Posts Tagged ‘ AC Milan ’

World Cup 2014: The Dark Horses

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Yesterday, we had a good look at the four teams most likely to win the upcoming World Cup. What we have yet to touch on is one of the most lively debates before any international tournament. Who will be the team who emerges from nowhere to thrill the crowds and cause a few upsets along the way? Is there a team from lower down the international pecking order who can surprise us all and go all the way? Usually there is at least one team who overachieves in these competitions, and calling them right is often the difference between winning and losing the fantasy football wars, so here we will look at four teams who could potentially go from dark horses to World Cup champions in the space of a few weeks in June. Continue reading

Portsmouth Barking Up The Right Tree

A few days have passed since the sacking of Richie Barker at Crawley Town and he is now the odds-on favourite to take over at Portsmouth Football Club.

Following constant backing from punters Sky Bet have slashed Barker’s odds for him to take over after Portsmouth dismissed  Guy Whittingham.

Barker’s former club, Crawley Town, were sitting 12th in the league table just sixth points adrift from the relegation zone in League Two at the time of Barker’s sacking. Now, Barker may face a new challenge at Pompey, whose top scorer is former Ireland international David Connolly. Continue reading

Clubs Prepare For Champions League Draw

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The lineup for the 2013/14 UEFA Champions League group stage is complete and will feature no fewer than 14 previous winners of Europe’s premier club competition while FK Austria Wien will make their debut.

Eleven of the past champions were among the 22 automatic entrants, a number subsequently swelled by the progress of AC Milan, FC Steaua Bucureşti and Celtic FC through this week’s ten play-off ties. For the draw, which takes place from 4.45pm today at Monaco’s Grimaldi Forum, the 32 contenders have been split into four seeding pots (based on club coefficients), with each of the eight groups to contain one team from each tier. Continue reading

Catalans Face Tough Test To Topple Milan

AC Milan's Muntari scores against Barcelona during their Champions League soccer match at the San Siro stadium in Milan

Despite having most of the possession and the status of favourites among the many journalists and pundits who wrote Milan off, against the Italians last night Barcelona quite often seemed bereft of ideas. The entire Milan team worked as one solid unit, keeping the midfield packed and stifling Barcelona’s play while the enlarged defence worked supremely hard to ensure their opposition couldn’t simply pass their way in. Barcelona were reduced to a very un-Barcelona like approach in taking shots from distance – Iniesta came close while Messi blew a free kick far over the crossbar, Xavi following up with an effort a little closer. Aside from that there was little else Barcelona could do. Continue reading

Communication Scandal Envelops Ireland Setup

Ireland kick off their World Cup qualifying campaign this week with a trip to Astana for a first ever meeting with Kazakhstan but preparations for the campaign have been far from rosy.

Communication problems coupled with player retirements and withdrawals have hampered the plans of Giovanni Trapattoni. The retirement of veterans Shay Given and Damien Duff have become something of a blow to Trap yet the changeover should only be cosmetic as both Keiren Westwood and James McClean are able deputies.

But it is the apparent communication problems within the camp that have Irish fans wondering whether everyone in the panel is pulling in the same direction. Since Trap took the hotseat four years ago many players have come and gone , some willingly and others forced. Four names instantly jump to mind when wondering why the wily Italian’s tenure has been somewhat blighted with miscommunication.

Darren Gibson has pulled out of the Kazakh game citing his disappointment for not featuring at Euro 2012 as the reason behind his decision. Interestingly the Derry born player took his time in making the decision, waiting a number of days after the squad was announced to state his intentions. The in-form Everton star is no doubt riled at the fact that he didn’t feature at Euro 2012 and some reports even go as far as saying he almost walked out on the team during the tournament. While that may be mere speculation, Gibson is the latest in a line of players who have become fed up with the Italian’s antics.

You have to cast your mind back to the early days of the Trap era to see the apparent communication problems that ultimately led to the end of Andy Reid’s international career. The former Milan supremo imposed a curfew upon the Ireland team, one which was broken by several players including a guitar wielding Reid. His refusal to go to bed saw Trapattoni bring a sudden end to Reid’s once promising international career, a decision that has been met with furore by players and fans alike.

Pre Euro 2012 and post Euro 2012 have thrown up two other miscommunication conundrums which show that even with an interpreter it would appear Trapattoni still fails to get his message across.

Kevin Foley was a member of the Ireland squad which earned qualification for Euro 2012. The Wolves star was initially named in Trap’s squad for the trip to Poland and Ukraine despite picking up a hamstring injury. He was promised he would be given every opportunity to prove his fitness ahead of the tournament yet on the morning of the squad announcement he was cut from the panel and replaced Paul McShane, a move that left him “betrayed” and began a self imposed exile from the Ireland set up.

West Brom star Shane Long is another to have felt the wrath of the Italian in the wake of the recent Serbia friendly. Long was originally named to start in attack but shortly beforehand he was omitted and replaced by Simon Cox. He was furious and initially it appeared Trap’s reasoning was valid, the player was legitimately injured. However Long was quick to reveal he wasn’t , telling reporters after the game that he was perfectly fit to play the full 90 minutes. He would go on to feature for his club a few days later. His omission has raised a lot of questions about the communication skills of the Irish management team. In the days that followed Trapattoni launched a stinging attack on his striker branding him “idiotic”. While the misdemeanours of all involved havn’t resulted in Long’s omission from the squad it has raised many eyebrows amongst fans and media alike.

The communication problems have been further heightened by Gibson’s withdrawal ahead of such a crucial game. Gibson has been assured that he is more than welcome back into the Ireland set up for the Germany game next month yet the Everton star’s personal exclusion may well put an end to his Ireland career as he will fall down the pecking order if he prolongs his absence.

But what fans and the media really want to know and deserve to know is what the hell is going on behind the scenes? It is evidently clear that there are problems yet many are choosing to blow them under the carpet but not Shane Long. He has stood defiant with his actions following the Serbia game and rightly so, no player should suffer the indecency of having to offer a different excuse than that of his manager. Why wasn’t Trap honest about Long’s exclusion?

How can we prepare for such key games and expect to qualify for the World Cup with such turmoil? The FAI need to intervene immediately and eradicate the friction within the panel or else they risk allowing a manager whose pockets are laden with their money ruin the hopes of a nation.

Spotlight On Italy

Ireland’s third game is against our old friends Italy and takes place on the 18th June in Poznan. Italy have only won this tournament once which is a surprise seeing as they have won the World Cup four times, their most recent victory coming in 2006.  The critics have said that Italy will finish in close second to Spain in this group but as we know from past meetings, the Italians are beatable and with our secret weapon, Mr.Trapattoni, an upset could be on the cards. 

Italy came through qualifying unscathed, remaining unbeaten and only conceding two goals in ten games. The Italian squad, as always, contains some very talented players but their defence could be key to them going far in this tournament. Spain knocked Italy out in the quarter-finals of Euro 2008 and they failed to make it out of a group they would have expected to win at the 2010 World Cup so they will be out to prove that they can still compete at the major tournaments. 

Before the World Cup in 2006, Italy was rocked by a match fixing scandal and it seems to have reared its ugly head again after police turned up at the Italian’s Euro 2012 training camp recently to inform left back Domenico Criscito that he was under investigation for match fixing. Criscito has since been dropped from the Italian squad, and is being investigated about betting on games along with nineteen other people including Lazio captain Stefano Mauri and Juventus’ title winning manager Antonio Conte. 

Many people will say the Italians went on to win the World Cup in 2006 despite the match fixing scandal but they had a much stronger squad six years ago. Italian manager Cesare Prandelli will hope that Antonio Cassano is fully recovered from a recent heart scare and can spearhead his attack alongside Manchester City bad-boy Mario Balotelli. Prandelli will hope Balotelli can hit the headlines for his footballing ability and not for his off the field antics. Prandelli has the hard task of succeeding World Cup winning coach Marcello Lippi and with his young side, he hopes to outwit fellow Italian, Trappatoni. 

Previous Meetings: The two sides most recent meeting was last summer in a friendly that Ireland won two nil in Belgium. During qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, the two teams drew twice, the second of those draws meaning the Italians qualified despite Ireland leading in the late stages of the game. In twelve games against the Italians, Ireland have only won twice but one of those victories was one of Irelands greatest ever victories. At Giants Stadium in New York at the 1994 World Cup, a Ray Houghton goal was enough to see off an Italian side that went onto lose the final to Brazil. Ireland will be hoping to cause another upset against the Italians in Poznan. 

Strengths: The Italians have a history of solid defences and that trend continues with the side only conceding two goals in ten qualifying games. Despite their usual solid defence, they are no longer a negative counter attacking side and look to play an attractive style of football. 

Weaknesses: Giovanni Trapattoni & Marco Tardelli. The Ireland manager who coached the Italians at World Cup 2002 and Tardelli who won the World Cup with Italy will be out to beat their homeland and will have sussed out the Italian tactics. Mario Balotelli can be a liability and if he is not on his best behaviour, he could cause trouble in the camp. The camp has already been rocked by a match fixing scandal and will have that hanging over them during the tournament. A young & relatively inexperienced team may fail to flatter like they did in Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010.

 Key Player : Antonio Cassano  

Some people may argue that veteran midfielder Andrea Pirlo is still the main man controlling the game but Cassano has flourished under Prandelli scoring six goals in qualifying. Cassano suffered what could be described as a mini stroke in October and after good recovery he will hope to continue his form at his third European championship. He has improved his game quite a lot at AC Milan providing many assists and will be a serious threat in Poland.

 

By Andrew Harte