Sunday, October 31, 2004

Blackburn Battling Qualities Shine Against Liverpool

Blackburn Rovers held Liverpool to a 2 - 2 draw at Ewood Park in front of a crowd of 26,314 on Saturday night, which is sure to delight Rovers fans after conceding ten goals in the previous three English Premier League games.

Rovers manager Mark Hughes gave forward Jay Bothroyd his first start of the season ahead of Youri Djorkaeff. Nils-Eric Johansson was given a rare start at centre-back to combine with veteran Craig Short thanks to Dominic Matteo and Lorenzo Amoruso injuries. Youngster James McEveley also played his first Premiership match for 18 months, replacing veteran Michael Gray on the left of defence, while Tugay came back from suspension to replace Garry Flitcroft.

It looked to be another miserable day for the home fans when Liverpool's John Arne Riise gave the away side the lead thanks to a magnificent left foot strike and acres of space.

To be fair, the Blackburn defence looked shaky all night, with goalkeeper Brad Friedel having to make several excellent saves. However, the attackers started to fire up after conceding a goal. It was only a matter of time before they scored a goal, and they did so thanks to an excellent counter-attack.

A Paul Dickov through-ball found Australia international Brett Emerton with acres of space and without a defender in sight. He then stylishly dribbled down the park and calmly put a cross in the box through to an unmarked Bothroyd, who easily slotted the ball into the back of the net.

The Lancashire outfit continued their battling display for the rest of the half. Brett Emerton was the stand-out, who was running rings around the Liverpool defenders from the left of midfield. His work paid off just before half-time, when the ball found his way to him in a penalty box scramble. He delightfully put a low shot past highly-rated goalkeeper Chris Kirkland to make the score 2 - 1.

Liverpool looked to be the slightly better side in the second half, despite losing striker and expensive new signing Djibril Cisse with a broken leg after a tussle with McEveley. The Frenchman may well not play again this season.

The Merseysiders' good work paid off after only nine minutes into the second half. A poorly directed pass by James McEveley found its way to Liverpool and in an instant Milan Baros broke away from the Blackburn defence line to score. Craig Short was simply to slow to keep the Czech Republic striker at bay and make a lunge at the ball.

To Rovers' credit they continued to fight on. Substitute Jonathon Stead made an excellent left-footed strike that forced opposition goalkeeper Kirkland to make an equally-excellent save.

Moments later a Barry Ferguson free kick resulted in a scramble in the box, with Blackburn looking likely to score. Striker Dickov found some space in front of goal and took a shot, only to be denied by a brave Chris Kirkland.

The last few minutes of the match were nerve-wracking for the home fans, who felt that their weak-minded team would lose the game to a 90th minute goal. To Blackburn's credit, they were able to fend off successive Liverpool attacks with a fighting spirit to keep the score at 2 - 2.

The resulting point to each club was welcoming for Blackburn Rovers, who came off the bottom of the league table to 19th place. They now have seven points from eleven English Premiership games. Liverpool is on 17 points after ten league games.

Blackburn: Friedel, Neill, Short, Johansson, McEveley, Emerton, Tugay, Ferguson, Reid, Bothroyd (Stead, 65 minutes), Dickov. Substitutes Not Used: Enckelman, Flitcroft, Djorkaeff, Todd.

Liverpool: Kirkland, Finnan (Kewell, 55 minutes), Hyypia, Riise, Cisse (Luis Garcia, 38 minutes), Alonso, Hamann (Diao, 80 minutes), Josemi, Traore, Baros, Carragher. Substitutes Not Used: Dudek, Warnock.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Referee Mike Riley Let Fiery Encounter Get Out Of Hand

On Sunday, Manchester United ended Arsenal 49-game unbeaten league streak with a 2 - 0 win at Old Trafford in front of a capacity crowd. The goals came courtesy of Ruud Van Nistelrooy from the penalty spot and Wayne Rooney.

The encounter between the biggest rivalry in the English Premiership was very fiery. In fact, it was so fiery that pushing, shoving, and reckless challenges were made throughout the proceedings. The biggest divers in English football were also exposed in this diving-fest, which was supposed to be a game of football.

Admittedly, refereeing such an intensive game would have been hard for any referee to cope, as it is hard to distinguish the facts with the constant diving that happened. However, referee Mike Riley barely controlled the least in an appropriate professional way.

Rarely did Riley take out his cards to book players for various infringements of the laws of football. The inappropriate physical contact and diving was rampant because it of his insistence that he keep his cards in his pocket. If he had been strict from the start, instead of leaving it late into the first half to show three yellow cards in as many minutes, football fans the world over would have been treated to a fantastic game.

My main gripe is the penalty that the referee awarded in the second half to Manchester United, though. Arsenal defender Sol Campbell made a half-hearted challenge in the 18-yard box which did not touch teenager Wayne Rooney. Rooney tumbled over, and amazingly, although there were many other challenges worse than that during the match in the box, he pointed to the spot.

Of course, that changed the whole direction of the game. Van Nistelrooy sent Gunners goalkeeper Jens Lehmann the wrong way and Arsenal were unable to strike back in a game they did not look like losing 2 - 0 in.

Mike Riley, who has paid Manchester United seven penalty kicks in as many matches, performed poorly as a enforcer of football's rules on the pitch. He should have a look at the replay to see just how badly he refereed and view all of the obvious bookable offences he missed.

Meanwhile, Blackburn Rovers have announced that despite Arsenal not reaching an unbeaten 50 league games in a row, the Lancashire have indeed matched that record, but in another department. In their 4 - 0 loss to Chelsea on the weekend, they reached a 50 Premiership games without a penalty kick in their favour. Their last penalty was taken on April 26, 2003.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Emerton Contradicts Veteran Midfielder's Denigrating Comments

Recently, veteran midfielder and ex-Turkish captain Tugay made the following eyebrow-raising statement on Turkish television: "Nobody wants to play football any more (at Blackburn). The (previous) manager (Graeme Souness) left and that's how it is now. Now, I'm looking for new alternatives."

Of course, this statement suggests that there is disharmony in the current Rovers squad, and that none of the players wants to play at the club. The reality of the situation is that the Blackburn players virtually gave current manager Mark Hughes employment at the Lancashire club. Craig Short said just as much when he spoke to the media before an appointment was made some weeks ago.

Brett Emerton has thrown his hat into the ring and contradicted Tugay himself. He was telling the media yesterday morning that he was far happier at Blackburn, now that Hughes is manager. In addition, he thought that the other players were happier too, despite the relegation quagmire that they find themselves in at the moment.

"I think the players are a lot happier," said the Australian international midfielder. "Mark seems to get on well with all the players and everyone is enthusiastic and keen to get results for him. That has to be a good sign."

Tugay is sour that the manager he followed from Galatasaray is no longer at Blackburn anymore. The reality of the situation is that at least most players at Blackburn are happier, and that many players outside the club would be more than happy to play under a Manchester United legend as well.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Tugay Is Wrong: Players Do Want To Play At Blackburn

Blackburn Rovers defensive midfielder Tugay is bound to leave the club soon after he revealed to the media that he will be looking forward to offers from Turkish clubs when the January transfer window opens. This was to be expected: at 34, he is getting on in years and it makes sense that he would like to finish his career in his own country.

Former manager Graeme Souness has a lot to do with his discontentment at his current club. The Scotsman has the habit of having players and other staff follow him from club to club. He has held several posts in his career, and therefore he signed some of his former players for Ewood Park, including Tugay. Therefore, it is natural that the family man would want to leave. The reason for his presence in England is now at another club (Newcastle United), where he has little chance of gaining a starting spot. He is not getting regular starts at his current club, either.

However, Tugay's comment in relation to the supposed feelings of his fellow Rovers players about their experience at the club is unjustified, confusing, and downright infuriating, especially considering that the Lancashire club is facing a battle to stave off English Premier League relegation fears. During the same phone interview for a Turkish television channel, he stated: "Nobody wants to play football any more (at Blackburn). The (previous) manager (Graeme Souness) left and that's how it is now. Now, I'm looking for new alternatives."

His observation that no-one want to play at Blackburn anymore because of Souness' departure is certainly downright unjustified and confusing. Never mind that current manager Mark Hughes was virtually appointed by the players -- he is a very popular and capable manager outside the club too, well-known especially as former Manchester United player, and particularly for his exploits as Wales national coach. Not only do the current players like playing under his management; most outsiders would very much like to play under the helm of someone who has such a big reputation.

Tugay is unlikely to be reprimanded sufficiently for the comment he made on the so-called view that "every player" holds of Blackburn Rovers (that it is not a club they would want to play for). This man has already decided that he wants to move. He does not have much to lose from making such a damaging comment, and his more recent prepared media statement that says he is not discontented at Blackburn smacks of insincerity.

I am sure that Mark Hughes has already told him of the seriousness for his comments, on both accounts. There was no need for the public announcement of his availability. Making transfer availability known to Turkish clubs could have been done in a much more discreet and private way. There was also no need of damaging the club that has paid his wages for the last few years by making unjustifiable claims.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Blackburn Are In For A Long Struggle

Blackburn Rovers lost their first home match of the season against Middlesbrough on Saturday October 16. They lost 4 - 0 at Ewood Park in front of a crowd of approximately 20,000 people.

The four goals scored by Middlesbrough came courtesy of ex-Turkey international Tugay being sent off in the first half after collecting two yellow cards. Ex-Chelsea striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink scored three second half goals, while George Boateng scored the other goal.

This result has put Rovers in deep trouble. They are in the bottom three relegation zone, with only six points from nine league games. The Lancashire team also has the most negative goal difference in the league, having -11 goal difference.

Blackburn: Friedel, Neil, Amoruso, Matteo, Gray, Emerton, Ferguson, Tugay, Reid, Djorkaeff, Dickov. Substitutes: Enckelman, Short, Stead, Pedersen, Jansen.

Middlesbrough: Schwarzer, Parnaby, Riggott, Southgate, McMahon, Boateng, Parlour, Mendieta, Zenden, Hasselbaink, Downing. Substitutes: Nash, Ehiogu, Nemeth, Morrison, Bates.

English Premier Leagues Results, October 16 - 18
(My pre-match predictions are in italicised brackets)

Birmingham 0 - 0 Manchester United (1 - 2)
West Bromwich Albion 0 - 0 Norwich (2 - 1)
Fulham 2 - 4 Liverpool (1 - 1)
Everton 1 - 0 Southampton (1 - 0)
Bolton 1 - 0 Crystal Palace (3 - 1)
Blackburn 0 - 4 Middlesbrough (1 - 1)
Arsenal 3 - 1 Aston Villa (3 - 1)
Manchester City 1 - 0 Chelsea (1 - 1)
Charlton 1 - 1 Newcastle (1 - 2)
Portsmouth 1 - 0 Tottenham (0 - 1)

Friday, October 15, 2004

English Premier League October 16 - 18 Weekend Predictions

As we approach round nine of the English Premier League season, the table continues to take shape in what will be an interesting next few weeks. Arsenal and Chelsea remain undefeated on 22 and 20 points respectively. Manchester United is seven points away from second spot on 13 points. Meanwhile, Southampton and English Premiership newcomers Crystal Palace and Norwich City are in the relegation zone on five points each.

Here are my predictions for this October 16 - 18 weekend.

Birmingham 1 - 2 Manchester United at St Andrew’s Ground

Manchester United is back in form with the return of England international defender Rio Ferdinand in the line-up after an eight-month absence due to a failure to appear at a drugs test. With new signing and wonderkid Wayne Rooney now back from injury (who has already scored three goals in one European game), Birmingham should struggle against the team backed by the G14 organisation -- even at home.

Arsenal 3 - 1 Aston Villa at Highbury

Arsenal is approaching 50 unbeaten league games and it looks like they should not be stopped just yet. They have too much attacking prowess, especially with the likes of Frenchmen Thierry Henry and Robert Pires, and are just too classy. However, Aston Villa does contain the potential to scrape a goal against a superior London side, especially with Juan Pablo Angel in the line-up.

Blackburn 1 - 1 Middlesbrough at Ewood Park

This will be a close game. Blackburn Rovers are undefeated so far at home this season, despite only having six points from eight games. The Lancashire club does not look like dropping another game just at this moment as they continue to show improvement and intensity under Mark Hughes, who just this week resigned from his job as Wales national coach. Brett Emerton is particularly in form at the moment. He has scored three goals from three games for both Blackburn and Australia. On the other hand, new striking pair Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Mark Viduka are partnering well in the Middlesbrough colours. However, Viduka looks to be out of the side due to injury. Nevertheless, Hasselbaink should trouble the Rovers defence.

Bolton 3 - 1 Crystal Palace at Reebok Stadium

Premiership newcomers Crystal Palace look unlikely to upset Bolton. The Lancashire club will be boosted by the likely return to fitness by Nigeria international and Wanderers captain Jay-Jay Okocha, who aggravated a groin injury a fortnight ago. Bolton, also being a side that is seemingly unconcerned with defence, looks likely to go on a scoring spree.

Everton 1 - 0 Southampton at Goodison Park

Everton are one of the in-form teams in the Premier League, collecting 16 points from eight league games. They currently sit third, and will surely be full of confidence due to the news that manager David Moyes is about to sign a new contract. Meanwhile, managerless Southampton, who has only won one match for the season, should struggle away from home.

Fulham 1 - 1 Liverpool at Craven Cottage

Liverpool has been struggling for a team of their calibre. They have only collected ten points from seven games, and look unlikely to pick up a win against a reasonable Fulham at the Cottage. Playmaker Harry Kewell has been in average form all season, and in fact, in his whole year and a half at Liverpool. New striker Djibril Cisse is having a poor run of form himself.

West Bromwich Albion 2 - 1 Norwich City at The Hawthorns

This should be a very interesting match between the two Premiership newcomers, as they will both be able to play flowing football against easier opposition. However, Albion looks to be the better side, and they are playing at home after all, so they should win.

Manchester City 1 - 1 Chelsea at City of Manchester Stadium

Chelsea is playing defensive football at the moment, having only conceded one goal from eight league games. However, Manchester City is an attacking side and if anyone can score against a star-studded defensive side, they can. Ex-Arsenal and ex-Liverpool striker Nicolas Anelka will relish the challenge against one of Europe's very best. Chelsea should dominate the game, although I expect that many of their chances will not be genuine ones, as has been the case in previous games.

Charlton 1 - 2 Newcastle United at The Valley

Newcastle United remains undefeated in the five games new manager Graeme Souness has led them. They have 12 points in eight games, compared to Charlton Athletic's eleven points. The Addicks will certainly push United, but Newcastle is in good form at the moment and look like retaining that unbeaten run. Veteran striker Alan Shearer is playing reasonably well at the moment.

Portsmouth 0 - 1 Tottenham at Fratton Park

There is a new discipline that Jacques Santini has brought in that has made Tottenham a formidable team to beat. They now play a solid defensive game, while they have a strong front two containing Irish international Robbie Keane and Jermain Defoe. Hotspur currently have thirteen points, while Portsmouth is struggling on eight points.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Emerton Caps Off OFC Nations Cup Win

Brett Emerton capped off a magnificent 6 - 0 win over the Solomon Islands in the dying minutes on Tuesday with a running goal from an unselfish Ante Milicic pass across the face of goal.

Australia won the OFC Nations Cup with an 11 - 1 aggregate, after winning their first leg match in the Solomon Islands 5 - 1. For the two-match series, which also served as the qualifier for the 2005 Confederations Cup in Germany, Australia coach Frank Farina employed a 4 - 3 - 3 system which seemed to pay off with two solid victories.

Brett Emerton arguably benefited most from the system, playing as a wing-forward. In yesterday's match at Sydney's Aussie Stadium, in front of a crowd of 19,208, he played a hand in four of Australia's six goals. For the whole 90 minutes, he was creating openings with his runs and brilliant skill, while swapping between the two wing-forward positions.

Ante Milicic scored the first goal of the match in the fifth minute. Harry Kewell, the crowd puller, scored soon after with a simple tap-in between the Solomon Islands goalkeeper's legs from a Brett Emerton corner and a Tony Popovic header.

The rest of the first half was dedicated to poor passing by the Oceania powerhouse, exposing just how far they have to improve, while the Solomon Islands were able to stop numerous Australian attacks.

Kewell was taken off at half time to rest an ankle injury, while Archie Thompson replaced him. Tony Vidmar added to the 2 - 0 scoreline after fifteen minutes into the second half. Archie Thompson, Ahmad Elrich and finally Brett Emerton added the other three goals.

Thompson should have had a penalty paid in his favour in the middle minutes of the half, when a Solomon Islands defender ran into him in the box. However, the referee, who showed inconsistent refereeing all night, denied the exciting forward justice.

Brett Emerton was by far the field's best player, being the most prominent figure in the Australian attack. After the match the Blackburn Rovers midfielder said he was quite happy with the new 4 - 3 - 3 system, but had some reservations about it. "We've only played it the last two games but it seems to be working well. The real test will come when we play stiffer opposition," he said.

The 2005 Confederations Cup, containing Greece, Brazil, Argentina, Tunisia, Japan, Mexico and the hosts Germany, will be an important step for Australia as they continue their quest for World Cup qualification. They will have to meet tough South American opposition to qualify for the 2006 World Cup, provided they first beat their Oceanic opposition in preliminary stages.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Keep It Up, Klinsmann

Using unorthodox methods in football, from off-field management to on-field strategy, will always draw vocal critics from those who are supposed to be supporting your cause. New Germany national coach Juergen Klinsmann, who had no previous experience as coach when appointed, has been under criticism on many fronts, including from a former international teammate. However, he should not listen to his critics and continue working upon his already excellent progress.

Former teammate Lothar Matthaeus, coach of Hungary, who also happened to lose out to 40-year-old Klinsmann for the vacant German job after the 2004 European Championship, has taken the inexperienced coach to task for his uncompromising shake-up of the formerly slumping national team.

Sepp Maier stepping down as goalkeeper coach for the national team due to a dispute with Klinsmann triggered Matthaeus' reaction, who has implied that he is power-driven and must have things done his way for his own personal glory. "(He) lets heads roll for his goals," he said. He further referred to the struggle he had with Klinsmann back in 1996 to retain the Germany captaincy to support this view: "I learned then first hand. Klinsmann sawed away at me - and in the end he succeeded."

Matthaeus is not the only vocal critic. Many pundits are also critical. Kicker magazine called Klinsmann's leadership style a delight to all those who enjoy "Machiavellian" power politics. The German coach has replaced almost everyone who worked with the non-playing staff in national team have gone due to the controversial man and the former striker has replaced them with his own choices. He has also appointed American fitness trainers, while maintaining his home in the United States of America. For the 2006 World Cup in Germany, he has decided that they need to find new living headquarters and a new stadium to practice in, while also suggesting that they should not play in the extreme pressure of an opening match.

Juergen Klinsmann has also changed many things on-field that has attracted criticism. These days, Germany plays an attacking brand of football, in contrast to the more defensive German game that they were playing previously. Top European goalkeeper Oliver Kahn was immediately demoted as captain in favour of midfielder Michael Ballack, while he also employed a goalkeeper rotation system to give the likes of Jens Lehmann, who has forever been second choice and unused, game time.

However, there is no arguing that Klinsmann's unorthodox tactics are not paying off. He has already impressed this commentator, with two wins over Austria and Iran, while he led Germany to a 1 - 1 against world champions Brazil. He is pleasing many fans of a team who were before seen as a declining football power without much future, especially after they failed to pass the group stages of the 2004 European Championships, where they were expected to perform.

Those who try different things and clash with the status quo will always receive a barrage of unflattering comments. Nevertheless, as long as Juergen Klinsmann is bringing in the results, he should stick to his own unorthodox methods. After all, it was Klinsmann who was appointed by the football association in Germany to coach and overlook the German national team, and to give them the best possible chance to perform in the 2006 World Cup. No-one else is being paid to do that specific job.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Australia First Leg Victory In Solomon Islands Was Solid

Australia's 5 - 1 Oceania Nations Cup Final first leg win against the Solomon Islands was a solid victory. Goals from Josip Skoko (2), Ante Milicic, Brett Emerton, plus a late goal from Ahmad Elrich wrapped up the first leg win, which also doubles as a 2005 Confederations Cup qualifier.

Some criticism suggests that the winning margin was not good enough for a team with Australia's strength against a very weak Solomon Islands. However, the facts indicate that the Saturday October 9 match was very tough for the Australian players involved.

The match was played in front of a capacity crowd of 21,000 at the Lawson Tama Stadium in the near-isolated Solomon Islands with virtually no Australian support. It was also played in extreme mid-afternoon heat. With most of the players in the squad coming from a cold European autumn with at least some support when playing away from home, the environment was very draining for the players.

After a 4 - 0 first half, it made sense for the players, who were increasingly feeling the effects of fatigue, to take a step off the pedal and start defending. The key players in Lucas Neill, Brett Emerton, and Vince Grella were then slowly taken off to be rested for the next match on Tuesday, which did not help the attacking virtue of the team.

The first eleven was also weak in terms of usual first team players. Australia was missing players and stars such as Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka, Marco Bresciano, captain Craig Moore, and Stan Lazaridis.

Facts considering, the first leg Oceania Nations Cup Final is a solid result that even many who are not confident of Frank Farina's national coach tenure cannot deny. Qualification is now virtually assured, with a stronger team expected to face the Solomon Islands at Aussie Stadium in Sydney on Tuesday 12 October at 7.30PM.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Kick Aragones Out Of Spain National Team

Spain coach Luis Aragones should be sacked from his position by Spain's Football Federation and dealt with by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) after his so-called "motivational comment" made to Arsenal and Spain forward Jose Antonio Reyes in a training session. He used the term "black shit" to describe French opponent and club teammate Thierry Henry at a training session during the week which television audio recorded.

Anti-racist football supporters, players, officials, and others involved in what is supposed to be the world game have been trying hard for years to campaign against racism and football. In Britain, the "Let's kick racism out of football" campaign has worked hard to manage "a widespread acceptance throughout the game in Britain that abuse of this kind is unacceptable at any level."

However, it is still all too common to hear supporters shout racist abuse from behind the fence. Aragones' comment only serves to weaken such campaigns. Racism is a disgusting illness in society, and for this reason, Aragones should not be coaching Spain. After all, it is not the fault of the individual that they are born to certain people, plus it does not serve any disadvantage; every person, of whatever colour, are one and the same -- human beings. An example of such racism should be made. He should not receive a mere "slap on the wrist".

"I am not a racist," Aragones told Spanish newspaper Marca: "I consider myself a citizen of the world and I have many black friends." He continued: "I don't think anyone takes these comments seriously because I never intended to insult or disrespect anyone. I had no intention to hurt anybody."

No, Mr. Aragones, you are a racist, as much as it hurts to write that. The non-racist does not need to declare that they have black friends, nor declare that their comments were never meant to harm anyone. They do themselves justice by never having to say those things to defend themselves. Rather, they prove that they are not racists by the way they treat other human beings.

A mere apology from Luis Aragones is not good enough. An apology does not show a change in thought; only time and experience can change that. There is no excuse for racism in any situation. He is now a proven racist, despite his insistence that he was only using the comment as a motivational tool and is thus not a racist. For this reason, he should be sacked from his position as national coach of Spain. UEFA should take whatever action they can under the laws of the game in the meantime.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Mark Bosnich Has Effectively Ended Chances Of Rekindling Career

Former Manchester United and Chelsea goalkeeper Mark Bosnich has effectively ended his chances of rekindling his career in his most recent scrape involving a celebrity versus retired professionals match. He has done this through his terrible behaviour and attitude to football after his nine-month ban for testing positive to using the drug cocaine has ended, never mind beforehand.

The former Australia international has been given a chance to play in a celebrity team versus retired professionals including former internationals Paul Gascoigne, Peter Beardsley, Ian Wright, Bryan Robson and Bruce Grobelaar on Sunday. The match is to be played as Newcastle United's St James's Park in front of an expected crowd of over 50,000.

However, 32-year-old Bosnich disposed of any chance of using the match to impress clubs and rekindle his career. The former superstar, who last played for English Premier League Chelsea on approximately AU$100,000 a week as a third-choice goalkeeper, admitted on television that he had not trained since he was sacked by the Blues early last year.

Further to this, he arrived at the celebrity squad's training session late, and then was first to drop out of the beeping fitness test. He was last to teammates who are mostly British television actors and musicians who had played football in their youth. He is still in the squad, but only because coach Graham Taylor needs a professional to fill the goalkeeper position. If he were an outfield player, he would not get a look-in.

Let us ignore the fact that Bosnich once took cocaine while he was a professional footballer, which is disappointing in itself. Let us look what he has done since his ban. He has not chosen to commit to training and impress clubs, instead wasting his time looking for a club while withering his body and tremendous talent away. He has virtually hit the last nail of the coffin being hammered into place. That is absolutely disgraceful.

Bosnich could easily have taken Youri Djorkaeff's path with a little commitment. After being offset during the northern hemisphere summer by English Premier League club Bolton Wanderers, Djorkaeff designed his own training regime in southern France in order to stay fit and vie for a contract another English Premiership club. The Frenchman eventually impressed Blackburn two weeks ago, who took him on board. He was so fit that he started in their next match.

"I'm a professional troublemaker at the minute," said Mark Bosnich as he introduced himself to British television viewers. Not only is he a professional troublemaker, but a professional incompetent after this latest saga. The nails in his coffin will be hard to remove if he does not start to take football seriously.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Australia Must Fight Fire With Fire To Progress On The International Stage

For Australia to qualify for the World Cup in Germany 2006, then visiting teams must not be given the "red carpet treatment" and given very uncomfortable trips, as they have been given in the past.

The Oceania region, which has only half a place that has to be contested against the first best South American nation, is widely tipped to face a South American nation in the final two-leg playoff. The last time Australia was in Uruguay for the two-leg World Cup 2002 qualifier they lost 3 - 0 due to dirty tactics that the fans used. The Uruguayan football association were only encouraging such behaviour by not making any sufficient security provisions.

Australia head coach Frank Farina explained his entrance to the Uruguayan stadium turf: "As we came out onto the ground, they threw small shiny things at us. They turned out to be coins, cut in half and rubbed on the ground to a razor-sharp edge. There were about 10 Aussies in the crowd, and about 64,990 locals." Not only that, but fanatic Uruguayan fans played music outside the Australian team's hotel at all hours of the night, depriving the Australians sleep.

Australia must play the same game if they are to progress to the World Cup. Australia international Vince Grella has already thought ahead and called for making visiting national teams very uncomfortable, starting with their Confederations Cup 2005 qualifier against the Solomon Islands during the current international fixtures period. However, he has called for legal methods to be used, which is fair enough.

"It's good that there will be a big crowd in the Solomons," Grella said. "It's good to see that they are enthusiastic. However, we should be playing the return game... at night in Melbourne where it is cold. We should learn from the South Americans by treating (visitors) just as badly as we get treated when we go there."

Grella is correct. If Australia is going to improve on the international stage and drop the tag of "minnow", then they must break down the mentality of opposition nations. There is no reason why they should treat visitors like royal figures.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Chelsea Dominant, But Only Scrape Through For A Win

Chelsea's match against Liverpool on October 3 was a tight encounter, but Chelsea eventually scraped through as 1 - 0 winners in front of a crowd of 42,028 at Stamford Bridge in the English Premier League.

Substitute Joe Cole scored the winner on 64 minutes from a Frank Lampard free kick. Lampard fired low into the box, and Cole came onto the ball for the flick-on, which beat a confused goalkeeper in the form of Chris Kirkland. The opposition players expected a high cross.

There was bad news for Chelsea in this game, however, as Didier Drogba came off with a muscle injury on 38 minutes to be replaced by Joe Cole. He will miss out on international action in the next two weeks, and may well miss many more games for the Blues.

Liverpool were really never a serious threat in this game, as Chelsea held position most of the time and never looked like conceding, although they did struggle a little to successfully break down Liverpool's defence due to their own defensive style. In fact, not a single shot was on target in the first 45 minutes, and there were only a few of them.

Liverpool’s newest striker Djibril Cisse was the only firework in an average performing team, who did a lot of running and pulled some excellent shots out of this "bag of magic tricks". His two best chances came at 27 minutes when he headed a Harry Kewell cross, missing by just yards, and not long after he left fly from well outside the box, which went a little wide of the right post.

Chelsea forward Damien Duff played up front with Drogba and Eidur Gudjohnsen and was the Blues' spark early in the match, where he went out wide and caused some trouble for the Liverpool defence.

The match was perhaps one for the football purest, as the football fan who wanted to see an attacking and exciting football would have been sorely disappointed. Chelsea had a very limited amount of decent chances, while Liverpool had next to none.

Goalscorers: Cole, 64 minutes.
Squad: Cech, Paulo Ferreira, Terry, Ricardo Carvalho, Gallas, Makelele, Smertin (Mendes, 85 minutes), Lampard, Duff (Geremi, 81 minutes), Drogba (Cole, 38 minutes), Gudjohnsen.
Unused Substitutes: Cudicini, Huth.

Squad: Kirkland, Josemi (Baros, 71 minutes), Hyypia, Carragher, Traore, Xabi Alonso, Diao (Hamann, 78 minutes), Riise, Kewell, Luis García (Finnan, 78 minutes), Cisse.
Unused Substitutes: Dudek, Warnock.

Other English Premier Leagues Results, October 2 - 3
(My predictions in italicised brackets)

Southampton 0 - 0 Manchester City (1 - 2)
Arsenal 4 - 0 Charlton (2 - 0)
Blackburn 2 - 2 Aston Villa (1 - 0)
Everton 0 - 1 Tottenham (1 - 1)
Norwich 2 - 2 Portsmouth (0 - 0)
West Bromwich Albion 2 - 1 Bolton (1 - 3)
Birmingham 2 - 2 Newcastle (0 - 1)
Manchester United 1 - 1 Middlesbrough (2 - 1)
Chelsea 1 - 0 Liverpool (1 - 0)

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Owen Made A Real-ly Bad Choice

England international Michael Owen made a very bad choice in his move to Real Madrid from Liverpool in the summer. He now finds himself missing out on the opportunity to play in a star-studded choice of forwards, and this is consequently putting his position in the England national team under question.

England head coach Sven-Goran Eriksson has admitted he is worried about his lack of action ahead of England's World Cup qualifier against Wales at Old Trafford. Owen has so far only started in one game, and that is hardly enough to keep him fit and sharp in top-class competition.

Real Madrid has the likes of world-famous Brazilian World Cup winner Ronaldo, as well as the likes of Spaniards Fernando Morientes and Raul Gonzalez. With such genuine competition, could Michael Owen really have expected to earn a regular first team place? If he did, he was delusional.

The reality of the situation is that he was merely bought for his market value. Just like David Beckham, he is hot property on the market and known worldwide. It is easy for him to make money through sponsorship deals and for Real Madrid to further market their brand and sell merchandise. The difference between David Beckham and Michael Owen though, is that Beckham brings something different to the team in terms of his exceptional set piece skills, and therefore he is a regular starter.

Michael Owen should not take his international career for granted. If he wants to get his career back to a level of normality, on both club and international levels, then he must start thinking about moving back to England. Football should be his number one priority, even if his hip pocket suffers a little because of such a move.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

English Premier League October 2 - 3 Weekend Predictions

The English Premiership is seven games in and the league table is still taking shape. There are some interesting games in this round of English football, and the Chelsea versus Liverpool match looks to be the eye-catcher of the round. Here are my predictions.

Saturday October 2

Southampton 1 - 2 Manchester City at St. Mary's Stadium

Southampton has struggled this season, collecting only seven points from four matches. Southampton head coach Steve Wigley has guided the team in their last five matches, collecting only one point, after previous manager Paul Sturrock was sacked after a win against Blackburn. He has insisted on playing nine players in every game, but is threatening to make changes if results are not coming soon.

Manchester City, on the other hand, is on seven points from seven matches. However, that is still a disappointing result as far as City is concerned. There has been some talk of manager Kevin Keegan's job security. Despite Claudio Reyna, Antoine Sibierski and Trevor Sinclair all being ruled out for the televised encounter due to injuries, and with former Liverpool star Steve McManaman being restricted to the bench as he continues his recovery from a long-standing Achilles problem, City should win in style while Nicholas Anelka is in form. He has five Premiership goals this season.

Arsenal 2 - 0 Charlton at Highbury

Charlton have been struggling of late, following heavy losses to Bolton Wanderers and Manchester City, but they won last week against Blackburn, albeit they barely managed it. Addicks manager Alan Curbishley is yet to decide whether ex-Arsenal striker Francis Jeffers will start after coming off early due to injury last week, but Jon Fortune (ankle) and Luke Young (groin and hip) are fit to continue playing.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will be resting trio Ashley Cole, Robert Pires and Edu for the Premiership clash. Brazilian midfielder Gilberto Silva remains out for several weeks with a back problem. Gael Clichy is set to settle on the left side of defence, while hot prospect Cesc Fabregas looks likely to line up beside captain Patrick Vieira in the centre of midfield. Arsenal is bidding to stretch their unbeaten Premiership run to a massive 48 matches. That appears to be safe, despite the number of players they have out of the side.

Blackburn 1 - 0 Aston Villa at Ewood Park

Aston Villa is having a decent run in the English Premier League, with eleven points from seven league games. Juan Pablo Angel has been named number one striker by manager David O'Leary, with out-of-form striker Darius Vassell and on-loan Chelsea player Carlton Cole vying for the place beside Angel. Vassell has scored just one league goal this season, despite having an excellent work rate. Carlton Cole has made a favourable impression with O'Leary, and looks likely to start.

Blackburn Rovers have won one Premiership match and lost another under new manager Mark Hughes, both being 1 - 0 results. They now look solid at the back, playing a more defensive game than they did under Graeme Souness. Obviously, their previous attacking prowess does not appear to be there anymore.

However, Hughes has signed 36-year-old forward Youri Djorkaeff since their last match. The 1998 World Cup winner will play some part in the game, and the manager says that he will give his team something different. Loan striker Joy Bothroyd looks set to make way for Jon Stead, who has been disappointing this season, despite arguably saving Rovers from relegation last season. At home, Blackburn looks likely to win against Aston Villa in another tight match.

Everton 1 - 1 Tottenham at Goodison Park

Tottenham Hotspur have struggled in the last three Premiership games, not scoring a goal, but they have lost only one match of the season against Manchester United. Under new manager Jacques Santini, they have developed a strong defensive game. However, they still maintain an attacking force headed by Jermain Defoe and Robbie Keane.

Everton are in great form at present, currently sitting third on the league table with 16 points from seven games. The Merseysiders, unbeaten away from home this season, are breathing down the necks of powerhouses Chelsea and Arsenal, and manager David Moyes remains upbeat. They have also not conceded a goal in September.

However, a 1 - 1 draw looks likely for this encounter. There is not much difference between these two sides in terms of ability, and it is doubtful that both sides will keep a clean sheet, despite their new defensive capabilities.

Norwich 0 - 0 Portsmouth at Carrow Road

Both teams have been struggling of late. Portsmouth have not won away from home, while Nigerian striker Aiyegbeni Yakubu has only scored in one game this season, albeit he scored three times in that match. Norwich, on the other hand, has not won a game at all, collecting all four points from seven matches from drawn games. A goal-less draw appears to be the likely result.

West Bromwich Albion 1 - 3 Bolton at The Hawthorns

Manager Sam Allardyce has a full-strength squad available apart from long-term injury victim Florent Laville, and they look set to continue their good form, collecting twelve points so far this season. Bolton is capable of kicking big scores, and appears set to do so against an Albion side that is yet to win a match.

Nigerian playmaker Jay-Jay Okocha is expected to return to the Bolton Wanderers team to face West Bromwich Albion following a groin injury. On-loan El-Hadji Diouf may have to settle for a place on the bench should Okocha return. Midfielder Kevin Nolan should welcome his return, who has been pairing well with the Nigerian in the centre of midfield. Nolan's combative and more defensive style has complemented Okocha's flair.

Sunday October 3

Birmingham 0 - 1 Newcastle at St Andrew’s Ground

Birmingham are currently struggling with six points from seven Premiership matches, and do not look like getting another point from an in-form Newcastle United, especially with on-loan striker from Chelsea Mikael Forssell out injured for six months.

New Newcastle United manager Graeme Souness has made an excellent start to his new job, picking up two wins from two matches, and looks set to win this next match. Newcastle won 5 - 1 against Hapoel Bnei Sakhnin in Israel midweek in their UEFA Cup tie, with veteran Alan Shearer scoring three goals, while Patrick Kluivert bagged two for his new club. They have excellent firepower at the moment, and should not drop this game.

Manchester United 2 - 1 Middlesbrough at Old Trafford

Manchester United have returned to fine form following Rio Ferdinand's return to the centre of defence, after an eight-month ban for failing to appear at a drugs test. Only now are they starting to climb back up the Premiership table, now just five points behind second-placed Chelsea. Wayne Rooney's three-goal haul against Fenerbahce in midweek, despite not playing since the 2004 European Championship, adds extra fire to the already capable Manchester line-up, although he may be rested.

Middlesbrough have collected ten points from seven matches, but are playing well with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Australia international Mark Viduka playing in the front two positions. However, at Old Trafford, they do not look to have what it takes against an in-form Manchester United.

Chelsea 1 - 0 Liverpool at Stamford Bridge

Liverpool has had an average start of the season, collecting ten points from six matches. They are playing a defensive style of play, conceding only one goal at home, but have also scored eight at home. However, away from home the picture looks less pretty, with four goals conceded and only two scored. For this season, they do not seem to have what it takes to come away with anything at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea has been playing a very defensive game this season, conceding only one goal from all of their games. They have scored only seven goals though, so a low scoring encounter is likely. Didier Drogba has been their in-form striker, with two goals this league season. The Blues should win if they can produce a goal.