• Friday, 18 May 2012

    Marking your card #9

    As one door closes, another opens so the old saying goes. That's as true this week in football as it is in life.

    The final round of Ligue 1 dominates Sunday and the cheeky upstarts of Montpellier need a point from a trip to Auxerre - already relegated - to seal a first ever championship. They may not even need that should PSG lose to Lorient, and with Lorient desperate for points to avoid relegation that can't be ruled out. Anyone from 12th-placed Valenciennes down are in a spot of bother. Ahead of Auxerre, Dijon are on 36 points, with Brest, Caen and Ajaccio two ahead of them and Sochaux, Lorient and Nice a point further clear. Valenciennes are on 40 and should be OK as it would take an extraordinary set of results to relegate them. The fixtures in this eight-way relegation battle are:
    Evian v Brest
    Lorient v PSG
    Lyon v Nice
    Sochaux v Marseille
    Toulouse v Ajaccio
    Valenciennes v Caen
    Of the clubs in trouble, only VA and Caen face off directly. Their futures are in their own hands. Everyone else will have a radio pressed to the ear in the time-honoured fashion.

    There were lots of cup finals in midweek - Basel completing a double in Switzerland and Fenerbahce thumping Bursaspor with a superb display in Turkey the picks - and more finals follow this weekend. The last two places in next season's Eredivisie are up for grabs as Willem II and Den Bosch - 0-0 in the first leg - and Helmond Sport and VVV - VVV lead 2-1 after the first - complete their ties. Vitesse, 3-1 up from the first leg, play RKC for the final Europa League place. Sporting CP and Académica contest the final of the Taca de Portugal, there's the Coppa Italia final between Juventus and Napoli - that should be a cracker - and Endinburgh rivals Hibernian and Hearts take part in the Scottish Cup final in Glasgow. There's also the small matter of the Champions League final. Bayern are at home to Chelsea, the game being played at the impressive Allianz Arena in Munich although without the usual number of Bayern fans, but both sides are missing key players through suspension. Bayern are the bookies favourites and by a fair chunk which is probably representative.

    While all these competitions come to an end, the Brazilian national championship kicks off this weekend. After months of increasingly tedious and pointless state championships, Serie A gets underway. Two of the promoted clubs kick us off, Portuguesa away to Palmeiras and Sport Recife at home to Flamengo. Champions Corinthians start on Sunday at home to Fluminense, last year's runners-up Vasco da Gama are at home to Grêmio and favourites Santos are away to Bahia.

    Elsewhere in South America, Newell's continue to lead in Argentina and take on third-placed Tigre this week. Boca, in third, are away to traditional rivals Racing Club. Universidad de Chile have lost the last two in the Primera División de Chile. They need to get back to winning ways and take on Huachipato, in seventh, this week. O'Higgins are poised to take advantage of any slip as they take on rock-bottom Cobresal.

    England sees two particularly massive games at Wembley over the weekend. First up is the clash between West Ham and Blackpool for the chance to play in next season's Premier League. This will be hyped beyond all recognition as a consequence of so much money suddenly being made available to the winners, but no less important is the Conference play-off final for the right to play in the Football League. Former league sides York City and Luton Town are going for this one and while the numbers may be smaller, it's no less important for the two clubs. You lose funding for your youth teams after dropping out of the league and both have been down there a while - eight years in York's case - and getting back up is a big deal. They've played each other four times this season already, York winning three with one draw, but none of that will matter come 3pm on Sunday. That's where we're going. Come on York (impartiality be damned).

    We will also have spies in Radom in Poland where Radomiak travel to take on neighbours Bron needing a win to secure promotion from the regional leagues to the national II Liga - the third tier of Polish football.

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