Those of you who have spent several hundred of your hard earned pounds travelling to Germany in the hope of seeing Arsenal pull off an improbable victory over Bayern Munich, may be wondering today whether that money could have been put to better use. By flushing it down the drain, for instance.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has travelled to Munich without several first team players, deeming the match, if not a lost cause, then certainly a lesser priority than 4th place in the Premier League. Already missing Lukas Podolski and Jack Wilshere through injury, Wenger has chosen to rest Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla in a selection that screams meek acceptance of an inevitable elimination. Per Mertesacker has also stayed behind in England, though it’s unclear if his absence weakens or strengthens the Arsenal side.
Despite his perplexing selection, Wenger managed to talk the talk about picking a side to win the game, although even those chosen must realise that their inclusion means he doesn’t really believe that.
It is difficult we know that, but it is not impossible.
“The only way to make it possible is to have a real go – that’s what we’ll do. Turning up expecting to go out would be absolutely unacceptable for us.”
The German side have not conceded three goals at home since losing to Inter in the Champions League two years ago. In this season’s Bundesliga campaign, Bayern have only let in 10 goals in 25 matches.
So it’s a tough ask for Arsenal, even tougher for their reserves. But, in the highly unlikely event of an upset victory tonight, what then for Wenger? One can imagine him fielding the youth team in the next round to save his first team for the forthcoming visit of Reading.
A remarkable story is developing over the claims that Oliver Kay, the chief football correspondent of The Times, has been duped into publishing a story concerning a Qatari-backed Dream Football League.
The original story by Kay contained details of an incredible 24-team tournament involving the biggest teams in Europe, backed by the Qatari Royal Family, and offering clubs as much as £175m each just to take part.
However, its inspiration appears to lie in a spoof article by satirical French website Les Cahiers du Football, with almost all the details in The Times found within their story of March 10. The site themselves have subsequently tweeted that their piece “came entirely from our imagination.”
“We apologise in advance,” they added, “if Doha finds the idea sufficiently interesting to implement it #DreamFootballLeague.”
According to the report, the Dream Football League would have featured 16 permanent members of Europe’s elite (the usual suspects), with a further eight places to be designated by invitation, and the hope was that the tournament would one day rival the Champions League.
Eurosport France’s Benoit Vittek dismissed the story as fantasy.
“Everything in this article screams: ‘This is fantasy”, Vittek said.
“It seems like The Times totally misinterpreted it and then tried to claim those fake news were theirs. Terrible. The details we read from English websites match the ones in Cahiers du Football.”
So far, so straightforward, albeit slightly embarrassing for Kay, who is an experienced and well respected journalist in Britain. However, Kay has refuted claims that he was the victim of a hoax and is standing by his story. The journalist conducted a web chat today during which he insists the Cahiers du Football site was not the source of his scoop. Indeed, he is adamant that his original source is someone who has, on previous occasions, provided useful and accurate material on Qatar.
“Cahiers du Football was absolutely not the source of my story — 100 per cent, 1,000 per cent, 175 million per cent,” he stressed. “I have copious amounts of handwritten notes, as well as e-mails and texts, that would confirm this.”
Curiouser and curiouser. Either Kay has produced the football scoop of the year, or the The Times has fallen for another Hitler Diaries debacle, which will take them and their chief football correspondent a while to live down.
Unfortunately for Kay, Qatar’s football authorities have issued a denial that the country is to organise such a tournament.
A statement from the Qatar Football Association : “With regard to the story published in today’s edition of The Times newspaper concerning a ‘Dream Football League,’ the Qatar Football Association and other Qatari football entities can categorically confirm that we have no involvement in any such initiative and has heard nothing to suggest such a concept is genuine.”
Hold the front page!
The ‘end of the era’ articles will have to wait for another day and who knows, perhaps another year. The sumptuous 4-0 win over Milan showed that Barcelona, contrary to much perceived wisdom, are not yet an ex-football club pining for the fjords.
The architect of the win was inevitably, Lionel Messi, who answered critics questioning his performances against Italian teams, by scoring not one but two wonderful goals to set the Spanish side on their way to the quarter finals. Milan did little wrong, other than to occupy the same pitch as an exceptional side playing at the top of their game. One was reminded of Barcelona’s disembowelling of Manchester United in the 2011 final, elicited admiration for the victors mingled with a fair degree of pity for the vanquished.
“Really, we needed a night just like that not only to get through but to erase that result in Milan,” said Messi. “Everything came off perfectly,” Messi said, according to the official UEFA website. “We did it. From the fifth minute when we got that important first goal, we just went after Milan in every moment.
“We wanted that opening goal as soon as possible in the match not only to cut the deficit but to make the fans feel it was going to happen. It was a really lightning quick movement of the ball to get it to me and, happily, I put it away.”
The prolific attacker then went on to stress that Barcelona were back to their usual best again after a number of difficult games.
“Perhaps in the last few matches we’ve lost a little of our form. We knew, however, that to go through this tie all we really needed was to get back to being ourselves.
“We envisaged what kind of performance this needed to be and how to produce it. This is the Barca that we and our fans want to see every game. This is the kind of performance we’ve been producing for years.”
Out of place
Spare a thought for one poor, unfortunate Milan fan who not only had the misfortune of watching his side lose, but also had to sit alongside celebrating Barcelona fans throughout. And if that wasn’t enough, his reaction to the final, nail in the coffin, fourth goal, was captured for posterity by the television camera.
Goal of the day
Djimi Traore with an astonishing fantastic strike off the cross bar to put the Seattle Sounders 2-1 up over Tigres in the second leg of the CONCACAF quarter finals.
Quote of the day
”For anyone who doubted Messi, today Messi gave a lesson on how to play football. He is extraordinary, and surrounded by great players, he is capable of doing what he does.”
Barcelona assistant coach Jordi Roura hails the incomparable Lionel Messi.
A group of Galatasaray fans were caught trying to tunnel into Schalke’s Veltins-Arena on Monday night in a bid to see their team training in preparation for Tuesday night’s Champions League encounter.
Stewards discovered them trying to create a passage under a perimeter fence using only their bare hands, but with the ground frozen, they did not get very far.
”It’s true, after their final training session, our Turkish friends were caught trying to dig a way into the stadium through the frozen ground,” said a remarkable calm Schalke’s director of sport Horst Heldt.
”The stewards prevented them from doing so.”
Around 20,000 people with Turkish origin live in Gelsenkirchen, which has a total population of 260,000.
Despite the lack of separation between the fans, no major disturbances were reported inside or around the stadium, with the local police reporting 17 arrests in total.
The match finished 3-2 to Galatasaray, who went through 4-3 on aggregate.
Price of success
On the eve of a Europa League tie with Steaua Bucharest Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez admits the club’s hectic schedule is making team selection a tricky task.
Chelsea were narrowly beaten 1-0 in the first leg of their last-16 Europa League tie on Thursday and Benitez is concerned that progress will bring with it a fixture build-up.
“I can do nothing about that so I must concentrate on my job and try to do my best preparing the team for every competition,” he told reporters.
“It is difficult. Some players like centre-backs and goalkeepers can play more games. Wingers, full-backs, strikers, it is more difficult because of the intensity of their runs.
“It depends on the players. If you have a players who is fit and recovers quickly it is easier than someone who is older and needs more time. You have to analyse everything and decide what to do.”
Three things Rafa: first you are managing Chelsea, one of the world’s richest clubs with almost limitless resources; secondly, this is the price one pays for being a successful club – you must have known that; thirdly, this is not something that will concern Chelsea in the foreseeable future.