Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sulley Muntari for Portsmouth (v Birmingham City), 24 November 2007

The story goes that Harry Redknapp arrived at Heathrow on Tuesday night after watching the Rangers game in Stuttgart. He was told "you're wanted!" and apparently said "What, by England?" Er, no, Harry...

Aston Villa 1-1 Arsenal
Blackburn 2-1 Newcastle
Chelsea 2-0 West Ham
Portsmouth 1-1 Everton
Reading 1-0 Middlesbrough
Sunderland 2-0 Derby
Wigan 1-0 Man City
Liverpool 2-0 Bolton
Tottenham 3-0 Birmingham
Man United 2-0 Fulham

and why not some wildcards from the FA Cup?

Notts County 2-0 Havant and Waterlooville
Torquay 1-2 Brighton
Mansfield Town 2-0 Harrogate Railway

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Lee Bowyer for West Ham (v Derby County), 10 November 2007

"If Derby County hadn't been promoted via the play-offs last season, Billy Davies would still be manager."


Friday, November 23, 2007

Frank Lampard for England (vs Croatia), 21 November 2007

The Premier League? Best league in the world mate.

Arsenal 2-0 Wigan
Birmingham 0-1 Portsmouth
Bolton 0-2 Man Utd
Derby 0-2 Chelsea
Everton 2-1 Sunderland
Man City 2-1 Reading
Middlesbrough 0-0 Aston Villa
Newcastle 1-1 Liverpool
Fulham 0-1 Blackburn
West Ham 2-2 Tottenham


Celtic 3-1 Aberdeen
Weymouth 1-1 York
West Brom 2-1 Wolverhampton
I'm not sure my heart's in this.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Ivica Olic for Croatia (v England), 21 November 2007

You will note that my predictions for the qualifiers for Euro 2008 were ultimately all correct barring one glaring mistake.

If this is the best league in the world, the "golden generation" with a raft of players considered the world's finest, defeats to Croatia and Russia and draws against Israel and Macedonia are simply not good enough.

Too many foreign players, injuries and suspensions - the whole gamut of excuses will be rolled out. These are all red herrings. There are two reasons we haven't qualified. Firstly, the blame needs to squarely rest with the manager whose climbdowns, tactical misadventure and inconsistency have failed to get a decent set of players out of, let's face it, an easy group.

Secondly, some of the senior players need to look at themselves in the mirror and wonder if they really performed to anywhere near their talent throughout any of this campaign. Gerrard, Lampard, Robinson, Bridge, Beckham, Joe Cole have all been way under par in an England shirt over the last eighteen months. As Simon Aldred from Cherry Ghost succinctly put it (an evening better spent, I reckon) - "...there is no better sport than watching eleven dejected millionaires get rained on...."

All this hubris about the quality of the Premier League and it's English stars needs to end now. On the basis that Greece, Poland, Croatia and Romania have qualified - hell, even Finland came nearer to qualification than England - it's time for the manager to go and for someone with a half decent knowledge of international football to take over. And it might help for a dose of reality to be administered to everyone within the English game. We are (and have been for eighteen months) sh*t. I just wish we knew we were.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Omer Golan for Israel (v Russia), 17 November 2007

So, the width of a post rescued England's chances of qualification for Euro 2008, and a dodgy free-kick decision did for Scotland's. Looking at the rest of the qualifying groups, though, it's a case if the usual suspects on the plane to Austria and Switzerland next summer.

Poland - consistent in qualifying but invariably disappointing in tournaments - sealed their place in Euro 2008 with a win over Belgium. They will be joined from Group A by Portugal as long as they don't lose to Finland on Wednesday night. There is a complicated situation where Serbia could still go through, but bank on the Portuguese to be there in the summer.

Italy's last gasp win at Hampden mean the World Champions qualify along with the French.

Thanks to a change in the rules, reigning champions Greece had to qualify this time around and, somewhat appropriately, I think, they will get the opportunity to retain their title having won Group C. Norway were all set to join them, but a 2-1 home defeat to Turkey on Saturday puts the Turks in pole position and they will go through if they beat Bosnia in Istanbul on Wednesday.

The Czech Republic and Germany had long qualified from Group D.

Despite their defeat to Macedonia, Croatia have qualified from Group E with England all set to join them should they avoid defeat on Wednesday night.

Spain's 3-0 defeat of Sweden secured their birth and they will be joined by the Swedes unless they lose to Latvia and Northern Ireland beat Spain in Gran Canaria.

Romania and Holland qualify from Group G at the expense of Bulgaria.

Interestingly, England's stumbling campaign could work to their advantage in the seeding of the tournament. The top seeds in Decembers draw will be three of the tournaments weaker teams (current holders Greece and hosts Austria and Switzerland) as well as the country with the best qualifying coefficient for this tournament and the 2006 World Cup. England are therefore likely to be in the second group of seeds and with some luck this could result in an easier draw. We'll no doubt still go out heroically in the quarter-finals, though. Probably on penalties.

Likely qualifiers:

Austria (hosts), Switzerland (hosts), Poland, Portugal, Italy, France, Greece, Turkey, Czech Republic, Germany, Croatia, England, Spain, Sweden, Romania and Holland

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Roman Pavluchenko for Russia (v England), 17 October 2007

[Should foreign refs take charge of domestic football?]
[The MyFootballClub debate]

Are we finally going to get rid of that bumbling ginger idiot this weekend? Come on Russia, do us all a favour....

Bulgaria 1-2 Romania
FYR Macedonia 0-2 Croatia
Greece 3-0 Malta
Israel 0-1 Russia
Northern Ireland 1-2 Denmark
Norway 2-1 Turkey
Poland 2-0 Belgium
Scotland 1-0 Italy
Spain 2-0 Sweden
Wales 1-2 Republic of Ireland

and some wildcards from teams from the fair county of Essex:

Dagenham and Redbridge 1-2 Bradford
Grays Athletic 2-0 Farsley Celtic
Braintree Town 2-1 Bognor Regis Town

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Raphael Nade for Ebbsfleet Utd (v Altrincham), 20 October 2007

We have touched on this subject before, but today MyFootballClub agreed to buy a controlling stake in Blue Square Premier side Ebbsfleet United.

You probably know the premise - an annual membership fee of £35 gets you a stake in a club and input on all major decisions affecting the club and the team.

I know there are those readers who have signed up to this venture, and earlier today ST asked me whether he thought CUAS should get involved at the start, or whether I thought the idea preposterous.

Let me answer that very simply: I think this whole escapade is utterly ridiculous.

Your £35 gets you, for example, a vote on team selection and tactics. The head coach (former Republic of Ireland international Liam Daish, by the way) will make notes on form and fitness, but it's ultimately the members that decide the starting XI.

Brilliant. Let armchair punters with no idea whatsoever decide who plays. Anyone know who plays at right-back for Ebbsfleet United? Or, indeed, who their reserve right-back is? No, thought not. How, then, is one supposed to make any sort of informed decision about who to pick bar the coaching staff who work with them on a daily basis?

Suppose, for example, Ebbsfleet tie up a deal to sign Lee Sharpe which is approved by the members. With no disrespect to the fella, he's probably not that fit these days and a shadow of the once great winger he was (some would say that was true at any point after he left Man United.) If he's on the selection list for 53,000 ignorant punters to pick from, he'll get picked, won't he? Even if the incumbent left winger is a 19 year old genius in the making.

Malcolm Bigcock. He'll get a game every week for one reason alone.

And what happens when they are 2-0 down at half time? Is there a text-based vote? "Text the name of the player you want replaced to 81193".

And then there's the second season. 53,000 people paid their £35 in ignorance of which club was chosen. Ebbsfleet were unveiled today, they fail to improve on their 9th place in the Blue Square Premier and it rolls around to next August. The novelty wears off, a few thousand can't be bothered, a few thousand more don't like the choice of club. Bang goes the income - and then what?

The website says it will "inspire players - having the backing of tens of thousands of members will be the ultimate motivation." Until of course you play a blinder one week and are dropped the next because a few thousand people in Chicago or Aberystwyth fancy the other player in your position because the internet tells them so. Not that inspiring then, eh?

Well, Ebbsfleet fans, I feel for you. Having your club poached from under your nose in nothing more than a giant publicity stunt, and your team chosen by people whose sole experience of this sort of thing is taking Rushden and Diamonds to the Premiership on Championship Manager must be galling.

I just don't get it. A head coach and coaching staff taking training on a day to day basis whilst completely unqualified and ignorant people get to decide the starting XI just because they paid for the club. If I were coming up with a blueprint for a successful club, Hearts and Chelsea wouldn't be the first two I'd pick.....

Monday, November 12, 2007

Dennis Rommedahl for Ajax (v Feyenoord), 11 November 2007

It was "Klassieker" weekend in Holland this weekend, with the league's top two sides going head to head in the country's most fiercely contested derby match.
A spirited Feyenoord side dominated the first half and Gio van Bronckhorst's 27th minute goal separated the sides at half time.
Ajax coach Adrie Koster made two changes at the interval, removing Luis Suarez and the apparently infinitely ineffective Albert Luque and the substitutes changed the game. Ex-Charlton winger Dennis Rommedahl side-footed a brilliant equaliser on 52 minutes, and Swiss teenager Siem de Jong sneaked a left foot shot in the far corner on 67 minutes after some woeful Feyenoord defending.
Despite looking down and out, the home side equalised with sixteen minutes remaining when ex-Rangers striker Michael Mols stumbled in the box and despite fierce Ajax protestations, a penalty was awarded. Marten Stekelenburg kept out Theo Lucius' spot-kick but Jonathan de Guzman was on hand to poke in the rebound. Ajax lost George Ogararu to injury shortly after having made their permitted three substitutions but held on for a 2-2 draw.
What interested me about this game is that the Dutch FA had made a bold decision to appoint a Belgian referee, Franck de Bleeckere for the match rather than using one of their own officials. A Dutch official would have understood the nature of the derby atmosphere and the individual traits of players they come into regular contact with, but is an impartial foreigner likely to provide a more objective and laws-driven environment? Other than the erroneous penalty award, De Bleeckere did well, I thought - his zero tolerance for technical transgressions was apparent early (a booking for simulation and one for deliberate handball in each penalty box) and he was authoritative throughout.
I'm largely in favour of allowing good quality referees to administer games outside their own country - indeed when Pierluigi Collina reached the retirement age for Italian refs there was some conjecture that me may continue his career in England (as our retirement age is higher.) I'm not arguing that the standard of refereeing abroad is better - but for a Premiership title decider on the last day of the season, why not consider a top European ref as an impartial and experienced option? In this day of foreign players and managers it seems a bit inconsistent that we can't do the same with our officials.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Luke Young for Middlesbrough (v Tottenham Hotspur), 3 November 2007

So, it's that time of the week again. I feel like Leeds United - majestic in the first season of this game, and a slow and ineluctable decline since. Shane's Chelsea-like consistency is reminiscent of Mourinho's 2004 side....

Derby 0-2 West Ham
Liverpool 2-0 Fulham
Sunderland 2-1 Newcastle
Birmingham 1-1 Aston Villa
Bolton 1-0 Middlesbrough
Chelsea 2-0 Everton
Man Utd 1-0 Blackburn
Portsmouth 2-0 Man City
Tottenham 3-0 Wigan
Reading 1-2 Arsenal

and wildcards from the FA Cup First Round:

Crewe 1-1 Milton Keynes Dons
Morecambe 1-2 Port Vale
Wycombe 2-1 Swindon

Monday, November 05, 2007

Pontus Wernbloom for IFK Goteborg (v Trelleborg FF), 28 October 2007

Trying to standardise the world football calendar might seem like a great idea in principle, but try selling that idea to the Scandinavians whose leagues, on account of their impending winter, are now either concluded or well on the way.

It's been a really interesting season in Scandinavian football, actually, with the established order struggling and some new faces in the upper echelons of the leagues.

Norway's biggest club, Rosenborg Trondheim, have had a contrasting season. Despite Champions League qualification and subsequent excellent results against both Chelsea and Valencia, an unacceptable fifth place league finish (meaning no European qualification) cost coach Knut Toerem his job. The toppling of Rosenborg as the main power in Norwegian football was unexpected, particularly considering they have been as dominant a club as any European league has seen in the last two decades, winning fifteen of the last seventeen league titles.

Their demise opened up a chance of glory for another of Norway's sides, and it was last years runners-up SK Brann who grapsed the chance of the Tippeligaen title for their first Championship since 1963. Stabaek finished second - the best finish in the clubs long history - and Viking secured the "bronze" spot from Lillestrom.

As well as for Rosenborg, it was a disappointing season for 2005 champions Valerenga who ended up in seventh spot, a full eighteen points off the top.

The Finnish league was more predictable, however, with Tampere United comfortably retaining the Veikkausliiga title by eight points from their nearest rivals FC Haka (coincidentally, Tampere lost in the third Champions League qualifying round to Rosenborg). Haka improved on last season's third place finish to qualify for the UEFA Cup and last years second place side HJK Helsinki had a poor season and finished seventh. 29 year old Braizilan sttriker Rafael was the league's top goalscorer having spent most of his career in Finland.

A nailbiting end to the Swedish season saw the title race go down to the wire with three clubs - IFK Goteborg, Kalmar FF and Djurgardens in with a chance entering the final day. A surprise 1-0 home defeat by relegated Brommapojkarna ended Djurgardens hopes, although ultimately even a win wouldn't have been enough. Kalmar did their bit beating AIK 2-0 but they were denied a fairytale first ever league title by one point as Goteborg's two first half goals handed them the title for the first time since 1996.

Swedish football is one of the more interesting European leagues - indeed since Goteborg's dominance between 1990 and 1996, seven different sides have won the Allvenskan title. Halmstads (twice), AIK, Helsingborgs, Hammarby, Djurgardens (twice), Malmo and IF Elfsborg have lifted the trophy in the last decade.

It's also one of the more closely contested with only fourteen points separating the top 8 sides, and with the top league to be extended from 14 to 16 clubs in 2008 it will make for an interesting season. Whether we are entering another period of IFK Goteborg dominance, I am not sure - a disappointing year for Henrik Larsson's Helsingborg ended with a ominous 9-0 thumping of a competent Halmstads side and so perhaps signals their intent for next season.

Champions - IFK Goteborg
UEFA Cup: Djurgardens, Kalmar
Intertoto Cup - Elfsborg

Champions - SK Brann
UEFA Cup - Stabaek, Viking
Intertoto Cup - Lillestrom

Champions - Tampere United
UEFA Cup - FC Haka
Intertoto Cup - TPS

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Alex Russell for Northampton Town (vs Oldham Athletic), 27 October 2007

Hello. That time of the week again... you know, the one where we all make comically bad guesses at the weekend's Premier League scores.

Or is that just me?

Arsenal 1-1 Man Utd
Aston Villa 2-0 Derby
Blackburn 0-0 Liverpool
Everton 2-1 Birmingham
Fulham 2-2 Reading
Middlesbrough 2-1 Tottenham
Newcastle 0-1 Portsmouth
Wigan 0-2 Chelsea
West Ham 3-1 Bolton
Man City 1-0 Sunderland

and some wildcards from the East Midlands:

Colchester 0-1 Leicester
Northampton 2-1 Southend
Nottm Forest 1-0 Tranmere
Mansfield 0-1 Macclesfield,