AND IT'S LOOKING LIKE A PREMIER YEAR

It feels a little churlish to have grown up in the 'terrace generation' of the 1970s and then look forward to the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League, given that I grew up understanding it as a cup for champions alone, as it still says on the tin.

The Champions League resumes

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AND IT'S LOOKING LIKE A PREMIER YEAR

It feels a little churlish to have grown up in the 'terrace generation' of the 1970s and then look forward to the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League, given that I grew up understanding it as a cup for champions alone, as it still says on the tin.

Slaying the Giant-Killers

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FOREST'S WIN OVER ARSENAL AND OTHER 3RD ROUND MIASMAS
Another Third Round Saturday and another unappetising serving of false shocks and watered-down lineups.

Where are the soccer gods when you need them to save the game's oldest competition and revive its famous magic?
Arsene Wenger dominated the headlines again with another hapless setback but within a day the fuss over Arsenal's humiliating 4-2 loss to Nottingham Forest had died down, such is the diminution of the Cup and the Gunners' chronic failure syndrome under the Frenchman.

Slaying the Giant-Killers

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FOREST'S WIN OVER ARSENAL AND OTHER 3RD ROUND MIASMAS Another Third Round Saturday and another unappetising serving of false shocks and watered-down lineups.

Where are the soccer gods when you need them to save the game's oldest competition and revive its famous magic?
Arsene Wenger dominated the headlines again with another hapless setback but within a day the fuss over Arsenal's humiliating 4-2 loss to Nottingham Forest had died down, such is the diminution of the Cup and the Gunners' chronic failure syndrome under the Frenchman.

How the mighty fall

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REAL REEL, CHELSEA CHOKE AND EVRA THE MARTYR
What are we to make of Real Madrid's 3-1 capitulation to Tottenham?
The definitive dethronement of the world club champions or merely a hiccup in the midst of a bad run of form and confidence?
Cast your minds back to Cardiff last May and Real looked unbeatable if not particularly thrilling or attractive to watch.

How the mighty fall

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REAL REEL, CHELSEA CHOKE AND EVRA THE MARTYR

What are we to make of Real Madrid's 3-1 capitulation to Tottenham?

The definitive dethronement of the world club champions or merely a hiccup in the midst of a bad run of form and confidence?

Cast your minds back to Cardiff last May and Real looked unbeatable if not particularly thrilling or attractive to watch.

Parisian starlets set the pace

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The UEFA Champions League gets going once again
After the first round of Champions League games it looks like money talks for PSG.
Their galacticos made light work of Scottish champions Celtic at Parkhead, cruising to a 5-0 away win in Glasgow with their newly acquired gemstones, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe both on target.

Parisian starlets set the pace

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The UEFA Champions League gets going once again
After the first round of Champions League games it looks like money talks for PSG.

Their galacticos made light work of Scottish champions Celtic at Parkhead, cruising to a 5-0 away win in Glasgow with their newly acquired gemstones, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe both on target.

Oranje squash

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LAST SEASON'S EUROPA LEAGUE FINALISTS ARE OUT OF EUROPE ALREADY
Spare a thought for Ajax, who thrilled at times on their way to last season's Europa League final before a Mourinho masterclass floored them.
Unsurprisingly, the stellar eleven which dazzled as recently as May has now been whittled away.

Oranje squash

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LAST SEASON'S EUROPA LEAGUE FINALISTS ARE OUT OF EUROPE ALREADY

Spare a thought for Ajax, who thrilled at times on their way to last season's Europa League final before a Mourinho masterclass floored them.

Unsurprisingly, the stellar eleven which dazzled as recently as May has now been whittled away.

James joins Bayern

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Never mind the hype about the Premier League: James Rodriguez has agreed to join Bayern Munich, it was announced this morning.

The move is only a two-year loan but includes and option to buy the 25 year-old for £35 million at the end of it.

The 2014 World Cup golden boot winner sorely needed a change of scenery after being exiled to the bench for most of the season at Real Madrid, but his final destination is a real shock after so much linking of him to England.

James joins Bayern

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Never mind the hype about the Premier League: James Rodriguez has agreed to join Bayern Munich, it was announced this morning.

The move is only a two-year loan but includes an option to buy the 25 year-old for £35 million at the end of it.



The 2014 World Cup golden boot winner sorely needed a change of scenery after being exiled to the bench for most of the season at Real Madrid, but his final destination is a real shock after so much linking of him to England.

Cardiff's big night of the Champions League final

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I am delighted Cardiff, the first city I made my home, is hosting next month's UEFA Champions League Final, but I am also keen it puts on a good show to the continent and increasingly the world.

Whilst no-one can deny the impressive 74,500 Millennium Stadium is a fine venue for any soccer showpiece, eyebrows everywhere have been raised at the realisation that Cardiff is a little on the small size as a city (population 340,000) and does not have a major airport nearby.

Cardiff's big night of the Champions League final

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I am delighted Cardiff, the first city I made my home, is hosting next month's UEFA Champions League Final, but I am also keen it puts on a good show to the continent and increasingly the world.

Whilst no-one can deny the impressive 74,500 Millennium Stadium is a fine venue for any soccer showpiece, eyebrows everywhere have been raised at the realisation that Cardiff is a little on the small size as a city (population 340,000) and does not have a major airport nearby.

Real's familiar machine motors on to Cardiff

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Real Madrid maintained their march of glory in Europe by thumping city rivals Atletico 3-0 in their UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg last week.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored another hat-trick and bagged yet another record, the first man to reach 50 goals in the knock-out stage of the competition.

Atletico seek the start of a new age in Milan

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UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL 2016

Another all-Madrid affair gives Atletico Madrid another chance to move out of the shadows Has the prospect of a Champions League Final of Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid set the football world alight?
Not exactly. Why is that?
Well, despite a city derby being something to relish on paper (2014's was the first in the history of the European Cup) the pair's rendezvous in Lisbon then proved to be such a long, drawn-out affair it has not left the continent chomping at the bit for another round.

FIFA

The Fall of Rome 2017

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THE AZZURRI'S ABSENCE FROM RUSSIA IS A LOSS TO THE GAME


"Here sighs and lamentations and loud cries were echoing across the starless air...strange utterances, horrible pronouncements, accents of anger, words of suffering and voices shrill and faint, and beating hands.

The Fall of Rome 2017

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THE AZZURRI'S ABSENCE FROM RUSSIA IS A LOSS TO THE GAME

"Here sighs and lamentations and loud cries were echoing across the starless air...strange utterances, horrible pronouncements, accents of anger, words of suffering and voices shrill and faint, and beating hands." Canto III, The Inferno, Dante
Russia 2018 has already written itself into the history books.

Havelange was the Greatest Dictator

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THERE WERE FEW MOURNERS AS THE KING OF CORRUPTION DIED 100 NOT OUT

It almost passed unnoticed during the Rio Olympics that Joao Havelange, the Brazilian former FIFA President, had died, aged 100.

The major figure in post-war football governance is no more, and on immediate inspection, what a dark legacy he leaves.

confederations cup

Surviving a dry summer

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THE DRAG OF THE CLOSE-SEASON IN ODD-NUMBERED YEARS
Summers in these off-years are hard to get through for football fans like me.

By off-years I mean those ending in odd numbers which have neither the World Cup nor European Championships to get excited about.

July is the dryest of dry seasons in years like this, with the daily mash of transfer gossip a poor substitute for the meat of real football news.

Surviving a dry summer

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THE DRAG OF THE CLOSE-SEASON IN ODD-NUMBERED YEARS Summers in these off-years are hard to get through for football fans like me.

By off-years I mean those ending in odd numbers which have neither the World Cup nor European Championships to get excited about.

July is the dryest of dry seasons in years like this, with the daily mash of transfer gossip a poor substitute for the meat of real football news.

Louis van Gaal

One night to shine in Sweden

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UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE FINAL 2017

Manchester United v Ajax

Friends Arena, Stockholm 19:45 GMT

The heat appears to be on Manchester United tonight, or more specifically Jose Mourinho.

The club is bigger and richer than Ajax and demands success so winning the Europa League against a lesser side is expected at boardroom level.

One night to shine in Sweden

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UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE FINAL 2017 Manchester United v Ajax Friends Arena, Stockholm 19:45 GMT
The heat appears to be on Manchester United tonight, or more specifically Jose Mourinho.

The club is bigger and richer than Ajax and demands success so winning the Europa League against a lesser side is expected at boardroom level.

Van Gaal was lost in translation

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"In Louis Van Gaal we have secured the services of one of the outstanding managers in the game today...His track record...makes him the perfect choice for us."

So said Manchester United chief executive Ed Woodward two years ago.

The stentorian Dutchman left the sport this week on a bitter-sweet note.

The Rest

Yu keeps the Chinese Dream Alive

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* China kept their slim hopes of making it to Russia 2018 alive with a 1-0 win over South Korea 1-0 in Changsha in their AFC World Cup qualifier this afternoon.

Yu Dabao of Beijing Guoan got the only goal for Marcelo Lippi's side in the 34th minute, his nation's second win over Korea in 32 attempts.

New Chelsea Stadium Gets Green Light

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Chelsea's new 60,000 seat stadium has received final planning permission and should be ready for the 2021-'22 season.

The 'matchstick cathedral' design by Swiss architects Herzog & De Meuron, who designed the Beijing Birds' Nest Olympic arena and renovated London's Tate Modern, got the final nod from London Mayor Sadiq Khan today.

Another fine mess at the F.A.

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Well, that did not last long.

Sam Allardyce may retire with a 100% record as English manager but his reputation is so sullied it is hard to see him going back into club management.

The egg is on the F.A.'s face of course for signing up a man already well-known as a bit of a wheeler-dealer.

In hindsight, the Euros were easy to call...

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THIS SUMMER PROVED AGAIN HOW USELESS THE 'EXPERTS' ARE
"We are not going there on an excursion," insisted Portugal coach Fernando Santos.
"We are going there to win!"
Cue the smirks from the assembled press at the pre-Euro 2016 conference.
Looking back at this summer's big European tournament, we can all we so maddeningly wise after the event, convinced now having read the statistics at leisure that the best team all along won it in the end.

Olympic Lessons

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RIO'S SHINE SHADES OVER THE START OF THE FOOTBALL SEASON


The Rio Olympic Games have just finished and that two-week fiesta every four years has rightly had the lion's share of our hearts and minds again, despite the opening of the European football calendar.


The Olympics is a useful aide-memoire that other sports are out there, rather like the Roman who was employed to whisper "Remember thou art mortal" in the ear of generals returning to the seven hills in triumph.