Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Football Focus: 20th Hillsborough Disaster Anniversary

In memory of the 96 lives that met a tragic, catastrophic end that changed the football world forever...

UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Match Report: Chelsea 4-4 Liverpool

Sports - Football - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final - Chelsea 4:4 Liverpool - Chelsea progress 7:5 on aggregate

I am still pinching myself to make sure I have not dreamed all this up!

It had everything in it: Drama, quality, errors, comebacks, nerve-wrecking tensions; both sides showed and the game went from brilliance to shambles, stamina to leaks, stubbornness to weaknesses, hope to disappointment, unpredictability to the abvious, pure class to shame; back and forth it went, you just had to remember to keep on breathing whilst watching on in utter stunned-ness.

After enjoying a 3-1 victory at Anfield - Liverpool's first defeat at home in all competitions this season - and Steven Gerrard not even on the bench for the Reds, Chelsea were favourites to progress and started the match very much laid-back, Didier Drogba left isolated at the front. But after conceding three against Bolton at the weekend (nearly four) and Liverpool having scored four or more goals in four of their last nine matches - opponents including Real Madrid and Manchester United, the Blues should have known better. The Reds are famous for their against-all-odds comebacks.

The game started suprisingly calm, both teams with a fair share of possession and a couple of chances: Fernando Torres missed a point-blank chance from about 20 yards from the goal-line after a flick-on from Yossi Benayoun; Frank Lampard put a promising looking free kick wide on the other side of the pitch. But Liverpool enjoyed more possession, Pepe Reina left with nothing to do for most of the first half.


When Fabio Aurelio netted a free kick from outside the box, putting it cheekily in the bottom right-hand corner when everyone expected him to cross it into the box to his teams mates, the tension intesified at Stamford Bridge. Liverpool kept pacing forward and pressure high, leading to a penalty when Branislav Ivanovic wrapped himself around Xabi Alonso inside the box, who confidently sent Blues goalkeeper Petr Cech the wrong way and smashed the ball into the right side of the net.
A few minutes later, Ivanovic made a weak penalty appeal against Jamie Carragher and Drogba drew a sad picture of himself fallingover and rolling around at every little challenge. But the referee Luis Medina Cantalejo was one of those who gave free kicks for every little something or nothing. Still, the Reds went into half time with confidence high; Chelsea due a rant from temporary-manager Guus Hiddink.


Second half, Chelsea started much stronger - also strengthened by Nicolas Anelka who came on just after Chelsea fell 2:0 behind. It did not help when Reina put an easy hold-on flick-shot from Drogba into his own net; but Alex smashed in a 30-yard piledriver and Lampard made it 3:" (my predicted score), putting Chelsea in the driver's seat and their quality out of question, one foot in the semi final.

Rafa Benitez took off Torres, presumably to keep him safe for their Premier League ties and title race ahead, facing Arsenal next Tuesday at home, and thereby making it seem like he had accepted and condemned the Reds to defeat. But the last ten minutes topped an already juicy, top-class match: Without Gerrard and Torres, needing three goals to advance, Liverpool seemed doomed but played on, looking everything else but resigned.



They kept possession and pace high; in the 81st minute Lucas Leiva's shot deflected in and 90 seconds later, Dirk Kuyt headed in an Albert Riera cross from the left, making it look like, once again, Liverpool were making the impossible possible and happen, with eight minutes remaining. But as with the previous three goals Liverpool had conceded, keeping the pace and pressure high and attacking continuously, gaps and leaks were left at the back for the Chelsea players able to take advantage of and score - this time it was Frank Lampard again to break Reds' hearts.

But Liverpool can definitely travel back from London with their heads held high, having netted four against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge - which has not happened to them in decades - and having made one of the best matches ever and a great contest of the quarter final, having been given no chance after being outplayed at home in the first leg and starting this match without their skipper.

The fans were great, too, they never stopped singing, holding their heads and scarves up high until the end, making it hard to believe at times that the match was played in London. Now the Reds can concentrate on the Premier League, which Rafa has seemingly and finally given priority, looking back at his team lineup and substitutions in this match. The fans are left to hope Manchester United will slip up with the full plate of fixtures in all competitions they have left. Chelsea, if they play and show the same insecurities they have in the last couple of nervous matches, will have no chance against a top-class and on-a-roll Barcelona-side. Liverpool can definitely walk on with their heads up high. YNWA! Justice for the 96!

Chelsea Cech; A. Cole, Cavalho, Ivanovic, Alex; Lampard, Ballack, Malouda, Essien; Drogba (94 Di Santo), Kalou (36 Anelka). Bookings 28 Ivanovic, 58 Cavalho, 65 A. Cole. Subs not used Hilario, Mikel, Deco, Belletti, Mancienne.

Liverpool Reina; Carragher, Aurelio, Arbeloa (85 Babel), Skrtel; Alonso, Mascherano (70 Riera), Lucas, Kuyt; Torres (80 Ngog), Benayoun. Bookings 41 Benayoun, 74 Arbeloa. Subs not used Cavalieri, Dossena, Hyypia, Agger.

Man of the match: Frank Lampard

1st half stats: Chelsea-Liverpool
Attempts: 1-5
On target: 0-3
Offsides: 2-1
Corners: 2-3
Free kicks: 14-7
Possession: 36%-64% (23.min)

2nd half stats: Chelsea-Liverpool
Attempts: 9-6
On target: 5-4
Offsides: 0-3
Corners: 2-1
Free kicks: 11-7

Overall stats: Chelsea-Liverpool (taken from skysports.com)
Possession: 60%-40%
Passing Success: 69.1%-78.3%
Tackles/Success: 10/50%-15/73.3%
Territorial Advantage: 47.6%-52.4%

Referee: Luis Medina Cantalejo (Spain)

Monday, 13 April 2009

Premier League Tops and Flops: Picks of the Weekend

Sports - Football - Premier League

With 40 goals, this weekend's action proved the Premier League's worth in the football world. Manchester United and Chelsea looked shivery at times but got the results and three points they need, that is the only thing that matters end of the season. Liverpool netted four goals as if it was the usual procedure, showing no lack of confidence nor form.

The relegation battle got a couple of more twists and turns. Already-considered-down-and-out Wets Brom showed guts against Portsmouth and were rewared with a point. Newcastle also got their first point under Alan Shearer against Stoke City and Middlesbrough recorded a solid and promising 3:1 win oagainst Hull City which improved their chance of survival. Aston Villa and Everton fought out a belter of a match but both had to separate with only a point each in the end, which more or less saved Arsenal the 4th and final Champions League qualification place, who thrashed Wigan comfortably 4:1.


Game: How Chelsea nearly gave away a 4-goal lead is shocking. After a superb and overall-dominant 1st half, with Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard back to their usual outstanding selves, Chelsea relaxed and took off their two talismen after netting the fourth and no one would blame them. But then eight crazy minutes passed, where Chelsea's vulnerability and leaks showed. And it could have been worse when deep into stoppage time Gary Cahill's shot deflected here, there and everywhere between a huddle of bodies to go just wide. It will also serve Liverpool's confidence to know it is not impossible to pass three over Chelsea's goal line and get their best result at Stamford Bridge in 19 years to be able to progress when they meet on Tuesday in the Champions League Quarter Final second leg.

Goal: Fernando Torres' first goal was a beauty, controlling a Carragher-cross with his first touch and turning a right-footed shot up and over Paul Robinson. Not many would have been able to score from that position, but Torres has proven his quality and class once again.

Team: Liverpool have come back strong after their Champions League defeat against Chelsea, what one should expect against struggling Blackburn and are keeping the title race hot and juicy. Even without captain Steven Gerrard the likes of Javier Mascherano, Dirk Kuyt, Daniel Agger and - 0f course - Fernando Torres proved that they can reach peak without their skipper.

Player: Federico Macheda again for Manchester United has saved the points and title spot for the Red Devils again - although I am not too sure he knew much about his goal. How crucial will his gials prove to be end of the season?


Manager: Finally Gareth Southgate got something to smile about again. After the match, he put what the win ment to him short and sweet, honest, blunt and obvious: With a sigh of relief. Cut him some slack, this result could prove vital. You never know, maybe this is a start of a great survival comeback. Then Boro will maybe be lauded to have stuck with him. Too many clubs sack manager too soon too often...


My Predictions - Actual Results

Aston Villa 2:2 Everton - 3:3
Chelsea 1:1 Bolton - 4:3
Liverpool 3:1 Blackburn - 4:0
Man City 2:0 Fulham - 1:3
Middlesbrough 0:0 Hull City - 3:1
Portsmouth 2:0 West Brom - 2:2
Stoke 1:0 Newcastle - 1:1
Sunderland 0:4 Man Utd - 1:2
Tottenham 2:1 West Ham - 1:0
Wigan 1:3 Arsenal - 1:4

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Thank you Andy Gray

Sports - Football - Champions League Quarter Finals

Just by the way... The comment I wrote last week regarding Andy Gray's blog on Liverpool's Champions League defeat against Chelsea has been put on the blog's comment page.

Just wanted to say: Thank you! :-)

Premier League Match Report: Liverpool 4-0 Blackburn - Justice for the 96

Sports - Football - Premier League - Liverpool 4-0 Blackburn

Sonja Hodgson at Anfield

I was close to tears when "You'll Never Walk Alone" was echoing through Anfield, had goosebumps during the minute of silence and when the crowd cheered and fired on the Reds from kick-off, I was enchanted by the atmosphere.

On Wednesday the Hillsborough disaster will be 20 years ago. On the 15th April 1989, 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives. Services, open-to-all, will be held on Wednesday for friends, family and everyone in the football world to commemorate the loss. The victim's names are listed on the Hillsborough Memorial at Anfield.

flame21

Yesterday's match, teams and fans were focused, themed and dedicated only to one thing: Justice for the 96. The Memorial was surrounded by fans before and after the match leaving their scarves, shirts, posters, cards and flowers.

And they got what they came for, a team and match showing heart, dedication, respect and honour. The Merseyside team started without their talisman captain Steven Gerrard, who lost his cousin in the disaster, and with Martin Skrtel and Fabio Aurelio also sidelined, there was a sense of tension, worry and nervousness around the ground from kick-off - but not of long last. Only four minutes into the game, Fernando Torres scored a beauty. Jamie Carragher crossed the ball to the Spaniard from the halfway-line, for him to control it with the first touch and put a right-footed shot up and over Blackburn goalkeeper Paul Robinson with the second.

The Kop commemorating the Hillsborough victims

The fans remained demanding and critical - understandable having seen Liverpool throw away a 1-0 lead against Chelsea on Wednesday. But the worries were unfounded this time.

It should have been 2-0 when Dirk Kuyt made a break after Blackburn lost possession sloppily and passed it to Javier Mascherano who had made a great support run from the halfway-line, but missed for none-other than Torres to put the rebound high and wide from five yards. How he could miss that after he had put in the first beauty puzzled the Kop.

Robinson also saved a point-blank Kuyt header for this time Yossi Benayoun to scoop the rebound over the bar wastefully. Finally and deservedly so, Torres headed in a second goal from a Xabi Alonso free kick. It looked like it accidentally came off the back of his head, but give him the benefit of the doubt a player of his quality deserves once and again.

Double-scorer Fernando Torres surrounded by his team-mates in celebration

Albert Riera wasted promising chances, but at half time Liverpool sat comfortably in the driver's seat. Blackburn made their first change after the break and completed their three just after the hour-mark, trying not to concede more goals or even scrape something back and out of the match. Christopher Samba slipped their first and only chance to have it saved by Pepe Reina, leaving Liverpool on top.

After Nabil El Zhar and Mascherano had missed half-chances inside Blackburn's box and Alonso's corner was met by a fine Riera-header which cleared off the line by Samba, it looked like the third goal just did not and would not want to come for Liverpool. But Daniel Agger fired in a belter showing everyone how it is done, putting it past Robinson's right with his left foot. And it was all given a sweet topping for the Kop when Lucas received Carragher's diagonal ball on the left side of the box and headed across the goal for David Ngog to get the last touch to make it 4-0.

Going from strength to strength: Daniel Agger makes it three

This is just what the doctor ordered for Liverpool to regain confidence after their Champions League defeat against Chelsea and to face their London rivals in the second-leg clash on Tuesday with a chance.

This was an indescribable experience for me. The atmosphere, the fans, the game, just everything. The sunset along the Mersey the evening before was just as breath-and-word-taking; the lady in the bus on our way to the ground with the Everton-ringtone on her phone was just as brave, daring and courageous; just as Liverpool will have to be on Tuesday to make it to the Champions League semi-final.

Merseyside sunset: Can Liverpool's Premier League run continue just as perfect in the Champions League?

Unlinked photographs taken by Sonja Hodgson

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Funny Andy Gray

Sports - Football - Champions League Quarter Finals

Funny isn't it: Andy Gray hasn't blogged on Liverpool and their victories for weeks/months, but I told my friend last night, 'I bet you, Andy Gray will enjoy analysing this on his blog' and surprise surprise, he writes one on Liverpool's one and only home-defeat this season!

But credit where credit is due, Chelsea fully deserved the win and could have gotten more out of it with Drogba creating beautiful stuff. Liverpool were everything else but impressive this time around.

But at least Andy isn't as stupid as most of the Man Utd and Chelsea fans and writes them off - Liverpool are the masters of comebacks, they've done it against Olympiacos, Milan and Chelsea have failed before holding this kind of 1st-leg-advantage (plus Terry's suspension won't help them). Walk on! I still believe and have put my money where my mouth is, too. YNWA

Image taken from skysports.com

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

UEFA Champions League Preview

Sports - Football - UEFA Champions League

After a four-week break, Europe's most prestigious competition is back.

champions-league-logo1


The eagerly awaited quarter finals kick off tonight with defending English and European champions Manchester United facing the 2004-winners Porto at home and 2006-finalists Arsenal playing Villarreal in the Estadio El Madrigal.

The Spaniards have never lost a Champions League game at their home ground but Gunners manager Arsene Wenger dismissed suggestions that his team will just play for a draw.

"We cannot approach the game in any other way than to win," he said on Sky Text. "There is no other way to approach any football game."

Defending champions: Sir Alex Ferguson lifting the cup for United for the second time.

United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has warned his side not to underestimate their Portuguese opposition that finished above Arsenal in the group stage and then beat Atletico Madrid in the last 16 and to take nothing for granted. His side are unbeaten in 19 games at home.

"It would be stupid to think this is going to be easy, " said Ferguson on Sky Text.

"It's a big test for us. By beating Atletico Madrid, Porto proved they will be hard to beat. Physically they are very strong..

"Complacency does not come into it for us. We will be going at full throttle in order to get the result we want."

Ferguson admits that Federico Macheda has forced his way in to be considered for tonight's match at Old Trafford after his heroic last-gasp winner against Aston Villa last Sunday and confirmed that he will be involved on the bench.

Tomorrow, Joan Laporta's Barcelona, who won the competition in 2006, welcome German Champions Bayern Munich to the Camp Nou. J├╝rgen Klinsmann's side hammered Sporting Lisbon out of the competition12-1 on aggregate in the last 16.

In the other quarter final of the night, Premier League rivals Liverpool and Chelsea meet at Anfield for the fifth season in a row in the Champions League, the second leg hosts going through on all three occasions they met in the knock-out stages.

terry-torres-chelsea-liverpool-champions-league

Reds star Jamie Carragher still believes his side have a psychological advantage over Chelsea having done the double on their rivals in the league, beating their record 86-game unbeaten run at Stamford Bridge in the process.

"We've got a great record against Chelsea this season, " he told Liverpoolfc.tv.

"And if we play the way we have done against them in the two league matches then we know we can go through.

"The fact we did the double against them might give us that extra confidence. I'm sure if they'd beaten us twice we'd have gone into it with a bit more trepidation, but the fact we won twice will give us a bit of a boost."

Meanwhile, Chelsea are waiting on their striker DidierDrogba's fitness. He has missed his side's 2-0 victory at Newcastle on Saturday due to his ankle injury and is said to be making slow progress after jarring it again in training.

However, Blues manager Guus Hiddink will not haste or pressure the 31-year-old during the process of recovery.

"He is with our medical staff," said Hiddink on Sky Text.

"He suffered a reaction to an ankle injury he picked up in training. We'll just have to see if he can train and take it from there."

Following the Ivory Coast stadium disaster, Hiddink insists Drogba is mentally ready.

"You can't forget something like that when it's happened," he said.

"And of course we won't, but life goes on and the best thing is to get back to work, which is what Salomon Kalou did against Newcastle."

The second leg ties will be played next week, 14/15 April. The winner of the all-English tie between Liverpool and Chelsea will face either Barcelona or Bayern in the semis and if Manchester United progress against Porto, they may have to overcome their London rivals Arsenal if they conquer against Villarreal to be able to defend their European crown in the final at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on 27 May.

Predicted semi-finalists: Manchester United, Arsenal; Barcelona, Liverpool.

Predicted finalists: Manchester United, Liverpool.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Premier League Tops and Flops: Picks of the Weekend

Sports - Football - Premier League

Sir Alex Ferguson has done it again and pulled a rabbit called Federico Macheda out of the hat. 17 years and 226 days of age, he is the fourth-youngest player to have scored a late match winner and stealing the spot light and maybe/most probably the Premier League title with it. Liverpool had also snatched a late winner the evening before and were most likely watching on when their hopes of catching up and staying top were dashed at Old Trafford.

Game: Manchester United's win shocked Aston Villa who thought they had their first win in six, but any conscious football follower and supporter of the last couple of decades know what has made United the most successful Premier League club and to never write them of before the last whistle has been blown.

Goals: Yossi Benayoun and Federico Macheda both got crucial quality last-minute strikes, but which one will prove more crucial at the end of the season?

Team: Stoke finally got their first away win at the Hawthornes which put them six points above the relegation zone. They have been a forgotten team for a while but £3.5m signing James Beattie has been crucial to them scoring six goals in 10 league games and the match winner in this match, making times look much more promising for City. For West Brom on the other hand, things look much more bleak, same for Middlesbrough, both staring relegation in the face.

Hero: Youngster Federico Macheda, in the picture above, won the match for Manchester United and most probably the title. Nothing is sweeter than to introduce yourself into the football world with a crucial and beautiful debut goal like this right-footed turnaround curl into the top corner. Ferguson has got an eye for them, so, it is no dare to say we will see and enjoy much more quality like this from the promising youngster.

Villain: It has not been a good weekend for referees. Chris Foy's second yellow for Portsmouth's fouled Glen Johnson and Peter Walton sending off Wilson Palacios for a challenge he pulled out of, made both referees look not just harsh but due an appointment at their opticians. Maybe Walton has to also see his psychiatrist, because no one else saw what he gave Spurs' penalty for. The linesman at St James'Park can be added to this little rant, having denied Michael Owen a goal, his shot crossing the line before Ashley Cole hooked it clear. It could have changed the course of the match and relegation battle for the Toon Army. Why they cannot regard video replays I still cannot understand.

Manager: Alan Shearer caught all the headlines before someone at Old Trafford stole the limelight. I thought it was an April fool's joke when I read last Wednesday he was going to take over from Joe Kinnear for the rest of the season. Who would want to start their managerial career in a relegation battle, facing Manchester United, at Old Trafford, I thought?! Well, fool me. In his first post-match interview of his managerial career for the Toon, he made a respectable figure, the legend he is, not moaning or ranting about lost opportunities and the referee's fault in losing his team a goal and maybe the chance of leaving the pitch with a point but reasoning and underlining his decision and aim on his job as Newcastle manager until end of the season.

Predictions - Results

Arsenal 1:0 Man City - 2:0
Blackburn 1:2 Tottenham - 2:1
Bolton 1:0 Middlesbrough - 4:1
Everton 2:0 Wigan - 4:0
Fulham 1:2 Liverpool - 0:1
Hull City 1:1 Portsmouth - 0:0
Man Utd 2:0 Aston Villa - 3:2
Newcastle 1:1 Chelsea - 0:2
West Brom 3:2 Stoke - 0:2
West Ham 0:0 Sunderland - 2:0

Picture taken from bbc.com

Saturday, 4 April 2009

One-Day Series in the Carribean: England Shambles of Shame

Sports - Cricket - England victorious in the Caribbean but in deep trouble

The Ashes seem like some unreachable place, far far away, out of this world looking at England's dismal display of late. Kevin Pietersen whining and whingeing about losing his captaincy and form and being homesick just topped the mouldy crumbling cake called England.

Ok, this may sound over-harsh after England just left the Caribbean with their first one-day series success, beating the West Indies by 26 runs in St. Lucia and taking the series 3-2.

But they have the Duckworth-Lewis method and West Indies' coach John Dyson's confusion with it to thank essentially and mainly for that overall victory. They cannot and should not let a couple of wins cover up the cracks that have showed up and broken the team.

It was great to see Andrew Flintoff back to his best with a hat-trick in the last match, only the third Englishman to have done that, with 5-19 from five overs. But if they want a chance against Australia in the summer, they have got to work at their one-day as well as their test match sides.

First thing they need is to name their coach who will take over as soon as possible. He needs to get the team together and work on their confidence and consistence.

Hopefully, England will model themselves on Freddie - who looked the good old himself after a long absence and form blur.

Image taken from Cricket Online