Random notes from Monday’s FIFA ceremony in Zurich

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Leave it to FIFA to create an hour of needless content around two revelations that could have been zipped up in about four minutes – and that’s with both acceptance speeches!

But never mind that. Abby Wambach won her first FIFA Women’s player of the Year honor (congrats!) and Leo Messi claimed his unprecedented fourth Ballon d’Or.

Yup … dancers, weird mascots, bad speeches (along with a few worthy moments, if should be said) all to find out that Messi had outdistanced Cristiano Ronaldo (the only real competition, it should be said) for the 2012 world honor.

(MORE: No suprises, as Leo Messi wins at unprecedented fourth)

Here are some other memorable moments and facts to consider (of the completely random nature):

Messi was not listed on 52 of the 508 official ballots. Fools. Just fools.

For the record, Ruud Gullit is the only former MLS manager to ever host a FIFA Ballon D’Or ceremony.

Sepp Blatter’s speech to open the ceremony would have raised indignant cries of “hypocrisy” or even “ignorance” … if it wasn’t just so comically bad.

If you’re interested, U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann voted Messi first, Andrea Pirlo second and Cristiano Ronaldo third. All the ballots are here.

If I find the man or woman who said, “Dancing! We need more dancing at the ceremony! … Maybe even some shirtless men throwing fake kung-fu!” … we are going to have words.

So as not to sound like a total FIFA basher, the video mash-up of former player of the year winners, which included some wonderful, old footage, was pretty sweet.

In case you were wondering, the man conducting interviews for FIFA’s official feed on the red carpet before Monday’s announcement thought U.S. women’s national team players Alex Morgan and Hope Solo were beautiful and were wearing beautiful dresses. He didn’t feel the need to say something similar about the handsome, fit and well-dressed men he interviewed. It seems that the sexist attitudes around world soccer’s governing body trickle down from the top.

I’m not quite sure what to say about Messi’s seriously fancy outfit. Polka dots, yo!

Speaking of wardrobe, here’s what blogger-funny man-good dude Shawn Francis said about Brazil’s Marta, who was up for Female Player of the Year: “Marta wearing Tina Turner’s dress from the Private Dancer tour, I see.” Good one, Shawn!

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s stunning goal against England wasn’t even among the nominees for FIFA Goal of the Year … which delegitimizes the award in my mind. No reason to even talk about it.

Spain’s Vicente Del Bosque was named Men’s Coach of the Year.

Former U.S. manager Pia Sundhage was named Women’s Coach of the Year.

Singing! Of course, there had to be singing!  At least one tune was of the unscripted variety, as Sundhage sang out a nice, quick little tribute to Alex Morgan and Wambach in the audience, essentially saying she was there because of players like them. A very nice touch. And very, uh, “Sundage.”

source:  Someone said the song was Olivia Newton John’s “If Not For You.” I cannot confirm this. And if I could, I certainly would not admit it.

Two-time Ballon D’Or winner and former Brazilian great Ronaldo (pictured) is only 36, but he has added so much weight, he is nearly unrecognizable.

Gullit, 49 minutes into the ridiculously, overly long ceremony: “The tension is mounting!” Uh, no … it really wasn’t. Whatever tension might have been linked into this one (truly, not so much) leaked about around the time the Brazil 2104 mascot went bouncing around on the stage. Or when Gullit put on a Gullit wig. (He really did that.) Or when some lady nobody knew sang a song nobody knew. Or when … oh, you get the message.

Antonio Conte thanks Diego Costa after Chelsea departure

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These will likely be the final questions Antonio Conte faces about Diego Costa.

[ MORE: Liverpool’s Matip talks to JPW ]

On Thursday it was announced that Chelsea has sold their leading scorer in each of the past two seasons back to Atletico Madrid with a protracted fallout between Conte and Costa finally coming to a logical conclusion.

After Conte reportedly sent Costa a text message stating he was no longer needed at Chelsea, just days after they lifted the Premier League title together, the Brazilian born striker refused to return to preseason training and remained in Brazil with family as he demanded to be sold back to Atletic Madrid.

He was fined by the club but has finally got his wish with a $77 million move back to Atleti sealed for the 28-year-old who won two Premier League titles in three season at Chelsea but also brought controversy with him on many occasions as the bullish striker upset opponents and teammates alike.

Speaking at Stamford Bridge on Friday ahead of Chelsea’s trip to Stoke City on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) Conte thanked Costa for his efforts.

“About this issue, we want to thank him for what he did with this club. We wish him all the best for the future,” Conte said.

Asked about the deterioration of his own relationship with Costa and if his team will miss the goals of the Spanish international, Conte was less open.

“Now it is not important, I am not interested to continue talking about this issue,” Conte said. “I am working with my players and am happy to work them them. We must work and fight to win every competition. We are Chelsea and we need to try to do this in this season. We have to try to do our best in every competition. Our target is to do our best every day, every week, every month in this season.”

Stating multiple times that he was “not interested in talking about the past” and that only the current and building for the future was important, Conte did thank Costa once again and said he will remember the success they achieved together last season.

“I do not forget we won together last season,” Conte said. “For sure we want to thank him for his effort last season with us but not only last season, the period he played for Chelsea.”

With this saga now over, Chelsea will turn to Alvaro Morata and Michy Batshuayi to score the goals they need to be successful on all four fronts this season.

After recovering well from a sluggish start to the season it appears Conte’s decision to oust Costa will, long-term, be the correct one. Even though Morata has taken a little time to settle and Batshuayi blows hot and cold, the Blues have goals everywhere you look with Eden Hazard, Pedro, Willian and others able to chip in.

There’s only one Diego Costa and Conte must be somewhat relieved to see the back of him.

West Ham, Chicharito raise funds for Mexico earthquake victims

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Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and West Ham United are doing all they can to help the victims of Tuesday’s devastating earthquake in Mexico which killed over 270 people.

Mexico’s all-time leading goalscorer posted the following message on Instagram to help raise funds as he has set up the #YoXMexico initiative with fellow Mexican international Miguel Layun.

Hernandez, 29, detailed exactly why he wants to get involved in helping any way he can.

“Being so far from Mexico and seeing the suffering of our compatriots in the distance has been very painful,” Hernandez said. “So, after discussing it, we decided to take the initiative for Mexico and give our people a helping hand. We know that many see us as a source of inspiration, but in this case, what has inspired us is to see millions of Mexicans take to the streets and to lend a hand without asking for anything in return.

“We hope, with this initiative, to help those who need it and motivate more people to do it with us. Miguel and I are very grateful to have the backing of everyone at West Ham United and all of its supporters at this difficult time for our country.  It is a fantastic gesture and we hope it can help us raise funds that will make a difference in Mexico.”

The Hammers have announced they will hold a shirt auction for jerseys worn in their match against Tottenham on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with all of the proceeds going directly to the victims of the tragedy.

West Ham United will auction all match-worn shirts from this weekend’s London derby against Tottenham Hotspur, with all proceeds going to the victims’ families and survivors of this week’s devastating Mexican earthquake.

The Club will then double the figure raised by the auction, before donating the total amount to an appeal organised by Hammers striker Javier Hernandez and his fellow Mexico international Miguel Layun to aid the relief effort in Mexico City and the surrounding area.

To donate directly to #YoXMexico please visit youcaring.com/yoxmex or follow #YoXMexico on Twitter at @YoXMexico.

Top Storylines for Premier League Week 6

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After a week of League Cup action domestically, the Premier League returns this weekend with a myriad of interesting matchups and storylines.

Let’s take a look at some of this week’s top story’s to follow:


Can Manchester City continue its torrid form?

Manchester City has finally found its groove under manager Pep Guardiola.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The club has won five successive games, the last three coming on the road while scoring a combined 19 goals. Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are a terrific 1-2 punch while David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne have been stars in midfield, with De Bruyne pulling the strings for Man City all season.

There’s every likelihood that Man City will continue its impressive run on Saturday. The club hosts floundering Crystal Palace, which is still adjusting to new manager Roy Hodgson.

(more…)

On This Day: The Battle of Old Trafford

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Fourteen years ago today, Arsenal headed north to Manchester for a famous matchup with Manchester United.

Taking the field at Old Trafford, Arsenal were unbeaten to start the season, having won its first four Premier League matches before drawing a week prior at home against Portsmouth. Manchester United meanwhile had four wins and one loss in that span.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

By way of Arsenal’s FA Cup title and Man United’s Premier League title the year before, the two teams met for the annual Community Shield a month earlier, and the game descended into a physical battle. Five yellow cards were shown, Arsenal substitute Francis Jeffers was shown a red card and defender Sol Campbell was later banned for kicking at an opponent, and Man United – backed by a young Tim Howard in goal – won 4-3 on penalty kicks after the score was tied at 1-1 after extra time.

With numerous physical encounters over the years, the September 21 encounter was shaping up to be another monumental showdown, and in terms of physicality, it didn’t disappoint.

Each team were shown four yellow cards and there was a combined 31 fouls. The match took a turn when Patrick Vieira was shown a second yellow card and subsequent red card for kicking out at Man United’s Ruud Van Nistelrooy after Van Nistelrooy had fouled Vieira going for a header. The decision set off a scrum in the middle of the field.

Despite being down to ten men, Arsenal held on until the final minutes, when Martin Keown was whistled for a foul in the box on Diego Forlan, giving Man United a penalty kick. But whether it was karma or lady luck, Van Nistelrooy’s penalty clanged off the crossbar and away to safety. Arsenal held on for a goalless draw, which helped boost the team’s belief in itself.

The Gunners went on to finish the 2013-2014 season undefeated, the only team to finish a Premier League season without a defeat. Man United wound up taking the FA Cup crown, settling for third place in the Premier League.

Watch some highlights from the match below.