• Tuesday, 30 June 2009

    More June transfers

    We'll start our latest transfer update in Serie A where Inter have wrapped up the signing of Diego Milito, a move long mooted, on a four year contract. As part of this deal, Italian U-21 striker Robert Acquafresca moves to Genoa, a slightly disappointing move by Massimo Moratti as it only adds ammunition to those who say Inter have no interest in developing young native talent. Acquafresca has impressed in two seasons at Cagliari and should prove a decent replacement for Milito, who scored 24 goals for the Grifone last season on his return to Genoa. His former team-mate, Thiago Motta, could yet follow him to the San Siro. Cagliari have moved to replace Acquafresca by signing Brazilian striker Nenê for €4.5m, who was the top scorer in the Portuguese league last season in his debut campaign with Nacional.

    Elsewhere in Italy, Roma have completed the permanent signing of full-back Marco Motta from Udinese for €7m, and Bosko Jankovic, who had an eye catching season on loan at Genoa from Palermo, has made his move permanent. Olof Mellberg has ended his brief stay with Juventus after a moderately disappointing campaign by moving to Olympiakos for €2.5m, while AC Milan have sent their exciting young Gabonese striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on loan to Lille. Promoted Bari have signed veteran striker Antonio Langella from Udinese.

    In Spain, Espanyol are continuing to ring the changes in their squad, capturing Israeli striker Ben Sahar and Celtic's Japanese midfielder Shunshuke Nakamura, who in my opinion is a follower of the Ian Harte school of football; rubbish, except for free kicks. Regardless, they appear determined to erase memories of last season's close shave. Ernesto Valverde is another manager transforming his squad, with the news this week that Nihat Kaveci has moved to Besiktas for €4.5m. Nihat, who for so long has been the lynchpin of the yellow submarine, will leave a big whole in their squad. Also deemed surplus to requirements was the mercurial Chilean playmaker Matias Fernandez, who has moved to Sporting Lisbon also for €4.5m. Also moving to Portuguese giants is Javier Saviola, who is moving from the Real Madrid bench to the Benfica bench.

    Malaga have seen one of their stars move on, with Portuguese winger Eliseu transfer to Lazio while Mallorca fans will have been met by the rather unpleasant surprise of seeing their star player, the Venezuelan Juan Arango, captured by Borussia Mönchengladbach. Valencia have signed Almeria defender Bruno on a free transfer, and promoted Real Zaragoza have pounced on Deportivo's precarious finances by signing the impressive Angel Lafita for €3m. In managerial news, Racing Santander have replaced Juan Ramon Muniz with Juan Carlos Mandiá, a former Real Madrid Castilla trainer who led Hercules to 4th in the Segunda last season. Muniz has returned to Malaga after Antonio Tapia left for his next 'project' - relegated Real Betis. Finally, in Portugal, Benfica have replaced the unsuccessful (and fired) Quique Sanchez Flores (or 'Spanish Phil Brown' as I like to call him) with former Sporting Braga coach Jorge Jesus.

    Monday, 29 June 2009

    Campeonato Brasileiro Série A Week 8

    São Paulo 2-0 Náutico
    Barueri 4-2 Atlético Mineiro
    Atlético Paranaense 1-0 Corinthians
    Cruzeiro 1-0 Avaí
    Botafogo 1-4 Goiás
    Fluminense 0-0 Flamengo
    Sport Recife 3-1 Grêmio
    Vitória 4-1 Santo André
    Internacional 3-0 Coritiba
    Palmeiras 1-1 Santos

    São Paulo finally got their season back on track with victory over Náutico. Second half goals from Jean Rolt and Hernanes enough to give the champions their second win of the season. A shock in Barueri as the promoted side handed league leaders Atlético-MG their first defeat of the season to climb to fourth in the table. Thiago Humberto and Fernandinho put the home side two up before two strike in 4 second half minutes from Diego Tardelli saw the league leaders level things. The home side though went back ahead with a second from Humberto with 6 minutes left and Marco Pimentel wrapped things up a minute later. Atlético-PR continue their climb from the foot of the table after a goal from Paulo Baier saw them overcome Corinthians. Cruzeiro continued their good form with a single goal, courtesy of Ze Carlos from the spot, to defeat Avaí to lift them to ninth. Botafogo slumped to the bottom of the table after being crushed 4-1 at home by Goiás. Felipe Menezes put Goiás ahead before Victor Simões levelled things. Felipe put Goiás ahead just before half time before Rafael Toloi and Iarley wrapped things up in the second half.

    In front of a disappointing 44,500 crowd the big Rio derby between Fluminense and Flamengo ended scoreless. Adriano apologised for missing chances to give Flamengo the win, saying: "Both teams had opportunities to score, but failed. It happens sometimes. We should not say the result is bad for us." Sport moved off the bottom of the table after they beat 10-man Grêmio, with one eye on this weeks Libertadores game, 3-1 at the Ilha do Retiro. Fabiano, Elder Granja and Fumagalli scored for Emerson Leao's side, while Jonas levelled the scores momentarily before he was shown red a red card. Vitória remain third after a comfortable 4-1 win over Santo André. Elkeson put Vitória ahead just after half time and Uelliton and Roger extended the lead. Moraes bagged a consolation for Santo André before Roger completed the scoring from the spot in the last minute. Internacional joined Atlético-MG on 17 points at the top of the table after a 3-0 over Coritiba, a hat-trick from Luis Bolanos giving Inter all three points to end Coritiba's two game winning streak. It was derby day in São Paulo as well as Palmeiras and Santos met at the Palestra Itália. Obina put the home side ahead after half an hour but Robson rescued a point for the visitors 9 minutes from time.

    Meanwhile in South Africa La Seleção were crowned victors of the FIFA Confederations Cup after a come from behind win over the US and A in Johannesburg. Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan put the US two up inside half an hour. A Luís Fabiano brace levelled things up before Lúcio grabbed the winner 6 minutes from time. It now means La Seleção will have to overcome a hoodoo that has never seen the Confederation Cup winners return the year after and lift the big prize.

    Friday, 26 June 2009

    Campeonato Brasileiro Série A This weekend

    It's quite simply THE biggest game in Brazil. The whole of Rio de Janeiro will come to a stop and 90,000+ people will descend on the Estádio do Maracanã for what is quite simply known as Fla-Flu. 97 years after their first meeting the game on Sunday will be the 369th meeting between the bitterest of rivals and it's Flamengo who hold a 14 game lead over Fluminense with 132 wins to 118 with the other games drawn. Flamengo won the last meeting 1-0 in April during the Campeonato Carioca. Only one point seperates the teams at the moment but there are 5 places between the teams in the table.

    Other fixtures for this weekend


    São Paulo x Náutico
    Grêmio Barueri x Atlético Mineiro
    Atlético Paranaense x Corinthians
    Cruzeiro x Avaí
    Botafogo x Goiás


    Fluminense x Flamengo
    Sport Recife x Grêmio
    Vitória x Santo André
    Internacional x Coritiba
    Palmeiras x Santos

    Copa Libertadores Semi Final 1st Leg

    Cruzeiro 3-1 Grêmio
    Estudiantes 1-0 Nacional

    After withstanding some early pressure at the Mineirão, Cruzeiro took a decisive 2 goal lead into the second leg next week. Wellington Paulista put the hosts ahead 7 minutes before half time and Wagner's deflected strike 2 minutes into the second half doubled the advantage. Fabinho was left totally unmarked to head in on 67 minutes and this looked to have put the tie safe but Grêmio didn't give up and got what could be a vital away goal 11 minutes from time when Souza curled home a free kick from 25 yards out. It gives Grêmio a fighting chance in next week's second leg.

    Meanwhile in La Plata, Estudiantes will take a narrow one goal lead back over the River Plate for the second leg after Diego Galván's stike after 14 minutes gave them a 1-0 victory over Nacional. It's all to play for in Montevideo as a final berth awaits.

    The second legs take place next week.

    Recopa Sudamericana 1st Leg

    Internacional 0-1 LDU Quito

    As the semi finals of the Copa Libertadores take place, the 2009 Recopa Sudamericana is also taking place at the moment. This game is the equivalent of the UEFA Super Cup but rather than a one off game it takes place over two legs with the Libertadores winners getting home advantage in the second leg.

    This year's final sees 2008 Libertadores winners LDU Quito take on Copa Sudamericana winners Internacional. The first leg was played in Porto Alegre on Wednesday and it was LDU Quito who grabbed a 1-0 lead to take back to Ecuador next week, Claudio Bieler scoring at the second attempt after 57 minutes. Internacional will be without Bolívar for the second leg after he was sent off with 18 minutes to go.

    Sunday, 21 June 2009

    Campeonato Brasiliero Série A Week 7

    Vitória 4-3 Botafogo
    Atlético Paranaense 2-2 Palmeiras
    Santo André 2-1 Sport Recife
    Grêmio 2-2 Goiás
    Náutico 0-1 Coritiba
    Avaí 3-2 Fluminense
    Santos 2-3 Atlético Mineiro
    Cruzeiro 2-4 Barueri
    Flamengo 4-0 Internacional
    Corinthians 3-1 São Paulo

    A 7 goal thriller to open the weekend, Vitória were two up inside 20 minutes thanks to Roger's two strikes. Juninho's free kick pulled one back for the visitors before Adriano extended the lead again. Batista pulled another one back before half time before Victor Simões levelled things 18 minutes from time. Vitória though secured the points with a last minute winner through Apodi as he headed home. Even more excitement at the Arena da Baixada as Atlético-PR threw away 2 points against troubled Palmeiras. Rafael Santos put the home side ahead with a header before an horrendous mistake from Atlético keeper Vinícius allowed Obina to equalise. Marcihno looked to have got Atlético all three points before Keirrison's strike deep in injury time back in the city where he made his name saved a point for the Verdão. Sport plunged further into trouble after allowing Santo André a come from behind victory. Hugo put Sport ahead in the 22nd minute but Elvis levelled before half time. It looked like both teams were going to get a point but Marcel snatched the win for Santo André with the last action of the game. Another late goal at the Monumental saw Grêmio snatch a point against Goiás. Felipe put the visitors ahead before Tcheco levelled form the spot. Felipe Menezes put Goiás ahead again before Maxi López levelled. Coritiba continued their improvement with a victory at Náutico. Marcos Aurélio with the only goal of the game with 63 minutes on the clock. And in the last game on Satuday Avaí hauled themselves from the bottom of the table with a valuable victory over Fluminense. The hosts were 2 up inside 15 minutes through Miriqui and Marquinhos. Fred's two in two minutes levelled things up before Leo Gago snatched the points for Avaí with an amazing 30 yarder deep in injury time.

    Flamengo bounced back from their stuffing at Coritiba by handing Internacional their first defeat at the season. Adriano showed a return to form by collecting a hat-trick and Emerson finished things off. Atlético Mineiro took over at the top after a 3-2 win at Santos. Despite falling a goal behind 3 goals in 15 minutes from Diego Tardelli, Evandro and Carlos Alberto put them 3-1 ahead. Léo made things interesting by pulling one back 2 minutes from time before he was dismissed in injury time. Cruzeiro again got a Libertadores hangover as Barueri picked up their second win of the season. The teams went in level at 2-2 at half time before Marcio Careca put Barueri ahead and a second from Pedrão sealed things. And it was derby day in São Paulo as the champions fell to their second defeat of the season at Corinthians. Cristian, Chicão and Jucilei put the home side 3-0 up before Richarlyson got scant consolation for São Paulo ten minutes from time.

    In the FIFA Confedertaions Cup La Seleção recorded a 3-0 victory over world champions Italy. Two goals from Luis Fabiano put La Seleção 2-0 up before and own goal form Andrea Dossena wrapped things up before half time. This means La Seleção will take on hosts South Africa in the semi-final on Thursday.

    And finally a Vasco de Gama update. They were held to a 0-0 draw at home over the weekend and currently lie 5th in Série B, 7 points behind leaders Guarani Campinas.

    Saturday, 20 June 2009

    Copa Libertadores Quarter Final 2nd Legs

    Nacional 0-0 Palmeiras
    Nacional 2−2 Palmeiras on points. Nacional and Palmeiras tied on goal difference and goals scored. Nacional advances on away goals.
    Grêmio 0-0 Caracas FC
    Grêmio 2−2 Caracas on points. Grêmio and Caracas tied on goal difference and goals scored. Grêmio advances on away goals.
    Estudiantes 1-0 Defensor Sporting
    Estudiantes win 6-0 on points
    São Paulo 0-2 Cruzeiro
    Cruzeiro win 6-0 on points

    Palmeiras were the big casualties in the last 8 as they were dumped out of the competition by Nacional in Montevideo on Wednesday night. No goals at the Centenario was enough to see the hosts through on away goals. It leds to Palmeiras fans setting up a petition for the removal of coach Wanderley Luxemburgo. In Porto Alegre, Grêmio overcame the challenge of surprise package Caracas to reach the semi finals. Again no goals in the game and Grêmio advanced courtesy of the Fábio Santos first leg strike.

    Estudiantes remained the only Argentinian side in the competition after seeing off Defensor Sporting in La Plata. After winning the first game in Montevideo a 13th minute strike from Luis Benítez saw them claim victory and progession into the semi finals. Meanwhile São Paulo's recent run of poor form continued as they were dispatched from the competition by Cruzeiro. São Paulo didn't help themselves by having Eduardo Costa sent off before half time and then André Dias dismissed 10 minutes before time. Henrique put Cruzeiro ahead with a 30 yarder before Kléber wrapped things up from the spot 9 minutes before time.

    Under the rules of the competition now, the two Brazilian clubs left in the competition must now meet at the semi final stage and Grêmio being the number one ranked team after the qualifiers will travel to Cruzeiro in the first leg and in the other semi final it's a battle of the River Plate as Estudiantes will travel to Nacional in the first leg.

    Monday, 15 June 2009

    Campeonato Brasiliero Série A Week 6

    Sport Recife 0-1 Atlético Paranaense
    São Paulo 1-1 Santo André
    Botafogo 2-0 Santos
    Goiás 0-0 Corinthians
    Coritiba 5-0 Flamengo
    Fluminense 0-0 Grêmio
    Atlético Mineiro 3-0 Náutico
    Barueri 3-1 Avaí
    Palmeiras 3-1 Cruzeiro
    Internacional 0-0 Vitória

    Funny old weekend in the 6th rodanda of the Série A down in Brazil. The bottom two both won and there has also been a change at both the top and bottom of the table of the table.

    First of all on Saturday Atlético Paranaense hoisted themselves off the foot of the table with a 1-0 win at Sport. Rafael Santos left completely unmarked to head home with winner with 16 minutes left. São Paulo stay in mid table after a late equaliser from Borges gave the Champions a 1-1 home draw with Santo André. Botafogo picked up their first win of the season with a 2-0 victory over inform Santos. They left it late though, Batista with the first goal with 7 minutes to go before Laio made the points safe three minutes later.

    On Sunday Goiás and Corinthians finished goalless as they side picked up their fourth and second draws of the season respectively. After being dumped onto the bottom of the table on Saturday, Coritiba responded in style to record an impressive 5-0 win over Flamengo despite finishing the game with 9 players. Nahuelpan and Felipe were dismissed for the home side while Airton saw red for the visitors. Coritiba went in 2-0 up at half time before Bruno Batata led the way in the second half with a brace. Fluminense and Grêmio finished goaless at the Maracanã as Douglas Costa was sent off for the visitors. Atlético Minieiro climbed to the top of the table with a 3-0 victory over Náutico, despite having Thiago Feltri sent off after only 9 minutes Junior put Atlético ahead 4 minutes later. Náutico then had Vágner Silva and Derley sent off within 7 minutes of each other before Diego Tardelli and Marcio Araujo made the game safe. After taking the lead at Barueri through Marquinhos, Avaí fell to a 3-1 defeat and also dropped to the bottom of the table as Barueri picked up their first win of the season. Bernardo put Cruzeiro ahead at the Palestra Italia against Palmeiras but the hosts recovered to win 3-1. Keirrison with a brace for the home side. And finally Internacional lost their place at the top of the table after they were held to a goalless draw at home by Vitória.

    The only downside to the weekend, the discipline as 9 red cards were issued.

    Sunday, 14 June 2009

    Summer transfer news

    A few player movements in Italy and Spain to update you on

    AC Milan have wasted very little time splashing some of the cash from the Kaka deal by signing French left-back Aly Cissokho from FC Porto. The 21-year-old had a hugely impressive season with the Portuguese champions and caught the eye in particular in the Champions League clash with Manchester United. The rossoneri have splashed out €15m on him, subject to a medical. They're getting a young, quick and exciting player who has big shoes to fill in the left-back slot.

    Elsewhere in Italy, Fabio Quagliarella has moved from Udinese to Napoli on a five year deal. Roberto Donandoni's side become the 26-year-old's 7th club, just two years after he moved north from Sampdoria in search of European football. He won't be getting any in Naples, his home city but there's no doubt Donadoni has recruited a striker of proven pedigree. Udinese have also bid farewell to Finish midfielder Roman Eremenko, who has joined Dynamo Kyiv. Veteran Argentinian striker Julio Cruz has been released by Inter, who rather bizarrely have extended the contract of bonkers Marco Materazzi until 2012.

    Across the Med, of course the big story is Real Madrid's spending spree, but there's also some interesting signings affecting other clubs. Deportivo La Coruna are set to rebuild their squad, after the departure of one of their finest players, Joan Verdu, left for Espanyol. Antonio Barragan, who some might remember as one of Rafael Benitez's many unsuccessful Hispanic signings, has also left the Riazor and has signed for Valladolid. Alvaro Negredo has moved back to Real Madrid after El Real excercised their buy-back clause in his contract, while Valencia's first signing of the summer is Toulouse's left-back Jeremy Mathieu. Espanyol have also signed on loan promising Venezuelan right-back Pablo Camacho.

    Tuesday, 9 June 2009

    Kaka joins Real Madrid

    Kaka has completed his £56m move to Real Madrid from AC Milan, signing a six-year contract, marking Florentino Perez's first player signing since taking over as President last month.

    This is a huge signing for El Real, a real marquee player and proven international superstar. It harks back, of course, to Perez's previous tenure of Galacticos but it says more about the state of Italian football. Serie A has lost arguably its best player and most marketable asset, a player without whom, as this season proved, AC Milan struggle. Ronaldinho is fat and past it, and as such is no replacement. It marks what many knew already - the official seperation of Serie A from the top echelon now occupied solely by La Liga and the Premiership. If Zlatan Ibrahimovic leaves Inter, which is being rumoured, the gap could widen.

    AC Milan could yet find themselves more troubled in the transfer market as Chelsea make eyes at their other Brazilian genius, Alexandre Pato. Personally I think Pato would be mad to join, mainly because Chelsea are a basket case club who will sack Ancelotti within the year, but also because he is clearly not ready for the physicality of the premiership. If Pato does go, however, it leaves the AC Milan squad looking decidedly thin and ever more ageing, with the likes of Inzaghi, Shevchenko, Seedorf, Gattuso and Ambrosini still the heartbeat of the team.

    Serie A clubs, with the possible exception of Inter, can no longer compete either on or off the pitch with their Spanish and English counterparts. We can put this down in part to more lucrative TV deals elsewhere, some eccentric team ownership, the fact that many Italian clubs do not own their own stadia, and the worsening image of Italian football and crowds in the media. It seems a long way off that Italy will solve these issues, despite a new TV deal being forthcoming.

    Monday, 8 June 2009

    Campeonato Brasiliero Série A Week 5

    Grêmio 3-0 Náutico
    Santo André 3-3 Santos
    Corinthians 2-0 Coritiba
    Atlético Paranaense 0-4 Atlético Mineiro
    Sport Recife 4-2 Flamengo
    Avaí 0-0 São Paulo
    Palmeiras 2-1 Vitória
    Goiás 2-2 Barueri
    Fluminense 1-0 Botafogo
    Cruzeiro 1-1 Internacional

    No break for the internationals in Brazil and it was business as usual. And the weekend got underway with two games on Friday night. Grêmio bounced back with a 3-0 victory over Náutico at the Monumental. After Náutico has two good chances to take the lead the hosts went ahead through Souza. Maxi Lopez doubled the lead before a second from Souza sealed the points for Grêmio. Promoted Santo André's promising start to the season continued as they came from behind 3 times to share the points with Santos in a six goal thriller. It was an eventful for Santo André's Nunes, twice a scorer he was also sent off after 68 minutes. Fabão got the goal of the game, a top notch free kick form 35 yards that flew in like a bullet. Kléber Pereira hit the post late on for Santos but the ball was scrambled away.

    The only game on Saturday after the national team's 4-0 win in Uruguay saw Corinthians pick up their second win of the season with a goal in each half against a Coritiba side that is still suffering at the wrong end of the table. Souza put the home side ahead with a simple tap in just before half time and Douglas secured the points with a powerful header nine minutes into the second half.

    On Sunday there was a clash of the Atlético's and it was the team from Minas Gerias who kept up the pressure on Internacional at the top of the table with a comfortable victory. Éder Luís with 2 second half strikes for Atlético-MG, whilst Atlético-PR were not helped by the 32nd minute dismissal of Marcinho. Sport grabbed their first win of the season after recovering from being 2 down inside 10 minutes to goals from Flamengo's Emerson. Sport were ahead by half time, Durval with the opener on 26 minutes before a hat-trick inside 6 minutes from Weldon capped a remarkable recovery for Sport. Avaí picked up their fourth draw from 5 games after holding champions São Paulo to a goalless draw at the Estádio da Ressacada. Palmeiras recovered from a goal down to pick up their second win of the season, after Apodi had but the visitors ahead Ortigoza equalized on the hour before Mauricio Ramos broke Vitória hearts with a injury time winner. In the first big Rio derby of the season at the Maracanã in front of a disappointing crowd just over the 15,000 mark, Fluminense took the honours against Botafogo thanks to Fred's well taken 89th minute winner. Internacional lost their 100% record at Cruzeiro, having to settle for a share of the spoils. Magrão put Internacional head with just 5 minutes on the clock, the Liverpool target Kléber was sent off after clashing with Lauro in the 18th minute before Wellington Paulista equalised for the home side. And in the late game on Sunday, Barueri also picked up their fourth draw of the season, picking up a point at Goiás. After falling behind Barueri went ahead through Ewerton and André Luís before Éverton salvaged a point for Goiás with a goal two minutes from time.

    Saturday, 6 June 2009

    Managerial merry-go-round slowing down

    The usual changes of manager are in full swing all across Europe, but the mists are slowly clearing, in Germany at least.
    We knew about Louis van Gaal taking on the Bayern job and he's replaced in Alkmaar by Ronald Koeman. Jupp Heynckes was caretaker at Bayern and he moves to Leverkusen who see Bruno Labbadia depart for Hamburg where Martin Jol's move to Ajax frees up the hot-seat. Felix Magath will go to Schalke, as discussed in depth recently, which leaves the Wolfsburg job up for grabs. Thomas Schaaf was the favourite, but the longer it drags on, the more likely it seems that he'll stay in Bremen. Christoph Daum has left Cologne to go to Turkey with Fenerbahce.

    In France, Le Mans have appointed Paulo Duarte as head coach, the Portuguese leaving his post at Burkina Faso. Guy Lacombe leaves Rennes for Monaco and he's succeeded by Frederic Antonetti who had agreed to leave Nice before the season ended.

    In the Eredivisie, all the major moves - AZ and Ajax apart - had been done and dusted during the season. If only every league could behave themselves so well.

    La Liga End of Season Review Part 2

    Osasuna: Jose Antonio Camacho is to be congratulated for the remarkable job he did of keeping the Pamplona side up. Goals were the problem in the first half of the season but this included considerably in the second half thanks mainly to Walter Pandiani and the influence of hitherto-unheralded Iranian midfielder Masoud Shojaei. Juanfran's last-gasp winner on the final day against Real Madrid sort of summed it up. 5/10.

    Racing: After two or three seasons of real progress, Racing Santander went backwards this year. After narrowly missing out on the elimination rounds of the UEFA Cup, their domestic form nosedived and it was only with the January return of Nikola Zigic that things improved. The giant Serbian forward's form was exceptional and the main factor in Racing beating the drop. Their home record was desperately poor and the summer recruitment needs to be good. 4/10.

    Real Betis: A poor season for the verdiblancos was turned into a catastrophic one on the final day when they were relegated. Things looked to have picked up after 'traffic warden' Paco Chaparro was fired, but such was the ineptitude of the squad that Jose Nogues could not save them. Despite Ricardo Oliveira, Sergio Garcia and Achile Emana having good seasons up front, they were truly awful at the back, and won just 4 of 19 at home. Few neutrals will miss them or Juan Lopera's presence. 1/10.

    Real Madrid: Oh dear. The wheels really came off for El Real once the title was conceded, where they lost each of their last 5 games. Juande Ramos sabotaged any chance he had of taking the manager's job full time once they were humiliated at home by Barcelona and Manuel Pellegrini takes over a squad that will probably look drastically different. A few (Higuain, Diarra) emerge with credit but the rest, as a rule, were largely dreadful despite that impressive run. 5/10.

    Recreativo Huelva: My pick for relegation alongside Numancia and Sporting (2 out of 3 ain't bad), Recreativo suffered from a chronic shortage of goals and a dreadful home record that not even the tireless Javier Camunas could resolve. The rest of the squad were not up to scratch, and their place in the Segunda is well earned. 1/10.

    Sevilla: Manolo Jimenez will remain as Sevilla coach after guiding his team to third place, a decent achievement but one which has been overshadowed by some criticising his style of football. Regardless, Sevilla have one of the most reliable defences in La Liga, and in Fredi Kanoute a superb frontman. Renato and Jesus Navas also impressed on occasion, but if they are to kick on the likes of Diego Capel, Luis Fabiano and Romaric must improve. 7/10.

    Sporting Gijon: Despite my repeated assertions that Sporting were a terrible football team, they have somehow managed to stay up despite losing 23 matches and possessing the worst defensive record in the league. 3 straight wins in their last 3 was the clincher, while Mate Bilic, Diego Castro and Carmelo have all enhanced their reputations. They'll still be my pick for relegation next year, though. 4/10.

    Valencia: It was always going to be difficult for Unai Emery given the off-field turmoil, and Valencia became an unpredictable side throughout the season after a good start. Juan Mata was a revelation, outshining Villa and Silva but the big question now is how many of the stars will remain after a summer of debt-clearing. Missing out on the Champions League has surely confirmed sales. 7/10.

    Valladolid: Valladolid's season fell flat after Christmas, so much so that they only avoided the drop by one point having spent three quarters of the campaign in the top half. Starlet goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo has already moved on (to Atletico Madrid) and the impressive Jonathan Sesma and Pedro Leon could also follow. 5/10.

    Villarreal: Ernesto Valverde will inherit a team in the UEFA Cup but with the potential to go further, an at times frustrating side who are increasingly overshadowed by the big spenders above them. Marcos Senna looked knackered all season long, and were it not for Diego Lopez's superb form in goal, and the scoring form of Rossi and Llorente, the Yellow Submarine would have missed out on top six altogether. A season of transition awaits. 6/10.

    Team of the Season:

    Lopez (Villarreal); Alves (Barcelona), Squillaci (Sevilla), Pique (Barcelona), Escude (Sevilla); Iniesta (Barcelona), Xavi (Barcelona), Mata (Valencia); Messi (Barcelona), Forlan (Atletico Madrid), Higuain (Real Madrid)

    Coach: Pep Guardiola (Barcelona)

    Honourable Mentions: Samuel Eto, Renato, David Villa, Fernando Llorente, Fredi Kanoute, Lassana Diarra, Alvaro Negredo, Juan Arango, Nikola Zigic, Juanma, Nabil Baha, Roberto Soldado, Victor Valdes, Thierry Henry, Sergio Aguero, Eric Abidal, Gonzalo, Duda, Eliseu, Javi Martinez

    Friday, 5 June 2009

    La Liga End of Season Review Part 1

    Almeria: After an indifferent start, Gonzalo Arconada was fired and it proved to be an astute move by President Alfonso Gabarron to employ the Mexican legend Hugo Sanchez as his replacement. The Eastern Andalusians finished 11th, helped immeasurably by 19 Alvaro Negredo goals. The likes of Juan Ortiz, Kalu Uche and Bruno also impressed, avoiding the dreaded 'Second Season' syndrome. 7/10

    Athletic Bilbao: During an infuriatingly inconsistent season, Joaquin Caparros's men found themselves as high as 6th and as low as just hovering above the drop zone. In the end, 13th isn't such a bad return for the Basques, whose good home record evaporated in the second half of the season and endured a poor run-in. It could have been a lot worse without the goals of Fernando Llorente and the steel of rising star Javi Martinez in midfield. 6/10

    Atletico Madrid: What can you say? Unbeatable one week, catastrophic the next, one thing Atletico Madrid can never be accused of being is dull. Logic truly goes out the window when describing a side so awful in defence that they conceded more than nearly any other team in the top half of the table, and yet they won 8 of their last 10 matches to cement fourth place and that coveted Champions League slot. An excellent achievement for Abel Resino, replacement for Javier Aguirre. Diego Forlan was the star of the show, although Kun Aguero and Simao contributed also. 8/10

    Barcelona: Pep Guardiola has pulled off the remarkable achievement of winning a League, Cup and European treble in his first season of top-flight management, and his team did so with a style and elegance missing from other top sides. Aleksander Hleb aside, the new signings fit like a glove and the likes of Iniesta, Messi and Henry had staggeringly good seasons. Guardiola's task now is to follow that up next season, which could prove tough. 10/10.

    Deportivo La Coruna: Anchored by a good home record and one of the best defensive records in La Liga, Miguel Angel Lotina guided Deportivo to 7th place, which under the circumstances could be seen as a disappointment considering they were long in the mix for a UEFA Cup spot. In the end they ran out of steam, but considering that Depor are another club tightening their belts, it can be seen as a season of real progress for the Galicians. 7/10.

    Espanyol: For most of the season, Espanyol looked doomed; awful at the back, edge-less up front, they went through two managers before Mauricio Pochettino took over in February and miraculously turned it around. The derby win at the Camp Nou is an obvious highlight, and after a brilliant final run-in the Pericos inexplicably find themselves in the top half, a testament to how tight it was for much of the season at the bottom. The squad still needs work, but a heartening tale all round, given the start they had. 6/10.

    Getafe: Geta left it very late to secure their safety, firing Victor Munoz with three games to go, and in the end survived by the skin of their teeth. Were it not for the goals of Roberto Soldado and the industry of the likes of Esteban Granero and Casquero, the Segunda would be beckoning. Given their tiny budget it was unlikely we would witness top six, but it was a far from convincing season. 3/10.

    Malaga: Malaga captured the hearts of many neutrals with their plucky, adventurous football and their cobbled-together squad assembled by journeyman coach Antonio Tapia. Many observers' favourites for relegation caused immense surprise by mounting a serious challenge for the top six, and narrowly missed out. The likes of Albert Luque, Duda, Eliseu and Baha all did their reputations no harm at all, but with Tapia leaving one wonders whether the southerners will be able to compete next term. 8/10.

    Mallorca: The Islanders finally realised their potential after Christmas, putting in an astonishing run of form to leave themselves a very creditable 9th. Juan Arango, the superb Venezuelan, was very much the orchestrator, while Cleber Santana and Adi Aduriz also played consistently well. Gregorio Manzano's reputation is further enhanced. 7/10

    Numancia: Little was expected of the Sorians and they folded to relegation with two rounds left. They had problems at both ends of the pitch; Only Recreativo scored fewer and only Sporting Gijon conceded more; and they generally spent much of the season looking out of their depth, despite eye catching victories over Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. A step too far. 2/10

    Thursday, 4 June 2009

    Serie A: Review of the Season

    2008-09 was another season dominated by Internazionale and their marmite-like head coach Jose Mourinho, who, after a charming start, soon began to fall out with the media and other managers. The Portuguese tactician will not have cared one iota, however, having achieved the scudetto and he did so with the usual suspects - Ibrahimovic, Julio Cesar, Cambiasso, Zanetti - all performing to their usual exacting standards. The perplexing signings of Ricardo Quaresma and Mancini did not come off, however, and the gap between Serie A and the premiership was shown in the Champions League defeat to Manchester United. With the Genoa pair of Diego Milito and Thiago Motta likely to join over the summer, expect the Nerazzuri's dominance to continue until the other teams can get their act together.

    Juventus finished a distant second during an ultimately fruitless campaign that yielded the sacking of Claudio Rainieri, who seemed unable to get the best out of a talented team. After a good start, Amauri badly faded away and the likes of Sebastian Giovinco and Alessandro Del Piero only seemed to impress intermittently. Luciano Spalletti is the lead candidate to take over this summer, and he will inherit an ageing team that badly needs an injection of new blood, particularly at the back and on the wings of midfield.

    AC Milan survived a mediocre start to finish strongly, and must be praised for the signing of David Beckham which paid off convincingly. Alexandre Pato continues to develop as a player of incredible ability but the rossoneri still seem unheathily reliant on the talents of Kaka, who could well leave this summer. This is another ageing team that needs a cash injection, with the likes of the great Paolo Maldini retiring there is room for manouvre. The signing of Ronaldinho proved a complete flop, and the likes of Phillipe Senderos and Mathieu Flamini failed to inspire.

    Of the rest, Roma's terrible middle third of the season ended any hopes of them making the Champions League spot, although Luciano Spalletti managed to hang onto his job and steer his side to 6th which I suppose is a credit to the Giallorossi board for their patience. This is a team far too dependent on Francesco Totti for inspiration, and one that is brittle under pressure. Daniele De Rossi and Simone Perotta try hard, but there is no hiding their deficiencies. Fiorentina will be mighty pleased with their 4th place finish, indebted as they were to the goals of Alberto Gilardino and the midfield steel of Felipe Melo, the Brazilian midfielder who had an excellent debut season having arrived from Almeria. They beat Genoa to that final top 4 slot, but Gasperini's men can still be thrilled with their showing.

    Cagliari and Palermo will also be satisfied with their season's work, but the likes of Udinese, Napoli and Lazio, after good starts, completely blew up and each will experience major changes this summer. Already Fabio Quagliarella has jumped ship to Naples and Gaetano D'Agostino, Udinese's player of the season by some distance, is likely to move to Juventus.

    At the bottom, Bologna and Chievo can each thank their strikers, Marco Di Vaio and Sergio Pellissier, for scoring the goals to keep them up. Sampdoria had another disappointing campaign and, were it not for the efforts of Pazzini and Cassano, could well have found themselves in Serie B. As it is, that ignonimous pleasure fell on Lecce, Reggina and Torino.

    Team of the season:

    Julio Cesar (Inter)

    Maicon (Inter)
    Simon Kjaer (Palermo)
    Domenico Criscito (Genoa)
    Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus)

    Gaetano D'Agostino (Udinese)
    Esteban Cambiasso (Inter)
    Clarence Seedorf (AC Milan)

    Alberto Gilardino (Fiorentina)
    Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Inter)
    Diego Milito (Genoa)

    Honourable mentions: Sebastian Frey (Fiorentina), Paolo Maldini (AC Milan), Nicola Leggrotaglie (Juventus), Thiago Motta (Genoa), Felipe Melo (Fiorentina), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Giampaolo Pazzini (Sampdoria), Marco Di Vaio (Bologna), Mauro Zarate (Lazio), Antonio Cassano (Sampdoria), Sergio Pellissier (Chievo), Edison Cavani (Palermo), Alexandre Pato (AC Milan), Juan (Roma), Andrea Cossu (Cagliari)

    Coach of the year: Gian Piero Gasperini (Genoa) - Gasperini, the veteran coach, pips Cagliari's Massimiliano Allegri to the title after a season of success for the Grifone where he guided them to a hard-earned fifth place, beaten to the final champions league spot by the more star-studded Fiorentina. Genoa consistently played some of the most attractive football in Serie A, and it is to Gasperini's credit that he was able to get the best out of Thiago Motta, a player whom many thought finished after his injuries, and Diego Milito, a talismanic figure if ever there was one. At the back, he created a balanced defense built on the experience of the likes of Giuseppe Biava and Matteo Ferrari. Thoroughly deserving of the award and European football next season.

    La Liga managerial news

    Real Madrid have moved swiftly following the end of their highly disappointing campaign to appoint Manuel Pellegrini as their new head coach, on a three year contract. The former Villarreal man may soon have Kaka to count on as one of his players, but it will be interesting to see if a manager who gave the temperamental Juan Riquelme the boot at Villarreal can cope with an influx of 'Galacticos' under new president Florentino Perez. There's no doubting Pellegrini's class, after an excellent four-year spell in Castellon and before that successful stints in Argentina with River Plate and San Lorenzo. However, he is the sort of manager who needs to be given time, and that is something Real Madrid presidents seem notoriously reluctant to offer their coaches.

    Villarreal have quickly appointed Ernesto Valverde, the former Espanyol coach, as the Chilean's replacement. Valverde arrives back in Spain following a year in Greece with Olympiakos, where despite guiding them to a league and cup double, he was released following alleged disagreements between himself and the board of directors. In 2007-8, Valverde guided Espanyol to 12th despite an impressive first half of the campaign. He also took them to the 2006-7 UEFA Cup final.

    Elsewhere Osasuna have rewarded Jose Antonio Camacho for keeping the team in La Liga with a new 1-year contract.

    Monday, 1 June 2009

    Campeonato Brasiliero Série A Week 4

    Coritiba 1-3 Goiás
    Atlético Mineiro 0-0 Santo André
    Botafogo 2-2 Sport Recife
    Flamengo 2-1 Atlético Paranaense
    Vitória 1-0 Grêmio
    Santos 3-1 Corinthians
    São Paulo 3-0 Cruzeiro
    Náutico 1-1 Fluminense
    Internacional 2-1 Avaí
    Barueri 2-2 Palmeiras

    Coritiba's poor start continued as they were beaten 3-1 at home by Goiás. Felipe put the visitors ahead with a retaken penalty after 5 minutes before further goals fom Iarly and a second from Felipe after a well worked free kick move. Captain Marcelinho pulled a goal back just after half time, Rafael Toloi was sent off for Goiás but they held on their first victory of the season. Despite having Marcelinho Carioca sent off Santo André collected a point with a 0-0 draw at Atlético Mineiro. Meanwhile Botafogo are still looking for thier first win of the season after a 2-2 draw with Sport. Botafogo were 2 down within 20 minutes after goals from Wilson and Weldon. Tony pulled on back on the hour mark, then Hamilton was sent off for Sport before a header from Fahel sent both teams home with a point.

    Adriano made his second debut for Flamengo at the Maracanã on Sunday and was on target as the hosts picked up win number 2 of the season and left Atlético Paranaense at the bottom alongside Coritiba. Grêmio fell to an injury time defeat to Vitória, Leandro Domingues with a stunning winner. Santos continued their good run of form with a 3-1 victory over rivals Corinthians. São Paulo and Cruzeiro met for the second time in 4 days after a midweek Libertadores clash and it was the champions who picked up their first win of the season with a comfortable 3-0 victory, a win that gives São Paulo some hope of overcoming their defecit in the Libertadores. An injury time penalty from Derley gave Náutico a 1-1 draw with Fluminense as they dropped to 4th in the table. Internacional remain the only side with a 100% record after 2-1 victory over previously unbeaten Avaí, Cunha and Barbosa with the goals for the league leaders. And finally Barueri recovered from a 2 goal defecit to draw with Palmeiras. All 4 goals were scored within 16 second half minutes, Obina and Keirrison on target for the visitors before a brace from Pedrão rescused a point for Barueri.

    Final places decided in Germany and the Netherlands

    The full line ups for next season's Eredivisie and Bundesliga competitions was decided yesterday with the conclusion of the various play-off matches, as is the final European qualifier from Holland. Tied 1-1 after the first leg, NAC went to Groningen and turned them over on their own patch, Matthew Amoah and Csaba Feher on the scoresheet for a 2-0 win on the day and 3-1 on aggregate. They join PSV and Ajax in qualifying from the league and Heerenveen from the cup.

    RKC Waalwijk are up at the expense of De Graafschap. Defending a 2-0 lead from the first leg, Waalwijk went a goal up on 12 minutes in the return. The task was too much for De Graafschap, but they came close with goals from Geert den Ouden and Luuk de Jong. Roda are also down having lost on away goals to Cambuur Leeuwarden. A bad tempered game ended ten-a-side with both dismissals - a straight red for Roda's Marcel Meeuwis and two yellows for Cambuur's Koen Brack - coming after Sekou Cissé had put Roda ahead in the tie following a goalless first leg. A second may well have killed the game off, but Mark de Vries equalised with ten minutes to go and Cambuur held on to gain promotion.

    Following their 3-0 win in the first leg, Nurnberg added a further two to the overall scoreline in the second leg, beating Cottbus 5-0 on aggregate in the Bundesliga relegation play-off. First half goals from Christian Eigler and Marek Mintal were enough and Cottbus were never coming back from that deficit and will drop into Bundesliga 2 for next season.

    Serie A Round 38: Ancelotti signs off with win

    Inter Milan 4 - 3 Atalanta
    Udinese 6 - 2 Cagliari
    Bologna 3 - 1 Catania
    Napoli 3 - 0 Chievo Verona
    Juventus 2 - 0 Lazio
    Genoa 4 - 1 Lecce
    Fiorentina 0 - 2 AC Milan
    Palermo 2 - 2 Sampdoria
    Reggina 1 - 1 Siena
    AS Roma 3 - 2 Torino

    Carlo Ancelotti ended weeks of speculation to become Chelsea manager this morning, and his reign at AC Milan ended on a high note yesterday with a 2-0 win at Fiorentina meaning Milan clinch the final Champions League spot ahead of the Viola. Kaka broke the deadlock 10 minutes into the second half and substitute Alexandre Pato sealed the victory in the 75th minute. Their city rivals had of course already wrapped up the Scudetto but they were pushed all the way in their final game by Atalanta. Sulley Muntari and Zlatan Ibrahimovic ensured Inter were 2-1 up within 12 minutes, with Cristiano Doni nabbing the equaliser. Luca Cigarini and a second from Doni gave Atalanta the lead but Esteban Cambiasso levelled and Ibrahimovic scored his 25th of the season two minutes later. Ibrahimovic ends the season as top goalscorer in Serie A, with one more than Diego Milito and Marco Di Vaio.

    Two goals from Vincenzo Iaquinta saw Juventus pip Milan to second spot at home to Lazio, while Genoa finish 5th after crushing Lecce 4-1. Inter-bound Diego Milito scored twice in that game, which sees Lecce finish bottom by a point. Roma squeezed past Torino thanks to a late penalty from Francesco Totti after Jeremy Menez and Mirko Vucinic had earlier got on the scoresheet, while Udinese end the season in 7th after a crushing victory over Cagliari. Three goals in five minutes from Kwadwo Asamoah, Simone Pepe and Antonio Floro Flores gave the hosts a convincing lead within the first 15 minutes. Robert Acquafresca's penalty and Andrea Parola's 57th-minute goal gave Cagliari hope but Giovanni Pasquale scored a minute later before Fabio Quagliarella and substitute Odion Jude Ighalo capped off a brilliant game for Udinese.

    Elsewhere, Napoli beat Chievo 3-0 thanks to goals from Francesco Montervino, Mariano Bogliacino and Joao Inacio Pia . Outgoing Sampdoria coach Walter Mazzarri saw his side fight back from two goals down to snatch a point at Palermo. Fabrizio Miccoli and Davide Succi had given the hosts the lead but Giampaolo Pazzini pulled one back in first-half stoppage-time and Marius Stankevicius scored the equaliser. Bologna secured Serie A football for another season with a 3-1 victory over Catania. Nicola Mingazzini gave the hosts the perfect start in the fifth minute and Claudio Terzi doubled their lead before Takayuki Morimoto pulled one back for Catania five minutes into the second half. But top goalscorer Marco Di Vaio eased their nerves by restoring their two-goal advantage in the 68th minute.

    Team of the season and a season review to follow.

    La Liga Round 38 Review: Betis go down in final day drama

    Mallorca 2 - 3 Villarreal
    Deportivo La Coruña 1 - 1 Barcelona
    Atlético Madrid 3 - 0 Almería
    Valencia 2 - 0 Athletic Bilbao
    Numancia 0 - 2 Sevilla
    Espanyol 3 - 0 Málaga
    Osasuna 2 - 1 Real Madrid
    Racing Santander 1 - 1 Getafe
    Sporting Gijón 2 - 1 Recreativo Huelva
    Real Betis 1 - 1 Real Valladolid

    The worst nightmares of half of Seville came true on Sunday evening as they were relegated from La Liga, completing a fall from grace for this once mighty club that was only four seasons ago in the Champions League. Their head-to-head record with Getafe was identical, so it was with the slenderest of goal difference margins that saw the verdiblancos go down after their home draw with Valladolid. Marcos Aguirre opened the scoring for Valladolid but all the Seville-based club could muster in reply was an equaliser from Ricardo Oliveira and there will surely be repurcussions for the Beticos considering their precarious financial situation even before being relegated. The likes of Oliveira, Achile Emana, David Odonkor, Sergio Garcia and Juanito are certain to leave.

    Betis found themselves in this situation despite starting the weekend two places above the drop zone. Osasuna stayed up despite going behind at home to Real Madrid to Gonzalo Higuain's 22nd of the season. A mistake by Iker Casillas allowed Jarolav Plasil to level, but there was nothing fortuitous about the home side's winner, a spectacular volley from Juanfran to send the Pamplona crowd into raptures. Jose Antonio Camacho has completed a remarkable rescue job after taking the job early in the season when Osasuna looked in a terrible state.

    Even more remarkable is the survival of Sporting Gijon, who have managed to grab another season in the top flight despite losing 23 league games. They survived after being already relegated Recreativo, who went ahead through Ersen Martin but goals from David Barral and Luis Moran turned the match around and completed an unlikely turnaround for the Asturian side.

    Numancia's relegation had also been confirmed and they ended the season in somewhat fitting fashion, being beaten by a Sevilla side that was filled with reserves. They left it late, though, through substitute Emiliano Armenteros and an own goal a minute later from Juan Carlos Moreno. Sevilla's third place had long been confirmed and it is one thoroughly deserved.

    Barcelona followed up their memorable victory in Rome with a draw at Deportivo, who went ahead through Rodolfo Bodipo before Samuel Eto'o equalised. Real Madrid's loss means they finish the season 9 points ahead of their nearest rivals. Atletico Madrid secured fourth spot after beating Almeria through goals from Kun Aguero, Raul Garcia and Diego Forlan's 32nd of the season, meaning he has been crowned Pichichi after a fantastic season. Villarreal miss out on the top four despite beating in-form Mallorca in a thriller on Saturday evening. The Yellow Submarine took the lead on the half-hour mark through Ruben Cani but were pegged back six minutes later by Aritz Aduriz. Joseba Llorente scored a double either side of half-time to seal the points, though Pierre Webo grabbed a late consolation.

    David Villa scored twice in what is in all likelyhood his last game for Valencia against Athletic Bilbao while Espanyol signed off their final game at the Montjuic in style with a 3-0 victory over Malaga. It seemed rather fitting that 'Mr Espanyol' Raul Tamudo should be the star, scoring as he did three well taken goals. After the game Antonio Tapia resigned as Malaga coach and he is sure to be a managerial hot property this summer after the sterling work he has done in Andalucia.

    Season review and team of the season to follow.