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Time for divers to be banned?

Once again, the Premier League weekend was subject to a little controversy as a number of players were accused of diving to try and win their side a penalty, or get an opposing player sent off.

One of the big examples of this was Luis Suarez for Liverpool against Stoke City on Sunday as the Uruguayan went down far too easily in the second half of the a football result   that ended goalless draw between the two sides at Anfield.

This made Stoke boss Tony Pulis come out and ask for Suarez to be banned, suggesting that too many players get away with doing it and that if they were suspended for diving, it would cut it out of the game.

These days it is almost impossible for a referee to give a penalty as there is always the doubt that a player has tried to con the officials or whether there was enough contact. Someone like Suarez is constantly in the headlines for playacting and it has led to him getting a lot less spot-kicks.

However, he seems to keep on doing it and maybe a ban would be a big statement of intent from the Football Association that they want to get diving out of the game and it would make a player think twice about doing that.

The FA could use video evidence after the match, and if someone has clearly dived to try and win a penalty of having a member of the opposition sent off, then it is them that face the ban.

No one likes to see a player cheating – there is a big difference between winning a penalty and looking for one. If you feel contact in the box, then you have every right to go down, but if you go into the area knowing you are going to fall to the ground – you deserve to be punished.

This is not just a pick on Suarez either, there are players all round England that are guilty of it. When you are successful in trying to con the referee it can have a massive impact on a team’s season – which is really not fair.

Swansea boss Michael Laudrup‘s comments that he sees nothing wrong with clubs offering rival teams money to win if it will benefit them – so-called ‘suitcasing’ and apparently commonplace in Spain – have quite rightly sparked anger amongst British football fans.

Laudrup has caused controversy by saying he doesn’t “see anything bad” in the suggestion that a third side can offer another in the league a financial reward, or incentive, to win a game that benefits them both.

To explain further, a hypothetical example would be Swansea players being offered an extra financial bonus by, say, Wigan for the Welsh club to beat, for example, Southampton, if that result would directly benefit Wigan in a relegation battle.

While these crucial occasions are not common and usually restricted to the final weeks of a season, the suggestion that it is ‘OK’ for this practice to go ahead is surely dangerous for the game – and for someone of Laudrup’s standing to offer his backing to it, quite frankly, shocking.

Laudrup said: “If Swansea play the last game against a team and a third team pays Swansea to win the game, I really don’t see anything bad about that.”

Online message-boards and phone-ins have been dominated by fans angered by his comments and they are quite right to object to what is a flawed wisdom which breeds and feeds an underground current and a totally unregulated culture that will unduly affect results and scores

It is a very dangerous and murky road to go down. If players are suddenly offered more money to win games then how long before others are offered more to lose a meaningless game? In truth, while it might not be technically illegal, it completely goes against sporting traditions and is a short sidestep away from blatant match-fixing – something we are thankfully not too familiar with in the Barclays premier league but an issue which remains a threat in other parts of the world, not least Italy, where an ongoing match-fixing scandal at the highest level continues to be investigated.

In the light of Laudrup’s naive and outspoken comments, the FA have reminded everyone they, of course, have clear rules to outlaw any form of bribery, match-fixing and corruption.

Some will say that Laudrup, brought up and used to football in another culture, was merely revealing what many know goes on ahead of certain crucial games in other countries and expressing his personal opinion that he doesn’t see much wrong with it.

But it is clearly a dark route for football to go down and, while it may be seen as ‘the norm’ in Spain, it is never something that should be tolerated over here.

It is clear that England have a shortage of top class strikers at the moment. With Wayne Rooney constantly struggling to re-produce his club form for the national team, and the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck lacking experience on the international stage; there is an opening for forwards to stake a claim to be a fixture in Roy Hodgson’s future squads.

The Likes of Grant Holt, anyone who follows Premier League news  will have seen that he bagged 15 League goals in his debut Premier League season last year for Norwich City, and Danny Graham at Swansea City have consistently been overlooked for a place in the Three Lions squad despite performing superbly for their Club sides.

But another man who has not as yet been given a look in is Gary Hooper at Celtic. The Harlow born front man has been nothing short of a goal machine for the Bhoys after making a £2.4 million move from Scunthorpe United back in 2010.

Since then, Hooper has netted over half a century goals for the Hoops and his manager, Neil Lennon, has urged England to give him a chance.  His blistering form has led to both Scotland and Wales making enquires over whether the 24 year old could be eligible to play for them, but such a turnover of goals should have caught the attention of Roy Hodgson.

Many sceptics will point to the fact that Hooper has been plying his trade at a relatively poor standard in the SPL,  but the ball still needs putting in the back of the net; no matter what level you play – and Hooper does that better than most.

What’s more, he has dealt with the pressure of playing for one of Britain’s biggest club’s in the shape of Celtic and thrived on the atmosphere. The prospect of playing for his country in front of big crowds is something that is unlikely to faze him and natural born goal scorers will always have that ability to create something out of nothing.

If you like a football bet , you will see that Hooper is the favourite to be the leading scorer in the SPL this campaign.

It would be great to see players rewarded for their league form, no matter who they play for, with international friendlies offering the perfect chance to try out new faces. In the shape of Hooper, England may have a predatory forward on their hands; but they will never know unless they give him a chance to prove his worth.

By Andrew Ward

By Laurie Fitzgerald

The new Aviva Premiership season got underway last weekend, as rugby fans across the country prepare for another epic and thrilling campaign ahead.

In terms of an introduction to the new season, there could hardly have been a better one; it may have been the first game of the season, but Harlequins and Wasps produced 80 minutes of entertainment that may not be bettered in the following 134 matches.

After enduring the season from hell last time out, Wasps looked to have shaken off the shackles that saw them almost go out of the Premiership and close to administration as their pace and precision tore apart the defending champions.     View full article »

Stuart McCall should have no complaints over Shaun Hutchinson’s dismissal last weekend, despite the Motherwell boss’s adamant stance that the referee got it wrong.

Hutchinson was shown a red card for the second time in a week after treading on the back of Thomas Reilly’s ankle as opponents St Mirren chased a late equaliser at Fir Park. Referee Euan Norris immediately brandished a second yellow to give the centre-back his marching orders, a decision McCall disagreed with.

“Hutchinson’s distraught,” McCall told BBC Scotland. “He feels guilty for letting us down, which he’s not done. He’ll learn from his first booking, I’ve had a go at him [for that].

“If you’re booking people for tackles like that, I think that’s wrong,” condemned the Motherwell boss.

Yet replays on sites such as Unibet sport news suggest Norris’s decision was right, with Hutchison planting six studs through his opponent’s ankle. The foul was committed on the edge of the area as St Mirren were coming forward in search of an equaliser and the defender had already been booked for petulant behaviour earlier in the game.

To make matters worse, Hutchinson’s departure created a huge gap in Motherwell’s back line that their opponents utilised to great extent. St Mirren dominated the game with 65% of the ball and peppered Darren Randolph’s goal; an equaliser was the least that they deserved.

It was somewhat fitting therefore that 17-year-old Reilly’s stoppage-time finish came from the place Hutchinson would have been standing were he still on the field.

McCall admits he has spoken to the referee and understands the decision to dismiss Hutchinson, yet still should not defend the challenge his centre-half made. It was a reckless attempt to win the ball and cost his side three points, and although it is commendable that McCall stands up for his player, there is really only one man to blame.

What do you think? have you seen the tackle? Was the referee right to give him his marching orders?

By Laurie Fitzgerald

After a truly great summer of sport dominated our attention, it almost feels like the new football season has snuck up on without anyone realising.

But it’s easy to forget after the past few weeks of witnessing our Olympic heroes inspire a nation that last season’s Premier League campaign will be etched into the memory of every football fan for many years to come.

A title race that came down to the last kick of the season (literally) a battle for the Champions League places that had more twists and turns than a Carlos Tevez transfer saga, and a relegation battle that had supporters of several clubs biting their nails for several months on end.

Now, the new season gets underway today with either plenty of change or plenty of uncertainty dominating the thoughts of clubs ready for the next long journey ahead.     View full article »

Michael Carrick’s noble statement that he would definitely “consider” an England call up, this season, yet again exposes the problems footballers have with being a reserve.

The Manchester United star withdrew his name from selection in January, after a dissatisfying 2010 World Cup campaign.

Being withdrawn, he was not selected for Roy Hodgson’s side for this summer’s Euro 2012 tournament, and he recently admitted to Betfair.com that he would have rejected a call-up, even if it were formally made.

Carrick outlined the situation at the World Cup as the reasons for his decision to focus on club football. Having made the squad, he trained and camped with his teammates but did not get a minute of play in South Africa, a predicament he foresaw should he join the Euro 2012 set-up.

But, when Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry pulled out of the campaign injured, the perfect replacement in the centre of the park was back at home. Instead of Carrick partnering Steven Gerrard in midfield, responsibility was handed to the inexperienced Jordan Henderson, who was largely ineffectual in Ukraine.

Carrick’s presence may well have bolstered England’s midfield during their quarter-final defeat to Italy, where Andrea Pirlo ran the show in the centre of the pitch. In deciding not to represent his country – even simply as a substitute – Carrick has surely rejected any chance of getting back into the side.

For why should a man dissatisfied with life on the subs bench be awarded a starting role?

Jamie Carragher, Liverpool’s rock in defence for the past decade, retired from international football as he was not getting a game. His appearance in South Africa, therefore, was disheartening to say the least, as he had not earned the right from playing England qualifiers.

The noble Carrick, if he wants to be part of England again at a major tournament, must prove himself willing to work with the squad during their next qualification campaign.

Visit the Betfair Premiership website for the best odds, picks, and tips for the upcoming campaign, as well as the 2012/13 Champions League.

 

South American contestants, Uruguay, have shown that they are taking Olympic football glory seriously, by selecting an extremely strong 18-man squad for London 2012.

The side are 7/1 for the gold in the Olympics football betting odds on Betfair, behind Spain and Brazil.

Liverpool striker, Luis Saurez, is one of the main attractions, and he is joined by fellow Reds player, defender Sebastian Coates.

Suarez is one of the three over-age players allowed to be included, with Palermo’s Arevalo Rios and Napoli’s Edinson Cavani also selected by coach, Oscar Tabarez.

So, at least England will know what to expect when they play Uruguay, having also been drawn in group A along with Senegal and the UAE.

Uruguay have won the Olympic gold medal on two occasions, having first triumphed on their debut at the Games in Paris, in 1924, beating Switzerland 3-0.

They followed up, four years later, in Amsterdam, beating Argentina 2-1 in a replay after the first match ended all square, but they have not been anywhere near as successful since.

However, the South Americans, who join fellow CONMEBOL side, Brazil, in London, are expected to be one of the big challengers for the gold medal, having won the 2011 Copa America.

In addition, quite a few of the squad were part of the side that captured last year’s South American under-21 tournament.

The inclusion of Saurez, while good news for Uruguay, means that Liverpool will be without their star player for the start of pre-season training, but, when he does return to Merseyside, it could well be with a medal round his neck, maybe even gold, although his fellow Premier League peers will hope not.

The Betfair Tennis webpage may also be of interest to fans of the Olympics; Andy Murray is fourth-favourite, as ever, to win the gold.

Englandare through to the quarter-finals of the Euros yes, but let’s not get carried away.

Their performances in Euro 2012 to date haven’t set the world alight, and have not fired the sort of signals to the rest ofEuropethat make the continent’s top players start quaking in their shiny, overly expensive football boots.

The one thing the Englandplayers have managed to do, though, is start believing in themselves, and each other, with positive football scores the inevitable consequence

England are never, ever, in a million years, going to be as good as Spain, and we don’t possess the ability that the Germans do, but we do seem to have the unity and togetherness that has previously helped lesser teams succeed against the odds.  

The Greeceteam of 2004 springs to mind as the best example of a relatively unskilled team being successful in a major tournament. The football betting at the outset suggested they would struggle to get out of their group, let alone win the whole thing. But their success inPortugal eight years ago has gone down as one of the greatest upsets in modern day football.

But before we all get excited, thisEnglandteam is very, very unlikely to repeat this feat.

If we can get close, though, this current side will be in a decent position to be viewed as a strong competitor at the next World Cup, and maybe (just maybe!) might be able to win a major tournament for the first time since 1966.

If Roy can create a scenario that allows this kind of belief to exist, he will have exceeded everything that was first expected of him, and will have bought himself precious time to prove those who doubt his ability as national team manager.

While there is plenty of time for everything to go wrong again for England, we can now at least have just a little more hope than we did before the start of the Euros!

By Tony Alvarez
The last fixture of the season in the English Football leagues takes place at Wembley on Sunday as the league 2 play off final is contested between Crewe and Cheltenham.
Both sides are vying to make the step up and be playing in League One next year, there is also many players hoping this fixture can put them in the shop window for a move onto bigger and better things.

View full article »

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