Posts Tagged Lionel Messi

Over the Weekend: Hewitt on Course for Djokovic Match, Bale Sale Sealed and More


Barack Obama went George Bush on Iraq, on Syria when he declared that the United States will get a military campaign going in the Middle Eastern nation. Then Yung6ix did a Kendrick on Control, on twitter when he declared himself best rapper in Nigeria. Then I went… no, I only did the needed, picked beans for the week while watching as much sports as I could. Here goes…

Years ago when Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi were the Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic of tennis, a certain Australian was the Andy Murray that tended to upset the balance every now and then till injuries ravaged his career to a halt and allowed Roger Federer and Nadal reign supreme after Sampras and Agassi were done dominating tennis.

Over the weekend however, Lleyton Hewitt rolled back the years as he first upset sixth seed Juan Martin del Potro in a thrilling five set second round win before getting a 6-3 7-6 (7-5) 3-6 6-1 win over Evgeny Donskoy and make the fourth round at the US Open for the first time in seven years.

It is an unlikely run for the 32 year old Hewitt who will now face either Mikhail Youzhny or Tommy Haas, fellow 30+ year olds against whom he holds healthy head-to-head records, thus making him favourite to set up a potential quarterfinal match with world number one Novak Djokovic.

The Serbian top seed was ruthless as he dropped just three games on his way to a straight sets win in his third round match, and was joined in the fourth round by defending champion Andy Murray who also won his match against German Florian Mayer in straight sets, having beat Leonardo Mayer of Argentina (no relation to Florian) in the previous round.

Also through to the last 16 is Tomas Berdych who has greatly impressed at Flushing Meadows and hasn’t dropped a set so far while in the women’s section, defending champion Serena Williams won her last 16 clash with Sloane Stephens; the young woman touted to replace her soon, in straight sets to set up a quarterfinal against Spanish 18th seed Carla Navarro.

While Navarro flies Spain’s flag proudly far away at New York, the natives back at her home would surely be forgiven for being distracted by activity from the Santiago Bernabeu, home of is-money-your-problem? side Real Madrid.

And Samuel Eto’o must have gone ‘been there, done that’ when confirmation of Gareth Bale’s world record transfer to Real was made. No, not because of the £85.3m/€100m transfer fee involved but because of the weekly wage the Welsh winger’s set to earn… a staggering £300,000, or not.

Bale’s weekly earnings will actually be £170,000 after tax, so yes, Eto’o can still feel good about himself that he once earned all three hundred grand every week while at Russian club Anzhi before his move to Chelsea where he’ll ‘humbly’ be earning around £135,000 every week.

More importantly, Bale’s record move – which eclipses the one that brought Cristiano Ronaldo to the Bernabeu – will not see him earn more than the Portuguese ace so egos may be bruised slightly but definitely not entirely upset eventually.

Putting pen to a six year deal ends the highlight saga in this year’s transfer window and thanks to the hierarchy governing when to shut that window, we may yet witness quite a number of high profile players move around in a domino effect off Bale’s transfer before the end of the day.

One such muted move sees Mesut Ozil suddenly close to sealing a €45m move from Real Madrid to Arsenal on a €7m per annum salary while Kaka could leave the Bernabeu for AC Milan for free four seasons after leaving Milan for Madrid for £56m. Lord!

There’s talk of Luis Suarez leaving Liverpool for money no be problem Madrid, a move which could see Karim Benzema leave the Bernabeu for none other than Arsenal just as Angel di Maria reportedly remains an option for the Gunners.

Simply put, today’s the sort of day the fainthearted stay offline and avoid the legendary and infamous rush of transfer day deadline updates… a day trolls will reign, medicals will hold, moves will break down at the last detail and what not. E! is the perfect channel for your kind, or a channel showing reruns of matches from over the weekend… just so the football fan in you stays sane.

A fainthearted Arsenal fan for instance would be very pleased to watch the club’s 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur in Sunday’s north London derby, a match Mathieu Flamini made a telling second Arsenal debut and which was settled by Olivier Giroud’s well taken strike early on.

That win helped the Gunners rise to fourth on the Premier League table with six points, going above their £107m spent neighbours by virtue of goals scored, and champions Manchester United that fell two points behind after a lone goal loss at archrivals Liverpool.

On a day new players Victor Moses (on loan from Chelsea) and Mamadou Sakho were in the stands, some way off a disgruntled England manager Roy Hodgson, it was Daniel Sturridge’s instinctive finish – his third in as many – that settled the battle of the Reds at Anfield and hand the winning Reds a third win in as many matches and a two point lead atop the league table.

In some other Premier League matches, second half goals from Alvaro Negredo and Yaya Toure’s sweet freekick got Man. City a 2-0 win at home to stubborn Hull City (Tigers [never forget]), Swansea City won 2-0 as well at West Brom and Everton drew a third consecutive match in a goalless stalemate at Cardiff City.

Jermaine Pennant’s freekick helped Stoke City to a lone goal win at West Ham United and fifth place, Paolo di Canio was left miffed and ‘brainless’ was used as a qualifier after Sunderland’s 3-1 loss at Crystal Palace while ‘sublime’ would be a suitable qualifier to describe Hatem Ben Arfa’s late strike in Newcastle United’s lone goal win at home to Fulham.

In Italy, Juventus bashed Lazio 4-1 on Saturday with Carlos Tevez scoring the final goal there and help Juve maintain a perfect start to the season, though last season’s runners-up Napoli now lead the league thanks to goals scored following a 4-2 win at Chievo Verona.

Inter Milan and AS Roma follow Napoli on the table with six points apiece following respective 3-0 wins against Catania and Hellas Verona, with Fiorentina now in fourth with six points as well – ahead of Juve thanks to goals scored – as a brace each from Giuseppe Rossi and Mario Gomez sealed a 5-2 at Genoa while AC Milan won 3-1 at home to Cagliari for their first league win.

PSG got a second league win after four Ligue 1 matches as stoppage time goals from Adrien Rabiot and Zlatan Ibrahimovic saw off Guingamp and lift the reigning champions to fourth on the table with eight points, two points behind new leaders AS Monaco that came from behind to claim a 2-1 pyhrric win at Olympique Marseille; a match Monaco’s Radamel Falcao scored the equaliser before going off injured.

In Spain, Lionel Messi put his recent injury troubles behind with a first half hattrick that helped Barcelona to a 3-2 win at Valencia whose goals were scored by Helder Postiga before half time. The win left Barça top of the league with nine points, just ahead of Atletico Madrid that beat Real Sociedad 2-1 on Sunday.

City rivals Real lie fourth but also with nine maximum points so far courtesy of a 3-1 win over fifth placed Athletic Bilbao while newly promoted Villarreal kept up their surreal start to the season with a 3-0 win at bottom-without-a-point Osasuna with Nigerian striker Ikechukwu Uche scoring the third there.

Elsewhere, Kevin Gameiro scored twice as Sevilla came twice from behind to draw 2-2 at home to Malaga while Espanyol and Celta Vigo remain unbeaten in sixth and seventh respectively, with Espanyol playing a goalless draw with Nosa Igiebor’s Real Betis and Celta being held 1-1 by Granada on Saturday.

Borussia Dortmund meanwhile remain unbeaten and with a perfect record even after four Bundesliga matches, securing a hardfought 2-1 win at Eintracht Frankfurt to regain top spot from Bayern Munich that is two points behind on 10 points.

A trio of teams failed to take advantage of Bayern’s 1-1 slip last week at Freiburg, with Bayer Leverkusen losing 1-0 at Schalke to remain on nine points in third, Mainz losing 4-1 at Hannover 96 to drop to fifth place on nine points behind their conquerors on goal difference while Hertha Berlin lost 2-0 at Wolfsburg to remain on seven points in sixth place.

Moving on to African football, Orlando Pirates maintained top spot in Group A of the CAF Champions League despite falling 2-1 at Zamalek of Egypt. The South Africans, with seven points, however lead on goal difference ahead of second placed Zamalek and their fellow Egyptians Al Ahly that beat Congo’s AC Leopards 2-1 in the other group match.

In Group B, Esperance of Tunisia opened a two point lead thanks to their lone goal win over Sewe Sport in Tunis and Cotonsport’s 1-1 draw at Recreativo do Libolo, a draw that left Cotonsport in second place with seven points.

Finally in the Nigeria Professional Football League, Bayelsa United now lead the table with 49 points following a 1-0 win over Sharks on Sunday. The Yenegoa club is followed by champions Kano Pillars that won 2-1 at home to Enugu Rangers while Enyimba dropped to third with 47 points after a goalless draw at Dolphins on Saturday.

In other matches, ABS of Ilorin drew 1-1 at Shooting Stars of Ibadan, Akwa United thrashed visiting Sunshine Stars 4-0 and Heartland recorded a 1-0 win at second from bottom Wikki Tourists of Bauchi.

On this day, tennis legend Jimmy Connors was born in 1952. Others born on this day include delectable actress Salma Hayek in 1966, former boxing Briton Lennox Lewis in 1965, Malian striker Freddy Kanoute in 1977 and my favourite actor Keanu Reeves in 1964. You should watch his latest film 42 Ronin.

Others born on this day include Liverpool legend Bill Shankly, Bayern Munich’s Spanish midfielder Javi Martinez, former ‘next big thing’ from Brazil Alexadre Pato, English midfielder and twitter troublemaker Joey Barton and Nigerian defender Danny Shittu.

Sadly (or not), Shittu isn’t on the 23-man list of players named by Super Eagles manager Stephen Keshi (and approved by the NFF) for this weekend’s crucial World Cup qualifier against Malawi in Calabar.

All the best to the Super Eagles in that match, and to you in the month of September.

Have a great day ahead. Wenger, you too… please!

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Over the Weekend: Nigerian Club Football Decay, No More Blue Clay & More


Nigerian club football, as far as this season is concerned, sunk into the abyss of irrelevance over the weekend when her last continental representative got knocked out at the last qualifying round before, by African (CAF) standards, the lucrative group stage.

Needing a score-draw at least to qualify, having played out a goalless draw in the first leg in Enugu a fortnight ago, Rangers fell 3-1 at Recreativo do Libolo of Angola and failed to make the Champions League group stage, barely four months after Sunshine Stars made the semi-final of last season’s edition.

Defending champions Al Ahly, that beat Sunshine on their way to the title last season, made it through to the group stage now with a 2-1 aggregate win over Tunisia’s Bizertin, while Zamalek had Abdoulaye Cisse to thank as his brace, the second being the equaliser two minutes to full time, earned a 2-2 draw for the Cairo club at St. George of Ethiopia and qualification on away goals.

Tunisian giants Esperance also made it through with a lone goal aggregate win over Algeria’s Beja but DR Congo’s TP Mazembe fell short against 10-man Orlando Pirates of South Africa, winning the return home leg by a lone goal but losing to the Bucs 3-2 on aggregate.

The 2011 African champions will be weighed down by a heap of regret from the encounter, having had two penalties either side of the match’s lone goal saved by the Pirates goalkeeper, with the second penalty saved on the 89th minute.

Scant consolation for the Congolese side, along with Enugu Rangers and the other clubs that lost in the final qualifying round of the Champions League, is the drop to the CAF Confederations Cup they’ll make, as is the case in Europe.

England meanwhile still awaits who her third and possible fourth representatives at next season’s UEFA Champions League would be after the trio of clubs chasing those two spots won their respective Premier League matches by a lone goal over the weekend.

Tottenham Hotspur first replaced Arsenal in fourth place and went level on 65 points with then third placed Chelsea, thanks to a late Gareth Bale strike in the win at home to the Welshman’s former club Southampton.

Another ex-saint however sent Spurs back to fifth and Arsenal up to third on 67 points, as Theo Walcott’s goal 20 seconds into the match at already relegated Queens Park Rangers put the Gunners two points clear of their top four London rivals for a day.

The initial third to fifth league table positions from the start of the weekend was restored on Sunday evening as a late Phil Jones own goal (initially awarded as a Juan Mata goal) gave Chelsea a crucial win at league champions Manchester United.

Interestingly, the win at Old Trafford, coupled with Manchester City’s goalless draw at Swansea City, put Chelsea four points behind the dethroned league champions with both Blues having three matches left to play.

Man. City could however seal second spot with a win on Tuesday night at home to West Brom, as long as Chelsea fail to win Wednesday night’s pseudo-Cup final at home to Tottenham, where a win for the latter would draw them level with Chelsea and drop Arsenal to fifth, a point behind, all with two matches to play then… thus presenting a real and dramatic possibility of Arsenal not making the Champions League for the first time in the Wenger era.

However, even if Spurs do win at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, one can hear many a gooner go “nehh, it’s Spurs! They’ll still f*** it up!”… time will tell.

That time is all of a sudden running out for Fulham, Sunderland, Newcastle United, Southampton, Norwich City and Wigan Athletic in their quest to avoid the last reservation in a sinking relegation cruise that has QPR and Reading comfortably lodged in.

Fulham did itself no favour by losing 4-2 at home to Reading, a result that leaves the Cottagers on 40 points and five points off the relegation zone, while Newcastle United drew goalless at West Ham United to find themselves three points off that reservation with 38 points.

Aston Villa attained 40 points, behind Fulham and Stoke City on goal difference, thanks to a 2-1 win at Norwich that as a result dropped within three points of the drop zone, ahead of Newcastle on goal difference.

And with Sunderland, that got blown 6-1 by Villa last Monday, just two points off Wigan Athletic that currently occupies the unwanted 18th position, Callum McNamara’s late winner for Wigan in the 3-2 win at West Brom could prove a most decisive goal just because Wigan have a game in hand which they play on Tuesday at home to Swansea that is winless in six matches.

A win for Wigan in that match and they go level in points with but ahead of Norwich and Newcastle on the table with two matches to play, potentially setting up an eight-way scramble from the last relegation reservation, which would be far more interesting and dramatic than the tussle for top four places.

Probably would be as dramatic as the final day in the Championship (the teams above are fighting against to drop into) which saw Hull City gain promotion to the Premier League thanks to a 2-2 draw with already promoted Cardiff City, finishing two points ahead of Watford City that would have got that promotion had it won its match at home to Leeds United, instead of losing 2-1.

Watford instead will go through the playoffs now to gain promotion, along with Brighton, Wilfried Zaha’s Crystal Palace and Leicester City that finished in the last playoff spot ahead of Bolton Wanderers on goal difference and ahead of Nottingham Forest, where they won 3-2 thanks to a late goal, by a point.

Elsewhere in Europe, Juventus won its 29th Serie A title after a lone goal win over Palermo, while Napoli consolidated on second spot with an Edinson Cavani inspired 3-1 win over Inter Milan and AC Milan won by a lone goal to open a four point lead in third place over Fiorentina that lost to a lone stoppage time Osvaldo goal at home to fifth placed AS Roma.

Roma’s city rivals and Coppa Italia final opponent, Lazio demolished visiting Bologna 6-0 with 34 year old Miroslav Klose scoring an incredible five goals, but remain in seventh, three points behind Roma with three matches to play.

In Spain and France, Barcelona and PSG were made to wait another week before claiming their respective league titles with Barcelona made to (was going to write “work hard” but… ) call on Messi who scored twice and hit the crossbar within 10 minutes of coming on (seems so unfair) to secure a 4-2 win over Real Betis to restore their 11 point advantage over Real Madrid that won 4-3 at home to Real Valladolid with four matches to play. All in a half hour’s job for the reigning world player of the year.

Alex meanwhile earned 10-man PSG a 1-1 draw at home to Valenciennes, leaving Les Parisiens needing a win in this weekend’s visit of third placed Olympique Lyon, or a draw there and a loss to Olympique Marseille to claim a first league title since 1994. That’s 19 years Arsenal fans, be calm and take note.

In Germany, a dress rehearsal of the UEFA Champions League saw Borussia Dortmund held to a 1-1 draw by Bayern Munich in a match Manuel Neuer saved a Robert Lewsndowski penalty while Rafinha got sent off following two yellow cards in as many minutes, sparking an amusing melee between camps of both sides on the sidelines. May 25 better be even more interesting.

While Bayern and Dortmund’s title match is still to come, Wladimir Klitschko and Floyd Mayweather retained theirs in the boxing ring, overcoming challenges from Francesco Pianeta and Robert Guerrero respectively.

For Klitschko, the Ukrainian won after knocking his former sparring partner Pianeta out a third time on the night in the sixth round and claim a 51st win via knockout in 60 professional fights.

For Mayweather, the money man retained his title by an unanimous decision that saw all three judges give him the fight with a count of 117-111 against a previously unbeaten Guerrero, extending his own unbeaten record in boxing to 44 wins and reportedy earning at least $32.5m from the fight.

The prize money at the Madrid Open in tennis isn’t anywhere near that figure, but some of the sports’ top players will compete at the clay surface tournament that returns to conventional red clay after unsuccessfully experimenting with blue clay last year.

Women’s number one player Serena Williams along with Svetlana Kuznetsova, Ana Ivanovic, Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber are through to the second round there while Caroline Wozniacki and Li Na however got knocked out in straight sets by Yaroslava Shvedova and 18 year old qualifier Madison Keys respectively.

In the men’s, Fernando Verdasco and Radek Stepanek have made it to the second round while the top seeds; the Djokovices, Federers and Nadals, will serve their campaign off from later today.

And that’s game, set, match with today’s post. I’m not even going to front, Chelsea has to beat Tottenham on Wednesday night for Arsenal’s sake.

Have a great week ahead; except you’re Tottenham. 😐

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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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Over the Weekend: New Managers, New Ranking Order and More


Easter greetings to you as the long weekend snails to an end, with the unpleasantly pleasant day of April Fools’ being its last day. Will there be pranks in the following paragraphs? Having supported Arsenal for the better part of the last 15 years going on 16 and lived through Wenger’s press conferences all that time… “I don’t want to comment on speculation.”

The Arsenal manager had little need for evasive answers however, following the club’s 4-1 win over relegation threatened Reading on Saturday in Nigel Adkins first match as Reading manager, having lost 6-1 to Arsenal earlier this season while at Southampton.

The result took the Gunners within two points of fourth place on the Premier League table; a spot currently occupied by Chelsea that was beaten 2-1 at Southampton. Chelsea’s loss favoured all concerned at north London; a bit to every gooners’ dismay though, as Tottenham Hotspur went up to third place, two points ahead of Chelsea, with a 2-1 win at a Swansea City side that look like it can’t be bothered to having a go in matches ever since claiming the League Cup title.

Knew such could happen after Swans manager Michael Laudrup felt after that League Cup win that getting 10 points from their last 10 matches/30 points would be alright. Swansea’s seeming nonchalance has now ‘helped’ both north London clubs in the club’s last two league matches; very much to every Chelsea fan’s disappointment I imagine.

With the yet-to-be-relieved interim manager Rafael Benitez tinkering his team; most notably leaving out Juan Mata (who officially was ill), one may want to blame the loss at the coast on the Blues having an eye on tonight’s FA Cup quarterfinal replay at home to Manchester United.

However, the Red Devils, also with an eye on tonight’s tie, had manager Sir Alex Ferguson shuffling the team just a bit in the early kick-off at Sunderland and still coming away with a lone goal win that, for a few hours opened an 18 point gap at the top. Manchester City later restored that gap to 15 points with a 4-0 thrashing of Newcastle United.

For Sunderland, the loss led to the sacking of Martin O’Neill who in no time was replaced Sunday night with the appointment of charismatic, former West Ham United player and more recently former Swindon Town manager Paolo Di Canio, handed the task of keeping Sunderland in the top flight with eight matches to play.

The Italian manager, who only has Swindon on his managerial CV though did lead them to League One by winning League Two last season, quit the lower league club earlier last month in quite dramatic circumstances and one would expect some more of that to come up now at Sunderland… drama trailed Di Canio in his playing days and spectacularly so (apparently) in his first managerial job.

While awaiting that, Sharks of Port-Harcourt caused a bit of a stir when it unveiled now former manager of Sunshine Stars, Gbenga Ogunbote, as its Technical Adviser during the halftime break of its goalless draw with city rivals Dolphins in a Nigeria Professional Football League match.

First, the unveiling couldn’t have been done before or after the match? Compared however to the fact that Ogunbote will only sign an agreement on Tuesday (rather than a proper contract, long story), the unusual halftime unveiling takes a slightly more trivial position in the whole charade reminiscent of former TA Austin Eguavoen’s arrival at the club.

One also must question the motivation behind Ogunbote leaving a Sunshine team he led to the last four of last season’s CAF Champions League (albeit with fortune’s favour), a team that hasn’t lost its opening four league matches and lies in fifth place with a game in hand, for a club that currently is second from bottom following a woeful start to the campaign.

At the other, brighter, top end of the table, champions Kano Pillars remain in top spot after a 3-2 win at ABS in Ilorin; its second away win this season. Pillars now have 12 points from five matches, a point ahead of Rangers that needed two goals in the closing 10 minutes to get a 3-1 win at home to Kwara United.

Elsewhere, Shooting Stars raced to a three goal lead but in the end held on for a 3-2 win over Wikki Tourists and rise to third place on nine points, with Akwa United now fourth also on nine points courtesy of a 3-0 win over Bayelsa United.

Other results saw Warri Wolves claim a point in a goalless draw at Enyimba despite playing a better part of the last half hour there with 10 men, Heartland thrashed Gombe United 4-0 to rise into the top half of the league, as did Nembe City now in 10th place after a 2-1 win over bottom side El-Kanemi Warriors while the match between Sunshine Stars and Lobi Stars was postponed due to the latter’s continental engagement this week.

Going further north on the continent, the young Pharaohs of Egypt won the Africa Youth Championship in Algeria 5-4 on penalties, as the final match against Ghana on Saturday ended 1-1 after regular and extra time. Nigeria last Friday had finished third with a 2-1 win over Mali in the third place play-off.

Expectedly, the AYC’s Best 11 is dominated by Egypt that had five of their players named, including Saleh Gomaa who was also named Player of the Tournament. Abduljaleel Ajagun was the only Nigerian player on the list, strangely, as golden boot winner Aminu Umar; who finished with seven goals, was left out.

The Flying Eagles meanwhile will face Portugal, South Korea and Cuba in Group B of the World Youth Championship. Egypt find themselves in Group E with England, Chile and Iraq while Mali will face Mexico, Greece and Paraguay in Group D. Ghana on their part will come up against France, Spain and the United States in what potentially is the group of death at the WYC holding later this year in Turkey from June.

Well before then, Turkish giants Galatasaray visit Spanish giants Real Madrid in a first leg quarterfinal UEFA Champions League match on Wednesday night, with Madrid heading into that encounter on a bit of a low after only managing a 1-1 draw at Real Zaragoza in a Primera Liga match.

That result meant Jose Mourinho’s side remain 13 points off the pace in La Liga having failed to take advantage of Barcelona being held to a 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo, a match that saw Lionel Messi score his 43rd league goal and create a record of scoring in 19 consecutive league matches, as well as joining Cristiano Ronaldo as a player to have scored against every other team in that league. Those two are a pleasant scare with their footballing prowess.

Elsewhere in the major European leagues, Bayern Munich is now a match from claiming the Bundesliga title after spelling out the opponent’s name, with two to spare, in a scary and scarring 9-2 rout of S.V. Hamburg (okay, the nine letters are now accounted for).

Scarier was the fact that it was third choice striker Claudio Pizarro that led the massacre with four goals. And the message will surely have been crystal to Italian champions Juventus that visit the Allianz Arena on Tuesday night in another Champions League quarterfinal encounter.

Juve prepared for that with a 2-1 Derby d’Italia win at Inter Milan to remain nine points clear of second placed Napoli that won 5-3 in a thrilling match at Torino, and a further two points ahead of AC Milan that claimed a lone goal win at Chievo Verona.

As if that wasn’t an exciting enough match-up to look forward to, Ligue Un leaders Paris Saint Germain; with an extra day’s rest and home advantage, welcome Barcelona to the Parc Des Princes in Tuesday night’s other quarterfinal match-up.

Finally in Tennis, Andy Murray continued his ascendency by replacing Roger Federer as the world number two player after capturing the Sony Open title with a 2-6 6-4 7-6 win over David Ferrer. Ferrer himself rose to fourth on the rankings to replace Spanish compatriot Rafael Nadal who now occupies fifth place.

The new rankings suggest the coming French and Wimbledon Open will be one of the most competitive grand slams held in recent times, barring injuries, with the top five players heading to them in good form along with the likes of Juan Martin del Potro and Tomas Berdych. In the female section, Serena Williams claimed a sixth Miami title win courtesy of a straight sets defeat of Maria Sharapova.

With that, it’s a wrap here. There’s the FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge tonight as well as a chance for QPR to come within five points of safety in the Premier League match at Fulham to look forward to.

Then Champions League quarterfinal matches on Tuesday and Wednesday followed quarterfinal matches in the Europa League on Thursday mean it’s an eventful start to the month of April and indeed the second quarter of 2013.

Have a great week ahead and hey, don’t get fooled out there.

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Over the Weekend: League Titles Almost Won, Nadal’s Big Return and More


We know about the Mayan calendar, there is the conventional calendar and there also is the woman’s infamous biological clock, now I am certain there should be a Latic calendar and a Sillywhites’ clock following the weekend’s round of Premier League matches.

Wigan usually get on an ascendency in the closing weeks of a league season and this season’s proving no different, beating Newcastle United 2-1 to make it four wins from its last five matches in all competitions in its quest to avoid relegation (yet again) and (refreshingly) win the FA Cup.

At White Hart Lane however, Tottenham Hotspur’s self-implode clock seems to have begun ticking after former striker Dimitar Berbatov scored the only goal in Fulham’s win there on Sunday. The loss is Spurs’ third successive defeat in a week following those at Liverpool the weekend before and at Inter Milan last Thursday.

And while the entire club would strongly disagree, three losses after a dozen matches unbeaten raises the eerie aura of a close season meltdown Spurs have always experienced following an amazing spell in every season since Martin Jol’s time as manager there. Funny, Jol is now Fulham manager.

The Lillywhites’ next four league matches will have them face Swansea, Everton, Manchester City and Chelsea, a run which has the two legs of their Europa League quarterfinal against FC Basel sandwiched.

The next month from this moment can’t be any more crucial and Andre Villas-Boas’ side will either stay true to their seasonal meltdown or break the cycle and at least finish in the top four and make next season’s Champions League.

A win meanwhile would have put Spurs within two points of second place, as Manchester City had lost 2-0 at Everton on Saturday. But now, Spurs have dropped to third on 54 points, with Chelsea now a point in third and four points off second spot after a 2-0 win over West Ham United.

In that match, Demba Ba was shockingly profligate in front of goal, wasting genuine chances for which Fernando Torres would have been crucified for had it been him missing them; not to say Torres would have scored if he was on the pitch.

Nikica Jelavic on the contrary fired home a late second to seal City’s fate at Goodison, while Robin van Persie’s drought continued though Manchester United opened a 15-point lead thanks to a lone Wayne Rooney goal win over relegation threatened Reading.

Van Persie remains three goals behind the league’s leading scorer Luis Suarez who also failed to score as Liverpool fell to a 3-1 defeat at Southampton, a loss that dropped the Reds to seventh with Merseyside rivals Everton replacing them in sixth place.

As a result, Suarez has 22 goals while van Persie has 19… yet a certain Lionel Messi has two more league goals than the Premier League duo, notching his 42nd and 43rd in this season’s La Liga in a 3-1 win over Rayo Vallecano on Sunday.

That win restored the Catalan side’s 13 point lead over second placed Real Madrid that twice came from behind to register a 5-2 win over Real Mallorca while Atletico Madrid stayed a further point adrift with a 2-0 win at Osasuna thanks to a Diego Costa brace.

In Italy, Juventus remained on course to retain the Scudetto title courtesy of a hard-fought 2-0 win at Bologna. Napoli kept the title race barely alive with a 3-2 win to remain nine points adrift while Mario Balotelli scored his sixth in six matches to help AC Milan to a 2-0 win and stay two points behind Napoli.

PSG on its part squandered a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at St. Etienne, yet made its advantage at the top of Ligue Un five points as second placed Oympique Lyon lost at Bastia. And Bayern Munich in Germany won 2-1 at Bayer Leverkusen though Borussia Dortmund kept the Bavarians’ lead at 20 points with a 5-1 win over Freiburg.

While European football leagues’ leaders largely have no credible challenge, the top players in Tennis look to have their work well cut out following a run of results that culminated in Rafael Nadal winning the Indian Wells tournament.

The Spanish former world number one came from a set down, the first set he’d lost all tournament, to defeat Juan Martin Del Potro 4-6 6-3 6-4. This is after beating Roger Federer in the quarterfinals before overcoming in-form Tomas Berdych in the semis.

With Del Potro himself beating Andy Murray in the last eight before edging past world number one Novak Djokovic in the semis; ending a run of 22 wins as a result, the level of competition on this season’s ATP tour looks much stiffer.

Same may also be said for the Formula 1 season which started off down under with Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen winning the Australian Grand Prix ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso while reigning champion Sebastien Vettel had to be content with third place after starting the race in pole.

Still too early to conclude how competitive the F1 season will be, unlike last season which saw the opening seven races won by different racers before Vettel sped away with the title.

In Africa, the preliminary stages of both continental club football competitions continued with Nigeria’s representatives ensuring they hold advantages going into their respective return matches in a fortnight.

League champions Kano Pillars recorded 4-1 win over AC Leopards and Rangers drew goalless at Vital’O in the Champions League while in the Confederations Cup, Lobi Stars won 3-1 at home to Muculmana while Heartland could only win 2-1 at home to US Bitam.

Finally… the U20 Africa Youth Championship kicked off in Algeria with Mali’s young Eagles exacting some revenge by beating Nigeria’s Flying Eagles by a lone goal in Group B. Hosts Algeria drew goalless in the opening match against Benin Republic while Ghana fell 2-1 to the young Pharaohs of Egypt.

Nigeria will next face Gabon on Wednesday before wrapping up its group matches against DR Congo on Saturday. Hopefully, the Flying Eagles will recover from the Mali defeat and make it out of the group stage to the semi-finals, which guarantees a spot in the World Championship.

With that, it’s a wrap. Osaze Odemwingie took to twitter yet again to vent his feelings about how he is being treated at the club and more, even though he tweeted he was not trying to force a move away from West Brom. Eitherway, he is set to get some disciplinary actions as the club has stated he will be dealt with “internally”.

Have a stress free week ahead.

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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.

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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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