Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The week in football

It's one of the biggest weeks of the year on the world football calendar, with the draw for the 2010 FIFA World Cup taking place on Friday (Saturday morning in Australia); Lionel Messi being announced as European Footballer of the Year, taking home France Football's Ballon d'Or (the 'Golden Ball'); and FIFA finally putting the controversial result of the France - Ireland World Cup play-off to bed, by denying the Irish FA's outrageous appeal to be admitted to the 2010 World Cup as the 33rd team. And to kick the week off we saw one of the biggest Sunday's of the European season with the Merseyside derby, Arsenal v Chelsea, Inter Milan v Fiorentina and El Clásico from Spain all within the space of 6 hours.
2010 World Cup Draw
All eyes will be on Cape Town this Friday night/Saturday morning, with the eight groups of four teams to be decided. The seeded teams - placed in 'pot one' - were announced today, with the Netherlands, England, Spain, Germany, Italy, Argentina and Brazil alongside host-nation South Africa forming the top group of eight. Each of these teams will lead one of the eight groups, and be joined by one team from each of pot two, pot three and pot four.

The prospect of multiple 'Groups of Death' is certainly on the cards, with France and Portugal both missing the top eight and being placed in pot four along with the remaining European teams. The five African teams and the three other South American teams (with Brazil and Argentina being placed in pot one) form 'pot three' while New Zealand, the North and Central American nations, and the Asian nations - including Australia - form 'pot two'. Many Socceroo fans have expressed the preference of drawing England in their group, but of greater concern will be avoiding the likes of France, Portugal, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Serbia and Paraguay for the remaining two positions in the group.

Australia were grouped with Brazil, Croatia and Japan in 2006, but the move in to the Asian Confederation has changed things this time around. From the top seeds, Australia will be drawn against one of the top-five European nations; Brazil or Argentina; or - ideally for Socceroo fans - the host-nation South Africa. The third positi
on in the group will be filled by a European nation, and the final place will be either a South American or an African team. The arbitrary nature of the draw gives the Socceroos the possibilities of facing a group consisting of South Africa, Slovenia and Chilé, or one made up of Spain, France and Côte d'Ivoire.

And Australia's bid for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups gained further publicity today when it was announced that Nicole Kidman had joined the bid. The FIFA board is meeting in South Africa this week. Australia's bid has put together a rather impressive e-book.

Ballon d'Or
Barcelona's Argentine superstar Lionel Messi has been crowned European Footballer of the Year, garnering more than double the number of votes of second-place Cristiano Ronaldo. It completes the set of placings for Messi, who placed third at the tender age of 20, and was runner-up last year to Ronaldo. Messi is the first Argentine to win the award, although the humble attacking midfielder stated that had the criteria for selection been different in the past, Diego Maradona would have also won the Golden Ball.

If you can read French or just like to see pictures and nice colours, check it all out at the home of one of the most respected publications in world sport, France Football - the magazine responsible for creating the award.

Spain and England
Barcelona regained the top-spot in Spain's La Liga with a 1-0 victory over Real Madrid, in one of the most anticipated Clásicos in recent years. After their master-class display against Inter Milan in the Champions League, they once again dominated possession and their intricate passing and close-control was outstanding. Barça were down to 10 men for the last half an hour after Busquets was sent off, but the versatile Iniesta dropped back in to the midfield seamlessly. Ibrahimović scoring the winner after coming off the bench, and Messi only beginning to regain full fitness are ominous signs for the rest of La Liga, not to mention the rest of Europe. Arguably the form team in the world right now.

Chelsea asserted their dominance over the English Premier League by routing Arsenal 3-0 away at the Emirates Stadium. Didier Drogba was imperious with two goals, including a lethal free-kick from 20 yards in the final minutes of the game. Chelsea resumed their five-point lead over Manchester United, who trounced Portsmouth 4-1 at Fratton Park, but Pompey should have taken the lead in the first half after dominating for large periods. Liverpool moved back within touching distance of the Top Four with a hard-fought, scrappy 2-0 away victory over cross-city rivals Everton, moving in to fifth place ahead of Aston Villa on goal difference. Manchester City sit just a point behind with a game in hand, although visiting Chelsea will test City's unbeaten home record in this Saturday's late game. The full table makes for interesting reading.

Manchester United overcame Tottenham to reach the semi-finals of the League Cup, while Aston Villa booked their ticket to the semis with a 4-2 victory away to Portsmouth. In the other quarter-finals to take place today, Chelsea travel to Blackburn and Manchester City play host to Arsenal. The Gunners' ability to cope with the loss of Robin van Persie will be tested over the coming months.

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