Monday, June 22, 2009

Flawless Spain march on

Spain continued their record-breaking form in South Africa’s World Cup rehearsal, the Confederations Cup, as they chalked up 15 successive wins on Saturday.

The European champions became the first international side to claim 15 straight victories after their 2-0 triumph over South Africa, eclipsing the mark jointly held by Brazil, Australia, and France. The result also saw Spain equal Brazil's world-leading run of 35 games unbeaten, set between 1993 and 1996, and they will claim that record outright if they avoid defeat in the Confederations Cup semi-finals.

Spain have continued their majestic form with three wins out of three in their group games in South Africa and if they can maintain their winning run up until next summer they are sure to be even shorter than their current quote of 5.8.

Brazil, as ever, are also amongst the favourites to win the World Cup, priced at 6.2, but Vicente Del Bosque’s Spain look certain to get shorter and could be less than 4/1 when the finals get underway next June.

Del Bosque said: "I'm happy with both things, but above all getting through to the semi-finals. We've come here to win the Confederations Cup.”

Del Bosque’s side have a 100 per cent record in 2010 World Cup qualifying and New Zealand, Iraq and South Africa have all been brushed aside at the Confederations Cup with Spain yet to concede a goal.

Their fluid passing style has been too good for everyone with Xavi and Cesc Fabregas providing the supply line for the deadly Fernando Torres and David Villa. And they look a good football bet at around even money to wrap up a Confederations Cup triumph with Brazil their likely opponents in the final.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Pearce can take credit from England win

England stumbled their way to a 2-1 win in their opening match at the European Under-21 Championships in Sweden on Monday – a victory which owed much to boss Stuart Pearce.

Pearce was brave enough to switch his formation at the break with England down to 10 men after the dismissal of Michael Mancienne.

England had taken the lead through Lee Cattermole, but after Mancienne was caught out by Berat Sadik – the Chelsea man brought him down for a penalty – England looked far from the classy outfit expected at the finals.

But to England’s credit they dug in and showed plenty of grit and determination to kick-off with a win courtesy of Micah Richards’ powerful second-half header.

However it was as much Stuart Pearce’s tactical bravery as Richards’ finish which forced England over the line.

Pearce opted to axe senior star Theo Walcott at the break in favour of partnering Gabriel Agbonlahor with Fraizer Campbell and his switch did the trick.

England looked more of an attacking threat with two men down the middle rather than the three-pronged attack of Walcott, Agbonlahor and James Milner which started the game.

It could be suggested it was a change that was forced on Pearce after the sending off of Mancienne, but it was still a brave move to take off Walcott – with many pundits expected the Arsenal man to be one of the players of the tournament.

Pearce was honest after the game, he said: "We've showed courage.

"We're oozing courage, oozing commitment and oozing character - that's what we have got."

But when asked if that display was good enough to win the tournament, he added: "A million miles away from it.

"They know it. They're genuine, they're honest - that's why they've turned around a situation, down to 10 men, and gone and won it.

"They're oozing character - they've shown that many, many times before to me. That's what we've got in abundance.

"What we need to show is more ability. That performance, for this standard of team, wasn't good enough. They know it before I even tell them.

"We have to improve on that. I've got three points, I'm pleased. I'm delighted with the points. We need to get better than that and we are better than that."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Forget Giggs, Murphy’s the man

Ryan Giggs might have won the PFA Player of the Year award this season, but one man who has had his best ever campaign and not been awarded the praise he deserves is Danny Murphy.

Giggs controversially edged out Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Edwin van der Sar, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Steven Gerrard to the top gong but the Fulham man has been on a par with the big names, if not better.

Murphy has continued where he left off last season and been a major contributing factor in Fulham’s amazing seventh-placed finish.

Cast your minds back 12 months ago and it was Murphy who scored a vital header which earned Fulham a 1-0 win over Portsmouth and kept the Cottagers in the top flight and this term the 32-year-old has been immense.

He has been an ever-present for Fulham in the Premier League, scoring five times - for what can only be described as the most improved team around.

Murphy has been Roy Hodgson’s midfield kingpin - driving the cottagers forward and he is the one that Fulham look towards to dictate the pace of the game.

But the former Liverpool star, who is in the form of his life, is not only Fulham’s metronome, he also works like a Trojan breaking up the opposition’s attack.

The Cheshire-born star loves to ‘get his foot in’ and he is widely regarded as one of the best passers of a football in the country.

Fulham chief Hodgson picked Murphy up in August 2007 from Spurs for an undisclosed fee and he can’t have made too many better signings.

Murphy has bounced back from indifferent spells with Charlton and Tottenham but he’s been worth his weight in gold and only the sublime talent of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard have limited Murphy’s England caps to just nine and for my money he should have been on the short-list for the top gong.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Lehmann takes a swipe at German officials

Former Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann has stoked the fires of controversy once again after pointing the finger at German officials. The Stuttgart number one has claimed his side would have wrapped up the Bundesliga title had it not been for some controversial refereeing decisions.

The 39-year-old believes league leaders Wolfsburg, who need only a point to be crowned champions for the first time in their history next weekend, have had all the luck and benefitted from some dubious decisions.

"Wolfsburg have benefited from refereeing decisions," he said. "I have never seen them having to accept negative decisions." Bayern Munich, who lie in a share of second place with Stuttgart, have also been on the receiving end of refereeing help according to Lehmann.

"Bayern get some decisions in their favour which would go against us but, as a player, you cannot do anything about such decisions," he added. "If the decisions were all normal, we would already be champions.

"We are hoping for a good referee's performance in Munich on Saturday. I am sure I am not going to get a fantastic reception there."

Lehmann is no stranger to controversy and recently ripped the headband off Stuttgart defender Khalid Boulahrouz during a UEFA Cup tie and threw Hoffenheim star Sejad Salihavic's boot onto the roof of the net. Salihavic's boot came off in the penalty area and instead of Lehamann handing it back to the striker he launched it behind onto the netting and the Hoffenheim man was ordered off the pitch to find it before he was allowed back into the action.

The keeper, who has just come out of international retirement for Germany, also haggled with a referee about where Bremen midfielder Diego should position the ball for a free-kick. Diego then scored from the spot chosen by Lehmann.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Don't mention the treble to Lampard

Frank Lampard has revealed he 'hates' talk of the treble after propelling Chelsea into the FA Cup final on Saturday.

Lampard was the driving force for Guus Hiddink's blue machine as Chelsea recovered from a goal down to secure a 2-1 win over Arsenal and a place in the final against Everton.

The England midfielder was man-of-the-match at Wembley, but he was quick to play down talk of a trophy treble after the game.

"I hate talk of the treble," said Lampard.

"When you talk about it the pressure gets even more so we must keep our heads down and take each game and competition as it comes and if we do that then we will have a chance.

"It will be very difficult to win three but if we can win something then that would be great.

"We are now in a position where we can potentially be very successful this year."

The Blues are still in the hunt for the Premier League title albeit four points behind leaders Manchester United, in the semi-finals of the Champions League and the final of the FA Cup, as another tiring season draws to a close.

But Lampard appears to be saving his best form until last. The former West Ham man was in top shape in midweek as Chelsea saw off the challenge of Liverpool in the Champions League.

Lampard scored twice, but it was leadership and all-action display from the centre of the park which caught the eye.

And he followed up that display with another impressive 90 minutes as he led the charge to an Arsenal side, who got their noses in front at Wembley.

"We must keep doing the good things we are doing at the moment - playing together and playing with spirit," added Lampard.

Lampard might not like talk of the treble, but with his gutsy displays Hiddink's men look a good football bet to end the season with some silverware and all three are not beyond reach.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Cool-headed Macheda set for stardom

Not too many people had heard of Federico Macheda before Sunday, but the Manchester United youngster looks like being in the headlines for several years to come.

The 17-year-old was introduced as a second-half substitute as the champions chased the game at Old Trafford against Aston Villa and what an introduction to English football the Rome-born youngster made.

With the game in stoppage time at 2-2 Macheda picked the ball up on the edge of the box, escaped the clutches of a Villa defender with a Cruyff turn before curling a superb right-foot shot into the corner of the net to give United a crucial 3-2 win.

It was what dreams are made of as a debutant and a sublime piece of skill from the youngster, who was quickly slotted into United’s reserves this season after a fabulous goalscoring run in the youth team.

"I think this is the day of my dreams - to score a goal like that on my debut," said Macheda, known as ‘Kiko’, after his match-winning strike.

His goal fired United back to the Premier League summit and the champions are still the bookies’ 1.36 Premier League favourites to retain their crown.

United Under-18 boss Paul McGuinness rates Macheda, the starlet United picked up from Lazio, very highly indeed and his coolness in front of goal for the second string has also impressed reserve-team boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The fact that Sir Alex Ferguson had both Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov unavailable for Sunday’s game opened the door for Macheda - whose close control and cool head look certain to catapult him to future stardom.

By Phil Tomlinson

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Mutu acts, Kissinger on the World Cup and some bad kits

Some interesting stats on squad size in the Premier League. [Daily Mail]

Henry Kissinger loves the beautiful game. [NY Times]

The Gaffer has some stipulations for FSC's airing of the Champions League [EPL Talk]

Some truly terrible kits. [Telegraph]

Musings over the Champions League. [ESPN]

Monday, March 30, 2009

Passionate Bellamy brutally honest

As long as you're not John Toshack or one of the 20,000 or so brave souls who watched Wales' 2-0 defeat to Finland at the weekend then Craig Bellamy's post-match comments on Saturday were refreshingly honest.

After the weekend's horror show at the Millennium Stadium skipper Bellamy faced up to the sad reality of constant failure in big tournament qualification and instead of trotting out the pre-rehearsed twaddle he let rip.

Bellamy blasted: "It's all over, the qualifying group. I don't want to sound bitter but from what I saw in this match, it is all over for both sides.

"Neither of us are going to qualify, that was quite evident from what everyone saw out there.

"Russia and Germany are far too good, they have far too much quality for us. And it is the same old situation, it is all about pride now and getting as many points as you can.

"It is the same old story, and that is what is so disappointing. Where we go from here, God knows."

The usual after-match debriefing usually goes along the lines of 'a bad day at the office' or 'now we must look forward to the next match', but Bellamy- who wears his heart on his sleeve - was brutally truthful.

It wasn't what was expected from the Wales skipper, but it was what everyone was thinking and for that the passionate Welshman has to be admired.

Much was expected from John Toshack's young guns in World Cup qualification, but with just six points from five games the dream is almost over.

And next up is a home clash with Germany on Wednesday in Cardiff when another distressing day for Welsh football is likely to be witnessed.

By Phil Tomlinson

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Bayern Munich, Tata, seducing Goldenballs, and Asian footballers

Bayern Munich are sick of bailing out 1860 Munich. [Independent]

The world's cheapest car and the planet's biggest club. [Reuters India]

Another Gunner gets his head turned by the Rossonieri. [Daily Mail]

Manchester City don't give up the hope of attracting some of Europe's best. [Times]

Posh worries as Italian ladies love the Beckham. [Bild]

If your taste in cinema includes movies like Goal II, watch this instead. [Guardian]

The Blues look for diversity. []

Monday, March 23, 2009

Goal II: Living the Dream

I spent roughly two hours watching Goal II: Living the Dream on Netflix last night and normally I'd be bitching about how I'm never going to get that hour and fifty-six minutes back, when I could have been sleeping.

Although I have to say, as shit as the movie may be, I love the game enough to watch every minute, from the ridiculous cut and paste La Liga and Champions League play to the difficulties of being an up-and-coming star for the legendary Real Madrid.

I think it was perhaps the third shot of David Beckham's tattooed back or maybe the ridiculous predictability of the plot that sort of ruined it for me. Ever watch a movie and kind of enjoy it, but feel ashamed? Sure you do. We've all hooked up with people in our past that are like motor scooters: they're a lot of fun until your friends see you riding them.

And Goal II definitely falls into that category. It's cheesy. Calling it contrived may be an understatement, but I have to hand it to the producers and directors, as they understand how to tap into the fervor of soccer fans. As bad as this movie is, it's worth watching for panoramic views of Madrid and the Santiago Bernabeau, for the footage from actual matches, and for a slight glimpse into the backrooms that dictate the course of the world game.

Then you realize that Rutger Hauer is playing a Dutch coach managing los Merengues. Forget that he doesn't even try to take a stab at an accent from Holland, or that every single character is a caricature, from groupies to agents, to nasty photogs who harass the protagonist.

For a fan, all it takes is a soccer legend feebly trying to deliver a line or two and it's worth watching. Perhaps the worst aspect is the ridiculous wordless smiles the big names have plastered on their faces as they play keepy-uppy and go through training drills. The protagonist, Kuno Becker, even takes some time to play a little sandlot soccer with his newly-discovered half-brother and his urchin friends.

Message received: despite all the money and problems and pressure, the game is what these guys are here for, and even though they may drive Lamborghinis and wear watches the size of Rhode Island, it's all about the childlike love and joy of the game.

I think I just hurt myself rolling my eyes so hard.

The flaws of Goal II are too numerous to list here, but if you enjoy watching the game and appreciate the pomp and drama of soccer at the highest level, it's worth losing a few hours of sleep.