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Monthly Archives: September 2013

Blog by: Anirudh

Real Madrid CF v Club Atletico de Madrid - La Liga

In one of the biggest matches on the Spanish football calendar, Real Madrid hosted capital rivals Atletico for what was one of the most keenly contested Clasicos in recent years.

A single goal from Diego Costa grabbed victory for the Colchoneros at the Bernabeu, leaving Atletico jointly at top with Barcelona after seven wins in as many games. Madrid, meanwhile, drop five points behind their two biggest rivals and were a shadow of their usual bombastic selves.

But what will both teams take away from Saturday’s clash? Lessons will have to be learned, more than anything for the team in white.

Bale Needs More Time

Madrid’s record signing, Gareth Bale, finally made his debut in front of the Bernabeu faithful. The Wales international entered in unfamiliar circumstances, trying to rescue the game with the Blanco down, 1-0, at halftime.

Against Atletico, though, Bale looked well off the pace. The trademark bursts of pace were of course present, and the ex-Tottenham star almost won a penalty with one of his surges towards goal. The final ball and connection with teammates was all but missing, however, and he will need to learn fast to start justifying his transfer fee.

Koke and Costa’s Brilliance

The focus for Atletico Madrid throughout the game, and especially after opening the scoring, was to preserve their defence and restrict Real. Even then, their attack looked, by far, the most likely to contribute further to the scoresheet, thanks to the demon duo of Koke and Diego Costa.

The midfielder set up Costa to perfection early on with a neat flick expertly converted for the game’s only goal. After that, they kept harrying Madrid in defence and could both have scored again; Diego Lopez denied Costa one-on-one, while a brilliant Koke shot struck the bar.

Atletico Are Catching Up

Few major derbies are quite as one-sided as that of the Spanish capital. Prior to Saturday, Atletico had not beaten their illustrious neighbours in a Liga clash for no less than 14 years.

Things are changing, however. That agonising 2-1 win in the Copa del Rey final, with goals from Arda Turan and Miranda, removed some of the mystique of the Clasico Madrileno, giving Atletico’s players the chance to approach the fixture as one more match.

Winning in La Liga for the first time since 1999, and in the Bernabeu no less, is another great step forward for the Red and White.

Simeone Is A Perfect Fit

Argentine tactician Diego Simeone may not produce teams as tantalising to watch as his compatriots Gerardo Martino or Marcelo Bielsa. But the current Atletico Madrid coach brings an organisation and tenacity to his sides which makes them very difficult to beat indeed.

Despite only enjoying a miserly 37 percent of possession on Saturday, per Goal.com, Atletico matched their rivals throughout the match and were formidable on the counter, having, by far, the best chances over the 90 minutes.

The dark-suited, taciturn former Madrid player marched solemnly to the dressing room, while his players celebrated history in the making, but his contribution was just as vital.

Benzema Unsuccessful Upfront

The sale of Gonzalo Higuain to Napoli opened the door for Karim Benzema to claim his spot as undisputed No. 9 in the Madrid side. But that piece of business, similar to the deal that took Mesut Ozil to Arsenal, is starting to look rather ill-advised from the Spanish club’s point of view.

While Higuain’s three goals in the opening six matches have helped Napoli to the top of the Serie A standings, the Frenchman has floundered. His non-appearance midweek against Elche was pardoned by Cristiano Ronaldo’s pair, but not even the Portuguese star could hide his teammate’s deficiencies in front of the net.

Out of form and without a goal in five Liga matches, Benzema’s place as centre-forward is starting to look very precarious indeed.

Madrid Need To Improve

Along with Atletico, Barcelona fans would have been left very satisfied indeed with Saturday’s result. After just seven games, the 100 percent record of the Catalan club leaves Madrid five points adrift, and the nightmare of a repetition of the 2012/13 season looks a distinct possibility.

Playing without a recognised playmaker and being painfully disorganised up front, Madrid need to pull themselves together and fast. In just three weeks’ time, a visit to Camp Nou and Barca looms. And if results continue to follow the form book up to then, a defeat and the prospect of falling eight points behind would represent a massive hurdle to overcome.

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 Blog by: Shradha                                                   

Chennai Super Kings cheer leaders celebr

Corruption, misbegotten deeds and audaciousness that borders on sullying the very name of cricket may be some of the defining points of the zillion dollar brain-child, Indian Premier League. But no amount of negativity seems to divert the fans’ attention away from the tournament, but rather hones the focus back to it thus elevating it to an unequalled stature amongst all other existing cricketing tournaments.

The fact that the trend of positivity for the IPL continues to flourish unabated and unchecked – despite the recent event that added yet another black-mark to Indian cricket – is then a proof of how the sport’s fans have evolved, regardless of the rigorists’ vociferous protestations against such new-gen transformations.

And where the rigorists – the purists and the conventionalists – may juxtapose the earlier formats of the game to such franchise-oriented, money-based format, fans don’t really construe it that way but see it as nothing but yet another manifestation of the sport. For them, IPL then is as good as a platform where loyalties are franchise-based and not demarcated by nationalities.

There again, such a perspective by the fans doesn’t translate to their condoning of the various wrongdoings that the event invariably becomes a hosting ground to. On the contrary, their continued support and favouritism towards the IPL is the continued source of optimism towards the sport and the people actively involved in it.

Perhaps that’s why mistakes and underhanded activities by team owners and other managerial custodians are treated as an aberration with the mind dwelling more on the team’s successes and achievements. These fans aren’t then ignorant, naive fools misguided by their optimism and hope that continues to let them down – season-after-season. But rather fact is, they would rather think about the players – the hard-working ones who continue to rise and shine, in spite of all the filth that surrounds their meritocracy. The fans would then rather think about individual names. Names, that have always given Indian cricket the stature of superiority amongst the other giants who felt they could compel it to bow before them.

The fact that none of these legends’ names have been tossed around in the recent IPL muck is then yet supporting rationale for the fans in their uninhibited IPL fervour. And alongside these positives, the distinct lack of involvement by foreign players in the scandal has also gone to boost the IPL in the minds of the fans who have often been thrilled and awed by the hordes of foreign talent that the IPL attracts. That the fans then blame the tainted parties’ unfounded greed as the primary evil tainting the IPL rather than the format itself being an epicentre of evil isn’t surprising at all.

In a nation where cricket unashamedly rules as the primary sport of choice, reigning as its unofficial national game, one would be quite hard-pressed to do away with one of the most entertaining events highlighting the game. Thus while each of the Indian Premier League’s seven seasons may have then been marred by controversies, for the fans, the two months of IPL – along with the innumerable shenanigans that it brings to the cricketing fold – has become a necessity that cannot be done without.

Such being the case, the rigorists’ talk about eliminating the tournament fixture then has started to be perceived by the IPL rooters as being stuffy and overly proprietorial. The line of argument raised by such pro-IPL rooters, that consequentially emerges about the vulnerability of the sport and the inadequate measures with which these vulnerabilities are addressed is then justified too.

For just like the IPL in India, there are several other key T20 fixtures that take place in various cricketing nations. That it is the IPL which has become the bane of cricket is indeed a harsher tag for the tournament to be labelled with. And it is this label that shifts the entirety of IPL’s infamy from the various participants, to the ones who needed to come up with stringent regulations and principles in the first place.

 

Blog by: Ani

Liverpool v Everton - Premier League

Now this is interesting. West Bromwich Albion achieved an extraordinary result on Sautrday, beating Manchester United 2-1 at Old Trafford. In a week when David Moyes had proved a point to his detractors by defeating Liverpool in the Capital One Cup, along came the minnows from the Midlands to add further furrows to the Scotsman’s brow.

West Brom, on their way to this victory, showed the benefits of taking an enterprising approach at the home of the champions. They were not only diligent in defence, with Jonas Olsson, Boaz Myhill and Liam Ridgewell particularly impressive, but were also beautifully balanced in attack, both of their goals coming as the result of outstanding pieces of play.

The first was a solo run by Morgan Amalfitano, the French forward on loan from Marseille, who cut in from the right near the halfway line, surged between the centre-backs and dummied David De Gea to the ground before scooping the ball over his prone form. The second came from the boot of Saido Berahino, whose low drive after a swift succession of sharp, neatly angled passes gave the away side their first win at Old Trafford since 1978.

Manchester United’s goal, an equaliser early in the second half, came from the right boot of Wayne Rooney, whose free-kick from 30 yards or so evaded everyone before curling into the far right-hand corner. Many have noted that Manchester United have not scored from open play in the Premier League since the start of the season, against Swansea, yet the problem is not so much the manner in which the goals are scored but the quantity of them.

Funnily enough, even though he was on the pitch for all 90 minutes of this loss and his contribution was fitful at times, Nani made a compelling case for his regular inclusion. With him on the pitch, Manchester United’s play looked unusually purposeful. He was supported here on the right flank by Phil Jones, who, although hardworking as ever in the full-back role, does not supply the vital dynamism of Rafael or his twin brother, Fabio.

Nani’s match was perhaps summarised by two decisions he made in the 14th and 15th minutes of this game. The first was the Portugal winger at his most frustrating: breaking from the halfway line, he could and should have laid a first-time ball into the path of onrushing Javier Hernandez. Instead, he hesitated, drove wide, then cut inside on his left, releasing a shot that was easily deflected away. A minute later, though, Nani was sublime: He attempted and nearly executed a pass of far greater difficulty, a cross from wide on the right that dipped and swerved beyond two markers and just over the outstretched toe of Hernandez. This would have opened the scoring, and might have laid the foundation for a close and crucial victory.

Alas for United, it was not to be. Elsewhere, there were other interesting narratives. Anderson, as ever, offered those tantalising vignettes of the player he should have been for many years, now and then initiating smart passages of play, and hitting the crossbar with a header. Shinji Kagawa, who started here, was sadly ineffective, finding it difficult to impose himself from his inside-left position. He played several neat passes, drifting across the pitch, but did not have the verve of his performance against Liverpool in midweek.

It was somewhat dismaying yet unsurprising to see Kagawa withdrawn at halftime for Adnan Januzaj. The Belgian playmaker was typically brave in possession, surging into the West Bromwich area on several occasions with the ball at his feet and demonstrating a bravery beyond that of most of his fellow wingers at the club. The sense persists that Moyes is still looking for his best starting 11, and, if so, then Januzaj is building an increasingly strong argument for inclusion with each passing cameo.

Marouane Fellaini and Robin van Persie entered the fray, the former netting a late equaliser that rightly was denied for offside, and the latter failing to rescue his team on this occasion. Much is made of the fact that Manchester United ran away with the league last year, but not so much is made of the fact that many of those victories came from losing positions, the bulk of which were escaped with the aid of the brilliant Dutchman. When he is not fully fit, the champions suddenly look much more prosaic.

This, of course, is not to detract from the excellent work of West Bromwich Albion, who just pipped Aston Villa – who defeated Manchester City 3-2 at home – for the Premier League’s result of the day. From the looks of things so far this season, it is going to be an unusually open title race, with Manchester United’s next few fixtures offering much less cause for comfort than was the case before Saturday’s match.

Blog by: Roh

Australia v India - Tri-Series Game 10

When Virender Sehwag made his ODI debut the first thing that struck to people’s minds was his uncanny similarity to Sachin Tendulkar and it wasn’t really surprising to hear about Tendulkar being his cricketing idol. But as the days went by, Sehwag ended being more than Sachin Tendulkar’s follower coming up with trailblazing performances such that the whole world watched him, awestruck and spell-bound.

In the following years, he became the unlikeliest of pivot for Indian cricket taking on the most elite cadre of bowlers and making them cower before him. Anything that they threw at him, he had an answer to it and his answers only spelt doom and gloom for the opponents. The years of his ascendancy were marked by distinctive prolificacy where runs were plundered mercilessly from all corners of the cricketing world.

His debut in tests too followed a similar pathway as fearless and untrammelled by conventions, the Nawab of Najafgarh as he then came to be known, made his presence felt by fast-pacing the otherwise sedate test cricket proceedings. There seemed to be no difference in the way he looked at test and ODI cricket – runs poured forth when Sehwag stood at the crease and the crowd never grew tired of watching him accumulate them.

His inherent dauntlessness then accounted for jerky performances too. Hastiness and throwing away of his wicket when the team needed him to deliver became commonplace even though these still remained firmly in the shadows obscured by the glow of his brilliance. So much so that at his peak, there didn’t to be anything that could faze or browbeat Sehwag. He moulded himself to the team’s needs just as he moulded the team to accept the way he played. And even though everyone acknowledged – in some remote corner of the mind – that his techniques weren’t exactly claiming perfection, his unerring ability to transform the same into flawlessness made him even larger than life.

But these deficiencies then did make their presence felt, impacting his career when least expected consequentially, lessening the aura of indomitability surrounding him. The plethora of runs tapered off, bleaker and far more pointed in their continued run of scarceness making Sehwag an eerie parody of his own name. And where his performances dipped, as circumstantial as they were, he became inconsequential to the team. Such volte-face by the selectors wasn’t surprising to see, for illustriousness in the history of Indian cricket has long been associated with prolonged consistency rather than past merits. But nonetheless, it’s been indeed agonising to watch Sehwag caught in this never-ending cycle.

The prognosis of Sehwag’s future however doesn’t seem to be all bad though. The inclusion of his name in the India A squad went a long way in boosting optimism all around, albeit with wariness. For, as big a chance this may be, expectations too are quite demanding from Sehwag. His age has been more often than counted as the most challenging aspect in Sehwag’s potential second-run especially when considered that there is no dearth of younger playing talent waiting as reserves.

Alongside comes the more convoluted aspect of fitness. Never known for speed on the field, Sehwag’s comparative advancement in age then also asks a lot from him. In the months that lead to his exclusion from the national team, there were several questions raised about his mental fortitude. To make a comeback then essentially, Sehwag would have to prove himself fit – not just physically, but also mentally.

In the lines of these, Sehwag would also need to evolve from what he was – and was able to do – in the past so as to brace himself as per the needs of the team in the present. Another swashbuckler then Indian cricket needs not today, requiring a rather laidback and crafty player who can lull the bowler to complacency before unveiling the absolute master-class of his batting prowess. Thus, the only person who holds the reins deciding Virender Sehwag’s future course of career is Sehwag himself; shaping it – either for the best or for the worst, in every way that matters.

 

Blog by: Sanchit

Atletico Madrid: All set to challenge for the La Liga

Atletico Madrid: All set to challenge for the La Liga

With six wins in as many games, one would like to hope that the horses prancing to challenge for this season’s La Liga have a red and white outfit on board.

Los Rojiblancos – as it is famously called for its red and white stripes jersey, Atletico Madrid seems to be a side capable of breaking the monotony that has been set in the Spanish league, where although 20 teams manage to get on the league table, only two teams are seen challenging for the ultimate glory.

La Liga is termed as one of the most ‘boring’ leagues in the world (and rightly so, unless you are a Barcelona or a Real Madrid supporter) as every year the ball rolls in the same old courts – FC Barcelona and Real Madrid FC, two European giants who hardly find any competition in their own Spanish league.

“Where money does the talking” – I can imagine a La Liga follower coming up with this proverb. The teams of the financial might of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, (in the same order) enjoy the luxury of spending big when they require infusing fresh blood in their squads with the best player available in the market, albeit availability is not the right word when we are talking about the money these clubs can spend to lure someone they want.

The recent epitome of these riches is the record breaking transfer fee paid by Real Madrid to bag in Gareth Bale from Tottenham, who was unavailable as per Andres Villas Boas, Spurs’s manager, until one fine morning when he heard of an offer worth some GBP 85.3 million to let go off the Welsh winger.

Surely, President Florentino Perez did not have to say more, as for him, ‘money did all the talking’.

There is a huge gap in the wealth of these two biggies and the rest of the teams in the league who are suffering from a financial crunch.

Prior to the 2012-13 Copa del Rey final, Diego Simeone, the Atletico Madrid manager, pointed out the difference between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid is ‘not the substance, style, history, tradition, ideology or design but the 400 million Euros in budget’.

A three-horse race

Since the advent of the Spanish season 2004-05, the La Liga trophies have added glitter either to the trophy cabinet at Nou Camp or Santiago Bernabeu, leaving other 18 clubs entering the fray, every year, holding onto their horses to lift that elusive La-Liga trophy.

Last season, Atletico Madrid emerged as a ray of hope for the Liga followers who could see a third contender for the La Liga trophy in the Madrid club. They augured quite well till match day 26 as they held on to that second position over and above the city rivals, Real Madrid.

The third horse in the Spanish league showed signs of its arrival last season itself but losing crucial points in the later stage of the league cost them their position, finally ending up at the third spot.

Pundits would still not call them the third horse in the La Liga because they lost all their La Liga face offs against Real Madrid and FC Barcelona and finished 24 points off the ultimate champions, Barcelona.

What made Atletico a bright prospect for the 2013-14 season, was when Gabi lifted the Copa del Rey trophy last season after his side trounced Real Madrid in the finals at Santiago Bernabeu.

However, life is not beautiful all the time and Atletico fans felt a grave setback when they had to lose their star striker Radamel Falcao to AS Monaco after the stellar 2012-13 season. Simeone had built his entire side around the Columbian, who ended up scoring 52 goals in 68 appearances in his 2-year stint in the Madrid side.

Once Falcao left, a void was felt in the Madrid side even when it had players of the caliber of Arda Turan, Thibaut Courtios (on loan from Chelsea), Joao Miranda and Gabi, and the ray of hope that was illuminated last season seemed fading off.

David Villa: Filling in Falcao's void

David Villa: Filling in Falcao’s void

To fill the void, Simeone landed a Spanish striker this time for an absolute bargain – someone who was the joint top scorer in the 2010 FIFA World Cup and who has plied his trade in arguably the best team in the world. Atletico Madrid shelled out just 2.1 million Euros for David Villa – Spain’s all time top goal scorer.

Villa sought this as an opportunity to play at his favorite centre forward position and get regular playing time on the field. which he was denied at Barcelona.

Atletico Madrid have earned all the 21 points on offer so far by showing the same high-spirited nature of football with Diego Costa and David Villa taking the charge of the attack in the absence of Falcao. Diego Costa has already scored 8 goals in his 7 La Liga outings, sitting on the top scorers’ list along with Leo Messi.

Courtios has always performed well. The best Liga goal keeper in 2012-13 has carried the tag of one of the best young shot stoppers in the world with ease till now, having 3 clean sheets already in 10 games in all competitions.

The midfield looks pretty sorted in the likes of Mario Suarez and captain Gabi. The Turkish winger, Arda Turan, has continued his brilliant form from last season. Strong defence and fast play has always characterized the style of play adopted by the Argentine manager. However, the problem will arise when the crucial players will be sidelined with injuries as the bench strength lacks the required fire-power.

All said and done, Atletico Madrid is certainly going to become ‘frogs in the bucket’ for Real and Barca as both the teams do not look as invincible as they did a few years back.

Barca’s inability in adding the much needed defender to its team line-up this season again, is going to expose its abysmal defense which was ripped apart by Bayern Munich and Real Madrid last season. The fast attacking style of play of Los Rojiblancos is also capable of exposing their defense once again.

Real Madrid, under the new manager, has entered a few new players in the squad which at the first instance seemed to be a fatal team line up with one of the most ferocious pairing up front of Ronaldo and Bale but the Galacticos have failed to clicked so far, losing out to Atletico last night at Santiago Bernabeu, their first La Liga loss to the city rivals since 1999.

Atletico, now, have beaten Real Madrid after 13 years in a La Liga encounter and gave Barcelona a run for their money in the Spanish Super Cup. The stage is set for Atletico Madrid to show the world that La-Liga is no longer a two horse race. The men in red and white need to keep this momentum going, ensuring that they do not lose crucial points in the later stages of the league.

Blog by: The Football Addict

David Moyes

David Moyes

David Moyes, prior to the defeat at home to West Bromwich Albion, had given a press conference in which he commented to various national newspapers about his side’s Champions League chances.

“To win the Champions League, you need five or six world-class players. Look at Bayern Munich, they have it. Look at Barcelona, who had it in the past and Real Madrid, who have maybe got it now. That’s the level you have to be at to win it. We’ve not got that yet but what we have got is experience.”

Let’s try and see what does he actually might mean with this statement?

Is it a message to the club? It maybe a veiled message hitting back at the new Manchester United CEO, Ed Woodward, who, it has been reported, has been responsible for United’s failure in the transfer window.

It has been reported that Moyes had a number of players on his mind to strengthen United’s midfield. There were names like Modric, De Rossi and Thiago amongst others who were linked to United.

Others including Fabregas, Ander Herrara and in other positions, Baines were confirmed targets. But all of these moves failed to materialise. Fans all over the world blamed Woodward for this and even Moyes, although to a lesser extent.

Moyes maybe indicating that the transfer window needed to be utilised properly and the main club transfer targets needed to be brought in.

On the other hand, it could be a message to the Glazer family. An indication that he wants them to start loosening their pockets or the club will suffer.

Moyes insisted after the end of the window that the pursuit of Herrera ended because the £30.5 million fee was considered to be too high. Manchester United had a £26 million bid rejected, but the extra £4.5m required to trigger the release clause was considered too high. Looking at the current state of the United team, a player of Herrara’s credentials could have had a massive impact.

If Moyes wanted a player but the extra £5 odd million required was considered as too high, then other alternatives needed to be looked at. But that didn’t happen either.

Maybe, it is a way for Moyes to get his message across to the Glazers. Spend or suffer. Moyes is desperate to succeed here as well. But maybe he’s asking for financial backing from the Glazers through this statement.

A message to the fans?

The job of being the manager of Manchester United Football Club, is without doubt one of the biggest jobs in world football. One man, Sir Alex Ferguson, performed it marvellously well over his tenure of 26 years at the club. He performed it so well, that it was always going to be difficult for any man coming in. Stepping into Sir Alex’s humongous shoes, was always going to be a tough job for any manager.

But, having said that, some sections of the fans are being increasingly critical of David Moyes by asking him to deliver immediately. He will require sometime to settle into the club. He will require time to deliver success to the club.

Maybe this is the message he wishes to put across to the fans.

His statement “we’ve not got that yet but what we have got is experience,” indicates that he intends to build on this squad. “We have not got that yet“, he says, stating that the team does not have the quality yet, but have got the experience.

His motive for the long term is to indicate to the fans that he intends to improve the squad, given enough time.

The United fans owe that to him. He needs to be give benefit of the doubt and trusted with the club. Let’s do that and get behind him, back him and support the club through troubled times.

Blog by: Soccer Souls

Besiktas football team supporters clash with riot police and security forces during the Turkish Super League soccer match between Besiktas and Galatasaray at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium

Besiktas football team supporters clash with riot police and security forces during the Turkish Super League soccer match between Besiktas and Galatasaray at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium

Turkish police raided the homes of and arrested 72 militant supporters of Istanbul’s top clubs – Besiktas JK, Fenerbahce FC and Galatasaray SK — after a derby between Besiktas and Galatasary was abandoned because fans invades the pitch. Penalizing Besiktas, the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) ordered the club to play its next four games behind closed doors.

Critics of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, suspect that his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) engineered the incident in a bid to further repress Besiktas’s popular militant fan group – Carsi, who played a key role in mass anti-government protests earlier this year. They point to the fact that security was lax at the match and that a youth leader of the AKP boasted on Facebook how he had obtained a free ticket to the Besiktas-Galatasary derby and was one of the first to invade the pitch.

Turkish journalist Mehmet Baransu moreover documented links between 1453 Kartallari (1453 Eagles), a rival conservative Besiktas support group named in commemoration of the year that Ottoman Sultan Fatih the Conqueror drove the Byzantines out of Constantinople, and the AKP. 1453 members reportedly shouted ‘God is Great’ and attacked Carsi supporters during the pitch invasion.

The incident has strengthened the government’s hands in discussion with world soccer governor FIFA and European soccer body UEFA over the replacement of private security companies with regular police in stadia. FIFA and UEFA as of matter of principle favour a low key police presence in stadia. The move is part of an effort by Erdogan to gain control of and depoliticize Turkish soccer and criminalize fan groups in response to the key role they played in mass anti-government protests in June. Carsi lead the unification of Istanbul’s rival fan groups who constituted the front line in confrontations with the police.

The government has since banned the chanting of political slogans during matches and has said it was monitoring the communications of militant fans. It is further enforcing Breathalyzer tests at matches and demanding that clubs oblige spectators to sign a statement pledging to abide by the ban before they enter a stadium.

Fans have defied the ban by chanting during matches “Everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance,” a reference to Istanbul’s iconic Taksim Square, which was the focal point of the protests sparked by plans to turn Gezi Park, which abuts the square, into a shopping mall.

Strengthening the government’s campaign, Besiktas president Fikret Orman criticized the performance of a private security firm hired for ten matches in Istanbul’s Ataturk Olympic Stadium because the club’s own facility is under renovation. “Private security does not run away from the fans, they chase them. What we witnessed amounted to a comedy,” Orman said. He said that fans had entered the stadium without tickets. Up to 10,000 were believed to have entered the already packed stadium illegally.

Sports and youth ministry official Mehmet Baykan said, “Three entry points were broken into, the power supply to the turnstiles and eight ticket readers were sabotaged. 65 people have been caught with equipment which could have been used to cut the cables.”

Aware that the protests had reduced Istanbul’s chance of winning their bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games despite long being a frontrunner, government officials prepared the ground for blaming the activists for the Turkish capital’s loss. The protests were a major reason why the International Olympic Committee awarded the tournament earlier this month to Tokyo.

Turkish EU minister Egemen Bagis warned, “Those who protested at Taksim’s Gezi Park tried twice to drop Istanbul’s candidacy off the candidates list, but they failed. If Istanbul loses, it will be because of them.’’ Bagis’s comment was in response to the anti-government protests and a report by Turkish activists, architects and urban planners calling on the IOC not to award the games to Istanbul.

A report said, “Prosecutors and courts continue to use terrorism laws to prosecute and prolong incarceration of thousands of Kurdish political activists, human rights defenders, students, journalists and trade unionists. Free speech and media remain restricted and there have been serious violations of fair trial rights. Great obstacles remain in securing justice for victims of abuses by police, military and state officials. Press members are fired, contracts of academicians who supported Gezi are not renewed, film stars are searched for narcotics, and students are arbitrarily detained. The powers of the Chambers of Engineers and Architects were curbed. This was a reprisal for their role in the protests.”

Members of the football club Al Ahly also known as the Ultras.

Members of the football club Al Ahly also known as the Ultras.

The report noted that police had used tear gas and water cannons earlier this year during protests at the opening of the Mediterranean Games in Mersin in south-eastern Turkey. It asserted that 80 percent of the tickets for the event were awarded to government loyalists rather than to the public to prevent potential protests against Erdogan who was scheduled to attend the opening. Erdogan was booed during the 2010 World Basketball Championship finals in Istanbul and the 2011 opening of the Turk Telekom Arena stadium in the Turkish capital.

In a similar development, Egyptian officials are discussing how to deal with the ultras and militant soccer fans who played a key role in the 2011 toppling of President Hosni Mubarak as well as in post-Mubarak protests against the military. State-owned Al Ahram newspaper, long a mouthpiece for the government, recently asked: “Will the Ultras be shown the red card after crossing the red line? Are they digging their own grave? Football Ultras of soccer powerhouse Egyptian clubs Ahli and Zamalek have become a dangerous phenomenon. These days the Ultras are a symbol of destruction, attacking the opposition and sometimes their own kind,” the paper said.

The paper’s focus on the Ultras follows a series of incidents in which supporters of storied Cairo clubs Al Ahli SC and Al Zamalek SC attacked their clubs and players, demanding resignation of company officials. Zamalek chairman Mamdouh Abbas rejected the calls for him to step down, saying that he would only leave his post if club members adopted a motion of confidence, not in response to the “terror of the Ultras”. Abbas urged the military-backed government to take action against the Ultras White Knights (UWK), the militant Zamalek support group, whom he denounced as sports terrorists.

Thousands of Zamalek fans last week buried one of their members killed by security forces while trying to storm the club’s headquarters. The attempted storming occurred after Zamalek lost an African Championship match to its rival Al Ahli. ”The safe exit of the club’s board of directors after the blood of fans has been shed became impossible,” the UWK said in a statement. At the same time, relations deteriorated between Ultras Ahlawy, the Al Ahli support group, and players who rejected conciliatory gestures by the fans.

Relations have long been strained between the ultras and players because the militants see them as mercenaries who play for the highest-paying club and resent the fact that they largely remained at best aloof during the anti-Mubarak protests because of the perks the regime granted them. Five Al Ahli players – Ahmed Fathi, Sherif Ikrami, Abdallah Al-Said, Shehab Ahmed and Sherif Abdel-Fadil —recently launched a campaign against the ultras following failed attempts in the past to moderate fan militancy. Relations improved briefly last year after 74 Ahli supporters died in a politically-loaded brawl in the stadium of Port Said. The players’ current campaign portrays the ultras as a threat to their safety and security.

The players as well as club officials charge that the ultras’ militancy is hurting them economically at a time that clubs are struggling financially as a result of reduced sponsorship, advertising and ticket sales because league matches have been suspended for much of the almost three years since the anti-Mubarak protests erupted. Professional soccer matches are scheduled to resume in October.

In a frontal attack on the ultras who pride themselves on their financial independence, officials of Al Ahli and Zamalek suggested that they were being funded by third parties and challenged them to make their finances public. “Now it is not only firecrackers but also bird shot that is being used in attacking us. They don’t spend money on tickets anymore but spend it to destroy the club,” Abbas said. Al Ahram noted that the ultras “spend much money on their trips buying tickets and firecrackers and other tools to support the teams. Their social background doesn’t show that they have that kind of money. Their main income comes from selling T-shirts.”

Major General Talaat Tantawi, a retired military officer-turned security consultant, charged that the ultras much like their counterparts in Argentina were being manipulated by groups seeking to exploit their popularity. “It is so easy to penetrate these groups and make use of their enthusiasm and youth. They have become easy targets to achieve political goals and to distract them from focusing on their main vision and mission which was supporting sports. Others joined in and became Ultras and are acting as we see now,” Tantawi said ignoring the fact that the ultras were politicized and steeled in years of confrontations with security forces during the Mubarak era.