Posts Tagged uefa
Former Tottenham Hotspur striker Garth Crooks made a legitimate analysis on BBC Sport’s post-match analysis of the fiery London derby between Chelsea and Arsenal on Saturday, which the Blues won 2-0 courtesy of a Kurt Zouma header and a deflected Eden Hazard goal early and late in the second half respectively.
Before the goals however, it would not have been much of a surprise if the match had gone on to finish goalless, or to have seen either side steal a win with a fortuitous goal. Arsenal were hardly at their fluid best at Stamford Bridge but nonetheless were holding their own against a Chelsea side that can probably be seen as on a resurgence having secured back-to-back wins for the first time this season, scoring six and conceding none to boot.
In another realm of reality, Zouma scoring his first Premier League goal against a rival could have been the major talking point. Another realm of reality could have chosen to ponder on whether Hazard’s so far form is on the mend having scored, albeit off Arsenal defender Calum Chambers.
Perhaps we could have been going on about how Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger managed a (rather frosty) handshake before kick-off but ‘forgot’ or were too occupied to share another at full time, with Wenger walking right down the tunnel while Mourinho, understandably, shared a warm hug with a man he still trusts completely, John Terry.
As we would have it though, in whatever realm of reality you choose to exist, the major talking point had to do with two Brazilian born players, each on either side who threw up what perhaps has been missing in a lot of so-called derby matches in the English top flight; tempers!
That happened just before halftime and imagine after such altercation, both players remained on the field for the rest of the encounter, all riled up and just itching for the other to as much as glance along their path for a proper brawl to break out and perhaps for more slaps to be served two or three involved faces.
Arsenal fans and many neutrals can go on all week about how
insert your feelings about the striker’s behaviour here disgusting, despicable, unacceptable, unsporting, irritating and appalling Costa’s part in getting Gabriel sent off was but what is a derby if neither side has at least one player being a tick in the skins of his opposition all game?
Didier Drogba held a psychological card on Philippe Senderos and Arsenal for a long time, same hold Costa seems to be having on a lot of opponents in the Premier League having previously been involved in confrontations, but somehow not getting sent off in his ‘two’ seasons so far in the Premier League.
Which is why I agreed 100% with Spurs fan Crooks, ironically riled about an injustice to an Arsenal player when he said, “We all want to see 11 against 11. It’s a great game” and indeed it was, until referee Mike Dean felt it appropriate to send off one party in the altercation and leave the other on the field with just a yellow card for his troubles. Would not have been the 11 on 11 one wanted, but 10 on 10 was not a bad option at all. Alas.
Dean’s only fault as it turns out, was not showing that red card to Costa as well when he showed it to Gabriel for if he had, we probably would be scrambling for the best resolution footage of a classic tunnel bust-up between both players and possibly their teammates off the field and bench… along with the coaching staff… and both managers, tantalisingly.
However, showing just one red card brought an imbalance to what was – to that point – a contest of two sides looking to bounce back for different reasons. Instead, we were left to consume a largely one-sided second half (inevitably) which saw Santi Cazorla get himself sent off to add a feeling of injustice for Arsenal fans and a need for justification for Chelsea fans.
Good old days, one would have had a good time or held a proper grudge (depending on what side of reality you existed) at Martin Keown for (in)famously rubbing Ruud van Nistelrooy’s penalty miss in the final minute of that match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford in 2003.
After the incident (between Costa and Gabriel that is), Keown tweeted he would have loved to play against the Chelsea striker. That tweet reeked of an emotion missing in current Arsenal players and a whole lot at others club who have to be ‘appropriate’ or risk being farcically charged by the trigger happy FA for the comment deemed ever so slightly inappropriate.
The Arsenal manager and others of his kind should not always expect the opponent to play nice and allow the other team be the better team. That is not how the football gods (not Messi and Ronaldo but their mythical ancestors) ordained the procession to go, otherwise they would be a bunch of bored lawmakers who doze off during once-a-quarter sessions.
But all of that is for another feast of sporting battles.
Admittedly not every Mike Dean can be Pierluigi Collina great, not even Collina’s compatriot Nicola Rizzoli who saw PSV Eindhoven’s Héctor Morono get his Ryan Shawcross on and do a Ramsey on poor Luke Shaw during a UEFA Champions League encounter, which Manchester United eventually lost 2-1 with Morono scoring one of those goals for PSV.
Excuse me while I do a Crooks complimenting Dean before slating him, Rizzoli is a top official otherwise he would not have been named Serie A Referee of the Year in 2011, 2012 and 2013 nor would he have been chosen to officiate the final of the 2010 UEFA Europa League, the 2013 UEFA Champions League final and the 2014 FIFA World Cup final.
But in the Champions League group stage match in Eindhoven, Rizzoli covered himself in all the aforementioned adjectives for Diego Costa when he (for the benefit of doubt) forgot to book Morono for his rash challenge on Shaw. Had he done so, and given the player the red card he deserved, would PSV have won?
So, one must disagree with Crooks when he implied that referees should not try to be in the spotlight. In fact, they should have the spotlight right on them as much as the one beaming on Costa’s [insert adjectives] behaviour in order to make the referees realise how much their decisions actually impact on results.
For the first time in 16 seasons, there will be no English club in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, but Arsenal came mighty close to sustaining that record after a generally unexpected victory at Bayern Munich in a week seemingly impossible deficits were cancelled out though only two sides notably got the required results and made the next stage.
Malaga’s reverie debut season with the elite continues as the Andalucians out-thought FC Porto in a 2-0 home win, qualifying for the last eight with a 2-1 aggregate score and setting up a tantalising clash with enterprising Germans Borussia Dortmund.
Fellow Spaniards Barcelona had a 2-0 deficit to deal with and after only five minutes in the second leg, Lionel Messi scored his first goal from open play against Italian opposition in a most technical fashion, doing a one-two with Xavi before sending a curling effort into Abbiati’s top corner from the midst of four AC Milan players.
That goal for me shows just why the diminutive Argentine is easily loved by many as equally as he is easily despised and for the latter group, winning the World Cup should appease their grievances. But that’s another day’s discussion.
In the present, Messi scored another on the night, David Villa showed he still has it with a fine third before Jordi Alba showed great fitness (EPO induced like the rest of the team is suspected? Ah well) to put the tasty toppings on a sumptuous performance from the Catalans who now face glamour French side PSG in the last eight.
Arsenal needed similar performance against Bayern Munich and though it wasn’t pretty, it was efficient enough to draw level on aggregate. The Gunners’ 2-0 win however wasn’t enough as Bayern went through on away goals where Italian champions Juventus await.
It was the first time this season a team had kept Bayern from scoring at home, it also ended a run of 11 successive victories and 23 matches unbeaten in all competitions. Painfully for the Gunners and gooners, that win (‘gallant’ as the one over Milan last season) will likely mean the obvious need to make the club capable of actually competing for titles rather than the world’s sympathy will yet again be overlooked.
Over at the other north London club meanwhile, overlooking the importance of having a team capable of at least not falling apart without Gareth Bale as it did at the San Siro on Thursday night is what Andre Villas-Boas shouldn’t be doing on his part.
Tottenham Hotspurs’ manager was of the opinion that his side basically do not have to prove its worth without the Welsh talisman in the side, only to go 3-0 down at Inter after regulation time before losing 4-1 after extra time on the night but go through to the last eight of the Europa League thanks to the away goals rule.
With or without Bale, most definitely with Bale, the continued participation of Spurs, along with Newcastle United and Chelsea, in Europe’s second tier competition would be key in keeping England’s coefficients on the up.
The coefficients are points used by UEFA to grade every European league based on each league’s teams’ performances in the Champions and Europa League, so the farther a league’s representative(s) go on the continent, the more points gained in its coefficients.
And more teams from a league going farther is an added advantage for that league, which explains the fuss about no English side making the last eight of the Champions League. Thankfully for the Premier League, there are three teams in the Europa League’s last eight.
There, Spurs have been drawn against Swiss side FC Basel, Chelsea will have to overcome Russian side Rubin Kazan as they look to ‘replicate’ FC Porto that won the Champions League and old UEFA Cup in successive seasons, and Newcastle face Benfica of Portugal in perhaps the toughest draw of the last eight.
As a result, Newcastle’s priority now lies there, making Wigan Athletic favourite to come out winners when the Magpies visit the Latics in one of this weekend’s Premier League fixtures, especially as Wigan are involved in the relegation battle.
In the pick of this weekend’s programme, bottom of the table QPR’s quest to escape relegation continues in a daunting trip to fellow strugglers Aston Villa that lies just a place above the drop zone.
Without saying, a win for QPR, or even a draw for Harry Redknapp’s side is crucial, more so with Reading – in 19th place above QPR only by goal difference – away at league leaders Manchester United.
Elsewhere Arsenal visit Swansea as the Gunners continue their chase for a top four finish, while Everton host second placed Manchester City, Liverpool visit Southampton, Tottenham face Fulham and Chelsea host West Ham United in two London derbies.
Elsewhere in Europe, third placed Bayer Leverkusen host Bayern Munich on Saturday, looking to complete a double on the Bavarians in the Bundesliga and at least postpone the visitor’s inevitable title win.
Personally, looking forward to the start of the Formula One season this weekend in Australia. My favourite driver Jenson Button’s title chances are virtually non-existent with the likes of Lewis Hamilton – now with Mercedes – and Fernando Alonso of Ferrari at the fore to depose reigning champion Sebastien Vettel, a tough ask seeing as Vettel has won the last three championships.
Along with the tennis at Indian Wells, where Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer to reach the semis, along with preliminary stage matches in Africa’s Champions League and Confederations Cup, it is a loaded weekend, as always.
Have a good one.
If ever there previously was a team more undeserving to win a title, Bayern Munich last night went a few steps beyond such courtesy of their display in the Champions League final ‘at home’ against Chelsea.
Contrary to being abject, the Bavarians were lively for most of the two hours of normal and extra time played at their Allianz Arena, piling intense pressure that bore 34 attempts on goal with 21 of those on target along with 20 corner kicks and 55% of the ball.
Chelsea may have showed up in Munich for the final, but the players’ approach throughout invoked the spirits that made the Blues knock Barcelona out at the Camp Nou late in April.
The Londoners could only muster nine attempts at the Bayern goal, with just six of them giving Manuel Neuer something to do instead of being a spectator. Chelsea also only managed one corner kick all night. It came two minutes to full time in normal time, five minutes after Thomas Müller had given the ‘home’ side a ‘deserved’ lead.
Didier Drogba rose gracefully to head the ball past Neuer at his near post to equalise to restore belief for the Londoners and knock the tempo down from a cocaine high to a lucozade high for Bayern.
Drogba could’ve won it in normal time but he sent his freekick, the last kick of normal time, well into the stands similarly to Mario Gomez earlier in the first half after the striker had used body movement to displace Gary Cahill and have a full view of goal.
Gomez disappointed on the night, but Arjen Robben somehow went from being denied from his numerous menacing forays into the Chelsea area to being a welcome nuisance to the Chelsea defence that found it difficult to contain him yet would’ve been forgiven for feeling assured it would all come to nothing.
Robben had made some space in the box in the first half of normal time and fired hard and low at the Chelsea goal, denied by a combination of Cech’s limbs and the post.
He, along with Franck Ribery, created good chances for Gomez and Müller that went begging but the moment was in first half of extra time after Drogba had fell Ribery in the box… PENALTY!
Robben smacked his spotkick hard and low to Cech’s left but the Czech goalkeeper followed to smother and save… and knock the tempo from a lucozade high right down to the pitch itself.
This was when I believed it was not going to be Bayern’s night, with the rest of extra time ticking away for the lottery of penalty kicks.
Phillip Lahm’s kick barely evaded Cech’s gloves, but he scored. Juan Mata, enjoying a fine Cup run in his debut season for Chelsea, saw his kick saved by Neuer. Advantage Bayern.
Gomez finally found the net, Neuer also scored. David Luiz and Frank Lampard kept Chelsea in it with successful penalties. Then up came Ivica Olic for Bayern’s fourth.
The Chelsea goalkeeper had followed every penalty kick taken against him on the night, and now he’d saved two of four. Ashley Cole complemented Cech’s effort by scoring Chelsea’s fourth kick. Up came Bastian Schweinsteiger.
Well… I thought it was the moment. Schweinsteiger saw his penalty calmly hit the post and he may not have, but I hoped to the gods from where I sat watching in Ilorin that the ball’d hit Cech’s back and casually roll into the net.
The gods must’ve been watching Avengers and be chuckling from the scene Loki got bamboozled at Stark Towers by the green one… I digress.
Having won League Cups and FA Cups for Chelsea, Drogba stepped up and did what John Terry should’ve done four years ago. Drogba’s winning spot kick killed a lot of demons from that night in Moscow.
It likely also signals the start of the end of Essien, Bosingwa, Malouda, Lampard and Drogba’s Chelsea careers but more imperatively, the beginning of a new era at Stamford Bridge orchestrated by Juan Mata, Ramires, Meireles, Gary Cahill, Daniel Sturridge, Fernando Torres and Marko Marin.
This new era will see Chelsea not whimper about missing the Special One but hopefully, keep faith in an interim manager that has taken the club beyond expectations with personnel available to him.
Roberto di Matteo has tinkered with the squad almost as much as Andre Villas-Boas did from August to March, but the Italian played his cards so much better than his Portuguese counterpart, choosing the high risk path and forfeiting a good finish on the Premier League table for the glory of the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League trophy.
*takes out Arsenal related paragraphs*
*considers putting them in another post… *
They certainly didn’t play beautiful football, they may actually not be as good as previous Chelsea teams but they have won Europe’s top club prize and after losing at home in Moscow, it was a fitting was to have Roman’s ego restored at their opponent’s home turf.
Congratulations to Chelsea FC.
At club level, England boasts of some of the world’s best football teams such as Liverpool and Manchester United, alone with eight European Cup wins to their name along with the London duo of Arsenal and Chelsea while Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City should probably have their ambitions of breaking the Big-Four’s monopoly taken more seriously based on both’s improvement over the last few seasons, culminating in Spurs reaching the UEFA Champions League quarter final in only its first appearance last season and City lifting the last FA Cup, defeating city rivals United along the way.
The rest of the British Isle lies well behind the English Premier League both competitively and lucratively with the closest competition, the Scottish Premier League, being a standard golf course apart from matching the EPL’s prowess and global appeal with some yards to spare.
While the biggest clubs from the other nations of the British Isle have been unable to match their English counterparts, those nations have actually produced quality footballers that have reached the heights, some of whom are Liverpool’s Scottish manager Kenny Dalglish who is part of Celtic’s greatest team of all time along with fellow Scot Jimmy Johnstone. Other fine footballers these nations have produced are Ryan Giggs, Craig Bellamy and Gareth Bale from Wales, Darren Fletcher, Craig Gordon, Kris Boyd and Allan McGregor from Scotland as well as Irishmen John O’Shea, Ian Hart, Roy Keane and Robbie Keane among many others.
Unfortunately, most of these footballers along with their English counterparts have achieved naught in their international sojourns despite their potential being capable of earning such acclaim as evident with their individual successes at club level.
Hence, the British Olympic Association’s move to have a Great Britain football team participate at the London Olympics of 2012 rather than the individual nations with the logic being to afford footballers from each nation of the Isle such as those aforementioned; and the individual nations on the side, the chance to have a taste of success at the international level.
It should be noted that the closest international success came to any nation of the Isle was at the European Championship of 1996 with England only able to reach the semi-final stage. A decade and half of underachievement at four FIFA World Cups, three European Championships and three Olympic Games have since been endured.
This gives credence to the BOA’s idea of a Great Britain football team representing at the Olympics London will host. The manner the Association has gone about bringing the team to fluid fruition may however have put the dream in jeopardy with the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish football associations claiming that the BOA only approached the English FA with the idea, and therefore cannot be seen to be in agreement with creating a football team for Great Britain.
The trio also stated that being a part of the proposal will confuse the individual identities of the nations. This is despite that FIFA has assured the BOA of each nation’s identity remaining intact in the aftermath of them contributing to the cause.
I strongly believe both sides should drop the egos and reach a compromise on the matter because in reality, none of the nations in the Isle can put up a commendable showing, let alone win Olympic gold come 2012; England’s U-21s a typical reason as to why. Having the best of each nation however may see Great Britain put up a commendable performance in front of the cheering faithfuls on home turf.
As it is now, should BOA go ahead with its plan of having a Great Britain football team for the first time since the Rome Olympics of 1960 without reaching a compromise with the trio that are being initially stubborn, then such team will likely predominantly compose of English players. Any success achieved then would not be shared!
Lot’s of criticism has come in light of the quality of clubs that now find themselves getting swept aside in a stroll by their more established counterparts following Wednesday’s round of Match Day One fixtures in the UEFA Champions League.
In Group E, AS Roma held its own until a barrage of unrelenting pressure from Bayern Munich earned the Germans a well deserved 2-0 win thanks to goals in the closing ten minutes from youngster Thomas Müller – with an exquisite finish with the outside of his right – and veteran Miroslav Klose. The Bavarians now lead the group ahead of CFR Cluj that held on for a 2-1 win over visiting FC Basle in Romania.
In Group F, a first half brace from Nicholas Anelka helped Chelsea on its way to a 4-1 win at MSK Zilina with Ghana midfielder Michael Essien opening the scoring for the Blues early on while Daniel Sturridge got the visitors fourth three minutes into the second half. The group’s other match saw Spartak Moscow leave France with all three points in a lone goal win over Olympique Marseille thanks to an own goal nine minutes from time; those three points could prove quite crucial for Spartak at the climax of the group stage.
Group G saw 2-0 wins for favourites Real Madrid and AC Milan over Ajax and Auxerre respectively. At the Bernabeu, Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain was in form for los Merengues as he sealed the win for Real 20 minutes from the end after his first half opener was credited as an own goal. At the San Siro meanwhile, Zlatan Ibrahimovic picked himself from a missed penalty over the weekend with a brace for the Rossoneri to down the French debutantes.
And finally from Group H, where Arsenal barely needed the second gear in the 6-0 thrashing of Sporting Braga with captain Cesc Fàbregas the star of the night with two goals and two assists. Andrei Arshavin got a goal and two assists, Marouane Chamakh scored his first with the foot and third for Arsenal in competitive football and substitute Carlos Vela got a brace, including a well executed chip over Braga ‘keeper Felipe. Arsenal lead ahead of Shakhtar Donetsk that pipped Partizan Belgrade by the lone goal.
Seeing the starting XI, it was a little surprise the match at Old Trafford between Manchester United and Rangers of Scotland ended goalless while Werder Bremen’s previous experience in the competition came in handy in the German side’s draw at home to UEFA Champions League debutantes Tottenham Hotspur.
Against the Scots, the Red Devils were just a touch off being lethargic on the night largely thanks to Sir Alex Ferguson’s wisdom to ‘rest’ Edwin Van der Sar, Nani, Paul Scholes (for the love of God, your best performing midfielder?), Dimitar Berbatov (yes, the Bulgarian’s starting to put in performances deserving of the money spent to bring him here…three seasons after!) and Ryan Giggs, who only came on for the last half hour after Antonio Valencia suffered a bad looking ankle injury.
Before the introduction of Giggs, United desperately lacked verve, ideas to slice the visiting defence open; still props should be given for their performance on the night, and apparently the will to win the match as it were. Safe for Darron Gibson’s efforts from long range, it was a near ghastly show-up…near ghastly, it would have been ghastly had Rangers converted any one of its four shots on target.
So what was Sir Alex thinking with his selection for the night, especially in light of Valencia’s (the club now) ease of dispatching their Turkish hosts Bursaspor 4-0. The Spaniards are clearly faring well so far with life after the Davids – Villa and Silva – and former Getafe forward Roberto Soldado looked good in Turkey and rounded up the scoring there.
David Villa got on the score sheet as well for Barcelona that rallied from a 20th minute Sidnei Govou opener for Panathinaikos to see off the visiting Greeks 5-1 at Camp Nou in a match that saw Lionel Messi wreak havoc from right after the opening goal – even though he managed to miss a penalty ten minutes to half time.
Other results saw defending champions Inter Milan, as feared in this post http://wp.me/puIC6-3u found the trip to FC Twente not so rosy though the neutral and more especially the Twente fans will take the 2-2 draw any day. Argentine striker Diego Milito just can’t stop scoring though this time round, he got Twente’s second goal on the night in the Group A encounter. That group remains open for all clubs after an identical result was achieved despite Tottenham Hotspur leading 2-0 after 20 minutes of the match with goals either side of half time earning Werder Bremen a draw at home and a good point earned by Spurs.
Group B saw Benfica beat Hapoel Tel Aviv of Israel 2-0 in Lisbon while Olympique Lyon could only manage a lone goal win at home to Schalke 04. Barcelona lead Group D on a healthy goal difference ahead of Danish side FC Copenhagen that left it late before defeating Obafemi Martins’ Rubin Kazan by a lone goal.
The wait is now down to the hours for the kick-off of the UEFA Champions League and you can view the preview of Group A to D at http://wp.me/puIC6-3u while Group E to H is previewed here.
Last season’s beaten finalist Bayern Munich and Italian giants AS Roma would straight away pop up as favourites to qualify from the group, but that’s what the paper says. Based on form, Bayern will need to raise their game a notch coupled with a bit of luck in front of goal when the Bavarians begin their campaign at home to the Italian club that on its part, has to raise its game well more than a notch coming on the back of a rattling 5-1 humiliation at Cagliari. I’m thinking Bayern will use this game as a launch pad for what has been a below par start to the season while the light seems a long way off in the tunnel Roma is in now.
As for the other group game in Romania between CFR 1907 Cluj-Napoca and Swiss champions FC Basle, I’ll go for a Cluj win even though Basle are a decent side coupled with the fact that the club – with very similar stripe to Barcelona – has started its domestic season on a good note but the trip to the Eastern bloc may prove too daunting for Basle against a Cluj side that is capable of getting a much bigger scalp in its campaign based on the adventure of previous seasons in this competition.
Here’s how it is here. We have French champions Olympique Marseille, Russians Spartak Moscow and debutantes MSK Zilina looking forward to fighting for valuable points against each other while only hoping for whatever against overwhelming group favourite Chelsea. The Blues are in exceptional form with four league wins from four…but in truth, Chelsea is prone to a bit of a struggle on the occasional odd trip and that to virtual unknowns Zilina may well not turn out to be a stroll in the park for the Premier League leaders.
The other game between Olympique Marseille and Spartak Moscow at the imposing Velodrome should have a more competitive edge. It is games as this that Marseille, the champions of 1992, must win to stand a strong chance of making the knock-out rounds and I’d have fancied l’oM to achieve just that had a certain Mamadou Niang remained at the club…still not enlightened to the wisdom of allowing him leave. Anyway, Marseille should nick this one even if it turns out tough.
Touted as the group to watch (trying not to use the cliche), the group could just turn out to be a straight fight for top spot between favourites Real Madrid and AC Milan with Milan confident of its chances against Real having had the better of the Spaniards at the Bernabeu after a draw in the San Siro the last time the two met. But I like the starlets from Ajax, led by Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez and backed up by a good ‘keeper in Marten Stekelenberg. The team spirit of the Dutch side may fall just short of upsetting the odds to claim a second round berth but it sure should create a few headaches, starting with the trip to face Real Madrid that has failed to impress so far under new manager Jose Mourinho but we all know the Portuguese tactician will take any kind of win – scrappy or classy – even at the expense of a goal feast…three points are three points no matter how it is gotten and Real will be out to do just that against Ajax. Milan meanwhile will be out to erase the shock loss at Cesena on Saturday with an assured display against visiting French debutantes Auxerre and the presence of a fearsome attack comprising Ronaldinho, Pato, Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic should undo the French resolve. Ibrahimovic especially has something to prove to his new employers following a missed penalty against Cesena…not what he had in mind for a first impression no doubt.
Should Arsenal fail to win all its home games in this group, there is going to be trouble to simply put it. The Gunners on paper are runaway favourites but Sporting Braga knocked out Sevilla in the final qualifying round while not many clubs fancy trips to places like Donetsk or Belgrade. I therefore see this group staying competitive till match day five and six and here is why. Arsenal is not exactly a good guest on Portuguese soil nearby, let alone the frozen fields far at the former Soviet. So having two home games in its first three matches I feel may play to Arsenal’s advantage especially if the Gunners get a good result in the trip to Partizan Belgrade on match day two. Match day one against Braga at the Emirates should meanwhile be a good one for Arsene Wenger’s side in light of the very dismal record of visiting Portuguese teams to England.
Shakhtar Donetsk should have enough of themselves when Partizan visit Ukraine in the group’s other encounter on match day one. It will be interesting to see how former Arsenal striker Eduardo will fare for Shakhtar in the competition especially against his former employers on match day three when the Croatian will be at the Emirates in what will be an emotional return.
You may have had some feeling at the back of your mind that the football season, perhaps wasn’t fully on the way and from Tuesday night, that piece of ‘sporting anomaly’ will be fixed when the UEFA Champions League – Europe’s elite, and the world’s most glamorous club competition – begins on September 14 and there are a few match-ups should whet the appetite and set us on our way for this season.
Just to recap, FC Internazionale of Italy is the defending champion following a 2-0 win over German champions Bayern Munich at the Santiago Bernabeu; home of Spanish giants Real Madrid that have won the competition a record nine times…though their last triumph came in 2002 and more un-graciously have been unable go past the first knock-out round the previous six seasons. Right out of the hat, the favourites are, of course, the defending champions FC Internazionale along with 2009 champions CF Barcelona, English champions Chelsea and three time winners Manchester United while outsiders include AC Milan, Real Madrid – despite their knack for Second Round exits, you always have to hope – and err, Arsenal.
Inter Milan have an efficient team of players to count on and are as a result favourites to make it out of this group on top and besides, Rafael Benitez isn’t a stranger to European success with experience from Valencia and most memorably at Liverpool. The Nerazurri have a tough trip to FC Twente that, despite the exit of Steve McLaren to manage Wolfsburg, remain a modest enough team to cause Inter some trouble on Tuesday night. Group A’s other match looks more attracting with Werder Bremen at home to debutantes Tottenham Hotspur and both sides are attack minded teams so a few goals should probably be expected even though both sides will be missing a few players – Claudio Pizzaro and Jermain Defoe especially – and they have not been in good form on the field with Bremen on four points from four matches and Tottenham, unbeaten in four matches but have been disappointing in their last two league outings against clubs they should be winning. Looks like Bremen will edge it unless Spurs get their act together.
Olympique Lyonnais could have had it worse but in my opinion, the French side have a group it can cope with without much fuss and the visit of Schalke to the Gerlande should present a good platform to launch their quest in this season’s competition. Schalke have been dismal in the Bundesliga this season despite the arrival of Spanish veteran Raul and Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and that poor form may well spill into their European adventure for now. The other group match sees Benfica host Hapoel Tel Aviv, a match the Portuguese side to win. Lyon and Benfica as a result stand as favourites to qualify from this group while Hapoel may well nick the Europa League slot by finishing third in the group unless the Schalke side gel very soon.
This is a competitive looking group that on paper readily sees Manchester United and Valencia favourites to make the next round but I like the mould of Turkey’s representative this season. Champions League debutantes Bursaspor have begun the season in blistering note, winning all four league games so far including away at Galatasaray and should prove tough hosts to Spanish side Valencia on Tuesday. The group’s star match on the day would be at Old Trafford where Scottish champions Rangers face a Manchester United side that has thrown sure win positions away in their last two league matches; still baffled at how the Red Devils allowed Everton two goals in stoppage time in that enthralling draw at Goodison Park. Wayne Rooney will definitely be in the starting line-up on Tuesday and United should have the win even though the Scots will go about showing they aren’t one to be bullied around.
If I were Panathinaikos, I’d be cursing Hercules (not the Greek superhero) for that shock result on Saturday night because it will certainly push Pep Guardiola’s men to set the record straight at the expense of the visiting Greeks. The other game in Group D has Russian side Rubin Kazan on a tricky trip to Danish league leaders FC Copenhagen. This tie looks even to me, both sides are modest enough though if there’s to be a win on the night, I’d place my bet on Copenhagen…the trip from the old Soviet to Scandinavia isn’t a stroll you know.
All matches begin 19:45 BST (British Standard Time) so you might want to check for time zone differences. This season’s final will take place at England’s Wembley Stadium in May 2011 while the group stages run from September 14 & 15 to December 7 & 8. Have fun being a part of the Champions League!
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So who do you reckon will face whoever in the UEFA Champions League group stage, with the hour for the draws drawing ever so close now.
Pot One has last year’s finalists Inter Milan and Bayern Munich along with English trio Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal, Spanish champions Barcelona, AC Milan and Olympique Lyon that I feel will make quite an impact again this coming season following their capture of talented midfielder Yoann Gourcuff from Bordeaux.
Pot Two is highlighted by Real Madrid; no thanks to losing out in the first knock round to Lyon last season, the sixth straight time los Merengues have bade bye to the competition so early, AS Roma, Werder Bremen and Olympique Marseille. A lot of eyes will be on Tottenham Hotspur in Pot Three that also has Scottish champions Rangers and Ajax Amsterdam while Pot Four has got among others, FC Copenhagen, Hapoel Tel Aviv, Auxerre, Spartak Moscow and MSK Zilina (no offence, who?).
Also watch out for the likes of Portugal’s Sporting Braga in Pot Three after knocking out Sevilla in the final qualifying round as well as a certain Bursaspor from Turkey…whatever happened to Fernabahçe and the likes?
My guts tell me Real Madrid would probably get their nemesis Lyon and I’m counting on Raul making a return to the Bernabeu as well in Schalke colours. The Red Devils could also draw Rangers, just to play up the Scot link with Sir Alex and Tottenham should get ready for one of Barcelona, Inter Milan or AC Milan, I’d prefer Barça!
But hey, it’s just my guts! The real draw will be known from 17:00 BST and the group stage will kick off from September 14 and 15…now the season’s completely started!