Monthly Archives: April 2011

QPR and Norwich almost set for England's top flight

Q.P.R. will play in England’s top flight for the first time since the 1995-96 season after beating Watford 2-0 today. Celebrations could possibly be cut short as the London club face action over the ownership of Argentine midfielder Alejandro Faurlin. It emerged that the transfer fee was paid to a third party – which is against the regulations put in place by the English FA after the similar situation involving Carlos Tevez when he was a Hammer a few years ago. Q.P.R. could find themselved deducted points and could miss out on promotion.

Norwich are very close to securing themselves promotion. If they manage to beat Portsmouth on Monday and if Middlesboro beat Cardiff City, the Canaries will find themselves playing top flight football for the first time since the 2004/05 season (and before then was their Jeremy Goss-era). Norwich’s Grant Holt and Q.P.R.’s Adel Taarabt are amongst the league’s top scorers (and both have the highest assist rates this season also). However, it’s the latter that many are certain should be a nice addition to the Premier League. Despite not getting a sniff when he was a Spurs player between 2007 and last summer, Taarabt has been wowing the crowds at Loftus Road. And away grounds also, come to think of it. The Moroccan will be able to show his stuff on the big stage with Q.P.R. – depending the outcome from the FA, of course. One can’t help but think the 21-year old dribbling master won’t be short of offers if promotion is taken away from the hoops.
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“I am happy with the way we acted,” said Q.P.R. chairman Gianni Paladini. “I do not think we have anything to worry about.”. I wonder if Q.P.R. fans are as confident as the Italian.

Europa League semi-finals edge four teams closer to Dublin

Look at all the great footballing cities that have played host to Europa League/UEFA cup finals : Seville, Lisbon, Istanbul, Turin…er…Ipswich? Anyway, Dublin joins this list as the Aviva Stadium (or Dublin Arena as it will be known that night) is the venue for the 2011 Europa Cup final. There will be at least one Portugese team in the Ballsbridge venue on May 18th.

Thursday night sees Braga travel to the Estadio da Luz to face Benfica. While La Liga side Villareal make their way to Porto‘s Estadio do Dragao. Should make for two interesting games (and perfect viewing after yet another el clásico hangover for Football el Mundo). Porto, Benfica and Braga are placed 1st, 2nd and 3rd respectively in Portugal’s Primeira Liga – which could make the all-Portugal clash a tight one (though I should mention there is 14 points between Benfica and Braga). Flying the Spanish flag is of course Villareal who have had an impressive La Liga season – currently in 4th place and aiming to ultimately finish in 3rd (pending a Valencian slip-up of course). But with Porto unbeaten in their domestic league this season, they might find it a difficult task.
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Still, in just a few weeks two of these four teams will be playing competitively in Dublin for a trophy that Liverpool, Juventus and Inter all won three times each. And it’s great to see Ireland be somehow included at this competition – if only as hosts this year (though the final of the 1982 UEFA Cup final was refereed by an Irishman, but it’s not really the same thing). Keep your eyes on these two games on Thursday. The Porto v Villareal clash will by my one to watch of the two – the Spaniards might just do a number on the newly-crowned Portugese champions.

Champions League semi-finals preview (part 1)

And then there were four.

Manchester United travel to Gelsenkirchen where they face Schalke 04. It’s the fourth time in five seasons Sir Alex’s men have reached the semi-finals while the Germans have never before seen this far of the competition. Schalke’s Raul has found a new lease of life since moving to Germany and the all-time Champions League leading goalscorer will be looking to help make even more history for the Royal Blues. However, with fantastic Champions League and Premier League form, United will be pulling out the big guns – though they will be missing Berbatov and Fletcher. The rest of the Red Devils will have to be wary of Ralf Rangick’s men who put five past current holders Inter in their own back yard in the previous round.
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Barcelona face bitter rivals Real Madrid a total of five times this season – this being the fourth. They have both won a game each and drew the other in the previous three encounters. Madrid recently beat Barça in the Copa del Rey final (though the celebrations with the trophy got ‘out of hand‘). Madrid have improved massively as a team since Barça’s demolishing of them in November by 5-0. If there is one team that can stop Barça from dominating Europe once more – it is definitely Real Madrid. Carles Puyol was doubtful at the weekend but has travelled with the team to Madrid. The Catalan captain was badly missed at the cup final in Valencia. The Special One is confident after the cup win and can be even more confident with a full strength team all fully fit to face the Madridista’s rivals. The tie can go either way in reality – though I predict it to be extremely tight.

Peñarol's gigantic flag and Ramos' butter-fingers

Two things that have caught my eye on You Tube this morning.

Firstly, at the recent Ireland v Uruguay friendly at the Aviva, I was sitting amongst a lot of Uruguay fans. Loud and passionate about their football, I noticed that most of them were wearing yellow and black jerseys. I asked one of them in my limited Spanish who the team were? “Peñarol!” came the reply “we love them as much as Uruguay”. I was impressed with that level of support for the Montevideo club. But I didn’t realise that Uruguayans love the club so much that they bring a flag the size of Montevideo itself to games. See the video below – you don’t see that in Tallaght Stadium, that’s for sure.
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Secondly, The Special One and Real Madrid woke up this morning feeling somewhat victorious in their Copa del Rey win against Barcelona. What they didn’t wake up with was the cup itself. Or at least in the same condition it was handed to them last night. Defender Sergio Ramos accidentally dropped the trophy amid celebrations on an open-top bus at Madrid’s famous Cibeles fountain and unfortunately the bus drove over it. Ooops. Spanish paper El Mundo reported today that it had been smashed in ten pieces while Ramos himself said on his Twitter page that it is fine. Either way, it’s lucky Ramos isn’t Madrid’s ‘keeper. Otherwise there probably would have been a goal-fest at the Mestalla last night.
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Two brothers…two nations

Last summer in the 2010 World Cup, Kevin-Prince Boateng and half-brother Jerome made football history when they became the first set of brothers to feature in opposing teams at the competition. Milan’s Kevin-Prince took to the field representing Ghana while Man City’s Jerome wore the famous Germany shirt last June (the Germans went on to win 1-0). Of course, the two former-Hertha BSC players aren’t the first pair of brothers to play for different nations.

Everton’s Tim Cahill proudly wears the Australian jersey – the country of his birth. And he does a fine job for the ‘socceroos’ too. Younger brother Chris, who plays for St George’s FC in Australia (Ossie Ardiles once played for the Sydney club in 1985). However, he represents and captains Samoa, where the Cahill brothers’ mother comes from. Both players were also eligible to play for Ireland – something the elder Cahill looked into in 2002.

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Joe Baker was a former Arsenal, Torino and Nottingham Forest striker who was born in Liverpool to Scottish parents. Despite making just eight successful caps for England, he narrowly missed out on making the squad that would go on to win the 1966 World Cup. His elder brother Gerry was also a strong forward for clubs such as St. Mirren, Ipswich and Hibernian. The New York born Baker Snr. was part of the USA squad that unsuccessfully tried to qualify for the 1970 World Cup finals in Mexico. Though the brothers never faced each other in an international game, they certainly came head-to-head for their then-clubs in the early to mid 1960’s.

I don’t know how many more brothers we’ll see playing for different nations, but if you happen to find out that Leo Messi just happens to have a long lost brother with Irish blood then let Football el Mundo know, we’ll tell Trap.

Football's greatest rivalries: Bohemians v Shamrock Rovers

I’ve previously talked about Milan v. Inter, Galatasaray v. Fenerbahce, Roma v Lazio and more. This edition of ‘football’s greatest rivalries‘ will focussing on Ireland’s two most successful clubs and how instense the tie can be when they come head-to-head.

Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers first faced each other just under a century ago at Dalymount Park. Over the years, from amateur status to professional clubs, interest and attendances snowballed making it the biggest game in the country which it still is today. It became, in footballing terms, viewed as the southside of Dublin (Rovers) against northside of Dublin (Bohs). Always attracting large attendances, the fixture has always been noted for the tension (also occasionally violence) between rival fans. Because of this, a large gardaí presence is always required – to say there is little affection between opposing supporters would be quite the understatement.
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However, what happens on the pitch is always full of tension and some classic games have been produced. From the 1945 FAI Cup Final (which had an impressive 45,000 attendance) to a very memorable 10-goal thriller a decade ago in Morton Stadium, regardless of which team you support – or indeed if you are a neutral, it’s guaranteed to be a tasty fixture between these best of enemies. Unlike other rivalries, players moving between the two clubs has been common enough – yet still almost unforgivable in some fans’ eyes.

The two sides face each other for the first time in the 2011 season this Friday in Dalymount Park. I’ve passed on the opportunity to see Liam Gallagher’s new outfit Beady Eye at Dublin’s Olympia (for free) in favour of attending my first ‘Dublin derby’. If it’s anything like some of the previous encounters, it won’t be a decision I’ll regret too quickly.

Champions League quarter-finals preview (part 2)

A lot of goals in the first leg of the quarter-finals. Eighteen goals over the four games to be exact. And Messi didn’t score one of them.

The new impressive Donbass Arena is the venue where Shakhtar Donetsk play host to Barcelona. The Catalan giants scored five in the first leg at Camp Nou which makes the Ukrainians job closer to the impossible. Shakhtar will be thankful Andres Iniesta will play no part in the game through suspension but they will have to be on their game to stop some of Barça’s other talent.

One goal seperated Man United and Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last week thanks to a first-half Wayne Rooney goal. With Carlo Ancelotti’s Premier League hopes slowly fading, the Italian will be looking to end the Red Devils’ treble dream. United haven’t lost at home at the knockout stages of the Champions League for years, though Chelsea will take a 1-0 victory which would bring the game to extra-time and possibly penalties – something Chelsea and United are no strangers to in this competition.
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Schalke 04 and Inter Milan‘s result last Tuesday was a surprising one with the Germans scoring five away goals at the San Siro. Inter’s two goals (including one cracker from Stankovic) may count for something if the Italians raise their game at the Veltins-Arena and unleash a complete goal fest. Anything less will see the current holders make an exit and nobody more so than Inter boss Leonardo knows this.

Finally, I secretly predicted a score draw at the Bernebeu last week when Real Madrid played Tottenham. Sadly for ‘Arry Redknapp, Spurs on the night were played off the park and beaten 4-0. It’s not impossible for the north Londoners to make a comeback that would put the team in legend status for years to come – but it’s not far off. The Special One’s men are however red-hot favourites which would mean, if victorious, Madrid would see a possible semi-final tie against Barça – unless ‘Arry has the mother of all plans up his sleeve.

Football's greatest rivalries: Galatasaray v Fenerbahce

The Turkish are passionate about their football. They truly are. So when bitter rivals Fenerbahce and Galatasaray go head-to-head, the city of Istanbul turns into chaos.

Well, maybe that’s me exaggerating it a bit. But certainly Fernabahce’s Sukru Saracoglu Stadium and Galatasaray’s new Turk Telecom Arena are chaotic in terms of the atmosphere in and around the stadia on matchday not to mention the tension on the pitch when this fixture takes place. Known locally as Kitalararasi derbi (or the Intercontinental derby), it is one of the most fiercly competitive derbies in world football. ‘Fener’ have beaten their city rivals 140 times since the tie was first contested over a century ago, while ‘Gala’ have only managed 116 victories.
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Probably the most famous incident to ever occur at this derby is that of the actions of Graeme Souness in April 1996. ‘Souey’ was managing Galatasaray at the time and when his side beat Fenerbahce in the Turkish Cup, he felt somewhat in victorious mood and planted a massive Galatasaray flag in the centre-spot of Fenerbahce’s sacred pitch. Not exactly the safest thing to do as both teams have notoriously violent “ultra” supporters. That being his only season in Turkey, it left the Fener fans with a feeling of pure hatred for the former Liverpool and Rangers star. The Gala faithful, on the other hand, nicknamed him Ulubatlı Souness after the heroic Turkish martyr.

Violence, passion, tension, ultras and crazy Scotsmen aside, the game itself still packs a full house and shows wonderful displays of football from both teams with Fenerbahce being the dominant of the two over the past couple of years. Both teams have had wonderful players grace their colours in recent years such as Roberto Carlos, Dani Guiza, Milan Baros, Harry Kewell, Franck Ribery, Frank de Boer and Nicolas Anelka to name but a few. Players like the English born-and-bred Colin Kazim Richards is one of the few to actually play for both.

If you want a game full of atmosphere and noise then this is for you. Even watching it on TV you will certainly feel it’s tension.

Never mind the Rooneys. Here's Stankovic.

Some great games in the Champions League this week. The British media mostly focussed on Crouchie’s red card, Spurs’ thrashing, Wayne Rooney’s swearing (even though that occured in a Premier League game), The Special One etc. The Italian media concentrated on one particular incident in the Inter Milan – Schalke match. Dejan Stankovic’s goal.

Of course, scoring in an open goal is easy. What’s not easy is doing it from the half way line. On the volley. Under pressure. Even the Serbian’s technique when striking the ball was impressive. Have a look yourself in the video below and see what you think.
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Take a bow, Mr. Stankovic. One of the sweetest goals of the competiton this year – just a shame for Inter that their result that night wasn’t as sweet.

Champions League quarter final preview (part 1)

And then there were eight. The first leg of the Champions League semi-final takes place this week with four outstanding games on offer.

On Tuesday, Schalke travel to the San Siro to face Inter Milan. The Nerrazzuri will be looking to bounce back after the weekend’s defeat in the Milan derby but the Germans certainly are no pushovers as they proved in the last round in the Champions League, defeating Valencia (who have impressed in this season’s La Liga). Since then, Schalke have changed managers. Could this upset the team’s European form?

Harry Redknapp takes his Tottenham side to the surroundings of the Bernebéu where they face The Special One’s Real Madrid. Spurs have, as previously blogged, been fantastic in the competition. If they raise their game, they can certainly cause José Mourinho problems. But never write off Real Madrid. Especially at home (though against Sporting Gijon last weekend was a rare exception – The Special One’s first home defeat in nine years). This game promises to be a thriller. Harry Redknapp will be hoping not to get robbed in Madrid again.
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It’s an all English tie as Manchester United take on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. This is a repeat fixture of the famous final in Moscow in 2008 and the blues will be looking for some serious revenge having lost the game on penalties. It should be a cagey affair in West London on Wednesday night and the slightest mistake made by any defender could be lethal as both clubs’ strikers are not shy hitting the net. The two sides met just last month at the Bridge, Chelsea defeating United 2-1. Will we get a repeat?

Finally, Barcelona welcome Shakhtar Donetsk to the Camp Nou. Most pundits will consider this as a relatively easy game for Barça but with the Ukrainians defeating Arsenal and Roma already in the competition this year, Pep Guardiola will be very wary of Mircea Lucescu’s side. The Catalans have a number of huge games coming up this month yet such as el Clásico and the Copa del Rey final (also against Madrid) but they will have to play full throttle against Shakhtar who obviously aren’t afraid of causing upsets.

Ones to watch #6 : Alvaro Morata

Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez’s famous galactico policy in the early 2000’s meant that youngsters coming through the ranks of los blancos might find it hard getting into the team alongside the Beckhams, Zidanes, Figos and the likes. However some (though very few) did.

Perez is currently in his second stint as Madrid president and his so-called second galactico era is in full swing with Madrid forking out absolute millions for the likes of Kaká, Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo. Young players like Pedro Leon and Sergio Canales are all enjoying life on Madrid’s most senior roster – though neither are graduates. One Madrid youth player who is catching the eye of the media and, more importantly, also José Mourinho is local 18 year-old Alvaro Morata.

Morata has been a product of Madrid’s youth system since he was 15 (though his first youth team was city rivals Atlético) and has been wowing the crowds almost every time he dons the famous white shirt for youth side Real Madrid Castilla. He has all the traits that The Special One loves in strikers : height, strength, arial ability and a deadly eye for goal. Which is probably why Mourinho took him on Madrid’s pre-season tour in the US. The youngster is already a regular for Spain’s under-18’s and under-19’s where he averages almost a goal every game.
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One thing is for sure, José Mourinho is certainly keeping his eye on Morata and even gave him a cameo in the senior team, coming on as a substitute against Zaragoza last December, though the Portugese manager insists the player needs more time to grow with Castilla. Rivals Barcelona may embrace their youth teams a lot more than Madrid, but one thing is for sure – Madrid would be foolish to let this young lad go elsewhere too easily. The “new Morientes” is one to watch, for sure.

100 goals and counting…for the 'keeper

Last week, all the newspapers in Brazil were celebrating in the headline of Sao Paolo’s Rogério Ceni claiming his 100th league goal. I know what you’re thinking: 100 league goals for a 37 year-old isn’t a big deal. Well, Ceni is Sao Paolo’s goalkeeper.

The former Brazilian international now holds the prestigious record of having scored the most goals for a goalkeeper in the history of the sport. Paraguay’s flamboyant José Chilavert is in second place being two goals behind Ceni. What made the milestone goal even sweeter was the fact that it was the winning goal in a 2-1 win in the city’s derby against Corinthians. Ceni is held in high regard amongst Sao Paolo’s faithful, having played between the posts at the club since 1992. This goal will see him be remembered for even longer.
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Take a bow, Rogério Ceni. 100 goals and counting.