ENGLISH PREM WEEK 1: PROMOTED TEAMS IMPRESS, ROONEY HAS STRESS FRACTURE

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I’ve gotta say that it’s so nice to have the Barclay English Premier League back again. Not only am I back to watching hours of great soccer (literally) but it also gets me up out of bed before noon on the weekends. My mom would be proud.

The week 1 games certainly didn’t disappoint. You had Obafemi Martins’ bicycle kick, Arsenal’s last minute goal heroics against Fulham, Steven Gerrards’ unstoppable 87th minute free kick and an impressive Manchester City performance to give Coach Sven Goran Eriksson his first EPL victory.

But let’s give it up to the promoted sides, Sunderland, Birmingham City and Derby County.

First, Roy Keane’s debut couldn’t have been more glorious. Late substitute Michael Chopra scored the injury time winner to hand underwhelming Tottenham an embarrassing but deserved 1-0 loss. I’m telling you, there’s something about Keano that makes people want to play for him. I think they’re on their way being the Reading of this year.

Birmingham City held their own but ultimately fell to the mighty Chelsea, 3-2. And if it wasn’t for some shoddy goaltending by City’s Colin Doyle, they may have stolen a point out of his one.

It’s was nice to see former “next best thing” Chelsea prospect Mikael Forssel finally playing fit and scoring goals for Birmingham and he’s off to a great start as he headed in the match’s opening goal.

Birmingham midfielder Oliver Kapo also looks like a player to keep an eye on this season. His impressive strike that tied the game 2-2 was something to behold. He’ll get a lot of playing time so he might be a deadly darkhorse pick for all you fantasy footie players out there.

Let’s also not forget Derby County, whose dramatic late game equalizer earned them a point against Portsmouth.

A lot of people are picking Portsmouth to be the surprise team of the year, and who might even score a 4rth place Champions League spot. Well, after this week, the Portsmouth bandwagon may have officially been derailed. Tell me, who’s getting goals on this team?

The biggest blow this weekend was, of course, Wayne Rooney suffering a hairline fracture in his left foot that’ll keep him out of the lineup for 2 months. This is Rooney’s third broken foot in four years. You’ll remember that he first cracked his left one back in 2004’s European Cup and last year almost missed the World Cup after banging up his right foot late in the ’06 Premier season. I can’t recall a player that has had such fragile feet.

This sets up the much anticipated debut of Carlos Tevez, who plays much the same way as Rooney does. But will Carlito need a few games to get used to his new teammates? He didn’t get his first goal with West Ham until March. The International Herald tribune published an article today urging Sir Alex Ferguson to bring back Ruud Van Nistelrooy from from Real Madrid. After this weekend’s draw against inferior Reading, is Manchester United in serious trouble?

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WHAT VICTORY SOUNDED LIKE IN IRAQ

This will probably go down as the most famous sports call in the history of the Middle East. Here’s what it sounded like when Younis Mahmoud Khalef scored his game winning goal.

If this doesn’t give you goose bumps every time you hear it, you’re probably related to Bush or Cheney.

And here’s the call when the referee blew the final whistle–giving the “Lions Of The Two Rivers”, a team comprised of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, its first Asian Cup in its first ever appearance in the tournament.

Here are some quick post game notes:

  • Iraq’s Brazilian coach, Jorvan Vieira resigned after the game.
  • The team wore black arm bands during post match interviews to honor the Iraqis that were killed during the celebrations that followed their semi-final victory over South Korea.
  • Mahmoud let his feelings be known to the A.P. on the U.S. occupation of his country. “I want America to go out. Today, tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, but out. I wish the American people didn’t invade Iraq and, hopefully, it will be over soon.”
  • Mahmoud also won’t be heading back to to his country any time soon–and for good reason. “I don’t want the Iraqi people to be angry with me. If I go back with the team, anybody could kill me or try to hurt me.”
  • Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office announced that each Iraqi player will receive $10,000.
  • This Asian Cup victory qualifies Iraq for next year’s Confederation Cup in South Africa–a tournament that the United States will also take part in. If you thought this game was huge, just imagine what it would be like if these guys got to play one another.

Finally, here’s a great description of what it was like to watch the game from inside a Baghdad cafe. Arwa Damon, the CNN reporter I mentioned last entry, nicely sums up why this victory is such a big deal.

IRAQ SHOCKS THE WORLD–THIS TIME FOR ALL THE RIGHT REASONS

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Do you believe in miracles? Iraqis do.

If there was ever an example of the power of soccer, this was it. Iraq, under incredible odds, beat Saudi Arabia today in Jakarta, Indonesia 1-0 to win the Asian Cup–a victory that has, if only temporarily, turned the war-torn nation’s streets into avenues of mass celebration.

From the start you could sense that the Iraqi squad was playing for more than just a trophy. Their midfield was tenacious, their defense was almost impenetrable and their fitness was astounding. For a country known for their oil, they were clearly running on high octane-as they had all tournament long, which no one gave them a chance of winning.

Team captain Younis Mahmoud Khalef’s game winning header off a corner kick in the 71st minute was the deserved result after frustrating and out-hustling a tough Saudi Arbian side for the majority of the game.

After the final whistle blew, CNN International broke away from their regularly scheduled programming and went live to the streets of Iraq where the reality of the victory was just beginning to sink in. A reporter inside a Baghdad cafe could barely be heard over of all the singing, cheering and waving of Iraqi flags going on all around her. It was a scene, she quickly and accurately pointed out, that no one had seen in a very, very long time.

Most amazing of all was a camera overlooking the Baghdad skyline that picked up the audio of hundreds of rounds of celebratory gunfire going off in the streets. It was like the 4rth of July without the fire works.

The only disappointing thing of all this was how our “World Sports Leader” covered it. Actually, they didn’t “cover” it at all. In what was arguably the most important victory for any nation since the U.S. beat the Soviets in ice hockey in the ’80 Olympic Games, both ESPN and ESPN News went with a rerun of SportsCenter and a show about Area Football. What??? Does anything that happens outside of the United States matter to these people?? Will this even make their Top 10 Plays Of The Day? It was absolutely appalling.

Broadcasting aside, the real question is whether this historic victory will have any palpable effect on Iraq and the sectarian violence that goes on there every day.

Unfortunately, I seriously doubt it.

But what WAS encouraging was that for 90 minutes today, terrorists, pacifists, Sunnis and Shiites forgot all about who they hated and came together over the game they loved. Here’s to having that moment last.

MANCHESTER UNITED AND ARGENTINIANS DON’T MIX

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Juan Veron was a bust. Carlos Tevez can’t sign because no one knows who ‘owns’ him and now Gabriel Heinze is suing his own team.

Argentinians on Manchester United?? No Bueno!

Sir Alex Ferguson has another interesting dilemma to deal with. Gabriel Heinze wants to go to Liverpool but Ferguson won’t allow it. It’s not that he doesn’t want to sell the oft injured defender–it’s just that he doesn’t want him to go to Anfield. In fact, The Red Devils haven’t sold a player to their northwest rivals in over 40 years.

According to soccernet.com, Liverpool has already met the asking price so Heinze hired a bunch of lawyers to argue whether United has a right to block the transfer.

To me, this sounds like a very open and shut case.  Manchester United have a right to sell a player to whoever they want to. If they don’t want him going to Liverpool, they don’t have to shop there.  Sorry Gabby.

The only thing clear in all this is that Mr. Heinze will never play in a Red Devil shirt again.

Here’s the story link.

THE NEXT MARK VIDUKA?

A buddy of mine forwarded this to me yesterday. Have the soccer gods smiled down upon Australia and given them a Ronaldinho-like soccer prodigy?


Here’s a name we might be cheering for in 7-10 years. He’s Rhain Davis and he’s only 9.

How good is he? So good that he and his family just moved from Brisbane, Australia to Manchester, England after being invited to join the Red Devil’s Under-10 team.

I don’t know what’s scarier–this kid’s potential or the fact that Manchester United has an Under-10 soccer team.

So, what do you think? Will Rhain be ‘making it rain’ at Old Trafford some time in the future? If it’ll involves pasty English dudes rapping along with Lil’ Wayne while cheering on young Davis, well, we can only hope so!

A LOT CAN HAPPEN WHEN YOU’RE ON VACATION

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Hello footie fans,

I’m back from some much needed R&R (soccer and internet free I might add) and there’s a lot to catch up on.

VIOLENCE AT BOSNIAN UEFA QUALIFIER

Here’s the ugly and, above all, disturbing clip of hooligan violence that took place yesterday in Bosnia during an UEFA qualifying match between Zrinjski Mostar and Serbian side, Partizan Belgrade.

Here’s a link describing what happened.