Hot money

At the beginning of the season, Martin O’Neil, AVFC’s wondrous football manager attempted (unsuccessfully) to manage the fans’ expectations. He cautioned that with the teams around us having strengthened their squads, we would do well to hold onto 6th place. We’re currently lying 7th, 7 points behind Spurs who are in 4th. Liverpool are 5th and Manchester City are 6th.

This time last year, having dallied with 4th position and the prospect of Champion’s League football, we simply ran out of steam. Sadly, we’re in danger of a repeat performance. Excellent cup runs (Final of League Cup and semi-final of FA Cup) have left us playing 5 matches in two weeks. We’ve won one, drawn three and lost on Saturday, away at Chelsea. Actually, that’s not strictly true. After a brave first-half performance(according to a friend of mine, who’s a Chelsea fan), we were thrashed 7-1 by Chelsea. An ominous portent for our forthcoming FA Cup semi-final clash at Wembley on 10 April.

On the bright side, we’ll have had at least two trips to Wembley this season our first trips in 10 years. It’s hard to see what more Martin O’Neil can do to break into the top four. Maybe, it’s simply not possible as the monetary divide gets ever wider.

Over here, OGCN, having dispensed with the services of its coach, has now won three consecutive matches and looks to have a firm grip on 16th spot. The prospect of relegation is fast receding. 

The season seems to be rushing towards a conclusion and, before we know it, the World Cup will be upon us once more. However, there’s still the small matter of the Champion’s League. It’s being contested by two English sides (Arsenal and Man U), two French sides (Lyon and Bordeaux), one Spanish (Barca), one Italian (Inter), one Russian (CSK) and one German (Bayern).  If I were a betting woman (I’m not, I leave that to my two sisters), I’d put my money on Inter, Barca, Man U and Bordeaux to reach the semis.

Postscript: Lucky I’m not a betting woman! I do hope it wasn’t the curse of the pundit but the semis are Bayern v Lyon and Inter v Barca. Still 2 out of 4’s not too bad. Given the incredible form of Messi, I’m going to plump for a Bayern v Barca final, with Barca to win.

Extra time

I’m typing this during the action packed second-half of extra time at Stade de France where the score is one apiece. The Irish started the match strongly and Robbie Keane, deservedly,  fired one in from a Damian Duff pass on 32nd minute.  The match was still tied at the end of full-time.

Govou’s goal in 102 minute was ruled off-side then Gallas scored a minute later, from a double Henry hand ball, much to the disbelief of the Irish present. At the end of extra time cue huge sighs of French relief all-round accompanied by much gallic hugging and kissing. Yes, the French, along with the Slovenians, Greeks, Algerians and Portuguese are off to South Africa.

Obviously, L’Equipe has been building its coverage since Sunday and I’m thinking they’ll easily fill 6 pages tomorrow plus a couple of full-page adverts from grateful sponsors.

I was somewhat mystified to learn that Yoann Gourcuff had been voted (only) the 3rd best looking footballer in France until I learned that it was by the readers of a gay magazine – that explains it. Don’t worry Yoann, you’re still top dog with the girls.

I’ve finished reading Jens Voigt’s book “Man Muss Kaempfen!” (one must fight) and it’s pretty much what one would expect but I was left wanting more. Most of the narrative surrounds his Tour de France rides for firstly Credit Agricole and then CSC, where he’s equally complimentary about Roger Legeay, Bjarne Riis and his teammates. I’d have liked a bit more nitty, gritty. But in Germany, post-Puerto, I guess something anodyne was just what the doctor ordered. Jens comes across as a hardworking, reliable team mate and devoted family man who believes that if you don’t give it a go, you don’t stand a chance of winning – very true.

For a complete contrast, I’ve turned to “Vie et Mort de Marco Pantani” (Life and Death of Marco Pantani) written by L’Equipe’s own Philippe Brunel.

Il Pirato in pink

This’ll be the third book I’ve read on the topic and it appears to give more of an insider’s view than the other two: The Death of Marco Pantani by Matt Rendell and, the compilation, Marco Pantani: The Legend of a Tragic Champion. Shame I never got to see him dance on those pedals.