The final bunch of group fixtures are among us. Some teams have already qualified. Some will be battling for second place. Some could finish third and enter the Europa League. Some, like Celtic, will already be destined to finish last and subsequently eliminated from all European competitions.
Yes, it’s bad news for Neil Lennon’s men. They travel to the Camp Nou to face Barcelona – a club they’ve met in this competition plenty of times over the years. While the Catalans will be looking to guarantee their place at Group H‘s top spot, Celtic have nothing to lose and will be trying to boost their confidence with a difficult win. The only Scottish side to win at the Camp Nou were Dundee United in the ’86/87 UEFA Cup quarter-finals against a Terry Venables-led Barça side.
The much sought after second place is between Ajax and AC Milan. They meet at the San Siro tomorrow night and it’ll be tight. Ajax came close to beating Milan in Amsterdam on matchday 2. Stefano Denswil’s 90th minute lead was met with Mario Balotelli equalising penalty in the fourth minute of stoppage time.
FC Porto visit Group G winners Atlético Madrid needing a dramatic change of fortune if they are to avoid an early exit from the competition. The Spaniards have been running away with the group thus far while Zenit St. Petersburg visit Austria Wien seeking a victory to guarantee qualification for the knockout stage for only the second time. In the previous fixture, Luciano Spalletti’s men could only manage a 0-0 draw at home against the Austrians.
Rafa Benitez’s Napoli and Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal meet with both qualifying places still to be decided in Group F. Separated by just three points, they are both firmly in the qualifying equation as the group reaches its conclusion, although Borussia Dortmund‘s fixture at Marseille will also be closely followed by supporters in Naples. In the reverse fixtures back in October, Dortmund thrashed the French side by 3-0 while a Mesut Ozil-inspired Arsenal side comfortably beat Napoli by 2-0.
FC Basel and Schalke meet in Gelsenkirchen with Group E‘s second place on the line, while the Swiss side are looking to overtake Chelsea who are currently in first place. Jose “The Special One” Mourinho’s men host Steaua Bucharest and will be seeking a repeat of their 3-0 win in the reverse fixture to ensure they progress as Group E winners. Should Chelsea lose they will finish second while a draw would leave them top so long as FC Basel fail to beat Schalke.
Bayern Munich are looking to seal their first place position in Group D when they host a Man City side who need a massive win in Bavaria to leapfrog the reigning champions though both teams are already through. With this in mind, the third spot is up for grabs and Viktoria Plzeň host Russian opposition for the first time in CSKA Moscow and both will be seeking for a Europa League spot. The Czech side are still to earn a single point and a big win against CSKA would be needed.
Benfica take on Group C winners Paris Saint-Germain in Lisbon knowing their qualification is out of their hands. The Portuguese side are currently in third place, level with Olympiacos on seven points, but behind on goal difference. The Greeks will go through if they defeat bottom side Anderlecht at home. Benfica must better whatever result Olympiacos manage in Athens to qualify. Back in October, PSG bettered Benfica by 3-0 while Olimpiacos achieved the same scoreline against Anderlecht.
A draw is all Juventus need to earn the second place in Group B. They travel to Istanbul to face Roberto Mancini’s Galatasaray and while only a win will allow the home team to overtake their opponents, a draw would be enough for the Italian side. Meanwhile Real Madrid have assured themselves of finishing as group winners and will now be looking to complete their fixtures with a flourish at eliminated FC Copenhagen. The Danish side are in last place but can qualify for the Europa League with victory. Though a draw would also secure third place should Galatasaray lose at home to Juve.
Finally, Man United will be looking to seal first place in Group A when they host a Shakhtar Donetsk side needing a victory to guarantee they will join their opponents in the last sixteen. While Bayer Leverkusen will be looking to spoil it for the Ukrainians if possible, they travel to face Real Sociedad. The Spaniards have only earned one point in the competition and victory for Man United and Leverkusen will ensure their progression at the cost of Shakhtar.
Back in 2003, when a nine-year-old boy named Gerard Deulofeu turned up at the FC Barcelona offices, an hour south from his tiny village of Riudarenes, he arrived as a kid with great promise. Like many in Barça’s youth academy, known as La Masia, the club were taking on a great talent. As the years passed, Deulofeu was constantly making a name for himself more and more and in 2011, he was called up the Barcelona’s B team.
Usually the Catalan sports press are Barça-mad, with very little written about their B side. However, like Messi and Pedro before him, Deulofeu’s name would be creeping into the likes of newspaper Sport frequently. “Who is this kid? Is he any good?”. The answer was an unmistakable yes!
As well as playing as a striker, Deulofeu caused opposition serious damage when fielded as a right-winger. Plenty could see the similarities between himself and World Cup winner and former-Barça B star Pedro (or Pedrito – little Pedro – as he was known in those days.)
Having played with Spain’s youth teams since 2009, Deulofeu was drafted into the squad for the under-19′s European Championship in July 2012. A competition they won. And guess who got player of the tournament? Correct!
Of course, that wasn’t his first honour. He won the same tournament the year before again with the under-19′s ( including scoring against Ireland in a 5-0 thrashing en route to the final).
Having made two senior appearances for Barcelona, his 2012-13 was incredible for the reserve side and many had predicted him to progress into Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s side permanently. However, with the purchase of Brazilian superstar Neymar as well as more established youth players in the senior side such as Isaac Cuenca and the hugely talented Cristian Tello, it was decided that, rather than just selling him and cashing in, a loan-move would be best for Deulofeu.
After his wonderful goal for Everton against Arsenal at the Emirates, the 19-year old will become the talk of Monday morning’s back pages. As Stuart Clark of this parish commented on Twitter: “We’re seeing the emergence of a world class player”. Indeed. It’s very hard not to agree. Sunday evening’s performance was merely the tip of the iceberg for what this kid can be capable of.
Some interesting fixtures await us the draw for next summer’s World Cup sees hosts Brazil take on Croatia in the opening game with Mexico and Cameroon making up the rest of Group A while a repeat of the 2010 final is in store as Spain face the Netherlands for Group B’s opener.
England will face Italy in their opening game in the Amazon city of Manaus on Saturday, 14 June. Also in their group is Uruguay – fronted by the deadly duo of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani – as well as Costa Rica who will feature the most talked about player of the week: Bryan Oviedo.
The Boateng brothers, Kevin-Prince and Jerome, will meet again as Germany will take on Ghana in Fortaleza on 21 June in Group G, having also drawn Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and USA. Speaking of the USA, coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who previously managed Germany, will his former assistant and current-manager Joachim Low.
Ah, the so-called “Granny rule”. Without it, the population of this country would never be worshiping the likes of Mick McCarthy, John Aldridge, Andy Townsend, Ray Houghton or the great Gary Breen. Yes, it’s a rule that has proved to be very beneficial to the boys in green. And now it seems that the current management of Ireland are very keen to take full advantage yet again.
Indeed Martin O’Neill was in London last night for the Crystal Palace v West Ham game to reportedly check out the Irons’ Mark Noble. The 26-year-old has played for England at youth levels right up to under-21′s, but thanks to his grandparents, who hail from Cork, the West Ham midfielder could possibly be soon putting on the green jersey.
Now, Noble is East London born-and-bred. A lifelong Hammer. He has even said his preference is to play for England. I don’t even know if he’s even ever been to Ireland. But he’s a fine player and I would welcome him in the green shirt. His statistics for West Ham are fantastic and he would, in my estimation, get in the starting XI alongside Keano & the boys.
Would his heart be in it if he did switch allegiance? Possibly. The Irish fans are the most supportive in international football and players like Tony Cascarino (who grew up a big England fan and even traveled to the 1982 World Cup to support Glenn Hoddle & co.) is still a much-loved figure on these shores.
Along with him, the management duo are also looking at Hull City’s defender Curtis Davis via the same rule. I welcome any player that’s eligible (and Tony Cascarino – sorry, Cas!). There’s some great players in the current squad such as Aiden McGeady, James McCarthy and big Jon Walters who we’ve obtained via the granny rule.
I’d be happy to see Mark Noble join this list of players.
We’ll start with Group H and the big one here is that Celtic entertain AC Milan. Needless to say, it is a massive game for the Bhoys. A must-win game and a victory against the Rossoneri could see Neil Lennon’s lads move up into second place. This of course depends on the goings on in Amsterdam where Ajax take on the might of group leaders Barcelona.
Atlético Madrid are having an incredible season. With just one loss in La Liga this year, and a 100% record in Group G of their current Champions League campaign, they travel to Russia to face Zenit St Petersburg full of confidence. Meanwhile FC Porto, a point behind the second place, host Austria Wien in the Estádio do Dragão.
Arsene Wenger is looking to secure his Arsenal side a place in the last 16 with a game to spare should they claim three points tonight in their tie against Marseille at the Emirates. While the French side have yet to get a single point, The Gunners are on top of Group F by goal difference ahead of Napoli. The Italians face last year’s finalists Borussia Dortmund at the Signal Iduna Park.
“The pressure is on Basel,” said Chelsea gaffer José “The Special One” Mourinho. He’s not wrong – the Swiss side lie in 3rd place in Group E and just a point behind Schalke. Basel coach Murat Yakin is keen for his side to deliver a victory against group leaders Chelsea and set up a last-day showdown with the Germans. Schalke travel to Bucharest to face FC Steaua.
Man United can claim their spot in the final 16 with a win tomorrow against Bayer Leverkusen. David Moyes’ men ran out 4-2 winners of the same fixture at Old Trafford in September. But former-Liverpool captain Sami Hyppia, now manager of Leverkusen, could take a huge step towards the next round if they defeat the Red Devils. Also in Group A, Shakhtar Donetsk host Real Sociedad. The Ukrainians have their eye on the group’s runners up spot as they are just two points behind the Germans while Sociedad have only claimed a single point in the campaign so far.
Man-of-the-moment Cristiano Ronaldo is doubtful for tomorrow’s clash between Real Madrid and Galatasaray. With Madrid leading Group B six points ahead the Turkish side, Real boss Carlo Ancelotti is unlikely to risk the Portuguese star. Juventus, currently bottom of the group, face FC Copenhagen who are a point ahead of the Italians. Antonio Conte’s men, yet to win a game in this year’s Champions League, drew 1-1 in the previous fixture in Denmark.
All PSG need is a draw to guarantee their spot in the competition’s final 16. The French outfit face 2nd placed Olympiacos at the Parc des Princes. A victory for Zlatan & co. would be news welcomed by Benfica as they need a win against Anderlecht tomorrow to keep them in with a shout for the runners-up spot in Group C and a place in the next round.
Finally, Bayern Munich travel to the Russian capital to face CSKA Moscow as their place in the final 16 has already been guaranteed. Pep Guardiola’s mean have yet to lose this season since their German SuperCup defeat to rivals Borussia Dortmund back in the summer. Also already guaranteed their place in the next round, Man City host Czech side FC Viktoria Plzeň. Manuel Pellegrini’s men go into the fixture on the back of a 6-0 thrashing of Tottenham last weekend.
“One thing is for sure, a World Cup without me is nothing” was Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s immediate response following Sweden’s 2-3 defeat to Portugal on a night so inspired by Cristiano Ronaldo, it may just secure him this year’s Ballon d’Or.
Indeed it was heartache for Swedes and especially Ibra as he himself admitted that it was probably his last chance to play in a World Cup. Real Madrid star Ronaldo was far too strong and his 2nd half hat-trick made the scoreline: Ibra 2 Ronaldo 3. His performance this year alone makes Madrid’s €80 million transfer fee seem like a bargain. Will he win the Balon d’or prize over rival Lionel Messi and the powerhouse of Bayern Munich and France’s Franck Ribery? If I was a betting man, I’d say yes.
Also missing out on a trip to Brazil next summer is former Chelsea and Barcelona striker Eidur Gudjohnsen who couldn’t hold back the tears after Iceland’s 2-0 defeat to Croatia which was surprisingly scoreless in the first leg. So close yet so far.
France overturned a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Ukraine in Paris. Two goals from Liverpool centre-half Mamadou Sakho – the first two of his international career – and Karim Benzema was enough to make the impossible possible for the French.
So, to round it up, the 32 teams that will next summer be in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup are:
Argentina England Belgium Australia USA Italy Nigeria Brazil Greece Bosnia and Herzegovina Cameroon Iran Costa Rica Uruguay Germany Honduras Algeria Spain Ivory Coast Japan Colombia Switzerland Mexico Russia South Korea France Croatia Chile Portugal Ecuador Ghana Netherlands
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I for one, cannot wait. There will be some talent on display there.
But here is my XI of players who won’t be in the competition. Let’s go 3-4-3:
GK: Samir Handanovic
DF: Daniel Agger, Stefan Savic, Martin Olsson
MF: Juan Manuel Vargas, Christian Eriksen, David Alaba, Gareth Bale
FW: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robbie Keane, Robert Lewandowski
Quite a handy team there themselves.
Who will you be backing to win the competition? Let Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland) and hit up the blog on Facebook.
It’s late-October 2009. As soon as I hear the news that Ireland have drawn France in the play-offs for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, I make the decision almost immediately that I was going to be in Paris for the 2nd leg. I wasn’t missing this for love nor money. I was convinced that Ireland would play with enough spirit and passion to overcome the French. This was history. How could I possibly not go to such a game?
Of course, I wasn’t the only one with the same idea. Thousands upon thousands of other fans had planned the same. This was great. Only it decreased my chances of obtaining a ticket for the vital match. I make some calls and hope for the best. I need a ticket!
Saturday 14th November 2009. Still no ticket for the 2nd leg. I had spent a ridiculous amount on flights from Dublin to Paris with Aer Lingus as well as two nights in a three star hotel not far from the Eiffel Tower which was also quite pricey. For a football fan, spending this sort of cash and going to visit one of the world’s most beautiful cities is almost meaningless if you can’t get into the stadium for such a match. Tonight however was the first leg in Croke Park.
I am among the 74,103 in the north Dublin venue. Nicolas Anelka’s goal eighteen minutes from time meant that the French had won tonight’s battle. They were not going to win the war. This was our turn. Not only did we deserve to be in a World Cup since our 2002 campaign, but a World Cup is better for having us there. By “us”, I naturally mean the fans. Confidence heading to Paris is high despite the 0-1 defeat at home.
Tuesday 17th November 2009. A call from a mate who is more a-mate-of-a-mate. His name is John and he is what you call a “football man”. He drives to my house with 1 ticket for the game. Face value. Good lord! Never will he be considered a mate-of-a-mate. From this day forth, he is a friend. Cheers, John!
Wednesday 18th November 2009. An early start at Dublin airport, I arrive at Charles de Gaulle airport just before noon. I am not used to being up too early but the adrenalin for tonight’s game has me full of energy. I head for my hotel for a quick shower, a beer, and to get ready for the evening ahead. To the metro and onwards to the Stade de France it is.
I arrive at the stadium and I am immediately taken aback by it’s size. A world-class stadium indeed – it did, after all, host the 1998 World Cup final. I take to my seat. Nobody in the Irish section is sitting. Nobody is silent. This is long before the 9pm kick-off.
Thirty-three minutes in and it’s game on: Robbie Keane puts us ahead. We are level on aggregate. “My God,” I wonder. “We really could do it. We’re playing wonderful”. Full-time. Now extra time. This is where it gets tricky. After an hour and a half, bodies grow tired. An extra half an hour is required.
During the extra-time, while I am standing behind the goal in the southern end of the stadium, the ball ends up in the back of the Irish net at the other end. I can’t make out who even scored it. The screens, for the first time all night, didn’t run a replay. Before I knew it, it was all over and we lost 1-2 on aggregate. No World Cup.
Leaving the ground, some of the Irish lads were irate. I wasn’t. We played with heart and lost out thanks to an extra-time goal. It is how it is. Except these lads were on their phones to their friends back home in Ireland. “THIERRY HENRY BLATANTLY HANDLED THE BALL! THE GOAL SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN ALLOWED” they screamed to their friends with the phone stuck to their ear.
I made my way back to an Irish pub near my hotel located on Rue Sainte Dominique. “Oh, I’m sorry,” the barman says to me instantly as I step in from the cold Parisian night with my Ireland scarf wrapped around my neck. “It is embarrassing”.I ask for a Guinness and an explanation as to why he’s apologising.
“Someone had to lose,” I offer. “That’s the way it goes”.
“No, this is wrong from Henry. Look!” he replies, pointing to the screen.And there it was: the replays of the goal from William Gallas. Heavily assisted by the hand of Thierry Henry.
I had to watch it a few times. The pub is packed. There is a number of Irish fans speaking with the locals about it, but my eyes are firmly fixed on the pundits discussing the handball incident. They are speaking French, which I know little of. But I get the gist of what they’re saying. I’m not angry. If Duffer had’ve done the same thing to guarantee us a victory for the World Cup, I’d be embarrassed, but I wouldn’t blame him. At least that’s what I tell myself and I sip on my €8.50 Guinness.
Au revoir, Paris. You’re robbing me tonight, that’s for sure.
Photographs were taken by Rob Smith in the Stade de France on 18th November 2009. Follow him on Twitter (@robsmithireland)
Three time FAI Cup winner Ciaran Kelly will on Saturday lead a select Sligo Rovers side against a star studded GAA side featuring some of the sport’s biggest names such as 2012 All Ireland Winners Karl Lacey & Paul Durcan and 2013 All Ireland winners Philly McMahon & Diarmuid Connolly.
Kelly, who won his third FAI Cup winners medal recently, will be remembered by some for saving two Shelbourne penalties in the shoot-out in the 2011 final, having just been introduced into the game at the end of extra time.
There will be over 100 League of Ireland medals worth of talent on display in Phibsborough for Owen Heary’s tribute game on Sunday. The current Bohs manager will take part in a Bohemians XI against a Shelbourne XI at Dalymount Park.
Big names such as current internationals Wes Hoolahan and Paddy Madden will turn out in the fixture as well as league legends such as Glen Crowe, Jason Byrne, Richie Baker, Joseph Ndo, Jason McGuinness and Ken Oman. As an extra little nice touch, the Bohemians XI will be managed by Pat Fenlon.
Prices for Sligo Rovers XI vs GAA All Star XI are €10 for adults and €5 for U-16’s. Kick-off is 5pm on Saturday.
The Bohemians XI vs Shelbourne XI game is €10 for adults while OAPs and U-12s €5. Kick of 3pm on Sunday.
We can still qualify for the World Cup next summer! And by “we”, I am referring to Iceland. Yes, that’s right. The good lads behind the website CountyIceland.ie have adopted the Nordic island as “the 33rd county” and have pledged their support to the team.
Is it because it’s spelling is very similar to Ireland? I’d say that’s likely. Regardless of the reason, you can now get behind Martin O’Neill’s green army Lars Lagerbäck’s blue army.
Eidur Gudjohnsen and the boys face an uphill battle however as they face Croatia in the World Cup play-offs. Croatia’s victory against Iceland Ireland in last year’s European Championships will be fresh in memory for many to know that they aren’t exactly pushovers.
At the time of writing, there is just under 5,500 Irish fans who pledged their support for Lars’ boys in blue on the site. We’ll definitely keep an eye on Friday’s fixture (we must focus on the events in the Aviva Stadium on Friday firstly). But should the Icelandic boys make history and earn a place in Brazil 2014, the lads will have the full support from this blog.
James McClean played no part in Wigan’s 1-0 win over Yeovil Town on Sunday. No explanation had been given prior to kick off and rumours exploded that the Irish winger had been dropped and sent home due to his refusal to wear a poppy on his club jersey for the game.
Following the game, Wigan boss Owen Coyle denied the reports that absence was to avoid the issue over refusing to wear the Remembrance Sunday poppy on his shirt just as he did last season. “He took a knock and has a dead leg,” Coyle said. “He wasn’t fit enough to play, it’s as simple as that.”
Twelve months ago, irate fans of his then-club Sunderland as well as most other clubs were furious with the Derry-born McClean for refusing to wear a poppy on his jersey. “They have their beliefs and I have mine,” he said. “I don’t regret it and come next year I’m going to do the same thing”. Needless to say there was more angry fans taking to Twitter yesterday afternoon.
My own view is that those who wear the poppy, regardless of nationality, should be respected. So should those that don’t. McClean – or indeed anybody – should be allowed to excercise their right to wear a poppy or not without fear of being punished.
It’s a debate that appears to really divide football fans. But it’s not a football debate.
McClean travels to Dublin today in preparation for Ireland’s two friendlies against Latvia and Poland.
What’s your take on “poppygate”? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland)
Quick word, dear readers: this blog is now all grown-up and celebrating it’s third birthday this week. Thanks for your continued support and the feedback I receive from each post. You are all legends. Normal service resumes tomorrow.
PS – also celebrating his birthday today is Guus Hiddink. I’d like to think he’ll be celebrating it in style like this.
The fourth fixtures of the Champions League group stage is complete. Let’s look back at the previous 48 hours of footballing action:
In Group A, there was no goals in San Sebastian for Man United as they faced Real Sociedad. Dominating the headlines immediately after the final whistle of that fixture was that of Ashley Young’s theatrics and Marouane Fellaini’s sending off the final minute. “A missed opportunity” was how manager David Moyes described the game. The draw was enough to keep United on top of the group as there was another goalless encounter in the Donbass Arena between Shakhtar Donestsk and Bayer Leverkusen.
European giants Juventus and Real Madrid played out a 2-2 draw in Turin which still sees Juve bottom of Group B. Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti was pleased by his side’s second half performance, in which Ronaldo and Bale both scored. Juve must go for it now for their remaining fixtures if they wish to progress. In the group’s other game, Copenhagen earned a surprise 1-0 victory against Turkish giants Galatasaray. The win sees both sides locked on four points each with the Turks ahead on goal difference.
In Group C, Anderlecht earned their first point of the group with a 1-1 draw against league leaders PSG in Paris. The Belgians took the lead on 68 minutes with an equalizer almost immediately from, you guessed it, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Meanwhile Olimpiacos beat Benfica 1-0 in Piraeus which boosts them up into 2nd place in the group.
Bayern Munich could only manage a 1-0 win against Group D minnows Viktoria Plzeň thanks to a Mario Mandžukić 25 minutes before the end. The win still places the cup holders on top of Group D with Man City in 2nd place following their impressive 5-2 win against CSKA Moscow at the Etihad Stadium.
A Samuel Eto’o double and a Djemba Ba strike earned Chelsea a 3-0 win against 2nd placed Schalke to keep the London side top of Group E. Giovanni Sio’s injury time equalizer was enough to secure a point for FC Basel following Steaua Buchareșt‘s early lead. The Romanian side are still cruelly in 4th place on just two points.
In Group F, Arsenal‘s season seems to be improving and improving – as does midfielder Aaron Ramsey’s. The Welshman’s 62nd minute goal was enough to earn the Gunners a difficult victory against Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund side in the fortress of yellow and black that is the Signal Iduna Park. Elsewhere Gonzalo Higuaín double helped Napoli defeat Marseille at the Stadio San Paolo to keep the Italians on 9 points along with Arsenal who lead on goal difference.
Atlético Madrid made it look easy in the Calderón following their 4-0 victory against Austria Vienna to keep them on top of Group G with 12 points. Zenit St Petersburg 1-1 draw against FC Porto in the Petrovsky Stadium keeps them in the group’s 2nd position with the Portugese outfit just a point behind and with one eye on that precious 2nd place.
Finally in Group H, Barcelona entertained AC Milan at the Camp Nou. Superstar Leo Messi had been a few games without a goal and was out to prove himself and did just that with two goals in the Catalans’ 3-1 victory against the Italian giants. Meanwhile in Amsterdam, trouble with fans and police before kick-off will dominate some headlines as Neil Lennon’s Celtic team will be disappointed to go back to Glasgow following a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Ajax which keeps them bottom of the group. Barcelona top the group on 10 points, while Milan are in 2nd place on 5 points. A victory for Celtic, currently on 3 points, in their next fixture could see them go right up to second place.
I assume you are all aware of the news, but for those who aren’t: Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane have been confirmed by the FAI as the Republic of Ireland’s new managerial team.
O’Neill had long been the favourite for the job, with Keane’s name mentioned often also. The fact that they have paired up to take over The Boys In Green has caused considerable excitement, and indeed debate, among the Irish public.
Of course the biggest debate comes from the fact that Roy Keane is involved – the Corkman continues to divide opinion in this country just as much as he did following the Saipan incident in 2002. While some are calling the managing duo “the dream team”, some are raising their eyebrows in fear that it will go pear shaped due to Keane’s explosive nature.
The new Ireland number 2, regardless of what you think of him, must be judged on his performance assisting Martin O’Neill and judged on that alone. As indeed Martin O’Neill must be too with his duties. The former Celtic and Aston Villa boss himself can be quite an explosive character when things aren’t exactly going to plan. The pair were panelists on last night’s ITV Champions League coverage and are excited about the role.
“Personally speaking I think he’ll (Keane) be great for me but more importantly he’ll be great for the Republic of Ireland,” O’Neill said on-air. “I think I’m the bad cop, and I think he’s the bad-bad cop, but I’m excited by it. I’m looking forward to it, really.”
Keane was equally as excited stating that he was “honoured” to be asked to be O’Neill’s assistant. “I’m looking forward to working with the players and trying to get to the Euros.”
I’ll be honest, I didn’t want Roy Keane as Ireland manager. I always felt his enormously high standards and character could have a negative and damaging effect on the squad. But as a number two under Martin O’Neill – well that’s a different story.
The appointment of the two, which in my opinion should be a big improvement from the way things were run under Giovanni Trapattoni, will create a buzz for the Irish fans. Some pundits are even predicting that next week’s friendly against Latvia will sell-out as a result (don’t hold your breath on that one, Mr Delaney). But one thing is for sure: it’s a highly interesting appointment at a time when confidence in the Irish camp is nowhere near as high as it should be.
Ireland play Latvia on Friday 15th November at the Aviva Stadium. Tickets from €20 available here.
What do you think of the appointment of Martin O’Neill with Roy Keane as his assistant? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland)
To add to the other categories of this blog such as “Football’s greatest rivalries”, “Ones to watch” and the never boring “Bloopers”, it is time to introduce a new category – Where Are They Now? I’ll be featuring some of football’s most prominent names (or at least they were at one time) that seemed to vanish into thin air. As this is the category’s big debut, I’ll start with three:
Remember Güiza? A few years back, it seemed the Spaniard could do no wrong. During his stint at Real Mallorca, Güiza finished the 2007/08 season as La Liga’s top scorer, scoring 27 goals in 37 matches, and not one of those goals came from the penalty spot.
Brought into the Spanish national side, he then claimed a winners medal at Euro 2008 and it wasn’t long before some of Europe’s biggest clubs were interested in him. But it was Istanbul that was his next destination, playing for Luis Aragones’ Fenerbahçe. Things in Turkey didn’t go so smoothly as the goals weren’t flowing as freely and Güiza, then 31 years old, went back to Spain to join Getafe.
Following a short loan spell in Malaysia last year, the 33-year old striker now plies his trade in Paraguay’s Primera División, having recently signed for Cerro Porteño
Mikaël Silvestre. You forgot about Silvestre’s very existence didn’t you? Admit it! He’s won numerous Premier League titles, an FA Cup, a League Cup and the Champions League and you forgot all about him. Yeah, me too. Remember back in the summer of 2008, the French defender made the move from Manchester United to Arsenal having devoted the previous nine years to the Red Devils? That caused a bit of controversy. Not as much as if he had joined United’s city rivals Manchester City, his original destination.
Mikaël Silvestre’s eleven years in Blighty is where he won all his silverware. Following his stint in North London, he made northern Germany his new home, joining Werder Bremen. But things in Germany didn’t go so smoothly and in February of this year, he went stateside, signing for Portland Timbers. Plagued by injuries, he’s only managed to turn out eight times for the Oregon side and he’s now at the age of 36. Is there one last push in the defender to go out as a winner?
Another 36-year-old Frenchman, David Trezeguet was at one time one of the most lethal strikers in Serie A. His €20 million move from AS Monaco to Juventus was met with great expectation and Trezeguet delivered. And continued to deliver. A decade later, and he was now ranked fourth among Juventus’ all-time top goalscorers, he was released by Juve and joined La Liga side Hercules. A year to the day later and he swapped Alicante for the Middle East – as you do. That lasted less than three months.
Without a club for the first time in his life, Trezeguet went back to Argentina where he indeed started his career (he grew up in Buenos Aires as his father is a French-Argentine former professional player). He joined giants River Plate, who has been relegated to the 2nd tier for the first time in their history. Despite being a key player in River’s return to the top flight, he was deemed surplus to requirements once promotion has been obtained. Ouch! He now turns out for Newell’s Old Boys, based in Rosario. He’s still banging in the goals there too.
What other players have been forgotten about? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland)
Meet Atlético Goianiense – a Brazilian based in Goiânia who ply their trade in the country’s 2nd tier of club football. Having played top level football just three years ago brought a little spotlight back on the club. But they can now boast not one, not two, but three of the most famous men in history in their current - John Lennon, Michael Jackson and Mahatma Gandhi.
OK, so John Lennon Silva Santos was born eleven years after the death of the former Beatle. So what? What an incredible name to have on the back of that jersey. Lennon, who is currently on loan from giants Botafogo, was named after his uncle suggested the name to his father. I wonder what music they listened to in their house.
The other musical genius is Michael Jackson whose real name sadly is not Michael Jackson. 26-year-old Carlos Adriano de Sousa Cruz can boast the incredible nickname, but if his feet are as quick and skillful as the Billie Jean star, then he’ll have no trouble doing some fancy tricks and beating his opponents on the ball. He shares the midfield role with 21-year old Mahatma Gandhi. Apparently while he was being born, his mother had visions of the Indian leader and therefore no other name could suffice.
So there you go. One club and three of the 20th century’s biggest idols. Sort of. But I think it’s only a matter of time before they sign the brilliantly named Santa Cruz midfielder Creedence Clearwater Couto.
What are the best footballers names you’ve heard? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland)