Forgotten man Casillas, UCD's heroics and the week's best sportswriting

Also, a look inside the cold, robotic heart of Novak Djokovic.

Iker Casillas' departure from Real Madrid was a sad one.
Iker Casillas' departure from Real Madrid was a sad one.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

1. ”You might’ve heard or read about it, but more likely not. It was the inaugural Women’s World Cup, except it wasn’t called that. It was called the FIFA Women’s World Championship For The M&M’s Cup, because the corporate sponsor — the sole sponsor — was the Mars candy company, makers of M&M’s (regular and peanut).

“FIFA officials were deeply ambivalent about the whole endeavor, and weren’t ready to confer their precious World Cup brand on a bunch of girls knocking a ball around, which seems to be how it was widely viewed.

“The tournament included 12 teams and was crammed into two weeks in late November, 1991. The games were 80 minutes, because, as Heinrichs, a star U.S. forward, once noted, “They were afraid our ovaries were going to fall out if we played 90.”

Wayne Coffey writes how, ‘in stark contrast to ’15 champs, U.S. women won inaugural Women’s World Cup in relative obscurity in 1991′ in the New York Daily News.

2. ”Iker Casillas left out the back door, alone. At 10.21pm on Saturday night it was finally official: Real Madrid’s captain was leaving the club and Spain’s captain was leaving the country, destination Porto.

“It was five years almost to the minute since his save helped win the World Cup in Johannesburg, 17 since he was pulled out of a technical drawing class to travel to Norway in the Champions League, and 25 since he joined Madrid, aged nine. Now, aged 34, he had gone.

“There was no happy ending but at least there was an ending. There needed to be one because the situation had become untenable.”

The Guardian‘s Sid Lowe why there was ‘no fanfare for Real Madrid legend Iker Casillas as he left for Porto’.

3. “We came to a place where the only thing that made sense was Novak Djokovic screaming curses and then taking a small bite of his snack. He was sitting in his changeover chair, furious after losing the second set of yesterday’s Wimbledon final to Roger Federer in a pulverizing 12-10 tiebreak, and he was topless, because when he gets angry enough he has a habit of ripping his shirt down the front with his bare hands before peeling it off his body, and the tiebreak had made him this angry.

“Thick veins on his neck swelled under the chain of the wooden cross he always wears, the cross he got at Hilandar, a monastery on Greece’s Mount Athos that has been a center of Serbian Orthodox culture since the Middle Ages. Djokovic went there on a retreat with male relatives in 2009. He described it as “the most holy place I ever visited in my life.””

The brilliant Brian Phillips tells us why we just have to accept the ‘Cyborg-ian Glory of Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon’ on Grantland.

UFC 189 Mixed Martial Arts Conor McGregor's win helps the UFC as much as it helped the Dubliner. Source: AP/Press Association Images

4. “The hopes and dreams of the UFC were dripping blood and taking a beating. Millions upon millions of dollars—those already spent, those being counted on from a presumed starry future—were dissolving like a wasteland mirage at MGM Grand Garden Arena. The building in Las Vegas was packed with a restless 16,019 fans and a least that many grand expectations, yet the oxygen was being sucked out of the place late Saturday night with each shut-your-mouth elbow that slammed down into the smarmy face of a grounded, immobilized Conor McGregor.

“An hour later, the Irishman was back on his feet and standing backstage, blood still dripping down his bruised cheekbone from an elbow-inflicted gash next to his right eye. But now he was smiling, sharing a laugh with Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta. The majority owners of the UFC were in finely tailored suits. McGregor was shirtless, a tattooed torso his dapper suit of armor. The three of them lifted glasses of Irish whiskey and toasted their bright future.”

Jeff Wagenheim on Sports Illustrated says Conor McGregor’s defeat of Chad Mendes was a momentous victory for UFC.

5. “On the morning when Frédéric Weis tried to kill himself, he dreamed about owning a beach house. A beach house had been Weis’s dream for a long time. In France, in Spain, in Greece — wherever his career as a 7-foot-2 professional basketball player took him. He liked the sand, he liked the surf. A beach house was a good dream.

Gavin Cooney
Reports From Qatar

Get Gavin's exclusive writing and analysis from the 2022 Fifa World Cup

Become a Member

“But on that day, in January 2008, the dream did not make him smile. Weis got into his car in Bilbao, Spain, around 10 a.m. and began the drive here, to this small city in west-central France best known for its production of fine china. He was on his way to see his wife and son. About 90 minutes into the drive, Weis suddenly pulled over at a rest area near Biarritz, a French town not far from the border.”

In the New York Times, Sam Borden tells the story of how ‘for Frédéric Weis, the Knicks’ infamous pick, Draft boos began a greater struggle.’

6. “Observers at home predicted they would stand no chance – one tabloid columnist asserted that UCD would “embarrass” the league, a comment that O’Neill used to motivate his troops by pinning on the dressing-room wall – but here they were surprising everybody, including themselves. Fearlessness and exuberance were trumping the physicality and experience of their opponents.

“Suddenly catastrophe struck. The defender Sean Coyne was sent off – which was ironic considering, like West Ham United, they qualified via Uefa’s fair play league – and by half-time UCD were 2-1 down on the night, clinging on to an aggregate lead thanks to Swan’s header. “When we went down to 10 it wasn’t just parking the bus, it was parking the plane,” O’Neill says. “We got a bit lucky, to be honest.””

Alan Smith writes about UCD’s European adventures in The Guardian.

7. “When footballing bigwigs ban certain sections of the media from press conferences or matches the biggest uproar, more often than not, comes from those within the journalism industry. That rarely does our profession any favours.

“Instead, it can make us look like spoilt children, kicking up a stink when mum says no to one more chocolate biscuit. Onlookers, often with a fragile understanding of what we do, can be quick to snap back. Journalists are easier prey than managers on long losing streaks; we’re cackling pantomime villains, draped in green light, sniggering stage left.”

Swindon have banned local media from pre-match press conferences. Sam Morshed examines the impact it will have on Total Sport Swindon.

Why this NFL player’s hair plays a vital role in what he eats

Know your sport? Prove it in our weekly quiz

About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

Read next: