Friday, October 30, 2009

32 For 2010: Denmark

For some reason, it feels like Denmark has been one of the world's best footballing teams since the dawn of time. The truth of the matter is they've only ever reached three World Cups (two of them being as recent as 1998 and 2002) while their first (in 1986) was where they finally achieved any real prominence on the global stage.

The Danes, it's true to say, have only been taken seriously for some 23 years and some would argue they're still struggling to do that. They arrived on the scene at Mexico '86 and burned incandescently after beating Uruguay, West Germany and Scotland. Sadly they burned out altogether pretty quickly when Spain beat them 5-1 in the Second Round, but by then they'd well and truly made their mark.

An appearance at Euro 88 seemed to confirm their foothold amongst the game's elite, but their failure to win any matches sent them into a brief tailspin until the improbable victory that was Euro 92. Finishing second in their qualifying group, they prepared to sit out the Finals in Sweden but were given an unlikely golden ticket due to the war going on in Yugoslavia. Having sailed across to join their Scandinavian neighbours, they overcame a shaky start to win the competition outright against all the odds.

Yet that was to be about all in the name of significant achievements until they reached the World Cup again in 1998 where the quarter-final stage was reached. Since then, they've been there or thereabouts where the major competitions are concerned without ever achieving very much. So should we expect anything different in South Africa next year?

If their qualifying campaign is anything to go by, perhaps yes. While not being in the most difficult group, they still showed great efficiency and consistency in overcoming difficult opposition in the form of Sweden and Portugal. After an opening draw against Hungary (who strangely beat them in the closing match 1-0 as well), the Danes scored three goals in their next four matches. Though their average dropped to one per game for the next three matches (including double 1-0's over Sweden), they remained the team to beat in Group 1 finishing two points clear of Portugal.

They also boast the qualifying tournament's leading goalscorer in Søren Larsen, the Duisberg striker who bagged five goals along the way. It's probably doing him an injustice to mention that he scored two goals against Malta both home and away along with one against Albania, but they all count and he might just prove to be the unknown quantity in an interesting Danish squad.

For a further source of goals, look no further than Arsenal's Nicklas Bendtner. The Gunners' number 52 has recently had his name on the scoresheet against Liverpool and Blackburn domestically and also picked up a goal in both of Denmark's qualifiers against Portugal.

At the back, the Danes can also rely upon Stoke City's ever-improving goalkeeper Thomas Sørensen. Though recognised as a 'keeper prone to the occasional gaff (as Rio Ferdinand's headed goal in the last World Cup proved) this last season-and-a-bit has seen Sørensen step up a gear in reliability terms with some great performances helping him to become a fans' favourite at the Britannia Stadium.

Denmark's other key man, though, is Morten Olsen. Taking over as national team coach from Bo Johansson in 2000, Olsen initially did well to guide The Danes to the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2004, but failure to reach the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008 placed a seed of doubt in the minds of many fans. Reaching World Cup 2010 will not only come as some relief for the former Anderlecht and FC Koln defender but also act as a fitting swansong as Olsen is set to quit his post after next year's finals.

So to return to the earlier question, what can we expect of Denmark when they reach South Africa? Well if there's one thing that does look likely, it's that they'll get to the knockout stages – especially if their First Round draw isn't too severe. Once there, however, it's debatable whether Denmark have a squad strong enough to progress much further.

For many people, Denmark's high point came in 1986 when Preben Elkjaer Larsen, Michael Laudrup and Jesper Olsen played the kind of Total Football that made the Dutch team legends of the 1970's. Many would settle for the merest glimmer of that next year, but getting beyond Round One is likely to be the first and only realistic ambition for Denmark's hopeful fans.

Weekend TV Preview: 30 October - 1 November 2009

Friday 30th October

19:30 Dortmund v Hertha Berlin, Bundesliga, ESPN

Not a great offering from the Bundesliga this weekend. Hertha are awful and Dortmund got knocked out of the Cup in midweek. If you must get involved then have a butchers at BVB's Lucas Barrios who has scored four goals in four games.

19:45 Queens Park Rangers v Leicester City, Championship, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Tasty little number from the Championship, this. Two good sides and play-off contenders. Look out for Wayne Routledge at QPR. His career took a bit of a hiccup after leaving Palace a few years ago but looks to be back on track.

Saturday 31st October

11:00 FC Moscow v Zenit St Petersburg, Russian Premier Liga, ESPN

Fourth plays third in this inter-city clash. Neither team are used to losing so a lively encounter is anticipated.

12:45 Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur, Barclays Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
The Big One. If recent results are anything to go by then goals are guaranteed. The supreme irony would be that this is the first derby in a while where both teams are in prolific form but the game ends in a goalless draw.

17:15 Real Madrid v Getafe, La Liga, Sky Sports 3/HD3
Real's midweek Cup hilarity spells doom for their suburban neighbours. Trouble it is... for Getafe.

17:30 Manchester Utd v Blackburn Rovers, Barclays Premier League, ESPN/HD
"My prediction for the fight...? Pain!"

19:00 Osasuna v Barcelona, La Liga, Sky Sports 3/HD3
Like a Roman Legionary who is next in line to meet Obelix in the ring, Osasuna can at least be grateful that they don't count Jermaine Pennant among their ranks.

19:45 AC Milan v Parma, Serie A, ESPN
If their is any discernible pattern to be found in Milan under Leonardo, the Rossinieri should lose this game 5-0.

21:00 Athletic Bilbao v Atletico Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports 3/HD3
Three points and the spelling of Athletic separate these two teams. The Madrid club have given up football in favour of high concept comedy farce whereas Bilbao look pretty tasty.

Sunday 1st November

11:30 Ajax v Feyenoord, Eredivisie, ESPN

Another closely matched European club match to look forward to. Neither team are as good as their supporters would want them to be but their rivalry should be sufficient to make this game an entertaining one. Eredivisie matches of this calibre rarely disappoint.

12:45 Dundee Utd v Rangers, Scottish Premier League, Sky Sports 3/HD3
Not as straightforward as usual. This is a poor Rangers side and is unlikely to get better sooner. United are a mere three points behind The Gers and will be poring over those Champions League DVDs.

14:00 Livorno v Inter Milan, Serie A, ESPN
Fresh from an excellent away win at Roma, Livorno host Inter who, while top to the table, are far from convincing.

16:00 Birmingham City v Manchester City, Barclays Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Even though City are finding their feet, they're still not much fun to watch. Even so, the Birmingham club will prove a tough test for City and should be an intriguing contest for all that.

16:30 Eintracht Frankfurt v Bochum, Bundesliga, ESPN
Both teams aren't that great at scoring or keeping clean sheets, frankly. This game could conceivably be decided by an OG.

17:00 Cardiff City v Nottingham Forest, Championship, BBC2/HD
Auntie blesses Cardiff's new ground with the visit of Gabby Logan. Cardiff have got their plates spinning nicely but will encounter stiff resistance in a dogged Forest team.

18:00 Malaga v Valencia, La Liga, Sky Sports Red Button/Sky Sports 1/HD1
Rock bottom and worse than Xerex, Malaga welcome Valencia assuming the visitors can afford the plane fair.

20:00 Deportivo v Sporting, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
I was surprised to see Gijon doing so well in the table, albeit still early days and all that. Deportivo for their part are doing their best to roll back the years.

22:00 Chivas USA v LA Galaxy, MLS, ESPN
Wake up everybody - the Play Offs have started! While ESPN will almost certainly focus on the Galaxy during the Post Season for obvious reasons, this LA derby game stands alone and should make for an intense atmosphere. What odds on Goldenballs getting sent off?

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #137

Dignified dialogue
8 Actors That Have Narrated Official FIFA World Cup Films

1. Patrick Allen ('The World at Their Feet' 1970)
2. Joss Ackland ('Heading For Glory' 1974)
3. Sean Connery ('G'olé!' 1982)
4. Michael Caine ('Hero' 1986)
5. Edward Woodward ('Soccer Shoot-Out' 1990)
6. Sean Bean ('La Coupe de la Gloire' 1998)
7. Robert Powell ('Seven Games from Glory' 2002)
8. Pierce Brosnan ('The Grand Finale' 2006)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bundesbag Week 10 and DFB Pokal 3rd Round: Stuttgart and Dortmund feel the magic

It is very likely that Stuttgart coach Markus Babbel may be out of the job after the forthcoming weekend. He received the dreaded vote of confidence after their 1-0 defeat to improving Hannover 96 last Saturday but the club's Sporting Director Horst Heldt made it clear that he was looking for a response against the 2 Bundesliga side Greuther Furth in the German Cup (DFB Pokal) on Tuesday. He didn't get one. With a largely unchanged side, Stuttgart were defeated 1-0 and are out of the Cup.

The Reds didn't start last season too well either and Armin Vey last his job as a consequence. However they did win half of their first ten matches in the 2008/09 Bundesliga campaign. This season they have only won two league games in the first eleven and have lost their last five matches in all competitions. Their Champions League campign is in tatters and they are effectively joint second from bottom of the Bundesliga sharing points with 'Gladbach, Nurnberg and Bochum. Babbel is a young and inexperienced coach and people may argue that he needs more time but if recent history is any judge, he will not get it. He has received muted backing from the board this morning (Thursday) but their next game is at home to the unpredictable Bayern Munich. Lose that game and surely it's curtains for Babbel.

Bayern themselves are not exactly having a great time of things and their coach Louis van Gaal needs a convincing result on Saturday to keep on Uli Hoeness' good side. They squeezed past Frankfurt in the league last weekend only to be confronted by them once again in the cup last night. This time the going was much easier and the Bavarians ran Eintracht Frankfurt into the ground with a 4-0 win. Miro Klose scored a brace along with Tommy Muller and Luca Toni who is returning to fitness.

While Stuttgart's cup exit is bad because it is part of a broader context. Dortmund's 3-2 defeat to Third Division Osnabruck was more of an up front embarrassment. A late goal by Lucas Barrios added a veneer of respectability to the result but no-one should be fooled into believing that it was anything less than a convincing win. Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp certainly isn't and was fulsome in his praise of Osnabruck after the match. The good news for Dortmund fans is that Barrios keeps scoring. His consolation was his fourth in four matches following on from BVB's 0-0 draw with Bundesliga leaders Bayer Leverkusen last weekend.

There will be a another lower division team in the quarter final draw thanks to the all-second division clash between Duisberg and Augsberg, the latter winning the game 5-0. Apart from that the rest of the round was free of upsets. Hoffenheim hammered Koblenz 4-0 which brings their goal tally to seven games in two after beating Nurnberg at the weekend. Koln could only manage a goalless draw with 'Gladbach at the weekend but are safely through in the cup at the expense of Trier. Bremen are in no mood to take any jip from anyone right now. They thrashed Bochum 4-1 on Sunday and went slightly easier on Kaiserslautern last night, only winning 3-0.

While the news from Schalke's accountants is grim, on the pitch things are looking up for the Royal Blues. A pulsating 3-3 draw with Hamburg (including a last gasp equaliser from Kevin Kuranyi), pegged the League leaders back and keeps them in contention in the Bundesliga. They are also still in the cup thanks to a 3-0 win at 1860 Munich.

It was a quiet mid-week for Wolfsburg and Hertha. Last week I suggested that the only way the Berliners would improve is by dragging the opposition down to their level. Given that they held the Champions to a 0-0 draw last weekend, it looks like they are doing just that.

That's it. Results and tables here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Jeu du Jour Week 10: Bordeaux back on top

All of a sudden, it seems no-one wants to win Ligue 1 this season. Every time a team rises to the top of the pile, they quickly lose their next game and fall from grace again.

Such is the case for Lyon who recently replaced long-standing leaders Bordeaux at the top end of Ligue 1. Their trip to Nice seemed barely troublesome after beating Liverpool in the Champions League last week, but they hadn't accounted for the home side's desperate need for points. Rooted to 19th spot in recent weeks, Nice turned in a fabulous performance with two goals in each half to get their second successive victory over the former champions. It also means they rise five places in the table at a crucial time while other teams continue to play badly, more of which later.

Lyon's slip allows Bordeaux to go back to top spot after a 3-0 win over Le Mans that's much more in keeping with their emphatic start to the season. It was an easy win and one which was well on the cards after just four minutes when Yoann Gourcuff's shot went in via the post and the back of Le Mans keeper Didier Ovono.

The remaining goals didn't arrive until two-thirds of the way through the match, but that's not to say Bordeaux struggled because they didn't. They played some great entertaining football and were easily the best side out of the two. As it is, Marouane Chamakh scored his first goal since the middle of August and David Bellion got his first of the season to round off a comfortable win.

Montpellier's recent surge into the top three was dealt a crushing blow when they were beaten 3-0 away at Rennes on Saturday. The match saw the teams with the best defence and best attack pitted against one and other, but Montpellier were unable to add to their tally of seventeen in nine games against a resolute Rennes side.

Jerome Leroy was the provider for the first two goals, one for Sylvain Marveaux, the other by Moussa Sow and with all hope seemingly gone for the visitors, Asamoah Gyan added a third well into stoppage time at the end. Montpellier slip to fourth, but the new arrivals in the leading pack are Monaco who got their third win on the trot away to the fading Boulogne.

Boulogne, who were without a league win in six prior to this match, held Monaco at 1-1 for most of the game, but a brace from Brazilian Nenê in the last five minutes sank the home side amid wet and windy conditions at the Stade de la Libération. Nenê now has nine goals to his name and leads the Ligue 1 top goalscorers list while Chu-Young Park has picked up two goals in his last three. A formidable strike partnership which could see Monaco launch a decent bid for glory this season.

And now the moment you've all been waiting for. Have Grenoble finally won their first league game of the season? Yeeeeeeeeee… no. They've now lost all ten games, the latest being a 2-1 at home to Nancy. More on Grenoble next week.

Ligue 2 champions Lens take Nice's place in 19th after a 2-0 defeat at home to Toulouse. André-Pierre Gignac scored for the first time since Week 2 as Lens went for a third successive game without scoring at all. Saint Etienne's recent good run, however, fades further into history after a 2-0 to Valenciennes. Goals from Johan Audel and David Ducourtioux push Valenciennes up to ninth and on current form they're looking good for a Europa League place.

Elsewhere, Auxerre got their fourth straight win having come from behind twice to beat Lille 3-2 on Sunday. Ireneusz Jelen got the key goals for AJA before Daniel Niculae headed in with the winner eight minutes from time. So ends Lille's eight-game unbeaten run as Auxerre move up to seventh. Now all Lille have to do is transfer their Europa League form into Ligue 1 and they'll be a serious contender in *two* competitions.

Finally to Sochaux who are finally shaking off their tag (admittedly given by us) of 'most inconsistent team in Ligue 1'. They notched up a third consecutive victory by beating Lorient 1-0 at home to finally reach the top half of the table for the first time since Week 1. For Lorient, it was a minor setback and they remain sixth in the table.

But what of Marseille, we hear you cry? Well don't worry - we haven't forgotten them. They were due to play Paris Saint-Germain on Sunday but the game was called off just hours before the start time due to an outbreak of Swine Flu among the Marseille team. Ludovic Giuly and Mamadou Sakho were said to have contracted the virus before a third case (that of Jeremy Clement) prompted the match to be postponed.

The lateness of the decision caused anger amongst visiting PSG fans who rioted with their opposite number in the Marseille area. The two clubs share arguably the fiercest rivalry in the top flight and many have suggested the game should have been cancelled the day before to save the PSG fans the need to make such a long journey in vein. That journey will now have to be made again on a new date to be decided by LFP officials tomorrow (Thursday).

And that just about wraps it up for another Ligue 1 round-up. Full results and standings can be picked up here. For now though, it's à bientôt...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sound Of Football Podcast 12

After last week's World Cup packed podcast, let us return to our own affairs and look back on an eventful weekend in the Premier League.

Chris and Graham reflect on their respective team's performance in the London derby twixt West Ham and Arsenal. Manchester City's credentials are examined further after an unconvincing 2-2 draw with Fulham and we celebrate the Liverpool v Manchester United Super Classico or at least the last half an hour or so.

Then we cast our eye over the draw for the first round of the FA Cup and have a good laugh at Leeds and Charlton.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking here. Or if you right click on that link, you can download the MP3. Alternatively, you can subscribe via the your reader of choice or via our iTunes feed.

Please leave us a comment and let us know what you think. You can do so on the comments section below or on our Facebook Fanpage.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Midweek TV Preview: 26 - 29 October 2009

Another week, another World Cup tournament - this time FIFA's top competition for Under-17 players currently going on in Nigeria until November 15th. As with the Under-20 World Cup, Eurosport UK are covering the tournament so check their website for programme information. We'll pay closer attention ourselves when it gets to the latter stages, but for now we're concentrating on...

Monday 26th October

20:00 Reading v Leicester City, Championship, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Nigel Pearson's Leicester are the form side here, having lost only once in the last eight games. A fourth straight defeat for Reading tonight, however, will see the home fans demanding Brendan Rodgers' head on a stick.

Tuesday 27th October

19:45 Barnsley v Manchester Utd, Carling Cup 4th Round, Sky Sports 2/HD2
The BBC Sport website this week told how Barnsley players are attending bricklaying courses paid for by the PFA. It's supposed to be a way of giving players skills that could be useful after their football career has ended, but we think it's an attempt to stop Man United scoring in this Fourth Round tie.

Wednesday 28th October

19:35 Celtic v Hearts, CIS Cup Quarter-final, BBC1 Scotland
The last time Hearts beat Celtic was in the same competition almost two years ago to the day. Back then, Gordon Strachan was in charge of Celtic but now he finds himself in charge of Middlesbrough. A fate Tony Mowbray will be trying to avoid at all costs by winning this one.

19:45 Arsenal v Liverpool, Carling Cup 4th Round, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Two teams who ended the weekend with surprising results. Liverpool's defeat of Man United proved once again that they didn't necessarily need Steven Gerrard in their team to beat Fergie's men while Arsenal proved that you need to take your chances when you get them - even against West Ham.

19:45 Napoli v AC Milan, Serie A, ESPN
Crisis? What crisis? Milan have now won three on the trot and are up to 6th in the table. That said, Napoli are enjoying a renaissance of sorts as well, maintained by a 1-0 win over a useful Fiorentina side at the weekend. Should be a great tie.

Thursday 29th October

19:45 Inter Milan v Palermo, Serie A, ESPN
Palermo haven't beaten Inter for four years but they could do so again this year - as long as they're on top of their game. A third straight win at the weekend over Udinese will fill the visitors with confidence, but Inter, like Palermo, are also unbeaten in their last five.

(All times - UK)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Weekend TV Preview: 23 - 25 October 2009

Friday 23 October

19.30 Bayer Leverkusen v Dortmund, Bundesliga, ESPN
BVB's fourth Ruhr derby in a row sees them make the short trip to the current table-toppers. Readers of the Bundesbag will know of our resident expert's suspicion as to whether or not Leverkusen can keep hold of their lofty place - this could certainly be where they lose it.

19.45 Watford v Sheffield Wednesday, Championship, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Bumper weekend of domestic football with six matches from the Premier League and Championship. Both teams sit mid-table having won just one of their last four. Hmm, maybe you should forget the domestic stuff here and stick with the Ruhr derby on the other side.

Saturday 24 October

12.45 Wolves v Aston Villa, Barclays Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Get your clown shoes and swanee whistles out: it's a Black Country derby! Knockabout fun and hilarious pratfalls to no doubt ensue.

17.30 Chelsea v Blackburn Rovers, Barclays Premier League, ESPN/HD
Rovers have lost all their last eight away league games going back to their win at Fulham in March. They've also conceded 25 goals in those games. It's hard to see them stopping this trend against a team they haven't even scored against for over three years.

17.30 Derby County v Queens Park Rangers, Championship, BBC2
A fit and proper championship tie. Derby worryingly suffered their seventh defeat of the campaign midweek, QPR however are nowhere near as devastating on their travels as they are at Loftus Road so it should be a good contest.

19.00 Sporting Gijon v Real Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports 3/HD3
Losing at home to Milan midweek must be considered a bit of an embarrassment for Pellegrini's men, especially in the manner in which it happened. Certainly every opportunity to put it right here; Madrid slammed eleven past Gijon across their two fixtures last season.

19.45 Inter Milan v Catania, Serie A, ESPN
While Mourinho's woeful run in Europe goes on - now 8 (OTTO) games without a win - Inter's Serie A form is as good as ever. Should be an easy three points for the home team.

21.00 Sevilla v Espanyol, La Liga, Sky Sports 3/HD3
Sevilla picked up their second defeat last week against a resurgent Deportivo. At home they are three wins from three but they'll have to work to keep that record up against the well-organised Catalans.

Sunday 25 October

12.30 Hamilton Academicals v Celtic, Scottish Premier League, ESPN/HD
No wins in four won't sit well with Celtic fans. Luckily the nature of the Scottish Premier League means that there's always a nice easy team to destroy just around the next corner.

13.00 FA Cup 1st round draw, ITV1 (not Scotland)
Paulton Rovers and Aylesbury could be two names in the hat along with 30 other non-league sides to face teams from Leagues One and Two on 7 November.

14.00 Liverpool v Manchester Utd, Barclays Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
England's equivalent of El Classico sees Liverpool (according to the press at least) in near meltdown. They suffered another Premier League defeat (in comical circumstances) last weekend and their defeat to Lyon has seen them installed as the favourites to win the inaugural Europa League title. That said, United have failed to really convince against decent opposition this season, unfortunately for the chasing pack they probably won't find decent opposition here.

16.15 West Ham Utd v Arsenal, Barclays Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
The Hammers league position looks very worrying, but it's hard to recollect a time where they've been embarrassed this season. Arsenal's midweek draw should provide them with enough of a kick up the backside to get the three points here, but as with most London derbies form counts for very little. Expect a close encounter with one goal probably settling it.

16.30 Schalke v Hamburg, Bundesliga, ESPN
Strathclyde Police prevented Hamburg from celebrating with their fans after their Europa League win against Celtic midweek, to the annoyance of the players. They should get a chance to celebrate in this fixture having won four of their last five visits to Gelsenkirchen.

18.00 Almeria v Valencia, La Liga, Sky Sports Red Button (1st half) Sky Sports 1/HD1 (2nd half)
Valencia's early season good form seems to have abandoned them, seeing them win just one of their last five. Almeria go into the game fresh from their victory in the Andalucian derby against Malaga last weekend.

19.45 Chievo v AC Milan, Serie A, ESPN
It would be just like Milan at the moment to follow up away wins at Real Madrid and Roma with an embarrassing defeat to Chievo. Both teams sit mid-table and both are struggling to find consistent form.

20.00 Barcelona v Zaragoza, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Zaragoza have made a reasonable return to the top flight but have only managed one point from their three away games so far. They won't be adding to that here as Barcelona look to bury the memory of Tuesday's night's Champions League defeat to Rubin Kazan.

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #136

Back the bid...
The 67 Ambassadors Reccruited By The FA To Promote England's Bid To Host The 2018 World Cup

1. Aaron Mokoena (South Africa)
2. Alan Shearer
3. Alexandre Song (Cameroon)
4. Andrew Cole
5. Ashley Young
6. Brian Deane
7. Bryan Robson
8. Carlos Edwards (Trinidad & Tobago)
9. Chris Powell
10. Cyrille Regis
11. David Beckham
12. David James
13. David Seaman
14. Des Walker
15. Emile Heskey
16. Gareth Southgate
17. Gary Lineker
18. Gary Mabbutt
19. Gianfranco Zola (Italy)
20. Glenn Hoddle
21. Graeme Le Saux
22. Graham Taylor
23. Howard Wilkinson
24. James Milner
25. John Barnes
26. John Obi Mikel (Nigeria)
27. John Terry
28. Joseph Yobo (Nigeria)
29. Kanu (Nigeria)
30. Kenwyne Jones (Trinidad & Tobago)
31. Kolo Toure (Ivory Coast)
32. Lucas Radebe (South Africa)
33. Luther Blissett
34. Michael Ballack (Germany)
35. Michael Chopra
36. Michael Essien (Ghana)
37. Muzzy Izzet (Turkey)
38. Osvaldo Ardiles (Argentina)
39. Paul Elliott
40. Paul Ince
41. Paul Parker
42. Peter Beardsley
43. Peter Crouch
44. Peter Shilton
45. Phil Neville
46. Ray Clemence
47. Ray Wilkins
48. Ricardo Villa (Argentina)
49. Rio Ferdinand
50. Robbie Earle (Jamaica)
51. Roberto Di Matteo (Italy)
52. Robinho (Brazil)
53. Roque Santa Cruz (Paraguay)
54. Salomon Kalou (Ivory Coast)
55. Sol Campbell
56. Steven Gerrard
57. Steven Pienaar (South Africa)
58. Stuart Pearce
59. Sven Goran Eriksson (Sweden)
60. Teddy Sherringham
61. Terry Venables
62. Tony Adams
63. Tony Woodcock
64. Victor Anichebe (Nigeria)
65. Viv Anderson
66. Wayne Rooney
67. Zesh Rehman (Pakistan)

For more information on England's World Cup 2018 bid, go to

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Jeu du Jour Week 9: Un autre jour, un autre surprise

Ligue 1 continues to delight and mystify in equal measures. Last weekend's matches saw Bordeaux lose for a second successive match after such a long unbeaten run, and new leaders Lyon lost too but remained on top of the table.

Lyon's lead is down to just a single goal, never mind points. Their main challenger in second spot is Montpellier, a team that finds itself back in the top flight for the first time in five years and looking determined to make it six.

La Paillade earned a relatively comfortable 2-1 win at home to a Saint Etienne side that's recently returned to better form. Their task was made all the more easier, though, when Yoann Andreu was sent off for the away side at the end of a goalless first half for a second bookable offence, and that gave the green light (sorry, couldn't resist it) to Montpellier to take the lead after the restart.

Two goals from Karim Ait Fana and Souleymane Camara set the home side well on their way to victory which they duly earned despite Gonzalo Bergessio pulling one back 19 minutes from time for Les Verts. A check on the stats shows that Montpellier are definitely a side that takes their time to get going whenever they play - over three quarters of all their goals scored come after the half-time interval.

But get going they do and they're now level on points with Lyon at the top of Ligue 1. It's the best start for a promoted team in the top flight since the 'three points for a win' rule came in, and if you take forty points as being the target for any team wanting to stay up, Montpellier can now consider themselves half-way there.

Lyon, meanwhile, became the last team to lose their unbeaten run as they lost 2-0 at home to Sochaux. Frankly a defeat of any kind would have been a minor surprise, but Sochaux have been one of - maybe the most inconsistent team in the league thus far. No matter - they grabbed the goals when it mattered (Jacques Faty in the 17th minute and Sloan Privat one minute from the end) to expose Lyon's show of poor finishing throughout.

Bordeaux suddenly find themselves down in third position after a 1-0 defeat at the much-improved Auxerre. The current champions had little to offer in the first half but the second half saw both sides pick up the pace, particularly Auxerre who earned a penalty in the 73rd minute which Valter Birsa duly converted. There was even a late chance for the home team to double their lead but Ireneusz Jelen's shot hit the Bordeaux crossbar and with that the game ended.

So after three straight defeats at the start of the season, Auxerre now extend their unbeaten run to six and climb to seventh in the table. Marseille are also back in business having grabbed their first win in three away to Nancy. Marseille's habit of beginning games at a frenetic pace was there for all to see again as Mathieu Valbuena opened the scoring after just five minutes, but despite dominating the play, L'OM had to wait until the last quarter of an hour before they could tie up the match. Brandao scored his third of the season twelve minutes from time and Fabrice Abriel made it 3-0 three minutes later to complete a useful win for Didier Deschamps' side who remain in the top five.

Monaco stay fourth after a 2-0 win over Lens on Sunday. The Ligue 2 champions never really got a look in at the Stade Louis II and the consequence of this result is that they have now failed to win in six league games and now slip into the bottom three. Avoiding a similar indignity are Boulogne who shared the points with fellow strugglers Le Mans thanks to a 90th minute equaliser by Fabien Robert. A win for either side would have earned a leap of several places up the table but both teams find themselves precariously hovering above the relegation zone.

Before we go on, let's take our customary check to see if Grenoble have finally won a Ligue 1 game this season. And the answer is… yeeeee… no. Their 2-0 defeat away to Valenciennes means they now have no points from nine games. More on Grenoble next week…

Meanwhile, Nice were back to their old ways with a 4-1 defeat at Lorient. Last week's 3-2 win at home to Valenciennes proved to be a false dawn as Lorient asserted their own ambitions for a Euro place. As one website put it, Nice are in "the chronic stage of disaster", which, given their placing just above Grenoble in the table, is probably about right.

PSG's season goes from bad to worse too after they lost out to an Albin Ebondo goal sixteen minutes from time at Toulouse. The 1-0 win for the home side sees a belated return to mid-table safety while PSG must lick their wounds after a fifth successive game without a win in the league.

Lille, however, are now five games unbeaten but are still struggling to haul themselves up the table after yet another draw, this time a goalless one at home to Rennes. It could be argued that Lille are saving their best performances for the Europa League this season but unless they can bag a few more wins, they may find Ligue 2 more of a concern before the season is out.

And that just about wraps it up for another Ligue 1 round-up. Full results and standings can be picked up here. For now though, it's à bientôt...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Football Americana Week 31: The clock is ticking

It's been a fantastic season in the US in 2009. Major League Soccer has done itself proud, providing some superb entertainment and more than enough controversy. And now there's just one game to go and the competition for the final playoff spots is at fever pitch. Here's your roundup from Week 31.

Outside shot Real Salt Lake got off to a great start to the week, defeating New York Red Bulls on Wednesday. Despite playing well and creating a lot of chances, it took an 80th minute Andy Williams strike to put RSL in front. Fabian Espindola sealed the win in the 90th minute with a beautifully curled shot beyond Danny Cepero.

But RSL's playoff hopes were dashed on Saturday by Toronto FC, who picked up a much-needed and very exciting 1-0 win at BMO Field. TFC currently occupy the eighth playoff position thanks to Jim Brennan's winner, a clever finish into the bottom corner in the 48th minute.

Joining Toronto on 39 points are DC United. In a tough match on a waterlogged RFK pitch, United picked up a gutsy victory over Columbus Crew, who have clinched home advantage in the playoffs regardless. Boyzzz Khumalo cleverly played Luciano Emilio through on goal in the 17th minute and the DC DP lifted a lovely shot over the oncoming goalkeeper, squeezing it over the line before it was cleared. Emilio Renteria was sent off late on for the Crew, somewhat harshly.

The fight for the second spot in the East is still alive after Chicago Fire failed to clinch it ahead of TFC and DC. The Fire travelled to New England Revolution, currently one place outside the top eight. Chicago's Chris Rolfe was yellow carded in the 62nd minute for a dive - it was a nailed-on penalty and a terrible decision which could cost Chicago dear.

The fourth team on 39 points is FC Dallas, winning once again at Pizza Hut Park on Saturday. Colorado Rapids suddenly look very vulnerable after defeat in a testy game in Frisco. George John headed in Dave van den Bergh's free kick to put FCD ahead in the 4th minute and over an hour later Ugo Ihemelu buried his old team prodding home after another free kick went loose. Pat Noonan pulled one back with 20 minutes to go.

Seattle Sounders rediscovered some of their swagger with a comeback win over Kansas City Wizards. Tyrone Marshall slammed home a rebound to put the Sounders in front but Zoltan Hercegfalvi (ZOLTAN!) made them pay for twice hitting the woodwork by equalising in the 50th minute. Josh Wolff capitalised on a defensive miscue to make it 2-1 just a couple of minutes later. Roger Levesque drew Seattle level with a header, and Nate Jaqua's tap-in secured both the win and the Sounders' playoff place.

Chivas USA and San Jose Earthquakes shared the points at HDC, the point enough to put Chivas at the top of the West. Maykel Galindo was allowed to put Chivas ahead far too easily, but the Quakes turned the game on its head with goals from Brandon McDonald and Ryan Johnson. Not to be undone, Quakes-killer Justin Braun earned a point for Chivas with a well-taken header.

Finally, Houston Dynamo and LA Galaxy could only hold one another to a goalless draw on Sunday, but there was plenty of drama. Geoff Cameron cleared off the line with a superb bicycle kick and David Beckham did little to endear himself to American fans, putting in a nasty challenge on Rico Clark and becoming involved in the resulting altercation, which saw Dynamo striker Brian Ching dismissed.

With most teams up to 29 games, the playoff picture is becoming clearer. Columbus, LA, Houston, Chivas and Seattle are in. Chicago should join them, but Colorado and Toronto will be targeted by New England, DC United and FCD in Week 32.

Full results and standings here.

For more great writing by Chris Nee, visit

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bundesbag Week 9: Werder emerge from the pack

I think the jury is still out on Bayer Leverkusen as title contenders. So far this season Jupp Heynckes team have beaten Hoffenheim, Freiburg, Bochum, Wolfsburg, Koln and Nurnberg. Of those six results, only two were against teams from the top half of the table. More pertinently, when they have played fellow contenders Bayer have come up short.

They were held to a scoreless draw by Werder Bremen at the Bayarena and last Saturday, amidst much fanfare, they played their full part in a turgid bore draw at the injury hit Hamburg. In the next four weeks, Leverkusen have to play a resurgent Dortmund and resilient Frankfurt and make trips to Schalke and Bayern Munich. If they come through those fixtures intact, then and only then can Leverkusen be considered the real deal.

They certainly look more assured at the back with Sami Hyppia at centre half. What's more they have Patrick Helmes to return from injury which, assuming he settles back in quickly, will give their forward line an extra boost. I'm not saying they aren't up to the challenge - I'm just saying that we can't be certain yet.

Leverkusen maintained their place on top of the table with Hamburg two points ahead of Schalke who are quietly going about their business. Well as quietly as a football obsessed city with an enormous stadium can be, at least. The Gelsenkirchen club's win at Stuttgart was impressive. The home side played well but have had their confidence shaken by poor results and an indifferent Champions League campaign. After three straight home defeats Stuttgart are officially in crisis and that's before they welcome Sevilla in the Champions League.

Right behind Schalke are Werder Bremen who made an impressive win against Hoffenheim look routine. The game was settled by two first half goals from Claudio Pizzaro and Per Mertesaker. However, that wasn't the whole story. Tim Wiese saved a penalty, Marko Marin and Mesut Osil looked fearsome in attack and their is a swagger about Bremen. They look like a team that is up for the Championship. Why? Because they have the best defensive record in the Bundesliga. That's right, the team that has made a virtue of the devil-may-care 'score at all costs' approach to football has gone five games without conceding a goal. Look it up if you don't believe me.

Elsewhere, Wolfsburg manager Armin Vey left Grafite on the bench in favour of Obafemi Martins for their game against 'Gladbach. Apparently he took it pretty well but he has been critical of his coach's decisions to substitute him in recent games. Since the champions won on the day, the decision was passed off without much controversy. Presumably Grafite will be ready for what promises to be a real battle against Besitkas on Wednesday.

Koln could have scored a hatful against Mainz. As it was they settled for just the one goal from Milivoje Novakovic which was enough for three more points. Lucas Barros is now two for two. He scored the opener in Dortmund's 2-0 derby win against Bochum. Frankfurt jumped straight back on the wagon with a good result against Hannover (2-1). Bayern's 2-1 win at Freiburg was notable for the return of Luca Toni from injury and one of the stupidest own goals by Freiburg defender Du-Chi-Ra that you'll ever see.

Finally, we arrive at Hertha. Occasionally, there is a car crash on a motorway that is so bad that other drivers slow down to have a look and satisfy their ghoulish curiosity. That car crash is Hertha. Their awfulness is positively compelling. You have to go some way to make Nurnberg look good but by Paul Breitner's Mighty Perm they managed it. Burdened still by their hapless keeper Sascha "Was ist das" Burchert they succumbed to a 3-0 defeat. Once again Burchert demonstrated his comedy ball distribution skills which led to the second goal.

In all the years I've spent following football I have rarely seen a team decline so dramatically in such a short space of time. Last season they were two games away from the title. A few months later and they're worse than Portsmouth. The best their new coach Friedhelm Funkel can hope to achieve is to drag their opponents to their level and slow them down to the point where they end up having crashes of their own. Create the footballing equivalent of an accident black spot, if you will.

In 2 Bundesliga, Armenia Bielefeld are top after a 1-0 win over Aachen. They are level on points with Kaiserlautern who could be readying themselves for a return to the big time which would be something. Union Berlin are fourth having slipped somewhat in recent weeks.

That's it. Results and tables here.

Sound Of Football Podcast 11

And we are back for another blast of premium audio soccer chat.

This week, Chris, Graham and Terry draw a line under the World Cup Qualifiers, dissect the Play Off draw and hope beyond words that Diego does not quit as Argentina boss.

Then we return to our own affairs and review last week's Premier League action. Graham tells us about his trip to the Emirates to see Arsenal beat Birmingham and we discuss the finer points of football law with regards to beach balls .

Finally we look forward to the Champions League and Europa League this week.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking here. Or if you right click on the link, you can download the MP3. Alternatively, you can subscribe via the your reader of choice or via iTunes.

Please leave us a comment and let us know what you think. You can do so right here or on our Facebook Fanpage.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Midweek TV Preview: 19 - 22 October 2009

Monday 19th October

19:45 Leeds Utd v Norwich City, League One, Sky Sports 1/HD1

Paul Lambert has settled the shredded nerves at Carrow Road and the Canaries are now unbeaten in five games. A hot reception awaits them at Elland Road, though, and the best Norwich can hope for is a point.

20:00 Fulham v Hull City, Barclays Premier League, ESPN/HD
Your first chance to see Fulham on TV this week. Not so long ago this would have been a lower division fixture. Nowadays, Fulham are a European powerhouse and Hull are... well, Hull. If you're thinking of ending it all on the Putney Bridge tonight, think again.

Tuesday 20th October

19:45 Debrecen v Fiorentina, UEFA Champions League Group E, Sky Sports Red Button

The Magyars baptism of Euro fire continues against the conquerors of Fiorentina. No, not Sunderland but La Viola. Hard to see anything but an away win.

19:45 Liverpool v Lyon, UEFA Champions League Group E, Sky Sports 2/HD1
Huge game, this. If Lyon get a result then the result will live up to their billing as serious contenders for the trophy. However, this is Liverpool FC and taking out their domestic strife on foreigners is what they excel at. Home win.

19:45 Barcelona v Rubin Kazan, UEFA Champions League Group F, Sky Sports Red Button
The Russians are no pushovers as Jose Mourinho will testify. However, this trip to one of European football's great venues will test Rubin to their limits.

19:45 Inter Milan v Dinamo Kiev, UEFA Champions League Group F, Sky Sports Red Button
Time for Inter to get a wiggle on. Kiev have a win under their belt which is more than can be said for the Italians.

19:45 Rangers v Unirea Urziceni, UEFA Champions League Group G, Sky Sports 3/HD2
Assuming Sevilla work their mojo against the stuttering Stuttgart, this is a perfect oppurtunity for Rangers to stake a claim for second place with a win against the Romanian minnows. Alternatively, this is an excellent oppurtunity for Urziceni to move into second with a win against the Scottish minnows.

19:45 Stuttgart v Sevilla, UEFA Champions League Group G, Sky Sports Red Button
As above, hard to see beyond an away win.

19:45 AZ Alkmaar v Arsenal, UEFA Champions League Group H, Sky Sports Xtra/HD3
A defeat to Twente is far from ideal preparation for the visit of The Gunners and will be hoping that Van Persie, Arshavin and Co. bring their clown shoes to the game.

19:45 Olympiacos v Standard Liege, UEFA Champions League Group H, Sky Sports Red Button
And they say there are too many meaningless fixtures in the Champions League. Tsk.

Wednesday 21st October

17:30 CSKA Moscow v Manchester Utd, UEFA Champions League Group B, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Fergie's brave lads travel to the Luzhniki with their evil plastic pitch. Yes, that'll be the reason. Worst yet, those selfish Russians are putting the game on at 5.30. What's that all about??

19:45 Wolfsburg v Besiktas, UEFA Champions League Group B, Sky Sports Red Button
Besitkas have lost their first two games but Turkish clubs always enjoy playing football in Germany for all kinds of complicated reasons. I predict a point.

19:45 Bordeaux v Bayern Munich, UEFA Champions League Group A, Sky Sports Red Button
Bordeaux have lost their last two league games so aren't in great shape. Having said that, Bayern aren't pulling up any trees themsleves so this could be a chance for Juve to catch up.

19:45 Juventus v Maccabi Haifa, UEFA Champions League Group A, Sky Sports Red Button
Which they damn well should do against Haifa.

19:45 FC Zurich v Marseille, UEFA Champions League Group C, Sky Sports Red Button
Hats off to Zurich for thier fantastic win at Milan. As the Champions League official 'Unknown Quantity' this game is a tough one to call.

19:45 Real Madrid v AC Milan, UEFA Champions League Group C, Sky Sports 2/HD2
The away side's unconvincing win against Roma last night has stayed the executioner's hand over Leonardo's head, for at least until Wednesday when they get destroyed at the Bernabau.

19:45 Chelsea v Atletico Madrid, UEFA Champions League Group D, ITV1/HD
Imagine the chagrin in ITV Towers when they saw that United's early away fixture at CSKA was on a Wednesday? Now they have to slum it with one of those ghastly London clubs and their hideous non-nationwide audience reach. However will Clive cope?

19:45 Porto v APOEL Nicosia, UEFA Champions League Group D, Sky Sports Red Button
Porto must be favorites to slot in behind Chelsea after the hapless start to Atletico Madrid's season. Assuming they can negotiate their way around plucky APOEL, that is.

Thursday 22nd October

18:00 Lazio v Villarreal, UEFA Europa League Group G, ITV4

Both teams are recent victims of the hated and all conquering Red Bull Salzburg, but both teams should consider themselves at the top of this rather modest tree.

18:00 Benfica v Everton, UEFA Europa League Group I, ESPN
Everton are off to a flyer and David Moyes is finally demostrating the European credentials a man of his abilties requires to dot the "i"s and cross the "t"s on his application for a Big Four job. Let's see how The Toffees fair in Portugal.

20:05 Ajax v Dinamo Zagreb, UEFA Europa League Group B, ESPN
Some People Are On The Pitch predicts that the number of times Martin Jol is mentioned will be... 27. Do you want to go higher or lower?

20:05 Celtic v Hamburg, UEFA Europa League Group C, ITV4
Both teams have had a shaky start to the European campaign and enter this fixture with something to prove. A fairly decent fixture but no substitute for...

20:05 Fulham v AS Roma, UEFA Europa League Group E, Five
Ranieri returns to West London. This is a wonderful night for Fulham fans. Who'dve thunk that back in the dark days of Alan Dicks and Jimmy Hill, they'd be playing a top Italian side in Europe. In fact, Who'dve thunk Fulham would end up fielding an under strength side.

01:00 Chicago v Chivas USA, MLS, ESPN (Friday morning)
With the play-offs in the offing, look no further than this guide to understanding how the race to the Post Season works.

(All times - UK)

Friday, October 16, 2009

32 For 2010: Switzerland

Introducing a new series of features on national teams travelling to the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. We start with Switzerland.

Stealth technologists would do well to examine the characteristics of the Swiss national team. It seems that despite their successful qualification for the World Cup, no-one seems to be paying any attention to them. This is not perhaps the biggest surprise given that Swiss football does not exactly set the pulses racing. When Fulham drew Basel out of the hat in the Europa League, their fans were unlikely to be rendered paralysed with the excitement.

Nope, Swiss football is not terribly exciting and the Swiss national team's record internationally is pretty nondescript. From 1966 to 2006, they have only qualified for the World Cup three times. Also, their reputation took a serious battering after that infamous World Cup 2006 0-0 draw with Ukraine in the Second Round, a match so turgid that pundits and spectators alike were begging for penalties after half an hour just to alleviate the soul crushing tedium.

Furthermore, despite co-hosting the European Championships in 2008, the Schweizer Nati still failed to produce any excitement and the only memorable moment of their dismal campaign remains the tears of their effervescent striker Alex Frei as he limped off during the first match knowing that his tournament was over only minutes after it had begun. For those of you who can't remember (and who could blame you), the Swiss failed to progress to the quarter finals and could only register a single win against a disinterested Portugal. Euro 2008 was a wasted opportunity. The only consolation was that things could not have got any worse... and they didn't because lined up to replace outgoing coach Jakob Kuhn in 2008 was the great Ottmar Hitzfeld.

Hitzfeld had just completed his second stint as Bayern Munich manager. His parting gift to them was another Bundesliga trophy to add to the six other titles he has won in Germany. Hitzfeld is one of only two managers to win the European Cup with two separate clubs, with Bayern and Dortmund (Ernst Happel is the other). He has won trophies in Switzerland, early in his coaching career at Grasshopper Zurich. It is perhaps surprising that he never took the German national team position, however, having been born so close to the Swiss border and coached there, it is fitting that he finally took the step up to international management with the Swiss national team.

Things didn't go exactly to plan at first. After two games the Squadra Nazionale had accumulated just a single point and embarrassingly lost 2-1 at home to Luxembourg. That, however, was to be the first and last defeat of their whole campaign as they only dropped points against Latvia and Israel before it ended. Their last game, a 0-0 draw with the Israelis which secured their qualification, was the only match in the whole campaign in which they failed to score.

Top scorer in the campaign is the Congolese-born striker Blaise Kufo who did not feature in La Nati's Euro 2008 campaign. The FC Twente striker scored six goals. Apart from him, the squad line-up is not drastically different to the one that so failed to impress last year. Strikers Hakan Yakin and Alex Frei are still on the scene, as is Arsenal's reserve centre back Phillipe Senderos and Wolfsburg first choice keeper Diego Benaglio. Gunners fans will be interested to learn that young Johan Djourou made 4 appearances earlier in the campaign.

In fairness, Switzerland could have been drawn in a tougher group. Greece may be the 2004 European champions but their star is waning somewhat. Also, while Israel are improving, they did not prove terribly formidable opposition. The same can also be said of the Latvians. Also, Switzerland only qualified with 21 points which in some groups may not have been enough to get second place. However, the Swiss are going to South Africa in 2010 and the achievement represents a triumph for Ottmar Hitzfeld in his first international qualification campaign.

Switzerland will not exactly be pulling up any trees and will be regarded as weaker European opposition but perhaps they can go some way towards removing those ghastly memories of 2006 and 2008.

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #135

Hang your head in shame...
11 Players That Have Been Sent Off At Wembley Stadium

1. Antonio Rattin (for Argentina v England, 1966 World Cup)
2. Billy Bremner (for Leeds v Liverpool, 1974 Charity Shield)
3. Kevin Keegan (for Liverpool v Leeds, 1974 Charity Shield)
4. Kevin Moran (for Man United v Everton, 1985 FA Cup Final)
5. Lee Dixon (for Arsenal v Tottenham, 1993 FA Cup Semi Final)
6. Andrei Kanchelskis (for Man United v Aston Villa, 1994 League Cup Final)
7. Ray Parlour (for Arsenal v Lens, 1998 Champions League)
8. Justin Edinburgh (for Tottenham v Leicester, 1999 League Cup Final)
9. Paul Scholes (for England v Sweden, 1999 qualifier for Euro 2000)
10. Mark Delaney (for Aston Villa v Bolton, 2000 FA Cup Semi Final)
11. Roy Keane (for Man United v Chelsea, 2000 Charity Shield)

Weekend TV Preview: 16 - 18 October 2009

Friday 16th October

19:00 Ghana v Brazil, FIFA U-20 World Cup Final, British Eurosport
Brazil's 'goals scored' column from their last three games reads like a NASA countdown - 3, 2, and finally the one goal which knocked Costa Rica out in the semis. Ghana, meanwhile have scored eight in their last three and look more than capable of an upset.

Saturday 17th October

12:30 St Johnstone v Rangers, Scottish Premier League, ESPN/ESPN HD
Rangers unbeaten start to the season remains intact after their recent win over Celtic, but they still trail their rivals by a point in the table. Despite St Johnstone's lowly position, they should give Rangers a decent fight in front of a fervent home crowd.

12:45 Aston Villa v Chelsea, Barclays Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Plenty of players coming back from international duty for this early kick-off. Quite whether Emile Heskey will see much action remains to be seen, however.

17:20 Nottingham Forest v Newcastle United, Championship, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Newcastle are waiting to see if their hot new loanee Marlon Harewood will be fit for this match. A goal against QPR gave a sign of things to come but Forest fans won't lose too much sleep if their ex-player doesn't set foot on the pitch for this one.

17:30 Hamburg v Bayer Leverkusen, Bundesliga, ESPN
The only two undefeated teams left in the Bundesliga meet at the HSH Nordbank Arena. They also happen to be the top two in the table (Leverkusen leading the way) and are the two highest goalscoring teams too. The difference could lie in Leverkusen's three clean sheets in their last three games... well worth watching to find out.

19:00 Real Madrid v Valladolid, La Liga, Sky Sports 2/HD2/Red Button
Real should turn over Valladolid easily here, but with no Ronaldo and countless other players struggling with injuries it may not be the thrashing it could have been. Still only one outcome though.

19:45 Genoa v Inter Milan, Serie A, ESPN
21:00 Valencia v Barcelona, La Liga, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Possibly no David Villa for the home side tonight, but even if he plays this should be a comfortable win for Barcelona who retain their 100% record after six games.

Sunday 18th October

11:00 Spartak Moscow v Lokomotiv Moscow, Russiam Premier Liga, ESPN
Another Moscow derby and one which Spartak haven't won since 2006, but that could all change as they put in a final push towards a possible title win. They're only a point behind leaders Rubin Kazan and a win today will come in very handy indeed.

13:00 Blackburn Rovers v Burnley, Barclays Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
The last time these two teams played in the top flight was New Years Day 1966 when Burnley won 2-0 at Ewood Park. Burnley haven't beaten Blackburn in any tie, since 1979, however. Great to see this great Lancashire Derby back on the footballing calendar again.

14:00 Lazio v Sampdoria, Serie A, ESPN
A good chance for Sampdoria to go top of the league if they can beat Lazio. They're level on points with Inter who are up against Genoa, and that'll be a far from easy match, that's for sure.

16:00 Wigan Athletic v Manchester City, Barclays Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
As the Daily Telegraph website tells us, Wigan have gone 23 games since they were last involved in a score draw while City have gone 52 games since they featured in a game without goals. I think they're suggesting this could be a draw, then.

16:30 Borussia Dortmund v Bochum, Bundesliga, ESPN
No Tamas Hajnal for Dortmund thanks to an ankle injury picked up against Borussia Monchengladbach earlier in the month. Could be an uninspiring affair between two underachieving sides at the moment.

18:00 Athletic Bilbao v Sporting Gijon, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1/Red Button
Two teams punching a little above their weight so far this season, not that that's a bad thing. Should be an excellent open game at San Mames, and a win for the home side could see them remarkably in the top five.

19:45 AC Milan v Roma, Serie A, ESPN
Just four goals scored in seven games for Milan thus far, but a home tie against the equally inconsistent Roma might give them the chance to improve on that.

20:00 Osasuna v Atletico Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Atletico finally got their first win of the season against Real Zaragoza last time out, but they may struggle to get their second against an Osasuna side they haven't beaten in the last three meetings between the sides.

(All times - UK.)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

World Cup Update: October 14th 2009

For Europe, South America and the CONCACAF region, yesterday saw the last chance for teams to grab an automatic qualifying place for the 2010 World Cup. It was also the last chance for some teams to claim a 'Get Out Of Jail Free' card - or a play-off place, as it's known in football circles.

Here's our round-up of all the important news from each of those regions…

South America
Almost without exception, the one key qualifier that everyone ranked above any other yesterday was between Uruguay and Argentina. The last time Argentina failed to qualify for the World Cup was 1970, but there was a very real chance that their luck would run against their bitter rivals from across the River Plate.

A lot was resting on the match - Uruguay needed to win as well to secure their spot in the Finals next year - but the result was too close to call. When the match got underway it was Uruguay, playing in front of a sizeable and partisan home crowd, that played out the first half more convincingly. Shots from Diego Forlan and Alvaro Pereira added to the tension in the Argentinean defence as Gabriel Heinze earned a booking for a rash tackle on Maxi Pereira.

Into the second half and with the game still goalless, the away team looked a little more purposeful but there was still little to choose between the two sides when Uruguay had Martin Caceres sent off for a second bookable offence. From the ensuing free kick, Juan Sebastian Veron ended up firing in a shot which pinballed around the area before falling into the path of Mario Bolatti who put the ball in the back of the net.

With six minutes left on the clock, Argentina had picked up the decisive goal which earned them the three points they needed to claim fourth spot in the group. It means Diego Maradona will see his team play in South Africa next year, although many are already doubting whether he will be in charge when that happens.

Uruguay, meanwhile enter yet another inter-continental World Cup play-off, this time against Costa Rica (of which more later). They were able to claim fifth place in the South America table after the only other challengers, Ecuador, lost 1-0 away to Chile.

Elsewhere, Peru managed to claim only their third win in 18 matches when they beat Bolivia 1-0 while Colombia picked up a consolation 2-0 victory over Paraguay thanks to goals from Gustavo Ramos and Hugo Rodallega. Brazil played out a goalless draw against Venezuela but had Sao Paulo defender Miranda sent off after 56 minutes for elbowing Giancarlo Maldonaldo.

Full results and standings here.

North and Central America
As mentioned previously, it'll be Costa Rica that go into a play-off with Uruguay after they could only draw 2-2 with the United States. As we reported yesterday, Costa Rica had to win their match to snuff out any chance of Honduras grabbing the vital third spot in the table, but a 94th minute goal from Jonathan Bornstein pulled the plug on that happening.

The Ticos had been 2-0 up in the game against the already-qualified US thanks to a brace from Byran Ruiz in the first half, but the Americans pulled one back in the 72nd minute through Michael Bradley.

An eventful second half saw the US lose the services of Oguchi Onyewu with a knee injury that will keep him out of the side for several months. With seven minutes left on the clock, Bob Bradley's side were down to ten men having already used their full complement of subs, but remarkably in the last seconds of injury time Chivas USA midfielder Bornstein snuck into the area and headed in for 2-2.

That result denies Costa Rica an automatic qualification place in their third successive Finals and they must now face Uruguay over two legs on November 14th and 18th (the first leg taking place in Saprissa).

And they would have been off to South Africa already had it not been for Honduras who got the win they needed thanks to a 63rd minute goal by Carlos Pavon against El Salvador. It means Honduras finish third on goal difference ahead of Costa Rica to seal their first appearance at a World Cup since 1982. Well done to them.

In a largely inconsequential match to complete the action in North and Central America, Mexico drew 2-2 away to Trinidad & Tobago to finish as runners-up to the USA.

Full results and standings here.

Finally to Europe (and it's probably the first time we've said that in all the time we've been doing World Cup round-ups) where the final two automatic qualifiers were identified last night.

One of them was Switzerland who have led Group 2 almost from start to finish largely beyond our journalistic gaze as Group 2 has been arguably the least interesting of all the nine in the entire continent. That said, they finished top after a 0-0 draw at home to Israel while the runner-up spot went to Greece who finished one point adrift of the Swiss despite beating Luxembourg 2-1.

The other automatic qualifier on the night was Slovakia who finished two points clear of Slovenia in Group 3. The Slovakians claimed their victory thanks to an own goal in the third minute of their match in Poland. In blizzard conditions, Seweryn Gancarczyk deflected the ball into his own net early on to leave the visitors with the task of defending their lead for the remaining 87 minutes.

The fact that they did so efficiently meant Slovenia had to settle for the play-off spot despite beating San Marino 3-0. They'll go into the hat along with Portugal from Group 1 who finally completed a shaky campaign with a 4-0 win over Malta and Ukraine from Group 6, 6-0 winners in Andorra last night.

Full results and standings here.

So with all of the above taken into account along with the remaining play-offs and qualifiers to come in Africa next month, here's who's qualified for World Cup 2010 and who still has work to do:

Qualified: Denmark, Switzerland, Slovakia, Germany, Spain, England, Serbia, Italy and the Netherlands.
Play-offs: Portugal, Greece, Slovenia, Russia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ukraine, France and the Republic of Ireland.

The European play-offs will take place over two legs on November 14th and 18th and the winners of the four ties will progress to South Africa. The draw for the European play-offs takes place on Monday 19th October 2009.

South America
Qualified: Brazil, Paraguay, Chile and Argentina.
Play-off *: Uruguay

North and Central America
Qualified: USA, Mexico and Honduras
Play-off *: Costa Rica

Qualified: North Korea, South Korea, Australia and Japan.
Play-off **: Bahrain

Qualified: Ghana and Ivory Coast
Could yet qualify: Cameroon or Gabon, Tunisia or Nigeria and Algeria or Egypt

Play-off **: New Zealand

More news on the 2010 World Cup qualifying competition next week...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Play Football 3s Live Tonight!

If you're looking for a way to liven up the dead rubber that is England v Belarus, look no further than Football 3s - the micro Fantasy Football site that's quick, fun and easy to play. All you need is a TV showing the England game (ITV1 are showing it here in the UK - check our Midweek TV Preview for more details) and a computer connected to the internet once things are underway.

Having got that, go to the Football 3s website - - and register your details. It won't take long and it'll set you up for any future games covered on the site.

Then you're off and running, and to play the game simply pick any three players on the pitch that you think will earn you the most points during the match. Your players earn 20 points for every goal scored, 10 points for an assist and one point for every pass made. Every Football 3s game lasts just ten minutes, and in that time you can make three transfers so manage your chosen trio well!

And that's really about all you need to know. So if you like the idea of Fantasy Football but you think it's too long-winded, try Football 3s. It'll definitely liven up a potentially one-paced international and give you the chance to pit your tactical wits against other like-minded individuals!

Football 3s sponsors the Socrates London Football Bloggers Meet-Up.

World Cup Update Part 2: The rest of the world

Somewhat later than planned (for which we apologise), here's a round-up of last weekend's action from the World Cup qualifiers outside of Europe.

South America
With Brazil and Paraguay already in situ for a place in the 2010 World Cup Finals, it was Chile who were the next to take their chance by beating Colombia 4-2 in Medellin. Despite providing some tough opposition for most of the match, the Colombians were unable to fight back from Chile's brace of goals in the 71st and 78th minute from Jorge Valdivia and Fabian Orellana.

The result is a fitting cap on an excellent campaign for Marcelo Bielsa, the Argentinean coach of Chile who has seen his side pick up nine wins and three draws from their seventeen matches. Chile make their return to the World Cup having last competed in 1998 and will relish their billing as third-best team in South America ahead of Argentina who trail the Chileans by five points going into today's matches.

Speaking of Argentina, their faltering stumble gets ever worse having only just scraped a 2-1 win at home to Peru, easily the worst team so far in this qualifying campaign.

Diego Maradona's team selection raised a few eyebrows ahead of the match, Carlos Tevez and Atletico Madrid's Sergio Aguero being two players to start from the bench. Gonzalo Higuain of Real Madrid, however, was given his first cap and duly put Argentina in front three minutes into the second half and the score stayed at 1-0 until one minute from time.

Amid a torrential downpour, an increasingly nervy Argentina capitulated at the death when Hernan Rengifo scored a dramatic equaliser for Peru but remarkably this was not to be the final notable event of the match. Three minutes into injury time, Martin Palermo (making his first appearance for Argentina in ten years) side-footed in to put Argentina 2-1 up to seal the win… or so it seemed. Straight from the restart, Rainer Torres tried a shot from long distance which hit the Argentinean crossbar.

That, however, really was the last of the action in a remarkable match which just about keeps Argentina's hopes of qualifying alive. All now rests on their final match against bitter rivals Uruguay today, and the match is given all the more significance because Uruguay can also still qualify - as long as they beat Argentina.

Uruguay are just a point behind their opponents having beaten Ecuador 2-1 in Quito - a vital result for Oscar Tabarez and his team - but one which doesn't quite snuff out Ecaudor's chances of qualifying either. Put simply, if Uruguay beat Argentina by a reasonable margin and Ecuador beat Chile in the same fashion in Asuncion, Ecuador will gain the play-off spot while Argentina face the prospect of watching the 2010 World Cup from the comfort of their own homes. It's a long shot, but it could happen.

Elsewhere, Brazil finally lost their unbeaten run after a 2-1 defeat against Bolivia. As mentioned on the Sound of Football podcast this week, Bolivia have remarkably notched up victories against Argentina, Paraguay and now Brazil yet find themselves next to bottom in the qualifying table. As Graham rightly said, however, they, along with a predictable victory over bottom club Peru, were the only wins they've picked up, hence their current position.

Paraguay, meanwhile, won 2-1 away to Venezuela to draw level on points with Brazil but stay second in the table ahead of the final round of games which looks like this:

Peru v Bolivia (21:00 BST)
Brazil v Venezuela (23:00 BST)
Chile v Ecuador (23:00 BST)
Uruguay v Argentina (23:00 BST)
Paraguay v Colombia (01:00 Thursday BST)

Full results and table available here.

North and Central America
The USA and Mexico have claimed their places in South Africa next year with wins against Honduras and El Salvador respectively. The USA's 3-2 win was as much about the failing of Honduras to take their chances as it was about American determination to succeed. Honduras took the lead after 47 minutes through Julio de Leon but Conor Casey, chosen in preference to Jozy Altidore, equalised three minutes later.

Casey added a second in the 66th minute to put the Americans 2-1 up before Landon Donovan scored from a free kick five minutes later. De Leon, however, grabbed his and Honduras' second twelve minutes from the end and were it not for Carlos Pavon's penalty clearing the crossbar late on, they could have had a dramatic equaliser, but it was not to be. Bob Bradley's men held on to reach their sixth successive Finals - a wonderful achievement given the tough nature of the qualifying group.

Mexico, meanwhile, looked a different animal altogether from their Sven-era malaise as they beat El Salvador 4-1 at the Azteca. The win draws to an end El Salvador's hopes of getting to South Africa while Mexico claim second spot in the group, a point behind the US.

Costa Rica are almost there. They're currently third after an easy 4-1 win over Trinidad & Tobago but still need to beat the Americans in their final game to be assured of the last automatic place. A draw won't be enough if Honduras win away in El Salvador because of goal difference and could allow the Hondurans to go through instead.

Full results and table available here.

Joining Ghana in the Finals in 2010 will be the Ivory Coast who, thanks to a goal from Didier Drogba against Malawi, finish as winners of Group E. The match ended 1-1 and means Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast's main challengers in the group, cannot catch Drogba and Co. ahead of the last round of games next month.

Algeria are within touching distance of a place at the World Cup. Their 3-1 win over Rwanda in Group C leaves them three points ahead of African champions Egypt at the top going into the crucial decider between the two challengers in Egypt later today. A 2-0 win for Egypt over Algeria will mean both teams finish level on points and goal difference in the group, thereby leading to FIFA's officials checking the head-to-head record between the sides.

Algeria have already beaten Egypt 3-1 so far in the competition, therefore Egypt not only need to beat Algeria by two clear goals but also need to score at least three themselves to avoid any protracted arrangements for separating the two sides.

Elsewhere, Cameroon lead by a single point at the top of Group A after they beat Togo 3-0. Newcastle United's Geremi was on hand with the first of their goals to end any hopes of Emmanuel Adebayor getting to South Africa, but Cameroon must first beat bottom-placed Morocco if they're to get there themselves at the expense of Gabon. Form suggests this is very likely to take place.

Finally to Group B where Tunisia have almost wrapped up their campaign after a 1-0 win over Kenya at the weekend. With Nigeria beating Mozambique by the same scoreline, Tunisia must do likewise next month to keep Nigeria out of a second successive World Cup.

Full results and tables available here.

Asia / Oceania Play-Off
The first leg of the decider between Bahrain and New Zealand ended 0-0 and was a tentative affair, Bahrain once again playing cautiously and defensively while the All Whites used their prerogative as the away side to break on the counter-attack - both to little real effect.

There wasn't much to call between the two teams, so with the second leg switching to New Zealand in a month's time one can only assume the advantage lies with Bahrain thanks to the away goals rule. There's also the Arab team's ability to pull a result out of the bag under pressure as they showed in their recent Asia play-off against Saudi Arabia, so expect more fireworks of the same kind next month.


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