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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bayern Pile More Misery on Wenger

Arsenal's Jack Wilshere almost in tears after 3-1 loss to Bayern Munich

Amid speculations that the Arsenal board are preparing to extend his contract by two years and boost his transfer war chest, Arsene Wenger welcomed Bayern Munich to the Emirates for a Champions League encounter that many had tipped the Bavarians to win.

The Champions League is (but looks like a was now) the only trophy that the Gunners could lay their hands on this season after they got crushed out of the FA Cup by Championship side Blackburn over the weekend.

The London club faced the Bundesliga runaway leaders aiming to turn the tide and give appropriate reaction to the disappointing defeat to Blackburn but were left flat out with barely quarter an hour into the match.

Thomas Muller’s weak cross from the right should have been cleared by Aaron Ramsey but the Welshman failed to. The ball fell to Toni Kroos who hit it first time from just inside the box to put the Germans ahead and silence Arsenal fans as early as the 7th minute.

The Germans are on a roll in the Bundesliga where they have overwhelmed opponents with possession based football. An Arsenal side that feeds on that type of football were clearly put on the back foot as the Bundesliga elect champions bossed the midfield and spayed passes around leaving the Gunners chasing shadows.

The goal snuffed out the belief out of the Arsenal and a second goal for Bayern looked imminent and did come in the 21st minute. Daniel van Buyten pounced on a corner but saw his header parried by Wojciech Szczesny but only into the path of Thomas Muller who riffled the rebound into the roof of the net. 2-0 to Bayern and it wasn’t at the Allianz Arena!!

Manuel Neuer early this week said it is boring to be a Bayern Munich goalkeeper and the German international must have felt bored in the first half as he was just a spectator with Arsenal struggling to direct any challenging effort at his goal.

Bayern had not conceded a goal in 2013 and looked on course to extend this fete until the 55th minute. Jack Wilshere curled in a freekick into the area and with Neuer indecisive, the ball luckily bounced into the path of Lucas Podolski who guided it into the net to net against his former side. It was a lucky goal for Arsenal but if there’s one thing they could have needed this night then it was luck.

It was the first time the Germans were conceding a goal in 664 minutes of football. The goal raised the decibels at the increasingly quiet Emirates stadium in a manner you would think that was a priceless away goal for Wenger’s men. Walcott swung into action seeing his effort flash across the face of goal.

Wenger then made a double substitution with Aaron Ramsey and Lucas Podolski making way for Tomas Rosicky and Olivier Giroud. The latter almost made it 2-2 with his first touch riffling in but straight at Neuer.

Bayern restored their 2-goal cushion with 13 minutes remaining. Arjen Robben spotted the run of Philip Lahm and the overlapping fullback cut back for Mario Mandzukic who slid the ball into the net to all make it 3-1 and ensure the Bavarians had little, if not nothing, to worry about in the return leg.

You can only imagine how the Gunners fans are feeling. They are not hurting. It’s more serious than that.

In the other Champions League encounter, Joao Moutinho’s goal for Porto in the second half was enough to see off Malaga who suffered their first defeat in the competition.

Tuesday night Round of 16 matchups will see Barcelona travel to the San Siro to meet AC Milan for the 16th time as German outfit Schalke 04 travel to Turkey to face Galatasaray.

And That's thesteifmastertake!!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

De Gea’s Safe Hands Thwarts Ronaldo and Co in Madrid

Leap of faith - CR7 draws Madrid level with a stunning header
Manchester United custodian David De Gea pulled one stunning save after another to help his team escape the Santiago Bernabeu with a valuable 1-1 draw in a UEFA Champions league last 16 encounter.

The much-criticized keeper made no less than eight brilliant saves to thwart Cristiano Ronaldo and co who announced their intentions to run riot as early as the 5th minute with De Gea palming away Fabio Contreao’s effort away. Madrid pressed the United defence with the verve of a home team as the visitors struggled to get hold of the game.

But one thing about Manchester United this season has been their ability to get a goal against the run of play and when it doesn’t look likely. A lesson they have taught their Premier League rivals so well, Madrid got a dose of the same in the 20th minute.

Wayne Rooney swung a corner into the penalty area which Danny Welbeck headed into the net with no Madrid player within his sight as United took a surprise lead. The goal stunned the over 75,000 Madrid supporters at the Santiago Bernabue. But not for long. Cristiano Ronaldo drew level against his former club at the half-hour mark when he leaped high above Patrice Evra’s shoulders to delightfully head in Angel Di Maria’s cross past De Gea.

Jose Mourinho’s men attacked for the rest of the half forcing De Gea into fine saves from Di Maria and Mesut Ozil.

The second half produced no more goals thanks to De Gea sticking out a foot to deny Contreao and Diego Lopez tipping Van Persie’s effort onto the bar before Xabi Alonso cleared the Dutchman’s goal bound effort when it was inches from crossing the goal line. The last effort of the game fell to CR7 whose dipping 35-yard freekick just went over the bar with De Gea beaten.

It would be premature to conclude that Sir Alex Fergusson’s men are favorites to sail through to the quarters but the away goal could prove vital in the return leg at Old Trafford on March 5th.

In another encounter, Borussia Dortmund twice came from behind to muster a 2-2 draw away to Shakhtar Donetsk at the Donbass Arena. Darijo Srna put the Ukrainian side ahead in at the half hour mark only for Robert Lewandowski to draw level ten minutes later.

Substitute Douglas Costa restored the home team’s lead with a 68th minute strike but Mats Hummels powerfully headed in three minutes before full time to give the Germans two vital away goals.  

The remaining four last 16 games will be played next week with last year’s finalists Bayern Munich traveling to London to face Arsenal on Tuesday as Porto welcome Malaga. AC Milan host Barcelona on Wednesday while Schalke 04 travel to Turkey for their tie against Galatasaray.

And That's thesteifmastertake!!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Champions League Round of 16 – Juventus Tear Celtic Apart as PSG Win at Valencia

Walking away - Celtic's Victor Wanyama, Frasser Foster and Efe Ambrose
Italian Serie A leaders Juventus put one leg into the Champions League quarterfinals after claiming an emphatic 3-0 win away to Celtic as the UEFA Champions league returned Tuesday night.

The Bianconeri struck as early as the third minute when Alessandro Matri pounced on an attempted header by Nigeria international Efe Ambrose to his goalkeeper to put Juventus ahead. The two teams exchanged blows for the rest of the half with Celtic forcing Gianluggi Buffon into drawing smart saves from Victor Wanyama and Chris Commons but the half ended 1-0 to the visitors.

The second half began in the same fashion as the first had ended as Neil Lennon’s side pushed for the equalizer. Ambrose, making his return from a successful Cup of Nations campaign with Nigeria, was presented with a perfect opportunity to redeem himself on the hour mark but headed straight at Buffon.

Juve, however, withstood the pressure and doubled their lead in 77th minute courtesy of Claudio Marchiisio. Things went from bad to worse for Celtic and Ambrose in the 83rd minute. The Nigerian international lost possession a few yards from his penalty area and Juventus duly punished them with Marchiisio assisting Vucinic who scored to put the game and the tie beyond Celtic’s reach ahead of the return leg in a fortnight. 

Meanwhile two first half goals from Argentine duo Ezequiel Lavezzi and Javier Pastore gave big-spending Paris Saint Germain a vital 2-1 win over Valencia at the Estadio de Mestella. Lavezzi put PSG ahead in the 10th minute after playing a one-two with Pastore before skidding his way past the Valencia defence and riffling in between the hands of goalkeeper Vicente Guaita.

The second goal was courtesy of Lucas Moura's brilliance. The Brazilian, who was making his European debut, had been a nuisance on the right wing. Valencia's failure to find a way to silence him proved costly two minutes before the interval when he easily beat Andres Guardado on the flank and squared for Pastore to slot in the second.

Adil Rami pulled one back for Valencia in injury time to give the Spaniards a fair chance in the return leg in Paris. There was still time for more drama however when Zlatan Ibrahimovic was given his marching orders for a foul on Guardado meaning he will miss the return leg.

On Wednesday, Manchester United travel to Estadio Bernabue to tackle Real Madrid while Shakhtar welcome Borussia Dortmund.

And That's thesteifmastertake!!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Stephen Keshi’s Trust in Homegrown Players Vindicated as Nigeria Win 2013 AFCON

Chelsea and Nigeria midfielder holds the Africa Nations Cup title
In a game played on a Sunday, it could only be befitting that a lad named Sunday would be the man to bring enormous joy to Africa’s most population nation with over 162 million people.

Nigeria ended their 19-year drought for the African Nations Cup title after beating surprise finalists Burkina Faso by Sunday Mba’s solitary goal just five minutes before the interval. The Aba-born 24-year-old who plays in central midfield struck a fantastic effort in the 40th minute that was enough to down the Stallions and hand the Super Eagles a title they have missed out on since their all-conquering 1994 side.

Mba, a homegrown star who plays for Nigeria Premier League side Warri Wolves, was also the man who scored the winning goal in Nigeria’s 2-1 win over Cote d’Ivoire in the quarter finals.

Nigeria and Burkina Faso went into the match played at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, home to Kaizer Chiefs and the preferred venue for the Soweto derby, hoping to be the second team to lift a major trophy after Spain did so in the 2010 World Cup. The setting was almost the same with the 94,736 capacity stadium graced by over 85,000 people.

The Super Eagles were riding on a 12-game unbeaten run but they were just but favorites against a Burkinabe side that was boasting of a mean defensive unit that had conceded only two goals heading into the final. Nigeria had conceded five more but scored seven more.

The two teams had already met in the group stages with the match ending 1-1, Alain Traore’s last minute effort cancelling out Emmanuel Emenike’s opener for the Eagles.

However, this was a different setting with stakes higher than ever.

The Super Eagles more than less followed the script, dominating their West African opponents in much of the first half. However, they struggled to breach the Stallions’ defence until Mba pounced on a Victor Moses ball before riffling in past Daouda Diakité in Burkina goal.

The second half was entertaining but produced no goals for either teams as the Super Eagles held on to win a third nations cup title, and their first under a local coach in Stephen Keshi.  The two managers to have led Nigeria to the title before were Brazilian Otto Martins Gloria and Dutch Clemens Westerhof in 1980 and 1994 respectively.

Keshi, who was the captain when Nigeria last won the title in 1994 becomes only the second man to win the cup as coach and player, following in the footsteps of Egyptian Mahmoud Al Gohari.

Keshi took over the Super Eagles hot seat in 2011 and was widely criticized for thrusting his trust in local players heading into the African ultimate football masterpiece. The 51-year-old who is Nigeria’s 7th most capped player with 65 caps however was surely vindicated after Mba stole the headlines and the local players held their own against their far-travelled colleagues who are held with higher esteem.

So after finishing third in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2010 African Nations Cup and failing to even qualify for the 2012 tournament, Nigeria are the 2013 Champions and will participate in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil where they will play Uruguay, Tahiti and Spain in Group B.

Meanwhile, Burkina Faso's Jonathan Pitroipa was named player of the tournament much to the surprise of many who thought Nigeria's John Obi Mikel or Victor Moses would bag the honour. Moses was however named the Fair Player of the Tournament with his Nigerian teammate Emmanuel Emenike going home with the golden boot after scoring four goals. Youssef Msakni's stunning strike for Tunisia against Algeria was the goal of the tournament.

The team of the tournament had 5 Nigerians led by Goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama. The defenders are Burkina's Bakary Kone, Nigeria's Efe Ambrose and Cape Verde's Fernando Maria Neves. The midfield had Nigeria duo John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses, Mali's Seydou Keita, Ghanian Wakaso Mubarak, and Burkinabe's Jonathan Pitroipa as Asamoah Gyan and Emmanuel Emenike headed the front line.

And That's thesteifmastertake!! 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

In Jack Wilshere, England’s Midfield has a Bright Future

Future meets present as England and Liverpool's Steven Gerrard (r) tussles for the ball with Arsenal's Jack Wilshere

In every generation (or less) in a club or country, a new player surfaces from the shadows and immediately becomes the center of debate within the local media and beyond. Football pundits and fans alike begin to draw comparisons between that emerging talent and legends whose times have come and gone.

So you are likely to hear upcoming players being touted as the next Gerrards, Thierry Henrys, Eric Cantonas, Ronaldos, Zidanes, Peles, Maradonas and Gascoignes, to name but a few. However, only a few get close to levels that earned legendary status to those who they are compared with. Most of them fall by the wayside, others become big-time flops while the lucky few brandish their own football style. Even fewer ones get to surpass what their predecessors did.

On the night of Wednesday February 6th, two teams met for an international friendly at the famous Wembley Stadium in London, England. Much of the talk in the England-Brazil matchup was about the return of Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, (hey, that’s Ronaldinho) to the Brazil lineup as well as the likely impact of one Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior.

A long night was in store for an England team who had never beaten the world’s most stylish national team for 23 years. Ronaldinho more or less represented the Brazil of the old, while Neymar the current one. Much of the pre-match talk was about the two as well as the fact that Ashley Cole was celebrating his centenary caps for his country, and the Football Association was celebrating its 150th anniversary.

However, at the end of 90 minutes, much of the positive talk was neither about Neymar nor Ronaldinho but about one young man from Stevenage who emerged the hero in front of a 90,000 capacity crowd. While the Brazilian duo and their supporting cast kind of managed to fluff their lines, little and young Jack Wilshere, 21, displayed maturity in the England midfield that his captain Steven Gerrard, who he played alongside in the first half, must have been proud of.

The Arsenal youth product was industrious as much as he was effective and efficient with the ball during his time on the field. He ran the rings around the midfield, using his customary clever movement, tremendous vision, precise passing and proficient combination play to devastating effect.

Here, we were witnessing a player who has been at the center of everything good Arsenal have had to offer in the second half of the season.

Even after conceding a penalty which Ronaldinho missed, the Arsenal No. 10 never let that moment direct his game, and he wouldn’t have, anyway, had the Brazilian converted the spot-kick. Such is the maturity that bellies his tender age that he is seen as Arsenal and England’s future captain.

Of course he wouldn’t be one now until Steven Gerrard, the player he considers his role model, drops the captain’s armband when he calls it a day on his international career.

There are few comparisons between the two players though but if England has anyone close to being the ace that Stevie G has been for the Three Lions, then that man is Jack Andrew Garry Wilshere, the future of England’s midfield. 

And That's thesteifmastertake!!