Friday, February 26, 2010

Weekend TV Preview: 26 - 28 February 2010

Friday 26th February

19:30 Schalke v Borussia Dortmund, Bundesliga, ESPN/HD
These two teams have a bit of previous following their last meeting in September. On that occasion, Schalke goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was ajudged to have elbowed Borussia Dortmund's Kevin Grosskreutz, and although video evidence eventually put Neuer in the clear, it was too late to stop a nasty exchange of words between both sides that went on for some time. Expect this Ruhr Derby to have a bit more edge than usual.

Saturday 27th February

12:00 Aberdeen v Hearts, SPL, ESPN/ HD
Aberdeen's last win in any competition was one month ago, and that was a 3-0 victory at Tynecastle. They could do with another win of that sort to get them closer to Hearts who are just above them in the SPL middle order.

12:45 Chelsea v Man City, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Many people will have their eyes on Terry and Bridge during this game, but Mancini's primary concern will be how to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge without Adebayor (suspended), Bellamy (struggling for fitness) and Tevez (jet-lagged, if he plays at all). Ancelotti's men will be all out to exact revenge after their defeat to Inter midweek, so expect The Blues to have the upper hand.

17:30 Stoke City v Arsenal, Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
The last time these two teams met, Stoke knocked Arsenal out of the FA Cup - a reason for Wenger to push all the harder for the three points in this match (as if he needed one). Stoke are unbeaten in eleven games, however - tangible proof of the great work Tony Pullis is doing at the Britannia this season.

17:30 Bayer Leverkusen v Cologne, Bundesliga, ESPN/HD
And still Leverkusen hang onto top spot in the face of some considerable pressure from Bayern. This week, however, some breathing space could be afforded as they host Cologne in what should be a one-sided affair. Cologne were walloped 5-1 by Stuttgart last weekend to extend their winless run to four games, one of which was a defeat in the DFB Pokal to 2.Bundesliga side Augsburg.

19:00 Tenerife v Real Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports 4
Should be a routine win for Real, but they'll be looking to Kaka to show a bit more commitment in this match. He's been showing all the signs of a Galactico that would rather be playing elsewhere lately, the repercussions of which will no doubt be studied intently by many an onlooker over the coming weeks.

19:45 Lazio v Fiorentina, Serie A, ESPN
Both teams have notched up the princely sum of one win in their last seven league games. Needless to say this has all the hallmarks of being an absolute classic [IRONY].

21:00 Barcelona v Malaga, La Liga, Sky Sports 4
The gap remains just two points between Barca and second-placed Real. The question is 'where's Thierry Henry'? He's hardly figured in his team's recent games and it looks to us like Guardiola's giving up on the former Arsenal striker. All of which will probably be inconsequential in the context of this match which Malaga will surely lose.

Sunday 28th February

12:30 Rangers v Celtic, SPL, Sky Sports 1/HD1
A win for Rangers in this match will all but see off any serious threat to their title ambitions. A win for Celtic, on the other hand, will enable Tony Mowbray to keep his job for a few more weeks.

13:00 Tottenham Hotspur v Everton, Premier League, ESPN/HD
Strangely the one thing standing in the way of Tottenham winning this weekend won't be Everton avenging their exit from the Europa League last night but a vomiting bug which has affected 18 people at the Spurs training ground. So far (player-wise) only Wilson Palacios and Vedran Corluka have been struck down by the virus, but with Defoe injured too, this could be altogether easier for Everton than they might have at first thought.

15:00 Aston Villa v Man Utd, Carling Cup Final, Sky Sports 1/HD1 and BBC1/HD
Aston Villa return to the League Cup Final for the first time since 1996 and looking like a team that genuinely want to win it. United are back again having beaten Spurs on penalties after a goalless draw last year in what was arguably one of the least interesting Wembley finals on record. Let's hope for better fare this year.

16:30 Bayern Munich v Hamburg, Bundesliga, ESPN/HD
Ribery should be back for Bayern, Van Nistelrooy should return for Hamburg. Arguably the big game of the Bundesliga weekend and a real six-pointer for both sides as they push for the title.

18:00 Sevilla v Athletic Bilbao, La Liga, Sky Sports 3/HD3
A north-v-south battle between two teams in the top seven. Bilbao's hearty run in the Europa League came to an end this week when they lost 5-1 on aggregate to Anderlecht. Quite what that would have taken out of them prior to this match remains to be seen, but on paper it could go either way.

19:45 Juventus v Palermo, Serie A, ESPN
Just one point separates these two teams and very little else, apart from Palermo's slightly suspect away form. Home win.

20:00 Atletico Madrid v Valencia, La Liga, Sky Sports 3/HD3
Atletico's continued efforts to replicate their fine Europa League form in the Primera Dvision carry on against a Valencia side that have only lost one of their last nine in the league. Best of luck, Atletico.

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #153

CurioUSly named
14 Defunct American Soccer Teams With Interesting Or Amusing Names

1. Bethlehem Hungarian
2. Bricklayers and Masons FC
3. Chattanooga Express
4. El Paso/Juarez Gamecocks
5. Hawaii Tsunami
6. Holley Carburetor FC
7. Indiana Flooring
8. New Brunswick Hungarian Americans
9. Ohio Xoggz
10. Permian Basin Shooting Stars
11. Philadelphia Ukrainians
12. San Diego Top Guns
13. San Jose Frogs
14. Syracuse Salty Dogs

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Jeu du Jour Week 25: While the cat's away...

Those jolly nice people at the LFP gave Bordeaux last weekend off to give them more time to prepare for their Champions League match against Olympiakos last night. It was a generous act which seemed to benefit almost everybody. Bordeaux won 1-0 at Olympiakos, Auxerre (the team they due to play) had a rare chance to get some R&R, and Lille, Lyon and Marseille were given the chance to put some pressure on the leaders, which they duly did.

Montpellier, sadly, had to rip-up their letter of hearty gratitude to the LFP when they were beaten 1-0 by Saint Etienne. Had they won, they'd have gone level with Bordeaux on points at the top of the table - instead, the relegation strugglers brought an end to Montpellier's run of six consecutive games unbeaten and gave their own efforts to remain in Ligue 1 a leg up. Les Verts are now six points clear of the drop, thanks in no small part to Emmanuele Riviere's fourth goal of the season which takes them up to 16th place.

Rene Girard's side will rue their rare mistake as the chasing pack all picked up wins in their respective matches. Lille left it late to beat Rennes 2-1 but nonetheless drew to within a point of Montpellier. One negative note for them, however, was the inury to top scorer Gervinho which could yet undermine the excellent progress they've made so far.

Lyon appear to have finally clicked back into winning ways. They're now unbeaten in six league games going back to mid-January, their latest being a comprehensive 4-0 over the abject Sochaux. Michel Bastos boosted his tally for the season by grabbing a hat-trick while Lisandro Lopez got the fourth goal in the last ten minutes. They now face three games against relegation strugglers before a trip to Marseille in late March, so expect more wins in the immediate future.

Speaking of Marseille, Mamadou Niang proved that anything Bastos can do, he can do just as well after he also scored three in his team's 3-1 win over Nancy. Not only are Marseille now breathing down the neck of Montpellier, but they've still got that ever-present game in hand to come too. Like Lyon, they also have some relatively easy (if not downright winable) games coming up which Bordeaux won't want to be made aware of.

Not so long ago, Monaco were making a belated surge up the table and giving the top teams something to think about, but that's all ancient history now following their 3-0 defeat against Lens on Saturday. It was the principality's third consecutive defeat in the league and sees them drop to 7th place having played a game more than Auxerre and Marseille directly above them. Lens, meanwhile, rise three places up the table to put some daylight between themselves and the relegation zone.

In other news, there were 1-0 wins a-plenty among those teams we've yet to mention. PSG got their first league win in three when they beat Toulouse 1-0 at home. Valenciennes climbed three places to 8th with a 1-0 over bottom club Grenoble, while fellow bottom-dwellers Le Mans picked up only their fifth win of the season by beating Boulogne by the same scoreline. Even Nice gave their relegation battle a shot in the arm with a 1-0 win over an inconsistent Lorient side.

Well that's just about all for Jeu Du Jour for this week, except to say that the French League Cup Final takes place on March 27th between Marseille and Bordeaux, and we'll be telling you who got their hands on that Holy Grail-shaped trophy nearer the time. For now though, it's à bientôt...

Full results and standings available here

Bundesbag Week 23 - Quadrophenia

I wonder, when Stuttgart striker Cacau sat down on Saturday morning for his bowl of Cheerios if he realised that he was about to triple his Bundesliga goal tally for the season? The naturalised Brazilian German international had scored a grim total of two goals up to the weekend and couldn't have conceived that by Saturday afternoon his total would be up to six after scoring four goals in Koln.

Cacau's first strike was from a perfect cross from Timo Gebhart. His second a long range thunderbolt. Number three was a less convincing bundle over the line at close range and the fourth was a shot from just in side the penalty area. His efforts contributed to a 5-1 pasting of Koln and acted as the perfect preparation for Stuttgart's epic encounter with Barcelona in the Champions League where Geghart and Cacau combined once again to earn their team a creditable draw that could so easily have been more.

The Red and Whites continue to climb the Bundesliga table and are now officially in mid table on thirty one points, just 9 points off a Europa League spot (it's a glass half full week). However, you didn't come here to read about some mediocre Bundesliga club did you? You want to know what's going on at the top. Well your going to find out anyway because this was the weekend where Bayer Leverkusen may have jumped the shark.

The weekend started well for the leaders after the news came in that the Bavarian derby had ended in an unlikely draw between Nurnberg and Bayern Munich. Thomas Muller put Bayern in the lead in the first half but his team mates (minus Franck Ribery) couldn't press home their advantage. In the second half, Nurnberg responded with an equaliser from 19 year old Ilkay Gundogan. The result left the door wide open for Bayer to take a two point lead at the top, a relative chasm in the scheme of things. The only problem was that they had to win at the Weserstadion, home of Werder Bremen and they almost managed it too.

The first two goals were down to goalkeeping errors. Tim Wiese's despairing dive at Eren Derdyok's free kick was so late, it could have been attributed to a points failure. This was nothing compared to Leverkusen keeper Rene Adler's howler for the Bremen equaliser. Again, this was from a free kick from Naldo which was comically spilled by the German international for Claudio Pizzaro to pounce on the loose ball and score.

Leverkusen regained the lead on 57 minutes with a glorious long range swinger from Toni Kroos and from there the rear guard action commenced. Bremen pushed the visitors further back until finally, in the 94th minute, Per Mertesaker who had made his way into the six yard in typically leisurely fashion met a cross with his head and ruined Leverkusen's day.

After the game Bayer coach Jupp Heynkes said he wasn't that fussed about the result. Let's hope for his sake that this is true. To the objective eye it's hard not to imagine that his young squad could be knocked back a touch after failing to press home their advantage.

Elsewhere there were two goal less draws to tell you about: Mainz drew a blank against Bochum as did Hamburg against Frankfurt. There was more than an element of good fortune in Borussia Monchengladbach's two goals against Hoffenheim so nobody felt too bad for them when the Hoff clawed their way back to a 2-2 draw. Hertha looked anything but the bottom club as they dismantled a poor Freiburg team 3-0. Schalke's challenge to the title took a beating after two magnificent goals from Grafite as Wolfsburg stuck it to their old manager Felix Magath.

Finally, the demise of Hannover 96 takes on a more tragic narrative after they were thumped 4-1 at Borussia Dortmund. The team shirts still sport the commemorative Number 1 on the from in honour of Robert Enke. At the risk of sounding disrespectful, I wonder if it's time to remove them in the hope that this will represent a moving on of sorts. One can't help but feel the the squad is still burdened by grief and that some sort of change, however symbolic, maybe what they need.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sound of Football Episode 28 - Premier League

This week, we look at the wonderful and exciting world of the English Premier League.

Will Chelsea keep their challenge together in the face of their "well documented off field problems"? Will Manchester United run out of steam? Can Arsenal take advantage of their moderately favourable run in to snatch the title?

All of these questions and stacks more will be discussed in this week's Sound Of Football Podcast.

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, February 22, 2010

Midweek TV Previews 22 - 25 February 2010

Monday 22nd February

19:45 Rotherham United v Shrewsbury, League Two, Sky Sports 1/HD1

The Don Valley Stadium may not provide the most glamorous surroundings to kick off what should be a fantastic week of football but Sky have picked a well matched fixture for their rare trip to the fourth division. Rotherham are a point ahead of The Shrews in the Play-Off Zone and both teams may encounter each other once again in the post season.

Tuesday 23rd February

11:00 Bunyodkor v Al Ittihad, AFC Champions League, British Eurosport 2

When I was out of work last year I'd have been all over this one. Bunyodkor are managed by Big Phil Scolari and can count the legendary Rivaldo in their squad. Their visitors are from Saudi Arabia. This should be an intriguing encounter and we look forward to what we hope will be more matches from the Asian Champions League on Eurosport.

17:00 Benfica v Hertha Berlin, UEFA Europa League, ESPN
Readers of the Bundesbag will know that Hertha are almost cut adrift at the bottom of the Bundesliga. On paper this should be a home win and see Benfica though to the next round. But the Berliners are a different team in this competition and will fancy 'Fanis Geikas to cancel out the Portuguese club's away goal.

19:45 Stuttgart v Barcelona, UEFA Champions League Last 16 1st Leg, Sky Sports 2/HD2
For those of us who don't have access to Sky's interactive service, this staggering of the knock out stages of the Champions League is a godsend. This fixture would amost certainly been relegated to the red button and it is one of the more intriguing fixtures. Stuttgart are rejuvenated under new coach Christian Gross and Barca are struggling with injuries. Definite upset potential here.

19:45 Olympiakos v Bordeaux, UEFA Champions League Last 16 1st Leg, Sky Sports 3/HD3
Time for a Greek side to break through in the Champions League? Bordeaux's form has been patchy in both Ligue and Coupe so the chance is there for Olympiakos to take a hefty lead to France in a fortnight.

Wednesday 24th February

17:30 Fiorentina v AC Milan, Serie A, ESPN/ESPN HD

Bonus Serie A for those of you who can make it back from work in time. Milan's shortcomings were cruelly exposed by Wayne Rooney last week but should be more comfortable on domestic ground against an inconsistent La Viola.

17:30 CSKA Moscow v Sevilla, UEFA Champions League Last 16 1st Leg, Sky Sports 1 / HD1

Maintaining form during the close season is often a problem for the European teams who play during the Summer and Sevilla are among one of the best teams on the continent. Having said that the start of the Russian season is just around the corner so the Muscovites should be in good shape if a little ring rusty.

19:45 Inter Milan v Chelsea, UEFA Champions League Last 16 1st Leg, ITV1/ITV HD
Ancelloti returns to the San Siro albeit to face the other lot and Jose welcomes his old comrades. Both teams are top of their respective tables and both are desperate to win the Champions League. A fascinating encounter awaits whoever chooses to watch. I won't be one of them on account of Palace playing Villa in the Cup. A game you can watch live on the FA's website.

Thursday 25th February

18:00 Unirea v Liverpool, UEFA Europa League, ESPN

The first leg was screened on Five but in view of UEFA's staggered schedule the second leg clashes with Home And Away and we can't upset Alf now, can we? But the fifth channel's loss is ESPN's gain as this delicately poised tie goes to Romania. One question - what happens if there's extra time and penalties. Surely that will mean we'll miss the start on the 8:05 kick-offs.

18:00 Shakhtar Donetsk v Fulham, UEFA Europa League, ITV4
If this match measures up to the first leg then we're in for a treat. Shakhtar were awesome in patches and will be looking to their playmaker Illsino to work his mojo. Fulham have the lead thanks to a brilliant strike from Zamora but have to contend with an away goal.

20:05 Werder Bremen v FC Twente, UEFA Europa League, ESPN
Good choice! Twente have a 1-0 lead which could easily be wiped out by the goal crazy Bremen. However, the German's liberal approach to defending will not guarantee them success.

20:05 TBC, UEFA Europa League, ITV4
Presumably this will be the Juve-Ajax game. Personally I think they should go for Salzburg v Liege which stands at 2-2 after Liege fought back from 2-0 down.

20:05 Sporting Lisbon v Everton, UEFA Europa League, Five
So Five have lumped for the other Merseyside club. Everton are the hottest ticket in the Premier League right now so this is most definitely the tie of the night amongst some pretty stuff competition. Who said the Europa League was rubbish?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Weekend TV Preview: 20 - 21 February 2010

First off, an apology for those of you that have been patiently waiting for our weekend telly guide. We hope the extra wait won't spoil your appetite for some decent football on the box...

Saturday 20th February

17:30 Portsmouth v Stoke City, Premier League, ESPN / ESPN HD
Pompey cheekily asked if they could sell some of their players after the transfer window had shut this week. Unlike DFS, the Premier League's sale period doesn't go on forever, and therein lies Portsmouth's abnormally detached view of reality. Quite what possesses Jamie O'Hara to bust a gut for them is beyond us.

17:00 Barcelona v Racing Santander, La Liga, Sky Sports 4
Barcelona were handed their first defeat of the season last week against Atletico Madrid (of all people) and with it their lead at the top was reduced to just two points over Real Madrid. Despite injuries and suspensions, Barcelona should still extend their six-year undefeated run against Santander here.

19:45 Inter Milan v Sampdoria, Serie A, ESPN / ESPN HD
Samp are the form team out of these two and have already beaten Inter once this season. Another win will take Sampdoria up to fourth in the table, but we still fancy Jose & Co to bounce back from last Sunday's goalless draw against Napoli with a win today.

19:00 Real Mallorca v Sevilla, La Liga, Sky Sports 4
Fifth v Fourth, although Mallorca would be even higher if they could only sort out their away form. Incredibly, they've won 10 out of 10 at home, so Sevilla will have their work cut out as they try to become the first team to win a point at the ONO Estadi this season.

Sunday 21st February

12:00 Blackburn Rovers v Bolton Wanderers, Premier League, ESPN / ESPN HD
While Bolton are still waiting for the Owen Coyle effect to kick in, Blackburn have been quiety picking up some much needed points. Home win all the way for us.

14:00 Bristol City v West Brom, Championship, BBC1 / BBC HD
City's last two matches against The Baggies have ended in 4-1 defeats. This might seem like a long shot, but with West Brom on fire and Bristol City looking poor at the moment, a third 4-1 on the trot won't be such a great leap of the imagination.

14:00 Aston Villa v Burnley, Premier League, Sky Sports 1 / HD1
Burnley have won just one league game since the end of October while Villa are unbeaten in 2010. We will, of course, be referring to Burnley as the bottom-placed club from now on. Hope that's alright with them - we just see no further point in mentioning Portsmouth from now on.

14:00 Bologna v Juventus, Serie A, ESPN / ESPN HD
According to our stats, Bologna haven't beaten Juventus since 1998. Whether they can bring that run to an end is a key question as both teams are on reasonable form just now. Home advantage could be influential...

16:15 Wigan Athletic v Tottenham Hotspur, Premier League, Sky Sports 1 / HD1
Spurs haven't won on their last three trips to Wigan, but then again when you've beaten them 9-1 at your ground earlier in the season, it doesn't seem quite so serious somehow.

16:30 Werder Bremen v Bayer Leverkusen, Bundesliga, ESPN / ESPN HD
League leaders Leverkusen are hanging on by their fingerspitzen in the light of Bayern's charge. Though they're unbeaten in all 22 games this season, you still feel a defeat in this match would come at exactly the wrong time. Still, you never know - Bayern might slip up against Nürnberg (ahem...)

19:00 Almeria v Atletico Madrid (2nd Half Only), La Liga, Sky Sports 1 / HD1
With two wins in their last thirteen, Almeria have every chance of handing Atletico the three points they need to finally reach the top half of the table.

19:45 Bari v AC Milan, Serie A, ESPN / ESPN HD
And you thought Bari were going down this season? On the contrary - in fact they even stifled Milan in a 0-0 draw back in September. Much has happened since then, but you can't quite write off the chances of a similar draw here. Bari need the win and Milan are prone to the occasional lapse in concentration.

20:00 Real Madrid v Villarreal, La Liga, Sky Sports 1 / HD1
Real can smell blood as they hunt down Barca, and with Villareal wins at the Bernabeu being as rare as images of Ashley Cole with his pants on, they look set to keep up the pressure on Guardiola and his charges.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #152

Still packing 'em in...
The 14 Non-Top Flight European Clubs With The Highest Average Attendance Figures Last Season

1. Kaiserslautern (Fritz Walter Stadion) 34,425
2. Nuremberg (Frankenstadion) 33,624
3. Lens (Stade Félix-Bollaert) 29,842
4. Derby County (Pride Park Stadium) 29,204
5. Middlesbrough (Riverside Stadium) 28,429
6. 1860 Munich (Allianz Arena) 28,112
7. Sheffield United (Bramall Lane) 26,023
8. Norwich City* (Carrow Road) 24,543
9. Nantes (Stade de la Beaujoire) 24,138
10. Leeds United* (Elland Road) 23,813
11. West Bromwich Albion (The Hawthorns) 22,311
12. Sheffield Wednesday (Hillsborough) 21,542
13. Ipswich Town (Portman Road) 20,961
14. Charlton Athletic (The Valley) 20,894

* denotes a team from a country's third tier

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Jeu du Jour Week 24: Up for the Coupe

If there's one thing that Bordeaux's got, it's bouncebackability. Perpetually leading from the front, they're constantly being touted as frail and susceptible to the latest surge from this week's favoured title challengers, yet they always recover from the occasional dropped point here or there to maintain the status quo.

For a few weeks now, Montpellier have been the team grabbing the headlines as they've not only reached but held onto second spot in the Ligue 1 table. Their sixth win in the last seven games came at the weekend as they squeezed past lowly Grenoble, yet for all their persistence, Bordeaux continue to keep Rene Girard's men at arm's length.

Those not in the know have made much of Bordeaux's recent stutter - knocked out of the Coupe de France last week and without a win in their two league games before the weekend - yet this has already happened several times this season to no great effect. Les Girondins returned to fine form on Sunday with a 3-1 win over Saint Etienne and still lead the table by three points.

OK, so that lead was nearer eight just before Christmas, but the point is that Bordeaux's consistency has seen off the challenge of all those who seek to knock them off their perch. Whether the miraculous form of last season's Ligue 2 runners-up Montpellier will also dry up remains to be seen, but my money's on Laurent Blanc winning a second successive title this season just as it was way back in Week 1.

Like Montpellier, Lille are retaining some credibility by maintaining their challenge at the top. They remain in third spot having bagged a 3-1 win over Boulogne, two goals coming from Polish striker Ludovic Obraniak. Rudi Garcia will be heartened to see his team keeping their noses in front of Lyon and Marseille where the league's concerned, especially having been knocked out of the French Cup and League Cup in the last week of January.

Boulogne, sadly, look dead certs for relegation having only won three games out of a possible 24 in Ligue 1 thus far. Their last victory came against Lens over two months ago and it pains us to say it but a return to Ligue 2 is almost inevitable now.

We mentioned Lyon and Marseille a moment ago and they're just one and two points behind Lille respectively. Both teams won in unconvincing fashion at the weekend - Lyon with a single goal over struggling Lens and Marseille beating Monaco 2-1 thanks to a late own goal by Nicolas Ndoubena. At this point we'd be obliged to say how frail both teams are looking this season, but as Lyon proved by beating Real Madrid in the Champions League this week, Ligue 1 is merely one of many pies they have their fingers in and success perhaps lies elsewhere for them. Marseille are playing Copenhagen in the Europa League as this is being written and a win looks quite likely for them.

Auxerre, the form team before Christmas, were inexplicably beaten 5-0 by Grenoble almost a fortnight ago - something akin to Muhammad Ali being knocked out by the bloke off the Mr Muscle adverts - but AJA got back to winning ways with a 1-0 win over Rennes. The goal was a bit special too, coming as it did from a long range effort by another Polish striker on form, Ireneusz Jelen.

Elsewhere, Toulouse still can't seem to get into the high gears as they flounder mid-table. Their 1-1 draw with Lorient at the weekend, though nothing to be ashamed of, was the sort of result you feel they'd have done better with last season. PSG, meanwhile, continue to defy those 'experts' who had them down as a top six side for this campaign, this week drawing 0-0 against Nancy to go *up* to 14th.

While on the subject of mid-table ordinariness, Valenciennes climb back into the top half having beaten Nice 2-1. A small consolation given they were where Lille were towards the start of the season. Nice remain without a win since November and are well and truly embroiled in a relegation battle, along with Le Mans who will be grateful for the single point they got from a goalless draw against Sochaux (about whom nothing interesting has been said all season in Jeu du Jour and for good reason. Charlie Davis even had a car crash in an attempt to make Sochaux a more interesting team, and if you want our opinion, it wasn't worth the effort.)

So going into Week 25, Bordeaux lead at the top on 51 points, followed by Montpellier on 48, then it’s Lille on 44, Lyon on 43 and Marseille on 42 points but with a game in hand. At the bottom it’s Grenoble on 10 points, then above them it’s Boulogne on 16, Le Mans on 17, Nice on 23 points and Saint Etienne on 23 as well.

And what of the Cup competitions? Well the Coupe de France Round of 16 was played about a week ago, and in it Monaco knocked out Bordeaux 2-0 to take on the mantle of favourites to win the trophy. Boulogne, in direct contrast to their league form, reached the last eight with a 1-0 win over Ligue 2 side Guingamp while Auxerre cruised to a 4-0 win over Plabennec – an amateur fourth tier side from the west of France.

PSG made somewhat heavier weather of their match against amateur opposition, scraping through 1-0 against Vesoul, but in case you’re wondering whether the ‘giant-killer’ legend is alive and well over the Channel, you’re in luck. Rennes came a cropper, losing 1-0 to another fourth tier minnow, Quevilly.

The draw for the quarter finals has been made, and the fixtures (to be played on March 23rd and 24th) are as follows:

Lens v Saint Etienne
Monaco v Sochaux
Quevilly v Boulogne
Auxerre v Paris Saint Germain

The Coupe de la Ligue, meanwhile, is set to reach its climax when the Final goes ahead on March 27th and reassuringly (for people that like to see big teams fighting it out for the silverware), it’ll be between Bordeaux and Marseille.

Bordeaux’s route to the Final wasn’t, on paper at least, the most difficult in that they beat Le Mans, Sedan of Ligue 2 in the quarters and Lorient in the semis, but Marseille had a much trickier set of obstacles to clear. They defeated an improving Saint Etienne in the Round of 16, then won in the dying minutes to beat Lille in the quarter finals before an extra time win over Toulouse sealed their place in the Final.

So there you are. Lots going on in France. Let’s hope next time I’m a bit more punctual in updating you… For now though, it's à bientôt...

Full results and standings available here

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Bundesbag Week 22 - The return of the horse faced killer!

You don't need to be an expert Bundesliga pundit to figure out that if fit, Ruud Van Nistelrooy will score goals for Hamburg. And sure enough, the moment RVN spent any meaningful amount of time on a football pitch, he scored. Twice in fact. The 33-year-old warhorse came on as a sub at Stuttgart with the score at 1-1. Twelve minutes later it was 3-1, the Dutchman scoring both goals and was being mobbed by most of his teammates and all of the subs bench.

The first goal was a beauty. A first-time shot from a through ball from Tunay Torun was classic Van Nistelrooy. I wonder if Hamburg coach Bruno Labbadia will utilize the injury-prone veteran as an impact player for the rest of the season before putting him through a full pre-season in the Summer. Of only mildly less significance was the scorer of Hamburg's goal Marcus Berg. The Swedish under-21 star was a big money signing last Summer but has struggled. Hopefully the young fella can get look forward to a decent second half to the season.

The win puts Hamburg into fourth place behind Schalke, who despite predictions from a certain ill-informed German football blogger have not fallen away from the title challenge yet, are still in decent form. They beat Koln 2-0 with goals from Joel Matip and Jefferson Farfan. Felix Magath's team are keeping a watching brief over the top two, Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen who are neck and neck on 48 points.

The Leverkusen club seem to be victims of the maiden tied to the railway tracks narrative in the media. Helpless, as the steam train that is Bayern Munich comes hurtling along the line. The assumption is that Leverkusen will be crushed under the weight of their own history and choke while Bayern will do likewise and clinch top spot along with the title in May. The Bundesbag is less certain and remembers how bad they were in the early part of the season without Robben and Ribery.

Both teams won their games to keep the pressure on themselves. Bayer were pretty convincing against Wolfsburg (who are awful) and Bayern swatted Dortmund like a fly after they had the temerity to open the scoring at the Allianz with Mo Zidan. However three goals from van Bommel, Robben and Gomez put Jurgen Klopp's team back in their box. That's the third defeat in a row for BVB which has put the brakes on their upward journey through the table. Surly they'll get back to winning ways this weekend against Hannover who are on their third head coach now and plummeting out of the league. Like a horse stuck in quick sand, the more they struggle the worse they get and they were soundly beaten at home by Werder Bremen 5-1! At this time the 96ers are even worse than Hertha.

Speaking of the Berliners, such is their plight that they really need wins rather than draws. Nevertheless, Friedhelm Funkel has injected some steel into their veins and the bottom club are proving very hard to beat. They went a goal down to Mainz only to equalise and hang on for a point. Berlin are four points away from second from bottom Nurnburg, who lost to 'Gladbach on Friday and five points off Hannover in the relegation play off spot. This must be their target and something tells me they could pull it off.

Elsewhere, Bochum's progress under Heiko Herlich continued against the wayward Hoffenheim with a 2-1 win. Ibisevic scored for the Hoff for the first time in weeks.

Finally, more praise for Eintracht Frankfurt who snatched a dramatic injury time winner and beat Freiburg 2-1. The scorer was new signing, attacking midfielder Halil Altintop who has slotted straight into the Frankfurt team. He has rewarded his coach Michael Skibbe's good judgement with a couple of seminal performances and clearly relishes being the centre of attention after spending so much time on the periphery at Schalke. Frankfurt are seventh and official Europe League contenders.

That's it. Results and tables here. Don't forget to follow the Bundesbag on Twitter here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

32 For 2010: Slovakia

It is easily forgotten that Slovakian football's finest hour was in 1976 when they won the European Championship as the second half of Czechoslovakia.

And it must be somewhat galling for proud Slovakians to find that many English language accounts of that dramatic final win against West Germany in the Marakana, Belgrade, refer to the winners as Czechs when, in fact, a the majority of that squad were Slovaks. These included their captain Anton Ondrus and the two goalscorers, Ján Švehlík and Karol Dobiaš (although Antonin Panenka, the player who score the decisive penalty in the dramatic Final shootout was a Czech).

There is no doubt that since the two nations unstitched themselves following the collapse of communism in eastern Europe, the Czechs have fared better. However, with their qualification to the 2010 World Cup the indications are that Slovakia are rediscovering their footballing identity.

While Slovaks have played in World Cups as far back as 1934, Slovakia itself have not participated in the finals before. Current national team manager Vladimir Weiss was a member of the Czechoslovakian team that played in 1990, however there is not a great deal of collective World Cup experience to draw on. Slovakia's qualifying campaign in Group 3 was impressive - partly because they were drawn with their neighbours and former compatriots, the Czech Republic.

Slovakia had failed to beat their illustrious rivals in seven attempts since the nations split. That duck was broken last April in Prague as the home side were finally beaten 2-1. Other rivals in the group were Slovenia (eventual conquerors of Russia in the play-offs), Poland, Northern Ireland and San Marino. The Slovaks finished top of their group losing only twice to Slovenia on both occasions. Along with the historic win against the Czechs, Slovakia notched up some impressive away victories in Chorzow and Belfast.

In terms of their playing squad, there is a strong Bundesliga presence running though the Slovak team including Miroslav Karhan (Mainz), Peter Pekarík (Wolfsburg) and top scorer in the qualifiers Stanislav Šesták (Bochum). Erik Jendrisek who scored that famous winner against the Czechs in Prague plays for 2 Bundesliga team Kaiserslautern. Other players that English fans may know are Miroslav Stoch of Chelsea who is on loan at FC Twente, plus there's the boss' son Vladimir Weiss (Jnr) who is on loan at Bolton from his parent club Manchester City. Liverpool fans will know all about defender Martin Skrtel, of course.

Slovakia's best player is without question their captain Marek Hamsik of Napoli. The 22 year old midfielder has already scored eight goals in Serie A this season and is very much the future of Slovakian football, to use a dubious distinction.

Whether Hamsik has enough to inspire his team of mostly journeymen players to the second stage of the World Cup in South Africa is a difficult question to answer. While they should rightly be confident against New Zealand, Paraguay on the other hand will be tough opponents and the seeds are none other than World Champions Italy. Critics can also point to the ten goals they conceded in qualifying and some entirely unimpressive results in friendlies as evidence that Slovakia may struggle.

Nevertheless, should Slovakia continue to produce promising young players like Stoch and Weiss to join Hamsik, we can look forward to seeing them in future tournaments. With regards to the upcoming UEFA 2012 qualifying competition, Slovakia have an excellent chance of progressing if they can overcome either Russia or the Republic Of Ireland.

It's true that while we may never see a repeat of those magical scenes in the Marakana in 1976, Slovakia is at least emerging from the Czech's shadow.

Sound of Football Episode 27 - Champions League Play-Off

Only one topic of conversation for this week's Sound of Football and it wasn't the contents of Ashley Cole's underpants. Nope, the latest edition of the podcast is focused on the Champions League Qualifying Play-Off currently being proposed by the Premier League.

It's a fascinating topic which gets the chaps all hot and bothered so don't miss the latest episode of the Sound Of Football.

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, February 15, 2010

Midweek TV Preview: 15 - 18 February 2010

Monday 15th February

19:45 Bristol Rovers v Charlton Athletic, League One, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Two teams that haven't won a game since mid-January. With Sky, however, you can see games as unappealing as this in High Definition each and every week, and all for a bigger monthly subscription than you're paying now.

Tuesday 16th February

17:45 Everton v Sporting Lisbon, UEFA Europa League, Round of 32 1st Leg, ESPN
Been enjoying the recent run of midweek Premier League games? Shame - European competition is back with a vengeance with the return of those all-important knock-out rounds. As for Sporting Lisbon, they've recently lurched from invincibility to abject incompetence. A good time for Everton to be playing them, therefore, and with a fervent home crowd behind them a valuable win looks very likely indeed.

19:45 Milan v Manchester United, UEFA Champions League, Last 16 1st Leg, Sky Sports 2/HD2
And so United finally get the chance to banish the memory of that fateful night in May 2007 when Milan beat them 3-0 at the San Siro to reach the Champions League Final against Liverpool. To do so, United need an away goal or two and Wayne Rooney will singularly be the spearhead for that plan. One wonders if they'll have any other cards to play if Rooney's marked out of the game but at least both clubs are in similar form at the moment so technically it's anybody's for the taking.

19:45 Lyon v Real Madrid, UEFA Champions League, Last 16 1st Leg, Sky Sports 3/HD3
On paper there's only one way this tie's going, and that's a win for Real. Lyon are still holding out for a sniff of success in Ligue 1 at the moment, but they're far from convincing - pretty much the opposite to Real in La Liga. Should be an entertaining match, but Lyon will have to up the ante on their recent performances to stand a chance of reaching the last eight of this competition.

Wednesday 17th February

19:45 Rangers v St Mirren, Scottish Cup 5th Round Replay, Sky Sports 1/HD1
So much for us saying it was all going right for Rangers prior to the previous tie between these two a week ago or so. That match finished surprisingly goalless, but the replay's at Ibrox and on current form The Gers are odds-on to wrap it up this time around. We'd even stake our bookmaker's house on Rangers winning this one - we're that certain of the outcome.

19:45 Porto v Arsenal, UEFA Champions League, Last 16 1st Leg, ITV1
These two met in the group stages of the Champions League last year and Porto finished top despite a 4-0 defeat to The Gunners at The Emirates. In the end, both Porto and Arsenal were beaten by Man United en route to the Final, and who knows, it may even happen this year. It will, of course, depend on Wayne Rooney's effectiveness as the singular spearhead for Man United, etc, etc...

19:45 Bayern Munich v Fiorentina, UEFA Champions League, Last 16 1st Leg, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Bayern are ripping up the Bundesliga, Fiorentina are failing miserably in Serie A. The resumption of the Champions League couldn't have come at a worse time for the latter. Home win.

Thursday 18th February

18:00 Ajax v Juventus, UEFA Europa League, Round of 32 1st Leg, ESPN
You know you're old when the mere mention of these two teams in the same sentence conjours up images of the 1973 European Cup Final. Images which can thankfully be watched time and time again on YouTube and made all the better for Brian Moore unwittingly promoting a popular brand of household floor cleaner.

20:00 Panathinaikos v AS Roma, UEFA Europa League, Round of 32 1st Leg, ESPN
Having squeezed past Fulham in the last round (amongst others), Roma now face The Greens who were only previously beaten by Galatasaray in their group. A match with considerable curiosity value for the neutral but greater meaning for those trying to figure out if Roma are the real deal this season.

20:05 Liverpool v Unirea Urziceni, UEFA Europa League, Round of 32 1st Leg, Five
Rafa staggers into the Last Chance Saloon hoping the Romanians will do the decent thing and stand aside rather than pick a fight. If Unirea can pull off the sort of result they had at Ibrox last November, maybe there'll be a new sheriff in town at Anfield sooner rather than later?

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #151

The Group of Debt
43 Football Clubs That Have Undergone Insolvency Procedings Since 1992

1. Aldershot (1992)
2. Barnet (1994)
3. Barnsley (2002)
4. Boston United (2007)
5. Bournemouth (1997 and 2008)
6. Bradford City (2002 and 2004)
7. Bury (2002)
8. Cambridge United (2005)
9. Carlisle United (2002)
10. Chester City (1998 and 2009)
11. Chesterfield (2001)
12. Crystal Palace (1999 and 2010)
13. Darlington (1997, 2003 and 2009)
14. Doncaster Rovers (1997)
15. Exeter City (1994)
16. Gillingham (1995)
17. Halifax Town (1999 and 2002)
18. Hartlepool United (1994)
19. Hereford United (1998)
20. Huddersfield Town (2003)
21. Hull City (2001)
22. Ipswich Town (2003)
23. Leeds United (2007)
24. Leicester City (2002)
25. Lincoln City (2002)
26. Luton Town (2003 and 2007)
27. Maidstone United (1992)
28. Millwall (1997)
29. Northampton Town (1992)
30. Notts County (2002)
31. Oldham Athletic (2003)
32. Oxford United (1999)
33. Portsmouth (1999)
34. QPR (2001)
35. Rotherham United (2006 and 2008)
36. Scarborough (2000)
37. Southampton (2009)
38. Stockport County (2009)
39. Swansea City (2001)
40. Swindon Town (2000 and 2002)
41. Wimbledon (2003)
42. Wrexham (2004)
43. York City (2002)

Weekend TV Preview: 12 - 14 February 2010

Friday 12th February

19:45 AC Milan v Udinese, Serie A, ESPN
Despite Udinese's position in the league, Milan's poor form may be enough to tempt an optimistic punter. No doubt this fixture will be the subject of much unfunny banter in the Italian equivalent of the Betfair Front Room.

Saturday 13th February

12:00 Aberdeen v Celtic, SPL, ESPN/HD
Aberdeen are teetering on the brink of the relegation half of the table, but there's still plenty of time before the League splits and the Clausura commences. Celtic are "in transition" at the moment so anything could happen at Pittodrie.

12:30 Southampton v Portsmouth, FA Cup Fifth Round, ITV1
The Judge has given Pompey enough time to clear up their affairs and prepare a fresh round of excuses as to why they should be allowed to continue trading. In the mean time there is the small matter of a Cup match against their deadliest rivals. Defeat at St Marys and a winding up in the courts the following week would bring a tragic end to a proud football club.

12:45 Swansea City v Newcastle United, Championship, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Caught cold by Derby midweek, Newcastle face a really tough challenge against a decent Swans team. Bouncing back will be a tough ask.

17:15 Manchester City v Stoke City, FA Cup Fifth Round, ITV1
A test of Mancini's player' appetite for success. With so many top clubs missing from the latter stages of the Cup both teams will fancy their chances of some silverware. You can easily see Stoke brushing off the Manchester club. On the other hand...

17:30 Bayern Munich v Dortmund, Bundesliga, ESPN
Bayern are looking to make it twelve wins in a row while Dortmund need to get back to business after two consecutive defeats. Goals from Robben, Ribery and Barrios are pretty much guaranteed.

19:00 Xerez v Real Madrid, La Liga, Sky Sports 3/HD3
A rudimentary away win is on the cards. Unless of course the refs are biased against Real as Marca insist they are. The nerve!

19:45 Sampdoria v Fiorentina, Serie A, ESPN
La Viola need to get a shift on if they want to qualify for Europe next season. Samp are blossoming after benching wayward star Cassano. An attractive looking fixture from Serie A.

21:00 Villarreal v Athletic Bilbao, La Liga, Sky Sports 3/HD3
Not too much to get excited about, I guess. Both teams will be disappointed with their season but there are still enough games left to salvage something.

Sunday 14th February

13:30 Bolton v Tottenham, FA Cup Fifth Round, ITV1
How ITV choose to sell this game to the neutral audience may be the most interesting aspect of this tie. Still, both teams are due a performance so perhaps now is the time.

13:30 Rangers v Hibs, Scottish Premier League, Sky Sports 1/HD1
With Celtic stuttering, now is the time for Rangers to press home their advantage. However, two consecutive draws is not that convincing and third placed Hibs will be confident going into this fixture.

14:00 Juventus v Genoa, Serie A, ESPN
Both teams are locked on 35 points but Juve fans are still rubbing their eyes in disbelief at their clubs position in the table. Seventh and out of the European places.

15:45 Crystal Palace v Aston Villa, FA Cup Fifth Round, ITV1
Too excited about this to be pithy about it. Could be an emotional roller-coaster, could be all over after 20 minutes.

16:30 Frankfurt v Freiburg, Bundesliga, ESPN
On the surface this does not look like the most attractive Bundesliga fixture. However, while you were watching Chelsea's comprehensive dismantling of Arsenal last Sunday, Frankfurt were participating in a cracking 3-2 win over Dortmund. If Palace v Villa doesn't float your boat, give the Bundesliga a bash.

18:00 Sevilla v Osasuna, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
Osasuna are on a terrific four-game winning streak. Sevilla, despite their quality are in a slight slump and have found themselves in fifth - below Mallorca! A chance to redress the balance perhaps.

19:45 Napoli v Inter Milan, Serie A, ESPN
With only one win in five, Napoli could use a lift. If they were playing the other Milan side they might get it. As it happens they're playing the other, better, one. Still, if you're committed to watch football on Sunday night,s you may be rewarded with a famous victory.

20:00 Atletico Madrid v Barcelona, La Liga, Sky Sports 1/HD1
After winning with nine men last week, Barca plan to beat Atletico with one arm tied behind their backs and pianos on their heads.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bundesbag Week 21 - The title race is on!

As northern Europe desperately tries to shake off the winter snows and peer forlornly to the horizon looking for Spring, the time has come to start talking about the Bundesliga championship. Bayer Leverkusen's disappointing (for them at least) draw at Bochum finally left the door ajar for the resurgent, and it must be said magnificent, Bayern Munich.

Leverkusen coach Jupp Heynckes said he was not worried after only managing a 1-1 draw with tenacious but struggling Bochum but the Bundesbag is not convinced. Eren Derdiyock opened the scoring just before half time to put the League leader in front. However, Bochum under new coach Heiko Herlich are back to their usual competitive no-nonsense selves and found an equaliser through the Slovenian Zlatko Dedic.

Bayern on the other hand have now won 11 straight matches and are on the kind of run that took Wolfsburg to the title last season. And it was current champions who were Louis Van Gaal's latest victims thanks to goals from Robben, Van Buyten and Ribery. Grafite's close range shot for the consolation barely covered up a wretched performance by himself (he missed a penalty in the same game) and his team mates. The club recently appointed Dieter Hoeneß as General Manager, relieving the corresponding duties from head coach Armin Vey. As the results continued to take a downturn, Vey was finally sacked. The caretaker boss Lorenz-Gunther Kostner, has been retained until the end of the season. The club look like they've thrown in the towel this season and will look to rebuild with the money from the sale of Grafite, Dzeko and possibly Misimovic in the Summer.

But Bayern are awesome and more importantly, only goal difference separates them from top spot. You get the impression that any further slip ups from Leverkusen could cost them their shot at the Bundesliga. That said, Bayern's continued success depends largely (although not exclusively) on Robben and Ribery - two players who have been no strangers to the treatment table in recent years. Should one or both go missing then the outcome of the Bundesliga championship is far from certain. One thing is certain - the race is most definitely on!

Meanwhile, in Freiburg, Schalke were held to a 0-0 draw to lose ground on the top two. Six points behind them are Hamburg and Dortmund. Both teams were involved in high scoring action at the weekend. Hamburg threw away a 3-1 lead at Koln in the last minutes thanks to a fortunate deflection from Adil Chihi who equalised. Ruud van Nistelrooy made a brief cameo at the end of the game and Bruno Labbadia will be hoping that he links up well with the excellent Mladen Petric who scored two goals. Quite what Labbadia plans to do about Hamburg's defence is another question altogether.

BVB lost at home to Eintracht Frankfurt at the Westfalon for the first time in 19 (nineteen) years. It was a cracking game which ended 3-2 to the visitors thank to goals from Kohler, Jung & Meier. Hats off to coach Michael Skibbe for making Frankfurt interesting.

Elsewhere, Hannover 96 are still rubbish despite the arrival of new coach Mirko Slomka. They lost 2-1 to Hoffenheim (although Kone's strike for the 96ers was superb). Mainz are back on track with a 1-0 win over Borussia Monchengladbach. Stuttgart's rise from oblivion continued after beating Nurnberg 2-1. Look out for some comedy keeping from Jens.

Finally, Werder Bremen have won a football match. Needless to say it was against perennial whipping boys and sometime Hannover botherers Hertha. Marco Marin's picture book strike opened the scoring. 'Fanis Geikas did what Berlin coach Friedhelm Funkel signed him for - to score their consolation goals. Inevitably the Bremen winner came a little later, Claudio Pizzaro doing the honours.

That's it. Results and tables here. Follow the Bundesbag here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sound of Football Episode 26 - Euro 2012

Inexplicably, we've forgotten to inform you about this week's Sound of Football podcast which hit the internet a day or two ago.

In this week's episode, Terry, Graham and I try to make some sense of the Euro 2012 draw with assessments of the British home nations and the Republic Of Ireland. We also slag off the French and undermine the Germans.

With the remaining few minutes of the podcast we try not to blow our brains out with despair as we talk about John Terry. Plus, there's another exciting episode of SoccerJens.

What more could you possibly ask for? We know, more punctual reminders, yeah yeah...

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, February 08, 2010

Caravan To Kiev - Euro 2012 Draw

There was a time when you had to take a portable radio or Walkman with you if you had to go out during an important draw. Or worse, you'd find yourself peering through TV shop windows to see if there was any news you could pick up. These days we live in a world of mobile internets, smart phones, iPod-pads and all that. So it was, during a tortuous visit to the hated TK Max in Croydon that I whipped out my phone to check out the Euro 2012 draw and this is what I found:

Group A


Could we face a European Championships without Germany? It's possible. Despite failing to qualify for the World Cup, the Turks will back themselves to qualify. Belgium are ever improving with a new batch of rising young players and in Dick Advocaat, have an experienced head coach. It would not be a tremendous surprise to see the Belgians challenge, especially if they can integrate Marouane Fellaini into the team. Austria too are showing signs of waking from their slumber after a poor Euro 2008. Add to that some tough journeys to Kazakhstan and the Azuris and you have a very tough group.

Group B
Republic of Ireland
FYR Macedonia

Ireland are denied a shot at vengeance against the French and face a tough challenge against World Cup qualifiers Slovakia and World Cup chokers Russia. The Russians should have shaken off their complacency following their humiliation at the hands of Slovenia in November. Macedonia may not be spectacular but are capable of causing a shock should anyone make the mistake of under-estimating them.

Group C
Northern Ireland
Faroe Islands

Yikes! Hardly a smooth path for the World Champions is it? Both Serbia and Slovenia are heading to South Africa this year. While the Slovenians may be regarded as fortunate in that they capitalized on Russian complacency, they have proved themselves very difficult to break down. Serbia on the other hand are tipped to progress to the second round in the World Cup. And then of course there is Northern Ireland, a team that, while not consistent enough to finish in the top two, are more than capable of an upset.

Group D

Given France's obvious frailties in World Cup qualifying you'd have to say that the top seeds in this group are vulnerable, especially to the Bosnians who were unlucky to miss the cut themselves. Having said that, it is very likely that coach Raymond Domenech will be gone and there may be some personnel changes. Considering that Romania are nothing special these days and you have to conclude that the Euro 2000 winners have draw a favourable group (queue clenched fists and gnashing of teeth from across the Irish Sea).

Group E
San Marino

Those of us looking for a revival of the Magyars last year were disappointed as they fell away in their qualifying group. Barring a significant improvement in Finland it's difficult not to see the Netherlands and Sweden scampering off with this group.

Group F

Croatia should put the 2010 qualifying performance down to a colossal Euro 2008 hangover and take heart form what is a very winnable group. Greece are very hard to break down but in Niko Kranjcar and Luca Modric, the Croats have the players to do it. Israel always command respect but have struggled to win the big games. Latvia were qualifiers in 2004 so will need to be treated with extra caution.

Group G

England benefit from being drawn in a five team group but this may have an affect on automatic qualification should they finish second. Objectively however, this should not happen. Switzerland are an emerging force under coach Ottmar Hitzfeld but England have the players to overcome them. Other concerns for Fabio Capello will be a young and upcoming Welsh team and the prospect of him having to integrate and new centre back pairing should he decide that Ferdinand and Terry will not be able to last until 2012. Bulgaria and Montenegro command respect but should be overcome.

Group H


The Portuguese will need to stock up on their thermals as they face trips to Iceland and Scandinavia twice. Reunited with Denmark this group should take on a familiar air from the World Cup qualifier. Beware Cyprus though. Dangerous underdogs.

Group I
Czech Republic

Fantastic draw for Scotland. Realistically, Craig Levein would have been targeting second place given their seeding and given the seeds are the European champions and one of the favorites to win the World Cup the rest of the group should focus on the runners-up spot and prepare for a play-off. The Czechs, technically are favorites to do just that but are a spent force and there for the taking. This could Scotland's time. But then again they could lose to Lithuania at Hampden.

How qualifying works
The group winners join hosts Poland and Ukraine in the Finals. The second placed team with the best qualifying against their third, fourth and fifth place opponents also go through. The other runners up will play off against each other over two legs. And yes, the play-offs are seeded.

The Caravan To Kiev has a long journey ahead and doesn't get underway until September. Needless to say, we'll be watching and blogging with great interest. We'll be discussing the draw a little further in this week's Sound Of Football Podcast.

Midweek TV Preview: 8 - 10 February 2010

Monday 8 February

19.45 Colchester United v Southend United, League One, Sky Sports 1/HD1
It's a hoary old chestnut that form counts for nothing in derbies but this Essex encounter finds the top teams at opposite end of the table. Colchester are nestled nicely in the play-off spots while the Shrimpers are struggling just two points above the drop zone. Southend are likely to give a debut to young Arsenal striker Sanchez Watt, who they have on a month's loan.

Tuesday 9 February

19.00 Carlisle United v Leeds United, Johnstone's Paint Trophy, Northern Final 2nd Leg (2-1), Sky Sports 3/HD3
Ooh look, two all United clashes in two days. With the closure of the transfer window and their exit from the FA Cup, Leeds can go back to concentrating on winning games. They've managed just one win in eight since their heroics at Old Trafford, though today's opponents haven't fared much better in that time. A late Joe Anyinsah goal in the first leg gives the advantage to Carlisle.

19.45 Manchester City v Bolton, Premier League, Sky Sports 2/HD2
While their defeat at Hull further highlighted City's struggles on the road it can't be forgotten that Owen Coyle has already taken a point with that amazing 3-3 here with Burnley. Expect much of the coverage to be taken up with lingering shots of Wayne Bridge on the bench.

Wednesday 10 February

19.45 Arsenal v Liverpool, Premier League, Sky Sports 2/HD2
Liverpool are fourth - Rafa has been good to his word got them there. Though what that says about the quality of the Premier League is moot. Arsenal come into this one hurting: embarrassed at home by United and then better but ultimately toothless against Chelsea. The weaker two of the Big Four, this fixture has produced some crackers over recent seasons: with desperation in both camps we could see another one here

19.45 Motherwell v Rangers, Scottish Premier League, ESPN/HD
Motherwell have put their truly awful December behind them and are unbeaten this year (though that will probably end here). That run of five defeats they had included a 6-1 mauling at the hands of today's opponents

Friday, February 05, 2010

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #150

Reader's Choice
11 People Tell Us About Their Favourite 'Friday Lists' To Celebrate 150 'Friday Lists of Little or No Consequence'

1. Michael Richard
"I would have to say my favorite list is #124 "15 Quotes from Sir Bobby Robson" for a couple of reasons...

"(1) I think there is no better way to remember someone than by recounting all the times they made you laugh. Although I don't remember the instance when most of these quotes were said, it's surprising how many of these that I heard and didn't realize were said by Sir Bobby.

"(2) As a Toon fan living in Canada, I was a huge admirer of Sir Bobby and everything he did and the way he conducted himself. There was no better ambassador for the North East and he will be missed.

"This list definitely brought a smile to my face so I would vote this one as my favorite to date."

2. Karl, Footysphere
"So many great lists to choose from but have plumped for number 52 - sent off on their club debuts .. an ultimate football fail!"

3. Chris Harris, EPL Talk
"It has to be the 17 computer games endorsed by football players. Many of these footballers and managers probably didn't know how to switch on a computer, but when a load of dosh is waved under their noses, how could they refuse? My favorite title of the 17 is "Emlyn Hughes International Soccer" because I admired him as a footballer. Plus he played for my team, Swansea City! Thanks for the great work, Chris. Your Friday Lists always a bring a smile to my face."

4. Chris Nee, TwoFootedTackle
"SPAOTP is like a fine wine: spend an evening in the pub with it and it'll get you really, really pissed. It's been a real pleasure to get to know Chris and the team out in the scary real world over the last year and a bit, adding an extra dimension to the already fulfilling SPAOTP experience. Here's to another 150 lists."

And Chris' favourite list...?

"Has to be Bobby Robson quotes, that was ruddy magnificent."

5. Martin Lewis, SPAOTP co-founder and contributer
"Ah, a favourite Friday List for #150. But there is so much choice! 149 to be exact...

I almost picked #84 - The World Cup: A load of balls but that would have been purely on the memories of the hypnotic Telstar ball as it span in the air or as it rolled along the ground. Any TRUE football fan will know what I mean.

"However I decided that I'd take us back - way back - to Friday 9th March 2007. It was a cold, blustery day and I was 19 at the time. This was List #2 - The Name Game which contained some rather amusing club names from around the world, of which one has stuck with me ever since - FC KooTeePee. Don't ask me why it has stuck with me. All I know is, when I go to Finland I will treat myself to one of their home shirts...

"Who would have thought the Friday List would still be going today?

"PS - I've got an idea for List #1000 if you're interested :)"

6. Terry Duffelen, SPAOTP writer and co-producer

"I would like to submit Number 67: Your homage to the lesson that Diego Maradona gave the English in 1986. A lesson that I fear many of us have yet to learn."

7. Rich Johnson

"I came late to the FLOLONC, which meant I got to spend a lazy afternoon catching up on the first 140... and what joys within :)

"My personal favourites have been:

"#121 Football video game tie-ins - Ah back to the good old days when footy games were nothing like playing football, but you bought it anyway because Gary Lineker was telling you to.

"#84 The World Cup: A load of balls - Azteca or Etrusco? Still can't quite decide. Fervanova: No Adidas... Bad Adidas!

"#51 Strange Injuries - The best Dave Beasant / Salad Cream anecdote you'll find on the me, I've looked.

"#5 Foot-in-mouth Syndrome - they just speak for themselves."

8. ChrissMari
"I like list 39 (and 52 :P :P)"

9. Graham Sibley, SPAOTP writer and co-producer
"44 - Roy of the Rovers opponents"

10. Seb, Inside Left and occasional writer for SPAOTP
"My favourite absolutely has to be "missing stickers", if only because it made me dig out my old Panini albums from years gone by to relive the glorious days when Aberdeen where still a team to be reckoned with. Congrats on the 150th Friday List!"

11. P Shaw
"Can I just say that they are all good in their own way. There are plenty more ideas I'm sure to get too 200 and beyond!

"My personal favourite will always be the Bobby Robson tribute #124 purely for the fact that I actually cried while hearing the news of his death. It still makes me cry as I write this. Every post on every website I saw about him was beautiful but this stood out because it showed the lighter side. His fun side. We all know he was first and foremost an entertainer. He didn't care about winning or losing - it was how you played the game with Bobby. That list will always be my favourite.

"#40 was very interesting if only for the fact i found out that Michael Vaughan supports the same club as me and I'm surprised no-one has mentioned #42. The one where famous stadiums now have Chris' vomit on and the fact that chris c paul has very good eyesight!

"I have fond memories of every one you have done. The ones of the old advertising boards #1 and your sticker collection what needs completing (#10) are all very ingenious. Thanks for making Fridays on the internet eccentric and funny."

And as for me? Well so many spring to mind that brought about such a wonderful reaction from all of you around the world.

As mentioned by Martin above, our 2nd list on amusing football club names was the first to really strike a chord with many of you. Even now, it continues to get lots of attention from people referring to the humorous nature of some of the items mentioned within it.

List 59 - 'Scrabble Poles' got a lovely reaction when published - not least from a fella in Uruguay (of all places) who said he found it highly amusing. To think that someone so far away was enjoying one of our Friday Lists!

Our special video lists for 70, 80, 90 and 100 were a nice change of direction for us, but to be honest every single one of our Friday Lists has given me a great deal of personal pride and contentment.

My intention in creating the series originally was to produce something that was either funny or informative or quirky or just downright ridiculous, and I hope you'll agree we achieved that - and that it continues to do so to this day.

For now though, let me just say thanks to all of you that sent in your personal favourites and if any of you are stumbling on this page after the event, please continue to tell us yours too as we'll be only too happy to add them on later.

Finally to everyone else that has enjoyed the Friday Lists thus far, thanks for all your wonderful feedback. It'll spur us on to do many more in the future...

Chris O.


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