Easter greetings to you as the long weekend snails to an end, with the unpleasantly pleasant day of April Fools’ being its last day. Will there be pranks in the following paragraphs? Having supported Arsenal for the better part of the last 15 years going on 16 and lived through Wenger’s press conferences all that time… “I don’t want to comment on speculation.”
The Arsenal manager had little need for evasive answers however, following the club’s 4-1 win over relegation threatened Reading on Saturday in Nigel Adkins first match as Reading manager, having lost 6-1 to Arsenal earlier this season while at Southampton.
The result took the Gunners within two points of fourth place on the Premier League table; a spot currently occupied by Chelsea that was beaten 2-1 at Southampton. Chelsea’s loss favoured all concerned at north London; a bit to every gooners’ dismay though, as Tottenham Hotspur went up to third place, two points ahead of Chelsea, with a 2-1 win at a Swansea City side that look like it can’t be bothered to having a go in matches ever since claiming the League Cup title.
Knew such could happen after Swans manager Michael Laudrup felt after that League Cup win that getting 10 points from their last 10 matches/30 points would be alright. Swansea’s seeming nonchalance has now ‘helped’ both north London clubs in the club’s last two league matches; very much to every Chelsea fan’s disappointment I imagine.
With the yet-to-be-relieved interim manager Rafael Benitez tinkering his team; most notably leaving out Juan Mata (who officially was ill), one may want to blame the loss at the coast on the Blues having an eye on tonight’s FA Cup quarterfinal replay at home to Manchester United.
However, the Red Devils, also with an eye on tonight’s tie, had manager Sir Alex Ferguson shuffling the team just a bit in the early kick-off at Sunderland and still coming away with a lone goal win that, for a few hours opened an 18 point gap at the top. Manchester City later restored that gap to 15 points with a 4-0 thrashing of Newcastle United.
For Sunderland, the loss led to the sacking of Martin O’Neill who in no time was replaced Sunday night with the appointment of charismatic, former West Ham United player and more recently former Swindon Town manager Paolo Di Canio, handed the task of keeping Sunderland in the top flight with eight matches to play.
The Italian manager, who only has Swindon on his managerial CV though did lead them to League One by winning League Two last season, quit the lower league club earlier last month in quite dramatic circumstances and one would expect some more of that to come up now at Sunderland… drama trailed Di Canio in his playing days and spectacularly so (apparently) in his first managerial job.
While awaiting that, Sharks of Port-Harcourt caused a bit of a stir when it unveiled now former manager of Sunshine Stars, Gbenga Ogunbote, as its Technical Adviser during the halftime break of its goalless draw with city rivals Dolphins in a Nigeria Professional Football League match.
First, the unveiling couldn’t have been done before or after the match? Compared however to the fact that Ogunbote will only sign an agreement on Tuesday (rather than a proper contract, long story), the unusual halftime unveiling takes a slightly more trivial position in the whole charade reminiscent of former TA Austin Eguavoen’s arrival at the club.
One also must question the motivation behind Ogunbote leaving a Sunshine team he led to the last four of last season’s CAF Champions League (albeit with fortune’s favour), a team that hasn’t lost its opening four league matches and lies in fifth place with a game in hand, for a club that currently is second from bottom following a woeful start to the campaign.
At the other, brighter, top end of the table, champions Kano Pillars remain in top spot after a 3-2 win at ABS in Ilorin; its second away win this season. Pillars now have 12 points from five matches, a point ahead of Rangers that needed two goals in the closing 10 minutes to get a 3-1 win at home to Kwara United.
Elsewhere, Shooting Stars raced to a three goal lead but in the end held on for a 3-2 win over Wikki Tourists and rise to third place on nine points, with Akwa United now fourth also on nine points courtesy of a 3-0 win over Bayelsa United.
Other results saw Warri Wolves claim a point in a goalless draw at Enyimba despite playing a better part of the last half hour there with 10 men, Heartland thrashed Gombe United 4-0 to rise into the top half of the league, as did Nembe City now in 10th place after a 2-1 win over bottom side El-Kanemi Warriors while the match between Sunshine Stars and Lobi Stars was postponed due to the latter’s continental engagement this week.
Going further north on the continent, the young Pharaohs of Egypt won the Africa Youth Championship in Algeria 5-4 on penalties, as the final match against Ghana on Saturday ended 1-1 after regular and extra time. Nigeria last Friday had finished third with a 2-1 win over Mali in the third place play-off.
Expectedly, the AYC’s Best 11 is dominated by Egypt that had five of their players named, including Saleh Gomaa who was also named Player of the Tournament. Abduljaleel Ajagun was the only Nigerian player on the list, strangely, as golden boot winner Aminu Umar; who finished with seven goals, was left out.
The Flying Eagles meanwhile will face Portugal, South Korea and Cuba in Group B of the World Youth Championship. Egypt find themselves in Group E with England, Chile and Iraq while Mali will face Mexico, Greece and Paraguay in Group D. Ghana on their part will come up against France, Spain and the United States in what potentially is the group of death at the WYC holding later this year in Turkey from June.
Well before then, Turkish giants Galatasaray visit Spanish giants Real Madrid in a first leg quarterfinal UEFA Champions League match on Wednesday night, with Madrid heading into that encounter on a bit of a low after only managing a 1-1 draw at Real Zaragoza in a Primera Liga match.
That result meant Jose Mourinho’s side remain 13 points off the pace in La Liga having failed to take advantage of Barcelona being held to a 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo, a match that saw Lionel Messi score his 43rd league goal and create a record of scoring in 19 consecutive league matches, as well as joining Cristiano Ronaldo as a player to have scored against every other team in that league. Those two are a pleasant scare with their footballing prowess.
Elsewhere in the major European leagues, Bayern Munich is now a match from claiming the Bundesliga title after spelling out the opponent’s name, with two to spare, in a scary and scarring 9-2 rout of S.V. Hamburg (okay, the nine letters are now accounted for).
Scarier was the fact that it was third choice striker Claudio Pizarro that led the massacre with four goals. And the message will surely have been crystal to Italian champions Juventus that visit the Allianz Arena on Tuesday night in another Champions League quarterfinal encounter.
Juve prepared for that with a 2-1 Derby d’Italia win at Inter Milan to remain nine points clear of second placed Napoli that won 5-3 in a thrilling match at Torino, and a further two points ahead of AC Milan that claimed a lone goal win at Chievo Verona.
As if that wasn’t an exciting enough match-up to look forward to, Ligue Un leaders Paris Saint Germain; with an extra day’s rest and home advantage, welcome Barcelona to the Parc Des Princes in Tuesday night’s other quarterfinal match-up.
Finally in Tennis, Andy Murray continued his ascendency by replacing Roger Federer as the world number two player after capturing the Sony Open title with a 2-6 6-4 7-6 win over David Ferrer. Ferrer himself rose to fourth on the rankings to replace Spanish compatriot Rafael Nadal who now occupies fifth place.
The new rankings suggest the coming French and Wimbledon Open will be one of the most competitive grand slams held in recent times, barring injuries, with the top five players heading to them in good form along with the likes of Juan Martin del Potro and Tomas Berdych. In the female section, Serena Williams claimed a sixth Miami title win courtesy of a straight sets defeat of Maria Sharapova.
With that, it’s a wrap here. There’s the FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge tonight as well as a chance for QPR to come within five points of safety in the Premier League match at Fulham to look forward to.
Then Champions League quarterfinal matches on Tuesday and Wednesday followed quarterfinal matches in the Europa League on Thursday mean it’s an eventful start to the month of April and indeed the second quarter of 2013.
Have a great week ahead and hey, don’t get fooled out there.