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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Champions League: Different Season, Same Old Arsenal

There may be no English team in the last 8 of the UEFA Champions League after Arsenal followed in the footsteps of Manchester City in losing the first leg of their last 16 home match.

Arsenal were stunned 3-1 by visiting French side Monaco, formerly managed by current Gunners’ boss Arsene Wenger.

The Ligue 1 side, beaten only once since December, assumed the lead in the 38th minute, Geoffrey Kondogbia finding the back of the net with a long-range strike which deflected off Per Mertesacker. Arsenal failed to register a single shot on target the entire half.

Monaco’s first half goal must have been dismissed as a mere consolation goal. However, Leonardo Jardim’s side had other ideas as 8 minutes after the interval, Dimitar Berbatov doubled their lead after being fed by Antony Martial who’d robbed Mertersacker of possession. The Bulgarian, often a cool customer in front of goal made no mistake slotting past David Ospina to the shock of the home fans and get his first Champions League goal this season.

Substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin curled in beautifully from outside the box to reduce the deficit but he neutralized, perhaps cancelled, his heroic act immediately after.

The Englishman was dispossessed in the build up to Monaco’s third goal which was turned in by Ferreira Carrasco leaving the home fans, bemused while the traveling Monaco team could have dreamt of anything but a 3-1 victory ahead of the return leg clash next month.

With Manchester City beaten 1-2 by Barcelona on Tuesday, Chelsea are the only English team who look like they’ll have a chance of progressing to the last four. However, the Blues are anything but comfortable given their tie against Paris Saint Germain is tipped in the balance, their first leg clash having ended 1-1 in Paris.

In Germany, Hakan Calhanoglu struck in the 57th minute to give Bayer Leverkusen a 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid at the BayArena. Last year’s beaten finalists, Atletico were reduced to 10-men after Tiago was sent off for a second bookable offence but that Leverkusen’s goal was scored long before the Portuguese international received his marching orders.

And That’s thesteifmastertake!!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Champions League: Manchester City Not Good Enough for Europe

Will Yaya Toure's return save City at Camp Nou
They may be a dominant force in domestic football back in England but in continental football, Manchester City is like the proverbial tick challenging a bull for a fight.

The Citizens, currently sitting second in the English Premier League, were for the umpteenth time beaten by La Liga’s number two Barcelona as the duo clashed in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League knockout round match.

Two goals from Luis Suarez on his return to England since his mega-money move from Liverpool were enough to settle the game for the Catalans. The Uruguayan struck twice, his second goal coming exactly 15 minutes of his 15th minute opener.

Although City made the scoreline less damaging thanks to Sergio Aguero’s 69th minute goal, the Premier League champions offered barely any competition for their much-experienced European football rivals.

Barcelona’s goal in the 15th minute did not come as a surprise having dominated the proceedings from the off. Lionel Messi was involved in the first goal, the Argentine’s cross being headed by Vincent Kompany into the feet of Suarez who fired home the opener.

The next chance in the game fell for Edin Dzeko but the Bosnian headed wide. Messi reproduced his vintage     runs beating three City players before finding Jordi Alba who crossed for Suarez to tap home and doubled the visitor’s lead.

Dani Alves could have extended Barca’s lead had his audacious attempt been an inch or two lower with the ball hitting the crossbar before Samir Nasri came close before the interval.

Manuel Pellegrini’s side, beaten over two legs by Pep Guardiola in the same stage last season, came out firing in the second half. Javier Mascherano produced a fine block to deny Nasri before Dzeko headed straight at Ter Stegen in Barca goal.

City’s goal came just after the introduction of summer signing Wilfried Bony who made his Champions League debut in place of Dzeko. It was David Silva who spotted Sergio Aguero’s run with the Argentine firing home to give City some glimmer of hope with 21 minutes remaining. However,  four minutes later, Gael Glichy became the third player in the last three meetings with Barcelona to receive his marching orders for a second bookable offence.

Messi could have put the game and in essence the tie beyond City’s reach with a last minute penalty but the ‘Little Messiah’ saw his spot-kick saved by Joe Hart while he also headed the rebound wide with the goal gaping at him.

City travel to Camp Nou for the return leg in a fortnight and although Yaya Toure will be available for selection after serving his ban for a red card against CSKA Moscow, it’s hard, almost incomprehensible to think they will get a result that will knock Barcelona out of Europe.

Meanwhile Alvaro Morata scored the winner as Juventus edged out Borussia Dortmund 2-1 at the Juventus Stadium. The Serie A leaders took the lead through a 13th minute goal by Carlos Tevez only for Marco Reus to level and give Dortmund a vital away goal 5 minutes later. However, Morata connected to a Paul Pogba cross past BVB keeper Roman Weidenfeller 3 minutes before the interval to ensure the Old Lady will take a slim advantage to the Westanfaldion in the return leg.

And That’s thesteifmastertake!!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Champions League: Suarez Makes England Return, Red-Hot Juve Host Dortmund

The best player in the English Premier League last season, Luis Suarez, will make a return to England tonight with his new club Barcelona in a Champions League last 16 clash against Manchester City.

The Uruguayan who dominated headlines in England during his 4-year spell at Liverpool will once again be a point of focus as the Catalans go for victory at the home of the Premier League champions. Suarez failed to score in any of Liverpool’s 6 meetings against City at the Eitihad while he was in England.

Luis Enrique’s men go into the match fired up to atone for the shock 1-0 loss they suffered at Camp Nou at the hands of Malaga in their La Liga match this past weekend. City on the other hand had a robust matchday thumping Newcastle 5-0 in the Premier League.   

Manuel Pellegrini’s City will have revenge written all over their faces having lost to Barcelona at the same stage last season. The Catalans won both legs, 2-0 at the Eitihad and 2-1 at Camp Nou with City playing a man less in both fixtures.

The Premier League side will be without Yaya Toure who will be serving the last of his 3-game ban for his red card against CSKA Moscow while James Milner will also sit out due to injury. Jordi Alba is the only injury concern for Barca.

Meanwhile Borussia Dortmund will be seeking to hand Juventus their first home defeat since April 2013. BVB who have won their last three Bundesliga matches to steer them away from the relegation zone face the Turin giants whose only loss at home was against Bayern in 2013. Masssimiliano Allegri’s men opened a 9-point advantage at the top of Serie A after beating Atalanta 2-1 with Roma drawing 1-1 at Hellas Verona.

Jurgen Klopp’s side last met the Old Lady in the 1997 Champions League final which Dortmund won 3-1, their only triumph in the competition’s history. Juve will be seeking for a fine result which would put them in the driving seat ahead of the second leg. The Serie A champions have failed to advance past the last 16 since 2002-03 when they lost to Milan in the final.

Stephan Lichtsteiner, Arturo Vidal and Patrice Evra could make their return to the starting IX but the likes of Andrea Barzagli, Luca Marrone and Alessandro Matri are doubts with Kwadwo Asamoah totally out.

Kevin Grosskreutz is Dortmund’s main injury concern but there are fitness doubts for quintet, Sven Bender, Erik Durm, Mats Hummels, Ciro Immobile and Sebastian Kehl.

And That’s thesteifmastertake!!

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Statistics Behind the Season-Opening KPL Matches

The 2015 Kenya Premier League kicked off after all amid a barrage of controversies obscuring the local football scene.

There were fears that the league will not begin after KPL’s estranged lover, Football Kenya Federation (FKF), reportedly acquired a court order barring the league from kicking off. Nevertheless, KPL, perhaps under the advice of some decent lawyer defied the order and managed to organize 8 games which were played full time without a hitch.

Four games were played on Saturday with three others on Sunday in what was a full toss bar one game which didn’t take place (apparent promoted clubs, Shabana FC and Posta Rangers have opted for the rival FKF PremierLeague).

With 19 goals scored (one short of 20 scored in the opening matchday last season and with a game less), there was plenty to talk about on the pitch, a welcome relief from the embarrassing warfare we’ve been subjected to since end of last season.

Gor Mahia 4 2 Mathare United
Two-time defending champions, Gor Mahia, inflicted Mathare United their fourth defeat in the Slum Boys’ last 7 opening day fixtures with a 4-2 victory. The result wasn’t as comfortable as the score suggested but Kogalo will care less having bagged three points which got their season off to a flyer. It was game of braces as new signings Ali Abondo and Michael Olunga both scored twice for Gor while the Slum Boys also had Noah Abich on the double. Last season, Ugandan duo Danny Sserunkuma and Geoffrey ‘Baba’ Kizito scored as Kogalo beat Nairobi City Stars 2-0 in the season opener. Gor Mahia’s last 7 in the opening day (W4 D1 L2) while Mathare United (W0 D3 L4).

Chemelil 0 0 AFC Leopards

In the only match that had no goals, AFC Leopards and Chemelil continued with their knack for delivering draws in this tie. This was a repeat of the 2012 season opener which also ended barren. Leopards have always found it difficult to break down the Sugar Millers who have a 5-1 win record over Zdravko Logarusic side. The duo have now drawn 7 of their last 13 meetings (4 ended 0-0 with three 1-1). AFC drew 1-1 with KCB in their first game of last season and they have now won only once in the opening day of the season since their promotion in 2009 (D 3, L3). Chemelil (W3 D3  L1)

Bandari 3-1 Muhoroni Youth

Bandari outclassed Muhoroni Youth in Mombasa as two second half goals from David King’atua and Juma Masoud secured them a 3-1 win. The Dockers had taken the lead at the quarter-hour mark through Andrew Waiswa only for the visitors to find the equalizer via Jeremiah Wanjala just before the half time breather. The win put Bandari on top of the log alongside Gor Mahia. Last season, Bandari won their opening match 2-0 against Ushuru while Muhoroni were thumped 5-1 by Sofapaka. Muhoroni have failed to win any of their season openers since their promotion in 2012 (L3, D1), while Bandari have won their last three.

Thika United 1 1 Tusker United

For the second season in succession, Tusker found themselves having to play away at Thika United in the season opener. The game felt like a rendition of the happenings of last season. In that meeting, Thika took the lead through a Dennis Odhiambo penalty only for Brian Osumba to equalize. This past weekend, Thika again took the lead through Wycliffe Opondo but there was again a penalty, this time for Tusker who equalized through Ismail Dunga, both matches ending 1-1. Before the twin 1-1 draw against Thika, Tusker had won all but one of their previous five season opening games. Thika’s last 7 (L2, W2, D3).

Sofapaka 2 1 Ushuru

Sopaka always have a strong start. Last season, they put five past Muhoroni in the first game of the season. However, they were restricted to only two goals by Ushuru this time with the taxmen taking the lead through Moses Arita, only for veteran forward John Barasa to equalize and Collins Shivachi to net the winner. Sofapaka’s record in their past 7 opening matchday games reads (W5, D2, L0) while Ushuru have lost two in two.

Ulinzi 0 2 Sony Sugar

Sony Sugar collected their first win at Afraha beating hosts Ulinzi Stars 2-0. Marwa Chamberi and Samuel Onyango had Sony celebrating a famous victory against the Soldiers who entertain anything but defeat in their own backyard. The rule of this tie has always been victory for the hosts but Sony avenged the defeat they suffered in Awendo in November last year. Sony’s last seven season openers (W3 L1 D2), Ulinzi (W3 L2 D2)

KCB 0 2 Western Stima

Western Stima made it 7 wins out of their last 9 meetings against KCB as an own goal from Duncan Wafula and a second half strike from Etone Esiye gave them a 2-0 win. The Bankers who have now won only one match in their last seven matches looked rusty from the off and were duly punished by Stima. Having lost their opening league game only twice in the last 7 (W4 D1), KCB were poor against deserved winners Stima who won only their third opening game of the season, twice against KCB with the other four ending in two draws and two defeats for the Stima men.

And That’s thesteifmastertake!!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Arguing a Case for/against Henderson and Balotelli in Europa League Penalty Row

Liverpool beat Besiktas 1-0 at Anfield in the first leg of their UEFA Euorapa League tie which puts them slightly in the driving seat ahead of the return leg in Istanbul in a week’s time.

Mario Balotelli continued his recent good run as he netted the winning penalty in the 85th minute to give the home supporters something to cheer, the visitors having hitherto put an impregnable barrier at the back.

While victory is all that mattered on the night, the manner in which it came has put Liverpool and Balotelli in the midst of a huge ill-timed debate. 

With the game headed for a barren stalemate, the impressive Jordon Ibe carried the ball into the Besiktas box and was brought down by Ramon Motta prompting the referee to point at the spot and give Liverpool a lifeline. 

The common logic when a team wins a penalty is always that the penalty winner gets the opportunity to reap the benefits of his toil but that’s not the case in modern football where teams prefer to have dedicated penalty takers, Liverpool notwithstanding.

Had club captain Steven Gerrard been on the pitch, it would have been a given that he would step up. With the midfielder missing due to a hamstring injury, his second-in-command, Jordan Henderson, took the ball, perhaps carrying the manager’s instructions while Daniel Sturridge also looked interested.

However, Balotelli took the ball out of the stand-in captain’s hands eliciting an embarrassing scene as the two brawled albeit harmlessly. Even Sturridge got himself in the mix evidently in support of his England teammate but the Italian maverick wouldn’t baulk. 

Credit to him, the former AC Milan man continued his hot streak from 12 yards, sending Besiktas keeper Cenk Gonen the wrong way. It’s now 27 penalties successfully converted in his last 29 takes.

Absolutely lethal.

On the contrary, Henderson has taken only one penalty in his Liverpool career, in a pre-season friendly at Yankee Stadium. That is not to justify the act by Balotelli which in hindsight looked liked undermining the vice-captain’s authority.

Henderson must have felt capable enough to handle the pressure that comes with converting such a crucial penalty. Secondly, there must have been a dressing room agreement that he would have the first refusal if such a situation arose, a call that must come from the top boss.

Having mentioned Balotelli’s deadly ability from 12 yards and Henderson’s lack thereof, you have to argue a case for the Italian while also questioning Brendan Rodgers’ obvious hand in handing penalty taking duties to Henderson when either Balotelli or Rickie Lambert is on the pitch. The latter two have a world-class reputation of always doing it right. Henderson would have been a gamble.

Secondly, Balotelli is under far more pressure to deliver the goals for the Merseysiders, that is what he is paid for. One goal at a time, penalty or otherwise, will give his confidence a huge boost heading into the business end of the season.

Rodgers refused to put his voice on the penalty row after the final whistle. However, Steven Gerrard, often known for connecting the hammer right on top of the nail, accused Balotelli of disrespecting the vice-captain.

"Jordan should have taken the penalty. Rules are rules. It should have been Henderson. Mario has been a bit mischievous," he told ITV Sport.

"Credit to Mario, he's scored, but it's not nice to see when footballers are arguing. I think Jordan has handled the situation very well.

In the end, victory was the winner on the night and Liverpool should move on from that slight hiccup. It’s only half time in the tie with the Reds traveling for the return leg at the historic and their fabled hunting ground, Istanbul in a week. 

Hopefully, they’ll settle the game in a less controversial manner.

And That's thesteifmastertake!!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Why the Europa League is Now More Crucial than Ever

The Europa League takes center stage this and every Thursday matchdays as the competition hugely considered as a side-dish to the Champions League takes yet another stab at trying to win admirers.

Even with UEFA making the competition more desirable for clubs by guaranteeing an automatic Champions League berth for the winners, the competition is still a huge joke in town. Be it because of how far clubs have to travel to honour their matches, how huge the competition is or the fact that matches are played on a Thursday night and screened on some alien local channel, Europa League is struggling to gain recognition as a top-tier club competition.

However, for the 32 teams remaining in the competition, it will be no joke as embark on an at least 9-game journey of adding silverware to their collection. Among them will be three of the most successful clubs in the competition; Liverpool, Sevilla and Inter Milan who have all lifted the title on three previous occasions.

The three will be among the favorites to win the title and perhaps follow in the footsteps of one Spanish club whose success in the competition has scaled them to brushing shoulders with the best in European club football.

Atletico Madrid are now an established Champions League side. They came to within seconds of winning last year’s final against Real Madrid who were only rescued by a Sergio Ramos last minute goal that sent the game to extra time then to penalties which Los Blancos won.

Atletico’s European stability can be attributed to their good run in the Europa League. Before making it to last year’s Champions League final, Diego Simeone’s side won the Europa League twice, in 2010 and 2012 which laid a foundation to their stability both in domestic football and in the Champions League.

Liverpool who dropped to the Europa League after failing to establish themselves above Real Madrid and Basel in the Champions League group stage were a dominant force in Europe in the late 80s and early 70s which can be attributed to their 1973 & 1976 then UEFA Cup triumphs. The Reds also won the 2005 Champions League barely four years after winning the 2001 UEFA Cup.

With competition for the top four which guarantees Champions League qualification at an all-time high in England, Brendan Rodgers’ side will be guaranteed qualification should they add a 4th Europa League to their trophy cabinet.

There’s also the issue of UEFA Coefficient points. The likes of Manchester City, in spite of winning domestic titles, always find themselves landing in tough groups due to low rankings. The Europa League provides clubs with an opportunity to collect more points hence better ranking.

The biggest benefit though is to the young players whose benefit playing against strong teams outside their domestic base cannot be understated.

It may lack the glamorous name, an iconic anthem, top dollar earnings, a prime TV time or the global razzmatazz that the Champions League commands but the Europa League is still a competition worth participating in, and watching.

And That's thesteifmastertake!!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Champions League: Courtois Saves Chelsea at PSG, Bayern Toothless in Ukraine

Eye on the ball. Chelsea's Gary Cahill tussles with PSG's Zlatan Ibrahimovic Photo - AP
There were only two goals scored in the opening two matches of the UEFA Champions League round of 16.

The twin goals came from Parc de Princes in Paris where visitors Chelsea assumed a first half 1-0 lead courtesy of Branislav Ivanovic before Edinson Cavani equalized for Paris Saint Germain in the second half.

Laurent Blanc’s injury-strewn PSG could have put the match behind Chelsea’s reach but Thibaut Courtois was on an inspired form saving no less than seven shots fired at his goal. The Belgian kept away three efforts from Zlatan Ibrahimovic while also thwarting Blaise Matuidi and Cavani in the opening half.

PSG had the best chances after kickoff but it was Jose Mourinho’s side who took the lead. Their goal had nothing to do with the returning Diego Costa nor the mesmerizing Eden Hazard. It was defenders, John Terry, Gary Cahill and Ivanovic who combined, the captain’s miscued cross finding Cahill who flicked at the path of unmarked Ivanovic to head home his 7th Champions League goal since 2009.

The hosts drew level six minutes after the restart, Cavani heading home Blaise Matuidi’s cross. Les Parisiens continued to knock at Chelsea’s door but Courtois would have none of it as he almost singlehandedly ensure the Blues go into the return leg with a mammoth advantage.

At the Arena Lviv in Ukraine, Shakhtar Donetsk held Bayern Munich 0-0 restricting the visitors to only one shot on target. On a night that Xabi Alonso made his 100th Champions League encounter in which he was also red-carded, Pep Guardiola’s side were ineffective going forward despite having the lion share of possession.

It was uncharacteristic of the Bundesliga champions who went to the match at the back of a 8-0 whipping of Hamburg SV and were facing a side who haven’t played a competitive game since December. Such was the lethargic nature of the tie that Shakhtar only had one shot the entire match.

The two sides will meet again in March for the return leg with the tie tipped in the balance.

The Round of 16 continues Wednesday with FC Barcelona hosting FC Porto at the Camp Nou while AS Roma travel to Germany for a clash with Schalke 04.

And That’s thesteifmastertake!!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Champions League: PSG Host Chelsea, Shakhtar Seek Bayern Upset

The UEFA Champions League resumes tonight with two Round of 16 first leg matches on the cards.

The biggest clash of the night will be a repeat of the quarter-final last year with Paris Saint Germain playing host to Premier League club Chelsea. The Parisians finished second to Barcelona in Group F and were drawn to face the Londoners who topped group G.

 Laurent Blanc’s side have become one of the Champions League core teams since the takeover by Qatar Sports Investments in 2011. They lost only one match in their group, a 3-1 reversal against FC Barcelona while Jose Mourinho’s side finished their group unbeaten.

The Ligue 1 Champions however go into the match on crutches with no less than five first-team players injured. Lucas Moura (hamstring), Yohan Cabaye (groin), Blaise Matuidi (knee), Serge Aurier (thigh) and Marquinhos (hamstring) could all miss the match having sustained injuries in a bizarre 2-2 draw with Caen on Saturday in a match they finished with 9 men.

Chelsea on the other hand had a restful weekend in which only FA Cup matches were played – they were knocked out by Bradford in the previous round. Mourinho will only be without Nigeria midfielder John Obi Mikel with Diego Costa set to resume duties having missed the last three domestic matches serving a suspension.

Chelsea old-boy David Luiz scored an own goal for the Premier League leaders when they lost 3-1 to PSG before he made the switch to France. However, the Blues won the latest clash with Demba Ba and Andre Schurrle both netting in a 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge in April last year. The two goalscores have already left the club.

In Ukraine, Shakhtar Donetsk play host to Bayern Munich who couldn’t have had a better preparation for the clash than an 8-0 routing of Hamburg SV.

The 2013 Champions face Shakhtar who haven’t played a competitive match since December but they have this year’s Champions League leading goalscorer Luis Adriano ready to fire them to glory. Pep Guardiola’s Bayern have won only once in their last five visits to Ukraine, losing thrice while drawing and losing the other two matches. However, they haven’t met Shakhtar in any of those meetings.

And That's thesteifmastertake!!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Can Marco Reus’ New Contract Give Impetus to Dortmund’s Season?

Borussia Dortmund fans received some relief this week.

In what has been some tough few months as far as their campaign at the domestic front is concerned, the Bundesliga side will be boosted by the news that Marco Reus has signed a new contract that will keep him at the Westfalenstadion until 2019. 

The 25-year-old has been a much sought-after player with some of Europe’s top clubs including Real Madrid, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal chasing after his signature every transfer window.

His new contract, believed to be worth £6million a year, is due until 2019 while it is also understood that the £20 million release clause on his contract has been removed. With the departure of Robert Lewandowski to rivals Bayern Munich last season, Reus remained BVB’s most important player and the fact that he has signed is a huge leap of faith in the club who are struggling domestically.

Dortmund finished last season on a comfortable second position, 7 points ahead of third-placed Schalke 04 but this season has been a mess for Jurgen Klopp’s men. They have already lost 11 games in the Bundesliga this season having lost only 7 the entire last season, a form that leaves them in 16th position, just one point above the bottom two Freiburg and Stuttgart.

Although qualification for European football is still within their grasp given there are still 42 points to fight for, it’s increasingly looking like an impossible task given the fact that 4th placed Augsburg are 15 points above them. 

Die Shcwarzgelben need to turn things around and do so, fast.

The 3-0 win at Freiburg last weekend was BVB’s first victory in 2015 and they need to build on that when they host FSV Mainz in what will be their first assignment post the Marco Reus signing of a new contract.

Mainz who beat Klopp’s side 2-0 at the Coface Arena in the first leg in September are currently sitting three points and three positions above BVB who can only go above Kasper Hjulmand’s outfit with victory of five plus goals. 

The 2012 Bundesliga champions have won only thrice at home ground this season losing on four occasions. To avoid an embarrassing situation ala the one witnessed in the 1-0 loss to Augsburg where keeper Roman Weidenfeller and captain Mats Hummels had to calm down angry fans, BVB have no choice but to deliver the three points.

BVB’s Next 5 Bundesliga Fixtures

20/02/2015 Stuttgart v Borussia Dortmund

28/02/2015 Dortmund v Schalke 04

07/03/2014 Hamburg SV v Borussia Dortmund

14/03/2015 Dortmund v Koln

21/03/2015 Hannover 96 v Borussia Dortmund

And That’s thesteifmastertake!!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

AFCON, Asia Cup Benefit Teams according to Latest FIFA World Rankings

World Champions Germany remain the best team in the world according to the latest Coca-Cola FIFA World Rankings.

The Germans added 4 points to their tally to consolidate their position at the top with 1729 points, 139 ahead of second-placed Argentina. The world’s top 10 remained intact with the movements restricted within. Uruguay traded places with Spain to occupy the 9th position with the European champions dropping to 10th. France also dropped a place down to 8th with Portugal moving up, the two nations having been tied at 7th the last time the rankings were released.

Colombia, Belgium and the Netherlands are placed 3rd, 4th and 5th to complete the top 10. England slipped further down the table dropping two places (the biggest among the top 20) to occupy position 15. Italy, 12th and Romania, 16th are the other negative movers among the top 20.

Africa Cup of Nations

Meanwhile Cote d’Ivoire’s Africa Cup on Nations triumph saw them move 8 places up to break into the top 20. The Elephants beat Ghana 9-8 on post-match penalties giving them 99 points. The Ghanaians also benefited massively from the competition as they notched up 12 points to occupy position 25 ahead of Tunisia. Algeria remains Africa’s top ranked team at position 18.

AFCON 2015 hosts Equatorial Guinea were the biggest movers across board in the latest rankings. Nzalang Nacional raked in 370 points since the last ranking in January which scaled them up 69 positions to position 49, the best in their history.

Neighbours Congo DR and Congo also benefited from their AFCON 2015 exploits moving 11 and 12 places up to position 49 and 46 respectively while Cameroon who fell off at the group stage dropped 3 places down to 45th.

Libya dropped the most falling 35 places to position 113.

Asia Cup

Asia Cup winners Australia were the second highest movers scaling up 37 places to position 63 following their Asia Cup triumph. Beaten finalists, South Korea moved to position 54, a jump of 15 places while Iraq who finished 3rd are placed 94thhaving moved up 20 places. UAE who finished fourth went 14 places up to position 66, China moved up 14 places to 82 but Qatar dropped 17 places to 109.

Strangely, there was no movement whatsoever among the bottom 64 teams on the log. Little know Bhutan continues to hold the tail-end position followed by Angulia, Cook Islands, Djibouti and the Cayman Islands.

The next FIFA World Rankings will be released in exactly a month’s time, 12th March 2015.

And That's thesteifmastertake!!

Dennis Oliech Quits Ajaccio for Arabian Gulf League

Oliech in action for Ajaccio. Photo: ac-ajjacio.com
Kenyan international Dennis Oliech has quit Ligue 2 outfit AC Ajaccio for UAE Arabian Gulf League side Al-Nasr Sports Club.

The recently 30-year-old terminated his contract with L’ours bringing to an end a two-year stint at the club. His new employers, Al-Nasr are 3-time UAE League champions and are currently sitting 5th on the log with 35 points, 8 points behind leaders Al Ain.

Oliech joined Ajaccio on a free transfer in January 2013 from Auxerre signing a two-and-a-half-year contract. He scored on his debut in a 1-1 draw with Evian Thonon Gaillard and went on to score 8 goals in 50 appearances for the club.

He has been restricted to only 5 matches this calendar year, his latest coming in a 0-0 draw against Laval where he entered the action as a 59th minute substitute replacing Frenchman Mouaad Madri. The former Auxerre, Nantes and Al-Aarabi man has lately been restricted to substitute appearances by Ajaccio coach Olivier Pantaloni.

The prolific goalscorer at international level has only finished one game in 2015, the 1-0 home defeat to Nimes which was the first game of the New Year.

“Out of contract in June 2015, an agreement was therefore reached between the various parties, the club, the player and his new club, SC Dubai (to end the contract),” a statement in the club’s website said.

Ajaccio manager Pantaloni termed the 2002 CECAFA Cup winner as ‘hardworking, endearing and decisive’ while wishing him best on his exploits at the Gulf.

Al-Nasr was founded in 1945 making it the oldest club in the United Arab Emirates. However, old age has not translated to success on the pitch with the club having won the Arabian Gulf League thrice, the last one coming in 1986. However, they have already added silverware to their collection this year winning the UAE League Cup after a resounding 4-1 victory over Al-Sharjah.

The club is currently managed by Ivan Jovanovic who led Cypriot side APOEL Nicosia to the quarter finals of the 2011-12 UEFA Champions League. They have scored only 24 goals in 15 matches this season, the least among the top six and the signing of Oliech is meant to scale that ratio up.

Only six of the current 30-man Al-Nasr players are none-UAE. Oliech's new teammates include former Swansea winger, Spaniard Pablo Hernandez who left the Welsh club at end of last season, Senegalese Ibrahima Toure and retired Australia international Brett Holman.

As did his former employers say, we say Bonne Chance Dennis!

And That's thesteifmastertake!!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Ladies and Gentlemen, Introducing: FKF-Premier League

FKF Supremo Sam Nyamweya. Photo: Goal.comKenya
For the fourth time since its inception in 1963, Kenya’s top tier football league will assume a brand new name should the latest resolutions passed by Kenya Football Federation (FKF) be adopted.

The Federation’s president, Sam Nyamweya, has announced that the league will henceforth operate under the name FKF- Premier League, dropping the Kenya Premier League title it has assumed since 1998.

At its inception over half a decade ago, the league was known as the Kenya National Football League which changed to Kenya Super League in 1973 and 1997 then the Kenya Premier League in 1998.

Nyamweya revealed that the new outfit has already been registered and is ready to hit the road with matches kicking off this weekend. 

In what could be a kick in the teeth for long-term partners Supersport, FKF have signed a deal with London-based international media rights company MP & Silva who have pumped money into the new setup. The deal will see the FKF-Premier League and associate lower leagues receive $2.5 million wherewithal, almost a 60% increase from the $1.5 million that the Kenya Premier League(KPL) signed with Supersport.

Under the new deal, clubs will receive Kshs. 9million per annum, (Kshs. 1milion per month for 9 months) which will be directly wired into their accounts. “We will see to it that the players receive their salary directly to their accounts as well as cater for match officials. We however appeal to the players to join the Saccos already in place to cater for their welfares,” said Nyamweya who has been the top boss in Kenyan football for 8 years.

While revealing that FKF have since severed ties with KPL but still offering them an olive branch for negotiations, Nyamweya reiterated that beginning this season, the league will have 18 teams as opposed to 16. 

He also warned match officials who will officiate in games not approved by the Federation of serious ramifications including withdrawal of their licenses.

FKF’s new partners MP & Silva are still offering Supersport the opportunity to air the matches. However, they are looking into the possibilities of selling 2-3 games a week to local free-to-air channels as well as other international broadcasters. 

MP & Silva is a media rights company that owns, manages and distributes sports media rights with the company's portfolio including premium international sports content of mainly football, tennis and motor sports TV rights. They sell media rights of the top 5 European Leagues including the English Premier League, the Spanish La Liga, the Italian Serie A, French Ligue 1 and the German Bundesliga among others.

They reportedly value the local league higher than what current broadcasters Supersport do.

Top Tweets: Courtesy of @Four4TwoMedia

Nyamweya: all sponsors are on board in the #FKF Premier League including @pumafootball, @tuskerlager and @SuperSportTV 

Nyamweya: if a team forfeits their #FKF Premier League match, they will be replaced. The 18 clubs already paid their affiliation fees in Dec 

Nyamweya: DSTV Super Cup was our initiative and we are not opposed to it. However, #FKF have to appoint the referees. 

Nyamweya: Broadcast rights belong to FKF, however they will not chase away #Supersport who have been around for a while. FKF advocates for benefits to all 

Nyamweya: MP & Silva pursuing possibilities of selling League broadcast rights to Free-to-Air channels, something #Supersport haven't done 

Nyamweya: #FKF not sending anyone away, Supersport should agree with #MPsilva on how to share broadcast rights. No more to monopoly 

Nyamweya: we have a letter from #KPL saying they are not opposed to the League being called #FKF Premier League 

Asembo: the new deal is a better offer than the $1.6m @SuperSportTV signed with #KPL. Kshs 9m to go to clubs' coffers, no monkey business 

Nyamweya: #FKF to let @OfficialGMFC and @SOFAPAKA to play their #CAF continental matches 

Nyamweya: #FKF has got serious money to run the league. Those misleading clubs of federation's failure to attract sponsors must desist

And That's thesteifmastertake!!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Ivory Coast’s ‘Golden Generation’ Deliver at Last

Ivory Coast are the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations Champions after they edged out West African rivals Ghana 9-8 on penalties in the final played at Estadio de Bata in Equatorial Guinea.

The Elephants and the Black Stars, seeking for their first title in 23 and 33 years respectively, played for 120-odd minutes with neither able to find the back of the net. Four-time champions, Ghana, came the closest to scoring in normal time but Christian Atsu and Andre Ayew saw their first-half efforts hit the woodwork.

Besides that, there was virtually nothing to separate the two teams who both started the tournament at a snail’s pace before upping the ante one game after another. Having bullied their way into the final in Bata – Ghana thumping hosts Equatorial Guinea 3-0 and Ivory Coast beating Africa’s best team Algeria 3-1 in the semis – the two met in the final in what was a repeat of the 1992 clash held in neighbouring Senegal.

Ivory Coast, participating in their 4th Cup of Nations final to Ghana’s 9th, had seen their previous three finals end in a barren stalemate. It was hence a case of same script, different casts when the game ended 0-0 in both normal and extra time meaning the winners of the 30th edition of AFCON would be decided on penalties, the fifth time in the last 9 occasions that would happen.

Avram Grant’s Ghana looked in control when Wilfried Bony and Tallo Gadji missed Cote d’Ivoire’s first two while Wakaso and Ayew successfully converted. However, the script changed with Afriyie Acquah and Frank Acheampong missing the Black Stars next two, while Serge Aurier and Seydou Doumbia drew Herve Renard’s side level. The next six takers all found the back of the net leaving the goalkeepers Brimah Razak and Boubacar Barry to decide another round of spot-kicks would be taken.

Ghana’s Razak stepped up first but saw his penalty kick expertly saved by Barry at full stretch. The cramp-hit Lokeren keeper made no mistake with his own planting it home and sparking wild celebrations from the Cote d’Ivoire camp.

Much had been said of the Ivory Coast ‘golden generation’ who have flattered to deceive in spite of having a barrage of world-class talent at their disposal. The likes of Yaya Toure and his brother Kolo Toure have won pretty much everything within their grasp at club level but it’s that national title that has been elusive.

That they have ended The Elephants’ long wait will endear their names in the folklores of the national team’s history. Coach Herve Renard will also remain a household name in African football after he picked his second Africa Cup of Nations title in three years and in doing so, becoming the first man to win it with two different countries. His signature will be sought after for sure.

For Ghana, it’s back to the drawing board and perhaps a bit of consultation with their football gods who could provide them with an explanation as to why they have lifted the Africa Nations Cup title only twice in their last seven final appearances.

Congratulations The Elephants!!

Meanwhile Ghana swept all the individual awards with Chelsea's on-loan Everton winger Christian Atsu bagging the player of the tournament and goal of the tournament awards. Andre Ayew's three goals and two assists gave him the golden boot award while the Fair Player of the Tournament award was given to Kwesi Appiah. Second runners-up, DR Congo was named the fair play team of the tournament.

And That's thesteifmastertake!!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Ivory Coast a Step Away from Ending AFCON Title Pain

Cote d’Ivoire are one win away from securing their first Africa Nations Cup title in 23 years after they made it to the final with victory over Democratic Republic of Congo in Bata.

Yaya Toure, probably playing his last AFCON tournament, opened the scoring for The Elephants with a thunderous 20-yard shot in the 20th minute, his first goal in this year’s masterpiece. However, Dieumerci Mbokani hit the equalizer barely five minutes later from the penalty spot, the goal putting him in contention for the golden boot award.

Herve Renard’s side however saw their quality carry the day with Gervinho’s 41st minute strike, his second in the competition, giving them a 2-1 half time lead. Dutch Eredivisie-based Wilfried Kanon all but extinguished the Diables Rouges’ hopes of a first final appearance since their 1972 triumph with a third goal in the 68th minute.

The 3-1 win puts The Elephants on course to winning their first title since 1992. They have now reached the final in three of the last six Cup of Nations tournaments. They lost 4-2 to Egypt on post-match penalties in 2006 before lightning struck them twice in 2012 when they were beaten 8-7 on penalties by Zambia’s Chipolopolo.

Ivory Coast will now take on either Ghana or hosts Equatorial Guinea in the final in what will perhaps be the last chance for their ‘golden generation’ to put some trophy in the cabinet and hang a continental winners’ medal around their neck.

Their celebrations at the final whistle showed just how relieve the squad are to make it to the final. The Elephants would fancy their chances against Equatorial Guinea than Ghana. The Black Stars, just like their French-speaking West Africans have been getting better as the competition wears on, both having had a non-convincing start to their 2-015 campaign.

And That's thesteifmastertake!!

The Three Little Musketeers behind Liverpool’s Revival

Liverpool reached the FA cup 5th round on Wednesday night after surviving a scare from Championship side Bolton on a night that Steven Gerrard made his 700th appearance for his boyhood club.

Having held Liverpool to a barren stalemate at Anfield to earn themselves a replay, Bolton welcomed the Reds at Macron Stadium on a night that there had to be a winner.

After another goalless first half, the Trotters took the lead in the 59th minute through an Eidur Gudjohnsen penalty which was awarded after Martin Skrtel was harshly adjudged to have tripped Zach Clough in the box.

However, two goals in the final three minutes of the game from Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho gave Liverpool a 2-1 win as they entered the FA Cup last 16 in successive seasons, the first time since 1995 and 1996 they have achieved that feat.

The Reds’ performance on the night had all the swagger they have been displaying in their last 20 games. They may not have killed the game early enough but class shone through the Liverpool team.

The likes of keeper Simon Mignolet and his protectors Mamadou Sakho and Martin Skrtel continued to command the defence while Jordan Henderson, Fabio Borini and Daniel Sturridge strengthened the team after their introduction later on.

However, it was the young lads, Raheem Sterling 20, Emre Can 21 and Philippe Coutinho 22 who rightfully grabbed the headlines. The three were at the center of a plethora of attack that the Bolton defence had to ward off as the Reds searched for the equalizer and eventually the winning goal.

Can was powerful when charging forward. His versatility saw Brendan Rodgers slot him first in the back three role alongside Skrtel and Sakho, then into a sweeper role before he was pushed forward into midfield where he took the game by the scruff of the neck. After thudding the bar with a fine left footed effort, the German U-21 international lofted an exquisite, precise pass to fellow youngster Sterling who kept his eye on the ball before guiding it through the legs of the hitherto unbeatable Andy Lonergan for Liverpool’s equalizer.

The German has an air of confidence growing into his game. He has a good shot on him as well as that eye for a Brazilian-esque pass if the one he fed Sterling is anything to go by. He can driver forward (Chelsea can attest to this) and his versatility makes him a shoe-in for any manager’s team when he is fit. His monstrous performance against Bolton was just another feather added to his cap and the £10 million Liverpool paid to Bayer Leverkusen for his signature looks like a huge bargain.

Coutinho was his usual nuisance, keeping the ball at his feet, turning defenders in and out, looking for that perfect pass and opening up little spaces. It has been some week for the Brazilian. After providing two assists in Liverpool’s 2-0 win against West Ham, the former Inter Milan man was tied to a new long-term contract that will keep him at Anfield until 2020. On evidence of yet another starring performance against Bolton where he netted a stunning winner, the Kop world won’t have any much complaint about the new contract.

And then there is Sterling. The more he touches the ball, the higher his stock rises. Alongside Coutinho, Sterling got kicked in every part of his body by the Bolton players. However, he picked himself up and asked for the ball again in his now familiar lone-strike role.

His goal, the equalizer, had sheer class written all over it. A perfectly lobbed pass from Can, and a faultless finish from a player who continues to outshine his age. That new contract should be signed NOW.

Liverpool’s next assignment is a Merseyside derby against Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday evening. In their last meeting, a 1-1 draw thanks to Phil Jagielka’s thunderous stoppage-time equalizer, Emre Can never featured, Coutinho entered the fray in the 60th minute while Sterling was still playing in 'the hole'.

The script will be different this time with all the three likely to start, likely to shine and likely to lead Liverpool to victory at the home of arguably the number one enemy. 

And That's thesteifmastertake!!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire Enter AFCON 2015 Semis as Favorites

Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire made it to the last 4 of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations after steering past some tricky ties in quarterfinals.

Both teams scored three goals on the night, the Black Stars in a 3-0 whitewash of Guinea while the Elephants dismissed Algeria, the top ranked team in Africa, 3-1.

It was a night when all the teams needed to step up. Cote d’Ivoire welcomed winger Gervinho to their starting lineup against Algeria, the Roma man having served his two-game suspension for a red card against Mali in the opening game. Herve Renard’s side took the lead midway into the first half, new Manchester City signing Wilfried Bony heading home a Max Gradel cross for his first goal of the tournament.

The West Africans went for the break holding a slim 1-0 lead. They started the second half sluggishly though and were made to pay just six minutes into it, El Arabi Soudani netting the equalizer for Algeria. However, Bony restored the Elephants’ lead in the 68th minute meeting his now Manchester City teammate, Yaya Toure’s free kick with a powerful header.

Christian Gourcuff’s men pushed for an equalizer but any hopes for that was extinguished by Gervinho who scored in stoppage time to put Ivory Coast to the final four.

Ghana were even more imposing in their clash against Guniea. Having reach the last 4 in the previous four tournaments, the Black Stars put themselves on course for the fifth just four minutes into the match, Everton forward Christian Atsu finding the back of the net after connecting with an Andre Ayew clever backheel.

Crystal Palace forward Kwesi Appiah made it 2-0 to Avram Grant’s side just a minute before the break before Atsu score the best of his two with a piledriver at the hour mark in a comfortable 3-0 beating of Guinea.

Given their quarterfinal performances, Ghana and Ivory Coast will be favorites to set up a mega showdown between them in the final. The Black Stars will play hosts Equatorial Guinea on Wednesday with The Elephants facing a potential banana skin in Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday.

Equatorial Guinea upset Tunisia 2-1 at extra time to qualify for their first ever AFCON semifinal while DR Congo overwhelmed neighbours Congo 4-2.

Besides the hosts, all the semifinalists have tasted the glory of lifting the trophy. Ghana have had a bumper harvest, four titles, but their last one was over three decades ago in 1982. Congo’s only triumph was in the 1972 edition while Ivory Coast have won it more lately in 1992.

This year’s winner will be crowned this coming Sunday.

And That's thesteifmastertake!!