Posts Tagged football

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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During the Week: FIFA’s a Messi, Michu Messes Chelsea & Sahin’s Forever a Loan


For a fourth year running, the human incarnate of Zeus’ godfather Lionel El-Messius was honoured as the winner of the Ballon d’Or award for Player of the Year, much to everybody’s surprise *yawn* and not too few pundits’ dis(pleasure)/(gust).

Till he wins a World Cup or a Copa America at least, the latter set of football lovers/followers will not right away agree with those already resigned to referring to Messi as the GOAT over all others.

And indeed, 91 goals scored in a calendar year is no mean feat. Then again, all those goals managed to earn just a Copa Del Rey triumph while CR7, with his three scores and some of goals, won a league title; which is more prestigeous.

In the end however, both phenomenal, uber ultra-footballers each won a trophy with their respective clubs and if Ronaldo wanted a clear shot at the award, he should have done just a bit more than lead Portugal to a last four finish at the Euros.

Therefore, and bringing the matter to a closure (which will last till the next El-Clasico is played), congratulations to Messi for an unprecedented fourth Ballon d’Or triumph. Hope dinner later in the week with the Dolce & Gabbana designers went tastefully?

As for Ronaldo, being Messi’s escort at the awards has to be killing his nerves and white blood cells. Then Pep Guardiola had to rub it in and push the ignore button when CR7 came round to him? What’s “Aye ma ni’ka o…” in Spanish or Portuguese please?

FIFA
Not to be outshone by one person however, football’s world governing body, in all its exalted, overpampered bereaucratic and extravagantly nonplussed false sense of esteemed justification, named a World XI comprising players from two cities in one country.

So much for a ***WORLD*** team that it was devoid of talents such as Neymar who unfortunately lost with Brazil at the Olympic Games football final, Robin van Persie who scored many crucial and well executed goals for Arsenal and Manchester United and Andrea Pirlo who orchestrated an unbeaten title winning season for Juventus with sumptuous through passes and celestially graceful poise (yes, the tautology’s worth it).

Since we’re talking of a World XI, Chris Katongo could well have made that list having led Zambia to a historic, dramatic, memorable and highly emotional first African Cup of Nations triumph.

Yaya Toure could as well have made that list, leading Manchester City – along with Hart and the rest of the Kompany – to the English Premier League title and going so close with Cote D’Ivoire at the AFCON.

Manuel Neuer certainly deserved a spot too and Didier Drogba wouldn’t have been out of place though a host of strikers did much better than he did; he just happened to score crucial title winning goals.

In the end, squashing whatever faint hopes the likes of Edinson Cavani, Fernando Llorente, Mario Götze, Mario Gomez and Gianluigi Buffon among others may have had, five players each from Real Madrid and Barcelona were named in the World XI, with Radamel Falcao being (sort of) the exception… since he plays at Atletico Madrid. Ridiculous!

I’d put Falcao with van Persie upfront, dump CR7 and Messi in midfield either side of Pirlo and Yaya Toure with Kompany showing up at the back.

Would be quite a gesture to have Sergio Ramos earn a career ending red card by tackling FIFA, in its nonplussed entirety, the *censored* *censored* out of the beautiful game. Gosh!

Math Gone Wrong
Beauty at times can be a complication and football is a beautiful game, so beautiful that it makes values become distorted so that £2m becomes so much more valuable and benefitting than £50m ever could.

So was the tale of two Spaniards when Chelsea hosted Swansea in the first leg of a Capital One Cup semi-final match, with Miguel *can’t remember the rest of his native name but thankfully we all can simply call him… * Michu did damage as the Swans ran out 2-0 victors.

Fernando Torres on the contrary was, to be kind, lethargic and one knew from the 10 minutes Demba Ba got when he replaced El-Zero was the result would have been much more competitive.

And for Chelsea, Torres remains a loss they’ll have to live with as no club, logical and even most of the financially illogical ones, will bid even £13m (I reckon) for him and pay him an outrageous weekly wage. Not even on Football Manager.

At this rate, Michu would replace Torres in the Spanish national team and it has been widely reported the Armadas coach and winner of the Ballon d’Or coach of the year Vicente del Bosque will be at Goodison Park to watch the Spanish Swan come up against the Toffees.

So… that’s how Michu will get a cap with Spain ahead of Mikel Arteta… this is too emotional for me, let’s move on.

Transfers
Seems Arsenal got round to settling the contract issue with Theo Speedo, as well as Bacary Sagna so it’s looking like the Gunners won’t have to part with yet another key member of their team after the likes of Cesc Fabregas, van Persie, Samir Nasri and more.

Elsewhere in France’s Ligue Un, PSG’s Nene reportedly agreed terms with a Qatari club, ensuring one more payday for the 31 year old Brazilian who’s place has been taken by a younger Brazilian in Lucas Moura.

Moura made his debut last night as Ligue Un resumed from its winter break, but things didn’t go as planned with Les Parisiens managing a goalless draw at home to lowly Ajaccio, playing an entire half with 10 men after Thaigo Motta was sent off just before half time.

And another high profile transfer will see Wesley Sneijder earning well after Inter Milan shipped him off to Galatasaray for about £8.5m. Why Turkey for a player of Sneijder’s reportoire? Well it’s said that the income tax on players there is just 15%, compared to about 40% in most of the other top European leagues.

But if you asked Wesley himself why, be sure to get the ‘need to play regularly’ or ‘seeking a new challenge’ speech because ‘it is never about the money.

One player’s transfer that does seem not for the money is Nuri Sahin’s. It however is farcical how he has completed a circle back to Borussia Dortmund, the club he moved from to join Real Madrid which in turn loaned him to Liverpool only six months ago.

Dortmund is still a good team, perhaps even much better than when he left thanks to a host of players such as Götze, Robert Lewandowski, the exciting Marco Reus, Neven Subotic, Lukasz Piszcek (spell check) and Sven Bender.

Sahin, on a six month loan deal, should fit perfectly in to the current BVB set-up and even get right to the starting XI since Ivan Perisic has left the club. Hopefully, he’ll rediscover the form that made him one of Europe’s best passers of the ball.

And with that, it’s a wrap. It’s a week to the start of the African Cup of Nations, which promises to be exciting with the Ivorians ready to have another go at the trophy that keeps eluding them while Zambia won’t get the underdog treatment this time around.

Ghana comes into the tournament all pepped up, as always, while underdogs Nigeria will be out to make the last four a 14th time in their 17th appearance. And each time Nigeria makes the last four, they come away with at least the bronze medal.

Morocco and Algeria are other nations to look forward to though, without doubt, the footballers from the island of Cape Verde will get the most attention as they make their AFCON debut, even set to opening the tournament in a match against host South Africa.

Till then, there’s the rival’s match between Manchester United and Liverpool on Sunday, to be followed by Manchester City’s visit of the Emirates Stadium to play Arsenal.

Hopefully the weekend lives up to its billing. Have a pleasant one.

P.S: Got the Sahin bit in the headline from a tweeter (I think is) known as “TheNarcisist_”.

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2011-12 Premier League: Pulsating End to Quite a Season


The neighbours have just got too loud and what frenetic manner to do so, making the Red Devils bel19ve they’d pipped them to the title at 93 minutes only for Edin Dzeko and Sergio Agüero to equalise right as Howard Webb blew for full time at the Stadium of Light and just as Manchester United was starting a ‘lap of honour’ respectively.

Manchester City, with those two strikes well into stoppage time, showed just why they deserved to be the champions, never failing in hope despite losing 2-1 at the time.

Yesterday, and later today when ‘noisy’ City parade the title through Manchester, saliva will morph to a choking stone down the throat of United fans who I’m sure would rather shut their door to the outside world for the day. Alotta folks will call in sick today over there, and that’s the ones that bother to call…

Meanwhile, Kieran Gibbs’ last ditch tackle in stoppage time proved crucial for my Arsenal, that huffed over the finish line in that lucrative third spot a point ahead of bitter neighbours Tottenham.

From the low ebb after ninety minutes at Old Trafford, the Gunners blazed from a point and a place above the relegation zone to third place, albeit with some mind numbing results along the way.

Liverpool provided us with most of those sort of results, ending a mediocre season with a lone goal loss at Swansea to finish in 8th place and ensuring Europe will be devoid of fallacies as Stewart Downing.

The Kop’s utterly disappointing season allowed for Everton to deservedly finish in 7th place and above their Merseyside neighbours for only the second time in the Premier League era.

The blue side of Merseyside should make the Europa League, as (I’m craving) the blue side of London do too. Chelsea finished 6th, have booked a Europa League place with their win at the FA Cup… but will want Champions League football by winning that competition.

Whatever made Jack Wilshere believe “every gooner will be a Chelsea fan (this) Saturday” needs to be expelled from his soul. No, we’d rather they be humbly satisfied with the Europa League place they have with the hope of having the Tiny Tots join them after losing their ensuing Champions League qualifying round affair early next season.

Relegation

Briefly, Bolton Wanderers had a sniff of surviving the relegation battle but Queens Park Rangers eventually survived instead, despite losing to Man. City with those goals.

Sad to see the Trotters go down, along with the abject Wolves and Blackburn Rovers, that needs to sort its administration out quickly or actually become what Portsmouth is now… a shadow.

Something Joey Barton may likely become as well. He subsequently has apologised to the team and its fans for his moment of shame in the second half when he had a thing against Argentines

And agreed, he’s an overly passionate footballer but Barton needs to control that otherwise his career will stay going downhill. Lord knows what drama would’ve unfolded had Balotelli found his way to him?

Highlights

I can imagine Alan Pardew with a sigh when he watches his former captain’s moment. Too bad Barton isn’t part of a Newcastle team that came close to clinching Champions League football but nonetheless, got a Europa League place by finishing at a very commendable 5th position.

That is largely thanks to Hatem Ben Arfa’s creativity behind, initially, Demba Ba who threatened to keep scoring but ended with 17 following a goal drought, and Papiss Demba Cisse who picked up from where the first Demba left off, scoring 13 goals since his move from Freiburg in January.

His goal in stoppage time at Stamford Bridge must surely get the nod for goal of the season. Followed by any of Peter Crouch’s volley against Man. City, Robin van Persie’s flying winner against Everton, Ben Arfa’s solo effort or Papiss Cisse’s second against Swansea.

There were lots of stunning goals this season, a season that became the Premier League’s highest scoring season ever as yesterday’s 32 goals meant 1,066 goals were scored in the just concluded season, to break last season’s record of 1,063.

More Records

At 2.81 goals per game, this season is the best as regards that, beating last season’s by .01. Van Persie also came one short of equalling the most goals scored in a 38 game season with his 30 goals.

The Dutchman also hit the woodwork the most times in the league, 10 times according to Opta Sports’ @OptaJoe.

It’s the second time in Premier League history that all three promoted sides maintained their Premier League status and kudos to Swansea and Norwich City for finishing on a high.

And champions Manchester City won 20 successive matches at home before that thrilling fightback against Sunderland at the end of March.

Squad of the Season

Goalkeepers
I’ll go with City’s Joe Hart, Swansea’s Michel Vorm and Tim Howard of Everton.

Defenders
Kyle Walker and Bacary Sagna get the right back slots. Leighton Baines and Gaël Clichy get the slots at left back. Vincent Kompany, Gary Cahill, Laurent Koscielny and Fabrizio Coloccini fill the centre back positions.

Midfield
I’m going for nine midfielders, comprising Yaya Toure, Juan Mata, Paul Scholes, Mikel Arteta, Gylfi Sigurðsson, John Mikel Obi, Scott Parker, Steven Pienaar and David Silva.

Forwards
These will be Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Sergio Agüero and… Nikica Jelavic… and Jermaine Defoe.

All said and done, I’ll have to find something worthwhile doing for about a dozen weekends when the EPL will be in hibernation. The Euros and Olympics will provide some consolation through that period.

For now, congratulations to Manchester City. The longstanding throne of the ‘Big Four’ is now a myth with their triumph coupled with the Sillywhites finishing fourth. Next season will be a new era in the Premier League and hopefully, new tidings for my Arsenal.

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CR7 Puts Matters into Perspective


Despite the efforts of Iker Casillas at redeeming his Real Madrid team’s horrid start to the six-yard lottery shots, Bayern Munich will square up with Chelsea for the ultimate prize in European club football.

A jet paced start to the match saw CR7 “not do a Messi” and give the Merengues the lead before once again being the recipient of a Mesut Ozil assist to put Real 2-0 up in the night and 3-2 ahead on aggregate.

Both goals came either side of Arjen Robben side-footing over when scoring seemed sure… before bundling himself into the Madrid net, comic consolation.

The Dutchman soon after got the ball into net from the penalty spot and level aggregate scores. The rest of the night was huff and puff really, with Mario Gomez squandering a number of chances, CR7 sending two ‘trademark’ ‘spot kicks’ straight into Manuel Neuer’s waiting gloves before poking a third well over.

And Kaká… the Brazilian was uncharacteristically below par after replacing Angel di Maria and him going off for Granero rather than Ozil wouldn’t have been a bad idea.

And indeed it wouldn’t have, as Kaká saw his penalty saved by Neuer after extra time had seen no further goals scored. Kaká’s was Madrid’s second penalty, the first had also been missed.

Yes, Cristiano Ronaldo eventually did a Messi. Neuer did very well to get down and save ego personified’s six-yard lottery shot. Thus putting Messi’s miss into perspective… “shit happens!”.

Why Kaká decided to duplicate CR7’s spot kick is a bit annoying, and Neuer obliged gladly by duplicating the save. It was Bayern’s UCL final ticket now…

Cue in the drama that had gone awol from the second half through to extra time and Casillas saved a poorly taken pelanty from Badstuber; who will miss the final suspended, before putting his left arm out in position to keep out Philip Lahm’s pelanty as well. A top draw save there.

Xabi Alonso had put Madrid on their way back between both Casillas saves, or so it seemed. Up stepped Sergio Ramos, the man who has seen red almost as frequently as the Bayern squad.

He missed, in a most woeful manner.

That left Bastian Sch… *quits trying to spell name without looking it up*… weinsteiger to send the Bavarians home, on the night, for that night, for the night.

It also left me (and I’m sure it’s not just me) wondering why Ramos when it could have been either of Higuain or Granero. Putting things to perspective, again… “shit happens!”.

All that said, this saves the world from another round of Martian Messi vs. Lord Ronaldo previews. We’ll instead have another proper final between teams that will be extremely motivated albeit differently.

Bayern will be playing in front of home fans, and be sure the beer will flow that day even before the match’s over and more so should Bayern win.

Chelsea meanwhile will play knowing it’s their best chance of making next season’s Champions League. The Blues are not out of contention to finish fourth in the Premier League but it’s not like Newcastle United would do the West Londoners a favour and sleep off at this moment, Tottenham though… *smh.

That said, it’s actually the best possible final for neutrals of the beautiful game. We’ll get to argue over theatrics by Drogba, Ribery and Robben though we’d rather a pulsating tussle for the right to be crowned kings of Europe.

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Chelsea FC: Exceeded Expectations


I’ll be honest to admit that Chelsea have far exceeded my expectations in the gruelling period the Blues have just gone through, one that leaves them on the brink of FA Cup and Champions League glory while being set to finish potentially outside the top four.

The latter bit of the reality at Stamford Bridge sets the club up for quite the thrilling climax to their season, which I’ll expatiate on right after coming to terms with what the club have achieved.

Following the draw in the West London derby at Craven Cottage, Chelsea was faced with a tasking run of matches that would see them face the Sillywhites in the FA Cup semi final before hosting Barcelona four days after, visiting Arsenal three days after and then visiting Barça in the return leg of their Champions League semi final.

A poor decision by the referee may have helped a very little in the 5-1 demolition of the Sillywhites but nonetheless it was a scoreline I least expected, as I was hoping those Londoners would rise to the occasion and serve up an intriguing semi-final that (preferably) would stretch into extra time and even to penalties.

Then came Barcelona to town and despite “gaining all the world”, it benefitted them none as Didier Drogba’s strike on the stroke of half time proved the only goal of the UCL semi-final first leg at Stamford Bridge. Crucially, Barça was twice denied by the Chelsea post and more so, Ashley Cole cleared a Fabregas effort off the line.

Next up was Arsenal, my dear Arsenal at the Ems. With eight changes made; changes that meant no starting shirts for Mata, Lampard, Mikel, Ivanovic with a suspension, Ramires, Meireles and gunner-nemesis Drogba with a ‘knee injury’, Arsenal should’ve won this derby.

Alas, we were twice denied by the post but (thankfully) unlike Barça, there was no Drogba to score a match winner. Unfortunately, we neither got that. Goalless draw that ultimately left both clubs satisfied not to have lost.

At this point, it didn’t seem to me anymore that Roberto di Matteo had been riding his luck since becoming interim manager at the Bridge. He’d tinkered with the squad so much that Salomon Kalou was getting more games than the AVB-preferred Daniel Sturridge, and he was being vindicated all the way through those testy affairs.

One last tinkering needed to be done, at the imposing Camp Nou where Barcelona had won 24 successive league matches prior to effectively losing the title to mortal rivals Real Madrid with that 2-1 loss. Match winner of that night CR7 had been crowned world player of the year soon after, a move labelled immature and not well thought through…

If the first leg was dramatic, the second leg’s was gilt-edged epic as goals from Sergio ‘diving talent left unappreciated’ Busquets and Andres Iniesta either side of John Terry’s sending off meant Barcelona was cruising to another Champions League final, this time at Munich.

But just as against Real Madrid, the Catalans got pegged right after scoring with Ramires coming through with the crucial away goal for the Blues to wrap up a pulsating last 10 minutes of the first half.

Second half began in a frenzy and when the world’s beloved Lionel Messi stepped up to take that (hotly contested among fans hundred and thousand miles away) penalty, I’d have had my face, with its defeated countenance, covered by my palms if I was a fan of the Blues.

Messi missed.

That penalty in my opinion made the 2012 world footballer of the year crown that of CR7, and that’s even if Real Madrid fail to make the Champions League final. It was a ‘moment’ that would surely have set tikitaka on their way to another final and the headlines would’ve told another tale of greatness from the Leo.

Alas… Messi missed!

I cannot imagine the levels the emotions of Chelsea fans such as my oldest brother would’ve reached in the closing moments of the match, more so when Messi saw an effort come off the Chelsea post and surreally so when El Niño sealed the fate of the night with a second goal for Chelsea deep in stoppage time… and probably also a place in Spain’s Euro 2012 armada.

There’s still some way to go for the Blues though, with two matches against Liverpool in the league and FA Cup final to come along with a league match against the in-form Newcastle United… thin is the line between a glorious campaign with two cups in the kitty or what could end up being a “what could have been… ” season.

As for Barcelona, “no love lost… no love found”. Fans of the Catalan club can cqmp with gooners who know all too well what it feels like to be thrown out of contention from at least two competitions in a week.

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A Way of Life 1


It’s a Friday evening and I walk royally to the boys’ hostel with a course-mate, on my way to Block E where I will receive the Elixir to sustain a way of living for we paranormals subtly about our lives here among earthlings.

The normal ones waste no time in tagging our way of living an ‘addiction’… *looks up their dictionary*… *countenance morphs to disdain*… and then there are the millions of minions who have no ken of our way of living.

Few occassions have seen a number of us try to illuminate these ones but the effort is ended with statements as “What do you see in this thing anyway?” and “This game is just too complex”. This thing? Game? Complex? Such punitive thoughts.

I’m home now and even though I have one more paper to write on Monday, the dishonour to my race of metahumans if I did not perform the overdue rites (rituals if you may) of passage from the blue iconed 11 to what the hard-to-mind-their-business humans called journalists term “the greatest interactive game there is”… that word again *smh*.

The rituals are half done, I only flinch at the immense and intense pain purging Football Manager 11 from my life comes with; your Illuminati and Masons shudder fiercely while those at the Smithsonian Institute, for whom I have a passive fondness, become lost in awe. The gods at Olympus point and laugh at these so called powerful ones, only after paying their initial homage.

They are acknowledged with a wave of a hand that rejoins the other to initiate the final course of the sacred rituals. Life refreshes in me as I let the Elixir have its way with my being, more intense than the purge from moments before yet devoid of pain and having me ooze of… “Smithsonian! What word do your humans use for what you feel oozing?” Surreal greatness he manages to reply.

With Football Manager 12 ready *clicks on red 12 icon on taskbar* I savour the new feeling for a moment before morphing back to my human form, to allow me study for Monday’s paper after which… I’ll share the experience along with another from our kind, soon.

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The Perilous Plain Arsenal Treads: Fàbregas, Season 4


The protracted tussle between nascent Premier League underachievers Arsenal and world conquering Barcelona to have midfielder Francesc Fàbregas in their respective teams is currently seeing its fourth season play out; complete with the usual rumoured agreements behind the scenes and blown out of proportion comments among other plots in a number of episodes in this saga.

This season’s tussle actually set off in the run up to the last UEFA Champions League final with Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique posing with a picture of Fàbregas taken down from a wall at the Arsenal training ground; an opportunity that came about with the Gunners granting the Catalan side access to its training facilities ahead of the win at Wembley over Manchester United.

This same duo, along with Liverpool keeper Jose Reina, also succeeded in forcing a Barça jersey on Fàbregas after the Spanish national team lifted the 2010 World Cup at South Africa; a campaign that saw Fàbregas contribute to the success even in his bit part role.

Back then (Fàbregas: Season Three if you may), Arsenal was going to have none of it as regards negotiating any fee for his transfer to the Nou Camp. Currently, the stance has changed with the Gunners willing to negotiate having set their asking price at a staggering £60m.

Importantly and fortunately for Barça and otherwise for Arsenal, what has not changed is the silverware cabinet at the Emirates Stadium, which bolsters Barça’s approach for Arsenal’s talismatic midfielder coupled with the fact that the Nou Camp (with all bitterness in admitting so) is Fàbregas’ home.

Arsenal’s move; however perilous it is, to appear as lending a listening ear to Barça’s approach for the player may well be what will keep Fàbregas at North London since it puts the Gunners in the light of not forcing Cesc to stay at the club (the perilous part of it), which then puts Barça in the light of being desperate for a player it in reality has no need of with the likes of Seydou Keita and Ibrahim Afellay behind the spotlight of Xavi and Andres Iniesta just as Thiago Alcantra is staking his claim to more appearances in the Barça first team especially on the back of his sterling performances at the recently concluded European U-21 Championships that Spain won.

Hence, by holding out for a fee that is obviously well out of Barça’s valuation of the player as well as what the club can afford, Arsenal has somewhat put itself in a win-win situation and put the courting Spaniards in a win-at-a-great-cost position.

Again, Arsenal’s position here is precarious due to Arsène Wenger’s transfer policy of not spending more than a footballer’s valuation in his economic view. So should Fàbregas join Barça because the Catalan giants actually meet Arsenal’s valuation or Arsenal accept Barça’s reported next offer of £35m, Wenger’s policy would mean the already disgruntled and disillusioned Arsenal fans would have to endure a seventh, eighth and perhaps ninth season without a trophy.

The second part of this piece will elucidate why I say this…

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EPL Players of the Season 2010/11


Javier Hernandez

Javier Hernandez

Javier Hernandez, the little pea in the big league

Snapped up from Chivas Guadalajara just before a commendable World Cup campaign in South Africa for Mexico, ‘Chicharito’ arrived Old Trafford, scored 13 goals in 21 league appearances and made such an impact at the Theatre of Dreams that Dimitar Berbatov’s long overdue return on goals for the money spent on him could not save him from losing his first team place to the diminutive Mexican.

Peter Osaze Odemwingie
Mostly condemned for moving to a club of Westbromwich-Albion’s stature by fans back in Nigeria and abused racially for leaving Lokomotiv Moscow by fans of the Russian club, Osaze went about his business and his sterling performances for the Baggies through the season; bagging 15 goals along the way, was more than enough to silence his critics and announce his talents to the English game. Being named PFA Player of the Month twice added good icing to his cake.

Robin van Persie
This Dutchman’s form for Arsenal, laden as always with time on the sidelines due to injury, deserved a trophy but just like his goal in the Carling Cup final against Birmingham City, it simply didn’t prove enough. Van Persie however should be proud of his individual performances this season having finished with 18 league goals this season; the first of those scored on New Year’s Day, equalling the record held by Cristiano Ronaldo and former teammate Thierry Henry for most goals scored between January and season’s end. He also shot his way to breaking Didier Drogba’s record of scoring in six consecutive away league matches by scoring in nine consecutive away league matches.

Luka Modric

Luka Modric

Luka Modric (Spurs' engine) would be the player in the background with both arms raised, with Van der Vaart (Spurs' sleek exterior) celebrating in the fore

Where Rafael van Der Vaart was the sleek outer design of the Tottenham Hotspur team, Croatian playmaker Modric was the engine under the hood that truly ran the show with space-opening passes, playing self and team out of trouble and providing the occasional assist. Modric indeed is the unsung star of Tottenham this season and you just feel a far less calamitous goalkeeper and more consistent forwards will see the top echelon of the Premier League be even more competitive.

Darren Bent

After leaving Sunderland in January the dearth in goal became obvious at the Stadium of Light, much to the benefit of Aston Villa where between the New Year and March he became top scorer of the Villans with 10 goals in 16 league appearances; including two in a memorable win at Arsenal at on the penultimate weekend of the season

Wayne Rooney
All he needs is a moment to show why every opposition defender is ever unsettled when Rooney appears on the starting sheet of Manchester United on any given weekend and weekday. Every season his game improves steady and his scoring touch has remained at a good level for a forward, his team play has improved tremendously and it’s when the team performs that managers are happy; individual performances come as added bonus really.

Leighton Baines

Leighton Baines

Leighton Baines played in all of Everton's league matches this season, scoring five while at it

Everton would be better off in the league had the club attained same level of consistency as Baines. His occasional goals and high return on assists only bettered by Cesc Fabregas and Didier Drogba (according to Opta Sports) along with assured performances week after week for all 38 league matches amazingly, deservedly earned him the club’s Player of the Season, Players’ Player of the Season as well as Goal of the Season.

Jack Wilshere
Bolton Wanderers had a request to have the teenage English midfielder back on loan at the Reebok Stadium rejected few days to the start of the season and it proved to an invaluable decision by Arsène Wenger as evident by a consistent return of stellar individual performances for Arsenal all through the 49 matches he played in all competitions; one that deserved a trophy as reward… one that eluded the team.

Gareth Bale
Most unfortunately for the Three Lions of England, Bale is Welsh. A fact that made his explosive form for Tottenham Hotspur one worthy of much praise and enough for him to win the PFA Player of the Year although… winning that accolade was perhaps a bit of a hasty decision from the Queens’ men.

Edwin van Der Sar

Edwin van der Sar

Edwin van der Sar saving Anelka's spot kick in the 2008 Champions League final

This here is a Dutchman that has tasted the highs (Ajax) and endured the lows (Juventus and at Fulham; no offence to the Cottagers) of football hence retiring on a high at Manchester United after a top quality season of performances in all competitions is just what van Der Sar derseves. Van Der Save earned that nickname with string of saves that belied his 41 years and hopefully the Red Devils won’t go through the conundrum of finding a replacement like it did after Peter Scheimichel retired.

Rafael Van Der Vaart

Rafael van Der Vaart

Rafael van Der Vaart applauding Spurs' fans after a match

Following in the individual steps of countrymen Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder… out of Real Madrid, van der Vaart added a bit more flair to the game of Tottenham Hotspur, culminated in his 13 goals in 28 league appearances for the Lilywhites and a commendable campaign for the club; one that saw Spurs reach the Champions League quarterfinals in its maiden appearance in the competition.

Ryan Giggs

Ageless Welshman has now won one less league trophies than Arsenal has in its history. If that does not hit you enough in the face, think of it this way; only three clubs in all of England has won more league titles than he has… and the picture should be settling in now. Even at the ripe age of 37 when it is goalkeepers that attain their peak, Giggs proved very instrumental in Manchester United’s title winning campaign with his experience coming in handy and the evidence of speed in him still that belies his age. This here is a Welshman that has got better with age.

And others worthy of making this list fall below:

Didier Drogba

Samir Nasri

Charlie Adam

Antonio Valencia

Dirk Kuyt

Nemanja Vidic

Brede Hangeland

Nani

Charles N’Zogbia

Carlos Tevez

Yaya Toure

Dimitar Berbatov

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Premier League Flops of the Season 2010/11


Fernando Torres    –      Liverpool FC/Chelsea FC

Fernando Torres

It's been almost that horrid at the Bridge for Fernando Torres

He never should have been taken to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa having just recovered from an injury then but Vicente del Bosque chose to and El-Niño unfortunately had an overall campaign to forget. That poor form spilled into his early season at Liverpool from where his heart no longer resided, for whatever reasons and when Chelsea came with its ludicrous £50m bid for the Spaniard; despite his poor form up till then, the Reds gladly obliged. What followed was an even more farcical goal drought that lasted about 900 minutes over 13 matches and ended with some help from the heavens. Somehow, even at Chelsea, I still feel Torres would jump at the first offer from a Spanish club.

Marouane Chamakh –      Arsenal FC

Marouane Chamakh's season went as wrong as the hair-style

Marouane Chamakh's season went as wrong as the hair-style


The Moroccan began life at the Emirates on a very good note, nodding in goal after goal but soon enough the English game told on the import from French side Girondins Bordeaux and his glaring inability to make full use of his lower limbs other than for jumping meant he soon began a goal drought and hence lost his place in the first team; especially with the mercurial form of top choice Robin van Persie. He can fall behind the excuse of “adapting to the English game” and the world should oblige him. Looking on the good side, he arrived at Arsenal on a free transfer… #GoFigure!

Nicklas Bendtner   –      Arsenal FC

Arsène Wenger’s continued faith in the Dane is some way off that God has in mankind but still… such faith is monumental even by human standards. Robin van Persie’s absence early in the season should have been Bendtner’s chance to prove his worth, he did not. A hat trick in the League Cup quarterfinal turned out just a flash in the pan and in the end, his season on loan at Birmingham City remains his most prolific on English soil and considering that the Blues were then in the Championship, says a bit about where he belongs.

Bebe  –      Manchester United

Bebe

Bebe, the £7.5m reserve player


There’s something about not getting a return on an investment, it pisses one off. £7.5m for a virtual unknown recommended to Sir Alex Ferguson by none other than his two-time assistant at Old Trafford Carlos Quieroz and one would have expected the young Portuguese to at least show glimpses of what future holds for the faithful of the Theatre of Dreams alas, his first season was nothing short of nightmarish.

Heurelho Gomes    –      Tottenham Hotspur

Reliable safe hands when on his day, those hands prove outrageously calamitous on other occasions and Gomes had a fair share of mishaps in front of goal this season as five goals conceded were as a direct result of his blunder, a couple of others fortunately did not lead to goals.

©d.òÁ

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An Imploding Cannon


I feel Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger has become too engrossed in bringing out the best or making the most out of the talent(s) of the players at his disposal; most of whom he still regards as ‘youngsters’, as well as looking out for their interests first rather than the team’s that he now finds it quite difficult to win a trophy. The Frenchman; unfortunately for Arsenal, has allowed his emotions toward the Cannon badge side cloud his much better judgment.

For me, the 2010/11 season ranks as the highest level of impotence the Gunners have shown since its unenviable trophy-drought run began after that pyrrhic victory on penalties at the 2005 FA Cup final. Moreover, the north London side has only itself to blame for not winning at least one trophy this season having lost the League Cup final to rank outsiders Birmingham City; no thanks to a lack of communication between a French defender and his Polish goalkeeper, and then allowed a few results to be such as:

Arsenal 0-1 Newcastle United >>> the Toons won with perhaps one of two forays towards the Arsenal goal that day, blessed with a bit of eccentricity on the part of Lukasz Fabianski. Some misfortune for Arsenal at the Newcastle goal meant a sure three points failed to materialize for the Gunners at a time Newcastle was in poor form.

Arsenal 2-3 Westbromwich-Albion >>> With the Gunners in good form, the Baggies were no match for their hosts on paper and Arsenal duly obliged by resting a number of the regular starters. The visitors on their part duly took advantage by racing to a deserved 3-0 lead earned through some breathtaking football by them and it wasn’t till Jack Wilshere and Samir Nasri were introduced that the score was made a bit less embarrassing. My failing ego as a Gooner fell a few notches that day though.

Arsenal 2-3 Tottenham Hotspur >>> It is like a stone forced down the throat losing to one’s fiercest rivals, worse still when the match is lost on home turf with a capacity crowd watching on and gravely worse so when such match is lost having ended the first half leading 2-0. The Lilywhites, much credit to them, picked up and took their game to a level the Gunners; by then too cozy to keep the rampaging second half Spurs at bay, couldn’t cope with thus seeing Spurs record a famous win at the Emirates. Another low blow to my Gooner ego.

Newcastle United 4-4 Arsenal >>> Took me five minutes to start typing this part… absolutely indescribably ludicrous result for Arsenal that couldn’t have asked for a better first half display that resulted into a 4-0 lead by half time. A lack of team discipline generally and individual discipline from Abou Diaby meant what shouldn’t have been… became. Thus allowing Newcastle United to prize four points from Arsenal this season. Champion material… not!

Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool >>> Unfortunate injury to Jamie Carragher in a clash of heads with teammate Flanaghan meant eight minutes of added time was given at the Emirates with the game still goalless at 90 minutes. Dutchman Robin van Persie; whose impeccable form in 2011 came to nothing unfortunately, scored a 98th minute penalty and seemed to have earned three points that would have boosted Arsenal’s shot at overturning Manchester United’s lead in the title race. Alas, Arsenal conceded a penalty converted by another Dutchman Dirk Kuyt in the 102nd minute. Both teams did not deserve to lose in all fairness with Arsenal producing another attacking master class on the day and Liverpool doing likewise with their defensive display but when you take the lead after 98 minutes in a game of 90 minutes, you don’t just lose!

Tottenham Hotspur 3-3 Arsenal >>> Even though the two-goal lead began dissipating after just three minutes, it remains on record that Arsenal led 3-1 at some point at White Hart Lane and oh the joy Gooners were feeling right then. It was no doubt a great game of football for the purists but it was the fans of the Lilywhites that enjoyed the final outcome, a result that meant Arsenal missed out on being just four points behind league leaders Man. United and hence remain in firm contention for the league title with four matches left of the season then. Instead, it allowed Chelsea replace Arsenal in second place on goal difference, six points behind the Red Devils.

It was after this match at White Hart Lane that Arsenal’s window to realistically catch-up with United in the title race closed and yet again, Gooners are left with the cliché “we’ll see next season” being uttered… shut it!

Wenger needs to toughen up and be ‘axed’ to leave. It’d be a win-win situation as Arsenal needs to return to being a real football club and not an avenue for family gathering on the weekends and the occasional weekdays and Wenger could do with a break from football though I’m sure it’s far from his mind, hence a new atmosphere under which he can manage. He is a very good manager so getting another high profile, Champions League assuring job shouldn’t pose an obstacle as winning a trophy has been since 2005.

Arsenal needs a leader, Francesc Fàbregas is an exceptional talent and a world-class supplier of passes and team creativity but with so much at stake, it takes charisma and firm composure to lead a football club of Arsenal’s stature and Fàbregas is only just assuming these qualities as a player.

Finally, at least one more defender in the mould of Thomas Vermaelen would greatly shore up the backline and give a viable alternative in the event of Vermaelen missing virtually the whole season as he did this season.

©ð.òÁ

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