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. 😐