anthony lopopolo

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What did we learn from Brazil’s dress rehearsal for the World Cup?

By Anthony Lopopolo

The player of the tournament was Neymar, but the smell of tear gas was just as unmistakable. Even though the actual gas did not pass into the stadium, one person wore a mask and real FIFA officials at the start of the Confederations Cup final scrambled for cover. These are the reports.

The damn thing stung the eyes, all the way over there, hundreds of yards away from the ring of small chaos around the Maracana where thousands of protesters clashed with police once more. There, Brazil beat Spain – the greatest team of its era – so convincingly that we all thought the era was coming to an end, and the parties outlasted the protests deep into the night on Sunday.

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An early exit after 27 years: Sir Alex steps down in his own style

By Anthony Lopopolo

The numbers pop out of his resume like eyes out of a cartoon character: he won 27 major trophies with United over the same number of years; he outlasted 116 managers on seven major European clubs; and he’s won 75% of his home games at Old Trafford. Nothing satisfied his hunger for success, and his diet never consisted of anything but winning. He’s always the first man at Carrington, the team’s training facility in Greater Manchester, there before staff and players as early as 5 a.m. He’s said over and over that he has trouble envisioning life without football. Retirement was something he wasn’t exactly ready for. “Nobody’s getting rid of me,” Sir Alex Ferguson told The Guardian in March.

Nobody – not the media, not the club, not his body – but himself did.

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Fans as family, not customers, and the rise of Dortmund

By Anthony Lopopolo

They’re made of steely stuff, these people, and a few stories in the tabloids and the press didn’t do much to break their nerves. After all, Dortmund almost went bankrupt in 2005, and even when they lost so much – millions of dollars, sponsorships and players – the fans never died down. That’s not their way. No fewer than 70,000 attended the matches following that close encounter with the death penalty, and now, sometimes for as little as €11 per ticket, they can watch a team that’s looking destined for Wembley and has a chance to win a second Champions League title.

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Brazil awaits for Balotelli and Gli Azzurri

By Anthony Lopopolo, writing from Torino

Think of the madness that is Mario Balotelli – the hair, the cars, the racism. But when he takes a penalty kick, he’s ice-cold. Everything stops. For that moment, no matter its weight, he is serene. So this time, against the Czech Republic’s Petr Cech, Balotelli stepped up to the spot and scored. It was the winning goal, the second of a comeback, but no different than the rest he has taken. It was the goal that won Italy a ticket to Brazil two games ahead of time. It was perfect in an imperfect game.

This is what the kids came to see. They came to see the Azzurri, of course, and they came to see Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo, both honoured on Tuesday evening for the record-breaking amount of appearances they have made for the national team. Even on their night, the journalists asked them questions about Balotelli. Another game was his.

All the way at the top of Juventus Stadium, just below the rafters, children no older than 12 or 13 jumped and caroled for the AC Milan striker before the game. In the hymn of the famous French nursery rhyme, Alouette, they sang: “Se saltelli, segna Balotelli! Se saltelli, segna Balotelli!” Meaning, “If you jump, Balotelli scores.” These kids wore the colours of Torino, the burgundy track suits, and the shades of Juventus, white and black. It didn’t mean a thing. No matter the colour of their skin or jersey, Balotelli speaks to the youth of Italy unlike any other athlete.

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When the Swedes invaded (and embraced) Dublin

By Anthony Lopopolo, writing from Dublin

The Swedes were everywhere. You could hardly tell that this was Dublin, not Stockholm. They wore the blue and yellow, but they also wore green. The pubs here flew Swedish flags, beacons for the weary travelers looking for a pint. The reason for the occasion, the World Cup qualifier, was always big: Ireland had to win the game against Sweden.

But the people of these two countries greeted each other before the match like old friends, not adversaries. One country simply stood in the way of the other. This wasn’t Bucharest, where riot police had to use tear gas before the game between Hungary and Romania. This wasn’t Belgrade, where Serbia and Croatia played against each other after years of fighting against one another. No, this was celebratory. This was fun.

Some looked upset: About 5,000 Swedes took over the city, after all, and only after the work day ended did the Irish truly reclaim their city. They were hospitable, but the time did come to shut the visitors up.

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How are Norwich City's Canaries flying so high?

By Anthony Lopopolo

Losing felt strange for Jonny Howson. For the first time since the 6th of October, Howson, a midfielder for Norwich City, and the rest of his mates left the field without a point, losers in a cruel 4-1 defeat to Aston Villa in the League Cup last week. But it is an odd feeling to have for someone on a club with one main goal in mind: survival. Losing is familiar, not so foreign, for teams fighting regularly against the ghastly spectre of relegation.

Not for Norwich — no longer, anyway. Plummeting into the basement of the Premier League early in the new season, conceding 17 goals in their first seven games, the Canaries spread their wings just before splattering on the ground. They beat Arsenal in October, then Manchester United, and have not lost a game in the league since. Unbeaten in 10 matches, they only trail Barcelona — who are off to the best start La Liga has ever seen ­— in form.

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Neil Lennon's champagne dreams with a Kool-Aid budget

By Anthony Lopopolo

Sitting there in the dugout was hard enough. He’d rather be running with his players, doing anything but sitting. So Neil Lennon got up. But standing wasn’t helpful, either.  “I was up and down and up and down,” he told reporters. “I was trying to stay calm, but inside my stomach was churning.”

He was living the final defining moments and seconds of his managerial career, and they were horrible. The type of minutes you want to hasten, not savour. Five minutes of stoppage time stood in the way of his Celtic — and it is increasingly becoming his, the imprint of his success becoming more and more indelible in this most historical year, its 125th, for the club, and the next round of the Champions League.

So Lennon chewed his gum. “It’s taking a pounding,” said one commentator. But he needn’t have worried. Georgios Samaras did such a good job possessing the ball – hording it, really, as he had all game, in the farthest corner of the field that time ticked off harmlessly. And then the whistle blew. Lennon threw his arms in the air, but, being one of the most effusive managers in the game, he did not bellow or run rampantly or bawl. He was stoic.

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AC Milan no longer playing like the club we once knew

By Anthony Lopopolo

They are already waiting for the comeback, as if it is certainly going to happen. AC Milan pulled off the improbable last season, winning points in 19 of their last 20 games in Serie A after a sluggish start to the year. And now there is the expectation, upon losing three of their first seven games, that they can do it again. It is only October, and Milan stand 13 points behind Roma and 11 points outside the Champions League zone. They stand behind Hellas Verona—only promoted this year—and they have conceded more goals than all but two teams (tiny Sassuolo and winless Bologna) in the Italian league.

Those are the statistics, and they are all ugly, and they tell the story, too. The points they did pick up were not wholly theirs to begin with. They stole what they could, in the dying minutes of games against Torino and Bologna scoring goals that they did not deserve. The story here was not about resilience. It was about a squad that struggled against clubs with much lower payrolls and expectations. After all, Milan are all about winning, but they do not seem to care so much about it anymore. They are afraid to impose themselves, afraid to take the reins and mush, afraid to push themselves and their opponents around.

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