July 26, 2006
The Second Qualifying Round of this season’s Champions League began yesterday and there was really only one surprise through the first leg. Moldovan champions Sheriff Tiraspol held on for a 1-1 draw against Russian side Spartak Moscow. There still remains little doubt that the Red-Whites will still go through.
Elsewhere, former European Cup winners Red Star Belgrade needed an own goal to take a 1-0 victory against eircom League champions Cork City. Hearts marked their debut in the competition with an emphatic 3-0 win over Bosnian champions Siroki Brijeg and last season’s UEFA Cup semifinalists Steaua Bucharest defeated Gorica 2-0.
The draw for the next round is not made until Friday.
July 24, 2006
The Qualification Preview continues with a group that contains nations that punched above their weight in the recent past, but is wide open anyway.
The Fodder: Malta is well a nice place to take a vacation and Moldova is a good place to take one if you have been kidnapped.
Will Walk This Group: No one, any of the other teams including Hungary have a chance to win this group.
The Battle For the Top Two: Bosnia came very close to qualifying for the World Cup so they should not be discounted. Greece are the holders of the trophy, so that may give them an extra boost in qualification. Hungary are not an elite side, but in this group they can give anyone a game. Norway have never lost to Brazil, and as one of the stronger teams in the group will be expected to do well. Turkey are probably the strongest side on paper, but all of their home games will be played at neutral sites due to a FIFA imposed ban.
Damien Duff completed his move to St. James’ Park for a £5 million fee. Chelsea took a significant loss on a man they paid Blackburn £17 million for three years ago and they also rejected more lucrative advances from Spurs and Liverpool. The reason is simple, while Duff would have aided other clubs because he can play on both wings at an extremely high level, Newcastle needed help at other positions.
Newcastle has Emre, who was named one of the greatest 125 living players in 2004, can play on the left wing. At the same time, Geordie favorite Nolberto Solano is the man on the other wing. So the addition of Duff may make for greater attacking play, which is something the Newcastle fans have always liked, but they haven’t improved the end product in the slightest.
With the retirement of Alan Shearer, the Magpies are left with only two strikers on the books. Albert Luque looked promising in the two matches against Lillestrom in the Intertoto Cup, but the Spanish striker has looked disinterested at times. Shola Ameobi is the other man looking to score goals, but his strike rate of one in six Premiership appearances in his career is heskey-esque.
At the back, Newcastle appears to be continuing with comedy duo Titus Bramble and Jean-Alain Boumsong. So the £5 million could have probably been used to improve this area a bit instead. In the end, its hard to complain about picking a player of Duff’s skill for such a cheap fee.
July 22, 2006
The UEFA Intertoto Cup concluded today with some surprisingly exciting matches considering they were playing for a spot in the UEFA Cup Second Qualifying Round.
A Sharmal Touma late brace allowed Twente to advance ahead of Kalmar. Dnipro nearly overcame a two goal deficit but ultimate fell on the away goals rule against Marseille. Eight man Villareal fell 3-2 on aggregate to Maribor. Finally in Norway, Shola Ameobi buried Lillestrom with two first half goals.
The Magpies may benefit from that result because it offers potential signing Damien Duff European football while Freddy Shepherd gives him whatever wage he desires.
July 20, 2006
It appears that the appeal of playing in Serie B with a 30 point handicap wasn’t enough for Juventus defenders Lilian Thuram and Gianluca Zambrotta. The pair just signed with European champions Barcelona as the La Liga race for players from the four disgraced clubs continues.
Back in Turin, Gianluigi Buffon, Alessandro Del Piero, Nicola Legrottaglie and new signing Valeri Bojinov have committed themselves to the Bianconeri cause.
Liverpool and Newcastle have effectively been priced out of the race to sign Dutch striker Dirk Kuyt after he had a £13.7 million price tag put on his head.
Bernardo Corradi completed a move to the City of Manchester Stadium for an undisclosed fee from Valencia.
Manchester United want £15 million from Ruud van Nistelrooy and Bayern Munich will not be deterred in the slightest.
Retired raging bull Zinedine Zidane will serve a three match ban in the form of FIFA sponsored community service while former Everton reject and World Cup winner Marco Materazzi will miss a rematch with France because of a two match ban.
Doug Ellis is trying to lure Alan Curbishley to the top job in the abyss known as Midlands football, but it seems only Roy Aitken wants the cursed position of Villa manager.
And finally, Damien Duff appears to be leaving Chelsea after Jose Mourinho described him as a player he is “not desperate to keep.”
July 19, 2006
Its been almost two weeks since I did group A so I should probably get to doing this.
The Fodder: The Faroe Islands generally considers draws to be huge victories. Georgia has never done anything at the international level in the 15 years since independence. Lithuania are a bit stronger but the top of this group will be much too tough. Scotland has come some distance under Walter Smith, but this is still too early.
Will Walk This Group: World Cup winners Italy should surely have no difficulty picking up the points required to win the group. They may in fact do it with a couple matches to spare.
The Battle For Second: France may have lost on penalties in the World Cup final, but it was their aging stars who carried them there. The younger players struggled in qualifying for the last World Cup and they did not show much to prove that the immediate future is bright. Ukraine made it to the quarterfinals of the World Cup and it is quite unclear whether they can continue progressing or if their performance was as high as they could go.
Seven Champions League qualifying matches today, and five draws. On the losing end of these matches were The New Saints and Shakhtyor Soligarsk. Among the interesting sides to advance were Faroese outfit B36, who are running out of time to retain their title at home and Cork City who are battling Drogheda United and Derry City for the eircom League title.
Hafnarfjordur find themselves in a winnable second tie against Legia, but it does not look good for the rest of the sides that advanced out of the first round.
Champions League Second Round Qualifying Draw:
Gorica v. Steaua Bucharest
Levski Sofia v. Sioni Bolnisi
FC Zürich v. Red Bull Salzburg
Djurgården v. Ružemberok
Debrecen v. FK Rabotnicki
Cork City v. Red Star Belgrade
Fenerbahçe v. B36
Mladá Boleslav v. Vålerenga
Sheriff Tiraspol v. Spartak Moscow
Liepajas Metalurgs v. Dinamo Kiev
Hafnarfjordur v. Legia Warsaw
FC København v. MyPa
Ekranas v. Dinamo Zagreb
Hearts v. Široki Brijeg
Shaun Newton picked up a seven-month ban because he was doing too many of the white lines. Why would a guy who is 30 and nothing more than a squad player at West Ham would do something so stupid? Meanwhile, Man United fans will fume over the fact that the suspension is shorter than Rio Ferdinand’s eight-month ban for missing a drug test.
Alexandre Gaydamak took full control of Pompey after buying out Milan Mandaric’s remaining share of the club. Which in turn led to this news item…
Fenerbahçe have received an £8.2 million bid for temperamental striker Nicolas Anelka from Pompey.
In Spain, new manager Fabio Capello is in the process of completing the transfers of Fabio Cannavaro and Emerson from his former club Juventus.
And because of a clerical error and legal ruling, Barcelona, will have to deal with a new presidential election and we all know how crazy some of the promises can be in these campaigns.
Now I said yesterday that Cerro Porteno were the current Unofficial World Club Champions. It was done in much the same way that the unofficial World Championship is decided only friendlies do not count.
The starting point for this was the inaugural Fifa World Club Championship contested in January 2000 since it was the first competition in which clubs from any part of the world could theoretically qualify. Since Corinthians lifted that title at the Maracana, the unofficial title has not left South America but exchanges in the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana have allowed it to leave Brazil.