Did UEFA Fix The Champions League Semifinal?

Sundays are for topless photos of Lakers girls … and for football. So while there’s no football going on over here, there’s always “football” (cough, soccer) going on across the pond, and three days after a miraculous late goal landed Barcelona, not Chelsea, in the Champions League final, more and more evidence keeps popping up that the game’s referee — Norweigan Tom Henning Ovrebo — may have been under orders to do whatever he could to get Barcelona to the final.

uefa.com screen grab

As fully elucidated in THE SPOILER, not only did Ovrebo fail to call up to four clear penalties on Barcelona down the stretch of the game, UEFA also may have unintentionally let the cat out of the bag on its own official web site, posting a match report of the game (think an American game story) claiming a 1-1 draw before it had even been played.

There aren’t any visual screengrabs of the 1-1 report, but there have been multiple correspondents confirming its existince, and the fact that it called for Barcelona to score late to force a tie and advance to the Champions League Final on the competition’s bizarre away goals rule. Making the matter even stickier is the fact that it also said Chelsea stars Didier Drogba, Michael Ballack and Alex would all receive yellow or red cards … and all were in the second half.

Read more…

Arsenal Fan Hangs Himself After Loss To Man U

Repeat after me. It’s just sports. It’s really not that important. And as stupid as it is to get into brawls over your favorite team, it’s a thousand times worse to actually take your life over a tough loss. But that’s just what one Arsenal fan did after his side was knocked out in the Champions’ League semifinals yesterday.

Arsenal Fan

After the Gunners fell to Manchester United 3-1, 29-year-old Suleiman Omondi went home from a bar in Nairobi, Kenya, and hanged himself on his balcony. He was still wearing his Arsenal shirt. Jesus.

Read more…

Speed Read: Wings Denied By Ref’s Early Whistle

It might not have seemed possible a few months ago, but it appears as if Ed Hochuli has no longer made the worst officiating gaffe of the last 12 months. That honor now belongs to NHL ref Brad Watson, who probably didn’t sleep very well after the mistake he made in last night’s Red Wings-Ducks game in Anaheim.

Wings Ducks puck highlighted

(I guess Brad Watson still needs that glowing puck they used to have on FOX)

Trailing 2-1 with just over a minute left, Detroit’s Marian Hossa knocked in a loose puck that squirted free from Jonas Hiller’s pads and was sitting all by itself in the crease (as you can see above) for the apparent tying goal. But, astonishingly, Watson blew his whistle just before Hossa scored, wiping out the goal because he says he lost sight of the puck (admittedly, Watson was at a terrible angle to see where the puck was) even though the rest of the world could see the thing sitting right in the middle of the crease. The play wasn’t reviewable, and the Ducks held on for a 2-1 win to take an identical lead in the series. Wings fans are irate, but since everyone else in hockey hates Detroit the screams aren’t resonating much outside of Michigan. Here’s the full video of the play:

For what it’s worth, the announcers are right that NHL refs are required to blow the whistle as soon as they lose sight of the puck. And, while Hossa’s shot clearly goes in before the whistle sounds, the rule is that the play is dead as soon as the ref decides to blow the whistle, which is a second or so before he actually does. Procedurally, Watson did everything right. But the whole thing about not seeing a puck right there in plain sight? Yeah, he messed that up pretty bad.

Brad Watson and Islanders cheerleaders

(Hey Watson, are your eyes ever where they’re supposed to be?)

In the NBA playoffs, The Hawks hung around for a while, but eventually the Cleveland Cavs ran away and hid, making it eight straight games involving Atlanta that has ended in a blowout. LeBron accepted the MVP award from David Stern before the game, then tossed up a ho-hum 34 and 10 in a 99-72 win. The Cavs outscored the Hawks 50-28 in the second half and lead the Eastern semis 1-0.

LeBron MVP

The Nuggets also used a second-half run to take a 2-0 lead in their series with the Mavs. Carmelo Anthony and Nene each scored 25 in a 117-105 Denver victory. Dallas was one of the hottest teams down the stretch but this just looks like a bad matchup for them. They’re now 0-6 against the Nuggets this season and, including their only home loss after the All-Star break. DALLAS MORNING NEWS columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor has already declared the series over.

The Dodgers beat Arizona 3-1 last night to move to 12-0 at home this season, which is just obscene in a sport like baseball. The win tied them with the 1911 Detroit Tigers for the best home start in Major League history. Even more obscene is that L.A. won the game with Jeff Weaver on the mound. Is Scott Erickson not with the team anymore?

In the Bronx, the Red Sox pounded Joba Chamberlain for four runs before an out was recorded, and cruised to a 7-3 win, making them 5-0 against the Yankees this season. Even though Joba got roughed up early, he recovered and ended up striking out 12 batters in 5 2/3 innings. Regardless, he still had a better day than his mother.

Jason Bay

(The new Yankee killer)

• SI’s Jon Heyman says MLB is now “investigating” the pitch-tipping allegations about Alex Rodriguez. If you haven’t heard, Selena Roberts says in her book that A-Rod would let opposing batters know what pitches were coming in blowout games, with the understanding that they would return the favor later. There’s about a 0% chance that we’ll ever know what really happened. But it all seems a little far-fetched. Wouldn’t somebody notice this? And who are the other people in on this scheme?

• SPORTS RUBBISH brings us footage of a soccer team called Corinthians in Brazil celebrating a major tournament victory by setting their team captain (known only as “William”) on fire during the trophy presentation. They didn’t mean to, but I’m sure that’s of little consolation to the guy who was on fire:

• According to the INDIANAPOLIS STAR, the Titans will travel to New York Jersey in September to play…the Titans?

• Remember when the Winnipeg Jets moved to Phoenix in the late ’90s and everyone said it was crazy that they thought a hockey team would work in Arizona? Well, looks like everyone was right. The Coyotes are bankrupt and the CEO of BlackBerry wants to buy the team and move it to Ontario (the Canadian province, not the dusty city in California with an airport).

• Manchester United is going back to the Champions League final for the second straight year, after throttling Arsenal 3-1 in London. Man U scored twice in the first 11 minutes and never gave the Gunners a chance to compete. Through all of this, United is still finding time to wheel and deal, reportedly offering $127 million to Bayern Munich for French star Franck Ribery.

• The Patriots’ cheerleaders just got back from a week-long photo shoot in Aruba, where they were joined by 150 Pats fans, says the BOSTON GLOBE. The girls reportedly engaged in some beach volleyball, presumably to the delight of said 150 fans.

Pats cheerleader

• Shockingly, LeBron James is not going to be rolling around in that new Kia he got for winning the MVP, choosing to donate it instead, according to CARS.COM.

• The Nats and Astros played to a tie after nearly 11 innings yesterday in D.C. and then the rain came. And everyone just shrugged and said “really, does anyone think the outcome of this game is going to matter in September?” and decided to just call it off. Well, that would be the reasonable thing to do. In reality, they will resume the game in July in Houston (but the Nats will still be the home team).

• If you offer any of the Pittsburgh Pirates a beer right now, they might punch you in the face. The Bucs have now lost to the Brewers 17 times in a row after an 8-5 decision last night. It’s the longest such streak for any two teams in almost 40 years.

Zack Greinke missed most of the 2006 season because of anxiety and depression. Three years later, he’s the AL’s pitcher of the month and one of only three pitchers in ML history to start 6-0 with an ERA of 0.50 or less (the other two are Fernando Valenzuela and Walter Johnson).

Is Zack Greinke the real deal?

View Results

Speed Read: ESPN Pulls Its Punches With WWE

If you’ve watched ESPN for more than five minutes this week, you know that last night was the season premiere of “E:60″, ESPN’s version of “60 Minutes,” and the featured story was a “rare, behind-the-scenes” look at the WWE and a profile of Vince McMahon. Jeremy Schaap was sent out to watch as the organization prepared for Wrestlemania.

Vince McMahon at Chris Benoit special on Raw

The choice of reporters makes sense - McMahon is notoriously volatile with cable TV reporters and diminutive hosts alike, while Schaap is best known for not being as good as his Dad (in the opinion of Bobby Knight). And because of the controversy which always surrounds the WWE, there were a litany of hard-hitting questions that Schaap could have asked - questions that other reporters either didn’t know to ask or wouldn’t.

So what was the end result? If you guessed “a 13 minute long sloppy wet kiss to Vince McMahon from your friends at ESPN,” you win an autographed 8 x 10 of Mean Gene Okerlund. Because what Schaap and the E:60 crew put together was - at best - shockingly lax reporting bordering on the type of fawning, hands-off “journalism” you would expect from “Access Hollywood.”

Don’t believe me? Watch it for yourself, and pay attention to all the times Schaap completely whiffs on asking a tough question, or when he does, how it’s set up as the perfect softball for McMahon to nail over the fence. I would suggest making a drinking game of it, but this is a morning post and I don’t want people to get too plastered to go to work today.

Apparently in ESPN’s world, Owen Hart’s death never happened, and the XFL was just a figment of my imagination. And even the “tough issues” they touched on were either brushed over or poorly handled.

For example, let’s look at the segment on Chris Benoit. First off, Schaap mentions McMahon’s federal steroids trial and his own admission of steroid use, but never actually asks him a question about it. And he doesn’t follow up on the WWE’s “Wellness Policy” - which has been highly criticized in the industry - other than to say “why do you need one at all?” and give McMahon a perfect opportunity to play the role of the caring boss who only wants the best for his employees.

Of course, getting sidetracked into steroid talk overlooks significant issues in the Benoit case, like how much Benoit’s history of multiple concussions might have rattled his brain to the point of no return, or how the WWE’s insane travel schedules with almost no time off can crack anyone. (They did briefly mention the WWE’s treatment of wrestlers as “contractors”, but again they didn’t ask McMahon directly about it, or any of his current roster.)

Which makes me wonder: just how much did ESPN have to give up in order to get the “exclusive” access to the WWE? It sure seemed like there was a whole list of questions that were off-limits, or at least not fully explored. I think the level of “exclusive” access ESPN received is best summed up by the fact that they were kicked out of the weekly WWE production meeting midway through because they were hitting on something Vince McMahon didn’t want to share.

But I’m sure that Schaap would argue the point tooth and nail with me…except that I read this interview with him about his profile of the WWE, and he basically admits that this was a softball piece:

I think our interview is very different and it revealed a different side of him. I didn’t go into it and put him on the defensive. We asked him the tough questions - you have to ask him the tough questions and he addressed them but he didn’t get defensive or angry as you’ve seen him in previous interviews because he understood we were approaching it from a perspective of giving him a chance and treated him with the respect that you would treat Paul Tagliabue or Roger Goodell now or Gary Bettman or George Steinbrenner. I’ve seen George Steinbrenner interviewed over the years many times - not recently of course because he has not been well - but George Steinbrenner is a guy who, with all due respect, is a felon. A guy who was kicked twice out of major league baseball, once for committing federal felonies, once for hiring a known extortionist and ex-con to dig up dirt on his best player Dave Winfield and yet, have you ever hear anybody interview George Steinbrenner on TV or in a press conference or any situation as rudely as sometimes Vince McMahon has been treated?

Good lord…sounds to me like Schaap is angling for a spot as a guest ring announcer at next year’s Wrestlemania. Have fun with that. Simply embarrassing - someone wake the ESPN Ombudsperson from her slumber and have her try to explain this to me.

Knee injuries in girls

Also needing to do a better job of explaining things: sports medicine expert Dr. Robin West, who was interviewed by the NBC Nightly News for a look at the rise of knee injuries among young athletes (surprise - they are being pushed too hard too soon by overbearing parents). In a Web exclusive, Dr. West talks about why female athletes are especially at risk for ACL injuries, and why menstruation might be a factor. Or not.

This is about as confusing as Newt Gingrich trying to explain why women can’t serve on the front lines in the military because they get “infections” once a month. So having a period makes athletes more susceptible to knee injuries? Got it. And goes a long way to explain so much about Tom Brady. ZING!

(Also, I question giving anything the title “Knees: The Achilles Heel of Girls’ Sports.” Wouldn’t the Achilles heel be the Achilles heel of girls sports? Unless women don’t have an Achilles heel - let me check my copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and get back to you.)

Lastly, the computer the NFL uses to create its schedules - which I suspect has a computing power somewhere between the evil machine from “War Games” and Hal from “2001″ - finally spit something out last night for the rest of us to ponder. Among the teams cursing the results, according to THE SPORTING NEWS, are the Bucs, Panthers and Dolphins, while somehow the Steelers wound up with a relatively pothole-free schedule. Go ahead and start the conspiracy theories now.

Other stories that happened last night as you tried to come up with a worse way to die than being crushed by a palm tree:

  • It looks like TBS has found its baseball version of Charles Barkley, as they have announced the signing of David Wells as studio analyst for their MLB coverage. Much like Barkley, he’s fat, frequently in trouble and has a loud mouth. I’m sure he’ll mesh well with Cal Ripken.
  • david wells dodgers

  • You might remember a few weeks ago when members of the Oregon basketball team were accused of some Duck-on-duck crimes. The EUGENE REGISTER-GUARD reports that as punishment for shooting at ducks at a local park, head coach Ernie Kent has ordered the players to work at a local humane society.
  • The SPOKESMAN-REVIEW says that Washington State might be done with football players Romeo Pellum and Micheal Willis, after they were arrested early Saturday morning on separate driving charges (suspended license and DUI, respectively). At least they were able to save head coach Paul Wulff having to drive over to the jail twice to pick them up - how thoughtful.
  • According to the AP, Asian Football Confederation president Mohamed bin Hammam threatened to “cut off the head” of the leader of the Korean Football Association in a recent interview, which sort of irritated the Koreans. I can’t imagine why.
  • Speaking of soccer, Chelsea and Liverpool had one of the craziest games in recent memory yesterday during the second leg of their UEFA Champions League quarterfinal, with the game ending in a 4-4 draw and Chelsea advancing on a 7-5 aggregate. The LOS ANGELES TIMES has the blow-by-blow.
  • Don’t really know much about Masters champion and now two-time major winner Angel Cabrera? This piece in the SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE will change that, and give you a new appreciation of just where he’s come from - he’s no silver spoon, well-bred golfer.
  • New Jersey has just built a new state-of-the-art arena for the Devils and also upgrading the Meadowland’s Izod Center, the home of the Nets which is just eight miles away. As the NEWARK STAR-LEDGER notes, some people are wondering if this money could be put to slightly better use.
  • Apparently in Wisconsin, you can’t have junior hockey without booze, which is why the JANESVILLE GAZETTE says that Janesville City Council had to vote to allow the local ice rink to sell alcohol. The City Council did need to look up wine coolers online as part of their debate, making me wonder what self-respecting drunk hockey dad would be caught dead with a wine cooler?
  • The Mets opened Citi Field in ignomious fashion, with a 6-5 loss to the Padres. So it’s probably for the best that, as NEWSDAY reports, many fans weren’t able to see the game thanks to “obstructed view” seats.
  • Least surprising story of the baseball season so far: MLB.COM says Nomar Garciaparra left the Oakland A’s game against the Red Sox after one inning with soreness in his calf muscle.

What is the greatest prop in the history of wrestling?

View Results

Soccer Star Tiago Locks Team President In Toilet

He’s a moody one isn’t he! Juventus star Tiago Mendes loves his team but hates his boss. Seeking to stay with the Italian Serie A power, Tiago has refused several transfers to other clubs. Notably, the club had considered moving him to Everton and Monaco, who will not be participants in the Champions League with all those endless Heineken commercials during the break.

However, Tiago’s temper finally boiled over at the team’s training complex, where he managed to imprison team President Giovanni Cobolli - in the potty.

Read more…

Chelsea Fans Got A Police Escort Out Of Moscow?

From what we haven’t seen coming out of Moscow after Chelsea’s choke yesterday, it appears that Russian media embargo police plan really worked (we’re guessing it was the bed chains).

The LONDON DAILY MAIL reports:

Thousands of Chelsea fans were bussed under police escort to their airports soon after their team lost on penalties.

“This has been a successful operation. We are pleased at the lack of trouble. Most fans have seen a great game and are going back to Britain safe, if wet,” said a police commander at the stadium.

Chelsea Fans Riot After Champions League loss

But of course, we can’t say the same for London police’s plan (fan out everyone!) to keep Chelsea fans from rioting in the streets of London’s posh (it really is, actually) west end.

The Daily Mail reports that blood was spilled (see above Chelsea flag) during clashes between the bobbies and yobbies last night. Read more…

$12,000 For A Soccer Ticket? Welcome To Moscow

The CHAMPIONS LEAGUE final between Chelsea and Manchester United is set for May 21 in Moscow. We don’t know who we feel more sorry for: the fine, upstanding citizens of Moscow or the British fans set to invade one of the world’s most corrupt, crime-ridden burgs.

Champions League

(Did they commission Beijing for the logo?)

Our favorite development thus far on the game comes from the NEW YORK TIMES, which reports that “Russian officials announced Monday that British soccer fans will be allowed to travel to Moscow for the Champions League final without an entry visa.

45,000 such Visas are due to be issued. Of course, that is if Russians can muster enough bureaucratic infrastructure for the job (that’s the one area they’ve got covered). And we’re absolutely positive that *welcoming* all those unscreened British *soccer fans* will have no consequences.

So why is Moscow so enthusiastic about welcoming the Brits and making nice-nice? Read more…