Honours Even

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 19th 2015)

Dominant

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Mauricio Pochettino was disappointed with the result after his Tottenham Hotspur team were held to 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane tonight by Fiorentina. Pochettinoʼs decision to rest the in-form Harry Kane backfired, despite Roberto Soldado Rilloʼs 6th minute strike – his first goal of the year. In the first half hour Spurs dominated, running Fiorentinaʼs back three ragged, but despite creating chances, the hosts failed to profit.

After 5 minutes Nacer Chadliʼs effort was saved at the expense of a corner. Paulinho took it finding Soldado. The former Valencia strikerʼs shot beat Romanian keeper Ciprian Tătăruşanu to give Spurs a platform they failed to capitalise on. Half chances at the other end were made by Joaquín Sánchez Rodríguez, resulting in a weak effort by Mario Gomez and for Mohamed Salah, on loan from Chelsea as part of the deal that took Juan Guilermo Cuadrado Bello the other way, but Federico Fazio blocked the Egyptianʼs shot. Despite the threat posed by the visitors, led by their captain Manuel Pasqual, but Spurs were more dangerous.

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Christian Eriksen had almost converted a chance created by Chadliʼs excellent approach play, but shot just over. After his goal Soldado was profligate, but spectacular. Eriksenʼs cross found Soldado after Stefan Savićʼs block rebounded to him. Soldadoʼs bicycle kick was spectacular, but straight at the keeper from point blank range with the goal gaping.

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Recovery

With half an hour gone Fiorentina came into their own. Borja Valeroʼs cross field pass found Pasqual and Fiorentinaʼs captain set up Gomez. The former Vf Stuttgart and Beyern Munich strikerʼs effort went just wide. Two minutes later Salah slipped Gomez through, but recovering from a long injury lay-off Gomez had to settle for a corner.

That five minutes of pressure culminated in Soldado tripping Joaquín after the former Real Betis and Valencia winger had got past him. Soldado was rightly booked. Chilean international Matías Fernández Fernández took the free-kick. It was pushed out to his right by Hugo Lloris onto Savićʼs back and rebounded into path of José María Basanta, who took advantage of his good fortune to smash in the equaliser from close range.

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Just Deserts

Just before half time Spurs almost regained the lead. Kyle Walkerʼs cross was met by Soldado, whose header was saved by Tătăruşanu. Chadli latched on to the rebound. His shot was lashed onto the crossbar. Appeals for a goal were rightly turned down as the ball bounced on the wrong side of the goal-line. Vincenzo Montella changed his formation at half time and contained Tottenhamʼs threat, despite the introduction of Harry Kane.

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After 90 minutes we were better, we created more chances”, Pochettino said, “but it’s true that in the second half, in the last 15-20 minutes, we maybe didn’t create many chances. It’s a shame because at half-time maybe the team had deserved to score more than one goal and then it was 1-1. We have 90 minutes in Florence to try and win the game”.

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Return to Form

The decision to rest Harry Kane raised a few eyebrows, although it may indicate where Pochettinʼs priorities lie. At first he was vindicated by Soldadoʼs goal, but the equaliser and Montellaʼs changes in formation saw la Viola become a different proposition in the second half. Shortly after the restart Joaquín created space for himself on the right flank to tee up Salah. The Egyptianʼs curling shot from just outside the area went close with Lloris beaten.

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Savić deserved his booking for hauling back Chadli after 5 minutes of the second half. With an hour play Spurs pressure was absorbed by Fiorentinaʼs defence. Andros Townsendʼs cross was headed clear by Savić to Nabil Bentaleb. The Algerian defenderʼs long range shot failed to trouble Tătăruşanu. Five minutes later Pochettino made a concession of sorts. Kane was introduced for the last 25 minutes, but despite his red hot form, not even a front two of Soldado and Kane could find a way past Tătăruşanu.

We have a lot of games ahead, six in 17 days”, Pochettino said in defence of his decision to rest Kane. “It’s difficult. We need to rotate and give the possibility to play for all. It was a very open game. I think that we made a big effort in the first half, a great effort. I’m a little bit disappointed with the result because I thought we could have won.”

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The Battle of Seconds

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 12th 2014)

Victory

Fazio

Tottenham Hotspurʼs Federico Fazio was happy with the win if his Argentina team beaten a second string Croatia 2-1 at the Boleyn Ground – home of West Ham United. Croatiaʼs second-string – the regulars remained at home to prepare for this weekendʼs vital Euro2016 qualifier against Italy – took a shock and against the run of play 11th minute lead, courtesy of Anas Sharbiniʼs first goal for his country in only his second match. Interʼs Mateo Kovačić provided the assist.

Despite dominating the first half Argentina, captained by Lionel Messi, back to his mesmerising best, trailed to Sharbiniʼs strike. The move began on the right flank before working it inside to Kovačić, who beat Christian Ansaldi and found Sharbini on the left of the area. The mixed-race – Croatian and Palestinian – midfielder finished with aplomb across Sampdoriaʼs Sergio Romero from 10 yard out.

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Astonishing

Argentina created chance after chance. Sevillaʼs Ever Banega wasted a glorious opportunity created by the first of many mazy runs by Messi from the right wing into the left of the area. Banega missed after 5 minutes. The normally clinical Sergio Agüero had one shot well saved by Croatian goalkeeper for the night Lovre Kalinić, another volleyed straight at the keeper, failed to collect a Messi pass and prodded two shots wide from Messi passes after mazy runs all in the space of ten minutes without scoring.

Premier League defences had best savour the moment. Rarely has the in-form Kun proved so profligate. Messi was also denied. Another mazy run treading the same path as before, a one-two with Ansaldi, resulted in Messi shooting into the side-netting. He also hit the post in the second half with the keeper well beaten. However both Messi and Agüero would not be denied, albeit in controversial fashion for Kun.

Reward

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When Agüero got his goal only the eagle-eyed noticed it – well them and the replays. 3 minutes into the second half Ansaldiʼs fierce shot from just outside the area was deflected in past Kalinić by Agüero taking protective action. It went in off his arm with Kalinić stranded.

12 minutes into the second half Messi found Agüero on the left of the six yard box. Kalinić brought him down, conceding a penalty. Messi converted it. 

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Returning Idols

The Hammersʼ fans got to see the great Lionel Messi in the flesh, but by far the biggest cheers of the night greeted the return of 2007 West Ham hero Carlos Tévez. Will you please welcome Argentina and West Ham legend, Carlos Tévez”, as , the announcer said after 62 minutes as Agüero was replaced. Tévez received a standing and loud ovation despite the sparse crowd.

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But West Hamʼs former idol could not provide the fairytale goal despite a glorious chance made for him by Manchester Unitedʼs Ángel di María, which Tévez pulled just wide of the post. He also spurned another chance by heading Pablo Zabaletaʼs cross straight at Kalinić.

Midway through the second half the other Argentinian returning Hammer from the 2007 season Javier Mascherano, unleashed a pile-driver, which Kalinić saved. Five minutes earlier Barçelonaʼs defensive midfield enforcer inflicted a crunching shin high tackle on Tin Jedvaj. Not only did Mascherano not receive a card – friendly or not – but referee Lee Probert didnʼt even award the Roma defender currently on loan to Bayer Levekusen a free kick.

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Argentina got the win and Croatiaʼs second team showed spirit that pleased the President of Croatian Football Federation Davor Šuker. “[They] need to give back to Croatian national team and I think we have great performance”, Šuker said, “and we have great future in the Croatian football federation”. Croatia face Italy at the weekend and Argentina will face Cristiano Ronaldoʼs Portugal at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

Spurs Trounce Asteras

by Satish Sekar at White Hart Lane © Satish Sekar (October 23rd 2014)

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Rabona

Tottenham Hotspur warmed up for this weekend’s match against Newcastle United wit an emphatic display. Mauricio Pocchetino’s team demolished Group leaders Asteras Tripolis 5-1 and it was Spurs rather than the Greeks that came bearing gifts. With misfit Roberto Soldado confined to the bench Harry Kane showed the former Valencia idol how it’s done, scoring a hat-trick.

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Argentine Érik Lamela scored a brace – the second and third. Lamela’s first was one of the best goals you could hope to see – an absolutely awesome strike. With just over 12 minutes played Kane was supplied by Moussa Dembélé 35 yards out. He drove forward before scoring off goalkeeper Tomas Kosický’s right-hand post. Lamela’s goal was sweeter still as less than a minute earlier Thanasis Panteliadis was through on goal. He was partially thwarted by Hugo Lloris, but collected the rebound on the right of the area and shot. He hadn’t reckoned on Europa League winner Federico Fazio’s magnificent block. Spurs counter-attacked. Kane passed to Emmanuel Adebayor and it broke to Lamela, who scored a rare left-footed rabona – kicking it with the foot wrapped around the standing leg – to Kosický’s left. The Slovakian keeper stood no chance. The last rabona was scored a month ago by Olympique de Marseille’s Ghanaian international André Ayew against Stade de Reims in France’s Ligue Un.

Emphatic

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Despite creating opportunities Lloris was hardly tested prior to Lamela’s goal. Twenty minutes into the second half Lamela made it safe. A give and go with Kane created the first opportunity which was blocked. He reacted quickly to beat Kosický at his right-hand post. Asteras tried to respond. A lovely chip pass found Fernando Usero in the area, but his volley was magnificently turned aside by Lloris at the expense of a corner.

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As the match approached its final quarter of an hour Kane completed his brace – a tap-in. Lamela played a short corner to Dembélé. His shot was parried by Kosický to Kane who Kosický scored easily. Lamela was replaced by Christian Eriksen. He received a deserved ovation.

With less than 10 minutes of normal time remaining Kane completed his hat-trick. His first effort was blocked, but Fazio reacted quickest, collecting the rebound and crossing for Kane to nod in. About the only negative on a night when a deserved tribute was paid to Spurs – no football – legend, Bill Nicholson at half time, came in the last minute. Despite being well beaten the Greeks still chased an opportunity. It came late. Through with just the keeper to beat Gasos Tsokanis was cynically upended by Lloris just outside his area. Slovak referee Ivan Kružilak had no choice but to brandish the red card. The stage was set for Kane to cap off a truly memorable night as the striker donned Lloris’ jersey and the captain’s armband – all three permitted substitutions had been made.

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Substitute Jerónimo Barrales stepped up to take the free-kick. He struck it more in hope than expectation, but Kane let it squirm under his body to give the Greek’s a consolation. He knew he had had a good night as the Spurs faithful – a disappointingly low crowd – chanted ʻEnglandʼs number one at Kane after the blunder. After the disappointment of draws against Partizan (Belgrade) and Beşiktas, Pocchetino’s team has responded in style.

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Real outclass Sevilla

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (August 12th 2014)

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Cagey

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Despite a typically cagey opening where chances were at a premium, it was Real Madridʼs World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo who grabbed the headlines with a brace that defeated the obdurate defensive display of the Andalusian club. Gareth Baleʼs homecoming was overcome by a fine display by Toni Kroos. Germanyʼs World Cup winner belied his recent move, looking as though he was born and bred in Madrid.

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Club legend el Buitre (the Vulture) was impressed. “Well, they did it very well today”, Emilio Butragueño told us. “In fact, both Kroos and James [Rodríguez Rubio], they play a great game. Iʼm sure in the following weeks theyʼre going to get better, because they need time to adapt themselves to their team-mates. Iʼm sure that theyʼre going to gel with their team-mates. Well, we are optimistic about the future”.

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Ronaldoʼs first effort was a weak shot after 3 minutes that posed no threat to international colleague Beto (António Alberto Bastos Pimparel) – the hero of Sevillaʼs Europa Cup penalty shoot-out triumph in Turin last May. Baleʼs hopes for a penalty after clashing with Sevilla captain Federico Fazio were waved away by referee Mark Clattenburg after less than ten minutes. Ronaldo won a 13th minute free-kick after bamboozling Coke on the left wing. Ronaldo brushed aside his team-mates and took the free-kick himself. It deflected off Coke, brushing the roof of the net.

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By his own exceptionally high standards the Colombian phenomenon James Rodríguez had a disappointing match, but provided glimpses of his undoubted ability – he has only had a week and a half as a Real player. Rodríguez almost provided the assist for the opening goal. His cross from the left wing was enticing, but the angle at the back post proved too tight for Bale.

It took almost 20 minutes for Sevilla to pose any kind of threat to Iker Casillasʼ goal. Casillas has been below his usual high standards last season, but proved on top of his game when required tonight. A swift break found Vitolo on the left of the area. Vitoloʼs shot was pushed round his near post for a corner by Casillas. It was the closest to a goal up to that point, but against the run of play.

Five minutes later Ronaldo ought to have opened the scoring. A sumptuous 40 yard pass by Fábio Coentrão spread play to Karim Benzema on the right wing. Benzema squared it to Ronaldo who turned and shot. Beto saved well to deny the World Player of the Year.

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Resistance Cracks

Three minutes later Bale crossed from the left wing to the back post. Ronaldo stole in to sweep past Beto to give Madrid the lead. Rodríguezʼ free-kick was met by Pepe, but his header was easily dealt with by Beto. Rodríguez, eager to impress made a complete hash of his defensive clearance, but Daniel Carriçoʼs shot was deflected over. There was still time for Vitolo and Daniel Carvajal to be shown the yellow card before Clattenburg ended the first half.

Sevillaʼs task soon became harder as Ronaldo gave Portugalʼs first choice goalkeeper Beto no chance when found on the left of the area by Bennzema less than 5 minutes into the second half. Ronaldo acknowledged Benzemaʼs crucial role in providing the assist in his celebration of the goal.

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Despite requiring goals Sevilla continued to absorb the pressure and were indebted to Beto for keeping them in the match with a fine save to deny Benzema after Coentrão and Ronaldo had combined to create the chance for the French international to test him. The rebound was squared by Coentrão, but eluded everyone. Beto was required again midway through the half after Rodríguez controlled Baleʼs pass on the edge of the area. His half-volley was well saved by Beto.

Attack

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Benzema and Luka Modrić wasted excellent opportunities to extend Realʼs lead, blasting well over when well placed. With less than ten minutes remaining Grzegorz Krychowiak kept Sevilla in with a chance denying Ronaldo in full flight with a superbly timed tackle to thwart the danger. It set up a frenetic end to the match as Unai Emeryʼs team finally tested Realʼs defence and keeper.

With two minutes of normal time remaining the ball broke to Krychowiak, just inside the area. His powerful shot was parried by Casillas at the expense of a corner. Less than a minute later substitute Diogo Figueirasʼ shot was deflected for a corner as Sevilla piled on the pressure resulting in Carlos Baccaʼs injury time shot from the edge of the penalty area being blocked by Sergio Ramos. A rapid counter-attack released Bale for the final effort of the match, which Beto saved.

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No Expense Spared

At £364m this was the most expensive football team ever assembled. At that price there was no excuse for failure and they didnʼt. The Copa del Rey and Championsʼ League winners face a tough test this year. Success is demanded, especially after such an outlay on talent, but after the historic La Décima has their hunger been sated.

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Butragueño is having none of it. “Every season we start the same”, he told us. “We have to fight for every title to try to do our best and we know itʼs going to be difficult, because there are great, great teams in Europe and in Spain and we know that we have to play very well to perform at a very high level if we want to achieve our goals, so we have just started the and then itʼs step by step”.

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The legendary striker want more from his beloved team – much more. “Well, weʼre really happy”, Butragueño says. “Weʼre delighted with the performance of the team. I think we well deserved the victory tonight and taking into consideration that some players started practice one week ago, we did well and now we have to prepare the proper way for the Spanish Supercup, which we are going to play next week”.

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Sevilla hope to poop Baleʼs Party

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (August 11th 2014)

Team Spirit

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Unai Emery Etxegoien is not surprised by Gareth Baleʼs success in Spain. The first time the former Valencia coach encountered the mercurial Welshman Sevilla were on the wrong end of a 7-3 drubbing, but Emeryʼs charges got their revenge. Emery concedes that Real Madrid are the favourites for tomorrowʼs UEFA Supercup. “Of course Real Madrid is the favourite, but we believe we can repeat the feat and beat them”, Emery told a pre-match press conference this evening.

He conceded that they had a strategy, but much would depend on whether Carlo Ancelottiʼs side allowed Sevilla to execute it. Newly appointed Sevilla skipper Federico Fazio praised his teamʼs spirit. “We were able to get that team spirit to overcome opponents that were stronger than us”, the Argentine international said. “The way we work we can bring our qualities to bear on the match”.

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The Homecoming

Gareth Baleʼs world record transfer fee hasnʼt fazed the Welshman. Baleʼs homecoming has dominated headlines, but both Bale and his coach Ancelotti expect to see more from him this season. “Itʼs great to be back home, but the most important thing is to win”, Bale said. “Itʼs nice not being new and start the season settled. Itʼs a lot easier having a pre-season than waiting for a transfer to go through”.

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Ancelotti expects an even better season from him than the last. “Gareth last year had made a fantastic season”, Ancelotti said. “This season is different. He knows the team-mates; he knows the club. Iʼm sure he will be better”.

Emery joined in the praise. “He has adapted quickly and itʼs down to his character and personality”, Emery said. “His style and team match and that has been key to his success”. Meanwhile, Ancelotti couldnʼt resist. “I donʼt know if heʼs going to play”, Ancelotti said. “Could be strange if he starts on the bench”.

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Improvements

Despite his wishes to follow compatriot James Rodríguez out of the French Riviera Radamel Falcao looks set to continue his purgatory in the Principality. Meanwhile the 22-year-old assists leader in Ligue Un capitalised on a magnificent World Cup to earn his move to the Bernabeu for £63m. World Cup winner Toni Kroos also made the move to the European Champions.

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I saw really good player with fantastic quality”, Ancelotti said of James Rodríguez. “Of course he can help the team to be better. Rodriguez will start. I think he can play in front on the wings, behind the forward, but he can also play deeper”. Ancelotti confirmed that the prodigiously talented Colombian play-maker and Kroos will start the Supercup at the Cardiff City Stadium tomorrow night.

While both Emery and Ancelotti want to win the UEFA Supercup tomorrow night both know the real business is La Liga.

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