Footy travels

Footy travels #9: Marseille

The first travel guide of 2014, and in this edition we take a look at Marseille – France’s second and indeed oldest city and home to the most supported team in France.

marseille

How do I get in?  Marseille airport is about 30km north-west of the city centre and is serviced by Ryanair from Dublin airport. The easiest transfer from the airport to the city centre is bus which runs every 20 mins and takes around a half an hour for €8 one way or €12.80 return. A taxi will cost you around €40 or €50.

What teams can I watch?  Aside from the many amateur teams you may come across in the parks on the south of city, there is one team that rules this city – Olympique de Marseille. Players such as Robert Pirès, Franck Ribéry, our own Tony Cascarino, Didier Drogba, Eric Cantona, Jean-Pierre Papin, Gabriel Heinze and Joey Barton have all turned out for l’OM.

How do I get to the stadium?  The Stade Vélodrome is currently under major renovation – it’s finally getting a roof, plus 7,000 extra seats (not sure why the latter as nearly all games have plenty of empty seats). But games still go ahead during these renovations and on matchday, it is simple enough to find. It’s located about 4km south of the city centre’s Saint-Charles station. The easiest way is by taking the metro from the Saint-Charles station, taking line 2 (red line) in the direction of Sainte-Marguerite Dromel. The penultimate stop, Rond point du Prado, is about 300m from the stadium.

How do I get tickets?  Games, as I said before, rarely sell out – with the exception of Le Classique (the huge rivalry vs. PSG). You’ll need to register to get tickets on l’OM’s website. Tourist offices in Marseille also sell tickets. Just be careful if you choose to try getting a ticket outside the ground. People have paid top dollar for very good photocopies.

What else is there to do?  As with any Mediterranean port city, a few beers in the sunshine would appeal to anyone – there’s a number of Irish pubs around the Quai de Rive Neuve. Take in any of the 21 museums or visit any one of the many clean and gorgeous parks throughout the city. There’s also shopping in La Butte or an inexpensive two hour cruise around the sea. Whatever takes your fancy.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Republic of Ireland

Ireland’s seeding a boost for Euro 2016

France 2016 calling! UEFA have confirmed the seedings for the draw for the Euro 2016 qualifiers. Ireland are among the second seeds. From the draw nine groups will be produced – eight of six countries and one of five.

The top two teams in each group will qualify for the finals with the third-placed teams going to a play-off. I’m sure like the rest of us, Martin O’Neill was more than relieved to be in the second seeds.

mon

The full seeding looks like this:

  • First seeds: Spain (holders), Germany, Netherlands, Italy, England, Portugal, Greece, Russia, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Second seeds: Ukraine, Croatia, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium, Czech Republic, Hungary, Republic of Ireland
  • Third seeds: Serbia, Turkey, Slovenia, Israel, Norway, Slovakia, Romania, Austria, Poland
  • Forth seeds: Montenegro, Armenia, Scotland, Finland, Latvia, Wales, Bulgaria, Estonia, Belarus
  • Fifth seeds: Iceland, Northern Ireland, Albania, Lithuania, Moldova, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Cyprus
  • Sixth seeds: Luxembourg, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, Faroe Islands, Malta, Andorra, San Marino, Gibraltar

We’ll be hoping to avoid Spain or Germany, but many Irish fans will relish the thought of facing England. I’ll be honest – I’m no different. Though, of all the top seeds, I’d prefer Bosnia and Herzegovina.

France will also take part in qualifying, the first hosts to do so after a rule change, although no qualifying points will rest on their fixtures and will join the group that includes five teams. They will play in the finals whatever the outcome of their games.

In all, given the amount of teams that will qualify for the finals in 2016, it is looking good for the boys in green. On paper at least.

The draw will take place on February 23.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Europe

The new Camp Nou: Good or bad idea?

Yesterday, football giants Barcelona announced plans for renovations which may be made to the Camp Nou. Instead of building an entirely new stadium, club president Sandro Rosell had said that renovating the iconic stadium and keeping it in the city’s Les Corts district, which has been home to the club since 1957, was the best option.

The renovations will cost around €600 million and would be completed by 2021. A club members’ referendum will be held in April to decide if the plans will go ahead.

The new-look stadium will see the capacity increase to 105,000 and every seat will be under cover.

newcampnou

I was in the Camp Nou around a fortnight ago to watch Barça take on La Liga newcomers Elche on a mild (the locals insisted it was freezing) Sunday afternoon. The game finished 4-0 to the Catalans. I don’t see what is wrong with the current stadium. I’m not alone with that opinion.

Granted from the outside, it looks somewhat dated and just appears to be an uninviting grey concrete structure. But the stadium is an icon of the city and indeed of European football. It has character and history. Where as every new large stadium being built nowadays looks incredibly generic and seems somewhat soulless.

lescortsnewcampnou

But when you are in the Camp Nou, you can almost feel the tradition and the history. There’s almost ghostly presences of the likes of Cruyff, Maradona, Ronaldinho etc.

I don’t share the excitement some do for the new look Camp Nou – if it does go ahead. It’s unusual shape is part of it’s charm for me. Plus the fact that games very rarely sell out with the exception of El Clásico. In fact, it’s estimated that 10,000 tourists turn up for games each week.

Either way, many are excited for this new look stadium. I’m not one of them. I have a love for old-fashioned stadia. What I’d give for one more match in the old Lansdowne Road instead of twenty in the Aviva Stadium.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Footballers' mad moments, Superstars

Zidane at the 2006 World Cup revisited

They may have ended up as finalists, but France actually struggled to qualify for the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany. Veteran key players such as Bixente Lizarazu, Marcel Desailly, Claude Makélélé, Lilian Thuram and Zinedine Zidane himself had all retired from international football in 2004. They had drawn the four of their first qualifying five games for the World Cup.

They needed a leader and thanks to some persuasion from then-coach Raymond Domenech, Zizou came out of retirement and was immediately reinstated as team captain. Results, needless to say, followed soon after.

Zidane was hungry. His time as a professional was coming to a close and he had already said farewell to his beloved Real Madrid. France, in the group stage however, were average. Two draws and an unconvincing win against Togo (in which Zidane was suspended) was enough to land them second place to get through to the knockout stages.

He inspired a 3-1 victory over Spain in Hannover in the second round before an incredible performance to claim a 1-0 victory over a Brazil side that featured then-World Player of the Year Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Kaka, Roberto Carlos to name but a few.

zizou

Zidane ran the show in Frankfurt that day. It was clear his hunger and desire to put his hands on the World Cup trophy for the second and final time in his career was painfully clear. He was in the zone now and his penalty in the semi-final against Portugal in Munich was enough for Zidane and Les Bleus to book their place in the final.

On the 9th July 2006, France took on Italy in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin before 69,000 eager fans. Millions upon millions were watching on TV (whilst I was watching in a field at the Oxegen Festival). Clearly this was Zizou’s night. Surely?

In the 7th minute, he scored a cheeky yet confident penalty. I remember thinking to myself: “he’s going to score a hat-trick. He’s too good!”. It was written in the stars for him. Until Inter Milan’s Marco Materazzi decided to break Zidane’s heart.

Firstly with an equalising goal in the 19th minute. Materazzi, for the record, doesn’t score goals for Italy. This was his 2nd ever international goal. The game went into extra time when Materazzi would get in Zizou’s way once more.

As Zidane and Materazzi were jogging up the pitch close to each other, words were exchanged after Materazzi was seen tugging at Zidane’s jersey before Zidane began to walk away from him. Moments later, Zidane suddenly stopped, turned around and head-butted Materazzi’s chest, knocking him to the ground.

The referee had no choice: red card!

The game went to penalties and France, after losing their leader, lost out 5-4. A moment of madness cost Zidane an absolute fairytale ending to a spectacular career, and France the World Cup.

There was much speculation as to what Materazzi said to provoke the Frenchman. It turned out that after grabbing Zidane’s jersey, he said to the Italian “If you want my shirt, I’ll give it to you afterwards”. Materazzi responded with “I prefer the whore that is your sister”. It was at this point that Zidane saw red.

zizou3

Zizou has been prone to these moments of madness before. He’s headbutted a player before. The recipient on that occasion was Hamburg defender Jochen Kientz in a Champions League match six years prior while still at Juventus. Plus he made headlines in the 1998 World Cup when he quite deliberately stamped on the back of Saudi Arabian midfielder Fuad Amin.

It wasn’t exactly the best way for such an enormous talent to exit the game. But don’t let it overshadow what an incredible player Zinedine Zidane was – especially during that tournament in 2006.

Some say, usually French football fans in my experience, that his temper was probably part of his genius. He never smiled when playing. Always had a serious, concentrated look on his face. Then-French president Jacques Chirac even hailed Zidane as a “man of heart and conviction” after the final.

Whatever your opinion of Zidane is, don’t remember him for that headbutt. Remember him for this.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland).

Europe, Republic of Ireland

Will Martinez get the most out of Aiden McGeady?

Everton boss Roberto Martinez had his eye on Aiden McGeady for quite some time even going back to when the Spaniard was the gaffer at Wigan. Now he finally got his man.

Indeed the 27-year-old winger has agreed a four-and-a-half-year deal after signing from Spartak Moscow for an undisclosed fee. But one would wonder how the former Celtic star will fare at Goodison Park.

_72220944_aiden5

It’s fair to say that McGeady is somewhat inconsistent. Anyone who goes to the Aviva Stadium can second that. His form in Russia was good – he scored 13 goals in 93 games and played a key role in helping Spartak finish in 2nd place in 2012.

Though improving, Russia may not be the highest level in Europe yet Martinez definitely sees something in the Ireland international. Certainly enough to bring him to the Premier League and into an Everton side that is playing great football as of late with one eye firmly on a top four finish.

I believe that Roberto Martinez may be just the right man to get the most out of McGeady. He’s not just a squad player. He’ll be joining nternational team-mates Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy and Darron Gibson in the squad. And given how Martinez has done with the other players this season so far, it’s make-or-break for Everton’s new boy.

 

How do you think Aiden McGeady will fare at Everton? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Footy thoughts, Internationals

Is Qatar really the best place for the 2022 World Cup?

As if there’s wasn’t enough controversies surrounding the 2022 World Cup to be held in Qatar, now FIFA secretary general, Jerome Valcke, has stated that the competition “will not be in June or July”.

FIFA have since said in a statement that it was the secretary general’s own view and that no decision had been taken on the timing. Ultimately it is however Mr Valcke’s task, given to him by FIFA, to find alternative dates due to the extreme heat of the Qatari summer.

Regardless, a winter World Cup is a ridiculous idea in my view. It will completely interfere with most major leagues and cup competitions such as the Champions League. Not to mention ruining the tradition of the tournament.

875785-sepp-blatter

Surely Australia, who competed with Qatar to stage the tournament, would have been a far better option due to their cooler temperatures in June and July?

That’s just the footballing argument as to why I, along with many others, am baffled as to why Qatar is hosting the World Cup. The issue of migrant workers’ rights has also caused significant controversy. As did the rights of LGBT fans. Not to mention the Qatari FA’s allegations of bribery.

Good work, Mr Blatter.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Entertainment & media

A quick word about football with…The Mighty Stef

The blog recently caught up with Stefan Murphy, leader of Dublin’s own The Mighty Stef. We had a quick chat about his fondness for Roy Keane, hatred for John Terry and why he is going to be a supporter of Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Hello, Stef. What was the first match you ever went to?

My Da played football right up into his 40′s. One of my earliest memories is going to see him play for Glenmore Celtic, his team in the late 70s early-80′s. I’ve probably have been to about 500 A.U.L. or Leinster Senior games by the age of ten which is also when I first went to the UK to see an English League fixture. It was Man Utd v Coventry and United were still managed by Ron Atkinson at the time. After the game we got to meet Paul McGrath. I can’t even remember the result.

2014-01-03 23.23.47

The mighty father: St Francis’ John Murphy in action against Bohemians in the 1990 FAI Cup semi-final

Which players do you admire most – past and present?

I’m a Liverpool fan since the age of about seven. Kenny Dalglish and John Aldridge were big childhood heroes. I also loved Jan Molby for his passing ability. Marco Tardelli for his celebration in the World Cup final in 1982. I have always been a major fan of Roy Keane. I seen him score against one of my Dad’s old teams, St Francis’, and he was 17 and playing for Cobh Ramblers at the time, just before he went to Nottingham Forest. I saw him make his debut for Ireland just a year later and simply admired him ever since. I find it hard to revere the players of the modern era in the same way but great to see Luis Suarez in a red shirt causing all sorts of trouble.

Which team or player you dislike the most?

Easy: Chelsea. John Terry.

You’ve toured a fair bit. Ever caught a game in strange town when on tour?

Sadly not. Ive tried many times, especially in Germany but its never worked out. I have made pilgrimages to Dortmund’s stadium and St. Pauli’s in Hamburg too but not on a match day. I have made a pact with a German promoter named Harald Haas that I would support Borussia Mönchengladbach as my German team of choice.

Finally, if you had to choose – a Mighty Stef album going to number one or Ireland winning a major tournament?

Nothing would mean more to me than Ireland winning the World Cup. If RTE could use one of our tunes as the closing montage to the coverage of said World Cup, that would make up for the disappointment of never getting to don the green shirt.

The Mighty Stef play Whelans on Friday 31st January. Tickets are €12.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland) and be sure to check the blog out on Facebook.

Ones to watch

Four players to keep your eye on in 2014

Happy new year, dear readers. There’s some wonderful young talent out there. Vast amounts of talent seem to be pouring out of clubs’ academies left, right and centre. But here are four that I feel you should definitely keep your eye on over the coming months.

1. Marco Rojas (Stuttgart & New Zealand)
At just 22, Rojas had already been making a name for himself in Australia by winning both the Johnny Warren Medal (for player of the season) and Young Footballer of the Year at the end of the 2012/13 season. As his contract expired last April, there was no shortage of takers for the New Zealander of Chilean descent. The winger set his sights on Europe and it was German outfit Stuttgart who snapped up Rojas.
marcorojas

2. Mattia De Sciglio (AC Milan & Italy)
A convincing full back that has worn the red and black of AC Milan at various youth levels right up to the senior squad, De Sciglio has spent more than half of his life with the Rossoneri. His versatility has earned him a call-up to the Italian national side in recent times and the 21-year old will be looking to be added to Cesare Prandelli’s squad in the summer’s World Cup. Keep your eye on him – we may well have another Maldini on our hands.
Mattia-De-Sciglio

3. Adam Maher (PSV Eindhoven & The Netherlands)
Don’t let the surname fool you – this brilliant midfielder isn’t eligible for Martin O’Neill’s green army. Which is a shame, believe me. Though I am unsure of the actual origin of the Moroccan-born Dutch international’s surname, I am very sure of his talent. Maher is an extremely clever midfielder and is like a young Roy Keane – minus the Cork accent (yet with an Irish name). In 2012, the 21-year old won the Dutch Football Talent of The Year Awards – previous winners include Van Persie, Kluivert, Seedorf, Sneijder, Robben and Bergkamp.
adaMmaher

4. Abel Hernandez (Palermo & Uruguay)
23-year old Hernandez isn’t afraid of a bit of competition. A gifted striker, he competes with Edinson Cavani, Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez for a place in Uruguay’s starting XI. That said, with his eleven caps for La Celeste, he has scored seven goals. A nice ratio I’m sure you’ll agree. His club form is also spot on. This season for Palermo so far, he has played 17 games with 11 goals. It’s no wonder the likes of PSG, Liverpool, Arsenal, Galatasaray and Inter Milan have been keeping their eye on this lad.
abelhernandez

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Footy thoughts

2013 in football: The good, The bad & The ugly

The good:
German football. Oh my! If you thought the big two in Spain were the best in the world then you were mistaken. It was no coincidence that giants Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund ended up in the Champions League final. In fact, the big two from Germany dethroned the big two from Spain in the semi-finals before coming head-to-head at Wembley Stadium.

The management dream team.  While many – and I do mean many – were delighted to see the back of Giovanni Trapattoni, even more were delighted to see the arrival of the new management team for the Republic of Ireland. Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane have been hailed as the dream team, but they face an uphill task to bring back the excitement that once existed around Lansdowne Road on matchday.

Ronaldo. Messi has had a realtively good year. The previous three were sublime. 2013 however, belongs to Cristiano Ronaldo.

monrkeane

The bad:
Luis Suarez. Liverpool’s best player by a mile – possibly the Premier League’s best of the first half of the 2013/14 season. But no stranger to controversy. I like Suarez. He oozes brilliance. But some of his antics, such as biting an opponent, is where I have to draw the line.

The decline of tiki-taka. Admittedly the only way for Barcelona was down. And they seem to be certainly on the slide. The tiki-taka style of football that was synonymous with the Catalans simply isn’t working as well as it once was. Don’t get me wrong – they’re a still  a world-class outfit with huge players such as Iniesta, Xavi, Neymar and some Argentinian bloke whose name I can’t remember – but they are a shadow of their former serial-winning selves.

Zahir Belounis. By the summer of 2012, the French-Algerian striker had been almost five years plying his trade for clubs in Qatar. Somehow he found himself in a dispute over unpaid wages dating back to 2010. In Qatar however, the employer has control over exit visas under the Kafala system, and denied Belounis his visa to leave the country. Only last month he was given the freedom the leave the Middle East in order to return to France – 19 months after being denied an exit visa.

messiheadinhands

The ugly:
Qatar 2022. Last month Fifa were forced to address the issue of workers’ rights after an investigation by a British newspaper showed that dozens of Nepalese workers had died in recent months following slave labour conditions preparing for the 2022 World Cup.

blatterqatarwcdraw

Happy new year, dear readers. More come in 2014…

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

Superstars

The public have spoken: 2013′s greatest footballer is…

Last week, I asked you to cast your votes to see who you, dear readers, thought was the best footballer of the past twelve months. The results are in and here is how the top five finished in order:

  1. Luis Suarez (Liverpool & Uruguay). 40% of the votes
  2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid & Portugal). 27%
  3. Lionel Messi (Barcelona & Argentina). 7%
  4. Zlatan Ibrahimović (PSG & Sweden). 5&
    & Franck Ribéry (Bayern Munich & France). 5%
  5. Mesut Özil (Arsenal & Germany). 4%

Luis Suarez

“What about the others?” you wonder. Well, the Bayern Munich trio of Arjen Robben, Dante and midfield maestro Bastian Schweinsteiger each managed 2% of the votes. As did Real Madrid’s Welsh superstar Gareth Bale. The likes of Yaya Toure, Robert Lewandowski, Marco Reus, Neymar and veteran Andrea Pirlo each received only 1% of the public’s votes.

But spare a thought for twice-Ballon d’Or runners up, Barcelona duo Xavi and Iniesta – neither received any votes. Nor did the brilliant Thomas Müller, Sergio Aguero nor his former Man City team-mate Mario Balotelli. You heartless people.

So there you have it. Despite all his controversies in the past twelve months – and there has been quite a few – Luis Suarez gets the public’s vote as the best player of 2013.

Personally, I think Ronaldo has had the best year. He has been utterly flawless for both club and country. That’s my opinion. And between himself, Messi and Ribéry, the Ballon d’Or will be going to a much-deserved player, that’s for sure.

Thank you so much for voting, everybody. I hope you all had simply a wonderful Christmas time. Have a good New Year and normal service shall be resuming very shortly.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

Superstars

Poll: Who has been the best footballer of 2013?

Folks, I have compiled a list of who I believe are the top 30 players of the last twelve months in world football. But you, dear blog readers, decide in which order they go in. Will it be Spurs/Madrid wonderkid Gareth Bale? Kung-fu master Zlatan Ibrahimović? Liverpool’s controversial genius Luis Suarez?

Who knows?

You decide!

CLICK HERE TO VOTE IN THE POLL

messironnie

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Football's greatest rivalries

Football’s greatest rivalries: PSG vs. Marseille

When you watch a Paris Saint-Germain v Olympique Marseille game, it is pretty much a given that you will be witnessing one of the most tense rivalries in football – both on and off the pitch. The fixture may not be the oldest in the France’s top flight. But it is certainly the most prominent, as well as being the most watched game in the country. This is the story of the fixture known as “Le Classique“.

Paris and Marseille are two of the three largest cities in France, while the two clubs are the country’s best-supported teams. The match is often seen by locals as the North versus the South as the two clubs represent Paris, the capital, and Marseille, the chief port city of the French Riviera.

The first meeting between the pair occurred in December 1971 in the Vélodrome, just a little over a year after PSG were formed which finished in 4-2 victory to Marseille. In fact, it wasn’t until 1975 before the Parisiens managed their first victory in the fixture.

PSG and Marseille fans have long had tense relations with various groups of both clubs’ supporters have battled each other. While it’s certainly France’s biggest rivalry, it’s without question the most violent. Security measures are put in place to ensure the meeting of the two teams are without incident, yet this is rarely the case. Numerous arrests are commonplace, as well as far too many injuries.

bartonbeckham

But on the pitch is where it’s produced it’s most memorable moments. During the 1988/89 season, PSG travelled to Marseille for the final game of the season which would decide the title  (what’s not to love already?). With both clubs tied on points, midfielder (and one time Hibernian manager) Franck Sauzee scored a last minute winner giving Marseille the title. Take that, Sergio Aguero!

Many top talents have played in this fixture. Names such as Ronaldinho, Chris Waddle, David Ginola, Rudi Völler, Marcel Desailly, Franck Ribery, Nicolas Anelka, Claude Makélélé, Fabien Barthez, Gabriel Heinze, and a certain Joseph Barton have all competed. Retired PSG legend Pauleta and current PSG legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic are tied as the highest scorers in the fixture with six goals a piece.

It’s certainly ticks all the boxes when it comes to football’s greatest rivalries: passion, intensity, superb football, sold-out stadiums as well as the millions of people watching it on TV. If it wasn’t for it’s infamous and ridiculous off-field antics between opposing supporters, it could easily rival El Clásico or Milan’s Derby della Madonnina.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

Entertainment & media, Superstars

What we learned from the Keane/Vieira doc

Did anyone catch the Keane/Vieira documentary during the week? My one-year-old didn’t wake and let me enjoy ITV4′s brilliant Keane and Vieira: Best of Enemies shown last Tuesday night.

It would be fair to say that Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira never really saw eye-to-eye when they met on the pitch. Off it, as this documentary shows, the two stars still will fight their corner when speaking of past conflicts at Old Trafford or Highbury. But there is an enormous respect between the two men. Though it wasn’t always that way. They are, in my view, very similar people.

keanevieira

The first thing that stood out when watching it is the pure bitterness Roy Keane has for former manager Sir Alex Ferguson (I can’t even imagine the Corkman using the “Sir” prefix when mentioning his former boss). At one point when the two were asked who was the best manager they’d ever played under, Vieira unsurprisingly said Arsene Wenger. Keane, regardless if he truly believes it himself or not, gave a more interesting answer:

Keane: “Without a doubt, Brian Clough”

Interviewer: “Not Sir Alex?”

Keane: “You asked me the question, I answered you!”

Yikes! It didn’t stop there. When asked to use one word to describe the former United gaffer, Ireland’s current no. 2 said “ruthless”. He also described the horrendous timing of the end of his tenure at Manchester United: no club lined up and being injured having put his body on the line for United. But he did say that Sir Alex thanked him for his eleven-and-a-half years at the club before adding “I had to remind him I’d been there for twelve-and-a-half”. No Christmas card for Fergie this year then, Roy?

With 21 red cards between them, the pair recall memories of when the atmosphere of a Manchester United v Arsenal fixture was incredibly hostile, which famously nearly blew up in the tunnel at Highbury back in February 2005. “You were picking on the weakest link!” Keane says of Vieira’s needling of Gary Neville. I wonder how Neville felt watching that.

keane-vieira-630x420

The two former-pros picked the best players they had ever played with for their respective clubs and then make a dream-team XI from players between the two sides. Friendly banter, if a little firm. Keane seems saddened to leave Ruud van Nistelrooy out while Vieira absolutely insisted that Robert Pires would be a far better addition than David Beckham on the right side of midfield. They settle with twelve men in the end: Peter Schmeichel, Lauren, Tony Adams, Jaap Stam, Ashley Cole/Denis Irwin (undecided with their left-back choice), Cristiano Ronaldo, Roy Keane, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires, Thierry Henry and Eric Cantona.

In all, it was a fascinating documentary. And one I was surprised a character like Roy Keane would even agree to do. But it reminded us of the passion, the hostility, the ugly and the sheer brilliance between the two enemies on the pitch. “There is not the same kind of excitement,” Vieira says about today’s Arsenal and Man United meetings. “They are almost too nice to each other,” responds Keane. “There is almost too much respect for each other.”

What did you think? Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland) and let us know.

Champions League

Champions League matchday 6 preview

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.

celticbarcelona20122013

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.

Pep Guardiola conducts first training session at Bayern Munich - video

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.

 

What are your predictions? Tell Rob Smith on Twitter: (@robsmithireland)

 

 

Europe, Ones to watch

Deulofeu: future superstar and current heartbreaker for Arsenal fans

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.

Everton snapped him up.

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.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)