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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Ambitions

Ambitions

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 18th 2015)

Test

Vincenzo Montella wants success. The current coach of Fiorentina, known as the Little Aeroplane due to gis goal celebration has made the transition from player to coach. His opposite number Tottenham Hotspurʼs Mauricio Pochettino has too. Both teamsʼ league positions suggest that qualifying for the Championsʼ League through their respective leagues will be difficult, but there is another option – winning the Europa League.

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Thereʼs no doubt of course that itʼs a really important game tomorrow and yeah, this is what we work for, this is why we are involved in football”, Montella said. “Weʼre very, very passionate about the game and Iʼm sure that tomorrow will be a fantastic experience and weʼre focussed on tomorrowʼs game. Of course we want to go as far as possible, but we want to focus on tomorrow and the rest will take care of itself”.

Montella knows that Spurs will be a difficult side to beat. “Tomorrow, itʼs going to be very difficult”, he said. “We need to ensure that weʼre extremely focussed out on the pitch. We need to be full of energy, but by the same token not get too carried away, because that could perhaps make things difficult for us, perhaps even have a slight bit of fear that could keep us on edge during the game”.

Ready

Veteran defender Manuel Paasqual has no illusions either. “… weʼre in the Europa League, direct knock-out round”, he said. “We know weʼre playing a very good team, perhaps one of the favourites for the competition. We know that theyʼre fast, tough, very physical. And this year weʼre up against Tottenham, but weʼre going to go up there and do our best to carry on in the competition”.

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His coach is ready too. “I think whatʼs really important for us is to be ready, to be prepared, physically, tactically, mentally as well and I think that is something which we all are”, Montella said. “My team is ready for the game. We know itʼs a big game. Itʼs a big game against a strong team, playing at home with their own crowd behind them, which is not necessarily something weʼre always used to playing in this kind of atmosphere, but yeah weʼre ready”.

Important

Itʼs not a season-defining match, but both teams know that victory is important. “Well I think itʼs a very important game for us, because obviously weʼre playing a very strong team in Spurs, but I think we ourselves in the past and at the moment, we are showing ourselves to be a very good team”, Pasqual said. “We know that Spurs are going to be difficult.

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Montella is keen to play their own match. “Well I think that we know that we have to play our game”, Montella said. “We have to display what weʼre capable of doing We have to be combative; we have to be energetic. We have to know match the opposition, whether itʼs physically, mentally. We need to play well, stay true to our style, be brave and also a little bit humble and be aware of what might happen if we donʼt play to our top level”.

Commitment

Among the players returning for their first taste of football in England since leaving these shores are Mohamed Salah on loan from Chelsea and former Manchester City and England defender Micah Richards. Montella doesnʼt think that will matter much. “I think that what is important isnʼt so much being used to play here in England, itʼs being used to playing at this kind of level against these kind of teams,he said.

He has no illusions that Fiorentina face a tough tie. “Tottenham are a complete team”, he said. “Thereʼs nothing missing from them whatsoever and theyʼre pretty special in that they combine a Spanish style of play and an English style of play, so a lot of possession and the slow the ball down, but then theyʼre also very quick in the transition phase. Theyʼre able to speed things up. Theyʼre able to be very direct as well, so thatʼs something you have to get used to and yeah, theyʼre strong opposition. We know that. Theyʼre a very, very complete team”.

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Pasqual shares his coachʼs opinions. “Itʼs going to be tough, but the important thing for us to give our best, play well on the pitch in exactly the same way as weʼve done in any other game weʼve played whether it be the Cup Italia – the Italian Cup – or in the Italian Championship”, Pasqual said.

Montella tempers his enthusiasm with a note of caution. “We need to be extremely enthusiastic”, he said. “We need to be very brave. We need to enjoy the opportunity, but by the same token we canʼt get too carried away. We canʼt be too euphoric, because obviously that might lead us to become a little bit careless and thatʼs when mistakes can happen”.

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Spurs Ease Past Partizan and Pranksters

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 28th 2014)

Rudely Interrupted

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Tottenham Hotspur guaranteed progress to the last 32 with a 1-0 victory over already eliminated Serbian outfit FK Partizan of Belgrade. The Serbian fans behaved immaculately despite three pitch invasions and the provocation of an Albanian flag being flaunted at them. They had their chances, but both teams were profligate.

Former Valencia striker Roberto Soldado being one of the worst culprits even though he got an unconventional assist for former French Under-21 international Benjamin Stambouli’s 49th minute game-winner. Stambouli put Soldado through and the striker did everything right but score. He latched on to Stambouli’s pass and chipped Partizan keeper Milan Lukač, but as was typical of his luck since joining Spurs, it hit the post and rebounded. Stambouli had followed in to score easily – his first goal for the club.

Amazingly, given the number of chances it was the only goal in the match. Within the first minute Erik Lamela, scorer of the fantastic rabona against Asteras Tripolis in the last Europa League match at White Hart Lane, found Soldado on the edge of the area. The former Valencia striker pulled his shot wide. Petar Grbić was at the heart of much of Partizan’s best attacks. With less than 10 minutes played Grbić crossed from the right flank, but Petar Škuletić couldn’t make contact.

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Near Misses

In microcosm it summed up the Serbians’ luck. Grbić’s long ball found Branko Ilić on the right wing after 17 minutes. His cross was controlled by Darko Lazović, but his shot went just wide of Hugo Lloris’ goal. Both Partizan and Spurs exchanged near misses. Moussa Dembélé, later to take down the third of three pitch invaders which organisers Troll Station called entertainment, won possession before spreading it to the left wing. Lamela crossed, but Soldado failed to connect at all.

Almost ten minutes later a nice move by Partizan culminated in another missed opportunity. Lazović bypassed Spurs’ defence by chipping it to Škuletić who rounded Lloris turned and squared, but the inviting cross eluded both Jan Vertonghen and then Lazović.

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Three first half ‘pranksters’ were rudely interrupted at White Hart Lane when 22 men insisted on playing a football match last night. Apparently the organisers of the invasions Troll Station think this was entertainment. The company whose t-shirts they were wearing headphones manufacturers BassBuds caught initial flak over it. The first of the invaders Nathan Brown amused the crowd by eluding security while taking selfies with Spurs players. The other two wore the joke out and the third managed to get play suspended for the best part of ten minutes.

More of the Same

After Stambouli scored Soldado had one last chance to ignite his Spurs career. His Head Coach Mauricio Pochettino claimed to be satisfied that he was getting into the right positions and making chances, but after Aaron Lennon’s delightful dink put Soldado through with just the keeper to beat, Pochettino must have expected to see his team’s lead doubled. Instead Lukač managed to save at point blank range. It summed up Soldado’s night and career to date at White Hart Lane.

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A minute later a flowing Spurs move ended when Vojislav Stanković blocked Lennon’s shot. Lamela went very close shortly afterwards. The in-form Harry Kane replaced Soldado with 25 minutes to go. His 30 yard free-kick was tipped round the post by Lukač. The resulting corner eventually broke to Algerian international Nabil Bentaleb. His shot took a wicked deflection off Škuletić, but Lukač managed to tip it over for another corner.

With less than ten minutes remaining a flowing Spurs move ended with Lennon picking the ball up on the left wing before cutting inside and putting Kane through. The striker scored, but a late flag – correct – ruled it out for offside. Playing for pride Partizan probed again. Lazović’s free-kick was cleared to Grbić – Partizan’s best player on the night. Grbić’s cross was headed at goal by Vladimir Volkov, which was well saved by Lloris, but substitute Andrija Živcović spurned the rebound by hitting the side-netting from a tight angle.

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There was time for Stambouli to make the wrong choice by passing to Lamela rather than shooting and for the officials to make a howler that simply should not have happened. Kane slipped past Vojislav Stanković and bore down on goal. Lazar Ćircović came across and tripped Kane in area with clumsy challenge. Astonishingly Ukrainian referee Yevhen Aranovskiy, and his assistant referees failed to give a foul. It was a stone-wall penalty that will fuel demands for technology to be used to get these decisions right. Lamela went close again, but Lukač was once again equal to the task. Spurs qualified for the last 32. Their position in the group will depend on their final fixture in Turkey next month.

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Branded

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 28th 2014)

Pitch Invasions

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Tottenham Hotspur booked their place in the knock-out phase of the Europa League with a 1-0 win over Serbian outfit FK Partizan of Belgrade. Benjamin Stambouli scored his first for the club, but the story was might have been different as three pitch invasions, which appear to have been a co-ordinated marketing ploy caused Ukrainian referee Yevhen Aranovskyi to take the teams off after 41 minutes. Spurs could still face sanctions from UEFA over it.

The first ‘fan’ gave stewards the run around after he posed for selfies with a less than amused Argentinian international Erik Lamela, Mr Rabona. The first invader was given a rapturous reception as he evaded capture for a couple of minutes. A bit later a second so-called fan breached the security to run on the pitch. Roberto Soldado can’t catch a goal by accident, but he managed to grab the fan’s t-shirt. That fan was led off too.

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Enough

The third invader was booed loudly by fans. He was quickly captured thanks to a magnificent rugby tackle by an irate Belgian international Moussa Dembélé, which suggests he may have an alternative sporting career should he choose. All three were arrested and led away. Spurs have announced that the fans have been banned and that all three had their tickets bought by the same person.

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The three pitch-invaders were wearing the same branded T-shirt. Bassbuds a company making headphones was at the centre of the controversy. Pending an investigation Spurs have suspended any involvement the club has with the company. Spurs say that they could not have predicted the third invasion, even after the second and therefore saw no reason to increase security around the pitch.

Both Tottenham Hotspur’s Head Coach as Mauricio Pochetino prefers to be called and his counterpart Marko Nikolić said that they were not worried for the safety of their players, but that it affected the flow of the match. UEFA was asked for comment, Partizan were ordered to play their next match with a partial stadium ban after an offensive banner was displayed by their fans in the match in Belgrade.

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Their coach lost no time praising the conduct of Partizan’s fans tonight. Despite claiming that they could not have predicted the third fan bursting onto the pitch Tottenham Hotspur can expect UEFA to take a dim view of tonight’s events.

Ten Man Belgium Beat South Korea

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 26th 2014)

Comfortable

Despite Marc Wilmots resting key players such as Chelseaʼs and Hong Myung-boʼs team needing nothing less than a convincing win South Korea could not find a way past Wilmotsʼ team even though Belgium were reduced to ten men for more than a half. Australian referee Ben Williams punished Porto midfielder Steven Defourʼs studs up challenge on Kim Shin-wook with a deserved red card after 43 minutes.

Although South Korea had a man advantage for more than a half, they could not find a way past an impressive Thibaut Courtois. Tottenham Hotspurʼs Jan Vertonghen scored the only goal of the match after 76 minutes when he followed up substitute Divock Origi shot. Ulsan Hyundaiʼs goal-keeper Kim Seung-gyu parried Origiʼs shot and Vertonghen knocked in the rebound.

Penalty Claims

The referee came under pressure to award penalties. South Koreaʼs Koo Ja-cheol had a strong penalty claim against Tottenham Hotspurʼs Moussa Dembélé waved away by Williams. Seconds earlier Lee Chung-yong who plays for Bolton Wanderers claimed to have been impeded in the penalty area by Dembélé, but that wasnʼt given either. Replays suggested that the second claim at least had merit.

Before long Belgian appeals were turned away too. Manchester Unitedʼs Adnan Januzaj and Anderlechtʼs Zairean-born defender Anthony Vanden Borre exchanged passes before Vanden Borre cut into the area, but Kim Young-gwon who plays his football in China for Guangzhou Evergrande. Threw his body across Vanden Borreʼs path – not a penalty, but obstruction.

Nine minutes into the second half another contentious decision occurred as Belgium were denied a a free-kick on the edge of the area. Manchester United misfit Marouane Fellaini was found by Januzaj and surged forward. Hong Jeong-ho tripped Fellaini, but Williams waved play on.

Range

Midway through the first half Fellaini flicked it on to Evertonʼs Kevin Mirallas. The Everton forwardʼs shot rebounded to Dries Mertens, but Napoliʼs winger blazed over from 8 yards out. Chelseaʼs Thibaut Courtois, who has spent the last three years on loan to La Liga Champions Atlético de Madrid tipped Sunderlandʼs Ki Sung-yeungʼs long range shot around the post – an excellent save.

Meanwhile, Vertonghenʼs long range shooting left much to be desired. Mertens had a go from 25 yards out, but failed to beat Kim Seung-gyu. A quick South Korean break down the right wing resulted in a cross-shot by Son catching Courtois out, but it hit the bar. With 13 minutes remaining Kim Seung-gyu spilled Origiʼs shot, palming out into the path of Vertonghen, who scored.

Replays showed that the Spurs defender was fractionally off-side. It didnʼt really matter as South Korea needed to win by enough to oust Algeria, who had held Russia to a 1-1 draw on goal difference, and that never looked likely. Belgium and Algeria advance to the last sixteen where they will play the USA and Germany respectively.

 

Belgium win Bore-fest

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 22nd 2014)

Dreadful Spectacle

Substitute Divock Origi spared the blushes of Marc Wilmotsʼ touted Belgium. For fans at the Maracaña it was so dreary that Belgium and Russia were booed. Fabio Capello can point to a poor refereeing decision after 27 minutes. Denis Glushakov put Maksim Kanunnikov in on the left of the area. He was plainly brought down by Toby Alderweireld. Referee Felix Brych should have given a penalty, but wrongly waved play on.

Aleksandr Kokorin squeezed between Manchester Cityʼs Vincent Kompany and Spursʼ Jan Vertonghen (who had replaced Arsenalʼs Thomas Vermaellen) to meet Glushakovʼs cross, but headed wide. He had to do better. Russia rarely threatened again.

Belgium offered little in the first half except the odd bright moment provided by Dries Mertens, whose lovely turn embarrassed Sergei Ignashevich, but Romelu Lukaku abandoned the chase as Mertens crossed. Igor Akinfeev dealt with the danger, having promised that there would be no repetition of the error against South Korea.

Progress

With ten minutes. remaining Belgium sprang to life. Substitute Kevin Mirallas struck the post from a 20 yard free-kick with Akinfeev beaten. Andrey Eschenko was put through by Kokorin with ten minutes remaining. His shot from just inside the area went just wide of Thibaut Courtoisʼ right-hand post. It was the last serious threat that Capelloʼs team mounted.

Belgium had the more incisive attacks as Eden Hazard came into his own. Kevin de Bruyne broke forward before passing to Origi, who found Hazard on the left. Chelseaʼs midfielder cut into the area before pulling it back for Origi to give Akinfev no chance. In injury time Mirallas should have scored after an excellent move, but was foiled by Akinfeev.

It didnʼt matter as the win guarantees that Belgium will at least progress to the last 16. Russia must go back to the drawing board, knowing that nothing less than a win against Algeria in their final match will do.