Posts Tagged Barcelona

Over the Weekend: Bittersweet Bronze for Brits, Red Devils, Barça Start off in a Blitz & More


The IAAF World Championship came to an end in Moscow on Sunday with the Jamaicans signing off in grand style by claiming gold in the 4x100m men and women’s races, with sprinters Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce finishing with three gold medals each.

While the men’s race was a close affair till the baton was passed on to Bolt in the final leg, the women’s race was a jog in the avenue for Fraser-Pryce and co as the Jamaican women finished some light years ahead of the rest of the field.

The drama in those races however came well after when, after doing a lap of honour round the Luzhniki to celebrate their third place finish, Britain’s men’s relay team were informed of their disqualification right before the medal presentation.

That meant Canada, whose team finished fourth, were awarded bronze eventually. According to officials, the British relay team were disqualified due to the second baton exchange occuring outside the changeover zone… much to the utter disappointment of the British team.

Only for a bit of consolation to come by the Britons soon after, as their female 4x100m relay team got bumped up to third place following the disqualification of the French relay team that finished second, for the exact reason the British men had been disqualified.

Nigeria’s participation in Moscow meanwhile ended on a sour note as the women’s 4x100m relay team dropped their baton during a changeover and finished last on Saturday hence, failed to qualify for Sunday’s finale. Team Nigeria therefore finished the World Championship with Blessing Okagbare’s silver and bronze medals from the long jump and 200m to show for.

Much attention however was on the Premier League, which kicked off over the weekend at Anfield where a Daniel Sturridge strike in the first half was the difference between Liverpool and Stoke City, with Reds goalkeeper Simon Mignolet saving a late Jon Walters penalty to ensure Liverpool won by that lone Sturridge goal.

The late drama there was ample prelude for an eventful weekend that saw Arsenal fall to a 3-1 defeat at home to Aston Villa courtesy of two penalties converted by Christian Benteke while Arsenal defenders Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna went off injured either side of Laurent Koscielny getting sent off in what was a shambolic start to the league season for the Gunners.

Champions Manchester United eased to the top of the league with a 4-1 demolition of Swansea City courtesy of braces from Robin van Persie again and Danny Welbeck, whose lob for his second and United’s fourth capped a clinical performance by David Moyes’s side.

Chelsea were also comfortable winners, defeating Hull City (Tigers) 2-0 in a match that saw a Frank Lampard penalty saved early on only for the midfielder to rifle home a 35yard freekick to put the Blues 2-0 up. Elsewhere at Selhurst Park, debutant record signing Roberto Soldado’s contested penalty got Tottenham Hotspur a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace.

Across the channel in France, Olympique Marseille, Monaco and St. Etienne kept up with Olympique Lyon’s perfect start to the season, with Marseille beating Evian TG 2-0 at the Velodrome, Monaco crushing 2012 champions Montpellier 4-1 with goals from Emmanuel Rivière with a hattrick and Radamel Falcao who is reportedly unsettled at the club. That has to be a bad joke.

St. Etienne also won over the weekend to be level on six points with league leaders Lyon that had beaten Sochaux 3-1 on Friday. Champions PSG on their part had Edinson Cavani to thank for salvaging a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Ajaccio.

The Parisians somehow failed to score more as a combination of good saves from Guillermo Ochoa (football managers, aye!), three goalline clearances and the woodwork on two occasions ensured PSG’s 39 shots to Ajaccio’s one didn’t reflect in the final score, leaving PSG four points off the pace already.

In Germany, champions Bayern Munich managed a lone goal win at Eintracht Frankfurt courtesy of a well struck effort by Mario Mandzukic, though rivals Borussia Dortmund went top of the league, ahead of Bayern on goal difference thanks to a 2-1 win at home to newly promoted Braunschweig (loving the pronunciation of that every passing week) in a match that saw all three goals scored in the closing 15 minutes.

Juventus needed not to wait that long to stamp their supremacy as overlords of Italian football though, taking the lead in the Supercoppa against Lazio through substitute Paul Pogba midway through the first half before three goals in six second half minutes from Giorgio Chiellini, former Lazio defender Stefan Lichtsteiner and debutant Carlos Tevez sealed a 4-0 win for the Old Lady.

Spanish football overlords Barcelona began their title defence in crushing fashion as well, tikitaking to a routine 7-0 dispatch of Levante from the Nou Camp, a match in which Barça led by four goals by the half hour mark and went into the half time break six goals up. World player of the year Lionel Messi got a brace, of course… as did Pedro. Even Xavi and Dani Alves got a goal each in a win that seemed like stuff from preseason.

Title rivals Real Madrid had it much tougher however, needing a debut goal by attacking midfielder Isco four minutes from time to earn a hardfought 2-1 win over Real Betis at the Bernabeu in a match that saw two own goals by Betis’ Damien Perquis cancelled out for offside.

Isco’s former club Malaga meanwhile lost by a lone goal at Valencia, Atletico Madrid scored a 3-1 win at Sevilla with Diego Costa scoring a brace and Real Sociedad prepared for the Champions League playoff against Lyon in midweek with a 2-0 win over Granada.

In Africa, Orlando Pirates of South Africa maintained top spot in their CAF Champions League group following an impressive 4-1 demolition of Egyptian giants Zamalek, thus opening a three point gap lead atop Group A, ahead of AC Leopards of Congo that lost 1-0 at home to another Egyptian giant Al Ahly.

While the Egyptians have performed below par so far, their Tunisian rival Esperance now leads Group B with six points, ahead of Cameroun’s Coton Sport, following a lone goal win at Sewe Sport. Coton on their part beat Recreativo Libolo 2-1 and send the Angolans to the bottom of the group with three points after three matches.

No Nigerian club is involved in this season’s group stage; with Libolo knocking Enugu Rangers out in the final qualifying round. And Rangers’ quest to make a return to Africa’s elite club competition got a slight boost courtesy of a lone goal win over Gombe United in a Nigeria Premier League match on Sunday.

That win puts Rangers in eighth place on 36 points, a point behind Gombe and Sunshine Stars and seven points behind leaders Kano Pillars that lost 2-1 at sixth placed Sunshine Stars in Akure. Pillars now hold a one point lead over three clubs, with Warri Wolves maintaining second spot after losing by a lone goal at Nembe City in Kano.

Enyimba rose to third courtesy of a 1-0 win at home to Kaduna United while Bayelsa United slipped to fourth place on the league table following a 2-0 loss against Shooting Stars in Ibadan.

Other results saw Kwara United drop to fifth with 39 points following a 2-1 loss at Nasarawa United, Heartland pipped Dolphins by a lone goal in Owerri, Sharks edged Lobi Stars by the same score in Port Harcourt and El-Kanemi Warriors drew 1-1 at Akwa United.

Wrapping up with tennis, former world number three Rafael Nadal’s US Open preparations went well enough after claiming his first Cincinnati Masters title with a 7-6 7-6 victory over American John Isner.

The win, which makes him world number two with Andy Murray dropping to third, was Nadal’s ninth title this year and ensured his unbeaten streak on hard courts this year remains intact. The Spaniard has also now won nine of 12 tournaments he has played in this year, losing in the final of two other tournaments before losing in the first round at Wimbledon.

In the women’s tournament, world number two Viktoria Azarenka came from a set down to win 2-6 6-2 7-6 (8-6) against top ranked Serena Williams who played the match with a ‘stomach strain’.

Rather more interesting was news that world number three Maria Sharapova and coach Jimmy Connors parted company over the weekend. Sharapova had been beaten in the second round in Cincinnati by Sloane Stephens, her first match since making Connors her coach following a similarly disappointing campaign at Wimbledon.

With that, it’s a wrap from here. Manchester City and new manager Manuel Pellegrini begin their Premier League campaign at home to Newcastle United tonight while Arsenal will look to recover from crumbling on Saturday when they come up against Turkish side Fernabahce in a UEFA Champions League first leg playoff match on Wednesday.

The Gunners will be without Bacary Sagna and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with neck and injuries respectively while at the moment, Kieran Gibbs, Aaron Ramsey and Tomas Rosicky may miss the match as well. And Arsène Wenger is still content Yaya Sanogo is his only signing (so far) this summer. All is well.

On this day in 1612, three women – the Samlesbury witches – were accused by a 14 year old and subsequently put on trial for practising witchcraft. All three wimen were however acquitted. 80 years later to the day, five people (including a clergyman) in Massachusetts were not as fortunate as they were executed after being convicted of witchcraft. No such history yet from the folks in Benin City or Ogbomosho though.

And while I have no friends celebrating their birthday today, there’s former US President Bill Clinton who turns 67 today, Matthew Perry of ‘Friends’ fame who is 44 today, (not so) Fat Joe is now 43 while Italian footballers Marco Materazzi and Allessandro Matri are 40 and 29 today respectively.

Also, American musician Nate Dogg would’ve been 44 today and Reeva Steenkamp, murdered (maliciously or otherwise, court will soon decide… most likely decide manslaughter) by boyfriend Oscar Pistorius, would’ve been 30 today. May they keep on resting in peace, Amen!

Have yourself a great week ahead!

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Over the Weekend: Manager Hunt Ending, African Football Wrap Up and More


When Barcelona suddenly scheduled a press conference for Friday evening, imaginations initially ran wild as to why. All I could think of was ‘did the Spanish court have a change of mind and decided to throw Messi to jail?’. Before we are quick to judge a non-malicious suggestion of a thought, imaginations on Friday evening narrowed the cause of the sudden press conference to one possibility.

And so it was that manager Tito Vilanova announced his resignation with immediate effect due to health reasons. No, not heartbreak and depression from seeing Thiago Alcantara join the team that gleefully skinned them alive last season, he’s been treating cancer for a while now; treatment which saw him miss a chunk of the second half of last season.

A number of names have been linked to be Vilanova’s replacement. Andre Villas-Boas already reaffirmed his commitment to Tottenham Hotspur, former forward Luis Enrique (who has quite a managerial flair on FM) was heavily linked but Argentine Gerardo Martino seems likely to be the man to take over at the Nou Camp.

While the Catalan club’s hierarchy search for a suitable replacement that will be announced this week, they will also be mulling on what to do with Manchester United’s reported increased bid for midfielder Cesc Fabregas. If that was accepted, Arsenal will have to exercise their first right of refusal there; something too many tense gooners would much welcome.

The Gunners, who beat Nagoya Grampus 3-1 this afternoon, have other meals on their transfer plate, as always. Not pleasant meals however, with Italian side Napoli looking like they’ll get Gonzlo Higuain from Real Madrid; should the Spaniards decide to sell the Argentine striker.

Arsene Wenger, spoilt for choice already with the presence of (preseason) free scoring Olivier Giroud, Yaya Sanogo and Nicklas Bendtner (for now) who isn’t on tour with them, is also in for Luis Suarez and a bid a little over £40m has reportedly been submitted to Liverpool. Wenger trying to get Higuain for £25m was believable… I’m just observing how he’s supposedly bid an amount he’d easily use to get three or four players with ‘great potential’.

One player showing great potential in preseason so far is Jesse Lingard who starred in Man. United’s 5-1 win over an A-League All Stars side in the championd Australian leg of their Asian tour. London side Chelsea are also in Asia, and claimed a 4-1 win over a Malasia XI while Liverpool did a 2-0 on an Indonesia XI.

Back in England, Real Madrid paid an unlikely visit to Bournemouth for a friendly match. Higuain was in town, as was star player Cristiano Ronaldo along with Mesut Ozil, Kaka, Luka Modric, new signing Isco among others as Real came away with a 6-0 stroll of a win.

Master strollers Bayern Munich kept up the habit with a 4-0 win over Hamburg while beaten Champions League finalists Borrusia Dortmund lost by a lone goal to Borussia Monchengladbach and big spending AS Monaco lost by a lone goal as well to German side Augsburg.

Unlike Europe where the football’s only just coming to life for the new season, it’s the business on the African continent. First, this year’s COSAFA Cup, a regional football competition for southern African nations, came to an end with Zambia crowned champions thanks to a 2-0 win over Zimbabwe. South Africa made do with third place after coming from behind to beat Lesotho 2-1, with Lesotho seeing a late penalty saved.

In Nigeria, the league resumed after Federation Cup matches were played a week ago, the group stage of the CAF Confederations Cup kicked off as did the group stage of the CAF Champions League.

In the Nigerian Professional Football League, leaders Kano Pillars saw their lead cut to three points by Bayelsa United after losing at the Yenegoa club by a lone goal on Saturday. Enyimba failed to take full advantage of Pillars’ loss following a 1-1 draw at Nasarawa United to end the weekend third on 35 points, four points off the pace.

In other results, Kwara United dropped to fifth with 34 points after losing 3-1 at Sunshine Stars, city rivals ABS beat Gombe United by a lone goal in Ilorin, Heartland got a lone goal win at home to Warri Wolves to end the visitor’s fine recent winning run, Shooting Stars was held to a goalless draw by Dolphins of Port-Harcourt and Enugu Rangers won 2-0 at home to Nembe City.

Rangers should be taking part in the CAF Confederations but were replaced with Tunisia’s CS Sfaxien following the mess of fielding a player whose transfer from Shooting Stars wasn’t exactly completed at the time, a move Rangers have appealed. Doubt that would come to anything favourable for the Enugu side.

In the competition proper, TP Mazembe of DR Congo drew 1-1 at Entente Sétif of Algeria in a Group B match with FUS Rabat of Morocco and Bizertin of Tunisia playing out same scoreline in the group’s other encounter.

St. George of Ethiopia recorded the first win of the group stage with a 2-0 win over Stade Malien in a Group A match while Tunisian rivals Sfaxien and Etoile du Sahel met in the group’s Sunday night kickoff, with Sfaxien winning that one by a lone goal.

In the CAF Champions League, Orlando Pirates played out a goalless draw at home to AC Leopards of DR Congo and former champions Esperance of Tunisia suffered a lone goal loss at Recreativo do Libolo. The star match comes up on Wednesday night when Egyptian giants Ah Ahly and Zamalek clash in a Cairo derby.

Also during the week, the preseason tours to the ends of the world continue with Man. United in Japan playing Yokohama F Marinos on Tuesday and Cerezo on Friday. Liverpool will be in Australia to face Melbourne Victory on Wednesday, same day Real Madrid will face Olympique Lyon and Bayern Munich tentatively face Barcelona.

Meanwhile, Sky Sports News made me understand that England is cleaning out the Australians in the Ashes test series. I’m not even going to bother with the cricket numbers and pretend I know what most of it mean. In all, England lead the series 2-0 and I presume will take an unassailable lead if they come out tops in the next ‘batting’.

In more sports I know next to nothing about, Phil Mickelson blitzed through the field of competitors to claim the British Open at Muirfield for his fifth Major (ala Grand Slam in tennis). Tiger Woods on his part faded off to sixth no thanks to a poor showing in the final holes.

And finally from a sport that seems straightforward to follow, British rider Chris Froome rode easy to win the 100th edition of the Tour de France (pinnacle of cycling), his first time of going home with the yellow jersey after finishing second behind compatriot Bradley Wiggins last year.

Strange names those, as I’m used to names such as Alberto Contador, the disgraced Lance Armstrong and Mark Cavendish;whose disastrous final day in this year’s competition extinguished whatever thread of hope he had of winning the tour.

That’s all the bit from here today. Happy birthday to John Egbunowon, a very good friend and to all others who are a year older today including footballers Leandro Damião, Stewart Downing, Dirk Kuyt and Dennis Rommedahl. And one of my lovely nieces would be a year old during the week, looking forward to that!

On this day in 1933, Wiley Post became the first person to fly solo around the world, traveling in 7 days, 18 hours and 45 minutes. Now, we wait for the first person to fly solo to outer space and back.

Have a blessed last week of July! The year 2013 is running out yo!

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Thoughts on Barça’s Humbling


The first leg embarrassment was heartwarming and fun to watch, but the second leg of Barcelona’s 7-0 aggregate loss to Bayern Munich at the semi-final stage of club football’s biggest competition left me immensely perplexed at what had happened. Someone literally signalled ‘shut your mouth’ at me minutes after the third goal went in.

All night Barcelona never looked like scoring and each time they tried to threaten, times they actually got a shot towards goal, it simply was a part in Manuel Neuer’s training session schedule. The one real save he made was from a Cesc Fabregas shot from outside the area, which says a lot about both teams.

On one foot, Barcelona’s undoing wasn’t entirely down to Lionel Messi’s absence from the match; which unlike the first leg was because he was actually absent and not metaphorically so. It wasn’t even majorly down to that I believe, since there are matches that Barça have won without Messi in the past as well as lost with Messi involved.

Barça’s undoing was, and has been, basically down to the other members of the team (keyword) not rising to the occasion when they needed to. Hence, the convenience of Dani Alves (and to an extent, Gerard Pique) suggesting after Wednesday’s 3-0 loss that an alternative to their Messi reliance must be found.

Truth is, Barcelona have always had the alternative to Messi’s reliance. David Villa was a fearsome striker when he arrived from Valencia, as was Alexis Sanchez when he did from Udinese. And Fabregas? He was the instrument used, to devastating effect, to bring the false 9 formation to life at last year’s Euros with Spain.

That’s three alternatives already, ably backed by a midfield comprising Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez who can keep the ball as long as their feet pleases and deliver a buffet of passes to the danger area as often as they see someone make the right run or create just about enough space to shoot at goal.

Last night, none of that happened. Other than Fabregas’ first half effort, Xavi shot over from close range (before desperately, amusingly, seeking for non-extant penalty), Pedro sent weak shots at Neuer… it overall was the worst struggle I’d seen Barça made to put up in seasons, bringing us to the other foot.

The Bayern team let their host have the ball and try to conjure something with the possession and passes before nicking it and countering. On one such occasion, Arjen Robben was sent clean through on goal… but the persona in him we hate decided to try dribbling the last recovering defender when proving to the world yet again what an overrated footballer Victor Valdes is was the only option on the menu.

Then there was another moment when Robben cut in from the right to the edge of the penalty area but kept going on the edge before his eventually taken shot was blocked when the option to lay the ball to the man on the left was there. He had taken that option at a point in similar circumstance in the first leg and it almost led to a goal then.

If you noticed, the ball hardly went to the right for the rest of the first half after those moments, and when the ball did go there, Philip Lahm was usually the recipient. Now you see why the perfomances of full backs are usually judged upon the wingers ahead of them.

But that changed in the second half and that one change was what led to the three further blows Barça got, with Robben not trying to dilly dally on the ball but be incisive with it hence, the cut back and shot that was the first goal.

After that Bayern served their host a full dish of their tikitaka meal, along with fingerlings that were the further two goals from Pique’s own goal and Thomas Müller’s header for a comprehensive and overly deserved victory.

The Catalans had not just been defeated on their hallowed grass, they’d been rolled over with a foot to face the sky by their German dementors, spat and urinated on severally and left to begin to come to terms with the severe humbling they’d just been put through.

In the end, a reliance on Messi is Barça’s actual strength, their most powerful tactic which works most of the time. But when the maestro is unavailable, can the alternatives show up?

It therefore should be that since Messi will be chosen upfront all the time ahead of natural 9s (I honestly still don’t see Messi as one), then Barça should quit buying the Villas, Zlatans, Sanchezes, Eto’os and instead, get a Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard or Franck Ribery who can actually provide from the wings rather than a striker turned pseudo-winger.

Till then, Barça will continue relying on Messi to deliver the goods and he will most of the time, killing a few more highly potential careers along. But on days when he meets an inspired midfield and/or defence like at the San Siro against AC Milan or against Bayern in both legs (using Iniesta as yardstick for Bayern’s efficiency in the second leg), well… goodbye.

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During the Week of Comebacks and More


For the first time in 16 seasons, there will be no English club in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, but Arsenal came mighty close to sustaining that record after a generally unexpected victory at Bayern Munich in a week seemingly impossible deficits were cancelled out though only two sides notably got the required results and made the next stage.

Malaga’s reverie debut season with the elite continues as the Andalucians out-thought FC Porto in a 2-0 home win, qualifying for the last eight with a 2-1 aggregate score and setting up a tantalising clash with enterprising Germans Borussia Dortmund.

Fellow Spaniards Barcelona had a 2-0 deficit to deal with and after only five minutes in the second leg, Lionel Messi scored his first goal from open play against Italian opposition in a most technical fashion, doing a one-two with Xavi before sending a curling effort into Abbiati’s top corner from the midst of four AC Milan players.

That goal for me shows just why the diminutive Argentine is easily loved by many as equally as he is easily despised and for the latter group, winning the World Cup should appease their grievances. But that’s another day’s discussion.

In the present, Messi scored another on the night, David Villa showed he still has it with a fine third before Jordi Alba showed great fitness (EPO induced like the rest of the team is suspected? Ah well) to put the tasty toppings on a sumptuous performance from the Catalans who now face glamour French side PSG in the last eight.

Arsenal needed similar performance against Bayern Munich and though it wasn’t pretty, it was efficient enough to draw level on aggregate. The Gunners’ 2-0 win however wasn’t enough as Bayern went through on away goals where Italian champions Juventus await.

It was the first time this season a team had kept Bayern from scoring at home, it also ended a run of 11 successive victories and 23 matches unbeaten in all competitions. Painfully for the Gunners and gooners, that win (‘gallant’ as the one over Milan last season) will likely mean the obvious need to make the club capable of actually competing for titles rather than the world’s sympathy will yet again be overlooked.

Over at the other north London club meanwhile, overlooking the importance of having a team capable of at least not falling apart without Gareth Bale as it did at the San Siro on Thursday night is what Andre Villas-Boas shouldn’t be doing on his part.

Tottenham Hotspurs’ manager was of the opinion that his side basically do not have to prove its worth without the Welsh talisman in the side, only to go 3-0 down at Inter after regulation time before losing 4-1 after extra time on the night but go through to the last eight of the Europa League thanks to the away goals rule.

With or without Bale, most definitely with Bale, the continued participation of Spurs, along with Newcastle United and Chelsea, in Europe’s second tier competition would be key in keeping England’s coefficients on the up.

The coefficients are points used by UEFA to grade every European league based on each league’s teams’ performances in the Champions and Europa League, so the farther a league’s representative(s) go on the continent, the more points gained in its coefficients.

And more teams from a league going farther is an added advantage for that league, which explains the fuss about no English side making the last eight of the Champions League. Thankfully for the Premier League, there are three teams in the Europa League’s last eight.

There, Spurs have been drawn against Swiss side FC Basel, Chelsea will have to overcome Russian side Rubin Kazan as they look to ‘replicate’ FC Porto that won the Champions League and old UEFA Cup in successive seasons, and Newcastle face Benfica of Portugal in perhaps the toughest draw of the last eight.

As a result, Newcastle’s priority now lies there, making Wigan Athletic favourite to come out winners when the Magpies visit the Latics in one of this weekend’s Premier League fixtures, especially as Wigan are involved in the relegation battle.

In the pick of this weekend’s programme, bottom of the table QPR’s quest to escape relegation continues in a daunting trip to fellow strugglers Aston Villa that lies just a place above the drop zone.

Without saying, a win for QPR, or even a draw for Harry Redknapp’s side is crucial, more so with Reading – in 19th place above QPR only by goal difference – away at league leaders Manchester United.

Elsewhere Arsenal visit Swansea as the Gunners continue their chase for a top four finish, while Everton host second placed Manchester City, Liverpool visit Southampton, Tottenham face Fulham and Chelsea host West Ham United in two London derbies.

Elsewhere in Europe, third placed Bayer Leverkusen host Bayern Munich on Saturday, looking to complete a double on the Bavarians in the Bundesliga and at least postpone the visitor’s inevitable title win.

Personally, looking forward to the start of the Formula One season this weekend in Australia. My favourite driver Jenson Button’s title chances are virtually non-existent with the likes of Lewis Hamilton – now with Mercedes – and Fernando Alonso of Ferrari at the fore to depose reigning champion Sebastien Vettel, a tough ask seeing as Vettel has won the last three championships.

Along with the tennis at Indian Wells, where Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer to reach the semis, along with preliminary stage matches in Africa’s Champions League and Confederations Cup, it is a loaded weekend, as always.

Have a good one.

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During the Week: Oscar Pistorius, Arsenal Precarious & More


A week after Valentine’s Day turned tragic for the blade runner, paralympian and indeed, olympian, Oscar Pistorius may well get himself a favourable verdict in his bail application over the killing of his girlfriend Reeva.

And if he is granted bail, it would largely be thanks to defense lawyer Barry Roux’s meticulous approach to the case along with the prosecution’s far less meticulous handling of it.

First, the prosecution’s case against Pistorius was looking great until they brought their witnesses in. 600 meters away? And then the witness became unsure of the distance to back up their claim of hearing screams from Reeva before she was shot dead.

For me, that was the turning point to swing the case right back in Pistorius’ favour. Coupled with Roux’s focus on Pistorius being the only (physical) witness at the crime scene and thus, focusing on (favourable) probablities based on that fact rather than conjuring allusions based on vague recounts of the incident by ‘witnesses from a distance’, Pistorius seems set to guarantee his innocence per se. He did shoot the damsel but (no) thanks to the prosecution, all he’ll have handed him is manslaughter.

Worse still for the prosecution was the revelation of the case’s chief investigator having history of being charged with seven attempted murders, along with the (distracting) history of cases where he investigated Pistorius, which would make it seem that Botha (the chief investigator) was on a personal vendetta against Pistorius. **was**, since on Thursday he was replaced as chief investigator of the case, another blow to the prosecution.

The bit when the prosecution pointed to a magazine publication in which Pistorius is said to own a house in Italy also weakened the prosecution’s case. Getting a statement from that magazine’s editors to back that claim would have been better.

After all said over what was, may have been and was not done, Pistorius’ application for bail looks to be coming to an end and if he does get the verdict in his favour, he pretty much will be a free, heartbroken and single man with a few lost sponsorship deals.

Pistorius heartbreak is heavy, Arsenal’s is serial, after being outdone by an efficient Bayern Munich side in a first leg round of 16 UEFA Champions League encounter played at the Emirates Stadium. At the end of the 3-1 drubbing though, it did seem Arsenal was the away team.

That defeat effectively ends Arsenal’s relevance in Europe unless the Gunners pull off an unlikely comeback in the return leg, like it nearly did (and really should have done) last season against AC Milan where the Gunners won 3-0 in the second leg after losing the first by a goal more.

This Bayern defeat however comes right after lackadaisically letting Blackburn Rovers through to the next round of the FA Cup, raising questions once again about Arsène Wenger’s capability as Arsenal manager.

The players, especially current captain Thomas Vermaelen and future captain Jack Wilshere believe it is the players and not the manager that is to blame for Arsenal’s current precarious state.

Then if the players are to blame, why not let go of most of them and bring in a set of players that can get the right things done at the club? Cue Theo Walcott in who reiterated the massive talent in the dressing room that only need to translate that onto the field during matches.

So, in summary, the manager hasn’t lost his marbles, the players, however very good they are, are letting this manager down big time but because these players are supposedly very good, there would be little or no need to have them replaced by new, marquee signings.

Arsenal is a peculiar club indeed and it is painful to see the club that tried to propagate the idea of a complete football club on and off the field being well beaten at it by clubs that, ironically, have perfected what Wenger keeps trying to achieve.

On one hand, Bayern Munich have reached the final of two of the last three Champions League finals and are on their way to winning the Bundesliga in record fashion, having complemented its team down the years (Philip Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Franck Ribèry and co.) with the addition of very good players (Dante, Manuel Neuer and Mario Mandzukic) along with the likes of Toni Kroos and Thomas Müller who came through the ranks.

All that comes complete with a solid financial model off the pitch that makes the Bavarians formidable both on the field as well as off it. Thus spending big when necessary, just to ensure the team is capable of playing great/efficient football at the very top level isn’t a problem for the Germans as exemplified down the years in the signings of Ribery then, Neuer much later and most recently, Mandzukic.

Then on the other hand is Barcelona that now plays the most attractive football conceivable; a title Arsenal solely held once, having complemented the core of its team (Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi) with additions down the years of Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabregas, Zlatan Ibrahimovic (briefly), Jordi Alba, Alexis and Alex Song (through the transfer market) as well as Pedro, Cristian Tello and Thiago Alcantara (through the ranks, just like Messi and Fabregas initially).

Add that to the club going out of its way to allow a sponsor’s name on their jersey (now held lucratively for Barça by the Qatar Foundation), massive gate receipts and a public profile that staggers across the world, money isn’t the problem for the Catalans… at least they’ll scale the FFP hurdle set by UEFA.

At Arsenal however, the core of the team keeps changing no thanks to the exit down the years of Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Ashley Cole, Mathieu Flamini, Kyle Bartley, Kolo Toure, Gael Clichy, Alex Song and most atrociously Robin van Persie among others.

Had at least four of the above been kept and got joined by Jack Wilshere, Carl Jenkinson, Francis Coquelin, Kieran Gibbs, Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott who have come through the ranks as well as any two of Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski, Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker and Nacho Monreal from the transfer market, Wenger would certainly not be so stressed at the moment.

The club’s heavy focus on the financials at the expense of the team itself has denied it being a combination of the current Bayern and Barça teams it had the immense potential to be. Now instead, Arsenal is simply a spoilt rich child accustomed to losing yet not too bothered to change that trend.

Barcelona meanwhile is that spoilt rich lad that has everything going for it most of the time. And the very sparse times something doesn’t go its way, well, the ‘haters’ come alive and basically amplify this lad’s low moment.

Indeed Massimo Allegri’s players gave him what he expected of them, to neutralise Barça’s inevitable possession prowess and possibly take the chance(s) that come their way. And among a few that propped, the Rossoneri buried two.

That defeat did show the Catalans’ reliance per se on Messi can also be made to be an albatross. Milan expertly marked Messi out as well as kept the other threats in the Barça team at bay so while the visitors had a chunk of possession – as usual – it came to nothing.

That fact was a source of overflowing glee to many who came up with ‘stats’ and analysis but as I stated at the start of a post exactly a month ago, “You know a team is very good when its lost matches make the headlines… ”

While Milan is in a much better position than the last time both teams met in the Champions League at last season’s quarterfinal stage, their two-goal lead this time is far from secure and the onslaught they will have to bear from this Barça side at the Nou Camp is better left imagined.

Last time out, Milan held Barça to a goalless draw at the San Siro before Messi scored two penalties and set up Iniesta to secure a 3-1 win in the return at the Nou Camp. Messi may have been caged on Wednesday, he may have a poor record in Italy but hardly at the Nou Camp. Milan will have to ‘play even better’ than on Wednesday to get a desired result.

Or maybe not, seeing as Liverpool and Atletico Madrid played well and got a good result but not the desired result while Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea were staring at elimination till stoppage time efforts from Belgians saved both London sides’ blushes and let them progress in the Europa League.

Atletico’s exit, shocking as it was, feels so much like a silver lining moment since now, the club can focus squarely on finishing at least above city rivals Real Madrid in La Liga just as winning the Copa Del Rey is also a possibility for Diego Simeone’s side.

Moussa Dembele and Eden Hazard’s late equalisers against Olympique Lyon and Sparta Prague respectively edged the Londoners through, much to the slight delight of fans of fellow Londoners Arsenal that lie fifth in the Premier League where the London trio chase the Champions League spots on the league table.

Other teams through in the Europa League include Lazio that beat Borussia Monchengladbach 2-0 on the night and 5-3 on aggregate, Inter Milan with a 5-0 aggregate win after easing to a 3-0 win at CFR Cluj, Zenit after barely surviving a second leg barrage at Liverpool to eventually go through on away goals and Newcastle United that got its first ever win at Ukraine, a lone penalty goal from Shola Ameobi, to qualify by the same score at the expense of Metalist Kharkiv.

The biggest result of the night for me came in Napoli’s 2-0 loss at Viktoria Plzen, which completed a massive 5-0 aggregate win for the Czechs over the Italian side that previously was favourite to win the competition along with Atletico.

The Naples side have the whole weekend to drain the anguish of the Europa League exit out of their system ahead of their trip to Udinese on Monday night, a tricky trip that could further pile misery on them.

Biggest match in Italy this weekend however is the Milan derby on Sunday. AC go into that as favourites, with their domestic season on the right track having steadily caught up with the top and now occupy third spot. Inter however will go into this match in bipolar form, securing that win over Cluj in Europe either side of a hapless display in a 4-1 humbling at Fiorentina.

Another match to look forward to this weekend is at the Parc des Princes where Ligue 1 leaders Paris Saint Germain host third placed Olympique Marseille on Sunday, with David Beckham reportedly to make his PSG debut in that match.

Super Sunday in Europe begins in England where second placed Manchester City host third placed Chelsea while on Saturday it’s first from top versus first from bottom when Manchester United visit Queens Park Rangers.

Weekend looks very exciting for neutrals, more so with Swansea City set to take on Bradford City in the Capital One Cup final on Sunday at Wembley. Massive day for both clubs and while it would be some story if the Bantams won, I’m all for a Swansea win, if for any reason better representation of England in the Europa League next season.

On a more personal note, I’d just be very content not to have a repeat of last weekend when all the clubs I support across Europe, somehow, lost their respective league matches… all six clubs; Arsenal, Lazio, PSG, Hearts, Werder Bremen and Deportivo La Coruña.

Latter two face Bayern Munich and Real Madrid respectively on Saturday so… I won’t even bother checking back on them till Monday morning.

Till then, have yourselves a glorious weekend!

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Over the Weekend: Barça Slip, AFCON for Sleep & Sharapova Rips


You know a team is very good when its lost matches make the headlines and Barcelona, following an unbeaten streak in the Spanish Primera Division from April 2012… 10 months, finally succumbed to defeat.

The manner of the Catalan cruise control footballers’ loss however was the surprising bit, letting go of a two-goal lead earned through goals from Zeus incarnate and Pedro in the opening 25 minutes and losing 3-2 at Real Sociedad.

Indeed Sociedad’s remarkable comeback, completed with an injury time winner, was much aided by Gerard Pique’s sending off just before the hour mark and Javier Mascherano’s ‘zzzz’ moment soon after but even a man down, Barça usually wouldn’t crumble as it did on Saturday night.

But like I said, the very good teams have their losses making headlines hence, with Barcelona now without a win in two successive matches – having been held by 10-man Malaga to a 2-2 draw in the quarterfinal first leg of the Copa Del Rey – it is only natural that ‘something is wrong’.

At least Atletico Madrid would hope so, taking advantage of Sociedad’s unlikely win with a 2-0 win at home to Levante. Unfortunately, leading scorer Radamel Falcao limped off ‘hamstrung’ to leave the task of cutting Barça’s eight-point lead at the top to Adrian and co.

As for Barça, I honestly hope Malaga actually get the required result in the return leg, just so sanity can be within the reach of Real Madrid that, in the event of Malaga not getting the required result, would have to play three El-Clasicos along with the two legs against Manchester United in the Champions League at a stretch.

Besides, it is too early in the year for more recycled reasons, arguments and analysis of who’s ultra-better between Zeus incarnate and Cristiano Ronaldo… Achilles if you may… right? WRONG! Who am I kidding? I hope Malaga get thrashed out of the Copa so Barça sets up that fortnight of godly football to look forward to, something Madrid would likely prefer to avoid!

AFCON 2013 Begins
Before then we may have endured an insufferable African Cup of Nations. Hopefully we wouldn’t but following the opening matches on Saturday, it did seem like it would be an absolutely dull Nations Cup as both Group A matches between hosts South Africa & debutantes Cape Verde and Morocco against Angola later on ended in goalless draws.

It flooded us with dark memories of Mali 2002 where goalless draws were the full time scores in about 33% of group stage matches, with a further 30% ending in dire lone goal wins; that’s seven goals scored in 15 out of 24 group stage matches! Never again oh Jesus, please!

And matchday Two on Sunday livened matters a bit, with DR Congo coming from two goals down to earn a 2-2 draw against Ghana in Group B’s curtain raiser, while Mali left it rather late before edging Niger Republic by… a lone goal. Typical ’02 behaviour.

Underdogs Nigeria meanwhile get their campaign underway with a clash with Burkina Faso in a Group C match, preceded by Ethiopia squaring up to defending champions Zambia. Hopefully, the goals will come in these matches to further light up this Nations Cup.

Otherwise it would be just as the Premier Soccer League of the host nation is, good looking playing surfaces at the stadia along with cool ads for the competition, which itself is far below the standard it is packaged as.

Sharapova, Djoker Stay Unstoppable in Australia
On another continent down under, in another sport, the billings are being lived up to with some stunning displays coming from the players vying for the first grand slam of the year at the Australian Open.

Maria Sharapova at this moment looks the sure bet to get the slam in the female section, easing into the quarterfinals with a 6-1 6-0 stroll past Kirsten Flipkens.

That result meant the pretty Russian has won all four of her matches so far in straight sets, winning five of eight sets contested to love and losing just five games in those eight sets played so far.

Such beastly form from a beauty who will next face compatriot Ekaterina Makarova, after the 19th seed defeated fifth seed Angelique Kerber 7-5 6-4 in her last 16 encounter.

Over in the men’s draw, defending champion Novak Djokovic needed five hours to overcome talented Swiss player Stanislas Wawrinka in five sets, winning the deciding fifth set 12-10 and setting up a last eight match with Tomas Berdych.

The epic win was the Djoker’s 18th consecutive win at the Australian Open and keeps him on course to become the first player in the Open era to win three successive Australian Open titles. Just three more matches DjokerNole!

Before then, two French men went at each other for almost five hours before Gilles Simon overcame Gael Monfils and set up what likely will be the end of his time down under in the hands of world number three Andy Murray.

Roger Federer continues to be a maestro on the court but world number four Rafael Nadal watches on, probably with a tight fist as he edges closer to his return from injury.

Bavarians March On, Red Devils Freeze Up
The Bundesliga resumed from its winter break with Bayern Munich maintaining its charge towards an umpteenth league title in a routine 2-0 win over bottom side Greuther Fürth while Bayer Leverkusen kept pace, albeit nine points adrift, with a 3-1 win over fourth placed Eintracht Frankfurt.

Champions Borussia Dortmund remain in third place, a dozen points off the top, but back in good form after demolishing Werder Bremen with five unreplied goals away from home.

In Spain, Real Madrid posted the same result from their trip to Valencia with Achilles and Mary’s Angel getting a brace each after Gonzalo Higuain opened the scoring… and all five goals came in the first half.

With Barcelona losing, that display left the Merengues 15 points behind their bitter rivals still while still trailing their neighbours Atletico by seven points. Jose Mourinho’s getting the boot at this rate.

In Italy, Juventus got a 4-0 win with Paul Pogba scoring a spectacular brace to help Lega Calcio’s Old Lady open a five point gap on Napoli that drew 1-1 at Fiorentina and Lazio that could only manage a 2-2 draw at lowly Palermo.

Thankfully for those two (Napoli and Lazio), Inter Milan played a 1-1 draw at Roma in Sunday’s late kick-off, leaving Nerazzurri on 39 points, four points behind the sky blue duo and thus, allowing city rivals AC Milan come within five points of them after a 2-1 win at home to Bologna.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 19th league goal helped PSG return to the top of France’s Ligue Un with a lone goal win at Bordeaux, with Lyon dropping to second on goal difference after a goalless draw with Evian while Marseille is now a point behind in third place.

Finally from the Premier League, Robin van Persie’s 18th league goal proved not enough as fourth placed Tottenham Hotspur stole a point with a stoppage time equaliser at home to the Red Devils on Sunday.

That saw United’s lead at the top cut to five points as a David Silva brace had given champions Manchester City a 2-0 win at home to Fulham on Saturday.

Chelsea came out 2-1 victors over misfiring and misguided neighbours Arsenal, Loic Remy scored on his debut but had to settle for a point in QPR’s 1-1 draw at West Ham United and Osaze Odemwingie rescued a point for West Brom in a thrilling 2-2 draw at Midlands rival Aston Villa, before becoming a father on Sunday.

On that cheery note, it’s a wrap. Nigeria plays Burkina Faso later today, the first time I’ll see the Super Eagles play in months while the Australian Open enters its home run this week.

Hopefully, the DjokerNole gets the male title while Radwanska is also looking in championship form in the female section, which looks set for a competitive semi-final as defending champion Victoria Azarenka is also through to the last eight.

Have a productive week ahead. Till Saturday.

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Over the Weekend – Jon le Miserable, Game of Cards & Barça enroute Invincibility


The weekend in football proved quite eventful, with Lucas Moura’s debut at PSG overshadowed by a straight red to Thiago Motta for a reckless challenge as PSG only managed a goalless draw at home to Ajaccio.

However, the Brazilian’s delight at being a Parisian couldn’t be dented as he declared how he is enjoying life in one of the world’s fashion capitals barely over a week after arriving. That’s his first weekly wage paid talking I presume.

While Moura’s enjoying life at the moment, Jonathan Walters must however be feeling miserable still following a stellar performance for Chelsea against Stoke City. The problem is, Walters plays for Stoke.

Having been bullied throughout the first half; Ramires and Eden Hazard have testimonies I’m sure, Walters’ diving header under pressure from Juan Mata gave Chelsea the lead just before half time.

It was most unfair on Begovic then when Walters extended Chelsea’s lead with a cushioned glancing header early in the second half. The Stoke keeper twice denied Frank Lampard superbly from close range, but could do nothing to keep the veteran from the penalty spot – and uncle Frank never misses those.

Hazard scored a peach to wrap up a sublime second half for Chelsea but Walters, on the contrary, had the chance to get a consolation for Stoke and indeed himself from the penalty spot. He missed. Watching his spot kick crash off the crossbar and out of play, thus completing what was a sordid afternoon for Rugby FC.

Visitors from España
Still in the Premier League, Vicente del Bosque was at Merseyside to watch Michu do onto Everton what he’s recently done to high profile opponents alas, the closest he came was a lobbed effort which Tim Howard tracked back to tip onto the crossbar and out for a cornerkick.

Swansea’s bargain buy was substituted soon after Del Bosque had seen enough, and you could tell señor Michu wasn’t quite pleased, most probably at his inability to score. He did have a good game although it was his manager that oddly got more press afterwards.

Michael Laudrup’s stock keeps rising and the former Danish international, who is aging well by the way, felt Michu would get a call from Spain… and even suggesting teammate Chico Flores could get one as well in place of Carles Puyol.

But that’s not why he got more press afterwards, it was the fact that Madridistas had voted him to third in a poll to ascertain who they would like to see as Jose Mourinho’s successor.

Quite the impression really made by a manager in only his first season in the Premier League but then again, he once was a Real Madrid player so they’d know. Who knows, could be their Guardiola. Suddenly, keeping Michu may not be Swansea’s only headache at the end of this season, more so if they got to dump Arsenal of the Cup this midweek.

Mourinho
That said, the pressure piles on Mourinho more and a below-par goalless draw at relegation threatened Osasuna left the champions 18 points behind archrivals and runaway La Liga leaders Barcelona.

Two polls with Madridistas, first to know if they still want Mourinho at the helm before that to ascertain who his successor should be, clearly indicates Mourinho’s days are numbered at the Bernabeu.

And frankly, even if he won the Champions League – which would be an impessive feat considering the quality of competition ths season – it wouldn’t save him from being fired by Madrid’s high echelon who have done so for managers that did better than Mourinho has done.

Barcelona
While Real Madrid dabbles in internal squabbles and on-field debacles, Barcelona stay smooth sailing their way to the league title, easing to a 3-1 success at Malaga and setting a record for best half season ever.

The Catalan side have now gained 55 points out of 57 points contested for; 18 wins and one draw at home to Real Madrid, and look scaringly unbeatable in Spain at the moment. Advice, consult Celtic for a Scottish remedy.

Otherwise Tito Vilanova’s side look good to go the season unbeaten, though it actually is still early to imagine they would. I hope they do, as Juventus did over at Italy last season. Wonder how special Arsène Wenger would feel after that…

Game of Cards
And Wenger wonders a lot. From how he knew Robin van Persie would be a huge success at (a direct rival in) Manchester United to reckoning that Cesc Fabregas would one day return to play for Arsenal, Wenger stays being… not exactly delusional but… let’s just say he hasn’t outrightly lost his marbles.

He did look very flustered after Laurent Koscielny’s romantics on Edin Dzeko earned the Frenchman a straight red; which I still feel is harsh considering how early in the game it came, and pretty much screwed Arsenal’s day.

Starting Diabytes didn’t help matters as well as that Frenchman was out of pace throughout his time on the field, having only regained fitness from a three month injury layoff. So why Wenger rushed Diaby back instead of going easy as he did with Wilshere? I don’t know.

Wilshere could’ve played the holding midfield role instead of Diaby or Francis Coquelin. Maybe Aaron Ramsey even, maybe. That said, only Coquelin is a natural defensive midfielder out of the five mentioned which begs the questions “why not get a natural DM?” and “Must you always convert a player to what he isn’t?”

Many would easily tell of Thierry Henry’s success, Kolo Toure’s as well and perhaps, Theo Walcott soon but let’s be honest, it fails more times than it succeeds when he tries to convert a player. Wenger indeed may sadly have lost his marbles afterall.

If he hadn’t, Yann M’Vila would be with Arsenal about now to put some stability from that holding midfield position. Alas, this Frenchman could be at another side of London pretty soon with QPR reportedly set to get him for around £8m.

From a lofty fee of £24m during the summer transfer window, that’s quite a crash of value but M’Vila’s ability cannot be overlooked that easily and it would be Wenger’s and Arsenal’s major loss should he join the Royals.

With that, it’s a wrap. The Australian Open commenced earlier today, a much welcome ‘distraction’ from football if you ask me. Would be interesting to see if an upset can be pulled off in this first week.

There’s also the FA Cup replay at the Emirates between Arsenal and Swansea. Thankfully tickets won’t be from £62 [N16,000] like against City but still, prices would be more than what’ll obtain for the FA Cup final… Arsenal sha!

Hustle good to afford such tickets and have a great week ahead.

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