The August Riots

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Friday, 22 April 2011

Friday Football Feature - The best game from midweek that you may not have seen

Tottenham Hotspur 3-3 Arsenal
English Premier League
Wednesday 20 April 2011

For video highlights visit: http://bit.ly/fAfVG8

Perhaps not the most hidden of the midweek encounters, this was truly a must-win game for both sides; Arsenal, on a run of draws and in danger of falling further behind leaders Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur, desperately hoping to pip Manchester City to fourth place and qualify for another season in the Champions League. Recent encounters between these two bitter rivals suggested that the game would be a high-scoring affair; add to this the fact that neither side exactly possesses a reputation for defensive solidity, and their immense attacking potential, and Wednesday’s night’s game looked set to be explosive from the start.

The visitors were first to break the deadlock, taking advantage of a heavy touch from Tom Huddlestone to win possession just inside their own half. After neat passing between Abou Diaby and Cesc Fàbregas, the Arsenal captain sidestepped past the challenge of William Gallas, playing in Theo Walcott. His superbly-timed run broke the Spurs offside trap, and the Gunners’ winger slotted calmly past Gomes to hand Arsenal the lead after just five minutes.

Shortly after Arsenal's opener Tottenham levelled proceedings, patient build-up involving Players’ Player of the Year Gareth Bale, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Tom Huddlestone and Luka Modrić playing in Vedran Ćorluka in space on the right. He was given too much time and space by the visiting midfield, chipping the ball to Rafael Van Der Vaart, who held off the challenge of Diaby to slam home the equaliser in the narrow gap left by Arsenal ‘keeper Wojciech Szczeşny.

Minutes later Arsenal reclaimed the lead, Samir Nasri and Fàbregas keeping possession on the left, before Nasri cut inside, playing a clever one-two before drilling the ball into the bottom left-hand corner, giving Gomes no chance. It looked as though Arsenal had made the game safe in the 40th minute when Bacary Sagna’s difficult cross from the right wasn’t properly dealt with by the Spurs defence. Walcott managed to prevent the ball going out, ballooning an awkward ball back towards Robin van Persie. His initial header was straight at Gomes, but the rebound fell perfectly for the Dutchman to slam the ball into the roof of the net in front of the downbeat home supporters, who could only watch on.

Spurs were given a route back into the match thanks to yet more shaky defending in the North London Derby. Full-back Benoît Assou-Ekotto launching the ball deep and high into the Arsenal box. Pavlyuchenko headed the ball back across the box, but Fabregas’ clearance was weak and fell to long-range shot specialist Huddlestone, whose stinging drive beat Szczeşny, who didn’t even move. Assou-Ekotto was also at the heart of Spurs’ third, the all-important final equaliser. His exquisite through ball played in Aaron Lennon, and his pace allowed him to reach the ball just before the onrushing Szczeşny; Lennon managed to poke the ball onwards, but the Arsenal goalkeeper had committed himself, hauling the Spurs winger down with twenty minutes to go. Having hit his previous five penalties down the left, missing two, Van Der Vaart this time chose right, confusing Szczeşny who dived according to the Dutchman’s spot-kick form, only to watch the ball nestle in his opposite corner, the game now deadlocked at 3-3.

That was how it remained; an enthralling, end-to-end game but ultimately a result which benefited neither side. Chelsea’s 3-1 victory over Birmingham City saw them leapfrog the Gunners into second place, but with games Manchester United and Chelsea to come, Arsenal can still claw back the six-point gap to the leaders to hand Arsène Wenger his first trophy in six years. Tottenham, meanwhile, remain in fifth, but with Bale’s achievements having been recognised by his peers and Van Der Vaart’s incredible debut season in English football, a finish outside the coveted Champions League places could exact a huge blow on Harry Redknapp’s excellent squad-building exercise at White Hart Lane.

Photos courtesy of (in order): Daily Mail, Arsenal, Caught Offside, Arsenal Latest, Premier League, 888 Sport Zone

Monday, 18 April 2011

Monday Match Report: The best game of the weekend that you may not have seen

FC Porto 3-2 Sporting CP
Portuguese Primeira Liga
Sunday 17 April 2011

For video highlights visit: http://bit.ly/i3YalO

Imperious Portuguese champions FC Porto were narrow victors in an extraordinary game at the Estádio do Dragão over Três Grandes rivals Sporting CP. With a vast goal difference of +50, and having conceded just 11 goals all season, Porto were understandably favourites against fourth-placed Sporting. In one of the highest-profile games in the Portuguese league season, neither side disappointed, producing a classic affair that further underlined exactly why the top three sides in the Primeira Liga occupy all but one of the semi-final places in this year’s Europa League competition.

Visitors Sporting, however, started the brightest, taking the lead after 11 minutes. With Porto failing to clear their lines, the ball fell to André Santos on the edge of the area. His low drive was deflected past the helpless Helton, who had dived according to Santos’ initial effort and not accounted for Matías Fernandéz’ unknowing deflection. There appears to have been some debate as to whom the goal should be allocated, but in the end it is clear that Fernandéz’ touch was crucial in diverting Santos’ effort home, and thus the strike is widely accredited to him.

Porto soon got into their stride, however, Radamel Falcao’s drive on the rebound from Fredy Guarín’s stinging effort well saved by Rui Patrício. Falcao was then denied again, this time by the post, his strong header not quite accurate enough to force an equaliser. Patrício proceeded to rescue Sporting once again, Brazilian striker Hulk putting Falcao through on goal only for the visiting ‘keeper to block his powerful effort. The Columbian wasn’t to be denied for long, however, crucially improving on his earlier headed effort to level the scores just before the half-hour mark. Jumping highest once again, he imperiously met a sweeping cross from the left, directing it over Patrício for the equaliser.

Having been deservedly pegged back, Sporting should have reclaimed the lead soon after, Yannick Djaló heading wildly over when unmarked from six yards out. Porto then began to turn the screw once again, Hulk playing in Joao Moutinho in the corner, before the midfielder gleefully made his way into the box, chipping an exquisite cross which Falcao met with an unstoppable diving header in the 50th minute. Jaime Valdés really ought to have pegged back Porto when clean through, but under pressure from the recovering Porto defender, he pitifully dragged his shot wide of the onrushing Helton.

Mariano González then broke down the left for Porto, launching an inch-perfect cross into the path of the hungry Falcao, but this time his header was straight at Patrício, falling harmlessly into the goalkeeper’s arms. In what was fast becoming a shooting gallery, Patrício was forced to make further saves before Porto made the game safe three minutes from time; Rúben Micael’s miscued effort finding its way to young Brazilian forward Walter, who slotted home coolly after breaking through the static Sporting defence.

Yet it wasn’t to be quite so simple for the Portuguese champions, as Sporting made them sweat for the final few minutes, Fernandéz picking the ball up inside the area before finding the top left-hand corner with a sweet drive. The result leaves Porto top of the Primeira Liga on 77 points, 19 clear of second-placed Benfica with a Europa League semi-final to come in a couple of weeks’ time.

Photos courtesy of (in order): Yahoo, Day Life, Livre Indirecto, Ole Ole, FourFourTwo

Friday, 15 April 2011

Friday Football Feature - The best game from midweek that you may not have seen

PSV Eindhoven 2-2 Benfica
UEFA Europa League
Thursday 14 April 2011

For video highlights visit: http://bit.ly/fTadpL

PSV went into this match hoping to reverse the pattern of Portuguese dominance which has characterised this year's Europa League competition. With Benfica leading 4-1 on aggregate following an extremely one-sided first leg, the pressure was all on the hosts to overturn the deficit against the current Primeira Liga leaders. PSV didn't make it easy for themselves, however, with a couple of defensive errors almost letting in the visitors early on. Marcelo was unable to cope with the footwork of classy Benfica forward Oscar Cardozo, who crossed for Argentine Nicolás Gaitán to fire over from close range, having lost his marker Stanislav Manolev.

Next an extremely sloppy pass from Marcelo across his own box was intercepted by the alert and experienced Javier Saviola, but his initial touch was too heavy, and in the end his poked effort was easily saved by the onrushing Andreas Isaksson. PSV then moved into their stride, winning the ball in midfield before setting pacy winger Jeremain Lens free down the right-hand side. His inch-perfect cross was smashed home by Hungarian attacking midfielder Balázs Dzsudzsák to begin the process of erasing the visitors' 4-1 aggregate advantage.

PSV proceeded to put the tie firmly in the balance, Jeremain Lens set clean through after the persistence of midfielder Otman Bakkal won the ball in midfield, sending it through the gap in the Benfica defence. His initial effort was well-saved but the rebound fell immediately to Lens, who chipped the ball neatly into the bottom left-hand corner to the delight of manager Fred Rutten. With PSV 2-0 up on the night after just 25 minutes Benfica took their turn at defensive sloppiness, allowing Dzsudzsák through on goal, but once again 'keeper Roberto stood up strong and palmed the shot away.

Yet what PSV needed the most - to go in at the interval still in the tie - was denied them in the final moments of first half stoppage time, Luisao inventively firing into the top corner of the net after Isaksson had flapped at Benfica's cross from the right and failed to gather the rebound. Benfica then won a penalty in the 62nd minute after a piercing run into the box by César Peixoto was abruptly ended by Marcelo, whose gravely mistimed challenge felled the Benfica winger and completed a poor display at the heart of the PSV defence. Cardozo stepped up confidently, shooting down the middle well clear of Isaksson's dive to settle the tie, and end any hope PSV may have had just before Luisao's strike.

The result leaves the Europa League a distinctly Portuguese, if not Iberian, affair, with Braga, Villarreal, Benfica and Porto contesting the semi-final. Next up for Benfica is Braga, narrow victors against Dinamo Kiev on away goals, whilst Porto face Villarreal, guaranteeing an all-Portuguese final in Dublin on 18 May.

Photos courtesy of (in order): Pics United