Saturday May 10 2014

European football passes integrity test as minnows stand up to giants

Glen Johnson weeps after Liverpool lost grip of the Premiership title

Glen Johnson weeps after Liverpool lost grip of the Premiership title following a 3-all draw with the less-fancied Crystal Palace. Agencies photo 


Simmering beneath the surface and threatening to boil over with the catastrophic impact of a violent overflow of magma from an active volcano taken its time before eruption, match-fixing is rife across the globe.

Perhaps because football will not leave me alone and goes everywhere with me, for some strange reason as I sat quietly in the cinema recently I found myself drawing parallels between that worst-case football scenario in my subconscious and a scene of untold destruction in the wake of a volcanic eruption, in the epic movie Pompeii.
While not unfounded, my fears are perhaps exaggerated as even a full blown match-fixing upsurge is not likely to wipe football off the face of the earth as the volcano in this movie did entire cities, a depiction of a historic real life event set in the Roman Empire way back in 75 AD.

Where the global match-fixing scourge is concerned, Europe is not exempted of course and the biggest one yet ironically flared-up where the Roman Empire and towns like Pompeii once sat before Vesuvius blew open, in modern-day Italy.

That so-called Calciopoli scandal rocked Italian football and the ill after-effects are still visible; but the game has survived and thrives once more, with the biggest culprits Juventus bouncing back to dominate again.

In a few more of Uefa’s lower ranked top flight leagues match-fixing is said to be unbridled, as well as in the lower divisions of UEFA’s elite countries as exemplified by a chain of events uncovered a couple of years ago several tiers below the Bundesliga in the Germany.

So, while it will be largely taken for granted and many will indeed look at me funny for even thinking it, I have been quite impressed by the professionalism of the teams involved and preservation of the integrity of the leagues in question in the wake of some exciting title run-ins over there.

Would you blame me for the mind wandering in the direction that has inspired this piece having partaken of Jose Mourinho’s rant after Chelsea had lost to Sunderland and dropped out of the title race, one in which he thanked the referee of the day for a ‘great’ job and the overall referees’ chief for a season well ‘arranged’?
Yet it is this same Mourinho who, after making it clear that a win at Anfield would do little to resurrect Chelsea’s title hopes, still went ahead to engage the frowned-upon tactics which produced the win to derail Liverpool’s bid.

Some will say that Mourinho had his own motivation in frustrating Liverpool with whom he has had a fractious relationship forever soured by the Luis Garcia phantom goal which denied him a shot at European glory during his first Chelsea stint.

But how about Everton who, against the wishes of a good many, went on to put in a battling performance against Man City which if successful would have swung the title momentum back in the favour of their eternal Merseyside rivals?

And how about Crystal Palace, safe from relegation, who could have been excused for accepting understandable defeat when 3-0 down to a rampant Liverpool with 10 or so minutes left, but who instead stirred themselves up for one of the most memorable comebacks in Premiership history to cruelly crash Liverpool’s dreams?

Or Aston Villa, safe too, who with their dogged defending appeared hell bent on raining on Man City’s parade until their admirable resistance was quashed by the sheer class and relentlessness of a team not to be denied? Would you then be shocked if West Ham, with nothing to play for, went to Man City tomorrow and played like their lives depended on it? Or if, even on hearing about the events at the Etihad, Newcastle still showed Liverpool absolutely no mercy?

Spain, France
Those scenarios have been replicated in Spain where the minnows have been determined to have their say in the matter of the three-way fight for the crown all season, so much so that none of Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Barcelona won last the weekend, and Real were further frustrated a few days later.

Valladolid are fighting for their lives, but the performances of Levante, Valencia and Getafe who should all have already packed up for the summer were such a great advert for the La Liga.

Germany and Italy did not quite present the same opportunity for an inquisition, with Bayern and Juventus champions-in-waiting since before Christmas; but it was such a pleasure to see that PSG, champions-elect for a long while in France, were only officially declared in a home defeat in midweek, because Rennes had apparently not read the script; and that Guingamp would not let Monaco capitalise on that PSG loss, holding the pursuers to a draw in the Principality.
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