Sardar Azmoun: The Iranian Messi?

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Iran haven’t always been rated as one of football’s superpowers, but the nation has been on a bit of a rise recently. A very promising 2014 FIFA World Cup campaign in Brazil was followed up by an impressive Asian Cup performance this year, as they made the quarterfinal stage after topping their group with nine points. Indeed that Asian Cup performance raised many eyebrows, as a certain 20 year old stood out from the crowd.

That 20 year old is Sardar Azmoun, a talented and rather slightly built forward who has been ruffling a few feathers in the Russian Premier League. After moving into football at the age of nine he was offered his first professional contract with local side Sepahan, and although he didn’t made an appearance for the first team he did win the national title in 2012.

Despite never actually taking to the field two time Russian champions Rubin Kazan saw enough to take a punt on the 17 year old, and that’s where his rise really did begin. In his first season in Kazan head coach Kurban Berdyev opted to train him up with the youth team, and he eventually made his first team debut in July 2013 in a UEFA Europa League qualifier.

His first goal didn’t take long to come either, as in just his second game against Molde he found the net. That persuaded Rubin to give him more playing time, and he slowly became a first team mainstay scoring in the Russian league for the first time in October of the same year.

His gradual progress was already attracting attention from all around Europe, as Rubin came out and publically stated that he wasn’t for sale despite offers from the likes of Arsenal and Internazionale. Newspaper reports in Britain have been touting him as the ‘Iranian Messi’, and while that may be a bit steep, you can see the comparisons.

Just like his Argentinian counterpart Azmoun has a low sense of gravity, and is exceptional with the ball at his feet. A perfect example is his wonder goal against Qatar in the Asian Cup group stages, where he quite beautifully twisted away from his marker. His raw technical talent has pushed him to the fore of Asian talent, and just in January this year Liverpool and Tottenham were rumoured to having offered Rubin £5 million for his services.

And then something rather strange happened. In late February Rubin decided that for whatever reason he would be sent out on loan to struggling Rostov, a team that are languishing in 16th and last place of the Russian league. Why? Even I am struggling to work this one out. In Russia it made very few headlines, as few seemed bothered by the move.

The only problem in his game though, and a potential reason for the loan deal, is his lack of goals. Yes, he’s full of talent and ability, but this campaign he has hit the target only once (and that was back in August 2014). Rubin are a team that traditionally struggle for goals, and they will be hoping that Sardar can start scoring with more regularity with Rostov.

Even the fact that Rubin were prepared to loan him out shouldn’t put off potential buyers. He is still only 20 years old, and those flashes of potential which we have seen have been enough to show what he is capable of. The main question for him is when to make the move abroad.

In Russia you can progress to a certain extent, but to realise his potential to the full a move to Western Europe will be needed. Some players though go either too early and get lost somewhere along the line, or opt to go too late when nobody wants them. His technical ability would suit a team like Arsenal perfectly, however his small frame would make it difficult to compete in such a physically demanding league.

This summer will surely see more offers coming up, and if the price is right, Rubin will have no other option than to give up their hottest talent. The only issues that remain are when the right time to go is, and where is the best place to let his talent flourish. Two issues that are going to decide how big he is going to become.


Written by Shaun Nicolaides

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Random Special: The World’s Shortest & Tallest Football Players in Professional Football Today

Kristof van Hout

Football players come in all shapes and sizes. Their physical attributes can often, but not always, determine how and where on the pitch they play. From towering goalkeepers to target-man strikers, from miniscule midfielders to pocket-rocket wingers, here are the shortest and tallest football players playing professional men’s soccer today.


World Football’s Tallest Football Players

Unsurprisingly, a goalkeeper tops the tallest football player list. Belgian giant Kristof van Hout currently plays for India’s Delhi Dynamos and is officially the tallest football player in the world. Measuring an impressive 2.08m (6ft 10 in), he barely has to raise his arms to reach the 8ft crossbar.

Croatian goalkeeper Vanja Iveša comes close to the Belgian giant alongside Chinese striker Yang Changpeng. Both measure 2.05m (6ft 8½ in). Changpeng, dubbed “China’s Peter Crouch”, had a trial for English Premier League side Bolton Wanderers in 2006, but never signed. He currently plays in China.

Next up are the Norwegians. Striker Tor Hogne Aarøy (2.04m) currently plays for Norwegian second division club Aalesunds FK. His fellow countryman and striker Øyvind Hoås (Hønefoss) is only a fraction shorter at 2.03m, as is Hasle-Lören IL defender Even Iversen and goalkeeper Kjell Petter Opheim. Completing the quintet is AS Monaco’s Lacina Traore also at 2.03m (6ft 8 in).


Lacina Traore (center)

The world’s tallest football player list is wrapped up with a more familiar name in Serbian centre forward Nikola Žigic, who is a powerful striker for England’s Birmingham City measured at a height of 2.02m (6ft 7½ in).

To put these giants of the game into perspective, towering Stoke City striker Peter Crouch measures in at 2.01m (6ft 7 in).


World Football’s Shortest Football Players

Height profiles for the world’s shortest football players seem to vary depending on the source – official club websites often differ from other soccer stats resources. However, Brazilian attacking midfielder Élton Jose Xavier Gomes, who plays for Saudi Arabia’s Al Fateh, would appear to take the accolade for top-flight football’s shortest player at only 1.58m (5ft 2 in).


A whole host of footballer’s measure in at between 1.60m and 1.63m (5ft 3 in - 5ft 4 in), many of them technically gifted South American midfielders like Elton. The Brazilian contingent of shortest football players comprises Madson (5ft 3 in), Carlinhos Bala (5ft 4 in) and Joãozinho (5ft 4 in).

From Argentina come Maximiliano Moralez (5ft 3 in), Diego Buonanotte (5ft 2 in), Juan Cuevas (5ft 4 in) and Franco Niell (5ft 4 in). Completing the Latin American connection are Ecuadorian midfielder Christian Lara (5ft 4 in) and Mexican Elgabry Rangel (5ft 4 in).

Diego Buonanotte

One of the few Europeans to challenge for a position amongst the world’s shortest soccer players is English midfielder Levi Porter. Porter, currently contracted to Shepshed Dynamo playing at the semi-professional Midland Football League, is 1.60ms (5ft 3in) tall.

Lionel Messi, World Football Player of the Year and Ballon d’Or winner, is not the tallest of footballers. However, at 1.69m (5ft 5 in) he is still some way off from joining the ranks of the world’s shortest football players.



Written by TG Dunnell

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Romulo: The Low-down on the Arsenal-linked Spartak star

Russian football isn’t what is used to be. No teams left in the UEFA Champions League, the 2014 FIFA World Cup fiasco, and the struggle to qualify for UEFA Euro 2016. The country has certainly seen better footballing days, although all isn’t lost yet. Yes, the domestic championship isn’t progressing, but the Russian league does hold some unhidden talent who should have a big future ahead of them.

One problem stands out from the rest – Russian footballers of this generation, and seemingly the next, are nowhere near the level of the team which reached the Euro 2008 semi-finals. There is no Andrey Arshavin to weave some magic, no Roman Pavlyuchenko or Pavel Pogrebynak to bag the vital goals when it counts, and goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev is paying for never leaving hometown club CSKA Moscow.

Even Zenit Saint Petersburg with all their millions flattered to deceive, with the likes of Hulk, Axel Witsel and Ezequiel Garay failing to help the team achieve success in the Champions League. There are still some positives which can be found however.
Spartak Moscow have been slowly losing their place amongst the Russian elite, but they have a midfield gem in the shape of Romulo Borges Monteiro or, simply, Romulo. The 24 year old Brazilian defensive midfielder has made only 25 appearances for Spartak in two and a half years due to injury, but that has been enough time to make a real impact.

Spartak themselves are having another shocker of a campaign. Despite the best efforts of owner Leonid Fedun, including the building of a new state of the art stadium, they have been average at best lying in sixth place on 29 points. Star midfielder Roman Shirokov has left after a bust up with head coach Murat Yakin, and the departure of promising forward Artyom Dzyuba looks to be on the cards.

Spartak fans need something to be positive about, and Romulo is just that. After gradually working his way back into the team he has added class to their midfield, and he netted a fantastic goal against Ural in December. He took aim from the edge of the area, and curled beautifully into the right hand corner for his first league goal since August 2012.

Many Brazilian players are lured to either Russia or Ukraine from their home country when young, and sometimes it works out. Vagner Love, legendary CSKA Moscow forward, is a perfect example of someone who made their name in Eastern Europe, while Shakhtar Donetsk’s Bernard is suffering for being greedy. Romulo so far doesn’t fall into either category.

He hasn’t managed to set the world on fire in Russia, but at the same time it’s clear to see that he has something special. Indeed back in 2012, he really captured Europe’s attention. At the Nou Camp against Barcelona, a Spartak 2:3 defeat, he scored a wonderful goal as the Russians threatened to cause a huge upset.

It was almost the perfect start, but then disaster struck. Torn knee ligaments put him out for the best part of a year, and it put paid to any hopes of a further move to Western Europe. Finally he looks to have fully recovered though, and two years on he is proving just why he made so many fans sit up and take notice. Although he does have a wonder goal in him, his main job is to sweep up the danger in the middle of the field, in the meantime allowing the forwards to do their stuff.The sort of player that every team needs.

His current side Spartak have just been downright unlucky with Romulo though – had it not been for that terrible injury back in 2012, he could have really improved their fortunes. And as soon as he is back on form, Europe’s big guns are after him. A tidy, clever and competent defensive midfielder with an eye for a killer pass is just what Arsenal are crying out for, and the English outfit are rumoured to be heavily interested in his services.

But would Spartak let him go now? In just a couple of months’ time the Russian winter break will come to an end, and the Muscovites face a race against time to make European competition for next season. The majority of Spartak’s woes come from a shaky back line, and a fully fit Romulo, hanging just in front of the defence, will only help shut down the likes of CSKA’s Seydou Doumbia and Zenit’s Hulk.

Still, for the right price even Russians aren’t going to say no. Romulo was bought from Corinthians for around eight million euros, and if I were Leonid Fedun, I would be demanding around double that for him now.

Not too long is left in the winter transfer window though and Arsenal, as well as any other potential buyers, are going to have to speed up to get any sort of deal done. Romulo isn’t the finished article yet, but he has all the potential to become one of the best defensive midfielders in the European game – sharp tackling, alert reactions, and the ability to swiftly set up counterattacks.

Spartak better start making use of him, as they may not have his company for much longer.


Written by Shaun Nicolaides

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CSKA Moscow: The Muscovites do the unthinkable against the mighty City

CSKA Moscow beat Manchester City away from home? Really? Yes, even I couldn’t have imagined that. You don’t become Russian champions by being a bad team, but CSKA really have had a rough time of it at Europe’s top table of late. Six defeats out of your past seven UEFA Champions League games is nothing to write home about, and everyone was expecting the Russians to get rolled over in England. Just how wrong we were.

The Muscovites did come into this game with a bit of confidence though. Despite falling to Zenit 0-1 in a Russian top of the table clash on the weekend they have been in pretty decent form, scrapping to a 2-2 draw against Manchester City in Khimki, and progressing to the Russian Cup quarter finals, defeating Torpedo 2-0. Their biggest boost however came with the return of star forward Seydou Doumbia to the lineup.

The 26 year old Ivorian is a true goal machine in Russian football, and CSKA head coach Leonid Slutskiy was only happy to reinstall him into the team following a lengthy injury. And just how he made a difference. Right from the off CSKA rather surprisingly grabbed the initiative, and only seconds in their number 88 headed in a pinpoint Bibras Natcho set piece to give them the perfect start.

The perfect start that soon looked as though it was going to turn into another European nightmare. The hosts earned their own dangerous looking free kick six minutes later, and attacking midfielder Yaya Toure whipped it beautifully past despairing CSKA goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev. Incidentally it was an unbelievable 25th Champions League match in a row in which the Russian international had conceded, a tournament record. Nevertheless CSKA didn’t let that setback rock them at all, and set about taking full control of the game.

Handing the initiative to their opponents the Russians expertly picked out every hole in the Manchester defence when counterattacking, and just moments after missing a glorious opportunity, Seydou Doumbia made it two. Taking in a clever sliding pass from again Bibras Natcho, he made no mistake when clear in the penalty box.

It was always set up to be a nervy second half, but just how CSKA played so calmly. Browsing over social media after the game I came across a comment stating that it was the most assured and confident passing performance from a Russian club that this particular fan had ever seen, and it’s hard to disagree with him. They were simply outstanding. Fearless one twos in midfield when surrounded, short snappy passes when breaking out of defence instead of hacking the ball clear, winning almost all second balls. If anyone had thought that Russian football was dead, then they need to take a look at a rerun of this match.

But of course, it’s hard to ignore the referee’s performance. Tasos Sidiopoulos, a Greek, certainly won’t be wanting to make any more trips to Manchester soon. The two red card decisions against the hosts he got right, but he made a huge mistake when booking CSKA defender Vasiliy Berezutskiy instead of Pontus Wernbloom, who himself was already on a booking.

He shouldn’t overshadow however what was just about the perfect game from CSKA. It takes guts to come to Manchester and play with such confidence and class, but they pulled it off spectacularly, and such a show of flowing passing football brought back memories of Zenit Saint Petersburg’s run to the UEFA Cup all the way back in 2008.

CSKA though have every hope of making the last 16 of the Champions League, as they are level on four points with second placed AS Roma. The next matchday happens to pitch the two clubs against each other in Moscow, but that can wait as we enjoy a day to remember for Russian football.



Written by Shaun Nicolaides

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Football/Sports Tips: How to Effectively Communicate With Your Players

Communication is key in any sport, especially team ones such as rugby and football, where the success of the club depends on effective management of large pools of talent. Keeping track of the well-being, health and fitness of each individual player is essential to manage your resources and ensure that the group on the pitch is able to get the best results. It can also help you to avoid injury, overrunning certain players in the build up to important events, and overseeing opportunities as they arise.


Face-to-Face Communication

Whether you are training or giving the team a talk during half time, it can be difficult to get your message across clearly both to the team as a whole, and individuals who need specific advice or criticism. Especially during intense situations such as games, mistakes made by players can be frustrating for the coach and manager, but a negative approach to communication can only have adverse effects. In any situation, try to build a criticism into a compliment. Tell them what they were doing well, then how they can improve their game, and you are much more likely to get a positive response.

Listening is as important for coaches and managers as it is for the players. Instead of giving them a 5-minute talk on where they have gone wrong and how they could improve, get them more actively involved in the conversation. Ask them where they think things went wrong, and talk through their situation to come to a solution. By being approachable and willing to hear what the athletes themselves have to say, you might also be surprised at how many of them are perfectly capable of self-diagnosis, and ask for advice of their own accord.


Interacting off the Pitch

However much you might try to cover every base in the time spent with your players, you inevitably can’t keep track of each player at all times. Yet understanding their feelings and physical situation is crucial to effective team management, and a passing comment during training from a player might easily get lost in the pipeline. Equipping your players and your organisation with sports performance management software allows you to interact off the pitch.

Your players can fill in surveys on their performance and fitness, whilst you can co-ordinate their training and development remotely, accessible on mobile devices to fit around the busy lives of every member of the organisation. By doing so, you can secure on-going communication with your team, and make sure that everything is professionally tracked and recorded.

In a modern world where mobile technology offers the opportunity to interact any time, anywhere, as a sporting organisation or individual, communication on the pitch is only one half of the picture today. Investment in sports performance management software and makes interaction with your players easier and more effective. Combined with an approachable and positive style of coaching and management, you can get the best out of your team to watch the success speak for itself.


Article by Kelly Gilmour-Grassam, freelance copywriter from Yorkshire. Kelly loves the great outdoors, interesting places and fine foods. You can follow her on Twitter at @KellyGGrassam. This article is written with support from The Sports Office.

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Russia: World Cup was a disappointment, but it can only get better

Well, that was a disappointment. And that’s putting it lightly. Russia bowed out of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil without a victory to their name, and it’s a tournament that all Russian fans want to forget immediately. Pedestrian football with a toothless approach doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, and so it proved with Fabio Capello’s men yet again failing to get out of the group stage of a major tournament.

But just where is it going wrong? Russia’s the biggest country in the world, and theoretically the country should be amongst the best every single time. But it just isn’t working out like that. The Russians have followed up their Euro 2012 fiasco with a terribly poor performance in Brazil, and while before the tournament I already knew this was far from a great Russian side, everything was a lot worse than I could have imagined.

Russian footballers are known around the world for playing incisive, counterattacking football, but that was simply non-existent. Russia managed to score only twice, and you could count the amount of meaningful chances that the team created throughout the tournament on one hand.

Just think about how England played four years ago in South Africa though. Yes, you got it, they played almost exactly as to how Russia played this time around. It’s not hard to figure out who was the manager of both sides. Fabio Capello may hold a superb record at club level, but history shows that successful club managers often have a hard time of it at international level.

In a combined seven World Cup matches the Italian has won just a miserly single match (1-0 for England against Slovenia in 2010), and it’s easy to see that he’s not comfortable at this level. And how he got it wrong with Russia. Not starting talented attacking midfielder Alan Dzagoev was simply a crime, and pursuing with calamitous goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev proved to be a very costly mistake.

Capello’s tactics of playing slowly while keeping the opponents are arm’s length at times looked to be effective, but Russia does not have the quality in their squad to be able to hold off teams for the full 90 minutes.

Two decent results against Belgium and Algeria seemed to be in the team’s grasp, but a lack of energy and discipline cost them dear. But I just cannot understand Capello’s decision making. Yes, Alan Dzagoev has been in pretty ropey form, but for the national team he always finds his best game. Alexey Ionov, a pacy winger from Dynamo Moscow, could have injected some energy into the team, and young midfielder Pavel Mogilevets should have been given the opportunity to replace the influential Roman Shirokov who was ruled out before the tournament started due to injury.

The manager can’t be the only who’s blamed however. Had it not been for Igor Akinfeev’s shocking mistakes against South Korea and Algeria, the team almost certainly would have advanced to the last 16. I’ve never been a fan of his, but he showed just why he’s stayed with CSKA Moscow rather than moving abroad, and you can bet no one will be after his services now.

Star striker Alexander Kokorin, despite his superb headed goal against Algeria, didn’t turn up to the party, and the team seriously failed to click. Russians historically suffer from severe homesickness and their Brazilian adventure has only added ammunition to that theory, and while that may simply be a physiological problem, no one has the solution as yet.

It’s a good thing then, that the next World Cup is taking place in Russia itself. But just who’s going to play? Russia has a serious youth problem. There are virtually no young players coming through the system, and it’s a situation that is only getting more and more critical.

Of this current Russian squad only a handful of players will still be playing by the time 2018 is upon is, and just maybe the next World Cup will come too soon for the Russians. Four years is a shorter amount of time than it seems, and Russia have very little time to turn around what is a very deep rooted problem.

Russia isn’t the only big name to be heading home though. Being in the company of Spain, Bosnia, Italy and Portugal is fantastic, until you realise that the only thing that all these nations have in common is that they’re all on a flight home. Many have said already that the fact that every single member of the Russian squad plays at home contributed to their downfall, but that’s something which I don’t overly agree with.

Take a look at that fantastic Russian squad at Euro 2008, just about everyone played in Russia as well! The reason behind the failure is a lot deeper than what it seems at face value.

Fabio Capello’s contract runs all the way through to 2018, and I can’t help but think that was yet another mistake. Russia need someone young and fresh with ambitious ideas, because this nation has the potential to be one of the best. It’s going to be hard work, but the country does have the capabilities to genuinely mix it with the best.

One thing’s for certain, it can only get better.


Written by Shaun Nicolaides

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Football Entertainment: Soccer Saturday Bingo

Soccer Saturday is a football institution in the UK and Ireland and has been ever since its inception in 1992. Broadcast on Sky Sports, the premise of the program is simple in that there is a host and four studio guests that review the Saturday afternoon football matches that play as they happen. There are also roving reporters at many of the other matches around the country and these are visited throughout the afternoon.

While the premise would make the program sound boring, the fact that it has been on air for 22 years is down to the on screen chemistry of the host, Jeff Stelling, and the studio guests makes the program watchable each and every week. The studio guests are currently former Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier, former Arsenal defender Paul Merson, ex Liverpool assistant manager Phil Thompson and Celtic and Arsenal striker Charlie Nicholas.

As a result of the on screen chemistry between the five in the Soccer Saturday studio as well as their familiarity with each other as well as the passion of these football men appearing while watching the matches we are often treated to a display of football analysis that is usually reserved for time spent in the pub with your mates, except on prime time TV!

The nature of the program, as well as the occasion faux pas from the studio guests, has led to many spin offs for people to join in at home. The most famous of this is the Soccer Saturday drinking game where shots of beer or Jagermeister are to be drunk at times of different things happening during the program.

However, for those of us that do not want to spend our Saturday afternoon’s getting heavily drunk we have come up with a bingo version of the game that allows you to play the same game without being unable to function for Saturday evening!

To play, just print off this bingo card from Butlers Bingo or write down the below situations and hand them out to all of the people playing the game. The winner is the first person to get all of their situations to appear on screen.

  • A goal is scored
  • A sending off
  •  Half time
  • Chris Kamara is talking
  • Paul Merson uses stupid rhyming slang (i.e.”he’s hit the beans on toast”!)
  • Swindon Town appear on the vidiprinter
  • Dundee appear on the vidiprinter
  • Phil Thompson says ‘Stevie Gerrard’
  • Jeff makes an ‘A Trialist’ joke
  • Your team scores two goals
  • Jeff calls Kenny Deucher ‘The Good Doctor’
  • Hartlepool score a goal
  • A pundit shouts off camera
  • LeTiss is mentioned in connection with a takeaway
  • Chris Kamara says “it’s unbelievable Jeff”
  • Jeff mentions “dancing in the streets of TNS
  • Jeff says “its Doom and Gloom at…”
  • The team ‘Keith’ is referred to as just being one guy
  • Brighton & Hove, or Daggers & Redbridge are jokingly referred to as two different teams playing the same oppo
  • When Arbroath striker Kevin Webster scores and Stelling says “ohh, Sally will be pleased”
  • Something bad happens to Craig Bellamy (injury, og, booked, arrested for assault etc.)
  • Northampton Town appear on the vidiprinter.
  • Jeff sings “I feel good” when James Brown scores for Hartlepool

These are just a taste of the situations that occur during Soccer Saturday, and feel free to add more of your own making to spice up for your Soccer Saturday bingo session! Once you’ve played this, jump online to play free games at any bingo site. You can win big and use it to spice up your Soccer Saturday fun!

Would you prefer to just play football instead of sitting at home? So basically you want to be a professional footballer? Click here!


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Feature: Much awaited football tournaments in the world

Soccer as it is called in the United States and Canada and football to the rest of the world, is one of the most popular sporting extravaganza played by millions worldwide.

The game is played with different formats with different pitch and team sizes but the most prevalent one feature two teams with eleven players each, playing on a grass pitch measuring approximately 105m x 68m with the main aim of kicking or heading a ball into their opponent goal. Men’s football was introduced into Olympics Games in 1908 while the women’s competition was added in 1996.

There is various international football tournaments played all around the world which are eagerly awaited by soccer fans.

Visit Carlton Leisure to book flights to various destinations around the world to enjoy these precious moments of various tournaments.


FIFA World Cup

Ask a football fan what delights him the most and undoubtedly you get the answer as FIFA World cup. There is no greater sports competition than this ultimate sports extravaganza. The next FIFA World Cup is held in Brazil from 12th June 2014 to 13th July 2014.

Come and enjoy the game of stamina and passion and see your favorite football giants competing against each other.


The UEFA Champions League

The UEFA Championship League is the most glamorous club competition in the football tournaments. The competition is organized by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA).

Since 1992 it has become one of the most prestigious club competitions in European football which has helped to turn Europe into football’s most financially powerful continent.

The finals of 2012-13 UEFA championship is the most watched sporting events in 2013 worldwide drawing over 360 million television viewers. There is no club competition to match the champion league.


The Copa America

It is one of the oldest existing continental football competitions. It is a South American international Association Football Competition contested between CONMEBOL as well as two other nations, frequently Mexico, Costa Rica or the United States.

Brazil and Argentina are referred as South American football’s “Big Two” current holders but it is the Uruguay which is the most successful team of the tournament with 15 wins till date.


The FA Cup

The Football Association Challenge Cup which is commonly known as the FA Cup is an annual knockout cup competition in English football. It is the most famous domestic competition in the world.

A women tournament is also held known as FA Women’s cup. Established in July 1871, it is arguably the oldest association football competition in the world.


Africa Cup of Nations

It is a main international association football competition in Africa that pits the continents greatest international sides against each other in a fascinating battle of supremacy. It was first held in 1957 and since 1968, it has been held every two years.

The tournament is held in the month of January and the continent’s most successful side is Egypt which has won this tournament a record seven times.


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Andre Villas-Boas: The hapless, former Spurs boss makes swift return to management

It’s finally happened. Luciano Spalletti has been fired from Zenit Saint Petersburg after months of chaos within the Russian giants, and the club really do look to be going through a transitional period. Just one win in their past 12 competitive fixtures just isn’t good enough for any team let alone a side that has won just about every title possible, and time for change has arisen.

Spalletti has left big boots to be filled but Andre Villas Boas, the ex Chelsea and Tottenham manager, has been the man entrusted in which to do so. Zenit’s season is on the verge of falling apart as the club has fallen to second place of the domestic championship and looks to be heading out of the Champions League, and Villas Boas has a real task on his hands.

Take a trip to Russia though and you won’t find too many who are overjoyed about his appointment. Despite doing a simply fantastic job with Porto a few years ago and being treated highly unfairly in the English Premier League Villas Boas’s reputation has been tarnished somewhat. Zenit’s fans were happy to finally see the back of Spalletti but they so far seem very reluctant to be positive about their new manager to be, and I really cannot understand that.

Yes, with Chelsea and Tottenham not a lot went his way, but it’s a poison chalice being a manager in English football. Villas Boas just wasn’t given enough time to construct the team he wanted both at Chelsea and Tottenham, and you really can’t blame him for that.
One thing he can’t seem to handle though is controlling big egos.

At Chelsea his - at times - questionable team selections ruffled a few feathers, and when dealing with strong characters it’s never going to be simple. And he won’t have it any easier at Zenit. The Russians have had their fair share of disruption inside the team, with high profile Russian midfielders such as Igor Denisov and Roman Shirokov taking their leave because of off-field matters.

What does play into his hands, though, is his friendship with Brazilian superstar Hulk, which stretches back to when Villas Boas coached at Porto. And if he can return the harmony within the team, more than half of his job would have been completed.
Just what he can do with the play on the field remains to be seen.

Zenit have long based their game on quick sharp counterattacks, but as the years go on and opponents start to respect Zenit more, the Russians are forced to play with the initiative and it hasn’t proved easy to do so. And the over reliance on Hulk is starting to become ridiculous.

If Hulk doesn’t play well the team doesn’t play well and it’s simply because that every single other player relies on Hulk to produce a miracle, and although he’s good he isn’t quite Lionel Messi.

Villas Boas just has to find a way to get through to the team that everyone has to take responsibility and to put some heart and character into every performance. Zenit have, in recent matches, resembled a team that is in meltdown without any desire whatsoever to win, but a new fresh face should help to inject some life into what is a very talented group of players.

Many in Russia though are somewhat angered by the fact that interim manager Sergey Semak, incidentally himself only 38, has not been given a chance to prove himself. Semak only last summer decided to finish his playing career and is looked upon as a true legend of Russian football and a very likeable character.

In my opinion, though, he needs time to gain experience. Zenit is a club that needs results not only tomorrow but today, and while Semak may be the man to provide that in the future, right now it’s not worth the risk.

Villas Boas may himself be young but he isn’t short of experience. Having started out in his managerial career at the tender age of 21 he has gone on to coach Porto to Europa League glory as well as taking charge of Chelsea in the Champions League, and he really knows how top level football works.

Zenit, though, will be a different kind of challenge. Russian football is not something for the faint hearted to get involved in, and just how Villas Boas will fit in and get accepted in something that will be very interesting to watch unfurl .

Zenit does however possess the potential to fulfil all of the high ambitions that the club has set out before themselves. The eventual goal is to win the Champions League, one of only two trophies that the club has yet to win along with the Club World Cup. Villas Boas has been lured in by such lofty ambitions that match his own, and this could be a match made in heaven.

It won’t be an easy job to somehow take control of a team that doesn’t know whether it’s coming or going, but there aren’t many better men for the job.


Written by Shaun Nicolaides

Follow Shaun on Twitter @zenitfan93

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Football: What does it mean and how us fans shape our lives around it

There comes a time where we must all grow up. Young boys stop playing with little action figures and move on to games consoles, young girls stop wearing their mothers make-up and start wearing their own. We all go to secondary school, reach an age where an interest in the opposite sex grows and we watch more shows created for an older fanbase, as opposed to the kid’s TV we used to enjoy.

We can change our minds so easily when we grow up. We outgrow almost everything from our childhood, be it a show, a board game or an obsession with our favourite teddy or toy that never left our side. Even hobbies find their way of slowly drifting from our routines and finding their place in our memories, never to be forgotten.

One thing that seldom changes, however, is relationships. Some even grow stronger. Childhood friends become school friends, school friends become work friends, maybe even partners. Having an affinity with something rarely changes, and it’s the same with football.

Football can shape the childhood of children so easily. We watch and become transfixed by one player, one team or just the sport in general. For children in football mad families, it is inevitable that they will watch football from early. As a young boy in an Arsenal mad family there was no other team I was ever going to watch, and when I did watch I was hooked by Thierry Henry.

He was my first idol, the first player I fell in love with. And even today, the sight of Thierry Henry or the mere mention of his name buckles me up and takes me down the greatest evocative road I’ve ever journeyed on. Reliving the moments that lit up my childhood, experiencing those moments again. Just fantastic.

To this day, as an 18-year old, I will admit that if it come down to going on a date with a beautiful female or going to watch the Arsenal, I’d pick Arsenal. She may be upset by that so I’d invite her along. If she says no then that’s her problem, not mine. However strong that may sound, football has played a part in my life so huge that living without it would be fairly difficult. It’s an escape, and the same for many other people.

People shape their lives around football. Socially and professionally, everything is built around football. Unfortunately though, not for me, professionally speaking. I work when most Arsenal games are on, and as an 18-year old I’m sadly unable to dictate when I work.

Money comes first when you’re building for a future. Needs must. But it’s not the same for others. People book days off from work to go to games. Even if they’re just going to watch it down the pub with some friends, football comes first.

It’s a strange connection, as people who don’t love football are unable to comprehend the feeling felt by fans when a goal is scored, a pass is misplaced or the ball is controlled. All these footballers are really are just normal people who can kick a ball better than the rest of us, but it’s not as simple as that.

As kids we idolise these men and treat them as superheroes and when we grow up we just sit back and watch in awe. They become parts of our lives and on the back of interviews and performances we end up feeling like we know them.

It even influences the way we use social media, particularly on Twitter. Many people you’ll find on there use it solely to air views and discuss football. There’s something about mixing social media and watching football that results in a narcissistic belief that our views are superior to others. Opinions in the world vary, but on social media the passion we hold for our clubs exudes into 140 characters and any objection comes across as disparagement. So, naturally, we bite back.

Peronally speaking as a reserved individual, football provides a platform for conversation. With not many interests other than the beautiful game finding a middle ground is difficult, and relating to people is rare. With all this in mind, football is the most important thing in my life and it’s played a huge part in the development of me as a person. It’s taught me many different emotions and even a few swear words along the way. Like millions of my fellow humans, I don’t know where I’d be without football.

Football elicits emotion that is not comparable to anything in life. Loyalty to your club is not a choice, it is an obligation; something that is very much permanent; like a birthmark, or a mole - something we cannot remove from ourselves. No matter how frustrating we may consider our connection with a football club to be, there is no doubt that however illogical perserverance through frustration sounds, it would sound even more illogical to contemplate removing your loyalty.

So loving football isn’t necessarily a choice, it’s a requirement. And it’s fun to be part of a community that’s so widespread yet united as one. It’s a wonderful feeling. And that’s why football will always come first.


Written by Ryan Goodenough

Follow Ryan on Twitter @SidelineArsenal

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