Croatia/Serbia – all that and more


Some international rivalries transcend football and Croatia versus Serbia tonight in Zagreb certainly achieved that. Check out these pictures that sum up the nature of this match.

The two countries who less than 20 years ago were at war with each other were playing for more than World Cup qualification, they were playing for nationalistic pride and for the home side Croatia, the satisfaction of basically ending Serbian dreams of Brazil 2014.

The emotion before kick-off at the Maksimir Stadium was as breathtaking as I’ve ever seen. The entire stadium was bedecked in red and white squares as the crowd held aloft colored squares while the singing of the Croatian national anthem was spine tingling, and to be fair, considering the passion surrounding the match, the Serbian anthem was treated with respect.

The two coaches, Igor Stimac and Siniša Mihajlovic who have more than a little previous between them (paragraph 6) looked like they’d be ready to strap on the boots and rehash the old days which wouldn’t be out-of-place in MMA.

Stimac though will be having the last laugh as Croatia showed just why they are ranked higher than Serbia in the rankings. They bossed the match from the opening minutes and it wasn’t a surprise when Bayern’s Mario Mandzukic slotted home following a kamikaze free kick from Manchester City’s Aleksandar Kolarov in the 24th minute.

For Kolarov to make such a simple error in a match of this importance was truly mind-boggling as it’s something you’d expect to see in a kids game.

14 minutes later Croatia killed the game off thanks to a wonderfully delivered free-kick from captain, Darijo Srna which was bundled home by Ivica Olic.

With a 2-0 lead and the most passionate crowd you’ve ever heard roaring the team along, Croatia never looked in danger throughout the rest of the match and now top group A on goal difference from Belgium who play Macedonia later tonight.

The three points for Croatia was well deserved and they looked primed to at least make the play-offs. For Serbia, it’s time to think about the return leg and making sure their rivals do not qualify automatically.

International matches that mean this much are simply un-missable.

Cisse arrested in sex tape investigation

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Former Liverpool striker Djibril Cisse is embroiled in a bizarre investigation into the extortion of a sex tape.

The 34-year-old French striker has been arrested by French police who have confirmed that are investigating attempts to bribe another international footballer.

[ MORE: Klinsmann sends Johnson home ]

Unconfirmed reports from France claim that the individual in question is France and Lyon midfielder Mathieu Valbuena, a former teammate of Cisse at both Marseille and with the French national team.

According to Reuters news agency, Cisse was questioned because he was familiar with the people involved and in total four individuals were arrested as it is alleged they plotted to ask for money from Valbuena for the sex tape to not be released. It is unclear if the tape is of Valbeuna and his partner Fanny Lafon, or if other individuals are involved.

[ MORE: Dust settles, questions remain for USMNT future ]

Cisse won the UEFA Champions League with Liverpool and scored 24 goals in 79 games during his three-year stay at Anfield until 2007. He also had spells with Sunderland and Queens Park Rangers in the Premier League, while he is currently out of contract after being released by Ligue 1 side Bastia following nine goals in 41 appearances. Cisse is due to appear on the French version of “Dancing with the Stars” in the coming months.

Further reports from France say that Cisse is expected to be “exonerated” and that the existence of the video is “not proven” at this point.

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?