Monthly Archives: February 2011

Happy birthday to the safest of safe hands.

The small town of Mariano del Friuli in the north-east of Italy near the Slovenian border is the birthplace of one of the finest goalkeepers to ever grace the game – Mr. Dino Zoff who celebrates his 69th birthday today.

With the Italian national team in Spain ’82, he became the oldest player ever to win the tournament at the age of 40. He was also the squad’s captain and was the only goalkeeper to lift the famous trophy with the captain’s armband on – until Iker Casillas achieved the same prestigious feat in South Africa last summer. Having never played or coached outside his native country, he achieved a number of Serie A and Coppa Italia titles with Juventus, not to mention also winning the UEFA Cup in 1977 – a trophy he won as Juventus manager thirteen years later. Also as manager, he brought the national team to the final at Euro 2000, but ultimately lost out on the trophy to France in Rotterdam. His last coaching job was with Fiorentina in 2005 and despite saving the club from releation, he got the sack in the season’s final day. His lack of medals as a coach is, in my opinion, irrelevant to the sheer brilliance of his playing days.
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Some people consider the likes of Peter Schmeichel, Lev Yashin, Iker Casillas or Gordon Banks as the best goalkeeper to play the game – my vote goes to Dino Zoff. I hope the Azzurri legend himself enjoys his birthday cake today. Buon compleanno, signore.

Ones to watch #5: Neymar

Pelé is adored by the fans of Brazilian side Santos. The three-time World Cup winner spent 18 years at the club. Fans of Santástico must have chosen their words wisely when they call their number 11, Neymar,  “the new Pelé”.

With the 19 year-old earning praise from the media, fans, scouts and fellow professionals, it’s probably no wonder why most major European clubs have been taking notice. Santos have put a €30 million price tag on his head. That amount wouldn’t frighten the likes of Manchester United, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Chelsea and Juventus away from spending that kind of cash on a player of this talent (Neymar said last year that he would favour a move to the latter, Juventus). But is he worth it? Definitely! He shows great talent and has absolutely no problem finding the back of the net.
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Only time will tell where he ends up. But sadly, it is inevitable that he won’t be wearing the famous white and black too much longer – unless he goes to Newcastle United with all the millions they made recently.

Champions League Round of 16 preview (part 2)

Another week, another set of Champions League games. Last week we witnessed some surprises such as Arsenal beating Barcelona and Spurs beating Milan on their own turf (much to Rino Gattuso’s displeasure).

Chelsea are the guests in the Parken Stadium where they face FC Copenhagen.  Ståle Solbakken’s men are considered the outsiders and will need to get back into the groove as their last competitve match (due to the scheduling of the Danish league) was back in early December and are the lowest ranked team left in the competiton. One thing Carlo Ancelotti must be aware of is that the Danes haven’t lost at home in the Champions League beating the likes of Manchester United and Celtic in recent years.

The Special One Jose Mourinho will be celebrating the 9th anniversary of the last time he lost a home match this week. Only he’ll be at an away ground as his Real Madrid team travel to Lyon. The former-Inter gaffer will have a close to full-strength squad and will be looking to take advantage of the French side as Lyon’s fantastic Argentine stiker Lisandro Lopez is out with a hamstring inury.
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The San Siro is the venue for another exciting Champions League game this week with the blue and black half of the city playing host to Louis Van Gaal’s Bayern Munich. The Germans have Mario Gomez and Thomas Kraft back from their injuries picked up at the weekend against Mainz while Inter Milan will likely be missing star-striker Diego Milito. Though the Nerazzuri needn’t worry as Samuel Eto’o has proven himself as one of the world’s finest goalscorers and boss (and former AC Milan legend) Leonardo will be looking to the Cameroonian as Inter’s main striker on Wednesday with this being a repeat fixture of last year’s final.

Finally Sir Alex Ferguson takes his Manchester United squad to the Vélodrome as they face Marseille. Expect to see a different team than the one the great Scot put out against Crawley Town at the weekend. The truth be told, they were lucky to beat them. Still, Sir Alex knows what he is doing and Manchester United on their best day are capable of beating probably anyone. Didier Deschamps will be worried about the fitness of star players Brandao, Loic Remy and André-Pierre Gignac with the latter expected to be out for weeks. That said, if the French side get any points from the Red Devils, it wouldn’t be the first surprise of the competition.

Football's greatest rivalries: Boca Juniors v River Plate

Hello one and all and welcome to a new feature to the blog which, as the title will tell you, will focus on the greatest rivalries in world football. Today we’ll have a look at Argentina’s big one – Boca Juniors vs. River Plate.

The game, known locally as ‘el superclásico’, was described by Diego Maradona as “unequalled”. This is quite the statement coming from a man who played for some great clubs with huge rivalries in their respective leagues. He has a strong argument however as on matchday in either clubs’ stadia, all that can be seen amongst the hugely passionate supporters is a sea of flags, chants, fireworks, tickertape, dancing and jumping – so much jumping that in fact it has been known to occasionally make the stands of Boca’s steep-sided La Bonbonera stadium dangerously vibrate.

The Boca fans refer to their River counterparts as los gallinas (the chickens) which questions the courage of both players and fans. River fans in retaliation get a bit more personal and refer to their rivals as los chanchitos (the little pigs) due to the working-class neighbourhood Boca Juniors is situated in. Despite occasional fan violence and the tragedy of the puerta 12 incident (in 1968, 71 fans were crushed to death due to overcrowding and stampeding at this fixture at River’s el Monumental stadium), many fans and experts will still point to Buenos Aires when asked what is the greatest footballing rivalry or derby. And they would certainly have a point when you see the video below.
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One thing is for sure – before I die, I must attend at least one superclásico.

Champions League Round of 16 preview (part 1)

Here we are, the first Champions League fixtures of 2011. Quite a few nice ties in place over the two days this week. Let’s have a look at them.

AC Milan play host to Tottenham Hotspur. It will be Spurs’ return to the San Siro since their tie against Inter – a game in which the world’s media paid attention to one Gareth Bale for his power, pace and hat-trick that night. However, Harry Redknapp will know only too well that the Serie A leaders will be no pushovers especially with the in-form Zlatan Ibrahmovic and Robinho.

Felix Magath’s Schalke 04 travel to the Mestalla to take on Valencia. This will mark former Real Madrid striker Raul’s return to his native soil. Valencia, fresh from a 2-1 victory against Athletico Madrid at the weekend, will be looking for maximum points with the in-form Joaquín and influential young playmaker Juan Mata and especially due to the fact that Schalke haven’t won a match since the 25th January.
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Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk haven’t lost a game since the 19th October of last year – a Champions League game against Arsenal. But the Ukrainian season has been over since November and Eduardo & co. will have their work cut out for them getting back to form as they face Claudio Ranieri’s Roma as the Stadio Olimpico even though the gallirossi currently lie in 8th position in Serie A.

Finally, the Emirates Stadium is the setting for a repeat tie of last year’s Champions League quarter-final as Arsenal face FC Barcelona. Arsenal skipper Cesc Fabregas will be looking for revenge against his life-long supported club who managed to secure a 6-3 aggregate goal difference from last year. Barcelona do have the advantage of having the top 3 best players in the world in Xavi, Iniesta and one Lionel Messi.

So long, O Fenômeno.

“We can’t afford not to”. These were the words that the late Sir Bobby Robson told the Barcelona board in 1996 when he was told the club couldn’t afford to sign a young Brazilian player from PSV Eindhoven called Ronaldo. He was right. The young player known as “o fenômeno” would become one of the greatest strikers of all time.

Ronaldo Luis Nazário de Lima started his career with Cruzeiro before moving on to PSV at the suggestion of fellow Brazilian Romario. At the Dutch club he scored a frightening 42 goals in 45 games. That was only to be the start. His one season at Barça he had a similar goal scoring ratio, scoring the UEFA Cup winning goal, becoming the FIFA World Player of the Year and scoring goals that left many with no doubt of his sheer world-class ability.

Inter Milan took note and signed the young Brazilian for £19 million in 1997. He adapted to the Italian game nicely. However, in his 2nd season in a game against Lecce, Ronaldo’s knee gave way and kept him out of the game for months. Like our own Paul McGrath, his knees would constantly give him grief throughout his career. In his much anticipated comeback game, Ronaldo played just a few minutes against Lazio before injuring his knee yet again. Fully fit by the 2002 World Cup, he triumphed for the national side, winning the competition and scoring 7 goals – 2 of which were in the final. Signing for Real Madrid that summer for a record €39 million he became and integral part of their Los Gálacticos team at the time alongside Figo, Zidane, Raul, Roberto Carlos and…McManaman. He scored 83 times in his 127 games for Madrid.
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A return to Milan in January 2007 seen him score in a ratio of almost a goal every second game for the red & black half of the city, but his time there was cut short by yet another knee injury a little over a year later. Returning to his native Brazil in 2009, he joined Sao Paolo-based Corinthians. A much loved figure, it was a superb signing. He scored 18 goals in his 31 games for the club and also winning the Copa do Brasil and the Campeonato Paulista. He retired on Valentine’s Day 2011 after Corinthians’ exit from the Copa Libertadores (and subsequent threats from mindless Corinthians fans), it marks the end of the finest ever striker of the modern game. “The head wants to go on, but the body can’t take any more” he told the Brazilian press. Nevermind Torres, Eto’o or Shearer…Ronaldo, the phenomenon, was the greatest ever number 9.

My 10 second match

When former Millwall and England under-17 goalkeeeper Preston Edwards took the the pitch for Ebbsfleet United as they took on Farnborough in a home tie in the Conference South last week, he probably didn’t expect his afternoon to turn out how it did. Edwards was sent off after just 10 seconds. Have a look at his contribution to the game here in it’s entirety.
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To make matters worse Ebbsfleet lost 0-3 that afternoon. Oh dear.

The Nations Cup and the empty seats

I was at the Aviva Stadium twice this week. On Tuesday I went to see Republic of Ireland take on Wales and on Wednesday was Scotland’s turn as they faced Northern Irland as all four teams kicked off the first ever Nations Cup. You may have noticed one thing during Ireland’s game in their home stadium – the thousands upon thousands of empty seats.

The fact that only 19,783 people bothered turning up must be of some concern to the FAI. There was no atmosphere inside or outside the stadium. This wasn’t the case with Wednesday’s clash. Despite the rain both sets of supporters were in full voice – yet there was slightly less with only 18,742 people in the stadium that evening. The tournament continues in May and the ticket prices would, in my opinion, need to be reviewed if the FAI would like to surpass the 30,000 spectators mark for the remaining fixtures – especially since the ground holds almost twice that. I can’t imagine them doing so without cutting ticket prices. I took this picture only 30 minutes prior to kick off on Tuesday – as you can see the place wasn’t exactly booming.

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The good news is that we did win 3-0. Hopefully we can do the same against Macedonia next month is the Euro 2012 qualifier at the Aviva Stadium. Hopefully there’ll be more people that night too.

Ones to watch #4 : Sotiris Ninis

When a new top-class player from Argentina comes on the scene, the media usually spit out the label “the new Maradona”. Same story in France with “the new Zidane” tag. And if the British media had their way, every Brazilian would be pronounced “the new Gareth Bale”. What about an Albanian-born Greek player? Meet the first Sotiris Ninis.

The 20-year old attacking-midfielder is an extremely gifted lad with absolutely buckets of potential. He made the Greek national team in Otto Rehhagel’s squad for last summer’s World Cup appearing twice. If rumours are to be believed then Inter Milan, Roma and Manchester United are all keeping an eye on Panathanaikos’ number 7. Check out the video and see why:
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He doesn’t lack pace, he doesn’t lack skill, he certainly doesn’t lack confidence and he certainly knows where the net is. With Giggsy and Paul Scholes nearing the end of their careers at Old Trafford, it’s no wonder Sir Alex Ferguson has been eyeing up this lad. Watch out for Ninis over the coming twelve months.

Big money, big move….big flop.

With the big news this week of Andy Carroll moving to Liverpool (or his price-tag to be more accurate), he really does have it all to do. It’s truly hit-or-miss and only time will tell. If it goes somewhat pear-shaped it could be viewed as the biggest flop in world football. I hope for his sake it won’t be and it would be great to see him excel at Anfield. But let’s look at some big name signings that did flop:

When Juan Sebastian Veron joined Manchester United in July 2001 for £28.1 million from Lazio, he came with a big reputation. Sadly, he failed to adjust the style and tempo of the English game. Two years later he signed for Chelsea for £15 million which, if anything, was worse than his time at Old Trafford.

What about Dmytro Chygrynskiy. What do you mean you’ve never heard of him? Barcelona have. They paid Shakhtar Donetsk €25 million for the defender in 2009. But after 12 appearances (most of which were well below-par) he was sent back the Ukrainian club at a €15 million loss. Oh dear, oh dear. I’ll bet Barça will choose to forget him now.

Chelsea paid Parma €22.8 million for Romanian striker Adrian Mutu. Starting off well, he looked like a decent signing. Ultimately, he only managed 6 goals in 27 games. Then failed a drugs test as he tested positive for cocaine. He’s currently back in Serie A with Fiorentina – though he did receive a nine-month ban for failing a drugs test in January 2010. Just say no, kids.
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Finally, Andriy Shevchenko arrived at Chelsea from AC Milan in May 2006 for £30.8 million. Then boss José Mourinho said ‘Sheva’ was too used to being treated like “the prince of Milan” and the Ukrainian seen little time in three years at Stamford Bridge – especially under Big Phil Scolari. He only scored 9 goals with the London club. That’s approximately £3.4 million per goal. Ouch.

Andy Carroll does not want to find himself on these kind of lists. The times they are a-changing at Anfield and, as I said, it’s hit or miss with the former Newcastle lad. I hope for his sake he becomes a hit – but he has a lot of work to do to justify that price-tag.