Saturday, 26 January 2013

‘The Beautiful Game’ – A Football Blog

By Dave McArdle

Uefa Euro 2020

Uefa have released some fascinating news this afternoon after revealing that Euro 2020 will be hosted in 13 different cities across Europe. While this may, at first glance, seem like a logistical nightmare and highly expensive for fans – it also throws up the exciting possibility that Ireland (should they qualify) may be able to play European Championship games on home soil. Uefa have confirmed that 13 different cities in 13 different countries will be chosen to host the Euros – with Dublin, Glasgow, Cardiff and London all said to be firmly in the mix. With the competition expanded to 24 teams for France 2016 and beyond, 12 cities would theoretically host three group games and one knock-out game each, while both the semi-finals and the final would be hosted in the thirteenth venue – likely to be Rome, Berlin, Madrid, London or Istanbul. However, because of the amount of potential host nations involved, no country who hosts the tournament would be guaranteed automatic qualification. On the other hand, the exciting thing about this move by Uefa is that Dublin may well host three group games and one knock-out game in Euro 2020 and should Ireland qualify for the tournament, they would be guaranteed at least two group games on home soil. This is something which would be massive for sport and tourism in this country and let’s all hope the FAI get their act together and make a proposition to UEFA which is impossible to refuse.  

Hazard’s FA Charge

Another piece of interesting football news has emerged this afternoon with the FA’s decision to charge Chelsea’s Eden Hazard over the incident in Wednesday night’s Capitol One Cup semi-final in which he appeared to kick Swansea ballboy Charlie Morgan. The move has come of something of a surprise with many managers, ex-pro’s and colleagues of Hazard in agreement that the incident was not mailicious and that at least part of the blame should be placed on the ballboy for his behaviour. Sympathy for Charlie Morgan appeared to dissipate in the aftermath of the incident after it emerged that he was in fact 17 years of age (not a young boy as had been reported) and after a tweet was circulated from him before the game which stated that he was “#needed #for #timewasting”. However, the FA have deemed a three match ban to be too lenient for Hazard and have stated that the incident “constituted violent conduct whereby the standard of punishment that would otherwise apply was clearly insufficient”. The debate is sure to rumble on but Robbie Savage was first out of the blocks on twitter to give his views (which I’m sure will be echoed by many in the days to come) : “Laughable FA charge Hazard…3 games was surely enough”.

Transfer News

Manchester United have today confirmed the signing of Wilfried Zaha from Crystal Palace for £12 million, potentially rising to £15 million. Originally from the Ivory Coast, Zaha made his full debut for England in November 2012 and under the terms of the transfer, the 20-year-old will be loaned straight back to the Championship club for the remainder of the season as they seek to push for promotion to the Premier League.

The French Revolution continues at Newcastle. Alan Pardew has signed three more Frenchmen this week which takes the total number of first-team French players at the club to nine. Defenders Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Massadio Haidara have joined Mathieu Debuchy (who signed earlier this month) to boost the Newcastle rearguard while up front, French Under-21 international Yoan Goufrann has signed from Bordeaux. Incredibly, Gouffran is said to allergic to grass! Make of that what you will but to me it’s like hiring a postman who is allergic to paper. However, Pardew is confident the new signings have made an immediate impact at the club: “The most important thing for a Premier League team is competition. It’s not necessarily about the players who come in. It’s about the effect that they have on the players that we have”.

With less than a week to go until the transfer window slams shut, the rumour mill is in overdrive. Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini has once more rejected speculation that Mario Balotelli will leave the club. Arsene Wenger has dismissed reports that the club are about to sign Barcelona striker David Villa while QPR boss Harry Redknapp has stated that no bids have been made for goalkeeper Julio Cesar. One player who will not be signing for Redknapp, however, is Jann M’Vila. The French international, who was heavily linked with a move to Loftus Road, has instead joined Rubin Kazan. Meanwhile, Wesley Sneijder, who not so long ago was one of the hottest properties in European football after winning the treble with Inter Milan and guiding Holland to the World Cup final – has signed for Galatasaray for a knock-down fee of 7.5 million Euros. Sneijder, who had not played for Inter Milan since before Christmas due to a contract dispute, has nonetheless fallen from grace quite spectacularly by moving to Turkey – with many potential suitors reportedly being turned off by his excessive contract demands.


Last Sunday, I was at Frank O’Connell Park in Birr as Birr Town faced Edenderry Town in the John Farrell Combined Counties Cup third round. Birr Town got off to the best start possible as Kevin Brummell received a pass from Alan Corboy before stepping inside and firing home to give the home side the lead inside a minute. Edenderry levelled the game in the 33rd minute as an Alan Farrell corner was met by the head of Frankie McGuinness who powered home the equaliser. Chances were few and far between in the second half with much of the game played in midfield and so, the tie headed for extra time. In the 99th minute, Edenderry were ahead as Barry Moore picked up the ball in midfield, took a couple of strides and unleashed a piledriver which beat Birr keeper Darren Brown all ends up. Two minutes into the second half of extra time and Birr were level – Kevin Brummell curled in a low corner from the right and veteran Alan Corboy was on hand to turn the ball home from a couple of yards out. However, with the game seemingly destined for a penalty shoot-out, there was still time for more drama in the dying minutes. Edenderry’s Sergio Kamara pumped a deep free kick into the box and as it dropped, centre-half Sean Marshall was quickest to react and he fired the ball home to send the home side out of the cup. A disappointing result for Birr but they can take positives. Birr have a young team with Craig Shortt, Justin Joyce and Kevin Brummell impressive going forward – if they could find a muscular target man to hold up the ball and bring that trio into play more regularly, Birr Town could certainly challenge for the Premier Division title next season. However, it is Edenderry Twon who go through to the fourth round of the cup and you would have to say they deserved it on the day.   

Tomorrow afternoon, I will be in the Sports Park in Tullamore as this weekend’s Midlands 103 feature game is the Under 19 Division top of the table clash between Ballinahown and Tullamore Town. With Tullamore Town 2 points behind Ballinahown with a game in hand and with the league drawing to a close, this game will have a huge bearing on who clinches the title – so an entertaining game is in prospect. Two games of note in the Division 1 Cup this weekend include leaders Temple Villa against bottom-side Moate Celtic while it’s second against second-from-bottom as Clonmore United face Clonaslee United. In the Senior division, the race for the title continues as Willow Park travel to Mountmellick United while leaders Mullingar Athletic travel to play Arlington. In the Premier Division, table-toppers CK United travel to Edenderry while in Division 2, runaway leaders Killeigh Ramblers take on Raharney. And in one of the most interesting games of the weekend, the top two go head to head in Division 3A as Ballybrittas square up to Portlaoise.

The FA Cup

The Premier League gives way to the FA Cup this weekend as the world’s oldest cup competition is down to the last 32. Premier League strugglers Aston Villa travel to League 2 side Millwall tonight for the first game of the cup weekend –and Paul Lambert’s side will expect nothing less than a hot reception at the Den. The first game tomorrow is an all Premier League clash as Man City travel to the Brittania to take on Stoke (live on ITV at 12:45pm).

In the 3 o’clock games, Championship side Bolton host Everton, Gus Poyet’s Brighton take on Arsenal, 13th-placed Championship side Derby host 14-placed Blackburn, it’s two more all-Championship affairs as Huddersfield take on Leicester and Hull square up to Barnsley. Blue Square Bet Premier side Macclesfield Town (the lowest ranked side left in the competition) have a home tie with Wigan, League 2 side Aldershot travel to Championship Middlesborough, Blue square Bet Premier side Luton travel to Carrow Road to take on Norwich, Harry Redknapp’s QPR host League 1 side MK Dons and League 1 Sheffield United travel to Reading.

It’s another all Premier League affair in the evening game with Manchester United taking on Fulham (live on ESPN at 5:30pm) as Dimitar Berbatov returns to Old Trafford. In Sunday’s first game, League 1 Brentford host European Champions Chelsea (live on ESPN at midday). On Sunday afternoon, Championship side Leeds United host Tottenham (live on ESPN at 2pm) and in the final game of the weekend, League 1 side Oldham host Liverpool (Live on ITV at 4pm).

Fantasy Football

While there are no Premier League fixtures this weekend due to the FA Cup, there is a full programme of fixtures in midweek to consider. In terms of clean sheets in gameweek 24, Everton (at home to West Brom), Man United (at home to Southampton) and Stoke (at home to Wigan) stand out while Sunderland (at home to Swansea) and Chelsea (away to Reading) should not be ignored. In terms of transfers in, Leighton Baines or Marouane Fellaini should be considered – Everton have West Brom, Aston Villa and Reading at home in the next five along with a trip to Norwich, but fantasy managers should be weary of a trip to Old Trafford in gameweek 26. Interest in Liverpool’s assets looks set to decline as they face both Arsenal and Man City away in their next two matches – however, the fixture list looks much brighter from that point onwards.

Manchester United’s fixtures look particularly strong at the moment as they face five of the bottom eight sides in their next six games – the likes of Robin Van Persie (if there is anyone out there who still doesn’t have the Dutchman in their team) and Rafael seem good picks but it is difficult to predict what midfield players will play along with who will partner RVP in attack. Man City’s fixtures also do not seem too bad as they face QPR, Southampton and Villa away along with home clashes against Liverpool, Chelsea and Wigan. Sergio Aguero is the main man to consider here but on recent form, the likes of David Silva, Edin Dzeko and Pablo Zabaleta should not be ignored. Also, if anybody has Eden Hazard in their teams, it might be wise to transfer him out. The FA have charged him with violent conduct and so, he will miss out for a minimum of three games (and he will probably miss far more than that and suffer a steep decline in player value). Finally, if anyone still has their Winter Wildcard, you must use it before the 2nd February or you will lose it altogether.

Enjoy the weekend and I’ll be back next week with more of the same.

You can follow Dave McArdle on Twitter @DaveMidlands103


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