Friday, October 31, 2008

Weekend TV Preview: October 31st - November 2nd

(All times UK)

Friday 31st October

19:30 Bayer Leverkusen v Wolfsburg, Bundesliga, Setanta Sports 1

Decent game, this. Two teams in good form and banging in the goals. Star men for either side are Grafite for Wolves and Helmes for Bayer who could go top if they win.

Saturday 1st November

12:45 Everton v Fulham, Premier League, Sky Sports 1 & HD1

Hmmm. Interesting choice this one. Everton are on the up after a good point against Manchester United and Bolton (which in fairness is no great shakes). Fulham have Andy Johnson back in the goals and will be a threat until his knee cap pops out again. "Damn! why does that keep happening?"

17:20 Cardiff City v Wolverhampton Wanderers, Championship, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
Dave Jones welcomes one of his old clubs. Wolves are top and Cardiff are third. There should be a lively early-evening atmosphere at Ninian Park with a goal or two for good measure.

17:30 Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool, Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
Setanta have had some good fortune with their TD picks this season. They screened the Manchester City v Chelsea game just after all that stuff went down with Abu Dhabi. This weekend a humdrum top v bottom fixture is now a clash between the two teams of the hour. Tottenham's exuberance should be snuffed out by a ruthless Liverpool.

19:00 Malaga v Barcelona, La Liga, Sky Sports Xtra
It's Malaga's turn to run the gauntlet of playing the top teams in succession thereby ruining their form curve. Barcelona are said to be in fine form and the legends are already being cast in October.

19:30 Cork City v Glentoran, Setanta Sports Cup Final, Setanta Sports 2
The usual French fixture is set aside for Setanta's own cross-border knockout tournament between a team from the Republic and the North.

21:00 Valencia v Racing Santander, La Liga, Sky Sports Xtra
Valencia were dreadful last year. This season they have put their financial woes aside and are top by a point with David Villa back in the goals. Racing are struggling and could do with the upset and the points. They could probably do without a UEFA Cup clash against Schalke next week.

Sunday 2nd November

13:15 Derby County v Nottingham Forest, Championship, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
Brian Clough? Peter Taylor? The seventies? Jumpers for goalposts? Marvelous isn't it?

14:00 Hearts v Celtic, Scottish Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
The Jambos haven't won since September which is hardly the sort of form you want to bring to a game against the champions. A straight-forward away win for Celtic.

16:00 Bolton Wanderers v Manchester City, Premier League, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
City are a different team away from home, a poor team in fact. Bolton need this badly and Megson needs it even more. Not a fixture to whet the appetite.

20:00 Lyon v Le Mans, Ligue 1, Setanta Sports 1
Le Mans took a home beating against Auxerre on Wednesday and won't be feeling too good about themselves going into their Big One against the champs. Lyon are unlikely to be troubled.

Bundesbag Weeks 9 & 10: Der Bumper

They say that after ten games a league table starts to take shape. If that's true then Hoffenheim are due to be mentioned in the opening paragraphs of many a Bundesbag throughout the rest of the season. Last Sunday was The Big One as they traveled north to Hamburg for a first versus second clash. Not only did they win but they ran away with the game, leaving dust in the leaders faces. 3-0 was the final score and critics are becoming increasingly beguiled by their football. Fast, energetic, controlled, attractive and successful.

The Bundesbag has mentioned before about how the English media are paying more attention to matters German thanks to Ralf Rangnick's team. Indeed the first David Hasselhoff gags surfaced a couple of weeks ago. Ho-ho, they laughed, were it not for the fact that we were cracking them at the start of the season. That's not much to be proud of, mind, but there it is.

Anyhoo, Hoff II fetched up at Bochum Towers on Wednesday for their second road trip in four days and pretty much sent their hosts the way of Hamburg. Bochum did lose Christophe Dabrowski to a red card on 76 minutes but it was 3-1 by then and all over. So while the new leaders pinch themselves, the chasing pack gird their loins in an attempt to restore the natural order to the Bundesliga.

Let's start with Hamburg since we've already mentioned them. Their midweek fixture was another televised game against Stuttgart who, you feel, could genuinely challenge if they found some consistency. They went down 2-0 and are 9th in the league. Mind you, that's only two points behind Bayern who have abandoned some of Klinsie's more out-there practices and taken it back to the way things were when Hitzfeld was last in charge and they were winning the lot. At least that's what Rafael Honigstein reckons.

Two comeback victories for the champions have transformed their spirits and their prospects. Munich were 2-0 down on Saturday against Wolfsburg but a four-goal reply wiped the smile off ex-Bayern boss Felix Magath's chops. A Demichelis own goal gave Frankfurt an unexpected fillip until Klose and Ribery stuck it to them to win 2-1 on Wednesday. The return of the Frenchman from injury must also surely have a lot to do with Bayern's revival.

Meanwhile and not so quietly going about their business are Leverkusen in second. Four goals in two games without reply, the first against Koln, the second versus Bremen. Bayer are playing some sizzling stuff and should rightly be held up as one of the reasons why the Bundesliga has some of the best attacking football in Europe at present.

The bottom is as congested as the top with three points separating the final seven. Cottbuss prop everyone else up. They lost to Frankfurt who shot up the table as a consequence at the weekend. 'Gladbach welcomed new returning boss Hans Meyer back as coach and had a decidedly mixed week. Hurrah for winning 1-0 to Karlsruhe, hurroo for getting spanked 3-0 by Wolfsburg. As for Karlsruhe themsleves, their misery was compounded by Schalke who couldn't even beat Bielefeld at the weekend.

Finally, Berlin's decent season continues. A point against Dortmund was followed by three at home to Hannover. Marko Pantelic was on the scoresheet for Hertha. The Serbian striker has been dropped recently and slagged off his general manager Dietar Hoeness. Next week, he plans to punch coach Lucian Favre on the nose before the game against Bremen. Whizz hatrick anyone?

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #85

Masters of the Microphone
18 BBC 'Match Of The Day' Commentators Past And Present

1. Simon Brotherton (1999 - present)
2. Jon Champion (1995 - 2001)
3. David Coleman (1964 - 1981)
4. Barry Davies (1969 - 2004)
5. Tony Gubba (early-70's - present)
6. Stuart Hall (late-60's)
7. Des Lynam (early 80's)
8. John Motson (1971 - present)
9. Guy Mowbray (2004 - present)
10. Jacqui Oatley (2007 - present)
11. Dan O'Hagan (2004 - present)
12. Alan Parry (1973 - 1985)
13. Jonathan Pearce (2004 - present)
14. Gerald Sinstadt (mid-80's - late-90's)
15. Clive Tyldesley (1992 - 1996)
16. Alan Weeks (1964 - early 80's)
17. Kenneth Wolstenholme (1964 - 1971)
18. Steve Wilson (1998 - present)

Which of the above would you list as your favourites? Are there any you particularly dislike? Who would you add to the list? Leave us a comment and let us know...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

All the Presidential Men (Part 7)

The penultimate part of our occasional series looking at the Presidents of FIFA throughout history.

The global game
In the early 1970's, Brazil were the true kings of world football. Crowned champions for a record third time and synonymous with the silky skills of players like Pele, Jairzinho and Carlos Alberto, the Brazilians were the embodiment of everything that was good in the game. Brazil was also about to provide FIFA with its seventh President, Joao Havelange.

In 1974, Stanley Rous' leadership of football's world governing body came to an end. He'd overseen a modest expansion of the game in many countries around the world, but some of them now wanted recognition for the way they'd developed the game to a higher standard.

Under Rous, only European and South American teams were guaranteed a place at the 1970 World Cup Finals. He remained largely unconvinced by the quality of the football being played in Africa and Asia, leaving its member federations to qualify via a series of one-sided play-offs against stronger teams.

With a growing sense of frustration, many of the younger footballing nations turned to Joao Havelange for support and it was here that Havelange, head of the Brazilian football federation at the time, saw an opportunity to force a change for the better. In the two years leading up to the 1974 Presidential election, he actively canvassed for support by making 86 foreign trips to countries far and wide, and with money from the Brazilian FA, 36 African countries were offered an all expenses paid trip for two representatives to attend the all-important FIFA conference where the next President would be elected.

His efforts paid off - just. When the votes were counted on the day of the election, Havelange was seen to have beaten Rous by a narrow margin. With the backing of Africa and Asia, the Brazilian had taken control of FIFA and immediately set about the task of repaying them for their support. By the time of the 1982 World Cup, Africa would have two representatives and Asia one, but progress in the meantime would be frustratingly slow.

One area where Havelange clearly had greater success was in the embracing of commercial partners to create a better economic foundation for FIFA. Far more money was needed to improve the development of the game around the world, and Havelange knew how to get it. By engaging in multi-million dollar sponsorship deals with companies like Adidas (who supplied the match balls for every World Cup from 1970 onwards), Havelange was able to give FIFA the firm financial footing it required.

Yet for all that, Joao Havelange couldn't help but court controversy from time to time When a volcanic eruption in Colombia caused the deaths of 21,000 people in 1985, it effectively ended the country's chances of hosting the World Cup the following year. A replacement host therefore had to be found at short notice.

The United States and Canada submitted their bids for the 1986 World Cup, but Havelange instead sent a team of inspectors to Mexico. Later, when the presentations of all three countries were made for the hosting rights, Havelange was said to have asked FIFA's delegates "Do you accept the word of the inspection team?" before calling an end to the matter. The bids from Canada and the United States weren't even considered, and Mexico were duly instated as hosts for the 1986 World Cup.

In more recent times, Joao Havelange has been accused of financial irregularities involving FIFA's former marketing partner, ISL, and even made accusations of his own this year that the World Cups of 1966 and 1974 were fixed so that the hosts could win. Yet by the 1990's, it was matters on the pitch that were proving just as troubling for the Brazilian.

The Finals of the 1990 and 1994 World Cups had ended with no goals scored from open play, and though there was some undeniably great football to be seen in both tournaments, it was clear that the sport was going through a period of transformation, with changes both good and bad taking place.

Once again it was time for FIFA to look to someone with fresh ideas and a new approach to ensure football remained on course for a secure future. Just before the start of the 1998 World Cup finals, Sepp Blatter was elected as the man to carry out that task, thereby ending the twenty-four year reign of Jean-Marie Faustin Goedefroid de Havelange.

Blatter's predecessor had achieved much during this time. He'd seen the expansion of the World Cup Finals from sixteen teams to thirty-two, the arrival of fifty new member nations (including China who re-joined after a 25-year absence) and he'd created new World Cups for women players, junior players and the indoor version of the game.

All in all then, Joao Havelange will be looked back on as a President who turned football into the sport we know today. New opportunities were created for the less fortunate players, clubs and countries of the world, all underwritten by the finances he helped to generate.

Going into a new century, football had well and truly arrived in the modern era, and one that was undoubtedly brought about by the clever Brazilian. Whether it could retain its appeal, however, would lie in the hands of a man from Switzerland.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Midweek TV Preview: October 27th - 30th

(All times UK)

Monday 27th October

19:45 Cliftonville v Linfield, JJB Premiership, Sky Sports 1
The home side haven't score in two games. Linfield are goal-less in four. We can only assume that this game was organised well in advance. Avoid.

Tuesday 28th October

19:45 Newcastle Utd v West Bromwich Albion, Premier League, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Sky have picked a good one here. Both can score, both can concede. Who will win? Who knows? Probably no-one.

Wednesday 29th October

19:00 Hamburg v VfB Stuttgart, Bundesliga, Setanta Sports 1
You can read more about Hamburg's shock defeat to Hoffenheim in this week's Bundesbag as soon as I've written it. Martin Jol's team have lost two places putting them only one place above their opponents in fourth. Should be a goal-fest but I suspect, dear reader, that your energies will be focussed on...

20:00 Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur, Premier League, Sky Sports 2/HD2
The Big One. Buoyed by a renewed confidence, Tottenham's unbalanced side will go to the Emirates determined to stick it to their hated rivals. Could end 7-6.

Thursday 30 October

19:45 Salisbury City v Crawley Town, Blue Square Premier, Setanta Sports 1
Given their financial problems, no one is quite sure how Crawley are still in existence, let alone second in the Conference. Be that as it may, they will be confident of victory over mid-table Salisbury.

Is Gartside right?

Before you answer with an emphatic "no", just bear with me for a few moments. Leaving aside that this is just a cry for attention from a chairman who is having his club's thunder stolen by the likes of Hull and Stoke, this is not the first suggestion of a Premier League closed shop. The Manchester City Chief Executive has spoken recently in favour of a 14 team league run on a franchise system similar to the US model.

Phil Gartside, for those who have not heard, thinks there should be a two-division Premier League of 36 teams in total. While there would be promotion and relegation between these divisions, crucially there would be no demotion or promotion to and from the Football League. Essentially the great rags to riches stories of clubs storming through the leagues to the summit of the game would be over. Great footballing stories of Wimbledon, Nottingham Forest, Luton Town, Oxford United and of course Hull City would be no more.

To many, if not all, football supporters this idea strikes at the core of what makes league football special. Promotion is aspirational, democratic, romantic and exciting. To take away a club's path to the top is to take away the supporter's dreams. The idea, quite simply is an anathema to the spirit of the game. What's more, it is cleary self-serving on Gartside's part. He is only looking out for his club's own interest probably realising that relegation could lead to financial ruin. His way means Premier League clubs are free to make as much money without fear of failure. Everybody wins except those not invited to the club. So far, so bad.

That said and after a bit more thought about it, I'm disinclined to dismiss the idea out of hand. My reasoning for this is the Patrick Collins piece opposing it in the Daily Mail. My philosophy in life is that if a Daily Mail columnist think something is bad its probably good. I call it the Sky Sports Principle.

So as unpalatable as it may be, lets put aside the negatives and focus on the positive aspects of the idea, just for the exercise.

Chairmen like Steve Gibson will stay involved in the game

Boro may not be the most glamorous of clubs but in Steve Gibson they have a diamond. A chairman who gives his manager time, patience, money and understanding. Their academy has produced a number of good English players and may one day be responsible for the next Wayne Rooney. If clubs like Boro go down, guys like Gibson leave the game.

Income security leads to better governance and secures clubs futures

Part of the reason why West Ham are in the fiscal mess they are in stems from two seasons ago when they bought a stack of players for high transfer fees and high wages in a desperate (and successful) attempt to avoid relegation. This season, Alan Curbishley ended up walking because he was having players sold from underneath him by a club frantically trying to lower the wage bill. With a minimum guarantee, clubs will be able to plan their finances and better manage crises when they arise.

Isolation protects the other leagues from collapse

In other words they're a bunch of money grabbing eejits and if they become consumed by their own greed and go belly up at least they're not taking the rest of the game with them right? The Premier League is as successful as its last TV deal. If the money dries up from its commercial partners things could go spectacularly wrong for the clubs, some of whom are said to be spending well above turnover and borrowing against the market value of their players. That's the sort of woolly thinking that did for Leeds United. Football League clubs may be protected from this because they are negotiating their own deals and working to different fiscal rules. This brings me nicely to...

The Football League can set their own economies of scale unburdened by the pressure to gain promotion

I reckon one of the biggest reasons why clubs suffer financially is because of their ambition to succeed. Luton and Oxford both enjoyed the glory years at the top and are both down in the mire. Why are ticket prices so high in the Championship? Partly because clubs need to pay high wages to players who are supposed to take them into the Premier League at the end of the season. The knock on effect of high wages and high ticket prices can be felt all the way down the Football League. If that avenue was not open to them then in theory, the need to break the bank and charge unrealistic prices to spectators is removed.

Look at Bradford, who dared to live the dream. Where are they now? League 2 but enjoying a mini-renaissance thanks in part to cutting their ticket prices. I rarely make it to Selhurst Park because it costs far more than I believe is justifiable for a Second Division football match. The last time I went was a mid-season game against Wolves. My friends and I sat in the Holmesdale Upper Tier and I swear we were the youngest people there. The youngest of our group was thirty-five.

I don't know about you but my club playing in the Premier League is no good to me if its going to cost me an arm and a leg to go to the games. Furthermore, I'm not sure how many 16-25 year olds can afford to regularly pay modern professional football admission prices.

There is a part of me that says if the Premier League want to go off and play with themselves, let them. If they make it a success, fair play to them. Meanwhile, the Football League, unburdened by the constant need to chase a dream, can concentrate on getting their own house in order, focus on winning their own leagues and adjust their budgets accordingly. They would not need to pay such high wages, could lower admission prices and open the game and re-engage with its community.

The other part of me hates the idea of having the prospect of glory taken away or at least finds it difficult to imagine any satisfaction in settling for second, third or fourth best. However, the more I think about it, the more good I can see in letting the Premier League leave with their big TV deals and multi-millionaire players while the rest of us go and watch a game at 3pm on a Saturday.

What do you think? Are you swayed by the passion of my argument or am I a dangerous fool who should have his Blogger account disabled? Leave a comment and let us know what you think.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Weekend TV Preview: October 24th - 26th

(All times UK)

Friday 24th October

19:30 Bayer Leverkusen v FC Koln, Bundesliga, Setanta Sports 1
The weekend starts with a local derby between two teams that are in form. Bundesliga bluffers should look out for Leverkusen's Patrick Helmes with 8 goals this season.

Saturday 25th October

12:30 Hamilton v Rangers, Scottish Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
The Accies haven't won at home in the SPL since the opening day this season. Unfettered by UEFA Cup commitments, Rangers should coast this one, frankly.

12:45 Sunderland v Newcastle Utd, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
It's great to see the North-East Derby on the telly. Newcastle have shown signs of improvement under JK and are due a win. Where better than the Stadium Of Light?

17:20 Reading v QPR, Championship, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Both upwardly mobile, both wear blue and white hoops. In fact it's possible that Reading fans will see this a derby game. May have surprise tastiness and a decent alternative to...

17:30 Blackburn Rovers v Middlesbrough, Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
Some People Are On The Pitch has nothing against Messrs. Southgate and Ince. However, it’s fair to say that both teams are in a period of transition or perma-transition in Boro's case. This game could be could decent enough but if you need the football credit you could give it a miss.

19:00 Osasuna v Real Betis, La Liga, Sky Sports Xtra
Betis only recorded their first win of the season last week against Mallorca and will be hoping to get a run together against a poor Osasuna side.

21:00 Barcelona v Almeria, La Liga, Sky Sports Xtra
Barca only managed a 1-0 win at lowly Bilbao last weekend, which is the place where Almeria recorded their only away win this season so far. Still and all, this looks to be a straightforward win for the Catalan club.

Sunday 26th October

13:30 Ajax v NEC, Eredivisie, Setanta Sports 1
If Thursday’s game against Villa is anything to go by, Ajax attack like Brazil but defend like Barnsley. This may account for their mid-table position in the Eredivisie. Having said that, NEC while four places above are only a point ahead of the Amsterdam club.

13:30 Chelsea v Liverpool, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
A decent afternoon of Premier League action kicks off with a proper top-of-the-table ding-dong. These kinds of games have promised more than they have delivered in recent years. However as long as they leave their midweek Champions league Lethargy outside, we should be in for a cracker.

16:00 West Ham United v Arsenal, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Reports of West Ham's demise are exaggerated and matches between these two have often thrown up a surprise. However, the Hammers could be in better form and will have to play extremely well to keep Chris O from reaching for his service revolver.

18:00 Villarreal v Atletico Madrid, La Liga,Sky Sports 3
Hard to gauge this one. Atletico have a coach under pressure but looked OK against Liverpool. Villarreal scored six in the Champions League but conceded three against Aalborg. Rioch for Madrid anyone?

20:00 Real Madrid v Athletic Bilbao, La Liga, Sky Sports 3
Real (even worse than Juve) Madrid should not encounter too much resistance from the aforementioned lowly Bilbao.

20:00 Marseille v PSG, Ligue 1, Setanta Sports 1
Both teams are having few problems finding the back of the net. PSG are mid-table and still underachieving. At least they can take solace from the fact that they're not bottom for once. What's more, in the French league, no-one is untouchable except maybe Lyon. Should be a good atmosphere at the Velodrome.

World Cup 2010: Africa Round 3 Draw

Further to our recent World Cup 2010 Update, here's news of the draw for Round 3 of the Africa qualifying tournament which took place yesterday (the draw, that is - not the qualifying tournament).

Sepp Blatter was on hand to make sure everything went to plan at FIFA headquarters in Zurich where the remaining twenty teams were allocated to one of the five groups in this last stage of the competition.

Here's how the draw panned out - top seeded teams are shown in orange:

As ever, we're contractually bound to indicate the 'Group of Death' © at the outset, and here it's Group 1 featuring 2008 African Nations Cup runners-up Cameroon along with Togo, Morocco and Alain Giresse's Gabon team.

Gabon are making something of a comeback having failed to qualify for the African Nations Cup in five of the last six attempts, their last appearance being in 2000. Since Giresse took the reins two years ago, however, the Black Panthers have turned things around and qualified for Round 3 of the 2010 World Cup qualifiers having finished level on points with Group 5 winners Ghana.

Cameroon's German coach Otto Pfister was understandably wary of the opposition his team faces in the last round, commenting "It is indeed a very difficult group. We are the favourites on paper, but this doesn't mean too much… Togo have two or three really good players, and of course they have the experience of being part of Germany 2006. Morocco has great potential and also a very good coach. Gabon have proved lately how strong they are and what they are capable of. We need to prepare very seriously for this group."

According to the FIFA World Rankings, Group 4 is the weakest group of the five. It contains the winners and runners-up from Group 10 in the last round, Mali and Sudan along with Ghana and Benin - both group winners from the last round.

In Group 2, Nigeria will be particularly keeping an eye on the ever-present threat of Tunisia while in Group 3, African champions Egypt will be more than well aware of the resurgence of Algeria. Having missed the last two African Nations Cup competitions and the last five World Cups, Rabah Saadane will be keen to make the most of this rare chance for success.

The draw for Group 4 looks deceptively kind to Ivory Coast, but two of their opponents, Guinea and Burkina Faso won their Round 2 groups. As Senegal and Angola will tell you, reputation counts for nothing when the level of competition is so high, and the team from Ivory Coast won't for a moment be thinking they'll have a straight run through to the Finals in South Africa.

Speaking of which, those all-important Round 3 matches begin in March 2009 and last all the way through to November, a month before the draw for the 2010 World Cup Finals. As ever, Some People Are On The Pitch will be there to bring you all the latest news, match previews and lots more besides.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bundesbag Week 8: Fashion Rebels

According to his Wikipedia page, Hertha Berlin's Gojko Kacar is from a family of Olympian boxers. There was a Kasar at the Moscow and Montreal games. Gojko himself played for the Serbian national team earlier in the year in Beijing. Kacar also enjoys the distinction of being Hertha's top scorer this season with three goals - not bad for a 21-year-old defensive midfielder.

His latest was last Saturday in the 87th minute against Stuttgart. His fine shot sealed Berlin's fourth win of the season and has moved them surreptitiously into fourth in the Bundesliga table. In fairness, Hertha haven't had to play any of the early season pace-setters or championship contenders (unless you count Bayern of course). However, the Bundesbag often gives a passing mention to the team from the capital so credit where its due. Next month they have to play Bremen, Hoffenheim and Hamburg so there's no call for getting too excited.

Speaking of Hamburg, they were held by Schalke in a top-of-the-table clash on Sunday, Benedikt Howedes cancelling out an equaliser from the conqueror of Wales, Piotr Trochowski. An anti-climactic draw was the final score and while the result kept Hamburg top, Schalke now find themselves down in sixth.

Leverkusen won 2-0 at Frankfurt who are rock bottom of the table and must fear for the furure. The game was marked by yet another goal from Patrick Helmes. That's his eighth in eight games - truly the Bundesliga's Amir Zaki.

At least he would be were it not for Vedad Ibisevic of Hoffenheim. The Bosnian former Aachen player has scored 9 (nine) goals in eight games. He was on the mark again at the weekend in a 5-2 win against Hannover. Each goal represents another inch of armour plating on Dietmar Hopp's car.

There were more goals at Wolfsburg. Misimovic bagged a brace against Bielefeld as the Volkswagen group notched up an emphatic 4-1 victory. The result was also notable in that it means a rare instance of the Bundesbag not mentioning Artur Wichniarek for Bielefeld.

And there were even more gaols at the Weserstadion between Bremen and Dortmund. The action didn't get going until the 59th minute when Alex Frei scored from the spot for BVB. Bremen skipper Frank Baumann levelled things up on 68 minutes only for Mats Hummels to restore the lead four minutes later.

Into the dying minutes then, and it's still 2-1. Then Pizzaro sent the home crowd into rapture and any watching Englishman into bafflement by scoring twice in the 88th and 90th minute to seal the points... not really because a few seconds later Mohamed Zidan's right foot snatched an equaliser at the death plus time added on. What a way to stick it to your old club.

Elsewhere, there was a mid-table clash between Karlsruhe and Bayern. Just the one goal was required by Klose in the 86th minute to have Edmund Becker tearing up his notes in frustration. Koln made it three wins in three with a 1-0 win over Cottbus who had a man sent off.

Let's finish at the beginning with Bochum who welcomed local rivals 'Gladbach on Friday. Borussia, in need of a win to boost their confidence, had to settle for a point in an entertaining 2-2 draw. Caretaker coach Christian Ziege would have been happy enough with the result but not as happy as the Bundesbag was to find that he has adopted the trend among some Bundesliga head coaches to wear jeans and a sweater on the touchline.

We wholeheartedly approve of this sartorial leap by German coaches and look forward to the day when it is adopted in England. Perhaps by one of those forward-thinking managers like Phil Brown. We should not be surprised by such innovation for when it comes to fashion and football, the Germans are more than ready to follow there own path as this YouTube clip amply demonstrates.

Thats it. Results and table here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Midweek TV Preview: October 21st - 23rd

Tuesday 21st October

17:30 Zenit St. Petersburg v BATE Borisov, UEFA Champions League Group H, Sky Sports 2
By the time you read this, the game will be about to start so let us just say this: If BATE win, it will be war.

19:45 Manchester Utd v Celtic, UEFA Champions League Group E, ITV1/HD
Fergie's press conference was all about how Celtic's away record won't count for beans on account of this being a British derby game. Presumably by building up the Bhoys' chances, he will increase the pain on Gordo Strachan after the Reds run out comforatble winners.

19:45 Villarreal v Aalborg, UEFA Champions League Group E, Sky Sports Xtra/HD3
After two matches there is an element of "happy-to-be-here" about Aalborg. Manager Bruce Rioch was sometimes too much of a realist as manager in England. A relatively straightforward three points for the Spanish.

19:45 Bayern Munich v Fiorentina, UEFA Champions League Group F, Sky Sports Interactive
Luca Toni welcomes his old comrades to Bavaria. Had this been a stronger group, Bayern would be under more pressure than they already are. Fiorentina are recent returnees to the CL and should be fair game for the Germans. Famous last words, eh?

19:45 Steaua Bucharest v Lyon, UEFA Champions League Group F, Sky Sports Interactive
Steaua may be bottom of the group but they've only conceded one goal in two games. At home, they must fancy their chances against a Lyon side who may not be up for the trip.

19:45 Fenerbahce v Arsenal, UEFA Champions League Group G, ITV4
An intimidating atmosphere awaits the Gunners in Turkey tonight, blah blah blah. The fact is that Fenerbache are tenth in their league and not as good as Arsenal. Away win.

19:45 Porto v Dynamo Kiev, UEFA Champions League Group G, Sky Sports Interactive
Dynamo mullered Luhansk last Friday in the Unkrainian league and sit proudly atop the table after 11 games. Porto are in good shape themselves and will be keen to make amends after their battering by Arsenal in their last CL game.

19:45 Juventus v Real Madrid, UEFA Champions League Group H, Sky Sports 2/HD2
A blue riband European fixture this. Real are buoyant following their derby victory against Atletico at the weekend. Meanwhile, in Turin the knives are out for Ranieri. An away win will buy him a bit more time.

Wednesday 22nd October

19:45 Bordeaux v Cluj, UEFA Champions League Group A, Sky Sports Interactive
When the draw was made, Bordeaux must have looked at this fixture and thought 'three easy points'. Since then, Cluj have beaten Roma and held Chelsea while Bordeaux have shipped seven goals against the same opposition.

19:45 Chelsea v Roma, UEFA Champions League Group A, Sky Sports Xtra/HD3
Roma come into the game on the back of a home drubbing from Inter. Chelsea on the other hand are looking at their best, finding goals and wins still easy to come by despite missing most of their first team.

19:45 Inter Milan v Anorthosis, UEFA Champions League Group B, Sky Sports Interactive
The Cypriots should be bubbling with confidence going into this game, sharing top spot with their opponents. However, anything but a comfortable win for Mourinho's men would be an upset.

19:45 Panathinaikos v Werder Bremen, UEFA Champions League Group B, Sky Sports Interactive
Home defeat will effectively end Panathinaikos' campaign. Bremen have a lot of Champions League experience and are hard to beat at the best of times - while they've only managed two draws so far, they have to be seen as favourites to join Inter in the next stage.

19:45 Basel v Barcelona, UEFA Champions League Group C, Sky Sports Interactive
Barcelona's last match in this group was a fantastic 2-1 win away to Shaktar. They should get an easier passage to three points here...

19:45 Shakhtar v Sporting Lisbon, UEFA Champions League Group C, Sky Sports Interactive
Shaktar must have felt mugged after losing at home to two late Lionel Messi goals in a game they frankly bossed for 85 minutes. I can't see them letting the same thing happen again here.

19:45 Atletico Madrid v Liverpool, UEFA Champions League Group D, Sky Sports 2
All of Rafa's returns to Spain have yielded victories for Liverpool. Atletico are in poor form having lost their last three league games including a 6-1 hammering by Barcelona and a 1-2 home defeat to local rivals Real at the weekend. Fernando Torres will miss out on the return to his old club - even turning down VIP tickets from Atletico's club president - in a bid to be fit for Sunday's clash against Chelsea.

19:45 PSV Eindhoven v Marseille, UEFA Champions League Group D, Sky Sports Interactive
Both teams go into this tie pointless from two games, however Marseille will count themselves unfortunate in their campaign losing by the odd goal on both occasions, while PSV have just been thumped.

23:00 River Plate v Chivas Guadalajara, Copa Sudamericana, Setanta Sports 2
This competition has been a ray of sunshine in an otherwise rotten season for River Plate. They sit second from bottom in the Argentinian League getting just one win in 10 matches. Chivas seem to have ridden through their dodgy spell and are stringing some results together. Second leg to be played in two weeks time.

Thursday 23rd October

18:10 Udinese v Tottenham Hotspur, UEFA Cup Group D, Five
The start of the somewhat bizarre group stage of the UEFA Cup sees second in Serie A play bottom of the Premier League, with predictable consequences. Udinese concede very few goals but were turned over 2-0 at home to Dortmund in the last round having to rely on penalties tosee them through.

20:15 Aston Villa v Ajax, UEFA Cup Group F, Five
With three going through from five in each group Villa shouldn't have a problem getting into the last 32. Should be a very entertaining match, but Villa will kick themselves if they don't win, as domestically Ajax have struggled away from home picking up just one point in three games.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Futsal World Cup 2008 Round-up

The Futsal World Cup concluded yesterday with hosts Brazil clinching the title for the fourth time.

Futsal is an indoor football game. A derivation of Five-a-side, it's played throughout the world. Many of the top players are full-time professionals and the game can claim the likes of Ronaldinho and Robinho among its ranks. As you can imagine the game encourages flair and close ball control.

The Futsal World Cup is played every four years and this is its sixth event. If you've got Eurosport you may have caught some of the action while channel hopping to Sky Sports. Here at Some People Are On The Pitch, we like to keep you in the loop with football competitions that appear on the edge of the English media's radar. To that end, here's your whistle-stop tour of the FIFA Futsal World Cup 2008.

Venues and qualifying
The games were held in two venues, Brazilia and Rio, with the opening match kicking off on 30 September. Twenty teams qualified for the tournament: Four from Asia, two from Africa, three from CONCACAF, three from South America, one from Oceana and six from Europe including the 2000 and 2004 World Champions Spain.

First Round
Round One saw the teams divided into four groups of five. The top two teams would qualify for the next stage. This is how they faired:

Group A
The hosts were comfortable winners of the group with their toughest opponents being second place Russia against whom they managed to squeak a 7-0 win. Top scorers were Falcao (that’s a Falcao not the Falcao) and Schumacher (that's a Schumacher not... well you get the idea). The runners-up, Russia's defeat to Brazil was their only loss. The whipping boys were Oceana's sole representative Soloman Islands who conceded 69 (sixty nine) goals.

Group B
A much tighter group this with the top three finishing on nine points. Portugal lost out by a single goal with no team going to double figures during a match. The final round of games involved Paraguay and Italy together. Paraguay were third at the start of play and thanks to a 4-2 win finished top. Italy didn't mind too much as they went through as well.

Group C
Another straightforward outcome with both Ukraine and Argentina finishing on ten points. As for China, well they may have the fastest growing economy in the world but they have a long way to go when it comes to Futsal. They scored even less goals than Soloman Islands.

Group D
The World Champions were safely through. However the story of the group was second placed Iran who surprised everyone by going 3-0 up to the champions on their first game. A second half comeback with goals from Torras and Borja spared the Spaniards' blushes. The Iranians finished the group level on points with Spain.

Second Round
With the men separated from the boys it was time for the second round. Rather than a knockout stage, the top two from each group were placed in two separate groups E and F. Some People Are On The Pitch pays tribute to FIFA for this retro style of international tournament organisation. Here, then, is what happened next:

Group E
Brazil went through but they were made to work. Their first game was against surprise packages Iran. They won but only by a solitary Schumacher goal. The Iranians just missed out on second spot by goal difference. They needed to beat the Italians but could only manage a 5-5 draw against the team that went through at their expense.

Group F
Group B winners Paraguay were disappointing and didn't win a single game in Round 2. They did manage to scupper Argentina's hopes, mind you, in a group where Spain were comfortable winners.

On reflection, looking at the scorelines for the second round by comparison to the first, there is an argument that Futsal does not have the strength in depth to hold a twenty-team World Cup and perhaps and eight-team tournament would be better. On the other hand...

Semi Finals
Moving on to Round 3 and the denouement of this twenty-day tournament. The final four was a straight knockout. The semi finals saw Brazil play Russia and Spain play Italy.

Brazil beat the Russians in what was, at times, a bad tempered and physical game. Schumacher and Falcao (them again) got the South Americans off to a fine start. Russia hit back but more goals from Vinicius and Gabriel saw the Brazilians through to the final.

Italy took Spain to extra time before losing 3-2. Adriano Foglia may have been Man of the Match for Italy after his equalising goal after 26 minutes. Unfortunately he scored an extra time own goal that put the Spanish through.

With the Italians taking third place via a play-off, the final was played out between the only two teams that had won the trophy: Brazil and Spain. Surprisingly, neither Falcao nor Schumacher scored for the Brazilians. Marquinho scored direct from a corner for Brazil to put his team 1-0 up. Three minutes later a volley from Torras put the Spanish level. Vinicius put Brazil 2-1 up on 36 minutes only for Spain to equalise two minute later with a tap-in from Alvaro who took advantage of a defensive error.

After extra time, a penalty shoot-out decided the championship. Brazilian goalkeeper Tiago was the hero and his team won the shoot-out 4-3. After eight years of hurt, Brazil were the Futsal World Champions once again.

But what, I hear you ask, of England. How did they did not grace this magnificent competition? Well, quite simply, the English Fusbal team finished bottom of their qualifying group on zero points scoring only three goals in three games. Still, there's always next time, eh?

Full details, plus badly edited highlights, of the tournament are available on the FIFA website. If you want to learn more about Futsal in England, click here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #83

England's Number 1(s)
The Only 7 People To Play In Goal For England During The 1970's

1. Gordon Banks
2. Peter Bonetti (v West Germany, 1970)
3. Peter Shilton
4. Ray Clemence
5. Phil Parkes (v Portugal, 1974)
6. Jimmy Rimmer (v Italy, 1976)
7. Joe Corrigan (v Brazil, 1978)

Weekend TV Preview: October 17th - 19th

(All times UK)

Friday 17th October

19:30 VfL Bochum v Borussia Monchengladbach, Bundesliga, Setanta Sports 1
'Gladbach's Sporting Director has taken charge of the first team while the search continues for a new coach. The last match they'd have wished for was a short trip to the determined and tenacious Bochum. If you only see one Bundesliga game this weekend, wait untill Sunday.

Saturday 18th October

08:00 Gamba Osaka v Jubilo Iwata, J-League, British Eurosport 2
Two out of two wins for Jubilo have hoisted them into fifteenth place. There are currently five points between seventeenth and eighth in the J-League so every one counts. Osaka are seventh with little to look forward to except their holidays.

12:30 Inverness CT v Celtic, Scottish Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
The last time Cally played the Bhoys at home they won so they will draw some strength from that at least. In the SPL however, Celtic are imperious and unless their pperations are affected by the international break, it should be an away win.

12:45 Middlesbrough v Chelsea, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Decent game this. Boro have a good record against Chelsea at the Riverside and are well known for lifting themselves against the big teams. Chelsea are a fantastic side and if everyone reads their lines, we are all in for a cracker.

17:20 Crystal Palace v Barnsley, Championship, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Palace v Barnsley in High Definition? Who are you to resist?

17:30 Manchester Utd v West Bromwich Albion, Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
Eek! There is much to admire about Tony Mowbray's total football aspirations. However, at Old Trafford its hard to see the Albion not getting cut to ribbons.

19:00 Atletico Madrid v Real Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports Xtra
On the pitch, a blue riband fixture. Local derby with two Champions League teams pitched against each other. Off the pitch...

20:00 Lyon v Lille, Ligue 1, Setanta Sports 2
Lyon's first defeat of the season came at good time just before the break. Now the players have had a couple of weeks to think about what they've done and should come back stronger. Unless Lille have something to say about it.

21:00 Espanyol v Villareal, La Liga, Sky Sports Xtra
With the season starting to take shape there are no signs of a Villareal hangover from the last campaign. Espanyol have come through some tough fixtures against Barca and Real but will find no relief here.

Sunday 19th October

13:15 Sheffield Wednesday v Sheffield Utd, Championship, Sky Sports 1/HD1
What better way for Wednesday to celebrate a decent start to a season than by sticking it to your neighbours. Hilsborough will be jumping when they welcome the Blades who themselves are in the promotion hunt. Of the two English games on Sky on Sunday, this is the one to watch.

14:00 Hibernian v Hearts, Scottish Premier League, Setanta Sports 1
Yet another derby. Do they do this on purpose? The record books suggest a tight game, as does the league table. As an introduction to non-Old Firm Scottish football, you could do worse.

16:00 Hamburg v FC Schalke, Bundesliga, Setanta Sports 2
Hats off to Setanta for deciding to put this game on. Martin Jol has been attracting a lot of attention form the English media thanks to the exploits of his entertaining Hamburg team who sit atop the table at the time of writing. What's more, with their firm commitment to letting the opposition score against them, entertainment is guaranteed.

16:00 Stoke City v Tottenham Hotspur, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Should be a decent atmosphere at the Britannia Stadium. If Stoke are going to survive in the Premier League they need to be taking points off the clubs below them.

18:00 Athletic Bilbao v Barcelona, La Liga, Sky Sports Interactive / Sky Sports 1
Barca are in the groove and Bilbao are not, frankly. Away win.

20:00 Almeria v Sevilla, La Liga, Sky Sports 1
Sevilla are unbeaten this season, dropping points only to Santander and Betis. Almeria have only lost once themselves this season so far.

20:00 Valenciennes v Marseille, Ligue 1, Setanta Sports 1
The home side will need every point this season and Marseille are not in the best form. The trouble is that Valenciennes haven't won since August.

World Cup 2010 Round-up: October 2008

It's been another busy week of World Cup 2010 qualifiers so let's round up all the important information from around the globe, starting off with…


…and here we have exciting news about the climax to Round 2 and the teams that have battled through to win a place in the last round.

Many of the continent's heavyweights such as Cameroon, Nigeria and Ivory Coast predictably finished top of their groups, but for others there was disappointment.

Angola and Senegal, both recent attendees at the World Cup Finals, failed to make it through to Round 3. Senegal's fate was sealed following a disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Gambia which left both teams unable to qualify from Group 6 behind Algeria who finished top. Angola's 3-1 win over Niger proved too little, too late as they finished two points adrift of eventual group winners Benin.

Elsewhere there were smiles all round as Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda and Sudan all made it through to the last round having played formidable opposition in their groups. Joining them will be Togo who were undoubtedly boosted by the return from exile of Emmanuel Adebayor. He bagged four of his side's six goals as they thrashed Swaziland in Accra.

Winner of the award for the most comfortable qualification goes to Nigeria who eventually topped Group 4 by a whopping eleven points. The Super Eagles won all six of their games and conceded only one goal along the way. South Africa, who qualify for the 2010 World Cup as hosts, finished second in the group on goal difference and could only manage two wins throughout the campaign.

The draw for the final round of qualifying in Africa takes place on October 22nd, and here are the teams that will be involved in their seeding groups:

Pot 1 (Seeds)
Ivory Coast

Pot 2

Pot 3
Burkina Faso

Pot 4


Carlos Queiroz's honeymoon period as coach of the Portuguese team appears to have shuddered to an almighty halt after two successive goalless draws in Group 1 this week - one of them against an Albanian side that played with a man down for around half the match.

A 0-0 draw away to Sweden last weekend means Portugal are currently third in the table with only one win from four. Denmark, who beat Portugal 3-2 last month, remain top of the group ahead of Hungary following a 3-0 win over Malta.

Having slumped to a 2-1 defeat against Luxembourg last month, Switzerland bounced right back with two wins on the trot this week. A 2-1 victory over Latvia plus an impressive repeat scoreline against Group 2 leaders Greece means Ottmar Hitzfeld's team are now up to third in the table. Israel are second despite struggling to a 1-1 draw against the Latvians.

For a while it looked like Germany might fail to pick up all three points at home to Wales on Wednesday. Some excellent Welsh defensive play frustrated the Germans for well over an hour until Piotr Trochowski finally grabbed the winner to open up a four point gap at the top of Group 4.

Russia occupy second place in the table having lost 2-1 to Germany last weekend, but a 3-0 win over Finland put their campaign back on track and keeps them level on points with Wales who cruised to a 2-0 win over Liechtenstein last Saturday.

European champions Spain picked up their fourth win in four games to remain top of the group, but they had to come back from 1-0 down against a resurgent Belgian side to eventually pick up all three points in their second match this week. Andres Iniesta had equalised Wesley Sonck's opener for Belgium shortly before half time but it wasn't until David Villa scored two minutes from the end that Spain could finally relax.

Another team with four wins out of four are England who top Group 5 following their 5-1 win over Kazakhstan at the weekend and Wednesday's 3-1 victory away to Belarus. Fabio Capello's side had their unconvincing moments in both matches, but with half the goals coming from Wayne Rooney along with contributions from Rio Ferdinand, Jermaine Defoe and Steven Gerrard, England now have a five-point lead over nearest rivals Croatia. A goalless draw for them against third-placed Ukraine last weekend means they have much to do when the qualifying campaign resumes again next April.

The number of voices calling for the dismissal of French coach Raymond Domenech grow bigger by the day, but the team remain supportive of him following a decent second-half performance against Romania last Saturday. Two goals down at half-time, France looked to be heading for their second loss in the competition but Domenech change his team's tactics and an altogether more fluent team came out to force a 2-2 draw thanks to goals from Franck Ribery and Yoann Gourcuff.

France are now third in Group 7, five points behind their next opponents Lithuania (although they have a game in hand) and Serbia who beat the Lithuanians 3-0 and Austria 3-1 this week.

In Group 8, it was a case of 'as you were' for Italy as they remained top of the table following a goalless draw with Bulgaria and a 2-1 win over Montenegro while Ireland kept in touch with a narrow 1-0 win over Cyprus. Group 9 sees the Dutch go five points clear of nearest challengers Scotland after beating Iceland 2-0 and Norway 1-0. Scotland lost ground by drawing 0-0 with the Norwegians but it could have been oh so different if Chris Iwelumo hadn't missed that sitter at Hampden…


Just a handful of games took place in Asia on Wednesday, but among them was a convincing 4-0 win for Australia over Qatar. Blackburn Rovers' Brett Emerton scored two for the Socceroos while Everton midfielder Tim Cahill grabbed another to put the Aussies top of Group A by two points. In the other game in the group, Japan were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Uzbekistan.

In Group B, a four-way tie for the lead has emerged with South Korea top of the pile on goal difference. They managed to thrash United Arab Emirates 4-1 with two goals from Lee Keun-Ho.

Like South Korea, Iran also picked up their first win of the round by beating North Korea 2-1. Eintracht Frankfurt's Mehdi Mahdavikia was on hand with the first goal for the home side before Osasuna's Javad Nekonam added a second after 65 minutes.

All of which leaves Saudi Arabia down in third place in the group, but they'll be in action on November 19th when they play host to South Korea while Iran visit the UAE looking to inflict their fourth straight defeat on them.

Also next month, Australia travel to Bahrain in Group A while Qatar are at home to Japan.

South America

Take a leap of faith with us as we proclaim with justified exuberance "Paraguay are the kings of South America." Yes, it's probably the right time to start looking upon Gerardo Martino's side as the best side on the continent as they maintained their excellent start to the South American qualifying competition.

Up to now, Paraguay have only lost one of their ten games (a 4-2 defeat away to Bolivia in June) and this week saw them add another couple of 1-0 wins to their tally against Peru and Colombia. They now head the table on 23 points - three more than they accumulated in the entire 2006 qualifying group, and they still have eight games left to play.

Brazil now occupy second spot thanks to a third straight goalless draw at home against Colombia and a 4-0 away win in Venezuela. The former of those games saw head coach Dunga subjected to the sort of booing that makes the Ashley Cole story seem like a whole load of fuss about nothing.

Luckily for Dunga, Brazil seem to be playing better on the road and are still able to boast just one defeat in ten like Paraguay. It's just a shame they've only won four out of those ten, otherwise they'd probably have qualified for the next World Cup by now.

Freefalling in a big way are Colombia. They're now seventh in the table and have now gone 532 minutes without scoring a goal. Admittedly their last two games were against the might of Brazil and Paraguay (of which they earned a creditable draw against the former, as we've mentioned), but they've now gone six games without a win and have scored just four goals in the whole campaign thus far.

That's good news for Chile, amongst others, who have climbed to fourth following an excellent 1-0 win over Argentina on Thursday night. Fabian Orellana grabbed the vital winner shortly before half-time to put Chile level on points with their opponents.

The impact of that win for Chile - their first over Argentina since 1973 - was monumental insofar as it cost Alfio Basile his job as coach of the Argentinean side. Basile quit his post for personal reasons yesterday after a recent poor run of form and though Argentina picked up a useful 2-1 win over Uruguay last Saturday, the damage, it seems, had already been done. Argentina now lie third in the qualifying table with eight games remaining.

Luckily for the AFA, the search for Basile's successor can now be conducted at a leisurely pace as the South American qualifying campaign goes into hibernation until March 28th 2009 when the competition begins once again.

North and Central America

Costa Rica became the first team to qualify for the final group stage in the CONCACAF region last weekend following their 4-1 away win over Suriname. A 2-0 victory over Haiti four days later secured top spot in Group 3 as El Salvador also booked their place as group runners-up. A 3-0 win over the Surinamese means they'll be in the group of six that battle it out for the three qualifying spots for South Africa when the competition begins in 2009.

Elsewhere, the USA added their names to the list following a comprehensive 6-1 rout of Cuba on Saturday. DaMarcus Beasley scored two and Landon Donovan, Brian Ching, Jozy Altidore and Oguchi Onyewu picked up one each in a victory that did much to boost the fans spirits just days before Trinidad & Tobago inflicted a 2-1 defeat on them to improve their own chances of qualifying.

T&T are now second in Group 1, three points ahead of Guatemala and need just a draw at home to Cuba on November 19th to book their place in the last round. Guatemala travel to the States on the same day hoping that their hosts have the same relaxed mentality that they showed against Trinidad and Tobago this Wednesday.

Finally to Group 2 where Sven's Mexico side suffered a shock 1-0 defeat away to Jamaica last weekend, stalling the Mexicans' chances of securing a place in the next round. Ricardo Fuller's 14th minute strike gave the Jamaicans their first win of the campaign, swiftly followed as it was by their second on Wednesday at home to Honduras, 1-0. Luton Shelton was on hand with the winner this time to force a three-way fight for the two qualifying spots in the group.

Honduras are the meat in the Mexico/Jamaica sandwich, and they retain second spot following a 3-1 win over Canada on Saturday. All of which means the last round of Group 2 fixtures a month from now are crucial in deciding the two teams to go through. The crunch match is undoubtedly the one between Honduras and Mexico where a draw for Eriksson's side will prove enough for them, while Jamaica have the considerably easier job of trying to beat Canada at home.

So have Honduras stumbled at the wrong moment? Will the crack in Mexico's form turn into an irreparable crevasse that sees them fail to qualify for a World Cup for the first time since 1982?

Join us next month to find out…

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Midweek TV Preview: October 14th - 16th

(All times UK)

Tuesday 14th October

19:45 England v Wales, UEFA U21 European Championship Qualifier, Setanta Sports 1
The deciding match between two old sporting rivals albeit on a different field of play. England carry a narrow 3-2 aggregate lead into the second leg at Villa Park. Could be a tense and exciting encounter.

Wednesday 15th October

19:30 Belarus v England, World Cup Qualifier, Setanta Sports 1
The good thing about this match is that we won't have to put up with the FA's laughable attempts at agenda control which backfired horribly when England ran out unexpected 5-1 winners last Saturday at the hated Wembley. In Minsk it will be all about the football and with Cole sidelined with a "hamstring injury" and John Terry still unavailable for selection, England have an excellent chance of taking the points in a hostile atmosphere against a useful Belarus side.

19:45 Germany v Wales, World Cup Qualifier, BBC2 Wales / BBC Interactive / BBC3

By their own admission Wales are in this for the long term, looking toward Euro 2012 or Brazil 2014 with their crop of youngsters. Germany are serial qualifiers and it's hard to see anything beyond a home win. I fancy the Welsh to score, though.

19:45 Northern Ireland v San Marino, World Cup Qualifier, Sky Sports 3 & HD3 Home banker. The key will be to get the ball to David Healy and get the Ulsterman back in the goals. It's the only chance they'll have for the rest of the campaign.

19:45 Republic of Ireland v Cyprus, World Cup Qualifier, Sky Sports 2
The Trap seems to have knocked some sense into the Irish since his arrival. The players will, no doubt, be anxious to eradicate the embarrassment of their previous encounters with the Cypriots during the Euro 2008 campaign. A less than comfortable home win.

Thursday 16th October

00:15 Chile v Argentina, World Cup Qualifier, Sky Sports 1

Buoyed by their Derby victory against Uruguay, the Argentines are back in the upper reaches of the qualification table. Only three points behind in fourth are Chile who lost 1-0 to fifth placed Ecuador. Blackburn fans will be anxious to see Carlos Villanueva in action.

02:00 Brazil v Colombia, World Cup Qualifier, Sky Sports 1
Your man Dunga may have kept his critics at bay with their 4-0 mauling of Venezuela at the weekend. However, you sense that even World Cup victory in South Africa won't silence them all. A good performance against the disappointing Colombians should give the head coach more breathing space.

19:45 Forest Green v Cambridge Utd, Blue Square Premier, Setanta Sports 1
From the Maracana in Rio to The Lawn Ground in Gloustershire. The home side's mere presence at this level is achievement enough. Rovers have taken advantage of the nearby university to draw their coaching and playing talent in the past. The result appears to be a tidy and well run club. Cambridge United, on the other hand...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Caption Competition #7

We thought we'd ease you into the new week with another of our legendary* Caption Competitions.

Hopefully you know how this works by now, but here's the deal if you don't. Simply look at the picture, provide us with a caption or a headline that suitably (and humourously) sums up what you see and leave it as a comment for all of us to chuckle at.

No prizes are on offer, sadly, and no-one's ever judged the winner (just so you know). And yes, it is pretty stupid calling it a competition when it isn't, but the alternative was to call it a 'Caption Open Discussion', and that would never do.

So hear it is - check out the picture below and fire at will (as they say at the British Rifle Association's 'Pop Idol' Dinner and Dance)...

* (as far as we're concerned)

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #82

Rainbow warriors
9 Current Football Players With Names That Feature Colours

1. Robert Green (West Ham United)
2. Michael Gray (Wolverhapton Wanderers)
3. David White (Brechin City)
4. Adam Tan (Notts County)
5. Wes Brown (Manchester United)
6. Stephen Black (Montrose)
7. Dario Silva (Portsmouth)
8. Matthew Rose (Yeovil Town)
9. Gary Teale (Derby County)

An admittedly short and at times tenuous list, but feel free to add to it with your own suggestions by leaving us a comment in the usual way...

Weekend TV Preview: 10 - 12 October

(All times UK)

Friday 10 October

19.45 Wales v England, U21 Euro Championship Play-off 1st Leg, Sky Sports 1
Despite both teams coming top in their qualifying groups, they have to go through a two legged play-off to see who will get through to the finals in Sweden next summer. Wales finished above France and Romania in their group, while England got through unbeaten against the likes of Portugal and Bulgaria. The second leg will be played on Tuesday.

Saturday 11 October

12.15 MK Dons v Carlisle United, League One, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
After a fantastic start to the season Carlisle have lost their last four games in a row. The Dons form has been indifferent from day one - either hammering teams or losing by the odd goal.

15.00 Scotland v Norway, World Cup Qualifier - Europe Group 9, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
Two teams that used to be good at qualifying for things and now aren't. Norway have only played one game so far - an embarrassing home draw against Iceland. "Henrik Ibsen... Morton Harket... Thor Heyerdahl... do you hear me, do you hear me?"

17.15 England v Kazakhstan, World Cup Qualifier - Europe Group 6, ITV1 (not Scotland) & ITV HD (Freesat only)
Fans of the Sasha Baron Cohen's spoof Kazak reporter Borat will be used to comic misunderstandings mixed with gut-wrenching embarrassment. They should enjoy this game.

17.30 Wales v Liechtenstein, World Cup Qualifier - Europe Group 4, Sky Sports 1 & HD1
Not even Wales can stuff this one up, right?

19.45 Slovenia v Northern Ireland, World Cup Qualifier - Europe Group 3, Setanta Sports 1
One of many tough trips to Eastern Europe for Nigel Worthington's men. They'll be happy with the draw and will almost certainly play for it.

22.10 Argentina v Uruguay, World Cup Qualifier - South America, Sky Sports 3
Pick of the ties in this round of South American qualifiers which takes us to their half way point. Although still sitting in the automatic qualification places, Argentina haven't won any of their last five matches and will be looking over their shoulders at the likes of today's visitors and Chile.

22.20 Flamengo v Atletico Mineiro, Brazilian Campeonatos, SportsXchange
Don't these people know it's an international break? Getting close to squeaky bum-time in Brazil, Gremio are wobbling at the top of the table with a chasing pack of four teams, including Flamengo, ready to steal their place. Mineiro are just looking to hold on to their 12th spot, which should be good enough to see them qualify for next season's Copa Sudamericana.

Sunday 12 October

00.20 Colombia v Paraguay, World Cup Qualifier - South America, Sky Sports 3
Paraguay may be sitting pretty at the top but they've been indifferent on their travels - beating Brazil but then getting hammered by the frankly rubbish Bolivians. Colombia badly need a win having taken just two points from their last four qualifiers.

13.30 Eastbourne v Stevenage, Blue Square Premier, Setanta Sports 1
A match that sounds more like the musings of TV's Kirsty and Phil, the battle of the Boroughs sees Eastbourne on the end of a dire run of results after a hopeful start to the season, Stevenage on the other hand have gone from strength to strength since dropping points in their opening games. Eastbourne have a fez for a club badge - I just thought you should know that.

21.00 Venezuela v Brazil, World Cup Qualifier - South America, Sky Sports 1
Venezuela aren't as bad as they used to be - they're just not good enough to beat Brazil.

22.55 Ecuador v Chile, World Cup Qualifier - South America, Sky Sports 1
While unfancied, Ecuador have put in some impressive performances recently, getting away draws against Argentina and Uruguay. Chile haven't been doing so bad themselves sitting level with Brazil and Argentina in the table.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

League Of The Week: Israel / Premier League

Greetings football lovers and welcome to another League of the Week, this week focusing on the Israeli Premier League or Ligat Al, as it's often known.

Israel's top division consists of twelve teams, all of whom are situated in the northern half of the country. Number 1 on the list is Beitar Jerusalem, league champions for the last two seasons, six-time winners overall and current holders of the State Cup (Israel's 'FA Cup', if you will).

Impressive, you may think, but this season Beitar are finding it very difficult to maintain the high standards that saw them cruise to victory by a full nine points in the league last time around. So far in 2008/09, they find themselves struggling down in ninth spot in the IPL and are already out of the Champions League having lost 6-2 on aggregate to Wisla Krakow in the second qualifying round.

It's been a long time since Beitar have had anything amounting to European success, their last significant achievements being to reach the UEFA Cup First Round in 1998 and 1999 where they were knocked out by Club Brugge and Everton respectively. Given their current form, it may be a while before they take on the might of Europe again.

For a likely successor to Beitar's throne, look no further than Maccabi Netanya. Led by former German World Cup star Lothar Matthaus, they ended last season as runners-up to Beitar and have already started this season well, leading the IPL table by two points.

Sadly they, like all the other Israeli teams that qualified for European competition this season, have already been knocked out, so it's back to domestic duties once again. In the Israeli Premier League, there's a complicated system where the season is split into three 'rounds', the last being based on how well you did in the first two traditional 'home and away' exchanges with the other teams.

While we try to get our heads round the complexities of that, be aware that the IPL also enforces a limit of five foreign players for each team. Whether that will improve the quality of the Israeli national side in years to come remains to be seen.

So what of this season so far? We know that Maccabi Netanya lead the way with five games played, but what of the other runners and riders?

Well the surprise package so far must be Maccabi Petah Tikva who were promoted at the end of last season following their second place finish in the Liga Leumit (the equivalent of The Championship in England). They're currently fourth in the table and have only lost one game so far, plus they have the league's current top scorer in the form of Shimon Abuhatzira.

Petah Tikva will no doubt be feeling somewhat superior to the team that pipped them to the Liga Leumit title last season, Hakoah Ramat Gan, who are yet to win a game in 2008/09. Next week sees them travel to Maccabi Tel Aviv, currently third in the table and the only team never to have dropped out of the Israeli top flight. They're also the team that's won the most Israeli championships - a whopping 19, the last of which was in 2003.

Maccabi Haifa just missed out on a European spot last year but are currently second in the league, just two points behind Maccabi Netanya. Like them, Haifa are still unbeaten so far this season and may do well thanks to the goalscoring exploits of Dekel Keinan and Yaniv Katan, the striker that made six appearances for West Ham back in 2006.

Currently languishing in the two relegation spots are Bnei Sakhnin and Bnei Yehuda. Sakhnin have been a bit of a yo-yo team in recent seasons but have shown a fighting spirit at times, even winning a place in the UEFA Cup in 2004 where they were knocked out in the early stages by Newcastle United.

Yehuda have also found it difficult retaining their place in the top flight and have only ever won the Israeli championship once, back in 1990. They were relegated to the Liga Leumit in 2001 but came straight back up the following season where they've remained ever since. On current form, however, don't be surprised if either team ends up relegated or at best entering a relegation play-off.

FC Ashdod are somewhat of a curiosity. A team that usually scrapes by on limited funds, they always seem to get by unspectacularly while at the same time providing some of the IPL's top goalscorers. They’re currently eighth in the table which is where they ended up at the close of play last season.

Finally there's Ironi Kiryat Shmona, third last season and fifth at the moment. You can look upon them as the Israeli equivalent of Chelsea in some ways. They play in blue shirts, blue shorts and white socks, they were considered an ordinary club until a wealthy businessman recently ploughed his Sheqels into it and… well that's about it really. Still, they're a club that's going places, as is Israeli football generally, we think.

And on that positive note, let's draw a line under the Israeli Premier League but don't forget, if you want us to feature a country and its league in one of our future articles, leave us a comment. We'll do our best to accommodate your every whim...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Bundesbag Week 7: The First Casualty

Borussia Monchengladbach coach Jos Luhukay was under some severe pressure prior to the big derby game against Koln. The two teams met for the first time this season after having been promoted together last season. Luhakay may have eyed this fixture as a must win. The board definitely did and more. The result finished 2-1 to Koln and resulted in the 'Gladbach board handing the man who got them promoted in one season his cards. Expectations are high in Monchengladbach and given the problems they have had finding a foothold in the Bundesliga in recent years it is perhaps not surprising that an early change was made. Christian Ziege takes charge, albeit temporarily.

As much as Koln coach Christophe Daum celebrated victory there may have been an element of there but for the grace of God... when he heard the news of Lukahay's sacking. Having said that, you suspect that Koln is a different kind of club to 'Gladbach. Even so, Daum must know that his job is under pressure if Koln slip into the bottom three.

Speaking of managers under pressure, let's talk about Bayern's Jurgen Klinsmann. Klinsi's revolution is facing an incredibly stern test. A reasonable start to the Champions League has been completely overshadowed by a pretty awful start to the Bundesliga season. With each passing week seems to come a new set back. Last weekend the Champions hosted Bochum, eager to make amends for their 1-0 defeat at Hannover which was supposed to be a positive reaction to their 5-2 reverse the week before to Bremen. It looked like their troubles were set to one side slightly after Van Buyten and a brace from Ze Roberto put the Bavarians 3-1 ahead. However, a last gasp collapse allowed Dabrowski and Grote in for the away side. 3-3 was the final score and there is a gloom over the Allianz with Bayern still in single-figure points after seven games. Shame.

Sat where Bayern usually sit historically are Hamburg. Martin Jol’s team are on one hand sticking it to Bayern and on the other making Daniel Levy look really stupid. They made hard work of it on Sunday, though, scoring a late winner against an Energie Cottbus team who are starting their season in characteristically slow fashion.

Elsewhere, Demba Ba continues to enrage the rest of the league for Hoffenheim as they offended Frankfurt 2-1. Leverkusen had a rare moment of goallessness and lost 1-0 to Hertha Berlin. Dortmund drew 1-1 with Hannover, Bielefeld suffered to a strong counter attacking performance at home to Karlsruhe (2-1) on Friday and Wolfsburg blew an away win at Schalke thanks to a last gasp equaliser from Kevin Kuranyi to make it 2-2.

Moving nicely into third place is Stuttgart. They arrived there thanks to a resounding (gerd) mullering of Werder Bremen. The problem with Thomas Schaaf’s team is that unless they can score five goals per game they will get beaten. So it proved as they ran out 4-1 losers. Stuttgart never really got going last season after a terrible start and injury problems. However, unfettered by European football, Armin Vey’s team are in good shape for a successful season. That’s just about as close to a prediction as you’ll get from me.

That’s it. Results and tables here.


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