Tag Archives: germany

Jurgen Klopp is just what the doctor ordered at Anfield

One slip and it could have been all so different. But despite nearly winning the Premier League, Brendan Rodgers’ departure from Anfield is not exactly unexpected. Since the club’s near miss in 2014, the Liverpool team we have seen have been somewhat average. And it looks like just the right man is set to head to Anfield to turn things around.

Jürgen Klopp’s reputation as a manager is colossal. As a player, he was a one-club-man with Mainz, who he also went on to managed between 2001 for seven years. In 2008, he was unveiled as Borussia Dortmund manager where he won back-to-back Bundesliga wins in 2011 and 2012, as well as the DFB-Pokal in 2012, the DFL-Supercup in 2008, 2013 and 2014, as well as narrowly missing out on the 2013 Champions League title (to rivals Bayern Munich).

It is widely agreed among pundits and fans that the 48-year-old is just perfect fit to revitalize Liverpool.

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I’d have to agree. The two big names that were floating about for the Anfield job was Carlo Ancelotti and Jürgen Klopp. The German, for me, is by far the better fit. He’s more used to working with limitations. Liverpool, as historic and beloved worldwide as they are, have something of a mediocre squad at the moment. Especially with Steven Gerrard now departed for Stateside and Luis Suarez’s enormous talent has not – possibly cannot – be replaced.

Klopp has the charisma and title-winning pedigree to attract some of the world’s best to Anfield. Liverpool’s record of Champions League qualification in recent years plays a major part as to why the likes of Diego Costa, Alexis Sanchez and Henrikh Mkhitaryan chose other clubs ahead of the Reds (the latter chose Klopp coincidentally). The German would appeal to many players ahead of Rodgers – no disrespect to the man who almost led Liverpool to their first league title since 1989.

Some say Liverpool are a poisoned chalice. And that regardless who the next manager is, unless Liverpool win the Premier League, it will be considered a failure. I disagree. Look at Klopp’s record. As I said earlier, he is used to working with limitations. Not to mention his knack of nurturing of upcoming talent like, for example, Mario Götze – now a World Cup-winning goalscorer.

This is a man, don’t forget, who brought in a little-known player to Dortmund called Robert Lewandowski for €4.5 million from Lech Poznan. He was sublime for Klopp and today, he is considered one of, if not the, most lethal strikers in Europe. Also see Sven Bender, Mats Hummels, Marco Reus etc.

For the average football fan, it will be great to see this man in the Premier League. He is absolute box office. Both he and Mourinho head-to-head should make entertaining television. Think Ferguson v Wenger, only better.

Interesting times ahead  – possibly great times ahead – at Anfield.

 

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!

Brazil-Germany-records

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.

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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.

worldcupwhelans

 

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. 

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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.

krullvg

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:

Tuesday
Brazil
21:00
Germany
Wednesday
Netherlands
21:00
Argentina
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:

Quarter-finals
(Friday)
France
17:00
Germany
Brazil
21:00
Colombia
(Saturday)
Argentina
17:00
Belgium
Netherlands
21:00
Costa Rica
All times are in Ireland Time
Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

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.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ha_kcJSsRXw

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
Colombia
17:00
Côte d’Ivoire
Group D
Uruguay
20:00
England
Group C
Japan
23:00
Greece

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

 

Tough test ahead for Ireland’s Euro 2016 dream

The Boys In Green have been drawn with Germany, Poland, Scotland, Georgia and UEFA’s latest member Gibraltar in Group D.

On paper it seems very possible. Likely even. The reality is that Ireland will have to work hard if we are to qualify for Euro 2016. Martin O’Neill, more than anyone, will know this.

“I think it’s the toughest group but it’s an exciting one,” the Ireland boss told the press following the draw.

martinroyE

Ireland fans will relish the trips to some of the countries anyway. I’d be lying if I said a trips to Scotland, Germany and Gibraltar don’t appeal to me.

England have been handed the easiest group in my opinion with San Marino, Estonia, Lithuania, Switzerland and Slovenia. Meanwhile our Northern Irish neighbours have a tough task in facing Greece, Romania, the Faroes, Finland and Romania.

The draw in full:

Group A: Holland, Kazakhstan, Iceland, Latvia, Turkey, Czech Republic

Group B: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cyprus, Andorra, Wales, Israel, Belgium

Group C: Spain, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Belarus, Slovakia, Ukraine

Group D: Germany, Gibraltar, Georgia, Scotland, Poland, Republic of Ireland

Group E: England, San Marino, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovenia, Switzerland

Group F: Greece, Faroe Islands, Northern Ireland, Finland, Romania, Hungary

Group G: Russia, Liechtenstein, Moldova, Montenegro, Austria, Sweden

Group H: Italy, Malta, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Norway, Croatia

Group I: Portugal, Albania, Armenia, Serbia, Denmark

 

What do you make of the draw? Is it doable? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Reid is recalled while Stephen Ireland is still not ready

Noel King, though only a interim manager for Ireland, has done what the Irish public had been demanding of Giovanni Trapattoni for some time – he’s brought Andy Reid back into the Ireland squad.

As well as the Notts Forest midfielder, Kevin Doyle and Anthony Stokes have also been recalled by King. And of course Darron Gibson has ended his self-imposed exile after vowing never to play under the Italian boss again – he’s in the squad to face Germany and Kazakhstan next month. Some very welcomed names I’m sure you’ll agree.

Though the chances of us going to Rio next summer have pretty much died, it’s still important to play with some heart and passion – something the team had been lacking under Trap’s guidance. Noel King is laying down the foundations for the post-Trapattoni era.

One other player who King was also interested in recalling was Stephen Ireland. The Corkman had indicated his willingness to return to the set-up, but only once he has re-established himself in club football since being put on loan to Stoke City this season.
While most players would cut off their hand to represent their country, here Ireland has the chance to showcase his talents (and he can be quite the player) on a big stage against one of the biggest teams.

I would like to see Stephen Ireland play for Ireland – but I’d prefer if HE wanted to play for us. It shouldn’t be a chore.

The Republic of Ireland squad to face Germany and Kazakhstan are:
David Forde (Millwall), Keiren Westwood (Sunderland), Darren Randolph (Birmingham), Joey O’Brien (West Ham), Sean St Ledger (Leicester), Marc Wilson (Stoke), Seamus Coleman (Everton), Stephen Kelly (Reading), Ciaran Clark (Aston Villa), Paul McShane (Hull), Darron Gibson (Everton), Glenn Whelan (Stoke City), James McCarthy (Everton), Paul Green (Leeds), Andy Reid (Notts Forest), Aiden McGeady (Spartak Moscow), Anthony Pilkington (Norwich), James McClean (Wigan), Stephen Quinn (Hull), Wes Hoolahan (Norwich), Shane Long (WBA), Robbie Keane (L.A. Galaxy), Jon Walters (Stoke), Kevin Doyle (Wolves), Anthony Stokes (Celtic).

 

What do you think of Noel King’s selection, and what do you make of Stephen Ireland’s possible return? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

The past week in football: from German blushes to the Special One's return

What a week it’s been in the world of football. I suppose the biggest news is that José Mourinho has gone back to Ch…oh you’ve heard. Well, it’s big news for English football and, possibly more so, for English journalists. The Special One has been known to give a good interview or three (something the Spanish press didn’t appreciate).

Mourinho will have his work cut out for him in my honest opinion. Yes – he is a winner. Yes – his record speaks for itself. Yes – he is loved by Chelsea fans. But the pressure will be on him to deliver as he did the first time around. It’s a different team he’s inheriting in 2013 as opposed to the one he managed when he left six years ago.

Over in Germany, the unstoppable Bayern Munich won the DFB-Pokal, becoming the first German team to win a continental treble, defeating Stuttgart 3-2 in Berlin. A nice way for Jupp Heynckes to bow out. It also leaves new coach Pep Guardiola in the knowledge that the only way is down.

With Man City already agreed to purchase Spanish winger Jesus Navas, Liverpool could also be busy in the forthcoming transfer window as Brendan Rodgers rumoured to be eyeing up Greek defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos from Schalke, and Shakhtar Donestk’s brilliant Armenian playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Of course, they will likely be looking for a replacement striker for Luis Suarez who confirmed last week that he wants out of Anfield. Many publications have named some potential strikers for the number 7 shirt, with out-of-favour Barcelona star David Villa’s name coming up more than once.

While we’re taling about the Catalans, sixty thousand fans packed into the Camp Nou to see Neymar‘s presentation as a Barcelona player on Monday. It came just hours after the Brazilian had a fairly quiet game in the 2-2 draw against England in Rio de Janeiro. On the same day, Ireland hosted Georgia at the Aviva stadium.

It’s the first Ireland game I’ve missed in some years (I was at Forbidden Fruit instead), and of course, with my luck I missed a goal-fest as we managed an impressive 4-0 win.

Speaking of friendlies, Germany faced the USA at the RFK stadium in Washington DC. The Americans managed a surprise 4-3 victory, but the game will be remembered for this bizarre own goal. Well done, ‘keeper.

Well that was the past week in a nutshell (less than 500 words is a nutshell in this sport). More transfer rumours, movers, shakers, and clichés to come. Ok, maybe not the last one.

 

Be sure to send your comments, questions or even footie gossip to Rob Smith via Twitter (@robsmithireland).

So long to the legend that is Jimmy Bullard

I was saddened to learn that Jimmy Bullard called time on his 14 year career yesterday. The 33-year-old had always been known as quite a character both on and off the pitch. His talents on the pitch earned him big money moves in his career to Wigan, Fulham and Hull City to name but a few, but his incredible sense of humour gained him an enormous cult following.

From moments like this and this, Bullard became a much-loved prankster around the football pitch. His best moment came back in 2009, when celebrating a goal for Hull against Man City, he replicated Phil Brown’s infamous half-time team talk on the pitch the season before. “It was a fantastic celebration,” said Brown after that particular game. “Great comedy is about timing”. Watch it here.

Apart from his sense of humour, Bullard was of course a handy player in midfield. He never played a game at international level – but was called up by Fabio Capello’s England squad back in 2008. He was also eligible for Germany and very strongly considered playing for them just before the 2006 World Cup.

Sadly it was his knee that has kept Bullard back from reaching his full potential. Having only played 23 times for Hull between 2009 and 2011 due to injuries, he joined Ipswich Town before signing a short-term deal with MK Dons this summer.
“My old knee injury has never allowed me to get back to where I want to be as a football player; it’s always hindered me,” said Bullard in a statement. “My head tells me I can do it, but my body tells me, no, Jim, you can’t”.

Whatever Jimmy Bullard does in the future, I wish him well. I hope he won’t be a stranger on our TV screens anyway. He can’t play football like he once did sadly, but he sure can entertain us.

Euro 2012 quarter finals preview

Well there go the group stages already. Superstars such as Wesley Sneijder, Zlatan Ibrahimovich and Paul Green all crashed out of the tournament. And then there were eight:

Czech Republic v Portugal. 21st June. National Stadium, Warsaw.
The Czechs surprisingly topped Group A, despite being thrashed by Russia – who themselves were knocked out of the competition – on the opening day. Petr Jiráček and Václav Pilař have both been on fine form for the Czechs but they face an equally impressive Portugal side led by superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, who is a difficult opponent even on his off-days. A fairly even contest but I feel the Portugese might pip it.
Prediciton: Portugal win.

Germany v Greece. 22nd June. PGE Arena, Gdańsk.
On paper, this one has Germany to win written all over it. However, due to the memories of eight years ago in Lisbon, I refuse to write off Greece just yet. They did after all beat a mighty Russia side in their last fixture. That said, I think in Gdańsk on Friday, Joachim Löw’s men will be too strong for the Greeks. I think the likes of Mesut Ozil, Mario Gomez and Bastian Schweinsteiger will be too strong for them.
Prediciton: Germany win.

Spain v France. 23rd June. Donbass Arena, Donetsk. 
A repeat fixture of the Euro 2000 quarter final tie between the two sides. That day in Bruges (a town Colin Farrell doesn’t rate), France beat Spain 2-1. However the two teams have evolved and Spain’s tiki-taka style football is proving to be too strong. But Laurent Blanc is an extremely clever coach and will be using his knowledge to try break Spain’s few weak points. I feel this one will go the distance, possibly into extra time.
Prediciton: Spain win.

England v Italy. 24th June. Olympic Stadium, Kiev. 
A huge fixture. The pick of the bunch, in my opinion. The return of Wayne Rooney already proved to be lethal for England in the last fixture, he’ll be even more hungry on Sunday in Kiev – I think that will be the difference. That said, one would be foolish to write off the Italians. Andrea Pirlo is amongst the best in the competition, not to mention world-class goalie Gianluigi Buffon as well as the Azzurri spoiled for choice with strikers. If Rooney wasn’t available, I’d go for an Italy win – but he’ll in Hodgson’s plans.
Prediction: England win.

 

End of the season madness…

And that was the season that was. Nine months of chaos, shocks, egomania and unpredicitability – and that was just Mario Balotelli! Yes, the 2011-2012 season turned out to be a memorable one. Not just in England – but elsewhere too.

Well, I’m sure most of you witnessed the good, the bad and the downright ugly (not looking at anyone in particular, Joey Barton!) at the Etihad stadium as Manchester City won the Premier League in the most dramatic fashion in the history of the English game. Yes, even more so than 1989. It was like a Hollywood movie. Even Paul Merson nearly went into cardiac arrest live on Sky Sports News. Unforgettable – especially if you’re from the blue half of Manchester.

In Italy, Alessandro Del Piero and Filippo Inzaghi played their last games for Juventus and AC Milan respectively. Both players scored in the final day of the season (Inzaghi, incredibly, was ONside), but it was Juve that were already crowned champions of Serie A after an unbeaten season. It was an incredible season in Italy with players such as Fabrizio Miccoli, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Andrea Pirlo and Edinson Cavani playing our of their skin all season. Don’t be surprised if Cavani, the Uruguayan at Napoli, is being eyed up by Roberto Mancini or Roman Abramovich as we speak.

As reported last month, Holland’s Eredivisie was wide open as there was four points between the top six teams by mid-April. But it was Ajax who claimed the title. Their second consecutive title – both under manager Frank De Boer. But it’s not all settled at the bottom end of the table. The brilliantly named VVV-Venlo currently find themselves in the relegation play-offs, facing Helmond Sport this week.

Like Ajax, Borussia Dortmund find themselves with their second consecutive Bundesliga title win just ahead of Champions League finalists Bayern Munich. Jürgen Klopp’s side must have been quite worried having lost the Bundesliga player of the year last year, Nuri Şahin, to Real Madrid. But luckily, thanks to the brilliance of players such as wonderkid Mario Götze, Die Borussen marched on for another title. Note: – keep your eye on Götze playing for Germany in this summer’s Euros.

So that was 2011-2012. What about next season? Will King Kenny still be at Anfield? Will Tito Vilanova flop as new Barcelona coach? Who will shine in Euro 2012, prompting massive money transfers? Will Mario Balotelli still be going to take-aways at 1am in Manchester city centre? Which ageing stars will seek a final big payday in the MLS? And will Joey Barton calm down?

Still – we got the Champions League final on Saturday coming. Gulp! See my preview later on in the week. In the meantime, hit me up on Twitter with your thoughts (@robsmithireland)

Boca 'til I die….and after then also!

In this day and age, most (if not all) major and minor clubs around the world flog merchandise such as replica jerseys, tracksuits, posters, eveningwear, underwear and dog-collars to generate revenue. It was only a matter of time before Argentine giants Boca Juniors catered for their departed fans.

For the equivalent of €165, one can have a tailor made coffin with the club’s yellow and blue colours and a silk interior. Fans can even have the club’s crest engraved on the coffin’s lid. Boca have notorious passionate fans (including a certain Diego Maradona), so it’s no surprise to learn that the club have had quite a number of sales from their grim, although quite clever, money-making idea.

A River Plate fan's idea of eternal hell...literally.

German side Hamburg took note of the club’s idea. They became the first European club to have a cemetry for it’s fans. They are buried like military heroes with coffins draped and painted in the team colors. There is also the option of having their ashes buried in a club urn.

Say what you like about loyalty in the game – this takes the whole “…’til I die” motto to a new level.

Ireland's group is away with the Faroes

On Saturday night I watched the draw to see who Ireland would get in our qualifying group for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. There were three teams I prayed that Ronaldo wouldn’t pull out and into our group: Spain, Holland and England. We didn’t get any of the three. But we didn’t exactly get an easy ride if we are to head to South America in three years time.

Germany are the highest seeded team in our group. The reality is, they are extremely difficult for any team to beat and when we last faced them competitively to qualify for Euro 2008, we managed a point out of the two games. Sweden are beatable. We’ve beaten them before (under Steve Staunton). But they are not second seed for no reason. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has a terrible habit of scoring almost every time he’s in the 18-yard box. He is just one example as to why the Irish defence will have to work overtime in order to stop the Swedes.

Austria have caused us problems in the past. They should not be under-estimated. Can we beat them? I believe so. Both legs? I believe so. But we won’t be facing them for some time yet and both their squad or our own could have evolved to be stronger or weaker between then and now. Kazahkstan are 104 places below us in the FIFA rankings. Not being disrespectful to them but anything less than maximum points for Ireland would be considered something of a catashrophe.

Finally, we face the Faroe Islands who are of course managed by Brian Kerr. This will be a nice welcome home for the former Ireland manager. But not too welcome. Three points in both games are expected for Ireland, I think it’s safe to say. The Faroes aren’t renowned for their victories in football. But under Kerr they have recorded a wins against Lithuania and Estonia – remarkable for a footballing nation regarded by many as “minnows”. Can Kerr pull the biggest upset of the group?

Here is all the groups in full. The matches will be played between September 2012 and October 2013.

Group A
Croatia
Serbia
Belgium
Scotland
Macedonia
Wales

Group B
Italy
Denmark
Czech Republic
Bulgaria
Armenia
Malta

Group C
Germany
Sweden
Republic of Ireland
Austria
Faroe Islands
Kazakhstan

Group D
Netherlands
Turkey
Hungary
Romania
Estonia
Andorra

Group E
Norway
Slovenia
Switzerland
Albania
Cyprus
Iceland

Group F
Portugal
Russia
Israel
Northern Ireland
Azerbaijan
Luxembourg

Group G
Greece
Slovakia
Bosnia-Herzegovina
Lithuania
Latvia
Liechtenstein

Group H
England
Montenegro
Ukraine
Poland
Moldova
San Marino

Group I
Spain
France
Belarus
Georgia
Finland

The Phileas Fogg of football

Lutz Pfannenstiel is not your average ‘keeper. Sure, he may not have ever possessed the goalkeeping skills as his fellow countrymen like Bodo Illgner or Ollie Kahn, but Pfannenstiel will be remembered for other qualities – both on and off the pitch. But most notably for having played over 400 games for 25 different clubs and being the first and currently only footballer to have played professionally on all six continents of the world

In Europe alone, Lutz has played in seven nations for twelve clubs including a short stint in England’s top flight with Wimbledon (he was once the butt of a joke from the infamous ‘crazy gang‘ who nailed his shoes to the dressing room floor). Elswhere, Lutz had short-yet-colourful stints in Brazil, South Africa, Malaysia, Canada and New Zealand also. I say colourful because his life off the pitch was somewhat adventurous.

While playing for Geylang United in Singapore, Lutz was accused of taking bribes and fixing matches for the Asian gambling mafia. Corruption was rife on the Singaporean football scene around this time. He spent 101 days in prison despite he’d never been found guilty of anything. Having passed numerous lie-detector tests in his mentally fragile state and losing 16kg in the horrific conditions he was forced to live in, he was released from prison – after it cost him tens of thousands in US dollars for the legal aid. “In Asia, soccer is very dangerous” he would later remark.

Then on Boxing Day 2002, after a collision while playing for Bradford Park Avenue against Harrogate Town in England’s lower leagues, Lutz stopped breathing three times. He survived after receiving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. So severe that the game had to be called off with his side 2-1 in the lead. “In England, it takes a nuclear war to stop a game. But they stopped it after this challenge.” Lutz said after the horrific injury.

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But it’s not been all bad luck. Moments of triumph for this cult footballer have occurred – again on and off the pitch. The birth of his daughter and his stint as a popular techno DJ in Kuala Lumpur aside, Lutz is known for his charity work. Having put together Global United FC, whose supporters include massive names likes Zidane, Cafu, Chilavert, Matthaus, Aldair, Solskjaer and more, Lutz’s charity helps fight and raise awareness for the increasingly effects of climate change.

His career may read like some sort of movie script. But that’s been exactly just the life of the Phileas Fogg of football.

Pre-season tournaments are on the menu this summer

A friend of mine recently asked me if I would have any interest in going to London next month to attend the annual Emirates Cup – the four-team pre-season tournament hosted by Arsenal. To be honest, I had forgotten about the tournament (as would some Italian teams – Inter, Juventus and Milan all finished last in previous years). I had been thinking of other footballing travels this summer.

It looks good though. This the guests are Argentine giants Boca Juniors, Paris St. Germain and New York Red Bulls (the latter will be the main attraction no doubt due to the return of NYRB’s number 14). And London is not a bad city. But there are other fixtures this summer that caught my eye just a little more.

One of which is the annual Audi Cup hosted by Bayern Munich. This year, along with Die Roten, will be Brazil’s Internacional, Italy’s AC Milan and a little known team called Barcelona from Spain. Four World Club Cup champions. No doubt, all fixtures at the Allianz Arena will be sold out or close to it. The brands of AC Milan and Barcelona will sell tickets for this alone not to mention the popularity in Germany of Bayern.
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Another, and a little closer to home, is of course the Dublin Super Cup at the Aviva Stadium. A League of Ireland XI will play hosts to the popular Celtic FC, Premier League giants Man City, and Italians Inter Milan. It will be great to see quality players at the Dublin 4 venue such as Maicon, Yaya Toure, Carlos Tevez, Samuel Eto’o and more. That is, of course, they don’t get transferred between now and then.
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There are of course many other footballing tournaments and pre-season fixtures in the summer. If you find yourself with a few spare days you should head to one of them or one of the above. I know I will.