Letter from...

The football watchdog is being investigated for producing false documents and the prime minister is telling the courts what to do. Paul Virgo investigates the fallout

The summer sun seems to send Italian football on tilt of late. Last year we had Fiorentina relegated to the fourth division after filing for bankruptcy and a late start because of a ruckus over TV rights. This time a furore over false bank guarantees used by Roma, Nap­oli and Serie C sides Cosenza and Spal has nudg­ed the closed-season chaos-bar a notch higher.

Snubbed again. Months after FIFA granted Oceania an automatic place in the World Cup, they have reversed the decision. Matthew Hall writes from a very angry continent

After FIFA’s Oceania World Cup backflip, neither Sepp Blatter nor UEFA’s Lennart Johansson should consider taking holidays in the South Pacific for the next few years. The two Europeans would normally receive excellent hospitality from south­ern hemisphere hosts, but, as figurehead and architect of FIFA’s turnaround on Oceania’s direct entry to World Cup finals, those days are gone.

In these bleak political times,  Ori Lewis explains how football stands out as a beacon of harmony, as the promotion of Arab side Ahi Nazareth demonstrates

“I reckon this place hasn’t been the same since Jesus Christ,” uttered an irate Aussie kibbutz volunteer standing in front of me in the queue to pay for his bottle of booze at the Ben-Gurion Airport duty-free shop a while back. Whatever Jesus might have thought of that comment, neither he, nor that Aussie bloke, would have envisaged that those would indeed be prophetic words. For the first time in 2,000 years, Jesus, should he re­appear, will have his own football team to support.

Sunning himself beside the Caspian Sea, Dan Brennan explains the corruption and politics that briefly left Wales’ Euro 2004 opponents in international limbo

As Iraqis can testify, it is not generally good news when the ruler’s son is put in charge of a country’s football affairs. For Uday in Baghdad read Ilham in Baku. Aliyev Junior, son of the Azerbaijani president, might not be guilty of the extremes of Saddam’s boy, but is doing his best to make a bad situation worse.

Despite the national side’s impressive displays at last year’s World Cup, America’s domestic league desperately needs to expand, says Mike Woitalla

US manager Bruce Arena allowed cameras into his 2002 World Cup dressing room to film the doc­umentary Our Way. Before sending his men out, he reminded them that they were representing “the greatest country in the world”. Perhaps the phrase provided the extra inspiration needed for his team to reach the quarter-finals. Or maybe Arena was trying to prevent post-tournament defections to Norway, No 1 according to the UN Human Development Index of “most livable” nations. As for the veracity of the “greatest” claim – one heard commonly in a nation where just ten per cent of the population holds a passport – let’s just consider it too subjective to squabble over. But clearly the USA isn’t the greatest place for a professional soc­cer player.

Tirol Innsbruck, a familiar name from the Champions League, has vanished from sight. They could be a long time coming back, as Roderick Stewart writes

The dramatic collapse of Tirol Innsbruck last year, from Champions League qualifiers to the third division, was probably the most extreme case yet of a club being punished for financial misdemeanours. Now, in a new guise, the club have started the long haul back.

The birthplace of Napoleon is enjoying a football revival. Dan Brierley reports on how Ajaccio and Bastia are getting on in the French first division

Football isn’t the first thing you associate with the island of Corsica, but this season, for the first time since 1972-73, SC Bastia were joined by AC Ajaccio in the French first division. Fifty-two thousand people took to the streets to celebrate.

To the surprise of many the former giants of the European game came close to hosting Euro 2008, but Ray Dexter believes a football revival is a long way off

As 19-year-old Bela Koplarovics of Zal­aegerszeg bundled the ball past Man­chester United’s rather ponderous defence in the crumbling Nep Stadium in August, Hun­garian football found itself in the world football spotlight for the first time in a gen­eration. The result, greeted as some kind of sporting miracle in the bars of Bud­apest, allowed the people to forget the twin scandals of why over half the seats in their beloved national stadium were empty for such a big game (the entire upper tier was deemed too unsafe to be used) and why Vodafone, Manchester United’s sponsor, were allowed to buy 15,000 of the remaining 28,000 tickets for their corporate clients and users.

Seven seasons with seven different champions has made for an exciting domestic scene but European impotence, reports Marcus Christenson

Djurgaarden fans could be forgiven for celebrating as if there were no tomorrow after their team won their first league title in 36 years, before beating Stockholm rivals AIK with an extra-time winner in the cup final to complete the double.

Almost alone among their former communist neighbours, Czech clubs have made some headway in the Champions League era. Sam Beckwith reports

These are strange days in the Czech Republic: European Union entry, which has been dangled on a string since 1989, finally seems imminent; the citizens of Prague and Brno are spoilt for choice when it comes to multiplex cinemas and out-of-town shopping centres; and even Viktoria Zizkov’s Jur­assic-era stadium is all-seater now.

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