Archive for category During the Week

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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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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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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During the Week: About Cup Hosts Ahead of a Loaded Football Weekend


For a tournament a good nine years from starting, football’s 2022 FIFA World Cup to be held in Qatar has generated a courier load of discussion all inspired by the dilemma of whether one of the world’s biggest sporting events should hold in the unusual winter period from January rather than the usual summer schedule from June.

The logic behind a winter World Cup is that temperatures above 50 degrees, which could be attained during a Qatari summer and would pose a danger to human health during the mundial, would be avoided by shifting the tournament to the Qatari winter.

Now, while a whole lot of a certain continent’s people probably aren’t bothered about under what weather the football would be played, Australia are not only bothered… the folks from down under are considering to seek about $43m in compensation having lost in the votes for the hosting rights to Qatar after spending some £25m on its bid.

According to a statement from Football Federation Australia’s chief Frank Lowy, “… with increasing speculation about a change that will impact on us as one of the bidding nations, and because our competition will be affected, we have made our position public.” adding that “just and fair compensation” be given to the nations that “invested many millions, and national prestige, in bidding for a summer event”.

The Qataris meanwhile, via the 2022 Supreme Committee, are saying there really is no need for the World Cup to be moved from summer and all should keep calm and observe as they go about “creating comfortable conditions for public areas, walkways, training pitches and stadia both during and after the World Cup, (which) means being able to play and watch football matches in summer throughout the country.”

The committee stated further that “cooling technology has existed at Jassim bin Hamad (Al Sadd) Stadium since 2008. This June, the stadium (in Doha) hosted a FIFA World Cup qualifier in cool and comfortable conditions. We are now in the process of developing and perfecting sustainable cooling technologies to ensure that our Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup stadia, training grounds and fan zones offer the optimal temperature for players and fans to enjoy the games.”

Putting aside potentially awesome cooling technologies along with alleged ‘politics’ and ‘pressure’ involved in awarding Qatar the hosting rights, the FFA’s position on the matter strays offside in my view based on the suggested compensation which leads to a few other subfactors.

£25m is a lot of money to spend on a bidding process, and lose, but that would require FIFA to be paying the nations that lose out in every bidding process from now on, which amounts to a lot of money considering that three other nations (Japan, South Korea and the United States) would also have to be compensated.

But I’m even thinking qualifying for the World Cup itself should serve as good enough compensation to be honest. For the 2010 World Cup for instance, countries that failed to qualify from the group stages received $8m for their participation, while those that fell in the second round and quarter final stages received $9m and $14m respectively from FIFA/LOC.

While it’s no where near the $30m FFA spent on their failed bid, I reckon that by 2022, prize money for the above stages would be much higher than what obtains at present. Not to mention that for the World Cup winner, which was $30m when Spain broke Dutch hearts in 2010.

The Spanish and Dutch FAs meanwhile have submitted five cities to UEFA to be considered as a host city for the 2020 European Championship which will be ingeniously hosted by different cities across the continent in a bid to make the tournament a truly continental championship.

Spain, who submitted the cities of Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao and Valencia for consideration and the Netherlands who submitted Amsterdam, are among 32 nations that have submitted at least a city for consideration to host at least one match of the championship to UEFA whose president, Michel Platini stated at a meeting of European associations in Croatia that he would make a decision of running for FIFA presidency during or after next year’s World Cup.

Some of the other nations and their cities include the British nations who submitted London, Glasgow, Cardiff and Dublin for consideration, Italy with Rome and Milan, Portugal with Porto and Lisbon, Ukraine with Kyiv and Donetsk, Russia with St. Petersburg rather than Moscow (refreshingly in fact) and France very oddly with Lyon rather than Paris.

In the end, the UEFA Executive Committee will in September 2014 select 13 cities to host the 2020 Euros, which will be the 60th anniversary edition, with the package for chosen cities either being the standard package of hosting three group matches and a knockout round match or the showpiece package of hosting a semi-final match and the final.

Other nations and their cities include Germany with Munich, Israel with Jerusalem (aye!), Croatia with Zagreb, Finnish capital Helsinki, Prague in Czech Republic, Poland with Warsaw and Chorzow, Belarus with Minsk, Kazakhstan with Astana, Belgium with Brussels, Turkey with favoured city to be given the showpiece package Istanbul and from the nation where some of the world’s finest chocolate, wristwatches and bank accounts are found… Basel.

For the week, Switzerland also serves as the nation from which one of the world’s finest football clubs is found (little bit exaggeration yeah, but Kagawa-a-care none) after FC Basel came from behind to defeat reigning Europa League champions Chelsea in their opening match of this season’s UEFA Champions League.

Oscar had put the Blues ahead in Stamford Bridge just before half time before second half goals from Mohamed Selah and Marco Streller handed Basel a first win on English soil while also inflicting a first home defeat in 29 European matches on Chelsea on the heels of a lone goal loss at Everton last weekend.

Elsewhere, Lionel Messi became the second leading Champions League scorer of all time courtesy of a hattrick in Barcelona’s 4-0 thumping of Ajax on Wednesday, a day after Cristiano Ronaldo celebrated his new contract – that makes him the highest paid footballer – with a hattrick of his own in Real Madrid’s 6-1 drubbing of Galatasaray at Istanbul.

In other results, Aaron Ramsey continued his good form in Arsenal’s 2-1 win at Olympiqur Marseille, Borussia Dortmund had their manager and goalkeeper sent off in a dramatic 2-1 loss at Napoli, PSG humbled Olympiacos 4-1 in Greece, the Manchester clubs got wins over Bayer Leverkusen and Vitoria Plzen while Bayern Munich began their title defence with a 3-0 win over CSKA Moscow.

In the Europa League group stage which began on Thursday, Adil Rami got sent off after just nine minutes in Valencia’s 3-0 home loss to European debutantes Swansea City, Tottenham Hotspur got same score in the win at home to Tromsø, Wigan Athletic commendably drew goalless at Zulte-Waregem and Kevin Gameiro scored with 13 minutes left in Sevilla’s 2-1 win at Estoril.

In some other matches, Sevilla’s neighbours Real Betis drew goalless with Olympique Lyon, Giuseppe Rossi’s resurgence continued as he scored his fourth in as many matches in Fiorentina’s 3-0 win over Pacos de Ferreira, PSV Eindhoven fell to a shock 2-0 home loss to Ludogorets Razgrad, Rubin Kazan won 5-2 at Maribor, Bordeaux lost 3-0 at Frankfurt and SS Lazio got a lone goal win at home to Legia Warsaw courtesy of a Hernanes goal.

The Roman side will now prepare to face second placed city rivals AS Roma in the Rome derby on Sunday in one of several high profile matches to be played across European leagues this weekend. League leaders Napoli travel to Milan to face AC Milan later on Sunday in another Serie A match.

In France, the big spending clubs face off in the capital when Ligue 1 leaders AS Monaco pay third placed PSG a visit on Sunday, Bayern Munich visit Schalke 04 in a Bundesliga match and champions Manchester United will be guests of Manchester City in the Premier League on Sunday.

Finally in Nigeria, Enyimba followed up Sunday’s Federations Cup win with a 2-0 win over Wikki Tourists on Wednesday to go second on the league table with 52 points, two points behind league leaders and defending champions Kano Pillars that lost by a lone goal at Nembe City of Bayelsa.

Bayelsa United meanwhile dropped to third behind Enyimba on goal difference following a 2-1 loss at Nasarawa United, El-Kanemi Warriors remain fourth, three points behind Pillars following a 1-0 loss at Sunshine Stars while Kwara United replaced Warri Wolves in fifth place thanks to a 2-0 win over Gombe United in Ilorin coupled with Wolves’ goalless draw with Lobi Stars.

Wolves will visit leaders Kano Pillars on Saturday, Shooting Stars host Rangers in Ibadan, Dolphins and Kwara United meet in Port Harcourt, El-Kanemi host Gombe United in Maiduguri and Enyimba visit Bayelsa United in this weekend’s top match in matchday 33 of the Nigerian Professional Football League.

That’s the bit from here today. On this (yester)day in history, revered secondary school King’s College Lagos was founded in 1909.

Then on this day in 1937, JRR Tolkien’s ”The Hobbit” is published, in 1995 the Hindu milk miracle – in which statues of the Hindu god Ganesh began drinking milk when spoonfuls were placed near their mouths – occured. And in 2004, construction of Burj Khalifa (formerly called Burj Dubai), which is now the world’s tallest building since its completion and opening in 2010, began.

The Burj Khalifa cost $1.5billion to construct, is made up of 163 floors (the most in a building since New York’s World Trade Centre with 110 floors) and stands at 2,722ft tall from ground to tip though the top floor is only at a height of 1,918ft. Both heights however set other new records.

Today also marks the birthday of (my favourite) author Stephen King, comedian Bill Murray, rapper Wale and blogger Kemmiiii. Many happy returns to them and all others born today. And a good man, Robert Onyia, was buried last night. May he and others departed rest in peace, amen!

Have a pleasant weekend!

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During the Week: Cape Verde Out, Räikkönen Back with Ferrari & More


Not sure what should have me more pissed off, that the C in one of Apple’s two new iPhones – after the hype around it – does not stand for cheap apparently or that Cape Verde got themselves bundled out of the 2014 World Cup race by world football’s governing body FIFA?

The latter came about after it was found that the Islanders had fielded an ineligible player in what was an historic match at Tunisia, which Cape Verde had won 2-0 on the field but eventually lost 3-0 in the ‘boardroom’ no thanks to Fernando Varela.

Varela was given a straight red card in the 88th minute of an earlier qualifying match at Equatorial Guinea and was consequently punished with a four match ban; with the trip to Tunisia for that crucial qualifying match supposed to be the last match of that ban.

But all that is nothing to the great and amusing irony the football gods had in store in this dramatic episode… Varela was sent off in a match that was later awarded as a 3-0 win to Cape Verde, after it was found that Equatorial Guinea had fielded an ineligible player. Wherever realm it is these gods reside, the song of the day there was Justin Timberlake’s ”What Goes Around… ”.

The melodramatic mood of the song can be said to be same aura under which the penultimate round of World Cup qualifying in Africa ended. On other continents meanwhile, a number of countries sealed their passage to the World Cup including the Netherlands and Italy while Germany and Switzerland moved a step closer to doing just that.

A Robin van Persie brace helped the Dutch men to a 2-0 success at Andorra, Switzerland got a 2-0 win at Norway, goals from Arsenal duo Per Mertesacker and Mesut Özil as well as another from Bayern Munich’s Thomas Müller gave Germany a 3-0 win over Faroe Islands and Italy on their part were made to sweat a bit, coming from behind to subdue the Czech Republic 2-1.

That loss all but ended the Czech’s hope of at least finishing in a playoff spot, falling four points behind second placed Bulgaria in Group B after the latter won 2-1 at Malta to remain a point ahead of third placed Denmark that won by a lone goal at Armenia.

Scandinavian neighbours Sweden also won by a lone goal scored after only 30 seconds by Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Kazakhstan and edge closer to claiming a playoff spot ahead of third placed Austria that trail by three points following a lone goal win at home to the Republic of Ireland.

In other groups, Russia defeated Israel 3-1 to go top of Group F, a point ahead of Portugal who were busy getting beat 3-1 by Brazil in a friendly match, Turkey began yet another reign under Fatih Terim with a crucial 2-0 win at Romania while Hungary went second in Group D, a point ahead of those two, courtesy of a 5-1 win over Estonia.

Then there was England’s bore draw at Ukraine, which put the Three Lions top of Group H with 16 points and – coupled with Poland’s 5-1 win at San Marino – meant the top four nations in that group are separated by three points and each now have a chance of picking the World Cup spot or settle for the playoff spot.

Four nations also are meanwhile vying for two World Cup spots while a further fifth nation remain outsiders to clinch a playoff spot from the South American section of qualifying. All of that would be none of Argentina’s business however, following a 5-2 win at bottom nation Paraguay.

PSG’s record signing striker Edinson Cavani meanwhile scored in Uruguay’s 2-0 win over Colombia, preventing Monaco’s record signing striker Radamel Falcao and compatriots from joining Argentina right away.

Uruguay now lie fifth with 22 points, behind Ecuador on goal difference while Chile is third with 24 points and travel to Colombia, who have 26 points, in the next round of qualifying matches next month.

By that time, a more likely destination of this season’s Nigeria Profesional Football League title would be clearer. For now, Kano Pillars remain on course to defend the league title after claiming a lone goal win at home to former champions Enyimba in a Matchday 31 encounter during the week.

The result left Enyimba trailing Pillars by five points with seven matches left in the season. El-Kanemi Warriors meanwhile remain in second spot with 52 points, two points behind Pillars, after a lone goal win over Kwara United while Bayelsa United stay third on goal difference following a lone goal win at home to Enugu Rangers.

Other results saw ABS beat Sunshine Stars 2-1 in Ilorin and Kaduna United lose 3-0 at Gombe United. Nembe City lost by same score as Kaduna United in their match at Lobi Stars, Nasarawa United beat Wikki Tourists by a lone goal and Warri Wolves lost 2-1 at Dolphins of Port Harcourt… far from ideal preparation for Wolves ahead of the Federations Cup final.

Wolves’ opponent in Sunday’s final also lost during the week but, being their fourth appearance in the last five finals of the Cup, Enyimba will head into the encounter a bit more confident. Wolves could gain some courage from the fact that Enyimba have lost two of the previous three final appearances.

In far away England meanwhile, Sunderland have won just one of their last nine home meetings with Arsenal in the league, making the Gunners favourites in this weekend’s Premier League match at the Stadium of Light; a match that could see record signing Özil make his highly anticipated debut for the visitors.

Elsewhere, Marouane Fellaini could make his Manchester United debut when Crystal Palace visit Old Trafford, Romelo Lukaku will be ‘team tied’ when Everton face his real employer Chelsea while Merseyside rivals and league leaders Liverpool travel to Wales to face that nation’s finest team Swansea City on Monday.

That country’s finest (in the financial and talent context) player meanwhile is set to make his debut in Spain for Real Madrid in a La Liga match at newly promoted Villarreal that have began the season on a high and lie in third place with nine points, ahead of Real on goal difference.

Real coach Carlo Ancelotti confirmed this ahead of the match, despite Gareth Bale only just playing competitive football for the first time this season with a substitute’s appearance in Wales’ 3-0 home loss to Serbia in a World Cup qualifying match.

Elsewhere in Spain, Kevin Gameiro’s Sevilla embark on daunting trip to face Lionel Messi and Neymar at Barcelona while second placed Atletico Madrid, Falcao’s former club, host Almeria in another Liga match on Saturday.

Falcao on his part will be out to help his Monaco side regain top spot in Saturday’s Ligue 1 match at home to Lorient, after champions PSG went top of the league with a 2-0 win at Bordeaux on Friday night, courtesy of goals in each half from midfielders Blaise Matuidi and Lucas.

In Italy, the match of the weekend comes up on Saturday at the San Siro between champions Juventus and an Inter Milan side enjoying an early bloom in the Walter Mazzari era. Another Turin vs. Milan match will be played right after when AC Milan visit Torino.

Over in Formula 1, two big names will compete for same team from next season after Italian Formula 1 giants Ferrari announced Kimi Räikkönen will be driving the for the stallion from next season alongside Fernando Alonso, completing a return to the team where he won the drivers championship half a decade ago.

Räikkönen’s arrival also marked the end of Felipe Massa’s time with Ferrari, finally leaving having drove all his time there as second driver behind the great Michael Schumacher, Räikkönen and till the end of the season, Alonso. Admittedly, the accident he survived four seasons ago at the Hungarian Grand Prix.

It is hoped that with two former champions competing side by side; despite assertions that Räikkönen’s arrival would upset Alonso, Ferrari will be able to launch a real go at the drivers and constructors title next season, more so the former which has been dominated by RedBull’s German driver Sebastien Vettel who has won the last three championships and currently holds a two-race lead over Alonso with seven races left this season.

While a Spaniard and a Finn prepare to get acquaintted and upstage a German, Serbian tennis star and world number one Novak Djokovic is out helping his nation in the Davis Cup, handing Serbia the lead in their semifinal clash against Canada with a straight sets win before Janko Tipsarevic was beaten in five sets by Milos Raonic in the second rubber match to bring the Canadians back on level terms.

The second semifinal sees defending champions Czech Republic well on their way to another final after taking a 2-0 lead against Argentina thanks to wins by Radek Stepanek and Tomas Berdych over Juan Monaco and Leonardo Mayer respectively.

Hoping Djokovic is able to see Serbia through just as I’m looking forward to Özil’s debut more than Bale’s or Fellaini’s… or Eto’o’s… or James McCarthy’s… or whoever else is making a debut this weekend.

And… it’s a wrap from here. Happy birthday to American rapper Nas and every one else born on this day, including my cousin Tinuke. Best wished to them, and a pleasant weekend to us all. Cheers!

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During the Week: Murray Bundled Out of New York, Eagles in Make or Mar and More


The thing about expectations sometimes… a lot of times actually, is that it is the unexpectant who truly relish the good that comes their way or otherwise tend to best manage a disappointment. And the week was full of both sides, from unexpected joy to the not so expected disappointments.

Ahead of the US Open, much talk was made about the possibility of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer meeting for the first time in the final grand slam of the at the quarterfinal stage. People also looked forward to how well defending champion Andy Murray would do at Flushing Meadows.

Following routine opening round wins, Roger Federer was first to go as the Swiss former world number one was beaten in straight sets by Tommy Robredo in only the fourth round, only for Robredo to get thrashed out in straight sets by a ruthless Nadal in the quarterfinals.

Federer’s defeat, which will likely see him drop even lower than his current low of seventh on the world rankings by Monday morning, drove home the point that the Swiss master is well past his dominating best days.

Andy Murray’s quarterfinal loss to the long upcoming Swiss ninth seed Stanslas Wawrinka, in brutal straight sets, set up a not so likely US Open semifinal clash with world number one Novak Djokovic who dropped a set against Mikhail Youzhny but was largely untroubled in a four set win over the Russian veteran.

The expectation would be for Djokovic to win and set up a potentially intriguing final against Nadal who faces eighth seed Richard Gasquet in the other semifinal. But from results in earlier rounds, the men’s draw has taught us all to be unexpectant and simply enjoy the sublime tennis on display.

In the women’s draw however, it’s all gone to plan as top seeds Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka powered through the rounds to set up the much expected final match which will be played much later today.

Azarenka went past Flavia Pennetta of Italy in her semifinal while world number one Serena lost only three games as she crushed China’s Li Na 6-0 6-3 before however being knocked out of the doubles event with her sister Venus.

Not much change would reflect on the women’s world ranking with Serena set to maintain top spot ahead of Azarenka. The men’s rankings however should witness a host of changes below Djokovic and Nadal, more so if both lose their semifinal matches.

Nadal’s country Spain meanwhile remain on course to qualify for the football World Cup next year in Brazil, with Vicente Del Bosque’s side now on 14 points from six matches and edging closer to sealing passage to the mundial following a 2-0 win at Finland in one of many qualifiers played last night.

France went three points behind the Spaniards in Group I after being held to a goalless draw at Georgia, leaving Les Bleus needing a big win at Belarus next week to replace Spain atop the group albeit having played a game more.

In Group F, a Cristiano Ronaldo hattrick helped Portugal come from behind to beat Northern Ireland 4-2 and remain top of with 17 points, two points ahead of Russia that beat Luxembourg 4-1 in Moscow.

Danny Welbeck scored twice and Rickie Lambert put in yet another commendable display as England eased to a 4-0 win over Moldova to go top of Group H with 15 points, ahead of Montenegro – that have played a game more – on difference, while Ukraine demolished San Marino 9-0 to stay in third place with 14 points.

Poland’s hopes of qualifying from the group remain faint as a Robert Lewandowski strike earned a 1-1 draw at home to Montengro and keep them in fourth place on 10 points, though an expected win at San Marino next week would boost their hopes, more so with England facing Ukraine in Kyiv in the group’s other match next week.

Elsewhere, the Netherlands needed a stoppage time Robin van Persie penalty to salvage a 2-2 draw from their trip to Estonia though a win from their final three matches would seal qualification to the World Cup. As would for Germany from Group C after beating neighbours Austria 3-0 in a match Miroslav Klose became the German national team’s joint all time leading goalscorer with 68 goals.

Italy edged closer to qualification with a hardfought 1-0 win at home to Bulgaria in Group B, goals from Steven Defour and Kevin Mirallas late on handed Belgium a 2-0 win at Scotland to leave the Red Devils a win from qualification from Group A while elsewhere in the group, Aaron Ramsey’s penalty was mere consolation as Wales, with €100m Gareth Bale left on the bench, fell 2-1 at Macedonia.

Bale was left out by Welsh boss Chris Coleman no thanks to ‘severely lacking match fitness’, largely brought about by his move to Real Madrid where he was unveiled on Monday. The unveiling would however get overshadowed by turn of events in the transfer market as clubs rushed to finalise deadline day deals.

And most prominent of all was Arsenal spending almost three times its previous transfer record to secure the signing of German midfielder Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid for £42.4m, shocking fans and rivals to silence over the club breaking from their norm and, along with the arrival of Mathieu Flamini days ago and Emiliano Viviano hours before Ozil, making the Gunners title contenders all of a sudden.

Reigning Premier League champions Manchester United eventually completed the signing of Marouane Fellaini from Everton for £27.5m, after their chase of Ander Herrera ended in debacle while their loan move for Real Madrid’s Fabio Coentrao thought to have been finalised turned out otherwise.

Other significant transfers saw Kaka return to AC Milan on a free transfer from Real Madrid, Romelo Lukaku join Everton on loan from Chelsea, as did Gareth Barry from Manchester City while Merseyside neighbours Liverpool completed the signing of Mamadou Sakho from PSG.

The Reds are now considered as possible title contenders as well having started the campaign on a high with three wins from three, all without star player Luis Suarez who has three matches of his 10 match ban for biting left to serve.

Being on the sidelines for his club has however changed little about Suarez who grabbed all the attention for good and bad, scoring both goals in Uruguay’s 2-1 win at Peru in one of four World Cup qualifying matches played in South America, earning a penalty with a dive apparently before getting an opposition defender sent off minutes after.

The win made Suarez the all time leading scorer for Uruguay and brought his country within two points of fourth placed Ecuador that lost by a lone goal at Colombia. Ecuador remain on 21 points after 13 games, five points behind leaders Argentina and second placed Colombia while Chile rose to third on 24 points from 14 matches following a 3-0 win over Venezuela.

In Africa, Ghana reached the final round of World Cup qualification with a 2-1 win at home to second placed Zambia in a Group D match, joining Egypt, Algeria and Cote D’Ivoire that have all made it through with a game to spare.

Six more places in the final round will be filled this weekend from matches across the continent later today, including Malawi’s trip to face Nigeria in a Group F encounter and South Africa needing a win and another result to go their way to reach the final round.

Malawi, with seven points, need an outright win to qualify while the Super Eagles, with nine points, only need to avoid defeat to edge closer to Brazil 2014. A similar scenario to Group F is found in Group B where the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia, leading with 11 points, welcome Cape Verde with nine points to Tunis in the final group match there.

More drama however will come from Groups A and E where three countries each in both groups have solid chances of qualifying. In Group E, leaders Congo with 10 points travel to face bottom side Niger Republic while Gabon, with seven points in third place, must defeat second placed Burkina Faso that has nine points and then hope Congo lose at Niger to pick the sole qualifying ticket there.

And in Group A, Ethiopia will be out to seal qualification once and for all with a win at bottom of the table Central African Republic, having earlier sealed qualification with a 2-1 win over South Africa only to be found guilty of fielding an ineligible player in an earlier match against Botswana, thus handing the latter three points and three goals at the Ethiopians expense. Now Botswana and South Africa will both play for a win at Durban and hope Ethiopia lose at CAR.

Rounding off, on this day just last year Canada officially cut diplomatic ties with Iran by closing its embassy in Tehran and ordering the expulsion of Iranian diplomats from Ottawa, over support for Syria, nuclear plans and alleged rights abuses.

You’d have thought Assad got the hint back then but oh no, we’re on the brink of watching Syria get bombarded by the United States while Russia keenly observes the whole mess.

Here’s to a peaceful weekend to us all wherever we are. Hope Nigeria reaches the final World Cup qualifying round. Cheers!

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During the Week: Arsenal Get Group of Death, D’Tigers Tamed at AfroBasket & More


If more people played Football Manager more often, the need for the media to stretch the slack rubber of explaining why Arsenal remains among the Pot 1 (top seeded) teams when drawing clubs into their respective UEFA Champions League groups would be more unnecessary than it already is (for those who know).

That written, Arsenal, which completed the signing of former midfielder Mathieu Flamini on Thursday, would probably wish it wasn’t a Pot 1 team afterall following being drawn with a trio of runners-up from competitive leagues; Olympique Marseille from Ligue 1, a league it currently leads, Napoli from the Serie A in a repeat of their dramatic Emirates Cup tie in preseason as well as enterprising German side Borussia Dortmund that also finished runner-up of last season’s Champions League.

Reigning champions Bayern Munich were drawn with Manchester City, CSKA Moscow and Viktoria Plzen in Group D, a group Bayern should have little trouble qualifying from. Man. City meanwhile will fancy their qualification chance this time having crashed out of Europe altogether at the group stage of the last two seasons.

Russian side CSKA on paper will fancy making the knockout stage and upsetting City, however slim that chance is on paper, or at least finish third and drop to the Europa League. Plzen on their part will be buoyed by knocking Atletico Madrid out of last season’s Europa League when they go into matches in this group from next month.

In other groups, there’s Barcelona, that scrapped to the Spanish Super Cup title over Atletico, and AC Milan finding themselves drawn together again in Group H, with Ajax and Celtic the other teams in that group. Group G comprises winners of four of the last six Europa League titles as FC Porto, Atletico Madrid and Zenit St. Petersburg come up against each other along with Austria Vienna.

Then there’s Real Madrid and Italian champions Juventus in Group B alongside last season’s quarterfinalist Galatasaray and FC Copenhagen while PSG are firm favourites in Group C ahead of Benfica, Olympiakos and Anderlecht while English champions Man. United will come up against a supposedly weakened Shakhtar Donetsk side, German darkhorse Bayer Leverkusen and this season’s exciting prospect from La Liga, Real Sociedad in Group C.

And Europa League holders Chelsea will contest Group E with Kevin Prince Boateng’s new club Schalke, Steaua Bucharest of Romania and Swiss side FC Basel. Before then, Jose Mourinho’s side come up against Bayern in this season’s European Super Cup match at Prague tonight.

Both sides boast of strong first team squads filled with an abundance of midfielders and in Chelsea’s case, strikers, after the Blues completed the signing of Cameroun forward Samuel Eto’o from Anzhi days after completing the hijack of Willian. The spotlight however would shift from the duo to the opposing managers, espcially Mourinho who has a poor record of just three wins in 15 meetings against Pep Guardiola to mull on.

Nigeria’s basketball national team have much to mull on concerning the way forward after first losing to Senegal by a point at the quarterfinal stage on Wednesday before falling to another shock 79-76 loss to Cape Verde in a 5th-8th place semifinal playoff on Thursday.

D’Tigers however recovered to thrash Morocco 105-87 in a 7th-8th playoff and complete a gruelling three matches in as many days in Abidjan, finishing a disappointing seventh having placed third at the last Championship in 2011.

Favourites Angola meanwhile are through to the last four there along with hosts Cote D’Ivoire whom they face in a semifinal tonight, with Egypt to face Senegal in the second semifinal as the last four battle for three World Championship spots available.

While the Basketball Nations Cup ends this weekend, the US Open, which began on Monday, truly begins as most of the top seeds have eased through the opening rounds and are now preparing for the third round.

One wee bit of a shock was however recorded when British player… no, not Andy Murray, he’s still on course to defend the title, but Dan Evans who came from a set down to defeat Australia’s Bernard Tomic and set up a third round tie against 19th seed Tommy Robredo. Women’s 5th seed Sara Errani was also knocked out in the second round by compatriot Flavia Penneta in straight sets.

Champion Murray will only just play his second round match against birthday mate Leonardo Mayer of Argentina, while the other usual suspects – Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Li Na – are already through to round three which serves off this weekend.

Major highlight of this weekend though will come from football in the Premier League where archrivals Liverpool and Manchester United face off in Sunday’s lunchtime kickoff at Anfield before Tottenham Hotspur visit Arsenal in the north London derby later on Sunday.

Tottenham, conveniently drawn in Group K of the Europa League with Anzhi Makhachkala earlier today, head into the derby feeling better than this time last week when their deal for Willian was hijacked, having completed the signings of Erik Lamela from AS Roma and Romanian defender Vlad Chiriches while Ajax playmaker Christian Eriksen is close to agreeing a deal with the Lilywhites.

Other matches in the Premier League this weekend sees Hull City travelling to face Man. City in Saturday’s early kickoff followed by Cardiff City aiming to add another scalp in Man. United-£36m bid-rejecting Everton, Newcastle United hosting Fulham and Sunderland away at Crystal Palace in the evening kickoff.

In France, league leaders Marseille face second placed big spenders Monaco, while champions PSG welcome Guingamp to the Parc Des Princes and Olympique Lyon will look to put behind their Champions League exit at Real Sociedad when they visit Evian on Saturday.

Sociedad welcome Atletico Madrid to San Sebastien in a potentially thrilling La Liga match on Sunday, champions Barcelona visit Valencia afterwards while Real Madrid host Athletic Bilbao in Sunday’s (rather very) early kickoff.

Real’s Champions League group adversary Juventus will be at home to Lazio in a Serie A match on Saturday evening a fortnight after beating the Romans 4-0 to win the Italian Super Cup. Before that match, Napoli will pay Chievo Verona a visit.

And in Germany, Dortmund have the chance to regain top spot from Bayern (that drew 1-1 with Freiburg on Tuesday) if they pick a win from their trip to Eintracht Frankfurt on Sunday.

Before then, Bayern could have dropped to fourth place even should Bayer Leverkusen, FSV Mainz and Hertha Berlin win their respective matches away at fumbling Schalke, Hannover 96 and Wolfsburg.

Finally from the home front, Enyimba went top of the league with 46 points after 28 matches, ahead of Bayelsa United on goal difference, following a 3-0 win at home to Gombe United in midweek.

Bayelsa drew goalless at Sunshine Stars while champions Kano Pillars dropped to third, a point behind the leading two, after a 2-0 loss at Heartland, with Kwara United a further point behind in fourth place following a 2-0 loss as well at Nembe City.

With that, it’s a wrap from here. Billionaire philanthropist Warren Buffet turns 83 on this day, actor Mark Strong turns 50, Charlie’s Angel Cameron Diaz and legendary former Czech midfielder Pavel Nedvěd turn 41 today as well and American tennis player Andy Roddick is 31 today.

To them and everyone else celebrating, best wishes of the day. And here’s to a pleasant weekend to you all. Cheers!

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