vrijdag 30 maart 2012

Sergio Ramos celebrates 26th birthday

The defender has played 302 games with Real Madrid

Sergio Ramos

Today is Sergio Ramos' 26th birthday. The defender signed for Real Madrid in the 2005/06 season and has since become a leading player on the squad and on the Spanish national team. His versatility has allowed him to perform at the highest level both as a centre back and as a right back, and he's also managed to tally 36 strikes as a Madridista.

Sergio Ramos was born on 30 March 1986 in Camas (Seville) and made his First Division debut when he was only 17 with Sevilla. He stayed on their first team two years before signing for Real Madrid and making his debut with them on 10 September 2005 against Celta Vigo. Ramos has made 302 appearances with the Madridistas and is second only to Casillas on the current squad.

Ramos has won two league titles, one Copa del Rey and one Spanish Super Cup with Real Madrid. He also won the 2008 Euro and the 2010 World Cup with Spain.


woensdag 28 maart 2012

Champions League Report

Marseille 0-2 Bayern Munich
Gomez and Robben strike to leave German giants on brink of semi-finals
Goals for the Germany and Netherlands internationals left the Bavarians in pole position to advance to face the winner of the tie between APOEL and Real Madrid

Olympique de Marseille v FC Bayern Munich - UEFA, Ribery and Gomez

Bayern Munich took a big step towards progression in the Champions League as they earned a 2-0 win away to Marseille in Wednesday's quarter-final first-leg clash.

Franck Ribery's return to the Stade Velodrome was not exactly a comfortable one, but the visitors overcame stiff resistance as they secured a two-goal advantage ahead of the return leg in Munich.

One minute before half-time, Mario Gomez found the net under controversial circumstances after a suspected hand-ball at the other end. The goal counted nonetheless, and OM were forced to try to overturn the deficit. However, Arjen Robben scored a crucial second goal on 69 minutes, leaving the hosts with a mountain to climb.

Chances were few and far between in what was a physical opening half. Though cautious in their approach, the hosts were first to pose a threat on goal and were unfortunate not to take the lead on seven minutes. Following a corner-kick, Rod Fanni's header was tipped wide by Manuel Neuer. Loic Remy was first to the rebound, but blasted into the side-netting.

After a tough start, Bayern gathered some fluency in midfield and carved out a couple openings inside the Marseille penalty area. However, Robben slipped before seeing his window to shoot close, and Thomas Muller's low cross found no team-mate in the centre before rolling out of play.

Marseille recovered, and shortly before half-time, a botched clearance from Jerome Boateng saw the ball fall to Remy. The striker was quick to shoot from the edge of the penalty area, but Neuer pounced to make a save.

Bayern as well would benefit from a mistake shortly thereafter, but the Germans took their chance as Gomez fired in off Elinton Andrade's hands. Seconds before, Mathieu Valbuena had kicked the ball off Philipp Lahm's hand, but play continued as Robben slipped in Gomez, whose finish appeared to be covered by the goalkeeper before it deflected into the net.

After the break, Marseille had an encouraging start, with Valbuena nodding over the bar from Remy's cross. Andre Ayew headed on goal in the 56th minute, but Neuer had little trouble in making a stop. Shortly before the hour mark, Remy muscled Boateng off the ball, but Neuer was quick off his line and blocked the forward's attempt.

The balance swung in the visitors' favour around the hour mark, however. Andrade did very well to deny Gomez, but with 21 minutes left, Robben made it 2-0, handing the visitors a big advantage heading into the second leg. The Dutchman played a one-two with Muller, and curled his finish inside the left post.

The most significant action late in the game was a booking for Bayern substitute Bastian Schweinsteiger, who will miss the second leg through suspension. In addition, OM's Alou Diarra will sit out, having been booked earlier in Wednesday's match.

The result sees Bayern take a commanding lead into the second leg, which will be played on April 3. The winner of the two-legged tie will face either APOEL or Real Madrid in the semi-finals.

AC Milan 0-0 Barcelona
Robinho guilty of glaring miss while Alexis is denied penalty as first leg ends in entertaining stalemate
The Catalan giants were kept at bay by a determined defensive performance from the Italians, leaving the tie on a knife edge for the second leg at Camp Nou

Lionel Messi and Robinho - Ac Milan-Barcelona (Getty Images)

AC Milan were able to hold Barcelona to a 0-0 stalemate in their Champions League quarter-final first-leg encounter at San Siro.

The visitors had their chances, among them a penalty claim on Alexis Sanchez that was denied, but a sterling defensive display by Massimiliano Allegri’s men saw the Spanish outfit frustrated and sets up an enthralling second leg at Camp Nou in six days time. 
An exciting start to the match saw Milan nearly storm into the lead after only three minutes. A scramble inside the penalty area saw the ball spill to Robinho in space, but with the goal at his mercy, he could not find the target as his volley flew over the bar.

The early shock did not faze Barca though, who slowly began to cause problems at the other end of the pitch. With 10 minutes gone, Lionel Messi’s low drive was fumbled by Christian Abbiati, who was fortunate to see Dani Alves scoop the rebound the wrong side of the post.

Abbiati was at the thick of things again within minutes, after he charged off his line to bring down Sanchez in the area. There did not appear to be much contact with the ball from the Milan keeper, but no penalty was forthcoming, leaving the visitors to remonstrate furiously with referee Jonas Errikson.

Not long after, the Catalans were able to find the back of the net, but the goal was correctly disallowed as Messi was in a clearly offside position when he turned home Alves’ cross.

Milan survived the scare, and saw another golden chance go begging with 20 minutes gone. Clarence Seedorf put Zlatan Ibrahimovic through on goal, but his finish was weak and easily smothered by Victor Valdes.

Barca were unsurprisingly able to control nearly two-thirds of possession, but some dogged defending from the hosts and the questionable state of the San Siro pitch prevented them from getting fully into their stride.

The Milan back line was caught out 10 minutes before half-time though, as Sanchez was put clean through, but Luca Antonini matched him stride for stride and got back to make a fantastic block just as the Chilean was about to pull the trigger.

Andres Iniesta sent another warning Milan’s way coming out of the interval, with a quick dart into space ending with a snap shot from the edge of the area that flew just wide.

However, Barcelona were finding it increasingly difficult to get a clear sight on goal as the second-half wore on, with Allegri’s men keeping their discipline and organisation at the back.

With 67 minutes gone, substitute Urby Emanuelson nearly made an immediate impact seconds after his arrival when he raced onto a through pass deep in the area, but his first touch was woeful and halted the move in its tracks.

Barcelona hit back soon after through a substitute of their own, with Tello finding space on the right side of the box and letting fly with an effort that rippled the side netting.

Tello caused more Milan hearts to flutter when his dangerous cutback saw Messi’s volley deflected just over the bar, and the resulting corner was headed just wide by Carles Puyol.

Minutes before the end, Abbiati was on hand to deny Messi, beating away the Argentine’s low drive, with Tello also thwarted from the rebound by another brilliant tackle from Antonini as Milan preserved the 0-0 scoreline.

Both sides will lock horns once more for the return leg at Camp Nou in six days time.


dinsdag 27 maart 2012

Chelsea consider Ronaldo bid

Chelsea are preparing to launch an audacious €100 million bid for Real Madrid stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonazalo Higuain, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph.

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after putting Real Madrid into a 2-0 lead against Real Sociedad
Cristiano Ronaldo became the fastest player to reach 100 league goals in Spain with a brace against Real Sociedad on Saturday night

While the Blues' strikers have struggled for goals this season - Daniel Sturridge, Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres scoring just 26 between them in all competitions - Ronaldo has scored 45 goals by himself to help Real to a six-point lead over Barcelona at the top of La Liga.

And with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich thought to be planning a major squad overhaul this summer, Ronaldo and team-mate Higuain are both believed to top the list of players he wants to lead a Stamford Bridge revolution.

The Daily Telegraph reports that a potential £82.3 million move for the Real pair could depend on Jose Mourinho returning to manage the Blues, as he would need to persuade the players to leave the Bernabeu.

Should Mourinho not come back to Chelsea, the newspaper claims that Abramovich will turn his attentions to Napoli duo Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi, who could reportedly be prised away from the Italian side for a fee of €70 million (58.5 million).

If the Blues fail to qualify for the Champions League they may have to re-assess their transfer options, though, as it would certainly adversely affect their ability to attract players of the quality of Ronaldo, Higuain, Lavezzi and Cavani.

Ronaldo bagged a brace for Real at the weekend as the Primera Division leaders beat Real Sociedad 5-1 on Saturday, the Portuguese forward becoming the fastest player to reach 100 league goals in Spain as he took his total for the club to 101 goals in just 92 league games.

Source: ESPN

What do you think?

Champions League

APOEL 0-3 Real Madrid
Kaka makes major impact from bench while Benzema nets twice in comfortable victory for Mourinho's men
Three second-half goals handed the Spanish giants a straightforward away win against the hard-working Cypriot champions in Nicosia on Tuesday

Benzema-Real Madrid-Real Sociedad

Real Madrid recorded a 3-0 triumph over APOEL thanks to a second-half double from Karim Benzema and a single strike from Kaka in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie at GSP Stadium.
A diving header from the Frenchman, a side-footed finish from the Brazilian and a late tap-in for the former Lyon striker banished any Cypriot hopes of a famous draw, as the Spanish side's quality eventually shone through.
With APOEL playing the biggest game in their history, it was perhaps no surprise that they came out all guns blazing in front of a partisan home support, and attempted to put Jose Mourinho's side under extreme pressure early on.
It didn't take long, though, before Madrid started to dominate possession and create opportunities.
Within the space of three minutes, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil and Benzema all had half-chances, but it wasn't until the quarter-hour mark until they had their first real opening. A ball from Ozil played in Fabio Coentrao, but the Portuguese full-back snatched at his shot and fired wide from inside the area.
The Cypriots, having already travelled further in the competition than any side in their nation's history were coping well with the relentless wave of Madrid attacks, but they very nearly found themselves a goal down on 33 minutes.
A beautiful ball across the six-yard box from Nuri Sahin evaded APOEL keeper Dionisis Chiotis and found Benzema unmarked at the far post, but the France international somehow missed the target with the goal at his mercy.
The remainder of the half fizzled out, as APOEL failed to offer support to the increasingly isolated Ailton up front, and the nine-time European champions just couldn't find a way past the resolute Cypriot back line.
The teams reemerged for the second half, and whatever Mourinho said to his side at the break seemed to work, as Los Blancos increased their intensity and attacking impetus during the opening exchanges.
Ozil, Sahin and Sami Khedira were creating some intricate midfield triangles, but as with the first 45, Ivan Jovanovic's men were defending at their very best to block any attempts at their goal.
With an hour gone, Madrid had completed 416 passes compared to APOEL's 94, but it took until the 74th minute for the Spanish side's dominance to truly show. Kaka put in a delicious cross from the left, and found the head of Benzema, who got down low to direct the ball into the back of the net from six yards.
The tiring APOEL legs were starting to show, and seven minutes later, it was two. Marcelo this time got to the byeline, played it back, and there was Kaka to coolly pass home and really sink all Cypriot hopes.
And right on 90 minutes, Madrid took the game out of sight. A burst from midfield by Ronaldo took him to the edge of the area, he played it square to Ozil, and the German passed first time across the six-yard box for Benzema to tap in.
The Spanish giants now have a comfortable advantage heading into the second leg next Wednesday at the Santiago Bernabeu, and can concentrate on their stuttering league form, with a place in the last four all but certain.

Benfica 0-1 Chelsea
Late Kalou winner puts Di Matteo's men in control of Champions League tie
The Ivorian tapped in after Fernando Torres' hard-working assist to top off an unspectacular but determined away victory in Portugal, setting the Blues up well for the second leg

UEFA Champions League: Fernando Torres, SL Benfica v Chelsea

Chelsea grabbed an important away goal through Salomon Kalou as they defeated Benfica 1-0 to take a vital lead from the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final.

After a slow first half, the match heated up in the second period when Jardel came close with a free header before Fernando Torres' weaved into the opposition penalty area to find Kalou in space to prod home untroubled with 15 minutes to go.

The home side lined up with reported Manchester United targets Nicolas Gaitan and Javi Garcia included in midfield alongside experienced Argentine Pablo Aimar, with Oscar Cardozo leading the line.

Roberto Di Matteo, however, opted to leave veterans Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and Michael Essien on the bench, with Torres starting up front and former Benfica man David Luiz at centre-back in place of Gary Cahill, with Paulo Ferreira given his first start of 2012.

The opening stages were cautious and scrappy, the game not seeing any sign of life until the 19th minute when Cardozo moved ahead of John Terry to take control of an overhead pass from Bruno Cesar, the tall Paraguayan attempting to volley it in but unable to find sufficient space and thusly shot wide.

Cardozo remained the main target of Benfica’s attacks, first heading high from an awkward position before forcing Luiz to execute a difficult, but stylish, juggle of an attempted cross before he could clear the danger.

Ex-Porto man Raul Meireles, who was booed throughout, nearly capitalised with a long-range effort after Kalou teed him up.
The Ivorian advanced down the left before pulling it back into the Portuguese’s path, and the midfielder drew a fine low stop from Artur with his driven effort.

Half-time then arrived with neither side finding a breakthrough.

The second period began with howls for handball. Benfica were forward in numbers for a long throw and Cardozo picked the ball up just outside the area. The Paraguayan unleashed a rasping left-footed shot bound for goal but Luiz reacted on the line to block, to the fury of the home fans who felt that he had handled.

Chelsea, though, should arguably have taken the lead a moment later. Torres continued his fine build-up play, this time cutting in from the left to dink a cross in for Kalou, who had stolen a crucial inch from his marker in the area, but the Ivorian’s header ballooned ineffectively wide.

After an optimistic penalty shout from Benfica, when Maxi Pereira’s shot cannoned back off Terry’s arm following an admirable Ashley Cole block, the Blues’ clearest chance arrived when Jardel failed to anticipate a long ball forward and allowed Juan Mata to run in behind him. The Spaniard circled Artur but was unable to apply the necessary finish, hitting the post fruitlessly as the angle closed.

Axel Witsel gave Cech a scare on 65 minutes when, having scrapped past John Obi Mikel, the Belgian’s shot deflected heavily off Terry. The keeper was motionless as he watched it land on top of the net.

Benfica kept coming, with Gaitan finding space on the flanks. One such delivery was swung onto the head of the unmarked Jardel, only for a subsequent poor header to follow.

Chelsea, though, found the vital away goal on 75 minutes. Ramires fought hard on the right of midfield, supplying Torres further forward on the wing. The Spaniard did most of the work, closing in with purpose before feeding Kalou in the middle. Artur was taken out of the picture so the forward needed only to poke home from mere yards to take the lead.

The home side pushed desperately to even the score but it allowed the Blues to break, substitute Daniel Sturridge stretching play before passing to Mata on the left. The Spaniard’s resulting lob lacked accuracy.

Benfica nearly grabbed the leveller deep into stoppage time when Cole was forced to stick a leg to block a cross causing the ball to divert just wide of his own goal.

Overall the home side lacked punch and Chelsea were able to see the game through to assume control of the tie.


zondag 25 maart 2012

Serie A Reports

AC Milan 2-1 Roma
Ibrahimovic brace saves Rossoneri as Thiago Silva suffers injury
Massimiliano Allegri's team were given a run for their money, but their star striker once again delivered a world-class performance to secure the three points


AC Milan made an important step towards defending their Serie A crown as they came back from a goal down to secure a 2-1 win over Roma at San Siro on Saturday.

Pablo Osvaldo opened the scoring in the first half, but the Rossonerri responded with a brace by Zlatan Ibrahimovic after the break as Massimiliano Allegri's team bagged three important points.

AC Milan started the game brightly, dominating possession and pressing the opposition deep in their own half. Urby Emanuelson was the first to threaten Maarten Stekelenburg's goal as in the 8th minute he saw a low shot from the right wing saved by the Netherlands international.

The Rossoneri received some disturbing news as in the 10th minute Thiago Silva was forced to leave the pitch after suffering a muscle injury. This did not stop AC Milan's attacking momentum, however, as Massimiliano Allegri's men were dominating the proceeding.

Ibrahimovic forced Stekelenburg into a fine save in the 11th minute with a powerful free-kick and moments later Stephan El Shaarawy narrowly missed to the left with a skillful volley from inside the penalty area.

The tempo dropped in the following minutes as most of the action commenced in the centre of the pitch. Roma, however, were slowly improving and looked more threatening on the counter by the minute.

In the 40th minute El Shaarawy rattled the post with a superb finish from outside the box, and the rebound fell to Antonio Nocernio, who failed to connect properly with the ball and convert. AC Milan were tightening the grip on Roma, but against the run of play the Giallorossi took the lead.

A long-range strike by Daniele De Rossi was deflected by Osvaldo into the net from just outside the six-yard box as Christian Abbiati was caught by surprise in the 44th minute. The goal meant the Rossoneri had to withdrew at half-time with a one-goal deficit, much to the dismay of the fans and players alike.

The restart saw Roma continue to take advantage of mistakes by AC Milan in the build-up of their attack. In one such instance, Abbiati gifted the ball to Francesco Totti with a stray pass, but luckily for the goalkeeper the Roma veteran could not find the target with his chipped finish.

El Shaarawy saw a powerful shot blocked in the following attack, but the real trouble for the Giallorossi was yet to come. In the 51st minute De Rossi handballed in the box, conceding a penalty, which Ibrahimovic duly converted to draw the game level.

AC Milan continued to press forward in remaining time to the final whistle, but were repeatedly frustrated in their search for a winner. Sulley Muntary struck the bar with a powerful finish, but it was Ibrahimovic who bagged the winner as in the 83rd minute he powered past Stekelenburg and Simon Kjaer to complete his brace and secure the three points.

Following today win, AC Milan are first in the standings with 63 points, while Roma sit sixth with 45. The Rossoneri's next league game is a visit to Catania in a week, while the Giallorossi host Novara the following day.

Juventus 2-0 Inter
Caceres and Del Piero settle Derby d'Italia and close gap to leaders AC Milan back to four points
Goals from the Uruguayan and the Italian veteran after half-time were enough to give the Bianconeri all three points, in what was a captivating encounter in Turin


Second-half goals from Martin Caceres and Alessandro Del Piero were enough to give Juventus a 2-0 win over Inter at Juventus Stadium on Sunday.
A header from the Uruguayan defender and a delightful first time finish by the veteran Italian striker gave the Old Lady a valuable win in their hunt to chase down leaders AC Milan at the top of the Serie A table.

With Juventus fresh off the back of that Coppa Italia semi-final aggregate win over Milan on Tuesday, it was clear that Antonio Conte's men were brimming with confidence, and they started the game as such.
The Bianconeri dominated possession in the early exchanges, but were nearly made to rue their lack of chances created on 13 minutes. Maicon made a trademark run down the right, cut inside, found the run of Diego Milito, and played the Argentine forward in on goal. Unfortunately for the Nerazzurri though, the former Genoa striker couldn't make the most of the opportunity, firing his shot straight at Gianluigi Buffon.
Conte's men still had the monopoly on possession, but were now starting to create chances on goal, and they perhaps should have opened up their account on two occasions midway through the half. First, Alessandro Matri had a header from eight yards saved by Julio Cesar, and then just a few minutes later, a low cross from the right found Matri again, but the Italian forward could only hit his shot over the bar.
Claudio Ranieri's side slowly started to impose themselves on the game; putting pressure on Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal. And it was that leg-work that almost led to Inter opening their account for the night.
Dejan Stankovic dispossessed Marchisio in the centre circle, and played a long, diagonal ball to Milito. The Argentine forward brought the ball down superbly, took it into the box, and fired a shot straight at Buffon, only for the ball to arrive back at his feet for a second attempt. Regrettably for the Nerazzurri though, that effort was also missed, and the sides went into the break all square.
The second half began in almost the exact opposite way to the first, with Inter controlling the play but struggling to create any clear-cut chances. Milito was, as usual, full of running, but the Nerazzurri midfield four were finding it difficult to pick out the Argentine forward's darting runs.
That lack of incisiveness came back to haunt Inter on 57 minutes. A corner from the right was whipped in by Pirlo, and the ball found Caceres, who, unmarked inside the six yard box, headed home easily for his first Serie A goal of the season.
The Nerazzurri starting pushing desperately for an equaliser, but all that pressing left them exposed at the back, and Juventus took full advantage on 70 minutes. A delightful through ball by Vidal found the run of Del Piero, who, just inside the area, gently slipped it past the on-rushing Julio Cesar to make it 2-0.
Late chances for Fabio Quagliarella and Giorgio Chiellini almost made the final scoreline even more resounding, but Conte's men had to settle what they had, as they closed the gap on leaders Milan back to four points. Inter remain in eighth, meanwhile, and now trail third-placed Lazio by 10 points.


Eredivisie: Ajax beats PSV

Ajax 2-0 PSV
Aissati and De Jong fire Amsterdam side to within one point of Eredivisie leaders AZ
Goals from the forwards saw Frank de Boer's charges bag three vital points and maintain pressure on the table-toppers


Ajax recorded a crucial 2-0 victory over Eredivisie title rivals PSV on Sunday, with a Siem de Jong penalty wrapping up the points after Ismail Aisatti had opened the scoring.

The buzzing atmosphere at the Amsterdam Arena did little to liven a tepid beginning to the game, with neither side getting a real sight of goal in the opening 45 minutes. The second half was in stark contrast to the first however, with goals from the Dutchmen ultimately making the difference.

The Amsterdam outfit entered the tie in fine form, having recorded wins in their last seven outings. Meanwhile, the visitors were recovering from a slump that had seen them lose footing in the title race, having recorded two solid victories over Heerenveen in the space of 3 days.

Ajax proved sterner opposition however, with the hosts dictating proceedings in the opening stages.  The reigning champions lacked the incisiveness to break down an organised PSV side however, while solid defending from Van Rhijn and Alderweireld at the other end kept the visitors’ danger men at bay.

The Amsterdam outfit had little to show for their dominance however, with Eriksen’s set piece deliveries all failing to find their target. The Dane opted to try his luck from range 32 minutes in, but his free kick hammered into the wall. Aisatti registered the first attempt on goal seven minutes later, but his shot lacked the power to trouble Tyton.

PSV drew the first save from Vermeer minutes after the break, with the Dutchman having to charge off his line to deny Matavz. The hosts responded immediately, with offensive fulcrum Eriksen seeing a curling effort fly agonisingly wide. The youngster saw another shot miss the target moments later, after Van Rhijn had done well to tee up the midfielder.

Ajax would eventually be rewarded for their attacking intentions, with Aissati spectacularly opening the scoring in the 56th minute. The winger sent what appeared to be a cross into the box from the left side, but rather than finding the head of a team-mate the ball curled unstoppably into the top corner.

And the hosts’ offensive momentum would carry them straight to a second, with De Jong doubling his side’s lead from the spot in the 62nd minute. Marcelo clumsily brought down Aisatti in the area, and the deputy forward calmly stepped up to send Tyton the wrong way.

The deficit acted as a catalyst for PSV, with the visitors increasing the pressure on the Ajax. The Amsterdam outfit was rarely truly troubled however, doing well to channel the danger out wide and isolate lone striker Matavz. The hosts appeared reluctant to venture forward in numbers, entrusting substitutes Ebicillio and Bulykin with their side’s offensive duties. 

The crucial victory sees Ajax close the gap with table-toppers AZ to just one point, while PSV hold on to fourth spot on goal difference alone. The reigning champions will look to continue their good run of form when they host Heracles next weekend, while today’s visitors will have to dispose of VVV if they are to retain any hopes of claiming their first league title since 2008.


La Liga Report: March 24

Mallorca 0-2 Barcelona
Messi and Pique on target as 10-man Catalans keep up pressure on Real Madrid
Pep Guardiola's reign notched its 600th goal as the Blaugrana continue their resurgent title charge despite Thiago's sending off early in the second half

Lionel Messi - Barcelona 

Barcelona's 50th competitive match of the season saw them secure a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Mallorca at the Iberostar Stadium on Saturday, despite playing much of the second half with 10 men.

Lionel Messi's curling free kick appeared to be diverted into the corner by Alexis Sanchez at the far post, but was awarded to the Argentine as Barca went in front midway through the first half.

Pep Guardiola's side missed the opportunity to double their advantage on a number of occasions after that and, following Thiago's sending off on the hour mark, were left sweating as the home side threateted. But they dug deep and Gerard Pique struck 10 minutes from time to make certain a vital three points in their pursuit of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga. 

After a frantic start, Barcelona began to dominate the islanders and a defensive error allowed Messi a sight of goal. The Argentine did well to escape the attention of Nunes but Dudu Aoute got his face in the way of the 24-year-old's fierce drive.

Mallorca responded with the Catalans' best opportunity of the first half. A flowing move on the touchline saw Alvaro Gimenez combine well with Victor before the latter crossed for his strike partner, but Gimenez's flicked header dropped beyond the far post. 

The home side fell behind in unfortunate circumstances after 25 minutes. Messi whipped in a devilish free kick that dropped inside the six-yard box before drifting onto the inside of the far post and rustling the back of the net without any subsequent touches, although Alexis Sanchez appeared to have guided it over the line. 

In a dominant spell for the Blaugrana, Mallorca were fortunate to escape falling further behind when Thiago's bullish tackle had seen the ball break to Alexis. The Chilean's deflected shot hit the underside of the bar before Chico headed to safety ahead of the lurking Cesc Fabregas. 

Joaquin Caparros' side started the second half on the front foot and the coach responded by introducing Tomer Hemed and Emilio Nsue to the action. And Mallorca's chances increased following Thiago's sending off after the referee harshly punished the midfielder for handball. The resulting free kick saw the islanders come close as Hemed rose highest to meet the delivery but Victor Valdes did well to make an important save. 

Guardiola reacted to Thiago's red card by bringing on Martin Montoya and Seydou Keita in an attempt to stem the attacking threat. Despite this, Mallorca were able to assert themselves on the game, although they still struggled to create any clear chances. 

And with 10 minutes remaining Barcelona secured all three points when Pique reacted quickest. Messi combined with Puyol before the former crashed a low drive against the upright, and there was the former Manchester United man to turn in the rebound. 

Chances came late on for both sides but neither were able to convert them into goals as Barca prepared for their Champions League tie against AC Milan with a vital victory in their pursuit of a fourth straight Liga title. 

Real Madrid 5-1 Real Sociedad
Cristiano Ronaldo gets 100th league goal for Los Blancos as hosts maintain six point gap over Barcelona
The Portugese sensation wrapped up the quickest top flight century in the club's history as they avoid dropping points for the third Primera Division game in a row

La Liga: Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF v Real Sociedad 
Cristiano Ronaldo scored his 100th Primera Division goal for Real Madrid as they dismantled Real Sociedad 5-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday.

The Portugese's first goal of his brace just after half an hour gave him a century of goals in the Spanish top flight after only 92 games, making him the fastest player to reach that landmark in the capital outfit's history. 

Gonzalo Higuain's early opener and a brace from Karim Benzema completed the rout for the home side, who, after drawing their last two league games, pick up a crucial three points that brings their lead over Barcelona back to six points. 

Xabi Prieto's strike minutes before half-time was nothing more than consolation, as the visitors were well and truly beaten by a dominant Madrid outfit. 


zaterdag 24 maart 2012

"Premier League" Report: March 24

Arsenal 3-0 Aston Villa
Gibbs, Walcott & Arteta strikes see Gunners extend lead over Champions League rivals
Wenger's men saw off their opponents in a fine team display that never looked in doubt, forcing Given into a number of good saves and topping it off with a clean sheet

EPL, Arsenal Vs Aston Villa, Kieran Gibbs 

Arsenal pulled away from top-four chasing rivals Tottenham and Chelsea after a comfortable 3-0 win against Aston Villa at the Emirates.

The Gunners were dominant in the first-half and took the lead when Kieran Gibbs netted his first ever Premier League goal thanks to an unconvincing attempt of a save from Shay Given. 

Theo Walcott doubled the score later in the half before a confident display in the second which brought a third from a Mikel Arteta free-kick.

Gervinho returned for the home side in his first league start since returning from the African Cup of Nations, leaving Aaron Ramsey to drop to the bench.

As for the visitors, Alex McLeish went with Emile Heskey and Gabriel Agbonlahor to lead the line with the match-winner against Fulham, Andreas Weimann, left out. Charles N'Zogbia was still missing with a knee problem.

Wenger was dealt an early blow before kick-off when Laurent Koscielny injured himself in the warm-up, Johan Djourou replaced him in the line-up.

Things got worse for the Gunners' boss when the Swiss defender himself was then down for a prolonged period, just three minutes in, after a challenge with Emile Heskey left him with a blood stained jersey. However the 25-year-old played on after getting a new shirt.

When play got flowing, it was a usual day at the office for the Gunners, who dominated opening spells of possession at the Emirates, although the visitors mustered the first chance after a swift counter-attack from an Arsenal corner. Marc Albrighton rushed clear, as Villa had three on two, but smashed his effort high and wide.

From then on though it was very much one way traffic. 

Great work from Bacary Sagna and Walcott on the right-flank saw the full-back advance forward before finding Robin van Persie in the box. The Dutchman flicked it with his heel into the path on Walcott, who had continued run, but the winger's shot was straight at Given. Sagna lashed the follow up wide.

The deadlock was broken rather easily for Arsenal after quarter of an hour, Gibbs received the ball from Gervinho inside the opponents' box, he was given far too much room and was allowed to hit it with the ball slipping under the Villa keeper, who will feel he should have done better.

And it wasn't long before the hosts doubled their lead.

Carlos Cuellar gifted the ball to Alex Song with a poor pass from the back, the Cameroon midfielder then found Walcott with a delightful ball over the top before the winger controlled wonderfully and produced a calm finish 25 minutes in.

That second goal signalled a period of meltdown for Mcleish's men.

A minute later Thomas Vermaelen fired a low cross towards Van Persie who, in his current form, you would have backed to score but he caught it with his shin and missed the target.

Then, Given was forced into a top save from Arteta, the Irish keeper doing well to tip over the Spaniard's long range drive.

Villa did manage to get a slight foothold in the game after that, seeing their share of possession rise, but it was Arsenal who conjured up the last chance of the half. 

With just over five minutes until the break, Song played Van Persie in beyond the visitors' defence. Initially the ball got stuck under his boots, but a lovely drawback helped the captain beat a scrambling Given presenting him with an open goal, however the striker was denied by some brilliant positioning from Stephen Warnock who blocked his shot off the line. 

Villa looked more lively at the start of the second-half but failed to create any real chances, although they did have a shout for a penalty turned down when Agbonlahor appealed for handball from Djourou. 

The 15 minutes after the restart were open but didn't bring any clear chances.

Gary Gardner brought down Tomas Rosicky in a dangerous area but Arteta's free-kick hit the wall. Wojciech Szczesny then gave the ball straight to Villa when trying to launch a quick move, before catching the cross and managing to successfully start a counterattack but Gervinho's end cross was too far ahead of his team-mates.

Arsenal looked very happy to just keep the ball as the hour mark approached and the home crowd certainly appreciated a lovely bit of showboating from Van Persie as he teased James Collins on the left-flank.

Rosicky, then had two decent chances in the space of five minutes. Firstly Gibbs whipped in a cross from the left with the ball falling to the Czech midfielder after Walcott was beaten in air, but his volley was deflected wide.

The second effort forced another decent stop from Given, the 31-year-old's swerving effort parried away by the keeper.

Villa had a golden opportunity to get back into the match, with 20 minutes left, Andre Santos gave the ball to Weimann with his first touch of the game, but the visitors' substitute crossed to no-one when shooting himself would have been a better option.

Arteta was next in line to test Given, but his free-kick from a wide left position was tipped over by the 35-year-old - although no corner was awarded. Steven Ireland giving away the foul when on a booking, after a jinxing run from the lively Walcott.

And lining up they were, Aaron Ramsey then fired a low shot towards goal after a neat turn away from his man, however the shot went narrowly wide of the mark.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was introduced with just over ten minutes to play and was convinced he should have had a penalty after a lunge from Ireland. The winger accelerated through the gears down the right before the Villa man lunged it right on the edge of the box, however replays showed he got the ball.

Weimann had one final chance for the visitors as the ball fell to him behind the defence, the forward hesitated though and allowed Djourou to get back and block the shot.

The Gunners then rubbed salt in the wounds by adding a late third in stoppage time with a fantastic free-kick from Arteta that left Given with no chance.

The result sees Wenger's men go three points ahead of bitter rivals Tottenham, who drew 0-0 with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge earlier in the day, and five points clear of Roberto Di Matteo's side in the race for fourth spot.

Chelsea 0-0 Tottenham
Visitors maintain five-point gap over Di Matteo's men to boost top four chances
Juan Mata crashed a free-kick off the bar for the hosts before Spurs' Gareth Bale headed onto the bar as a hotly-contested London derby ended in a stalemate

Emmanuel Adebayor & Frank Lampard  

Tottenham maintained their five-point lead over Chelsea in the Premier League with an action-packed 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

Juan Mata came closest for the hosts in the second half, curling a free-kick onto the upright with Brad Friedel rooted to the spot.

However, Spurs had perhaps the best of the chances, with blocks on the line from Rafael van der Vaart and Emmanuel Adebayor, and a Gareth Bale header off their bar their biggest openings.

In his sixth game in charge of the Blues, Roberto Di Matteo made five changes to the side which lost 2-1 to Manchester City in midweek. Captain John Terry and full-back Jose Bosingwa returned in defence in the place of Branislav Ivanovic and David Luiz, whilst former Liverpool duo Raul Meireles and Fernando Torres made way for Daniel Sturridge and Didier Drogba respectively. Elsewhere, Jon Obi Mikel dropped to the bench as Michael Essien took up his place in midfield.

Spurs skipper Ledley King dropped out of the visitors’ starting lineup for ex-Chelsea defender William Gallas, due to his inability to complete consecutive games in a short space of time, as Sandro replaced Niko Krancjar in midfield. Adebayor, who missed the midweek game against his parent club, came in for Louis Saha.

Tottenham came into the match having never won a Premier League game at Stamford Bridge, and they looked like a side bereft of the confidence to buck that trend during the opening exchanges. Several nervy passes saw the visitors lose possession and they were very nearly opened up within five minutes as Ramires passed inside to Drogba only for the Ivorian’s clever flick to run just beyond Frank Lampard’s burst into the box.

Though the early threat had at first appeared to settle Harry Redknapp’s side, they were almost caught cold again just 10 minutes in as Terry’s long pass almost found Drogba alone in the box. Unfortunately for the hosts, the African forward failed to control but the opportunity to utilise his presence had been underlined.

With the sun shining down on west London, Stamford Bridge gave the appearance of an end-of-season fixture and, within 20 minutes, the game had settled into that pattern. Both sides were content to pass the ball along the back, refraining from bursting forward in fear of leaving themselves exposed.

Chelsea provided one moment of menace though, in which Drogba cleverly flicked a first-time ball behind the Spurs defence which just escaped Mata’s intelligent run, but this proved to be a highlight of a one-paced opening.

Runs from deep seemed to provide the hosts’ best chance of breaking a stubborn Spurs backline, but Lampard saw his penalty claims waved away as he made contact with William Gallas whilst trying to shoot following a late burst. 

After a slow start, the match came to life on the half-hour mark as some desperate defending from Spurs led to a breakneck counterattack which saw Adebayor deceive two defenders before just failing to pick out full-back Kyle Walker’s back post run.

Following a brief interlude for a Drogba injury, Ashley Cole then found acres of space down the left hand side but failed to make sufficient contact with the ball and saw his cross bounce limply into the arms of Friedel.

For much of the half Spurs had failed to show the gung-ho attacking nature for which they have been widely praised this season but they almost went in at half-time with a barely deserved lead. The previously anonymous Luka Modric turned cleverly in the box before setting up Van der Vaart, only for the Dutchman to see two efforts blocked brilliantly by Petr Cech and then Ashley Cole on the line before Adebayor headed agonisingly over.

In truth, neither side’s contribution to the game warranted a lead and both sets of fans will likely have hoped for more entertainment after a cagey first period.

They very nearly got their wish as early Tottenham pressure led to a Chelsea break which saw Scott Parker just get enough on Drogba’s cross-field ball to Ramires, who would have been in on goal.

Gallas’ inability to control Drogba then again led to a chance as the forward headed powerfully into the path of the onrushing Sturridge, who powered wide of the far post on his favoured left foot.

Bale has at times been crucial for Redknapp’s men this term but much of their attacking malaise could be put down to the Welshman’s failure to have an impact. That was until his jinking run from a central position allowed Walker to find space in the box, but the defender could only shoot into the side-netting with more time than he perhaps expected.

With his defence looking under more pressure from an increasingly adventurous Spurs in the second half, Di Matteo replaced Bosingwa with Luiz only for the Brazilian to see more of the ball in an attacking sense within five minutes of his introduction.

Given the cautious nature of the match, it was clear that it would take something special to break the deadlock and Mata almost provided that with 20 minutes remaining. The Spaniard stepped up to hit a free-kick from 25 yards and curled the ball onto the post with Friedel stranded.

The Blues’ frustration at failing to gain a lead led to the introduction of the much-maligned Torres in place of Essien, whilst Van der Vaart and Sandro made way for Saha and Jake Livermore as the visitors looked to freshen things up.

The substitutions did seem to add more attacking impetus to both sides but Drogba typified the toothless nature of both forward lines as he shot tamely when given the opportunity to turn in the box. 

Spurs’ African forward, Adebayor, then showed equal wastefulness at the other end moments later as he rounded Cech following a ball over the top only to allow Cahill to slide in and clear a low and weak shot. Bale, who had grown into the game as space began to open up, was then unfortunate to see his header crash back off the bar from the subsequent corner.

Both sides attempted to push forward in the closing stages, with a generous four minutes of added time given, but they tempered their attacking instincts with a loss seen as a potentially disastrous result.

Bale's low free-kick almost caught Cech by surprise at the death but the Blues defence held firm to earn a hard-earned point.

Liverpool 1-2 Wigan
Maloney & Caldwell cancel out Suarez strike to consign Dalglish's men to fifth league defeat in six
A first-half penalty from the Irishman and a superb finish from the central defender give the Latics hope in their attempts to stave off relegation from the Premier League

EPL: Steven Gerrard - Gary Caldwell, Liverpool v Wigan Athletic  

Wigan Athletic earned their first ever victory at Anfield thanks to a hard-earned 2-1 victory over Liverpool after goals from Shaun Maloney and Gary Caldwell.

The first half was initially a quite cagey affair, and possession was largely dominated by the home side. However, they found themselves frustrated by a sturdy Wigan defence, and it was the away side who took the lead after they were awarded a penalty for a foul by Martin Skrtel on Victor Moses. Shaun Maloney stepped up for the Latics, and put it away to give them a 1-0 lead, which they held on to until half-time.

By contrast, the second half begun with an instant equaliser for Liverpool thanks to a good finish by Luis Suarez from a Steven Gerrard cross. However, the Uruguayan then had a goal disallowed after punching the ball over the line. But, after a superb finish by central defender Gary Caldwell, the away side took the lead again, and held on for a famous victory.

The home side made two enforced changes to their starting side from their 3-2 loss to QPR in their last game. Martin Kelly and Charlie Adam were both forced to withdraw, and were replaced by 19-year-old John Flanagan and Jordan Henderson respectively. Meanwhile, Wigan were unchanged from their 1-1 draw against West Brom last Saturday, with Franco di Santo retaining his place as the lone striker.

It was a positive start by Wigan, who looked enterprising and were keeping the home side pinned in their own half in the opening few minutes, as the Reds struggled to keep hold of possession. Any breaks forward by Liverpool were well-contained by the Latics, with Jean Beausejour in particular impressing in the opening ten minutes for Wigan.

The away side were doing a good job of frustrating Liverpool and breaking up their attacks, and in the 11th minute it was Wigan that had the first clear chance. Victor Moses broke in to the penalty area, and took the ball onto his favoured left foot for a shot that was blocked, but he could have played in Shaun Maloney for a tap-in. It was by the far the best opening for either side, and Maloney’s frustration at not receiving the pass was evident.

As the half wore on, the home side were beginning to dominate the possession far more, with their captain Steven Gerrard beginning to grow into the game in the centre of midfield and the Liverpool attacking play. However, Wigan were defending stoutly and keeping the ball well to frustrate their opponents and silence their vociferous home support.

However, Liverpool were able to find their best chance of the afternoon in the 24th minute after some superb build-up play around the Wigan penalty area. A cheeky flick by Luis Suarez played in Stewart Downing unmarked in the box, but his shot flashed across the face of goal when he should probably have hit the target.

Within seconds, Wigan had a free kick, and after some confusion in the home side’s penalty area, the dangerous Moses received a boot in the face from Martin Skrtel, and the referee Lee Mason awarded a penalty to the Latics. After some confusion due to the absence of regular penalty-taker Hugo Rodallega and the injury received by Moses in that passage of play, Maloney stepped up and placed the ball into the net superbly, giving the away side a 1-0 lead.

 The frustration was growing among the Liverpool fans at their inability to hold onto the ball and get any decisions in their favour from the referee, and despite some speculative long-distance efforts, were unable to create any clear openings and ended the first half a goal down.

The second half began with Andy Carroll being brought on for Liverpool in place of Jordan Henderson, and the home side immediately found an equaliser. Gerrard played a superb ball into the box, and it was tucked away by Suarez to bring the scores level at 1-1. It was a great finish from the Uruguayan, and gave Ali Al-Habsi no chance in the Latics’ goal. 

Suarez was then back in the action a few minutes later, as after a great deal of congestion in the Wigan penalty area, he managed to bundle the ball home from close-range. However, to the fury of the Liverpool bench, the goal was disallowed and Suarez was deservedly booked after punching the ball over the line with his hand.

After few chances in the following minutes, Wigan made a break forward in the 63rd minute, and after selling Andy Carroll a superb dummy, central defender Gary Caldwell found himself in acres of space in the penalty area and finished coolly past Liverpool’s Jose Reina to give the Latics the lead again. This gave the away side a much-needed lift, and breathed new confidence into their play.

Frustration then began to creep into Liverpool’s play as they struggled to break down the Wigan defence, which continued to hold firm in the face of increasing pressure. However, despite a free kick in the 83rd minute just outside the penalty area that went straight into the wall, the home side were unable to create any clear chances, and were condemned to a second straight Premier League defeat.

Stoke City 1-1 Manchester City
Yaya Toure screamer salvages point to move visitors top after Crouch wondergoal
Roberto Mancini's side go ahead of rivals United in the league, with the Red Devils playing Fulham on Monday, after a hard-earned draw with a battling Potters team

EPL: Yaya Toure - Kolo Toure, Stoke City v Manchester City 

Manchester City returned to the top of the Premier League with a 1-1 draw against Stoke at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday.

The Potters took the lead in the second half through Peter Crouch, as the England international volleyed in a stunning strike.

However, City recovered as Yaya Toure smashed home from range, his effort helped in thanks to a slight deflection off Ryan Shawcross.

Stoke made three changes to the team that drew at Tottenham during the week, with Matthew Etherington coming in for Jermaine Pennant, Dean Whitehead starting in place of Salif Diao and Wilson Palacios dropping to the bench for Glenn Whelan.

The visitors came into this match on the back of their 2-1 win over Chelsea and they made just two changes to that side. In midfield Nigel de Jong took a place on the bench, being replaced by Gareth Barry, and Edin Dzeko replaced Sergio Aguero in attack after the Argentine picked up a foot injury at the team’s hotel.

The match made a very slow and tentative start, with neither side creating any real chances in the opening moments, but Cameron Jerome almost made the breakthrough in the 12th minute as he looked to get on the end of Crouch’s header, but his attempted scissor-kick just missed the ball.

City began to assert control on the possession, but both sides continued to cancel each other out, and a head injury to David Silva hardly helped matters as play was halted for several minutes.

As the match closed in on the half-hour mark the Stoke fans were yelling for a penalty as Kolo Toure barged Crouch to the floor to allow Joe Hart a chance to collect the ball at a corner, but Howard Webb wasn’t interested.

City should then have opened the scoring in the 34th minute. Samir Nasri cleverly played Gael Clichy down the line and the left-back whipped in an excellent cross to the far post, but Dzeko couldn’t get his header on target, when he should have at least forced Asmir Begovic into a save.

Soon after it was Pablo Zabaleta who should have scored, receiving a pass from Nasri as he marched into the right side of the penalty area, but the Argentine decided to take a touch rather than shoot first time and Stoke were able to clear.

Thankfully the action had begun to quicken as the first half went on and the visitors were forced to clear off their goal line as half-time approached. Etherington’s left-footed corner managed to go through everyone and towards the far post, but Zabaleta was there to hook the ball out from under the crossbar.

It didn’t take long after the break for City carve open the Stoke defence. Dzeko got himself on the end of a long ball from midfield, and after taking it down he proceeded to take it round Begovic, but the Bosnian goalkeeper was able to get enough on his compatriot’s shot to concede a corner.

Stoke almost had a reason to shout for themselves five minutes later as Whelan’s cross from deep was headed back across the goal by Jerome, but Hart blocked a combined headed effort from Jonathan Walters and Shawcross.

Both sides continued to struggle to truly control the match, but Stoke opened the scoring just before the hour, and what an incredible strike it was.

Begovic smashed the ball up field, for Pennant to nod the ball back to Crouch, and the former Liverpool man chested the ball down onto his knee and then let rip a stunning volley from the right-hand side that dipped into the top far corner, leaving Hart no chance.

Stoke’s goal forced City to attack with more purpose, but after Mario Balotelli was denied by Begovic, and Yaya Toure had a strike easily saved, they looked to Carlos Tevez to work his magic from the bench.

With 15 minutes left, the visitors levelled the score, but it didn’t come through Tevez, rather Yaya Toure. The Ivorian let fly from about 35 yards and despite getting two hands to it, Begovic could keep it out as the ball nestled in the goal.

Replays suggest Shawcross deflected the strike slightly, therefore perhaps taking some of the blame off Begovic, but the Bosnian will be extremely disappointed with his effort.

As full-time got closer, it became evident that the home team were looking to sit back and catch their opponents on the counterattack, and it almost worked perfectly as Walters broke and the ball eventually found its way to Pennant on the right, he crossed only for Wilson Palacios’ header to be knocked behind by Adam Johnson.

Substitute Palacios was acting as an effective driving force in the centre after coming on and he went close again as stoppage time approached, attempting to curl an effort round Hart into the top corner, but it whistled just wide.

Hart almost gifted Stoke the three points in the closing stages as he failed to keep a hold of a free-kick, but Kenwyne Jones was penalised and City held on for the point that takes them top until at least Monday.


donderdag 22 maart 2012

Doctor: Muamba died for 78 minutes

Spurs and Bolton players were left distraught after Fabrice Muamba collapsed on Saturday

Tottenham players distraught Fabrice Muamba  

Fabrice Muamba's consultant cardiologist, Dr Sam Mohiddin, has warned people not to expect the Bolton midfielder to make a rapid recovery.

Mohiddin admitted Muamba's progress had been extraordinary since he suffered a cardiac arrest at Tottenham on Saturday evening that meant he effectively died for 78 minutes after his heart stopped beating.

Muamba's recovery has left Bolton sufficiently uplifted to confirm Saturday's Premier League encounter with Blackburn at the Reebok Stadium will go ahead, as will the rescheduled FA Cup quarter-final with Spurs next Tuesday. However, it may be some time before Muamba completes a return to full health.

"Fabrice has continued to demonstrate positive signs of recovery and he has not only exceeded our expectations but also our hopes in the way he's recovered," said Dr Mohiddin. "But this remains very early in what could be a lengthy recovery period."

Medical staff desperately tried to save Muamba's life on the pitch before he was rushed to hospital, where the 23-year-old has remained.

Muamba was visited by Thierry Henry yesterday afternoon, the latest footballing superstar to express his concern after playing with the former England Under-21 captain during his Arsenal days.

Bolton manager Owen Coyle was set to speak in more depth at a press conference on Thursday. However, Bolton team doctor Jonathan Tobin made some startling revelations as he spoke for the first time about the efforts that were made to save Muamba's life.

After working on Muamba for 48 minutes before his arrival in hospital, Dr Tobin confirmed the player continued to receive treatment for 30 minutes before his heart showed signs of activity.

"In effect, he was dead in that time," Dr Tobin said. "Fabrice was in a type of cardiac arrest where the heart is showing lots of electrical activity but no muscular activity. It's something that often responds to drugs and shocks.

"Now, heaven knows why, but Fabrice had, in total, 15 shocks. He had a further 12 shocks in the ambulance."

Knowing Muamba so well, once he arrived at the hospital on Saturday, Tobin broke down as he feared the consequences of what had happened.

"I can't begin to explain the pressure that was there," Tobin added. "This isn't somebody that's gone down in the street or been brought into A&E.

"This is somebody that I know, I know his family. This is somebody I consider a friend. This is somebody I joke with on a daily basis. As I was running onto the pitch I was thinking 'Oh my God, it's Fabrice'."

Villarreal 1-1 Real Madrid:

Senna free-kick cancels out Ronaldo's opener and denies nine-man league leaders victory
Los Blancos lost their discipline late on as the struggling home team came from a goal behind to earn a crucial point and open the door for Barcelona in the Liga title race

Cristiano Ronaldo, Villarreal, Real Madrid 
Marcos Senna's late strike earned Villarreal a valuable 1-1 draw against nine-man Real Madrid, with Jose Mourinho's men opening the door for Barcelona in the La Liga title race.

Cristiano Ronaldo's brilliant strike looked to have sealed all three points for the visitors, only for Senna to cancel his effort out with a free-kick. Mourinho, Sergio Ramos and Mesut Ozil were all sent off as Los Blancos lost their discipline late in the contest.

The league leader remain six points clear of Barca at the summit with a trip to Camp Nou to come next month, meaning the race for La Liga looks far from over.

Real Madrid created the first real opportunity of the game in the ninth minute when Xabi Alonso's drifted an inviting free-kick towards the back post. Pepe was on cue to send a header along the goalmouth with several white shirts lurking, yet Cristian Zapata managed to somehow deflect the ball over the bar from close range.

However, Villarreal were creating chances themselves. Marcos Senna's clever pass appeared to have picked out Marco Ruben yet the Argentine striker was marginally beaten to the ball by the Iker Casillas, who smothered his shot.

Then on 19 minutes, Mario's innocuous ball looked to be under the control of Sergio Ramos but Nilmar was on hand to rob the defender on the edge of the box, before seeing his low drive well blocked by Casillas.

The home faithful felt they had a strong claim for a penalty with 31 minutes on the clock as Senna's corner was directed wide by Nilmar who was clearly off balance after Alvaro Arbeloa had been holding onto his shirt.

Despite Villarreal's impressive play it could have been Mourinho's men 1-0 up heading into the break. Xabi Alonso's free-kick found an unmarked Pepe in the box, only for the Portuguese centre-half to inexplicably head the ball straight at Diego Lopez from six yards out.

Madrid needed a moment of inspiration to take the lead and it arrived from Cristiano Ronaldo in the 62nd minute. The Portuguese attacker played a wonderful one-two with Ozil before rounding the keeper and slamming home for his 43rd goal of the season.

The visitors appeared to be heading for a crucial victory but conceded a costly 83rd minute equaliser. Marcos Senna stepped up to curl a free-kick into the bottom corner of the net, past the outstretched hand of Casillas, for what could be a pivotal goal at both ends of the table.

Mourinho was furious with the award of the free-kick and was duly sent to the stands, joining Blancos coach Rui Faria who had earlier been sent away, in four minutes of madness for Madrid.

Sergio Ramos' late lunge on Nilmar just after earned the defender a second yellow card, while Ozil's reaction to his team-mates' dismissal also saw him awarded another yellow as Madrid finished with nine men.

Madrid entertain Real Sociedad on Saturday, after Barcelona have faced Mallorca in the early kick-off. Villarreal will be looking to carry the momentum of earning a point against the league leaders into their away fixture versus Rayo Vallecano the following day.


woensdag 21 maart 2012

Barcelona 5-3 Granada

History-making Messi breaks club goalscoring record as gap at top of La Liga is reduced to five points
Los Cules' talismanic Argentine scores a hat-trick to surpass Cesar Rodriguez's all-time goalscoring record, as Pep Guardiola's side continue to cut Real Madrid's advantage

Lionel Messi, Barcelona, Granada 

Despite an impressive second-half comeback from Granada, Barcelona emerged 5-3 victors in the two side's La Liga clash at Camp Nou, thanks to a well-taken hat-trick from the record-breaking Lionel Messi, and further goals from Xavi and Cristian Tello. 

Xavi gave Barcelona the lead after just four minutes following good build-up play from Isaac Cuenca and Messi. Cuenca did well to evade his marker on the left before lifting a cross to the back post that Messi carefully nodded back into Xavi's path, and he made no mistake in finding the back of the net with his strike from eight yards.  

Cuenca was again the provider as Barcelona increased their lead fifteen minutes later, the attacker jynxing his way past Guilherme Siqueira on the left once more before sending an inviting cross into the area. Granada's Borja Gomez looked to have nodded the ball away to safety, but Messi had other ideas, immediately sending a sublime side-footed volley back across goal and in off the post. 

Barca ended the opening 45 minutes comfortably on top in this game, with Granada rarely venturing out of their own half. 

They started the second half just how they ended the first, in complete control, and Messi should have increased their lead on 52 minutes after more fantastic wing play from Cuenca, but the Argentine could only scuff his shot wide in a crowded penalty area.

Granada pulled a goal back against the run of play to make it 2-1 on 55 minutes courtesy of their captain Diego Mainz. The Granada skipper did well to rise highest inside the Barcelona penalty area to head home Martins' whipped free-kick from the left-hand side. 

The away side then remarkably levelled the scores after the referee awarded them a penalty when Daniel Benitez went down inside the area after tussling with Dani Alves. The left-back Siqueira stepped up and confidently dispatched the penalty into the back of the net, sending Victor Valdes the wrong way in the process. 

Despite Granada's spirited comeback, normality resumed midway through the second half, with Barcelona retaking the lead through their talismanic Argentine, Lionel Messi. 

History was made in the 72nd minute as Messi provided a trademark lobbed finish to give Barcelona a 3-2 lead, running through one-on-one against Julio Cesar after a fine ball from Alves had found the attacker in space behind the Granada back four. 

That goal takes Messi's tally in official competitions to 233, making him Barcelona's leading goalscorer of all time, one ahead of the club legend Cesar Rodriguez, who had previously held the record with 232. 

Barcelona's substitute Tello added a fourth for the home side after a well-worked move between Xavi and Messi found the youngster unmarked six yards out. 

Messi still had time to complete his hat-trick late on, running on to a perfectly-weighted Alves through ball before dribbling round Cesar and firing the ball into the back of the net.

The home side then had Alves sent off for a second bookable offence, and again Granada were awarded a penalty. Siqueira bagged his second of the game with a nonchalant chip over Victor Valdes.

Messi will grab the headlines following his record-breaking goals in this match, but the victory is also important in the title chase, as Barcelona's three points tonight mean they are provisionally just five points behind Real Madrid at the top of La Liga, with the capital side set to play Villarreal tomorrow evening.


Neymar rejects Madrid

The complete Neymar saga - the Brazilian won't sign for Real Madrid and it's all Florentino's fault as Barcelona switch draws closer
The 20-year-old forward has rejected a move to the Santiago Bernabeu and the Catalan club have now emerged as favourites in the race for his signature. 

Neymar - Santos x Kashiwa (Kazuhiro Nogi/ 

At one point, his future looked certain to be at Real Madrid, but he himself has closed that door, and his next colours now look likely to be the red and blue of Barcelona. Here, reveals the full story behind one of the most protracted transfer tales of recent times.

Real's interest in the Brazilian forward began midway through the last decade, when a 13-year-old Neymar travelled to Madrid as the Spanish side signed Santos' star striker Robinho. Wagner Ribeiro, who represented both players, tried to tie up a deal there and then for the young forward to follow in the footsteps of his idol, and Florentino Perez was keen, only to miss out on his signing at the time due to red tape. But when Neymar blossomed years later in Santos' starting XI, Perez picked up the phone again to contact his agent.

Ribeiro was now going through a difficult situation. He had just separated from his wife, which had left him in a delicate financial predicament. In exchange for his player signing for Madrid, Florentino agreed to lend money to the agent, promising to waive the loan or further compensate Ribeiro on Neymar's eventual arrival at the Santiago Bernabeu.

From then on, the agent practically became a representative for Real, and he convinced Neymar to sign for Madrid. With the player's agreement, Florentino then offered to pay Santos the youngster's release clause, although the negotiations were complicated as Perez refused to settle the money up front, proposing instead to fund the deal in several payments over the next few years.

South American rivalry | But Messi and Neymar could be team-mates next year

But the biggest difficulty concerned the actual timing of the proposed transfer. Santos asked Madrid to let them keep Neymar until 2013, allowing him to play in the Club World Cup and take part in the club's centenary celebrations, on April 12, 2012, for which a large party is being prepared with illustrious invitees from the side's past and present. Perez refused, and demanded that the transfer be pushed through with immediate effect. And in order to unblock the complicated situation, the parties decided on a conference call, which would determine the outcome of the transfer.

And it certainly did that. The participants in that call, which took place at the beginning of last year, were Florentino, Julio Senn and Jose Angel Sanchez on behalf of Madrid; Neymar, his father and representative Ribeiro as well as some other agents, and Santos president Luis Alvaro Ribeiro for the Brazilian side. At that moment, the player still had some doubts over whether it was the right time to leave Brazil, given that Santos were still seeking success in the Copa Libertadores. His father decided to express those doubts at the beginning of the meeting.

Florentino, instead of 'selling' the club to the player and the ideal surroundings that would await him and boost his career on securing his move to Spanish football, became irritated with the intervention of Neymar Senior and accused the player of "failing to understand that Real Madrid are the biggest club in the world", telling the teenager he should be grateful for his side's interest and revealing that, should the deal go through, by no means could he be guaranteed a starting spot in the first team.