Quarter-finals provide drama and excitement in equal measure

Van Bommel offers his condolonces

The quarter-finals in World Cup 2010 brought four unique types of drama. All four venues hosted matches that each provided their own types of intrigue and excitement. It ranged from the collapse of the favourites in Nelson Mandela Bay, to heartbreak in Soccer City for Africa’s last hope of glory. Green Point then hosted a shocking chapter in Maradona’s turbulent World Cup history and finally rugby stadium Ellis Park witnessed two missed penalties within three minutes. Armchair fans around the globe are glad of the two subsequent rest days that follow before the semi-finals after such a tumultuous round of games, in order to get their collective breath back.

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French failure gives Irish more reason for regret

Pele and Moore: Mutual Respect

World Cups always throw up images that get ingrained into the history of football. Whether it be Pele and Bobby Moore swapping shirts, Marco Tardelli’s manic celebration, or Paul Gascogine blubbering, each edition of the tournament provides iconic moments that will be forever remembered and for the most part cherished. So far in South Africa 2010, we are yet to witness anything quite as stirring as the three aforementioned examples. On the pitch at least. But the image of the French fitness coach, Robert Duverne, hurling his stopwatch across an empty training ground is a snapshot of the biggest non-vuvuzela related controversy of this World Cup. A controversy than has finally given the Irish something to smile about.

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Wish you were here

He really is injured, honest.

Over the past few weeks, the anticipation is reaching unprecedented levels as the 2010 World Cup edges ever closer. Unfortunately, there have been an unusually high number of injuries to numerous high profile stars. The African teams have been particularly hit with Chelsea duo Michael Essien and Jon Obi Mikel absent for Ghana and Nigeria respectively, and Ivory Coast talisman Didier Drogba struggling with a suspected broken elbow. Injuries are common place in football, which is still, despite the attempts of many referees, a contact sport. However some players will be missing the marquee event in rather different, and in some cases, tragic circumstances. Continue reading

Ireland avoid familiar faults in RDS triumphs

Macken: Faultless

When someone mentions the RDS, my mind immediately wanders to a sport that rarely enters my thoughts. The mercurial world of show-jumping. After all, the initials RDS stand for Royal Dublin Showgrounds. Where better to see the legendary Eddie Macken steer an immaculately groomed mare around a litany of fences and various water hazards in the quickest possible time? More recently, it has been home to the ever-expanding rugby bandwagon Leinster for their Magner’s League and European Cup matches. Last week, Ireland’s footballers arrived at the Ballsbridge venue, in the shadow of their future home and gave manager Giovanni Trapattoni plenty to ponder over the summer months.

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From zero to potential hero

Zakumi: 2010 World Cup Mascot

It’s so close we can almost smell it. The 2010 World Cup is just weeks away and football junkies the world over may rejoice. 64 games crammed into a 32 day schedule and the best players on the planet strutting their stuff on the grandest stage of all. But it is not only the Messis and Cristiano Ronaldos of this world who get the chance to display their talents. There is an opportunity for certain individuals to re-ignite a career that has somewhat stagnated at club level. Football Digest will take a look at five players who are marginalised at their clubs, only to be vital to their countries relative hopes in South Africa this summer. Continue reading

Hull struggle with the big boys

Keenan and Brent deep in thought.

It seems to be just idiotic exchange between Gareth Keenan and his former boss David Brent. They are scouring a dating website as Brent searches frantically for date to bring to the Wernam Hogg Christmas party. Brent lists one of his interests as travel. When Keenan questions the validity of this claim, Brent mentions Hull as one of the places he has travelled to. His ire is raised by Garth’s constant probing until Brent comes out with the immortal line:

Well it’s not like Hull came to me. Oh look, here comes Hull down the motorway.

It’s a line that still makes this column chuckle. Hull City’s Premier League adventure has not quite provided as many laughs, but if there’s one thing you could not accuse them of is being boring.

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A season to forget

Tanner: Patience required

Liverpool fans are a patient bunch. Patient in that any new player who wears the Liverbird on his chest will be given a chance to prove himself until a verdict is reached. Even the likes of Nicky Tanner, Paul Stewart and Istvan Kozma were offered a period of grace until they turned out to be quite below the standard required. Players who never really distinguished themselves at Anfield, still receive a warm reception when they return to the hallowed turf. Unless your name happens to be Michael Owen. One player who is still benefiting from the patience of the Kop is Alberto Aquilani. Another insipid display was ended in substitution against Fulham, but Anfield rose to their feet in acclaim. To say that things have not gone to plan for the former Roma star in England would surely be a candidate for understatement of the season. Continue reading

He who dares, loses

Feeling the pressure

It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Any sort of reverse at the hands of St. Mirren would have put Tony Mowbray under even more pressure to hold on to his job. The manner of Celtic’s 4-0 hammering at St. Mirren Park made Mowbray’s position untenable. Sky Sports News’ Ed Chamberlain was seen scrambling around his desk to find a statistic that further emphasised the humiliation suffered. This was Celtic’s heaviest defeat to a Scottish side not called Rangers since 1980. No one wants to see a manager sacked (apart from perhaps Sam Allardyce), but even the most fervent Mowbray supporter could have defended him after what turned to be his final game as Glasgow Celtic manager.

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What now for Joe Cole?

Cole as a young Hammer

Prodigy. Genius. Magical. There was an endless list of superlatives used to describe Joe Cole as he rose like a phoenix through the ranks at West Ham’s academy during the 1990s. The future of English football. His emergence would signal a new breed of player in the birthplace of the game. Technique, skill and imagination would come to the fore, with the strength, discipline and desire so implanted in the psyche of the English game taking a back-seat. Such was Cole’s natural ability; future teams would be constructed to suit his strengths. However now aged 28, supposedly when a player is at his peak, Chelsea are stalling on offering Cole a new deal. His World Cup place is under severe threat. How has it come to this? Continue reading

“He’s not that type of player”

“There was no malicious intent from Ryan; he’s not that kind of player.”

Danny Pugh, Stoke City midfielder, 27th February 2010.

“He’s a committed player, but he’s never going to go into a challenge looking to hurt someone.”

Rory Delap, Stoke City midfielder, 27th February 2010.

“Martin’s not a dirty player. He’s distraught over Eduardo’s injury.”

Alex McLeish, Birmingham City manager, 23rd February 2008.

“In my opinion, I felt Dan Smith did go for the ball and the lad knocked it away and he accidentally caught him.”

Kevin Ball, Sunderland caretaker manager, 1st May 2006

Horror tackle

Almost two years to the day that Eduardo suffered a horrific broken leg after a challenge by Birmingham’s Martin Taylor, Aaron Ramsey was to suffer a similar fate at the hands of Ryan Shawcross at the Britannia Stadium last night. In May 2006, 19-year-old Abou Diaby had his ankle broken when a Dan Smith lunge cost him eight months of his career and a possible Champions League final appearance. Does anyone see a bit of a pattern forming here?

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