Brasil 2014 World Cup: Belo Horizonte

Belo Horizonte, in the state of Minas Gerais, is often described as Brasil’s third city. Although I’ve been in Brasil many times before, this is my first visit here.

It’s a neat, landlocked city where around two million people live and work. On first impressions, it reminded me of a sprawling mini-São Paulo that also has steep inclines a lot like San Francisco – but James, a friend who has lived here for 10 years, thought that was rather favourable and instead compared it to Birmingham, England.

But it’s a pleasant place with very friendly people (like most of Brasil), who pass their time drinking and chatting in any one of the city’s alleged 12,000 bars. The Savassi district is probably the most popular area to socialise and has a great selection of bars and restaurants to enjoy a cold chopp (beer) or a potent cairpirinha.

Parque Municipal: an oasis of calm in a bustling city centre

The city centre itself is compact and set out on an easily-navigated grid system, locked within the Avenida do Contorno. The streets are busy with people, shops, bars and vendors all vying for space and attention. The bustling and colourful Mercado Central is definitely worth a visit for the varied local produce and the fascinating local characters. The Parque Municipal is the welcome lung of the city, another recommended spot for relaxing, reading and people watching.

Oscar Niemeyer’s Igreja de Sao Francisco de Assis

To the north of the city is the Pampulha district, where iconic architect Oscar Niemeyer designed many buildings including the beautiful Igreja de Sao Francisco de Assis. It’s close to the Estadio Mineirão, where the World Cup games will be played, and is definitely worth a visit if you think your team needs some divine intervention ahead of their game.

The games scheduled to be played here are Colombia vs Greece, Costa Rica vs England, Argentina vs Nigeria and Belgium vs Algeria, before a second round game and the glamour of a semi-final. England fans in particular will be pleased by the mild climate here after the sweltering heat of Manaus in Amazonia.

Estadio Mineirão: where six World Cup games will be played

In the last week, the Brasil national team – known colloquially as the Seleção – have played twice. First, they dispatched Panama 4-0 with a fairly substandard display and then laboured to a 1-0 win over Serbia in a game that was littered with niggling fouls and rising frustration. The locals tut-tutted their way through the second win, shaking their heads as Neymar and co struggled to impress against robust opposition.

Currently, it feels like there is little buzz around the World Cup itself. I have yet to meet a Brasilian who has tickets to any of the six games to be played here. However, once the tournament begins (and if Brasil get off to a winning start as expected), it’s easy to imagine the city coming alive with excitement.

I’ll be returning here for the semi-final on July 8 and it will be interesting to see just how much World Cup fever has taken hold by then.

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London 2012 gold medallist Luke Campbell launches £3.4million investment into StreetGames

MILLIONS of pounds are to be pumped into deprived areas of the country in a bid to boost the London 2012 sporting legacy.

The National Lottery and Sport England will spend £3.4million on getting more young people active over the next year.

Charity StreetGames will create 307 Doorstep Sports Clubs (DSCs) to get more 14 to 25-year-olds from disadvantaged areas into sport.

They will work with some of the poorest communities in England in an attempt to further the London Olympics and Paralympics legacy.

The campaign has been backed by boxer Luke Campbell, who won bantamweight gold at last summer’s Games and recently starred in ITV’s Dancing On Ice.

Luke poses with his bantamweight gold medal won at the London 2012 Olympics

Luke poses with his bantamweight gold medal won at the London 2012 Olympics

The 25-year-old, from Hull, said: “It’s great to see new opportunities being created for deprived areas because sport is a way into a better life.

“It creates fantastic opportunities – I’ve travelled the world thanks to my career representing Great Britain. I would never have had anything had I not got involved with boxing.

“There are a lot of talented kids out there who just don’t get the chance to show what they can do so StreetGames are making a real difference.”

The programme is targeted at the 1.6 million young people who live in the most disadvantaged areas of England.

Recent research has shown that young people who live in the most deprived neighbourhoods miss out on the chance to take part in organized sport.

StreetGames will create DSCs to promote traditional games as well as innovative new activities such as Rush Hockey, Instant Ping Pong and Street Dance to encourage more youngsters to get involved.

Jane Ashworth, chief executive of StreetGames, said: “Doorstep Sport Clubs change the sporting and social landscape in disadvantaged areas.

“This is not just about sport – it’s also about improving young peoples’ lives as they grow and develop as members of healthier, safer, stronger communities.”

Hugh Robertson, Minister for Sport, hailed the investment and said: “StreetGames is using the power of sport to help improve communities across the country and change lives for the better.

“This latest investment will establish hundreds of local sports clubs aimed at young people in disadvantaged areas, encouraging greater participation in sport and helping social cohesion.”

And Phil Smith, from Sport England, added: “StreetGames can help get us into parts of society that sometimes other sporting bodies cannot reach.

“The inequality in the sports participation rates between the rich and the poor is just unacceptable.

“It cannot be right that young people from deprived communities do not get the chance – for whatever reasons – that their wealthier counterparts get and this is about addressing that imbalance.”

Luke Campbell is a StreetGames ambassador supporting the launch of its new nationwide Doorstep Sport Club programme. For more information, please visit: www.streetgames.org

 

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Cliftonville: Irish Premiership Champions 2012/13

 

CLIFTONVILLE clinched the Irish League Premiership title on Saturday thanks to a dramatic last-minute win over rivals Linfield.

We have landed only our third league title in our 135 year history – and what a way to win it.

Club legend George McMullan stepped up to slot home the 92 minute penalty winner to record a 3-2 victory and secure the Gibson Cup for the Solitude side.

It is a remarkable achievement for the club, which has been run by members for the last 10 years.

Cliftonville celebrate at Solitude

The team have been phenomenal all season, as manager Tommy Breslin and his backroom staff have put together a talented squad.

The consistency and communication between the back line has been vital to our success this season.

Goalkeeper Conor Devlin has been the best in the league, protected by the superb new central defensive pairing of Jaimie McGovern and Marc Smyth.

At left-back, Ronan Scannell has enjoyed a remarkable revival this season and Eamonn Seydak has been a more than capable replacement when called upon.

McMullan has filled in brilliantly at right-back, and young Tomas Cosgrove has shown we have a future star in that position with some fine cameo performances.

For me, central midfield was largely where the league was won for us, thanks to the form of Ryan Catney and Barry Johnston.

The pair are classic box-to-box midfielders and have dominated big games all year long with their energy, drive and sheer desire to win.

But their skill on the ball should not be overlooked, as they have kept it simple at all times and allowed our forward players to flourish.

On either wing, we have had the luxury of enjoying a combination of creative talents who all bring something different to the team.

Stephen Garrett’s blistering pace, Diarmuid O’Carroll’s strength on the ball, Ciaran Caldwell’s technical ability and Martin Donnelly’s wing trickery have all added to the team’s style.

The undeniable goalscoring talents of Liam Boyce (34 goals) and Joe Gormley (29 goals) speak for themselves.

Contributions from the likes of Barry Holland, James Knowles, Ryan Brown, Dermot McVeigh and Jody Lynch over the course of the season cannot be overlooked.

And a mention should also go to two of the club’s great characters who have unfortunately been injured this season: club captain Chris Scannell and Ciaran Donaghy.

The team spirit amongst the group is incredible and that camaraderie has massively driven the squad on this season.

Off the pitch, the league title has been celebrated by the people who helped make it happen: the board and the members.

Every member, every volunteer, every supporter and every single person who has given up any of their free time to help the Cliftonville cause has the right to feel part of the triumph.

Now – with the League Cup already won – we look forward to the Irish Cup Final on Saturday May 4, and the chance to complete a historic treble.

As McMullan said after scoring that winning penalty: “You talk about football, you talk about dreams – that’s something I’ve dreamed about for a long time and now it’s come true.”

And there is no reason for the Belfast club to stop dreaming now with such a bright future ahead.

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Michael Carrick

Michael Carrick

At Loftus Road yesterday, Manchester United fans celebrated a 2-0 win versus QPR with a rousing half-hour rendition of a chant in honour of midfielder Michael Carrick.

The 3,000 or so Reds sang “It’s Carrick, you know, hard to believe it’s not Scholes!” to the tune of Spandau Ballet’s ‘Gold’ as United secured a scrappy win to open up a 15-point gap at the top of the English Premier League.

Even as the crowds filed out of the stadium in West London, they still loudly sang the name of the 31-year-old who is enjoying an impressive season at the heart of United’s team.

It’s the first time I can remember that Carrick has been lauded by the majority of Reds fans in this way – but it astonishes me it has taken so long for this recognition to arrive.

This is his seventh season playing one of the most vital roles in the team and he has already collected four league titles with a fifth looking increasingly likely this term.

In each of the six previous seasons, he has started an average of 30 out of the 38 league games – and you don’t play centre-midfield for Manchester United and win titles thanks to luck.

He has influenced every season he has played in and collected numerous trophies because he is a sublime ball-playing midfielder who has a composure and calmness that is easily overlooked by more impatient supporters.

Part of the problem in my opinion is that many United fans thought he was brought in to replace Roy Keane – but Carrick is an entirely different type of player to the intensity of the Irishman’s style.

Subsequently, it has taken some time to win over fans who insist he doesn’t dominate games in the same way that Keane used to.

But United’s style of play has changed now and developed into a more controlled, European style which has seen results in the club getting to three Champions League Finals in four years between 2008 and 2011.

Critics say he was overwhelmed by Barcelona’s midfield in 2009, but then from where I was sitting in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico on that miserable May night, that could easily be said about the whole team.

But now, as United respond to last season’s title loss to Manchester rivals City, Carrick has been finally, rightly been recognised as a player who has what it takes to run midfield, influence games and win titles.

He has now reached a point in his career where fans can revel in the fact he is not Roy Keane, and he is not Paul Scholes (even though it may be hard to believe, as the song suggests).

He is Michael Carrick, he is worthy of playing centre-midfield for Manchester United and he should be celebrated as such.

United celebrate vs QPR

Also, I quite like this picture I took after Ryan Giggs’ goal late in the game wrapped up the win for United. All 10 outfield players celebrating together. They knew it was an important game to win.

 

 

 

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Eric Cantona

An opening post on my website to test if it is working properly.

This is a picture I took on my first visit to Old Trafford in December 1994.

Eric Cantona for Manchester United vs Galatasaray in the Champions League.

 

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