First night nerves
Manchester City’s long-awaited entrance on to the biggest stage did not go exactly according to plan. Much is expected of the big spenders in the Champions League this season, but in their opening game against Napoli, nerves got the better of them.
“This game was important for us and I think we were nervous, all the club was so nervous,” admitted City coach Roberto Mancini afterwards.
The alarm bells for Mancini’s side were ringing when Edinson Cavani put the Italian side ahead midway through the second half.
City’s normal response to such a setback would be for Mancini to make a quick phone call to his paymasters, who in turn would make a double your money offer to Cavani and then stick him on the bench for the next 18 months before loaning him out to a rival club.
This not being an option, City conjured up a response on the pitch, and a well-struck free-kick by Aleksandar Kolarov earned them a draw. However, in a group that also comprises Bayern Munich and Villarreal, these were definitely points dropped.
Shock of the day
The big shock of the night came in Milan where the 2010 winners Inter, were beaten by a Trabzonspor side who were only playing because Turkish champions, Fenerbahce, were thrown out of the competition under suspicion of match-fixing.
It was not a great night for Inter, and following on from the opening day Serie A defeat to Palermo, it completed a dismal week for the coach, Gian Piero Gasperini. Inevitably, given the expectations at the club, questions are already being asked of the coach.
Gasperini can be grateful that in Inter president, Massimo Moratti, he has a boss who is relatively sanguine about the current situation.
“Don’t expect any sudden decisions,” said Moratti, when asked about Gasperini after Wednesday’s 1-0 defeat. “I thought the team played well even though it lacked the finishing touch.
“I don’t believe the coach is at fault. The team missed a couple of chances and then it conceded a goal. Football is like this.”
Considering he is on to his third coach since Jose Mourinho left just over a year ago, it will be interesting to see how long Moratti can maintain this equanimity. A defeat to Roma at the weekend might test his patience.
Goal of the day
Ryan Giggs will be 38 in a couple of months time. It’s tempting to say that he rolled back the years with his goal against Benfica, but given that there’s been no perceptible sense of decline since he reached 30, comment about his age seems largely superfluous.
Trick of the day
Argentina faced Brazil in the first leg of the revived Superclasico de las Americas on Wednesday night, but there was precious little to cheer about in a dull 0-0 draw in Cordoba.
Arguably the highlight of a game that featured just home based players from both countries, was this audacious flick by highly-rated striker Leandro Damiao.
Speaking out of turn
Former Argentina coach Sergio Batista has decided to take legal action against Diego Maradona in the wake of allegations regarding his spell in charge of the national side.
Maradona, who really would be wise consult a libel lawyer every time he opens his mouth, claimed that Batista had only picked certain players for Argentina’s national side because they had paid him bribes to include them in the squad.
“I have asked my lawyers to take care of this. I’m tired of all these accusations. I can take a bit of criticism, but this is going too far to let it pass just like this,” Batista was quoted as saying by Radio Rivadavia.
“This is a very serious matter and hurtful for my image. I don’t know why he’s saying these kinds of things or where this resentment is coming from.”
I don’t think even Maradona knows the answer to this. In fact, his best defence in court would be that no one takes him seriously.
Scrap of the day
Sticking in Argentina and returning to the what must be one of the world’s most violent leagues. Last month, readers may have been shocked by the sight of a referee being chased from the pitch during a Liga Ceresina (fifth tier) encounter between Union San Guillermo and Atletico Tostado.
This time, the Liga Ceresina encounter between Atletico Libertad de Villa Trinidad turned ugly when a scuffle between several players escalated to the point where the only person not involved in the brawl is the zen-like person operating the camera.
Those who are convinced that corruption within the corridors of FIFA is endemic, won’t be surprised to hear that an executive committee member from Thailand has been asked by the world governing body to answer claims that development grants were spent building facilities on land that he owned.
FIFA say the case will be passed to the ethics committee if there is any evidence Worawi Makudi has breached the code of ethics.
Coincidentally, or not, depending on how cynical one is about the motives of FIFA, Makudi was the delegate who accompanied Mohamed Bin Hammam to the meeting in Trinidad in May where cash gifts were said to have been paid.
Moreover, former Football Association chairman Lord Triesman alleged that Makudi had demanded the TV rights for a proposed friendly between England and Thailand in return for his 2018 World Cup vote.
Makudi has always denied the allegation, but in the words of Mandy Rice Davies, “he would say that, wouldn’t he.”
Size is everything
It may not possess the glamour of the Champions League and the riches on offer cannot be compared to Europe’s elite tournament, but whatever you say about it, there’s no denying that the Europa League is a big competition. In fact, it’s huge: 194 teams entered the qualifiers and we’re now down to 48 teams for the groups stages, with another eight will join for the knockout rounds.
While the likes of Harry Redknapp regard the competition as a distraction from the serious business of the Carling Cup, for some, tonight’s first set of group games is a momentous occasion.
Take Shamrock Rovers, who dispensed with Serbian champions Partizan Belgrade in the qualifying round to become the Irish club to reach the group stages of a major European competition. They now find themselves facing Russian side Rubin Kazan at the Tallaght stadium.
Rovers warmed up for Thursday’s clash with a 1-1 draw in a league match against St Patricks Athletic on Monday.
Manager Michael O’Neill acknowledged that tonight’s level of opposition will be substantially tougher than that provided by St Pats.
“Thursday is a totally different challenge against a top team but we’ve got ourselves into this position and we’ll try to deal with it and do our best,” O’Neill said.
“The players have had no information on Kazan so far, they’ll get their first taste of it today. We’ll watch some videos of them and then look at how we will shape up against them.”
Hell hath no fury…
While clubs from some of the bigger European countries may denigrate the status of the Europa League, at least one club is desperate to be involved in this season’s competition.
Swiss Sion are demanding millions of Euros in compensation from UEFA over the refusal by European football’s governing body to allow them back into the Europa League.
Sion were expelled from the tournament on September 2 for fielding ineligible players and saw their appeal against the decision rejected by UEFA’s appeals body.
According to Swiss press reports, the club say they will make an initial claim of more than €4 million with the figure eventually rising to tens of millions.
Why stop there? Why not demand billions?
A Sion spokesman said: “We sent today a first order to pay to UEFA, and directly to its president Michel Platini, for more than €4 million. UEFA believes that it rules the world. The law of the jungle couldn’t rule football.
Sion, who are sounding more and more delusional the longer the saga drags on, believe they could still be reinstated at a later date and plan to take their case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
“We still believe we can integrate the group stage later,” a club spokesman said. “We now wait for damages for the harm.”
Cristiano Ronaldo has been asked about the behaviour of the Dinamo Zagreb fans who mocked him throughout Wednesday’s Champion League game and chanted the name of his Barcelona rival and World Player of the Year Lionel Messi.
“I think that because I am rich, handsome and a great player people are envious of me,” he said. “I don’t have any other explanation.”
If he were to re-read that statement, then he’d find another explanation.