“Don’t be fooled by the calendar.  There are only as many days in the year as you make use of.”  ~Charles Richards

Transfer negotiators at Arsenal take note. Most summers at the Emirates are spent embroiled in the latest drawn out transfer saga. More often than not it involves Cesc Fabergas, the “will he won’t he” drama that fills most windows has at least been complimented this Summer with the potential purchase of Ivory Coast winger Gervinho from French champions Lille.

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Yesterday, in South-West Paris, Lille secured their first Ligue 1 Championship since 1954.  James Davenport our man in Paris was there to tell us the tale from the Parc des Princes

The match was an important game for both teams; Lille needed just a point to secure top spot in the League and Paris Saint-Germain were fighting for a place in next seasons Champions League. The stage was set for an entertaining and attacking game and it certainly did not disappoint.

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Tonight league leaders Lille OSC travel south to Paris knowing that if they avoid defeat they will be crowned champions of France, for the first time since 1954. After winning the Coupe de France last weekend in the Stade de France it would be fitting if the double was secured in the same city, however defeat to Antoine Kombouare’s PSG side and a Marseille win would see the title race go to the last day of the season. Just like it did back in 1954.

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Picture the scene. It’s just after six o’clock on a sunny Saturday afternoon. You are sat in Farsley AFC’s West stand with a cold beer. Your company for the day has been the co-editor of In Bed With Maradona and all-round top guy David Hartrick.

You have just watched the home team win 3-1 and receive the Northern Counties East League Championship trophy and now you’re watching what looks like a French Academy Youth side take on Bradford City youth with John Hendrie in charge. Do Saturday’s at the football get any better than this?
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It is the greatest and biggest game in the World, two teams that have never lifted the trophy met in Johannesburg in the magnificent Soccer City stadium to battle for the privilege of being the 8th country to win the most coveted prize in football. The Spanish and the Dutch fans filled the stadium and watched around the world, knowing it would end in heartbreak for one and ecstasy for the other.

 

NETHERLANDS

0

 

SPAIN

1

      Andres INIESTA (116′)  
         
1.Maarten STEKELENBERG     1.Iker CASILLAS  
2.Gregory VAN DER WIEL – Y     3.Gerard PIQUE  
3.John HEITINGA – Y/R     5.Carles PUYOL – Y  
4.Joris MATHIJSEN – Y     6.Andres INIESTA – Y  
5.Giovanni VAN BRONCKHORST – Y OUT – 105   7.David VILLA OUT – 106
6.Mark VAN BOMMEL – Y     8.XAVI – Y  
7.Dirk KUYT OUT – 71   11.Joan CAPDEVILA – Y  
8.Nigel DE JONG – Y OUT – 99   14.Xavi ALONSO OUT – 87
9.Robin VAN PERSIE – Y     15.Sergio RAMOS – Y  
10.Wesley SNEIJDER     16.Sergio BUSQUETS  
11.Arjen ROBBEN – Y     18.PEDRO OUT – 60
         
Subs     Subs  
16.Michel VORM     2.Raul ALBOIL  
22.Sander BOSCHKER     4.Carlos MARCHENA  
12.Khalid BOULAHROUZ     9.Fernando TORRES IN – 106
13.Andre OOIJER     10.Cesc FABERGAS IN – 87
14.Demy DE ZEEUW     12.Victor VALDES  
15.Edson BRAAFHEID IN – 105   13.Juan MATA  
17.Eljero ELIA IN – 71   17.Alvaro ARBELOA  
18.Stijn SCHAARS     19.Fernando LLORENTE  
19.Ryan BABEL     20.Javi MARTINEZ  
20.Ibrahim AFELLAY     21.David SILVA  
21.Klass Jan HUNTELAAR     22.Jesus NAVAS IN – 60
23.Rafael VAN DER VAART     23.Pepe REINA  

Not the greatest game I have ever watched however not the worst final, 94 and 90 were worse in my opinion, most finals are always a very tight and cagey affair and I expected this game to be no different, it started off very promising though, Spain looked to attack, the Dutch pressed early and looked to break forward when they got the ball, using the pace of Robben down the right, It was Spain that took charge the “tiki taka” passing was in full flow and they should have taken the lead after 4 minutes Sergio Ramos met a cross with a thunderous header by Stekelenberg did very well to keep it out, shortly after on 3 occasions Pedro found David Villa with lovely through passes, twice he was offside, the third time he wasn’t but Stekelenberg was quickly out to collect the ball. Spain’s passing rhythm was then disrupted by the amount of fouls and yellow cards the referee gave out, in 28 minutes 5 yellow cards were awarded, Nigel de Jong was lucky to still be on the pitch after he planted his foot straight into Xabi Alonso’s chest, a shocking challenge and nowhere near going for the ball. For all the Spanish play the Dutch could have gone in at half time in the lead Arjen Robben his trademark move onto his left foot and his shot had to be beaten away by Casillas at his near post.

Spain started very brightly again in the second half, Joan Capdevila had a great chance the ball played to the back post by he couldn’t make contact with the ball, Holland nearly made them pay, de Jong played the ball forward and it split the Spanish defence and Robben was through on goal, with the ball on his favoured left foot but Casillas made a superb save lifting his right leg and getting a crucial touch on the ball to send it wide. The game was heating up and or the right reasons, Jesus Navas made a run down the right fired the ball across Heitinga made a mess of the clearance and the ball fell to David Villa 5 yards from goal however the Everton defender amazingly got a foot in the way and blocked the Spanish hit-man’s shot. From the subsequent corner Sergio Ramos had a clear cut chance, the corner swung in Ramos was unmarked but somehow managed to skew his header over the bar, and it looked harder to miss.

Back came the Dutch, van Persie’s flick on sent Robben through on goal, he beat Puyol for pace but seemed to do enough (maybe illegally) to slow the winger down and Pique and Casillas smothered the ball to safety, Robben was livid and chased down the referee screaming his injustice, all he got was a booking. The 90 minutes finished goalless both sides could have easily scored in winner in 90, but we would need another 30 minutes to decide the winner, and substitute Cesc Fabergas should have sealed it for Spain, Andres Iniesta played a lovely ball in behind the defence and Cesc ran onto the ball but could only find Stekelenberg’s legs with his left foot attempt, the Arsenal man should have done better, he had made a big impact though the Spanish looked more in control with Fabergas on the pitch. It was his midfield partners and possible teammates Xavi and Iniesta that strengthened Spain’s cause, Xavi playing a ball over the top to Iniesta he had got in front of Heitinga, he could only tug Iniesta’s shoulder, the Barca man went down, Heitinga was already on a yellow, he had to go, and go he did shown the red card and his team on the ropes and down to 10 men.

The extra man made the difference, Spain pilled forward and with 4 minutes to go to penalties it paid dividends, Iniesta broke forward and was unmarked, Torres tried to find him it was cleared, however Fabergas won the ball played it to Iniesta and he struck the ball beautifully past Stekelenberg into the Dutch goal and send the Spanish players and fans into dreamland, fantastic scenes of celebration, also a lovely moment from Iniesta as he lifted his shirt to reveal a message to Dani Jarque the former Espanyol captain who died a year ago of a heart attack while in pre-season training, he was booked for his sentiment I’m sure he wouldn’t care though, he had won the World Cup for his team and country and nothing was going to damped the moment. The Dutch has a brief flurry of action to try and level the game but it was in vain as Spain became the Champions of the World, the best team won on the day and that’s all you can ask for.

Over the past 4 years they have been the best and most consistent team, and although they haven’t set the world alight in this tournament actually scoring the least goals of any World Cup winner, but they played great at times, defended brilliantly and in my eyes deserved winners, Holland didn’t go out to win the World Cup they went out to stop Spain winning it, and to me that’s not the attitude I like for Champions.

MY THOUGHTS

Some great performances on both sides, Andres Iniesta has to be the man of the match, him and Xavi became more in control as long as the game went on, his surging runs and technique on the ball were a joy to watch, and it was very fitting he scored the winning goal, Substitutes Fabergas and Navas did very well when they came on, adding more attacking flair to the Spanish midfield, Puyol was a warrior in central midfield and no one deserves more to be a World Champion then the Barcelona centre half.

For the Dutch I thought Gregory van der Wiel had a superb game, I lost count of the amount of great tackles he put in, or just breaking up the Spanish play, impressive for the young Ajax player, his stock will have risen over the past 4 weeks and even more so tonight. Stekelenberg had a great game keeping his team in the match in more than 3 occasions, deserved to only lose one goal.

Robben was busy but spent most of the time complaining, van Bommel and de Jong did a good job disrupting the Spanish play be it illegally or not, Kuyt and van Persie were too quiet, Sneijder had a good game, chased back ran forward tried to make things happen maybe just didn’t have the options in front of him to make a difference.

 

The First Half was not the most exciting but more of a tactical battle, the Second Half was a better sceptical and actually turned into an exciting and tight affair, the best team won in the end and are deserved Champions. The odds are 6/1 for them to become the first ever back to back World Champions and who would bet against them 4 years on in Brazil.

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Only 5 games left in Serie A and things couldn’t be closer at the top, 4 points seperate the top 3, and 5 points seperating the 4 teams chasing that elusive last Champions League place and that’s what I will be concentrating on.  AS Roma’s 1-0 win away at Bari thanks to Marko Vucinic’s goal saw the Capital club take the top spot in Serie A, Inter Milan’s 2-2 draw at Fiorentina saw them slip from the top spot for the first time since Matchday 7. This gave A.C Milan the chance to pull within 1 point of Inter and 2 points off top spot, however they struggled against Catania at Home and Boriellio’s 80th minute goal saved a point for the Rossoneri.

Of the 3 teams Milan have the toughest run in, having to face Sampdoria, Palermo, Fiorentina, Genoa and Juventus all 4 teams still fighting for a place in European competition next season, and to make things worse for Leonardo’s men, only 1 of those games (Juventus) is at the San Siro, for me this rules Milan out of the title race, however they are safe for a 3rd spot, miracles can happen though, I can see them picking up 8 points from 15 and finishing on 72 points.

The race between Roma and Inter however is alot tighter, Inter a slight advantage with 3 home game to Roma’s 2, however Roma’s next game is the Rome Derby against Lazio so it will feel like a home fixture in venue, maybe not in atmosphere though. After tthat Roma have a home game against Sampdoria which will not be easy as Del Neri’s men are in the hunt for a Champions League qualifier place,  a trip to high flying Parma is next having a great season back in Serie A and finding themselves only 5 points away from Juventus in that last Europa League spot, Cagliari then travel to the Stadio Olympico and on the last day Roma travel to Verona to take on Chievo in which the Marcantonio Bentegodi stadium could be the scene for great triumph or disappointment.

Inter have a slight advantage in that apart from Juventus’s visit to the San Siro on Friday night (16th) none of Inter’s 4 remaining opponents are trying to qualify for Europe so the quality of team isn’t as high, this is balanced up with 3 of the teams, Siena, Lazio and Atalanta are all fighting for their lives at the bottom of the table and there is nothing more dangerous than a team fighting for their place in Serie A, Inter i’m sure however will feel strong enough to overpower these teams. Home games against Atalanta and Chievo should be 3 points each the destination of the title will be decided on Inter and Roma’s away performances.

My opinion is Inter will win 4 of the last 5 games and pip Roma to the title by 1 point, of course as with every league anything can happen, and with only 1 point seperating the teams, there will be a number of twists and turns I’m sure, as I’m sure will be the chase for the last Champions League place, Palermo sit in 4 th place right now, their games remaining include a visit from Milan and finishes with 3 away games at Siena, Sampdoria then Atalanta, that 2nd last games against Sampdoria will be an absolute huge fixture, with Sampdoria only in 5th place due to goal difference, it could come down to that game to decide 4th place. Before the crunch match with Palermo, Sampdoria have the small task of taking on Milan and Roma and finish with a very hard match when Napoli come to town.

Napoli themselves are 5 points off Palermo at the moment so with a good run, they could be in contention when they have to travel to Sampdoria on the last day they’re run in is slightly favourable Home games against Cagliari and Atalanta and away trips to Bari and Chievo, Napoli have the players capable of winning all 5 games, but they can be eratic and could lose them all too.

The last team trying to fight their way into the Champions League is no other than the “Old Lady” Juventus a very up and down season could be salvaged by a late run into that 4th spot, it’s not going to be easy though, the 5 games left starts and ends with trips to Milan, Inter tonight and Milan on the 16th of May in the middle they have home games against Bari and Parma and an away game against dangerous home side Catania. Juve’s away form has not been good at all, but again on their day they could beat all 5 teams, in my eyes however this will not happen, I am predicting 2 wins from 5 for Juve.

So after all 5 games have completed what are my predictions:

1. Inter Milan – 80 pts – Champions League Group
2. AS Roma – 79 pts – Champions League Group
3. A.C Milan – 72 pts - Champions League Group

4. Sampdoria – 64 pts -  - Champions League Play-offs
5. Palermo – 62 pts – Europa League Play-offs
6. Napoli – 59 pts – Europa League 3rd round qf
7. Juventus – 59 pts

Inter to pip the title from Roma, Sampdoria to take that last Champions League place, and the biggest shock would be Juventus missing out on all European competition.

Of course now that I’ve put my predictions on here, I will be completely wrong and it’ll be all change, should be an exciting climax to the season.

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