The jokes came thick and fast on Twitter after Manchester United’s 2-0 first leg Champions League defeat by Olympiakos in Athens: “The greatest Hellenic triumph since George Michael’s Careless Whisper.”
Former footballers were equally unforgiving: "MUFC have had the odd bad day over the years, but I cannot recall such an abject, hopeless, forlorn performance,” tweeted ex-England international Gary Lineker. “And against such mediocrity."
Then there were the photoshopped pictures of Manchester United’s tactical shape joined together by a thick red line spelling out “LOL.”
Wednesday’s media headlines tightened the tourniquet.
Tabloid newspaper the Sun went for full punning scorn: “Pitta-ful Utd in Greek tragedy as fans demand … MOUSACKA MOYES.”
CNN’s David McKenzie will spend the entire month of the World Cup traveling around South Africa in a Winnebago and taking the pulse of the host country, the first nation on the continent to stage sport’s most illustrious oocasion.
As part of CNN’s Team Winnebago, McKenzie will tell the story of the World Cup through the voices of South Africa. From Cape Town to Graaff Reinet and Qunu to Soweto, Team Winnebago will cover more than 3,000 kilometers of highway, dusty tracks and snow-capped mountains during this month-long road trip.
Check in regularly to see the latest on McKenzie’s journey as South Africa – and the rest of the world – is transformed into Planet Football for the next 31 days and 64 matches.
The clash between Italian title holders Inter Milan and Spanish champions Barcelona in the semifinals of the European Champions League has been a mouthwatering match up, as two giants of the world game vie over 180 minutes of football to earn the privilege of an appearance in the lucrative final.
On the face of it, reigning champions Barcelona were favorites to progress. Prior to the first-leg semi, the Catalans boasted a fifteen game unbeaten streak and in star player Lionel Messi, had one of the world's best players performing at the top of his game. The manner of the Spanish side's recent victories – bar a 0-0 draw with city rivals Espanyol – had been awesome in their attacking verve and domination of possession.
In Pep Guardiola, Barcelona also have a coach who is one of the brightest rising stars in soccer. In his debut season in charge the 39-year-old captured a grand total of six trophies, three of which completed an unprecedented treble for the Camp Nou based side, when the La Liga title, the Copa Del Rey and the European Champions League title were secured in the same campaign.
The former Barca midfielder has seemingly proved to be the perfect choice to lead one of the biggest clubs in the world, his tactical outlook matching the ethos of a side traditionally famed for its attacking and aesthetically-pleasing brand of football.
As well as proving tactically astute, adept in his dealings with the media and an able motivator of men, Guardiola has not shied away from making big decisions. The move to let leading goalscorer Samuel Eto'o leave his squad as a bargaining chip in the transfer of Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Inter, baffled many around the world – why would you give the lethal Cameroonian to a potential rival?
But Guardiola's belief was that, to maintain the momentum of the glories of last season, the head of a major figure had to roll; a demonstration that no one player was too big to sacrifice for the cause of communal progress. So far he has not been proved wrong in his thinking.
Maybe fate then had a large part to play in Barca's 3-1 defeat in the Giuseppe Meazza stadium – with the fallout from the recent volcano eruption forcing the side to travel to northern Italy by energy-sapping road rather than air – or maybe it was something else, namely a vintage performance by the master coach Jose Mourinho.
Mourinho is the chalk to Guardiola's cheese. A former winner of the Champions League with Porto, the coach who guided Inter to the Serie A title last season has been no less successful, having previously guided English Premier League side Chelsea to back-to-back titles.
Where Guardiola is open with the press Mourinho is, at times, positively hostile and notoriously provocative, displaying a Machiavellian approach to gaining any psychological edge possible over his opponents. Pep has made his name with a pressing, goal-hungry style of football which promotes creative freedom; Jose prefers prosaic defending and organized authority first from his machine-like teams. Inter maybe Italy's top-scoring side but the foundations of the team are built on not conceding.
Before being drawn together in the semis of 2010, the sides had met four times previously in European competition. Inter – aiming to make their first European Cup final in 38 years – had never scored a goal against the Spaniards let alone won a game. Despite this Mourinho masterminded a superb 3-1 victory in front of the Nerazzurri home crowd.
The tie hangs in the balance with Inter having to defend a two-goal advantage against one of the best attacking sides there is – so who will prevail Guardiola the great or Mourinho the master? Either way, the mental chess game that will be played out by two of the most intriguing coaches in the game will prove fascinating.
The injury to England and Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney, sustained in his club's first leg European Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich on Tuesday, has caused panic attacks and palpitations to football fans the world over.
There once was a time when it was only fanatics of the game who would react with hysteria to such seemingly frivolous news (it is just a twisted joint after all, there were no fatalities) but in today's globalized economy - where football is big business and the soccer soap opera captivates the interest of millions around the world - such an event becomes a major deal.
Rooney not playing is a big problem to a number of parties with vested interests. Firstly, the Liverpool-born hit-man has been in prolific form this season - his goal against Bayern was his 34th of the current campaign - a feat that has helped his club side lead the English Premier League, capture a domestic cup and progress to the latter stages of the Champions League.
Alex Ferguson's men play Chelsea on Saturday in a crucial title decider that Rooney will almost certainly watch from the sidelines, he also may struggle to be fit for Bayern's visit to Old Trafford where United need to overturn a 2-1 deficit to stay in the European competition. United fans, consequently, must be worried.
His performances for England helped his nation qualify in some style for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa which kicks off in June; he is the talisman of the squad, Fabio Capello's best player. For England fans, the sight of their most talented footballer getting injured before a major tournament is familiar ground (see David Beckham circa 2002 and Rooney in 2006), hence doom and gloom is already descending on a country well-versed in big-tournament disappointment.
The typically hyped-up British press carried headlines including "Pray" (The Sun), "In Rooins" (The Daily Mirror), and "Roo in Crock Shock Scare" (The Daily Star) - which begs the questions what will the headline writers do during the World Cup without such ripe material to work from?
The 24-year-old must wait on the outcome of a scan to understand how severe the twisted right ankle, which forced him to limp out of the game, is and how long it will keep him out of action. You can bet that domestic broadcasters will report on every tiny update of Rooney's recovery, such is the perceived interest from a captive audience.
Sponsors too will be sweating on the scan results. Rooney represents Coca-Cola and Nike to name but two, and millions of dollars are riding on the exposure Rooney would have given his sponsors' branding and products in South Africa.
Football may still be a team game on the pitch but Rooney's injury and the global reaction to it is just the latest example of how some elite stars of soccer have a gravity all of their own. Let's hope that Crisitano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi avoid a similar fate.
It was ushered into the studio by six burly bodyguards and an entourage of fourteen; no filming was allowed of its movement from a taxi into the building; and to maintain its anonymity it was transported in an aluminium case packed with foam.
It is not often the World Cup trophy comes to town but when it does, even a newsroom as hardened to the glamour of celebrity and big-name personalities as CNN's, was unable to contain its collective excitement.
Queues of smiling journalists rapidly formed to get a photo with the hallowed artefact, to get close to an object that football legends such as Diego Maradona and Pele sweat blood and tears to call their own for a few precious moments, and fans from Delhi to Denver covet on behalf of their nation.
The attention attracted by the World Cup is unique, and in a measure that seemed befitting, the handlers advised that only players who have won the tournament or heads of state would be allowed to touch the metal surface. Neither present amongst CNN's ranks, so breathing near to the trophy had to suffice.
In fact, due to failure at successive events, it is maybe no surprise that this particular version of the cup has visited British shores only once before; a trip that must always jangle the nerves of those organizing the tour.
Afterall, England does not have a great record concerning the security of this particular valued item. As hosts to the event in 1966, shortly before the opening game was due to kick off at Wembley, the World Cup was stolen from an exhibition in London.
The blushes of a nation were only saved when a dog named Pickles found the Jules Rimet trophy (the first version of the World Cup kept by Brazil on becoming world champions for the third time in 1970) wrapped in newspaper seven day's later.
The current version, used for the first time in 1974, is solid 18-carat gold. It measures 36.8 centimeters (14.5 inches) high and weighs in at six kilograms (14 pounds). The gold alone would be valued at $220,000 at current market prices, though the tour party told CNN the trophy is "invaluable."
The drawing power of the cup, which will have visited 83 nations before arriving for the party in South Africa in June, suggests this assertion is true - with thousands of soccer fans around the world, including many in the CNN office, clamouring to get close to the small hunk of metal.
No one knows who will be the lucky captain lifting the trophy in Soccer City on July 11; but one thing is for sure, the team crowned world champions will be the envy of the world when they walk away with the golden prize.
The announcement by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) that Togo have been suspended from the next two Africa Cup of Nations and fined $50,000 will come as a surprise to many football fans around the world.
The governing body of the game for the continent of Africa will argue they have merely stuck by the letter of the law. Togolese politicians had no right to call home their national team from participating in the Nations Cup in Angola and by doing so they clearly contravened CAF regulations.
The move in CAF's eyes, was contrary to the wishes of captain Emmanuel Adebayor and his teammates to stay and participate; political interference in international football is prohibited, consequently Togo's "Hawks" must pay the price.
The mix of politics and football is a particularly thorny issue in Africa, a fact that may explain why CAF have reacted in a seemingly draconian manner, though the organization normally dishing out the discipline is world football's governing body, FIFA.
Unlike most national football associations around the world, where large revenues are created through the sale of broadcast rights and merchandise, most federations in Africa rely on the benefit of the state to operate.
In the past, this has led to unwarranted government influence when key decisions concerning the running of football were made according to FIFA, and consequently the independence of soccer organizations has been vehemently defended.
Ethiopia were prevented from taking part in the qualifying rounds of the 2010 World Cup for such reasons, while Kenya were suspended from international competition as recently as 2006 after their national federation became factionalized along political lines.
Nigeria came within a whisker of sanctions during the same period, while Niger suffered a ban in 2004 after "repeated interference from political authorities" in the affairs of the Niger Football Federation forced FIFA to act.
This is all well and good, but surely CAF have failed to appreciate the human circumstances behind Togo's failure to fulfill their fixtures.
The Togo team may have put themselves in more danger by ignoring CAF advice to fly to the tournament, they may also have warranted ejection from the event when they failed to play their opening match, but how many other national teams have watched three of their party die at the hands of machine-gun wielding attackers?
How many teams in history have faced playing a tournament with squad members struggling to recover from gunshot wounds?
Whether CAF's choice to ignore the simple and extraordinary facts surrounding Togo's tragic tale will prove a mistake only time will tell, but from a public relations point of view, surely to punish a team that is still reeling from the horror of their ordeal is to rub salt in already bloody wounds.
Barcelona to sign England striker Wayne Rooney, Bayern Munich to offload Franck Ribery or Rafael Benitez to quit Liverpool and join up with Italian giants Juventus ... a selection of just some of the best rumors circulating on the internet as the January European transfer window draws to end, and let's be thankful of their presence!
In years gone by, the deadline day of February 1 was an event to excite football fans around the world as a few of the more far-fetched speculative statements were revealed as truth.
It was rumor columns that touted the prospect of Brazilian star striker Robinho leaving the regal surroundings of Real Madrid for the rain-soaked environs of Manchester City last year, and as fantastical as the deal seemed, the transfer went through with only hours to spare.
The signing of Bulgarian Dimitar Berbatov by English Premier League champions Manchester United was conducted in much the same fashion, but the anticipated frenzy of financial ducking and diving from managers, coaches, clubs and players around the continent has so far not happened this time around.
In such harsh financial times, with many teams struggling with debt, the first window for transaction of 2010 - which started on the first day of January and is due to shut on February 1 - has proved rather a damp squib compared to previous years.
In the English Premier League alone, $272m was spend over the same period in 2009. With the deadline looming, at the time of writing, only $17.6m of cash has changed hands. Has there been any bigger transfer between European teams in monetary terms than Andrea Dossena's $7.2 million switch from Liverpool to Napoli of Italy? Speaking as a fan, the pulse is not racing!
So, here at World Sport, we're asking for football fans around the world to help fill the dramatic void of factual happenings with some exciting rumor and speculation. Have you heard any good whispers regarding who your team may sign? Which players do you want your club to pursue? And what message do you have for the coaches keen to snatch your side's star player?
Let us hear your thoughts by commenting below.
The tragic events of Friday, which saw at least two people killed and seven of the Togo national soccer party injured from a machine-gun attack en route to the Africa Cup of Nations, has shocked the world of football.
Angola is a nation that has suffered its fair share of grief in recent times - the southern African state only emerged from a bloody three-decade long civil war when a peace deal was signed with Cabinda separatists in 2002 - and the hosting of the Nations Cup was symbolic of a united nation looking to the future; the fact that two of those traveling to celebrate this fact lost their lives is both sad and regrettable.
It is a shame too, because in a year when the spotlight is shining on African football like never before, the event has reaffirmed anxieties held by many that a continent often associated with tragedy in recent times will be unable to safely host a World Cup.
The knee-jerk reaction is understandable - it is all too easy to associate loss of life with "soccer safety" in Africa. In 1993, 18 of the Zambian national side were killed in a plane crash as they flew to play Senegal in a World Cup qualifying fixture. Tragedy struck again in 2007 when a helicopter carrying 20 of the Togo delegation, including sport minster Richard Attipoe, crashed traveling back from a Nations Cup qualifier against Sierra Leone, killing all on board.
Poor crowd control has also proved catastrophic. In 2001, 126 spectators of a league derby game died at the Accra Sports Stadium in Ghana, a disaster that was followed in the same year by 43 lives being lost at Johannesburg's Ellis Park Stadium, where overcrowding led to a stampede between fans of arch-rival sides Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates. Even as recently as 2009, 22 people died in a crush at the Houphouet-Boigny arena in the Ivory Coast, as Didier Drogba's men beat Malawi 5-0 in a World Cup qualifier.
However, despite the recent shooting in Cabinda adding to this lamentable list of calamities, calls by critics that the Nations Cup should be called off and furthermore that the World Cup now faces a greater security threat are misguided.
There have been many sporting events prior to the 2010 Nations Cup that have been blighted by adversity but not one has been aborted as a result.
Two people were killed in 1996 when a bomb exploded in Atlanta for example, but the American city went on to host the Olympic Games dubbed "The Celebration of the Century" in some style. Before this, nine Israeli athletes were kidnapped from the Olympic Village in Munich, Germany and subsequently killed by a terrorist group but the tournament of 1972 was not derailed.
More recently, in the 2007 Asian Cup, a suicide bomber killed around 50 fans in Baghdad who were celebrating Iraq's national soccer team's progress to the final. After much soul-searching the team decided to carry on, a choice that led to a 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia and the capture of the title.
These events were not important because of their display of machismo or do-or-die bravery, but because the ethos and vision of the occasion did not succumb to the will of those who wanted to disrupt it with devastation.
The Angolan government have said they will reinforce security plans and the Confederation of African Football (CAF) are adamant the show must continue. Is it fair to ask the Nations Cup, an event that has reportedly seen $1 billion of resources poured into infrastructure construction in Angola, to be called off in a way previous tournaments have not?
If reports are to be believed, the Togo side themselves, led by captain Emmanuel Adebayor, wanted to continue to play before being flown out by their government.
As far as the World Cup is concerned, Danny Jordaan, the Chief Executive Officer for the 2010 World Cup Local Organizing Committee, has been defiant in his statements since the attack:
"I think the world understands that every country has its own military, police, intelligence resources and takes full responsibility for security within its own boundaries because they are separate and sovereign states," he said.
"We have just seen the attempted terror attacks on the United States. Unfortunately, it's a reality all over the world. Britain has its fair share of terror attacks, so does Spain and many countries. Clearly it's a global issue and we must understand it in that way. Of course, we cannot allow terrorists to win."
In other words, linking the attack in Angola to South Africa's security capability would be like canceling the 2006 World Cup in Germany because of the Madrid bombings in Spain. The two areas and events are clearly very different prospects. The "Rainbow Nation" has the same challenge facing it as any host of world football's biggest carnival, but with the resources of FIFA and the South African government fully behind the event, there is nothing to suggest those involved will be at any more risk than at the 2006 edition in Germany.
A belief that has prompted FIFA president Sepp Blatter to state to CAF president Issa Hayatou: "I have confidence in Africa and on the strength of this confidence we will together organize the flagship competition of world football in 2010."
Both CAF and FIFA have good reason to talk up the strength of their resolve and the need for confidence to remain in both tournaments, but agenda issues aside, is it ever right for the will of the terrorist disruptor to prevail at sporting events?
MANCHESTER, England - As Manchester United near the end of another remarkable season, Alex Ferguson is in history-writing mood.
Not content with matching the record set by rivals Liverpool of winning the English league title 18 times, a trophy the Red Devils retained successfully in 2009 for the third season in a row, as well as taking the League Cup and the World Club Cup in the same campaign, United are now on the verge of a successful defense of the big one too - the European Cup.
Not that any weight of legacy was evident from the body language of Fergie's charges, as they trained at the club's plush Carrington training complex a week away from the final clash with Barcelona in Rome.
Despite the presence of at least 100 of the world's press in attendance the atmosphere was positively jovial and carefree, with only anxious cameramen concerned about their shots affecting the mood.
Top clubs are rarely easy to access for journalists but United's welcome embrace smacked of a club confident with its present state and rank of players. Cristiano Ronaldo is an awesome sight even in training, Wayne Rooney tricked and smiled his way around the pitch while Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes exude that thoroughbred class that has proved so valuable down the years.
Only Dimitar Berbatov failed to live up to expectations, or vice versa depending on your opinion of the Bulgarian. Slow, soporific and unable to hit a barn door with a banjo all day long he stuck out from the energetic ensemble as a lone loafer.
After training, with filming half complete, player after player then filed past the never ending row of microphones to patiently answer the same recycled questions for an avid gaggle of media bods eager to get their second hit of the day. For starved hacks used to writing essays from monosyllabic scraps, this was a feeding frenzy of unexpected proportions.
Bobby Charlton says it could be the best ever United squad assembled. This is hard to quantify, but on this showing and as someone who saw the same body language from the same players displayed before the semifinal thrashing of Arsenal in London earlier in the month, Barcelona should beware. Fergie has pen in hand ...
LONDON, England - Having missed out on one Brazilian, Manchester City could now be in danger of losing another one. Robinho, a big money summer signing from Real Madrid, is so disappointed at City's failure to land Kaka from AC Milan that he has fled to Brazil and is determined to leave the club whatever the consequences, according to the Sun.
The Brazilian's agents are reported to be looking to secure him a move before the end of the January transfer window - with Luis Felipe Scolari's Chelsea set to pounce if the player becomes available.
Meanwhile, Didier Drogba has dropped further hints of his desire to quit Chelsea after telling French newspaper La Provence that he has "unfinished" business at his former club Marseille.
"I still love this club and it will never change, whatever happens," Drogba said. "It's not necessarily the right moment for me to speak about a possible return... If something is made to happen, I don't know on which conditions, Marseille are going to have to contact Chelsea... I have not opened the door to a possible transfer, I've simply explained the situation."
Another player who could be deemed surplus to requirements at Stamford Bridge is French winger Florent Malouda - with Villarreal preparing a £9 million bid, according to the Daily Mirror.
Atletico Madrid have become the latest club to express an interest in Lyon's Fred with Marca reporting that the Spaniards are looking to sign the Brazilian striker when his contract expires in June. The French champions are looking at another Brazilian striker, former international Ricardo Oliveira, currently banging in the goals for Real Zaragoza, l'Equipe reports.
Finally, Arsenal continue to suffer frustration in their pursuit of Andrei Arshavin with Zenit St. Petersburg refusing to drop their £18 million valuation, the Daily Telegraph reports. The Gunners have bid £12 million for the Russian playmaker; Zenit could yet be persuaded to do business for £15 million the paper says.