Monday, April 30, 2012

Midweek TV Preview: 30 April - 3 May 2012

Monday 30 April

20.00 Manchester City v Manchester United, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1/3D
The goals flew in like nobody's business over the weekend, and what a game to kick off a new week. The top two in the Premier League meet with everything on the line: revenge, Tevez-related bitterness, local pride and quite probably the title. Man alive!

Tuesday 1 May

17.00 Chievo v Roma, Serie A, ESPN
May Day brings with it a couple of Serie A fixtures live on ESPN, with some of the same teams in action as those that played on Saturday in the weekend's card. Those two matches were draws, with Chievo goalless against Novara and Roma thankful for a last-ditch Fabio Simplicio strike in their 2-2 draw against rivals Napoli.

19.00 Sporting Gijon v Villarreal, La Liga, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Villarreal haven't won in the league at Sporting since September 2008, when Giuseppe Rossi scored the vital goal. The Italian-American striker is expected to be out until 2013 thanks to another knee injury so they'll have to find inspiration elsewhere on Tuesday evening.

19.45 Hearts v Motherwell, Scottish Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Henrik Ojamaa's late brace put the spit-shine on Motherwell's 5-1 victory over St Johnstone on Saturday, while Hearts had to equalise twice in order to take a point from their trip to Dundee United. A win in Edinburgh would be a huge step towards the Champions League for Stuart McCall's men.

19.45 Napoli v Palermo, Serie A, ESPN
Juan Camilo Zuniga and the lethal Edinson Cavani scored Napoli's goals at the Olimpico before Simplicio snatched a point for Roma. On Tuesday they face Palermo, who they beat comfortably back in January with Cavani again on the scoresheet.

Wednesday 2 May

19.00 Barcelona v Malaga, La Liga, Sky Sports 2/HD2
With the Champions League trophy heading away from Camp Nou and the La Liga title on its way to Madrid, the end of an era is nigh at Barcelona. Pep Guardiola will leave the club at the end of the season to have a break from football and, presumably, return to embrace a new challenge in football. But nobody will have a bigger challenge than Tito Vilanova, the man who may well need to oversee Barca's return to Planet Earth.

19.45 York City v Mansfield Town, Blue Square Bet Premier Playoffs, Premier Sports
The Stags finished the Conference season in phenomenal form. The won their last six games and haven't lost at home since Bonfire Night, a record that has helped them to finish third in England's fifth tier. York, meanwhile, haven't lost in five. This should be a cracking semi-final first leg.

19.45 Rangers v Dundee United, Scottish Premier League, Sky Sports 3/HD3
With Motherwell potentially disappearing over the horizon this week, Dundee United head to Ibrox with the primary aim of keeping St Johnstone at bay in the fight for a Europa League spot. Last time these two met it was United who emerged victorious, winning 2-1 thanks to goals from Keith Watson and Jon Daly.

19.45 Juventus v Lecce, Serie A, ESPN
The Bianconeri are homing in on their 28th domestic Italian title and their first Scudetto since 2003, because of you-know-what. They first became national champions in Italy in 1905, benefiting from FCB Torinese's forfeit of the Piedmont qualifier before going unbeaten in the final round-robin against Genoa and US Milanese, now

20.00 Bolton Wanderers v Tottenham Hotspur, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
By the end of the season, Spurs will have had an enormous say in the outcome of the relegation battle. After playing Blackburn Rovers on Sunday, they take on Bolton on Wednesday and Aston Villa on May 6th. Bolton are fighting, which doesn't bode well for either Spurs or QPR, the team most likely to be relegated if Bolton keep up their form.

21.00 Athletic Bilbao v Real Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Karim Benzema's really found his feet in a glorious season for Real Madrid, and he bagged goals 19 and 20 in Sunday's 11am kick-off against Sevilla. He's still scored fewer than Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain, and between the three of them the total is 84. Potent.

Thursday 3 May

19.45 Luton Town v Wrexham, Blue Square Bet Premier Playoffs, Premier Sports
Wrexham's season is a triumph over adversity, and for them to finish second behind loaded Fleetwood Town on 98 points - nine clear of Mansfield - is a remarkable achievement. Their playoff semi-final is against Luton, who haven't lost in six but lost both games against the Dragons in the league this season.

19.45 Cardiff City v West Ham United, Championship Playoffs, Sky Sports 1/HD1
The flip-side of the celebratory scenes at Southampton on Saturday was misery at West Ham, where a 2-1 win over Hull City wasn't enough to prevent Saints joining Reading in the Premier League. The Hammers need to recover quickly; Cardiff haven't lost in ten.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Football Americana Week 8: Toronto FC's troubles continue

Life in Major League Soccer hasn't been easy for MLSE, the owners of Toronto FC. The league's first Canadian side is yet to make the playoffs, and this season they are propping up the Eastern Conference under Aron Winter.

The spoils were shared in Texas in midweek, where FC Dallas led 1-0 against Real Salt Lake but were unable to hang on to the three points. FCD broke the deadlock in first half stoppage time after Tony Beltran handled - accidentally, mind you - in the box and Brek Shea clipped the penalty into the bottom corner. Rookie Emiliano Bonfigli scored Salt Lake's equaliser, beating Chris Seitz on a one-on-one.

Salt Lake returned to action against Toronto FC, who were just moments away from their first point of the season before succumbing to a 3-2 defeat. Kyle Beckerman prodded RSL into the lead in the seventh minute, and just after the break it was 1-1 thanks to Eric Avila's crisp finish from the edge of the box. Richard Eckersley's own goal quickly put Salt Lake back in front only for TFC to equalise once again. Doneil Henry drew Toronto level with a towering head 13 minutes from time but they were condemned to a seventh defeat in seven MLS games by a superb strike from the edge of the box by Jonny Steele in the 93rd minute.

Dallas came painfully close to a win in their second game, but LA Galaxy equalised late in a 1-1 draw at the Home Depot Center. Shea again scored FCD's goal from the spot, finishing effortlessly after Blas Perez had been brought down by goalkeeper Bill Gaudette. But it wasn't the first penalty of the game. Landon Donovan had been already been felled in the box after a wonderful pass by David Beckham, but Robbie Keane's spot kick was absolutely woeful. Pat Noonan was the late hero for LA, equalising with a calm, sweeping shot in stoppage time.

The penalty spot also saw some action as Montreal Impact picked up their second win by beating Portland Timbers 2-0 - but they did it late. Timbers goalkeeper had left the field with some nasty facial injuries after an unfortunate clash with Sanna Nyassi's boot, and it was his replacement Joseph Bendik who was beaten for the goals. The first was a 74th minute penalty after a handball, which was emphatically converted by Bernardo Corradi, the second a simple close-range finish from Sinisa Ubiparipovic.

Thierry Henry gave New York Red Bulls yet another early lead, this time over New England Revolution. He deliciously lobbed Matt Reis from 20 yards with the outside of his foot to make it 1-0 with his ninth of the season. In the middle of the first half Henry was running at pace with RBNY breaking, and he pulled up with a nasty hamstring injury that ended his participation. Knowing he scored the only goal of the game might help him through his recovery.

High-flying San Jose Earthquakes picked up an away win at Philadelphia Union courtesy of two goals from Steven Lenhart either side of Gabriel Gomez's low drive from the edge of the area for the Union. Lenhart opened the scoring with a diving header from Marvin Chavez's cross, then notching the winner by powering in another header from a Chavez assist in stoppage time after Gomez had equalised late.

It's been 200 years since DC United earned consecutive victories, but they finally did so by following up their win over New York with a 3-2 triumph against Houston Dynamo. Chris Pontius' cross was nodded home by Maicon Santos after Tally Hall had committed himself to challenging Pontius and failed. But the four remaining goals all came in the second half, Houston equalising with Will Bruin's tap-in from five yards. Dwayne DeRosario quickly restored the Black-and-Red's advantage with his first of the season, an in-swinging cross that found its way through the crowd and in off the far post.

Bruin equalised again, pouncing on a loose ball and then looking on as Joe Willis made an awful mistake to let the shot squeeze through him and bounce into the net. Santos won it in the 70th minute with another header as DC's purple patch continues.

Goals are still hard to come by for Vancouver Whitecaps, but one from a set-piece was enough against Columbus Crew after the hosts had two early goals ruled out at Crew Stadium and Josh Williams' bicycle kick came back off the crossbar, giving the Caps' win an air of the smash-and-grab. Lee Young-Pyo was the man who won it, his mis-hit free kick swinging across the goalkeeper and into the top corner.

Goals from David Estrada and Eddie Johnson helped Seattle Sounders to a 2-1 win over Chicago Fire, whose goal came from Marco Pappa in the dying moments. Estrada's goal took a vicious deflection off Arne Friedrich to leave Sean Johnson completely stranded in goal, and there was a touch of good fortune about Johnson's vital second. After the Fire goalkeeper failed to clear a Fredy Montero free kick, Johnson finished to put the game beyond the fire. Their consolation was scored by Pappa just minutes after he came within a few feet of scoring from inside his own half with a strike that would have given Luis Suarez a run for his money. In the end, he had to settle for scoring direct from a corner.

Faltering Colorado Rapids returned to form with a storming 4-0 home win over Chivas USA. Early Rookie of the Year contender Tony Cascio made it 1-0 with a brilliant low shot at the beginning of the second half, but the Rapids had to wait until the last ten minutes for their three-goal finale. Kamani Hill made it two, applying the finishing touch after Omar Cummings' blistering pace had taken the Goats out of the game. Two minutes later Jeff Larentowicz was fouled in the box and rolled in the penalty himself for 3-0. Hill grabbed the fourth in the 93rd minute to add some gloss to the result.

San Jose remain the form team in the West, sitting on top with the same number of points as second-placed Salt Lake, but with two games in hand. Vancouver and Seattle move up into third and fourth, while Portland are now bottom. Kansas City are now just six points clear of DC (with a game in hand), with New York two points behind them.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Weekend TV Preview: 27 - 29 April 2012

Friday 27 April

19.05 Sligo Rovers v St Patrick's Athletic, Airtricity League, Premier Sports
Eight games into the new season and the only two teams still unbeaten face each other at The Showgrounds. Sligo lead the table having won six of their eight games so far.

Saturday 28 April

12.30 Dundee United v Hearts, SPL, ESPN/ESPN HD
United need a win to stay well ahead of The Jam Tarts in the race for a Europa League place. The home team have history on their side with Hearts having beaten today's opponents only once in their last 11 meetings.
12.30 Southampton v Coventry City, Championship, BBC1/BBC1 HD
It's fair to say the BBC got the best deal out of this last-day race for the Premier League. The Saints are two points clear of their rivals West Ham and must beat already-relegated Coventry to be certain of promotion. Logic suggests they'll do it, and if so, the Beeb will be able to show the joyous post-match celebration that will ensue.
12.30 West Ham v Hull City, Championship, Sky Sports 2/Sky Sports 2 HD
Sky get to show West Ham's frantic last-ditch efforts to pip Southampton to the line in the race for promotion. Despite a recent run of decent form, The Hammers are still in with a chance on the final day, but they must beat Hull and hope Southampton fail to beat Coventry. Were it not for West Ham's mid-season slump, this may have all been avoided.
13.00 Fleetwood Town v Luton Town, Blue Square Premier League, Premier Sports
Now that The Cod Army are assured of their place in League Two next season, it just remains to see whether Luton can nab the last play-off spot ahead of Kidderminster Harriers. For Luton, it all hangs on whether Fleetwood can be bothered to beat Crawley's points record of 103 set last season.
15.45 Afan Lido v Newtown AFC, Welsh Premier League, S4C
Technically, Newtown are already relegated having finished bottom of the WPL, but in reality they'll be saved if Neath and The New Saints fail to win their appeal against not being issued with a domestic license for the 2012/13 season. (Thank you Wikipedia.)
17.20 Sheffield United v Stevenage, League One, Sky Sports 2/Sky Sports 2 HD
A tense affair is on the cards as The Blades look to secure their automatic promotion slot and Stevenage hope to snap up the last play-off place. On current form, it's too close to call.
17.30 Norwich City v Liverpool, Premier League, ESPN/ESPN HD
Liverpool continue to lurch from one extreme to another as far as form's concerned. With only the Cup Final left to concern them, it's entirely possible that Norwich could get the three points they need to reach the same total as their opponents.
19.45 Roma v Napoli, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
Two teams who could end the season with either a Champions League play-off spot, Europa League spot or neither when the season ends. A draw seems likely.
20.25 Newell's Old Boys v All Boys, Argentinean Clausura, Premier Sports
The Boys Derby, as I've just named it. NOB are second in the table but level on points with leaders Boca after 11 games but sixth-placed All Boys could (with a heavy stroke of luck) overtake both with a win today at the Estadio Marcelo Bielsa.
21.00 Villarreal v Osasuna, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/Sky Sports 1 HD
In theory, Osasuna are knocking on the door of a European place for next season but with only one win in their last five games, they might be losing momentum when they least want to. A win for Villareal will take them a valuable step further away from the dreaded trap door.

Sunday 29 April

11.00 Real Madrid v Sevilla, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/Sky Sports 1 HD
Out of the Champions League but still proudly top the La Liga table, Real's only remaining challenge is to take maximum points from their remaining games and thereby set a record of 100 points in a single season.
11.30 Bologna v Genoa, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
One win in seven for Bologna, one win in thirteen (TREDICI) for Genoa. A Super Sunday clash and no mistake.
12.45 Celtic v Rangers, SPL, Sky Sports 4/Sky Sports 4 HD
Here we go again. Despite being a dead rubber, Celtic will want to avenge their dramatic defeat to The Gers a month ago while at the same time waving their SPL trophy in the faces of their cash-strapped rivals. Expect carnage as usual.
13.30 Chelsea v QPR, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/Sky Sports 1 HD
Chelsea's performance against Barca on Tuesday had 'miracle' written all over it. Drogba hardly dived at all, Torres scored and John Terry got sent off despite 'not being that sort of player'. Oh, and they also beat the world champions with ten men, which should be ideal preparation for the visit of relegation-threatened QPR.
14.00 Novara v Juventus, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
Over the last seven matches, Juve's record reads 19 goals scored, one conceded, no defeats. Ominous reading for a Novara side who have looked like condemned men for some time now.
15.15 St Mirren v Hibernian, SPL, Sky Sports 4 / Sky Sports 4 HD
St Mirren's Steven Thompson is top scorer in the SPL Relegation Group, and an increase on his three goals so far could be enough to put the willies up The Hi-Bees.
16.00 Tottenham Hotpants v Blackburn Rovers, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/Sky Sports 1 HD
With only three games left to secure their Premier League survival, Blackburn's chances look slim. With Wigan and Chelsea still to come, this trip to White Hart Lane could be their best chance of a win. Spurs, meanwhile, look like they'll be caught by Chelsea in the race for a European place next season unless Harry can dig deep and take his mind off the England job.
18.45 Real Betis v Atletico Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/Sky Sports 1 HD
After the joy of reaching this year's Europa League final, it's back to the business of getting into next season's competition on merit for Atletico Madrid. Betis, for their part, are almost safe from the threat of relegation and a point in this match should confirm it.
19.45 Udinese v Lazio, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
Two of the four teams playing Europa League Musical Chairs in Serie A. With four games remaining, a win here will ensure the victors are seated when the music stops.
20.30 Rayo Vallecano v Barcelona, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/Sky Sports 1 HD
The only way Barcelona's week could end any worse is if Geoff Shreeves gave the team talk and told all the players they were shit. Tune in to see if it happens.

Friday List of Little or No Consequence #238

Brand on the run
12 Ways That Has Been Branded In Recent Times













Monday, April 23, 2012

Football Americana Week 7: Kansas City's perfect start halted in Oregon

Week 7 of the 2012 Major League Soccer season, and things are getting spicy.

The unbeaten run being enjoyed by DC United was extended to five games with a midweek 1-1 draw against Montreal Impact, but Benny Olsen's men had to find an equaliser to take a point. Bernardo Corradi gave L'Impact the lead mid-way through the second half with a free header at the back post from a poorly defended cross, but Maicon Santos' purple patch continued thanks to a deflected low shot from 25 yards out in the 73rd minute. He had the ball in the net again late on, but was offside.

United ended the week in fabulous fashion, thumping New York Red Bulls 4-1 at a rainy RFK Stadium, thanks in large part to a hat-trick from Chris Pontius. Party Boy struck early, rifling the first goal into the top corner from 25 yards out. He made it two after half an hour with a simple finish from close-range after Maicon Santos' strength had caused huge problems at the back for New York.

In-form rookie Nick DeLeon soon made it 3-0, his low shot taking a crucial deflection after he'd been found by Dwayne DeRosario, and Pontius sealed the win with his third goal in the middle of the second half. Picking up the ball 35 yards from goal, he produced an excellent solo run past flailing defenders and kept his composure to finish with his left foot. Thierry Henry grabbed a consolation for RBNY, whipping a lovely free kick past Joe Willis two minutes later.

BC Place was the latest stadium to host a Sporting Kansas City win, this time a 3-1 win over Vancouver Whitecaps. The first came after the Caps repeatedly failed to clear the ball after a corner, eventually finding themselves helpless to prevent Aurelien Collin knocking the ball over the line from a yard out for 1-0. Vancouver helped out their opponents early in the second half. With Collin causing problems once more, Martin Bonjour deflected the ball past Joe Cannon to make it 2-0 with an own goal. Kei Kamara made the game safe by finishing off a move he started by adding a delightful finish to Chance Myers' low cross. Sebastien Le Toux scored a consolation goal for Vancouver, heading in a rebound to make it 3-1.

The Whitecaps did pick up a win this week, defeating FC Dallas 1-0. The goal was a superb strike by Camilo, who picked up the ball on the right flank, cut inside to beat two defenders and swung a low curler past Chris Seitz in the 11th minute. Carlos Rodriguez escaped a certain red card when he dragged back Sebastien Le Toux, who was racing past the half-way line into an empty final third in the last minute, but the Caps kept their lead and banked the three points.

Kansas City's run finally came to an end against Portland Timbers, against whom Sporting Club lost 1-0 thanks to a Myers own goal. It came after 41 minutes and was a thing of true comedic beauty. Kris Boyd's cross found Myers - erm - unmarked at the far post, and he inexplicably headed home past Jimmy Nielsen.

The action ebbed and flowed north of the border, where abject Toronto FC eventually lost 3-2 to Chicago Fire. The visitors drew first blood after just 24 seconds, Dominic Oduro taking advantage of an awful error by Milos Kocic and Torsten Frings to slide the opener under the goalkeeper. TFC equalised thanks to Reggie Lambe's stunning shot into the top corner from 25 yards, and the Bermudan made it 2-1 with a far simpler finish four minutes later. Gonzalo Segares brilliantly flicked in the equaliser 30 seconds later to take the game into half time level, and it was the Fire that grabbed the winner in the second half. They broke quickly in the 58th minute and Oduro's through-ball drew out Kocic and found Patrick Nyarko, who eased past the Toronto goalkeeper and made no mistake with his finish.

After a goalless first half in Ohio, Columbus Crew and Houston Dynamo shared four goals equally in the second. Houston struck first, Will Bruin skilfully glancing a header Javier Hernandez-style inside the far post from a corner on the hour mark. Andre Hainault's own goal under pressure from Emilio Renteria made it 1-1, and the Crew soon took the lead with a thunderous drive from Eddie Gaven. With nine minutes left, Brian Ching equalised for Houston with a tap-in from Bruin's low cross.

Struggling LA Galaxy finally got back to winning ways with a 2-1 victory over Colorado Rapids at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Marvell Wynne was the unfortunate man that scored an own goal from Mike Magee's header after a clever David Beckham free kick, and Landon Donovan made it 2-0 shortly before half time by sweeping the ball home at the end of a brilliant passing move by the Galaxy.

Halfway through the second period the Rapids got back into the game through Omar Cummings' wonderful solo run and strike into the top corner, but the Galaxy held on for all three points. Cummings had a stoppage time opportunity to level it from the spot after a controversial penalty was awarded, but Josh Saunders made the crucial save.

Having two men sent off is never going to be conducive to victory, but Philadelphia Union went 1-0 up against Chivas USA through a clever cheeky backheel from Freddy Adu after 40 minutes, and then survived two late dismissals. Keon Daniel was the first to go, leaving the field with 15 minutes left after a wild and high swipe at Ryan Smith. He was followed down the tunnel ten minutes later by Gabriel Farfan, who put in a sickening studs-up tackle on James Riley. In the resulting melee Farfan also put his head in on an angry opponent and Piotr Nowak raced onto the field to get involved.

A fiery clash between San Jose Earthquakes and Real Salt Lake went the way of the Quakes, who made hard work of beating another team that went down to nine men 3-1. Fabian Espindola was dismissed less than 30 minutes in, seeing red for going in two-footed on Sam Cronin. Nick Rimando could have done more to prevent Khari Stephenson's bouncing header that gaves the Earthquakes the lead on the stroke of half time, but Kyle Beckerman stroked in the equaliser in the 53rd minute.

RSL lost any hope of winning when they picked up a second red card. Jamison Olave was sent packing with 20 minutes to go for a professional foul on Steven Lenhart but it took a late flurry to win the game for San Jose, who scored twice in stoppage time. Simon Dawkins' diving header made it 2-1 in the 92nd minute before Chris Wondolowski added the gloss with a header of his own, his eighth goal of the season.

All of which means that Kansas City's lead in the East is now nine points, with DC grabbing in vain for their coat tails. Toronto stay bottom, and are yet to pick up a single point after six matches. In the West, San Jose lead Salt Lake by a point, while Portland prop up the conference standings with seven points.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Midweek TV Preview: 23 - 26 April 2012

Monday 23 April

19:45 Leicester City v West Ham, Championship, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Both sides started the season believing they'd be a little higher up the table. West Ham arr nailed on for a play off spot but can keep their automatic promotion hopes alive until the final day of the season. Southampton are second in the Championship and will be hoping for Leicester win.

Tuesday 24 April

19:45 Barcelona v Chelsea, UEFA Champions League Semi Final 2nd Leg, Sky Sports 2/HD 2/ SKY 3D (1-0 Chelsea from first leg)
The Blues earned very slice of luck against the Champions in the first leg but you have to wonder if they can keep it up at the Nou Camp. Barca have tripped up away from home against Arsenal and Stuttgart in the past only to put things right at home. Few will back against that happening against Chelsea.
19:45 Gateshead v Luton Town, Blue Square Premier League, Premier Sports
After beating them at the weekend, the Hatters need three points against mid table Gateshead in order to hold off Kidderminster and making that final play off spot their own.

Wednesday 25 April

11:30 Novara v Lazio, Serie A, ESPN/HD
The first of a triple header of Italian games that were postponed following the sudden and tragic death of Livorno player Piermario Morosini.The home side are not completely relegated but they are as close to the drop as you can get. Lazio need to keep winning to ensure that Champions League play off birth for next season
14:00 Roma v Fiorentina Serie A, ESPN/HD
As I write, Roma are getting humped by Juventus so their Europa League hopes aren't looking so good. Fiorentina have moderate relegation concerns which may add a modicum of bite to what is a humdrum fixture. 
17:00 Cesena v Juventus Serie A, ESPN/HD
The gap is now three points between Juve on top and Milan in second which means that the Old Lady now needs to pin her ears back and head for the finish. Cesena are bottom but have become draw specialists in recent weeks. 
19:45 Real Madrid v Bayern Munich, UEFA Champions League Semi Final 2nd Leg, ITV1/ITV1 HD (2-1 Bayern from first leg)
Hard to see Real not scoring twice against Bayern's defense that has, occasionally, been fragile on the road. So Bayern need Ribery to put in another inspired performance and Schweinsteiger to keep order in the midfield. To close to call. Extra time a real possibility.

Thursday 26 April

20:05 Athletic Bilbao v Sporting Lisbon, UEFA Europa League Semi Final 2nd Leg, Channel 5/Channel 5 HD (2-1 Sporting from first leg)
The English media's love affair with Bielsa and Bilboa is on the edge. Sporting, who have rarely received any coverage on UK TV this season, are threatening to ruin a perfectly good narrative by having the audacity to beat a Bilbao team that must be good 'coz they beat United innit?
20:05 Valencia v Atletico Madrid, UEFA Europa League Semi Final 2nd Leg, ITV4/ITV4 HD (4-2 Valencia from first leg)
This all Spanish tie should be straightforward for the home side but should be weary of those pesky away goals.

Bundesliga Update - Borussia Dortmund win the Championship again

As the sun set on the AWD Arena on Sunday afternoon the final game of the weekend in the Bundesliga had an end of season feeling. But while Freiburg squeezed the point they needed out of Hannover to guarantee the own safety, there is still a great deal left undecided in the final few weeks of the season even if the most important issue is now resolved.

On Saturday, the Bundesliga title was decided with two games to go at Borussia Dortmund's packed 80000 capacity stadium, the Westfalen. BVB needed to beat fourth placed Borussia Mönchengladbach in order to seal the deal. For a moment it looked like the three points were unnecessary until Franck Ribery of Bayern Munich popped up in the dying seconds of the earlier game against Werder Bremen. The Frenchman's strike and subsequent 2-1 win declared that Bayern had not given up their claim on the title despite resting key players ahead of their Champions League semi final at the Bernabeu this week.

Dortmund were perhaps a little nervous to begin with. However, they faced a 'Gladbach side who were missing Roman Neustadter in the midfield and have generally struggled to find the same zest that they showed for so many months and has taken them to the brink of the Champions League.

The game ended 2-0 with goals from two players with less than certain futures at the club. The Croatian, Ivan Perisic has been a star off the bench this season and scored some memorable goals (perhaps the most notable being against Arsenal). A few weeks ago he'd expressed his frustration that he was not starting enough games and that maybe his future lay elsewhere. Perhaps his headed goal in the game that sealed the title will make him feel better about hid role and decide that life is pretty sweet playing in front of the Westfalen's mammoth south stand, the Sud Tribune.

The other goal scorer was the whirlwind Japanese international Shinji Kagawa with a lovely tight angled rifled shot to beat 'Gladbach keeper, Marc Andre Stegen, at the far post. The diminutive attacker has a new contract offer from his club which he won't sign. The feeling is that the Premier League is calling and it will be of no surprise if he leaves in the Summer. In truth, Kagawa was erratic on the day. Snatching the ball from teams mates, unwilling or unable to distribute effectively and finally getting his first yellow card of the campaign. Then came redemption with the goal and a mighty bear hug from his adoring coach, Jurgen Klopp. After that 'Gladbach accepted the reality of the situation and allowed BVB their moment.

On the final whistle the players celebrated in the time honoured tradition of wasting copious amounts of beer by pouring it all over their coach. Winning back to back titles for any Bundesliga club that isn't Bayern Munich is rare and impressive. Dortmund themselves achieved it once in the nineties. However, the price they paid was too high as financial mismanagement was the legacy of those golden days and the club almost went to the wall as a consequence. This Dortmund team was assembled on the principle of fiscal frugality, relatively speaking. That is why this generation's achievement will probably be regarded as the greater by Bundesliga historians of the future. The next step is the prospect of doing the double and winning the German FA Cup, the DFB Pokal, in a few weeks against Bayern Munich in Berlin's Olympic Stadium.

The Munich club may be smarting from having gone two seasons without lifting the Bundesliga Trophy but they can rightly claim Champions League bragging rights this season. In fact if they can overcome Real Madrid in their semi final and win the Champion League in their own stadium against Barcelona or Chelsea and take the DFB Pokal then you could make an argument that this will be Bayern Munich's season.

In terms of European action, the final running order has yet to settled. 'Gladbach could still automatically qualify for the Champions League despite their defeat on Saturday. This is because Schalke were unable to break down a resolute Augsburg side who are on the verge of avoiding relegation after only one season in the top flight, something no one, possibly including themselves, would have expected of them. Only two points separate Schalke and 'Gladbach with two games remaining.

The two regular Europa League spots are pretty much sorted with Stuttgart and Leverkusen checking their passports are renewed. However, there is the unwanted slot that would have gone to the Pokal winners that will now go to the team in seventh place. That will be contested between Hannover and Werder Bremen.

At the bottom, it's curtains for Kaiserslautern despite their 2-1 win over second from bottom Hertha who are unable to get out of the bottom three and may miss out on the third from bottom play off spot currently occupied by Cologne. The is a four point gap between the Billygoats and fourth from bottom Augsburg. While they managed a 1-1 draw against high flying Stuttgart it looks very much like the best they can hope to achieve is a two legged play off against St Pauli, Paderborn or the hated Fortuna Dusseldorf who are currently contesting third place in Bundesliga 2.

Technically, Eintracht Frankfurt can still finish third in the second division and contest that play off themselves. However, they will join Greuther Fürth in the Bundesliga 1 automatically if they beat bottom of the table Alemennia Aachen on Monday 23rd April. Aachen, in turn will be relegated if they lose. It could be an emotional night.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Weekend TV Preview: 20 - 22 April 2012

Friday 20 April

19.30 Mansfield v Wrexham, Blue Square Premier League, Premier Sports
With Fleetwood already crowned as Champions and both sides having secured a play-off place this only provides a dress rehearsal for the possible final next month.

Saturday 21 April

12.30 St Johnstone v Dundee United, SPL, ESPN/ESPN HD
A good time to be from Perth - celebrating city status and St Johnstone making it to the top half Scottish Clausura for the first time since its introduction in 2001. Dundee United are old hands, having reached this stage for the past four seasons in a row but start the post season a point behind today's hosts.
12.45 Arsenal v Chelsea Premier League, Sky Sports 2/HD2/SKY 3D
Ok, so this week Chelsea are brilliant and Arsenal are rubbish - is that right? I'm sure, that's how it works.
17.20 Middlesbrough v Southampton, Championship, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Boro's 0-0 draw with Doncaster midweek has left them with a mountain to climb if they are to reach the play-offs. Their sorry decline has seen them take just one win in their last ten games. The Saints on the other hand can secure promotion with a win - though they will be up anyway if West Ham fail to beat Leicester on Monday.
17.30 QPR v Tottenham Hotspur, Premier League, ESPN/ESPN HD
QPR's run-in looked awful, it still does in fact but having won their last three home games against Liverpool, Arsenal and Swansea there's no reason they can't turn over 'Arry's stuttering Spurs side.
19.00 Barcelona v Real Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1/SKY 3D
If ever Mourinho needed to beat Barcelona it's now. Defeat will leave Real just one point clear with four games to go. Of course it'll make great viewing, whether it'll be a good game is another matter altogther.
19.45 Napoli v Novara, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
Surely Napoli have to break out of this terrible run of results since their Champions League exit and beat lowly Novara. Third place is still possible for Napoli though unlikely, Navaro on the other hand need a miracle to survive in the top flight.
21.00 Sevilla v Levante, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/Sky Sports 1 HD
The battle for european places in La Liga could hardly be tighter with just three points separating these teams in 9th and 5th respectively. Sevilla have been dropping points against their closest rivals so look favouries to miss out.

Sunday 22 April

07.00 Brisbane Roar v Perth Glory, A-League Grand Final, Sky Sports 4/HD4
Two teams that perfectly represent my theory that A-League teamnames are all euphemisms. Brisbane are looking to retain their title against a Perth reaching this stage for the first time.
11.30 Fiorentina v Inter, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
Despite their win the other week in Milan, Fiorentina will be looking over their shoulders at a resurgent Lecce side on a fantastic run to escape relegation. Inter are desperate for the win now that Juventus have reclaimed top spot.
12.30 Manchester Utd v Everton, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Penalty for Man U about 20 minutes in. What do you reckon?
14.00 Motherwell v Celtic, SPL, Sky Sports 4/HD4
The Scottish Clausura starts with Celtic already Champions, Motherwell's bid to snatch Champions League football from Rangers has come off the rails after taking just one point in their last three games.
16.00 Wolves v Man City Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Terry Connor gets to stand on the touchline and watch his side get taken apart. Again. Defeat here will see them relegated if QPR win on Saturday.
16.30 Hannover 96 v SC Freiburg, Bundesliga, ESPN/ESPN HD
Hannover are still in the chase for a Europa League spot but face a FReiburg side un beaten in eight matches and seemingly clear of relegation worries
19.45 Juventus v Roma, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
Juve have ridden out their toughest fixtures in this run-in and have come out of it top of the table with five straight wins. Another defeat could spell the end of Roma's Champions League hopes.
20.30 Valencia v Real Betis, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Betis are a much imporved side and have put in some good performances lately. They could upset a wobbling Valencia side struggling to hold on to third spot.
23.00 DC United v New York Red Bulls, MLS, ESPN/ESPN HD
Both sides are being left in the dust of Sporting KC in the Eastern Conference. The sides third and second in the table are alreadly 11 points behind the seven wins from seven former Wizards.

Friday List of Little or No Consequence #237

Coming soon to a video hire shop near you...
9 Exciting Football VHS Titles Available To Own Via eBay - Now! *

1. Tear Gas and Tantrums
'What really happened, from the beaches in Marseille to St.Etienne!'

2. Big Ron Bites Back!!
'Exclusive to video!'

3. Motty Takes The Mike!
'Funniest Ever Footy Video'

4. Keegan's Kids
'With Kevin Keegan'

5. Lightning Strikes 95
'If you're a Football Junkie, this is your overdose!'

6. Ryan Giggs - Secerts and Skills
'How does he do that?'

7. Do I Not Like That - The Final Chapter
'The most explosive sports film ever made'

8. David Seaman Presents Goalkeeping Nightmares!
'The best goalkeeping gaffes from the Premiership, Nationwide League and The FIFA World Cup'

9. The Charlton Years
'The Charlton Years.'

* as at 20 April 2012

Monday, April 16, 2012

Football Americana Week 6: Chicago and Houston share the points after lightning stops play

Ferocious weather, a David Beckham goal and a victory for DC United. What more could one ask of a week in Major League Soccer?

Gabriel Gomez scored the only goal as Philadelphia Union defeated Columbus Crew, a vital win for the Union on home soil. Michael Farfan was fortunate to escape without a card after an elbow, and Philly soon had a chance to open the scoring from the spot when Eric Gehrig handled Freddy Adu's effort, and Gomez's delicate Panenka was a worthy winner for any game.

Jose Moreno's first MLS goal got New England Revolution off to a great start against DC United, benefiting from a flawless Saer Sene cross to make it 1-0 after six minutes at Gillette Stadium. The lead lasted just twelve minutes before Dwayne De Rosario's bicycle kick was cleverly diverted into the net by Maicon Santos. Substitute Chris Pontius made an immediate impact for DC, making it 2-1 with a little under ten minutes remaining to win it for United after cutting inside from the left hand side and bending it past Matt Reis.

Brian Mullan faced a predictably hostile welcome in the north west, where one goal did the trick for Seattle Sounders against Colorado Rapids - and it came from an unlikely source. It was Mullan who had the ball in the net first, but had the opportunity to play super-heel removed by the offside flag. Zach Scott finally grabbed the only goal of the game in the 63rd minute with a glancing header from Fredy Montero's vicious corner. Matt Pickens put in a tremendous performance in goal for the Rapids.

It goes from bad to worse for Toronto FC, who went down 1-0 at home to Chivas USA to continue their appalling start. Oswaldo Minda grabbed the goal, powering a first half header onto the goal line and up into the net. Ryan Johnson should have equalised in the 84th minute with a free header from six yards that squeezed past the post with Dan Kennedy scrambling. The Goats' goalkeeper then made a good save to deny Danny Koevermans from similar range, securing all three points.

A blistering first half saw New York Red Bulls and San Jose Earthquakes draw 2-2 at Red Bull Arena. All four goals came in an undulating first period, with Kenny Cooper ghosting into the area to put the Red Bulls ahead in the first five minutes yet again, Thierry Henry the architect once more.

Rafael Baca equalised with a simple finish from Khari Stephenson's assist ten minutes later only for RBNY to restore the lead in the 22nd minute through Dax McCarty's controlled volley from the edge of the box. In-form Chris Wondolowski' netted the second equaliser for the Quakes, diving to head a loose ball into the top corner from six yards. Rafael Marquez was fortunate to not give away a penalty after wrestling Shea Salinas to the floor, fracturing his collarbone in the process.

In Texas, FC Dallas needed to come from behind to beat Montreal Impact 2-1. The goals all came in the second half, the first arriving after just over an hour from the penalty spot. George John's foul on Davy Arnaud was seemingly non-existent and Bernardo Corradi swept the ball home from 12 yards past Kevin Hartman. Blas Perez nodded in the equaliser in the 76th minute after John's header came back off the bar, and Brek Shea fired in the late winner with a lovely one-on-one finish and then celebrated in style.

An early season top-of-the-table clash went Sporting Kansas City's way, continuing their 100% start against Real Salt Lake. CJ Sapong's looping header was disallowed just before the break for a push on Jamison Olave, but Sporting scored the only game of the goal through a firm set-piece header from Aurelien Collin in the 63rd minute.

Kris Boyd again scored first for Portland Timbers and again they went on to lose, this time going down 3-1 in their away game against LA Galaxy. The Scotsman struck mid-way through the first half at the HDC, breaking the offside trap and rolling the ball past Troy Perkins early - he scored again, but was adjudged to be offside. Landon Donovan scored the crucial equaliser moments before half time with his first of the season, a drilled finish from the edge of the area from Robbie Keane's cut-back.

LA had to wait until the final ten minutes to turn one point into three and had the big guns to thank for the victory, but not before Eric Alexander's curling shot hit the bar for Portland. Juninho's accurate low drive made it 2-1 in the 83rd minute, and in the dying minutes David Beckham stepped up to add some spit-and-polish to the result. Picking up the ball 30 yards out, he lined up some space for himself with an awful first touch and swung a beautiful shot beyond Perkins into the top corner.

Remarkably, Chicago Fire v Houston Dynamo was halted after just 65 minutes in horrendous weather, finishing 1-1. The game was delayed for an hour due to rain and lightning in the 13th minute, but ten minutes after the restart Will Bruin went clear for Houston and clipped the ball inside Sean Johnson's near post. Logan Pause quickly equalised with his back, inadvertently deflected Pavel Pardo's free kick over Tally Hall and into the net off the bar. The draw stands despite the game finally being called off due to the weather.

With Kansas City still brushing away all before them, they now enjoy a massive eight-point gap over New York in the East, while DC climb to third and Toronto remain on zero points at the bottom. Salt Lake top the East but second-placed San Jose have a game in hand on them, with Seattle and Dallas together on 10 points. Portland's record fourth consecutive loss leaves them bottom.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Midweek TV Preview: 16 - 19 April 2012

Monday 16 April

19.30 Shamrock Rovers v Derry City, Setanta Sports Cup Semi Final 1st Leg, Premier Sports
Down to the last four in this all-Ireland knockout competition, of which three are from south of the border. Two of those three feature here and of those two, Shamrock are the defending champions.
20.00 Arsenal v Wigan Athletic, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/Sky Sports 1 HD/SKY 3D
They've beaten Liverpool, they've beaten Man United... but can Wigan beat Arsenal? They've only lost two of their last ten, but then Arsenal have won eight of their last nine - including a fine win over Milan. Perhaps the betting folk among you will fancy a quid or two on Wigan to draw...?

Tuesday 17 April

17.00 Egypt v Iraq, International Friendly, British Eurosport HD
An odd, rather unforseen chance to see Bob Bradley's Egypt side face Iraq in Dubai. Both teams will be hoping for a place at Brazil 2014, but domestic instability may have the final say on their preparations.
19.45 Bayern Munich v Real Madrid, UEFA Champions League Semi Final 1st Leg, Sky Sports 2/Sky Sports 2 HD/SKY 3D
So now Bayern have capitulated in the race for this season's Bundesliga title, will they now be free to throw everything including the kitchen sick at an ever-dominant Real? It'll certainly take a Herculean effort if they're to become the first side since Inter in 1965 to win the European title on home soil.

Wednesday 18 April

12.30 Guangzhou Evergrande v Kashiwa Reysol, AFC Champions League, British Eurosport 2
Third-v-second in Group H. Both teams are locked on four points out of a possible nine so far and played out a 0-0 draw when they met at the start of this month in Japan. Another draw looks likely.
19.45 Chelsea v Barcelona, UEFA Champions League Semi Final 1st Leg, ITV1/ITV1 HD
Which sounds better for the Final - 'Real Madrid v Chelsea' or 'Real Madrid v Barcelona'? Right, now we've got that sorted out, put your full support behind Barcelona and make plans for May 19th.

Thursday 19 April

20.05 Atletico Madrid v Valencia, UEFA Europa League Semi Final 1st Leg, ESPN/ESPN HD
And so to a very Spanish-flavoured pair of Europa League semis. Valencia enter their first European semi-final in eight years knowing Atleti are their for the taking, on current form. Ironically the Madrid club stopped Valencia reaching the last four a couple of years ago, but the visitors have claimed four of the six league points between the two this season and should win over two legs.
20.05 Sporting Lisbon v Athletic Bilbao, UEFA Europa League Semi Final 1st Leg, Channel 5/Channel 5 HD
The only non-Spanish side in the last four will remember being beaten in the Europa League Final by CSKA Moscow seven years ago. Hoping to make amends for that, they must first do what they did the last time they faced Bilbao in the third round of this competition in 1985/86, i.e. win the home leg by a considerable margin.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday List of Little or No Consequence #236

Semi Stadia
20 Grounds Where FA Cup Semi Finals* Have Been Played Since World War II

1. Burnden Park, Bolton
2. City Ground, Nottingham
3. Elland Road, Leeds
4. Ewood Park, Blackburn
5. Filbert Street, Leicester
6. Goodison Park, Everton
7. Highbury, Arsenal
8. Highfield Road, Coventry
9. Hillsborough, Sheffield
10. Maine Road, Manchester
11. Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
12. Molineux, Wolverhampton
13. Old Trafford, Manchester
14. Roker Park, Sunderland
15. Stamford Bridge, London
16. St. Andrew's, Birmingham
17. The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
18. Villa Park, Birmingham
19. Wembley Stadium, London
20. White Hart Lane, London

* including Semi Final replays

Weekend TV Preview: 13 - 15 April 2012

Friday 13 April

19.30 VfB Stuttgart v Werder Bremen, Bundesliga, ESPN/ESPN HD
Both of these sides were in action during a busy midweek programme in the Bundesliga, with varying fortunes. Bremen went down to ten men with a 1-0 lead against Borussia Moenchengladbach and wound up needing an equaliser for 2-2, while Stuttgart's 3-1 win at Augsburg did wonders for their European hopes.
19.30 Fleetwood Town v Lincoln City, Blue Square Bet Premier, Premier Sports
Runaway leaders Fleetwood needed an own goal equaliser to overcome ten-man Wrexham on Tuesday night, a result that leaves them 11 points clear of the Welsh side. A win tonight will secure promotion after they failed to finalise the title in midweek.
19.45 Southampton v Reading, Championship, Sky Sports 1/1HD
The Royals' win at Brighton & Hove Albion on Tuesday took them level on points with leaders Southampton, but Nigel Adkins team have an immediate chance to rebuild the gap when they welcome Reading to St Mary's. It won't be easy though - Reading have won 14 of their 18 league games since the turn of the year.

Saturday 14 April

12.15 Aberdeen v Hibernian, Scottish Cup Semi-Final, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Both of these sides won away from home in their quarter-final matches. Hibs cruised past Ayr United with two early goals, while Aberdeen rode two first half Rory Fallon goals all the way to a 2-1 victory over Champions League chasing Motherwell. They meet at Hampden Park with a (relatively) mouthwatering final on offer for the winners.
12.30 Liverpool v Everton, FA Cup Semi-Final, ESPN/ESPN HD
The Alan Davies Saga has been unseemly, but it has thrown the spotlight on what is sure to be an emotional semi-final day on the eve of the Hillsborough anniversary. Kenny Dalglish will primarily be focused on happenings against Everton - he needs this particular pot in order to salvage Liverpool's season. He might even name himself as the reserve goalkeeper.
12.45 Norwich City v Manchester City, Premier League, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Perhaps the only man who had a worse day than me last Sunday was Roberto Mancini, who probably didn't have to extend his stay in a hotel in Dudley in order to have somewhere sensible to vomit. He did, however, have to look on as Manchester United opened up an eight-point gap at the top of the Premier League. That's enough to make any blue want to hurl even before the midweek fixtures took place.
19.00 Real Madrid v Sporting Gijon, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
The reverse fixture saw Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid cruise to a 3-0 win over Sporting thanks to goals from Angel di Maria, Marcelo and - inevitably - Cristiano Ronaldo. Every game at the top of La Liga is now vital, with the title race finally becoming a real battle.
20.00 Lyon v Marseille, Coupe de la Ligue Final, ESPN/ESPN HD
Silverware awaits the winner of this year's Coupe de la Ligue final at the Stade de France. Lyon required extra time to negotiate their semi-final, which was eventually a 4-2 win over Lorient in which Bafe Gomis and Alexandre Lacazette were the heroes. Brandão scored the all-important winner for Marseille as they saw off Nice 2-1 in their last four game.
21.00 Levante v Barcelona, La Liga, Sky Sports 4/HD4
Barca are right back in the fight for the title, but they can't afford to drop any points at all. Just as well, then, that they haven't allowed single point to go astray since 11th February, when they were beaten by Osasuna.

Sunday 15 April

11.30 Novara v Lazio, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
Lowly Novara haven't won in four, so Lazio will be confident of tightening their grip on third - and a Champions League place - despite their own inconsistency. Besides, their alternating fortunes mean this one has to be a Lazio win.
12.45 Celtic v Hearts, Scottish Cup Semi-Final, Sky Sports 2/HD2
The League Cup may have escaped their grasp, but Neil Lennon's Celtic still have their Double destiny in their own hands. The title in the bag early thanks to Rangers' Basket Case of Doom, Celtic can now focus on Heart of Midlothian and the Scottish Cup. Hearts needed a replay to beat St Mirren in the quarters, but it was plain sailing for Celtic against ten-man Dundee United, whom they beat 4-0.
14.00 Cesena v Juventus, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
Juventus are still top and they're hitting form just at the right time. They're just a point ahead of Milan but they have won their last five Serie A games. Famously, they're also unbeaten after 32 matches. Incredible.
16.00 Manchester United v Aston Villa, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1/3D
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Andi Weimann. We've known about him for AGES. He's BRILLIANT. And it's time Alex McLeish recognised it, because it's kids like Weimann, Ciaran Clark and Gary Gardner that might just turn things around for Aston Villa. It won't happen this weekend, though, because Manchester United never lose to Villa, and that's barely an exaggeration.
16.30 SC Freiburg v Hoffenheim, Bundesliga, ESPN/ESPN HD
Both sides here have something left to play for. Freiburg are just six points clear of the drop zone, and Hoffenheim are the same distance from fifth place and a possible Europa League spot. The visitors have form on their side; they haven't lost in four.
18.00 Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea, FA Cup Semi-Final, ITV1/ITV1 HD
Yes, 18.00. 6pm. On a Sunday. Still, this semi-final should be a right-old slobberknocker. Harry Redknapp's got a taste for the Cup - it's the only thing he's ever won, after all - but Chelsea's modest resurgence under Roberto di Matteo could well be aided by the Wembley memories of a man who knows exactly what it takes to win the competition.
19.45 Roma v Fiorentina, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD
If Lazio win on Saturday, rivals Roma have their work cut out to catch them. But they can keep themselves occupied by the challenge from below of another bitter enemy, Napoli, who would dearly love to make up the small gap and take the Europa League spot being kept warm by the Wolves.
20.30 Rayo Vallecano v Atletico Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
All four goals were scored by Atleti players in their 3-1 win over Rayo in December, and Sunday's hosts will be hoping their opponents have been sufficiently distracted by the Madrid derby and their European exploits to be susceptible to a surprise defeat.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Football Americana Week 5: Kansas City maintain unblemished start

Week 5 of Major League Soccer's 2012 season, and we already have a clear leader in each conference. If neither of those are particularly surprising, the position of 2011's champions most certainly is.

The week got underway at Real Salt Lake, where the hosts needed a first half penalty to see off the expansion Montreal Impact. Justin Braun handled Will Johnson's header on the six-yard line and Paulo Junior's penalty was too accurate for Donovan Ricketts.

Montreal's second game of the week was a 2-1 win over Canadian opponents, Toronto FC. Sinisa Ubiparipovic marked his first MLS game for L'Impact with a calm finish into the bottom corner from 18 yards out. Mid-way through the second period the odds turned further against TFC with the sending off of Logan Emory. Sure enough the Impact went on to score a second through number one draft pick Andrew Wenger's determined run and shot. Danny Koevermans scored Toronto's consolation with a free header in the 88th minute.

Salt Lake picked up a second win of the week at home against Colorado Rapids, who lost 2-0 at Rio Tinto. It was the usual suspects on the scoresheet for RSL, with Alvaro Saborio finding acres of space in the box to score after 20 minutes and Fabian Espindola nipping in to punish a Rapids defensive collapsed - instigated by his own handball - just before the hour mark.

The game between FC Dallas and New England Revolution looked all set to finish goalless but a late rally by FDC produced a win at the death. Dallas had had a goal disallowed in the 77th minute but finally got their reward in the 95th, with Ugo Ihemelu heading home from a free kick.

Thierry Henry and New York Red Bulls continued their goalscoring form with a 4-1 away win over Columbus Crew. It was Kenny Cooper who effectively won the game with an early brace, turning and shooting low in the third minute and doubling the lead ten minutes later with a simple header. Henry slid in the third as if it were a training match just before the break to set up a less eventful second period. The remaining goals came late, Chad Marshall bagging a consolation goal for the Crew with a powerful header before Henry put the finishing touch on another big New York win with a casual control and volley in the 90th minute.

The phenomenal start being enjoyed by Sporting Kansas City just goes on and on, and now they have LA Galaxy's head on a spike at Livestrong Sporting Park, where they defeated the reigning champions 1-0 thanks to a goal by Kei Kamara late in the first half. Kamara exploited slack defending to head in a Bobby Convey cross in the 41st minute for what would prove to be the winner.

Like Kamara and Henry, Chris Wondolowski's in the goals early this season, and he scored another two as San Jose Earthquakes beat Vancouver Whitecaps 3-1. After a goalless first half Sebastien Le Toux gave the Caps the lead five minutes into the second, knocking the ball past Jon Busch from Eric Hassli's lay-off. It took a while for the Quakes to reply but they did so emphatically. Wondo's first goal was a delicious dink over Joe Cannon after a dummy that floored the Whitecaps goalkeeper and was followed up quickly by a lovely diving header by Alan Gordon. Wondolowski made it 3-1 ten minute after scoring his first, this time ghosting away from the far post at a free kick and slotting the ball home with ease.

Unchanged DC United and Seattle Sounders had to settle for a 0-0 draw at RFK Stadium. Hamdi Salihi came close to breaking the deadlock in the middle of the first half, clipping the crossbar from six yards after a brilliant cross by Nick DeLeon. The Sounders hit the post deep into stoppage time, and it was a header from former United defender who missed with the goal gaping after Joe Willis had saved Ossie Alonso's drive.

It took a comeback to see Chivas USA past their hosts, Portland Timbers, who celebrated Kris Boyd's simple goal after Dan Kennedy dropped a cross under a challenge from his own defender in the 16th minute. But the game finished 2-1 to Chivas thanks to Alejandro Moreno's header from Ryan Smith's cross just after half time and Nick LaBrocca's near carbon copy inside the final ten minutes.

Kansas City's impeccable start gives them a six-point lead over New York at the top of the East, with Toronto - now the only team yet to get off the mark in the league - at the bottom. In the West, Salt Lake lead San Jose by three points and LA are the surprise club propping up the table.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Friday List of Little or No Consequence #235

Men in black
The 16 Englishmen That Have Refereed A World Cup Finals Match(es)

1. Ken Aston (1962)
2. George Courtney (1986 / 1990)
3. Ken Dagnall (1966)
4. Philip Don (1994)
5. Paul Durkin (1998)
6. Arthur Ellis (1950 / 1954 / 1958)
7. Jim Finney (1966)
8. Reginald Leafe (1950 / 1958)
9. William Ling (1954)
10. George McCabe (1966)
11. Pat Partridge (1978)
12. Graham Poll (2002 / 2006)
13. George Reader (1950)
14. Jack Taylor (1970 / 1974)
15. Howard Webb (2010)
16. Clive White (1982)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Weekend TV Preview 6 - 9 April 2012

Friday 6 April 

14:00 Reading v Leeds United, Championship, Sky Sports 1 / HD1
With the  league leaders, Southampton, embroiled in a south coast derby against Portsmouth, there is a whiff of a chance of Reading taking top spot if they beat the Championship's very own rogue state and Pompey cause an upset. Either way a win stretches the gap between themselves in second and West Ham in third who play later in the day.
16:30 Swansea City v Newcastle United, Premier League, Sky Sports 1 / HD1
M'colleague on the Sound Of Football, Graham, believes Swansalona will be "found out" next season and cites both Reading and Ipswich of Premier Leagues passim who wowed us with their football and got tonked the following year. So we'd better enjoy Swansea while we can and this game promises to be an entertaining fracas between this season's two surprise packages.
17:15 Barnsley v West Ham, Championship, BBC 1 / BBC1 HD
By common consent, West Ham are pretty unwatchable yet broadcasters persist in putting them on the telly. I can understand Sky chasing ratings, after all the happy hammers enjoy a wide support base but Auntie Beeb should be a little more discerning, no?

Saturday 7 April 

12:00 Kilmarnock v Celtic, SPL, ESPN / ESPN HD
Celtic can win the title and exact a modicum of revenge over the team that beat them in the League Cup Final a few weeks ago.
12:45 Sunderland v Tottenham Hotspur, Premier League, Sky Sports 2 / HD2
The Martin O'Neil honeymoon period continues at the Estadio Illuminata and Harry's men travel north to build on their win against Swansea which broke a run of three games without a win.
17:20 Nottingham Forest v Bristol City, Championship, Sky Sports 2 / HD2
Forest are only six points away from their opponents who are third from bottom. So it's a sort of six pointer but again, are there not more interesting fixtures worth watching?
17:30 Stoke City v Wolves, Premier League, ESPN / ESPN HD
The Terry Connor freak show continues as the Wolves board consider conceding the season early and giving everyone 3-0 wins. Stoke are thirteenth and have nothing left to play for except pride and money. Barely worth your time.
19:00 Zaragoza v Barcelona, La Liga, Sky Sports 3 / HD3
The home side are mounting a convincing survival bid after winning their last threes games and are four points off the fourth from bottom place. Unfortunately, for them, Barca have not dropped points in the league since February.
20:00 Lazio v Napoli, Serie A, ESPN / ESPN HD
Third plays fourth with three points between them and a Champions League spot up for grabs. Why not watch?
21:00 Real Betis v Villarreal, La Liga, Sky Sports 3 / HD3
An away win should establish some more distance between themselves and third from bottom Zaragoza who are probably losing to Barcelona.

Sunday 8 April 

12:30 Hibernian v Motherwell, SPL, ESPN / ESPN HD
Tasty fixture this. Hibernian may be awful but will put up a strong fight against a more than decent Motherwell side who may yet overhaul Rangers for second place.
13:30 Man Utd v QPR, Premier League, Sky Sports 1 / HD1
Apparently, Manchester United won the league against Blackburn, last Monday, which make this the start of a very long lap of honour. Earlier today, United issued a statement denying that they have swapped their team coach for an open top bus.
16:00 Arsenal v Man City, Premier League, Sky Sports 1 / HD1 / 3D
The Gunners are currently duking it our with their London rivals Tottenham and Chelsea for those two remaining Champions League spots. City, meanwhile are losing ground. Both teams have reasons to win and a bevvy of superb talent that should keep us entertained, royally. Oh yes.
16:30 Hamburg v Bayer Leverkusen, Bundesliga, ESPN / ESPN HD
Hamburg have never been relegated from the Bundesliga in its 49 (nuenundvierzig) year history yet they sit one place above the drop zone. Leverkusen were abject in their defeat against Freiburg last week and sacked their coach, Robin Dutt shortly afterwards. Former Liverpool player Sami Hyypia is temporarily in charge.
21:00 Real Madrid v Valencia, La Liga, Sky Sports 3 / HD3
Twenty points separate these two teams so it would be a slight exaggeration to suggest that this first versus third match was a top of the table clash. Valencia have the least wiggle room of the two as Malaga are only a  single point behind.

Monday 9 April

12:45 Sheffield Wednesday v Oldham Athletic, League One, Sky Sports 1 / HD1
The Owls and the Latics kick off a full round of fixtures with The Wednesday looking to usurp their city rivals for that second place spot in the table. They've got a chance as well against an Oldham side who have lost the last three games.
17:20 West Ham v Birmingham City, Championship, Sky Sports 1 / HD1
Oh look everybody, West Ham are on the telly against. Please, I beg you, contain your excitement.
20:00 Fulham v Chelsea, Premier League, Sky Sports 1 / HD1
One of the more curious London derbies. Geographically they are within spitting distance of each other but if you were caught spitting in west London you're liable to find yourself the subject of an angry letter to The Telegraph. This rivalry doesn't have too much of a history and you suspect that Chelsea have other fish to fry. Still, a nice way to round off the bank holiday weekend.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

2012/13 Europa League Contenders - Part 2: Spain, France, Netherlands and Belgium

Terry is back with some more contenders for next season's Europa League. Warning: Contains playoffs


Qualification spots: 3 (Two from the league and one from the Cup)

If you’ve spent any time hangin’ with the Football hipsters on Twitter then you’ll be right across the exploits of Athletic Club Bilbao and their eccentric coach, Marcelo Bielsa. The Basque club are whipping up a storm in this season’s Europa League after knocking out Manchester United and spanking Bundesliga club, Schalke 04, in the Quarter Finals.

Well you can be certain of one thing and that the Bilbao club will be back in next year’s competition after reaching the final of the Spanish Cup. There they will play Barcelona who, barring a freakish occurrence, will be back in the Champions League next season. Whether, Bielsa and his midfield wunderkind Iker Muniain will still be at the San Mames remains to be seen.

The remaining two places could be filled from the reluctant Valencia (another current quarter finalist) and Malaga who are vying for a Champions League place. Another contender is Levante in sixth place but given their modest European history you imagine that Valencia’s other club would consider Europa League football a significant achievement. From seventh downwards there are a clutch of clubs who would see a top eight place as realistic. These include Europa League holders, Atletico Madrid, Espanyol, Sevilla and Getafe.


Qualification spots: 3 (One from the league, one from the French Cup and one from the French League Cup) 

Given that there are no prizes from fifth downwards in Ligue 1 it comes as little surprise to learn that the French top flight has a reputation for being a little uninteresting. At present,the fourth place spot that results in a place in the Europa League belongs to Lyon. However, OM are also in the final of the League Cup so if they win then the likelihood is that the fifth placed team will get the nod.

However, in fifth pace and level on points with Lyon are Toulouse so nothing is certain. Beneath them is a four point gap to sixth placed Saint Etienne. The French Cup Final is down to its final four with two lower division clubs making up the quartet. Gazelec Ajaccio play in the third tier of French football and face Lyon. Meanwhile, Gazelec’s fellow third division side US Quevilly will play Stade Rennais. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that one of these teams will play in Europe next season. Eat your heart out Birmingham City.

The Netherlands

Qualification spots: 4 (Three from the league and one from the Cup) 

The 2013 Europa League Final will be hosted in Amsterdam so the participants will be keen to make it a Dutch affair in the Amsterdam ArenA. The Netherlands operate a playoff system for the final remaining Europa League spot. This is a four team competition between fifth, sixth and seventh and eighth places.

The title is being contested between Ajaz, AZ, Twente, PSV, Feyenoord and Heerenveen. That’s four points covering the top six team. Whoever finishes second goes into the Champions league qualifier. That leaves third and fourth to go straight in the qualifying rounds for next season’s Europa League.

With regards to a playoff, it would not be an exaggeration to say that there are clubs, closer to the bottom of the table than the top who are in with a shout of landing a Europa League spot. At the time of writing there are four points between NEC in eighth place and Heracles in thirteenth. Of course, there is a lot of teams to negotiate on the way but it does seem mildly bonkers to think that a team that is sixth from bottom of the league may end up playing in Europe next season but hey, it’s their league and if makes them happy...

Heracles’ best chance of going through is by beating PSV in the KNVB Beker Final (That’s the Dutch Cup to you and me) which takes place on 8th April.


Qualification spots: 2 (Two from the league and one from the Cup) 

I'm trying to work out if the Belgian qualification route to the Europa League is incredibly complicated or, terribly straightforward. Belgium decides is Championship, European and relegation places by an elaborate playoff system (well, elaborate to me anyway).

That means that, as far as I can make out, anyone from Anderlecht, Club Brugge, Gent, Standard Liege, Kortrijk or Genk could win the League, qualify for the Champions League or the Europa League. The winners of Groups A and B of “Playoff 2” will then play the fourth placed team in “Playoff 1” in yet another playoff for the final Europa League spot.

Cup winners, Sporting Lokeren have already qualifiers and the only certainty in what appears, from the outside at least, to be a bonkers format. All this effort for two places.

 As a famous fictional Frenchman once said, “These Belgians are crazy.”

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Bundesliga 2 round up - Week 28: Squeaky at the bottom

Despite the obvious charms of the old Tivoli stadium and concerns of their supporters over ticket prices, Alemannia Aachen moved in to the brand new Tivoli in 2009 with ambitions of returning to the top flight. Three years later they find themselves third from bottom of the second division after five consecutive defeats.

The latest was at home to Dynamo Dresden. 1-0 was the final score and the result proved to be the final straw for coach Friedhelm Funkel who was sacked before the weekend was out. Aachen  are second from bottom and form part of a trio of clubs who have been separated from the rest of the league by five points.

Rock bottom are Rostock who managed a rare win and away from home, to boot. Freddy Borg got the only goal at the Allianz Arena against 1860 Munich. They weren't the only winner in the bottom three, however. Karlsruhe beat Union Berlin 2-0 at the Wildparkstadion.

Realistically, all three club's best chance of survival is to nail that third from bottom spot in which the occupier plays the third best team in the third division. There are three points separating Karlsruhe, Aachen and Rostock.

On the other side of that five point gap are Duisberg who drew 1-1 at Ingolstadt. Above them are FSV Frankfurt who also drew with Energie Cottbus.

At the top, Eintracht Frankfurt nudged ahead of Greuther Fürth to take top spot after beating Bochum 3-0  and Furth dropping two points at Erzebirge Aue. Paderborn kept their hopes of promotion alive with a 0-0 draw against Braunschweig but the once tight top five is now covered by ten points with Frankfurt and Greuther Fürth establishing some distance at the very top.

The final game of the weekend was on Monday night between third placed Fortuna Dusseldorf and fourth placed St Pauli. Neither team will be satisfied with the 0-0 result, especially Fortuna as they had a man advantage for seventeen minutes after Carlos Zambrano was sent off for St Pauli. As the Peruvian left the field he was seen to spit as Fortuna's Sascha Rösler. All very unsavoury and with potential consequences should the DFB decide to intervene.

That's it. Results and tables here