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GRAHAM L. JONES / ON SOCCER

When the pressure of the game starts getting to them

Portuguesa's coach quits after four armed men storm into the team's locker room and berate the players. And the head of Croatian soccer is accused of making 'idiotic' comments bordering on 'paranoia.'

September 06, 2009|GRAHAME L. JONES

Pressure, pressure everywhere, nor any time to think.

With apologies to Samuel Taylor Coleridge and all that, but sometimes the game can get to you. It certainly did in at least a couple of cases recently.

Take, for example, what happened to Rene Simoes, the Groucho Marx look-alike who is best remembered as coach of Jamaica's 1998 World Cup team and later as the coach who led Brazil's women to the silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Until just the other day, Simoes, 56, was coaching Portuguesa in the Brazilian second division, and things were not going well. After yet another loss, four armed men stormed into the locker room, waved guns around and berated the players.

One of the men was a high-level club official and the others included off-duty police officers acting as security guards.

"What kind of football is this? What kind of world is this?" Simoes said. "I've never seen anything like this in my career. It's unbelievable."

Not surprisingly, he quit.

Then there was the ridiculous rant Tuesday by Vlatko Markovic, the 72-year-old president of the Croatian soccer federation.

Croatia plays England in a crucial World Cup qualifier in London on Wednesday and Markovic saw nothing but conspiracy in the fact that one of his key players, Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Luka Modric, had broken his leg in an English Premier League game, just as another Croatia player, Arsenal forward Eduardo, had done last year

"Maybe someone has something against us and our national team," Markovic said. "I can only ask whether someone did it deliberately on the eve of the game with England. I can only ask myself whether it is a coincidence or not."

Both injuries occurred in games against Birmingham City, but the club's chairman, David Gold, lashed out at Markovic for suggesting they were intentionally caused.

"He needs to go and have a lie-down," Gold said. "His comments are absolutely idiotic. They are ridiculous and insulting. To say such things is little short of incredible.

"For a man of such stature and position in the game to come out with such rubbish is pathetic. His remarks border on paranoia."

Pressure, pressure everywhere . . .

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This and that

* Interesting to see that Hull City of the Premier League has so much faith in recently acquired U.S. forward Jozy Altidore that it has gone out and signed former Dutch international striker Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, a 30-year-old free agent.

* At the same time the U.S. was playing El Salvador at Real Salt Lake's Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday, Argentina was playing Brazil in a crucial World Cup qualifier. Sadly, the only way to see the game in the U.S. was on pay-per-view cable. One of the men owning the rights was Real Salt Lake owner Dave Checketts. Wonder which game he watched.

* Was U.S. Soccer charging up to $300 a ticket for Saturday's game because it thought it could get away with such ludicrous prices, or was it to keep El Salvador fans from attending?

* Bravo to former Chelsea and current Leeds United chairman Ken Bates for his colorful language in blasting the rich clubs for plundering the poor of their young talent. "The big clubs are stripping the small clubs of their youngsters," Bates told England's Daily Mail. "They are like Japanese fishing trawlers, just sweeping up everything in their nets."

* David Beckham did not start, nor was he one of the six substitutes used by Coach Fabio Capello in England's 2-1 friendly win over Slovenia in London on Saturday. A sign of things to come?

* Whoever had the bright idea of locating the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, N.Y., down the road from Cooperstown but otherwise miles from anywhere, can now apologize. The Hall will close its doors on Monday, citing financial woes. U.S. Soccer needs to move it to New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, somewhere where people actually live.

* Did Tim Leiweke and Phil Anschutz, who signed off on the firing of Sigi Schmid as Galaxy coach in 2004, notice that he won the U.S. Open Cup last week with the Seattle Sounders after winning the MLS championship with the Columbus Crew last season?

* It is, unfortunately, too late to yank the 2010 World Cup out of South Africa and move it to a country that actually functions. Lack of hotels, lack of transportation and lack of security have been well-documented. Now it seems there is also a lack of interest. Organizers are urging South Africans to wear soccer shirts to work once a week, to fly more flags and to learn the national anthem "to build support and enthusiasm." It's pathetic. No, really, it is.

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grahame.jones@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

World Cup 2010

Qualifying continues for South Africa 2010, but six teams already are assured their place in the 32-team tournament next June 11-July 11. Here's what they did Saturday:

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