Tuesday, January 29, 2008

And in other news...

By way of a break from the African Nations Cup, here's a selection of some of the recent news stories from the world of football that made us laugh, cry or stamp on our computer keyboard in a fit of rage.

Dennis Wise goes to Newcastle
Yes, it's all very sad really. I know there are people out there - many people - who hate and despise Leeds United. I ought to be one myself as a West Ham fan, but then again I've never been a 'typical' West Ham fan in that I generally have an agreeable way with most people. Anyway, I digress.

Even if you do have a thing about Leeds, you can't have failed to admire the job that Dennis Wise and Gustavo Poyet did in getting the club off to such an amazing start this season. Having entered administration in May 2007, Leeds were relegated from the Championship and forced to begin their 2007/2008 League 1 campaign on -15 points, but Wise ensured the deficit wouldn't be big for long.

His team won their first seven league games on-the-trot and went on to complete a thirteen game unbeaten run until they succumbed at the hands of Carlisle United in November. As things currently stand, Leeds United have lost only four of their 28 League 1 games so far and currently sit fourth in the table. Were it not for the 15 point deduction, they'd be leading the table by three points by now.

And that's why it was such sad news when first Gus Poyet decided to jump ship to become second in command to Juande Ramos at Tottenham and now Dennis Wise himself has been tempted to become Director of Football at Newcastle. So much hard work done, so much progress achieved, and yet a matter of weeks into the new year Leeds find themselves without the managerial wizards that have put them within touching distance of a return to the Championship.

I know many of you will be sniggering and laughing up your sleeves about all this, but from the purists point of view, you have to feel a pang of sympathy for the Elland Road club. Whether they can finish in a play-off place or higher this season is now the sole responsibility of former player Gary McAllister, and I for one wish him well as it'll be a shame to see such fortitude in the squad go to ruin.

ITV and the almost complete coverage of Euro 2008
Here in the UK last week, the two main terrestrial broadcasters, the BBC and ITV announced their plans for which games they'll be showing during this summer's European Championships.

As usual, there was a fair degree of horse-trading between the two. The BBC have elected to show the opening game between Switzerland and the Czech Republic while ITV take the Turkey v Portugal match later on the same day. The fixture carve-up continues from there onwards with one company taking the stronger game on any particular day and the other taking the weaker game and vice-versa.

So far, so predictable, except when it comes to the Final, the BBC will be showing the tournament's climax live on June 29th while ITV... decide not to bother. They'll be showing highlights of the Final later in the evening.

Now before you say it, I know most people watch the big finals on BBC out of preference over ITV, but when you've gone to the bother of showing live games every day throughout the competition from Day 1, wouldn't you then show the Final live at the end too? I mean have they gone stark raving mad?!? It's like building a house and not bothering to put the roof on when you've finished.

I think now ITV have officially lost the plot. Their broadcasting output has been in freefall for many years now where entertainment's concerned, but this takes the biscuit. If they had any credibility in the eyes of football fans in this country before now, it's surely gone down the plughole once and for all with this news...

Open foot, insert mouth
Finally, we return to the African Nations Cup (well you knew we would eventually, didn't you?) Yes, our old friend Count Sepp von Blatter has been at it again. He's decided that the two-yearly tournament currently taking place over in Ghana could be the last to be held in its traditional January slot. Apparently it's clashing badly with the club football going on across Europe and many players are having to go absent from the Premier League, Serie A and elsewhere while it's going on.

His answer to this apparent crisis: to move the competition to June and July by 2016.

Well now, let's see. First of all, clubs don't have to buy African players. Manchester United have no African players and yet they're flying high in the Premier League. It therefore pays to say that any club that does buy an African player has to accept the fact that he (or they) will be absent every two Januarys for what would appear to be a damn good reason.

Secondly, what happens when an African Nations Cup held in the middle of the year coincides with the World Cup or European Championships? Ah, fear not. He's thought of that. It'd have to be moved to an odd-numbered year. So that's alright then.

Add to the equation that the climate for many African countries in June and July, according to CAF, is not suitable for playing football in and you have yet another hair-brained scheme from Dr. Blatter that's doomed to failure. We wonder why he bothers to open his mouth sometimes, but we think it's just to keep us all entertained, and that, we think you'll agree, is something we should all be grateful for.

Monday, January 28, 2008

African Cup of Nations: Round-up #2

Time now for our second round-up of events in the African Cup of Nations and the first question to ask is 'How come the BBC are calling this the Africa Cup of Nations'? That can't be right, surely? It doesn't scan unless you add the 'N' to the end of 'Africa'. Pah...

Anyway, moving on, all teams have now played their second games so let's see how the First Round groups are shaping up.

In Group A, host team Ghana virtually sealed their place in the quarter-finals with another ever-so-slightly unconvincing win over Namibia, 1-0. The Namibians had their fair share of the chances in the game and were it not for some better finishing, Ghana might have found themselves needing a win in their last game. It was not to be, however, and Junior Agogo's goal just before half time proved to be enough to make it six points out of six for the hosts.

Also playing last Thursday were Guinea and Morocco and here the form book went out the window. Guinea were reeling from a 2-1 defeat to Ghana in the opening game but Morocco were riding high on the back of a 5-1 drubbing of Namibia, and yet it was Guinea that emerged the victors 3-2.

Guinea captain Pascal Feindouno scored twice but was sent off in a fraught match against the Moroccans, but his team were worth the win as Morocco seemed to lose the confidence and competence they owned in their first game.

All of which left Ghana top of the group with a maximum six points, while Morocco clung onto second spot with Guinea in third, also on three points but with an inferior goal difference to the team they'd just beaten. Ghana played Morocco today at the same time as Guinea played Namibia, more of which we'll tell you about in our next round-up.

Friday was the day the Ivory Coast cemented their place in the next round after beating Benin 4-1. Benin, for a team hardly seen in the African finals, continued to play some good football, but their defence was found wanting and their attack desperately lacked some accurate shooting. It was enough of a weakness to allow Didier Drogba and his men to comfortably cruise to the top of the group with four goals in the space of 23 minutes, one of which was scored by the Chelsea man himself.

In the other game of the group, Nigeria faced Mali knowing that defeat would send the Super Eagles out of the tournament after two games. In a nervous performance on the part of both sides, no goals were forthcoming - in fact even a sufficient number of decent shots were forthcoming - and the match ended 0-0.

That means Nigeria MUST win in their last game against bottom-placed Benin while a draw for Mali (second place with four points) against Ivory Coast tomorrow will ensure they both go through at the expense of Berti Vogts' Nigeria side. Unthinkable? Certainly not, just you wait and see...

Onto Group C and Egypt continued their highly convincing charge to retain the trophy with a 3-0 win over whipping boys Sudan. Though the scoreline was comfortable, The Pharoahs were still only one goal up going into the last eleven minutes and required Mohamed Aboutrika's brace to confirm the victory which was all but one-sided in favour of the reigning champions.

After losing heavily to Egypt in their first game, Cameroon had a point to prove as they faced Zambia last Saturday. Zambia already had three points in the bag from a win over Sudan, and a win in this match would have seen Cameroon go out and themselves go into the Quarters. Sadly for them they were over-run by the Indomitable Lions as their stars ran riot in a 5-1 victory which gets Cameroon's campaign back on track.

Zambia slip to third in the group and now have to beat Egypt in their last game, although in their favour is the fact that Egypt are already through. Cameroon, meanwhile, take on Sudan this Wednesday which may very well see the end to Zambia's ambitions in this competition.

Finally to Group D and our self-appointed Group of Death is pretty much living up to its reputation, being as it is the only group where no team has won both of its opening games. Tunisia looked good in their first match but could only draw with Senegal, but Sunday brought about a much more convincing performance as they put three goals past South Africa before half time. A late goal from the Bafana Bafana proved too late to avoid a second match without a win, thereby setting up an intriguing encounter with Senegal on Thursday of which more later.

Senegal themselves are looking for their first win of the tournament after losing 3-1 to Angola yesterday. Senegal will be kicking themselves (although I suspect not very well) after taking a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes through Newcastle United's Abdoulaye Faye, but the Black Antelopes came back in some style in the second half with a sharpened attack that this time made the most of their considerable possession.

Once again, Manchester United-bound Manucho got on the scoresheet and added two more goals to the one gained from the match against South Africa to see Angola through to an impressive win and second spot in the table behind Tunisia. A draw against them on Thursday will be enough to see both teams through to the quarter-finals.

So here we are two-thirds of the way through the First Round and we could already be about to say goodbye to Nigeria (my tip for champions, ahem...) and Senegal. Will they survive to fight another day? Join us at the end of the week to find out...

Saturday, January 26, 2008

SPAOTP's Road to Wembley: FA Cup 4th Round Proper

What an exciting Road to Wembley we've had so far! Already we're in Round 4, and now we find ourselves following Havant and Waterlooville as they travel to Anfield to hopefully beat the mighty Liverpool.

But what a journey it's been since the First Qualifying Round of this season's FA Cup (sponsored by E.On). We started off with Burnham Ramblers as they went into battle against Chelmsford City and since then we've been (in spirit) to Hemel Hempstead, Hayes and Yeading, Maidenhead, Horsham, Swansea and now to our first Premier League venue, Liverpool.

The strange thing is when we were supporting Swansea City in the last round, we were expecting them to make the trip up north to play the former European champions, but we were wrong. Havant and Waterlooville drew the first match 1-1 in Swansea, but the replay back at their own ground ignited some real fireworks as the Conference South side won 4-2.

So in somewhat of a state of shock, we bid farewell to The Swans and put a welcoming arm around our latest team on the Road to Wembley, Havant and Waterlooville. Apart from that recent shock win over Swansea and their big game today against Rafa's Liverpool team, what do we know about them?

Havant & Waterlooville are currently 12th in the Conference South table and have lost only one of their last seven home games, that being against Hampton and Richmond Borough last November. Sadly their away form is letting them down at present - in fact they've won only one of their ten away games so far this season, and that was the first one they played back in August.

So with work to be done on their consistency, whose job is it to crack the whip and pull the boys into shape? The answer: Shaun Gale. He's a former player with Barnet, Exeter City and Havant & Waterlooville who turned manager with The Hawks in October when Ian Baird left for Eastleigh.

And who can we look out for as a source of goals during today's match? Well among the scorers against Swansea were Rocky Baptiste, Jamie Collins and Tom Jordan, all of whom have scored league goals earlier this season, but you may also want to keep an eye on Craig Watkins and Richard Pacquette as they have a keen eye for goal too.

Much more than that, all we can say is good luck Havant & Waterlooville. They've got a tough task playing the likes of Carragher, Gerrard and Torres, but even if they do meet their fate today, they'll have already achieved greatness in this season's FA Cup. Let's wish them well and who knows - something amazing might just happen if you wish hard enough. Swansea City fans can testify to that...

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #46

Just for the kids
10 English Football Team Mascots

1. Gunnersaurus Rex (Arsenal)
2. Chester the Field Mouse (Chesterfield)
3. Captain Blade (Sheffield United)
4. Deepdale Duck (Preston North End)
5. Kingsley Royal (Reading)
6. Monty Magpie (Newcastle United)
7. Scrumpy the Robin (Bristol City)
8. Captain Gas (Bristol Rovers)
9. Captain Canary (Norwich City)
10. Peter Burrow (Peterborough United)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

African Cup of Nations: Round-up #1

Over the last five days, each of the sixteen competing nations have played their opening games of the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations, so now we have some idea of who's likely to impress and disappoint during the course of the competition.

The party started in Group A last Sunday when hosts, Ghana, took on Guinea in Accra. It's fair to say that Guinea didn't feature much in this match, outplayed as they were most of the time by the Ghanaians, but luckily for them Ghana didn't appear to have anyone that could shoot straight or on target.

The hosts got a reward for their possession play, however, when Gyan converted a penalty nine minutes into the second half, yet their lead was short-lived. Despite seeing little of the ball in the first half, Guinea took just ten minutes to find a breakthrough of their own and equalise thanks to Kalabane's goal.

1-1 then, and with it came a return to normality as Ghana went back on the attack, but a winning goal looked unlikely to arrive as the hosts found themselves restricted mainly to long-range shots. It was therefore with a sense of irony that the winning goal finally came in the 90th minute when Portsmouth's Sulley Muntari hit an unstoppable 25-yard shot that flew into the top corner of the net. Ghana had won, but they'd left it dangerously late...

The following day, it was the turn of Namibia and Morocco to take to the field of battle and this time goals were not so hard to find. Poor Namibia found themselves two goals down within five minutes and a rout looked on the cards as Soufiane Alloudi got the Moroccans off to an emphatic start.

Wave after wave of attack followed, but to Namibia's credit they were the next to score when Brendell pulled one back. Sadly, that was to be the sum total of their achievements on the day as Alloudi completed his hat-trick in the 28th minute to put Morocco 3-1 up. A fourth goal followed five minutes before half-time through a Sektioui penalty, but Namibia steadied the ship at that point, keeping Morocco at bay until the 74th minute when Zerka added a fifth.

As the lowest FIFA-ranked team in the contest, it was a real baptism of fire for Namibia, but Morocco looked sharp and may have an upcoming star in Alloudi. One to watch for the future, we think...

Group B has been less than forthcoming where goals are concerned as two 1-0 results opened the campaign there. Mali were the victors in the first, totally outplaying Benin, yet both sides were guilty of some woeful shooting that never looked likely to trouble the statisticians. Once again, it was a dubious penalty that provided the goal and surprise surprise, it was Fredi Kanoute who stepped up to take it in the 49th minute. Three points for Mali as expected, but they'll need to improve their shooting if they're to progress to the quarter-finals.

The other 1-0 win went to the Ivory Coast in a fascinating encounter against Nigeria. Both teams looked worthy of their top billing in the group and played some good football. In stark contrast to the previous game, it was difficult to predict a winner but Chelsea's Solomon Kalou ensured it would be his Ivory Coast team with a brilliant dribble past three players in the penalty area before a calm finish earned him a goal to remember.

The Nigerians had played well and tried hard for an equaliser in the last 25 minutes or so, but their opponents ran out the winners of this match and promptly took their place at the top of the group with Mali.

Group C gave us more goals and great ones at that. The first game on Tuesday was between Sudan and Zambia, and for the former it was an all-too-rare chance to play on such a big stage. They'd always be expected to struggle against a confident Zambia, and consequently no-one was surprised when James Chamanga put the Zambians in front after just two minutes.

Despite the early setback, Sudan sprang back into life and nearly equalised ten minutes later. They took control of the remainder of the first half and were only lacking a goal to reward all their hard work but they were to rue their missed chances. Zambia scored a second early in the second half and when a third goal followed shortly after that, it was game over for Sudan.

A great start for the Zambians against a tricky team that will give them confidence going into their tougher remaining games, but at least Sudan can take heart from the way they took the game to their opponents, albeit in vain.

The big match on the day was between Egypt and Cameroon - reigning champions against many people's favourites to win this year. If you were watching the game like me, you'll have been equally as gobsmacked by Egypt's impressive two goal opening in the first 16 minutes. The Indomitable Lions had been rocked not so much by their own ineptness, but by the efficient and skilful way the Egyptians had prized open their defence.

The scorer of the second goal was Mohamed Zidan, and if you're looking for a player of the tournament, this could be him. He scored a third goal for the Egyptians at the end of the first half and helped his side get the penalty that opened the scoring in the fourteenth minute. The Hamburg player was instrumental in putting Egypt well in front before the second half began, but Cameroon weren't ready to die yet.

Samuel Eto'o headed in from a cross to get a goal back after 51 minutes, and with Arsenal's Alex Song giving more of an edge to their play, it looked as though Egypt would need to defend well from then on to secure their victory. In the end, a fourth goal for The Pharaoahs nine minutes from time would seal the win, despite a second from Eto'o in the 90th minute. Egypt had won 4-2 and done so convincingly enough to make people doubt Cameroon's credentials as a likely winner of the tournament.

Finally to Group D which began yesterday. Tunisia and Senegal provided the sparks in the first game and there was no love lost between these two teams with a fiery history. Tunisia took an early lead through Jemaa on nine minutes, but Senegal fought back to not only equalise but go 2-1 up in the second half, playing the more positive football along the way.

Though it looked for all the world that Senegal would see out victory, they got a rude awakening when Medji Traoui smashed home a 25-yard shot to draw Tunisia level and earn a share of the points. Senegal had been the better team, but they'll be scratching their heads at how they didn't win this one.

Later in the day, it was time to view the last two teams to play - South Africa and Angola. It was an entertaining encounter and one which saw the South Africans play the slightly better football. Sadly for them, it was Angola who scored against the run of play thanks to a superb flying header from Manchester United's signing Manucho near the half-hour mark.

The South Africans went in search of an equaliser and tested Angolan keeper Lama several times, but they had to wait until a minute from the end of normal time to get it when Elrio van Heerden struck yet another long range screamer to keep this tournament's tally of quality goals ticking along. The game, like its predecessor, ended a draw, but the two teams put on a good show for the crowd who will no doubt be coming back to see more of the same in their forthcoming matches.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

African Cup of Nations Preview (Part 4)

Today at 5.00 pm (GMT), the 2008 African Cup of Nations begins with the opening game between hosts Ghana and Guinea. Before the colour, passion and noise bursts into life, let's complete our preview of the four First Round groups by checking out Group D.

Group D
Every major competition seems to have a 'Group of Death', and where this year's African Cup of Nations is concerned, this is it. Whoever gets through to the quarter-finals from here will consider themselves lucky to be alive.

First, there's Angola, a team whose international football history has only really lasted for about 25 years. Even after their first entry to the African tournament in 1982, they only reached the Finals for the first time in 1996 and haven't gone past the First Round since.

What gives them a chance this time, however, is the momentum gained from getting to the World Cup Finals for the first time in 2006. Though they failed to win a match in Germany, they did hold Mexico and Iran to draws and lost only 1-0 against Portugal.

This relative success for a team so lacking in experience transferred to their ACN 2008 qualifying campaign where they cruised to top spot in Group 6 ahead of Eritrea, Kenya and Swaziland. They're another team that seem to be able to score lots of goals from many different sources, so perhaps this is the year for Angola to go beyond Round 1.

Next is Senegal, a team that made their World Cup debut four years before Angola and made even more of an impact by beating reigning champions France in their first game. 2002 was quite a year for them as they also reached the Final of the African Nations Cup in Mali, losing out only on penalties to Cameroon, but since then, Senegal have lost their way somewhat.

Beaten in the quarter-finals of the last competition by eventual champions Tunisia and prevented from qualifying for the 2006 World Cup by Togo has seen Senegal's rise to fame nipped in the bud, but they're still a threat as can be seen by the wealth of recognisable players in their squad.

Names like El Hadji Diouf, Henri Camara, Abdoulaye Faye and Papa Bouba Diop are already familiar to fans of the Premier League and together with numerous others plying their trade in Europe, Senegal should have the strength in depth to go far in this competition.

The third team in the group are somewhat of a curiosity. South Africa are gearing up to host the World Cup Finals in two years time - the first African country to do so - and they'll no doubt be the focus of attention for many onlookers keen to see how their preparations are going.

They may be in for a surprise. With apartheid at an end, the South Africans arrived on the scene and won the ACN in 1996, but a gradual decline in fortunes followed to the point where they failed to progress past Round 1 on the last two occasions. They didn't even score a goal in the 2006 competition and finished bottom of their group.

The concern raised by such under-achievement still remains today. The Bafana Bafana were quietly efficient in reaching Ghana 2008 but not exactly clinical. Three wins from six matches, as well as a couple of draws, was only good enough to get them into second place behind Zambia and even then they only qualified as the third-best of the three highest scoring group runners-up.

Dangerously close to not qualifying at all, South Africa are on a mission to convince the sceptical and while it's entirely possible that they'll win through to the quarter-finals, it'd be a foolish man that bets a lot of money on them winning the competition outright.

Last but not least, Tunisia. As we've already mentioned, they were the winners of the African Nations Cup in 2004 and did so on home soil. Reason enough to win it, you'd think, but at the time everyone was expecting Nigeria to win instead.

It's the first lesson in following Tunisia: dismiss them at your peril. They've become masters at the art of being the backmarker while others set off at a ferocious pace in this sort of contest. The only question is whether they ever actually make a late break for glory or not.

They tried in 2006 but were denied progress beyond the quarter-finals thanks to a penalty shoot-out win by Nigeria and in the run-up to this year's finals they began slowly again by qualifying as runners-up in Group 4 behind Sudan.

Many of the players in the current squad come from the Etoile Du Sahel club that recently played in the FIFA World Club Cup, so they shouldn't be short of confidence and experience. Many of the others are playing their club football around Europe, so if it's discipline, fitness and tactical awareness you want, Tunisia could be the team for you.

This group, however, could be the one that springs the biggest surprise. Chances are, whoever you predict to get out of this group and into the quarter-finals won't, so sit back, watch the action and prepare to raise an eyebrow or two as the biggest saga of the First Round unfolds.

Group D Matches:
Jan 23: Tunisia v Senegal (Tamale)
Jan 23: South Africa v Angola (Tamale)
Jan 27: Senegal v Angola (Tamale)
Jan 27: Tunisia v South Africa (Tamale)
Jan 31: Senegal v South Africa (Kumasi)
Jan 31: Tunisia v Angola (Tamale)

So that completes our preview of the 2008 African Cup of Nations. It'll be great seeing who's the more determined to lift the trophy over the next three weeks and we'll be doing our best to spread the word on the tournament with regular news reports and video clips just for you.

There's also the chance to talk about your thoughts on the competition right here by leaving us a comment or two in our regular posts, or alternatively, why not head over to one of our favourite sites, Pitch Invasion, where you can do the same with other like-minded folk? You'll be jolly glad you did...

Saturday, January 19, 2008

African Cup of Nations Preview (Part 3)

Group C
When Cameroon do well in the African Nations Cup, they usually win it outright. When they don't do well, they fail miserably. That's the ying and the yang of the Indomitable Lions - forget middle ground: they're simply isn't any where Cameroon are concerned.

Wins in 1984, 1988, 2000 and 2002 are all very impressive, but their achievements in the African competition the rest of the time are practically non-existent. Just as well they always arrive in the African Cup of Nations with great potential, and 2008 will be no exception.

Qualifying proved the simplest of exercises for Cameroon, albeit in one of the weaker groups. They scored two, if not three goals against Rwanda, Liberia and Equatorial Guinea until qualification was assured before the last game, but it wasn't just the number of goals scored that was impressive - it was the sheer range of players that did it for them.

So Cameroon shouldn't have a problem finding goals in Group C of the Finals. What about their main opponents in the group and current champions, Egypt? Well though not as prolific, the Egyptians are more than a match for many teams although Botswana, Burundi and Mauritania all earned commendable draws against them in the qualifying round.

That aside, they earned their place in this year's African Cup of Nations by remaining unbeaten throughout, something that few other teams can boast. So will the record holders win it again this year? We don't think so. A quarter-final place is a racing certainty, but anything beyond that may be more unlikely given the strength of the opposition elsewhere.

The return of Sudan to the Finals is one that should be cheered loudly as the biggest country on the continent hasn't qualified since 1976. In a place where civil war has been prevalent for so many years, it's hardly surprising we've not seen too much of the Sudanese football team, but they enter the 2008 Cup of Nations on a real high.

That's because in qualifying for the tournament, they actually came top of their group above the 2004 champions, Tunisia. They even manage to beat the Tunisians in the final crunch game 3-2 having already taken care of Mauritius and the Seychelles. They'll be an exciting prospect to watch despite being one of the complete outsiders, but if any dark horse is going to cause an upset in this competition, it could be Sudan. It's just a shame they've got Cameroon and Egypt to get past, unfortunately...

The final team in Group C are Zambia. Another of the underdogs, they've not progressed past the first round in the last five tournaments, but that doesn't prevent them being well-followed and much-admired on the international football scene.

In 1993, a military plane carrying the Zambia team to a World Cup qualifying match in Senegal crashed into the sea shortly after take-off, killing eighteen players plus the crew of the aircraft. Once the country recovered from the shock of such a loss, attention turned to rebuilding the squad in the hope that one day they may achieve glory and provide a fitting tribute to all those who died.

The following year, Zambia reached the final of the African Cup of Nations, losing by a single goal to Nigeria and in 1996 they finished third overall. It was a remarkable achievement and one that the present day team long to match or surpass. Whether they win or lose this year, Zambia will be looked on with great admiration for as long as they remain in the competition.

Group C Matches:
Jan 22: Egypt v Cameroon (Kumasi)
Jan 22: Sudan v Zambia (Kumasi)
Jan 26: Cameroon v Zambia (Kumasi)
Jan 26: Egypt v Sudan (Kumasi)
Jan 30: Cameroon v Sudan (Tamale)
Jan 30: Egypt v Zambia (Kumasi)

In the final part of our preview: Angola, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #45

Eagles, Elephants and Other Animals
The 16 Competing Teams Of The 2008 African Cup of Nations in Nickname Form

1. The Black Antelopes (Angola)
2. The Squirrels (Benin)
3. The Indomitable Lions (Cameroon)
4. The Pharaohs (Egypt)
5. The Black Stars (Ghana)
6. Syli Nationale* (Guinea)
7. The Elephants (Ivory Coast)
8. The Eagles (Mali)
9. The Atlas Lions (Morocco)
10. The Brave Warriors (Namibia)
11. The Super Eagles (Nigeria)
12. The Lions of Teranga (Senegal)
13. Bafana Bafana** (South Africa)
14. The Desert Hawks (Sudan)
15. The Eagles of Carthage (Tunisia)
16. The Copper Bullets (Zambia)

* The Syli was once the main currency of Guinea and means 'elephant' in English.
** Translated into English: 'The Boys'

Thursday, January 17, 2008

African Cup of Nations Preview (Part 2)

Yesterday we dealt with Group A and today we move onto Group B. Here's another four teams to consider prior to Sunday's big kick-off...

Group B
If you thought Namibia were a bit 'part time', think again. We start by looking at Benin, at country that have only ever made it to one previous African Cup of Nations in 2004. The rest of the time, they've either not qualified or not entered in equal measures. Football, as far as Benin are concerned, is something you're either good at or you're not, and that's about it.

Yet for all their 'might play, might not' attitude, Benin astounded everyone by edging Togo out of the running in qualifying group 9 to become one of the three best runners-up in the competition. Finishing just one point behind group winners Mali, Benin had a storming finish that included a 6-0 win over Sierra Leone and a 4-1 win over Togo.

It's arguably the best we've seen from a Benin side ever (most probably) and we would feel inclined to credit them with a chance of greatness... except we've just seen the other three teams in Group B.

Let's take Ivory Coast first. Runners-up in the last Cup of Nations and conquerors of Serbia and Montenegro in the 2006 World Cup, they're looking to go one better in 2008. With players to call on including Didier Zokora (Tottenham), Emmanuel Eboue (Arsenal) and Didier Drogba (Chelsea), you can bet the Orange-shirted neighbours of the hosts, Ghana, will continue in the fine form that saw them qualify unbeaten.

Then there's Mali. Though they didn't reach the 2006 Finals, their previous two attempts resulted in fourth place finishes, but they'll be hard pushed to do that well in 2008. Take away a 6-0 win over Sierra Leone in the qualifiers and you have a team that scored only four goals in the other five games and conceded one. Top of the group they may have ended up, but they'll need to find more goals from somewhere and not just from star striker Fredi Kanoute.

And finally we come to Nigeria, one of the favourites not only to win the group, but the competition in general. Led by former German legend Berti Vogts, the Super Eagles were on fantastic form in qualifying Group 3, dropping points in only one of their six games and finishing four clear of runners-up Uganda.

A check of the scoresheets from that campaign looks like an advertisement for the Premier League. Games 1 and 2 featured goals from Everton's Aiyegbeni Yakubu, Game 3 saw a first goal for Portsmouth's Nwankwo Kanu, John Utaka (also of Portsmouth) scored in Game 4 and in Game 5, Kanu and Yakubu scored again.

But the talent doesn't stop there. Consider for a moment Joseph Yobo of Everton, Chelsea's John Obi Mikel as well as many other familiar names playing in England and across Europe, and what you have are a Nigeria team that could well pick up its first title since 1994. Though the African Cup of Nations often throws up surprises, don't be surprised if Nigeria pick up the trophy in three weeks' time.

Group B Matches:
Jan 21: Nigeria v Ivory Coast (Sekondi-Takoradi)
Jan 21: Mali v Benin (Sekondi-Takoradi)
Jan 25: Ivory Coast v Benin (Sekondi-Takoradi)
Jan 25: Nigeria v Mali (Sekondi-Takoradi)
Jan 29: Nigeria v Benin (Sekondi-Takoradi)
Jan 29: Ivory Coast v Mali (Accra)

Coming next in Part 3: Cameroon, Egypt, Sudan and Zambia...

How not to gain the respect of your wife...

So there I was with Mrs. O the other night, watching Sky Sports News, when up popped a caption on the screen. It showed a list of potential future candidates for the Newcastle United manager's job and the best odds you could get from bookmakers on each one getting it.

"Who would you bet on out of those, then?" said Mrs. O.

"Well let's see" I said.

(At this point I adopted the posture of a man who knew what he was talking about, and was only too keen to pass judgement for his wife who, being a New Zealander, was more akin to the oval ball game.)

"Top of the list, we have Mark Hughes, the favourite. Yes, it's a possibility that he might take the job. He's gone a bit stale at Blackburn after all. There's also Harry Redknapp, but he's ruled himself out anyway so that's not going to happen. Terry Venables? No, a bit long in the tooth now. Alan Shearer? Maybe, but he seems quite happy doing his punditry on Match of the Day. Martin Jol? Interesting... worth a long shot. Jose Mourinho? I doubt it. I mean where would you rather live - Portugal or Newcastle? Exactly. And finally, Kevin Keegan. Er, no."

"Why not?" she said.

"Because they tried him once before and he won nothing" I replied.

"Oh" she said.

You can imagine my surprise, and indeed hers, when the same channel broke the news that Kevin Keegan had been named Newcastle boss last night. She walked in through the door having arrived home from work, gawped open-mouthed at the TV and said "Didn't you say...?"

"Yes, I know" I interrupted, "I know. Just don't ask..."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

African Cup of Nations Preview (Part 1)

Rejoice and regale for the African Nations Cup will be with us once again on Sunday!

Whatever your opinion on African football, few can deny it's raw, entertaining and often exciting in a way that few other parts of the world can match. The African Cup of Nations brings together the best 16 teams from The Dark Continent in a bid to prove that very point, and this year the action takes place in Ghana, a country that has won the title on four previous occasions.

In a competition where being the host can give you a handy advantage towards winning outright, Ghana could well be looking a fifth title. The last time they hosted the competition on their own in 1978, they picked up the trophy, but having won it only once since in 1982, the Ghanaians may be excused for thinking it could be their time to win again.

So what lies ahead for the host nation and the fifteen qualifiers over the next three weeks? SPAOTP aims to tell you, and to make it all the easier to digest we're breaking down our guide into four pieces, looking at the teams in Groups A to D. Today, naturally enough, it's Group A...

Group A
Ghana, the host nation, can do big things in this tournament. Their recent record has been quite impressive, particularly against fellow African countries, and they have a few players that are making their talent known abroad too.

Top of that list unquestionably is Chelsea's Michael Essien. He'll be the rock in midfield that the rest of the team will be based around. Then there's Sulley Muntari of Portsmouth, another midfielder that's scored four goals already this season, and to complete an excellent midfield line-up is captain Stephen Appiah. Formerly of Juventus and Parma, he's now making a name for himself at Fenerbahce.

If you're looking for familiar names in the Guinea team, there's really only one - Bobo Balde, known to Celtic fans everywhere. Yet he's just one member of a team that collectively made sure Algeria didn't even get to the Nations Cup by finishing top of their qualifying group. The last time that happened to Algeria was 1978, so that's quite an achievement in anyone's book.

Yet for all that, Guinea looked at times decidedly average during the qualifiers. They lost their second match 1-0 to the Cape Verde Islands and had to rely on Gambia beating Algeria 2-1 in the last round of games to secure top spot in the group. They've reached the quarter-finals of the last two African Nations Cups but don't be so sure on Guinea making it three on-the-trot this time out.

Next, we have Morocco, a powerhouse of African football in the 1990's, yet strangely haven't qualified for a World Cup since. In qualifying for this year's Nations Cup, they had an easier task than most in that they featured in a team of three rather than four, and promptly ended the group six points clear of second-place Zimbabwe. All well and good, except the Moroccans were rather economical in the goal-scoring department, putting the ball in the net no more than twice in any of their four games.

Morocco are also hanging on to past glories where the team sheet is concerned. There are still one or two familiar names that once graced the Premier League to conjure with, but their star has long since faded. Talal El Karkouri, previously of Charlton Athletic, has now moved onto the Qatar Sports Club, Youssef Safri labours on with Southampton in the Championship, and the likes of Mustapha Hadji have long since left the national team altogether.

It's not inconceivable that this could be Morocco's fourth Round 1 exit in their last five attempts, but they'll have to deal with Guinea first if they're to prove otherwise.

Finally, Namibia, a relative newcomer to the African Cup of Nations. They didn't even enter the competition until 1998, and since then have only qualified for the Finals once back in 1998 when they crashed out in the first round.

In qualifying for this year's ACN, they were pitted in, what was by their standards, a tough group consisting of Ethiopia, Libya and the Democratic Republic of Congo. With the latter set as favourites to win a place in the Ghana Finals, it was an achievement in itself that Namibia put paid to their chances, especially after they lost two of their opening three games.

Yet their persistence paid off and when it came to their final must-win game against the Ethiopians, they held their nerve to win 3-2 while Congo DR were drawing 1-1 with Libya. Unconvincing they may have been at times, but a battling side they have proved to be and it may that particular quality that puts paid to Morocco or Guinea getting through to Round 2 of the Finals if it doesn't help themselves.

Group A Matches:
Jan 20: Ghana v Guinea (Accra)
Jan 21: Namibia v Morocco (Accra)
Jan 24: Guinea v Morocco (Accra)
Jan 24: Ghana v Namibia (Accra)
Jan 28: Ghana v Morocco (Accra)
Jan 28: Guinea v Namibia (Sekondi-Takoradi)

Coming next in Part 2: Benin, Ivory Coast, Mali and Nigeria...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

We are top of the league, say we are top of the league...

I don't wish to brag, but I had a particularly good weekend where my Fantasy League team's concerned. My team is entered into the official FA Premier League competition and is one of 63 teams taking part in our very own SPAOTP.com mini-league (see right for entry details).

After a poor start which saw my team labouring in the bottom half of the table, I managed to hit a bit of form from November onwards which culminated in my tremendous score of 108 at the weekend. Like I say, I don't like to brag, but it was tough down there in the bottom half...

All of which led me to reflect on the decent players I've been lucky enough to pick just recently. Think about this for a moment: aside from Fantasy League competitions and the like, if someone asked you to pick a 'squad' of the best fifteen Premier League players, who would you pick?

Would you pick Rob Green of West Ham in goal? Martin Petrov of Man City in midfield? What about Silvain Distin of Portsmouth in defence? Perhaps not, although they are all great players in their own right, and yet they're among the best players you can buy in the FA's Fantasy Premier League competition at the moment.

Here are the highest scoring players so far:

Green (West Ham)
James (Portsmouth)

Laursen (Aston Villa)
Ferdinand (Manchester United)
Lescott (Everton)
Vidic (Manchester United)
Distin (Portsmouth)

Ronaldo (Manchester United)
Fabregas (Arsenal)
Gerrard (Liverpool)
Petrov (Manchester City)
Bentley (Blackburn)

Tevez (Manchester United)
Adebayor (Arsenal)
Berbatov (Tottenham)

Now before we carry on, we know that a Fantasy League competition isn't the most scientific way of judging who the best players are, but this is just a bit of fun, after all. So with that in mind, what can we discern from the above?

Well the first thing that springs to mind is that over half of the players aren't even from the top four in England (i.e. Man United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool). Come to think of it, where are the Chelsea players?

Using the FA's scoring system, Rob Green comes out on top as the best keeper. He's yet to convince many of his credentials as a future England player, but for David James - just behind Green on points - he's got the same problem, but in his case he's already had an England career.

In defence, we have a selection of people that can not only stop the goals going in but also score at the other end too. Just this last weekend, Rio Ferdinand, Joleon Lescott and Martin Laursen all got on the scoresheet - a good skill to have if your Fantasy League team needs that kind of thing.

In midfield, who wouldn't pick the likes of Ronaldo, Fabregas and Gerrard. Their legendary status grows bigger by the day, and though Petrov and Bentley still have some way to go before they reach similar heights in the game, they can both pick up the occasional goal too, as well as putting in regular performances of considerable quality.

And then up front we have three exciting players, each of whom are bringing much in the way of excitement to their respective teams. Tevez, Adebayor and Berbatov are rightly among the most sought-after players in Fantasy League circles, and the 31 Premier League goals they've scored between them this season prove just why.

So there it is, the FA Fantasy Premier League's best-possible squad as it currently stands. Fifteen great players, and they're all yours for a virtual sum of £120.9 million.

Shame they only give you £100 million pounds to buy some players with, really...

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #44

Melchester Rivals
19 Teams 'Roy of the Rovers' Played Against During His Long And Often Troubled Career

1. Blackport
2. Burndean
3. Carford City
4. Castlemere
5. Danefield
6. Deans Park
7. Gatesfield
8. Holverton
9. Kelburn
10. Kingsbay
11. Melborough
12. North Vale
13. Oldfield
14. Portdean
15. Redstoke
16. Stambridge City
17. Tynecaster
18. Walford Rovers
19. Weston Villa

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Sack Factor

Well well well, another Premier League manager gets the chop and it's none other than Newcastle United's Sam Allardyce. That makes him the eighth top-flight head coach to be shown the door in the space of five months. I know there's always been a hire-and-fire-'em culture in England when it comes to football management, but was it always as bad as this?

With eight men gone, it means there's now only twelve remaining who must surely be starting to feel the tightness of their shirt collars at this point. By the time I've typed up this article, we'll probably lose another one, so without further ado let's see if we can work out who's next for the guillotine.

Arsene Wenger
Practically part of the furniture at the Emirates and a man who can seemingly do no wrong. Unlikely to lose his job anytime soon, but surely the Chairman must have been hoping The Gunners would have won the Champions League by now? Cause for dismissal?
Sack Odds: 250/1

Martin O'Neill
Most people will say he needs a bit more time to weave his magic before Villa start achieving, but with the club now up to seventh in the table, perhaps change is already underway? That said, Villa sack their managers almost as often as they get a new kit deal, so don't bet against it…
Sack Odds: 50/1

Mark Hughes
Blackburn seem resolutely content to keep Sparky in the manner to which he's become accustomed, and that's perhaps because they're not too ambitious in what they hope to achieve. He's not won anything yet, but he has moved them forward by getting them into the UEFA Cup and the top half of the Premier League table. A bad run of form could see him out of a job, though…
Sack Odds: 33/1

David Moyes
Everything in the garden's rosy for Moyes at the moment. They're in the Carling Cup semi-finals, the last 32 of the UEFA Cup and are up to 6th in the Premier League. Again, no silverware in the cabinet so far for the Scot, but he's proved he can point the team in the right direction. No change, we feel.
Sack Odds: 80/1

Rafa Benitez
Those Scousers still expect the earth, and who can blame them when they've won so much in the past. Rafa's still trying to reproduce those glory days and you can never write him off, but having almost been eliminated from the Champions League a couple of months ago and with an illogical fondness for squad rotation, maybe that distant sound of grumbling will start getting louder…
Sack Odds: 50/1

Sven-Goran Eriksson
To recent an arrival to be seriously considered for the sack. Not only that, but he's guided Man City up to fourth in the table. Nosebleeds all round for fans of the club, then. Barely a hope in hell of being dismissed… unless he gets distracted by skirt once again.
Sack Odds: 200/1

Sir Alex Ferguson
Retire, maybe, but you can't sack Lord Alex of Ferguson, can you? Nah, come on - it'd be like selling your granny. No, don't even think about it. Impossible…
Sack Odds: 500/1

Gareth Southgate
…but then at the other end of the scale is the former England defender who always had a keen eye for a penalty shoot-out. He might be best mates with chairman Steve Gibson, but Southgate's giving much cause for concern through his underachievement. He's been constantly touted as the next manager to get the sack for the last three years, and he's only been managing for the last year and a half. Now that's bad.
Sack Odds: 12/1

Harry Redknapp
He has his ups and downs, does Harry, but right now his Portsmouth side's riding the crest of the wave. They’re eighth in the league and a UEFA Cup place looks well within reach this season so what could possibly go wrong (apart from half your team leaving this month to play in the African Nations Cup?) He's doing a good job at the moment, and we don't see that changing.
Sack Odds: 66/1

Steve Coppell
This time last year, we were all raving about the job Steve Coppell had done at Reading. Now, they're on the slide, albeit slowly. Consistency has been the keyword for Coppell and he's struggled to find it with his players this season. There's every chance he could turn it around and has the time to do it, but if the relegation trap door comes into view, who knows what might happen?
Sack Odds: 25/1

Roy Keane
Speaking of relegation, that's what Sunderland are currently staring in the face. Other newly-promoted clubs Derby and Birmingham have already shown no mercy in giving the boot to the men that got them promoted in the first place, but then again has it done them any good? Keano needs to start finding decent results and fast otherwise it'll be back to dog-walking again…
Sack Odds: 10/1

Alan Curbishley
Curbs managed to see out the end of last season by steering The Hammers away from the drop and now things are going altogether much better. They're into the top half of the table and have even proved that beating the likes of Man United isn't beyond their capabilities. A UEFA Cup place might be a bridge too far, but Curbishley's already won the board and the fans over with West Ham's improved form, so no need to panic, we feel.
Sack Odds: 66/1

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Blatter - Man of the Fifties...

It's something no decent person should have to face first thing in the morning: a picture of Sepp Blatter staring out at you from your newspaper. Talk about a bad start to your day...

And why was he taking up valuable column inches on this particular occasion? Because the English FA (shock horror) have dared to appoint a head coach for its national team that isn't English. You've got to hand it to him - he's as sharp as a tack when it comes to this sort of thing.

Did no-one tell him about Sven? Oh well, never mind. Anyway, Von Blatter of Switzerland has hauled out his trusty old soapbox once again and proclaimed to anyone that'll listen that it's "a little surprising that the motherland of football has ignored a sacrosanct law or belief that the national team manager should be from the same country as the players."

And fair enough to. Next time I see Owen Hargreaves, I'll ask him if there are any decent managers in Canada that might be interested in being a future head of the England team.

He went on to say: "In fact, most of the best teams have a coach from their own country." As I didn't believe him for a moment, I thought I'd check this out to see if he was right. To my amazement, he was. Out of FIFA's top 20 highest-ranked teams, only four have a foreign manager, one of which is Fabio Capello of England, the others being Portugal's Luiz Felipe Scolari (Brazil), Greece's Otto Rehhagel (Germany) and Nigeria's Berti Vogts (Germany).

But that's about all Sepp Blatter is right about. It may have been the case once upon a time that a national team should have a manager from the same country, but that's no longer the case. What remains the same is the desire by a great many international football associations (and their fans) to see their team do well, play better and perhaps even win something.

We're not living in the 1950's anymore. If there's a coach out there that can bring a change in fortunes to a team and bring a smile back to the faces of the supporters, who the hell cares? We're not so precious when it comes to buying our cars. If we were, we British would still be driving around in Austin Allegros and Morris Marinas.

So let's just run this past you one more time, Sepp old son. It's an open market out there. A country can choose who it likes to be its head coach, and that's been the case for a long time now, so can you please remember that you're supposed to be taking the game forward into a modern era and shut up now?

Monday, January 07, 2008

Don't mention the draw...

After the heady excitement of seeing several Premier League teams knocked-out by smaller opposition in Round 3, today we had the draw for the Fourth Round of the FA Cup (sponsored by E.On).

Not that you'll see it on this site, oh no. Nope, we had our fingers burnt once before where that sort of thing's concerned and we won't be falling into that trap again.

It was back in June 2007 when we gazed in awe at the fixtures that had just been announced by the FA for the opening weeks of the new Premier League season. How we drooled at the prospect of all those top teams waiting to do battle again after so many weeks of Summer inactivity.

We couldn't wait to share that initial batch of fixtures with you, so we did the only decent thing we could think of: we published them on our site. That's what set the alarm off in the FA boardroom.

Within a couple of days, we were contacted by a company who shall remain nameless (for reasons which will become clear) who, it was claimed, were acting on behalf of the aforementioned governing body. They said they'd noticed we'd published details of the opening weeks' fixtures, and as we'd done so without asking for permission (or paying the extortionate sum of money they were asking for) we should remove them from our site or face the consequences.

As we didn't want a gang of henchmen banging on our door demanding to be let in so they could detach a certain dangly collection of objects from our bodies with a blunt knife, we agreed to do what they said.

And apparently we weren't the only ones. I've been on other blog sites that were also contacted for this so-called breach of the law, and they had to face the same unreasonably heavy-handed attitude as well.

Now at this point I could surely go on for hours about why you have to pay thousands of pounds for a license to use the FA's fixture details when various newspapers and TV companies are displaying them to a worldwide audience of millions, but I won't. I'll leave that for you to contemplate.

Instead, as we always try to provide the best news service we can for you, our loyal visitors, here ARE the key fixtures from today's draw for the Fourth Round of the FA Cup using as much detail as possible without crossing the boundaries of illegality:
  • The Gooners v That team Stanley Matthews played for at the end of his career or The Magpies from St. James' Park
  • Dave Whelan's relegation-cheating JJB-ers v a team from West London that call themselves The BluesThe team that used to be supported by Eric Morecambe or Rafa's Rotating Reds v A club that went from the Fourth Division to the First almost as quickly as they went from the First Divison to the Fourth or Yet another non-league team that were formed as a result of a merger of two local sides that haven't reached this round before
  • Ronaldo & Co v Ossie's Army or Steve Coppell's blue-and-white-army
  • Pompey v The only team you know in English football that wears green shirts
  • The club that thinks it can sue its way out of trouble v The team that gave them such an inferiority complex by signing a couple of Argentinean stooges who inadvertantly caught the wrong train and ended up in East London or Manchester City. (Bugger...)

Saturday, January 05, 2008

SPAOTP's Road to Wembley: FA Cup 3rd Round Proper

Today we arrived in Round Three of the 2007/08 FA Cup (sponsored by E.On) and in case you haven't been with us on our Road to Wembley so far, we're following Swansea City as they faced Havant and Waterlooville.

Round Two certainly proved to be an eventful one for us as our adopted team at the time were Horsham FC. They played Swansea City at home and earned a commendable 1-1 draw. Unfortunately the replay at Swansea's Liberty Stadium proved too difficult for them as The Swans thrashed the The Hornets 6-2, so once again we wave our old team goodbye and welcome aboard a new one and our first on the Road to Wembley from the Football League.

Swansea City are currently flying high in League 1 and are currently occupying top spot in the table thanks to an impressive recent run of form. Their last defeat came on November 16th at home to Huddersfield Town and since then they've notched up seven wins and two draws, so it's no surprise manager Roberto Martinez won the Coca-Cola League 1 Manager of the Month award.

He must have been feeling pretty confident when the draw for the FA Cup 3rd Round pitted them against Conference South side Havant and Waterlooville. That said, Swansea City have come a cropper in the past when playing supposedly weaker opposition in the Cup. Nuneaton Borough knocked them out in 1967 and 1994, Margate did it in 1973, Minehead did it in 1977 and Bognor Regis Town beat them in 1985, so would there be another upset today?

It was a distinct possibility. Swansea have had trouble replicating their league form in the FA Cup this season as the replayed match against Horsham proved. Even the previous round wasn't straight-forward for Martinez's band of men as they left it to the last half an hour to come back from 1-0 down to win 2-1 against Billericay Town.

So who could he rely on to score a goal or two today? Well his top scorer in all competitions so far in 2007/08 has been Trinidad and Tobago striker Jason Scotland (or is that Scotland striker Jason... oh never mind...) He's put the ball in the net thirteen times so far this season, plenty more than fellow team members Paul Anderson (8) and Andy Robinson (6) but goals have been going in from all over the place of late so there didn't seem to be much cause for concern.

What was a concern was The Swans knack for conceding goals. For every two they've scored in the league, they've let one in so today's game was always going to be tricky. Just how did they get on, then?

Well Swansea started off the brighter of the two teams as shots from Darren Pratley, Jason Scotland and Leon Britton all hit the crossbar, but a hard-fought match failed to produce any goals until the 74th minute when Andy Robinson scored from a 30-yard free kick.

You'd have put your house on Swansea to wrap the game up, especially when Havant's Brett Poate was sent off for a two-footed tackle on Andrea Orlandi five minutes later, but it caused tempers to be raised between both sides and Swansea's Alan Tate also saw red shortly after. The game had lost its flow but Havant and Waterlooville turned it to their advantage as Rocky Baptiste seized on a defensive mistake to equalise with three minutes left.

The game finished a 1-1 draw and the two teams will now meet again for the replay at Westleigh Park on Wednesday 16 January. Swansea will be pleased not to have been knocked out by lesser opposition, but they'll feel they should have won after dominating so much of the match. Can they finish off the job in eleven days time? Watch this space to find out...

Friday, January 04, 2008

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #43

David and Goliath Weekend
20 FA Cup Third Round Upsets

1. Colchester United (Southern League) 1-0 Huddersfield Town (Division 1), 1947/48
2. Crewe Alexandra (Division 4) 2-1 Chelsea (Division 1), 1960/61
3. Aldershot (Division 4) 2-1 Aston Villa (Division 1), 1963/64 (replay)
4. Newport County (Division 4) 3–2 Sheffield Wednesday (Division 1), 1963/64
5. Millwall (Division 4) 1–0 Fulham (Division 1), 1964/65 (replay)
6. Hereford United (Southern League) 2–1 Newcastle United (Division 1), 1971/72 (replay)
7. Wimbledon (Southern League) 1–0 Burnley (Division 1), 1974/75
8. Halifax Town (Division 4) 1–0 Manchester City (Division 1), 1979/80
9. Harlow Town (Isthmian League) 1–0 Leicester City (Division 2), 1979/80 (replay)
10. Altrincham (Football Conference) 2–1 Birmingham City (Division 1), 1985/86
11. Aldershot (Division 4) 3–0 Oxford United (Division 1), 1986/87
12. Grimsby Town (Division 4) 2–1 Middlesbrough (Division 1), 1988/89
13. Sutton United (Football Conference) 2–1 Coventry City (Division 1), 1988/89
14. Woking (Isthmian Premier) 4–2 West Bromwich Albion (Division 2), 1990/91
15. Wrexham (Division 4) 2–1 Arsenal (Division 1), 1991/92
16. Kidderminster Harriers (Football Conference) 2–1 Birmingham City (Division 1), 1993/94
17. Stevenage Borough (Football Conference) 2–1 Swindon Town (Division 1), 1997/98
18. Swansea City (Division 3) 1–0 West Ham United (Premier League), 1998/99 (replay)
19. Bristol Rovers (Division 3) 3–1 Derby County (Premier League), 2001/02
20. Shrewsbury Town (Division 3) 2–1 Everton (Premier League), 2002/03

...and Number 18 on the list reminds us that Swansea City feature in our 'Road To Wembley' tomorrow. Join us for that and see if they can avoid being on the wrong end of a Third Round upset against Havant & Waterlooville.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

World Cup 2010 Update (January 2007)

Time now to bring you up-to-date with another of our special monthly World Cup 2010 Updates. They're 'special' because we publish them roughly every six weeks or so, and they don't come more monthly than that.

Anyway, if we're honest there's not a whole lot to report on as proceedings wound down for the Christmas break after our last message. That said, there were a few things to tell you about.

In Asia, we were working our way through Round 2 of five and it's here that we're whittling our way down to the teams who stand at least half a chance of reaching South Africa in 889 days' time.

Since we last posted a report, Round 2 has ended with the completion of the four two-leg knock-out games. The second leg results and their subsequent aggregate scores were as follows:

Tajikistan 1-1 Singapore (agg. 1-3)
Syria 7-0 Indonesia (agg. 11-1)
Thailand 1-0 Yemen (agg. 2-1)
Turkmenistan 3-0 Hong Kong (agg. 3-0)

So the teams in bold go through to Round 3 which begins next month and this is where it gets rather interesting. There'll be five groups of four teams and the top two go through to Round 4. Here's how the groups were drawn out last month:

Group A: Australia, China, Iraq, Qatar
Group B: Japan, Bahrain, Oman, Thailand
Group C: North Korea, South Korea, Jordan, Turkmenistan
Group D: Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Lebanon, Singapore
Group E: Iran, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Syria

More news of that next month (or in six weeks - whichever's sooner).

Into Oceania now and New Zealand continued their march towards an inevitable play-off with the fifth-best team from Asia thanks to a 4-1 win over Vanuatu. That result means The 'All Whites' now top the qualification group with a maximum nine points but elsewhere, New Caledonia secured their first win of the competition, 4-0 over Fiji, so they go second in the group.

The competition now goes into hibernation until June when matches resume. There you can expect New Zealand to play host to third-placed Fiji and New Caledonia to travel to Vanuatu.

Following our previous update, Round 1 in the Africa section came to an end when Sierra Leone and Madagascar won their two-legged play-offs, so now it's time to hit the snooze button until May when Round 2 kicks-off. (That'll be because the African Nations Cup gets underway soon, but you knew that, didn't you?)

In North and Central America, Round 1 begins next month, but don't expect to see the likes of Mexico, the United States or Canada just yet - they come in during Round 2 in the latter part of this year.

With Europe's finest not due to take to the field until around the same time, it just leaves us to tell you about South America where things have become rather unpredictable.

Top of the table last time out were Argentina, but they've now been replaced by Paraguay who notched up a couple of impressive wins against bottom-half opposition. Argentina slipped up when they lost 2-1 to fourth-placed Colombia on November 20th 2007. Admittedly it's the only one of their four games they've dropped points in so far, but it shows already that they're not invincible.

Brazil make up the top four with a 'won two, drawn two' record that's a slight concern given that one of those two draws was against Peru, currently eighth of the nine teams.

Two shocks to report on at this early stage involve Venezuela who currently tail the front runners in fifth and 2006 World Cup attendees Ecuador, languishing down in seventh. Ecuador have only won one of their four games so far and have already lost to the Venezuelans early in the competition.

Completing the set-up are Uruguay, down in sixth and also with only one win to their name, and Bolivia - at the bottom and one of only two teams (the other being Peru) that are yet to win a match.

So that's it for now. We hope you feel fully briefed once again. We'll be back soon with another update where we'll be going CONCACAF Crazy, so make sure to join us for that!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Leave the signings to us...

It's January, folks, and if you're a Premier League fan that can only mean one thing - the opening of the transfer window. Trouble is, you're probably sitting there like us thinking "when's somebody going to buy someone?"

I know we're only two days into the new year, but let's face it, there's a lot of clubs out there with a whole stack of money to spend - they just don't know who to spend it on.

Well fear not, oh chairmen of the Premier League. Help is at hand from your ever-reliable SPOATP. We've done all the thinking for you and have suggested one key player we think your club should buy.

We didn't make selections for all twenty teams in the Premier League - that'd make for a long, boring list. Instead, here are ten to be going on with, and if you can suggest any purchases of your own, feel free to leave a comment and tell us who it involves.

Michael Carrick
When you look at Arsenal, you see a team that's lost only one game all season and scored nearly four times more goals than they've scored. So what are they lacking? Answer: someone who's English. With half the team about to set sail for the African Cup of Nations, Wenger's army are in dire need of someone who represents the Premier League's home country, and United's Carrick seems to fit the bill. His profile has been somewhat lower recently than it has been and we think he's due for a change to liven up his career a bit. Off you go, Michael - you know it makes sense...

Dimitar Berbatov
Things going flat? Needing a little sparkle to convince your fans you really can win the title this year? Then get new-improved Dimitar Berbatov with added Ambition+! We're lead to believe the free-scoring Bulgarian is tired of toiling at White Hart Lane and now wants to win some silverware, so with half the Chelsea team locked away in the treatment room, this could be an opportunity made in heaven for both parties. What's that? Can't afford him, Mr Abramovich? Rubbish!

Derby County
Jens Lehmann
45 goals conceded in 20 games suggests only one thing - problems at the back. Stephen Bywater, bless him, has been doing his best but we think Herr Lehman would bring some steel and efficiency to The Rams' defence. And before you say it - yes, we know he's a bit nutty, but you could put up with that if you were bottom of the table, couldn't you? So there it is: German efficiency personified - just what Paul Jewell could do with. Urgently.

Mikael Forssell
This could finally be the year that Fulham drop into the Championship and new manager Roy Hodgson has it all to do. We'd therefore like to make a suggestion to the coach: get in a player you know that can be trusted and can score a few goals. Now let's see - who played for Hodgson in the Finland team that matches that description... ah yes, of course - Mikael Forssell! He's doing the business for Birmingham City at the moment and went down well at Chelsea too. The ideal choice for a strong end-of-season finnish (sic).

Mikel Arteta
You have to admit, Liverpool have got some pretty good players in their team. Think Gerrard, Torres, Carragher... and yet on occasions they seem to lack someone who can just get on with the job of giving the ball to the front men when they need it. That means they have a vacancy open and we think the ideal candidate to fill it is Mikel Arteta. He's so reliable at doing the ordinary things - crossing the ball, making important passes... oh, and he's pretty deadly from free-kicks as well. If The Reds needed any more persuasion, what could be sweeter than nicking a player from your rivals? Convinced yet? We thought you might be...

Manchester United
Martin Laursen
The one thing you can say about Man United is that their team is full of players that seem to be able to score goals no matter which position they play in. That said, we think their defence could be chipping in with a few more, so we suggest bringing in Martin Laursen from Aston Villa. He's in red-hot form at the moment, is scoring more often than some of his colleagues nearer the front line, so go on Sir Alex - have a word with Martin O'Neill and show him the colour of your money. You know it makes sense...

Newcastle United
Benjani Mwaruwari
Some say that Sam Allardyce's days are numbered at St James' Park. We don't, but if they are, we can recommend someone he should buy that might extend his contract by a few months - Portsmouth's Benjani. Newcastle have often been somewhat misguided in the past when it came to buying strikers (Alan Shearer excluded), but here's a man that could definitely do a job for them. Just think - Sam Allardyce and Harry Redknapp doing a transfer deal. Imagine what that could do for the country's brown paper industry...

Kevin Doyle

Pompey are so tantalisingly close to a UEFA Cup place. All they need is a boost to propel themselves into one of those top spots in the table. The man that can help them do it is Kevin Doyle of Reading. If Harry Redknapp's proven himself capable of one thing, it's getting the best out of a player that's not, shall we say, 'an international superstar'. Doyle, in turn, has shown he can score goals on a regular basis, so put the two together and what have you got? A potential match between Portsmouth and Atletico Madrid next season, if all goes to plan...

Tottenham Hotspur
Wayne Bridge
Surplus to requirements even in an injury-ridden side like Chelsea, Bridge could be just the man to lend some much needed strength to a weak defence. We know he's prone to a few injuries himself, but he's a man on a mission - to break into the England team on a permanent basis. With a new national coach in charge, maybe this is the move that Wayne Bridge has been looking for?

West Ham United
Andriy Shevchenko
Well why not? The Hammers have still got lots of Eggert Magnusson's cash sloshing around in the bank, they need a decent striker (and don't you dare try to convince us that Carlton Cole's just "going through a bit of a bad patch") and the Ukrainian still doesn't look like the goal machine Abramovich was hoping would become legendary at Stamford Bridge. Time, therefore, to bring Shev to the other side of London...


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