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Thuggery Couldn’t Push Celtic to UEFA Cup Title

For neutral observers of Wednesday’s UEFA Cup final between FC Porto and Celtic in Seville, Spain, there was one moment of madness that should have swayed everyone in favor of the Portuguese champion.

It came when thuggish Celtic defender Alan Thompson slammed into Ricardo Carvalho near the sideline, using a body block worthy of some NHL

goons. Thompson should have been red-carded but escaped without punishment from out-of-his-depth Slovakian referee Lubos Michel.

Celtic, which has only Henrik Larsson and Didier Agathe as true international-class players, paid the price, though, with a 3-2 loss in overtime.

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Martin O’Neill, the Irish coach of the Scottish club that featured only two Scots in its starting lineup, whined afterward about Porto players feigning injury and wasting time.

“I wasn’t pleased with it, I was not pleased at all,” O’Neill said. “They are very talented footballers, and I am afraid I was not pleased. The referee looked very young and he will learn from this. He will learn that if you score a goal, the kickoff should not be five minutes later.”

O’Neill was correct, but Porto Coach Jose Mourinho was just as correct in pointing out that Celtic all too often used brute force to hide its lack of finesse.

“They were aggressive, they were typical of the aggressive nature of British teams,” he said. “I could maybe think of a harder word than aggressive.”

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Dirty, perhaps?

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More fans -- 30,000 -- showed up at 4 a.m. at FC Porto’s Antas Stadium to welcome the new UEFA Cup winners home than the Galaxy will be able to fit into Home Depot Center.

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Fox Sports World was either caught by surprise, which is unlikely, or purposely allowed the burly streaker who interrupted the UEFA Cup final to, uh, bare all on the TV screens of America.

The network did not electronically blur the picture.

The unidentified man, dressed in a breakaway assistant referee’s outfit, jogged onto the field just as the second half was about to begin, flashed a red card in front of referee Michel, and then flashed everything else at the Estadio Olimpico crowd and the worldwide TV audience.

The cameras even followed him in full-frontal glory as he ran across the field before being collared by security.

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It was just a publicity stunt by a local casino, but not a pretty sight. To his credit, voice-over announcer Max Bretos handled it with aplomb from the Fox studio in Los Angeles.

“Whoops,” he said. “What do we have? We digress. Some good advertising there for the ... casino. Unfortunately, the entertainment didn’t end with Las Ketchup [the female group that performed between halves].”

By the time it replayed the match Friday, Fox had edited out the streaker.

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Now that the Anschutz Entertainment Group has built a soccer stadium in Los Angeles, surely it’s only a matter of time before AEG builds a soccer team here too.

Snub, What Snub?

For some reason there is a big fuss being made in several English newspapers over the alleged snub of former South African president Nelson Mandela by eight England players.

The eight in question -- Gareth Southgate, Paul Scholes, Phil Neville, Steven Gerrard, Danny Mills, Paul Robinson, Gareth Barry and Joe Cole -- chose to remain in Durban on the eve of Thursday’s game against South Africa rather than fly to Johannesburg for an audience with Mandela.

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“In years to come, eight of England’s soccer superstars would have been able to tell their grandchildren they met one of history’s greatest statesmen,” the Daily Mail moaned. “Instead they decided to stay in bed.”

Taking nothing away from Mandela’s achievements, the man is still a politician, and any time a politician can be snubbed, the world is a better place.

It was the players’ choice to travel or not to travel. They chose not to travel. End of story.

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Hands up, all those who believe the quality of play has improved in Major League Soccer. Come on, now, hands up. Is anyone there? Hello.

Absolutely Meaningless

Those fans who plan to head up to San Jose on Interstate 5 on Memorial Day are going to run into something ugly.

No, not the traffic. Something worse.

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If their destination is Spartan Stadium, they will run into one of the most meaningless friendly international games yet devised by U.S. Soccer: the U.S. versus Wales, starring third- and fourth-string players of both countries.

U.S. Coach Bruce Arena has buckled under pressure from MLS and purposely ignored players from the eight MLS clubs that have games this weekend. That has left him with five San Jose Earthquakes and six D.C. United players on his roster, plus a handful of European-based players and no one else of note.

San Jose, even with an MLS championship in 2001 and even with the over-hyped Landon Donovan in its lineup, manages to attract only 11,133 fans a game.

It would be amazing if many more fans than that show up for Monday night’s debacle considering the likely lineups.

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Wales Coach Mark Hughes, the former Manchester United star, has built a team that is challenging strongly for a place in next year’s European Championship in Portugal, but that’s not the team that will be in San Jose.

At least 17 of Hughes’ original roster of 39 for the U.S. trip have withdrawn because of injuries or other commitments. So San Jose will not see Ryan Giggs, Robbie Savage, Craig Bellamy, John Hartson or any other leading Welsh players.

But fans can always cheer the U.S. After all, what better way to spend Memorial Day evening than watching Jovan Kirovski, who has scored a whopping eight goals in 55 international matches but somehow still manages to get selected by Arena?

It’s a farce, really it is.

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UEFA Cup Winners

*--* FC Porto on Wednesday became the first Portuguese team to win the UEFA Cup in the competition’s 45-year history. The winners: Year Winner (country) * 1958 Barcelona (Spain) 1960 Barcelona (Spain) 1961 AS Roma (Italy) 1962 Valencia (Spain) 1963 Valencia (Spain) 1964 Real Zaragoza (Spain) 1965 Ferencvaros (Hungary) 1966 Barcelona (Spain) 1967 Dynamo Zagreb (Yugoslavia) 1968 Leeds United (England) 1969 Newcastle United (England) 1970 Arsenal (England) 1971 Leeds United (England) 1972 Tottenham Hotspur (England) 1973 Liverpool (England) 1974 Feyenoord (Netherlands) 1975 Borussia Moenchengladbach (West Germany) 1976 Liverpool (England) 1977 Juventus (Italy) 1978 PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands) 1979 Borussia Moenchengladbach (West Germany) 1980 Eintracht Frankfurt (West Germany) 1981 Ipswich Town (England) 1982 IFK Gothenburg (Sweden) 1983 Anderlecht (Belgium) 1984 Tottenham Hotspur (England) 1985 Real Madrid (Spain) 1986 Real Madrid (Spain) 1987 IFK Gothenburg (Sweden) 1988 Bayer Leverkusen (West Germany) 1989 Napoli (Italy) 1990 Juventus (Italy) 1991 Inter Milan (Italy) 1992 Ajax Amsterdam (Netherlands) 1993 Juventus (Italy) 1994 Inter Milan (Italy) 1995 Parma (Italy) 1996 Bayern Munich (Germany) 1997 Schalke 04 (Germany) 1998 Inter Milan (Italy) 1999 Parma (Italy) 2000 Galatasaray (Turkey) 2001 Liverpool (England) 2002 Feyenoord (Netherlands) 2003 FC Porto (Portugal) * No competition in 1959

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