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.


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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.

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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.


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Internationals, Ones to watch

Five talents to watch out for in the World Cup (part 1)

Not long left now until football’s biggest festival is due to start. The World Cup will no doubt have some mouth-watering fixtures, some upsets, some moments of sheer brilliance and maybe the occasional blooper. But it should also introduce the world to some young talent who could be making big money moves after the competition should they fare well on football’s biggest stage.

Here are five players that I have picked to keep an eye on during the competition. The first five that is:

  • Georginio Wijnaldum (The Netherlands)
    Twenty-three year old Wijnaldum was a product of both Sparta Rotterdam and Feyenoord’s youth academies. An incredibly strong playmaker, the Dutchman moved to PSV Eindhoven in 2011 where within two season he would become club captain. He’s not a regular starter in Louis van Gaal’s side due to the sheer strength of Holland’s midfield, but given the chance at the World Cup he can impress everyone watching – including future Man United boss van Gaal.
  • Granit Xhaka (Switzerland)
    “Xherdan Shaqiri is the best talent in Switzerland,” Thorsten Fink once said when he was manager of FC Basel. “After Granit Xhaka”. That is some praise given how Bayern Munich’s Shaqiri plays. Indeed Xhaka is quite the talent with critics comparing to one Bastian Schweinsteiger. He has been a mainstay in the Swiss national team since his debut in 2011 and in that time earned an €8.5 million transfer from Basel to Borussia Mönchengladbach where his dazzling displays in the Bundesliga has made people sit up and take notice.
  • Bernard (Brazil)
    There’s going to be at least one Brazilian who will whip the home crowds and viewers around the world into a frenzy. It may be the likes of Neymar, Hulk or Oscar. It may not. Don’t rule out the sheer brilliance of Bernard. The 21-year old winger, who currently plays for Shakhtar Donestsk, has the speed and energy to leave defenders stranded. He’s also not afraid of scoring the odd goal or two. He’s the full package and is exactly what the doctor ordered for Luiz Felipe Scolari’s men.
  • Steven Defour (Belgium)
    Belgium can boast an incredibly strong midfield with names such as Hazard, Mirallas, Witsel and Fellaini to name but a few. Twenty-six year old Steven Defour is one that would rank up there with them. The FC Porto midfielder should be a starter Marc Wilmots’ starting XI at the World Cup and will be one of the most impressive on the pitch. He was heavily linked with a move to Fulham last January. A fine performance or two during the competition should witness him being linked with some much bigger clubs.
  • Marco Verratti (Italy)
    Twenty-one year old Verratti is one of the craftiest young players around. The PSG star may have to compete with the likes of Daniele De Rossi, Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio and Alberto Aquilani to get into the starting XI, but I would have no doubt that he will. Verratti’s passing skills and ability to change the tempo of the game is something Cesare Prandelli will be looking for when the Azzurri line-up against England on June 14th. Verratti could be his man.

Stay tuned for five more next week. And do get in touch with which promising young stars you think will make a huge impact in the World Cup.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)



Wenger ends drought while Man Utd and Barcelona welcome new gaffers

Ryan Giggs has today confirmed that he has retired from playing at the age of 40. He will begin his new role at Manchester United as assistant manager to Louis van Gaal, who today signed a 3-year-deal with the club.


Van Gaal was a popular choice among fans with an incredible CV. He had previously managed Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and AZ. The current Dutch national team manager will join up with the team after this summer’s World Cup.

“This club has big ambitions; I too have big ambitions,” said van Gaal. “Together I am sure we will make history.”

Man United weren’t they only big club announcing a new manager today. Barcelona have confirmed that Luis Enrique as the new boss on a 2-year-deal. Enrique, a former Barça and Real Madrid player, will take over from the Argentine coach Tata Martino. The former Spanish international previously managed Barcelona B and Roma. He recently managed Celta Vigo (guiding Celta to an unlikely victory over Madrid just a fortnight ago).


He arrives at the Catalan club at an interesting time with news of Leo Messi signing a contract extension, the signing of German goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen to replace the outgoing Victor Valdes as well as news of club captain Carles Puyol’s retirement.

Finally, one manager who today must be breathing a sigh of relief is of course Arsene Wenger. The French boss guided his beloved Arsenal side to their first trophy in nine years with the FA Cup win at the weekend. 


Wenger is now expected to sign a new contract with the club worth a whopping £24 million. There may be still celebrations around the Emirates stadium after the cup win, but Wenger was heavily criticised by fans over the past couple of years. Is he still the man to lead Arsenal forward? Some fans wouldn’t think so.

Regardless, I’m sure Wenger is going to enjoy facing van Gaal’s Man United and possibly Luis Enrique’s new look Barcelona next season


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City win EPL while La Liga set for showdown.

The English Premier League season ended yesterday pretty much as we guessed for the past week or so now with Man City finishing as champions. After the final whistle, Johnny Marr and Noel Gallagher were among those who celebrated on the pitch alongside Sergio Aguero and Vincente Kompany. Meanwhile over in Anfield, a deflated Steven Gerrard spoke about how proud he was with Liverpool this season.


The red half of Merseyside enjoyed a hugely improved season from recent years. In fact, had Brendan Rodgers’ men not slipped up (sorry) against Chelsea two weeks ago and again against Crystal Palace last week, the reds easily could have brought home their first league title in almost two and a half decades.

It was a thoroughly entertaining season for all. Unlike some seasons previous, it had many twists on both ends of the table with Norwich also confirming relegation on the final day. But while it was a hugely entertaining, it’s not the last of club football yet. We have another week to go around Europe.


Sure the Dutch Eredivisie, Italian Serie A and the German Bundesliga have all been decided with another week to go. But as La Liga comes to it’s close next weekend, it does so with a true final day drama. The top two teams face each other and the winner takes it all.

Next Sunday is basically the La Liga final at the Camp Nou as second placed Barcelona, who have been playing far from their usual glorious selves, face current leaders Atlético Madrid, who in my opinion have been the best team in Spain this season.

Atléti have got one eye on the Champions League title as they face city rivals Real later this month. But under the guidance of the brilliant and passionate Diego Simeone, they will no doubt be giving it their all in the Camp Nou next Sunday and try to become the first side, other than “the big two“, to win La Liga since Valencia in the 2003/4 season.


And it’s there for the taking. A draw will do Atléti. Barça’s off-field problems leaked into the on-field performances. Players like Victor Valdes and Carles Puyol missed much of it through injury and big name players such as the club’s big signing, Neymar, proved to be far from the Romario or Ronaldinho-esque superstar he was promising to be.

Poor performances and boardroom shambles aside, I wouldn’t write off the Catalans’ chances just yet. Footballing drama isn’t over just yet.


Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Footy travels

Footy travels #11: Buenos Aires

The blog is bringing you a travel guide from outside of Europe for the first time, and where better than one of South America’s most beautiful and cultural places. A real mecca for the beautiful game and home to some of the most passionate and extreme fans – this is a guide to the wonderful Buenos Aires.

fotos- de- buenos- aires (6)

How do I get in? This is quite a trek, but the easiest way from Dublin is by using British Airways, who fly to Ezeiza Airport, one of the city’s two major airports located around 25 kilometres outside the city itself. It’s not the cheapest of journeys at around the €1, 500 mark, but it’s just one quick stopover in London. You can search the web for a cheaper alternative, but this usually means changing planes twice or even three times and travel time is usually doubled. Ezeiza Airport is well connected by bus and taxis usually have a prepaid fare into town.

What teams can I watch? Unsurprisingly there is no shortage here, dear readers. The big two is naturally Boca Juniors and River Plate. When the two meet, it is (as previously blogged) one of the most tense fixtures in world football. Aside from them, there is  HuracánVélez SarsfieldArgentinos JuniorsFerro Carril Oeste, as well as the Pope‘s beloved San Lorenzo lads.

How do I get to the stadiums? BA is an enormous city with 12 million inhabitants, so getting around can take some time, yet public transport is very good. The cheapest and most effective ways of moving around is by using the bus or the underground railway system called the tren subterráneo – or Subte for short. Walking is a nice way of seeing the city, but again the city is massive. Avoid taxis, as they traffic here can be chaotic.
Boca Juniors’ La Bombonera is located in La Boca. A famous barrio in the city. Bus nos 10, 29, 53 or 64 will take you here.
Rivals River Plate play in the national stadium, the Monumental which was also the setting for the 1978 World Cup Final. Again, buses from the centre of town is easiest, with nos 12, 29, 42, 107 or 130 bringing you within minutes of the ground.

Boca Juniors v River Plate  Ð Argentine Championship - Clausura

How do I get tickets? Regardless of the game, be cautious. There’ll be plenty of very good photocopied versions of tickets for sale outside some of these grounds. That said,  you shouldn’t obtain any trouble getting tickets from any of these clubs – except Boca Juniors that is. Tickets are not sold at the gate for any Boca fixture on matchday and it is well advisable to get a ticket package in advance from a tour group like this one. It’s more expensive – but at least it’s a guarantee.

What else is there to do? Do you like steak? Beer? Tango? Of course you do. And you’re in the capital for all three to all go together. Buenos Aires is an extremely cultural city, filled with museums, theatres, parks, pubs…you name it. It has a slight European feel to it, but is undoubtedly Argentine. The city boasts some of South America’s best nightlife, so you won’t find yourself at a loose end after the final whistle in Buenos Aires. Or even before kick off for that matter.

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Atléti become heavyweights under Simeone’s genius

You have to hand it to Diego Simeone. He has truly turned Atlético Madrid around since being unveiled as manager in December 2011. Aside from earning his first two European trophies within eight months of his appointment (the Europa League in May 2012, and the UEFA Super Cup beating Chelsea in August 2012), he has transformed Atléti from being almost mid-table obscurity to La Liga and European heavyweights.

The Champions League trophy is to return to Madrid this year. But under the guidance of David Beckham’s former nemesis, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if the trophy ended up in the red, white and blue side of the Spanish capital. Rivals from across town Real are looking for European glory for a 10th time, and judging by their performance against Bayern in the semi-final, they won’t exactly be pushovers.


It was reported this week that Atléti’s wage bill was just €66 million. Given what the club are achieving, with an eye on the La Liga and Champions League double, it is remarkable – especially when you compare it to QPR’s €95 million wage bill for their 2012-13 season in which they were relegated from the Premier League. They could have purchased one Gareth Bale for that!

Currently top of La Liga, Simeone’s inspiration makes Atléti, who are currently on 88 points with Barcelona trailing behind them on 84 points, the absolute favourites to bring the club their first La Liga title since 1996 (which Simeone won as a player with the club). If he achieves that and beats city rivals Real in the Champions League final, well, let’s just say he’ll never have to buy a bottle of Mahou around the Arganzuela district of Madrid again.


Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)