Posts Tagged Bale

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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