Archive for October, 2013

During the Week: 2018 World Cup Boycott Mooted, Fergie Fires Shots from Autobiography and More


Ahead of the men’s season ending ATP Tour Finals serving off next week in London, the women’s curtain call championship served off in Istanbul, Turkey during the week.

And despite stating her tiredness following her straight sets win over third seed Agnieszka Radwanska, women’s world number one player Serena Williams has nonetheless reached the semi-final of the season ending WTA Championships.

Playing in the Red Group, Williams overcame German Angelique Kerber in her opening match before going past Radwanska and, with the ‘tiredness’ on her, managed to beat Petra Kvitova 6-2 6-3 in her final group match.

But indeed, the American great has a case to be tired having played all three roundrobin matches in successive days unlike Kvitova, for instance, who had a day off ahead of her loss to Williams.

Czech fifth seed Kvitova can however join Williams in the semis if she defeats Kerber; also in with a chance of joining Williams with a win, in the group’s final match.

Third seed Radwanska on her part is out of the Championship having lost all her three roundrobin matches, and most disappointingly all in straight sets too.

Over in the White Group, fourth seed Li Na heads the group with two wins from two matches following a 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 win over Jelena Jankovic. All Na needs is to win a set in her final group match against second seed Viktoria Azarenka to seal qualification.

A straight sets loss would however jeopardise her position greatly, see Azarenka go through to the last four and be joined there by Jankovic, who will qualify if she wins her final group match against already eliminated Sara Errani, regardless of the result from the Azarenka-Na match.

From coloured groups in Istanbul to matters of one race abusing people of a different race. Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure has suggested quite a few actions against racism since accusing fans of CSKA Moscow of aiming monkey chants at him during a UEFA Champions League match on Wednesday.

Toure, who wore the captain’s armband which had ‘No to Racism’ printed on it, suggested after the match in Moscow that a lengthy stadium ban could be given to CSKA for the incident and that players of African descent could boycott the 2018 World Cup in Russia to drive home the ‘No to Racism’ point.

This way, according to Toure, he hoped that Russia would take responsibility and deal with such “unbelievable” behaviour ahead of the 2018 World Cup.

Interestingly, CSKA in a statement denied any racist chants were made by its fans during the match. ”Having carefully studied the video of the game, we found no racist insults from fans of CSKA.”

”In many occasions, especially during attacks on our goal, fans booed and whistled to put pressure on rival players, but regardless of their race (Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko). Why the Ivorian midfielder took it as all being directed at him is not clear.”

The Russian club even went further, and below the belt if you ask me, to release a statement from Toure’s fellow Ivorian Seydou Doumbia, who plays for CSKA.

”Yes, they’re always noisy in supporting the team, and try to put as much pressure as possible on our opponents, but they wouldn’t ever allow themselves to come out with racist chants. So my Ivory Coast colleague is clearly exaggerating.”

UEFA, which had declared this week a Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) Action Week, will have a disciplinary committee convene next Wednesday on the matter to find if CSKA is guilty of the accusation. A guilty verdict would lead to partial closure of the stadium next Champions League home match.

On the field, CSKA lost 2-1 to City with a Sergio Agüero brace cancelling CSKA’s lead and leaving them third in the group with three points, behind City in second with six points and leaders Bayern Munich with nine maximum points after the Germans eased to a 5-0 win over pointless Victoria Plzen.

Olympique Marseille of France is also pointless after three group matches, losing 2-1 at home to Napoli that joined top placed Arsenal and second placed Borussia Dortmund on six points, with Dortmund getting a 2-1 victory at Arsenal.

Elsewhere, Cristiano Ronaldo scored his sixth and seventh goals of this season’s competition in Real Madrid’s 2-1 win over Juventus, Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored his third to sixth goals in PSG’s 5-0 demolition of Anderlecht in Brussels and Lionel Messi scored his fourth Champions League goal to help Barcelona come away from AC Milan with a 1-1 draw.

And in some other matches, Chelsea got an impressive 3-0 win at Schalke 04, Diego Costa – called up by Brazil for Nobember friendlies, which pretty much ends Spain’s chance of having him with La Roja – scored twice as Atletico Madrid won by the same score while Wayne Rooney’s effort off the post was lapped in by a Real Sociedad defender to give Manchester United a lone goal win.

The win helped to blow some cool wind at David Moyes and indeed all of Old Trafford following the disappointing draw with Southampton last Saturday and the press conference to announce the autobiography of Sir Alex Ferguson, My Autobiography (dead title) on Tuesday.

Revealing ‘excerpts’ from the book, which became available on Thursday, Sir Alex chronicled his sometimes feisty relationship with Rooney whom he says had been told to mind his business after asking for the club to sign Mesut Özil, who then was at Werder Bremen.

The book also chronicles Robin Judas Persie’s move from Arsenal, with Fergie apologising to the Dutch striker for not keeping his word on remaining at the club beyond last season.

Then there’s Pizzagate after United ended Arsenal’s 49 match unbeaten run, stating he didn’t know to this day who threw the pizza at him. Former Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas would then like an instagram picture of a pizza posted by Arseblog soon after the conference. So ‘subliminal’.

Fergie also touched on the boot incident with David Beckham whom he accused of making it ”an ambition to be known outside the game”, expressed his spicy view on former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez and reiterated that Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is not a top top player and was perplexed as to why he was chosen ahead of Michael Carrick in the England set-up.

Former Man. United captain Roy Keane and his savage tongue, Rooney and his weight issues, Mark Bosnic’s weight issues too, Ruud van Nistelrooij and Rio Ferdinand were also ‘fondly’ mentioned in the book, while Fergie also suggested Michael Owen would’ve had a better career had he joined United instead of Liverpool.

Whether he would or wouldn’t would matter little to nothing to David Moyes, whose Man. United side will hope to build on the win over Sociedad when Stoke City visit on Saturday in a Premier League match.

Top of the table Arsenal kick the weekend off in their shot trip across town to face second from bottom Crystal Palace that parted ways with manager Ian Holloway.

The big match comes up on Sunday when second placed Chelsea host fourth placed Manchester City in the Premier League’s Clash of the Cash, preceded by the TyneWear derby between Sunderland and Newcastle United.

In Germany, second placed Dortmund visit Schalke in the Ruhr derby while leaders Bayern Munich host capital club Hertha Berlin in another Bundesliga match on Saturday.

The clash of the weekend comes from the Camp Nou where Barcelona host Real Madrid in this season’s first El Clasico. Messi will start, CR7 definitely will. Neymar is set for his first Clasico for Barça while Gareth Bale could feature as well having overcome injury problems.

Real Madrid head into that in confident mood, having cut the gap behind Barça to three points last weekend. One loss in the e
last eight Clasicos further boosts La Decima’s confidence ahead of the encounter.

Anticipation of that clash brings this post to a close. On this day, The Alchemist turns 36 today, The Forty Martyrs of England and Wales are remembered at the latter nation, Shaun Wright Phillips turns 32 and musicians Katy Perry, Ciara and Gyptian celebrate their birthdays as well.

Many happy returns to them and all else celebrating. And a pleasant weekend to the rest of us alive by the grace of God. Cheers!

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Over the Weekend: Pillars Retain League Title, Nigerian Wave Rips Mexico Apart and More


Here I was mellow mocking Shooting Stars of Ibadan early in the week since the Ibadan club faced inevitable relegation from the Premier League, two matches (to end the season) after and alas, Kwara United got relegated as well.

Such was the dramatic nature with which the 2012/13 Nigeria Premier League ended on Sunday, with another Ilorin club ABS FC joining the two in being relegated despite thrashing Nembe City 6-1 in their penultimate match of the season in midweek.

At the brighter end of the table meanwhile, only three points separated the top four finishers, with Kano Pillars winning the league title by a mere point despite losing 2-0 at Lobi Stars on the final day.

Enyimba, that had been put out of title contention in a midweek loss at Sunshine Stars, finished second with 62 points while Bayelsa United finished with 61 points and El-Kanemi Warriors ended in fourth place with 60 points.

Pillars’ title win makes the northern side the first, since Enyimba did 10 years ago, to successfully defend the league title. Both clubs will now be Nigeria’s representatives for next season’s CAF Champions League.

In this season’s Champions League, defending champions Al-Ahly of Egypt will come up against South Africa’s Orlando Pirates, after beating Cameroun’s Coton Sport 7-6 on penalties in Cairo.

Pirates had overcome Esperance in Tunis on aggregate despite drawing their first leg goalless, while Al-Ahly came through on penalties after both legs against Coton Sport of Cameroun ended in 1-1 draws.

Away from the continent but still, mostly, about the continent, Nigeria began her quest for a record fourth FIFA U17 World Cup title with an emphatic 6-1 dispatch of their Mexican counterparts on Saturday.

The duo of Kelechi Ineanacho and Success Isaac orchestrated the wave that blew the Mexicans apart, with Isaac the Özil of the Golden Eaglets while Ineanacho finished the match with four goals.

The competition had begun with Brazil recording same score in their match against Slovakia, while Uruguay thrashed New Zealand 7-0 in another encounter.

Cote D’Ivoire lost by a lone goal to Italy before drawing their second match 1-1 against Uruguay while Brazil got a second 6-1 win, this time against host nation United Arab Emirates on Sunday.

Africa’s other representatives though have begun well like Nigeria, with Morocco getting a 3-1 win over Croatia in their opening Group C match while Tunisia beat Venezuela 2-1 in their opening Group D match.

Surely a few decent and big European clubs (at least Porto, Ajax and probably a few English clubs) will have scouts watching on the progress of such players as Isaac, Ineanacho, Nathan of Brazil among a few others.

One teenager whose somewhat made it to the big time though is 18 year old Adnan Januzaj, who over the weekend signed a new five year deal with Manchester United and laid to rest his club future at least.

The Belgian/Croat/Serbian/Albanian/Turkish/could-be-English-if-he-chooses teenager will reportedly now earn £30,000 per week, a vast improvement from the previous thousand pound per week contract he was on.

On the field however, his presence failed to transcend a vast improvement of the club’s fortunes as Southampton came away from Old Trafford with a 1-1 draw in a Premier League match on Saturday.

The result leaves the Red Devils in eighth place with 11 points while Southampton dropped to sixth with 15 points, behind Tottenham Hotspur on goal difference after Spurs won 2-0 at Aston Villa and ahead of Everton on goal difference after the Toffees won 2-1 at home to Hull City (Tigers).

Chelsea now occupy second spot with 17 points after an eventful 4-1 win over Cardiff City in a match that witnessed Samuel Eto’o nick the ball while the Cardiff goalkeeper, having made a save, bounced it while preparing to take a goal-kick.

Eto’o’s wit led to Chelsea’s equaliser, before further goals including the Cameroun striker’s first for the club won the three points for the Londoners, whose manager Jose Mourinho was sent to the stands. The ‘Happy One’ would later ‘miss’ the post-match conference.

Elsewhere, Liverpool could only draw 2-2 at 10-man Newcastle United to drop to third behind Chelsea on goal difference while Manchester City is a point behind in fourth after a brace and an assist from Sergio Agüero gave City a 3-1 win at West Ham United.

And Arsenal opened a two-point lead at the top of the league after some sublime football led to the 4-1 defeat of Norwich City through goals from Jack Wilshere, a Mesut Özil brace (including his first ever headed goal) and an emphatic Aaron Ramsey finish.

The Gunners’ focus is now on their third UEFA Champions League match at home to Borussia Dortmund, with the German side coming into the match on the back of a 1-0 win over Hannover 96 in the Bundesliga.

That win kept the bumblebees in second place with 21 points, a point behind Bayern Munich that came from a goal down to crush Mainz 4-1 courtesy of Mario Götze who provided three of the goals there.

Bayer Leverkusen is third with 21 points after getting a 2-1 win at Hoffenheim on Friday in rather odd circumstance, with Sidney Sam giving Leverkusen the lead before Stefan Kießling’s header was counted as a goal despite the ball going into the net through a hole in the sidenetting.

Hannover would then pull a goal back before coming ever so close to an equaliser in the dying minutes, only to be denied by the Leverkusen goalkeeper and twice by the goalpost in a frenetic two seconds.

In the Spanish La Liga, Lionel Messi returned from injury but was unable to prevent Osasuna getting a point from the encounter which ended in a goalless draw.

That result ended Barcelona’s perfect start to the season, having won their opening eight matches heading into the match. Barça though now hold a one point lead over Atletico Madrid whose perfect start also came to an end with Espanyol beating Atletico 1-0 in the pseudo-Clasico.

Both results allowed third placed Real Madrid to come within two points of their city rival and three points of their archrival thanks to a 2-0 win over Malaga with goals from Angel di Maria and a late Cristiano Ronaldo penalty.

In Italy however, Roma maintained their perfect start to the season by winning 2-0 at home to second placed Napoli and also ended with the weekend five points clear of the league as Juventus failed to take advantage of Napoli’s loss.

The Old Lady relinquished a 2-0 lead to lose 4-2 at Fiorentina to remain in third place, followed by Hellas Verona with 16 points while Inter Milan and Fiorentina have 15 points with Inter coming away from Turin with a 3-3 draw against Torino.

In France, Paris Saint Germain opened a two point lead at the top of the league thanks to a 4-0 bashing of Bastia with Zlatan scoring two goals including another memorable backheeled goal to add to his collection of audacious goals.

Monaco remain second but saw a 2-0 lead disappear as the principality club was held 2-2 at Sochaux while title rival Olympique Marseille stumbled further, losing 1-0 on Friday.

Still with the French but in tennis, Richard Gasquet hopped over compatriot Jo-Wilfred Tsonga to occupy the final ATP World Tour Final slot after the former won the Kremlin Cup and the latter lost in the semi-final of the Austrian Open.

With one tournament left to play for each player ahead of the London finale which serves off November 4, only three players – Rafael Nadal, defending champion Novak Djokovic and David Ferrer – are outrightly guaranteed of their place.

Juan Martin Del Potro, Tomas Berdych and Stanislas Wawrinka would confirm their places with good enough showings this week while Roger Federer could still miss out altogether if he performs poorly this week and two of the four players behind him do well.

Those players are Gasquet, Tsonga, Canadian Milos Raonic and German veteran Tommy Haas who gave himself an outside chance of making the London finale by winning the Austrian Open with a 6-3 4-6 6-4 win over Robin Haase.

Federer meanwhile has stated he would be more delighted to see compatriot Wawrinka make the Tour Final than him, having not missed the season’s curtain-closer in the last 11 years.

And with that, it’s the curtain call for this post. On this day, former England international Paul Ince is born in 1967, Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic is born in 1981 and television star Kim Kardashian is born in 1980.

Tomorrow, the Golden Eaglets take on Sweden in what should be their group’s star match while Arsène Wenger will hope for a 64th birthday present with an Arsenal win over Dortmund tomorrow night.

And to you reading, hope you have a great week ahead!

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Over the Weekend: Bundesliga Goes Global, Nigeria Gets a Wing into Brazil & More


The German Bundesliga has agreed a deal with 21st Century Fox, which will see matches from the league broadcast live for five years from the 2015/16 season in Asia, North and South America as well as for two years in Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium.

The deal – coupled with the rate the Bundesliga’s popularity is growing thanks to on-field performances of Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and the German national team by extension – promises to get the Bundesliga at par with the Spanish Primera Division and English Premier League in terms of financial income and by overseas fanbase.

Bayern have started the defence of their Bundesliga and Champions League title on a high, currently leading league rivals Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen by a point while also easing past Manchester City last time out in Europe.

Dortmund on their part are second in Group D ahead of their crucial trip to group leaders Arsenal next week as club football resumes following a raft of 2014 World Cup qualifiers over the international break.

Germany secured qualification with a 3-0 win over Ireland while England and Spain can join the three time champions on Tuesday at the expense of Ukraine and France when they face Poland and Georgia respectively.

In Africa, Samuel Eto’o returned from retirement to bolster Cameroun’s attack in a final qualifying round first leg match at Tunisia on Sunday, but it was Charles-Hubert Itandje who starred for the Indomitable Lions with a number of saves as the match in Tunis ended goalless.

Earlier on Saturday, Algeria left Ouagadougou in largely good spirit following a 3-2 loss against Burkina Faso while Didier Drogba scored twice as Cote D’Ivoire got a 3-1 win at home to Senegal, a healthy enough lead to take into the second leg at Dakar in November.

Nigeria’s Super Eagles will take the healthiest lead into a return leg, after coming from behind to claim a dramatic 2-1 win at Ethiopia on Sunday thanks to a brace from Emmanuel Emenike.

The win in Addis Ababa extended Nigeria’s unbeaten run in World Cup qualifiers to 27 matches and though it put them in great stead ahead of the return leg in Calabar in November, it remains to be seen if Stephen Keshi’s assemble can hold their own outside the continent.

Despite losing to Uruguay and world champions Spain at last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup, the Super Eagles showed potential in their performance against their more illustrious rivals then and will hope to start living up to their promise when they meet with 2006 world champions Italy in a friendly match at London, days after the return match against Ethiopia.

Before then, the Super Eagles will come up against Jordan on October 28 as Keshi also prepares for the African Nations Championship – competition involving players from respective indigeneous leagues – holding early next year in South Africa.

Meanwhile in the Nigeria Premier League, Kano Pillars remain on course to defend the league title as they remain top of the league with 60 points despite losing 2-1 at Gombe United on Saturday.

With two matches left in the season, Pillars now lead by just a point ahead of Enyimba on 59 points as the Aba Elephants got a lone goal win at home to ABS, while Bayelsa United and El-Kanemi Warriors follow in third and fourth place on 58 and 57 points respectively after both lost 1-0 at Kaduna United and Heartland respectively.

In Formula 1, Sebastien Vettel of Red Bull has not won the world title just yet even though his win at Suzuka is a fifth successive grand prix win on his barge to a fourth successive world title.

Closest challenger Fernando Alonso of Ferrari – who finished fourth and see the world between him and Vettel stretch to 90 points/10 points-under-a-four-race-gap – conceded this season’s title to the German who only has to finish in the top five or not be outscored by 16 points by Alonso in the Indian Grand Prix to win the title.

The Spaniard hence is only content with the consolation of amassing the most points in F1 history after surpassing Michael Schumacher’s all-time score. Alonso has now scored 1,571 points, two more points than Schumacher while Vettel is third on that list with 1,351 points.

While disappointment has largely riddled Ferrari’s season, controversy has courted the Red Bull team with Mark Webber among others claiming the team’s strategy during the race favoured Vettel who had dropped to third at the start of the race with Grosjean jumping into the lead from fourth ahead of Webber.

The race had witnessed Webber being made to make three pit stops while Vettel made two stops; with the first pit stop of Webber coming at lap 11, four laps before Vettel’s first and enough time for the latter to take and build on a lead ahead of him and Grosjean.

Webber’s second stop, at lap 25, effectively ended his chance of winning the race and for a while looked to ensure he wouldn’t go past Grosjean, with Vettel making his second and final pit stop at lap 37 of 53.

Webber eventually only went past Grosjean in the penultimate lap, as late as it is to plaster a deep wedge driven deeper between both drivers from much earlier in the season when Vettel had disobeyed team instructions and forced Webber to let him pass on his way to winning the Malaysian Grand Prix in March.

And while he denied it, it is believed that incident led to Webber deciding he will leave the team and the sport at the end of this season and join Porsche next year in their Le Mans sportscar programme.

Finally from tennis, Novak Djokovic made it 20 consecutive match wins on Chinese courts following his 6-1 3-6 7-6 win over Juan Martin Del Potro in the final of the Shanghai Masters.

Del Potro had earlier in the semi-final inflicted only a fifth defeat of the season on Rafael Nadal, whose season record now stands at 68 wins in 73 matches while Djokovic has now won 62 matches this season.

That’s the bit from here. Came across this amusing story of a footballer whose brace in a Tajikistan league match resulted in power and water supply to his home being cut.

On this day, Nigerian footballer Ahmed Musa is born in 1992, David Beckham played his last match for England in 2009, the children’s book Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne is first published in 1926, English actor Roger Moore is born in 1927, fashion designer Ralph Lauren (Ralph Lifshitz) is born in 1939 and the first live television broadcast from space is done in 1968.

Have a pleasant week ahead wherever this post meets you.

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Random Yarns from the Week: England Have No Claim and More


Seeing a female formula 1 driver is rare and on a sad note, the closest one there’s been to driving at a competitive level in recent times, Maria de Villota was found dead in Seville earlier today.

De Villota was a reserve F1 driver who had survived a terrible accident while testing for the Marussia team in 2011 in a collision with a lorry, suffering severe head and facial injuries and losing her right eye in the process… though she did get back to racing.

Onto competitive racing where it’s almost rare for Sebastien Vettel not to finish on the podium. And he could be crowned world champion of Formula 1 for a fourth consecutive year in this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, a race the Red Bull driver heads into with a 77 point lead over Fernando Alonso, who must finish lower than eighth for Vettel (who also must win the race) to be crowned champion.

At the moment, Mercedes drivers Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton led the track after first practice session in Suzuka but inevitably, Vettel remains firm favourite to win a fifth successive race… but maybe not so much the title for this weekend at least.

That said, Vettel and Red Bull teammate Mark Webber matched the Mercedes by heading the track after second practice, leaving them odds on to take pole position. Vettel was pole in the last grand prix in South Korea.

Inevitably also, there’s talk of fans getting bored of Vettel’s dominance of the sport, exemplified by him getting booed in a recent race, but Suzuka is almost a second home for the German while the other teams just need to step up to the level the Red Bull team has reached over the years.

Can’t blame some fans getting irked by Vettel’s dominance however, as I was in their shoes when Roger Federer held sway in the tennis world right after the glory days of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.

Never liked Federer in that period simply because it will always be Sampras for me while Novak Djokovic is my present favourite on the tour, but watching Federer crash out of the Shanghai Masters didn’t inspire a rival fan’s ‘joy’.

Only two years ago, Gael Monfils would’ve been happy to get a set off Federer not the other way round as it happened in Shanghai. Alas! The Swiss master (I don’t like his game doesn’t make him less a great) is past his prime and has twins to care for too.

Novak Djokovic remains in his prime though and is through to the Shanghai Masters semi-final (at Monfils expense) alongside Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Juan Martin Del Potro who beat Florian Mayer and Nicholas Almagro respectively. Rafael Nadal on his part beat Stanislas Wawrinka for a place in the last four, his 68th win in 72 matches this year.

As for world number three Andy Murray, he’ll have to be content with watching his peers from the sideline as he continues his recovery from back surgery. Sadly, he’s had to pull out of the season ending ATP World Tour final in London to continue his recovery.

Murray’s absence means there are now five more places in the Tour Final to fight for, with Nadal, Djokovic and David Ferrer already guaranteed their place in the season finale. Ferrer however has been beaten in Shanghai, 6-4 6-3 by Florian Mayer earlier on.

Seventh ranked Federer could seal his place in the Tour Finals by doing well enough in the two tournaments before November’s finale, at Basel and Paris, but he will be contesting for those five spots with Tomas Berdych, Del Potro and Tsonga who are in the last four in Shanghai, as well as countryman Stanislas Wawrinka, Milos Raonic of Canada and Richard Gasquet of France.

Del Potro, Berdych and Tsonga hold a big threat to Federer’s quest to make the finale for a 12th successive year, while Wawrinka, Gasquet and Raonic will have to put up strong performances over the next fortnight to boost their chance of making it to London, where there’s little chance of them getting embroiled in who should or shouldn’t represent what nation.

Special thanks to native Englishman and Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere for making the lines clear between who’s English and who’s not English even though they may have the Queen’s passport anyway… thus getting a number of sportsmen such as Kevin Pietersen and John Fashanu worked up.

All because of what (who)? The mere suggestion that Adnan Januzaj should play for the English national team; the Three Lions, following his heroics at the Stadium of Light… a debut that has eventually made us now know that he shares his birthday with Cristiano Ronaldo and that he made his debut on the anniversary of George Best making his Manchester United debut all those years ago.

Simply put, and that’s if you don’t read the fine print, it means Januzaj is destined to be great! Destined to be great because the boy scored two (well made first and well taken second admittedly) goals? Against a bottom of the league side? On his league debut?

While trying to understand why the 18 year old who’s eligible to play for the national teams of Belgium, Croatia, Serbia, Albania and Turkey and actually won’t be eligible to play for England before 2018… wait, so what’s all the fuss about?

And right on cue, the matter changed from the morality involved in having ‘foreigners’ play for a nation of residency or descent even rather than of birth to ‘do we have enough of our (native) youngsters coming through even?’

Judging from the calamitous Euros endured by Stuart Pearce’s young Lions last year and by the number of young Lions (under 23 years of age) featuring regularly for ‘top six/seven’ Premier League clubs or doing exceptionally well on loan to decent clubs from these ‘top’ clubs, the future of English football for the next decade is bleak.

While a world class institute/academy in England ala Clairefontaine in France or La Masia in Spain is for the moment an infant, England really have a small pool of ‘world class’ players with Wayne Rooney perhaps the only established one.

Wilshere still talks about getting to optimum fitness following almost two years on the sidelines, Tom Cleverley is struggling with shedding the hot prospect tag and living up to the pun in the family name while Joe Hart’s gloves have betrayed him in recent times.

Daniel Sturridge is a big hope, but Danny Welbeck’s more of a flickering hope. Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon are as good as they can be annoying, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard have aged, Gareth Barry pretty much so as well. So, 19 year old Ross Barkley? Alongside a Phil Jones if he manages to stay fit over a sustained period?

Only position on the field England can actually boast of credible and consistent (performance wise) options is at left back but three grains of rice will never be enough to feed a famished Lion… and it’s the Three Lions being written of here.

Apart from all that, when majority of the best players or managers in your league are foreigners (including the nearby Scots and Irishmen; Northern and Republic), it does not matter just how world and Martian class your academy is when you don’t have same standard of coaches or even managers.

Indeed, that they’re getting regular time in their native leagues is helping youngsters in rival nations as Spain, France, Germany and the Netherlands, there’s more to it than the obvious. A proven blueprint; in suitable tactics, techniques and coaching is what England needs more than a world class academy or a quota system in favour of ‘Englishmen’.

Right now however, the Three Lions – native and naturalised – have gone a step closer to qualifying for Brazil 2014 following a 4-1 win over Montenegro on Friday night, in the first of their final two crucial World Cup qualifying matches.

Now with 19 points, England is a point ahead of Ukraine that ended Poland’s faint hopes of top spot or even a playoff spot in a 1-0 win in Kyiv. England can therefore be a bit confident of getting qualification in Tuesday’s trip to face Poland.

Belgium meanwhile have qualified for Brazil 2014 as a brace from Romelu Lukaku earned the Red Devils a 2-1 win at Croatia and open an unassailable eight point gap for the Belgians who last made a World Cup appearance in 2002.

Croatia will be content with getting a playoff spot while Wales, that beat Macedonia 1-0 in Cardiff on Friday, will host the happy Belgians on Tuesday in a pseudo-testimonial for Craig Bellamy after the Cardiff City winger announced he’ll retire from national duty then.

Elsewhere, Russia got a 4-0 win from their trip to Luxembourg to effectively get the qualification ticket after second placed Portugal was held to a 1-1 draw by the Israelites in Lisbon, a result that put Russia three points and ahead of the Portuguese who must now win by a seven-goal margin at home to Luxembourg and hope Russia lose at Azerbaijan to get automatic qualification. Otherwise, Cristiano Ronaldo and co can settle for their guaranteed playoff spot already.

Four nations will battle for one playoff spot in Group B, as second placed Bulgaria’s 2-1 loss at Armenia allowed the latter and two other nations to equal or come within a point of them.

Denmark was held to a 2-2 draw by already qualified Italy to go level on 13 points with Bulgaria while Czech Republic came within a point of the duo thanks to a 4-1 win at Malta, ahead of Armenia on goal difference.

Denmark will be favourites to get the playoff spot as they host Malta on Tuesday, while Bulgaria on their part host Czech Republic and Armenia visit the Azurri needing a win and other results to go their way to get that playoff spot.

Sweden got a playoff spot from Group C in a comeback 2-1 win at home to third placed Austria after a Zlatan Ibrahimovic-inspired second half with Germany sealing qualification from that group with a 3-0 win at home to Republic of Ireland.

The already qualified Netherland’s demolished Hungary 8-1 as Robin van Persie became the Dutch side’s all-time leading scorer with a hattrick on the night, while Turkey got a 2-0 win at Estonia to maintain second place with 16 points ahead of Romania that also has 16 points following a 4-0 win at Andorra.

Turkey will get the playoff spot in that group if their result at home to the Netherlands on Tuesday is not bettered by Romania who host Estonia, while Hungary with 14 points must get a big win from their match against bottom side Andorra and hope Turkey and Romania lose to get the playoff spot.

In Africa, Nigeria’s Super Eagles will visit Ethiopia on Sunday in a first leg match of the final qualifying round on the continent. Before then, Senegal will face Cote D’Ivoire in Abidjan on Saturday without the uninvited Demba Ba while Ghana host Egypt on Monday.

Finally in the Nigeria Premier League, Kano Pillars took a big step towards defending their league title after beating title rivals Enyimba 2-0 in Lokoja on Wednesday, going top of the league as a result.

Should Pillars go on to win the league, they will have only a month to prepare for a second title defence after the League Management Company announced on Thursday that the 2013/14 season will kick off in the penultimate weekend of November. Next season will also see the return of special matches on Friday evenings as the league calendar steadily returns to normal.

My weekend begins now however, bringing us to the end of this post. On this day in 1962, the Second Vatican Council holds, 92 years after the first. And in 1582, the day does not exist in Italy, Spain, Poland and Portugal due to the implementation of the Gregorian calendar.

Today also is the International Day of the Girl Child, the 38th anniversary of tv show Saturday Night Live, the birthday of former rapper MC Lyte and actresses Contance Zimmer (Entourage, House of Cards) and Joan Cushack (Shameless). Best wishes to them and everyone celebrating today.

Have a pleasant weekend.

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Over the Weekend: Januzaj on the Double, Nadal’s Number One (Anyway) and More


Football from over the weekend served up a number of eventful matches across Europe while Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal to the China Open title and Sebastien Vettel won a fourth successive race and edge closer to an inevitable fourth successive Formula 1 title.

Jack Wilshere’s first goal in three years helped Arsenal get 1-1 draw at West Brom and return to the top of the Premier League by virtue of goals scored ahead of Liverpool that eased to a 3-1 win over Crystal Palace with goals from Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard with a penalty.

Chelsea is now two points behind the early pacesetters after also getting a 3-1 win at Norwich City with goals from midfielders Oscar, Eden Hazard and a first time shot from Willian, hours before Willian’s should’ve-been club Tottenham Hotspur got hammered 3-0 at home by West Ham United and dropped to sixth as a result, three points behind the leaders.

Manchester City is fifth with 13 points, ahead of Spurs on goal difference after a 3-1 win over Everton that dropped to a point behind City in seventh place while Southapton is fourth with 14 points thanks to a 2-0 win over Swansea City.

Osaze Odemwingie got his first goal for Cardiff City but Loïc Remy’s brace for Newcastle United got the headlines and the three points for the 11th placed Toons while Manchester United is ninth after coming from behind to win 2-1 as well at Newcastle’s local rivals Sunderland.

The highlight from the Stadium of Light was Adnan Januzaj’s well taken brace, which brought to light a number of facts including the 18 year old is eligible to represent as many as six countries including Belgium and England.

We also now know he earns (just) a thousand pounds per week and not necessarily as a result but, he’s going to leave next year Pogba style unless he gets a new (much improved) contract at Old Trafford.

Paul Pogba’s £20,000 game week ended on a bit of a personal low, getting swarmed by three Milan players while in possession of the ball, resulting in Sulley Muntari’s second goal for AC Milan in the 3-2 loss at Juventus.

Muntari had put the Milan side ahead after just 20 seconds but a freekick from Andrea Pirlo and further goals from Sebastien Giovinco and Giorgio Chiellini off a Pirlo freekick put Juve 3-1 up before Muntari’s late consolation.

Juve remain third with 19 points, behind Napoli on goal difference as the Sicilians dispatched Livorno 4-0 to remain two points behind the impressing AS Roma that sustained their perfect start to the Serie A season with a 3-0 win at Inter Milan, playing the last quarter of an hour there with 10 men after Balzaretti got sent off.

Elsewhere, Hellas Verona jumped to fifth with 13 points, a point behind fourth placed Inter, with a 4-1 win at Bologna while Fiorentina and SS Lazio follow the newly promoted Hellas on the league table after both drew goalless in their match in the Italian capital.

In Spain’s capital city, Atletico Madrid maintained their perfect start to La Liga with a 2-1 win over Celta Vigo, a match in which Atletico’s Diego Costa – celebrating his 25th birthday today – missed a first half penalty before scoring a brace either side of half time to make it 10 goals in eight matches this season for him and 24 points from 8 league matches for Atletico.

Barcelona however lead La Liga with a slightly better goal difference as Neymar starred in absence of the injured Lionel Messi in a 4-1 win over Real Valladolid.

Barça’s archrival Real Madrid returned to third place with 19 points by a last gasp Cristiano Ronaldo goal in a 3-2 win at Levante while Villarreal returned to two points behind Real having won 3-0 against Granada on Friday.

In France, Monaco maintained its unbeaten return to Ligue 1 with a 2-1 win over St. Etienne, enough to keep the principality side top of the league with 21 points ahead of PSG on goal difference with the Parisians playing an hour of Le Classique with 10 men yet winning 2-1 at fourth placed Olympique Marseille.

The result of the weekend however came from Stade de la Mosson where 2012 league champions Montpellier handed Olympique Lyon a 5-1 thrashing, sending Lyon down to 14th while Montpellier rose to eighth with the win, which ended a run of five successive draws.

A draw meanwhile would’ve kept Borussia Dortmund top of the Bundesliga but Jürgen Klopp’s side fell to a 2-0 loss at Borussia Monchengladbach, allowing Bayern Munich to take top spot for the first time this season after playing out a 1-1 draw at third placed Bayer Leverkusen; the last team to defeat Bayern in the league… 33 games ago.

In Korea, German driver Sebastien Vettel made it four successive grand prix wins by taking the Korean GP ahead of soon to be Ferrari driver Kimi Raïkkönen and Romain Grosjean, with Vettel’s closest rival in the title race Fernando Alonso finishing sixth behind Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton in fifth and Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg in fourth.

But all attention in the far east is on Vettel, who could wrap his fourth successive championship win up in next weekend’s grand prix in Japan, given he wins there and Alonso – who is 77 points/three races and two points behind – doesn’t finish above eighth place. After all that went down in the Korean GP, it’s quite possible.

Finally, while Vettel’s drive to the championship has become an inevxorable happening, Novak Djokovic could still regain top spot on the tennis world rankings after relinquishing that spot to Rafael Nadal despite beating the Spaniard 6-3 6-4 to win the China Open in Beijing on Sunday.

Next up for both men, 40 points apart on the rankings, is the Shanghai Masters this week ahead of the season ending ATP World Tour Finals in London where the top eight players on the men’s rankings compete from two groups of four players each for the title.

Already guaranteed a place in the singles event holding at the O2 Arena from November 4 to 11 are defending champion Djokovic, Nadal, Andy Murray and David Ferrer. I’m guessing (and hoping) Djokovic will finish the year as world number oneif he wins there and Nadal doesn’t make the final.

Till then, there are going to be World Cup qualifiers across the world ahead of Brazil 2014. Nigeria will visit Ethiopia for the first leg of their final round playoff on October 13.

In the Nigeria Premier League, Kano Pillars (third with 57 points after 35 matches) will ‘host’ league leaders Enyimba (with 59 points) in Lokoja during the week as the local league winds to a dramatic close with four clubs in the thick of the title race, including Bayelsa United and El-Kanemi that both only regained promotion to the top division this season.

That’s the bit from here. On this day in 2006, Gareth Bale became the youngest goalscorer for the Welsh national team in a Euro 2008 qualifying match they lost 5-1 to Slovakia.

Also on this day, Nigeria joined the United Nations in 1960, former Arsenal midfielder Gilberto Silva was born in 1976, former Milan goalkeeper Dida was born in 1973 as was Bayer Leverkusen manager Sami Hyypiä, and Tottenham striker Jermaine Defoe was born in 1982.

Many happy returns to them and many others, including Bukky, celebrating. Have a pleasant week ahead wherever this post meets you.

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Random Yarns from the Week – Moyes, Nadal and More


When Sir Alex Ferguson handed the reign over to a new man, one must recall vividly the advise he gave cheering spectators at Old Trafford that day, ‘to stand behind the new man’. Barely two months into his debut season, the fans have gone from standing behind to being on the new man’s neck.

David Moyes has somehow managed to hand Manchester United their worst league start in two decades and some, spectacularly losing the Manchester derby while at it, although four points from two games in the Champions League isn’t bad.

But as the saying about just disliking whatever good or bad someone you don’t like does, United fans continue to show discontent at the Scot who replaced their favourite Scot at the end of last season.

Going on holiday right after being named successor didn’t help, neither did the exit of Mike Phelan, Rene Meulesteen and co from the backroom. Their replacements are not considered experienced enough, then there’s Ed Woodward when the club’s transfer market futility is brought up.

In all, Moyes seems content to avoid defeat at the moment and hasn’t really let his ‘style’ transcend to the team, or maybe he has. Moyes was content with avoiding defeat while at Everton and it was evident in his comments after the 1-1 Champions League draw at Shakhtar Donetsk.

So United fans will grumble some more through the course of this season till that mentality changes. And while they grumble, watching Arsenal be the next best team in blistering form in Europe (after Bayern) amounts to a bit of torture.

The Gunners eased past Napoli largely with a first half display reminiscent of their 3-0 win over AC Milan few seasons ago, leaving them top of the Premier League and their Champions League group… rare but welcome.

Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger will reportedly be offered a three year contract extension by the club and if his players, especially new record signing Mesut Özil keep to form, there’s little doubt that the Frenchman will extend his reign at the Emirates.

At the Etihad however, the start of Manuel Pellegrini’s reign there has not been fair sailing, with spectacular wins over Newcastle United, Wigan Athletic and city rivals United among others underwhelmed by the loss at Everton along with more recent ones at Aston Villa in the league and the brush aside by European champions Bayern Munich.

Those losses revealed a poor work ethic at the Etihad as the Bayern players never really exerted themselves and tame efforts from Robbery (or you prefer Ribben? Of course not) either side of Thomas Müller’s amusing goal – amusing thanks to Gäel Clichy’s belief that Müller should have been flagged offside – summed up the lax attitude in the City camp and the fall in quality of Joe Hart.

It is becoming more and more apparent that no matter the quality of manager at the helm, if the players remain with their pompous attitude (especially in Europe, personified in Clichy’s moment of gory) then the billions of Sheikh Mansour would have been largely for nothing.

Monsieur Khalifa at Paris on the contrary has put together a very driven set of players, a bunch whose desire to win remains sustained unlike at City where it waned right after winning a first league title in half a century.

At PSG, the league title was won in Khalifa’s second season after Montpellier ‘rudely’ won in his first season there by a point. They then went on to reach the last eight of the Champions League, losing out on away goals to Barcelona.

Now, they’re unbeaten at second place in Ligue 1, a point behind new billionaire clubs’ club member Monaco and have won their two group matches in the Champions League with relative ease.

But all isn’t rosy in Paris, Javier Pastore and Jeremy Menez are the latest of unsatisfied players after the likes of Kevin Gameiro and Mamadou Sakho who have since left. Neither is all rosy at Dortmund, where manager Jurgen Klopp has been handed a further match ban from the touchline off his face of rage in Dortmund’s opening day loss at Napoli in the Champions League.

His absence didn’t stop the Bundesliga leaders from whipping Olympique Marseille 3-0 with want away striker Robert Lewandowski scoring a brace as he bids his time till he can at least sign for another club (thought to be Bayern, in Gö.. Gotze’s footsteps) when the January window opens.

Gotze has only featured intermittently so far no thanks to an injury from last season, reducing him to Xherdan Shaqiri levels at Bavaria from the high esteem he enjoyed at Ruhr.

Gareth Bale is also dealing with an injury at Real Madrid from his Tottenham days, with the $100m Welshman on the sidelines till the end of October, ample time for Angel di Maria to keep sending him same message from the 4-0 win over FC Copenhagen where he got two goals and a rabona assist.

Being a World Cup year, Di Maria, Romelu Lukaku and other such players will do what’s needed to make the trip to Brazil. In a way, it’s what Özil did (by joining Arsenal). Writing of the World Cup, FIFA expects Brazil to deliver all stadia for next year’s mundial by December this year, around the same time draws for the group stage will be held.

It’s also about the same time, in 2022, that the World Cup could take place (from mid-January precisely) in Qatar, depending on what FIFA decides concerning that today. Whichever period is chosen, the Qataris will nonetheless live with nine years of criticism over scheduling and preparations.

Recently, it came to light that workers from Nepal at the World Cup sites don’t get paid and some, due to harsh working conditions, have died. The Supreme Committee (Qatar’s World Cup LOC) have expressed their shock at these revelations and promised to look into the matter.

Whether working conditions and weather conditions are made to the level that observers should find satisfactory, one just gets the feeling more will be heard, read and said in the eight more years before Qatar 2022, such that we’d have to remind ourselves that Russia will host the 2018 World Cup.

Still in the east of this world, Novak Djokovic kept up his resistance of Rafael Nadal’s surge at the world number one spot by making the last four of the ongoing China Open with victory over Sam Querrey today. Nadal however is in the semis too and inevitably on course for that number one spot, coming from a set down to beat Fabio Fognini earlier today as well.

All Nadal needs to do to become number one is reach the final; he plays Tomas Berdych in his semi-final. Djokovic however must win the Open while hoping Berdych stops his Spanish adversary in the last four. But in the form Nadal has been since returning from injury in February, he’s odds on to win the Open anyway.

Same sort of form Sebastien Vettel has been all season ahead of the Korean Grand Prix this weekend, where victory would see the Red Bull driver open a three race lead over Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso with five races left on the calendar.

Elsewhere this weekend, Manchester City will look to bounce back from successive losses when they welcome unbeaten Everton to the Etihad in the Premier League’s early kickoff on Saturday, with neighbours Man. United visiting Sunderland in the day’s evening kickoff while Liverpool host Crystal Palace in one of four 4 o’clock kickoffs on Saturday.

Leaders Dortmund visit Borussia Monchengladbach in one of six matches on Saturday in the Bundesliga, though the match to look out for is second placed Bayern Munich’s trip to third placed Bayer Leverkusen… Bayer being the last team to beat Bayern in the Bundesliga, the only league loss suffered by Bayern last season in fact. Turn up Kießling!

Saturday football is capped with Serie A pacesetters Roma visiting a rejuvenated Inter Milan in fourth place, four points behind the Romans. Then on Sunday in the Serie A, Juve host AC Milan, Lazio host Fiorentina and in France, PSG travel to Marseille in Le Classique.

That’s pretty much it for the week. Happy birthday to my beautiful cousin Bolanle and to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Many happy returns to them and others celebrating today.

Have a pleasant weekend ahead.

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