Internationals

World Cup finals draw: tough test for England while the Boateng brothers will meet again

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.

The groups in full:

Group A
Brazil
Croatia
Mexico
Cameroon

Group B
Spain
Netherlands
Chile
Australia

Group C
Colombia
Greece
Ivory Coast
Japan

Group D
Uruguay
Costa Rica
England
Italy

Group ESwitzerland
Ecuador
France
Honduras

Group F
Argentina
Bosnia-Herzegovina
Iran
Nigeria

Group G
Germany
Portugal
Ghana
U.S.A.

Group H
Belgium
Algeria
Russia
South Korea

 

What did you make of the draw? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Internationals, Republic of Ireland

Martin O’Neill is on Noble-watch

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.

 

What do you think? Noble for Ireland? Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland) and check us out on Facebook.

Champions League

Champions League matchday 5 preview

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.

 

Predictions? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland) and be sure to check the blog out on Facebook.

 

Internationals, Superstars

No Ibra for Brazil 2014 as Ronaldo shines like a Ballon d’Or trophy

“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.

Republic of Ireland

Henry’s handball: four years on

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.

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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.

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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)

Republic of Ireland

League of Ireland legends honoured this weekend

Two League of Ireland legends will be honoured with their tribute games this weekend. On Saturday, Sligo Rovers’ Ciaran Kelly gets set for his big day in The Showgrounds while across the country, Bohemians’ Owen Heary will step out on Dalymount Park’s turf one last time.

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.

ciarankelly

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.

OwenHeary

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.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Internationals

Come on you boys in green…erm…blue.

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.

For further info visit http://countyiceland.ie/

 

Will you be supporting Iceland as they seek a place in the World Cup? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Issues in the game

McClean rumours cause another social media explosion

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)

Entertainment & media

We are 3!

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.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Champions League

Champions league gameweek 4 round-up

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.

Gameweek 5 will be played on November 26/27.

 

Which games did you enjoy? Tell Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

Republic of Ireland

O’Neill & Keane come together for the Boys In Green

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)

 

Where are they now?

Where are they now….?

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:

Dani Güiza.
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?

David Trezeguet.
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)

Footballers' mad moments, North/South America

Michael Jackson & Gandhi in midfield? Yes. John Lennon too!

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)

Champions League

Champions League gameweek 3 round-up

Gameweek 3 of the Champions League is over – let’s look back at the last two days of football action:

On Tuesday Arsène Wenger celebrated his 64th birthday. However I’m sure there was little celebrating taking place for the Frenchman following his Arsenal side’s 2-1 home defeat to Borussia Dortmund thanks to Robert Lewandowski’s 82nd minute winner. Arsenal, Dortmund and Rafa Bentiez’s Napoli, who themselves beat Marseille 2-1, are all on 6 points in Group F.

AC Milan kept Barcelona frustrated in the San Siro on Tuesday. Robinho’s opening goal following a beautiful one-two with Kaka was met with an equaliser from Leo Messi 14 minutes later. Also in Group H, Celtic beat Ajax 2-1 in Glasgow. The goals either side of half-time from James Forrest and Beram Kayal and Celtic lie in 3rd, with Barcelona leading and Milan in 2nd place.

In Group G, Zenit St Petersburg overcome 10-man FC Porto for their first group win while Atlético Madrid‘s Diego Costa grabbed a double in the Spanish side’s 3-0 win over Austria Vienna. Los Rojiblancos lead the group on maximum points with Zenit and Porto behind on 4 and 3 points respectively.

Fernando Torres scored twice to help secure Chelsea a 3-0 victory over Schalke 04 Meanwhile in Bucharest, Leandro Tatu’s late strike earned Steaua a draw against Swiss side FC Basel and their first point in Group E. Chelsea still lead the group on on goal difference ahead of Schalke with Basel in 3rd place on 4 points.

On Wednesday, two Sergio Aguero goals earned Man City against CSKA Moscow but the Russians were unlucky to have a goal ruled out ten minutes from time. Replays suggest the goal should’ve been allowed. Also in Group D, Bayern Munich predictably won 3 points following their 5-0 win against group minnows Viktoria Plzeň.

Zlatan Ibrahomovic was in fine form scoring four of the goals in PSG‘s 5-0 win against Anderlecht in the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium. The French side still top Group C, with Olimpiacos and Benfica in 2nd and 3rd respectively as the two sides drew 1-1 in the Estádio da Luz.

A 2nd minute Iñigo Martínez own-goal was enough for David Moyes’ Man United side to get their much needed 3 points over Real Sociedad who themselves are yet to get off the mark. United lead Group A on 7 points with Bayer Leverkusen lurking behind on 6 pointss. The Germans thrashed Shakhtar Donetsk 4-0 in the BayArena.

Finally, Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice in Wednesday evening’s tastiest fixture – Real Madrid v Juventus. The Spanish outfit beat Antonio Conte’s men 2-1 in a tight contest at the Bernebeu. In the other game in Group B, Galatasaray beat FC Copenhagen by 3-1 with first-half goals from Wesley Sneijder, Didier Drogba and Felipe Melo. The Turks lie in 2nd place on four points with Real in first on maximum points. Juve are placed in 3rd spot disappointingly on just 2 points.

Gameweek 4 is in a fortnight as these sides all meet again. The likes of Juve and Arsenal will be seeking revenge.

 

What games/players stuck out the most for you? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Mavericks, Superstars

Top 5 veterans still playing today

I bet you forgot about some of these players but can remember them from Euro 2000 or the World Cup in 2002. Here’s my top 5 veterans still playing today:

5. Juan Sebastián Verón
Verón’s time in England is how many of us from this part of the world will remember him. And that wasn’t exactly a great success. Before Blighty, he had been turning heads in Serie A. But he returned to his beloved Estudiantes, in his native Argentina where he began his career, back in 2006. Apart from spending one season turning out for Argentine minnows Brandsen, he has been lining up each week for Estudiantes in his native La Plata, just outside Buenos Aires. He still plays for them to this day aged 38.

4. Javier Zanetti
Back in 1995, Oasis were quickly becoming the biggest band around, Microsoft introduced the (then) incredible Windows 95, and Eric Cantona was kung-fu kicking the occasional spectator. Also, this was the year Argentine defender Javier Zanetti made his debut for Inter Milan. Five Serie A titles, four Coppa Italias, one Champions League and one FIFA World Club cup winners medal later, he still plays a crucial role for il Nerazzurri to this day at the age of 40, captaining the side weekly.

3. Clarence Seedorf
An Ajax youth product, former Dutch international Clarence Seedorf has lifted the Champions League trophy for three different teams – Ajax, Real Madrid and twice for AC Milan. He spent ten hugely successful years at Milan before finishing up his contract last year. At age 36, he was expected to hang up his boots, but decided to make Brazil his new home as he signed for Botafogo, where he has been a big success in Rio de Janeiro.

2. Rivaldo
This blog loves Rivaldo. Then again, who doesn’t? The Brazilian is now 41 years old and the last we heard from him he was playing in Angola. Having spent his years playing in Spain, Italy, Greece and Uzbekistan to name but a few, the 2002 World Cup Winner is back in his native Brazil playing for second tier side São Caetano who are based just outside Sao Paolo. And is he still scoring at age 41? Of course – he’s Rivaldo!

1. Alessandro Del Piero
In my estimation this man is one of Italy’s finest forwards – possibly THE finest. Oozing sheer class, Del Piero is to Juventus what Steven Gerrard is to Liverpool. Or what Xavi is to Barcelona. But unlike them, Del Piero isn’t a one-club-man. He started his career at Padova before beginning his 19 years with Juventus. Having said goodbye to “The Old Lady” in 2012, he resisted a move to Anfield and made Sydney his home. He still plays – and plays unsurprisingly brilliant – each week for Sydney FC now at the age of 38. Class is, after all, permanent.

Honourable mentions must go to Ryan Giggs, Steven Gerrard, Raul, Carles Puyol and Francesco Totti.

Who else should have been mentioned? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland)