The European football season is finally coming to life, bringing an end to enduring so many week(end)s of making do with football from the FIFA Confederations Cup, the cadet European Championships and the Women’s European Championships even, for those of us feeling that deprived.
Not any longer, as the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 season kicked off over the weekend just as the Community Shield, the curtain raiser to the Premier League season, was contested for between Manchester United and Wigan Athletic on Sunday at Wembley. And it took all of six minutes for Robin van Persie to put the Red Devils in front and by so doing, reiterate the fact of his importance to the club’s, and new manager David Moyes’s success or otherwise this season.
The Dutchman underlined that fact with a second goal just before the hour mark of what was a largely underwhelming 2-0 win over a Wigan side now of the Championship and starting life after manager Roberto Martinez who is now at Everton. Yes, United could have done a whole lot better but as has been the mantra in competitive matches, getting the win is what matters and how it’s got is secondary.
Ask PSG, that would’ve paid a million over the asking price if there was one on offer for a win at Montpellier in the season opener of Ligue 1. The filthy rich, expensively assembled overwhelming favourites to win the league Parisians instead settled humbly for a 1-1 draw at the club that upset the odds in 2012.
Remy Cabella’s 10th minute goal put Montpellier ahead while Maxwell, of all players in PSG’s firepower, equalised for the visitors on the hour mark. The other billionaire club on the contrary started off with a win though for long it seemed Monaco would start off in similarly tipid manner as their money league rival.
Goals in the 82nd and 87th minute from Rivelliere and Radamel Falcao (1-0 Cavani, yes it’s on in case you didn’t know) however gave Monaco a 2-0 win at French Cup holders Bordeaux. The principality club now share fourth spot with fellow newcomers to Ligue 1 FC Nantes that also won 2-0 at home to Bastia on Saturday.
Elsewhere, likely title contender Olympique Lyon got the biggest win of the weekend in a nice 4-0 thrashing of Nice, Olympique Marseille lie third following a 3-1 win at newcomers Guingamp, Lille won by a lone goal at home to Lorient as did St. Etienne, that began life without Pierre-Emerick Aubemayang, away at Ajaccio.
St. Etienne probably would be joint leaders with local rivals Lyon if the Gabonese striker was still with them, instead he was in Germany helping last season’s Bundesliga runner-up Borussia Dortmund to a big 4-0 win at Augsburg, scoring a hattrick on his league debut for Jurgen Klopp’s side with Robert Lewandowski putting aside off season squabbles to smash home the fourth from the spot after assisting Aubemayang to his third.
The biggest win of the weekend however came from the capital where Eintracht Frankfurt, one of last season’s surprise performers, crumbled to a 6-1 demolition at newly promoted Hertha Berlin. The other newcomer to the Bundesliga, Braunschweig played well but were unfortunate to lose 1-0 at home to Werder Bremen on Saturday.
Title holders Bayern Munich got their campaign underway on Friday with a routine 3-1 win at home to Borussia Monchengladbach, before sending out a ‘second string’ side to record a 4-1 win on Sunday with Mario Gotze marking his return from injury with a brace there.
Elsewhere, Klaas Jan Huntelaar got himself an early birthday present after netting a brace in Schalke’s 3-3 draw at home to Hamburg, Bayer Leverkusen got a 3-1 win at home to Freiburg, Wolfsburg lost 2-0 at Hannover 96, Stuttgart lost 3-2 at Mainz and Hoffenheim played out a 2-2 draw at home to Nurnberg.
While business is only getting started in Europe, matchday 24 matches were played in Nigeria, with Warri Wolves going a point clear at the top of the standings after playing out a 1-1 draw at Lafia against Nasarawa United, a match in which Nasarawa failed to score two penalties. Pillars follow in second place with 40 points after losing 3-1 at Shooting Stars behind closed doors in Ibadan.
Elsewhere, Bayelsa United is now third with 39 points thanks to a 3-0 win over El-Kanemi Warriors, while Enyimba follow in fourth place, a point behind, after getting a 2-0 win over Nembe City in Aba. Other results saw 10-man Kwara United claim a lone goal win at Heartland, Rangers beating Kaduna United 2-1 in Enugu, Dolphins losing 3-0 at Sunshine Stars and Akwa United getting a lone goal win at home to Wikki Tourists thanks to a 93rd minute strike.
Away from football, Rafael Nadal eased to the Rogers Cup title in Montréal, his 48th win in 51 matches this year, with a straight sets 6-2 6-2 demolition of Milos Raonic, a win that will see him rise to third on the new world rankings behind Novak Djokovic, whom he beat in the semis, and Andy Murray who lost in the doubles final there.
In the women’s event of the Roger’s Cup held in Toronto, Serena Williams romped to the title with a 6-2 6-0 win over Sorana Cirstea of Romania, as she prepares for the final grand slam of the year in New York in a few weeks time.
Another woman in fine form is Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare who leapt a distance of 6.99 meters to win a silver medal in the women’s long jump event at the ongoing IAAF World Championships in Moscow on Sunday.
The 24 year old will now turn her focus to the sprints where she is one of the favourites to claim gold in the 100m, having posted a personal best time of 10.78 seconds to win the 100m event at the recent London Anniversary Games, just a blink off the world leading time of 10.77 seconds posted earlier this season by Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce who also is competing in Moscow.
The biggest headline so far from the Russian capital came from none other than Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt who claimed gold in the men’s 100m final with a relatively slow 9.77 seconds, ahead of American Justin Gatlin and another Jamaican Nester Carter who finished third ahead of two more Jamaicans… yet it’s Americans testing positive for dope. Life.
Great Britain’s Mo Farah beat off the challenge of Ethiopian Ibrahim Jeilan to win 10,000m gold, and is now preparing for the 5,000m race as he aims to do a double-double as winning the 5,000m would make him world and olympic champion over both distances, a feat which has been achieved only by Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia between 2008 and 2009.
While Farah and Okagbare prepare to etch their names in history, a number of international friendlies will be played during the week including the Mandela Challenge between South Africa and Nigeria’s Super Eagles in Durban on Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, England will face rivals Scotland in Wembley as part of events to mark the FA’s anniversary, Portugal will play the Netherlands, Italy face Argentina, Belgium host France in my pick of the bunch, Germany face Paraguay and world champions Spain play against Ecuador.
Wrapping up, the IBM personal computer was released on this day in 1981 while Cleopatra in 30BC committed suicide by letting asps bite the life out of her. Extreme. Unlike her, people such as tennis legend Pete Sampras, Dutch striker Klaas Jan Huntelaar, Community Shield winner Tom Cleverly and AC Milan forward Mario Balotelli will value life more today as they become a year older.
Many happy returns of the day to them, and to my friends Deji, Lorine and everyone else born today. To every one else, have yourselves a pleasant week ahead.