Saturday, September 29, 2007

SPAOTP's Road to Wembley: FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round

Welcome one and all as we once again head off on The Road to Wembley.

As you'll remember from last time, we're tracking the progress of one team from the early rounds of the FA Cup (sponsored by E.On, never forget that) through to the Final. We began with the First Qualifying Round two weeks ago, and there our chosen team was Burnham Ramblers.

Sadly for Burnham, the writing was on the wall as they played away to Chelmsford City, operating two tiers above them in the Ryman League (formerly the Isthmian League) Premier Division. The result may not have come as much of a surprise to many (especially the home fans), but the 5-0 trouncing of Burnham sadly brought their run in the Cup to an end.

Fortunately for us, that's not the case as we now throw all our support behind Chelmsford City as we head into the Second Qualifying Round. They, too, are playing away today and are up against Hemel Hempstead Town from the British Gas Business League (formerly Southern League) Premier Division.

(And in case you're wondering, the Southern League and Isthmian League are both on the same tier, so to speak - that's three levels below Coca-Cola League 2.)

So what do we know about Chelmsford City? Well, they're sitting third in the Ryman Premier League table out of 22 teams having won five and drawn two of their games. Their top scorer in the league so far this season is Kezie Ibe with five goals but Ricky Holmes and penalty specialist Stuart Ainsley are not far behind on four.

Chelmsford City's home ground is Melbourne Park and there you'll typically find between 1,000 and 1,500 people cheering them on every other week. Their manager is Jeff King who was head honcho at Canvey Island up to May 2006 but when he left for Chelmsford, many of his old players followed him up the A130 too.

Chelmsford's last Southern League title win was in 1972 but they stand a decent chance of getting another one this season - if only they could improve their away form. At home so far they've won all five games including an impressive 7-0 victory over Maidstone United, but on their travels they have just two draws and two defeats to their name.

That sounds a little ominous to us, especially as their opponents, Hemel Hempstead, are currently top of the British Gas Premier Division. The bookmakers currently have Hemel as the favourites to win today's match but we know Chelmsford can do it, don't we? Let's wish them well as they go into battle today and if you're going along to the game, why not leave us a comment to tell us how it all went? We'd be glad to hear from you...

While we're on the subject of such things, we'd like to tell you about some more people who are doing their own 'Road to Wembley'. First of all, there's Paul Kirkwood who's once again embarking on his FA Cup Ground Hopper this season. He's a bit of an old hand at this game compared to us green naive types, so it's with some confidence we can say that his website is one that's well worth visiting. It's wonderfully written and captures that magical essence of the early rounds of the FA Cup (sponsored by... oh, you know the rest). Check it out and leave him a comment to show your support - it means a lot to us blogger types... :)

Also, a couple of days after the last round of the Cup took place, we heard from Brooner who's on the glory trail with the rest of us. His exploits are detailed on his blogsite 'Did He Really Mean It?' where, as before, you'll get a great insight into the highs and lows of the early rounds of the competition. More great writing awaits you there, so drop by and say 'hello' - hell, even swap notes about your travels, if you like. Brooner will be looking forward to hearing from you.

Best of luck to all of you following the Second Qualifying Round today and do let us know how your team got on. Meantime, if you want to keep up-to-date with us and all our other Road To Wemblists, check out the special section we've created to the right of the page.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #31

Missing: Believed playing in the Championship...
23 Former Premier League Stars Who Have Since 'Dropped Down A Level'

1. Nick Barmby (formerly of Tottenham, now playing for Hull City)
2. Michael Bridges (formerly of Leeds, now playing for Hull City)
3. Deon Burton (formerly of Derby, now playing for Sheffield Wednesday)
4. Luke Chadwick (formerly of Man United, now playing for Norwich City)
5. Dion Dublin (formerly of Coventry, now playing for Norwich City)
6. Robbie Fowler (formerly of Liverpool (twice), now playing for Cardiff City)
7. Keith Gillespie (formerly of Newcastle, now playing for Sheffield United)
8. Michael Gray (formerly of Leeds, now playing for Wolves)
9. Jon Harley (formerly of Chelsea, now playing for Burnley)
10. Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink (formerly of Chelsea, now playing for Cardiff City)
11. Lee Hendrie (formerly of Aston Villa, now playing for Sheffield United)
12. Darren Huckerby (formerly of Leeds, now playing for Norwich City)
13. Michael Hughes (formerly of West Ham, now playing for Coventry City)
14. Francis Jeffers (formerly of Arsenal, now playing for Sheffield Wednesday)
15. Kevin Lisbie (formerly of Charlton, now playing for Colchester United)
16. Neil Mellor (formerly of Liverpool, now playing for Preston)
17. Jay-Jay Okocha (formerly of Bolton, now playing for Hull City)
18. Brett Ormerod (formerly of Southampton, now playing for Preston)
19. Teddy Sheringham (formerly of Tottenham, now playing for Colchester United)
20. Trevor Sinclair (formerly of Man City, now playing for Cardiff City)
21. David Unsworth (formerly of Everton (twice), now playing for Burnley)
22. Ronnie Wallwork (formerly of Man United, now playing for West Bromwich Albion)
23. Dean Windass (formerly of Bradford, now playing for Hull City)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Blackburn in Europe - the biggest turn-off of all?

The people behind the scenes at Chelsea have obviously been getting a little concerned of late. After The Blues' first Champions League game of the season attracted a crowd of 'only' 24,973, the powers that be have decided to lower the price of the cheapest Champions League tickets from £45 to £36.

With seats to fill, the priority is obviously to maximise revenue but to say there's a crisis going on is to miss the point. Chelsea's match against Rosenborg was the first European home tie of the season and the opposition was, with all due respect, not the kind to make fans queue up round the block for 48 hours in advance demanding a ticket.

Yes, the price of the cheapest tickets was rather high, but that has been addressed now and I for one wouldn't be surprised to see considerably more of the 40,055 seats filled for the next game.

Chelsea at least managed to fill over half of their stadium for that match against the Norwegians recently. If you're looking for a more serious situation than that, turn your attention towards Blackburn Rovers.

In the Premier League last season, Blackburn's Ewood Park stadium was, on average, filled to only 68% of its 31,154 capacity - the lowest of all clubs in the top flight. That works out at an average home attendance of 21,271, but if you take the average from all Blackburn's UEFA Cup ties played at home last year, the figure drops to 17,592.

It will perhaps come as no surprise to learn that the cost of the cheapest ticket at Blackburn for their upcoming home tie against Larissa on October 4th will be just £10. The question is, will it tempt the fans to go along and support their team as they embark on another exciting European campaign?

If last night's Carling Cup match against Birmingham - watched by just 9,205 - is anything to go by, I'd say perhaps not.

It's therefore unfair to point to the empty seats at Chelsea in their match against Rosenborg claiming a crisis is unfolding. For a real crisis, head up the M6 and look for the Blackburn turn-off.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Give the referees a penalty

I dunno. Why is it every weekend the whole of the civilised world shakes its head as one at the good, bad or indifferent refereeing decisions witnessed in the Premier League? I'm not one to moan - really I'm not. I realise better than anyone that refereeing is a difficult job and that the errors of judgement they make are merely the actions of an ordinary human being, but things have now reached a critical point.

Last weekend I started to lose count of the many and varied instances of what I thought was bad refereeing. In the Midlesbrough v Sunderland game, there were three handballs that could have resulted in free kicks in dangerous areas of the pitch which went undetected. All of them were more than just 'ball to hand' situations and all would have seen a free kick given at a different ground on a different day.

The Man. United v Chelsea game was liberally littered with questionable refereeing anomalies. For a start, official Mike Dean decided to give Mikkel Jon Obi a red card for a tackle which, though crude, was worthy of at most a yellow card. He then decided that two minutes of stoppage time would be played at the end of the first half, but having allowed the injury time period to inexplicably last to a third minute, Carlos Tevez was able to score to put the home team ahead 1-0.

It's one thing for a referee or his assistants to make isolated misjudgements, but when several occur in one match to say nothing of several other matches, you have to start believing that something's wrong somewhere.

So here's what I think. In order to root out the bad referees, we should create a rating system that gives penalty points for poor performances. At the end of the month, the three referees with the most penalty points drop down a level (i.e. Premier League to Championship) and someone from the level below with the least number of penalty points comes up to replace them.

And how would points be awarded? Well here's what I've come up with so far using a scale of 1 for insignificant decisions to 10 for hideous ones...

Incorrect awarding of a red/yellow card: 7 points
Too many/too few red/yellow cards awarded: 6 points
Bad offside decision: 7 points
Poor handball decision: 7 points
Poor timekeeping: 5 points
Failing to realise a player has been booked three times: 10 points

I'm sure there are more we can think of prior to sending such a suggestion off to Sepp Blatter. What would you add to the list and how many points would you allocate for each item?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

All the Presidential Men (Part 3)

The man behind the trophy
March 1st 1921 was a momentous day for FIFA, although few would have known it at the time. This was the day that Jules Rimet officially succeeded the late Daniel Burley Woolfall to become the world governing body's third president since its creation in 1904. Under his guidance, FIFA entered its first great period of real change, but achieving success wouldn't be easy. Rimet would have to work hard and enthuse a sense of belief in all its member nations throughout his 33-year tenure.

Jules Rimet was a familiar face in football administration circles. He was president of France's Ligue de Football Association and had attended FIFA's Congress prior to his appointment at the age of 48. When Woolfall died, Carl Hirschman took temporary charge to see the governing body through the closing years of World War I, but a meeting of the FIFA board in Antwerp in 1920 confirmed Rimet as the man who would take over on a permanent basis.

Rimet's first main concern was to oversee the 1924 Olympic football tournament in Paris. Twenty-four teams entered and though the British nations were absent, many others from far and wide did take part. The undoubted focus of everyone's attention was Uruguay who, fresh from a successful tour of Spain, entered the contest as sole representatives of South America, brimming with confidence and talent.

Their short-passing play and superior positional awareness saw them cruise through to the Final where they beat Switzerland 3-0. They won the gold medal, and four years later in Amsterdam they did it again, beating near neighbours Argentina in the Final.

By this time, FIFA were not entirely happy about the nature of the Olympic tournament which was considered by many to be an unofficial world championship. The IOC insisted that all competing countries should respect its amateur ideals, but FIFA knew that more and more players were now turning professional and receiving payments accordingly. There was only one way to truly reflect the current state of the world game in a major tournament, and that was to allow both amateurs and professionals to take part.

It was therefore decided that 1930 would see the first FIFA World Championship take place, and having gained such dominance at the Olympic Games and in the South American championships, it seemed only fair to make Uruguay the host country. At a stroke, FIFA immediately, if a little indirectly, encouraged more teams from outside Europe to take a greater involvement in the game.

It worked. Teams such as Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, the United States and Mexico were quick to sign up to the tournament, yet FIFA's incentive had the opposite effect on the growing number of European nations that wanted to take part. Air travel was still primitive and expensive and after the damaging effect of World War I, few countries could afford to send their teams on long journeys anyway.

The Uruguayan FA waited patiently for a response to its invitations, but nothing was heard from across the Atlantic. Even the English Football Association were asked to take part and they weren’t even members of FIFA at the time. Things were getting desperate, so Jules Rimet decided to take matters into his own hands.

He wasted no time in approaching numerous football associations around Europe, persuading them as best he could that they should compete in the inaugural world championship. With the added incentive of having all their travel fares paid for by the Uruguayan FA, he achieved some success. Four countries were eventually won over - France, Yugoslavia, Romania and Belgium, ensuring a total of thirteen teams would take part at the start of the contest.

And so it was that the first World Cup finally got underway on July 13th 1930. Financially it was a great success and the South American fans were rewarded with many great games and admirable results.

When the tournament ended just over two weeks later, Uruguay found themselves once again facing their recent rivals from the 1928 Olympics, Argentina. Though the margin of victory was smaller, the result remained the same - Uruguay were the winners, beating the Argentineans 4-2.

For FIFA and Rimet in particular, a great sense of achievement was felt. The momentum to organise the next tournament four years later in Italy was there, but the Uruguayans were not happy. The fact that only four teams from Europe had made the effort to travel to their country was not one they were satisfied with. Their response was to withdraw from the 1934 World Cup leaving Rimet in no doubt that the job of FIFA President was not going to be an easy one to undertake...

Friday, September 21, 2007

Shirts for 2007/08: Manchester United (away/2nd)

Seventeen down, three to go, and here's the first of those three. It's the new Manchester United away shirt...

...and a return to the old black favourite that hasn't been seen since the 2004/05 season. This new Nike shirt forms part of an all-black strip and is yet to be worn so far this season. For all you small detail fans it has another one of those funny stripes that goes part way up the back, just like United's current home shirt. On this shirt, it's red, rather than white.

Like the other recent offerings that Nike have brought Man U, this one has modest, unshowy styling which perhaps borders on the boring and unspectacular, depending on your viewpoint. Always a bone of contention, that - does simplistic mean boring? We'll save that for another day, perhaps...

Anyway, if you want to buy this quality garment, you can get it from the Manchester United online shop. It'll cost you upwards of £39.99, although if you get the word 'Ronaldo' printed on the back, you can pick it up for only £10.99 (ho ho...)

But enough of such poorly executed jokes - what do you think about the shirt? Is it sleek and stylish or black and bland? Leave us a comment or register your opinion with this handy online vote button-type-thing...


The final results were as follows:

Excellent: 44 (59%)
Good: 9 (12%)
OK: 13 (18%)
Poor: 3 (4%)
Terrible: 5 (7%)


Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #30

Isn't the Internet a wonderful thing?
20 Things That People Typed Into Their Search Engines Which Resulted In A Visit To 'Some People Are On The Pitch'

1. dartford fc fans in america
2. alan hansen scar
3. you're only as good as your last game
4. alan hansen scar on face
5. andy gray take a bow son
6. hotshot hamish
7. how do i choose when to ejaculate
8. southampton football pitch streaker
9. what does a football pitch look like ?
10. tiger woods or micah richards
11. 5 points on what happened on 27 july 1996 in ilford
12. alan hanson scar face
13. andy gray likes spurs
14. alan hansens facial scar how did he get it
15. blackburn rovers crap
16. hamish hotshot
17. how to pronounce van nistelrooy
18. mark hughes of baboon
19. metal tipped goalie gloves in scotland
20. number of chips consumed during the european football world cup, 2007

Wanted: Head Coach, Chelsea FC...

Life is full of little surprises, to say nothing of big ones. Like many of you (at least those of you living in the UK), I woke this morning to hear that Jose Mourinho had parted company with Chelsea Football Club. Not something I was expecting, but then neither were most level-headed, sane football fans.

The reason why 'The Chosen One' (hereafter to be known as 'The Unemployed One') left Chelsea is still unclear, but give it about a month or so and you should find all the details being splashed across the sports pages of your favourite daily newspaper. One thing you can be sure of with Mourinho is that he doesn't keep his mouth closed for long.

In the meantime, where does all this leave us, the shell-shocked followers of Premier League football? Well my first thoughts surround who Chelsea are going to recruit as a replacement.

Various names are already being bandied around as you'd expect, one of which, rather bewilderingly, is Jurgen Klinsmann. Don't get me wrong - he did a good job of guiding the German national team to third place in the last World Cup, but he has no experience of coaching at club level which, to be fair, is a completely different thing altogether.

Next up, you have to ask yourself how quickly Chelsea will snap up their new manager. Though Roman Abramovich's millions and Mourinho's know-how quickly helped The Blues win much in the way of silverware, it has to be said that recently their fortunes have started to whither.

Last season saw no Premier League title retained and no success in Europe while this season has started in, let's say, 'unspectacular' fashion. Mourinho's departure has now brought that slide firmly into focus and as a club which has generated millions of pounds in revenue around the world in recent years, Abramovich will be more than well aware that time is of the essence.

And then finally there's Mourinho himself. In a strange sort of way, I shall miss him. Yes, he could act like tempestuous teenager with an attitude problem at times, but he also had that very rare quality amongst Premier League managers these days - persona.

Back in the days when I was growing up, strong personalities could be found at the head of many top-flight football clubs. Brian Clough, Don Revie, Bill Shankly, Tommy Docherty… they could all be guaranteed to liven the game up a bit with their strong opinions and stronger will to succeed. And who are we left with now that Mourinho's gone? Arsene Wenger. I know… depressing, isn't it?

Yes, the world of football will be a less interesting place while we wait for Jose Mourinho to take up his next managerial assignment. One thing's for certain, though - he'll be much in demand from now on, particularly among the other multi-millionaires running some of the world's best football clubs.

STOP PRESS... Since this article was written, Chelsea have appointed their Director of Football, Avram Grant as permanent replacement for José Mourinho.

No way, Jose

The surprise news of the day has to be the departure of Jose Mourinho from Chelsea last night?

We all know about Mourinho's record - joined Chelsea in June 2004 and led them to the Premiership title in each of his first two seasons as well as winning domestic cups, etc.

Avram Grant is due to be announced as the Mourinho's replacement and when you look at his track record it leaves you in no doubt that Roman Abramovich will be picking the team from now on.

Shevchenko will be pleased.

Perhaps, after the press conference speech about eggs earlier this week, the Chelsea board thought Mourinho was cracking up and going beyond a yolk? Perhaps they feared someone would try to poach him? Perhaps they thought he was a 'Grade A' plonker?

Either way, they have decided en-oeuf was en-oeuf.

Whatever your opinions on the 'Special One', there is no denying that his comments and humour will be missed from the English game.

Unless he goes to Spurs...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Newcastle United's sponsor - on the rocks?

Yet more news from the business world following last week's story about QPR being taken over by two Formula 1 bosses. This week it's something altogether more sinister as UK bank Northern Rock loses more than half its value on the Stock Exchange.

It's prompted many of its customers to queue up outside high street branches of the bank in the hope of withdrawing much of their money. The Bank of England has been called in to help out but many people see the news as a portent of a wider economic downturn to come.

Northern Rock, as many of you will know, are the shirt sponsors of Newcastle United and the club has been forced to review its spending strategy in the light of their recent financial devaluation.

To that end, Some People Are On The Pitch can exclusively report that the first change to be made by the Newcastle club is to reduce its investment in the supply and manufacture of its kit. As a result, we can now reveal Newcastle United's new kit for the remainder of the season, as modelled here by Michael Owen, and we think you'll agree it's not bad considering the budget they now have available…

Monday, September 17, 2007

Champions League 'You Bet' - Week 1

It's time to welcome back an old favourite to SPAOTP. Last year, for those of you who weren't with us back then, we ran a series called 'You Bet' in which we asked you to help us raise money for charity. Well now it's back, back, back in a new improved state, designed to raise even more money for a fantastic good cause. We're so excited about it that we've even designed a new logo - that's how big a deal this is.

Yes, it's the exciting return of You Bet but this season we're covering the Champions League to add some sparkle and glamour to the proceedings. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the format, here's the way it works.

Each week from now until the Champions League Final next May, Smart and I will together place £1 on a Champions League bet as specified by you, our much-valued visitors.

Note the use of the word 'you' there. It's important because each week we'll be asking you to vote for which bet we choose out of three potential options. You need pay no money and your house is not at risk if we fail to win any money at the end of this. We're spending our money - all you need to do is tell us where to stick it, if you'll pardon the expression.

On the subject of money, Smart and I will start off by chipping in £5 each to make a total stake 'kitty' of £10. If all our first ten bets fail and we run out of cash, so be it. Mission failed. Frankly though, having had the experience of playing 'You Bet' last season, we don't think that'll happen. We expect to make lots of money for a good cause which this time around is something we hope you'll agree is very apt and very deserving of our fundraising activities.

Little League Football is a registered charity in the UK that aims to get kids up to the age of 13 playing football for free where the opportunity to do so is limited. Some kids only get to play for a team at school while others could join a local team were it not for the fact that their parents can't afford the fees to pay for training and so on. Little League Football aims to change that by involving the community and giving the less fortunate youngsters the chance to learn about the game and more importantly play it and enjoy it.

The thing is they're desperate to secure the funding required to expand the scheme and help more kids across the country. In order to help them out, therefore, you have three options: (1) Take part in our Champions League You Bet competition, (2) Sponsor them with a generous amount, or (3) Ignore all of the above. We hope you'll choose one of the first two options. :)

For more information about Little League Football, visit, but for now, kindly consider the following three options for this week's 'Champions League You Bet'...

Bet A
Arsenal v Sevilla
Three goals to be scored during the match
Potential winnings: £3.75

Bet B
Sporting Lisbon v Manchester United
Cristiano Ronaldo to score the first goal of the match
Potential winnings: £7.00

Bet C
Rangers v Stuttgart
Rangers to be leading at half time, the match to end as a draw
Potential winnings: £14.00

Voting has now closed on this week's You Bet. With 56% of the vote, you've asked us to go for Bet A, so keep your fingers crossed that Arsenal and Sevilla can score three goals between them!
Thanks for all your votes and watch this space to find out how we got on...

Saturday, September 15, 2007

SPAOTP's Road to Wembley: FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round

Today, Some People Are On The Pitch enters relatively new territory. We don't often cover non-league football, but we're always keen to cover as many angles of the game as possible, so join us now as we embark on a journey that will educate and enthral. This is where we start our Road to Wembley 2007/08.

Following the message we received recently from Sniffer 72, we were inspired to track the progress of a team from the early stages of this season's FA Cup competition right the way through to the Final. So today the journey begins in the First Qualifying Round and we've selected a team at random who we'll follow until they get beaten. Once that happens, we'll follow the winners until they get beaten, and so on.

Anyway, the team we've chosen to begin our quest are Burnham Ramblers and today they travelled to Chelmsford City for what amounted to an Essex derby. Before we give you the result, here's some information about SPAOTP's newest favourite team.

Formed in 1900, Burnham Ramblers spent much of their history playing at intermediate level before gaining senior status in 1985. They can currently be found in the Essex Senior League where their new manager is Derek Robinson. After many of the players moved onto pastures new during the summer, Robinson had to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, metaphorically speaking, and the proof of how difficult his task has been is reflected in the Ramblers' recent results. They've won just one of their first four matches of the season, and at present they lie thirteenth out of seventeen teams.

Still, the league is one thing - the Cup, on the other hand, is another, and if there's one thing you can be sure of, it's that the form book counts for very little at times like this. The question is, could Derek Robinson motivate his team to overcome the might of Chelmsford City?

It wouldn't be easy, especially given the fact that Chelmsford play two levels above Burnham in the Ryman League Premier Division. As it turned out, that gap proved to be far too big for Burnham to overcome and the final result saw the home side win 5-0. A great shame for our first team in the Road to Wembley, but it was always going to be tough beating Chelmsford who are currently second in the Ryman Premier.

So there it is. We must now say goodbye to Burnham and adopt their victors, Chelmsford City, for the Second Qualifying Round. Who will they play and will they get through to the round after that? Stay tuned to find out…

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #29

Missing: Believed playing in the Middle East...
13 Footballers Who Ended Up Playing In The Arab States

1. Taribo West
Formerly of Inter Milan and Nigeria, now playing for Paykan FC in Iran.

2. Gabriel Batistuta
Formerly of Fiorentina and Argentina. Ended his career with Al-Arabi of Qatar in 2005.

3. Phillip Cocu
Formerly of Barcelona and the Netherlands. Now playing for Al-Jazira in the United Arab Emirates.

4. Talal El Karkouri
Moroccan international, formerly of Charlton Athletic. Now playing for Qatar Sports Club in Qatar.

5. Eric Djemba-Djemba
Formerly of Aston Villa, Manchester United and Cameroon. Now playing for Qatar Sports Club.

6. Christophe Dugarry
Formerly of Bordeaux and France. Ended his career playing for Qatar Sports Club in 2005.

7. Sérgio Conceição
Formerly of Inter Milan and Portugal. Now playing for Qadisiya Sports Club in Kuwait.

8. Marcel Desailly
Formerly of Chelsea and France. Ended his career playing for Qatar Sports Club in 2006.

9. Jay-Jay Okocha
Formerly of Bolton Wanderers and Nigeria. Played for Qatar
Sports Club in the 2006/07 season. Signed for Hull City in September 2007.

10. Frank Leboeuf
Formerly of Chelsea and France. Ended his career playing for Al-Sadd Sports Club in Qatar in 2005.

11. Bill Tchato
Formerly of Kaiserslautern and Cameroon. Now playing for Qatar Sports Club.

12. Carlos Tenorio
Ecuador international. Now playing for Al-Sadd in Qatar.

13. Claudio Caniggia
Former Argentinian international. Ended his career playing for Qatar Sports Club in 2004.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Euro 2008 Qualifiers - quick guide

And so the Euro 2008 bandwagon rolls into town again, just four days since the last set of fixtures were played. The finishing line now looks not so far away and things are starting to get really serious. If you're unsure of where we stand in each of the groups, here's our quick guide to help you get a better understanding of those crucial games later on today.

Group A sees about as strong a four-horse-race as you can expect to find. Poland have 20 points in the bag at the top of the group but are without a win in two. They'll therefore be looking for a change of form as they travel to second-placed Finland this evening.

Portugal have also drawn their previous two games and they face their nearest opponents Serbia at home. Both teams have a game in hand over the leading two, and a draw would easy the pressure on Poland while having the opposite effect on Finland.

Arguably the biggest game of the evening sees Scotland take on France in Paris in Group B. Scotland incredibly find themselves in one of the two qualifying places with world champions Italy just a point behind in third.

If Alex McLeish's men can repeat their famous victory over the French back in October 2006, they'd have to consider themselves a racing certainty to reach the finals in Austria and Switzerland next year. After the goalless draw between France and Italy at the weekend, there's surely all to play for...

If Scotland lose, they'll be looking over their shoulder to see how Italy get on in their fixture against Ukraine. The Italians won the first encounter 2-0 at home and unfortunately for the Scots Ukraine struggled to even beat lowly Georgia at the weekend.

If any Scotland fans out there fancy a continued spell of nail-biting, pray for a draw in both matches...

Defending champions Greece seem to have found form again but tonight's away match against Norway could give us an indication of whether they mean business as they defend their title.

Elsewhere the chasing pack will be looking to put pressure on the top two as Turkey play hosts to fifth-placed Hungary while Bosnia-Herzegovina take on winless Moldova, currently bottom of the group. A slip up for either of those two could spell the end of their hopes as the campaign nears its end.

Germany are as good as qualified now after a slightly unconvincing 2-0 defeat of Wales at the weekend. They take a well-earned rest this evening while the Czech Republic and Ireland battle it out for the second qualifying spot in the group.

Defeat for the Irish tonight would virtually end their hopes of qualifying and a repeat of their 1-1 draw last October would be of little use either. If they're looking for positives to cling onto, they can turn to the Czechs under-exuberant performance against San Marino at the weekend, but the Irish struggled to contain Slovakia too, so the writing might be on the wall for Steve Staunton's men tonight.

Without question tonight's big game is the crunch match between England and Russia at Wembley. England are making up for lost time but are hitting form at just the right moment with three successive 3-0 wins. A repeat tonight would be a great achievement, but the Russians are still unbeaten in the group so a draw might be a more realistic target.

Croatia should continue their fine run with an away tie against Andorra, while Israel miss out on the action having seen their chances of qualifying all but diminish following Saturday's match against England.

Denmark have a game in hand tonight and they'll need to win it to stay even remotely in touch with the Group F leaders. They're at home to Liechtenstein, so a morale boosting victory could be the order of the day for them.

Spain's disastrous qualifying campaign could also regain some momentum at home to Latvia, but they'll be wary of what their visitors did to Northern Ireland at the weekend, and with Xabi Alonso sitting out the game with a suspension, all may not be as straight-forward as they'd like.

Northern Ireland, meanwhile, could make their second-placed position in the group more secure as they travel to sixth-placed Iceland. Three points for them would be most welcome, especially as they face group leaders Sweden in the next round of games a month from now.

Bulgaria can get their qualifying campaign back on track tonight as they play Luxembourg at home but the crunch match for them will be the home fixture against Romania in November. Any defeat from now on will mean curtains for the Bulgarians.

With Romania sitting out tonight's fixtures, the Netherlands have the chance to go top of the group if they can win by at least four goals away to fourth-placed Albania. It'll be a tough ask, especially as the Dutch only just scraped a 2-1 win at home back in October last year, but a similar score tonight will make sure Bulgaria stay in third place in the group until at least next month.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The F1 Influence...

News reached us last week that Queens Park Rangers are about to be bought out by Formula 1 motor racing bosses Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone for £14 million.

After a swathe of Russian millionaires and American sports team owners, it's an interesting twist to now see the great and the good from the glamourous world of F1 now getting involved.

Will it have a noticeable influence on the English game? We're not sure, but in the meantime Some People Are On The Pitch can exclusively reveal QPR's new home and away kits for the 2007/2008 season...

Monday, September 10, 2007

SPAOTP Recommends... Kickster / The Road To Wembley

One of the nice things about running a blog site is that you get to correspond with lots of great people. Some of them want to exchange links with their own site while others are merely responding to articles you've written. It's what makes SPAOTP such an enjoyable site to maintain from our point of view, and we thank you all for your part in that.

During the last few days, we've had two such correspondences which we thought we'd share with you. First of all, I received a message from Carrie Dunn on Friday about her new blogsite called Kickster. What makes this an interesting site is that Carrie, along with some of her pals from The Times and The Guardian will be writing about women's football, an area which is highly overlooked in blog terms.

You can therefore expect Kickster to feature some proper, decent journalistic writing (something we can't claim to boast ourselves) and it's a resource which should be highly valuable in the days to come as the Women's World Cup 2007 got underway about half an hour ago in China.

We therefore urge you to check out and show your support for women's football. I'm sure they'll do a grand job of reporting everything you need to know so we wish them all the best with their venture.

Secondly, we heard just last night from a chap with the Blogger ID of 'Sniffer 72'. He told us about a very interesting personal quest he's currently embarking on. Starting with the Extra Preliminary Round of the FA Cup which took place recently, Sniffer72 aims to follow one team's path through to the Final at Wembley, visiting as many matches along the way as money and available tickets will allow.

When a team gets beaten, he'll go and see the victors when they play in the next round and so on. Sniffer72 began his 'Road to Wembley' by watching the match between Chertsey and Wick on August 18th which ended in a 2-2 draw. The replay was won three days later by Chertsey, 3-0, so off he went to see the Preliminary Round game between Chertsey and Sittingbourne on September 1st. Sittingbourne won 1-0 so this Saturday you'll find him watching their away game at Dartford.

Cool, huh? We certainly hope Sniffer72 gets all the way to Wembley via some fine matches and venues, and if you want to see how he's getting on, visit his Road to Wembley blogsite.

Meantime, we thought we'd adopt a far more pedestrian approach to the same idea by following a Road To Wembley of our own. Somewhat belatedly, we're starting off with this Saturday's First Round Qualifying and having chosen a team completely at random, we can officially announce we'll be following Burnham Ramblers as they travel to Chelmsford City.


Who knows - maybe our Road To Wembley will cross paths with Sniffer72's?!? I suppose inevitably it will at some point. Should have thought that one through before typing it out, really…

More details at the weekend about Burnham Ramblers, but for the time being our thanks go to Sniffer72 and Carrie for their respective emails, and don't forget - if there's something you want to tell us about, please feel free to do so. The address is info [at] spaotp [dot] com.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Euro 2008: Confused? You will be...

I have to admit to feeling slightly confused. Some of yesterday's Euro 2008 qualifiers had an air of unrealism about them which has left me in an ever-so-slightly bewildered state. Let me explain...

First of all, England won convincingly. Yes I know - hard to believe, but at last we saw the sort of comfortable victory against a so-called lesser side that England fans haven't seen for a long time.

The absence of players like Rooney, Lampard, Beckham and Hargreaves appeared to give the green light to those individuals who seldom earn a place in the starting XI, or even in the squad. Heskey played with great maturity and experience, Barry played like a man insistent on being a regular, Wright-Philips played like a man given a sense of purpose and Micah Richards once again played like someone who could make Sol Campbell's return to fitness a redundant exercise.

Not quite the sort of thing you expect as a battle-weary English football supporter, but more confusion was to come. Wales played hosts to Germany in Group D. Here, the Germans won the game 2-0. So far, so unsurprising, but what I couldn't figure out for the life of me was why Wales didn't lose by more.

From what I saw of the game, the Welsh played with as much vigour and poise as a pensioner after his fifteenth cup of Horlicks. Germany should have been all over them and looking for a victory not dissimilar to their 13-0 beating of San Marino this time last year. What happened? Were they as disinterested as the Welsh last night?

Speaking of San Marino, their opponents yesterday were the Czech Republic. So let's set the scene: it's San Marino, going into the match with a record of seven defeats out of seven and one goal scored compared to 37 conceded, up against the Czechs who had lost only one of their previous seven qualifiers and had a goal difference of +11. That's the Czech Republic side currently ranked ninth in the world by FIFA and semi-finalists from Euro 2004.

So how did they do against San Marino (population: 29,000)? Did they win 5-0? 6-0? Surely 8-0? No - just a meagre 3-0 win for the mighty Czech Republic. Staggering. Surely the minnows of this world haven't suddenly become tactical supremos to deny such thrashings occurring, have they?

And what else left me perplexed? Northern Ireland lost to Latvia 1-0 but remained second in Group F because third-placed Spain could only draw 1-1 with Iceland. Somebody pinch me...

The Ukrainians, World Cup quarter-finalists last year, could only scrape a 1-1 draw against Georgia, Turkey could only draw 2-2 away to Malta, and here's the one that tops the lot - world Champions Italy remain third in Group B behind Scotland after a 0-0 draw against France. The Scots, to their credit, continued to show the sort of form which may very well see them qualify for the finals of Euro 2008 with a 3-1 win over Lithuania.

All in all then, I have the distinct feeling that nothing makes sense anymore. Maybe Wednesday night's games will restore some normality once again, but on the other hand, perhaps not...

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #28

Barmy Armies:
14 Weird and Wonderfully-Named Fantasy Premier League Teams

1. Dyslexia Untied
2. They Stole My Peas
3. Sheffield Thursday
4. Who R Ya! Who R Ya!
5. The Jackson Pollocks
6. Sporting Lesbian
7. Borussia Hairbach
8. Borussia Teeth
9. Rod Hull Roofing Ltd
10. Debbie Does Gallas
11. L.A Dairy Milk
12. Mike Hunt's Itching
13. Dynamo Chicken Kiev
14. Winnie the Pooh FC

Seen any funny Fantasy League team names yourself? Tell us what they are by leaving a comment!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Shirts for 2007/08: Chelsea (away / 2nd)

Just four teams left on our list to go. Hopefully we'll cover every Premier League team by the end of September, but in the meantime cast your eye over the new shirt that Chelsea are wearing away from home this season...

Very yellow, isn't it?

Yes, those wacky funsters at Adidas have obviously been sniffing their flourescent markers too often for their own good as this is the new '2nd' shirt for Jose Mourinho's men. You may have already seen it being worn during Chelsea's recent away match against Aston Villa (let's face it, you could hardly avoid a colour like that) and has the rare distinction of being luminous - something which should come in handy for those night-time matches.

It features the ubiquitous three stripes of Adidas as well as some curious black markings that are, well, different. I'll refrain from doing any lion-tamer jokes at this juncture and instead tell you that you can buy the shirt from the Chelsea FC online megastore for just under £40.00. An added bonus is that if you collect your new shirt from the Chelsea shop itself, you can wear it on the way home safe in the knowledge that you won't be hit by any passing road vehicles. I think you'll agree that's gotta be worth the money alone...

Anyway, before we lose any Chelsea fans who might be regular visitors to this site, here's my personal opinion. I rather like it - more so than the black shirts that Chelsea have been wearing in recent years. No problems with on-pitch visibility of course, and that luminous aspect to the yellow makes it quite an original feature by the manufacturers. Full marks for that, I suppose.

My opinion, however, counts for very little on its own. It needs you to add your thoughts and opinions to it so that the world can see for itself whether this is a design masterpiece or a tribute to narrow-minded kit production. Leave us a comment or take part in our online vote below...


The final results were as follows:

Excellent: 12 (22%)
Good: 2 (4%)
OK: 4 (7%)
Poor: 6 (11%)
Terrible: 30 (56%)


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

How To Undermine An English Institution

Bewildered and dumbstruck - that's how I felt when watching 'Match of the Day' on Saturday night. There I was, getting my regular fix of all the action from that day's Premier League matches when Gary Lineker announced it was time for the August 'Goal of the Month' competition.

Now at this point I should inform those of you visiting our site from overseas that the BBC's 'Match of the Day' is an institution in its own right. A weekly programme showing highlights and goals from England's top flight, it's been running for 43 years and since 1970 has held a 'Goal of the Month' competition.

What would typically happen is that a selection of the best goals would be shown, each one assigned a letter of the alphabet ('Goal A', 'Goal B', etc). Viewers would then be asked to write their top three in descending order on the back of a postcard and send it off to the BBC. If your postcard matched the opinion of an unnamed panel of Match of the Day experts and it was pulled out of the hat before anyone else's, you'd win a prize.

It's a harmless bit of fun, but one which has become part of the ritual of watching 'Match of the Day' over the last 37 years… until now. On Saturday night, Gary Lineker informed the British public that because of the BBC's current suspension on audience participation competitions, 'Goal of the Month' would this time take on a different form.

Though a selection of goals from August's matches would be shown, the public would not be able to send in their votes by text message (as is now the case). Instead, Alan Hansen and Alan Shearer would go off and decide which one was the best before announcing the winner in a week's time. No public involvement, no nothing.

How very strange. Yes I know it wasn't the public that actually decided which goal was the best according to the number of votes cast. The public were only voting in the first place in the vague hope they'd be selected as the winner of a pair of tickets to a Premier League game of their choice, but that's not the point. By allowing us, the public, to take part, it enabled us all to get involved and make our feelings known that one particular goal was the one which should go on to be considered 'Goal of the Season' the following May.

Apparently, 'Match of the Day's loyal band of viewers were no longer important. We would no longer have the chance to enter the monthly competition even though it was the BBC's fault for not regulating its audience participation contests correctly in the first place.

I feel somehow let down and cheated. Whatever next? Lottery numbers being drawn when no-one's bought a ticket?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Deja Jol?

With all the usual media coverage focused on Spurs at the start of the season, I thought I’d point something out:

After six Premiership games LAST SEASON, Spurs had taken just four points – which will be the exact same total after the defeat to Arsenal on September 15th.

The similarities don’t end there. Below are the first six games from last season’s Premier League campaign:

Bolton 2-0 Tottenham
Tottenham 2-0 Sheff Utd
Tottenham 0-2 Everton
Man Utd 1-0 Tottenham
Tottenham 0-0 Fulham
Liverpool 3-0 Tottenham

So, Spurs had…

An opening day defeat.
A home win against a newly promoted side
A two goal defeat at home to Everton
A 1-0 defeat at Manchester United
A draw against Fulham
A defeat against a 'top four club' (to be confirmed)

Yet they still finished fifth and were UEFA and Carling Cup Semi-Finalists and FA Cup Quarter Finalists.

Dont panic just yet, don’t believe everything you read, and for f**k sake give Martin Jol a break.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Battle of the Big Four

So let's see - we're four or five games into the Premier League season and what seems to be happening? Well according to Jose Mourinho the title race is wide open. That maybe true, but what's apparent already is that out of the 'big four' that most of us had pencilled in to finish near the top, it's Arsenal and Liverpool that are leading the way, not Man United and Chelsea.

I don’t know about you but when I heard that Arsenal were 1-0 down to Fulham with six minutes to go on the opening day of the season, I feared the worst. No Thierry Henry, no ruthless front man to put the goals in the net. The writing was on the wall until Van Persie and Hleb cropped up with a couple of winners, but from that point onwards they’ve barely looked back. The only points they’ve dropped so far have been against Blackburn where they drew 1-1.

The Reds have been even more convincing. Like Arsenal, they've only dropped two points up to now, but they were against Chelsea. Yet what makes Liverpool a real eye-opening title challenger this season is the way Rafa Benitez has managed to bring in new players and get them playing to their strengths. No longer are they relying on wing-play and crosses into the box . Now a more direct approach is the order of the day. Players like Torres and Voronin are being given the ball and told to do what they do best: take on defenders and shoot on sight.

It's a method that's paid dividends so far. For a start they were able to beat Aston Villa 2-1 away (something that Chelsea failed to do yesterday) and most notably they demolished Derby County 6-0. OK, so Derby aren’t exactly the toughest opponents anyone will play all year, but they'll doubtless trip someone up before the season's over.

The absence of Thierry Henry seems to have had a strange effect on Arsenal. Instead of contemplating a future without a world-class striker, many of the players now look relieved to have thrown off the shackles of being just another one of Henry's support team. Individuals are now finding a chance to shine in their own right. A look at Arsenal's scoresheets from the first three weeks of the season backs this up: names like Van Persie, Adebayor, Rosicky, Fabregas and Hleb show that goals are now coming from a variety of sources, rather than the one that now plays for Barcelona.

It's remarkably similar to the way Man United used to play but may have now lost. If one player was off form, someone else in the team could step in to provide the goals but without a main striker of note until this weekend, United suddenly found that the supply chain had broken down. Think of Man U teams in the recent past and practically anyone could have scored in any match. Giggs, Scholes, Solskjaer, Keane, Beckham, Butt, Cole, Sheringham, Yorke - even defenders like O'Shea and Ferdinand might have chipped in with the odd one here or there. This season it's been a different story.

After United's Carling Cup Final victory in 2005/06, they went on to score 23 goals in 12 games but in the five they've played since August 12th this year, they've managed just three.

Now before I go on, yes I know it's early days so far and that anything can happen between now and May 11th 2008 but it has to be said that Sir Alex Ferguson's team appears to lack the strength in depth they once had. Never more has this been apparent since Ronaldo and Rooney took their leave of absence, but what of Tevez? Wasn't he the one that was going to give United some flair and plenty of goals? Sadly I think he's the victim of United's new playing style - too much passing and too little in the way of impulsive shooting from anywhere on the pitch.

All of which leaves Chelsea. Their only defeat of the season so far was rather mind-boggling in that Aston Villa's 2-0 win wasn't a fair reflection of who the superior team was. Martin O'Neill's men certainly defended well, but it was more a case of Mourinho's team having a 'bad day at the office.' Yet even there it's interesting to see Chelsea's 'goals scored' column for their first five games: three, two, one, one, zero.

So was it a case of 'too much talent, not enough end product' or were Aston Villa just playing out of their skins yesterday? Looking at Villa's results this season, perhaps the former. Villa have only lost once in their first four games and that was to Liverpool, so maybe Chelsea's title challenge isn't the stuff of major catastrophe after all. My guess it was just a blip, but their next game against Blackburn will prove or deny that.

On reflection then, the race for the title has started with no team taking maximum points from their first four games. No one team has laid down the gauntlet to the rest of the league, so is this Liverpool's best chance to finally get their name on the trophy? Watch this space…

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The week in review

Phew. What a week. So much going on everywhere, particularly here in dear old England. Lots to take in and much that's no doubt passed some of us by. Let's take a look back at an event-filled week of football that had plenty to catch the eye...

Carling Cup gathers momentum
The second round of the Carling Cup (that's the League Cup for older visitors) took place on Tuesday and Wednesday and it's the stage of the competition where most of the Premier League teams enter the field of battle - often with disastrous consequences.

So it was, too, as Blackpool eliminated Derby 7-6 on penalties after a 2-2 extra time draw. Also taking an enforced spell of 'concentrating on the League' were Sunderland who were comprehensive beaten 3-0 at Luton and Wigan who lost 1-0 at home to Hull.

The main news from Round 2, however, came from the match between Nottingham Forest and Leicester City where Leicester defender Clive Clark collapsed during half-time due to a heart attack and was rushed to hospital. The game was abandoned and will now take place on Tuesday 18th September, but the news, thankfully, is that Clarke is making a steady recovery. We hope to see him return to full health as soon as possible.

Fast forward to today and the draw for Round 3 took place with five all-Premier League being plucked from the hat (or unscrewed from a plastic ball, whatever it is they do these days).

Tie of the round is arguably Arsenal v Newcastle but other top-flighters coming face to face are Blackburn and Birmingham, Reading and Liverpool, Tottenham and Middlesbrough and Fulham and Bolton. Here's the full draw...

Blackburn v Birmingham; Reading v Liverpool; Manchester United v Coventry; Tottenham v Middlesbrough; Hull v Chelsea; Blackpool v Southend; West Ham v Plymouth; Arsenal v Newcastle; Luton v Charlton; Manchester City v Norwich; Sheffield United v Morecambe; Sheffield Wednesday v Everton; Fulham v Bolton; Burnley v Portsmouth; Aston Villa v Nottingham Forest or Leicester; West Brom v Cardiff.

Mexican's wave goodbye to Galaxy's SuperLiga hopes
Wednesday saw the Final take place of the very first SuperLiga competition in the USA. For those that don't know, it's intended to be a high-profile annual event where teams from the United States, Mexico and Canada battle it out to be the best in North America. In this first outing for the tournament, four teams from the USA and Mexico were invited to take part and the two teams that won through to this week's Final were Pachuca and LA Galaxy.

Anyway, we won't go into detail about what happened on Wednesday as we've already done that, but suffice to say Galaxy's star man David Beckham twisted his knee - a nice accompaniment to his recently injured ankle - and Pachuca ended up winning 4-3 after a sudden-death penalty shoot-out.

The tournament was a great success and you can count on next year's competition employing a qualification stage as many teams are now queuing up to be involved in 2008.

All aboard the Champions League Express
The draw for the main group stage of the 2007/08 European Champions League took place on Thursday and for some English teams there'll be a chance to renew some old acquaintances.

Manchester United face Roma for the second successive season, this year in Group F, and Roma will no doubt hope for a better result than the 7-1 thrashing Sir Alex Ferguson's men handed out in the previous competition. Sporting Lisbon and Dynamo Kiev complete the group.

Chelsea are pitted against Valencia in Group B - a repeat of the 2006/07 quarter final which Chelsea won. Elsewhere in the group are German new boys Schalke 04 and Norwegian regulars Rosenborg.

Last season's runners-up, Liverpool, find themselves in an interesting Group A. Porto are former winners and a perpetual threat to any team while Marseille find themselves going through a renaissance of sorts. Besiktas will also prove to be tricky opposition as Liverpool try to make it three finals out of the last four.

Arsenal, somewhat impressively, find themselves in the Champions League for a tenth successive season and they were drawn in Group H on Thursday. Having overcome Sparta Prague in the qualifying stages, they'll now face Slavia Prague along with the hard-to-beat Romanians Steaua Bucharest. Completing the group will be the winners of the Sevilla v AEK Athens qualifier on Monday which was postponed because of the tragic death of Sevilla midfielder Antonio Puerta. Sevilla lead 2-0 from the first leg of the tie.

Elsewhere, defending champions Milan stand in the way of Celtic, Shakhtar Donetsk and Benfica (or is that the other way around?) in Group D, while Real Madrid head the nearest thing to a 'group of death' as they take on Werder Bremen, Lazio and Olympiakos in Group C.

Barcelona's Group E campaign could be far from easy as well with Stuttgart, Lyon and Rangers blocking their path while Group G has a distinctly 'east-west' look, featuring Inter, PSV Eindhoven, CSKA Moscow and Fenerbahce.

Premier League Transfer Window shuts
Teams at the top of the tree in England had until Midnight on Friday to complete any transfers before the next window of opportunity opens on January 1st 2008.

Despite high expectations for a day of frenetic activity, there was relatively little to report on. Glen Johnson moved from Chelsea back to Portsmouth where Harry Redknapp employed him on loan last season. Harry also signed Papa Bouba Diop from Fulham on a three-year deal.

Fulham in turn became the next destination in Danny Murphy's dwindling career, leaving Tottenham where he failed to establish a regular place in the team. (Wait a minute - Lawrie Sanchez has signed someone who isn't a Northern Ireland international. Is this right?) Fulham also swapped Liam Rosenior for Seol-Ki-Hyeon to complete their deadline day dabblings.

Nolberto Solano finally got his move south as West Ham snapped him up along with Wigan's Henri Camara on a season-long loan and Sam Allardyce raided his old club as Abdoulaye Faye went from Bolton to Newcastle for one of many 'undisclosed fees.' Does money actually ever change hands these days where transfers are concerned?

Milan win muted Super Cup Final
Finally on Friday night, the Final of the UEFA Super Cup took place in Monaco between Milan and Sevilla. Understandably emotions were high following the death of Antonio Puerta but Sevilla decided to play the game with as much of the spirit that they'd normally employ, albeit to no avail.

Sevilla took the lead in the match when Renato haeded in from a corner after 13 minutes and for the rest of the first half the Spaniards looked the superior team. The second half was definitely Milan's, however, when Inzaghi headed home a Gatusso cross ten minutes after the interval. Seven minutes after that, Jankulowski volleyed in a Pirlo cross to make it 2-1 but the scoring was completed three minutes from the end.

Milan were awarded a penalty which Kaka took and missed, but the rebound that resulted from Palop's save enabled the Brazilian to head home a third to round off a well-deserved victory for the Italians on the night.

Yet the match, and to a large extent the whole week of football that took place, belonged to Antonio Puerta who showed that the players we all watch through our love of the game are to be appreciated and never to be taken for granted.


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