Internationals, Mavericks

Suarez four month ban the final straw for Liverpool?

Bad news for both Uruguay and Liverpool as FIFA have banned Uruguay’s Luis Suarez from all “football-related activities” for four months for biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini, ruling the star player out for the rest of the World Cup as well as the start of the domestic season.

It if of course the third time Suarez has bitten an opponent. Once is too many.


Social media understandably exploded following the incident on Tuesday. People were calling for a lifetime ban, others were calling for an international ban. Suarez, who had the support of all the Liverpool players, staff and indeed fans following previous incidents, will now miss nine Premier League matches and three crucial Champions League games.

Liverpool can feel hard done by. Essentially they are suffering for his actions while on international duty. But ultimately it is Suarez let the club and himself down.

So what are Liverpool’s options?

They can stand by him and keep one of the world’s greatest players. Or cash in on what some might see as something of a liability as well as a genius.

Suarez has a market value of around €80 million. But he is so often the difference between winning and losing for Liverpool and played an enormous role in the club’s impressive winning streak towards the end of last season.

According to Sky Sports’ Guillem Balague that both Real Madrid and Barcelona, as of this morning, knowing a punishment was imminent, still want the Uruguayan striker.

Luis Suarez

Liverpool would obviously need a replacement for Suarez. So a cash-plus-player deal would be tempting for Brendan Rodgers with Barcelona rumoured to be willing to offer €45 million plus Chilean star Alexis Sanchez.

Whatever the outcome, Suarez is still a supremely talented player. But he needs to take a look in the mirror and ask himself why he does these things.


Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)




Could hosts Brazil fall at the next hurdle?

That’s a good question. They played fantastic tonight and Neymar, the superstar youngster and poster-boy of the Seleção, was in fine form with a double against Cameroon. 

They have an advantage with the home support no question. But Brazil, who started the tournament as the bookies’ favourites, haven’t impressed me enough to believe that they are a World Cup winning team.

Brazil now face Chile on 28th June in Belo Horizonte and Luiz “Big Phil” Scolari will be more than aware of Chile’s performances. Despite losing 2-0 at the hands of The Netherlands (who I am tipping to win the tournament dare I say it), Jorge Sampaoli’s men have been extremely organized and can be a very dangerous opposition for the Brazilians.

But it’s a tasty fixture for the neutral fan.

Tomorrow’s games are:

Group D
Costa Rica
Group D
Group C
Côte d’Ivoire
Group C


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So how is everyone enjoying the World Cup so far?

It hasn’t exactly gone to plan has it, this World Cup? It seems like nobody has read the script. But it sure is, at least in my view as a neutral, an incredible tournament. I mean, did Costa Rica really beat Uruguay? It appears that they in fact did. Did the Netherlands put five past current holders Spain? They most definitely did. Did Cristiano Ronaldo, the current World player of the year, really appear almost anonymous in Portugal’s 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Germany? Why, yes he did.

It’s been quite the World Cup so far. Pressure is mounting. Tensions (as a poor ball boy discovered at the hands of Joe Hart) are building. Watching it at home has been nothing but a treat.

The current holders Spain are out. OK, I’ll admit it, I did not see that coming. Don’t pretend you did because you didn’t. La Roja’s back-to-back defeats at the hands of Chile and the Netherlands proved fatal. Tiki-taka RIP.

But what went wrong for the Spanish?

Was it tactics? Team selection? A little bit of both in my view. To begin with, Iker Casillas, who spent much of last season as Real Madrid’s second choice ‘keeper, was starting because of Del Bosque’s loyalty towards his 2010 World Cup-winning captain. And Fernando Torres was there on reputation, but I assume Del Bosque hasn’t been to Stamford Bridge for the past twelve months.

But, for the neutral, this makes compelling viewing.

Hosts Brazil have been incredibly underwhelming, haven’t they? In most bookmakers, they were the favourites, and Neymar was the favourite to become the top goalscorer. But judging by their first two games, they aren’t blowing everyone’s minds. Yes, they may qualify. A draw or a win against Cameroon next Monday will see them through to the next round. But then they face either Chile or the Netherlands – two of the most impressive teams in the competition.

England face Uruguay tonight. It’s a must-win game for both teams as they both tasted defeat in their opening games – England to Italy and Uruguay, amazingly, to Costa Rica. It was Roy Keane who said on ITV that England will “struggle” in the competition (and right beside England captain Steven Gerrard). He’s not wrong. Though Uruguay were a shadow of themselves the other night, but with star player Luis Suarez likely to start, it could be the kick the team needs.

Interesting times on football’s biggest stage.

Tonight’s games are:

Group C
Côte d’Ivoire
Group D
Group C

Let Rob Smith know what you think of the World Cup so far on Twitter (@robsmithireland)


Internationals, Superstars

World Cup heroes #8: Pelé

I hope you enjoyed the profiles of World Cup heroes I have been blogging daily for the past week. With the day that’s in it, I finish up with a Brazilian and one of the greatest ever players of the sport, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known to you or me simply as Pelé

He famously burst onto the scene at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden where he was the star of the tournament at the tender age of 17 and scored no less than two of the goals in the final. Injury prevented him from competing in nearly all of the 1962 competition, but with Garrincha leading the troops, Pelé, who was then rated as the best player in the world, earned his second World Cup winners medal.

Injury again kept the striker out for almost all of the 1966 tournament, but it was the 1970 World Cup, where Pelé led what is known was one of the greatest teams of all time, to World Cup triumph. Even his near misses are as glorious as his actual goals and assists. Watch below.

Anyway, the 2014 World Cup is starting. Shall we…?

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)




Internationals, Mavericks, Superstars

World Cup heroes #7: Maradona

The Vatican has the Pope, Argentina has Diego Armando Maradona. There is nothing that can be said about el Diego that hasn’t been said before. I am not sure if I even have the words to correctly sum up his genius. I can only show you a video of his sheer brilliance.

Watch the video at the 2.28 mark again. Take a bow, son. Take two.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)



Internationals, Superstars

World Cup heroes #6: Rossi

The 1982 World Cup will be mostly remembered for two things: that celebration from former Republic of Ireland assistant manager Marco Tardelli, and the brilliance of goalscoring machine Paolo Rossi.

Rossi, whose fitness appeared to be very sub-standard in the opening two games, found his second wind by scoring six goals in Italy’s final three matches – including the final itself against West Germany. He even scored a hat-trick against a Socrates-led Brazil side famously dubbed “the greatest Brazilian team never to win the World Cup”. Paolo Rossi single-handedly left them for dead.

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Entertainment & media

Join the official Hot Press World Cup fantasy football

So who is up for a World Cup edition of fantasy football then? I thought so. Here’s how to join the official Hot Press World Cup fantasy football league in just three easy steps:

  1. Click here to go the Fantasy Football section on
  2. You will need to register, but it takes a minute. (Or less if you sign in with Facebook.)
  3. Once you have registered, select your team and then click here and join the league by simply clicking “join league” once you get there.

And that’s all there is to it. The format is the same – €100 million to spend on players. Some of the best players are around the €8 m/€9 m mark. But I know what you’re thinking – this will be easy, right? Wrong! You will need to select far more substitutes than previously in the Premier League fantasy football. Then of course there are the injuries…

There will also be some prizes and bits and bobs up for grabs too.


Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Internationals, Superstars

World Cup heroes #5: Kempes

There’s no denying how brilliant Argentina were at the 1978 World Cup, and at the forefront was the frankly brilliant and easily recognizable Mario Kempes.

‘El Matador’ was the hero for the home fans and finished the competition as top goalscorer with six goals. It may be Maradona, Messi or Batistuta that the Argentines adore the most, but Mario Kempes can go anywhere in that country and someone will buy him a pint of Quilmes for his triumph in the 1978 World Cup.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Internationals, Superstars

World Cup heroes #4: Roger Milla

It was Toto Schillaci who scored the most goals at the World Cup in Italy in 1990. But he didn’t celebrate them in sheer style like Cameroon’s Roger Milla.

Milla was 38-years-old during the tournament. In footballing terms, that’s incredibly old (in fact he would play at the next World Cup in USA 1994 at the age of 42). Considered a legend in the continent of Africa, he will forever be remembered for his agility, his sharp eye for goal and that celebration.

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Internationals, Superstars

World Cup heroes #3: Cruyff

The Netherlands came close to winning the 1974 World Cup with their “total football” system which had dazzled the competition. At the forefront of this extremely attractive style of play was the country’s captain, Johan Cruyff.

Many will say that Cruyff is one of the greatest players to never win the World Cup. But he remains undoubtedly one of the greatest men to ever play the game. Watch this video below to get a glimpse of total football at it’s finest.

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Internationals, Superstars

World Cup heroes #2: Zidane

Not many expected France to win the 1998 World Cup despite it being on their home turf. But perhaps many didn’t realise the sheer brilliance of their number 10 – Zinedine Zidane.

Zizou was remarkable in the ’98 World Cup. And indeed in the 2006 competition in Germany. Yes, he’ll be remembered for that incident in the final. But I choose to remember Zidane for the way he played in that tournament. Spectacularly.

Check out this footage of Zizou making a show of an extremely strong Brazil side that featured Roberto Carlos, Kaka, Cafu, Ronaldo as well as the then-best player on the planet Ronaldinho.

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Internationals, Superstars

World Cup heroes #1: Garrincha

Every single day between now and kick-off at the World Cup next week, I will be paying tribute to seven of the great World Cup players in history with footage that will make your mouth water. The seven wonders of the footballing world.

I’ll start with this genius: Brazil’s Garrincha. Check out this footage from the 1962 World Cup against a strong England side.


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Footballers' mad moments

Parlez vous football?

With the World Cup just days away in Brazil, many fans will be flocking to indulge in some Brazilian culture, beers and weather. As pointed out to many unfortunate England fans on Twitter this week, bringing a Spanish phrasebook won’t do them much good in a country where 190,000,000 people speak Portugese.  Fans can be excused as it’s merely a holiday, but what about players plying their trade overseas?

With the English Premier League, there has been plenty over the years such as Fernando Torres, Pablo Zabaleta, Cesc Fabregas, Mario Balotelli and countless others that learned English well, some to even fluency. But the likes of Carlos Tevez, who spent years in England with West Ham, Man United and Man City, never mastered more than a few sentences. Running away to Argentina mid-season probably didn’t help.

Speaking of Man City, Noel Gallagher claims that while Sergio Aguero is a top bloke, he never really says anything more than “it’s OK, no?”. It’s a far cry from Jan Molby – the former Liverpool player, born and bred in Denmark, now even speaks with a Scouse accent. That’s dedication!

Real Madrid Versus Alavez in a Spanish La Liga Match

Did many people British or Irish master the language overseas? David Beckham spoke a little Spanish during his time at Madrid, but clear enough to be understood. As did his former team mate Jonathan Woodgate. Having been sidelined with injury when he first arrived, the defender embraced the culture and language fully. What else would he be doing?

Aiden McGeady spoke mostly in English during his time at Spartak Moscow. But towards the end of his spell with the club, he gave many interviews speaking Russian. Liam Brady is another Irish player who spoke plenty of Italian during his time in Italy. I wonder how David Connolly or Frank Stapleton got on with Dutch?

It’s crucial for managers to learn the local language if they want to get their point across. New Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino speaks a little English, but always uses a translator in press conferences. Irish fans are well used to that sight with former gaffer Giovanni Trapattoni was famously never seen without his former interpreter, Manuela, by his side. (We just won’t mention the time an emotional Trap got his German slightly mixed up during one famous press conference in Munich).


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Five talents to watch out for in the World Cup (part 2)

Less than a fortnight to go! Are you excited? We certainly are anyway. Last week, as you probably remember, I previewed five promising young talents who will be showcasing their skills on football’s biggest stage. As promised, I got five more for you.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez, Leo Messi, Hulk, Falcao, Andres Iniesta, Mario Balotelli, Wayne Rooney and Mario Götze are just some of the name expected to make all the headlines. But, and as with any major tournament, there’s always some young lads whose skills make you sit up and take notice. Here’s part two of my five talents to watch out for in the World Cup:

  • Raphaël Varane (France)
    It surprised some that Patrice Evra is on his way to Brazil as part of Didier Deschamps’ final France squad. But the Manchester United star isn’t guaranteed any playing time. Certainly not ahead of the much-praised Raphaël Varane. The defender, who turned 21 last month and recently won the Champions League with Real Madrid, is frequently named as an extremely promising player. He is very often praised by José Mourinho, so I wouldn’t be surprised if The Special One puts in a bid for Varane to replace the outgoing David Luiz. Varane will be tested in the World Cup. I reckon he’ll be superb for Les Bleus.
  • James Rodríguez (Colombia)
    If there’s one young player that has the ability to blow our minds in the same way Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo do on a regular basis, it’s 22-year-old James Rodríguez. The Monaco midfielder made headlines last year when he moved to the French side from FC Porto for a fee of €45 million. A versatile playmaker with speed and creativity anywhere within midfield, you expect him to supply Falcao with goals – if he’s not banging in one or two himself.
  • Son Heung-min (South Korea)
    Fans of the Bundesliga will know this guy – 21-year-old Son Heung-min has been putting on fantastic displays in Germany’s top flight for the past couple of seasons now. The Bayer Leverkusen forward is a sharp and crafty player with a considerable eye for goal. He often plays as a second striker, but can be put anywhere in an attacking position to full effect. Son could be difference to help South Korea squeeze out of their group.
  • Héctor Herrera (Mexico)
    They have a hard group, but Mexico have no shortage of talent with names such as Chicharito, Guardado, dos Santos and Ochoa all on display. But they do have a very talented and feisty box-to-box midfielder in Héctor Herrera. The 24-year-old Olympic gold medalist signed for FC Porto for €8 million in 2013, and just two years ago he was being heavily scouted by both Liverpool and Manchester United. Keep your eye on El Zorrilo – he could cause the mighty Brazil some problems.
  • Miralem Pjanić (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
    When it comes to Bosnia and Herz., all eyes are usually on the brilliant Edin Džeko. But 24-year old Miralem Pjanić is one player that the rest of Group F could take for granted – at their peril. The Roma midfielder is a classic playmaker with two quick, strong feet with exceptional abilities with set pieces. Like with club, Pjanić has no trouble slotting in any midfield position for Bosnia and Herz. But at the World Cup expect to see him just behind Džeko, both hungry for goals.

These five plus last week’s lot are my 10 players to watch at the tournament. In fact I may be very well tempted to include a number of them in my World Cup fantasy football team which starts on June 8th. But I’ll remind you of that closer to the time.

Not long left now ’til kick off in Sao Paolo.


Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)


Footballers' mad moments, Footy thoughts

Yaya’s unhappy birthday

It was iconic Mancunian frontman Morrissey who once sang “I’ve come to wish you an unhappy birthday”. Indeed this week in another part of Manchester sits Yaya Touré on the occasion of his unhappy birthday.

Yes, it seems Yaya is a boy with a thorn in his side. According to his agent Dimitry Seluk, the midfielder was so upset with the good folk at Man City because “none of them shook his hand on his birthday” and that this had made the player consider leaving the Etihad Stadium.

Yes, seriously.


The Ivorian international initially denied the claims via Twitter, only to confirm the shortly after. “Everything dimitry said is true,” Yaya tweeted. “He speaks for me. I will give an interview after world cup to explain”. Bigmouth strikes again!

Now it seems to me pretty clear what’s going on here, and it’s one of two things. Either Yaya’s agent is doing whatever it takes to try and get club and player to part ways (earning a nice signing fee in the process). He is one of, if not then, the best midfielders in the Premier League and wealthy clubs such as PSG or Monaco would sign him in an instant.

That is one possibility of what’s going on from where I’m sitting.

But if I was a betting man, I reckon it is actually Touré’s agent doing what he can to get the player an improved contract.


Yes, it seems that Seluk makes similar comments when Touré is seeking an improved contract. “Touré has done all he can do at City and needs new motivations,” the agent had said back in 2012. “He would like a new challenge. He would not cost much.”

Touré got his improved contract just a few months later.

It would be quite laughable when grown men, in any profession, complain to their employer about the lack of acknowledgement of their birthday. But it does seem like the greedy work of the agent more so than the player. Personally, I think Touré is embarrassing himself allowing his agent to speak on his behalf like this. And also by not denying it.

Some contracts are bigger than others. Seems like the Yaya Touré camp want the biggest one they can get – be it in Manchester or elsewhere.


Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)