Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Live updates for Aston Villa-Manchester United

The teams:

Villa: Friedel, L. Young, Dunne, Collins, Cuellar, Petrov, Delph, Downing, Young, Milner, Agbonlahor.
United: Van Der Sar, Evra, Brown, Evans, De Silva, Giggs, Carrick, Nani, Scholes, Fletcher, Rooney.

No Heskey and no Carew for Villa, hurts a squad that is already struggling for goals in the EPL. United the better of possession through he first 15 minutes, but that's no surprise. Villa will look to spring the speedy Agbonlahor on the break.

Carlos Cuellar has been pushing upfield from his center half position. Villa wins a corner in the 18th minute after a deflected shot. Van Der Sar punches the corner away....but the ball is played in to the box and finds its way to the head of Cuellar....who scores! Lobbed header over Van Der Sar. Cuellar was getting forward and it paid off there following the corner. Villa up 1-0 in the 20th minute.

United waste no time in equalizing. The in-form Nani sends long cross past the goal to Giggs in the box, who sends it back to the middle where James Collins puts in an unfortuante own goal. I think that's 10 o.g's for United this year.

Nani gets sent off in what is an action filled game at Villa Park. The Portugal international goes flying through the air with a two-footed challenge on Petrov, and actually seems to win the ball. But just such an unnecessary move on Nani's part. Red card perhaps harsh. United down to 10 men in just the 32nd minute.

Rooney playing as the lone front man for 10-man United, looking to spring an offsides trap, but Villa appear to have well in their sights. Will Martin O'Neil bring in another striker and satisfy the Villa Park faithful, or stay with his original formation? United still look dangerous.

John Carew coming on for Villa and already making an impact. Villa was having problems crossing the halfway line before that.

Berbatov on for United as SAF thinks United can win this game. Tough to disagree based on run of play. I feel boos will rain down on Villa even if game ends in a draw.

No boos, but no cheers either as it finishes Villa 1-1 United. It'll be United in second and Villa in 7th when the midweek games finish up. The teams meet again in the Carling Cup final at the end of the month.

Ranking of Europa League teams

Teams 17-48, the 32 teams reamining in the Europa League.

17. Valencia (Spain) - Stars David Silva and David Villa have gone nowhere - yet
18. Juventus (Italy) - 0-3 home loss to Milan was a rough start to Juve's 2010
19. Roma (Italy) - Mirko Vucinic one of the more underrated players in Serie A
20. Marseille (France) - Captain Mamadou Niang leads club with eight goals in all competitions
21. Liverpool (England) - Bounced out of Champions League, but would still love a trophy
22. Werder Bremen (Germany) - Despite losing Diego to Juve, last year's runners-up still strong
23. Wolfsburg (Germany) - Last year's Bundes Liga champs finished third in Champions League group
24. Benfica (Portugal) - Perennial Portuguese Liga power has gotten 13 goals from Oscar Cardozo
25. Sporting Lisbon (Portugal) - Like Benfica, Sporting won its Europa League group
26. Fenerbahce (Turkey) - Brazilian Alex and Spaniard Dani Guiza scoring loads of goals
27. Galatasaray (Turkey) - Like rivals above, won its Europa League group; have added Lucas Neill
28. Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine) - The holders had +11 goal differential in EL Group Stage
29. Anderlecht (Belgium) - Won EL Group, top of league, in quarters of domestic cup
30. PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands) - Young Swede Ola Toivonen scored four goals in a game earlier this year for PSV
31. Unirea Urziceni (Romania) - One of many Romanian teams showing promise in Europeancompetitions in recent years
32. Rubin Kazan (Russia) - 2009 Russian champs have already booked a spot in next year's Champions League
33. Atletico Madrid (Spain) - Despite 11th place standing in La Liga and poor Champions League showing (-9 goal differential), Sergio Aguero and Simao make Atletico a team to fear
34. Standard Liege (Belgium) - Serbian Milan Jovanovic continuing strong scoring record for Liege with 12 goals in all competitions this year
35. Red Bull Salzburg (Austria) - Salzburg meets Liege in what should be an evenly matched cup tie in the first Europa League knockout stage
36. Hapoel Tel-Aviv (Israel) - Overcame Hamburg and Celtic to win Europa League group; Israeli Maaran Lala scored winning goal in 2-1 home win over Celtic
37. Hamburg (Germany) - Fighting for Champions League place in Bundes Liga despite departure of coach Martin Jol to Ajax before the season began
38. Lille (France) - Ivory Coast striker Gervinho (age 22) has 11 goals in his first seasons for Lille after a move from French club Le Mans, helping Lille climb to second in Ligue 1
39. Panathinaikos (Greece) - Former Liverpool frontman Djibril Cisse has given goal scoring punch to the Greek giants, who are top of the league ahead of rivals Olympiakos
40. Twente (Netherlands) - Former England manager Steve McClaren has Twente on top of the Dutch Eredivisie, ahead of the likes of PSV and Ajax
41. Fulham (England) - Bobby Zamora and Zolton Gera will be counted on to pick up the scoring slack left by the injuries to Andrew Johnson and Clint Dempsey
42. Everton (England) - The loan move of Landon Donovan to Everton could provide some creativity to David Moyes' club
43. Athletic Bilbao (Spain) - Javi Martinez (21) and Fernando Llorente Torres (24) among top young players for the Basque club
44. Villareal (Spain) - The Yellow Submarine has slipped down the La Liga table (10th), but goal-scorer Giuseppe Rossi and midfielder Robert Pires should keep them afloat
45. Ajax (Netherlands) - Martin Jol's team sits third in Eredivisie table, but lead league in goal differential; Uruguayan Luis Suarez has been a big reason with 18 league goals
46. Club Brugge (Belgium) - Croatian Ivan Perisic (aged 20) is off to a strong start with his new club after a transfer from French side FC Sochaux
47. FC Copenhagen (Denmark) - Copenhagen is back in the Round of 32 after falling 4-3 on aggregate to Manchester City in the same round last year. Senegal international Dame N'Doye, among the team's bigger goal-scoring threats, had a strong group stage to lead Copenhagen to second place
48. Hertha Berlin (Germany) - Not only is Hertha in last place in the Bundes Liga, but it has a league worst goal differential. Young Serbian Gojko Kacar's second half goal against Sporting, the group winners, clinched Hertha's birth in the Round of 32.

First ranking of 2010

European Football Rankings unveils its first set, starting with the 16 teams in the knockout stage of the Champions League. Defending CL champion Barcelona heads the ranking.

1. Barcelona (Spain) - Yet to lose in La Liga
2. Chelsea (England) - Leaders of the EPL
3. Real Madrid (Spain) - Ronaldo move makes Madrid legit CL challenger
4. Manchester United (England) - Same great possession, but lack star power
5. Arsenal (England) - Still in contention for EPL and CL trophies
6. Inter Milan (Italy) - Special One can win Serie A, but can he make a move in CL?
7. AC Milan (Italy) - Huge recent improvement from Milan and new manager Leonardo
8. Bordeaux (France) - Ligue 1 leaders
9. Bayern Munich (Germany) - Clinched knockout round spot on final match day
10. Sevilla (Spain) - Sport dangerous attack pairing with Kanoute and Fabiano
11. Fiorentina (Italy) - Won a CL group that included Lyon and Liverpool
12. Lyon (France) - Strangely off the pace a bit in Ligue 1
13. Olympiakos (Greece) - Battling rival Panathinaikos atop Greek Super League
14. Porto (Portugal) - Tough draw against Arsenal in knockout stage
15. Stuttgart (Germany) - Struggling in Bundes Liga and must play Barcelona in CL final 16
16. CSKA Moscow (Russia) - Finished fifth in league and will be in Europa League next season

Friday, January 30, 2009

Hamburg v. Bayern Munich live updates (Donovan on the bench)

Live updates of the Hamburg v. Bayern Munich match in the Bundes Liga begin at about 2:30 p.m. New York time. The two teams played to a 2-2 draw on Aug. 15 in the opening match of the season.

Bayern is tied with Hoffenheim on 35 points for first place in the league table, but Hoffenheim holds a 3-goal lead in goal differential. Hamburg and Hertha BSC Berlin are tied at 33 points, but Berlin holds a five-goal lead in goal differential to claim the third and final Champions League spot at the moment.

Bayern have brought in American forward Landon Donovan on loan from the L.A. Galaxy, while Hamburg lost Dutch defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong to Manchester City in the quickly closing transfer window.

We're underway with Donovan on the bench for Bayern. Hamburg already with a couple of chances in the opening minutes, the last of which saw Jonathan Pitroipa shoot wide.

Bayern are on their heels. Piotr Trochowski with a blast from the right outside the box that beats Michael Rensing across his body but hits the post and goes wide. Check that, Rensing actually got a piece of it or it was in. Excellent save.

Lucio saves Bayern this time as he races back to cut off a break from Jose Paolo Guerrero who was about to go in alone on Rensing. Claims for a penalty, and Lucio did use his arm to bring him down, but that would have been a harsh penalty. Great pace from Lucio to catch up.

Lucio with a lower leg injury but he's going to try and play through it. Hamburg comes right back and goes at Lucio with Guerrero. Lucio not looking like he can walk at times, but then he comes back and makes a great play. Who knows.

Collin Benjamin (Ben-ya-meen) goes into the book for discent towards the very stern referee, who was even letting his presence be known to the kids in the tunnell.

Pitroipa makes a nice run from his wide right position, and with a great ball from Guerrero appears to be in, but Philipp Lahm, my choice for the best outside back in the world, cuts him off and gets the ball away. It's all Hamburg at this point.

Martin Demichelis goes into the book for challenge slightly from behind. Looked worse live than on the replay. The game is getting very chippy. Hamburg keeper Frank Rost goes into the book for an elbow while trying to make room for himself for an impending free kick.

Luca Toni uses his off arm to ward off a defender, but the powerful Italian gets called for a foul (perhaps by the lineman) moments before he shoots past Rost for what looks like a 1-0 Bayern lead. On the replay, it looks like Toni didn't do much wrong, but the whistle clearly blew before the shot, so perhaps Rost let up.

The two captains go up for a 50-50 ball, with David Jarolim getting the worst of it from Mark van Bommel. Jarolim took a forearm in the air and then an elbow on the ground, but it appeared to be a pretty fair challenge.

Guerrero with a rocket shot with the left from the top of the box, but Rensing punched away the shot, which was very close to him.

Hamburg now with a corner, which Jarolim eventually gathers when Bayern can't clear. Rensing makes the save on Jarolim, but the rebound goes to Mladen Petric who heads it into the empty net with Rensing on the ground. Perhaps harsh to blame Rensing, but he sent the rebound right into a dangerous area, and the result is a 1-0 Hamburg lead. Petric also could have been offside at the time of Jarolim's shot, but no call.

It's halftime, a very much deserved 1-0 to Hamburg. Toni's been strong in the first half, but nothing at all from Klose. Perhaps Donovan to the rescue in the final 20 minutes or so? We'll see.

Frantic action to start the action. Petric hits the post, and Guerrero's follow goes high and wide. On the opposite end, Klose in the box has claims for a handball on Hamburg and perhas his shot going over the line before Rost saves it. He gets neither.

Pitroipa goes down in the box, but properly gets a yellow card for diving. First sub to Hamburg as Jerome Boateng comes on for a limping Bastian Reinhardt. Turkey international Hamit Altintop comes on for Bayern.

Klose starting to make his presence felt, this time his shot is saved up over the net by Rost. End-to-end action as Pitroipa uses nifty footwork to get free but shoots wide of the net.

Unbelievable miss from Toni after some beautiful football from Bayern. Lahm sends a perfect lob pass to the far post to Klose, who heads back to the other post where Toni is waiting with an empty net in front him. The header....goes...wide.

The second sub is on for Bayern as Tim Borowski replaces Ze Roberto in the 71st minute. Bastian Schweinsteiger, who really hasn't been heard from much since the opening minutes, turns and gets a shot on goal, but without a lot of power, and Rost makes a fairly simple save.

Landy Cakes is coming on! He's got the warm-up gear off and will likely come on at the next chance. Wearing the No. 13 shirt, Donovan comes on for Schweinsteiger, so it'll probably be Donovan playing right behind the strikers Klose and Toni. Oh yeah, and Ribery wide. Nice.

Donovan sets up a great chance for Borowski, who scuffs it at the top of the box and it still almost slowly, slowly rolls into the net. Instead goes just wide. Hamburg still on the attack despite the score and time. Petric nearly earns a penalty but Demichelis gotjust enough of the ball.

Klose nearly equalizes but his shot is blocked by both Boateng and Rost and is eventually cleared. Unlucky.

Less than three minutes to go in regulation time, Lucio makes a great run with the ball but his right-footed shot goes the wrong way and wide left. Less than two to go and Bayern is pressing for the equalizer.

Only two minutes of extra time, so Bayern has to hurry. Hamburg on the counter 4-2, but Demichelis intercepts a pass. Donovan with a good cross, and Bayern have a throw in with a minute to go. Toni's side volley blocked out for a corner, and it's Ribery to take it with 20 seconds left. Even Rensing up to get it, but cleared away.'s over.

Hamburg go top for at least a day up to 36 points. Great game.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wigan v. Liverpool live updates

Liverpool goes into the game three points behind leaders Manchester United at the top of the English Premier League table. Robbie Keane, struggling to find a game with the Reds, is once again on the bench.

Wigan sits in 7th place, but are now playing with a different squad after the sale of striker Emile Heskey to Aston Villa and the anticipated sale of midfielder Wilson Palacios to Tottenham.

Wigan is without keeper Chris Kirkland, who failed a fitness test before the match. Michael Pollitt takes his place. The Egyptian striker combination of Amr Zaki and Mido is also on display.

Possession battle belongs to Liverpool at the 20 minute mark, but the game has been lacking for chances. The Steven Gerrard-Fernando Torres combo looks on point to produce a goal, however.

Javier Mascherano just showed his class by taking the ball cleanly away from Daniel de Ridder, who was doing a little too much dummying over the ball. De Ridder might be looking for a whole to crawl in after that one.

There's just something shaky in the back with Liverpool it seems. Most balls in the air seem like a real challenge to Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtl. We're in the 36th minute and although Liverpool can still say they have the better of the play, the tide has turned a little.

Mascherano this time with a brilliant little through ball into the box behind the Wigan defense, and Yossi Benayoun beat Pollitt to the ball and tucked it in from a tight angle wide to the right to give Liverpool the 1-0 lead near the 42 minute mark. Great touch by Mascherano.

Mido wins a free kick outside the Liverpool box, and does nothing with it. Liverpool does the same right before halftime, and Gerrard has a go from 30 yards out that just goes over the bar. Pollitt had no chance at that one. Halftime.

Mascherano keeping up his good play with another steal early in the second half. Maynor Figueroa gets a yellow card for a tough challenge - not his first such challenge of the match - which results in a Liverpool free kick. Alvaro Arbeloa's kick was struck well, but went right to Pollitt.

Wigan continues to work the aerial game, but Mido is too far out near the edge of the box to do much damage with his head.

Ryan Taylor with a free kick from 40 yards out that looked to be a good chance to play the ball deep into the box, but he played it well over the goal for a goal kick in the 60th minute.

Mascherano managed to get the ball wide right and sent went through the area that Pollitt had to send over for Liverpool's second corner. Amr Zaki broke free with the resulting corner, but poorly lost possession without even a pass attempt. Jason Koumas comes on for de Ridder in the 64th minute.

Israel international Benayoun made a great bid for a second goal with tremendous footwork and dribbling in the box but Pollitt managed a save and Wigan survived the resulting attempts.

Wigan's new signing, Hugo Rodallega of Columbia, is warming up and could come on at striker, probably for Mido who seems to be tiring.

Wigan earns a corner in the 70th minute which Zaki gets a head on but sends past the goal. Torres comes off (of course) but it's Albert Riera coming on for him and not Keane. No matter, as the ball comes down to Gerrard in mid-run, and his cross-goal shot went wide to Pollitt's right and also wide of the post.

Now it's Dirk Kuyt coming on for Benayoun after the goal scorer took a bit of a knock to the back of the head. He walked off the pitch fine. Here comes Rodallega, but for Zaki not Mido. Henri Camara comes on for Taylor, as Wigan adds another forward in its hope to avoid a third straight 1-0 loss.

Penalty! Lucas Leiva clips sub Koumas in the box, and Mido steps up. He scores! In his debut, sends Reina the wrong way and drills it in the bottom left.

NOW here comes Keane, and they need a goal or they will be 2 points behind Manchester United with United holding a game in hand. Rafa's throat is quickly closing.

Mascherano has been great all game, but he gave Wigan a free kick with a questionable foul (looked like he got a lot of the ball) right outside the box on the right side in the 91st minute. Rodallega drilled the free kick, but off the crossbar. It's only January, but that could have been Liverpool's league hopes if that went in.

Wigan gets a last chance on a Riera foul about 35 yards out. But Koumas' deliverance into the box is poor, and that's the game.

Liverpool packed it in too early taking out Torres and Benayoun while not bringing on Keane until it was too late. Liverpool was much the better side for the first 70 minutes, and should have went for the second goal to finish it out. Give Bruce credit for bringing on fresh, attacking legs and getting his side a 1-1 draw.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

No. 10: Lyon (France)

Olympique Lyonnais will carry the torch for France in the knockout round of the Champions League. Bordeaux and Marseille also were in the group stage, but both clubs finished third and will be in knockout round of the UEFA Cup.

Lyon - which has never advanced past the quarterfinals of the Champions League - took second in their group with a +4 goal differential behind Bayern Munich. Next up - a round of 16 tie with Barcelona, the team that has looked better than any other in Europe this season.

If there is a reason for Lyon fans to be hopeful, he wears the No. 10 shirt. France's Karim Benzema, who just turned 21 in December, already has 19 caps for the national team and 36 goals in 93 career appearances for Lyon. Benzema is one of three players who have goals thus far in the Champions League, joining Liverpool's Steven Gerrard, Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Bayern Munich's Miroslav Klose.

The homefront is where Lyon really shines. The club has won a Ligue 1 record seven titles in a row, and is in first again this year, but just a point ahead of Bordeaux. The club has a very talent squad which also includes French internationals like starting defender Jean-Alain Bournsongm starting midfielder Sidney Govou, midfielder Jeremy Toulalan, defender Francois Clerc, defender Anthony Reveillere and keeper Hugo Lloris. Other internationals include Italy defender Fabio Grasso, Sweden midfielder Kim Kallstrom and Brazalians like Juninho, Fred and Cris.
Lyon, which is also in the final 32 of the French Cup, has three home games in its next five, the last of which is home fixture against fourth-place team Rennes.

News, results from the weekend

Some big stories coming out of England in the last few days. First, Kaka is staying at Milan after Milan rejected a 91-million pound offer. Tough to get exactly what happened, but that's the more likely story as opposed to Milan wanting the move and Kaka himself rejecting it. It's also possible that Robinho has reacted badly towards the news, but he says his walkout is just to take care of family matters in Brazil.

The other big news was Rafa Benitez rejecting a contract offer from Liverpool, claiming he wants more control over the academy and possibly transfers. Benitez, fresh off his rant against Sir Alex Ferguson, has also seen his side blow the lead in the English Premier League. Manchester United and Liverpool are now tied on points with Man U. holding a game in hand. Pressure is mounting on Benitez.

The struggles of Atletico Madrid continued in La Liga as it managed only a 1-1 draw with15th-place Almeria on Sunday. The Champions League knockout round side is sixth in La Liga, leading Malaga only on goal differential. Atletico has also been recently knocked out of the Copa del Rey by Barcelona. Mexican manager Javier Aguirre is under pressure to turn results around soon.

In Serie A, Juventus had a chance to cut Inter Milan's lead to just one point after Inter lost 3-1 at Atalanta on Saturday. But the Old Lady managed only a 1-1 draw at Lazio and are now three points behind Inter.

Things remained tight in Ligue 1 as Lyon and Bordeaux both won to maintain Lyon's 1-point advantage. Marseille moved into third place with its win and a Rennes loss, meaning at this point in the season the same three clubs as last year would advance to the Champions League.

Domestic cups take center state in mid-week in Spain and Italy. England has cup games all week, including the weekend, which means the Premier League is off. Here are some big league games around Europe on the weekend.

Saturday, Jan. 24
Italy's Serie A (3rd best league in Europe)
Juventus vs. Fiorentina - Juventus could join Inter on 43 points at the top for the time being with a win. Fiorentina, sixth place, managed a 1-1 draw earlier in the year at home in Florence.

Portuguese Liga (8th best league in Europe)
Nacional vs. Sporting CP - Sporting can go top of the table with a win over fifth-place Nacional, which is home and holding on to the final Europa League spot.

Braga vs. Porto - Porto -defending champions - enter the weekend a point behind Sporting and Benefica atop the table. Braga is just a point behind Nacional for the final Europa League spot.

Dutch Eredivisie (9th best league in Europe)
PSV vs. NAC Breda - The Eredivisie holds a playoff for the fifth-eighth place teams for the final European spot, and both of these teams are in that area now. Breda beat PSV 2-1 at home in the first go-around.

Scottish Premier League (10th best league in Europe)
Aberdeen vs. Rangers - Rangers and Celtic have won every Scottish top division title since 1984-'85 when Aberdeen, managed by one Sir Alex Ferguson, took the title. This year Celtic and Rangers again sit first and second, with Rangers leading Aberdeen by 13 points for second. Aberdeen actually has fewer losses than Rangers.

Turkish Super Lig (11th best league in Europe)
Sivasspor vs. Galatasaray - Galatasaray - defending champions - and Fenerbahce are the two more popular clubs in Turkey, but they find themselves in third and fourth behind first-place Sivasspor and Trabzonspor. In fact, Sivasspor, which has already beaten Fenerbahce this year, have only most recently gained promotion to the Super Lig at the end of 2004-2005 season by winning the Second League.

Sunday, January 25
Spanish La Liga (2nd best league in Europe)
Malaga vs. Atletico - These two clubs are both on 31 points, with Atletico holding the goal differential edge for the sixth spot - which comes with a Europa League spot. Agguire needs a win badly.

Italy's Serie A (3rd best league in Europe)
Napoli vs. AS Roma - Roma has been fighting an uphill battle in the league all season, but could now reach the European qualification zone with a win. Napoli sits fifth, just two points behind Genoa for the fourth and final Champions League spot.

Turkish Super Liga (11th best league in Europe)
Fenerbahce vs. Trabzonspor - On Saturday it's 1 vs. 3 in the Super Lig, here it's 4 vs. 2. The difference here is that Fenerbahce is home, and also that Trabzonspor, as a former league champions is a more established name in Turkish football than Sivasspor. Either way, two great games for Turkish fans this weekend.

Monday, January 19, 2009

No. 189: Boducnost Podgorica (Montenegro)

Buducnost suffered a tough loss in the UEFA Champions League first qualifying round, the second straight heart-breaking defeat in European competition for the Varvari (Buducnost's fans).
Buducnost qualified for Europe for the first time with a second place finish in the Montenegrin First League in 2006/2007. The club lost 2-1 aggregate to Hajduk Split of Croatia in the 2007-'08 UEFA Cup first qualifying round, but in league play finished first for the first time to win the Champions League spot.
This time, Buducnost lost 3-2 aggregate to Tampere United (Finland), gaining only a 1-1 draw in the second leg at home.

Buducnost is making another run at a European spot this year. The club is in second place, four points behind leaders Mogren in the MFL, which is in a tie for 50th in the UEFA rankings. Buducnost is also in the semifinals of the domestic cup, another way it could get into Europe.

The club recently added Chad international Misdongard Betoligar, who has 24 caps for his country. Midfielder Ivan Delic is one of a few Boducnost players who have been recently called up to the Montenegro national team.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The case for Manchester City's Kaka move

Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan took over Manchester City on transfer deadline day this season and he and chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak wasted no time in making an impact.

The club landed disgruntled Robinho for 32.5 million pounds from Rea Madrid, swooping in at the last minute to take him away from Chelsea. Robinho, who was looking for a wage increase from Real Madrid, was the perfect target for Man City.

Of course, he's an excellent forward, with all the flair and skill you'd expect from a Brizilian. But more so, he wanted the one thing that City had to offer - cash.

With his wages now increased, Robinho settled in and has had a very good year for City, leading the club in goals. However, as shown by City's mid-table or worse performance over the past few years, the rest of the club is not up to the task of finishing in the top seven, let alone the top four.

Remember, this was a club that has been relegated in this decade, and despite a strong academy and great fan support, has never been close to top four status since.

The club, including manager Mark Hughes, knows that Robinho alone is not enough. But how could City get lucky again, and find other players unhappy at their big clubs just willing to take the cash? And even if they did find them, would that be the kind of group you'd want to have?

Man City seems to have a grasp on the idea that's not the way to go. But to get more good players in - and maybe more importantly to keep Robinho around - it's going to take an absolute statement signing.

That's where Kaka comes in to play. Although Brazilian like Robinho, he is not thought to have the same attitude. He claims to want to be a priest when he retires. He loves AC Milan, his current club, respects its status as perhaps the greatest club of all time. He wants to play in the Champions League. He wants trophies.

If that kind of player is at Man City, then every other player in the world know that the Citizens are serious. From that point on, it won't take 175 million pounds to sign every player. It will take serious money, no doubt, but at this moment nobody believes Man City as a serious threat - on the field - to become an elie team.

But if the club can hold up Robinho - who will no doubt stay - and Kaka to the rest of the world and say, "join us," they will become that elite team.

Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan is paying nine figures not for Kaka, but for respect.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

No. 190: Olimpik Baku (Azerbaijan)

The Pilots as they are known are a relatively new team as the club was just founded in 1996. Olimpik Baku earned its first UEFA Cup spot last year, and came very close to winning its first tie.

Vojvodina Novi Sa of Serbia knocked the Pilots out in the first qualifying round by a 2-1 aggregate score. Vojvodina won the opening leg at home 1-0, and the teams played to a 1-1 draw in Azerbaijan.

Exactly halfway through the Azerbaijan Premier League season, which is the 41st best league in Europe according to UEFA, Olimpik have some work to do to get back into Europe. The club sits in sixth place, three points behind Simurq Zaqatala for third place and the final UEFA Cup spot. Olimpik are six points behind leaders Inter Baku, last year's champion.

Olimpik are in the final eight of the domestic cup, which will also grant a place to the winner.

Moldova defender Serghei Lascencov, who has 26 caps for his country, is one of the Pilots best players. Olimpik has a few players who player for the Azerbaijan national team, including forward Leandro Gomes, who came on as a substitute in Azerbaijan's 0-0 draw with Liechtenstein. That's the only point Azerbaijan has from three World Cup qualifying games.