David Owen: The French and German football teams have got more similar. Will the nations follow?

Considering they have a common 450km-long border and have together been the beating heart of the European project for nearly 60 years, France and Germany are remarkably dissimilar.

Not so their football teams, which clash in Rio on Friday in what promises to be a fascinating World Cup quarter-final.

Take the goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris and Manuel Neuer don’t exactly look alike; but they are very proactive exponents of their craft, among the quickest to sprint off their lines to snuff out trouble.

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David Owen: Brazil 2014 – another small step, not a giant leap, for soccer in the USA

Twenty-eight years ago I moved to Chicago a month or two before the 1986 World Cup started. A report I wrote then underlines how far soccer has come in the land of the gridiron and the baseball diamond in the intervening nearly three decades.

“Just my luck,” I wrote. “While the rest of the football-mad globe is getting punch-drunk on a ball-by-ball account of the trail to glory, Windy City is more concerned with the size of Bears quarterback Jim McMahon’s close-season midriff.”

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David Owen: How I fell out of love with Holland’s 20th century boys

Dear Holland,

I’m sorry, but it’s over between us.

Along with millions of other school kids, I became besotted with you 40 years and a week ago – on 19 June 1974, the day of the Cruyff turn. It was a difficult time: Sir Alf Ramsey’s World Cup-winning team had broken up and England hadn’t made it to the 1974 tournament in West Germany. What is worse, Scotland had. Into this emotional void strode coach Rinus Michels’s team of strutting demigods headed by Johan Cruyff,

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David Owen: Yes it has more immediate problems, but is FIFA spending too much?

And so, with a final flourish, Sepp Blatter got out his cheque-book and wrote out a cheque for $200 million. No, the FIFA President’s closing gesture at this week’s FIFA Congress was not quite that dramatic. But his promise of $750,000 to all 209 national associations and $7 million to each of the six confederations has the same effect.

To which my question is this: has this $198.75 million of apparently extra expenditure already been written in to FIFA’s budgets?

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David Owen: Smell the coffee – financial polarisation may pave way for Superleague

There was good news and bad news for European club football in the financial story of the 2012-13 season, as compiled by professional services firm Deloitte in its latest Annual Review of Football Finance.

The good news is that, whether as a consequence of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) initiative or for some other reason, top-tier clubs in the five big west European football markets of England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, do seem to be managing their financial affairs more sustainably.

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David Owen: FIFA reform – a modest proposal

The material published in the latest Sunday Times expose has sparked renewed calls for Joseph Blatter, FIFA’s 78-year-old President, to stand down. This is not remotely surprising. And, indeed, I concur there are strong arguments for his current term being his last – even though, in the real world, he still looks well-placed to sail triumphantly to a fifth term from 2015.

I also think, though, that the question of Blatter’s personal future tends to distract attention from the more important issue.

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David Owen: Anatomy of a World Cup qualifying competition

Heading to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup? Apprehensive about the demonstrations and logistical nighmares that might lie in wait for you? May I make a suggestion: pack a copy of James Montague’s kaleidoscopic new book Thirty-One Nil.

It will remind you that, however trying your current circumstances, things could be worse, while articulating, in a succession of scrupulously observed national tableaux, why you made the effort in the first place.

Not that the author makes a meal of his discomfort,

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David Owen: Plea bargaining & doping – you ain’t seen nothing yet..

When the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)’s Foundation Board, whose members include FIFA President Joseph Blatter, assembles in Montreal this weekend, it could helpfully reflect on the kerfuffle stirred up by this month’s announcement of the sanction meted out to Tyson Gay, the US sprinter, in the wake of his adverse analytical finding.

Gay received just a one-year suspension, and a loss of results dating back to July 2012, including an Olympic silver medal,

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David Owen: Would a European Super-League really be such a bad thing?

Easter Monday brought one of those chance juxtapositions: FIFA Presidential candidate Jérôme Champagne’s third campaign letter bounced into my inbox just as those rumours of David Moyes’s impending departure from Manchester United started seriously swirling.

One of the many things that Moyes’s fate demonstrates is that transition seasons are no longer acceptable among football’s super-elite.

His ousting in this way helps to illustrate the validity of Champagne’s point that a “financial iron curtain”

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David Owen: Saadi Gaddafi, Libya’s most notorious footballer, and the politics of names

Names can be powerful things, particularly today when almost no-one is beyond the reach of electronic media.

In these superficial times, your name can be one of the most important factors in determining what people think about you and, hence, your destiny.

It is worth bearing this in mind when contemplating the fate of Saadi Gaddafi.

Now in prison in his native Libya having recently been extradited from Niger where he took refuge following the overthrow of his father,

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David Owen: FIFA’s development spending conundrum

FIFA’s new financial report isn’t just the financial story of last year; it also offers a fascinating window on to the future. This is in the form of the governing body’s budget for the 2015-18 business cycle.

Readers shouldn’t look on this as set in concrete; some might say it isn’t even set in custard: not even Madame FIFA can gaze into her crystal ball with anything approaching infallibility.

But it does offer an informative glimpse into how Joseph Blatter and his chums think the medium-term future might pan out.

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David Owen: From Spain to Asia in a well timed move

You know for sure that the people’s game has become gentrified when luxury Swiss watch brands start sponsoring football clubs.

Now, five and a half years after Hublot set the ball rolling by sponsoring Manchester United, another landmark deal has been unveiled.

Maurice Lacroix has announced a three-year agreement with Barcelona that will see it become the Catalán club’s Official Watch Partner in a deal said to be worth somewhere in the seven figures of euros (ie upwards of €1 million).

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David Owen: Could Neymar’s Brazil play future matches at London’s Olympic Stadium?

What do the following international football matches have in common: Brazil 0 Portugal 2 on 6 February 2007; Nigeria 1 Ghana 4 the same night; and Australia 3 Canada 0 on 15 October 2013?

Right, they were all played in London.

So was an extraordinary encounter last week pitting the Socceroos, once more, against Ecuador, France’s future World Cup opponents. While Roy Hodgson’s England were labouring to beat Denmark at Wembley,

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David Owen: Kosovo’s Vokrri looks forward to end of isolation

Well over 50 international football matches will be played on Wednesday, March 5.

They include some 2015 Asian Nations Cup games, Spain versus Italy and Portugal v Cameroon. They provide one of the last opportunities for experimentation for many of the qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

And yet the most significant fixture to be played that night pits the world’s 79th -ranked team against a side that does not yet have any ranking.

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David Owen: Why it would make sense to introduce a Winter Olympic futsal competition

“Just arrived in Sochi,” Joseph Blatter tweeted on Tuesday. “Looking forward to meeting my friends and colleagues from the Olympic community before Sochi 2014.”

The FIFA President is an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member. So he will attend the IOC Session that precedes the Winter Olympics, the first to be chaired by Thomas Bach, the recently-elected IOC President.

There will no doubt also be opportunities to catch up with Russian officials,

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