The English Premier League title race got a whole lot more interesting when Man City ’08 and Man United were both eliminated from the Champions League and as a result parachuted into the Europa Cup. Both teams will now be playing games on Thursday nights and for every Europa round they negotiate will have two more league fixtures pushed back to a Sunday kick off. The two teams which might gain the most are Spurs and Liverpool who have no European football to worry about. Throw in the fact that United play City in the FA Cup and it is easy to sense the gap between the top six sides will tighten in the coming months.
Steve Bruce became the first managerial casualty of the EPL season and rightly so as Extra Time has predicted for some time. It is never nice to see someone lose his job or so the saying goes. Then again it is never right to see someone incomptentnt remain in one when all the signs are he should be fired. While Sunderland fans are now celebrating the arrival of the Messiahical Martin O’Neill they would be wise to keep their feet firmly on the ground. Blessed Martin as Celtic fans call him is a good manager and he will steer the Mackems out of trouble, but he has limitations tactically and in the transfer market. Sunderland will be a top ten team under O’Neill, but a Europa Cup spot will be the peak of their ambitions.
The first Classico of the Spanish season ended as many in recent years have done with Barcelona outplaying, outclassing and eventually beating bitter rivals Real Madrid. Jose Mourinho’s side got off to a flying start when their pressing style led to a goal for Karim Benzema after just 20 seconds. Real’s in your face style rattled and frustrated Barca, but did not lead to their capitulation. They regained composure, slowly imposed their passing game on Real and scored three unanswered goals, the third of which was a fantastic team move finished off by Cesc Febregas. Cristiano Ronaldo should have extended Real’s lead at 1-0 and equalized at 1-2. He didn’t on either occasion and was left to rue his profligacy. In the last 15 minutes Real lost their shape and were left chasing shadows as Barca played keep away in a show of arrogance that the home team and its fans had to endure
For some the name Socrates brings forth images of Greek life and philosophy. For others it will be scintillating goals against the Soviet Union and Italy at the 1982 World Cup in Spain. Socrates, the great Brazilian player died last week. He and his team mates lit up the 1982 and 1986 World Cups especially the former and may be the finest group of players never to have won a World Cup. For my generation Socrates, Zico, Eder, Falcao, and Junior are names that roll easily off the tongue and revive memories of a team that played football the way it was and is meant to be played. Paolo Rossi’s hat trick in that never to be forgotten quarter-final game in Barcelona sent Brazil home. Italy would eventually be crowned world champions, but the ‘fans’ champions’ and the darlings of Spain ’82 will forever be Brazil. Zico became the poster child of the team, but it was Socrates who was their real and charismatic leader.
The draw for the Euro 2012 Finals in Poland-Ukraine threw up four groups that promise a feast of entertaining football and interesting match ups next summer. The two co-host nations have relatively easy groups to negotiate while there are two so called groups of death. Ireland have an impossible task in trying to overcome Croatia, Spain and Italy with the game against the latter a chance for Giovanni Trappatoni to play the nation of his birth. Germany, Holland, Portugal and Denmark make up the other group of death. England lucked out with Sweden, Ukraine and France, but would be wise to win the group so as to avoid a last eight match up with Spain. Poland, Greece, Russia and the Czech Republic make up one of the blandest groups in major tournament history. Germany, Holland and Spain are the early favorites, but a lot can change between now and the summer. After their recent win over Spain and Wayne Rooney’s reduced suspension England can’t be discounted as an outside. Could the Three Lions be the Greece of 2012?