Handily poised

Having devoted yesterday’s post to a round up of the cycling, today I felt I should turn my attention to the football. I will, of course, firstly address the two clubs closest to my heart: namely, AVFC and OGCN. The former didn’t play at the week and as their would-be opponents were involved in a replay. Unsurprisingly, they’ll be playing Manchester City in the next round of the FA Cup. My beloved boys in claret and blue are the filling in a Midlands sandwich. They’re lying in 16th place with 30 points, the same as Birmingham who are above us thanks to a superior goal difference, and a game in hand. Below us, on two points less, are WBA. To put this in perspective, the league leaders, Manchester United, have twice as many points. OGCN lost 3-0 at home to PSG. They’ve played one game less than Villa and are on 27 points in 17th place, just above Monaco, who are in the relegation zone. The similarities are alarming but I don’t believe either will be relegated.

I will now turn my attention to the Champion’s League which tends to be a bit of a closed shop. There’s 4 English sides (Man U, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal), 3 Spanish teams (Real, Barca, Valencia), 3 Italian teams (Inter, AC Milan, Roma), 2 German teams (Bayern, Schalke), 2 French teams (OL, OM) plus 2 others (Copenhagen, Shaktar Donetsk).  Following the results of the first leg, there’s only one side which looks likely to be eliminated: FC Copenhagen who were beaten 2-0 at home by Chelsea.

If we look at the results from the remaining first legs, there are at first glance some surprising results: most notably Spurs winning 1-0 away at AC Milan and Manchester United drawing 0-0 away from home at OM. In other instances,  while the favoured team lost, they do have that all important away goal as in Arsenal 2-1 Barcelona, Lyon 1 – 1 Real Madrid which should provide the platform for a home, and overall, win in the next leg.

At this stage, it’s not easy to forecast who will win. There’s so many variables not just the opponents in the forthcoming rounds, domestic situations but,  more crucially, the availability of key players. However, I’m all for sticking my neck out and I’m going to predict that the last 8 teams will be Spurs, Schalke, Shaktar, Barca, Real, Chelsea, Man U, Bayern. I would have liked to include Arsenal in that list but cannot see them beating Barcelona at home. I hope, in this case, I’m proved wrong.

 Of course, it’s difficult to work up enough interest if your own team isn’t playing, nor shows any sign of qualifying to play Champions League in my remaining lifetime. I will however always be able to treasure the moment when Peter Withe’s knee struck the ball in Rotterdam and put in the back of the Bayern net enabling my beloved boys to bring home the trophy in 1982. I watched the game after barracading myself into the tv lounge of the hotel where I was staying in Taunton while auditing Somerset CC.

Unwanted gift

Fortunately, things went according to plan on Friday and we arrived home to find the coast bathed in sunshine. It was still cold, but nowhere as cold as either the US or UK. Having missed a day, I spent the remainder of Friday rushing around like a mad thing. Later that evening, when I finally collapsed on the sofa, I found that I couldn’t swallow. As the evening wore on, I began to feel worse. My head was pounding and I felt feverish. Fearing I had picked up a cold, I made myself a hot toddy (whisky, hot water, lemon and honey). It doesn’t cure colds, just makes them more bearable.

Unfortunately, I had a disturbed night’s sleep thanks to my beloved’s snoring. I didn’t feel well enough to get out of bed but, if I wasn’t going to ride in the Telethon, I needed to deliver my cakes for the post-ride feast. I dressed warmly and drove down to the feed zone where I dropped off my baked goodies, excusing myself from kissing everyone as I didn’t want to pass on my germs. I drove home and hopped back into bed.

My beloved was very concerned. With me hors combat, who was going to feed him? Despite feeling at death’s door, I had driven home via the supermarket to pick up essential supplies so that he wouldn’t starve. He would however have to prepare his own meals. I felt no better on Sunday morning and hoped that the club wouldn’t lose the departmental championship by a 5 point margin which would have been my own small contribution.

After some home made soup for lunch, I’m starting to feel much improved and have moved from the bedroom to the sofa to watch Serbia v France in the Davis Cup Final in Belgrade. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a passionate, partisan crowd. Sadly, the singles matches were all one-way traffic with only yesterday’s doubles match providing any real drama. The French might have made it more of a match if Tsonga had been available to play. Nonetheless, hats off to the Serbs whose tennis budget is less than 1/10th of Great Britain’s.

Had I been feeling fine, we would probably have gone to watch last night’s water polo match, Nice v Montpelier. My beloved was a keen water polo player and, from time to time, we go and watch Nice (ONN) play. Any excuse to watch fit young guys in skimpy outfits! According to Nice Matin, it was a close game, with Nice shading it 8-7. Similarly, we would have gone to watch today’s local derby Nice v Marseille where OGCN staged a smash and grab (Fae) in the 92nd minute to beat OM 1-0. Looking at the game’s statistics, Ospina (goalkeeper) was probably our MOM. OM had 53% of the possession and 16 shots on goal to our 8. But it’s the final score that counts. After last week’s 1-1 draw away at Monaco, we’re back up to 14th spot and holding our own. Cause for cheer.

Twinkle, twinkle

Gratifyingly good performances from both England and France yesterday evening as they look to distance the disappointment of the World Cup in South Africa. For Capello it is business as usual, though injuries have prompted (forced) him to give opportunities to some promising players, notably Adam Johnson. Revelations about Wayne Rooney’s off field escapades have fortunately not affected his on-field form, quite the opposite. However, is it only me who thinks Capello might be better off leaving Lampard on the side-lines?  After two resounding wins, England top their Group.

Laurent Blanc has a much harder task with his “blanc piece of paper” but the signs are promising and, once many of his players return from injury and/or suspension, expect more score-lines like yesterday evening. Help may be at hand as I understand that Zinadine Zidane’s eldest is playing for Real Madrid’s youth squad. He’ll be 17 come the European Cup in 2012.

There may soon be a Gallic flavour at Villa Park. Rumour has it that Gerard Houllier is mulling over an offer to step into Martin O’Neill’s shoes. They have a potential banana skin away at Stoke this Sunday, after riding their luck to most recently scrape past Everton. They’ve been a bit of a curate’s egg and, with no additions to the squad following the sale of James Milner, will quickly need to bring on some of their promising youngsters.

OGCN are also playing on Sunday, when they’ll be home to Bordeaux now bereft of my favourite French player Yoann Gourcuff who’s hightailed it to Lyon. However, the first installment from the sale of Loic Remy has finally arrived into the OGCN coffers, allowing them to balance (cook?) the books. Nonetheless, OGCN have done their usual last minute shopping in football’s equivalent of Filene’s basement. Let’s hope they have unearthed some gems.