Arsenal 0-0 Fulham

Well, at least it wasn't 0-1.

Fulham started brightly enough...they had a dangerous free kick within 30 seconds of the opening whistle. It went harmlessly into the wall, though, and that was about all they had for the next 55 or 60 minutes. The rest of the first half was an Arsenal masterclass of skill, possession, and near-misses. From what I could tell, Fulham's strategy was to take TH14 out of the match as much as they could, and hope for the best. Of course, they couldn't take Henry entirely away from the game, but he wasn't as much of a factor as you'd think.

Anyway, while the Gunners did their Islington Globetrotters impression (although Fulham aren't anywhere near the Washington Generals...you have to say they've been good for their fourth-place standing so far), nobody could get the finishing stroke past Edwin Van der Sar. Hell, I doubt there's been a clearer Man of the Match for any of our opponents this season...the Arse ended up with something like 24 attempts on goal, with about half on target. While we had only one or two chances that absolutely SHOULD have gone in, he still was the only thing between Fulham and a 4-0 or 5-0 loss. On our end, however, it became apparent as the match went on that Pires or Ljungberg or Bergkamp weren't going to find the net. I think that with the way Fulham defended (and it sounds weird saying this about a side that conceded 24 shots), this would have finished 0-0 if they had played 900 minutes rather than 90.

From the 60-minute mark on, however, Fulham managed to get spells of possession for themselves, and managed to get some clear chances for themselves. I think it was Steed Malbranque who went uncomfortably close on a header, and Arsenal loan-boy Mortiz Volz had two chances himself to prove Arsene wrong. Speaking of Le Boss, you have to admire his substitutions...he kept throwing offensive players on (Kanu for the again-mediocre Gilberto Silva, and Aliadiere [who was never in it, sadly] for Ljungberg), but all to no avail. Fulham, for their part, realized that Louis Saha wasn't doing much in his lone striker role, so they brought on Barry Hayles, who was more dangerous.

All this said, the Gunners can probably count themselves slightly unlucky to only get a point out of this. However, it was a brave, battling performance from Fulham, and they earned their reward (leapfrogging past Charlton Athletic into 4th place).

Meanwhile, Chelsea smothered Manchester United completely out of their match, and won 1-0 at Stamford Bridge. They're top of the league now, but we'll see who's back in front by Christmas, let alone the end.


Inter Milan vs. Arsenal, Champions League Matchday 5

European Curse 1 - 5 Arsenal

I say we were definitely good for this win...I mean, how effing great was our back four? For the vast majority of the match, every time Inter ventured past the halfway line, Sol or Pascal or Kolo or Ashley would casually take the ball with all the ease of a senior team playing a U-18 squad. Jens was immense in our goal...even when they scored, he got a fingertip on it, and was unlucky to not tip it onto the bar. And, say what you want about Materazzi or Inter dives in the box or whatever, but when we had our chances, they were taken with the cool of an assassin.

By the way, I thought the referee was brilliant. Would you rather have a guy like this, or one of those "Mr. Fussy" English referees who peeps his effing whistle every 30 seconds to hand out a yellow card? Or, how about one of those dodgy Euro referees that falls for every Italian or Spanish dive in the penalty area? For the most part, he let the teams play, and wasn't a factor in the outcome of the match...that's all you can from the man in charge.

No need for a long entry here...no need for minute analyzation. Arsenal 3:16 says "We whipped Inter's ass"


The outdoor game...

Quickly, I wanted to mention the outdoor hockey game between the Canadiens and the Oilers. To me, there should be at least one of these in every Canadian province that has a team (along with Minnesota) every single season. I had to listen to it on internet readio, but still...what a fucking great idea. Hell, even living as far south as the NYC suburbs, I have fond memories of shoveling off enough snow to play some pond hockey...freezing to the bone, wondering if you'd make it without falling through the ice....

Ahhh, nostalgia. It's too bad the clueless-as-always NHL didn't get this broadcasted in the USA. Tools.


Birmingham City 0-3 Arsenal

Good thing the match ended up being worth it...I'm not a huge fan of getting only three hours of sleep...stupid time zone difference.

Got to the pub early, to catch the end of Manshit United vs. Blackburn Rovers. Rovers made a game out of it, but succumbed 2-1...thus leaving Arsenal needing a win to stay top of the table. However, with about 14,000 guys out from suspension or injury, we had a skeleton lineup that looked like this: Lehmann - Cole, Campbell, Cygan, Gael Clichy (18-year old rookie) - Ljungberg, Toure, Edu, Pires - Henry, Bergkamp. Le Boss ended up pulling one over everyone...Kolo Toure in central midfield? The HELL?!

However, the latecoming NY Gooners barely had a chance to get their eyes adjusted to the dark pub before we were 1-0 up...DB10 showed some his old magic, virtually pressing a "pause" button on the Birmingham defense. Well, OK, it was a bad mistake by Kenny Cunningham, but he took it well, and found Henry in the middle. Henry calmly laid it off to Ljungberg, who left Maik Taylor with no chance after a super-cool finish. Just four minutes in, and the Blues had it all to do.

However, for the next 65 minutes or so, the hosts were essentially playing downhill. They had the lion's share of the possession, and with all the moaning in the pub, you'd have thought we were 0-5 down and 20 points behind Manshit United in the standings. I can understand that being an Arsenal fan can spoil you a bit...when Mega Arsenal shows up, we're treated to absolute top-class football. But, championships are won and lost in the freezing cold, in tough, gritty games on hostile grounds. To be frank, if this were last year, I don't think we get all three points.

Here's two other things to consider. With so many first-choice players out (random: How do you think Kanu must feel starting on the bench today? I'd start packing, if I were him), how can we expect to roll over a tough side on their own patch? Seriously, now. Second, Arsenal spent most of the match in first gear, because that's all the needed, really. Also, let's keep in mind that we somehow have to beat Inter Milan on their own patch in just three days. If we can tonk Birmingham in first gear, then why bother going to second? Mikael Forssel went uncomfortably close on a header in the second half, and David Dunn had a few half-chances that ended up never seriously threatening Lehmann (who was great in getting loose balls, which was just about his only job today). That was their lot. Birmingham huffed and puffed in the midfield, and looked good linking from the back to the wingers. But, it seemed like there was a forcefield around the Arsenal area...for all their hard work, Birmingham barely could get a peek in there.

In all fairness, the Arsenal back four were quietly very good. It was nice to see Cygan have a good game, and except for a few misplayed balls, Sol was his usual colossus self. Although he was taken off after 58 minutes for Kanu, Gael Clichy showed that he perhaps deserves a few more looks this season. He has wonderful ball skills, he's not afraid to press forward (but he doesn't get stranded like Ashley Cole tends to), but he could sometimes do with going to a simpler option (i.e. JUST CROSS THE DAMN BALL ALREADY!). Well done to the lad.

Birmingham (another random: How wide is the gulf between the haves and have-nots in the EPL? This is the 5th-placed side so far, ladies and gentlemen) started bringing more and more players forward, but you always had to believe that Arsenal would catch them on the break. Sure enough, we doubled the lead with a classic counter-attack. TH14 (who was Man of the Match, by the way...he didn't score, but he was all over the place, often drawing three or even FOUR defenders toward him...he also came close a few times) found Bergkamp with a great long ball...Bergkamp won the foot race with the static back four (yes, they lost a foot race to 900-year old Dennis ;D) , leaving DB10 on a breakaway. The Dutch wizard slotted home past Taylor, cooler than James Dean.

With all three points in the bag, the Arse decided to kick into another gear...my theory was that they wanted to send a message to the Italians heading into the big European tie...oh, and to our nearest and dearest rivals at home, too (Chelsea also won, by the way...so status quo at the top again). After some great build-up, Henry found Super Robert Pires, who made no mistake, beating Taylor low into the corner. It's funny...for all of Birmingham's possession, dominance, and great defensive play for the most part, all it took was three seperate times where Arsenal seemed to conciously say: "We're going to carve you up now...it IS almost Thanksgiving, after all"...and that was that.

The referee (the horrible ginger midget, Paul Durkin), was unbelivably bad, as usual. Kolo Toure got booked for getting knocked down, and having someone trip over him. Meanwhile, that freak Robbie Savage (who should really be locked in a cage and put in the zoo with the rest of the animals) attempted open-ligament surgery on several Arsenal players, but nothing doing, card-wise. The fact that Durkin is a FIFA referee blows my mind...not that England is blessed with many good ones, but good lord, if that's the best you got.....can't we just clone Pierluigi Collina and get it over with?

Jeremie Aliadiere and Justin Hoyte got a run-out, coming in at the 89th and 90th minutes respectively. I would have liked to see them get a little more time, but I can understand why Le Boss wasn't taking any chances. If Milan is kicking our ass again by halftime on Tuesday, however, I think it'd be criminal if they didn't get a longer look.

Milan on Tuesday, Fulham (and our old friend, Moritz Volz) next week. Come on, you Gunners!


Euro 2004...

Well, the playoffs, after a series of shocks in the first leg, ended up finishing almost entirely by the form book...I'm sure that FIFA and all those federations that fixed the draw are happy. ::smirk::

Holland 6-0 Scotland (Holland wins 6-1 on aggregate)

Well, I had the concept right, anyway. I knew Scotland was going to get a reality check, I knew the Dutch would bring down great vengeance upon them...but I don't think anyone expected a shitkicking of this magnitude. Van Divingprick hit for a hat trick, and that was basically that. I hate to say that Scotland folded, because they showed so much spirit to win in Glasgow. Perhaps it's better to say that they wandered on the tracks when the train came through.

Slovenia 0-1 Croatia (Croatia win 2-1 on aggregate)

This tie all came down to red-hot Dado Prso. He hit for...five, I think in Monaco's 8-3 demolition of Deportivo la Coruna in the Champions' League, and he ended up netting both for Croatia over the two legs. Besides the fact that I'm down with ANYONE who has long hair in 2003, he's scoring at will right now. I wouldn't be surprised to see him in a much bigger club's uniform come the January transfer window. It's kind of a shock that Slovenia didn't get a draw at least on their own patch, but then again, they may be going through what Portugal will after Euro 2004: A great team that all got old at the same time.

Wales 0-1 Russia (Russia wins 1-0 on aggregate)

Now THIS was a shock, especially because Ryan Giggs was fit enough to make the starting 11. After getting the draw in Moscow, I would have bet my last 5 dollars (I think the 5 dollars in my wallet IS my last 5 dollars, but I digress) that the Welsh would have come away with the victory. However, Russia are one of those sides that, despite being very good, tend to sneak up on people. You never think of them in the same breath as the elite teams in Europe, but they always do the business against teams they should beat. Wales has nothing to be ashamed about, though...they've got some good young players, and they've gone from perennial doormat to a side that you can NEVER take lightly...and they should hold their heads up proudly just for that alone.

Norway 0-3 Spain (Spain wins 5-1 on aggregate)

I was kind of shocked by this too, because I rated Norway a little better than this. However, I saw the highlights, and from what I could gather, Norway was an absolute shambles in the backline. They basically gave away all three goals, the last one on an absolute howler by their goalkeeper. I also had banked on Spain imploding as usual, but it's only now that I remember that they usually wait until AFTER they qualify for a major finals before doing so. Heh.

And, one more time:

Turkey 2-2 Latvia (Latvia wins 3-2 on aggregate)

If you will...indulge me one more time.


OK...I'm done. I just especially love justice being served.


Well, well, well...

More on all of the Euro 2004 playoff second legs later, but I wanted to get this out of the way:

Turkey 2-2 Latvia (Latvia win 3-2 on aggregate)


OK....there, I feel better. No...wait...


Take THAT, you worthless fucks. Karma is a bitch, ain't it?

Some quick predictions...

Just because it's been a few days, my Euro 2004 playoff predictions.

Holland (0-1) Scotland: Scotland did unbelievably well to get the 1-0 win in the 1st leg, but I fear they're in for the mother of all reality checks in Amsterdam...despite the doom and gloom shown by a "man on the street" segment on the FSW Report. Holland has too many weapons, and the Amsterdam Arena is just too imposing a venue for visiting sides. Not only that, but the Dutch are embarrassed after their performance in Glasgow, and will be looking to make up for it in spades. Scotland 'keeper Rab Douglas fends them off bravely, but Holland still wins 2-0 to take the tie 2-1 on aggregate. Van (I'mdivingcheatingprick)Nistelrooy gets a double for the Dutch.

Slovenia (1-1) Croatia: I don't know much about either side, but I get the feeling that Croatia might STILL take the Slovenians a bit too lightly. People seem to have already forgotten that these guys qualified for Euro 2000 AND the 2002 World Cup. Still, after another 1-1 draw in extra time, Croatia nicks it on penalty kicks. It'll be 2-2 on aggregate, 4-2 on penalty kicks.

Turkey (0-1) Latvia: Goddamn, I hate Turkey. I hate their fans, I hate their team. I think they're a bunch of unsporting pricks, and Alpay in particular makes me want to vomit on my shoes. That notwithstanding, Latvia got their moral victory at home, thanks to Maris Ivegotareallylongandunspellablelastname. With the tie moving to Istanbul, I can't help but think that the Turks, who have to still be stinging from the England result (let alone losing to friggin' LATVIA), will lay 38 different kinds of smack down on the poor ex-Soviet republic. Turkey wins 5-0 to ease their way to a comfortable 5-1 win on aggregate.

Wales (0-0) Russia: The guys on the FSW Report tonight said that the Russians have lost something like 2 qualifying matches at home in the last 70 (!!!) years. So, for the Welsh to get a goalless draw at the Lokomotiv Stadium, it has to be counted as one of the best results in that nation's history. And, I can't see it coming in vain, especially with the suspensions to starting goalkeeper Sergei Ovchinnkov and midfield dynamo Aleksandr Mostovoi to second-yellow card suspensions. Also, as long as he's fit, Ryan Giggs will be cleared to play for the Welsh, due to a technicality in the way he was notified about his hearing for the elbowing incident in the first leg of the tie. Wales holds on for a 2-1 victory thanks to Giggs and Hartson. The way the Welsh have played for the last two years or so, they absolutely deserve to go on (while the Russians deserve to go home, for the simple reason that they were one of the most unbearably dull sides to watch during the World Cup).

Norway (1-2) Spain: You know, the Norse were an own-goal away from coming into this match tied at 1-1. Spain also has a particular talent for imploding at the absolute worst time, despite the ludicrous amount of sheer ability they have available. With that in mind, I can't discount the possibility that the Norwegians bore the Spanish to death, steal a goal on the counter-attack, and win via the away goals rule. That gets an added layer of credibility when you factor in the concept that Spain couldn't win a group where the toughest competition was Greece. I keep harping on it, but come on...it's only GREECE. However, my gut says Spain wins 1-0 in a composed, professional, assured away performance. Raul gets the goal, and the Norwegians get to be unlucky that they didn't draw someone else.

I've said it before to friends, so I may as well say it in this space. If you believe that this draw was 100% random, then my friend, you are 100% an idiot. The balls they use in the draw can so easily be heated or cooled to achieve somewhere close to the results that they want. Don't you think it's a LITTLE weird that supposedly-big nations were only drawn against supposed minnows? You can make a case that this particular Welsh side was always going to be a match for the Russians, but other than that, it's ALL David vs. Goliath. Sorry, but I'm a bit too cynical (read as: realistic) to imagine that this is anything but a fix. I just can't discount the fact that the bigger nations' football associations likely have the cash handy to bribe FIFA officials (cause we all know that THEY'RE the paragons of ethical behavior) to get matched with inferior opposition. To me, the results of the first leg (with major upsets happening almost across the board, with the possible exception of Spain-Norway...although the Norse are more than capable of winning in the end) are a prime example of karma in action. I hope beyond hope that Croatia, Holland, Turkey, Spain, and Russia ALL go out. It's way too much to hope for, of course, but if even three out of five get sent home, it'll be EXACTLY the kind of middle finger in the face of FIFA that true fans of the sport (and of fair play) truly crave.

But, especially, up the Scots, and up the Welsh!


Never got around to this...

...but the Metrostars' season ended with a 1-1 draw on the road against New England (lost the series 3-1 on aggregate). And, I've been reading on message boards the posts of some Metro fans, and you'd be forgiven if you thought that they were actually referring to Dallas, by far the worst team in the league.

Seriously, guys...put a sock in it.

We got to our first-ever Cup final (we lost in the final of the US Open Cup, but 1. We got there, and 2. We beat the Scum in the semifinal), and the beginnings of a great team are in there somewhere. With Timmy Howard in net, I think we win the whole thing...however, in all honesty, the guy was just too good to be slumming it in MLS any longer. Jonny Walker's been about as good as you could ask for in his absence. Sure, he isn't really a replacement, but let's be honest with ourselves, Metro fans...another Tim Howard probably isn't coming along for another 10 or 15 years at least. My prediction is that when he hangs up his boots, it will be as by far the best goalkeeper that America has ever produced. Ever.

Also, Eddie Gaven and Ricardo Clark give us great hope for the future. In the preseason, all the hype was for the DC Scum's #1 overall pick, Alecko Eskandarian. If memory serves, he didn't play very often...meanwhile, we have two Rookie of the Year candidates in one year. Also, Amado Guevara has proved to be a revelation in the center of midfield (and, where the HELL did Super Mark Lisi come from?!). Eddie Pope and Steve Jolley combined to give us our steadiest backline in a long, long time...maybe ever.

On the flip side, Clint Mathis will probably not return to MLS this season, and I say it's probably for the best. When motivated and fit, he's one of the best America's got, and deserves to ply his trade abroad with the likes of Claudio Reyna. When he's not motivated and fit, you get this season...he was good, but not the superstar we needed to put us over the hump. Also, I can do with a good attacking midfielder who won't take stupid cards and fouls. Ahhhh...I can dream.

In the hung jury section, I think we need to give Andresj Juskowiak a full season to see if he really has anything left in the tank or not. It's not like he's 38 years old and coming here for a quick buck before hanging them up...I believe he's only 33, and was in the fuckin' Bundesliga only 2 or 3 seasons ago...if he was good enough for Werder Bremen that recently, then he HAS to be able to adjust to MLS.

I'm SO proud of this team, and I can't wait to see what moves are made in the offseason. Yeah, this was brief and skeletal and all that. Fuck it...I'm tired.


It's Over!

...for Peter Reid, anyway...he got fired by Leeds United today. It had to happen, but you can't help feeling sorry for the guy. He seems very likeable, and apparently his tactics aren't bad on the face of it...maybe he's just always been in the wrong situation at the wrong time.

Maybe the guy needs a trip down to the Nationwide for awhile...see if he can't do better with some D1 or D2 side who isn't already one foot into the relegation grave. After relegating Sunderland and putting Leeds in this position, I can't see another Premiership side taking a chance on him.



After watching the Premiership all this morning, the MLS playoff game I watched tonight looked BAD. Terrible, even. Even the Yeovil v. Wrexham fixture had better finishing and midfield play. I never wanted to admit it to myself, but GOOD GOD OUR LEAGUE IS SHIT.

There. I feel better.

Can you hear the Tottenham sing? No! No!

What a match! Well, let me correct myself...what a second half! I get to Nevada's, and about 1.2 seconds later, Darren "Sick Note" Anderton is cooly finishing over Jens Lehmann for the shock 1-0 lead. Really, it was absolutely shocking defending...and, speaking of that, there were at least three horrnendous back-passes that probably should have resulted in goals...provided we were playing a real team and all. Helder Postiga was particularly shit...the pub came up with this song: "There's only one, Postiga! There's only one, Postiga! 11 million pounds, for THAT fucking clown! (I forget the last line).

However, to his credit, Lehmann saved well on those backpasses. Meanwhile, the Scum lived up to their name...hacking and clucthing and grabbing and diving and elbowing...their was a scary moment when Dean Richards caught Henry in the throat with an elbow (though I don't think he meant to get him in the throat). They're a shit fucking side, and if I had my way, they'd go down about 3 divisions, and we'd be done with them.

I'm proud to say that we out-sung the Scum fans even while we were losing...still, it began to take on somewhat of a grim atmosphere...I figured that Le Boss would sort them out during halftime, but I still realize that even though S***s are shit, and we haven't lost a London derby in something like 35 straight, these things are ALWAYS a bit tricky.

But, after the restart, we still weren't looking like ourselves...it was pretty much a repeat of the first half...dour, rubbish stuff from our midfield, leading to shambolic defensive mistakes (if our opponents were a side like Charlton, or even Portsmouth, we'd have been looking at a 5-0 or 6-0 reverse by the 50th minute)...Finally, Wenger brought on Bergkamp and Cygan for Gilberto Silva and Lauren (who both had absolute fucking nightmares)...from that point, we always looked the more dangerous side (and always looked like getting an equalizer from that point). Cygan actually played pretty decently, and we finally saw some shades of the Dennis Bergkamp of old.

Anyway, in the 69th, I looked away for a second, looked back, and Henry was clean through on Keller (who was my Man of the Match, by the way...he was fabulous in net for them, especially in the second half). Had to have been a fantastic pass, but where was the Scum defense? Anyway, Keller saved brilliantly from Keller's effort, but Super Robert Pires was there to tap into the empty net, and Nevada's EXPLODED...let's just say the Scum supporters weren't in so fine a voice after the equalizer.

Once we got one, we always looked like getting two...it had to wait until I think it was the 81st, though...some nice midfield play saw Freddie Ljungberg in some space...the people around me spent the whole game insisting that Freddie is shit now because he's "too worried about his modelling sessions". I didn't say anything, but that's really stupid, isn't it? All I know (I woke up at 7:30 in the fucking morning for this match, and my fatigue's effecting my memory) is that Freddie reared back and let one go, it deflected off a Scum defender, and slowly started to loop towards the far corner (with Keller wrong-footed). Next thing I know, I'm a foot in the air, and my lungs were on fire...it was that kind of morning...

So, still undefeated, still top of the league, and we've gotten positive results against Manshit United, Chelski, the Scousers, AND the Scum (as well as Newcastle, but I at least respect them and their fans). I think I'm starting to love this season!

Anyway, of all the songs and chants going back and forth this morning, these were my favorites: First the Scum started in with "You'll never win in Europe", which we turned right back around on them with "You'll never play in Europe". Even better, someone with a stroke of genius came up with this one...simple, direct, and definitely in my all-time top ten: "You're Spurs, and you know you are!". Awesome.

Meanwhile, Charlton is now in fourth place, after an absolute demolition of Fulham. I caught the last half-hour or so, and it was real men against boys stuff. You know they're firing on all cylinders when Jonatan freaking Johansson nets two (although one came off an absolute howler between Melville and Van der Sar). I'll keep saying it if it takes all season: Charlton Athletic are really effing good, and I think it'll be hard to knock them out of at least the top 5.


A giant-killing (almost)

I have to say I was rooting like hell for Thurrock FC to take out Luton Town today...in all honesty, they deserved better than a 1-1 draw, because they played about at as peak a level as a non-league side is going to get. Their number 4 (whose name absolutely escapes me, and I'm too lazy to look it up on Soccernet) was no doubt the Man of the Match (even though their number 15, a guy who normally plays beach soccer, got the equalizer coming on as a sub). Just a few minutes in, he made Marlon Beresford save well from a free-kick, then someone else lashed one just a few inches wide. Luton were kinda lucky to take the lead right before halftime -- a Premiership keeper would most likely have punched out that cross before their guy could get on the end of it. It was well-taken though, which was lucky for the Hatters...it was the only real chance I could remember them getting in the entire match. Meanwhile, the second half was almost all one-way traffic going Thurrock's way...a non-fan would have been hard-pressed to correctly guess which one was the League side. However, their two guys up front were absolutely awful, and, as the color guy stated, playing in the Ryman Premier for a reason. Still, the equalizer was deserved, if not especially well-struck (it went in off of Beresford's face...a better keeper probably stops it, but, then again, a better striker slots it home without a problem most of the time.

Thurrock's #10 (Cliff something-or-other) should have iced the game when he was one-on-one with Beresford, but he shot it right into Beresford's grasp (reminded me of the one Bergkamp wasted against Kiev...or was it Leeds? I'm so confused.)

There's probably no way Luton lets this one get away from them at home in the replay, but well-done to the non-League outfit all the way...not only did they have the vast majority of clear chances, the referee (who was unbelievably awful, WAY to quick to produce a yellow card every 20 seconds) turned down a clear shout for a penalty. Seriously, even Alex Ferguson would have said: "Yeah, that was a penalty" were it by a Manshit United player.

However, as well as Thurrock played, a lot of this performance has to go down to the fact that Luton just isn't very good...for any side to be vulnerable to endless long balls being blasted over their back four (and when you're losing the battles for pace with a friggin' non-league team), it doesn't speak very well for your effort on the day. I can't claim to be an expert on Luton Town, but I'd have to say that Hatters supporters are quite disappointed by their side's performance.

I wonder who'll be the giant that goes out in the 3rd round this season...of course, the smart money would be on the clubs hemorhagging losses at the moment -- Blackburn, Leeds, etc. However, I also wouldn't be surprised to see Chelsea get stunned by someone...call it a gut feeling.


UEFA Cup thoughts:

Starting with the one I actually got to watch first:

Manchester City 1-1 Groclin Dyskoblia: Wow. Just...wow. Just at halftime, City should have been 3-0 or 4-0 up. Anelka took his early chance very well, but after that, it was a cavalcade of missed chances. It's somewhat of a shame, too, because their midfield play was absolutely superb in the first 45. Claudio Reyna was going well especially, but he took a knock around 32' or so, and had to come off. Once the second half rolled around, I think that killed City...Captain America is probably their most creative midfield player, and they certainly missed him in the second half. Also, Sylvain Distin played an absolute blinder, a performance that might make France's manager think once or twice. However, after that, City were never really in the game...the Poles composed themselves during the break, and came out organized and determined...even putting together some probing attacks early on. The midpoint of the second half was just dreadful...City couldn't get through the midfield, but neither could Groclin. David Seaman spent about 10 minutes as a virtual spectator...you or me could have been in City's net with no real trouble. However, they got one good attack, and got a dangerous free kick. I saw the placement of the wall, and saw that Sebastien Mila (their best player by a long, long, LONG way) was hovering over it...and I said "Fuck me, this is gonna go in!" Sure enough, Mila sent an absolute beauty curling over the despairing dive of Seaman, and they got not only their equalizer, but a HUGE away goal on top of it. City then resorted to the tactic of bombing long balls into the area, which, as whoever was doing color for FSW pointed out (I know Max Bretos called the game, dunno who the color man was), was never going to work with Anelka and The Shell of Robbie Fowler trying to get on the end of them. Fowler, for his part, had muffed at least 2 or 3 chances that he would have put away in his Liverpool heyday...I don't know what happened to him, but he's nowhere NEAR that player anymore. Anyway, the 1950s gameplan worked a little better once Fowler was taken off for Paulo Wanchope (who should be starting for them anyway...he's a big reason Costa Rica's been so good the last few years). They got a dangerous free kick, and I also thought this one was going in...Distin was taking it, and it was VERY close, right in the center of the field. His kick screamed past the wall, but Mariusz Liberda (yes, I looked his name up on Soccernet...sue me) got a kick on it, despite starting to dive the wrong way. Really, it was one of the most magnificent saves I've seen all season (rivals the big one Kiely came up with on Monday), and that was that. Now, City have to go into Poland and have to at least get a 1-1 draw. Frankly, I don't see it happening. This Polish side look very capable of frustrating the Light Blues for about half an hour, then coming up with something on the counterattack. City are in dire straits, friends. It's too bad, really...I usually cheer on the other English (and Scottish) sides in Europe, unless they're Man U or something.

Other major results:

AS Roma 1-0 Hajduk Split: This has to be counted as a bad, bad result for the Romans. Those Eastern European clubs can be especially tough at home, so it always helps to have a 2 or 3-goal cushion at least before heading out there. Actually, Soccernet says that Roma only got their goal in injury time in the second half...Hajduk were *this* close to escaping with a 0-0 draw before Antonio Cassano got one...looking at the lineups, Roma REALLY gambled by playing a reserve side (in a major European competition...pretty ballsy). With the margin being so thin, I betcha they don't rest Pelizzoli or Chivu or Dacourt in the return leg.

Gaziantepspor 3-0 Lens: I don't know what it is with these nobody Turkish sides this year, but they're getting some big results in the UEFA this time around...then again, I heard that Lens is in something like 14th place in Ligue 1 this year, so maybe this isn't as much a surprise as everyone says it is.

Schalke '04 2-1 Brondby: Didn't expect Brondby to get an away goal, but there you go...it certainly isn't out of the realm of possibility that Brondby steals it in the return leg. I always wondered where former Celtic midfielder Morten Weighorst ended up...he had suffered a quite debilatating disease a few years back, so it's good to see him still playing meaningful matches. Meanwhile, Schalke left Hatim Altintrop on the bench, which perhaps wasn't the brightest move in the world.

Bordeaux 0-1 Hearts: Now, this just may be the shocker of the entire tournament (other than the game I'm getting to next). I don't have much respect for Scottish sides not named Celtic or Another Glasgow Team...mainly because they have a singular habit of not being able to seriously threaten the Old Firm, let alone Europe. However, this is a fantastic win for the Edinburgh side, Mark de Vries getting the winner in the 78th. Luckily for fans of the French outfit, Bordeaux are more than capable of going into Tynecastle and winning by 2 or 3 goals...they're certainly not out of this one yet.

Feyenoord Rotterdam 0-2 FK Teplice: THIS is the only match that could top the previous one for the "holy shit!" factor. Holders 2 years ago, now they're losing to some anonymous Eastern European side in the second round. DAMN. Despite being third fiddle in the Eredivisie (not the strongest of leagues, mind you), Feyenoord still has no shortage of talent available to them...so, for them to capitulate at home to these guys? Unbelievable. Scanning the lineups, the only guy on Teplice that rings a bell from my zillion hours spent playing Championship Manager is Tomas Postulka, the friggin' backup keeper. However, all they have to do is not get beat too badly at home, and they slay the giants. Good for them, I say.

Genclerberligi 1-1 Sporting: After doing so well to knock off the sick wildebeest known as Blackburn Rovers (FIRE SOUNESS NOW for your own good, kids), Genclerberligi perhaps as met their match in the Portugese outfit...hard to see the Turks overcoming the away goal in the second leg. By the way, what IS it with Portugese keepers and ridiculous squad numbers? Vitor Baia wears 99 for the Diving Cheating Unsportsmanlike Cunts (sorry...FC Porto), and Sporting have some guy (Ricardo, but there's like 3,928,710,183,028 players with that name, so I dunno if it was the guy from Man United) who wears 76. This ain't hockey, guys...get a real number, will you please?

Panionios 0-3 Barcelona: After making heavy weather of the away leg against Matador Puchov in the 1st round, Barca obviously had no intentions of having to repeat the 8-0 drubbing they gave Puchov in the Nou Camp. Luis Garcia, Kluivert (Arsenal's next partner for Henry?) and Xavi netted for the Catalans, in an impressive performance (Greek sides are HARD to play on the road...their fans are animals). Also, they can probably do what Roma did in this round, and feel much safer about it.

Steaua Bucuresti 1-1 Liverpool: I don't have much love for the Scousers by any stretch of the imagination, but to go into a place like Bucharest and get a draw (and an away goal) when you're not playing very well is an admirable accomplishment. Djimi Traore got the lead on 23', and they held on until 69'. Still, a draw with the away goal is all they need, because the Romanians don't have much of a realistic chance to do much at Anfield.

FC Basle 2-3 Newcastle United: Good for the Geordies! As a Celtic fan, I know firsthand what happens to sides who underestimate the Swiss (Hakan Yakin especially being one hell of a player)...Basle found the net as early as the 11th, but Newcastle came right back in the 14th through Laurent Robert (saw the highlights of this game...Robert's goal was VERY well-taken). They lost their focus a bit, though, and Aussie international Scott Chipperfield bundled past Shay Given to give the hosts the lead again. But, Newcastle kept at it, and 8 minutes before the break, Titus Bramble equalized. Finally, Shola Ameobi struck well in the 75th to give the visitors the win and 3 away goals. You'd have to say the Magpies are sitting pretty heading into the return tie.

Borussia Dortmund 2-2 Sochaux: This is a shocker, but not REALLY to anyone who's seen Sochaux play this season. They're a good side, they've got some dangerous attacking players, and they don't seem to ever give up. They're a well-coached outfit, which you have to be to get an away draw against one of the Bundesliga's giants. Santos opened the scoring for the vistors early, and the player I REALLY like on Sochaux, Pierre-Alain Frau, doubled the lead in the 27th. Frau is a guy who has an amazing talent for getting the garbage goal...the "fox in the box" that Arsenal thought they were getting in Francis Jeffers (when the packaging really should have said: "Hyperactive oft-injured twit, more than a bit shit, ridiculous jug ears included."). Dortmund ended up clawing their way back into it, but I have to say I like the French side's chances heading into the other leg.


Hell of a Monday night game...

...and I'm not even talking about Patriots-Broncos, although that was good too.

If you're looking at the fixture list at the beginning of the season, and see Birmingham City vs. Charlton Athletic, let's face it...you're probably making plans to go out drinking or something. However, what a FANTASTIC match that ended up being...it's the kind of game I wish I had taped, so I could show every brain-dead soccer hater exactly what they're missing. Birmingham used essentially the same strategy that Leeds used against Arsenal...which isn't so disastrous, because while Charlton are a very tough, well-drilled team, they're not going to tear anyone to shreds with crafty passing and taking on defenders. However, it ended up as somewhat of the same result -- Charlton hit them on the break with two bundled in by their skipper, Matt Holland. However, in fairness, the result would have been much different if both goalkeepers (Maik Taylor for the Brummies, Dean Kiely for the Addicks) hadn't put on an absolute clinic. As Martin Tyler said, you could have put their saves on an instructional video...they were THAT good. At one point, Christophe Dugarry playfully smacked Kiely on the head (after the latter saved a bullet header from point-blank range) as if to say: "What the blue hell do I have to do to beat you?!". Shortly after Charlton's second, he DID find a way...with another extremely well-taken header, this time *just* out of Kiely's reach. On any other night, this would have been one of those 4-3 or 5-4 kind of matches.

I've seen enough of Charlton now to make this prediction: I say they finish between 4th and 6th place, and continue to make life hell for top sides both at The Valley, and on the road as well. As long as they keep beating teams they should beat (hell, they're doing this with half the first-choice side out injured), they can do it.

Oh, and I'll close with my Arsenal predictions for this week:

Champions' League @ home vs. Dynamo Kiev: 0-1 (prove me wrong, boys)
Premier League @ home vs. Another North London Team 2-0


4-1, to the Arsenal!

Well, it's still the 80th minute, but I wanted to do this before going to friggin' work. What an amazing performance...to go into Elland Road and hammer the shit out of Leeds (who cost us the title last year by beating us at Highbury in the penultimate fixture of the season) is a wonderful thing, especially after a shitty night last night.

Actually, it was 3-0 just 30 minutes in, thanks to a stunning double from Thierry Henry, and a cracker from Robert Pires. Leeds came out of the gate with all cylinders firing, pressing like hell and generally huffing and puffing all over the place. However, the problem with that strategy is when you're facing a side that passes and counters well, you leave yourself wide open to getting hit on the break. And, that's what happened, time and time again. Leeds would attack with much ado about nothing for about 4 or 5 straight minutes (our back four had a blinder, even the Alan Smith goal notwithstanding), then Arsenal would counter with lightning pace and surgical through-balls. You can't really fault Paul Robinson on any of our goals...he was essentially stranded on almost all of them. Some other things:

-- We're doing this without Patrick Vieira. That's SCARY.

-- Leeds will go down if they keep Peter Reid on as manager...he seems like a really nice guy, and I believe the Leeds players when they talk about how they've improved their skills under his tenure, but the fact remains that he managed Sunderland to relegation, and he's taken a decent Leeds team and steered them into 17th place as it stands now. The guy would probably make a hell of an assistant manager, but he's just not a winner. I couldn't imagine anyone going to war for the guy.

-- Except for a couple of chodes who left after Gilberto Silva got our 4th, the Leeds supporters were fantastic, in all fairness. Most of them stayed, and they continued to sing and support their side even though the result was essentially not in doubt. I think they were a big reason Leeds got one back.

-- Alan Smith's goal was well-deflected by the psychotic prick, but I'm kinda disturbed that with half the goals he concedes, Jens Lehmann is rooted to the spot. I have a feeling that might cost us at some point, although, in fairness, he made a few big-time saves to keep it at 0-0 early.

-- Dynamo Kiev at home is next, and goddamn do we need to win that one. They can still make the knockout stage of the Champions' League, but if we finish last in a group that includes Kiev and Spartak Moscow, when we face both of them at home (dreading the away tie at Inter Milan, though), I'm going to be PISSED.

-- After that, it's the first Battle of North London with S***s, but then again, when are there ever worries there? ::smirk:: That's less of a Battle, and more of an execution.

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