Shawshanked by the Merseyside Derby

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I remember watching The Shawshank Redemption and thinking, that movie was really freaking good.

After a night’s sleep of subconcious analysis my opinion changed.

That movie was awesome.

A couple of watercooler conversations later and my opinion morphed again.

That movie was sensational.

Since 1994, my opinion hasn’t changed. Shawshank remains my favorite movie of all time.

It’s a full boat –  fantastic story, top-notch actors (and acting), shot beautifully, superbly directed … that movie has it all.

And so did last Saturday’s Premier League match between Everton and Liverpool.

Sounds crazy to say, but it’s true.

The Merseyside Derby Shawshanked me. After five days of reliving that match, that’s the only conclusion I can come to. It was sensational.

Below are eight reasons why I spent the last week walking around with my jaw on the floor.

1. Rivals 

No better match in world football than a rivalry. If it’s a local derby, even better. The Merseyside Derby is a fantastic match-up between two long-time rivals whose stadiums are a goal-kick away from each other.

Dream setup. Check.

2. Goals

In recent years the biggest problem with the Merseyside Derby is that no one would score. Both teams are always desperate to win but both are typically too nervous to concede.

Enter Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool (last year) and switch out ‘Davey Defensive’ Moyes for Bobby Martinez (this summer) and suddenly we have to offensive footballing sides. Lovely.

In the lead up to the derby Martinez promised a free-flowing game and many, myself included, doubted it.

Nil-nil draw, we muttered, kicking stones.

So when the match ended in a six goal thriller, everyone with even a minor interest in the derby was wetting themselves.

source: Getty Images
Luis Suarez wasn’t acting with this scream. Kevin Mirallas’ tackle deserved straight red but referee Phil Dowd spared him.

3. Hard Tackles

Liverpool v. Everton may not be known as a high goal-scoring fixture but one thing you can always depend on are tough tackles.

We prefer them to be clean but that can quickly be too much to ask.

Kevin Mirallas’ tackle on Luis Suarez was a ridiculous challenge.

It deserved a straight red, no question.

But Phil Dowd, ever the seasoned vet, held off on giving it.

Why?

I personally think he didn’t want to ruin the derby by sending a player off.

But who knows? Maybe he just missed it. Maybe he didn’t feel like protecting Suarez (I doubt it).

Point being, Dowd chose yellow and not red. That move right there saved the match.

And how Liverpool handle it?

Exactly how you’d think they would – by looking to their talismanic captain, Stevie G, who promptly threw a cynical elbow at Gareth Barry’s head.

Now, I don’t think Gerrard actually connected the blow but there’s no question it was a calculated move. Payback. And, perhaps given the Mirallas tackle, it was justified.

With the spirit of the derby in mind, Dowd chose not to send off Gerrard. One instance from each side. Fair play.

Game on.

4. Red Cards

Elaborating on the last point, red cards have dominated the history of the Merseyside Derby.

A few season ago Jack Rodwell was sent off after Suarez took a dive. It was never a red card. Ruined the match.

Dowd recognized this history, allowed each side one good thump, and let them play. Brilliant by Dowd. This day and age referees get little credit.

But on the day Dowd’s decisions allowed that derby to happen. Bravo, Phil.

5. Lead Changes

1-0 Liverpool. 1-1 level. 2-1 Liverpool. 2-2 level. 3-2 Everton. 3-3 level.

The heavier the score swings back and forth, the better.

For a fan, there’s nothing better than taking the emotional journey of thinking you’re going to lose, to thinking you could sneak a draw, to thinking you’re going to win, to thinking a draw is a fair result, to praying for a draw, back to thinking a draw is a fair result.

As long as the game of football continues to play with my emotions, I’ll forever be there, foaming at the mouth, begging for more.

Greatest game on earth. Anyone who says otherwise is a fool.

source: Getty Images
Players don’t let out roars like this in crap games.

6. Great Goals

Suarez’ free-kick was bananas.

If anyone saw the photo analysis done by the Match of the Day team in England, they showed that Tim Howard’s wall was lined-up correctly – one man outside the post.

Still, no one has a clue what Steven Pienaar was doing. It seemed like he was anticipating a touch and shot. But that was a direct kick. Suarez was always shooting.

The Uruguayan noted the gap between the wall and Pienaar and plucked it perfectly. That’s why he’s one of the best players in the world.

Deal with it, people. He bites. He’s reckless. But he’s a top, top striker.

Romelu Lukaku’s first goal was a great team goal. He’s second was a ferocious header. His celebration was positively intoxicating.

Are players allowed to destroy corner flags in celebration?

Seems like that’s the case. And strangely, I fully approve of this. Break the corner flag in half for all I care about. (For what it’s worth I also think players being yellow carded for a jersey removal during a goal celebration is ridiculous. Let the man celebrate, for the love of Bob!)

Daniel Sturridge’s goal was pretty sick as well. Enter the match late and score the equalizer with a backwards skimming header to the far post?

That was unreal. Howard had no chance. The beard can only do so much.

7. Atmosphere

When Goodison Park goes off, there’s no better stadium in the Premier League.

On Saturday, that place was in a complete tizzy. Nuts.

(Which reminds me – if any of you want to see shots from inside the crowd at last week’s derby, pay attention to NBC’s short-form video series, ‘I Was There’. We have one cooking for the Merseyside Derby and I’m pretty sure it’s going to pop. I’ll keep you posted.)

8. Fair Result

A great match has to have a fair result. Obviously, ‘fairness’ is largely subjective. But few people who watched that match would argue that 3-3 was not a very, very fair score.

You could argue that the best games ends with a winner.

I might agree.

But if so, then last weekend’s draw had to be one of the very best I’ve ever seen.

Shawshanked.

U-20 World Cup Rewind: Italy tops Mexico, host Poland falls on Day 1 (video)

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Italy opened the FIFA Under-20 World Cup with a bang, knocking off fellow Group B favorite Mexico, 2-1, in Gdynia, Poland.

It only took Italy three minutes to get on the board, as Davide Frattesi found a pocket of space in front of the El Tri backline and dribbled in on goal. The Sassuolo midfielder then decided to fire on goal from distance, hitting a rocket into the corner to give Italy a 1-0 lead.

Later in the first half Gianluca Scamacca also took a rip from outside the box, but his strike sailed just wide.

A defensive error on a corner kick gave Diego Lainez and Mexico life. In the 37th minute, AC Milan product Alessandro Plizzari committed a howler, coming out to punch away the curled corner kick. Plizzari missed the ball and it went right to the head of Roberto De La Rosa, who calmly made it 1-1.

El Tri however suffered a blow late in the match as Italy took back the lead. In the 67th minute, Luca Ranieri collected the ball on the edge of the six yard box and from a tight angle, he scored past Mexico goalkeeper Carlos Higuera.

For Mexico, it’s a rough way to start the World Cup, having to go against a perennial power in Italy and playing on European soil. Not all is lost for Mexico, but it has to rebound with a win in its next game against Japan.

Elsewhere, Colombia defeated host Poland, 2-0, Japan tied Ecuador 1-1, and Senegal beat Tahiti, 3-0.

Saudis, Bahrain, UAE join to bid for FIFA’s U-20 World Cup

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GENEVA (AP) Middle East neighbors Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are jointly bidding to host the Under-20 World Cup in 2021.

FIFA says the Gulf plan is among five to express interest in bidding, including Brazil.

Indonesia, Peru and a Myanmar-Thailand joint bid are the others.

FIFA announced the contenders Thursday, one day after dropping a proposal for Qatar to share hosting duties for the 2022 World Cup with regional neighbors.

The 2021 U20 contenders must submit a formal bid by Aug. 30. FIFA’s ruling Council will pick the winner, likely in October.

The 2019 edition kicks off Thursday in Poland.

Putin awards medal to FIFA president Infantino

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MOSCOW (AP) Vladimir Putin has given FIFA president Gianni Infantino a medal.

The Russian president awarded Infantino the Order of Friendship at the Kremlin on Thursday.

Infantino has often said last year’s World Cup in Russia, where the host nation surprisingly reached the quarterfinals, was the best of the 21 editions of the tournament.

Putin thanked the FIFA leader for “your glowing assessment of our efforts.”

Infantino says of Russia’s “bonds of friendship” with soccer “is not the end, it is only the beginning of our fruitful cooperation and interaction.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Why Derby deserve Premier League promotion

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With the Championship playoff final at Wembley Stadium on May 27, the richest game in soccer will see one of Aston Villa or Derby County promoted to the Premier League.

[ MORE: Latest Championship news ]

Which club deserves a spot in the English top-flight, and the estimated minimum $120 million it will generate, more?

You can use metrics such as fanbase, stadiums, players, historical success and quality of coaches to try and sort this out, but the fact of the matter is, the playoffs are always a complete, and utterly brilliant, lottery.

The path Villa and Derby took to get to the final this season proves that.

We’ve already focused on why Villa deserve to return to the PL after a three-year absence, so now it is time to see why Derby should return after an 11-year absence…


The Rams are on a roll and Frank Lampard, in his first season as a manager, has led Derby to Wembley to play Aston Villa with the latter the favorites to win.

Like Villa, we are talking about a team which has some magical moments in its history. Derby were Champions of England under Brian Clough twice in the 1970s but since then success has been hard to come by. A five-season spell in the Premier League from 1996-2002 was followed by a miserable season in 2007-08 (the worst in PL history) and the Rams haven’t been back to the top-flight since.

Owner Mel Morris, a local businessman who is behind gaming apps such as Candy Crush, has led their crusade back towards the PL in recent seasons but Derby have come up short in the playoffs time and time again, with the Rams failing in the playoffs in three of their previous five campaigns.

Heading into the final weeks of this season Derby were in the chasing pack after a poor second half of the campaign. For most of the season it seemed like Frank Lampard’s youngsters were nailed on for a top six finish, but then they wobbled and it seemed like they may miss out on the playoffs altogether.

But a run of four wins in their last six to finish the season gave them extra momentum heading into the playoffs.

Then came that incredible night at Leeds.

1-0 down from the first leg, then 1-0 down on the night in the second leg, Derby had a mountain to climb with a 2-0 aggregate deficit at Elland Road as Leeds’ fans started the party… Then Derby scored three unanswered goals in a wild 13-minute spell to turn the game on its head before Jack Marriott added his second and Derby’s fourth of the game late on to stun Leeds and send them to Wembley.

With the backdrop of the spygate scandal — which saw Leeds and Bielsa punished earlier in the season for spying on Derby’s training sessions — and the fact Leeds were heavy favorites to get past Derby, this was a sweet moment for Lampard and his adoring squad and fans.

Derby don’t have a lot of cash to work with. They have relied this season on Lampard’s contacts as some of the best young talents at the Premier League level (Mason Mount and Harry Wilson) wanted to learn from him and that is why they arrived at Pride Park on loan. Lampard has translated his knowledge as a player who had an amazing career to several of his Derby players, and it is exciting to think what he can go on to do.

This Derby squad is made up of youngsters from the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool and veterans like Richard Keogh, Ashley Cole and Bradley Johnson who are desperate for one last chance to play in the Premier League.

Lampard has galvanized the entire club and the Chelsea legend regularly bounces in celebration with the Derby fans after games. Runs in both the FA Cup and League Cup saw them beat Manchester United and Southampton on penalty kicks, while they also pushed Chelsea close to show they are capable of competing with PL clubs regularly.

Derby are full of guts and their young stars Wilson and Mount have the ability to win games with one swipe of their foot.

Lampard is a loveable character and if Derby do beat Villa to clinch promotion, he can work his magic to secure some big names signings and they will be an intriguing squad who, like Villa, will play open, expansive soccer. If Derby don’t get promoted then Lampard is already being lined up for Premier League jobs, even at the club where he became a legend, Chelsea. If the Rams do go up we will get to see Lampard and this exciting attacking side put on a show.

That is why Derby deserve promotion to the Premier League.