Rants and musings from the magazine team
1. Sylvan Ebanks-Blake is better than Ronaldo…and Torres, and Tevez, and Berbatov. And he knocks Defoe into a cocked hat. For the latest issue of FourFourTwo – out now – we asked dataphiles Opta to compare dozens of strikers' shots-to-goal ratios – and the Wolves hit-man came near the top with a 19.7% success rate. He's not quite Messi, Milito or Michael Owen, who all top 20%, but he's better than Madrid merchandise model Ronaldo (11.9%) or tiny Tottenham trier Defoe (11.5%). They'll say that if you don't shoot you don't score; team-mates may disagree…IN THE NEW ISSUE Hot teens! Top stars! Sepp Blatter!
2. Worldwide Webb of intrigue can't all be rightHoward Webb’s appointment to referee Manchester United v Chelsea this weekend has sent the blogosphere spinning with theories. Ryan Babel and others have noted the apparent beneficial effects of his appointments for United – they've won the last nine Old Trafford games he's officiated, and have been awarded five penalties which have put them either level or in the lead. But Webb has never awarded a penalty against Chelsea in the Premier League, and United blog Republik of Mancunia notes that the Rotherham ref has often given controversial decisions against Fergie's men, from red-carding Ronaldo to disallowing goals subsequently proved legal. All eyes on the man in the middle, then...
3. Shrews will seethe if Wycombe nick itWhen Chelsea "scored" against Spurs last weekend without the ball crossing the line, Shrewsbury fans will have let off a knowing tut. It'll be more like a howl of indignation if Wycombe pip them to promotion on this final weekend of the Football League season. Just a point separates the teams as they seek the third and final automatic promotion spot from League Two; fourth-placed Shrews, one point behind, host Oxford knowing they must better Wycombe’s result against Southend. But the Shropshire side would be above their Buckinghamshire rivals had it not been for a controversial equaliser in the sides’ 1-1 draw at the Greenhous Meadow in March. Gareth Ainsworth’s 50th-minute header was adjudged to have crossed the Shrewsbury goal-line, despite replays strongly suggesting otherwise, enraging the Shrews’ players and management. It’s that single point that could now ultimately split the sides in the final standings, leaving the traditionally tame Shrews seething as they prepare for the play-offs.
4. The Moldovan Keith, Ian and AndySome fans get the club badge inked on an arm to express allegiance to their favourite team, but not in Moldova’s breakaway republic of Transdniestr. It’s around this time of year that Sheriff Tiraspol usually break out the Brasso for yet another league title, but they look set to miss out on an eleventh consecutive championship – and manager Andrei Sosnitski walked the plank on Saturday. But at least their supporters are staying loyal. Three dedicated chaps decided to show some love for Moldova’s finest by travelling to the away leg of Sheriff’s cup semi-final against Iskra-Stal on foot, and made a trek across 78 miles of rogue republic in time for Wednesday’s game in Rîbniţa. Buoyed by their dedication, Sheriff's players were promptly spanked 3-0 and crashed out of the cup 3-1 on aggregate.
5. We're off on a trophy huntAttention, glory-starved fans everywhere! Your shambolic bunch of ne'er-do-wells might not lift a trophy this season, but that doesn't mean you can't slip away for some guilt-free silverware-ogling this month. As seasons climax all over Europe, you have your pick of unforgettable destinations, and we can offer ticket-plus-hotel deals. How about watching Milan lift their first Scudetto since 2005, Barcelona dance round Deportivo to confirm La Liga, or the last-day Dutch duel between title rivals Ajax and Twente?BLOG: How to watch a successful team
Win a pair of Puma KingsThe choice of legends down the ages, Puma Kings are about as iconic as boots get. Want some? Follow the link…See all competitions
Only the ‘Wedding of the Decade’ and the death of the most despised man on the globe (two separate events: Nick Clegg didn’t croak outside Westminster Abbey) could keep Blackpool’s 0-0 draw against Stoke off the Bank Holiday weekend’s front pages. That single point kept the Seasiders’ heads just about above water after all three of the teams in the deep end – Wigan, Wolves and West Ham – sploshed and splashed but failed to win.
Also failing to win – albeit at the happy, smiling, Champions Leaguey end of the table – were Manchester United, who succumbed to a 1-0 away defeat to an Arsenal side finally relieved of the pressure of their matches actually meaning something. This slip let Chelsea close United’s lead at the summit to just three points, thanks to a 1-1 draw with Tottenham that Andre Marriner and assistant Mike Cairns inadvertently chalked down as a 2-1 win for the Blues in their post-match report...
We are, of course, referring to the controversy surrounding the champions’ equaliser, which Spurs keeper Heurelho Gomes just about stopped from crossing the goal line. Harry Redknapp was surprisingly mellow after the match, and theorised that Cairns had simply ‘guessed’ that the entire ball had crossed the line and awarded a goal – his only option given the lack of video technology. We'll let him thank Sepp Blatter for that one himself…
Surprisingly less controversial was the second leg of the Champions League El Clasico semi-final. Barcelona and Real Madrid cancelled each other out in a tame affair, the 1-1 Camp Nou draw sending Barça to their third final in six years against Manchester United, playing their third final in four years. Fortunately, the Europa League Final will feature a new face – bright-eyed, bushy-tailed Braga of Portugal, who will round off an amazing European campaign that has already seen them play 18 matches with a trip to Dublin to free-scoring face domestic rivals Porto – for whom Radamel Falcao will look to add to the ludicrous 16 European goals he has scored this season.
Speaking of new(ish) faces, Norwich sealed promotion back to the Premier League. They may or may not be joined by champions QPR, depending on the FA ever deciding whether or not to dock the Hoops points over their allegedly illegal ownership of midfielder Alejandro Faurlin.
In other ups and downs, Sheffield United and Scunthorpe joined Preston in dropping out of the second division, with Southampton joining champions Brighton in replacing them. Plymouth followed Swindon into the basement – there's two more places on that chute up for grabs this weekend, and a fair few other issues to be decided.
Race-quota scandal rocks France and threatens BlancRead now >>
Italy celebrates its perfect 10s as Totti overtakes Baggio Read now >>
Holland's top two clash twice in a fortnight to decide league and cupRead now >>
Sad Hatters aplenty as Stockport leave league after a centuryRead now >>
"Privileged" footy fans say adios to the Clasico marathonRead now >>
Beer in Slovenia, birdseed in Hungary: 31 games in 31 days across EuropeRead now >>
Osama, Al-Qaeda and the plot to shoot ShearerBy December 1997, Osama Bin Laden’s ‘affection’ for Britain, London and English football had waned so much that, according to Adam Robinson's Bin Laden: Behind the Mask of the Terrorist, he “funded and helped organise” a plot by Algerian terrorist group GIA to kill the England team at France 98.
It’s best to suspend disbelief and let Robinson tell his story. Letters signed by members of AIG detailed a hit planned during England’s opening match against Tunisia on June 15 1998 in Marseille. On Bin Laden’s orders, Algerians working for GIA obtained jobs at the Stade Velodrome that gave them touchline access.
The letters suggest that a suicide bomber should blow himself up next to David Seaman, a colleague should chuck a grenade at the England bench (lobbing a spare at the England fans) while the third man was shooting Alan Shearer who – one letter helpfully noted – “will be at the opposite end of the field to Seaman”. Meanwhile in Paris, other terrorists would attack the USA team at their hotel.
Luckily, the plot was leaked by a GIA informer. More than 100 people were arrested across Europe three weeks before the tournament started. Rene Georges, the police chief in charge of security for France 98, has said: “Certain individuals were arrested in France and other countries before the World Cup as a preventative measure.”– Paul Simpson, from a feature-length look at Bin Laden, terrorism and football. Read it in full here
"I've not put enough tackles in this season, and I could read the game a bit better" – Boy's a Bit Special, Jun 2001: Sian Massey-floorer Kevin McNaughton
"Blackpool? It's like going to the end of the earth" – And Another Thing, Oct 2007: East Anglia
"At Southampton, everything is Premier League standard"– Web Exclusive, Aug 2010: Rickie Lambert
This Weekender was brought to you by James Maw, Gregg Davies, Vithushan Ehantharajah, Mark Gilbey, Gary Parkinson, Paul Simpson and JonathanFromSpotify
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