Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday List of Little or No Consequence #234

Nation shall flick pieces unto nation...
The First 10 Official National Teams You Could Buy After Subbuteo Launched In 1947

1. England (1949)
2. Scotland (1949)
3. Wales (1949)
4. Netherlands (1949)
5. Belgium (1949)
6. Ireland (1949)
7. Germany (1963)
8. Sweden (1965)
9. Spain (1965)
10. Brazil (1966)

Weekend TV Preview: 30 March - 1 April 2012

Friday 30 March

19.30 Luton Town v York City, Blue Square Premier League, Premier Sports
Fifth plays fourth. Two teams in the running for a play-off place but neither are in consistent form. Both could easily be usurped by a growing pack of challengers come season's end.

Saturday 31 March

12.00 Motherwell v Rangers, SPL, ESPN/ESPN HD
Unprecedented scenes at Ibrox last weekend as Rangers beat Celtic 3-2, but you get the impression that a return to the comparitive mediocrity of Motherwell will also bring about a return to The Gers' previous poor form. Home win.
12.45 Sheffield Wednesday v Preston North End, League One, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Wednesday remain on top of the form table with four wins and two draws from their last six games, but rivals United leapfrogged them into second spot in the league table midweek. This should be a chance for The Owls to restore order (if only temporarily) against a struggling North End side.
17.25 Blackpool v Southampton, Championship, BBC 2/BBC HD
Despite a post-Christmas lull, fortune has swung back in favour of The Saints. Whether they can extend their 5-point lead over second placed Reading here is a matter for some debate, but suffice to say Blackpool's own bid for promotion has recently hit a rocky patch. Should be a good game.
19.00 Osasuna v Real Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports 4/HD4
Real's 5-1 spanking of Sociedad last weekend well and truly got them back to winning ways after a couple of draws, but they remain six points ahead of Barcelona. Osasuna are pulling up a few trees of their own at the moment and a repeat of their 1-0 home win over Real back in January 2011 can't be entirely written off.
19.45 Parma v Lazio, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
Poor Parma have had just two wins in all competitions since November 20th last year. If Lazio (3rd in the table) can't beat Parma, (in the words of Brian Clough) 'they want bloody shooting'.
21.00 Barcelona v Athletic Bilbao, La Liga, Sky Sports 4/HD4
As amazing as Barcelona are, there can be no doubt that the big story here is Bilbao. Though Messi and Co trot out the same silky skills every week, you can't help but be excited that Athletic are on a journey to reach such heights and that, for the purists, is where the real interest lies.

Sunday 1 April

11.30 Roma v Novara, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
A win for Novara will seal the Serie A title for the northern Italian side. APRIL FOOL!
12.45 Celtic v St Johnstone. SPL, Sky Sports 4/HD4
Steve Lomas continues to work his magic for The Saints, as shown in a spirited 1-0 win over Inverness CT on Wednesday. They're certainly on a par with Celtic form-wise although more pressing is the need to close the 5-point gap with Motherwell in third place. Not sure they'll do it this week.
13.30 Newcastle United v Liverpool, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1/3D
Theoretically, at least, Liverpool could find themselves down in ninth if they lose this match. Not wishing to infer anything but only Wolves are on worse form than Kenny Dalglish's side at the moment.
15.00 Inverness CT v Hibernian, SPL, ESPN/ESPN HD
Super Sunday on ESPN. Not.
16.05 Falkirk v Hamilton, Scottish Challenge Cup Final, BBC ALBA
The competition for SFL clubs reaches its climax as the 2005 winners play the 2006 runners-up. On current league form, the Accies should win comfortably despite both teams being separated by just two points in the First Division table.
16.00 Tottenham Hotspur v Swansea City, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Two goals scored in the last four league games. Ten goals conceded in the last five. Two points gained from the last fifteen... We thought you were minding the gap, Tottenham?
19.45 Juventus v Napoli, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
Match of the Weekend. Juve, unbeaten since May last year, take on Walter Mazzarri's side who let slip a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 against Catania last weekend. A vital test of Napoli's determination to return to the Champions League next season, or a chance for the home side to extend their lead at the top of Serie A (depending on your viewpoint).
20.30 Villarreal v Espanyol, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Espanyol's recent wobble has allowed Osasuna overtake them in the race for a Champions League spot. Villareal, meanwhile, need a win to fend off the threat of relegation

Monday, March 26, 2012

Football Americana Week 3: Henry and Cooper double up for New York

Three weeks down in Major League Soccer, and it's no surprise to see Sporting Kansas City at the top of the East. But they made difficult work of opening up their three-point lead in the final game of Week 3.

St Hat-trick's Day hero David Estrada bagged his fourth MLS goal after less than 25 minutes at CenturyLink Field to set Seattle Sounders on their way to a 2-0 win over Houston Dynamo on Friday. His volley from 25 yards deflected viciously to beat Tally Hall and Seattle soon doubled their lead. Patrick Ianni was fouled by Geoff Cameron, and Brad Evans swept the ball past Hall to make it 2-0.

Roger Levesque squandered a golden chance to kill off the game just after the break, but Houston couldn't make him pay. The game's aftermath was dominated by the news that Houston's Colin Clark had been caught on microphone and camera using a homophobic term (preceded by a well-known swear) in the direction of a ball boy who hadn't returned the ball quite to his liking. He has since apologised.

Visitors San Jose Earthquakes made short work of Toronto FC, enjoying a 3-0 win at BMO Field. Chris Wondolowski headed in Sam Cronin's cross in the ninth minute to open the scoring, but the Quakes had to wait significantly longer for their second. Shea Salinas scored it, running onto a loose ball in the 56th minute that should have long since been cleared by a red shirt and keeping it low to find the net. Wondolowski made it three by punishing TFC for yet more shambolic defending. He inexplicably failed to secure the hat-trick from close range with four minutes left.

Columbus Crew showed the expansion club, Montreal Impact, who's boss with a 2-0 win at Crew Stadium. The Crew gained a numerical advantage inside the first half hour, when Jeb Brovsky was dismissed for an elbow - risky rather than vicious - on Milovan Mirosevic. The Chilean midfielder soon made it 1-0 from the penalty spot, drilling the ball in from 12 yards after Emilio Renteria had been fouled.

After 65 minutes Olman Vargas rose to plant a thumping header past Donovan Ricketts to make it 2-0, not 30 seconds after coach Robert Warzycha had told the touchline reporter he felt his side needed a second goal. Ricketts' performance kept the score down with more than one excellent save, but he could do nothing about the goals and the Crew bagged maximum points.

New England Revolution picked up their first win of the campaign, beating Portland Timbers 1-0 at Gillette Stadium. Saer Sene scored the goal and did so early, heading in Chris Tierney's cross after fewer than 40 seconds to finish off a move in which he'd already played an intelligent part. Genuine chances were few and far between but it was Kris Boyd of the Timbers who missed the best, heading wide despite plenty of time and space.

The same score separated Chicago Fire from Philadelphia Union at Toyota Park, with Dominic Oduro winning it inside the first half hour. His towering 28th minute header from Marco Pappa's typically accurate cross could not be cancelled out by the Union and the Fire were delighted to bank three early points. Oduro's opportunity to double the lead came five minutes before the break, and he did everything right only to find Brian Carroll stretching to block his goalbound effort after the goalkeeper had been beaten. Pappa hit the post after 66 minutes but the Union were too ineffective to muster more than a couple of noteworthy efforts on goal.

It was yet another 1-0 win at Rio Tinto Stadium, but it was a shock result when Chivas USA defeated Real Salt Lake. Salt Lake had a goal scrubbed off after ten minutes, with the referee deeming that their quick free kick had not been a legal one. Dan Kennedy and Nick Rimando in goal had to be on their respective games at either end, and it wasn't until the last 20 minutes that the Goats found their winner. Rimando was put under pressure by Casey Townsend when meeting a cross, and the Chivas man was on hand to volley home after the RSL keeper dropped the ball at his feet.

Vancouver Whitecaps and visitors DC United left the entertainment to be provided by the rest of the league, playing out a 0-0 draw north of the border. Camilo set up Eric Hassli with an accurate cross in the 30th minute but his stooping header flew wide, and Joe Cannon kept it level at the other end in the middle of the second half with a remarkable reaction save from Hamdi Salihi's header. The Whitecaps 'keeper had to be wise to Dwayne De Rosario's low shot as the clock ticked away, and neither team was ultimately able to break the deadlock.

The first game of the season at Red Bull Arena proved a triumphant evening for New York Red Bulls, who defeated Colorado Rapids to the tune of four goals to one. Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper grabbed two goals apiece, with the Frenchman pouncing on an error to score after three minutes and Cooper making it two with a composed finish from Henry's pinpoint pass just three minutes later.

Henry ghosted in behind the inexplicably absent Rapids defence in the 53rd minute and was found with a defensive free kick by Wilman Conde before making it 3-0, but it was Omar Cummings' 77th minute consolation that was the pick of the goals. Rafa Marquez was caught in possession and Cummings bent a lovely shot beyond Ryan Meara to make it 3-1. Cooper restored the advantage from close range with a minute left, Conde again the provider. In stoppage time, Henry wasted a great chance to take home the match ball.

In-form Sporting Kansas City had to come from a goal behind to beat FC Dallas on Sunday, which they eventually did 2-1. Ricardo Villar put Dallas in front mid-way through the first period with a free kick from just outside the area, leaving Jimmy Nielsen stranded way too close to the opposite post. SKC's equaliser came through Aurelien Collin, whose lovely shiny head rose to meet Graham Zusi's superbly placed free kick in first half stoppage time.

Sporting Club won a penalty soon after the restart thanks to Ugo Ihemelu's foul on Chance Myers, but Kei Kamara's kick was saved excellently by Kevin Hartman. The winner came late, and was scored by Kamara, who redeemed himself with an easy finish from Myers' cross. This time, Hartman had gone walkabout and could do nothing to prevent the goal.

Midweek TV Preview: 26 - 29 March 2012

Monday 26 March

20.00 Man Utd v Fulham, Premier League, Sky Sports 1 / HD1 / 3D
Twirling their moustaches like all lovable rogues, Stoke City have kept the collective bums of the Manchester City players, staff and supporters nice and squeaky. Now the opportunity exists for Manchester's other club to take the lead in the Premier League title race. The odds are in the Red Devils' favour. The last time these two teams met was at Craven Cottage with the away side winning 5-0. Moreover, Fulham's away record has been pretty awful this season with only two wins on the road, all campaign.

Tuesday 27 March

19.30 Tottenham Hotspur v Bolton Wanderers, FA Cup Quarter Final, ESPN / ESPN HD
Hopefully, Fabrice Muamba will be watching this rearranged FA Cup match from his hospital bed with confidence. His Bolton team-mates won at the weekend and their opponents have only won two games from their last nine.
19.45 Benfica v Chelsea, UEFA Champions League Quarter Final 1st Leg, Sky Sports 2 / HD2
While Chelsea coach, John Terry insists that he is not the coach, his team face a very tough Benfica side. Remember that Braga team that proved to be incredibly hard to beat in the Europa League last season and finished runners-up? Well their coach is now at Benfica. Jorge Jesus's team have only lost once on the road in the Champions League and that was in the last round against Zenit St Petersburg. They still scored two goals in the match. If there are any over-confident Chelsea fans who think that the Blues have an easy draw (and there are) then they are dead wrong.
19.45 Apoel Nicosia v Real Madrid, UEFA Champions League Quarter Final 1st Leg, Sky Sports 4 / HD4
Now this is an easy draw. Sorry, Apoel.
20.00 Sunderland v Everton, FA Cup Quarter Final Replay, ITV1 / ITV1 HD
More embargo busting by the those arrogant English. Under UEFA rules, domestic fixtures are verboten during Champions League matches. Both The FA and the Premier League have been openly defying those rules and quite right too. UEFA have stretched their Champions League schedule in recent years, making it extremely hard to rearrange postponed fixtures at times that are convenient for both TV audiences and more importantly, spectators. Previous blackout busting had been on Sky and this is the first to be screened on free-to-air TV, so it will be interesting to see UEFA's response.

Wednesday 28 March

19.45 AC Milan v Barcelona, UEFA Champions League Quarter Final 1st Leg, ITV1 / ITV1 HD
The tie of the round in Europe. Barca are imperious and must have the favour of the turf accountants. Milan were just as impressive in their first leg encounter against Arsenal in the last round but nearly blew it after being uncertain as to how to defend such a commanding lead. Somehow I don't think they'll have that problem against the mighty Catalans.
19.45 Marseille v Bayern Munich, UEFA Champions League Quarter Final 1st Leg, Sky Sports 2 / HD2
The home side finally ended a run of 7 (SEPT) consecutive defeats with a 1-1 draw at Nice last weekend. Despite that, Bayern are expected to progress. The Bavarians overcame a tough Hannover side at the weekend and have scored 22 (ZWEIUNDZWEIZIG) goals in the last five games. They may not get much joy at the Velodrome, however, where a hostile reception awaits the visitors. Could be a big night.
22.45 Defensor SF v Chivas, Copa Libertadores, Premier Sports
After a disastrous start to the season, Chivas are improving. The Mexicans face a Defensor side who they beat in the reverse fixture in Group 7 and are bottom of the group table.

Thursday 29 March

20.05 Schalke 04 v Athletic Bilbao, UEFA Europa League Quarter Final 1st Leg, Channel 5 / Channel 5 HD
Now that those pesky English clubs are out of the way, UK broadcasters can relax and put on any team they like, safe in the knowledge that hardly any bugger is watching. This is one of two Bundesliga v La Liga clashes in the Europa league and the hardest to call. Tactics geek's poster boy Marcelo Bielsa wowed British audiences in the last round, with his explosive Bilbao team featuring the creative dynamo, Iker Muniain and striker Fernando Llorente. Meanwhile, Schalke posses the awesome attacking stylings of Jefferson Farfan, Klass Jan Huntelaar and some guy called Raul. If the idea of watching this game has no appeal then you know nothing about football.
20.05 Atletico Madrid v Hannover 96, UEFA Europa League Quarter Final 1st Leg, ITV4 / ITV4 HD
Atleti have the pedigree and the class to beat a dogged but tiring Hannover team. The northern German club are going through a purple patch in their history thanks to their excellent coach, Mirko Slomka (who may be at Bayern next season). However, the Madrid club have former Werder Bremen playmaker, Diego in their side who is anxious to prove to Bundesliga aficionados that his ill fated stint at Wolfsburg last season was all Steve McCLaren's fault.
20.05 AZ Alkmaar v Valencia, UEFA Europa League Quarter Final 1st Leg, ESPN / ESPN HD
This tie lacks the appeal of the other two but in Valencia, may well feature the eventual winners. Not that beating the team currently top of the Eredivisie will be anything but straightforward. However, an AZ win would be something of a coupon buster.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday List of Little or No Consequence #233

Title Race
18 Football teams represented in the inaugural season of Superleague Formula (2008) 

1. AC Milan
2. Galatasaray SK
3. PSV Eindhoven
4. Al Ain
5. CR Flamengo
6. RSC Anderlecht
7. Olympiacos CFP
8. FC Basel 1893
9. Borussia Dortmund
10. Beijing Guoan
11. SC Corinthians
12. Atlético Madrid
13. FC Porto
14. Rangers FC
15. Sevilla FC
16. Tottenham Hotspur FC
17. Liverpool FC
18. AS Roma

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Weekend TV Preview: 23 - 25 March 2012

Friday 23 March

19.30 Wolfsburg v Hamburg, Bundesliga, ESPN/ESPN HD
Felix Magath's Wolfsburg side host the club where he made his name as a player and started his managerial career, and finds Hamburg in serious danger of falling into the relegation zone. Hamburg have just one point from the last five games and are just two points above Freiburg in the play-off position.

Saturday 24 March

12.45 Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur, Premier League, Sky Sports 2/HD2/3D
Both teams suffered mid-week; Chelsea losing after being ahead at the Etihad and Spurs snatching a late draw at home to Stoke. Spurs, now fourth, need a boost to put them back on track after a month that's seen them lose a 10 point lead over Arsenal. Chelsea can close the gap to fourth place to just two points with a win.
17.00 Mallorca v Barcelona, La Liga, Sky Sports 4/HD4
Real Madrid had to come from a goal down to get a win earlier in the season. Luckily goals for a certain Barcelona striker haven't been too hard to come by: 17 (DIECISIETE) in the last 8 games for Messi as they slowly chip away at Real's lead.
17.20 Portadown v Coleraine, Irish League, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Both teams are comfortably in the top half as the North Irish Aperatura has its final week of fixtures. Both suffered surprise 3-1 defeats to sides at the bottom of the table last time out, pretty much ending any hopes Portadown had of catching Linfield.
17.30 Stoke City v Manchester City, Premier League, ESPN/ESPN HD
It doesn't get any easier for Man City in their chase for the Premier League title. Stoke will feel they did enough to come back from White Hart Lane with all three points. It wouldn't be surprising if they got all the points here.
19.00 Real Madrid v Real Sociedad, La Liga, Sky Sports 4/HD4
Back-to-back draws have seen Madrid's lead over Barcelona drop to six points. They should take all the points here against a Sociedad side that travels about as well as a toddler with a belly full of jelly and ice-cream.
19.45 Palermo v Udinese, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
Lazio's surprise defeat in Catania last week left the door open to Udinese and Napoli who shared the points in their game last weekend. While the battle for the title is seemingly swinging in just one direction the other issues at the top of the table are impossible to call.
21.00 Getafe v Valencia, La Liga, Sky Sports 4/HD4
A midweek home defeat to bottom placed Zaragoza (who played most of the game with just ten men and finished with nine) has put Valencia's comfortable third place in jeopardy. Getafe should have done enough to secure yet another season in the top flight.

Sunday 25 March

11.30 Atalanta v Bologna, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
Two sides are comfortably mid-table - Bologna started the season very poorly, losing five of their first seven fixtures. They've recovered admirably since then and have shown the sort of form that would have seen them challenging for European places had the season started in October. Atalanta have gone the other way, after having a fantastic start their recent form has seen them drop from the surprise challengers they were in December.
13.00 Rangers v Celtic, SPL, Sky Sports 1/HD1/3D
After losing the League Cup Final to a late goal for Kilmarnock, Celtic will be even more motivated to heap even more misery on their city rivals.
14.00 Chesterfield v Swindon Town, Johnstone's Paint Trophy Final, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Just one league place separates the two teams with Chesterfield at the very bottom of League 1 and Paolo Di Canio's Swindon seven points clear at the top of League 2. Chesterfield manager John Sheridan will hope the new Wembley is kinder to him than the old one - he lost a League Cup Final and an FA Cup Final there in 1993 playing for Sheffield Wednesday.
15.45 Bohemian's v St Patricks, Airtricity League, Premier Sports
This early season Dublin derby finds Bohemians still looking for their first point and first goal after three games. St Patricks are at the top of the table with three other teams on seven points.
16.00 West Brom v Newcastle United, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
A chance for Newcastle to snatch fifth spot should Chelsea lose to Spurs on Saturday. Sixth won't be good enough for Europe should Bolton, Everton or Sunderland make it to the FA Cup final. The Baggies are pretty much already in their flip-flops but have thrown in some impressive performances recently.
19.45 Juventus v Inter, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
The Derby d'Italia is always one of the high points of the Serie A calendar and finds both teams desperate for the win. Juve need wins and lots of them to hang on to Milan's coat tails. The Old Lady's is the much tougher run-in, having to play four of the sides chasing the third Champions League slot starting here; though Inter look the most unlikely to achieve that lofty position.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bundesliga 2 round up: Five into six

We’ll start at the bottom this week and a relegation six pointer between bottom club, Hansa Rostock, who travelled to second from bottom Karlsruhe. For the away side it was a chance to move one place up the table and for Rostock, a chance to keep the dying embers of their survival hopes aflame. Alas, the result proved of little value to either side.

The away team's very own Timo Staffelt opened the scoring. The trouble was that it was for the home side. The midfielder put through his own net on 36 minutes. Up stepped Alexandre Iashvilli to spare his comrade’s blushes. The Georgian striker went on to score another but his brace was not enough and the game finished 2-2. Freddy Borg scored Rostock’s second goal.

There was no significant change in the bottom three as Aachen lost 3-1 to Union Berlin. This allowed Duisberg to establish some distance which they did after their 2-1 derby win against Bochum. Three points now separate the Zebras from the drop-zone. Immediately above them are FSV Frankfurt who drew 0-0 with Eintracht Braunschweig.

At the top, the promotion race is getting a little more stretched with six points separating the top five. Almost certainly out of the promotion running is 1860 Munich who were thrashed 4-1 at home by the all conquering Greuther Fürth. According to reliable sources the league leaders were magnificent. Olivier Occean was on the mark twice in the rout.

Some other top clubs lost ground: SC Paderborn who were humped by an improving Ingolstadt side 4-0. Paderborn midfielder Enis Alushi scored an own goal and got sent off so he was buying the post match chips. St Pauli were subject to another last minute goal. This time it was Erzebirge Aue with the 90th Minute winner.

Elsewhere, Eintracht Frankfurt kept the pressure on the leaders with a 3-0 win against Dynamo Dresden. Finally, Fortuna Dusseldorf rescued a point with a crisp finish from Adam Matuszczyk against Energie Cottbus who took the lead through Dennis Sorensen. Fortuna stay third on fifty one points.

That’s it. Results and table here.

Football Americana Week 2: Estrada hat-trick fires Seattle to three points

The second week of Major League Soccer action saw the crowning of a new hero in Seattle, two goals for a rather well-known Irishman and a ding-dong match on the banks of the Delaware river.

Montreal Impact picked up their first ever MLS point with a home draw against Chicago Fire. L'Impact took the lead just before the hour mark, their Davy Arnaud rising well to glance home a header and score their first MLS goal. Dominic Oduro equalised for the Fire around 15 minutes later, stealing in to poke home a poacher's goal from six yards. Josh Gardner came close to scoring a 95th minute winner for the home side, hitting the post with a thunderous drive from fully 30 yards in the 95th minute.

AT&T Park in San Francisco was the unusual location for San Jose Earthquakes v Houston Dynamo, and it was the visitors who won the match by a single goal. Chris Wondolowski hit the post from close range early on but in the 13th minute the Dynamo won a penalty when Brian Ching was ploughed into by goalkeeper Jon Busch. Brad Davis predictably found the corner with the resulting spot kick despite Busch's valiant attempt to save it - the shot was just too good to stop.

Portland Timbers couldn't match their Week 1 win, but took a very respectable point home from a trip to FC Dallas. Blas Perez scored his first goal for Dallas mid-way through a spiky first half, tapping home a loose ball after the Timbers failed to deal with a deep cross. Portland equalised in the 51st minute after a comedy of errors in the Dallas defence. Kevin Hartman's clearance went straight up in the air and a mis-controlled ball turned into a through pass for Darlington Nagbe who slotted it home.

Sporting Kansas City turned a good start into a great one with a thumping win over New England Revolution at Livestrong Sporting Park. The Revs were hamstrung from the 14th minute when Stephen McCarthy was dismissed for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity by fouling CJ Sapong, a decision that will certainly have been seen as harsh by New England. Sporting took full advantage, beginning on the half hour. By Graham Zusi's standards a scrappy goal from a yard while sitting on his arse is a little boring, but it set SKC on their way to a comfortable win.

Kei Kamara got the second in the 39th minute, smashing the ball into the roof of the net at the second time of asking after Matt Reis had made a save. Sapong sealed the win after 100 seconds of the second half, sweeping the ball past Reis from a simple cut-back.

David Estrada was the hero for a very impressive Seattle Sounders side at CenturyLink Field, where they won 3-1 against Toronto FC. The first resulted from a wonderful turn by Alvaro Fernandez and Estrada's persistence during a one-man goalmouth scramble, which finished with his first MLS goal. Number two arrived early in the second half, a cool finish at the end of a neat one-touch move but Seattle's two-goal advantage lasted just ten minutes.

Toronto's goal was the pick of the bunch - Ryan Johnson made headway up the right wing, cut inside onto his left foot and swung a fantastic shot in off the very top off the far post. But the Sounders closed the game out with Estrada's third goal, another tidy finish after a cute one-two with Fernandez on the edge of the area.
Real Salt Lake maximised home advantage against New York Red Bulls with a 2-0 victory at Rio Tinto Stadium. Fabian Espindola gave Salt Lake a deserved lead five minutes before the break, brilliantly springing New York's lazy high line and scoring through Ryan Meara's legs. It was 2-0 just before the hour mark, Luis Gil reacting quickest to a rebound and finding the net.

In LA it was 1-0 to Vancouver Whitecaps over hosts Chivas USA. Joe Cannon was called into action to superbly turn over a lovely curling shot from Casey Townsend in spite of an injury problem, and later had to be substituted. Jay Demerit scored the game's only goal with a little over 20 minutes left on the clock. The Caps skipper beat Dan Kennedy with a diving header from a badly defended corner.

It took just 19 seconds for the action to hit fever pitch on Sunday in a thrilling game between Philadelphia Union and Colorado Rapids. Philly's Danny Mwanga out-paced Drew Moor and appeared to be brought down by the Rapids defender on the edge of the penalty area - had the foul been given, Moor would have seen red. Jaime Castrillon made it 1-0 to Colorado with a simple finish early in the second half, taking advantage of another horrific error from Zac MacMath.

On 58 minutes Jeff Larentowicz picked up the most predictable red card you'll ever see. In a spiky game, the Rapids midfielder was booked just before half time and you'd have bet your savings on him getting another yellow. When it arrived, he had no complaints after an incredibly clumsy tackle. But rookie Tony Cascio made it 2-0 on the hour after mugging Chris Albright and haring in on goal, watching on as his powerful low shot clipped MacMath's boot and flicked up into the roof of the net.

The Union got back into it with a simple header from Lionard Pajoy, who made no mistake after being found brilliantly by substitute Roger Torres. Despite the Union's onslaught, the Rapids held firm and restricted them to one gilt-edged chance, which Pajoy squandered with 90 seconds left on the clock.

LA Galaxy picked up their 2011 championship rings - American is as American does - ahead of their 3-1 win over DC United on Sunday evening. Robbie Keane took the game by the scruff of the neck with the first two goals, the first a simple tap-in from Todd Dunivant's header and the second an unstoppable left-footed shot rifled across Joe Willis and into the top corner. Marcelo Sarvas made it three with just a few minutes left on the clock, stooping to head home a cross from you-know-who. DC rookie Nick DeLeon's consolation goal, a delightful curling effort off the post, was scant consolation.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Midweek TV Preview: 19 - 21 March 2012

Monday 19 March

15.30 Spartak Moscow v CSKA Moscow, Russian Premier Liga, ESPN/ESPN HD
It's an unbeaten (if slightly unconvincing) start to the Championship Group for Spartak. CSKA are currently second in the table but are still awaiting their first win since the start of November.
19.45 Roma v Genoa, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
The Giallorossi need to get a move on if they're to secure Champions League football next season. They're seven points behind Lazio (currently third) and will be aware this is a great chance to reduce that to four if they can stay focused against Genoa.

Tuesday 20 March

19.45 West Ham v Middlesbrough, Championship, Sky Sports 2/HD2
The Hammers are suddenly finding points hard to come by, to say nothing of convincing performances. Middlesbrough would like to think this will give them a chance to earn a few points themselves, but they too have lacked potency in their last two games, both lost.
19.45 Juventus v Milan, Coppa Italia Semi Final 2nd Leg, ESPN/ESPN HD
The top two in Serie A already look likely to be playing Champions League football next season, but the Old Lady knows that a win tonight will leave them only one point behind their opponents. A win for Milan, however, will give them a seven point lead with only nine games left to play.
20.00 Barcelona v Granada (starts via Red Button), La Liga, Sky Sports 4/HD4
Barcelona defender Daniel Alves has said his side will only give up once they cannot mathematically win the title. That should free up their plans for April and May.

Wednesday 21 March

10.00 Kashiwa Reysol v Jeonbuk Motors, AFC Champions League Group Stage, British Eurosport 2
Hardly the best of starts for Reysol. One point from their first six in the new J League campaign and a defeat in their Asian Champions League opener against Buriram United of Thailand leaves the current Japanese champions with much ground to make up already.
17.30 De Graafschap v FC Twente, Eredivisie, ESPN/ESPN HD
Two defeats on the bounce for Schteve, but he doesn't seem unduly worried. Nor would you be if bottom-placed De Graafschaap were your next opponents.
19.45 Man City v Chelsea, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1/3D
The first of our 10 matches to decide the Premier League. Chelsea's new found self-belief, coupled with the deadly shooting skills of Fernando 'One-in-a-row' Torres, surely make them favourites to win this one.
19.45 St Mirren v Hearts, Scottish Cup Quarter Final Replay, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Just one win in the last 10 for St Mirren. If they can't win this one, they'll certainly not beat their waiting semi-final opponents Celtic. What's that? Kilmarnock, you say...?
19.45 Napoli v Siena, Coppa Italia Semi Final 2nd Leg, ESPN/ESPN HD
Siena scored a 2-1 first leg lead during February at a time when Napoli could be said to have had the Champions League on their mind. The Neapolitans' shock exit to Chelsea last week might now persuade them to see this tie in a completely different light.
21.00 Villarreal v Real Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports 3/HD3
A fixture Villareal have won only twice since the turn of the Millennium. Away win, seeing as you asked.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday List of Little or No Consequence #232

Mundial Managers
17 Premier League and Football League Managers Born In A World Cup Year

1. John Still (Dagenham & Redbridge, 1950)
2. Sam Allardyce (West Ham United, 1954)
3. Tony Pulis (Stoke City, 1958)
4. Chris Hughton (Birmingham City, 1958)
5. Terry Connor (Wolverhampton Wanderers, 1962)
6. Kenny Jackett (Watford, 1962)
7. John Coleman (Rochdale, 1962)
8. Gary Waddock (Wycombe Wanderers, 1962)
9. Steve Evans (Crawley Town, 1962)
10. Nigel Clough (Derby County, 1966)
11. Owen Coyle (Bolton Wanderers, 1966)
12. Andy Thorn (Coventry City, 1966)
13. Martin Ling (Torquay United, 1966)
14. Roberto Di Matteo (Chelsea, 1970)
15. Mark Yates (Cheltenham Town, 1970)
16. Nick Barmby (Hull City, 1974)
17. Dougie Freedman (Crystal Palace, 1974)

Football Americana Week 1: Salt Lake off to a flying start

Rejoice, fellow mortals, for the seventeenth season of Major League Soccer has arrived at last. Week 1 didn't miss a beat, providing goals and excitement in abundance as the campaign got off to an entertaining start. If you're MLS-curious this is going to be the season for you.

Colorado Rapids hit the ground running with a 2-0 home win over Columbus Crew. Drew Moor was found all on his own by a brilliant Kosuke Kimura cross and powered his header home just before the break, and Quincy Amarikwa put the result beyond doubt late on with a top-corner screamer from 25 yards.

Montreal Impact suffered a baptism of fire in their first ever MLS game. The 2012 expansion club lost 2-0 to 2011 expansion club Vancouver Whitecaps, and the damage began early. In the 4th minute Eric Hassli combined with debutant Sebastien Le Toux, who calmly ran on to score his first Caps goal. Camilo doubled the lead with an excellent solo goal, tricking his way through the Impact defence and finishing at the end of a wonderful incisive passing

Sporting Kansas City stole a late win at RFK Stadium. After a goalless 90 minutes against DC United, Kansas City turned one point into three in stoppage time. Hamdi Salihi missed United's best chance in the middle of the second half and was made to rue his profligacy when CJ Sapong headed past Bill Hamid in the third minute of stoppage time.

One goal was enough to see San Jose Earthquakes past New England Revolution, and almost inevitably it was scored by Chris Wondolowski. Shea Salinas intercepted a loose ball in the middle of the park and slotted Wondolowski through on goal, where he finished comfortably past Matt Reis after quarter of an hour.

2009 champions Real Salt Lake met 2011 winners LA Galaxy in California and picked up a surprising opening day win, defeating Bruce Arena's men 3-1. All four goals came in the last 20 minutes and it was LA who struck first, with returning striker Edson Buddle nodding past Nick Rimando from a trademark David Beckham cross. RSL took just a couple of minutes to equalise through Sean Franklin's sliced clearance past his own goalkeeper, and from there on in it was Salt Lake all the way.

They took the lead 11 minutes from time, with Javier Morales reacting fastest after Ned Grabavoy's low cross caused problems on the penalty spot. Number three was scored by Fabian Espindola, who raided down the left-hand channel and fired the ball low past Josh Saunders in the LA goal.

New York Red Bulls started their season with the usual expectations and a poor result, going down 2-1 at FC Dallas. Zach Loyd swept the ball past debutant goalkeeper Ryan Meara after the Red Bulls failed to clear their lines after a free kick. Just before half time, Thierry Henry took a free kick quickly (Aston Villa fans will remember that particular trick) and justice intervened as it hit the foot of the post. Ricardo Villar made it 2-0 on the hour mark with a delightful finish over the top of Meara. New York's 78th minute goal was a lovely lob against his old club by substitute Kenny Cooper.

Like DC, Chivas USA succumbed to a last-ditch winner at home against Houston Dynamo. The Dynamo were fortunate not to be behind after an ingenious effort from Juan Pablo Angel had struck the post, and they made Chivas pay (after hitting the post themselves through Brian Ching) in the 92nd minute. Andre Hainault had remained in the Chivas box after a set piece and took advantage when the ball dropped to him in the box.

There was a goalscoring Portland Timbers debut for Kris Boyd, who scored in a 3-1 victory over Philadelphia Union in Monday night's Oregon rain. Gabriel Gomez scored first for Philly, sending a long free kick into a perfect area and benefiting from a touch from Jean Baptiste. He quickly made amends with an equaliser, but he was also helped by a defensive error. Boyd's brilliant glanced header made it 2-1 to the Timbers after 66 minutes and Khalif Alhassan scored the third with a chipped cross-cum-shot that made its way inside the far post.

Weekend TV Preview: 16 - 18 March 2012

Friday 16 March

11.00 UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Draw, Champions League, Sky Sports News/British Eurosport
Sponsored by Jaffa, because the draw for the last eight is seedless. Both ends of the football spectrum are represented here, from Milan, Bayern and Barcelona to APOEL and Chelsea. Once the quarter finals are decided, they'll also pick out the semis too (once the attending dignatries have finished laughing at Man United's early elimination).
12.00 UEFA Europa League Quarter Final Draw, Europa League, Sky Sports News/British Eurosport
If you're not inspired by the sheer variety and freshness of the teams through to the last eight of the Europa League, you shouldn't be watching football. This competition continues to grow in stature and this draw (along with the one following for the semis) will whet the appetite for the latter stages nicely.
15.00 Dinamo Moscow v Zenit St Petersburg, Russian Premier Liga, ESPN/ESPN HD
Four games into the Championship Group and no-one's taken the competition by the throat yet. Zenit still lead the table and haven't lost a league game since September 10 2011.
19.00 Cork City v Shamrock Rovers, Airtricity League, Premier Sports
The season's two games old and Cork have already lost both theirs. Shamrock, however, have won both theirs. Early days, but our money's on Rovers.
19.30 Hoffenheim v Stuttgart, Bundesliga, ESPN/ESPN HD
Stuttgart are finally getting some decent form together at long last, and this could be a chance to extend it against a Hoffenheim side still reeling from the seven they conceded last week against Bayern.

Saturday 17 March

12.45 Everton v Sunderland, FA Cup Quarter Final, ITV1/ITV1 HD
I'm highly tempted to put a few quid on Sunderland to go all the way in this year's Cup. It's based on nothing more than a hunch, plus the way they disposed of Liverpool last weekend. Oh, and the fact that Martin O'Neill wears glasses. That must count for something.
12.45 Dundee United v Rangers, SPL, Sky Sports 1/HD1
United are on a tremendous run of form at the moment - 14 scored, one conceded in the last five league games and unbeaten in the last six. Every chance they'll inflict another stumble on Rangers here.
17.30 Tottenham Hotspur v Bolton Wanderers, FA Cup Quarter Final, ESPN/ESPN HD
Both teams will see this as a welcome opportunity to be distracted from their dire league form. Whether that same form will be carried over into this Cup tie remains to be seen.
19.00 Sevilla v Barcelona, La Liga, Sky Sports 4/HD4
Barcelona still 10 points off the pace, Sevilla stuck in mid-table. Should be a win for Barcelona though the last two meetings between these two have ended tied.
19.45 Fiorentina v Juventus, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
While the Old Lady may be unbeatable, she's also fallen out of the habit actually winning games - so much so that despite a zero in the losses column they trail Milan now by four points at the top of the table. Fiorentina are only seven points above the drop zone and will gladly take a point from this. Won't be an easy watch, this one.
21.00 Rayo Vallecano v Real Betis, La Liga, Sky Sports 4/HD4
The runners-up and champions of last season's Segunda Division meet in differing circumstances. Only four points separate the sides but while the fourth Madrid team in Spain's top flight are having a steady first season sandwiched between local rivals Atletico and Getafe in mid-table, the Seville side are hovering just above the relegation zone.

Sunday 18 March

12.00 Hearts v Hibernian, SPL, ESPN/ESPN HD
The Jam Tarts' 2-1 win over Rangers last weekend was their first in the league since mid-January. Hibs, meanwhile have only one win in seven. Edinburgh Derby or not, this might not be a classic - consider yourself warned.
13.30 Wolves v Man Utd, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Wolves managed to beat United 2-1 last season at Molineux but they're currently on a run of 204 consecutive minutes without scoring. Perfect preparation for a new era under Steve Bruce's management.
14.05 Chelsea v Leicester City, FA Cup Quarter Final, ESPN/ESPN HD
New hope for Chelsea fans given the gutsy (and if we were to be needlessly snide, lucky) win against Napoli midweek. Given that most of their key (and aging) players played two hours on Wednesday and with the massive home game against Machester City coming up in a few days, John Terry might be forgiven for making a few changes... did I say John Terry? I meant Roberto Di Matteo, obviously.
15.00 Celtic v Kilmarnock, Scottish League Cup Final, BBC1 Scotland
Earlier on this season Killie blew a 3-0 half time lead against Celtic who clawed it back to draw. Such is the task facing the side who have lost all five of their League Cup Finals. This match is a repeat of the 2001 final which Celtic won with a Larrson hat-trick. The match referee, William Collum, dished out nine yellows and a straight red in the Europa League game he officiated midweek between PSV and Valencia, let's hope he doesn't have so much work here.
16.00 Liverpool v Stoke City, FA Cup Quarter Final, ITV1/ITV1 HD
Liverpool's fourth home game in this year's competition and Stoke's fourth away. History stands against the Potters who haven't won at Anfield for over fifty years. I think this will provide some entertainment, and not just the schadenfreude variety.
16.00 Newcastle United v Norwich City, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Newcastle can still have a say in matters in the League but sixth place is looking increasingly likely along with the possibility that their hard work won't be rewarded with Europa League football next campaign. While both sides are definitely worth watching, I can't imagine it will put too much of a dent into the Cup's viewing figures.
16.30 Hannover 96 v Cologne, Bundesliga, ESPN/ESPN HD
Two teams that have found league wins hard to come by of late. On the off-chance Cologne stumble on another one here, they could rise several places in the table, depending on other results.
19.45 Udinese v Napoli, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
Napoli need to shake off their defeat at Stamford Bridge and remember that they are on a run of six straight wins in Serie A. Udinese's form is all over the place, having been imperious at home all season, they've failed to win their last three there, and haven't scored there in over four hours of play.
20.30 Real Madrid v Malaga, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Malaga's win over Levante last week saw them leap-frog the side from Valencia into the Champions League places. They could swap back again here with Levante taking on struggling Villareal in the midday kick off.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The 10 matches that will decide the Premier League

Following tonight's Merseyside derby, there are just 100 fixtures remaining to complete the calendar for 2011/2012 Premier League season. We've sifted through them to select the ten most decisive matches remaining.
1. Manchester City v Chelsea
In a season that's provided more than its fair share of bizarre results and ill-advised, gung-ho performances, this one could be the daddy of them all. For Chelsea, missing out on Champions League football will hit them much harder than missing out on the title will hit City. I'm going to say about eight or nine goals in this one.
(19.45 Wednesday 21 March, LIVE: Sky Sports 1/HD1)
2. Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur
Beyond this fixture the remainder of Tottenham's run-in is relatively straightforward, defeat here though could narrow the gap between themselves, Arsenal and Chelsea and make the final weeks far more worrying.
(12.45 Saturday 24 March, LIVE: Sky Sports 2/HD2)
3. Bolton Wanderers v Blackburn Rovers
Both sides look the most likely out of the bottom five to escape relegation; that may change of course after this fixture.
(15.00 Saturday 24 March)
4. Wolverhampton Wanderers v Bolton Wanderers
A must win for Wolves, an away win could well see Bolton pull clear from danger.
(15.00 Saturday 31 March)
5. Arsenal v Manchester City
City's last real test before facing United for the title. Arsenal may take a more pragmatic approach to this fixture - choosing a point to help secure fourth spot rather than gambling for the win in a bid to finish higher than Spurs.
(16.00 Sunday 8 April, LIVE: Sky Sports 1/HD1)
6. Chelsea v Newcastle United
The further into the future you look, the less sure you can be of the significance of fixtures. As it stands though, this could be Newcastle's last chance to grab a deserved Europa League spot without having to hope that a non-qualifer doesn't make it to the FA Cup final.
(15.00 Saturday 14 April - will be re-scheduled if Chelsea get to the FA Cup semi-finals)
7. Arsenal v Chelsea
A straight play-off for the fourth Champions League spot. Chelsea's run-up to this fixture is much tougher, though in the desperate scramble for European places, both teams could be all played out by the time this comes around.
(12.45 Saturday 21 April, LIVE: Sky Sports 2/HD2)
8. Manchester City v Manchester United
If United gain a four point lead going into this game, the title is theirs if they can get a victory here. Whoever has the advantage at the end of this game should go on to take the crown.
(20.00 Monday 30 April, LIVE: Sky Sports 1/HD1)
9. Blackburn Rovers v Wigan Athletic
At the time of writing it looks like Wolves and QPR will go down along with Wigan. An away win here could drag Blackburn back into the mire, and for Wigan lead nicely to their final fixture.
(14.00 Sunday 6 May)
10. Wigan Athletic v Wolverhampton Wanderers
Twice in the last six seasons, Wigan have left it to the final day to escape relegation. This fixture could provide them with yet another Houdini act.
(15.00 Sunday 13 May)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Bundesliga 2 round up - Week 25: Ghostbusters and Occeanman

Few will argue with the inherent coolness of the name of  Olivier Occean, currently playing for Bundesliga 2 leaders, Greuther Furth. The Canadian striker (right) may sound like a night club singer but he has proved himself to a reliable goalscorer in Norway and the German Lower leagues. He has scored twelve goals this season including the solitary strike in the game against Aachen last Friday.

That win for Furth was essential as the chasing pack is still snapping at the Franconian club’s heels. Eintracht Frankurt are in second place after a 5-1 win at Rostock. Fortuna Dusseldorf moved up to third with a 3-1 victory against Aue. Paderborn lost ground as they could only manage a 0-0 draw against Bochum but 1860 Munich chances of a late dash for promotion took another dent because they lost 3-1 to FSV Frankfurt.

On Monday, St Pauli had a chance to overhaul Paderborn and move into fourth place if they beat Karlsruhe at the Millerntor. Indeed, they did just that with a cracking long range lob from Moritz Volz.

And so the top five are separated by three points.

Elsewhere, there was only one fixture which could be regarded as meaningless and that was a 1-1 draw between the comfortably mid table Energie Cottbus and Eintracht Braunschweig.

At the bottom we’re getting close to the point where we can wave goodbye to Rostock. Karlsruhe are second from bottom but still in touch with the clutch of relegation candidates starting with Aachen, then Duisberg who drew 1-1 with Union Berlin, Ingolstadt who also drew with Dresden and Aue who have a game in hand against 1860 Munich on Wednesday 14th  March.

Returning to that Dresden game against Ingolstadt, this game was played behind closed doors despite being a sell out. The supporters were locked out as punishment for crowd trouble in a German Cup game against Borussia Dortmund, last year. However, the club put “ghost tickets” for the match up for sale in the hope that the fans would make solidarity payments to compensate for the loss of income. All 32,066 tickets were sold and the fans assembled outside the ground to watch the game on the big screens. It was a bit of a shame then that the team couldn’t manage a goal for their supporters.

That's it. Results and tables here

Midweek TV Preview: 12 - 15 March 2012

Monday 12 March

15.00 Anzhi v Spartak Moscow, Russian Premier Liga, ESPN/ESPN HD
Anzhi, Anzhi, when will those clouds all disappear? Well a win here might help, and put pressure on Spartak for that second Champions League spot.
20.00 Arsenal v Newcastle United, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1/3D
You get a feeling that Arsenal fans are perhaps waiting for the result here before they open up both barrels of the "mind the gap" meme that Tottenham fans were revelling in a few weeks ago. Fourth spot is not impossible for Newcastle, especially with a match against Chelsea to come.

Tuesday 13 March

19.45 Bayern Munich v FC Basel, UEFA Champions League Round of 16 2nd Leg (0-1), Sky Sports 2/HD2
Much like English clubs, German teams have taken a bit a bloody nose in the latest round of European fixtures. Bayern should certainly have enough to turn over Basel's slim advantage, after a weekend performance that saw them put 7 (SIEBEN) past Hoffenheim.
19.45 Inter Milan v Marseille, UEFA Champions League Round of 16 2nd Leg (0-1), Sky Sports 4/HD4
Since their win against Inter in the first leg, Didier Deschamps' side has gone on an awful run of four straight defeats in Ligue 1, failing to score to a single goal in that time.
20.00 Liverpool v Everton, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1/3D
Cup success may have proved a distraction but three defeats in a row for Liverpool has brought a chasing pack, including Everton, perilously close to them in the table. Victory for Moyes' team will see them leapfrog Liverpool into seventh place. Teams like Sunderland, Swansea and Fulham may do the same in coming weeks if Dalglish can't halt the slide.

Wednesday 14 March

19.45 Chelsea v Napoli, UEFA Champions League Round of 16 2nd Leg (1-3), ITV1/ITV1 HD
Chelsea, while seemingly in disarray are still fighting on three fronts - critical fixtures for which they play over the next eight days. Firstly they have to overcome a first leg deficit against a Napoli side that scored six goals from six different scorers on Friday night. Up next for Chelsea is Leicester in the quarter finals of the Cup followed by a trip to the Etihad next week.
19.45 Real Madrid v CSKA Moscow, UEFA Champions League Round of 16 2nd Leg (1-1), Sky Sports 2/HD2
In their last 19 home games the only team to restrict Real to less than three goals is Barcelona (twice). Should be pretty straightforward for Mourinho's men.
01.00 (Thurs) Corinthinas v Cruz Azul, Copa Libertadores Group 6, Premier Sports
Cruz Azul have won both their games in the group so far but will find the Brazilian team a much tougher prospect, especially away from their 2200m above sea-level home in the suburbs of Mexico City. Chile's Waldo Ponce plays for them.

Thursday 15 March

18.00 Athletic Bilbao v Man Utd, UEFA Europa League Round of 16 2nd Leg (3-2), Channel 5/Channel 5 HD
United will need to a two goal margin to progress through to the next stage, and that won't be easy considering that the likes of PSG and Barcelona have failed to win here this season. It will be interesting to see how Ferguson approaches this with an away trip to Wolves on Sunday where they'll need to take all three points to maintain top spot.
18.00 Udinese v AZ Alkmaar, UEFA Europa League Round of 16 2nd Leg (0-2), ESPN/ESPN HD
Udinese's first leg defeat was no shock given the form they've been in for the past couple of months. They've lost fourth spot in Serie A and there's only one direction they're going. AZ are three points clear in the Eredivisie and should progress here into the quarter finals.
18.00 PSV Eindhoven v Valencia, UEFA Europa League Round of 16 2nd Leg (2-4), ITV4/ITV4 HD
While PSV got two valuable away goals, giving them some hope in the tie, they've shipped 13 goals in the last three games including six against a Twente side that played half the match with ten men.
20.05 Man City v Sporting Lisbon, UEFA Europa League Round of 16 2nd Leg (0-1), ESPN/ESPN HD
City have the luxury that they don't have to play for another six days after this fixture so they can go full out for the win. Which they'll no doubt get.
20.05 Schalke 04 v FC Twente, UEFA Europa League Round of 16 2nd Leg (0-1), ITV4/ITV4 HD
Steve McClaren returns to Germany knowing that he needs only a draw to get to the quarter finals, though his side lost the lead in the Eredivisie after a shock 3-1 defeat to NEC at the weekend. Schalke got a victory by the same scoreline against Hamburg ending a run of three straight defeats.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday List of Little or No Consequence #231

Parish the thought...
The 10 Regional Mini-League Winners From The 1939-40 Football League Season (Abandoned Due To The Outbreak Of World War II)

1. Arsenal (South League 'A')
2. Bury (North-West League)
3. Chesterfield (East Midland League)
4. Crystal Palace (South League 'D')
5. Huddersfield Town (North-East League)
6. Plymouth Argyle (South-West League)
7. Queens Park Rangers (South League 'B')
8. Stoke City (West League)
9. Tottenham Hotspur (South League 'C')
10. Wolverhampton Wanderers (Midland League)

Manchester United v Athletic: Bilbao light up Old Trafford for all sorts of reasons

In fairness, last night’s match between Manchester United wasn’t so much a Europa League fixture as a future Champions League fixture. Manchester United are a staple part of that competition while Bilbao are in contention for a place in the final four of the Spanish League. It is conceivable that with a fair wind and a favourable draw, this could be on our screens again next season, only not on Thursday nights on Channel 5.

It is perhaps understandable to get a little too caught up in the Athletic performance. It was rare to see a team striding the Old Trafford turf so confidently. Players like Martinez, Llorente and the magnificent Muniain are names that are familiar only to followers of continental football and that lack of familiarity may have contributed to the “wow factor” that home makeover TV show presenters like to talk about.

The Athletic supporters were also a credit to their club and added to the big match atmosphere. It would have been impossible for the Basque players not to be inspired by such support.

There is also a certain aura surrounding the Athletic coach, Marcelo Bielsa. The former Chile and Argentina coach is something of a poster boy for a number of thought leaders on football blogs and the Twittersphere. His fundamentalist approach to the game makes him one of the few constants in football and provides a metaphorical, intellectual and ideological mast onto which people can pin their equally metaphorical colours.

The facts are that despite their performances, Athletic lacked the discipline to close out what should have been a tie winning position and although United were at times made to look silly, Oscar De Marcos’ goal was offside and Muniain’s third should have been dealt with very easily by the full back, Rafael. Nevertheless, for a free-to-air UK TV audience used to the more physical virtues of the English game, it was a breath of fresh air and a glimpse of another football reality.

Another underlying theme, detectable on my Twitter timeline at least, was the Premier League v La Liga narrative. This also includes followers of the Spanish game hitting back at critics of that League who think that the domination of Barcelona and Real Madrid diminishes the quality of the other teams. The 'our league is better than your league' narrative is a false construction of commercial broadcasters with a commercial interest in selling TV rights for individual football leagues. The expressions “Best league in the world” and “Great advert for the league” are marketing slogans and as such provide a false or skewed perspective and understanding.

Better to look at a football match as just that. And in the case of Manchester United we saw two good teams playing attacking football in the best traditions of their respective football cultures. Everything else is just hype.

The Football Fairground is proud to be part of the Europa Legion, a network of Europa League bloggers. Follow the Europa Legion on Twitter.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Weekend TV Preview 9 - 11 March 2012

Friday 9 March

19.30 Kidderminster Harriers v Luton Town, Blue Square Premier League, Premier Sports
The Harriers are four points away from a play off zone that is occupied only by former Football League clubs, one of which is Luton. The Hatters have no chance of winning the title so must experience the purgatory of staying where they are and keeping sharp until the post-season.
19.45 Napoli v Cagliari, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
Cagliari's two-game losing streak may well be extended against a Napoli side who have won their last four Serie A matches. Presumably the Naples club have had their game moved to Friday evening to give them more preparation for the Chelsea game. They will need to win if they want to stay in with a chance of a return to the Champions League next season.

Saturday 10 March

12.30 Hearts v St Mirren, Scottish Cup Quarter Final, BBC1 Scotland
Not difficult to figure out which of the two Scottish Cup broadcasters gets first pick. This is not an ideal start to a weekend of Cup action in what is turning into an intriguing Scottish season. Hearts victory at Rangers last week, doesn't have the same meaning at present and prior to that the Edinburgh club had lost four from their last five. St Mirren are, if anything, even more dull. Keep your powder dry for some tastier Scottish Cup fixtures later in the weekend.
12.45 Bolton Wanderers v QPR, Premier League, Sky Sports 2/HD2
One goal in five versus the west London freak show. Avoid.
17.20 Bristol City v Cardiff City, Championship, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Cardiff's season is in danger of ending in April unless they get over their post-League Cup funk. Bristol City are pretty awful but did manage a rare win against Leicester City last week.
17.30 Everton v Tottenham Hotspur, Premier League, ESPN/ESPN HD
Everton are one of the few teams in the Premier League I enjoy watching. Good footballers who are well coached and not a hint of financial doping. Tottenham need to regain some confidence after two wins that have damaged their championship chances and their manager's credibility.
19.00 Sporting Gijon v Sevilla, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
It's tenth versus nineteenth is the La Liga clash. Try to contain your excitement.
19.45 Palermo v Roma, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
Having recovered from an unpleasant start to the season, Roma have had three players sent off in the last two matches and lost them both. The latter was to the hated Lazio. Ouch! Palermo are not in very good shape themselves and have conceded ten goals in the last three away games.
21.00 Real Betis v Real Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
I won't be watching this as I will be standing outside East Croydon Station in case Jose Mourinho phones this game in so he can go house hunting in the cheery London suburb. It's the last thing anyone will expect.

Sunday 11 March

11.30 Novara v Udinese, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
Udinese are contributing to the slightly unfamiliar look to the top five places in the Serie A table and should find few worries at the bottom club Novara.
12.15 Middlesbrough v Leeds United, Championship, BBC 1/BBC HD
Nelly Warnock has unpack his trunk at Cuddly Ken's fun-house just as the Chairman/owner/whatever is attempting a purge of those supporters who have the nerve to criticise him. But the Leeds United Supporters Trust are made of strong stuff and there is talk of boycotting matches. Middlesbrough look to be bedding down a play-off spot and have won four from their last five games.
13.15 Dundee United v Celtic, Scottish Cup Quarter Final, Sky Sports 1/HD1
United manager, Peter Houston has put together an impressive young side by all accounts and the Arabs are said to be good value for their fourth place in the SPL. A pity, then, that they should encounter a Celtic side, in the Cup, that is easily the best team in the League. Neil Lennon's players failed to win a League match for the first time since November last week against Aberdeen, so there is a little hope for a Cup upset but the odds will be long.
14.00 Genoa v Juventus, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
Juve don't lose much but only have one win from their last six games. Consequently they have lost top spot to Milan. Genoa are looking for their first win since their narrow victory against Lazio one month ago.
15.45 Motherwell v Aberdeen, Scottish Cup Quarter Final, Sky Sports TBC
Stiflers of Celtic, last week, Aberdeen travel to Motherwell who are chasing down the vulnerable Rangers in the League. While Rangers' demise is no cause for celebration it does give the other teams near the top the chance to grab the spotlight.
16.00 Norwich City v Wigan Athletic, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
The Canaries should be more than happy with a mid-table moniker but need to arrest their slide after losing two games in a row. Despite their awfulness, Wigan are only two point away from safety.
16.15 FC Schalke V Hamburg, Bundesliga, ESPN/ESPN HD
Two successive defeats have pretty much derailed Schalke's title hopes. They will tell you that this season is all about qualifying for the Champions League and they would be right. Hamburg have steadily improved under coach Torsten Fink who replaced Michael Oenning after a disastrous start to the season. However, they have have some serious defensive issues in the last few games and last their last home game 5-0 to Stuttgart.
19.45 Lazio v Bologna, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
Champions League football is the target for Lazio and they took a big stride towards that after beating hated rivals, Roma. Thirty-three year old Miroslav Klose is your main man for the home side. The German international is averaging a goal a game.
20.30 Osasuna v Athletic Club, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
A tough encounter for Bilbao given that they had to go to Old Trafford last Thursday. Osasuna are two points off a Europa League spot and may hinder the visitors realistic ambitions for Champions League football next season.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Bundesliga 2 round up: St Pauli Funk it up

Five could have become six in the promotion chase for the German second division when sixth placed 1860 Munich met fifth placed St Pauli on Monday evening in Bavaria. An 1860 win would have taken them to within two points of the top five. It wasn't to be however, as they had to preserve their unbeaten run with a 1-1 draw at the Allianz Arena.

Despite the home side carving out a number of chances, St Pauli took the lead with a penalty by Florian Bruns which was oh so very nearly saved by 1860 goalkeeper and former Crystal Palace legend, Gabor Kiraly. The Munich club enjoyed much of the possession but ran out of steam just as they were getting to the important bit in front of goal. That was until some calamitous defending by Patrick Funk allowed Kevin Volland to grab the equaliser with minutes to spare.

After groaning like a stuck pig for five games, the goal laxatives have kicked in good and proper at Fortuna Dusseldorf. The club had slipped out of the promotion spots in recent weeks after dominating the first half of the season. At last, they notched up their first win since the Winter break with an emphatic 5-0 demolition of Karlsruhe. While the win does not see Fortuna shooting up the table it still keeps them firmly in the hunt for promotion spots and must come as a blessed relief to all concerned.

Karlsruhe had conceded more goals at home than any other club before the game and that dubious distinction is going to be difficult to match. They remain in the bottom two and can look forward to St Pauli, next weekend.

Gruether Furth remain at the top of the table for another week after winning at Duisberg, last Friday. Olivier Occean and Robert Zillner heaped the pressure on MSV coach Oliver Reck who received a vote of confidence from the board after the defeat. In fairness, the bottom of the table is as tight as it is at the top (with one exception) and a couple of wins from any team could see them rise up the division.

Still in the promotion hunt are Paderborn who continue to impress with a 3-0 win at Aachen. Eintracht Frankfurt overcame a dogged Energie Cottbus display with a 1- 0 win thanks to a goal from Erwin Hoffer.

Elsewhere, Ingolstadt are moving away from the drop-zone with a ding-dong 3-3 draw against Union Berlin who themselves only have one win in five. Speaking of ding-dongs, Aue’s new coach, Karsten Baumann, registered his first win in his first home match. Ronny König was on the mark, twice in a 4-3 win against FSV Frankfurt in which the away side took the lead.

Finally, things are looking grim for bottom club, Hansa Rostock: They lost 3-2  to Eintracht Braunschweig and there are reports that their coach Wolfgang Wolf was pelted with missiles after the game. A gap is beginning to appear between Rostock and the rest and they look set to return to the third division unless that can improve on their record of two wins in the season so far.

That’s it. Results and tables here.

Midweek TV Preview: 5 - 8 March 2012

Monday 5 March

15.30 Dinamo Moscow v Anzhi Makhachkala, Russian Premier League, ESPN/ESPN HD
Now a household name across the football world, wealthy Anzhi bolstered their defence with the mighty Chris Samba at the end of the Russian transfer window. He followed Dutch coach Guus Hiddink into Makhachkala, another indication of their financial power - though it hasn't yet translated into honours.

19.45 Dundee United v Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Scottish Premier League, ESPN/ESPN HD
A win for Caley Thistle at Dundee United on Monday would tighten things up somewhat in the middle of the SPL, bringing them within seven points of their hosts in a compressed mid-table. But a win for United would give them a seven-point lead over draw-happy Aberdeen, with the teams either side of the dotted line.

19.45 Southend United v Crawley Town, League Two, Sky Sports 1/1HD
Crawley, shorn of some serious firepower in recent months, look to consolidate their playoff position with a trip to Roots Hall on Monday. Their hosts occupy the third and final automatic promotion spot but have endured patchy form of late.

Tuesday 6 March

19.45 Birmingham City v Chelsea, FA Cup Fifth Round Replay, ITV1/ITV1 HD
After a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge, Birmingham and Chelsea battle it out in the second city for the right to play against Leicester City in the FA Cup quarter final, a game that offers a realistic route to Wembley for either team in spite of being a potentially tricky one. Chelsea will need to start faster this time around - they were a goal down inside 20 minutes in the first game.

19.45 Arsenal v AC Milan, Champions League Last 16 Second Leg, Sky Sports 2/HD2/3D
File this one under "Miracle Needed". Arsenal are 4-0 down after a Zlatan Ibrahimovic inspired mauling at San Siro two weeks ago. Robinho scored twice in the first leg after Kevin-Prince Boateng's brilliant opening strike. If Arsenal manage to turn this around I will drink a pint of Bovril.

19.45 Benfica v Zenit St Petersburg, Champions League Last 16 Second Leg, Sky Sports 4/HD4
This second leg in Lisbon is beautifully poised after Zenit had the last laugh in an undulating first leg, Roman Shirokov scoring the winner in a 3-2 victory. If you only watch one Champions League game this week, this could be the most exciting of the lot. Could be.

Wednesday 7 March

19.30 Wrexham v Luton Town, Blue Square Bet Premier, Premier Sports
Two of the Conference giants meet on Wednesday with plenty at stake. If Luton win, they may as well take a detour to deliver the title to Fleetwood Town on their way home. A win for the Welsh side leaves them in striking distance of the leaders; in a division with only one automatic promotion place, this is a big one.

19.30 Tottenham Hotspur v Stevenage, FA Cup Fifth Round Replay, ESPN/ESPN HD
Gary Smith's new charges continued their proud FA Cup tradition by drawing 0-0 with the country's form team - and they put out a relatively strong side - in the Fifth Round, but face a huge task when they travel to White Hart Lane for the replay. The winners will host Bolton Wanderers in the last eight.

19.45 Apoel Nicosia v Lyon, Champions League Last 16 Second Leg, Sky Sports 2/HD2/3D
Like the game in Lisbon, this game sees a visiting side arrive with the slenderest of leads. Lyon won their home leg 1-0 and the Cypriot champions will be confident of restoring parity. Another tie still in the balance, and another one to watch.

19.45 Barcelona v Bayer Leverkusen, Champions League Last 16 Second Leg, ITV1/ITV1 HD
3-1 is a first leg result that can be turned around - I've even seen Aston Villa do it. But when the second leg is away from home, and the opponents are Barcelona, the task becomes incredibly daunting. In truth, Barca won this tie in Germany and Leverkusen only have marginally more hope of progression than the stricken Gunners.

01.00 (Thu) Boca Juniors v Fluminense, Copa Libertadores, Premier Sports
It's Argentina v Brazil as these two teams battle it out for top spot in Group 4. Fluminense won their opening game, defeating Arsenal 1-0, but Boca didn't get off to the best of starts. They had to settle for a draw against Venezuelan side Zamora.

Thursday 8 March

20.05 Manchester United v Athletic Bilbao, Europa League Round of 16 First Leg, Channel 5
Javier Hernandez turned out to be the key man for Manchester United as they embarked upon their second choice European journey over two legs against Ajax. His goals gave United a 2-0 and then 3-0 aggregate lead before the Dutch side fought back to 3-2 to create the proverbial nervy ending for Alex Ferguson's men.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Weekend TV Preview: 2 - 4 March 2012

Friday 2 March

19.00 Drogheda v Shamrock Rovers, Airtricity League. Premier Sports
A new season begins in Irleand and Shamrock begin the defence of their 2011 title with a trip to the team that finished 9th out of 10 last time around. Drogheda haven't beaten Rovers in their last 17 attempts so don't get your hopes up too high for an upset.
19.45 Blackpool v Hull City. Championship, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Nick Barmby's Hull have gone 584 minutes without letting in a goal and another clean sheet here would make it seven-in-a-row, thereby breaking the club's 104-year record. Further proof of the excellent work being done by the former England midfielder.

Saturday 3 March

12.00 Aberdeen v Celtic, SPL, ESPN/ESPN HD
The Dons remain unbeaten in 2012. A terrific run under all-round-nice-guy Craig Brown, but they're up against a Celtic team for whom losses mean absolutely nothing (unlike their bitterest rivals).
12.45 Liverpool v Arsenal, Premier League, Sky Sports 2/HD2/3D
Arsenal are finally stringing together a few league victories to widen the gap between themselves and Liverpool, but they've got numerous players sidelined for the trip to Anfield including Diaby, Mertesacker and Wilshere. A decent starter before the main course against Milan on Tuesday.
15.45 Bangor City v Neath, Welsh Premier League, S4C
Both teams have won all their first three matches in the Welsh Clausura. Bangor are top, seven points ahead of Neath.
17.00 Palermo v Milan, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
Milan haven't won at Palermo since the 2005-06 season and with their hosts winning 10 out of 12 at home so far this campaign, it'd be a brave fan that decided to bet on that run ending here.
17.20 Leeds United v Southampton, Championship, Sky Sports 2/HD2
The Saints are back on top of the table, albeit having played a game more than West Ham in second. Ordinarily this would be a virtually automatic three points for the visitors, but under Neil Warnock, a magical revival is never very far away.
19.00 Barcelona v Sporting Gijon, La Liga. Sky Sports 4/HD4
Second-from-top plays second-from-bottom. As easy a three points as Barca are ever likely to get.
19.45 Juventus v Chievo, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
An ideal opportunity for The Old Lady to go back on top - if they can get one over the Flying Donkeys. Milan could struggle against Palermo and a chance will surely go begging here.
21.00 Sevilla v Atletico Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports 4/HD4
Both teams are locked on 32 points in mid-table and played out a 0-0 draw in October. A similar outcome shouldn't be disregarded.

Sunday 4 March

12.00 Newcastle United v Sunderland, Premier League, ESPN/ESPN HD
Martin O'Neill's first Tyne Tees Derby and a chance to lead Sunderland into a rare victory over their rivals. Just the two wins against Newcastle since the turn of the Millennium, so a third is likely to get O'Neill an instant place in the Mackems Hall of Fame.
12.45 Cardiff City v West Ham, Championship, BBC 1/BBC HD
Last weekend, The Hammers made the fatal mistake of finishing their match against Crystal Palace with 11 men, hence their disappointing 0-0 draw. Meanwhile, Malky Mackay assures us that his Cardiff team aren't shagged out after their gruelling Carling Cup Final defeat to Liverpool, but time will tell. Cardiff won 1-0 at Upton Park earlier in the season, fact fans.
14.00 Roma v Lazio, Serie A, ESPN Classic
The Rome Derby and one in which Roma find themselves in the middle of a real rollercoaster of a campaign. One minute up, the next minute down, lots of people screaming while others try not to vomit. We may not have completely thought through that analogy, but stay with us...
14.05 Fulham v Wolves, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
While Mick McCarthy waits to hear that special ringtone set up for when The FA call, Wolves continue to go about the job of getting out of the bottom five. A seven-point gap has emerged between them and Aston Villa, but this is the sort of fixture that could shrink that margin with a little application from the men in old gold.
14.30 Nürnberg v Borussia Monchengladbach, Bundesliga, ESPN/ESPN HD
Shame for Nürnberg. Their unbeaten run of three may come to an end against a Borussia side still reluctant to give up the title chase behind Bayern and BVB.
16.10 Tottenham Hotpants v Man Utd, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD
England prospect Scott Parker is absent through suspension for this one. Wayne Rooney, meanwhile, returns to domestic action following the throat infection that nearly ended his international career midweek.
19.45 Inter Milan v Catania, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
Just one draw from the last eight games for Inter. Making matters worse, Catania could overtake them in the table if they win at the San Siro.
20.30 Real Madrid v Espanyol, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Seriously, would it really matter if we just wrapped up La Liga now? Please? Mr Platini? Hello...?

Friday List of Little or No Consequence #230

Breaking all the rules

11 Players Whose Actions Brought About Changes In The Laws And Administration Of The Game
1. Wilson (The Wednesday)
So proficient at one-handed throws that the two-handed throw was introduced (1888)

2. Bob Whittingham, Marshall McEwan, English McConnell (Chelsea)
Bought by Chelsea in the final few weeks of the 1909/10 season in a desperate attempt to stay in Division 1; it failed and a March 16 transfer deadline was imposed from then on (1910)

3. Leigh Roose (Arsenal)
A goalkeeper and early football celebrity, notorious for his forward runs, prompting a change to restrict keepers to handling only in their area (1912)

4. Dickie Downs (Barnsley)
Players now require the referee's permission to return to the field after he ran back on the pitch and stopped a goal in the Cup Final (1912)

5. Sam Chedgzoy (Everton)
Almost scored a goal by dribbling the ball from a corner, prompting the law change that corner kickers may only touch the ball once before another player does (1924)

6. Bill McCracken (Newcastle United)
Whose offside trap was so proficient, it led to a change in the offside law so that only two defending players needed to be behind the ball rather than three (1925)

7. Tom Farquharson (Cardiff City)
Became famous for his ability to save penalties by charging at the penalty taker from the back of his net. Goalkeepers must now stay on their line during a penalty (1929)

8. George Eastham (Newcastle United)
Frustrated by Newcastle's reluctance to release him to join another club, Eastham went on strike and subsequently took his case to court. The judge ruled in his favour, ending the clubs' right to retain players' registrations at the end of a contract (1963)

9. Willie Young (Arsenal)
His cynical tackle on Paul Allen, when the West Ham youngster only had the goalkeeper to beat in the 1980 FA Cup Final, brought about the 'professional foul' rule (1982)

10. Jean Marc Bosman (RFC Liege)
His legal action allowed players the freedom to join other clubs for free at the end of their contracts. Also ended restrictions on the number of foreign players in a team (1995)

11. Pele (Santos)
His 'paradinha' penalty technique, named after the short pauses made by samba bands, ultimately led to a law being brought in before the last World Cup to stop the growing number of players doing their own version (2010).