Friday, January 29, 2010

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #149

Not so irreplacable after all...
10 Players Who Were The First Ever To Be Substituted By Their Respective Clubs

1. Tony Hateley (Aston Villa, replaced by Graham Parker, September 25th 1965)
2. George Graham (Chelsea, replaced by John Boyle, August 28th 1965)
3. Johnny Haynes (Fulham, replaced by Graham Leggat, August 28th 1965)
4. Jack Charlton (Leeds United, replaced by Rod Johnson, September 1st 1965)
5. Chris Lawler (Liverpool, replaced by Geoff Strong, September 15th 1965)
6. Mike Summerbee (Manchester City, replaced by Roy Cheetham, August 30th 1965)
7. Denis Law (Manchester United, replaced by John Fitzpatrick, October 16th 1965)
8. Peter Shreeves (Reading, replaced by Ralph Norton, August 21st 1965)
9. Dennis Violett (Stoke City, replaced by Keith Bebbington, August 21st 1965)
10. Ernie Hunt (Woves, replaced by Freddie Goodwin, October 16th 1965)

...and our grateful thanks go to Backpass Magazine for giving us their kind permission to reproduce the above information. To find out more about Backpass magazine, visit

Weekend TV Previews: 29 - 31 January

Friday 29 January

19.30 Hamburg v Wolfsburg, Bundesliga, ESPN
The mantle of Champions has sat heavy on Wolfsburg; if fans were expecting a repeat of last season's post winter break heroics they've been sorely disappointed. Two defeats in two including going down 3-2 at home to strugglers Koln pretty much leaves their season over already. Dzeko may well have missed his big money move opportunity. Hamburg appear to be over their own slump despite losing narrowly to a seemingly unstoppable BVB last time out.

Saturday 30 January

12.30 Hamilton Academical v Celtic, Scottish Premier League, ESPN
Hamilton will feel the full wrath of a Celtic team that lost to a last minute Danny Galbraith goal midweek. Celtic are now 10 points behind Rangers.

16.00 Nigeria v Algeria, Third place play-off, Africa Cup of Nations, British Eurosport/HD
A largely (though given the circumstances, unsurprisingly) disappointing tournament comes to a close this weekend. Nothing more than a World Cup warm up on offer here.

17.15 Leicester v Newcastle United, Championship, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Newcastle's midweek win over an administrators-weakened Palace side halted a run of three draws. Leicester are in a patch of poor form which has seen them drop from the play-off places since the start of the year, but they're still hard to beat at home.

17.30 Burnley v Chelsea, Premier League, ESPN/HD
Brian Laws will become an instant legend if he gets a point here in his first home game in charge. Looking at the stats, you wouldn't put it past them (please, bear with me on this): at home Burnley are on a run of four consecutive 1-1 draws and have lost only once all season, Chelsea on the other hand haven't won away since the end of November (see!). Drogba's return from the African Cup of Nations should be extra lively following the incident where he threw a coin into the crowd here in last season's Carling Cup defeat.

18.55 Sporting Gijon v Barcelona, La Liga, Sky Sports 4/HD4
In the season and a half since Gijon returned to the top flight Barcelona have spanked 12 past them. Expect more of the same here.

20.15 Napoli v Genoa, Serie A, ESPN
A century or so ago this could have been a cricket match, since then Napoli have dropped the word cricket from their full name but Genoa still retain it. Despite Napoli being a great form, watch out for this one as Genoa are a bogey club for them: they've lost the last five meetings and haven't beaten the Rossoblu since 2002.

21.00 Deportivo La Coruña v Real Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports 4/HD4
Not the place to go to to try and close a five point gap at the top. Not only have Real lost this fixture the last 6 (SEIS) times of asking - they haven't won here since 1993. There's no Ronaldo, who's suspended for this one, but Raul looks set to return.

Sunday 31 January

11.30 Feyenoord v Ajax, Eredivisie, ESPN
One of the the most passionate fixtures in world football. Both are sitting adrift of PSV and Twente who are still unbeaten and pulling away - not that any of that will matter as soon as this one kicks off. The perfect tonic to follow Andy Murray's disappointing display in the Australian Open.

13.30 Manchester City v Portsmouth, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
City have an embarrassment of riches, Portsmouth are simply an embarrassment for the Premier League. Expect the Pompey players to be gratefully accepting any coins thrown on the pitch in this one.

14.00 Parma v Inter Milan, Serie A, ESPN
Last week's mauling at the hands of Catania should be ringing some serious alarm bells for Parma fans. With just one point in their last five, they've plummeted from the Champions League spots to the bottom half. Inter's win over their Milanese rivals last week pretty much drew a line under the season as far as the title is concerned: you can't see them throwing away a 9 point lead.

15.45 Ghana v Egypt, Final, Africa Cup of Nations, British Eurosport/HD & BBC2
And so the Cup of Nations closes, hopefully without any further untoward incident. Hardly a shock these two made it in the end. For Egypt, making it three titles in a row probably still won't make up for missing out on the World Cup. First time I can remember a match on terrestrial television going up against a major Premier League game on Sky - be interesting to see the viewing figures. Well worth a look, however I will be watching...

16.00 Arsenal v Manchester United, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Ferdinand's frivolous appeal sees him miss this match and three others, leaving United yet again exposed at the back, whether Arsenal have attacking options fit enough to take advantage is another matter. Both teams may well settle for the point in this game, though it suits Arsenal less with their upcoming defeat to Chelsea next Sunday. Post match, turn back to BBC2 for the inevitable extra-time.

16.30 Bayer Leverkusen v SC Freiburg, Bundesliga, ESPN
Should be no problems for still unbeaten Leverkusen against a poor Freiburg side. Only the unsettling heavy breath of Bayern slowly approaching could put them off. Well it would put anyone off, wouldn't it.

19.00 Atletico Madrid v Malaga, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Despite both teams occupying the bottom half of the table both teams are in reasonable form and slowly rising up the table. Malaga though will need to start winning away from home if they are to make avoiding the drop a little easier.

19.45 Juventus v Lazio, Serie A, ESPN
After being dumped out of the Coppa Italia midweek by Inter, Juve coach Ciro Ferrara could well have been sacked by the time this game kicks off. If he hasn't, and he ends up losing this match he won't see the weekend out. Things must be bad if they're considering Rafa Benitez to succeed, however the smart money is on Claudio Gentile.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sound of Football Episode 24 - FA Cup, Africa Cup of Nations, West Ham, Tevez and Neville

The latest Sound Of Football podcast is available for you to download. This week we rattle through the FA Cup, ponder the West Ham takeover, consider the consequences of the Tevez/Neville spat and confuse a Tottenham defender for a legendary Question Of Sport captain and we don't mean Emlyn Hughes.

All this plus the Africa Cup Of Nations too.

You can listen to the podcast 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.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Midweek TV Preview: 25 - 28 January 2010

Monday 25th January

15:45 Egypt v Cameroon, Africa Cup of Nations Quarter Final, British Eurosport/HD
Hard to know which Cameroon side will turn up for this match. Inconsistent in their group matches, only Zambia have now got longer odds to win the competition of the six teams remaining (according to the bookies). Egypt remain favourites, however, and rightly so on the basis of their fine form thus far.

19:15 Zambia v Nigeria, Africa Cup of Nations Quarter Final, British Eurosport/HD
Incredibly, Zambia ended up topping Group D based on head-to-head results with Cameroon and Gabon. Their reward is a quarter final against Yakubu, Martins and Co., and if truth be known, they could scramble to a win if they're on top form.

19:45 Zidane, Ronaldo & Friends v Benfica All Stars, ESPN
And you thought a football match couldn't be marketed like a Lew Grade Sunday night variety show. As it is, this match has a serious purpose: to raise money for the relief effort in Haiti where 150,000 were killed by the recent earthquake. Since this event was announced last year, Ronaldo has withdrawn due to commitments with Corinthians in Brazil, so he's been replaced on the roster by Kaka. You'd have thought they'd have checked out Ronaldo's availability first before putting his name on the marquee, but there you go...

19:45 Charlton Athletic v Leyton Orient, League 1, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Leyton Orient's sad slide towards the wrong end of the table was briefly arrested last Tuesday when they picked up a rare win at home to Yeovil. Charlton, however, will be a different prospect, unbeaten as they are in their last eleven games.

Tuesday 26th January

20:00 Tottenham Hotspur v Fulham, Barclays Premier League, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Tottenham have failed to score in their last two league games and the last two meetings between these two have ended 0-0. With Fulham going through a decidedly up and down phase, we wouldn't mind betting this will be a low-scoring affair too.

20:00 AS Roma v Catania, Coppa Italia Quarter Final, ESPN
Catania have finally discovered the art of winning games again, as Genoa found out to their cost in the last round. Pity, then, that they're facing a Roma side that haven't lost a game in almost three months in all competitions.

Wednesday 27th January

19:30 Everton v Sunderland, Barclays Premier League, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Since Sunderland's 1-0 win over Arsenal on November 21st, they've had three draws, five defeats and no wins. A poor run of form that can only be beaten by Burnley as things stand, and an away trip to Goodison is unlikely to bring the smile back to Steve Bruce's face.

19:45 St Mirren v Rangers, Scottish Premier League, Sky Sports 3/HD3
Rangers are looking much more the definite article these days - seven points clear of Celtic at the top of the table (albeit having played one game more than The Bhoys) and undefeated since early December. St Mirren's wins tend to come along like buses (i.e. two or three together after a long wait) but this doesn't look like being the start of another such example. A hard-earned draw at best for The Buddies.

20:00 Manchester Utd v Manchester City, Carling Cup Semi-Final 2nd Leg, Sky Sports 1/HD1
So Carlos Tevez claims the comments he made about Gary Neville in an interview with Argentinean radio lost something in translation. Carlos - if you're talking about the bit where you called him a "sock-sucker", there's no need to apologise. We understand exactly what you meant.

20:00 AC Milan v Udinese, Coppa Italia, ESPN
Even with the help of walking tattoo David Beckham, Milan couldn't break down rivals Inter last night. The Nerazzuri ended the game with nine men and still they won 2-0. This should be an altogether easier prospect for Milan though, what with Udinese being in very poor shape at the moment.

Thursday 28th January

16:00 Ghana v Zambia/Nigeria, Africa Cup of Nations Semi Final, British Eurosport/HD and BBC Red Button
Without wishing to cause offence, Ghana's place in the semis can be put down largely to Togo's enforced absence from the competition. A defeat to the already eliminated Ivory Coast and a couple of narrow 1-0 wins over unfancied Burkina Faso and hosts Angola isn't the most strenuous route to the last four anyone's ever had. The irony is they may well reach the Final on the basis of averaging one goal a game.

19:15 Algeria v Egypt/Cameroon, Africa Cup of Nations Semi Final, British Eurosport and Eurosport HD / BBC3
Algeria's extra time win over Ivory Coast last night was described as a 'thriller' on the BBC website, but it only got thrilling in the final moments of the 90 minutes and in extra time when the goals started flying in. Before that, Algeria looked a little leaden-footed and lacking creativity to prize open the Ivorian defence. Still, full credit to them for getting a memorable win and good luck trying to do the same against tonight's opponents.

19:45 Inter Milan v Juventus, Coppa Italia Quarter Final, ESPN
It's all going horribly wrong for Juventus at the moment, and this match may well see more misery piling up on them as they travel to the incomparable Inter. The winner of this one plays Fiorentina in the semi finals.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #148

Carlos Tevez and other Footballing Charlies
10 Famous Football Players Called Charles, Charlie or Carlos

1. Carlos Tevez (Man United, Man City, West Ham and Argentina)
2. Charlie George (Arsenal, Derby County and England)
3. Carlos Edwards (Ipswich, Sunderland and Trinidad & Tobago)
4. Charlie Davies (Sochaux, Hammarby and United States)
5. Carlos Valderrama (Montpellier, Colorado Rapids and Colombia)
6. Charles Ntamark (Walsall and Cameroon)
7. Charlie Cooke (Chelsea, Aberdeen and Scotland)
8. Carlos Alberto (Fluminense, New York Cosmos and Brazil)
9. Charles N'Zogbia (Newcastle and Wigan)
10. Charlie Nicholas (Celtic, Arsenal and Scotland)

Weekend TV Preview: 22 - 24 January 2010

Friday 22nd January

19:30 SC Freiburg v Stuttgart, Bundesliga, ESPN
This bottom of the table Bundesliga clash heralds the start of a free weekend on ESPN. Basically, they don't have a Premier League fixture and the Milan Derby's on this weekend so the Mouse probably figured it may as well open the doors to non-subscribers. Just wipe your feet on the way out please.

Saturday 23rd January

12:00 Motherwell v St Mirren, Scottish Premier League, ESPN/HD
Of course if you're a Sky subscriber thinking how you can justify the extra tenner a month you'll be looking to convince yourself on how much added value having ESPN gives you. So if you really can't get enough Scottish football then consider that particular box well and truly ticked.

12:45 Preston North End v Chelsea, FA Cup 4th Round, ITV1
Meanwhile, ITV manfully plough on with their coverage of the father of all knockout trophies despite the fact that Manchester United and Liverpool are out. The 'Romance of the Cup' is one thing but it doesn't cut any ice with the advertisers, y'know.

17:15 Tottenham Hotspur v Leeds United, FA Cup Round 4, ITV1
Jermaine Beckford's not so desperate to leave Leeds that he's prepared to go to Newcastle. With the most highly valued shonky first touch in English football now committed to the rest of the season, Leeds travel to a Tottenham team anxious to make up for their cringe-worthy display at Anfield last Wednesday.

17:15 Sevilla v Almeria, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Listened to last week's Football Ramble who read out an e-mail from a young fella. He recalled a discussion he had with a mate while indulging in a few tinnies and watching La Liga before heading out for a Saturday night on the tiles. It occured to me that this is probably something of a ritual in many households up and down Binge Britain. I'm surprised that Sky don't advertise Spanish football to that market.

17:30 Borussia Dortmund v Hamburg, Bundesliga, ESPN
"Look Dear, it's German football. Isn't it great? Of course if we subscribed we'd get this every week..."Yes of course Dear you're quite right, it's not worth it."

19:00 Valladolid v Barcelona, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
They could intersperse CCTV footage of young men and women necking bottles of lager, squaring up to the Fuzz, vomiting in the streets and indulging in ham-fisted sexual acts in alleyways with clips of Lio Messi bamboozling some hapless full back...

19:45 Juventus v AS Roma, Serie A, ESPN
At the time of writing, Ferrara is still the Juve coach. Now he must face his predecessor Ranieri and their formidable Roma team. Few who know about Serie A fancy the home side to overhaul their visitors and get back into the Champions League positions. However, in times of great adversity, great clubs find great strength. Could be an emotional night.

21:00 Deportivo La Coruna v Athletic Bilbao, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
...Or Zlatan Ibrahimovic looking perplexed and slightly lost.

01:00 Independiente v Racing Club, Torneos de Verano, ESPN
Whoever thought we'd live so long that we'd find ourselves watching Argentine pre-season friendlies on UK TV. Hopefully this is a precursor to ESPN giving us coverage of the Clausura when it starts on 28th January.

Sunday 24th January

11:30 Ajax v AZ Alkmaar, Dutch Eredivisie, ESPN
With Twente and PSV charging off over the horizon, third place Ajax may have to console themselves with a Europa League spot next season. AZ have been a disappointment this season, perhaps exhausted from their excursions from the last campaign.

Falkirk v Dundee United, Scottish Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
The Dundee club find themselves only four points away from Celtic and will need to make short work of bottom club Falkirk to stay in touch.

13:30 Stoke City v Arsenal, FA Cup Round 4, ITV1
Wouldn't be too surprised to find a lot of money on a draw with Arsenal taking the replay. Stoke are tough to beat at home but were not terribly convincing last weekend against a pretty average Liverpool side. Arsenal could easily settle matters without any fuss.

14:00 Palermo v Fiorentina, Serie A, ESPN
By now the "Beckham is coming" hype will be getting positively shrill ahead of the big one tonight. Of course shrill by ESPN's standards if actually quite reserved compared to Sky who would have had "Countdown to Beckham" in Programme Pointers and Charlotte Jackson implying that she'll be very disappointed in us if we miss it. Ray Stubbs doesn't have the same effect to be frank.

15:30 St Johnstone v Celtic, Scottish Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
So assuming Dundee United have managed to dispatch Falkirk, the Bhoys will only be a point ahead of the third placed team. That pretty much amounts to pressure in the Old Firm. How will they cope?

15:45 Angola v Ghana, Quarter-final, Africa Cup of Nations, British Eurosport/HD
Essien light and missing match practice due to the withdrawal of Togo, Ghana are there for the taking. The passionate home crowd and exuberance of the Angolans promise a fascinating and dramatic match. Far more entertaining than...

16:00 Scunthorpe Utd v Manchester City, FA Cup Round 4, ITV1
I would love it if Robinho started this game. Love it! Sadly, this is a competition City want to win.

16:30 Hoffenheim v Bayer Leverkusen, Bundesliga, ESPN
The Hoff are rubbish against the top teams while league leaders Leverkusen are hoping to build on their good restart to the season. Hopefully these two teams will offer up a little more than the turgid 0-0 draw earlier in the season.

17:55 Getafe v Atletico Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
A local derby of sorts. Getafe are higher in the table than their visitors but are dropping. Atletico are finally recovering from their traumatic start to the season and are heading upwards.

19:00 Inter Milan v AC Milan, Serie A, ESPN
It's here! He's here! Beckham is back! Well he's been back for a while now but you know what I mean. The reverse fixture earlier this season proved to be Leonardo's nadir. Few expected him to be in the job beyond September. And yet Leo survives thanks in no small part to the revival of Ronaldinho. Despite that, this is still not a vintage Milan side but then again, this is not a vintage Serie A season. Victory for the Rossoneri will be sweet revenge and put them only three points behind Inter with a game in hand. If you only see one match this weekend...

19:15 Ivory Coast v Algeria, Africa Cup of Nations, British Eurosport/HD
We're still waiting to see the real Ivory Coast in this tournament while the Algerians, so far, have also only impressed once in the group stages. Perhaps the prospect of getting knocked out will galvanise both teams.

20:00 Real Madrid v Malaga, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
And for those who don't like Eurosport or think Italian football is rubbish then why not invite your mates round, crack open a few tinnies and watch a bit of Lager Liga before heading into town.

01:00 Boca Juniors v River Plate, Torneos de Verano, ESPN
A rare chance to see these two great rivals playing in an uber relaxed context.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Jeu du Jour Week 20: Don't mention The Big Three

I've made a decision. From now on, I'm not going to refer to Bordeaux, Lyon and Marseille as 'The Big Three'. It just ain't right anymore. Oh sure, Bordeaux are still looking every inch the champions they were at the end of last season, but as for the other two... forget it.

Lyon and Marseille, much like every other team in Ligue 1 (apart from Laurent Blanc's commanding band of cavaliers) can't helping dropping points every other game. That in itself wouldn't be so bad if they could actually beat Bordeaux every once in a while, but they can't even do that.

Last Sunday threw up an opportunity for Marseille to steal three points from Les Girondins at the Stade Chaban Delmas, but having only won there four times beforehand, Marseille wouldn't have been optimistic ahead of the game. Their last win at Bordeaux was back in 1977 and with Blanc's men going through a decidedly apt purple patch of late, a win was probably unlikely – especially when Marouane Chamakh put the home side 1-0 up just before half time.

Marseille offered little to suggest they were genuine title contenders this season and only a freak set of circumstances gave them a chance to share the points here. Bordeaux's keeper Cedric Carrasso went off injured early in the second half and less than a quarter of an hour later, Marc Planus was sent off for Bordeaux after a nasty looking challenge on Mamadou Niang. As it is, he shouldn't have been sent off as Niang wasn't the last man to beat, but even so, Marseille finally worked everything to their advantage with a goal nine minutes from the end by Benoit Cheyrou.

It was here that Didier Deschamps' side realised they could actually get the win and consequently through everything including l'évier de cuisine at Bordeaux in the dying stages of the game, but to no avail. The game ended 1-1 and with it Marseille remained a full eleven points behind their opponents in the title race.

Lyon, to their credit, actually won for a change last Saturday. Though not filling everyone with confidence, they earned a 2-0 victory at Nancy to make it five wins there on the trot. Cris and Maxime Gonalons got their names on the scoresheet, but only with eleven minutes left on the clock – by which time many Lyon fans were wondering why they'd bothered making the long journey up the east side of the country.

Anyway, Lille continued to make a myth of the B** T**** by picking up their seventh consecutive win as they beat PSG 3-1. Ludovic Obraniak, Lille's French born midfielder for Poland got the game underway with an excellent long-range shot after just five minutes and there could have been many more were it not for some decent goalkeeping from PSG's Apoula Edel, but Lille didn't extend their lead until the second half.

When they did, Obraniak turned provider for Florent Balmont to head in the second before Franck Beria made it three after 68 minutes and that was the game effectively sewn up. Amid heavy rain for much of the time, Mevlut Erding's consolation goal seven minutes from the end did little to change the mood for Antoine Kombouaré's team as Lille stayed second in the table.

Even Montpellier are showing they're serious about usurping Lyon and Marseille. Admittedly their form just before Christmas was a little shaky, but a narrow 1-0 win at home to Nice last weekend helped steady the nerves and kept last year's Ligue 2 runners-up in third place.

At the bottom, Grenoble's encouraging turning of the corner a few weeks back seems to have ended. They had a big six-pointer when Saint Etienne came to visit last Saturday, but the away team look to be thriving under new coach Christophe Galtier and the points went their way.

Arguably star of the show was Saint Etienne's 19-year-old striker Emmanuel Riviere who set up the first goal (scored by Loic Perrin) and then scored the second himself with a delightful chip. Just a minute later and with half time fast approaching, Grenoble were given a lifeline of sorts when Cedric Varrault put the ball in his own net, but nothing more was forthcoming from Grenoble. Even Danijel Ljuboja passed up the chance to equalise when he headed wide with an open goal staring at him in the last ten minutes so Grenoble remained rooted to the bottom as Saint Etienne climbed out of the relegation zone.

Ironically it was Le Mans – the only other team apart from Les Verts to lose their coach so far this season – who took their place when they lost 3-0 at home to Lorient, but that's all so 'last weekend.' This midweek has seen another round of games played and here's the long and the short of what's happened.

At the top, Bordeaux predictably handed out a sound beating as they won 3-1 at Grenoble, but they had to come from behind to do it. They were also aided by the sending off early in the second half of Grenoble's Jimmy Juan, a move that undeniably settled down the likes of Chamakh, Gouffran and Cavenaghi who all got their names on the scoresheet in the remaining period for the visitors.

Lyon took a similarly late approach to bagging three goals as they won 3-1 at Lorient last night. Pierre Ducasse opened the scoring for Lorient just before the half hour mark and it looked for all the world like they might be heading for a third straight win in the league, but Lisandro Lopez equalised after 63 minutes before Kim Kallstrom grabbed a brace in the last twenty.

To keep the theme going of 'coming back from behind', Marseille completed the sequence as they beat Le Mans 2-1 at home. Former Liverpool defender Antony Le Tallec put the relegation strugglers into an unlikely sixteen minutes in, but Mamadou Niang gave the home side something to cheer when he put Marseille back in front with the help of a second half penalty.

It was also a very good night for Montpellier. They won 1-0 at Lens, the team that pipped them to the Ligue 2 title last year, and on the strength of it went second in the table after Lille lost 2-1 to Sochaux.

At the other end of the table, Saint Etienne earned a creditable, if goalless draw at home to Rennes, while Boulogne continue to seek their first win in the league since early December after losing 2-0 at home to Valenciennes.

All of which means Bordeaux have a whopping eight-point lead at the top ahead of this season's real surprise package Montpellier. They in turn are two points ahead of Lille in third and three ahead of Marseille in fourth. Marseille are one of four teams tied on 36 points – the others being Lyon (5th), Monaco (6th) and Auxerre (7th) – but L'OM have a game in hand.

At the bottom, Grenoble have a grand total of seven points out of a possible 63. Above them are Boulogne on 15 points, Le Mans on 16 and Saint Etienne on 20 points.

And that's about all from this week's bumper round-up of Ligue 1. We'll have a more lingering look at all the important action next week but for now, it's à bientôt...

Full results and standings available here

Gold and Sullivan: Quietly optimistic...

Like me, many of you may have had a bad year last year. You might have lost your job, had health worries, had marital problems... It happens, but the key thing is to use the start of a new year as the impetus to move on and enjoy better fortunes. So it is for West Ham too.

During 2009, barely a week went by when we weren't being told about The Hammers' escalating financial deficit. Blah blah blah... we heard it over and over again, just as we ended up hearing the constant drone of stories about West Ham being open to potential takeover offers from mystery consortia.

Their 2009/10 season transpired into a long, slow, lingering death but despite the claims from football writers of all kinds that the Upton Park club should swallow their pride and listen to possible investors, the suits at West Ham denied there was no rush to do so.

Until the end of 2009, that is. With Gianfranco Zola having to field a team largely consisting of youngsters and, perish the thought, even Kieron Dyer week in, week out, something had to be done. The club's debts were growing by the day – an inescapable by-product of annoying everyone from Sheffield United and Millwall through to Alan Curbishley – and suddenly the need to operate on the patient became critical.

With that, The Hammers threw open its doors and welcomed anyone foolish enough to wander in with big ideas and even bigger bank balances. With 2010 not even a month old, David Gold and David Sullivan were chosen from a predictably short shortlist as the men to provide the cash transfusion that would keep the club alive. And everyone lived happily ever after, The End.

As a West Ham fan, I hope it is, and if I'm honest, I'm quietly optimistic that it will be. Why? Let me explain.

Firstly, we're all aware of the pornographic foundations on which Gold and Sullivan's collective and vast personal wealth was built. Yes it's a mildly amusing (if almost worn out) source of laughs for any football fan, and far be it for me to spoil your fun by suggesting we all stop making jokes about them now. I'd probably be giggling about them too if I were in your shoes, and probably secretly wishing I'd earned a vast personal fortune out of selling porn myself as well, I dare say.

Then there are the accusations of financial wrong-doings on the part of the Davids while holding the purse strings at Birmingham City. Despite the alleged suspicions of those that felt Gold and Sullivan had over-valued the club when the time came to sell up and move on, an inquiry on the part of the City of London Police proved that no such crime had taken place and the pair were exonerated. Personally speaking, that'll do for me.

All of which leaves us with two men who are, by all accounts, true West Ham fans that have had shares in the club before and wanted to take full control of the club a long time ago. That alone wouldn't cut much ice with the average Hammers fan, but from what we're led to believe, they're shrewd businessmen who are willing to sacrifice much of the money they have in the bank just to get West Ham back on a neutral financial footing – and that's before they've kicked off any plans to move the club in a forward direction again.

Aside from the small matter of clearing £110 million of debt, they're also making funds available to Zola to buy or loan some much-needed reinforcements for the team. God knows they're needed. Earlier this season you'd have heard me joking that West Ham's hopes ridiculously fell squarely on the inconsistent and at times baffling skills of Carlton Cole. I thought we could do better by aiming to acquire the goalscoring talents of someone far better. Needless to say I've been longing for Cole's return from injury for many weeks now, such are the dire straits my favourite club have been in, and no – I didn't think I'd ever here myself say it, before you ask.

Perhaps now the team will be strengthened by the influx of some better or at the very least 'available' newcomers. They'll have to be available and willing if Zola's to snap them up in the last dying days of the January transfer window. But why not clear out some dead-wood while they're at it too? Kieron Dyer has to go now. It's been tough for the poor lad, but he needs to go. Luis Boa Morte? Get out. Yes, that should do for a start...

Then there's the ambitious plans that Gullivan (hey, it worked for 'Jedward') have for relocating the club to the new Olympic Stadium in Stratford, post-2012. To some died-in-the-wool Hammers fans, it might seem like idle troublemaking to even think about turning one's back on Upton Park. Even West Ham legend Billy Bonds has been saying it'd be a shame, but even he's intelligent enough to realise that a move would be beneficial in the context of the game in the modern era.

At the moment, Upton Park sits cheek-by-jowl with houses and shops in a residential street in East London. Capable of accommodating 35,000 fans on match day, it can be very tricky to reach when the few transport links in the area are fit to bursting with home and away fans eager to see the action. Moving to a brand new stadium only two miles away in Stratford would see up to 55,000 reaching their destination – all generating extra revenue for the club as they make use of the wider choice of transport facilities, and no doubt swinging cats around to show how much extra space there is too.

Yes, Sullivan and Gold have got big plans which they'll carry out with quiet efficiency, I've no doubt. While at St. Andrews, they showed a propensity to stabilise Birmingham City while gradually increasing the value of the club through common-sense wheeler-dealing and resolutely supporting the manager. This is something they've said they'll do again and all from the standpoint of having secured only a 50% stake in West Ham.

And that's the final bit of shrewd business they've done. Rather than fork out for the full 100% (which, admittedly, they've got the first shout on should they ever change their minds), they've promised to offer other interested parties the chance to invest in the remaining 50%. That could see one of the other takeover bidders, Tony Fernandes, getting involved as well. Fernandes, head of the Lotus Formula 1 team and West Ham supporter, will surely find it hard to turn down a second bite of the cherry by adding his financial clout to an exciting project such as this.

So the saga is finally over. West Ham have been saved from potentially plummeting down the leagues thanks to the persistence of two men, much derided by many, but committed to saving the club they love.

Admittedly you won't find many West Ham fans dancing in the streets at the arrival of David Gold and David Sullivan, but give it time. I suspect they'll have a different opinion by the time this season's through.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Bundesbag Week 18: Dreaming of a warmer sun

Believe it or not, this season's Winter Break was a short one. Most years there is very little change from January when our lazy German friends finally deign to return from their training camps in the far east to play some football. But 2010 is a World Cup year and the DFB decreed that the beach towels would need to be rolled up early and everyone had to be back at work by mid-January. Bad for those players looking to top up their tans, good for the rest of us and Bayer Leverkusen who chose to stay in Germany.

And it is the Bayer club that our returning round-up begins with. Mindful of the number of false dawns daubed amateurishly on the horizon down the years, the Winter Champions were anxious to get the season off to a flyer and regain their momentum in what may prove to be a monumental season for them. Jupp Heynckes' team are perfectly poised to win the Bundesliga. Their opponents last Saturday were this season's surprise package Mainz at home. Just the sort of fixture that a nervous team can slip up against. Indeed, after 8 minutes the banana peel had been thrown down by the away team after Tim Hoogland put the 0-Fives a goal up.

Leverkusen didn't lose their bottle though and went 2-1 up with goals from Michal Kadlec and Tranquilo Barnetta. They extended their advantage thanks to a splendid goal by attacking midfielder Toni Kroos. Remember that name as Kroos is on loan from Bayern and is set to be a major star of the future. Nico Bungert struck again for the visitors proving that Mainz are no more pushovers now than they were in the Hinrunde. However, Leverkusen were not to be denied and Eren Derdiyok settled the nerves shortly thereafter. 4-2 was the final score and the Bayer club are up and running.

Not far behind are Bayern Munich who made short work of Hoffenheim on Friday. The Bavarians have rediscovered their shape and seem to have sorted out their back four. Holger Badstuber has improved greatly in the full back position while Martin DeMichelis and Daniel Van Buyten, while not the ideal centre half pairing, at least seem to know each other's names. In fact it was DeMichelis who opened the scoring with Miro Klose sealing the 2-0 win. Franck Ribery has to come back yet and if he and Arjen Robben can stay fit, they look set to tear up the Bundesliga along with Olic, Gomez, Muller and co.

Having said that, the Munich club are only in third place thanks to the dogged determination of Schalke who continue to notch up the wins despite a relatively inexperienced squad. One can only assume that their Svengali coach is giving them the strength of two men. Personally, I can't see them last the distance but what do I know? The Royal Blues were victorious over a poor Nurnberg side who sacked their manager Michael Oenning before Christmas. His replacement? Who else but the custodian of the finest pair of eyebrows in all of Germany. That's right, Dieter Hecking is back and as always, he's got his work cut out for him. Hurrah!

The chasing pack for the title appears to be emerging. Hamburg will be disappointed not to be a closer to the summit after beating Freiburg 2-0. Dortmund were magnificent at Koln where they went 2-0 up with two goals from centre half Mats Hummels (or Hummelles as the bumbling ESPN commentator called him). Unfortunately the 21 year old let the occasion get to him and Koln forced two highly very unlikely and very very late equalisers against their local rivals. With the Dortmund fans suddenly muted in the away section, all seemed lost. However, in true Koln fashion they conceded a last minute winner from Kevin Großkreutz. A talented player with an atrocious haircut. People have been imprisoned for less.

Elsewhere, Eintracht Frankfurt did the double over Werder Bremen with a messy but effective goal by Marco Russ. 'Gladbach need to be careful not to get sucked into a relegation scrap. They lost 2-1 at home to Bochum. This time last year, Wolfsburg began their epic run to the Championship. A similar feat looks unlikely after losing 3-1 to Stuttgart. And of course Hannover lost again, this time to Hertha.

Whoa whoa whoa wait wait wait back up a minute. Hertha? Won? That's right readers, Hertha Berlin who had only won once in the league so far this season have now won twice. And it was not just any win, mind. This was a 3-0 away win. Lukasz Piszcek, Rafael and 'Fanis Geikas were the lucky players to have their names etched into the fabric of Herta's tapestry of legends. It's worth pointing out that their previous win was also against Hannover so it could be a matter of the Berliners holding the Indian sign over their opponents. However, for the optimistic punter who enjoys a long shot this could be the start of the greatest comeback since Elvis donned the leather pants and wiggled his finger to the tune of "Hound Dog".

Hannover were wretched and it's hard to see them bouncing back from what must have been a soul destroying defeat. The board were furious and sacked their manager Andreas Bergmann. Former Schalke coach Mirko Slomka has been charged with trying to turn things around. He is their third manager of the season. The Bundesbag wishes him well.

That's it. Results and tables here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sound of Football Episode 23 - Everton good, Liverpool bad, Robinho worse

Join us for another edition of the Sound Of Football podcast.

In this week's episode we heap praise on the blue of Chelsea and Everton. We heap scorn on Man United and Liverpool before pondering the merits of backing a dark horse in the Africa Cup Of Nations.

You can listen to the podcast 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.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Midweek TV Preview: 18 - 21 January 2010

Monday 18 January

16.00 Angola v Algeria, Africa Cup of Nations Group A, British Eurosport/HD
It's wide open in Group A with all teams still in with a shout. Angola sit top of the group, unbeaten, and just need a draw to progess. Algeria must win to avoid an early exit - a result that would see the hosts sweating the result of...

16.00 Mali v Malawi, Africa Cup of Nations Group A, British Eurosport 2
Apart from the amazing last 20 minutes against Angola, Mali have disappointed. A win here should see them through though. For Malawi, a win will make sure they get to the next stage though a draw could be enough. In this competition, results between teams are taken into account before goal difference to settle group placings.

19.45 Newcastle v West Brom, Championship, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Newcastle's lead has been cut to two points as Forest's great run continues. The Baggies last three defeats have been in games against their serious promotion rivals (four if you include Palace!) Another loss here will see them drift nine points from the top.

Tuesday 19 January

15.45 Ghana v Burkina Faso, Africa Cup of Nations Group B, British Eurosport
If Burkina Faso manage to repeat their heroics from the first game in this group (0-0 with Ivory Coast) they'll go through to the quarter-finals. Having lost to Ivory Coast on Friday, Ghana have to win to progress.

19.45 Cardiff City v Bristol City, FA Cup 3rd Round Replay, S4C
A very tasty all Championship cup tie. The first game finished 1-1 after Gavin Williams got a last minute equaliser to cancel out Michael Chopra's opener for Cardiff. A cracking atmosphere from the two sets of fans should make the Welsh commentary easier to live with.

19.45 Rangers v Hamilton, Scottish Cup 4th Round Replay, Sky Sports 2/HD2
It's unlikely we'll see the same thrills and spills we saw in the 3-3 at Hamilton. There may well be six goals - maybe not so evenly shared though.

20.00 Manchester United v Manchester City, Carling Cup Semi-Final 1st Leg, Sky Sports 1/HD1
United have bigger fish but the mixture of youth and experience they once reserved for this competition is now their regular selection. City want this, but their defeat at Everton showed a side that looked unwilling or unable to dig in when they need to - not a good thing when you go to Old Trafford whatever United side you're facing.

Wednesday 20 January

16.00 Egypt v Benin, Africa Cup of Nations Group C, British Eurosport/HD
They may not be in the World Cup but Egypt don't look in the mood to let their grip on this competition loose any time soon. They're already through to the next stage and guaranteed top spot following their win over Nigeria.

16.00 Nigeria v Mozambique, Africa Cup of Nations Group C, British Eurosport 2
A draw will be enough for the Super Eagles, but their one goal win over Benin hasn't really convinced anyone they'll get much further than the quarter finals.

19.00 Milton Keynes Dons v Southampton, Johnstone's Paint Trophy Southern Final 1st Leg, Sky Sports 3
MK Dons look to regain the trophy they won back in 2008. On league form, there's nothing to separate these two - they've both earned 39 points so far in League 1, but of course the Saints started on -10 points. The second leg is on 16 February (ooh, that's Pancake Day!)

19.30 Aston Villa v Blackburn, Carling Cup Semi-Final 2nd Leg (1-0), BBC1
James Milner's first half goal gives Villa the advantage. Blackburn had a great result at the weekend whereas Villa did not, so this tie certainly isn't over yet. Just so you know, the away goals rule only comes into effect AFTER extra time - as Burnley found out last season.

19.45 Fiorentina v Lazio, Coppa Italia Quarter Final, ESPN
Lazio, the Cup holders, won 2-1 here at this stage of the competition two years ago. Back then the quarter finals (and the final) were two legged affairs - now only the semis are played over two legs.

20.00 Liverpool v Tottenham, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Will the real Tottenham please stand up... One of the biggest criticisms levelled at Tottenham and their Champions League aspirations has been their inability to go away to the Big Four clubs and win. The last time they managed a victory was against today's opponents back in the 93/94 season. Since then it's been no wins in 65 (SIXTY FIVE) attempts! Today, they not only have the opportunity to put that record behind them, they also have the chance to do the double over Liverpool for the first time in 23 years. Yes, this is exactly what I wrote a week and a half ago.

Thursday 21 January

16.00 Cameroon v Tunisia, Africa Cup of Nations, British Eurosport/HD
A very close group with everything still to play for. Despite losing to Gabon, a draw will be enough for Cameroon. Tunisia need the win.

16.00 Gabon v Zambia, Africa Cup of Nations, British Eurosport 2
As above, Gabon need only a draw to go through, but they'll want the win to finish top and avoid Egypt in their next game. Zambia can still go through with a win.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Jeu du Jour: Winter catch-up

So here we are again and before we go on, an apology.

Some of you will have noticed that our regular Jeu Du Jour articles suddenly stopped in mid-December for no apparent reason. In actual fact, there *was* a reason – namely that we had less time available during the Christmas period, and most of that was taken up producing our daily Advent Calendar posts. For that we're very sorry but if you'll forgive us, we're back now and ready to look at what happened while we were away.

Our foray into yuletide-related output caused us to miss three weeks worth of Ligue 1 action, and in that time Bordeaux cemented their position at the top of the table by winning all three of their games. Before going on to beat Lorient and Toulouse, they edged out Lyon 1-0 thanks to a late Marouane Chamakh goal. It was Lyon's fifth straight defeat at the time and things didn't get much better when they went on to draw 1-1 at Monaco and lose 2-1 at home to fellow title-chasers Montpellier.

So with Bordeaux leading the way at the top and Lyon slipping to sixth, the other member of the Big 3, Marseille, were struggling to find any consistency too. A 2-0 defeat of lowly Boulogne may have led to fans of Didier Deschamps' side thinking they'd win by a similar score against another struggling team, Saint Etienne, but instead a goalless draw was all they could muster.

Coming only four days after the sacking of Les Verts' coach Alain Perrin (remember him, Portsmouth fans?), the point was appreciated more by Saint Etienne than Marseille who ended their pre-season campaign with a 2-0 defeat against a resurgent Auxerre. It leaves L'OM fourth in the table behind 3rd-placed Montpellier (still doing remarkably well for a newly-promoted side) and Rudi Garcia's Lille who have charged up to second spot.

Lille, a top-10 team for as many years as anyone can care to remember, finished fifth last season and look set to match that after a decidedly below-par start to their campaign. Eleven goals scored and none conceded in their three pre-Christmas games (including four in an impressive win over Monaco) puts them unexpectedly higher in the table than many would have predicted.

At the other end, only Le Mans escaped the festive season with any real hope to cling onto. A change of coach brought about by the sacking of Paulo Duarte (replaced by Arnaud Cormier) just before we signed off for the year helped Le Mans get out of the relegation zone. A 2-1 win over Valenciennes and a 1-1 draw at home to Monaco was enough to make Saint Etienne finally drop into the bottom three to join Boulogne and Grenoble who all picked up just one point from a possible nine.

At the half-way stage, the bottom four are a full six points adrift of the teams directly above them and there's only six points covering Lens (14th) up to Marseille (4th). As we've already mentioned many a time this season, consistency is a key factor and with so many teams unable to string together more than a couple of wins at a time, we could be seeing a fair few changes in the table from now until May.

Elsewhere, in the Champions League, Bordeaux were an absolute revelation in topping their First Round group ahead of Juventus and Bayern Munich. Five wins and a draw from their six Group A matches helped them finish a full six points ahead of Bayern – the biggest winning margin of any team in one of the most difficult groups going. They now have an excellent chance of reaching the last eight as they prepare to meet Olympiakos in the first knockout round next month.

Lyon almost matched Bordeaux for heroics as they finished second in Group E behind Fiorentina and crucially ahead of Liverpool. A 2-1 win at Anfield was possibly their most important result in a decent opening campaign, but with Real Madrid now blocking their way to the latter stages, few would put money on Lyon to do so, especially given their recent poor form.

Of the three French teams involved in the Champions League, Marseille were the only ones not to progress from their group, but with Real and Milan to deal with in Group C, it's no wonder the challenge proved to be too difficult to overcome. A 1-1 draw in Milan and a win double over Zurich are about as much as Marseille had to look back on this time around.

That said, Marseille do still have a Europa League contest to take part in, and they'll be up against Copenhagen in the Round of 32 in February. Joining them will be Lille who finished second in Group B in the previous round behind Valencia to set up a two-legged tie against Fenerbahce. Toulouse, sadly, couldn't maintain their league form of last season and crashed out of Group J behind reigning champions Shakhtar Donetsk and Club Brugge.

As the second half of the season gets underway, we'll be bringing you the latest news from the closing stages of the Coupe de France and the Coupe de la Ligue along with the usual Ligue 1 happenings too, but for now, consider yourself back up to date with all things French. At least football-wise, that is.

Full Ligue 1 results and standings here.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Weekend TV Preview: 15 - 17 January 2010

Friday 15th January

18:15 Ivory Coast v Ghana, Africa Cup of Nations, British Eurosport/HD
Ghana finally get their ACN campaign underway after the sad events leading up to what would have been their first match against Togo. A win for the Black Stars would put them in the box seat to reach the next round after Ivory Coast's draw against Burkina Faso, but they have their injury worries including Michael Essien who's only 50-50 for this match.

19:30 Bayern Munich v Hoffenheim, Bundesliga, ESPN
Nearly a month of waiting is finally over... and now at last the Bundesliga's back back BACK! Bayern were on a run of six straight wins in all competitions before the winter break intervened while the Hoff were all over the place and looking frankly beatable. Expect the Bayern fans to roar their side to victory and, consequently, top spot in the league (albeit only until tomorrow's games go ahead).

Saturday 16th January

12:00 Hamilton Academical v Rangers, Scottish Premier League, ESPN/HD
An interesting one to start the week, given that the Accies almost dumped Rangers out of the Scottish Cup last weekend. 2-0 down after half an hour, they went in at half time 3-2 up only to concede an equaliser in the second half. More of the same would be an ideal start to our Weekend TV selection.

12:45 Stoke City v Liverpool, Barclay's Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD 1
Liverpool have only beaten Stoke once in the three games they've played against each other since The Potters returned to the top flight. Gerrard, Benayoun, Babel and Torres will all missing for this one, and even worse, Rafa Benitez probably won't be.

15:45 Nigeria v Benin, Africa Cup of Nations, British Eurosport/HD
It's hard to know which teams are treating this competition as merely a series of glorified friendlies ahead of the World Cup this summer. Nigeria's 3-1 thumping at the hands of Egypt on Tuesday could be put down to just such a reason but here they'll have an altogether easier game against a country used to naturalising players ironically born across the border in Nigeria.

16:45 Everton v Manchester City, Barclays Premier League, ESPN/HD
Interesting times for City. Finally into the top four in the table and on the back of a convincing 4-1 demolition of Blackburn in midweek, they've got Tevez on form, Vieira a possibility to make his first start in a sky blue shirt but probably no Adebayor after the shocking events in Cabinda last week. A win over The Toffees will do Mancini's growing reputation for consistency no harm at all.

18:15 Egypt v Mozambique, Africa Cup of Nations, British Eurosport/HD
Mozambique showed plenty of fight in their first match against Benin earlier in the week. 2-0 down after 20 minutes, they eventually ground out a 2-2 draw. When they go behind against Egypt here (as they surely will), it'll be for keeps, rest assured.

18:55 Athletic Bilbao v Real Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Bilbao haven't beaten Real for four years and despite climbing comfortably into the top half of the Primera Division table, they remain inconsistent. We'll go for a narrow win to Manuel Pellegrini's men.

21:00 Barcelona v Sevilla, La Liga, Sky Sports 2/HD2
These two face each other for the third time in 11 days after Sevilla knocked Barcelona out of the Copa Del Rey on the away goals rule this week. Both managers had their strongest teams out on Wednesday and that looks set to be the case here. Should be a great match.

Sunday 17th January

13:30 Aston Villa v West Ham United, Barclays Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
West Ham visit Villa with no first-choice strikers available and only one win to savour from their last 12 visits to Villa Park. That takeover can't come soon enough for Hammers fans.

16:00 Gabon v Tunisia, Africa Cup of Nations, British Eurosport/HD
Gabon lead Group D after their unlikely 1-0 win over Cameroon on Wednesday. Coach Alain Giresse continues to work his magic for the co-hosts of the next tournament and a win here against the Tunisians will see them through to the next round for sure.

16:00 Bolton Wanderers v Arsenal, Barclays Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
With Coyle now installed, will Arsenal be made to look a little... sterile? Write your own gags for this one...

16:30 Cologne v Borussia Dortmund, Bundesliga, ESPN/HD
With the Rückrunde underway, BVB will resume their attempt to keep up the pace with the leading pack. Their form directly before Christmas coupled with weakening opponents here should ensure they do for the foreseeable future.

18:15 Cameroon v Zambia, Africa Cup of Nations, British Eurosport/HD
Cameroon were all over Gabon a few days ago but couldn't find a way past excellent Gabonese goalkeeper Didier Ovono. They should have better luck against a Zambian side who'll be fearing a repeat of the 5-1 mauling they got from Cameroon back in the 2008 competition.

19:00 Atletico Madrid v Sporting Gijon, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
The first chance for new Birmingham City signing Michel to see his old team-mates up against an improving Atletico Madrid side.

20:00 Valencia v Villarreal, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
A fixture that traditionally throws up lots of goals. Both teams were knocked out of the Copa Del Rey this week, so expect a considered return to "concentrating on the League" on the part of these two.

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #147

Don't call me 'Shorty'...
The 14 Tallest Goalkeepers In The Premier League*

1. Asmir Begovic (Portsmouth) 1.98m
2. Marton Fulop (Sunderland) 1.98m
3. Diego Penny (Burnley) 1.97m
4. Carlo Nash (Everton) 1.97m
5. Pascal Zuberbuhler (Fulham) 1.97m
6. Wojciech Szczęsny (Arsenal) 1.96m
7. Colin Doyle (Birmingham City) 1.96m
8. Petr Cech (Chelsea) 1.96m
9. John Ruddy (Everton) 1.96m
10. Matt Duke (Hull City) 1.96m
11. Stuart Taylor (Manchester City) 1.96m
12. David James (Portsmouth) 1.96m
13. Thomas Sorensen (Stoke City) 1.96m
14. Wayne Hennessey (Wolves) 1.96m

* as at January 15 2010.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

32 For 2010: Serbia

You can't keep a good footballing nation down and while the state of Yugoslavia has been consigned to the world of dusty old Len Deighton novels, the nations that formed that Eastern Bloc political contrivance continue to produce good (if not great) footballing teams.

In the years that followed the brutal war in the Balkans which resulted in the break up of Yugoslavia, it was Croatia who kept the footballing flame alive internationally. They seemed to have carried on where the old Yugoslav team that was banished from the 1992 European Championships (a competition that they could definitely have won) left off. However, in recent years, other nations have emerged from the ashes to form competitive squads. Montenegro are no pushovers, Bosnia-Herzegovina's day will surely come in 2012 and of course, Serbia who competed as Yugoslavia until 2003 before changing to Serbia and Montenegro. Under this title they played in the 2006 World Cup. Probably their only meaningful contribution to that competition was on the receiving end of one of the greatest goals in World Cup history, a 24-pass move which resulted in Esteban Cambiasso's strike.

Only weeks beforehand the people of Montenegro voted to declare themselves an independent nation. Consequently, the final elements of the old Yugoslavian football entity were separated and Serbia continued alone.

The "new" team's first challenge was to qualify for Euro 2008. In other qualifying groups the 24 points they accumulated might have been enough to book themselves passage to Austria and Switzerland. Unfortunately for them, it was not enough to finish ahead of Poland and Portugal despite only losing twice in the qualifying campaign.

The Serbs were not to be denied a place in South Africa however. In 2008, the national federation sacked head coach Miroslav Dukic and appointed the legendary Raddy Antic. The former Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid coach enjoyed a glittering club career in Spain and was at the ideal stage of his life to take over his country's national team. Antic inherited a disunited squad and quickly set about restoring some harmony. Serbia won seven of their 10 qualifying games. They only lost twice and the second defeat was the final game of the campaign after they had secured qualification. Antic's men took full advantage of a weak French team to top Group 7 and spare themselves the hassle of the play-offs.

Top players in the squad include Manchester United defender Nemania Vidic and Inter's Dejan Stankovic. However, Serbia's player of the year is the CSKA Moskow midfielder Milos Krasić who has played in all ten qualifiers. Krasic is a tricky right winger with a penchant for neat footwork and giving fullbacks the slip. He score two goals in qualifying and created seven assists.

The top goal scorer in qualification was Standard Liege's striker Milan Jovanovic. Bundesliga fans will know Nevan Subotic, the talented centre half from Dortmund, and Marko Pantelic is one of the many reasons why Hertha Berlin are so awful since he left at the end of last season to go to Ajax.

Looking ahead to the World Cup finals, Serbia were drawn in Group D with Germany, Ghana and Australia. Conceivably every team in that group will believe that they can qualify for Stage 2 so it should be a pretty tight group. Should the Serbs finish behind Germany (the expected group winners) they can look forward to a Second Round clash with the winners of England and USA's group.

The future of Serbian football is a matter of concern. Domestically, there are claims of corruption and any lack of investment in youth development could spell trouble for their future prospects on the international stage. However, the Under-19s reached the semis of the 2009 European Championships losing to the winners and hosts, Ukraine ,which suggests that there's some grounds for optimism.

The region formerly known as Yugoslavia has a fine tradition of producing some magnificent footballers and football teams. Let's hope that tradition continues.

Sound of Football Episode 22 - Premier League and the Africa Cup of Nations

This week's Sound of Football is a bumper edition featuring an examination of Birmingham City's unbeaten run, an assessment of Arsenal's championship credentials and an assassination of modern punditry.

We then turn our attentions to Angola and the opening games in the Africa Cup of Nations.

You can listen to the podcast 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.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Midweek TV Preview: 11 - 14 January 2010

Monday 11th January

13:30 Malawi v Algeria, Africa Cup of Nations, British Eurosport/British Eurosport HD
Despite the bloody intervention by The Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda there is still a football tournament to be played. Few people are better equipped to move on after tragedy than the war torn populous of Angola. So while the recriminations and hand wringing is left to the politicians, it's down to the players to get get on with the football.

16:00 Ivory Coast v Burkina Faso, Africa Cup of Nations, British Eurosport/British Eurosport HD
The clock is ticking for Cote D'Ivoire's golden generation. Despite all their talent they remain potless and the longer they leave it, the older they get. Incentive enough then for Drogba and co. to make short work of Burkina Faso and start planning for their next game against the mighty Ghana.

18:15 Ghana v Togo, Africa Cup of Nations, British Eurosport/British Eurosport HD
The latest reports suggest that the Togolese squad intend to return home in accordance with the wishes of their government. It's possible that the situation may yet change but unfortunately, this fixture remains in doubt.

19:30 Manchester City v Blackburn Rovers, Barclay's Premier League, ESPN/ESPN HD
Presumably the swanky new City Of Manchester Stadium has the facilities to cope with Blighty's Scandanavian winter. The question is whether the surrounding infrastructure can cope with all the footfalls on the way to the ground. At least the Rovers fans don't have that far to travel if the game gets called off at the last minute.

19:45 Cliftonville v Glentoran, Irish League, Sky Sports 1
Not sure if the weather will be any better in Belfast for this city derby. Cliftonville are on a great run and only two points behind the visitors.

Tuesday 12th January

15:45 Egypt v Nigeria, Africa Cup of Nations, British Eurosport/British Eurosport HD

The Egyptians are many people's picks to win the Cup for the third time in a row. The champions are not going to the World Cup and would see this as an opportunity to redress the balance. Nigeria are off to SA although no one is quite sure how. Expect the Egyptians to vent some serious frustration on the west Africans.

18:15 Mozambique v Benin, Africa Cup of Nations, British Eurosport/British Eurosport HD

The Benin squad is made up of a sizable chunk of Nigerian ringers and are hoping that their extra height will cause a few surprises in Group C. Meanwhile, Mozambique are back in the tournament for the first time in ten years.

19:45 Coventry City v Portsmouth, FA Cup Third Round Replay, ITV4
Some might say that Coventry were favorites to win this match against the African-shorn Pompey. However the Sky Blues are still pretty ordinary so it would be wise to put your money on a shoot-out after extra time. Better still, keep your cash in your pocket.

20:00 AS Roma v Triestina, Coppa Italia, ESPN
Serie B struggler Triestina travel to the Eternal City in the hope of working some cup magic. Not sure the Coppa Itailia really works like that though.

Wednesday 13th January

15:00 AC Milan v Novara, Coppa Italia, ESPN
Novara are top of Lega Pro 1 which is Italy's third division and make the relatively short trip to Milano to take on what will presumably be a Milan team made up of second string players and first teamers who have pissed off Leonardo for whatever reason.

15:45 Cameroon v Gabon, Africa Cup of Nations, British Eurosport / British Eurosport HD

Group D gets underway with a Cameroon side revitalised under Pasul Le Guen. Gabon were pipped to a World Cup place by their opponents and will be looking fpor some payback. In addition, the Gabonese are co-hosts of the tournament in 2012 and will be eager to make an impact.

17:30 Genoa v Catania, Coppa Italia, ESPN
An all-Serie A clash which could be a feistier affair. Genoa will surely fancy their chances of winning some silverware.

18:15 Zambia v Tunisia, Africa Cup of Nations, British Eurosport/British Eurosport HD
Perennial group stage fodder meet bad travellers. Tunisia's record outside North Africa is not great but even that should not stop them from feeling confident about a Zambian team who have made an art of not making it to the quarter-finals.

19:45 Juventus v Napoli, Coppa Italia, ESPN
If this were a league fixture I'd be all over this one. But it's a cup match and both teams have bigger fish to fry. Besides, there are more interesting games on tonight in Benguela and on Merseyside...

19:45 Liverpool v Reading, FA Cup, ITV1
...where you sense that the slightest hiccup could send Liverpool into a downward spiral. Fortunately for them, Reading are pretty awful and will need to draw on hitherto unknown resources to pull off a shock. That is not to say that it won't happen but if it did, Royals season ticket holders would have every right to ask why they can't play like that a little more often.

21:00 Sevilla v Barcelona, Copa Del Rey - Round 5, Sky Sports 2
Two great teams clash in the Spanish Cup. May make for an interesting postscript to the evening's fare.

Thursday 14th January

15:45 Mali v Algeria, Africa Cup of Nations, British Eurosport/British Eurosport HD
It has been suggested that the Algerians are fixated on the England World Cup game and will be only half interested in the Africa Cup Of Nations. If true, they could be easy pickings for the competition's dark horses.

18:15 Angola v Malawi, Africa Cup of Nations, British Eurosport/British Eurosport HD
The Black Antelopes may have the home advantage but will have all the pressure to boot. Malawi are only occasional visitors to this competition so a home win, albeit a nervous one, is on the cards.

20:00 Blackburn v Aston Villa, Carling Cup, Sky Sports 1/HD1
The first leg of the "other" semi-final gets underway on a Thursday for the benefit of the TV schedulers. A lot at stake here with entertainment guaranteed over the course of the two legs.


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