Posts Tagged FA Cup

Over the Weekend: League Begins in Nigeria, Wigan in Cup Hysteria and Much More

Formerly known as the Nigerian Premier League, the Nigerian Professional Football League, after many delays to its commencement, finally went underway for the ‘2012/13’ season over the weekend with a number of outstanding results.

Defending champions Kano Pillars picked up from where it finished last season off with a lone goal win away at Wikki Tourists of Bauchi. Now, considering the potential violence that can erupt over an away team’s ‘audacity’ to claim all three points in the league; whatever name it is referred to, Pillars’ bodes well for the league’s image on the larger picture.

Hence, the biggest and most unexpected result of the weekend came from Owerri where Federation Cup (Nigeria’s FA Cup) holders Heartland fell to a 2-1 defeat, at home, to Nembe City… a newly promoted side. While it doesn’t guarantee Nembe will pull a Swansea for the rest of the season, it is most refreshing such result can occur.

The season kicked off in Enugu on Saturday where Rangers edged rivals and last season’s runner-up Enyimba by a lone goal while a goalless draw was played out in Ilorin between city rivals ABS and Kwara United.

Shooting Stars of Ibadan claimed a 2-0 win over Gombe United, Dolphins of Port-Harcourt lost by a lone goal at Akwa United as did Lobi Stars and Kaduna United at Bayelsa United and Sunshine Stars respectively, while Sharks beat Warri Wolves 2-1 in Port-Harcourt.

It’s great to see the league kick off here after much bickering in the boardroom, bickering which has been the major bane of the league’s growth for years and a lasting absence of such can only have the league produce more Sunday Mbas for the national team as well as see the clubs perform creditably in continental competitions consistently.

Having satisfied the saying about charity’s roots, three goals in a four-minute spell midway through the first half saw to Everton’s shock exit from the English FA Cup at the hands of Wigan Athletic, leaving David Moyes still without a trophy in his entire career. Gooners, take note.

However, when Wigan’s knack for going on a hot streak of form with the season winding up is considered, the win at Everton becomes less of a shock but the scoreline remains so. Before the match, Moyes had stressed the importance of winning the Cup, a view mirrored by a number of his players and indeed they played well, it just wasn’t meant to be for Everton.

Elsewhere lower league outfits Millwall and Blackburn Rovers will meet again at Ewood Park after playing out a goalless draw on Sunday while Carlos Tevez was the driving force behind Manchester City’s 5-0 demolition of Barnsley, scoring a hattrick and getting an assist too.

The tie of the round came from Old Trafford with Chelsea coming from two goals down and earn a replay in a 2-2 draw. Thankfully, Howard Webb didn’t take the spotlight of a Manchester United match for once, but the managers did.

In an outgoing week the Red Devils had to deal with going out of Europe in ‘that’ manner along with speculation over Wayne Rooney’s future and his weight, Rafa Benitez piled a bit more (or has attempted to) for United to deal with after stating that Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t shake hands with him before the match.

Both managers, with a bad blood history from Benitez’s Liverpool days, didn’t share a handshake at full time either with Benitez saying he was “with my players celebrating”. And on the pre-match handshake snub, “I was waiting for him at the beginning, so you should ask him. I have education. I was ready.”

Rafa, funny man. Trying to ease the pressure on himself by taking on another manager when there’s a replay to prepare for may not be the best idea (his spat with Mourinho while at Inter Milan comes to mind) and now, I have a feeling it would be a painful end to the FA Cup for Chelsea come March 20.

The winner of that replay will face Manchester City in a ‘final before the final’ while Wigan’s four-minute win has been rewarded by a draw to face either Blackburn or Millwall in a match that will likely see its winner qualify for Europe regardless of the outcome in the final.

That is because their potential final opponents look odds on to clinch European spots in the Premier League and thus wouldn’t require the Europa League berth from winning the FA Cup, with Man. United favourites to win the league, Man. City some way off in second place but looking sure bets to qualify for next season’s Champions League and Chelsea chasing a top four finish to make the Champions League or at worst finish in fifth (or sixth) and reach the Europa League.

Chelsea’s, and Arsenal’s push for a top four finish was helped by Tottenham Hotspur’s 3-2 loss at Liverpool, a match that could have seen Spurs actually go within two points of second place and five points clear in third place had they won.

Gareth Bale didn’t score for the first time in seven matches, but he did provide the Spurs goals scored by Jan Vertonghen. However it was Luis Suarez that shone brighter, opening the scoring early on to take his league tally to 22 goals before winning a late penalty which Steven Gerard converted for the win.

Liverpool have now won three successive league matches as well as gained only a second win over a team in the top half of the league as the Reds push for a Europa League place.

The win got Liverpool to sixth on 45 points, two points behind Arsenal that however has a game in hand at home to out of form Everton that is in seventh place behind their Merseyside rivals on goal difference.

Other results from league matches played saw West Brom come from behind to beat Swansea 2-1 and replace their opponents in eighth place while the biggest results were QPR’s 3-1 win over Sunderland, which puts QPR just four points off safety, and Aston Villa’s 2-1 win at 19th placed Reading, getting Villa out of the relegation zone.

In Europe, PSG went five points clear in France with a comeback 2-1 win over Nancy coupled with a goalless draw between Olympique Lyon and Olympique Marseille in second and third respectively.

Juventus and AC Milan were the big winners in Italy, with Juve opening a nine point gap at the top courtesy of a lone goal win over Catania coupled with second placed Napoli’s lone goal loss at Chievo Verona.

Milan got a 2-0 win at Genoa on Friday and is now two points off second place and four points clear in third after Inter was beaten at home by struggling Bologna while Lazio also got beaten at home by Fiorentina, the latter rising two places to fourth as a result.

In Spain, Lionel Messi scored his 40th league goal and extended his run of scoring to 17 consecutive La Liga matches, as Barcelona beat Deportivo 2-0. Atletico’s lone goal loss ensured Barça is now 13 points clear at the top with Real Madrid now in second place thanks to a 2-1 win at Celta Vigo, with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring both goals for Real and becoming the first player ever to score 25+ goals in his first four seasons in Spain.

Both players stay setting records with reckless abandon and so is Bayern Munich, after twice coming from behind to claim a 3-2 win and go 20 points clear atop the Bundesliga. Second placed Borussia Dortmund lost 2-1 at Schalke in the Ruhr derby while third placed Bayer Leverkusen failed to take advantage as it lost by a lone goal at Mainz. If all goes well, Bayern will win the league over the next three matches, with six games to spare then.

The phenomenal Bavarians, in their treble quest, will now focus on making the last eight of the Champions League when Arsenal visit the Allianz Arena with Bayern holding a 3-1 lead from the first leg.

Barça on their part have a 2-0 deficit to overturn against AC Milan while Schalke will be spurred by its Ruhr derby win to go past visiting Galatasaray as the Royals, along with Bayern, look to join Dortmund and make it three German clubs in the last eight.

For long, the argument has been on what league between Spain’s and England’s is the best. Now it seems the Bundesliga has not only joined that race but is leading it.

That however is another day’s discussion, it’s a wrap for now on what was a most eventful weekend.

Do have a productive week ahead.

, , , , , , , ,


During the Week: What a Card Can Do, FFP Farcical and More

Jose Mourinho did say the world would stop when both teams met in the return leg of their Champions League first knockout round match, what he and the world didn’t envisage was the referee’s decision being the source of the ‘stop’.

Manchester United had just taken the lead and the way it was going, Real Madrid was going to have a tough time getting back in the match… until Luis Nani’s foot ran into Alvaro Arbeloa as both went for a ball.

Cuneyt Cakir’s decision to show Nani a straight red left the Portuguese perplexed along with the rest of Old Trafford, while Sir Alex Ferguson was miffed. Yes he had stamped into Arbeloa’s ribs going for the ball but he clearly didn’t intend to.

That said, Cakir maintains he made the right decision and in time those who feel otherwise (pretty much ‘everyone’ in a general sense of the word) would see so. Roy Keane, much to ‘everyone”s disdain agreed it was the right decision. Most importantly however, former reverred referee Pierluigi Collina stated the referee’s decision was the right one.

All that said, such decisions cut deep into the emotions of those associated with the team affected. And apparently, it is capable also of overshadowing an entire match elsewhere as Borussia Dortmund’s very impressive 3-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk same night almost went unnoticed.

Nani’s red anyway only brings back memories of Zlatan Ibrahimovic getting a straight red at Valencia for basically going after the ball with an opponent like Nani (more so without a high foot), or Robin van Persie’s infamous red at the Nou Camp while he was at Arsenal… or Laurent Koscielny’s red against Manchester City, not to mention Vincent Kompany’s later in same match though his was later rescinded… and many more ‘unfair reds’, life goes on really.

And as life goes on, the money keeps piling up for the already rich clubs. At least it does for Paris Saint Germain that reportedly is close to selling its naming rights to its Parc des Princes stadium, a deal which could earn the glamour French side €100m a year.

If that sponsorship deal with the Qatar National Bank happens, coupled with the four year, $800m deal it has with the Qatar Tourism Authority, PSG will be in line to get about €250m at least from next season.

Such whooping amounts, excluding prize money from the Champions League where it is now in the last eight along with domestic competitions and other sponsorship deals, puts PSG well over the green line as it concerns UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rule.

And it goes to show how much of a farce the FFP rule really is, requiring clubs to get their finances in order so as to prevent obscene spending by clubs in the transfer market. A club like PSG however can still make audacious moves in the transfer market as it did in the signings of Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva from AC Milan at the start of the season.

Then there’s the likes of Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona that already pull massive revenue from merchandising alone, Chelsea, Manchester City and co with wealthy owners and Arsenal with its peculiarly shrewd yet lucrative financial methods, the FFP really would do next to nothing to ‘sanitise’ the transfer market and/or curtail their excesses.

On the contrary, an Everton or Bayer Leverkusen for instance, which in all honesty cannot attract the kind of sponsorship suitors the rich clubs can, will have to make do with far less lucrative deals and only earn more by doing great in the domestic and continental Cups and/or managing to qualify for the Champions League group stage regularly.

What the FFP would ultimately achieve is create a financial gulf between the mega rich clubs and the financially stable ones, opening a yet wider gulf between the rich clubs and the modest likes of Everton for example. Simply put, the rich get richer and the rest just exist.

Would the potential of rich clubs getting richer affect homegrown talent coming through to the first team? Possibly. Then again, that’s why the smaller clubs are there so the homegrown talent get loaned to them till it’s there time.

There always are exceptions though, one or a handful of clubs that do manage to break the monopoly and ruffle the feathers. Tottenham Hotspur may well be one such club, after picking successive crucial wins in the last week.

First the Lilywhites beat local rivals Arsenal last weekend to hold the advantage in the race to finish in the Premier League’s Champions League spots, before easing to a 3-0 win over Inter Milan in a first leg, last 16 match of the Europa League.

It however remains to be seen if the club can keep hold of Gareth Bale, the nucleus of Spurs’ above average season so far, beyond this season. In my opinion I think Bale will remain at White Hart Lane, with qualification to next season’s Champions League and Europa League glory within their grasp.

In the Europa League, Spurs are favourites to make the last eight – and indeed go all the way – along with SS Lazio that came away from Vfb Stuttgart with a 2-0 win, while European champions Chelsea has its work cut out following a lone goal defeat at Steaua Bucharest.

Fenerbahçe hold a lone goal advantage from its trip to Napoli’s conqueror Viktoria Plzeň while Newcastle United will be confident ahead of the home leg after playing out a goalless draw at Samuel Eto’o’s Anzhi Machačkala.

The Magpies, who were without Papiss Cisse and only played Shola Ameobi for about half an hour in Russia, will have both available as they look to edge even closer to the Premier League midtable in the match at home to Stoke City on Sunday.

Eyes on Sunday will be on Anfield and Old Trafford however, with Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur squaring up in a league match while Chelsea embarks on a tough trip to face Man. United in a 6th Round FA Cup match. Both matches however kickoff half an hour apart, which is just plain wrong but we’ll manage.

Before Super Sunday in England, in-form AC Milan will prepare for its Champions League match at Barcelona next week with a trip to struggling Genoa in the Serie A tonight, while in the Bundesliga Borussia Dortmund visit Schalke 04 on Saturday evening in the Ruhr derby before La Liga’s bottom side Deportivo La Coruña face Barcelona at the Nou Camp later on Saturday.

On Sunday, after the big matches in England, there is second hosting third in Ligue Un when Olympique Lyon play Olympique Marseille while Lazio and Fiorentina face off in Rome as both chase a win to keep them in touch of finishing in a Champions League place on the Serie A table.

Other matches to look out for this weekend include Bayern Munich hosting Fortuna Düsseldorf, primed for another win on Saturday as the Bavarians barge towards the Bundesliga title while struggling Nancy visit Ligue Un table toppers PSG also on Saturday.

Reading and Aston Villa meet in a Premier League relegation battle at the Madejski on Saturday, Atletico Madrid will look to maintain second place in La Liga ahead of Real when sixth place Real Sociedad visit the Calderon while Juventus face Catania in Italy.

Hopefully, a referee’s decision won’t overshadow any match this weekend, even if Howard Webb has been appointed to oversee the FA Cup match at Old Trafford.

With that, it’s a wrap here. Hope you have an exciting weekend.

, , , , ,


Benitez Has But Himself to Blame

Chelsea’s interim manager Rafael Benitez unexpectedly went uber-emotional on us with his outburst aimed at fans of the Blues who simply will not roll the welcome carpet out for him at Stamford Bridge, and this is months after his appointment by Roman Abramovich.

Initially via an interview with BBC Radio’s 5 Live before butressing his weary feelings at the post match conference of the club’s FA Cup win over Middlesbrough, Benitez blasted the fans for their misguided priorities and/yet inadvertently made their day by stating he would be gone at the end of the season.

I was going to compare his outburst with that of Arsène Wenger’s recently but both men’s blown cool are fundamentally very peculiar to each other. For one, Wenger’s was a lot more amusing. On another, Benitez hasn’t gone eight seasons without a trophy.

And while a majority of both club’s fans have certain levels of hatred/negative disposition towards both managers and would just love to see them leave, at Arsenal these fans just want a trophy and for the manager to spend big money in the transfer market. For Benitez, he simply isn’t welcome at the Bridge.

Back wholly to the Spanish tactician, he did make reasonable points about the fans wasting their time and energy on banners and angst against him when they should be supporting the club, as well as on being appointed ‘interim manager’, a tag that implied he wouldn’t last on the job.

That said, Benitez couldn’t have expected to be treated at the Bridge like he was a business class passenger on a long-haul Emirates flight as his appointment by Roman Abramovich was more of putting him on an interstate economy class ride on an Eurostar coach.

Besides those comments made about Chelsea while he was in his prime at Liverpool; a period in which both sides met more often in all competitions than any other two teams in all of Europe, made him a persona non grata at the Bridge. His appointment thus only made it easier to have him suffer for those comments.

But would Benitez have succeeded as Blues boss? Having won the UEFA Cup at Valencia and the Champions League *once at Liverpool? Casting all grievances aside, I honestly believe he would have failed as he currently is and here is why I feel so.

There is the Fernando Syndrome/Torres Factor ongoing at the Bridge. Only very few managers would come to Chelsea and not even consider giving Torres an umpteenth second chance. Others would simply not want to believe £50m can go to waste just like that. Well, there’s always a first time.

Second is the Roman factor. Benitez in my opinion cannot thrive under such kind of authority, as evident in his spell at Inter Milan where Massimo Moratti reigns. At Valencia and Liverpool, the hierarchy were far less… authoritative.

At Liverpool, the hierarchy has allowed managers bring in certain players including Jordan Henderson for an obscene amount and even Joe Allen. It’s under this sort of loose reign Benitez thrives on, not somewhere his request to get a player will be sanctioned or worse still for him, where there’s isn’t time and space to bring in more players owing to the lot already available.

Ideally Benitez would have a certain set of calibre of players, usually Spanish, that he would bring to the club in order to see his methods come alive. At Inter where he failed, and the Serie A generally, Spanish players aren’t exactly in demand there as it is mostly natives along with South Americans, a few Africans and a variety of others that thrive there… any variety but the Spanish one.

Without making Barcelona’s defeat at AC Milan an example, a product of the Spanish giants makes for a perfect example and Bojan Krkic is whom I write of. Going to Italy was always going to be the wrong move and though he has spurts of brilliance, he generally has declined as a footballer over the seasons.

Third, going to a club that looks set to begin searching for a 10th manager in as many years when the season’s over, was a poor choice for a manager of Benitez’s calibre and I can only blame his eagerness to return to active management for this poor choice by him.

Benitez pretty much threw himself at Liverpool, like a desperate woman complete with her red bra showing and bit too much make-up, only for Brendan Rodgers to be appointed. In the end, the lure of a good looking first team squad of players (especially the midfield) may likely have deceived Benitez into a hasty decision.

He probably should have waited for a suitable job vacancy from a modest club in La Liga or the Premier League; Swansea would have been a good project for him, or from the Bundesliga (Wolfsburg for instance) to show up. There, his rustiness in management may likely have been forgiven for a season just as he would be allowed to bring in his calibre of players.

But being a multiple-time European cup winner, Benitez most likely didn’t and still doesn’t see himself going a step or two down to manage a modest club and increase their stature with a finish in a European spot on the league table along with a good cup run.

And I really feel he should have gone this route having performed miserably at Inter, where he inherited a solid title winning team yet decided to allow his predecessor Jose Mourinho play games with his mind and make him focus on a trivial war of words rather than sustaining the team he met there.

In truth, Benitez may feel unfairly treated at the moment and maybe, just maybe some of us feel or want to feel sorry for his plight but the fact is, Benitez should never have taken the Chelsea job and since he did, he only had the heat coming for him.

, , , , ,


Over the Weekend: Dream Debuts, Big Italians Lose & Tito Wins One

The FA Cup began proper in England as clubs from the Premier League joined in the third round action, while a couple of the major leagues returned from the mid-season break with Cavani, CR7 and El Messius still banging goals in and Tito Vilanova back in the Catalunya dugout as he recovers from cancer… and Casillas showing just why The One would rather not start him.

FA Cup
The oldest competition in football witnessed its third round over the weekend, traditionally the stage where the elite clubs – the Premier League clubs – begin their quest for the Cup.

But there’s a reason the FA Cup is so revered by all who play and who watch the competition, the giantkilling. And Brighton & Hove-Albion set the third round going with a well earned 2-0 humbling of what has lately been a rather appalling Newcastle United (one club from the elite, down! Next!)

Yes, yes, the pitch there wasn’t Ashburton Grove sleek or Old Trafford inspiring but the early kick-off on Saturday gave little indication that the Toons deserved to get even a replay from the encounter.

On the contrary, the Cup’s most illustrious clubs and landlords of the exemplary pitches in the previous paragraph, managed to trigger yet more twitter banter between both set of their loyalists along with nosy spectator fans of other clubs.

First, on Saturday, Manchester United took a Cleverley lead, then fell behind to DeJoe vu moments as Joe Cole (on his second West Ham debut) fed James Collins twice, only for Robin van Persie to come on, take down a long ball from Ryan Giggs under pressure and strike low (with his right foot) for a 90th minute equaliser.

With that goal, gooners yet again opened the book of Lamentations on the world though it sounded more like the Songs of Solomon to the red devils.

And on Sunday, Arsenal, typically, fell behind to a Miguel Michu strike, before well taken goals by iPod, who came on for the much loved Ramsey, and a well struck left foot venom by Kieran Gibbs off a sumptuous one-two put the Gunners ahead in the closing stages.

But that’s merely dramatic and Arsenal love the drama only when it’s extremely so hence, some very absurd defending allowed the Swans to get a late equaliser and earn a replay next week at the Emirates with Brighton & Hove-Albion awaiting the winner of that.

Elsewhere, Demba Ba settled in quite quickly to being number 29 at Chelsea, getting a brace on his debut as the Blues came from behind (sexual) to trounce Southampton 5-1 at St. Mary’s.

Then Daniel Sturridge, sold to Liverpool for 12 mlllion quid by Chelsea, got a goal as the Reds beat Mansfield 2-1. He lived up to expectation of course, failing to convert when one-on-one with the opposition keeper.

Why Liverpool got Studge for a dozen million quid when it would’ve cost a bit less to get Ba… well, it’s done. Liverpool have done better in these sort of matters ala Henderson and Downing.

The club did spend good money on Luis Suarez, a very talented player that. Problem is, the Uruguayan always has controversy trailing him and this weekend was no exception as he clearly controlled the ball with his hand just before scoring Liverpool’s second.

La Liga
Lionel Messi scored his 27th league goal of the season.. pause… I’ll take that again. After 18 matches played, Zeus’ godfather incarnate Lionel Messi scored his 27th league goal as Barcelona eased to a 4-0 win over neighbours RCD Espanyol.

More embarrassingly for the neighbours, all four goals were scored in the first half while Pedro was denied a hattrick by an offside flag. Neighbours, the closest Espanyol will get to being at Barcelona’s level.

That said, Barça now holds an 11-point lead over Atletico Madrid after the latter was held to a 1-1 draw at Real Mallorca. Real Madrd meanwhile remains ♫super sweet 16♫ points adrift of their arch-rivals after coming out of an eventful seven-goal encounter victorious.

Iker Casillas again started from the bench and after Karim Benzema had put Real ahead in the second minute with a goal that continues to render Gonzalo Higuain surplus to requirement, Real keeper Adan was sent off for conceding a penalty in the sixth minute.

On came Casillas but Prieto levelled for Sociedad. No problem there, goalkeepers hate facing penalties. But Casillas twice lapsed in concentration and you have to ask, is the man still motivated to be Real and Spain’s number one? Reina, De Gea and Valdes keenly watch on.

Real at the other end spared Casillas blushes and, thanks to a Cristiano Ronaldo brace, claimed a fortuitous 4-3 win over Sociedad that later had a man sent off themselves.

In the end, what matters is the count in the 2013 golden boot, they-score-when-they-want race. Radamel Falcao isn’t off the mark yet, CR7 has two and Messi has one no thanks to Pedro’s stray foot and the crossbar.

Robin van Persie though has three goals so far and was joined by the very fit Edinson Cavani who got a hattrick as Napoli bullied AS Roma to a 4-1 defeat.

Serie A
Cavani now has 16 league goals and a total of 99 goals in his Serie A career, helping Napoli rise to third on a weekend that saw Juventus, Fiorentina and Inter Milan fall.

Juventus’ lead had been cut to five points by Lazio in a 2-1 win over Cagliari in Saturday, but the Old Lady certainly was still on her mid-season break as 10-man Sampdoria came from behind – after being reduced to 10 men – to claim a 2-1 win at Turin’s Stadio Olimpico.

Antonio di Natalie meanwhile orchestrated Inter Milan’s 3-0 loss at Udinese while Fiorentina fell 2-0 at home to lowly Pescara but remain ahead of Inter on goal difference, with both still nine points behind leaders Juventus.

It’s a Wrap
Here’s wishing Tito Vilanova a recovery as smooth sailing as his club’s La Liga form. Barcelona, after 18 matches, have won 17 and drawn one and look very well on course to break the records Real set in winning the title last season.

Finally, I don’t think I’ve ever run a series of posts to schedule over a stretch of time on here so “Over the Weekend” and possibly “During the (Mid)Week” will help this cobweb clogged blog clear up.

Have a productive week then.

, , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Drogba Knocks Arsenal from FA Cup

Chelsea this evening got the better of London rivals Arsenal in the first semi-final of the English FA Cup after the Blues came from behind to defeat the Gunners 2-1 at the new Wembley Stadium.

Arsenal it was that started the game on the attack and it was little surprise when Theo Walcott put the north Londoners ahead after 18 minutes off Kieran Gibbs’ cross in.

Chelsea got themselves into the game afterwards and after coming inches close to equalising, Florent Malouda got the goal to bring the match level on 33 minutes off a great long ball from Frank Lampard.

Click (or copy and paste) the following link for more of this story.

, , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: