Tag Archives: spain

Barcelona will face La Liga expulsion if Catalonia breaks away from Spain

The president of the Spanish FA (LFP), Javier Tebas, has said this week that Barcelona would not be allowed to play in La Liga should Catalonia break away from Spain. Tensions are mounting in the region over the possibility of an independence referendum next month.

If Barça were to leave La Liga, it would severely damage the reputation and image of the league from a sporting perspective – not to mention bring an end to the tense rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid, known as El Clásico.

While El Clásico is always, in terms of tension, history and passion, on-par with Buenos Aires’ Superclásico (Boca v River) or Rome’s Derby della Capitale (Roma v Lazio), it’s certainly the most-watched rivalry as well as the fact that fewer high-profile fixtures would have such an enormous display of talent on the pitch than Spain’s “big two”.

“I can’t imagine the LFP without Barça,” Tebas said. “In the same way as I can’t imagine Catalonia without Spain, I can’t see La Liga without Barça. Also if it did happen what would you call the league: the Spanish League or the Iberian League?”


Former Barcelona club president Joan Laporta, who was president from 2003 to 2010, wanted Barça to be at the very forefront of Catalan nationalist politics. The present board however, led by Josep Maria Bartomeu, are much less committal.

However, star-players Gerard Piqué and Xavi are among the Barça players who have voiced their support of the referendum following a rally last month in Barcelona in favour of the vote, which, according to police, was attended by almost 2 million people.

Spain’s constitutional court, merely a fortnight ago, halted the referendum just two days after it was formally called. Francesc Homs, the Catalan government spokesman, insisted that the Catalan government would find a way to allow the vote to go forward. “We won’t just stand there with our arms crossed as if the game is over.”


Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)


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)




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)


What next for Fernando Torres?

It’s three years now since Fernando Torres left Anfield for Stamford Bridge for a fee of £50 million – a British record. His tenure at Liverpool was quite successful. In his four years on Merseyside, the Spanish international scored 65 goals in 102 league games. Not a bad ratio. He’s played almost the same amount of league games for Chelsea and hasn’t even scored a third of what he achieved at Liverpool. So the question is: what next for Fernando Torres?

There was a time when Torres was one of, if not, the world’s best striker. It was the former Spanish manager Luis Aragonés (who sadly passed away last Saturday) that showed him a lot of faith, making him a regular in the national side while dropping national hero Raul in the process.

Torres was now firmly Spain’s no. 9 while David Villa was given the sacred no. 7 jersey of Spain. Now many reckon that current coach Vicente Del Bosque needs to do what Aragonés did with Raul with some of the current players – starting with Fernando Torres.


Indeed he’s not the greatest striker in the world anymore. He’s not the greatest striker in the Premier League and for some time now he has even being having difficulty getting his name on the starting sheet for Chelsea. I’m sure you will agree that El Niño needs a brand new start.

Chelsea manager José Mourinho insists that Torres remains part of his plans. But with Samuel Eto’o ahead of him, what realistically could the star gain from starting most games on the bench? With the World Cup mere months away, Torres will likely be nervous as to wonder if he will make it into Del Bosque’s squad.

Forwards Álvaro Negredo, Cristian Tello, Roberto Soldado and the frankly brilliant and in-form Diego Costa will all be eager for that no. 9 jersey of La Roja. Is time running out for Torres?

I hope El Niño gets a second wind as I have always been a fan, going back to his Atlético days. Because on his day Fernando Torres can be one of the greatest players to watch. It’s a shame we haven’t seen that magic in a while. I for one hope he finds his mojo again – I just can’t see it being in a Chelsea jersey.


Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)


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.


Ireland at the Euros: Matchday 2 v. Spain

Ouch! That was painful to watch, wasn’t it? It’s pretty bad to lose any game, it’s worse to lose 4-0, but it’s embarrassing to lose 4-0 and be totally outplayed for 90 minutes. And that’s what Spain did against Ireland. And it could have been worse. Spain‘s tiki-taka style football combined with Fernando Torres‘ rediscovered appetite for goals proved to be far too much for our Boys In Green.

Il Trap went with almost the same squad that lost 1-3 to Croatia at the weekend – except Cox was in instead of Doyle, playing just behind Robbie Keane. The Italian gaffer shuffled again at half-time, replacing Cox with Jon Walters and going 4-4-2. But within four minutes of the restart, the game was over with Spain’s 2nd goal. In truth, the best we could have possibly hoped for was a draw prior to the match. But we’d have to catch Spain on a bad day and we’d have to be on our best form. Sadly it was not to be. There goes our Euro 2012 dream. We’re the first team knocked out: that doesn’t feel good.

A massive credit must go to the Irish fans that travelled over to Poland. On Thursday, despite being 4-0 down, the sea of green in Gdansk was in full voice. And no doubt that next Monday, against Italy, these same amazing will travel back to Poznan and still be in full voice – even though we have nothing to play for except pride. The players will no doubt feel the same – especially the senior players like Keane, Duff and Given – they will refuse to leave this contest without a single point.

As for Monday next, I’d love to see a few changes in the team. Not so much in formation as much as in personnel. Jon Walters and James McClean would get starts in my book. Perhaps Darron Gibson also. Roll on Monday so – playing for pride. Something the players and fans share a lot of. The fans sing “You’ll never beat the Irish” – in spirit that’s 100% true.


Spain  4–0  Republic of Ireland PGE Arena, Gdańsk
Attendance: 39,150
Referee: Pedro Proença (Portugal)
Torres Goal 4′, 70′
Silva Goal 49′
Fàbregas Goal 83′

 ESP-IRL 2012-06-14.svg

Showtime for the Boys In Green.

Don’t read too much into Monday night’s friendly in Budapest. For a start, the result isn’t relevant. Secondly, the Irish team that faced Hungary will be the same team that will face Croatia on Sunday – they weren’t going all out risking injuries. Ireland may have been waiting 76 years for a win in Budapest, but we are now 14 games unbeaten – perfect for going into the Euros.

Despite some concerns that Il Trap is working the players a little hard, reports from the Irish camp is that confidence is booming – especially from the Italian gaffer.

Our first opponent, Croatia, faced the Boys In Green last August in the Aviva. That night, Ireland were lucky to not be beaten with the game finishing 0-0. It will be a tough test, no doubt about it. The Croatians will be looking for points from us as we will from them. Crucial.

Trap: Not going to Poland for a holiday.

Then we face current World and European champions Spain. On their best day are unbeatable, unplayable and simply too good. On their bad days (a very rare thing since 2008), they are beatable. But only by the big guns like Argentina, Brazil etc. Realistically if Ireland get a draw in this fixture, consider it a success. But historically, we have a good record against the big nations, don’t we?

Finally on Monday 18th, we face Italy in Poznan. The recent scandals in Italy may have caused some unrest within the camp. May have. But Il Trap has a good record against his home nation – still to be defeated by the Azzurri. A considerably weakened Ireland side even beat a full-strength Italy in Liege twelve months ago. Another win is very possible.

So the time is upon us: our first major tournament in a decade. Il Trap has been mentioning to the squad about Greece’s 2004 success. He surely doesn’t expect us to go out and win it, does he? He certainly will give it a go. Trap is a born winner. We’re not going to “do a Greece” and actually win the thing…? Are we? One can dream. But the 73 year old boss will actually try and do.

Is today THE day for Man City?

Ten years ago Man City were playing in the second tier of English football, constantly taunted by their rivals Manchester United. Today, the blue half of Manchester can tell the red half to zip it, as victory against Q.P.R. will ensure their first Premier League trophy – their first top flight trophy since 1968.

Of course, QPR will not be merely sitting back with nothing to play for – their entire season for next year completely depends on the result at the Etihad stadium this afternoon. They are two points outside the relegation zone and will be looking for a victory to absolutely guarantee a place in the 2012-13 Premier League. Oh no, it certainly shan’t be an easy ride for City today. Of course, City needn’t worry about the result – so long as Sunderland do them a favour by beating Man United. It’s all to play for in England today.

City won't fall at this stage of the season...will they?

Elsewhere in Europe, Juventus have already been crowned champions of Italy, juat ahead of AC Milan (breaking Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s eight consecutive league titles with 5 different clubs). Hopefully we can see The Old Lady do more damage in next season’s Champions League than what’s been seen in the past few years.
Finally in Spain, Real Madrid have won La Liga, pipping Barcelona to the post. It is Los Blancos’ record 32nd La Liga title and yet another trophy in the ever-expanding cabinet of The Special One. No Pep Guardiola for Barça next season though as he’ll be replaced by Tito Vilanova – and he knows The Special One very, very well.

What’s your predictions on today’s games in England? Will City clinch it? Or will United come back? Leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Nevermind the Premier League – here's the Eredivisie

Man City‘s season certainly looks over. After the sky blues’ weekend defeat to Arsenal, their hopes of shutting the red half of Manchester up don’t look good – even though Roberto Mancini, in all fairness to him, still refuses to give up. But it would take an enormously spectacular slip-up from Man United to throw it all away now. Those who have a keen eye on the English league will be focussed on who may get a Champions League spot (Newcastle United or Tottenham will be battling this out with Arsenal for that 3rd spot). But in other leagues, things are slightly more tense for the top prize.

In Italy’s Serie A, title holders AC Milan are just holding onto first place ahead of rivals Juventus with just two points in the difference. But Juve have a game in hand. That game in hand is against Lazio – who themselves will be fighting to remain in their current 3rd place. There’s six league games left in Italy. Will Milan be crowned champions once more? Or will Juve add yet another Serie A title to their trophy cabinet? Or will it be someone else? It’s certainly going to go the distance anyway.

A month or so ago, you wouldn’t have been crazy to back Real Madrid to become La Liga champions in Spain. Eleven points clear at one stage, José Mourinho’s men had to simply not slip up.  Three draws in Madrid’s last five games alone witnessed rivals Barcelona sneak up behind them rapidly. As of right now there is one point in it – yet Madrid have a game in hand. In ten days time, both teams face each other in the Camp Nou. That night could decide the title. A draw will mount the tension even more. The dual between Pep Guardiola and The Special One is at it’s tightest.

Finally, football fans should keep one eye on Holland’s Eredivisie. There is only four points between the top six teams. Imagine if that happened in the Premier League? Ajax, PSV Eindhoven, Feyenoord, AZ, FC Twente and Heerenveen are all in it. With six games left, I for one will be watching how this one plays out. In Dutch football, anything can happen sometimes. Literally anything…

Ajax & PSV: just two of six clubs looking for Holland's big prize


Ones to watch #12: Iker Muniain

It’s been a while since I profiled youngsters to watch out for. Some of my previous inclusions (such as Juan Mata, Neymar and Alexis Sanchez) are all causing a stir this season. In this edition I bring you a certain Basque winger that, if you have been watching any Spanish football this season, will find hard to ignore. Let me introduce to you Athletic Bilbao‘s Iker Muniain.

Señor Muniain first came to my attention as part of Spain‘s Under-21 European winning squad that won the competition last summer (in which a previous ‘one to watch’, Thiago, featured prominently). Clearly, Muniain had ability. Serious ability. Though I should have kept a closer eye on him from two years previously, when he became the youngest player to score in the Spanish league aged only 16 years and 289 days. Since the start of this season Muniain has however, been one of the biggest talking points in La Liga (that is if you don’t include the Madrid and Barcelona-based newspapers bias towards their respective local clubs).

He’s been in such good form that even Spanish national team boss Vicente Del Bosque included him in last week’s squad against Venezuela – at the expense of Fernando Torres! Not only does he have the great technical ability that most players need to play at the very highest level, he has magnificent pace and it would remind some of a certain young Ryan Giggs: skilful, fast, electric and fearless. The lad is only 19 years old.

So, do keep your eye out on the lad who has been wowing the crowds at San Mamés. And, if not this summer then in the next transfer window, expect his name to be mentioned for a big money move somewhere. If not by one of Spain’s “big two”, then possibly to one of the wealthier clubs in England – Bilbao will not be selling this boy cheap, that’s for sure. But for now, enjoy Athletic de Bilbao’s very own Giggsy.


London calling for The Special One?

International fixtures are what’s on the menu this week for many a footballer and football fan. But Real Madrid manager José “Special One” Mourinho began his week by taking a flight to London on Tuesday morning and, according to Madrid-based sports newspaper AS, went house hunting in the English capital alongside his wife, Matilde.

Is he leaving Real Madrid? He may well do. Despite Madrid’s current league advantage over rivals Barcelona, Mourinho has not had the easiest of relationships with club president Florentino Perez or indeed some of the Spanish press – some of whom quite publicly do not respect Mourinho’s work at Madrid. But that is one of many possible reasons why The Special One would leave the Bernebéu.

And London? Is ‘Arry Redknapp taking the vacant England job and Mourinho is to the new replacement at Spurs? I wouldn’t bet on it. More likely he’s returning to Chelsea if anything – a club where he is worshipped. The Blues’ current manager André Villas-Boas is coming under fire from the powers that be upstairs at Chelsea. And given how ruthless that club is with managers, it would be a miracle if AVB was still in charge there next season. Mourinho back to The Bridge? Definitely maybe.

Mourinho spotted in London by a fan on Tuesday near Stamford Bridge. (Photo: TWITTER @CarefreeJD)

Things go from bad to worse for El Niño

Where did it all go wrong for Fernando Torres? Well, some might argue it all  went wrong the moment he signed for Chelsea from Liverpool on January 31st last year. I’m sure the Chelsea faithful will justify try justify the £50 million their club spent on the striker, but he has not been producing the goods whatsoever. And now, for the first time in years, he has been dropped from the Spain squad.

“Torres isn’t doing well, and we’ve decided that in this case he won’t come,” Spanish national team coach Vicente Del Bosque said, who has instead chosen to include Valencia’s Roberto Soldado and the highly-rated Athletic Bilbao youngster Iker Muniain (one to watch – believe me!) in Wednesday’s match against Venezuela. Now, Torres is dropped from the number one national team on the planet (who Ireland face in Euro 2012 on June 14th). What can he do next to get back into La Furia Roja?

Well, I believe, that “El Niño” should look for a move away from Stamford Bridge. He was playing his best football at Athlético Madrid and – especially – at Liverpool. He’s a shadow of the striker in those days. Where could Torres go? Back to Athlético? He’d have to take a massive pay cut. Real Madrid? That’d be like Steven Gerrard joining Man United. Barcelona? Their strike force would prevent him much playing time.

Back to Spain would be ideal for Torres – but if the “big two” and his beloved Athlético isn’t much of an option, would he really sign for Valencia or Malaga? I’d be surprised. The likes of the newly-rich Paris Saint-Germain would be keen to land the 27-year old. As would any Serie A club. His time in England is up and he needs a new lease of life elsewhere. At his best, Torres can be the best striker in the world. He really can. I doubt he’ll still be a Chelsea player next season. Time will tell where El Niño can find his footballing mojo again.

Tough task for the Boys In Green

Well, next June will not be an easy task for Ireland, will it? Today our Boys In Green were drawn alongside minnows such as Spain, Italy and Croatia.

World and European champions Spain have the ability to totally out-play us in every section of the field. Italy (who we surprisingly beat 2-0 in Liége in the summer) aren’t exactly pushovers. And when Croatia faced us last August at the Aviva, they were unlucky not to come away with a win.

That said, Ireland aren’t exactly pushovers neither. Under Trapattoni, we are currently 11 games unbeaten – 10 of them with clean sheets. Sure, our football isn’t the most attractive – but il Trap has made us quite hard to beat. So let’s aim to beat them all. Why not? Bring on Xavi, Pirlo, Iniesta, Modric, Balotelli, Torres, David Villa, Eduardo and the rest of them. Bring ’em all on, I say. We are, after all, entitled to dream. Trap can make that dream, some might say an impossible dream, a reality. In football – you just never know.

The groups in full are:

Group A
1 Poland
2 Greece
3 Russia
4 Czech Republic

Group B
1 Netherlands
2 Denmark
3 Germany
4 Portugal

Group C
1 Spain
2 Italy
Republic of Ireland
4 Croatia

Group D
1 Ukraine
2 Sweden
3 France
4 England

Ireland’s group fixtures are:

10 June 2012
Rep of Ireland v Croatia
Poznan, Poland

14 June 2012
Spain v Rep of Ireland 
Gdansk, Poland

18 June 2012
Italy v Rep of Ireland 
Poznan, Poland

Ones to watch: A look back

I started the “ones to watch” feature on this blog last December. Since then I have profiled 10 of world football’s biggest prospects in my opinion. Let’s have a look and see how some of them are doing.

Juan Mata was the very first player I profiled. He was already fairly well-known amongst La Liga fans anyway and especially amongst Los Che’s faithful having been a fan favourite at Valencia for some time. But, in this transfer window, whenever I have read the usual big names players looking to move to Arsenal, City, United, Madrid, Barcelona etc. I have always read Mata’s name in there with all the potential movers and shakers this summer. How likely is it for Mata to play for a much bigger club and go on to even bigger and better things? In my opinion, it is inevitable.

In May, I wrote about Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku and I discussed how he was labelled as “the new Drogba” by many. Well, it seems Drogba’s team Chelsea have indeed certainly took notice of the Anderlecht striker. Roman Abramovich will be looking for a successor for the Ivorian to partner Fernando Torres in the club’s long-term. Many agree that Lukaku fits this role perfectly. Anderlecht general manager Herman van Holsbeeck said “It could happen in the next half hour, it could take until 31 August – that is football”. For the rumoured €20 million being offered, I’ve no doubt Lukaku won’t be wearing Anderlecht’s white jersey next season.

Striker Neymar seems to be the real deal in Brazil’s Campeonato Serie A for Santos. He is wanted by pretty much every major club all over the world. I said last February that he “shows great talent and has absolutely no problem finding the back of the net”. I say now that this boy is pretty much the new Ronaldinho (when Ronnie was in his unstoppable heyday). Skills, pace, tricks, grace, flair… you name it, he’s got it. He scored this goal recently (below). Just a flavour of what he’s capable of. He will definitely not be playing for Santos forever.
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/cVbbaxCIa18" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
These are just three of ten rising players in the last seven months that have caught my eye.  But I’m certainly looking forward to profiling more promising young players for this blog in the future.

Think you spotted the new Messi? Let me know here or hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

Ones to watch #8: David de Gea

When Iker Casillas hangs up his gloves for the last time for Spain, there is a queue to take over the reigns in Victor Valdes and Pepe Reina. But a younger and more exciting option for La Roja is one of the most rated young goalkeepers in world football: David de Gea.

The 20-year old is a product of Atlético Madrid‘s youth system (as was one Fernando Torres) and has been causing quite a stir for the red and white half of the city. So much so that even some of football’s top managers have been taking notice – most notably Sir Alex Ferguson. With the retirement of Edwin Van Der Sar, the Man United boss is looking for an agile, confident and brave goalkeeper. Similar to Van Der Sar himself, David de Gea possesses all of these. He’s certainly one of the brightest goalkeeping prospects playing football today.
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/mit2UV3TgCE" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
Although de Gea stated that no offers would be considered until after June 30th, when the European Under-21 Championship is over and done with, it seems likely in the media and football circles that de Gea will be Old Trafford bound. And what a replacement he certainly would be. If for some reason he doesn’t head for the drizzly climate of Manchester, then lucky will the team be that manages to secure his signature. One thing is for almost certain – he won’t be Atlético’s ‘keeper forever.