Thursday, November 26, 2009

La Happenings (extended version)

Hey guys, recently I wrote a La Liga roundup for web magazine Half Time Heroes (see below). The version in HTH is actually an edited version as my first version was a bit too long. But i thought some of you might be interested in the full version:

La Happenings

A roundup of everything La Liga...and more

By Kieran Pender
The 2009/10 La Liga season kicked off with all the hype surrounding the new Galacticos era, CR9, the 2009 Champions League winners and a crazy swap deal involving Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Samuel Eto’o. So far it definitely hasn’t disappointed.

Going into the international break, FC Barcelona are sitting proudly atop the La Liga table; on a grand total of twenty six points. One point below them is the Nuevo Galacticos of Real Madrid. However, while one point off the current European Champions may seem a fair effort for a new team still gelling together, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Madrid this year.

Star man, Cristiano Ronaldo, has been the target of a voodoo priest; who claims to have been paid to inflict injury on Ronaldo. And whether a result of voodoo magic, or just the rigours of football, Ronaldo has sustained an injury, which has kept him out of Madrid’s team for a few important games.

But Ronaldo has told the media, and his favourite voodoo priest, that he will be fit to play in the El Clásico; Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, at the Nou Camp on November 29th. El Clásico, possibly the biggest derby in the world, will undoubtedly be extra riveting this year, with the series of events that have transpired recently. So make sure you’re up bright and early (or very, very late) for the game.

Despite the hype in the battle for first place, the real battle of the La Liga season won’t be for first place, the real battle is for third and fourth, the remaining champions league spots.

The battle for these two places is traditionally fought between Valencia CF, Sevilla FC, Atletico Madrid and Villarreal CF, with the two losers dropping into the Europa League. Before the season kicked off it appeared as if things would continue as normal. However, dismal starts from Atletico and Villarreal, and the unexpected good form from the likes of Deportivo La Coruna, RCD Mallorca and even Sporting Gijon has completely blown open the hidden battle of La Liga.

To these clubs, coming third and fourth is the equivalent of winning the league, as the supremacy of Barcelona and Madrid makes that an unachievable dream. In fact, in the last twenty years, only three clubs other than Barcelona or Madrid have won, Valencia twice and Deportivo and Atletico with one each. Furthermore, entry into Champions League football offers these clubs large financial benefits, something some, such as Valencia, desperately need.

After ten games, Sevilla and Valencia seem to be in control of the third and fourth spots, sitting on twenty two and twenty one points respectively. But while the usual challengers of Atletico and Villarreal may not be contenders after their poor starts (the ‘other’ team from Madrid sits in the relegation zone on seven points while Valencia’s neighbours Villarreal sit two above them on nine), it looks to be the year of the outsiders to challenge them for Champions League football.

Super Depor, a club who made their name winning the league in 99/00 are looking good in fifth, only two points behind Valencia. Depor will however have to take down Atletico Madrid in the next game, an Atletico team that have been looking better after the arrival of new manager Quique Flores. Elsewhere, Mallorca is sitting pretty on seventeen points and the team with the greatest name in Spain, Sporting GIJON is level with the boys from Bilbao (Athletic Bilbao).

While in all likelihood the season will end with the big boys being in the top four (and as a Valencia fan I certainly hope Valencia are up there) it could be an interesting season for the real battle of La Liga.

Elsewhere in Spain, Madrid continues its proud tradition of insanity, losing 4-0 to Segunda B minnows Alcorcon in the first leg of their Copa del Ray clash, and only managing a one-nil victory at home in the return leg. Alcorcon ply their trade in the regionalised third tier of Spanish football, and actually play in the same league as Madrid’s youth side. To put it in an Australian perspective, it’s like Gold Coast United losing to, say, Central Coast Lightning (the Lightning play in the NSW Super League), although given Gold Coast’s recent form I wouldn’t say that was out of the question.

And finally, Xerez, the team fighting Grenoble for the tag of ‘worst team in a major European league’, are actually going well, and have even managed to lift themselves to the dizzy heights of….nineteenth. This comes after a win over troubled Villarreal and draws with Espanyol, Valladolid and Malaga, amongst their various losses. So, good luck to the men from Jerez de la Frontera in their quest to avoid relegation.

Half-Time Heroes

Friday, November 20, 2009

A League Round 15 Preview

The internationals are over and a new round of the A League is here!

Adelaide United v Gold Coast United, Friday, 8pm
Gold Coast have managed to claw back some respectability with their win over Sydney before the break, but Adelaide away will be a tough game. Adelaide have looked ok, but haven’t been able to convert their chances. I think Adelaide’s going to finally put on their scoring boots. 2-1 Adelaide

Brisbane Roar v Melbourne Victory, Saturday, 7pm
Probably the hardest game to tip. The Roar are on the up, and picked up a win last week, while Melbourne were looking good before getting tonked by CCM. Strangely, if this was in Melbourne I’d tip a draw, but as the game is in Brisbane, and Melbourne’s away from is very good, I think Melbourne will edge it. 2-1 Melbourne

North Queensland Fury v Central Coast Mariners, Saturday, 9pm
Central Coast are possibly the most random and inconsistent team in the A League, and currently sit on five wins, five draws and four losses. After beating Melbourne, it would be just Central Coast’s luck to lose to North Queensland. The Fury have moved back to the bottom after a loss to the Jets, so I can see the Fury turning it around and getting a win. 1-0 Fury

Newcastle Jets v Wellington Phoenix, Sunday, 5pm
Wellington have looked decent recently, and are sitting on sixth, but after the World Cup qualifier it wouldn’t surprise me if they were a little off the pace. Newcastle played Wellington in a mid week game, and lost 3-0, and I think they’ll look a little better this week, so I’m thinking a draw. 1-1 Draw

Perth Glory v Sydney FC, Sunday, 7pm
Definitely the pick of the weekend action, and I think this one will be a nail biter. Perth have dropped off the pace of late, and Sydney will be looking to bounce back from their loss last round. I may be crazy (quite possible) but I can see Perth getting something here, as their Socceroo stars will be looking to impress, both to get a loan move elsewhere, and to make it up to the fans. 2-1 Perth

Well enjoy your weekend lads!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Halftime Heroes November issue

Hey everyone, here's a copy of the November issue of HTH. Make sure you check out my article on La Liga (page 30-31).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Schwarz to the rescue as a ten man Socceroos side defeat Oman

Dominant performances from Mark Schwarzer and Luke Wilkshire made a late winner from Brett Emerton enough for a depleted Socceroos side to battle back and beat Oman. An Oman goal in the 17th minute was not enough to hold off the Socceroos, with both Luke Wilkshire and Brett Emerton finding the net for the Aussies.
The game started badly for the Socceroos, as young Middlesbrough defender Rhys Williams saw straight red for a clumsy challenge on Oman striker Emad Al Hosni after just 15 minutes. Not content with having the Socceroos a man down, Oman promptly converted the penalty that had ensued from Williams reckless challenge. It wasn’t all bad news for Australia, as Mark Schwarzer saved the penalty with the first of many heroics saves of the night, but Khalifa Ayil netted from the rebound.

But brilliance from Mark Bresciano in the 42nd minute saw a cross sail over Luke Wilkshire, who promptly levelled the game. Schwarzer’s heroics then saw Australia stay in the game, with the Fulham number one twice made close range saves. Then, in the 81st minute the Socceroos broke down the left, with Wilkshire setting David Carney free down the wing, before Carney crossed to Emerton, who promptly thumped it home.

The win marked a great comeback for Australia, which, finger crossed, will see them (with a little help from their A League counterparts) into the Asian Cup. Lucas Neill summed up the game by saying:

“I think it just summed up Australians tonight. The going got tough, we got our heads down, saw a very difficult challenge, took it on face to face and we were victorious. We really had to dig deep at times, rode a little bit of luck, but in the end really can be happy with they way we performed and won the game…Bring on South Africa.”