World Cup qualifiers: Romelu Lukaku sends Belgium to Brazil

“Romelu Lukaku scored twice as Belgium beat Croatia 2-1 to secure their place at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Striker Lukaku, on loan at Everton from Premier League rivals Chelsea, scored twice in the first half, with Niko Kranjcar grabbing a late consolation. Belgium were joined by Germany and Switzerland in qualifying for next year’s tournament. Germany defeated the Republic of Ireland 3-0, while Switzerland won 2-1 in Albania.” BBC


The biggest problems facing World Cup contenders

“The fascinating thing about international football is that managers must cope with a very definite group of players. Whereas at club level, weaknesses can be solved by signing new players, at international level it’s not unusual for a top-class side to completely lack quality in one particular position. Sometimes, this forces managers to formulate innovative new tactical ideas to compensate for that weakness – but often, it simply means the side has a weak link. With eight months to go until the World Cup, here’s a look at six big international sides who have an obvious problem position.” ESPN – Michael Cox

Can Atletico Madrid keep pace at the top of La Liga this time around?

“Eight matches into last year’s La Liga season, Atletico Madrid were level on points with Barcelona at the top. At the same stage of this campaign, they are in exactly the same position, separated by goal difference having won all of their opening eight league games, 2 points better off than the seven wins and one draw they had recorded last year. In fact, Atletico’s standing is in much better shape than that. They opened the season with 2 draws with Barcelona which saw them narrowly defeated in the Supercopa via away goals and have complimented their league form with 2 wins out of 2 in the Champions League, making it 15 competitive games unbeaten following on from last season. You have to go back to February and Rayo Vallecano to trace their last defeat on the road, making it 17 games without an away loss in all competitions.” Outside of the Boot

Politics and Football: Uniting and Dividing the Fatherland

“Politics and football have quite a storied history in Germany. With the federal elections taking place a couple weeks ago, let’s take a look at how the two went hand in hand. The national side has figured out ways to get themselves into politics every time they’ve hosted and/or won the World Cup. Let’s see how this happened.” Bundesliga Fanatic

These Violent Delights: The Romance and Tragedy Of Batistuta’s Fiorentina

“The rain thuds down on a murky February afternoon in Florence, blurring the tired limbs of the home side in purple, of Milan in their stripes of red and black. Beards drip; glossy Latin haircuts shed water like slate roofs into drainpipes. Going into that fateful afternoon at the Stadio Artemi Franchi, Giovanni Trappatoni’s Fiorentina sit where they have done since the early days of the 1998-99 season – at the top of Serie A. Their lead over second-placed Lazio is three points – a sizeable gap, but no gulf – yet such has been La Viola’s dominance over the first half of the season, the title seems destined to return to Florence after a thirty year wait. A powerful Milan side – Maldini, Albertini, Bierhoff, Weah, Boban – are third. Eighty-five minutes have gone by without either defence giving way. Milan force a corner and a final chance to break the deadlock.” In Bed With Maradona