Archive for April, 2012
Biggest match in Premier League history probably attracted the competition’s biggest ever TV audience – and drama not over yet
Whatever the state of the England football team, there can be no argument that the Premier League is the most popular domestic competition on the planet.
Some analyists are claiming that more than 600 million people across the globe watched City beat United 1-0 in tonight’s Manchester derby, making it arguably the biggest audience in English Premier League history.
And the good news is that the drama is almost certain to continue to the final match of the season, with both teams now level on points with two games to go.
The penultimate weekend is all set for another blockbuster installment on Sunday when City, who now lead the title race on goal difference, go to Newcastle for a lunchtime kick-off.
What makes it all the more fascinating is that United play second and will probably be chasing a 9-nil win in their 4pm match against Swansea in their bid to close the gap in goal difference – unless of course City fail to win at the home of the Geordies, who are still chasing a Champions League place.
It looks like one of the most exciting seasons in the 20 year history of the Pemier League will be decided on the final day on May 13 when United travel to Sunderland and City play hosts to QPR, the team manager by their former manager and ex-United player Mark Hughes.
Sir Alex Ferguson has conceded City are now the favourites “because they only have two win two games to win the title”. Roberto Mancini insists that he disagrees. But this was a night when the rival bosses disagreed on everything. Heated words and gestures were exchanged pitchside after Fergie, objecting to a foul by Nigel de Jong on Danny Welbeck, remonstrated with Mancini and officials had to separate the managers.
The odds now are that it will go down to the final minutes of the final match before their teams are separated in a title race unfolding in front of a global television audience that can’t get enough of the Premier League.
Anton Zingarevich is all set to become the latest foreign owner of a Premier League club after sharing the glory of Reading’s victory parade and Championship trophy presentation at the Madejski Stadium yesterday.
The Russian son of a billionaire timber tycoon revelled in the glory of sharing the limelight with chairman Sir John Madejski and clearly enjoyed the occasion despite the worst of the April showers making it a right royal soaking for the “raining champions”.
Zingarevich, waiting for the Football League and Premier League to finish their background checks into his finances, has agreed a £25 million takeover that will give him 51 pecent of the shares. And that is surely a bargain for a club in the football world’s richest domestic competition.
Champions League semi-final . . . and Torres scores! This was match that had everything as Chelsea’s 10-men slay Barcelona
Football is the greatest game on the planet because you just never know when something magical is going to happen . . . and tonight’s epic Champions League encounter at the Nou Camp was one of those occasions that will go down in sporting folklore as a match that had just about every twist and turn you could possibly imagine.
For Chelsea’s heroes, who fought on against all the odds after skipper John Terry was sent off for a moment of madness when he inexplicably kicked out at Alexis Sanchez, it looked like mission impossible when the West London club fell 2-nil behind on the night. Didier Drogba’s one goal advantage from the first leg was blown away in 10 minutes of meyhem at the end of the first half in Barcelona, as Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta struck either side of Terry’s red card.
It was a crazy spell punctuated on the stroke of half-time by a breakaway deliciously converted by Ramires – the Brazilian unfazed by the knowledge his earlier yellow card had ruled him out of the final. It was a mighty blow as powerful as Roy Keane’s in similar circumstances that dragged Manchester United back from the brink against Juventus back in 1999. That made it 2-2 on aggregate and put Chelsea ahead at the interval on the away goals rule. But it was far from the end of the breathtaking drama.
When the world’s best player Lionel Messi – who has never scored against Chelsea – smacked his 47th minute penalty against the crossbar after Drogba felled Cesc Fabregas, it was the start of another riveting half. Barca, with over 70 percent of the possession, came forward in wave after wave of attacks. But when they did find a way past the stubborn 10-men, a raking shot from Messi hit the post and then Alexis Sanchez had an effort ruled out for offside.
When Drogba made way for Fernando Torres I remember saying out load ‘If he comes on and scores the winner all his misses will be forgotten.’ It was a script you could not write and there was another lucky escape for Chelsea when they survived a handball that probably should have given Barca another penalty. But the official missed it and the ball immediately broke to Torres who was suddenly clean through on his own.
It was as if the Spaniard had been signed purely for this moment of destiny and this time there was never any doubt the player who has been guilty of so many shocking misses since he was signed from Liverpool for £40 million in January 2011 would seal the tie. As he effortlessly rounded Victor Valdes and steered the ball into the empty net, the man who had masterminded this remarkable sting, interim manager Roberto di Matteo, began his ecstatic victory celebrations on the touchline.
It was a scene that will be etched into many memories for generations to come. It was the day tactics and experience got the better of the team so many had put on a pedestal as arguably the greatest club side we have ever seen. But on this evidence Barca are not the masters we all thought – and even the magical Messi lost his aura of invincibility as he was brought to his knees by the team that lies sixth in the English Premier League.
FT: Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea (Chelsea win 3-2 on aggregate). Goals: Busquets 35, Iniesta 43 – Ramires 45+1, Torres 90+1
Sporting freeviews onVISIONSPORT.TV
Miraculous is one of those words so often overused that it somehow seems inadequate to describe Fabrice Muamba’s recovery now that he is out of hospital and talking about how he came back from the dead.
Just over a month ago, the 24 year old Bolton midfielder collapsed in the 41st minute of his side’s televised FA Cup tie at Tottenham and was effectively dead for over an hour. It took 15 defibrillator shocks – two on the pitch and 13 in the ambulance – to get his heart beating again.
It is fascinating to read how he told The Sun that he thanks the power of prayer for his survival, revealing that he asked God for protection before the match during a phone call to his father – something he said he does before every game.
‘What happened to me was really more than a miracle,’ concludes Muamba, who told the newspaper: “I am walking proof of the power of prayer. For 78 minutes I was dead and even if I lived was expected to have suffered brain damage. But I’m very much alive and sitting here talking now. Some one up there was watching over me.’
To hear that Muamba now hopes to make an emotional return to Bolton’s Reebok Stadium on May 2, when his team-mates face Tottenham, is a truly remarkable twist. It was March 17 at White Hart Lane when the world watched in horror as medics fought to save his life in front of a live television audience.
Now back home from the London Chest Hospital, the former England Under 21 international - raised in Britain from the age of 11 after his family fled his birthplace in Zaire as political refugees – is talking about attending one of Bolton’s two remain remaining home games. Either the Spurs match or West Bromwich Albion four days later.
It has been a remarkable season. But this would be truly unbelievable. Anyone doubting that should read Muamba’s graphic description of what happened to him in his interview with The Sun, whom he tells: ‘I ran upfield to try and get on the end of a cross from Martin Petrov on our left wing and as I ran back into midfield I felt very slightly dizzy. It wasn’t a normal dizziness – it was a kind of surreal feeling like I was running along inside someone else’s body.
‘Then I made another burst forward and noticed it again. Then my vision started to go. I had no pain whatsoever. No clutching at my chest.Then I started to see double. It felt almost like a dream. There was no one anywhere near me when I started to feel myself falling
‘The last thing I remember was our defender Dedryck Boyata screaming at me to get back and help out in defence. I just felt myself falling then I felt two thumps as my head hit the ground in front of me then that was it. Blackness, nothing. I was dead.’
Leading 4-2 against Everton, Manchester United took their eye off the ball and let the Merseysiders off the hook to steal a point in a thrilling 4-4 draw.
It was a sickening blow for United on the day Wayne Rooney scored a double to take him past George Best and Denis Violet in the Reds’ all-time goal-scoring chart.
But it does not change the fact Sir Alex Ferguson’s men will go to the Etihad Stadium in the box seat on April 30 and the destiny of the title is still in their hands. It’s never over til the fat lady sings – and United fans know that better than anyone.
Sporting freeviews onVISIONSPORT.TV
London 2012: 100 days to Olympic Games that will inspire a generation – a synchronised effort by Team GB
Lord Coe promised from the start that the legacy of the London Olympics will be to “inspire a generation” – and it was fitting that this was unveiled as the motto for the Games when the final countdown reached 100 days to the opening ceremony on Wednesday.
It was the ideal of providing inspiration – in keeping with Coe’s pledge – that shone like a beacon when I visited Britain’s synchronised swimmers earlier this week.
While Team GB has high hopes of striking gold in several sports, Britain’s sychro team know their commitment to inspiring the next generation is more likely to be successful than winning medals. Not that the talented girls lack ambition. They are aiming for glory by targeting a top six finish, happy in the knowledge that simply taking part in the Games is a huge honour.
The synchronised swimmers take part in the final qualification event at the Aquatic Centre this week – a competition that doubles as an Olympic Test Event – despite already being guaranteed a place as the host nation, because they want to give themselves every chance of success and inspire their fans along the way.
As team members Katie Skelton and Asha Randall both told me after their opening practice session on Monday ‘synchronised swimming is being taken a lot more seriously these days’.
Watching the GB girls in action you can see why their sport is winning respect because there is an extremely high level of skill and team-work at the top level.
It was also pleasing to see public support for the GB kit designed by Stella McCartney from the Japanese team who wore the outfits at the official practice. Amusingly, the switch of costumes fooled tabloid newspaper the Daily Mail (see left for how they got it wrong on their website) and international photographic agency Getty Images, who wrongly published images of the Japanese girls and captioned them as the British team.
World No.1 Peter Wilson is on target to emulate his mentor with Olympic gold in shooting’s double trap
When it comes to identifying GB gold medal prospects for London 2012, most experts will shortlist Peter Wilson as one of the hot shots for glory. And it is easy to see why the 25 year-old youngster is so popular with shooting fans.
The talented youngster from Dorset made the best possible impact when he smashed the world record on his way to victory in the Shotgun World Cup in Tucson, Arizona, in March. But it’s his infectious enthusiasm for his sport and his engaging personality that makes him such a hit.
It was easy to join the Wilson fan club when we met earlier this week at the unveiling of the iconic new shooting venue at the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich. The sport’s new home is staging the ISSF Shooting World Cup – a competition doubling up as an Olympic Test event – and Wilson is the man in form in the double trap after his record breaking 198 out of 200 on his way to victory in Arizona.
The farmer’s son only turned to shooting when he was unable to pursue squash and cricket, after suffering serious nerve damage to his shoulder in a snowboarding accident. His father suggested a visit to the national shooting centre at Bisley to try double trap shooting – and within four months, Wilson was European junior champion.
Since 2008, he has been coached by his mentor Sheikh Ahmed Al Maktoum, a member of Dubai’s ruling family. It was Al Maktoum’s Olympic double trap gold in 2004 that helped inspire Wilson to take up the sport as a career.
With Grand National’s closest ever finish overshadowed by death of favourite it’s time to question safety – but race must go on!
There are few sporting events with a more dramatic history than the world’s most famous steeplechase, the Grand National – and today’s epic finish was one of the greatest ever when Neptune Collonges, ridden by Daryl Jacob, came from behind to win a photo-finish with Sunnyhillboy
It was a pulsating climax to the Aintree marathon over four-and-a-half grueling miles. But the sweet taste of victory for trainer Paul Nicholls and his team was contrasted by terrible tragedy as Tony McCoy limped away from the track after Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Synchronised was put down.
When the favourite fell at Becher’s Brook, a black tent was put around the stricken horse as it’s life was ended. It was a black day for the sport with a second horse, According To Pete, also a fatality making it the second time in two years that two horses had died during the race.
The double tragedy immediately led to widespread criticism from animal charities who labeled the National a ‘shameful spectacle’. Without doubt the future of the race will be called into question as animal rights campaigners question its safety.
Winning trainer Paul Nicholls said: ‘We all knew before we came here the risks. The horses get looked after brilliantly but unfortunately these things do happen.’
Be that as it may, it is hard to defend a sport that kills its heroes and the new safety measures introduced this year have clearly not worked. The organisers must find a way to make the National safer without turning it into a non-event. Many great horses and jockeys have made the National special down the ages and no true sports lover would want to see it disappear. The race must go on – but let’s make sure this is not a death trap for the horses who make it so special.
Sporting freeviews onVISIONSPORT.TV
While Balotelli the clown may have cost Mancini his job, Scholes the master has given United extra class that makes them champions
It is never over until the fat lady sings and there are still six matches remaining – but Easter Sunday may well go down as the day time ran out for Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini and his flawed talisman Mario Balotelli.
When City’s 1-nil defeat at Arsenal followed United’s 2-0 win over Queens Park Rangers it left Mancini’s men eight points adrift. But it is the way that City have crumbled and the effect on the team of their crazy Italian striker, sent off for the fourth time in his short City career at the Emirates, that has damaged Mancini and put the manager’s job on the line.
Under the pressure of keeping pace with Sir Alex Ferguson’s team – a young side in transition yet still laced with the experience and know-how to close in on a record 20th League title – City have crashed and burned. And Balotelli’s self-destruction has been as spectacular as it has been predictable.
When City’s doomsday scenario unraveled at the Emirates, Balotelli’s red card crowned a a shocking personal display by the maverick Italian striker that left former Manchester United skipper Gary Neville to deliver the harsh reality that will haunt Mancini.
As Balotelli left the field Neville concluded: “He’s placed his faith in him Roberto Mancini but it’s a circus and every time I’ve been to a circus there’s always been some clowns. He lets you down time and time again.”
Balotelli – who should have been sent off early in the first half for a shocking challenge on Alex song – was finally red-carded in the dying minutes for a wreckless lunge on Bacary Sagna. The fact that Mancini has put so much faith in the former Inter Milan star, who Jose Mourinho famously said is ‘unmanageable’, has damaged Mancini and almost certainly cost City their hopes of winning the Premier League title.
After watching the Italian spend £240 million on assembling a team to challenge champions Manchester United, the mega rich Arab owners must be wondering how could things do so badly wrong for a team that were once eight points clear of the Red Devils.
United in contrast have been unbeatable in the League since Paul Scholes came out of retirement at the beginning of January, winning 34 out of a possible 36 points with the ginger genius pulling the strings.
When Patrick Vieira jealously claimed United’s decision to recall Scholes was a sign of “weakness” in the Old Trafford squad he could not have been more wrong. At the age of 37, Scholes is a master craftsman still at the top of his game who brings brilliance and an extra touch of class to his team. His modest personality and exquisite reliability is the exact opposite of the madman from Milan who has brought shame on his club and made himself a laughing stock with a series of antics that would destabilise any club.
Mancini it seems has finally seen the light and declared that Balotelli will not feature in City’s final six matches. But the damage has been done and whether or not Mancini will recover from this latest bruising setback only time will tell.
Sporting freeviews onVISIONSPORT.TV
London 2012: Olympic legacy will be to inspire Britain to get fit and be proud of our sporting heritage
It will not be long now before Britain wakes up to the fact that London 2012 will not only be the greatest single event on these shores in our lifetime – but the legacy will live on for generations.
After the Games the Olympic Park will be transformed into one of the largest urban parks created in Europe for more than 150 years. There will be many benefits, including the transformation of the Olympic Village, where athletes and officials will stay during the Games, into homes. Many will be available for key workers such as teachers and nurses.
But it is the inspirational legacy of the Games that excites me. When we watch the world’s finest athletes compete in the greatest show on earth many Britains will be inspired to get fit. Many will be inspired to try to emulate a new generation of sporting heroes. And many will simply take comfort and pride in our great sporting heritage because London 2012 will be something extra special, the likes of which we will not see again in our life-time.