May 21, 2013
Posted: 1606 GMT
Let’s face it, if I could predict the future I would not be working as a sports journalist. Considering all the money I could make foretelling events in the coming days, weeks, months and years to come I would ideally work less than a sloth on strike. Clearly then, this is not a superpower I possess. However, though I can’t tell you exactly what will occur in this weekend’s UEFA Champions League Final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, I can make an informed guess; so that is what I am going to do.
So let’s start with the score. I think Bayern will beat their Bundesliga rivals 2-1 so it will be the Bavarians celebrating their fifth European Crown when the dust settles at Wembley on Saturday night.
Bayern will win because they have been the best team in the competition: simple. They have won nine of their 12 games, have scored more goals and conceded less than any other side. They have shown they can dominate games by hogging most of the possession while also being effective as a counter-attacking team against Barcelona. This is a well-oiled machine, which plays to its strengths and seems to score at will against any opposition.
The key to Bayern’s success this season has been their wing play. Most of their attacks are conducted down both wings and they rely on deadly combinations between the full backs and wingers to create two-on-one situations around the opposition’s box. We all know Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben create goal-scoring chances, but what full backs Phillip Lahm and David Alaba have done is quite extraordinary. They combine for six assists in 12 Champions League games this season.
October 11, 2011
Posted: 1641 GMT
There were some big surprises for the traditional powerhouses of African football, as three former champions failed to qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN).
While we have to praise the likes of Niger, Burkina Faso and Botswana for making the finals of the competition, many fans will be disappointed that Nigeria's Super Eagles, the Bafana Bafana of South Africa, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon and Egypt's all-conquering Pharaohs won’t be there.
The easy way to explain this phenomenon would be to say that the balance of power has shifted in Africa.
One could argue that some of the smaller nations have evolved tactically and technically and that many of their players are now gracing some of the biggest stages in the world with their clubs. Read the rest of this entry »
March 14, 2011
Posted: 1255 GMT
It’s do or die for Bayern Munich this week.
Effectively out of the Bundesliga title race and knocked out of the German Cup, the only realistic chance the Bavarian giants have of winning any silverware this season is by lifting the European Champions League at Wembley in May.
In their way are the defending champions, Inter Milan. Tough opponents, no doubt, but considering the first leg victory at the San Siro, the German club should start the second game as favorites to advance.
March 9, 2011
Posted: 847 GMT
He's a sore loser but a superb manager, and Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was right about one thing: Referee Massimo Busacca did "kill" Tuesday night’s Champions League Round of 16 match at the Camp Nou stadium.
Although Arsenal's conquerors Barcelona were magnificent - statistically, the better side by a long way - the point about football, in fact sport in general, is you just never know what will happen.
Wenger’s anguish was caused by Robin Van Persie’s sending-off. He was given a second yellow card for kicking the ball after the referee had blown his whistle. Only, it wasn’t a petulant act; Van Persie was shooting at goal just one second after the offside flag was raised.
November 15, 2010
Posted: 1202 GMT
Money can't buy you love, and it can't buy you trophies either, especially when you have the wrong man calling the shots.
Manchester City, who suffered another misfiring moment at the weekend, are about as likely to win silverware with Roberto Mancini sat in their dugout as pigs suddenly mastering the art of flight.
Boos greeted the players and the manager at the City of Manchester Stadium as the final whistle sounded following a 0-0 draw with Birmingham on Saturday.
October 9, 2010
Posted: 1933 GMT
When does a hard man become a bad man? That’s the issue currently being debated by the football fraternity following claims by FIFA’s top medical official, Dr. Michel d'Hooghe, that professional football is being disfigured by what he called "criminality" and "brutality" on the pitch.
Those are some harsh words from one of the longest-serving members of FIFA”s executive committee, and they've obviously raised the hackles of many in the game, notably the global players' union, FIFPro, which rejects the idea that any player would deliberately try to injure a fellow professional.
However, that flies in the face of the old football ethos in which managers would often advise the more physical of their players to “let him know you’re there” in reference to dealing with a tricky opponent.
September 20, 2010
Posted: 1812 GMT
Some years ago there was a footballer in the top flight of the English game called Vinnie Jones.
A committed hard man, for sure, but also a player who only had to breathe on an opponent to get the referee reaching for his card and the football authorities up in arms in righteous indignation.
It was a monkey see monkey do situation, a self-fulfilling prophecy which played right into the hands of the tabloid media whose stock in trade is negativity.
We see it off the sports field too, with wayward celebrities singled out by the tabloids as the “It” girls or boys.
June 18, 2010
Posted: 1711 GMT
I always knew the golfing landscape had changed but this week at the season's second major the U.S. Open I experienced it first hand.
There was a time when the incessant buzz in the media center at these kind of events was all about not whether Tiger Woods was going to win but by how many.
How those times have changed! Of course, the American can instantly point to the fact he's still world number one (though Phil Mickelson's closing in on him fast) but there's no doubt the man who once dominated the majors and the build-up to them has been upstaged somewhat.
May 12, 2010
Posted: 1200 GMT
What does Fabio Capello's provisional England World Cup squad say about his mindset ahead of the finals in South Africa? Well, to me it says that us long-suffering England fans will be in for another summer of uncertainty.
Throughout his two-and-a-half-year reign we've been led to believe that Capello is this inscrutable Yoda-type figure, just a little bit smarter than the rest of us, who knows his own mind and is as impervious to the media as his predecessors were vulnerable. The Italian knows his best team, we assumed. He knows his best squad. He will not take anyone not playing regularly for their club, whether it be down to a loss of form or an injury.
Great, we thought, this guy is the real deal. He's got a handle on things like no England manager since the late, great Bobby Robson, who steered England to the brink of the final at Italia '90. But when Fabio announced his preliminary squad for South Africa, we began to scratch our heads.
In comes Jamie Carragher, who had to be talked out of retirement, and whose Liverpool side have had their worst season in seven years in the English Premier League and didn't come close to winning any other competition either.
Next up is Ledley King, who admittedly played a part in Tottenham's run to a superb fourth-place finish. But he played only 19 of the 38 league games due to his chronic knee condition, which rarely allows him to play two games in quick succession. There are seven in quick succession at the World Cup, if you make it all the way to the final. Will he make it?
And while we're on the subject of the walking wounded, Rio Ferdinand has struggled with injury for most of the season for Manchester United, and played no more than a cameo role in their unsuccessful title run-in. Yet the skipper is in the squad, presumably in the hope that he'll be fit in time. Does Fabio remember a trio of former skippers by the name of Kevin Keegan, Bryan Robson and David Beckham? They went to World Cups feeling not quite right, and guess what, they played that way too.
We'll gloss over the call-up of Aston Villa's Stephen Warnock and Everton's Leighton Baines, because they wouldn't have seen the light of day as cover for left-back Ashley Cole if Wayne Bridge had not bailed in the wake of John Terry's affair with his ex-partner. But Scott Parker in midfield? A wholehearted competitor for sure, but didn't he have his best days at Charlton and Chelsea? And didn't his team, West Ham, just avoid relegation this season?
Up front, I'm glad to see Darren Bent's still in with a shout after a good season at Sunderland, but what happened to Capello's "no play, no way policy" when it comes to Emile Heskey, who spent large chunks of the season on the bench at Aston Villa. And what about Theo Walcott? A non-factor when he was taken to the last World Cup as an unused bench-warmer in Germany, and a bystander for much of Arsenal's season due to injury.
I could go on, but you get the gist. Capello's selection doesn't smack of clarity and certainty - but of compromise, desperation and experimentation. Which is all well and good a year before before the finals, but not what you want to see with less than a month to go. But, as I said, Yoda-like he is, and right I hope he's got it.
November 19, 2009
Posted: 952 GMT
An unpleasant whiff of injustice is polluting the air for football followers across the globe. France are through to the World Cup, but only after a blatant handball from Thierry Henry.
Although they are celebrating qualification, Les Bleus look distinctly red-faced.
If you haven’t seen the controversial goal in question it shouldn’t take you long to find. Thousands have watched it online – many leaving outraged comments, believing that Henry handled the ball to stop it going out of play.
Without that illegal act there was no way he would have been able to set up William Gallas’s winning goal. And there is no debate over his guilt, because the Barcelona star has admitted as much.
“I will be honest. It was a handball,” he confessed afterwards. However, he insists it was up to the referee to spot the incident not for him to own up.
I agree it would have been an astonishing act of sportsmanship if Henry had rushed up to the match official to tell him the truth. There was so much at stake. A World Cup without France, the champions as recently as 1998, would have been unthinkable. And if the goal was ruled out because Henry intervened he would have been vilified in his home country.
Instead, he has become a villain for football fans everywhere else. There is a real danger that Henry’s reputation will be dented. The former Arsenal man is a skilful, speedy striker, graceful and so clean-cut that razor company Gillette use him to promote their brand globally, alongside stars like Roger Federer and Tiger Woods.
However, before we rush to sign the sporting obituary of this enchanting and genial performer we need to bear two things in mind.
First, Ireland’s manager Giovanni Trappatoni, given the chance to blame Henry, instead pointed the finger at the referee for missing the incident.
Second, even if the goal had been disallowed, the Republic would not necessarily have qualified for the World Cup finals. There were still 17 minutes of extra time to be played and then the tie would have gone to a penalty shoot-out, with no guarantee that Ireland would have come out on top.
Ultimately, Le Hand of God will again call into question FIFA’s refusal to use television replays to assist the referee during a game.
Within seconds of France’s "goal," replays showed the truth to viewers around the world. When will football’s governing body see what is staring the rest of us in the face?