Here at Footballtoptens there is no room for the bore 0-0 in Marseille, Blackpool beating Spurs or even Cesc Fabregas’ hamstring. Instead we have updates from around the globe – this is the only place on the web where the Solomon Islands Beach Soccer Team rub shoulders with Costa Rica’s Deportivo Saprissa and Turkmenistan’s U-23 team. We round off with the Top Ten Foreign League Cup Finals – which meeting threw up the most non-English starters? Finally, apologies if there is some Paraguay bias this week (but I do live here!)
Update from Last Week
Later today Tunisia face Angola in the CHAN Final – it is maybe expected that Tunisia would make the final with most of their senior side’s players being domestically based (remember CHAN is only for African-based players). Brisbane Roar won on Saturday 27 games and counting. In the CONCACAF U-17 Championships last week’s 8-goal heroes Canada continue to impress, into the semi-finals and yet to concede a goal. They face Panama who shocked Costa Rica. Cruzeiro rumble on in the Copa Libertadores with a 4-0 thumping of Paraguay’s Guaraní, 9 goals in 2 games and zero conceded. IturbeWatch: No goalscoring heroics from the teenage sensation but how about this, he was invited to the presidential palace for breakfast and asked by President Lugo to reconsider his decision to represent Argentina instead of Paraguay. He said NO!
This week’s stories
King Solomon’s sands
Those of you freezing in the Northern Hemisphere, get jealous. Down in Tahiti the OFC nations began qualification for the Beach Soccer World Cup in Italy. The Solomon Islands opened with a 9-4 win over Fiji with 2 goals from Naka the all-time top goalscorer in the continent. They are hot favourites having won the OFC Championships all 3 times since its inauguration in 2006.
Olimpia back to the big time
Paraguayan powerhouse Olimpia is back and blowing away the league already with 5 wins from 5 and 17 goals scored 2 conceded. Unless you live in Paraguay you won’t see them until the end of this year in the Copa Sudamericana because they failed to qualify for the Copa Libertadores in a disastrous 2010. What’s changed? Well a new President, Marcelo Recanate, has helped. He’s hardly Abramovich but he has ploughed money into the club and re-hired World Cup Winner Nery Pumpido as coach with plenty of reinforcements at his disposal. The two key signings Vladimir Marín and Pablo Zeballos were bought from title rivals Libertad and Cerro Porteño. The latter is in for some stick this weekend as he faces his former club (and Olimpia’s bitterest rivals) in the clásico. Expect an ‘injury’ this afternoon or in the opening stages of the game. Also (I write this begrudgingly) expect Olimpia to make it 6 from 6 and end the run of 3 straight clásico draws.
South Africa’s Sundowns
It is pretty tight in the PSL at the moment with three teams in the running. Last weekend Mamelodi Sundowns lost to put themselves out of the running, 7 points adrift. Both Orlando Pirates and Kaiser Chiefs (who face each other in the Sowetan derby tomorrow) drew to let Ajax Cape Town make up ground. The Pirates game was the pick of the bunch, it took a goal from Happy Jele in the last-minute to earn the home side an equaliser. Defeat would have ended the Bucs’ 13 game unbeaten run.
In the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals all four Mexican sides were drawn together which meant the pick of the round was Cruz Azul against Santos Laguna (who saw their coach sacked on Monday after giving the one finger salute). Cruz Azul ran out 2-0 winners but the game that interested me more was Costa Rica’s Deportivo Saprissa against Hondurans Olimpo. In 2005 Saprissa crashed out 4-2 on aggregate in a repeat of this fixture, and were determined to make good in their home leg last night. Midway through the first half Armando Alfonso struck for the Costa Ricans and they held on against 10-man Olimpo (Defender Boniek Garcia was sent off after just 10 minutes) and remain unbeaten on home soil in this year’s competition.
Finnish Winter Warmer
While the Finnish League, Veikkausliiga, doesn’t start until April – action is underway in the Finnish League Cup a traditional pre-season warm up. 2010 winners FC Honka started with a win last week in a 4-3 thriller against Inter Turku. 2009 Champions Tampere United only managed a draw against Rops Rovaniemi (which is one of the best names I’ve ever heard!) – a poor result considering Rops had lost all 3 games of 2011 before that.
Sevilla lose the battle but Spain win the war
The UEFA Europa League match-up between Sevilla and Porto in Portugal saw Sevilla win 1-0 but go out on away goals. You probably knew that already. I bet you didn’t know was that it was only the 2nd time a Spanish team had won in Portugal in the Europa League/UEFA Cup this century (also Sevilla; 2-1 vs Nacional in February 2005). The game marked the 18th Spain vs Portugal clash in the competition since 2000 and it was the first time ever that both teams had won away over a 2-legged tie. Full results are Played 18, Spanish Wins 11, Portuguese Wins 4, Draws 3 – Sevilla have 5 of those wins!
Cheat of the week
I can’t put my goal of the week up because I just can’t find it on the internet, it was a bit of 40 yard head tennis up followed by a 30-yard volley (ball didn’t touch the ground until it hit the net) by Carlos Martinez of Tacuary. Another great Paraguayan goal was this one by Formica of Cerro Porteño. As for cheat of the week, I don’t think I’ve seen somebody hit himself to win a foul….until this Chilean in a sub-20 game against Ecuador.
Young Turkmens in the driving seat
In South America Brazil and Uruguay have already booked their place in London for the 2012 Olympic Tournament. In Asia the process started this week with the 1st leg of the Preliminary Round. The 9 games produced 8 home wins, only Turkmenistan managed to triumph away overcoming Indonesia 3-1 in front of a reported 25,000 fans! That is 24,824 more than watched Iran’s U-23 side edge past Kyrgyzstan 1-0 in Tehran.
Greek FA lay down the law
We already know Gatusso will be sitting out AC Milan’s 2nd leg after his crazy confrontation with Joe Jordan and yesterday another player received a 5-match ban for a headbutt. Olympiakos captain Vasilis Torosidis was charged by the Greek authorities for his headbutt in an ill-tempered Athens derby. Olympiakos themselves were ordered to play a game behind closed doors after fans invaded the pitch after a last gasp 2-1 victory over arch rivals Panathinaikos. Even Olympiakos president Vangelis Marinakis didn’t escape sanction, he was fined and banned from the stadium for 2 months for unsporting behaviour and inflammatory remarks towards To Trifylli (The Shamrock).
Today the Hungarian league restarts after the winter break with surprise package Videoton FC of Fehérvár 7 points clear at the top. Admittedly they finished runners-up last year (their best finish since 1976) but now they are going one better in the quest to win their first ever title. 14 goals in 15 games from the league’s top scorer Andre Alves (of Brazil) have helped as has the poor form of Debrecen who have won the league 5 times in the last 6 seasons but find themselves sitting in 5th place in this campaign. Their poor showing led to the resignation of András Herczeg one of the club’s most successful coaches at the end of 2010. Debrecen and Videoton return to action on Saturday and Sunday respectively.
Top Ten ‘Foreign’ League Cup Finals
This weekend sees Arsenal take on Birmingham in the League Cup Final and of the 22 players in the starting line-up we can expect around 13 to be foreign (taking the teams’ semi-final 2nd leg starting XIs into account). Where does that rank in the history of League Cup Finals? I’ve defined foreign as non-English so Graeme Souness, Pat Jennings, Roy Keane and Ryan Giggs are all included in the count!
=10. Liverpool vs Everton 1984 (1st match) – 12 non-Englishmen
=10. Leicester City vs Tottenham 1999 – 12
=10. Blackburn vs Tottenham 2002 – 12
=10. Liverpool vs Manchester Utd 2003 – 12
=6. Liverpool vs Manchester Utd 1983 – 13
=6. Chelsea vs Middlesborough 1998 – 13
=6. Chelsea vs Tottenham 2008 – 13
=6. Manchester Utd vs Tottenham 2009 -13
5. Aston Villa vs Manchester Utd 2010 – 14
=3. Bolton vs Middlesborough 2004 – 15
=3. Manchester Utd vs Wigan 200 – 15
=1. Liverpool vs Chelsea 2004 -17
=1. Chelsea vs Arsenal 2007 – 17
Perhaps unsurprisingly we find the list dominated by Premier League era finals, with the exception of Liverpool vs Manchester Utd in 1983 and Liverpool vs Everton the following year. In the 1983 encounter 11 of the 13 were from the home nations or Ireland, the other two? Zimbabwe’s Bruce Grobelaar and Dutch midfielder Arnold Mühren! In 1984 it was 11 of the 12 from the UK and Ireland, again Grobelaar taking the total to 12. Fittingly the final with the most Englishmen (21 of the 22 starters) was West Ham vs West Brom….in 1966. By the way it wasn’t easy getting a list of the starting line-ups for the earlier finals so special thanks to @NorwichCityFC for the ’62 and ’73 starting XIs, http://www.topspurs.com for the Tottenham ’73 team and http://www.evertonresults.com for the 1984 sides!
By Ralph Hannah