I’m terribly sorry if the quote comes as very inappropriate but “It never hits you till the it (casket) goes down” was how it hit that last Sunday was Sir Alex Ferguson’s last match at Old Trafford as Manchester United manager, after 27 years at the helm.
The stadium was red throughout, players from both sides minus Judas-tendencies gave the 71 year old a guard of honour and appropriately, goals in each half from Javier Hernandez and Rio Ferdinand’s first in five years ensured the wily Scotsman’s Old Trafford reign ended on a high… complete with the league title presentation that followed the match.
Ferguson, who before the match came out of the tunnel chewing on a gum after greeting members of the youth team, acknowledged the crowd for the years, implored them to support “the new manager” as they’ve done him, praised the team for the league title and convincing manner it was won, honoured Paul Scholes who (finally… for the second time) retired and… didn’t hug or spend more than a moment with Wayne Rooney upon the latter’s turn to receive his championship medal.
The cold treatment resonated around the stadium whose spectators neither booed nor more importantly cheered the 27 year old that handed in a transfer request last week right after Fergie announced he’d retire end of this season.
Indeed Rooney’s timing of his request couldn’t be more off and considering that, unlike the first time when he tried forcing the club’s hands with a transfer request years ago, Rooney no longer is arguably United’s most important player. Would be interesting if he joined Arsenal but the French capital seems a more likely destination at the moment in which all are just rumours.
Word also is that Radamel Falcao is potentially going to play in France next season for principality club AS Monaco, which only returned to the Ligue 1 but is owned by yet another Russian billionaire who, coupled with the (French Football Federation challenged) tax exempt the club enjoys from being based at Monte Carlo, is bent on spending the club’s way to the echelons as the Qataris at Paris St. Germain are doing.
The spending at the French capital yielded some fruit on Sunday night when a lone Jeremy Menez goal early in the second half gave PSG the win it needed at third placed Olympique Lyon to claim its first league title in 19 years and third in its young, 41 year history.
Whether it marks the start of a dominant period; similar to that of Lyon in the last decade, for PSG predicted by many when the money came to town remains to be seen, especially with the fact that PSG’s win makes it a sixth consecutive season a different club has won the Ligue 1 (Lyon in ’08, Bordeaux in ’09, Marseille in ’10, Lille in ’11 and Montpellier’s first ever last season).
All that without mentioning Monaco’s coming to the big boys circle, a coming which would pretty much be stamped with Falcao’s arrival, confirmation of which is reportedly being held back till after Atletico Madrid’s Copa Del Rey final match against Real Madrid which holds on Friday at the Bernabeu.
That match would be fundamental to both Madrid clubs’ season after a disappointing 1-1 draw at Espanyol by Real confirmed Espanyol’s city rivals Barcelona as La Liga champions on Saturday, only for Barça to come from a Falcao goal down to claim a 2-1 win at Atletico on Sunday, rubbing it in on the clubs from the Spanish capital.
Though they may have become much less glamorous than their Spanish capital club counterparts, the Italian capital clubs had contrasting fortunes over the weekend, with Roma managing an eventful goalless draw at AC Milan in a match that saw Francesco Totti get sent off and Mario Balotelli get racially abused by Roma fans; earning the Giallorossi a £42,000 fine.
Lazio meanwhile fared better in getting a third win on the bounce at home to Sampdoria earlier on Sunday. And with both sides to face off for the Coppa Italia in June, sixth placed Lazio went two points clear of Roma with a game to go, but remain two points behind Udinese that occupies the last Europa League spot in fifth place after a 2-1 win over Atalanta.
Further up the table, Napoli sealed second spot and group stage qualification to next season’s UEFA Champions League with a 2-1 win over relegated Siena while Fiorentina closed the gap on third placed Milan to two points with a lone goal win over Palermo, a result that sent Palermo down to Serie B while Fiorentina and Milan’s fight for the last Champions League spot will be settled on the final day this weekend.
In England, Tottenham Hotspur occupy that spot thanks to a comeback 2-1 win at Stoke City, which put them three points behind Chelsea that guaranteed a top four finish with same result as Spurs, earned through second half goals midfielder Frank Lampard who as a result became the club’s top scorer of all time with 203 goals.
Chelsea now lead north London rivals Arsenal by four points, though the Gunners can reduce that gap to a point in Tuesday night’s crunch match at home to Wigan Athletic. The Latics visit the Emirates desperately needing a win to keep fading hopes of sinking with the relegation ship alive.
And they go into the match on a skyhigh following a not so shocking 1-0 win over Manchester City to win the FA Cup on Saturday via a 91st minute Watson header. That result inevitably led to the sacking of Roberto Mancini who was relieved on Monday night from his job there. Fair? Arguably, yes.
Whatever the case is, Mancini’s availability adds to an increasing number of high profile managers who will be available for appointments ahead of next season and hence, makes the ‘manager transfer market’ far more interesting to follow than that of the players… moreso after PSG blocked Real Madrid from approaching Carlo Ancelotti to replace Jose Mourinho.
Maybe Los Blancos will turn their focus on Mancini now, or interim Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez. Certainly not Arsene Wenger whose Arsenal side meanwhile also desperately need a win against Wigan to get back into the top four and keep the chances of qualification to next season’s Champions League entirely in their hands.
Back home, it’s still early days but results from match-day 11 fixtures played over the weekend has seen competition at the top of the Nigeria Professional Football League become intense, with the top 10 clubs separated by just three points.
Kano Pillars remain top of the log with 19 points from 10 matches, despite a crushing 3-0 loss against a ‘motivated’ Enyimba side whose players were last week put on half pay following a string of poor results.
Rangers and Sunshine Stars failed to take advantage of the reigning champions loss at Aba, with Rangers held to a 1-1 draw by fifth placed Bayelsa United in Enugu while Sunshine drew goalless at home to third from bottom ABS of Ilorin.
Ilorin’s bigger club Kwara United recorded a 2-0 win at home to El Kanemi Warriors to rise to fourth on the league table with 18 points, behind Rangers and Sunshine respectively on goal difference while Shooting Stars of Ibadan dropped to ninth with 16 points following a goalless draw at Port Harcourt against Sharks.
Heartland got a 2-1 win at home to Akwa United and is now seventh with 16 points, a point behind Bayelsa United and Nembe City that both occupy fifth spot due to their identical record so far, while Wikki Tourists of Bauchi remain bottom of the league with nine points despite a 1-1 draw at Nasarawa United.
Rounding up, Serena Williams claimed her 50th singles title in tennis after beating world number two Maria Sharapova to win the Mutua Madrid Open barely a fortnight to the French Open Grand Slam in Paris.
While winning that, older sister Venus Williams continued to show signs of “maybe it’s time I do a Fergie” at the Rome Masters as she was beaten in the opening round by Laura Robson.
In the men’s section of the Madrid Open, Rafael Nadal overcame Swiss man Stanislas Wawrinka for his fifth title in seven tournaments since returning from injury, losing in the final of the other two and putting him in the best form possible ahead of his favourite grand slam on the calendar.
And in Formula 1, another Spaniard claimed victory as Fernando Alonso of Ferrari won the Spanish grand prix in his hometown Barcelona ahead of Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen amd Ferrari mate Felipe Massa, while world champion Sebastien Vettel could only finish in fourth ahead of his RedBull mate Mark Webber.
Vettel however still leads the drivers’ championship with 89 points, though Raikkonen is now just four points behind in second place while Alonso managed to cut Vettel’s lead on him to 17 points.
That’s the bit from here. Would be very interesting to see if Arsenal confine Wigan to relegation or Wigan seriously dent Arsenal’s Champions League ambitions in Tuesday night’s highlight match.
Also in Tuesday night, a sulking Manchester City visit Reading while on Wednesday Chelsea will look to win a European cup in successive seasons when they play a Benfica side smarting from a stoppage time 2-1 loss at archrivals FC Porto in the Europa League final, a loss that put Porto a point ahead of Benfica atop the league with a game to play. Painful.
Anyway, here’s to an Arsenal win on Tuesday (a loss would definitely jolt Wenger et al to life but… ), a Benfica win (just because… ) and a productive week to you wherever you are.
Almost a week after the first year rememberance of Rashidi Yekini’s demise, another icon of Nigeria football joined our legendary goalscorer at the great beyond when Joseph ‘Jossy Lad’ Ladipo passed away.
The former Super Falcons coach, who led the female national team to third place at the 2008 Africa Women’s Championship and gold at the 2007 All Africa Games in Algiers died at his Ibadan residence on Thursday, aged 72 following months of treating a heart ailment.
Jossy Lad’s former club Shooting Stars meanwhile won by a lone goal at home to third placed Sunshine Stars in a Nigeria Professional Football League match on Wednesday. The win put 3SC in sixth place on 15 points, behind Kwara United that beat Kaduna United 2-0 in Ilorin on goal difference.
In other results, Bayelsa United defeated Heartland by a lone goal and rose to fourth with 16 points, a point ahead of four teams, while Enyimba drew goalless at Lobi Stars and dropped to 13th with 13 points, prompting the Aba club’s management to put its players on half pay till a marked improvement in results is achieved.
Kano Pillars now top the league on 19 points thanks to a 2-0 win at home to seventh placed Nasarawa United while Rangers remain second on 17 points ahead of Sunshine on goal difference despite their match at Wikki Tourist being postponed in light of Rangers match against CS Sfaxien of Tunisia in the CAF Confeferations Cup on May 19.
Nigerian club football may be experiencing a decline on the continent but Nigeria’s national football team maintained her recent ascendency by rising into the top 30 on the latest FIFA world rankings while Spain maintained top spot ahead of Germany and Argentina.
The Super Eagles now occupy 28th position on the rankings to be Africa’s fourth best team in the world ahead of the FIFA Confederations Cup next month in Brazil. The Brazilians on their part remain in 19th place on the rankings, a place behind 1998 world champions France.
England’s national team remain the seventh best nation on the rankings that saw only three changes in the top 20 but attention in the Queen’s country focused more on a knight in the north who finally put down his armour.
It isn’t that his retirement wasn’t ever expected as sooner or later he would have left the job voluntarily or naturally, but Sir Alex Ferguson has been at the helm of Manchester United for quite a long while, even Ryan Giggs hasn’t known another manager in his entire club career.
Hence, the uncertainty that clouded the emotions of most of us when the Scotsman announced he would finally call it a career in management at the end of this season, a United career that spanned 27 years and witnessed a diluge of titles including two Champions League wins and 13 Premier League titles among a cuptail of others, 35 of them.
The uncertainty of emotions mostly stemmed from what Old Trafford would be without SAF, at the dugout infamously chewing on an unfortunate gum, or in the dressing room celebrating success with his many players or demanding they get their shit together in the second half while reducing their thick egos to powder with the hair dryer treatment during half time breaks.
The 71 year old will be missed by adversaries even, which goes a long way to try equating just how much he will be missed by stakeholders of the Red Devils; though some of us are (‘respectfully’) glad he’s finally retired. This brings us to another Scotsman, David Moyes.
After Fergie and M.Sc Econs of North London, the hardly smiling Moyes is the longest serving manager of a Premier League club, which, along with being British (Scottish) and for the sake of the club’s share price on the stock exchange, is basically why Man. United have appointed him as Fergie’s replacement.
Much thought has gone into whether he is the appropriate choice (SAF does have a son managing somewhere, alas!) trophy wise, since he never won a trophy at Goodison Park; or ever, but there’s a huge difference between the red side of Manchester and the blue of Merseyside in favour of the former in every aspect.
But then again, will Moyes be able to live up to the long term stability his appointment has promised and deliver on the trophy front; starting with the defence of a league title next season or will he overwhelmed by the vast resources that’ll be available to him that weren’t at Everton and buckle on the biggest stage like Roberto Mancini has so far done at the blue side of Manchester? Time will tell. Hopefully he’ll have enough of that to get going at OT, although I reckon he’ll win the FA Cup next season.
Whether he will with or without Wayne Rooney is another mystery shrouding Man. United at the moment after it was reported that the English forward handed in a transfer request for whatever reason ranging from Fergie’s retirement to Robin van Persie becoming the team’s focal point.
And following a barrage of far from friendly advices from a number of tweeters, Nike UK athlete Rooney and Nike released statements to clarify that the sportswear manufacturer had requested all athletes on its roster to change their twitter bio to reflect their affiliation with them (Nike), with Rooney going further to state he’d changed his three weeks ago and never had Manchester United on it… but he conveniently didn’t touch on whether he’ll stay or wants to leave the BPL UK club Man. United.
With that still hovering, it is inevitable, like the last time, that a player of Rooney’s calibre is already linked to several clubs. Why people have decided to include Arsenal and initiate a wicked cycle of daydreams, permutations and what not…
… a proper daydream is winning a trophy such as the FA Cup and one Roberto’s Manchester City will aim to win a third title in as many seasons on Saturday when they face another Roberto’s Wigan Athletic side that could be relegated from the Premier League next week yet will play in next season’s Europa League regardless of the final score at Wembley.
It’s a cruel twisted corner the Latics find themselves having lost 3-2 at home to Swansea on Wednesday night and even though he could be forgiven for ‘resting’ players on Saturday ahead of Wigan’s trip to Champions League-chasing and Rooney-interested Arsenal, Martinez will likely field his strongest teams on both crucial days, desperately having Wigan in a perilous all-or-nothing situation with the Europa League being consolation.
Ahead of the FA Cup final, Europa League finalist Chelsea will pay relegation threatened Aston Villa; whose captain Stylian Petrov retired due to Leukemia, a visit in Saturday’s only Premier League match, needing a win to guarantee a top four finish against a Villa side needing a win as well to outrightly guarantee its Premier League status for next season.
Chelsea could have guaranteed a top four finish in Wednesday’s match at home to fifth placed Tottenham Hotspur but Gylfi Sigurdsson’s well made goal won the visitor’s a point in an entertaining 2-2 draw, but handed the top four initiative to the Blues and fourth placed Arsenal.
Fiorentina meanwhile kept up their chase of the last Champions League place in Italy with a lone goal win at city rivals Siena, a result that all but sealed the latter’s relegation to Serie B. La Viola however remain four points behind third placed AC Milan with two games to play after the Rossoneri won 4-0 at already relegated Pescara.
Milan’s city rivals Inter will play no European football next season after a 3-1 loss at home to Lazio on Wednesday, the Nerazurri’s fifth defeat in six matches, ended previously faint hopes of finishing in a Europa League place.
AS Roma’s Europa League hopes took a dent in a lone goal loss at home to Chievo Verona on Tuesday, allowing Lazio rise to sixth place as a result, going above city rivals Roma on goal difference but staying two points behind Udinese that won 3-2 at Palermo to occupy the second Europa League place on the league table in fifth place.
Over in Spain, Barcelona’s title win got delayed yet again following Real Madrid’s 6-2 thrashing of Malaga at the Bernabeu on Wednesday night in a match that witnessed two Malaga players getting sent off, a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty saved only for the Portuguese ace to score his 200th Madrid goal from a freekick four minutes later.
The win put Los Blancos on 80 points after 35 matches, eight points behind Barcelona that has played 34 matches and would finally claim the La Liga title with a win at third placed Atletico Madrid on Sunday regardless of Real’s result at Espanyol on Saturday.
Elsewhere in Madrid, Rafael Nadal’s excellent return to tennis from long term injury continued as he reached the last four of the Mutua Madrid Open with a 4-6 7-6 6-0 win over Spanish compatriot David Ferrer on Friday night, setting up a semi-final match with Spanish wildcard Pablo Andujar who beat Roger Federer’s conqueror Kei Nishikori to reach his first ever ATP tour semi-final.
Sixth seed Tomas Berdych beat world number three Andy Murray in straight sets to set up the other semi-final with Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka who beat Jo-Wilfred Tsonga 6-2 6-7 6-4.
In the women’s section of the Madrid Open, top seed Serena Williams will face Italian Sara Erani while second seed Maria Sharapova will face Ana Ivanovic in the other semi-final.
By Sunday when the final will be played, Sebastien Vettel could have extended his lead atop the Formula 1 drivers’ championship with a podium finish at the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, though Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso would fancy his chances there as would Vettel’s RedBull teammate Mark Webber who has a good history in the European leg of the Grand Prix season.
British driver Jenson Button of McLaren however doesn’t fancy his or his team’s chances after declaring that McLaren were a long way off their rivals. Vettel meanwhile beat Alonso to post the fatest time in Friday’s practice session. Starting places on the grid will however be decided later on Saturday.
On that note, it’s a wrap from here. Match to look forward to apart from the FA Cup, Chelsea’s visit of Villa and Tottenham’s trip to Stoke on Sunday is PSG’s trip to third placed Olympique Lyon on Sunday where a win for PSG could win them the Ligue 1 title. The capital club will however need Marseille to drop points against Toulouse to claim the league title for the first time since 1994.
Have a great weekend ahead.
Nigerian club football, as far as this season is concerned, sunk into the abyss of irrelevance over the weekend when her last continental representative got knocked out at the last qualifying round before, by African (CAF) standards, the lucrative group stage.
Needing a score-draw at least to qualify, having played out a goalless draw in the first leg in Enugu a fortnight ago, Rangers fell 3-1 at Recreativo do Libolo of Angola and failed to make the Champions League group stage, barely four months after Sunshine Stars made the semi-final of last season’s edition.
Defending champions Al Ahly, that beat Sunshine on their way to the title last season, made it through to the group stage now with a 2-1 aggregate win over Tunisia’s Bizertin, while Zamalek had Abdoulaye Cisse to thank as his brace, the second being the equaliser two minutes to full time, earned a 2-2 draw for the Cairo club at St. George of Ethiopia and qualification on away goals.
Tunisian giants Esperance also made it through with a lone goal aggregate win over Algeria’s Beja but DR Congo’s TP Mazembe fell short against 10-man Orlando Pirates of South Africa, winning the return home leg by a lone goal but losing to the Bucs 3-2 on aggregate.
The 2011 African champions will be weighed down by a heap of regret from the encounter, having had two penalties either side of the match’s lone goal saved by the Pirates goalkeeper, with the second penalty saved on the 89th minute.
Scant consolation for the Congolese side, along with Enugu Rangers and the other clubs that lost in the final qualifying round of the Champions League, is the drop to the CAF Confederations Cup they’ll make, as is the case in Europe.
England meanwhile still awaits who her third and possible fourth representatives at next season’s UEFA Champions League would be after the trio of clubs chasing those two spots won their respective Premier League matches by a lone goal over the weekend.
Tottenham Hotspur first replaced Arsenal in fourth place and went level on 65 points with then third placed Chelsea, thanks to a late Gareth Bale strike in the win at home to the Welshman’s former club Southampton.
Another ex-saint however sent Spurs back to fifth and Arsenal up to third on 67 points, as Theo Walcott’s goal 20 seconds into the match at already relegated Queens Park Rangers put the Gunners two points clear of their top four London rivals for a day.
The initial third to fifth league table positions from the start of the weekend was restored on Sunday evening as a late Phil Jones own goal (initially awarded as a Juan Mata goal) gave Chelsea a crucial win at league champions Manchester United.
Interestingly, the win at Old Trafford, coupled with Manchester City’s goalless draw at Swansea City, put Chelsea four points behind the dethroned league champions with both Blues having three matches left to play.
Man. City could however seal second spot with a win on Tuesday night at home to West Brom, as long as Chelsea fail to win Wednesday night’s pseudo-Cup final at home to Tottenham, where a win for the latter would draw them level with Chelsea and drop Arsenal to fifth, a point behind, all with two matches to play then… thus presenting a real and dramatic possibility of Arsenal not making the Champions League for the first time in the Wenger era.
However, even if Spurs do win at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, one can hear many a gooner go “nehh, it’s Spurs! They’ll still f*** it up!”… time will tell.
That time is all of a sudden running out for Fulham, Sunderland, Newcastle United, Southampton, Norwich City and Wigan Athletic in their quest to avoid the last reservation in a sinking relegation cruise that has QPR and Reading comfortably lodged in.
Fulham did itself no favour by losing 4-2 at home to Reading, a result that leaves the Cottagers on 40 points and five points off the relegation zone, while Newcastle United drew goalless at West Ham United to find themselves three points off that reservation with 38 points.
Aston Villa attained 40 points, behind Fulham and Stoke City on goal difference, thanks to a 2-1 win at Norwich that as a result dropped within three points of the drop zone, ahead of Newcastle on goal difference.
And with Sunderland, that got blown 6-1 by Villa last Monday, just two points off Wigan Athletic that currently occupies the unwanted 18th position, Callum McNamara’s late winner for Wigan in the 3-2 win at West Brom could prove a most decisive goal just because Wigan have a game in hand which they play on Tuesday at home to Swansea that is winless in six matches.
A win for Wigan in that match and they go level in points with but ahead of Norwich and Newcastle on the table with two matches to play, potentially setting up an eight-way scramble from the last relegation reservation, which would be far more interesting and dramatic than the tussle for top four places.
Probably would be as dramatic as the final day in the Championship (the teams above are fighting against to drop into) which saw Hull City gain promotion to the Premier League thanks to a 2-2 draw with already promoted Cardiff City, finishing two points ahead of Watford City that would have got that promotion had it won its match at home to Leeds United, instead of losing 2-1.
Watford instead will go through the playoffs now to gain promotion, along with Brighton, Wilfried Zaha’s Crystal Palace and Leicester City that finished in the last playoff spot ahead of Bolton Wanderers on goal difference and ahead of Nottingham Forest, where they won 3-2 thanks to a late goal, by a point.
Elsewhere in Europe, Juventus won its 29th Serie A title after a lone goal win over Palermo, while Napoli consolidated on second spot with an Edinson Cavani inspired 3-1 win over Inter Milan and AC Milan won by a lone goal to open a four point lead in third place over Fiorentina that lost to a lone stoppage time Osvaldo goal at home to fifth placed AS Roma.
Roma’s city rivals and Coppa Italia final opponent, Lazio demolished visiting Bologna 6-0 with 34 year old Miroslav Klose scoring an incredible five goals, but remain in seventh, three points behind Roma with three matches to play.
In Spain and France, Barcelona and PSG were made to wait another week before claiming their respective league titles with Barcelona made to (was going to write “work hard” but… ) call on Messi who scored twice and hit the crossbar within 10 minutes of coming on (seems so unfair) to secure a 4-2 win over Real Betis to restore their 11 point advantage over Real Madrid that won 4-3 at home to Real Valladolid with four matches to play. All in a half hour’s job for the reigning world player of the year.
Alex meanwhile earned 10-man PSG a 1-1 draw at home to Valenciennes, leaving Les Parisiens needing a win in this weekend’s visit of third placed Olympique Lyon, or a draw there and a loss to Olympique Marseille to claim a first league title since 1994. That’s 19 years Arsenal fans, be calm and take note.
In Germany, a dress rehearsal of the UEFA Champions League saw Borussia Dortmund held to a 1-1 draw by Bayern Munich in a match Manuel Neuer saved a Robert Lewsndowski penalty while Rafinha got sent off following two yellow cards in as many minutes, sparking an amusing melee between camps of both sides on the sidelines. May 25 better be even more interesting.
While Bayern and Dortmund’s title match is still to come, Wladimir Klitschko and Floyd Mayweather retained theirs in the boxing ring, overcoming challenges from Francesco Pianeta and Robert Guerrero respectively.
For Klitschko, the Ukrainian won after knocking his former sparring partner Pianeta out a third time on the night in the sixth round and claim a 51st win via knockout in 60 professional fights.
For Mayweather, the money man retained his title by an unanimous decision that saw all three judges give him the fight with a count of 117-111 against a previously unbeaten Guerrero, extending his own unbeaten record in boxing to 44 wins and reportedy earning at least $32.5m from the fight.
The prize money at the Madrid Open in tennis isn’t anywhere near that figure, but some of the sports’ top players will compete at the clay surface tournament that returns to conventional red clay after unsuccessfully experimenting with blue clay last year.
Women’s number one player Serena Williams along with Svetlana Kuznetsova, Ana Ivanovic, Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber are through to the second round there while Caroline Wozniacki and Li Na however got knocked out in straight sets by Yaroslava Shvedova and 18 year old qualifier Madison Keys respectively.
In the men’s, Fernando Verdasco and Radek Stepanek have made it to the second round while the top seeds; the Djokovices, Federers and Nadals, will serve their campaign off from later today.
And that’s game, set, match with today’s post. I’m not even going to front, Chelsea has to beat Tottenham on Wednesday night for Arsenal’s sake.
Have a great week ahead; except you’re Tottenham.
I was going to start on an emotional note by lashing Jose Mourinho for starting Gonzalo Higuain on Tuesday night instead of Karim Benzema. In the end, two late goals from Benzema and Sergio Ramos gave majority watching in the Bernabeu and elsewhere a false hope of an unlikely qualification ticket.
In the end, Borussia Dortmund held on to qualify for this season’s UEFA Champions League final with a 4-3 aggregate win in a rather entertaining encounter whose second leg scoreline somewhat belies the true story of the match.
Real dominated on the night but Dortmund stubbornly came closest to opening the scoring when first leg chief tormentor Robert Lewandowski finally got through on goal, having been well marked prior to, only for Diego Lopez to, by the faintest graze of the ball by his glove, deflect the ball onto the crossbar and out for a goal kick.
Dortmund’s case wasn’t helped by Mario Götze’s early exit due to an injury and his absence was felt for the rest of the match. Unfortunately, Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp reckons the Bayern bound midfielder is a big doubt for the May 25 showdown against the Bavarians. Honest talk or mind game? Time will tell.
Either way, Bayern’s concern will be to claim Europe’s top club prize in their third final in four seasons, and their intent was made clearly as a cloudless sky with another emphatic victory over Barcelona to complete an absurd, yet thoroughly deserved 7-0 aggregate annihilation of the Catalans.
Barça was made a scapegoat of a footballing punishment they’re otherwise known to dish regularly by a deathly determined Bayern side that will not give thought to being runners-up in the Champions League a third time in four seasons; especially after losing last season’s against Chelsea, on home soil, in that manner.
So all the better for Juup Heynckes’ side if Götze will not be available for the final, just as he definitely won’t be this weekend when both teams meet in a Bundesliga match. That said, Götze’s has played for Dortmund like he always has hence, a feeling that his talent will be missed very much next season and crucially for Dortmund in the Champions League final, should he miss it.
For now however, with the league title won already and Dortmund sure bets to finish second (20 points behind Bayern), both teams could field much weakened sides in a dead rubber match, just to not hint at what to expect from either side when they meet again at the end of May.
No such luxurious option for Chelsea in the Premier League when they visit a Manchester United that will likely play a mix of fringe and first team players on Sunday, with the Blues still chasing a top four finish in order to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
On Thursday, Rafael Benitez’s side made it to the Europa League final with a 5-2 aggregate win over FC Basel, coming from behind to claim a 3-1 win on the night with a stellar second half performance that saw Fernando Torres, Victor Moses and David Luiz with a long range beauty get the goals for Chelsea.
Next up for them there is a familiar opponent in Portugal’s Benfica that recorded same scoreline as Chelsea at home to Fernabahce to qualify 3-2 on aggregate for the final in Amsterdam on May 15, a match that would be Chelsea’s seventh Cup final in five years.
Considering that, in the years that have been the Roman era, it leaves one wondering why the London club have had almost as many managers as the years Abramovich has owned the club, putting what success is into some weird relative context.
Such weird relative context is what Benitez finds himself in now, remaining unwanted by the club’s fans since the day in November he was appointed till the end of this season when his interim contract will expire.
And that is despite reaching the Europa League final, the last four of the FA Cup and winning five of the club’s last seven league matches; a form that led to him being named Premier League manager of the month of April, as well as seven of the last 10 in all competitions.
We will therefore see another manager leave Stamford Bridge even though that manager has, in a matter of months, performed relatively well. Unlike Roberto Di Matteo’s time however, Benitez isn’t just unwanted by the club’s Russian owner but also by the club’s fans who previously criticised Abramovich’s for making hasty decisions when it came to sacking a manager instead of exercising patience and backing a manager.
Only manager that didn’t get the hasty treatment was Jose Mourinho who left after losing a power tussle with Abramovich years ago. Old wounds however heal over time and if nuances are to be believed Abramovich could fulfill the wish of majority of Chelsea fans and bring the ‘Special One’ back to the Bridge. Time will tell.
Mourinho meantime has, with some discontent, been going on about being a ‘useless’ manager after only managing to win a league title, two Copa Del Rey titles and a Spanish Super Cup in his three seasons at the Bernabeu as well as reaching three successive Champions League semi-finals and another Copa Del Rey final.
He went further to reveal his regret at not getting Diego Lopez earlier than he did while insinuating some players (Iker Casillas perhaps one) are not exactly pleased with his training methods.
All that comes soon after he’d talked about wanting to be where he was loved following Real’s Champions League exit, saying “I know in England I am loved. I know I am loved by some clubs, especially one.” and adding he will only decide his future at the club when he meets with Real president Florentino Perez at the end of this season.
Ahead of that time, he will try to have Real Madrid put Barcelona’s league title celebrations on hold when Real Valladolid visit the Bernabeu, while Barça host Real Betis needing a win and for Real Madrid to lose in order to wrap up the La Liga title this weekend.
Elsewhere, PSG could win the Ligue Un title this weekend as well with a win at home to Valenciennes along with other results going their way. Same scenario applies for Juventus when they face Palermo in the Serie A.
Coming home, Nigeria’s last representative in continental competitions will on Sunday look to qualify for the group stage of the CAF Champions League but Enugu Rangers must at least earn a score draw at Recreativo do Libolo of Angola to do so after the first leg ended goalless in Enugu.
Egyptian giants Al Ahly need an outright win at home to Bizertin to qualify after a goalless first leg, as does Esperance of Tunisia at home to JSM Beja, while another former champion TP Mazembe have a 3-1 deficit to overcome at home to Orlando Pirates.
AC Leopards, that knocked Nigeria’s Kano Pillars out on away goals in the previous round, meanwhile made the group stage on Friday night via penalty shoot-out after losing the second leg against Algeria’s ES Setif 3-1 to leave aggregate scores tied at 4-4, having won the first leg 3-1 as well.
Finally in boxing, Wladimir Klitschko will defend four world titles against former sparring partner Francesco Pianeta on Saturday night, with the latter unbeaten in his professional career. Klitschko on his part has suffered three losses in 59 fights but has won via knockout 50 times, so Pianeta really is up against a brick here.
With that, it’s a wrap here. Today marks the 19th anniversary of Rashidi Yekini scoring Nigeria’s first ever World Cup goal at USA ’94. It sadly is also the first anniversary of his death. May he rest in peace, amen.
Wish some form of respect will be paid him in next week’s Nigeria Professional Football League matches just as the Hillsborough 96 will be remembered and Everton fans appreciated when the Merseyside derby is played at Anfield on Sunday in one of this weekend’s highlight matches, as both sides chase a Europa League spot in the Premier League.
In Italy, Inter Milan visit second placed Napoli needing a win desperately to keep hopes of finishing in a Europa League spot alive while Fiorentina host Roma with the former seeking a win to keep faint Champions League qualification hopes alive. Then there’s relegation threatened Deportivo la Coruña, unbeaten in its last six league matches, hosting third placed Atletico Madrid at the Riazor later today.
Whichever match catches your fancy though, do enjoy it along with the rest of your weekend. Cheers.
The first leg embarrassment was heartwarming and fun to watch, but the second leg of Barcelona’s 7-0 aggregate loss to Bayern Munich at the semi-final stage of club football’s biggest competition left me immensely perplexed at what had happened. Someone literally signalled ‘shut your mouth’ at me minutes after the third goal went in.
All night Barcelona never looked like scoring and each time they tried to threaten, times they actually got a shot towards goal, it simply was a part in Manuel Neuer’s training session schedule. The one real save he made was from a Cesc Fabregas shot from outside the area, which says a lot about both teams.
On one foot, Barcelona’s undoing wasn’t entirely down to Lionel Messi’s absence from the match; which unlike the first leg was because he was actually absent and not metaphorically so. It wasn’t even majorly down to that I believe, since there are matches that Barça have won without Messi in the past as well as lost with Messi involved.
Barça’s undoing was, and has been, basically down to the other members of the team (keyword) not rising to the occasion when they needed to. Hence, the convenience of Dani Alves (and to an extent, Gerard Pique) suggesting after Wednesday’s 3-0 loss that an alternative to their Messi reliance must be found.
Truth is, Barcelona have always had the alternative to Messi’s reliance. David Villa was a fearsome striker when he arrived from Valencia, as was Alexis Sanchez when he did from Udinese. And Fabregas? He was the instrument used, to devastating effect, to bring the false 9 formation to life at last year’s Euros with Spain.
That’s three alternatives already, ably backed by a midfield comprising Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez who can keep the ball as long as their feet pleases and deliver a buffet of passes to the danger area as often as they see someone make the right run or create just about enough space to shoot at goal.
Last night, none of that happened. Other than Fabregas’ first half effort, Xavi shot over from close range (before desperately, amusingly, seeking for non-extant penalty), Pedro sent weak shots at Neuer… it overall was the worst struggle I’d seen Barça made to put up in seasons, bringing us to the other foot.
The Bayern team let their host have the ball and try to conjure something with the possession and passes before nicking it and countering. On one such occasion, Arjen Robben was sent clean through on goal… but the persona in him we hate decided to try dribbling the last recovering defender when proving to the world yet again what an overrated footballer Victor Valdes is was the only option on the menu.
Then there was another moment when Robben cut in from the right to the edge of the penalty area but kept going on the edge before his eventually taken shot was blocked when the option to lay the ball to the man on the left was there. He had taken that option at a point in similar circumstance in the first leg and it almost led to a goal then.
If you noticed, the ball hardly went to the right for the rest of the first half after those moments, and when the ball did go there, Philip Lahm was usually the recipient. Now you see why the perfomances of full backs are usually judged upon the wingers ahead of them.
But that changed in the second half and that one change was what led to the three further blows Barça got, with Robben not trying to dilly dally on the ball but be incisive with it hence, the cut back and shot that was the first goal.
After that Bayern served their host a full dish of their tikitaka meal, along with fingerlings that were the further two goals from Pique’s own goal and Thomas Müller’s header for a comprehensive and overly deserved victory.
The Catalans had not just been defeated on their hallowed grass, they’d been rolled over with a foot to face the sky by their German dementors, spat and urinated on severally and left to begin to come to terms with the severe humbling they’d just been put through.
In the end, a reliance on Messi is Barça’s actual strength, their most powerful tactic which works most of the time. But when the maestro is unavailable, can the alternatives show up?
It therefore should be that since Messi will be chosen upfront all the time ahead of natural 9s (I honestly still don’t see Messi as one), then Barça should quit buying the Villas, Zlatans, Sanchezes, Eto’os and instead, get a Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard or Franck Ribery who can actually provide from the wings rather than a striker turned pseudo-winger.
Till then, Barça will continue relying on Messi to deliver the goods and he will most of the time, killing a few more highly potential careers along. But on days when he meets an inspired midfield and/or defence like at the San Siro against AC Milan or against Bayern in both legs (using Iniesta as yardstick for Bayern’s efficiency in the second leg), well… goodbye.
At the start of the season, a certain Dumnodi Okonta in lagos state threw a jab at Port Harcourt based NPFL clubs. He talked of how both Port Harcourt sides, Sharks and Dolphins who got the sum of N600m each for a season should be performing better than every other club in the league. For no other club side in the league he said got such money to run its affairs.
After all said and bit, Liverpool striker Luis Suarez was slapped with a 10-match ban by the English FA for his Hannibal moment on Branislav Ivanovic last weekend and according to the FA’s statement, Suarez, who has decided not to appeal the ban (to avoid further fuss me thinks), pretty much made the much debated ban to be that lengthy by his own doing.
In their statement, the FA, among various other points, made it clear that previous incidents involving the player hadn’t been considered when deciding the severity of this punishment and that since biting was alien to football, along with the fact that by disputing their first statement saying a standard three-match violent conduct ban would “clearly be insufficient” for his bite, he (Suarez) had failed to fully grasp the seriousness of the matter at hand hence, the length of his latest football sabbatical being 10 matches.
Meanwhile seeing as biting, contrary to the FA’s statement, is more ‘human’ than alien to football thanks to previous incidents by Suarez as well as Jermain Defoe on Javier Mascherano, not to mention a few other bizarre happenings on the field such as Cantona’s kung-fu kick of a Crystal Palace fan and Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt to the chest of Marco Materazzi at the 2006 World Cup, there indeed – as shown above – were many instances the FA could have drawn some inspiration from before butchering Suarez with that ban.
It thus leaves a question mark on the justifications the FA felt it had in handing Suarez the ban for biting, while same player got two games less for racially abusing Patrice Evra in 2011, or John Terry who got a further four games less as ban along with a fine of £220,000 for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand… or the instance of Joey Barton who got a 12-match ban for his violent conduct (no biting) in a match against Manchester City.
The FA on one hand is right in wanting to make crystal clear the “seriousness” of Suarez’s Sunday bite, the 10-match ban on the other hand mostly equally, if not more so, sends out a crystal clear message about the FA being a committee of clowns who hand down punishments as it suits the mood or as the tea/coffee tastes on the day.
As it is now, tackling a player and having to be separated from another (Barton on Agüero and Tevez) is more serious than (a certain extreme of) biting ala Suarez which in turn is a more serious offence than (a certain extreme of) racism ala Suarez as well as (another, apparently less-extreme degree of) racism ala Terry and so on.
Terry on his part was back in the ever tinkered Chelsea starting line-up and missed a late, how-did-that-not-go-in chance in Switzerland though a 94th minute David Luiz freekick – the last kick of the match in fact – gave the Blues a 2-1 win at FC Basel in the first leg of a Europa League semi-final, with Fernabahce beating Benfica by a lone goal in the other semi-final first leg match.
It was Basel’s first home loss after nine European matches just as it was Chelsea’s first away win after suffering four losses in their last five away matches in Europe, setting up the return leg nicely for them as they look to inversely follow in FC Porto’s steps by winning both major European club competitions in successive years.
So much for the time of ridicule endured when they crashed out of the Champions League at the group stage eh? Now it is the hierarchy of Spanish football suffering the embarrassment in the Champions League following the first leg semi-final matches played on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Definitely Bayern Munich were going to be tough opposition for Barcelona on Tuesday night, but quantum physics tough? It was shocking to watch as the Bavarians ripped the Catalans apart with a 4-0 humbling. It was heartwarming and fun to watch as well.
Indeed Bayern got away with favourable decisions in the goals scored by Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben, who by the way played by far his best match this season on the night, it was clear Bayern deserved the win and dare I say the margin of it.
What with the manner Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez neutralised the ‘threat’ of Lionel Messi’s presence and rendered Andres Iniesta anonymous, allowing Thomas Müller, Franck Ribery and Robben to wreck the havoc they brought upon the feeble Barça backline.
But not to be outdone, following a similarly high tempo first half display, Borussia Dortmund raised their game several levels higher and scored three second half goals as well on their to scoring four goals against Real Madrid to complete an 8-1 aggregate win for the Bundesliga over La Liga… perhaps initiating a power shift as well.
Apart from the mistake that led to Real’s away goal, Dortmund never looked inferior to a vastly more experienced and expensive Real side. Gundogan was imperious in midfield while Robert Lewandowski showed great technique and composure in the open-play goals he scored; with the third being my favourite.
It was fitting that someone else took the headlines, a day after Dortmund confirmed that Mario Götze; the nucleus of Dortmund’s trinity, will join Bayern next season. Even Marco Reus’ game was exceptional on Wednesday night and there was little to show Götze’s exit would be a deep blow.
Dortmund have always produced the good players, Shinji Kagawa hasn’t been missed, neither was Tomas Rosicky and I reckon Götze’s imminent exit would either bring a new name to the spotlight or see a slight change in formation that will get Nuri Sahin fully back in the Dortmund fold… or Christian Eriksen – who has been linked to Dortmund – could come in from Ajax as a replacement, and that would be an exciting transfer if it happens.
Away from the European drama, action resumed in the Nigeria Professional Football League with defending champions Kano Pillars maintaining its hold of top spot despite a second successive goalless draw, this time at home to Heartland.
With 16 points, Pillars now lead Rangers and Nasarawa United by two points after both lost their respective matches and the opportunity to go top of the league. Rangers fell 2-1 at Lobi Stars that is now in seventh place while Nasarawa fell to a 3-0 loss at Dolphins.
In other matches, Bayelsa United is now fourth on 13 points after a lone goal win over Sunshine Stars while Kwara United followed up its draw at Enyimba with a 2-0 win at home to Nembe City, rising to sixth with 12 points, behind Shooting Stars on goal difference.
Shooting Stars lost 2-0 at El-Kanemi Warriors, Enyimba lost by a lone goal at Gombe United, Kaduna United and Warri Wolves played a 1-1 draw in Kaduna as did Wikki Tourists against Sharks of Port-Harcourt in Bauchi.
Further up north on the continent, Nigeria’s U17 national team have reached the final of the African U17 Championship in Morocco following a 4-2 win over Tunisia on Wednesday with Isaac Success scoring a brace.
Those goals put him on seven goals in the lead for the golden boot award, with teammate Kelechi Iheanacho right behind him with five goals scored so far. The free scoring Golden Eaglets will face their Ivorian counterparts in Saturday’s final in a repeat of their group stage match which the Ivorians somewhat surprisingly won by a lone goal.
That match is one of many exciting ones to look forward to this weekend, with PSG on the verge of winning the Ligue Un title and needing a win at Evian on Sunday to do so. Problem is, it was Evian that recently knocked PSG out of the Coupe de France at the semi-final stage on penalties.
Elsewhere, Juventus visit Torino in a Turin derby while Real visit Atletico Madrid on Saturday in another derby. Cristiano Ronaldo has been ruled out of that encounter with a leg injury with Jose Mourinho’s assistant hoping the Portuguese ace recovers in time for next Tuesday’s return leg against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League.
In the Premier League, Arsenal players will form a guard of honour for former striker Robin van Persie and his Manchester United teammates who visit the Emirates on Sunday after winning the league title on Monday.
In tennis, Rafael Nadal came through two matches in one day to make it 37 consecutive wins at the Barcelona Open and set up a semi-final with Milos Raionic who also won two matches on Friday to reach the last four.
Nadal, whose run of 46 consecutive matches and eight titles won was ended by Novak Djokovic in the final of the Monte Carlo masters last week, is looking to win his eighth Barcelona Open title having won every edition since 2005, missing the 2010 competition due to fatigue.
No such thing for former FIFA Vice-President Jack Warner who keeps opening old sores in the FIFA’s hierarchy, this time revealing how he’d been given $6m in exchange of winning Sepp Blatter the presidency back in 1998.
Running against then UEFA President Lennart Johansson, Warner claims he was personally handed a $6m grant to build the centre of excellence on land owned by him in exchange for votes that would win Blatter the election.
Money exchanged, Warner says he delivered 30 votes for Blatter, who according to him was João Havelange’s chosen successor. The poll finished with Johansson getting 80 votes while Blatter got 111; 31 votes more.
Having resigned from FIFA after some allegations of corruption were brought against him, Warner has since tried opening a few worm cans that would bring a few names down, especially Blatter. Where this latest episode leads, we await.
For now, do have a blessed weekend. Mine already is, today especially.