Friday, March 30, 2012

Stilian Petrov of Aston Villa has been diagnosed with leukaemia

Aston Villa captain Stilian Petrov has been diagnosed with acute leukaemia, the club have said. The condition was diagnosed following tests after the Bulgaria international, 32, developed a fever following last Saturday's defeat to Arsenal.

England: Premier League Weekend Previews & Predictions

Manchester City will look to return to the top of the table with rivals Manchester United not in action until Monday. City host Sunderland at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, while the race for a top four place in the Premier League continues. Chelsea, fresh from victory over Benfica in Lisbon, travel to Aston Villa hoping to keep their ambitions alive, with Arsenal facing relegation-threatened QPR. Sunday sees Tottenham take on Swansea at White Hart Lane, with Newcastle and Liverpool locking horns earlier on Tyneside.

Manchester City vs. Sunderland: Preview

Premier League Spotlight

Paul Merson's Predictions

Lawro's Predictions

Italy: Serie A Weekend Preview

All eyes will be on Andrea Stramaccioni when he makes his Serie A coaching debut with Inter Milan against Genoa on Sunday. The 36-year-old was promoted from youth team coach to guide the senior side after the Nerazzurri parted company with experienced tactician Claudio Ranieri earlier this week. Serie A leaders AC Milan go into Saturday's game at Catania with their hopes of reaching the Champions League semi-finals very much alive after holding defending champions Barcelona to a goalless draw on Wednesday at the San Siro. Juventus are unbeaten this season but face a stern test when they square off against Champions League hopefuls Napoli in Turin on Sunday night.


Spain: Eduardo Alvarez's Weekend Quiniela

The widely acclaimed (ahem )Wiktionary defines a 'reverse jinx' as a prediction which is the opposite of the outcome desired by the person making it. The term, obviously relevant to a column devoted to predict the outcome of matches - mostly wrong, I know -, has become even more interesting after Josep Guardiola's blatant reverse jinxing campaign started last month. Four weeks ago, and with his club ten points behind the leader, he understandably stated that 'We won't win this title'. However, his defeatist speech remained untouched when Real Madrid drew not only one, but two consecutive matches. A six-point difference with one derby remaining still seemed unassailable to Pep: 'Real Madrid will win again, this league is over', he psychically said last Saturday. But not even Pep is perfect, and the stylish Catalan ended up blowing his own cover right before Barcelona's Champions League match in Milan. 'If we don't perform in the next two matches (meaning AC Milan and Athletic de Bilbao), we could lose two titles'. Uh? Two titles? I thought La Liga was already lost, Mr Guardiola. Superstitions abound in the world of football. Reverse jinxing, emotional hedging or lowering expectations have always been part of the game and, of course, football gambling as well. Pay attention to what you read, someone could be reverse-jinxing your team right now. Shall we? Remember, it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win.

Everton's Leighton Baines winning the race ahead of Chelsea's Ashley Cole to be England's best left-back

After all it’s been a difficult campaign for Cole and for Chelsea and, with voting under way among the players, he is not in his best form. What could be interesting, however, is that Cole could lose out to an Englishman in the Premier League's select XI for the first time since 2001-02 when Wayne Bridge, then of Southampton, was chosen ahead of him.

Fabrice Muamba pictured in hospital sitting up and smiling as recovery from cardiac arrest continues

"I pray that we see Fabrice Muamba smile again" said Arsene Wenger two weeks ago. Today, Wenger got his wish as the Bolton midfielder was pictured sitting up in hospital smiling for a photograph.

Uli Hesse in Germany

Last Saturday, I saw a cracking game. The visitors, second from bottom, scored from a set-piece in the first minute and then, as the hosts piled on the pressure looking for an equaliser, added two goals from counter attacks for a stunning 3-0 lead at half-time. The home side, in fourth place when the game began, pulled one back early in the second half and proceeded to throw everything forward. They hit the post, then scored to make it 3-2 and in the final 20 minutes it was thrilling end-to-end stuff, though even the best chances went begging. I had a few beers and a bratwurst, I applauded good moves and shook my head at bad ones while squinting against the sun. Then the final whistle blew, we all went home and, all things considered, the world was not a bad place to be. There's no point in telling you who played whom and who scored - suffice it to say that I had a stunning conversation with the groundskeeper, who is an old pal of Otto Rehhagel and owns the very ball with which Bremen's Uwe Reinders scored from a throw-in against Bayern Munich. It was a game in the Schleswig-Holstein-Liga, one of the 11 regional divisions that currently make up the fifth level of German football. Despite the presence of some well-known clubs at this tier - former German champions VfR Mannheim and former cup winners Schwarz-Weiss Essen, for example - this is what we call amateur football.

Friday MLS Forecast: Week 4 - Preparing for the return of beloved, brotherly souls

The Forecast ponders Sébastien Le Toux's visit to Philadelphia and sorts through all of the Week 4 fixtures.

Jonathan Wilson: After changes, England in clueless state heading toward Euro 2012

Plucky England, fighting back from two down only to be thwarted by a deflected last-minute winner. A brave effort from Psycho's young lions. Pleasing fluency at times. The start of a bold new era for English football. ... As a response to a single game played with a youthful side under a caretaker manager, such commentary made a certain sense. But the crucial thing to remember after England's 3-2 defeat to Holland last Wednesday was context. It seems to have been all but forgotten that in the last international break, England beat the world and European champions Spain and then ended a 43-year-old hoodoo by beating Sweden. Yes, both games finished 1-0. Yes, they weren't particularly thrilling. But the system worked. England, at last, seemed to have accepted its limitations and played to the maximum of what it could achieve, defending stoutly and threatening with counter attacks and set plays. Fabio Capello had established foundations that, conceivably, could have made England challengers at the Euros in the coming summer. Nobody will admit it now, of course, but he was actually doing a good job. 

Paolo Bandini: Italian press reaction: Milan's perfect match ended in third minute

"Milan fans, choose which side you are on," writes Luigi Garlando in Thursday's Gazzetta dello Sport. "Those with regrets, or those who are satisfied." A goalless draw at home to Barcelona has given the team at least a hope of progressing to the Champions League semi-finals – meaning that a score draw at the Camp Nou next week would be enough. But missed opportunities for both Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the opening minutes have left many observers wondering what might have been.

UEFA Europa League: Thursday's Round-Up

Athletic Bilbao kept up their push for Europa League glory as two goals from Fernando Llorente helped them to a 4-2 win at Schalke in the first leg of their quarter-final clash. Brett Holman and Maarten Martens handed AZ Alkmaar a scarcely-deserved 2-1 victory with Valencia in Holland. Substitute Eduardo Salvio struck in the 89th minute as Atletico Madrid claimed a potentially crucial first-leg 2-1 advantage against Hannover in Spain. Metalist Kharkiv boosted their chances of reaching the semi-finals with a last-gasp penalty at Sporting Lisbon as they lost 2-1.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Henry Winter: Classic FA Cup semi-final derbies bring back the true glory of the illustrious event

Chelsea celebrate their 1970 win in style...

Welcome back, FA Cup. Good to see you again. We’ve missed you. Where have you been? Hiding in the corner of the English playground, bullied by those gorged on the rich treats of the Premier League and Champions League? Not now. After the quarter-finals were completed in such pulsating fashion on Tuesday, a vintage FA Cup semi-final weekend awaits.

Bradford v Crawley, Manchester United v Arsenal, and Hunter v Lee in football's biggest ever fights

Football is full of inaccurate cliches. "It's a game of two halves" becomes redundant in games which go to extra time. "There are no easy games at this level," as trotted out by international managers everywhere rather forgets the fact that San Marino and Liechenstein are potential opponents. Perhaps most incorrect is the reliably solemn pronouncement so often heard whenever we see fisticuffs on a football pitch: "We don't want to see that." Yes we do.

UEFA Champions League: Wednesday's Reports

AC Milan 0 - 0 Barcelona
Richard Williams at the San Siro

Ian Chadband at the San Siro
Barcelona file pitch complaint

Marseille 0 - 2 Bayern Munich
Report II

Houston's Clark suspended three games for slur

Houston Dynamo midfielder Colin Clark was suspended for three games by Major League Soccer on Wednesday and fined for directing a gay slur toward a ball boy during Houston's 2-0 loss at Seattle last week.

Liverpool, Roma to play preseason match at Fenway

Liverpool will play an exhibition against Italian side Roma at Boston's Fenway Park on July 25 as the American-owned Premier League club attempts to increase its exposure in the United States. The match will be part of the ballpark's 100th anniversary celebrations and one of two confirmed games Liverpool will play on its 12-day tour of North America this summer.

World Cup 2014: Brazil's lower house finally passes key bill

The lower house of Brazil's Congress on Wednesday finally passed a bill giving FIFA the guarantees needed to organize the 2014 World Cup. The Congress approved the bill after several delays which had raised concerns about whether Brazil could fulfill the commitments it made to FIFA when it accepted hosting rights for the tournament. The bill will now go to the upper house, the Senate, before reaching President Dilma Rousseff for her signature. Among the controversial issues was the sale of alcohol inside stadiums, currently against the law in Brazil but demanded by FIFA. The approved legislation doesn't specifically authorize alcohol sales, but the government says other articles in the legislation mean it can meet FIFA's requirement. Opposition lawmakers tried to veto the sale of alcohol at venues but were defeated. 

Norman Hubbard: Liverpool's Flawed Four

It is the best part of half a century since Merseyside's major exports were dubbed 'The Fab Four'. Now, in a city whose global fame owes as much to goals as guitars, another quartet are attracting attention, albeit in unwanted fashion. The gruesome foursome of Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam are more beaten than Beatles. Directly or indirectly, many of Liverpool's failings can be traced back to them.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sid Lowe: Barcelona vs. Milan Revisited: The night in 1994 the Dream died

Milan face Barcelona in this year's Champions League quarter-finals, having already put paid to one Barcelona Dream Team, 18 years ago in Athens. This is how they did it.

UEFA Champions League: Wednesday's Quarterfinal First-Leg Previews

AC Milan vs. Barcelona

Preview II
The list of Ibrahimovic's insults at Guardiola and Barcelona 

Marseille vs. Bayern Munich
Kevin McCarra: How Bayern Munich are making dynamic moves in Europe

Uli Hesse in Germany

There are four teams of the moment in the Bundesliga, two of them in a positive sense and two in a negative one. Following the old adage of giving people the good news first, let's start with the success stories.

U.S. national coach Jurgen Klinsmann defends his system after under-23 squad blows Olympics hopes

In the wake of a “brutal” setback that rocked United States soccer a day earlier, men’s national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann came out fighting – on behalf of his players, himself and the system he believes can turn this county into an international powerhouse. Klinsmann was at LP Field on Monday night to see the USA under-23s miss out on a place in the London Olympic Games in devastating fashion, when an injury-time goalkeeping meltdown from Sean Johnson allowed El Salvador to grab a 3-3 draw.

UEFA Champions League: Tuesday's Reports & Analyses

Benfica 0 - 1 Chelsea
Daniel Taylor at the Estádio da Luz
Richard Williams at the Estádio da Luz 
Five Things We Learned

APOEL Nicosia 0 - 3 Real Madrid

Report II

England: Tuesday's FA Cup Reports

Tottenham 3 - 1 Bolton
Jeremy Wilson at White Hart Lane
Kevin McCarra at White Hart Lane
Amy Lawrence at White Hart Lane

Sunderland 0 - 2 Everton
Ewan Murray at the Stadium of Light

UEFA Coefficients: Spain ready to take pole position

Spain will return to the top of UEFA's country ranking for the first time since 2006-07 following a strong performance by La Liga clubs this season and England suffering its worst campaign for seven years.

There is depressing news for Italy as Serie A continues to slip away from the top table of European football and could drop below Portugal, France and possibly even the Netherlands in forthcoming seasons if its performance does not show a marked improvement.

Roberto Gotta in Italy

For most of their intermittent Serie A history, Catania have been known throughout Italy for a catchphrase related to a surprising 1961 win over Inter in their decrepit - then, and now - Stadio Cibali, and not much else. Clamoroso al Cibali ("Shock at the Cibali") became something Italians pretending to be witty would use in everyday life.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sid Lowe in Spain

Osasuna's bookish goalkeeper has found inner peace and his team have hit their stride to push a club light on resources but strong on youthful organisation towards the European places.

Andrés Fernández gives Osasuna's Champions League bid firm foundations.

Death sparks fears of more fan violence in Brazil

Escalating soccer violence in Brazil is sparking fears of a new wave of confrontations in South America’s biggest city. A 21-year-old Palmeiras supporter was fatally shot in the head in Sao Paulo in a fight involving nearly 500 fans Sunday. This was the second soccer-related death in just more than a week in the country that will host the 2014 World Cup. There hadn’t been a death linked to fan fighting in Brazil since early last year, when a Corinthians fan was killed in Sao Paulo.

Americans Abroad: Jozy Altidore grabs a game-winning assist, Tim Ream leads Bolton to vital win

Altidore and Ream were vital to their teams' successes, while it was a mixed weekend for several Americans in Germany.

UEFA Champions League: Tuesday's Quarterfinal First-Leg Previews

Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica

Benfica vs. Chelsea

Preview II
Benfica's Five Key Players

APOEL Nicosia vs. Real Madrid
Surprise Package APOEL Ready for Real Madrid Test

Jonathan Wilson: Ivan Jovanovic's devotion to detail takes Apoel into unknown territory

England: Tuesday's FA Cup Previews

Tottenham vs. Bolton
Preview II

Sunderland vs. Everton
Preview II
Preview III

Houston Dynamo’s Colin Clark uses gay slur toward a ball boy

Angered by a Seattle ball boy who didn't hand him the ball exactly how he wanted before a seventh-minute throw-in against the Sounders on Friday night, Houston's Colin Clark called the kid a "fucking faggot." The gay slur was picked up loud and clear by pitchside microphones for the nationally televised match.

El Salvador's late goal ends U.S. Olympic hopes with 3-3 draw

The Americans had only a handful of seconds left to run out the clock and advance a step closer to the Olympics. With the pressure building with each tick, victory slipped away. Right off their hands. The United States, known for producing top goalkeepers such as Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller and Tim Howard, found themselves done in Monday night when substitute Sean Johnson couldn't handle a long shot from Jaime Alas of El Salvador in stoppage time. The ball bounced off his hands, up over him and into the net, and El Salvador ousted the United States from Olympic qualifying with a 3-3 tie.

Three Thoughts and Player Ratings

Martin Rogers: Costly Error Ends Olympic Hopes (includes video)

The Trawler: Chesterfield's Day Out in the Sun

Welcome to The Trawler, your weekly submersion through the teeming waters of life in the Championship, League One and League Two. You might be surprised what you find down there.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Paolo Bandini in Italy

While arguments between Juve and Inter raged off the pitch, the striker showed his enduring class to settle the Derby d'Italia.

Juventus' Alessandro Del Piero rolls back years to see off Inter. 

Raphael Honigstein in Germany

It's been a while, old friend...

In a tight-knit league marked by inconsistency and doubt, it is Schalke, spearheaded by the prolific Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who are making the biggest impact at present.

Schalke find joyous momentum while Bundesliga rivals fret and sweat.

Inter Milan Sack Coach Claudio Ranieri

Inter Milan have sacked coach Claudio Ranieri after only one win in their last 10 league matches. The former Chelsea boss took charge at the San Siro in September, replacing Gian Piero Gasperini, who was dismissed after only five games in charge.

England: Monday Night Football Reports & Table

Manchester United 1 - 0 Fulham
Henry Winter at Old Trafford
Daniel Taylor at Old Trafford
Richard Jolly at Old Trafford
Andy Hunter at Old Trafford

1Manchester United304773
2Manchester City305070
4Tottenham Hotspur301855
6Newcastle United30250
10Swansea City30-239
11Norwich City30-639
12Stoke City30-1238
14West Bromwich Albion30-536
15Aston Villa29-733
16Blackburn Rovers30-1928
17Bolton Wanderers29-2526
18Queens Park Rangers30-2025
19Wigan Athletic30-2825

Phil Ball in Spain

This came up for some reason...

Before you read this piece, please be warned, as they say on English TV before a programme starts, that "this article contains strong language". So look away now if you prefer. While shopping on Saturday morning, I nipped out of the local supermarket to be greeted by the phrase 'Phil! Hijo de puta!' (son of a bitch). Odd though it may seem, even before I managed to get a visual, I knew exactly who the perpetrator was, and what he was implying.

England: Monday Night Football Previews

Who: Manchester United vs. Fulham
When: 3pm EDT
Where: Old Trafford, Manchester

78 minutes in the life (and near death) of Fabrice Muamba

When Bolton Wanderers star Fabrice Muamba, 23, dramatically collapsed last Saturday he came perilously close to death. This is the remarkable story of the team that saved him.

Yank Abroad: Ream Feeling at Home

January signing Tim Ream is feeling at home at Bolton after breaking into Owen Coyle's first team. The USA international made the Premier League switch in the New Year, but he had to wait until late February to make his top-flight debut.

Monday MLS Breakdown: Slow starts finally peg Portland back in New England

Timbers vow to rectify the problem after 1-0 defeat to Revolution, plus a look at Colin Clark's potential disciplinary issues and all of the Week 3 action.

The Fifth Official

Way to stick a boot in, Ken...!

Few of us like a Monday morning, but The Fifth Official does, for it brings with it a chance for him to point the finger and laugh. Here he pulls out the pretty, the puzzling and the downright pig-ugly from a week brimming with potential victims.

England: Premier League Weekend Review, Reports, Analysis, Etc.

Manchester City had to settle for a point at Stoke as Bolton and Wigan boosted their chances of avoiding relegation from the Premier League. Tottenham maintained their advantage over Chelsea in the race for UEFA Champions League qualification, while Arsenal kept up their fine form and Newcastle stayed in the hunt for Europe with an impressive win on Sunday.


Chelsea 0 - 0 Tottenham
Richard Williams at Stamford Bridge
Kevin Palmer at Stamford Bridge

Arsenal 3 - 0 Aston Villa
Amy Lawrence at the Emirates Stadium

Liverpool 1 - 2 Wigan
Paul Doyle at Anfield

Bolton 2 - 1 Blackburn
Phil McNulty at the Reebok Stadium

Richard Jolly at the Reebok Stadium
Daniel Taylor at the Reebok Stadium

Stoke City 1 - 1 Manchester City
Mark Ogden at the Britannia Stadium
Joe Lovejoy at the Britannia Stadium

Team of the Week
Garth Crook's Team of the Week

Best of the Weekend

European Weekend Round-Up

Goal machines Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were all on target again at the weekend as the title races around Europe moved into the home straight. Messi scored for Barcelona but Cristiano Ronaldo's double for Real Madrid kept his side top of La Liga by six points. Ibrahimovic scored twice as leaders AC Milan beat AS Roma 2-1 in Serie A to remain clear of Juventus in second place. Borussia Dortmund stayed ahead of the pack in the Bundesliga while in Montpellier seized top spot from Paris St Germain in Ligue 1.


2012 Olympic Qualifying: Canada Blank USA

Doneil Henry and Lucas Cavallini each scored goals as Canada beat the United States 2-0 Saturday night for its first win over the Americans since 1992 in the CONCACAF men's Olympic qualifying tournament. The Americans could have clinched a berth in the semifinals on March 31 in Kansas City, Kan. Those winners qualify for the London games. Instead, they now must beat El Salvador, a 4-0 winner over Cuba earlier Saturday, on Monday night to advance.

Agudelo Out

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sam Wallace: Madrid fantasy island brings dystopian satire into the Real world

In his 1998 novel England, England, Julian Barnes imagines a giant England theme park, the idea conceived by a ruthless, rich entrepreneur and based on the Isle of Wight. It encapsulates everything most commonly associated with the country – the royals, pubs, Robin Hood, cricket, Big Ben, imperialism – and sells itself to tourists, sparing them the inconvenience of having to visit the real thing.

 Eventually, the theme park becomes more important than England itself and assumes sovereign status while the original declines and depopulates. As you would expect from one of Britain's greatest living novelists, it encompasses some major themes, yet even Barnes' brilliant mind could not have imagined the central conceit of his novel would become, in a way, a precursor of reality.

 But then, few of us could have anticipated the breathtaking self-regard of Real Madrid, a club who for some years now have regarded success as simply something that can be bought. Thankfully, hilariously, the grand plans of their president, Florentino Perez, have largely been foiled by the unfortunate coincidence of them colliding with the greatest Barcelona team of all time.

So last week Perez rolled out the master plan. Welcome to Real Madrid Resort Island.

The King and I: Meeting Eric Cantona

The footballer gave Julian Coman some of his happiest memories at Manchester United but left him devastated when he abruptly retired at 30. Over coffee in a Paris cafe, the enigmatic star explains why he broke football fans' hearts to pursue a career as an action hero.

Daniel Taylor: Dignity intact, Dimitar Berbatov heads quietly for Old Trafford exit

The Manchester United striker shows Carlos Tevez how to bow out of a bad situation gracefully.