Not since the days of Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira have Arsenal and Arsene Wenger been dealing with the possibility of a seven point lead at the top of the Premier League table midway nearly two weeks into December, yet when Mesut Ozil netted what Arsenal fans at the The Emirates’ thought was to be the winner against Everton, a seven point cushion was only six minutes away. That lead was reduced to four points due to a simple defensive error which allowed the boy from Barcelona, Gerard Deulofeu, to do what Everton intended him to do upon signing him on loan: score.
There is no shame for Arsenal to draw Everton, but having victory snatched away at the very last moment was a cruel way to earn the one point. In fact Arsenal would have taken a draw after they suffered a nervy opening of hour in which Everton enjoyed nearly 70% possession. Yet The Gunners’ came so close to taking the lead after twenty-six minutes when Santi Cazorla threaded a tantalizing ball across the face of goal that Kieran Gibbs came inches away from tapping home from six yards.
Three minutes later it was Romelu Lukaku’s ball across the Arsenal goal which needed just the slightest of touches to be converted, although as the match rolled on to the second half it was Everton who were soaking up all three pressure. The then visitors’ forced a decent save out of Wojciech Szczesny nine minutes into the second period when Ross Barkley’s flick set up for a Steven Pienaar shot on the edge of the box and the South African sent a laser effort towards goal. Arsenal were still on top though, and could have taken the lead when Gibbs’ cross from the left found Aaron Ramsey at the far post. Tim Howard did well enough to push the midfielder’s acrobatic volley around the post for a corner, not to mention saving Ozil’s effort moments later, but couldn’t stop Ozil from putting the home side up in the eighth minute. Theo Walcott headed Tomas Rosicky’s long ball down to the to German, who slammed a half-volley into the roof of the net to blow the roof off the of Emirates (considering it doesn’t have a roof in the first place).
However the a the whole stadium, excluding the away fans section, who were blisteringly loud, was silent just three minutes later when Deulofeu bagged a superb equalizer. The Barcelona loanee burst in down the right side of the Arsenal box, blowing by three defenders before smashing a bullet shot right past Szczesny into the back of the net from seven yards out. Arsenal were rocked, but three minutes and four seconds into the three minutes of stoppage time Olivier Giroud came inches away from restoring Arsenal’s lead when his stunning volley from twenty-five yards rebounded back off the crossbar, leaving the scoreline 1-1 until the final whistle blew seconds later.
Man of the Match: Mesut Ozil
Andre Schurrle bagged his first brace in Chelsea colors yet failed to inspire Chelsea to a win in Jose Mourinho’s first ever visit to the Britannia Stadium. The Blues’ put in a fine first half performance, but as Mourinho put it, failed to “kill the game”, leading to Tony Pulis’ second win in two home matches in charge of Stoke after Oussama Assaidi’s late winner.
However it was anything from a horrible performance from Mourinho’s men, and the gaffer even admitted “After half an hour we should have been winning three or four,” after the loss. It seemed like Chelsea would have four in the opening half hour when Schurrle bagged the opener just eight minutes in following Chelsea’s dominant showing in the first moments of the encounter. The attacking-midfielder jinked in and out of two Stoke defenders before cutting inside and curling a beautiful shot into the bottom corner to make it 1-0.
As Mourinho said, Chelsea dominated the flow of the match for the next twenty minutes, but somehow Stoke made it level when ping-pong in the Chelsea box ended with Peter Crouch blasting a low shot into the back of the net through the legs of both Ramires and Petr Cech. The Potters’ even completed the turn around five minutes into the second half when Walters’ played it inside from the right to Stephan Ireland, who set up the shot and curled a superb effort in off the post from the edge of the box.
Yet Chelsea were only down for three minutes as Schurrle equalized with another brilliant strike. Juan Mata’s free-kick bounced out to Schurrle off the wall, and the German international sliced a stunning low volley into the bottom corner to once again make the score level. Having scored his second Schurrle was determined to put Chelsea in front again and complete his hat-trick, and the former Bayer Leverkusen player came ever so close in the fifty-fifth minute when his screaming effort bounced back out off the crossbar.
Somehow, the thrilling match looked to be heading for a draw as the 2-2 scoreline held up into the final minutes of the match, yet Stoke found a brilliant winner just four minutes before time when Assaidi was played in down the left by Ireland. The substitute cut inside and unleashed a spectacular swerving shot into the top corner from twenty yards that was a goal worthy of the winner. It was to be the winner too, with the full time whistle blowing after four minutes of stoppage time to seal the huge three points for Stoke.
Man of the Match: Andre Schurrle
From the winners to the losers: we analyze each group drawn at the 2014 World Cup draw
Pain for the US and England, celebrations for Argentina and Brazil; we analyze the 2014 World Cup draw, group by group.
Brazil, Cameroon, Mexico, Croatia
Fixtures: June 12 Sao Paulo: 2100: Brazil v Croatia, June 13 Natal: 1700: Mexico v Cameroon, June 17 Fortaleza: 2000: Brazil v Mexico, June 18 Manaus: 2000: Cameroon v Croatia, June 23 Brasilia: 2100: Cameroon v Brazil, June 23 Recife: 2100: Croatia v Mexico
Group A is Brazil’s dream group. It’s all the host national could have asked for: a group in which they should easily win while resting players at the same time. Croatia finished third at the 1998 World Cup but have failed to make it past the group stages since and didn’t even qualify in 2010, Mexico barely even qualified for the tournament and Cameroon haven’t been any real threat at any intercontinental tournament since the early ’90s. Brazil meanwhile, are five time World Cup champions, won in 2002 and are sporting their best side in over a decade. Neymar, Hulk, Oscar and David Luiz will definitely top the group, but as hosts have masses of pressure to top their Confederations Cup in last summer by bringing the World Cup trophy home.
However, the real battle lies in second place. Mexico have one big star in Javier Hernandez (commonly known as Chicharito), but even the Manchester United forward hasn’t been performing lately. Cameroon still have Samuel Eto’o, but at the age of 32 and after conflicts with the Cameroon FA the forward is hardly as reliable as he was in 2010 and should be beaten by a, however old, Croatian side. Although the European national will be missing Mario Mandzukic through a two match suspension for two of their three group matches, Luka Modric is a world-class midfielder still in his prime and should be able to lead them to the knockout stages.
Fixtures: June 13 Salvador: 2000: Spain v Holland, June 13 Cuiaba: 2300: Chile v Australia, June 18 Rio de Janeiro: 2300: Spain v Chile, June 18 Porto Alegre: 1700: Australia v Holland, June 23 Curitiba: 1700: Australia v Spain, June 23 Sao Paulo: 1700: Holland v Chile
Group B, will be an early test of the strength of 2010′s finalists. The opening fixture of the group is a rematch of the 2010 World Cup final, and while Chile could prove bothersome for both of the side’s the real contest will lie in who comes in first. Spain of course are favorites, not just to top the group but the win the title, having won the past three big tournament they have entered. Yet you could argue Vincent Del Bosque’s side has grown too old to win the title, the Netherlands aren’t the youngest side either. Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie are world class players, but both past their prime.
Chile meanwhile is an easy choice for third, having Alexis Sanchez to bolster their offense, while Australia is hardly any competition for anything but dead last, barely even qualifying out of the weakest continent, Asia.
Our prediction: 1st Spain, 2nd: Netherlands, 3rd: Chile, 4th: Australia
Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan
Fixtures: June 14 Belo Horizonte: 1700: Colombia v Greece, June 14 Recife: 2300: Ivory Coast v Japan, June 19 Brasilia: 1700: Colombia v Ivory Coast, June 19 Natal: 2300: Japan v Greece, June 24 Cuiaba: 2100: Japan v Colombia, June 24 Fortaleza: 2100: Greece v Ivory Coast
Uruguay, Italy, Costa Rica, England Analysis coming soon
Switzerland, Ecuador, Honduras, France Analysis coming soon
Argentina, Nigeria, Iran, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Fixtures: June 15 Rio de Janeiro: 2300: Argentina v Bosnia-Herzegovina, June 16 Curitiba: 2000: Iran v Nigeria, June 21 Belo Horizonte: 1700: Argentina v Iran, June 21 Cuiaba: 2300: Nigeria v Bosnia-Herzegovina, June 25 Porto Alegre: 1700: Nigeria v Argentina, June 25 Salvador: 1700: Bosnia-Herzegovina v Iran
Group F gives Argentina a chance. The South American nation have not been the same at the international level since Diego Maradona retired, but Lionel Messi & Co. have been given a straight shot through to the quarterfinals. With an attack consisting of Messi, Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain and Ezequiel Lavezzi, Nigeria, Iran and Bosnia are easy outings for one of the favorites to go all the way. In fact, nothing but three massive wins will do for Alejandro Sabella’s side.
Basically, there is really no point debating who will top the group. However, the second place spot will be vied for by Iran, Nigeria and Bosnia. Bosnia are the only one of the three in their first World Cup, but are perhaps the most prepared having topped Uefa qualifying Group G ahead of Greece on goal differential. Roma’s Miralem Pjanic and Manchester City’s Edin Dzeko pose as the Eastern European side’s most potent threats, but a weaker defense could ruin their attempts to reach the knockout stages. Nigeria seem the most likely to earn the second spot after a 2013 African Cup of national win which proved Chelsea’s John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses can do wonders for their country. Yet the only nation which realistically has only a very slim chance is Iran, who’s most expensive player, Ali Daei, is only worth £2.5m.
Our prediction: 1st: Argentina, 2nd: Nigeria, 3rd: Bosnia and Herzegovina, 4th: Iran
Germany, Ghana, USA, Portugal
Fixtures: June 16 Salvador: 1700: Germany v Portugal, June 16 Natal: 2300: Ghana v United States, June 21 Fortaleza: 2000: Germany v Ghana, June 22 Manaus: 2000: United States v Portugal, June 26 Recife: 1700: United States v Germany, June 26 Brasilia: 1700: Portugal v Ghana
USA, poor old USA. The newly renovated side under the management of Jurgen Klinsmann breezed their way through the Fourth Round of Qualifying, amassing a total of 22 points in 10 match and losing just once. Everything from their players to their confidence was clicking into place. With just the right balance of experience and youth, and European stars (okay, not quite stars) of the likes of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Jermaine Jones, Tim Howard and Break Shea gracing their squad, the nation looked to be in for at least a knockout round exit of the tournament.
Yet now even their own squad is worried at an early exit, with DaMarcus Beasley, the nation’s most experienced current player even labeling them “the underdogs” amongst world powers of Germany, Portugal and Ghana. Fans in bars across the country also cringed at the news of the draw, and arguably the only person who had the courage to reply “no” when asked whether the US were the underdogs was Jurgen Klinsmann himslef. The manager rightfully pointed out that every team in the World Cup was extremely talented, despite the fact that some, including his own side, will need much luck to even progress to the knockout stages.
Germany are confident, and rightfully so. The 2008 Euro finalists and one of the favorites to win the cup strolled through the qualifying stages, scoring 36 goals in 10 matches with a near perfect record of nine wins and one draw. Three time winners of the competition will be expecting to top the “Group of Death”, and anything but first should be regarded as an underachievement, at least until the knockout stages begin. And once they do, expect Germany to go the distance. With Mesut Ozil, Manuel Neuer and nearly every one of the players on the field in the 2012/13 Champions League final fighting for a place in the starting 11 Germany are well prepared to win the cup. But first, Portugal, Ghana and the US stand in the way.
Portugal will have it tough. For a side heavily relying on just one player to perform, the Group of Death will force all of Portugal’s players to perform. It was hard enough for Cristiano Ronaldo to drag his nation past Sweden in the Uefa World Cup playoff with a hat-trick showing, but up against the worlds best Helder Postiga, Hugo Almeida and Nani must help provide the goals. At the back they should be fine with Pepe and Bruno Alves supporting the center while Fabio Coentrao provides world class talent at left-back. Joao Moutinho and Raul Meireles should keep the ship steady in the center of the midfield and possibly lead them to match their best ever World Cup finish of a semi-final exit if they don’t exit out in the Group stage.
Ghana are the least talked about nation in the group. Yet the are not the worst by any means, and with the Ayew brothers, Christian Atsu and Asamoah Gyan making up their attack, expect to see goals from the African side. Their midfield is also surprisingly strong, with the likes of Kevin-Prince Boateng, Kwadwo Asamoah, Sulley Muntari and Michael Essien. The Ghanaian FA set a goal of becoming the first African side to reach the Semifinals, but that goal remains very unrealistic considering their weak defense could keep them from even finishing above the US.
Our prediction: 1st: Germany, 2nd Portugal, 3rd USA, and 4th Ghana
Belgium, Algeria, South Korea, Russia
Fixtures: June 17 Belo Horizonte: 1700: Belgium v Algeria, June 17 Cuiaba: 2300: Russia v South Korea, June 22 Rio de Janeiro: 2300: Belgium v Russia, June 22 Porto Alegre: 1700: South Korea v Algeria, June 26 Sao Paulo: 2100: South Korea v Belgium, June 26 Curitiba: 2100: Algeria v Russia
Group H is, well, the worst group. With Belgium, Algeria, Russia and South Korea the group has arguably the least talent but should prove one of the most exciting. Belgium are the mighty dark horses to make it to the semifinals and are favorites to top the group, with many of the Premier League’s future stars. Thibaut Courtois, Simon Mignolet, Jan Vertonghen, Thomas Vermaelen, Kevin De Bruyne, Marouane Fellaini, Eden Hazard, Mousa Dembélé, Nacer Chadli, Romelu Lukaku, Kevin Mirallas, Axel Witsel, Christian Benteke, and Vincent Kompany is more than enough talent to make a fabulous starting eleven, and on paper they are definitely good enough to make it all the way to the semifinals.
The other three fall behind though. Russia’s former main-man Andrey Arshavin is no longer in any kind of form, and although Roman Shirokov, Igor Denisov and Viktor Fayzulin form a half-decent midfield Fabio Capello will have a tough time in the heat of Brazil, compared to Russia’s bitter cold climate. Only Russia’s defense, which only allowed five goals in qualifying, is near it’s best. South Korea never really look that good going into World Cup’s, but in 2010 they held England to a draw and upset Italy in 2002. Yet now they look relatively strong with Cardiff’s Kim Bo-Kyung and Sunderland’s Ki Sung-Yueng and Ji Dong-Won in their squad, so expect them to put in a surprisingly good performance. Algeria could also surprise following the lead of Porto’s Nabil Ghilas, yet probably won’t make the cut.
Tests confirmed Arjen Robben has played his last match of 2013 following a knee injury
Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben is set to be on the sidelines for six weeks after suffering a serious knee injury during Bayern’s 2-0 win over FC Augsberg. Although Bayern moved on to the quarterfinals of the DFB-Pokal, club doctors confirmed Robben will be out for the European Champions’ Champions League clash with Manchester City following tests performed on Thursday.
“Arjen Robben has a deep laceration wound, right down to the knee joint. Through one of the studs the thigh bone in his right leg was pushed in, this led to a massive hemorrhage,” Bayern club doctor Dr. Mueller-Wohlfahrt said via a statement on Bayern’s official website.
The 29-year-old collided with Augsberg goalkeeper Marwin Hitz, who after the match released an apology to Robben. “I first stopped, because I thought it was offside,” Hitz said. “Then I realised that he wanted to play on and I am not too sure whether it was offside or not. I rushed out and because of that I got to him way too late. That’s why I hit him like that. I am really sorry.”
The injury will be a blow to Bayern despite the fact they have a ready replacements of the likes of Mario Gotze and Xherdan Shaqiri. Robben has been a huge part of the side, contributing 11 goal and 10 assists in just 18 appearances so far this season. The Dutch international admitted he was utterly disappointed with the injury, saying: “Of course, I am bitterly disappointed. I was in great form, and looking forward to every game with the team. And now this. But I will come back fit and will tackle the goals we have set ourselves as a team.”
Bryan Oviedo celebrates as he scores the winner to seal Everton’s first win over Manchester United in 21 years
Everything seemed to be clicking into place for Manchester United. Undefeated for twelve matches and at the top of Champions League Group A, right off the back of a 5-0 win over Bayer Leverkusen and 2-2 draw with Tottenham the Red Devils’ were slowly creeping themselves back of the Premier League, only for it to fall apart as Everton visited Old Trafford, which has now seem three losses so far this season. Although it took a later winner for Everton to grab the three points, the loss may have cost United, who now sit in ninth place, any hopes of winning the title.
Yet United found joy in the opening minutes of the encounter, although David De Gea was forced into an acrobatic save after eight minutes to palm Kevin Mirallas’ swerving effort over the bar. The Red Devils came close when Ryan Giggs flicked Rafael’s cross just wide of the far post just before Wayne Rooney found his low shot from edge of the box deflected onto the inside of the post by Sylvain Distin in the twenty-ninth minute. The pacey first half continued as De Gea awkwardly blocked Lukaku’s moving shot from eight yards with his knees after the forward lumbered in from the right.
The match held it’s paceyness as the second half began with Patrice Evra blasting a screaming twenty-five yard shot at Howard after Rafael’s cross was half-cleared lass than a minute into the second period. The home side squandered two more big chances in the seventy-first minute when Evra got ahead of his marker to blast a bullet header towards goal from a corner out on the left from Rooney’s corner. Howard somehow blocked it, and the rebound came back out to Danny Welbeck, who got slightly under his header towards the top corner that ended up bouncing away off the underside of the crossbar.
Yet it was Everton who were pushing forward in the last quarter-hour of the match, with Mirallas coming inches away from giving the visitors a dramatic late goal in the eighty-second minute when Antonio Valencia clumsily brought down Seamus Coleman twenty-yards out from goal. Martin Atkinson awarded the free-kick, which Mirallas curled onto the post having beaten De Gea. However, Everton got their late winner just three minutes later when when Romelu Lukaku cut it across goal to the Bryan Oviedo from the right. Ovidedo tapped it past the charging De Gea into the bottom corner, sealing The Toffes’ first win over United in over twenty-one years with the left-back’s two goal in three matches for The Toffes’.
Man of the Match: Bryan Oviedo
West Ham United certainly played like they would pull away with the over Crytsal Palace, a team struggling against relegation, but Tony Pulis pulled off the surprise win in his first home match in charge of Stoke City. Pulis watched his side be dominated by West Ham for the majority of the midweek fixture, only for a first half Marouane Chamakh goal to give Palace a vital three points to lift them off the bottom of the Premier League table.
The forward’s second goal of the season could have a massive effect on the team that rested bottom of the table for weeks, who now are only three points away from their way out of the relegation zone. Yet was no walk in the park to win their third match of the season, with Pulis’ side having to defend for their lives to keep the clean sheet.
Palace began the match on top, with Barry Bannan curling a twenty-yard effort just wide of the post in the fourteenth minute. Jason Puncheon then blasted a swerving shot into the arms of Jussi Jaaskelainen from twenty-five yards out, but West Ham gained control of their footing and fell into the drivers seat. The visitors attempted to take the lead via a classy free-kick routine in the thirtieth minute in which Mark Noble scooped a West Ham free-kick over the wall to Kevin Nolan, who, on the spin, slightly mis-hit a volley which landed safely in the arms of Palace goalkeeper Julian Speroni. Just seven minutes later Mohamed Diame nearly put West Ham in front as Sam Allardyce’s side continued to dominate. Stewart Downing curled a cross into the box from the right, which Diame headed narrowly over from eight yards.
However Palace took the lead just three minutes later when Bannan’s corner from the right was cleared back out to the right wing. Bannan got to it first before looping a lovely cross towards the six yard box, where Chamakh flicked a header into the bottom corner to make it 1-0. Palace held onto the lead into halftime, and came out of the break pushing forward. Puncheon came inches from doubling their lead in the fiftieth minute as his deflected shot from the edge of the box nicked out off the post, and just moments later Jerome should have scored when he whizzed by James Collins down the middle. The forward burst in on goal and only found his low shot denied by the outrushing Jaaskelainen, yet West Ham soon became dominant again. The visitors possession nearly paid off when Downing snapped a volley into the bottom corner, only for the goal to be called back for offsides. Allardyce’s side continued to push forward, but couldn’t find that crucial equalizer and after five minutes of added time the match ended 1-0.
Man of the Match: Barry Bannan
Roy Hodgson claimed he is more worried about the climate than facing Argentina in the Brazil World Cup
England manager Roy Hodgson admitted he was more worried over Brazil’s climate than the opposition at next summer’s Brazil World Cup.
Summer temperatures in Brazil can reach up to 95º Fahrenheit (35ºC) in tropical venues such as the Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba and the Arena Amazonia in Manaus, which is off the shore of the Amazon river, but England will be hoping to be drawn with more southern fixtures in much cooler temperatures during Friday’s Group Stage draw. Despite the fact that due to England’s thirteenth placed ranking in the Fifa World Rankings England will be drawn in a group containing a top pot seed of either Brazil, Spain, Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Belgium, Switzerland and Uruguay, Hodgson claimed he is most worried about the venues during the draw.
“The venues we play in do worry me more than the opponents,” Hodgson said. “Playing Argentina is a problem any time because they are a good team but I think there’s definitely going to be climatic conditions which will be problematic for teams, not least of all the northern European sides. You have a bit better chance if you get one of the venues where the climate is kinder. The tropicality of Manaus is the problem. Manaus is the place ideally to avoid and Porto Alegre is the place ideally to get.”