Footy thoughts, Mavericks

Could Rodgers get the best out of Balotelli?

The big transfer news this week, as most of you will be well aware of at this stage, is that the ever-eccentic Mario Balotelli is soon to become a Liverpool player. This was greeted with much delight from the red half of Merseyside. And understandably so. But the general feeling is that Mario’s behaviour may disrupt the harmony that Brendan Rodgers has kept at Anfield during his tenure there.

Of course it’s now three weeks that have passed since the Liverpool boss said “categorically” that he would not be signing the Italian striker. But, as ever, nothing in football is impossible.


People took to social media to question if Rodgers could “get Balotelli to sort his head out”. Let’s be honest, nobody can change Super Mario’s personality. He doesn’t do the whole respect-for-authority thing. But maybe Rodgers can use him more efficiently than some previous managers.

Balotelli, when at his best, can be world-class. He is one of the best penalty takers I’ve seen in some time and has fierce ability. He is incredibly competitive – similar to that of Luis Suarez – but the Uruguayan had a never-give-up attitude. The Italian international tends to drift in and out of games if decisions seem to go against him.

There’s good and bad with purchasing Mario Balotelli: the bad is his attitude, professionalism and his eccentric behaviour off the pitch which attracts much press attention (see the video below about him discussing it with Noel Gallagher). The good is, as I said before, he can be world-class. It will be up to Brendan Rodgers and Mario himself to bring that out week in, week out.

One thing that’s guaranteed is that his time at Merseyside, good or bad, will not be dull.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)


Footy thoughts

PSV fans say no to Wi-Fi in their stadium

The new Sky Sports 5 showed it’s first Dutch Eredivisie live game of the season between PSV and NAC Breda last Saturday afternoon in which the Eindhoven club won 6-1. But throughout the match, behind one of the goals in the infamous  T and U sections, PSV supporters began to protest against the introduction of Wi-Fi at their stadium.

The supporters were angered that the club are encouraging supporters to use the internet on their phones during a match, instead of watching the match and supporting the team instead.

While Wi-Fi would surely be welcomed by football fans from outside The Netherlands attending matches in the Philips Stadion (such as yours truly), it is according to supporters groups the latest in a series of decisions intended to gentrify the crowd at home matches.

“F**k wifi. Support the team” one large banner read among the chants from the PSV faithful (see video below).

While I understand where the supporters are coming from, I feel Wi-Fi is something that should be welcomed into stadia. Aside from fans from overseas coming to matches as I’ve said before, but it would surely be handy – or in some cases even essential – to check the scores from other important league or cup matches being played simultaneously. I don’t think somebody checking the scores on their phone or even sending a live tweet during the match isn’t supporting the club any less.

What do you think?

Let Rob Smith know your thoughts via Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Ones to watch

Four players in the EPL to keep an eye on this season

There has been some big money moved to the English Premier League so far. Alexis Sanchez to Arsenal, Cesc Fabregas to Chelsea and Ander Herrera to Man United all stick out. But, and as with every year, there will be a few players with a smaller profile that will stick out for their clubs. Let’s have a look at some hot prospects for the forthcoming season:

Bojan – Stoke City
When Bojan was the darling of Barcelona and the envy of opposing managers, plenty were heard saying if the Catalan player could do it on a rainy Wednesday night in Stoke. Well now we will see the answers. Bojan is actually a versatile player with two powerful feet. He’s not a goalscorer as such, but he has fantastic pace and agility. Something both Pep Guardiola and Frank Rijkaard have said about him. He’s been wandering around since leaving Barcelona at clubs such as Roma, Milan and Ajax. I think he may well find his suited club with The Potters.

Leonardo Ulloa – Leicester City
Ulloa has been enjoying a great pre-season with The Foxes. Add to that the great season he had at Brighton last year, he could actually be quite the player for Leicester as they enjoy Premier League football for the first time since the 2004-04 season. The £8 million man seems to have found his feet playing in England after a slow few years in Spain and Argentina. Could he be the perfect fit for The Foxes?

Jack Rodwell – Sunderland
Rodwell joined Man City from Everton is 2012 with a reputation as being one of the hottest prospects in England following some wonderful displays while with The Toffees. But effectively he sat on the bench for two years and his career lost some momentum. Now at Sunderland, the 23 year old still has time on his side as well as a superb manager in Gus Poyet. I feel he could be just the man to make Man City furious he was sold.

Daryl Janmaat – Newcastle
The Toon managed to get themselves a superb defender in Daryl Janmaat. The 25-year-old Dutchman enjoyed two great seasons at Feyenoord recently before being selected by Louis van Gaal’s Netherlands side for the recent World Cup (where he performed well and even managed an assist in the famous 5-1 win over Spain). Alan Pardew’s replacement for the Arsenal-bound Mathieu Debuchy is, in my opinion, a superb bit of business from Newcastle. Keep your eye on this guy.


Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Entertainment & media

Join the official Hot Press fantasy football league

It’s August and normal service will be resuming very shortly and that means so will the fantasy football. Excited? We are.


For those who were in the league last season, all you have to do is pick your team and once it’s confirmed, you will automatically re-join the Official Hot Press fantasy football league.

For those who weren’t in the competition last year, but want to join us then here is what you must do:

  1. Go here to the official website of the Barclays Premier League.
  2. Register with the site (it takes around a minute).
  3. Pick your players and once satisfied with your selection click on ‘confirm team’.
  4. Go to ‘join leagues’. We’re in a private league, so enter the code 1005834-239916 when prompted.
  5. Let battle commence.

Once more the good folk at Hot Press HQ will be dishing out some lovely prizes for the best managers in the league, so stay tuned for more info on that.

So any idea who you’re going to pick?


Alexis Sanchez is causing a stir around North London. At £10.5 million, he’s pricey. But he’s guaranteed points surely? What about Chelsea new boy Cesc Fabregas. At £9 million that’s a steal for the former-Barcelona man. Though he’s got some stiff competition in the Blues’ midfield. Sergio Aguero is a hefty £12 million. But he’ll guarantee you points. Or will he? Seamus Coleman played out of his skin and earned a total score of 180 points last season. He’s £7 million. Can he repeat it?

Let’s find out.


Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland


Footballers' mad moments

Is Wenger onto something questioning City’s motives for Lamps loan?

“It is a surprise,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said at the weekend when asked about Manchester City and Frank Lampard. “I’ve heard they (Man City) want to buy five clubs all around the world. The players will register in the clubs where they will put them and they can get out on loan. Is it a way to get around the (financial) fair play? I don’t know.”

Of course, it is something of a surprise for Frank Lampard to agree to join Man City, even if that is on loan from New York City FC, the newly formed club bought by the same owners as the sky blue half of Manchester. The former Chelsea and England midfielder had previously stated that he could never join another Premier League team due to his respect for the Blues. That will change when the 36-year-old will join up with his City teammates on Wednesday.

But perhaps Wenger is onto something? In an era when financial fair play is tightening, it might be the perfect (if a little elaborate and audacious) loop hole in which the wealthy Abu Dhabi United Group, the company that owns City, can avoid the fair play. 

We live in an era where people don’t bat an eyelid when a €30 million fee for a player transfer occurs. What’s an entire new club to one of the wealthiest on the planet? Stranger things have happened. Watch this space.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Europe, Footy thoughts

French minnows Luzenac too small for Ligue 2?

AP Luzenac, a small club from a tiny village with a population of just 650 in the Pyrenees, will find out on Thursday whether they will be allowed to play in Ligue 2. Or will their dreams be crushed because in fact they are just too small.

The club were competing at amateur level in regional French leagues until 2009. That was until when they gained promotion to the Championnat de France National – the country’s third tier league. Competitive football wasn’t the easiest of transitions for them – barely surviving relegation twice in a row along with financial pressures threatened to dissolve the club. Until wealthy businessman Jérôme Ducros lend a hand of support.

Ducros brought in former Man United and France goalkeeper Fabien Barthez as managing director. Barthez, from neighbouring village Lavelanet, like the rest of France, had taken a shine to Luzenac and accepted the role. The World Cup winner proved to be a shrewd operator, luring talented players which ultimately witnessed the club finishing in second.

The club are already by far the smallest club ever to play in the French third division, but their deserved status of being the same in the second division is under threat.

With promotion secured, Luzenac began preparing for the next step – the primary concern was finding somewhere suitable to play. Their own ground, the Stade Paul Fédou, has only one stand and 400 seats and worthy of only amateur football in France. This is why they played last season at a ground in nearby Foix – but that only has a capacity of 3,000, far fewer than is required to meet Ligue 2 standards.

Ducros, at the time of writing, was hatching a plan to bring Luzenac 80 km away to Toulouse for Ligue 2 football as well as luring in some top talent both on the pitch and the sidelines.

This Thursday, the club will make their voices heard for the last time when the case is heard by a Toulouse court whose verdict will be final. Should Luzenac lose, they will have to accept getting no reward for last season’s heroics and the future will look somewhat uncertain. Barthez and Ducros fear the club could go the way of AS Valence, who were repeatedly denied entry to Ligue 2 in 2004 and soon ceased to exist.

However if they win, Ligue 2 will have to be expanded to feature 21 teams rather than 20 next season and organisers will have to devise a new fixture list accordingly – just two days before the campaign kicks off. It will be the fairytale ending they are waiting for. You never know – they may even get Cristiano Ronaldo someday.


UPDATE: It’s official – Luzenac are in Ligue 2

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Mavericks, Superstars

What next for Ronaldinho?

Living legend Ronaldinho and Atlético Mineiro have parted company this week after agreeing to terminate the Brazilian playmaker’s contract with immediate effect.

A decade ago, Ronaldinho was one of the most talked about players on the planet, in the same way the football-loving public rave about Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.

Ronnie won the Libertadores Cup with Alético Mineiro – the first time he or the club lifted the continent’s most biggest club prize.

The Brazilian international wowed audiences for his magical displays for PSG, Barcelona and Milan, the three clubs he turned out for when widely considered to be at his peak. Ronaldinho done things with the ball most of us could only dream of.

His agent, who is also his brother, Roberto de Assis has stated that the former Ballon d’Or winner wishes to play until he is 42 (similar to compatriot and fellow genius Rivaldo) and that his new club will be revealed this week. 

It was suggested that Ronnie would be the ideal replacement for Juan Roman Riquelme, who left Boca Juniors for city rivals Argentinos Juniors. Though there is much speculation that some MLS teams are also interested with all eyes on New York City FC for any potential news.

Either way, Ronaldinho may be 34, but the man is a sheer genius. Yes, his partying lifestyle may have led to the decline of his brilliance, but he can still do things with a ball that you and I dream of. Lucky will be the club that lands ‘Dinho’s signature. 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Mavericks, Superstars

Five great players who are currently free agents (part 1)

We’re right in the thick of the summer transfer window and some big signings are taking place. But there’s some players, decent players too, that won’t cost a penny.

Samuel Eto’o
The Cameroon international may be reaching the final few seasons of his career, but he remains a world-class striker. The former Real Madrid, Barcelona, Inter Milan and Chelsea striker can still, at the age of 33, find the back of the net no problem and would be an ideal addition to many squads. At the time of writing ‘Arry Redknapp is lining up a move to bring the star to QPR.

Victor Valdes
The former Barcelona goalkeeper left the Camp Nou nineteen years after first joining the club’s academy at the age of 13. The Spanish international was originally supposed to sign for Monaco, but failed a medical having not fully recovered from an injury that left Valdes out for the second half of last season. The World Cup winner has previously said that he would be interested in a move to Italy or England.

Georgios Samaras
The Greek international has been something of a fans favourite at Celtic Park for the past number of seasons. Still only 29, Samaras, who scored in the World Cup against Ivory Coast, helped Greece reach the final 16 of the tournament. Having previously tuned out for Man City and Heerenveen, he would be likely to be snapped up by a decent team thought it’s rumoured that Ronny Deila is open to re-signing Samaras for the Bhoys.

Guillermo Ochoa
I first came across the Mexican ‘keeper when he turned out for Club America some years ago and featured him in my ‘Ones To Watch’ section some four years ago. Last month the entire world witnessed Ochoa turn out some phenomenal performances in the World Cup. Ochoa recently played for Ajaccio in Ligue 1, and judging by how he performed recently, he shouldn’t have any trouble finding a new club. Lucky the club that can land his signature.

Nicklas Bendtner
The Danish international has something of a bad-boy image, but is still a very decent forward and is fantastic in the air. Bendtner’s nine years at Arsenal is now at an end, but has enjoyed loan spells at Birmingham and Sunderland as well as a disappointing time at Juventus where he failed to score a single goal in Serie A. Regardless, still at the age of just 26, Bendtner has a lot to offer any club. And I do mean a lot! (So long as he keeps his head down that is.)

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Footballers' mad moments, Superstars

Luis Suarez: not the first gifted bad-boy at Barcelona

The words “flawed genius” is thrown about a lot. In the case of Luis Suarez, this certainly seems to be justified. His performances for Liverpool last year alone stunned audiences and, let’s be honest, his fellow professionals.

Barcelona’s President Josep Maria Bartomeu, director of football Andoni Zubizarreta and new manager Luis Enrique know exactly what the Uruguayan is like – both good and bad. His arrival at the club is one without an official presentation and also a ban that won’t see him turn out for the Catalans until well into October. 


He is a player very reminiscent of Hristo Stoitchkov, who was  part of Johan Cruyff‘s ‘Dream Team’, and helped Barcelona to one of the most successful eras of the club in the early 1990′s.

Playing in El Clásico in 1990, the referee was concerned about Stoitchkov’s aggression against the Madrid players. The referee said to Cruyff to “tell the bull to cool down or I will send him to the cattle-pen,” and Stoichkov duly responded by stamping on the referee’s foot. That moment of madness led to a two-month ban.

The Bulgarian was remembered for his moments of genius on the pitch, but his place in Catalan folklore is assured by his frequent anti-Madrid statements such as  “I will always hate Madrid. There’s just something about them that gets up my nose. Speaking about them makes me want to vomit. I would rather the ground opened up and swallowed me than accept a job with them”.

Luis Suarez has had way more than his fair share of moments of madness already. Some say he’s a genius with a ball, which he is, while others say there’s something not quite right to make him lash out at opponents, which is also true.

But all Barça fans think that he could well do something outrageous again. They know that Suarez has the capabilities to be a game changer and a match winner. Barcelona are getting an incredible talent. If he bites an opponent yet again, he’ll face huge sanctions. If he scores the winner in the Bernebéu, he’ll earn his place in Barça folklore. 


Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)



Footy thoughts

Some cracking (& not so cracking) jerseys of 2014/15

Club football is now in pre-season and some of football’s finest (and not so finest kits) will be on display on a fooball pitches and our TV screens soon. Here’s a round-up of just some what’s on offer:

Bayern have gone for the red and blue stripes this year. Presumably to make Pep feel more comfortable.
Bayern 14-15 Home Kit (1)

Ashley Cole and AS Roma will be wearing this classic look jersey.
AS Roma 14-15 Home Kit (1)

Barcelona have gone for the classic 70′s thick stripes.
FC Barcelona 14-15 Home Kit (1)


Puma’s super slims jerseys is what Arsenal will be in next season.

Inter Milan will be in this classy looking one.
Nike-Inter-14-15-Home-Kit (1)

Real Madrid simple design is a beaut.
Real Madrid 14-15 Home Kit (1)

PSV have returned to their traditional stripes.
PSV 14-15 Home Kit (1)

West Ham’s vintage feel is a nice one.
West_Ham-United-14-15-Home-Kit (1)

Borussia Dortmund fans will stick out a mile away with this one.

Marseille will be wearing this classic for Le Classique.
Olympique Marseille 14-15 Home Kit (2)

Man United’s new sponsor sticks out like a bit of an eyesore on this one
Manchester-United-14-15-Home-Kit (2)

Wolfsburg’s new kit looks like a flag you’d see at Celtic Park

AC Milan have gone for this rather bizarre style.
Milan 14-15 Home Kit


These are just some of the designs for the big clubs that stuck out, but I know I’m missing some out there that are either a) gorgeous or b) frighteningly hideous. Please, dear readers, send on the best and worst jerseys for the upcoming season via Twitter or Facebook.

Football's greatest moments, Internationals, Superstars

The good, bad and the ugly of the 2014 World Cup

I was gutted for Lionel Messi. I really was. I wanted the little genius to become a world champion, like the player he is so often compared to, Diego Maradona. But it wasn’t to be. The right team won and pretty much everyone agrees on that.

Mario Götze’s 113th minute goal proved to be too much for an Argentina side that just couldn’t match them. Earlier in the game, Gonzalo Higuain’s goal on the half hour mark was correctly ruled offside, but Argentina never looked as threatening after that. Even Messi made a few rare mistakes. More than a few in fact. But Germany – deserved winners.



Let’s have a look back at some of the competition’s highlights.

The good:
The best match of the tournament for me was Germany’s 1-7 thrashing of Brazil. I am not sure if Brazil were simply poor without Thiago Silva and Neymar, or whether Germany were just too damn good. Perhaps a bit of both.


James Rodríguez’s goal was simply stunning and I nearly fell out of my chair in awe. The last time that happened was also from a goal that was scored in a World Cup and also scored by a person named Rodriguez. Tim Cahill’s goal must be mentioned also – wow!

The competition also made some players stand out and some of the big clubs will be very interested in players such as Guillermo Ochoa, Daley Blind or Mats Hummels.

The bad:
Aside from being a brilliant tournament, there was definitely one or two games that were slightly dull. The Netherlands v Argentina was one that stuck out. All those amazing players on display yet it was 0-0 after 90 minutes.

The third-place play-off is possibly the most meaningless game in the history of the sport. Can we scrap that for the 2018 tournament? It depressing watching all 22 men looking tired and unhappy after a match at this level in such a prestigious competition.


Spain. What happened? Tiki-taka, thrilling football, superstar players? The former world champions died a very public death in the competition. Sad to see.

There was something unnerving about watching thousands of people climb the staircase into the Maracana stadium in Rio. Mainly because it shaking so much I am surprised it didn’t collapse.

The ugly:
Luis Suarez’s bite on Giorgio Chiellini. Not his first time and again very pointless. But I’ll be talking about the Uruguayan in depth in an upcoming blog post.


My World Cup XI:


Lahm, Hummels, Vlaar, Blind

Schweinsteiger, Mascherano

Robben, J.Rodriguez, Neymar



Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)


What a World Cup: And then there were two

Now we are down to the very last of it – the final of the 2014 World Cup. And what a competition it has been: the sheer quality of football from certain players, the bravery from certain teams, the glory of mind-blowing goals, the controversy, the glory, the unpredictability. Good heavens, can we get rid of league football and just have nine World Cups instead?

Last Tuesday witnessed the unpredictable: Brazil were beaten – no, completely outplayed and destroyed – by Germany by 7-1. Yes, seven!


The ridiculously brilliant Thomas Müller opened the scoring after eleven minutes, followed by another four before I had even blinked. Five-nil at half-time was followed up by André Schürrle’s two second-half goals making it seven before Oscar’s last minute consolation pulled one back for Brazil. Far too little, way too late. Brazil haven’t been this humiliated since, well, ever!

Wednesday was the other semi-final between The Netherlands and Argentina which wasn’t the most exciting of games to watch, but for me the Argentines looked like the only team truly keen to win it. And they just about did.

After 120 minutes, the Dutch had to look to Jasper Cillessen as their keeper for the shoot-out as LVG had used up all his substitutes so was unable to bring on Tim Krul, who was the hero Costa Rica in the quarter-finals.


But it wasn’t to be as Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Romero saved Ron Vlaar’s and Wesley Sneijder’s penalties, and it was former-Liverpool winger Maxi Rodriguez who scored the penalty to put Argentina into the final.

The final in Rio on Sunday will be Lionel Messi’s greatest test at international level, and the opportunity to silence critics who forever compare him to the great Diego Maradona by lifting the World Cup as captain of Argentina – just as El Diego did in the peak of his career in 1986.

But Messi & co. will be facing an extremely organised and tough Germany side and, if I’m honest, a Germany side who could cause Argentina severe problems. Maybe not beating them 7-1 as they did against Brazil, but certainly enough problems to score early, outplay and dishearten the Argentine defence. The South Americans will have to play better than they did all tournament in my opinion.

The Argentine press have been giving FIFA stick about how Germany have had an extra day’s rest and to prepare, but are still heavily relying on Messi to deliver the goods. Germany, who are the bookies’ favourites, are already planning their homecoming by announcing a parade at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. Argentina could spoil the party. Literally. 

The third place play-off is on Saturday at 9pm as Brazil face The Netherlands at the Estádio Nacional de Brasilia. The final between Germany and Argentina kicks off 24 hours later in the Maracanã.

P.S. – If you fancy watching the match with the blog, Whelans of Wexford Street in Dublin are throwing a little shindig in their main room with the match being shown on a large screen, some cheap drinks on offer and even a short DJ set from yours truly. Check out the poster below and do come down from 8pm – it’s free in.



Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)



Footy thoughts, Superstars

Alfredo di Stéfano R.I.P.

Football today lost of the true greats in the history of the game following the news of the death of Alfredo di Stéfano, aged 88. The former player and manager, nicknamed “Saeta rubia” (“blond arrow”), is very often listed as one of the greats alongside names such as Pelé, Maradona and Cruyff. 

Di Stefano, twice a Ballon d’or winner, will be remembered for his sheer brilliance on the pitch as well as his performances which helped his beloved Real Madrid win five consecutive European Cup trophies.

Arguably the greatest player in Real Madrid’s history, his memory won’t be forgotten by the footballing world.

Here was the reaction on Twitter:

Rest in peace, Señor.


Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)





World Cup semi-finals: Then there were four…

Football fans’ mouths are watering worldwide as two very tasty World Cup semi-final fixtures are set to be played. The last four will see Brazil take on Germany tomorrow night at the Estádio Mineirão in Belo Horizonte, while on Wednesday The Netherlands face Argentina in the Arena Corinthians in São Paulo.

Brazil overcame Colombia in Fortaleza in the quarter-finals. Many, myself included, were doubtful if they would. Colombia have been playing some excellent football led by 22-year old superstar James Rodríguez. Two goals from defenders Thiago Silva and David Luiz put the hosts ahead before Rodríguez’s 80th minute goal pulled one back for Colombia but it wasn’t enough.

Brazil Soccer WCup Brazil Colombia

Germany squeezed into the semis after their 1-0 victory against France. The goal came within the opening quarter of an hour as Mats Hummels’ header shot past Hugo Lloris from (future Real Madrid player according to the Spanish press) Tony Kroos’ free kick. Didier Deschamps’ men failure to produce an equaliser meant that they were eliminated disappointingly early, while Germany reach a record fourth straight World Cup semi-final. 

germany france

Argentina deservedly went though to the semis following the 1-0 victory over Belgium in the Brazilian capital Brasília. It’s the South American nation’s first time to reach a semi-final since finishing runner up at Italia ’90. Belgium didn’t have the wit to overpower Argentina who could have scored more than the one goal. 


The Netherlands just about made their way into the semis, following a dramatic penalty shoot-out against everybody’s second favourite World Cup team Costa Rica. After a goalless 120 minutes in the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Louis van Gaal made the gamble of bringing on goalkeeper Tim Krul in place of Jasper Cillessen. It was a gamble that paid off as Newcastle ‘keeper Krul saved penalties from Bryan Ruiz and Michael Umana to put the Dutch through. Cue every newspaper praising both van Gaal and Costa Rica, even if it was a Krul way to be eliminated from the World Cup.


This festival of football is in my opinion without a doubt the finest World Cup from memory. It has had so much memorable moments from the good, the bad, and the ugly – but we’ll talk about that next week.

Now we are down to the last four. Imagine if we got a Brazil v Argentina or Netherlands v Germany final. Two historic and geographical rivalries. These really are tasty fixtures coming up.

This week it is:

All times are Irish times.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)


And then there were eight…

I must say, and I know I’m not alone in saying this, but the standard of football and the entertainment value in the matches during this World Cup is, from my memory, the best one yet.

I’ll start off with James Rodriguez‘s smashing goal against Uruguay last Saturday is not the firm favourite for goal of the tournament (sorry, RVP). And what a talent the Colombian is. Just don’t expect him to move anywhere after the tournament – Monaco only signed him last summer – for €45 million. Forty-five million!

Speaking of players moving, you can be guaranteed that Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa will easily find a new club having run out his contract with French side Ajaccio. His performances in the tournament have been frankly unbelievable. (You remember Guillermo from this blog back in 2010, right?)

Another player on the move is the most talked about player in it – and not for the right reasons. Yes, Luis Suarez seems to be likely on his way to Catalonia to join giants Barcelona from Liverpool. The Uruguayan was, as you know, banned for four months for biting into Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini‘s shoulder last week but Suarez apologised publicly 24 hours after dismissing the incident as malicious.

The apology is widely reported as being at Barça’s insistence for the transfer to go ahead which seems likely as being the case. The deal could mean that Chilean superstar Alexis Sánchez could be on his way to Anfield as part-exchange. Which, believe me, is a serious addition for Liverpool. (In fact, when Alexis was at Udinese, I wrote on this blog: “Lucky the club will be that signs Alexis Sánchez“)

But back to the World Cup itself…now there are just eight teams left:

Brazil, who haven’t been amazing this tournament except Neymar, will face Colombia in Fortaleza on Friday. It will be one tasty fixture. As will be the day’s other fixture - France v Germany. Can the French upset the mighty German team who many pick as favourites to make it to the final? Don’t write off Les Bleus just yet.

Salvador will play host to an interesting fixture in The Netherlands versus everyone’s new second favourite team, Costa Rica. The Dutch are still a powerhouse in international football, but aren’t without their flaws as the Mexicans exposed last Sunday. In fact, the Dutch were lucky to get through. What Costa Rica lack in technical skill, make up for in heart. And that can win games this far into a tournament. The pressure is on The Netherlands, not Costa Rica. And both managers will know that.

Finally the other quarter final is Argentina v Belgium. It’ll be an interesting tie, and Argentina will be favourites. But I’m not so sure. They seemed weak at the back at times and their superstar player Leo Messi made a few mistakes that had previously been unseen at club level. But they’ve got some ridiculous amount of talent. Even their bench is made up of superstars. Belgium, on the other hand, are hungry for success. They can be pushed in a corner and put under pressure, as the USA showed last night against them. This one, I predict, might go to extra time and possibly beyond.

So to recap:

Costa Rica
All times are in Ireland Time
Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)