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City and United ready for ‘clasico’

October 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Manchester may not yet be, as a local newspaper columnist recently declared, “the football capital of the world.” But for 90 minutes at Old Trafford on Sunday, it will certainly feel like it.

A global audience of several hundred million will turn their gaze to the “Theatre of Dreams” as Manchester City attempt to underscore their emergence as the rising power of English football against Manchester United.

A potentially titanic showdown between the two richest clubs in English football will see City open up a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League if they score their first away victory over United since 2008.

It is the first time since 1968 that City and United have met while occupying first and second place in the table.

That statistic lends weight to the view that the power struggle between the red and blue halves of Manchester is poised to become the defining rivalry of the Premier League in the coming years, if it has not already done so.

City served notice of their wherewithal to supplant United with victory over Sir Alex Ferguson’s side en route to capturing last season’s FA Cup.

United duly responded by clinching their record 19th league title before claiming a 3-2 victory over City in this year’s Community Shield curtain-raiser.

Since then the two clubs have been neck-and-neck at the top of the Premier League, before City edged two points clear last weekend with a 4-1 win over Aston Villa while United were held 1-1 at Liverpool.

Yet if City are to extend their lead this weekend, they will have to overcome United’s astounding home form, which has seen them drop just two points in their last 25 games at Old Trafford.

Ferguson’s team have not lost at home since April 2010, and Portuguese winger Nani believes that gives the Red Devil an advantage on Sunday.

“City have a fantastic team at the moment with fantastic players,” Nani said. “They are playing a lot of good stuff and it will be difficult to play against them. But we should not forget; we are United.

“When we play at home it is very hard to beat us. That is why we are so confident. With a record like ours, we should be confident every time we play at home. We have to believe we are going to win most of the games.”

City midfielder Nigel de Jong believes his team-mates will derive confidence from the fact that they are now looking down on United from the summit of the Premier League. “Everyone believes we can go there and win,” de Jong said.

“We’re going there as number one and the aim is to stay number one. We feel we can do that but United will be confident as well, and they’re playing at home, so it’s a massive game for both of us.”

Nani meanwhile rejected suggestions that Sunday’s game could be a title decider, pointing to the improved form of Chelsea, who face west London neighbours Queens Park Rangers in another Premier League derby this weekend.

“City are one of the teams who have been doing fantastically well since the season started,” said Nani. “But there are a lot of teams who are doing well and we need to be aware of them. Chelsea have been excellent for a start.

“It is too early to say it is just going to be about Manchester United and Manchester City for the title.”

Meanwhile third-placed Chelsea will attempt to build on their recent run of form against QPR at Loftus Road. QPR boss Neil Warnock insists his side will not be over-awed by the occasion.

“People will try and write us off, but the challenge of the Premier League is to try and do well against these teams,” Warnock said.

“Who’s to say we can’t do well against the big teams? There will be one or two shocks this season and hopefully we can provide it.”

Fixtures

Saturday

Wolverhampton v Swansea
Aston Villa v West Brom
Bolton v Sunderland
Newcastle v Wigan
Liverpool v Norwich

Sunday

Arsenal v Stoke
Fulham v Everton
Manchester United v Manchester City
Blackburn v Tottenham
QPR v Chelsea

 

© Sapa – AFP
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Rwanda make a big moves in FIFA rankings

October 19, 2011 Leave a comment
Rwanda made a huge move after a big result over Benin in the final day of  2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier this month. Rwanda move up 31 places to number 112 in the world and 29 in Africa.Bafana Bafana have moved up two places to number 49 in the world and No 8 in Africa, lifting above Burkina Faso in the continental rankings, while the whole country is still shocked by the new rules which saw them missing next year competition.

But they are certainly not alone among the continent’s top 10 ranked sides in not making the finals – Egypt (second in Africa), Algeria (fourth), Nigeria (sixth) and Cameroon (seventh) will also not be there.

Cote d’Ivoire remain the best-placed African side as they lead the continental list, and are placed 19th in the global rankings, followed by Egypt, Ghana, Algeria and Senegal.

The biggest fallers are Benin, who drop 27 places to 119 in the global list and 30 in Africa after loosing to Rwanda in their final 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier this month.

There was just one change in the top five in the global list with Brazil moving into fifth. Spain remain the top side in the world, followed by Netherlands, Germany, Uruguay and the Brazilians.

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City, United win, French clubs suffer

October 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Both the Manchester clubs finally got their first wins of the Champions League campaign on Tuesday with United beating Romania minnows Otelul Galati 2-0 and City edging Villarreal 2-1.

However, both were not pretty affairs, United relying on two Wayne Rooney second-half penalties – making him the highest ever scoring Englishman in the competition with 26 goals – in a match where both sides ended with 10 men.

United, though, still trail Benfica in the table, the impressive Portuguese outfit maintaining their unbeaten record in all competitions with a 2-0 win away at Basel.

“They made it difficult for us,” admitted United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

“But we were in control of the game. I’m satisfied with the result. We had to be patient and work our way into the game.”

City’s win was harsh on their resilient Spanish opponents Villarreal as a goal in time added-on by Sergio Aguero gave them the three points and all but ended the losers hopes of progressing with a third successive defeat.

“I said before the game it was important to win and I think we deserved to because we had a lot of chances to score,” said a content City handler Roberto Mancini.

“When you play in the Champions League for the first time you need to improve game after game. We needed to win and I think tonight after this game we can do better.”

City got another boost as group leaders Bayern Munich drew 1-1 away at second-placed Napoli – a game more notable for Manuel Neuer letting in his first goal in 1147 minutes of action.

It took one of his own team-mate Holger Badstuber’s boots to do so.

Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes said he was satisfied with the result which leaves them unbeaten but thought they could have taken all the points.

“Overall, we played well,” said Heynckes, who is bidding to win the trophy for the second time after guiding Real Madrid to the 1998 trophy.

“I think that it wouldn’t have been unjust if we had won.

“The own goal is obviously unfortunate but we can also sometimes make mistakes.”

Real Madrid’s perfect start to this season’s Champions League continued as they steamrollered French side Lyon 4-0 to make it three wins from three matches.

The meringues have not won Europe’s premier club competition since 2002 and are desperate to dislodge bitter rivals Barcelona from their perch as European champions.

Goals from former Lyon star Karim Benzema, Sami Khedira, an own goal by Hugo Lloris and a fourth from Sergi Ramos rounded off a great night for them.

Real coach Jose Mourinho, a winner with Porto in 2004 and then Inter Milan in 2010, said that the win had significantly eased the pressure on them in terms of topping the group.

“With three games left, Ajax or Lyon can still win the group, but there is less pressure on us,” said Mourinho.

“Each point is a million more and in times of recession a million is a million.”

A bad night for French clubs was compounded by champions Lille’s 1-0 home defeat by Inter Milan.

A first-half goal by Gian Paolo Pazzini was enough to give the 2010 Champions League winners victory in their 100th match in the competition and a much-needed win for Claudio Ranieri and his players, who are struggling in Serie A.

“One swallow doesn’t a summer make but it’s important to win,” said Ranieri.

“The lads are working very hard, it’s a bleak period but I want to turn the page.”

While Lille will do well to compete for a knockout stage spot, Inter face a battle with CSKA Moscow and Trabzonspor, the Russian outfit impressing with a 3-0 home victory over the Turkish side, who stunned Inter in their opening match at the San Siro.

A brace from impressive Ivory Coast international striker Seidou Doumbia and one from Latvian substitute Aleksandrs Cauna, once of modest English side Watford, re-energised the hosts campaign.

“It was much tougher to win today than it may appear looking at the scoreline,” CSKA manager Leonid Slutsky said.

“But we played confidently keeping everything under control and didn’t allow Trabzonspor to create serious threats except one occasion at the start.”

© Sapa – AFP
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Amavubi start camp for Eritrea on Oct. 30

October 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Rwanda national football team, Amavubi, will start a two-week training camp on October 30 in preparation for the first leg of the FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014 preliminary round qualifier against Eritrea.

The first leg qualifier will be played in Asmara on November 11 while the second leg will be played in Kigali on November 15.

Rwanda needs a win from the two-legged qualifier to African giants Algeria, Mali and Benin in Group H of the second qualifying round.

The ten group winners will advance to Round Three while the five third-round ties that decide who flies to Rio are scheduled for October and November 2013.

2014 World Cup, Preliminary Round

Nov. 11
Eritrea v Rwanda

Nov. 15
Rwanda v Eritrea

FERWAFA
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Maazou missing after Niger qualification

October 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Niger’s main striker Moussa Maazou is nowhere to be found after his team qualified for its first African Cup of Nations last week.

His Belgian Pro League side Zulte Waregem said today they had no contacts with the 23-year-old former Monaco player and were yet to foresee any reasons why he had not reported to base after the end of his international assignments.

The club said Maazou left early this month to his homeland to help the Mena wrap up their 2012 Afcon qualifying campaign, but had not returned or called since then.

The Waregem lost their weekend home game 2-1 to Lierse, as they continued reeling the absence of the Nigerien whom they acquired on loan from CSKA Moscow early this year, and would certainly release early next year for the finals of the Gabon / Equatorial Guinea 2012.

A source at the Niger Football Federation (FENIFOOT), who spoke on condition of anonymity because of not being authorised to address the media, told SuperSport.com that Maazou was seen last a week ago in Niamey, Niger capital, but that no one at the body’s headquarters could tell why he had not returned to his club in Europe.

© SuperSport.com
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United, City play Euro catch-up

October 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Dominance has been the domestic watchword of both defending champions Manchester United and current leaders Manchester City in the English Premier League so far this season. But Europe is proving a different story.

In two Uefa Champions League outings to date, neither City nor United have managed a single win between them, making Tuesday’s matches crucial.

Despite his side’s bright overall start, United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has bemoaned recent defensive lapses.

Saturday, he was critical of Ryan Giggs for leaving the wall to allow Steven Gerrard to score for Liverpool in a 1-1 draw at Anfield.

“We have got to defend better. It’s exactly the same as last season,” said Ferguson, who was reciting the same mantra three weeks ago after United squandered a two-goal lead in a 3-3 home draw with Group C rivals FC Basel.

“We threw the game away,” Ferguson said of that showing, which left Basel in the unlikely position of group leaders with Benfica also two points clear of the men from Old Trafford.

Having failed before to get out of a group containing the Portuguese – who held United in Lisbon – Ferguson will not expect to get caught a second time as he chases a third Champions League crown after 1999 and 2008, as well as a fourth final in five seasons.

A first group win of this campaign on Tuesday is now urgently required at Romanian outfit Otelul Galati, already beaten both by Basel and Benfica, who face off in Switzerland.

CITY’S LEARNING CURVE

City are meanwhile learning the hard way that money cannot buy experience at this level as they tackle their debut season in the competition.

A draw at home to Napoli and defeat at Bayern Munich have left Roberto Mancini’s side desperately needing three home points against Group A tailenders Villarreal.

The Bayern loss not only punctured City’s recent cash-induced aura of invincibility but also jolted morale with the media raking over the Carlos Tevez saga after the Argentine allegedly refused to appear from the bench. But Mancini’s men showed in dismissing Aston Villa on Saturday that the players themselves are making light of the Tevez unrest.

Ahead of the Villarreal face off at the Etihad Stadium, Mancini said: “I think the only problem we had in Munich was the result. For 50 minutes we played very well and should have had two penalties.”

City will hope that Bayern, who are proving unstoppable in Germany, can bring Napoli back to earth at the Stadio San Paolo after the Italians’ strong start.

The Bavarians head to Italy after crushing Hertha Berlin on Saturday but will not underestimate rivals, albeit ones playing in their first European Cup campaign in 21 years. Napoli suffered a blow with a weekend home loss to Parma which took some of the gloss off their recent good form.

In Group B, many eyes will be on crisis club Inter Milan, European champions under Jose Mourinho only 17 months ago but struggling with four defeats in six matches in Serie A as they head towards the drop zone. But new coach Claudio Ranieri saw the side bag a 3-2 win at CSKA Moscow which went some way to making up for a shock home loss to Turkey’s Trabzonspor.

That put the Nerazzurri – winless in their past six meetings with French opposition – a point clear of French champions Lille, whose inability to protect leads has cost them dearly in two draws to date.

The two face off in France in their first ever meeting while Trabzonspor look to inflict a second home loss on CSKA.

In Group D, Mourinho’s current side Real Madrid take on a Lyon side they know well from recent encounters. The pair meet for the third time in as many seasons – Real sent them packing 3-0 in last year’s round of 16.

Lyon playmaker Yoann Gourcuff, just back after nearly six months on the sidelines with ankle trouble, hopes to make the date at the Bernabeu with youngster Clement Grenier out injured.

Real lead the way with a perfect record to date with Lyon on four points with four-time champions Ajax needing a win at Dinamo Zagreb to stay realistically in contention.

© Sapa – AFP
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Maghreb pair set up African final clash

October 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Esperance and Wydad Casablanca had 1-0 leads to defend in the second leg of the CAF Champions League semi-finals over the weekend, and both North African sides did just that to reach the final of the continent’s biggest club competition.

Esperance were heavily favoured after claiming an away win at Sudan’s Al Hilal a fortnight ago, but they were made to wait before running out to a 2-0 victory with two second half goals on Saturday.Youssef Msakni scored for the second match running seven minutes after half-time before Wajdi Bouazza settled the tie 3-0 aggregate with a strike in the dying moments behind closed doors in Rades on the edge of Tunis.

Wydad’s 1-0 first-leg win came at home, and they faced a daunting trip at Enyimba, but the Red and Whites made the lone goal of the tie hold up with a tense scoreless draw in Aba, Nigeria on Sunday. The People’s Elephant assailed the Moroccan goal in front of their roaring supporters, but the 2003 and 2004 champions were unable to overturn Pascal Angan’s last-minute header from a fortnight ago.

Next month’s final will be a two-legged, home-and-away contest with the winner claiming a spot in December’s FIFA Club World Cup, which takes place in Japan. The two finalists met twice in the group stage in August with both matches ending up as draws, so it should be an exciting climax to the African club showpiece.

Second chances for both
The Blood and Gold of Esperance won the previous version of this event in 1994, but since then they have lost in the final three times – including last year when TP Mazembe thumped them by a 6-1 aggregate score. Proving themselves among the continental giants has driven the side since, and coach Nabil Maaloul has modulated their performances perfectly through the long campaign. Esperance have scored 23 goals while conceding just six, and they have lost just once in 12 matches – a 2-0 defeat at ASPAC in the second leg of the first round after they had essentially killed the tie with a 5-0 victory in the opener.

Despite the lack of home supporters against Hilal after crowd trouble in the group stage, the hosts were seldom threatened by the Sudanese, who have now gone out in the semi-finals three times in the last five years. Rising star Msakni is again hitting stride after a hot start to the tournament, and he has five goals in the ACL after being given the opportunity to attack through midfield due to the injury absence of captain Oussama Darragi. The 20-year-old Tunisian international was a menace from the opening whistle, but it wasn’t until the second period that he beat Hilal goalkeeper Moez Mahjoub after showing his skill to burst past two defenders and finish strongly. Bouazza’s goal was another impressive goal in traffic to settle the match and set off celebrations, outside of the stadium at least.

They were unlucky not to have converted their chances, but overall I can say we played better than them.

Wydad coach Michel Descatel on overcoming Enyimba

 

Enyimba went through their first 11 matches unbeaten in the Champions League until their 1-0 reverse in Casablanca, but their previously vaunted attack let them down in the last four. Despite the depression of Nigerian supporters, who are also dealing with the elimination of their national team from qualifying for January’s CAF Africa Cup of Nations, it was a professional performance by Wydad that undid them.

The 1992 champions have made little impact on the competition since then, but the Moroccan Botola holders will be no soft touch against favoured Esperance. Wydad’s Swiss coach Michel Decastel, in his second spell with the club, said that his side would push for an away goal in Aba, and they hit the woodwork in the early going, which seemed to knock the hosts onto their heels. In the second half, Enyimba created a number of chances as WAC retreated into a shell, but Uche Kalu and Ifeanyi Ede missed opportunities before substitute Victor Barnabas spurned a short-range chance in the late going when it looked like he would put things into extra time.

It was a well-deserved result for the side said Decastel afterwards, who was nonetheless proud his team dealt with the power of the Nigerians. “Enyimba are a very strong side, and we expected their pressure in the second half,” he said. “They were unlucky not to have converted their chances, but overall I can say we played better than them and responded better to circumstances. The players have made us all proud.”

Morocco and Tunisia are generally powers in African club football, with their teams winning the Champions League five and three times respectively overall. They currently have two teams in the semi-finals of the CAF Confederation Cup this year, with Club Africain and MAS Fez both on the inside track to also reach a continental final and make it a banner year for the two North African nations.

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