Brazil And Italy Conjure Up A Majestic Contest

21 03 2013

It might be nine games and 16 months since Italy last won a friendly but Cesare Prandelli will be proud of the spirit the Azzurri showed to turn a two goal deficit into a draw against the much fancied Brazil.

Italy are notorious for their nonchalant attitude towards friendlies, an opportunity to test new players and tactics but no reason to arduously seek a good result, but this performance will put them in good stead for their World Cup qualifier against Malta next week.

In these non-competitive games we have become accustomed to witnessing dour contests lacking both intensity and personality, however the match in Geneva showcased two teams with World Cup winning ambitions, and both will gain confidence from proceedings.

Mario Balotelli and Neymar exchange shirts after the friendly in Switzerland.

Mario Balotelli and Neymar exchange shirts after the friendly in Switzerland.

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Euro 2012: How Italy Could Be The Dark Horses

14 06 2012

It’s hard to fathom the concept of Italy entering a tournament as underdogs. Winners of the World Cup on four occasions and European Champions just the once back in 1968, the demise of the national team since the success in Germany 2006 has been rapid. However, since the appointment of Cesare Prandelli he has brought with him a calm reassurance. Replacing Marcelo Lippi after the 2010 World Cup, Prandelli did not fall into the trap of his predecessor by relying on trusted but out of form players, and since his debut against the Ivory Coast at Upton Park in August 2010, he has tried to freshen up the ranks. This summer’s Euro 2012 tournament even sees perennial underachievers England being given better odds than the Italians, but rule them out at your peril.

The Azzurri come into the Championship embraced in turmoil back on the peninsula in uncannily similar circumstances to six years ago. Investigations have undergone surrounding match fixing which has seen a few of the squad’s players become implicated. Gianluigi Buffon and Leonardo Bonucci have been mentioned while defender Domenico Criscito has been omitted from the final 23 man squad, with police searching his room at Coverciano at 6am. With conditions in 2006 being precarious pre-tournament with the likes of AC Milan, Lazio, Juventus and Fiorentina all implicated in the initial Calciopoli report, the squad used it as extra incentive to reward the tifosi. That same determination and feeling of invincibility perhaps could reoccur in Poland and Ukraine.

One player Prandelli wanted to symbolise the new regime was Antonio Cassano, a fantasista who like Fabrizio Miccoli, had not been awarded with enough chances with the National team. The importance of ‘Fantantonio’ is undeniable, as proven by being the top scorer with six in qualifying, but after suffering a stroke at the end of October, the Milan forward has only been back in first team action since April and his fitness could be an issue. Attacking options are short with main hope Giuseppe Rossi being riddled with a severe knee injury. A cruciate ligament injury he sustained against Real Madrid in October had initially made it a race to be fit in time for the Championships, but he damaged them once more in April upon his return to training.

Claudio Marchisio Needs To Carry His Club Form Into Euro 2012

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The Ill-Fated Career Of Francesco Coco

11 05 2012

The pressure of being labelled as the next Paolo Maldini can be strenuous on any soul, but Francesco Coco for a moment looked like he might have been the replacement for the legendary left-back for both club and country. When the adventurous full-back, who also had the capabilities to play in midfield, broke onto the scene in the mid 90’s, Milan looked to have the heir apparent to the iconic captain.

Coco moved to the province of Legnano, Milan, at the age of three, and after a few years in Como’s academy playing as a striker, was signed by Milan. When making his debut against Padova in 1995, goalscorer and Captain Francesco Baresi dedicated his winning goal to Coco, hoping to bless his new career. Sicilian born Coco was not like most traditional full backs. Despite playing on the left, his preferred foot was his right which played favourably into his hands when facing an inside forward, but not much so when pushing up-field. Known for his pace, physicality, determination and stamina, Coco also had the ability to cross with both feet which left the Milanisti excited about how good he could become.

Loan spells to Vicenza (hampered by a knee injury) and Torino allowed the Sicilian to gain valuable match experience and upon his return in 2000 he made his Azzurri debut in the 3-0 win against Romania. After this successful 2000/01 campaign he was given the surprise opportunity to play for Barcelona, thus becoming the first Italian to play for the Blaugrana. He impressed the Catalans with his performance in the 2-0 win at the San Siro the previous season where he scored the first and assisted Oliver Bierhoff for the second. Fatih Terim had no reluctance in letting him move to Spain on loan, with the Turk preferring Serginho ahead of the Italian.

Francesco Coco During His Azzurri Days

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The Crazy Spending Of The January Transfer Window

13 10 2011

The transfer window is a period the tabloids love with their continuous volumes of rumours to fuel the avid fan with belief his team is going to invest heavily in a top class forward, finally. The window at the turn of the year is traditionally one which sees low costs moves, usually mid-table clubs investing heavily to help avoid the drop. But this January saw an anomaly in England; big signings. Fernando Torres (£50m), Andy Carroll (£32m), Luis Suarez (£22m), David Luiz (£25m), Darren Bent (24m) and Edin Dzeko (£27m) all moved for prices above £20m, in deals you would generally expect to see in the summer. But what was the general trend across Europe?

The difference between the other European nations was drastic. With UEFA implementing new financial regulations next season in which clubs cannot spend more than their annual turnover, it seems the powerhouses of England – riddled with debt – wanted to make one last splurge. Overall in January a reported £225m was spent in the Premier League, a record amount which even surpasses the previous milestone of £175m which was set back in 2008, mainly due to Manchester City’s spending. The Citizens would be part of proceedings once more, but the big spenders were Chelsea. Russian oligarch Roman Abramovic has been reluctant in the past few seasons to invest, hoping the influx of youth signings under Frank Arnesen would be promoted and provide an ending to the Jose Mourinho years of economically draining investments.

Over in Spain money was spent, but not in large quantities. Barcelona’s sole purchase was young Dutchman Ibrahim Affelay from PSV Eindhoven who cost roughly €2m, while Real Madrid’s recruitment was the flimsy loan signing of Emanuel Adebayor from Manchester City. Malaga, under the ownership of a Qatari millionaire, helped spice up the transfer window signing six new players, the most costly being former Arsenal forward Julio Baptista who returned to Spain from Italy for  €3m.

Giampaolo Pazzini Celebrates After Scoring A Goal For His New Club

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Giving Something Back: The Samuel Eto’o Foundation

30 08 2011

Samuel Eto’o. Arguably the greatest footballer Africa has produced, a player who has consistently demonstrated his place amongst the best forwards in European football and three times Champions League winner. His career has been impressive and Eto’o once again stole the headlines recently when he completed a reported €20.5m per season move to Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala. But the Cameroonian striker has also delved into the world of charitable work in his home continent and established a foundation for malnourished and uneducated children to seek aid and opportunity.

The Foundation Samuel Eto’o (FSE) has outlined these three principles for the scheme:

  • – “Ensure the minimum conditions for survival and health that will permit further development, in our fight to eradicate poverty.
  • – Provide quality basic education, they can complete and will serve as a tool to achieve a secure social integration.
  • – Promote the opportunity to develop the individual abilities of each child through training grants and aid to support their cultural activities or sports skills.”

The most interesting aspect is the footballing project, with the inaugural academy based in the coastal town of Kribi. Prior to the opening, Eto’o expressed his desire was to expand the idea and locate more academies across the country, stating his yearning to offer opportunities to deprived children:

“As a footballer, the best I can do for youths in Cameroon is to give them a platform where they can learn how to play football and make a living out of it, and be successful in life, for a better tomorrow.”

Gael Etock Was The First Player To Join Barca From The Academy

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Barcelona Prepare For The New Season In The Perfect Manner

21 10 2010

Last Saturday Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick as Barça recovered from their first leg loss to defeat Sevilla in the Spanish Super Cup. New signings David Villa and Adriano won their first trophy and made their home debuts at the Camp Nou, in a match that showed the Catalans are ready to defend their La Liga crown, starting their defence this Sunday against Racing Santander. The victory was the ninth time that Barcelona have won the Cup, meaning they are now the record winners.

Since then the news around the city has been of transfer talk. Liverpool want-away midfielder Javier Mascherano has been the subject of discussion, but the clubs are still far from agreeing on a price. Rumours of an £18 million bid plus a player in exchange, probably Alexander Hleb, was reportedly rejected by The Reds, who are holding out for £25 million. Owner Sandro Rosell has worked hard since he took over the club to sign a high-profile player, but deals for the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Mesut Ozil have broken down with manager Pep Guardiola having faith in his players from the canteria. If Mascherano was to join, it might highlight the doubts over Andres Iniesta’s ability to remain fit for the season. It would allow Sergio Busquets to adventure forward, although fans are doubtful over why they need to sign a player of Mascherano calibre, which would restrict Busquet’s role in the team when everyone is fit.

Ronaldinho Joins In The Celebrations

Ronaldinho Joins In The Celebrations

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Manchester United Player Focus – Edwin van der Sar

9 09 2010

On the 24th May 1995, Dutch football had reached a new chapter, one which was meant to go one step further than the much admired total football era. Ajax had just won the European Cup 1-0 against AC Milan in Vienna; the first time the team from Amsterdam had won the trophy since their treble of successes in the early 70’s. That unique side consisted of footballing greats such as: Johan Cruijff, Johan Neeskens, Ruud Krol and Wim Suurbier. Defeating Milan was a brilliant accomplishment; the Italian team had reached its third consecutive final and was regarded as the best team in Europe at the time. De Amsterdammers had a team full of promising young players, a batch that has gone on to establish fantastic careers. With the likes of the de Boer twins, Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf and Patrick Kluivert amongst the squad, it’s easy to see why the Oranje fans were optimistic about the future. One player has gone on from that glorious bunch to not only be remembered as one of the greatest goalkeepers of his generation, but is still competing at the highest level admirably at the age of 39.

In that same period Manchester United had arguably the greatest goalkeeper in Premiership history between the posts in Peter Schmeichel, who was a pivotal reason for the team’s dominance in the 90’s. Since he left the club in 1999, the Red Devils have struggled to replace him. Talented keepers such as Fabien Barthez, Mark Bosnich, Tim Howard and even Roy Carroll have been and gone. It was not until the 10th June 2005 that the Great Dane had finally been replaced, by the man who since his glory days at Ajax was now at Fulham. When Sir Alex Ferguson finally spits his chewing gum out onto the Old Trafford ground for the last time, he will look back and say that one of his best buys, pound-for-pound was Edwin van der Sar.

Still Going Strong at 39

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