Tiger Woods public apology

Load up your best betting sites online, stick a few quid in the account and get ready for a weekend splurge on the betting markets as this weekend’s sports programme is packed with opportunities for the shrewd punter.

First up, the English Premier League, look no further than Eastlands for the first battle between Manchester and Merseyside between City and Liverpool. City’s recent form is hardly inspiring but Liverpool have been woeful for a while now and a narrow 1-0 win over Unirea in the Europa Cup is unlikely to inspire much confidence. Manchester City have beaten Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal at home this season and with victory guaranteeing City a four point lead over Liverpool in the race for fourth spot (with a game in hand) it would be folly to back against them.

I’d double that up with the second half of a Manchester double as Sir Alex Ferguson’s men travel to Goodison Park to take on Everton, who could be missing Tim Cahill on top of the already confirmed out for the season Marouane Fellaini. It will be tough for United, especially coming on the back of a tough Champions League clash in midweek against Milan, but I fancy the Red Devils to take the points against an Everton side that seems to blow hot and cold at the moment.

In Golf the Accenture World Matchplay is in full swing. England are well represented along with South Africa and the USA in the third round and a good each way bet to reach the final could be the in form Paul Casey, a finalist last year. Retief Goosen and Sergio Garcia will lead the betting markets but Casey could well be a decent outside bet.

The weekend will see the Winter Olympics continue with focus on Curling. Britain will pretend it is vaguely interested in people sweeping ice and sliding stones across it for fifteen minutes as the men and women’s curling teams face off against a variety of opponents, though the men’s clash with Canada on Saturday evening looks potentially intriguing, if only for the chance to get one over on the hosts. Slightly more exciting is the site of two grown adults in spandex, flinging themselves and a cart down a track so quick it makes your eyes bleed.

Yes the Bobsleigh, the two man variety, is also scheduled to run at the weekend, however for me the best event of the weekend will be the Ladies Super G in the skiing. After watching the downhill on Friday and seeing some of the finest crashes in a long time, I am awaiting the Super G with baited breath. Is it just me or do the courses for the high speed sports seem designed to be particularly hurtful?

However of most interest to us Brits will be the women’s skeleton. This is an event which seems to consist of running very fast on ice and then lying face first down on a modified dinner tray, while hurtling down the side of a mountain. I assume it is called the Skeleton because that is all that is left of you at the bottom of the hill once you’ve come off your tray and scraped your all over body condom and skin over the sides of the track.

The sport baffles me, but not plucky Amy Williams who leads the event after two runs (with two remaining) and who could lift a rare British gold medal and no doubt inspire a whole host of patriotic British children to head to the nearest hill with a tin dinner tray in tow, ready to fling themselves down a sheer drop before heading off to A&E to get the stitches put in and dentures fitted.

Finally, back to Golf and the most eagerly anticipated Sporting Event of the decade. Hoylake being awarded the 2014 Open Championship? Tom Kite marrying Ignacio Garrido? No, it’s Tiger Woods press conference (for which read “Tiger Woods reads a carefully crafted statement to his close friends who watch on sympathetically before he dashes off to disappear for a few months in the home his wife won’t damage an 8-iron by twanging it around his head.”

Now, if the bookies would offer odds on that, I’d be taking them.

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Dont´t put your money on Ashley Cole being married or a Chelsea player next season.

Just days after Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich tried to draw a line under the off field scandals that have dogged two of his star players at the club, reportedly telling the squad that he expected far better standards of behaviour from Chelsea players and that any further misdemeanors in the press would be dealt with, ultimately, by the player being forced out of the club, it seems England left back Ashley Cole is already set to test the Russian Billionaire’s patience after it was revealed in a British newspaper at the weekend that Cole had smuggled girls into the team hotel on the eve of a match, twice.

Worse still for Cole, there were new claims at the weekend that the left back, who is married to Girls Aloud star Cheryl Cole, enjoyed a “romp” with Seattle based Ann Corbitt during Chelsea’s pre-season trip to the United States in 2009. At the time Cole is believed to have lied to Chelsea’s head of communications, Steve Atkins, stating that the story in the press was untrue. However Abramovich and the Chelsea board are unlikely to be too happy after hearing that Cole lied to senior club officials in an attempt to keep the details from appearing in the newspapers.

Since the story broke, Cheryl has been seen out in America without her wedding ring and there are, so far unsubstantiated, rumours that she has ended their marriage via text message.

The previous conduct of Cole and also that of club captain John Terry, forced Abramovich to send Chief Executive Ron Gourlay and manager Carlo Ancelotti into a showdown meeting with all the players last week, manager Ancelotti explaining.

“It was the owner’s idea and we have had a meeting with all the players this week, explaining to them behaviour that is expected here.”

“Now everhone knows what they have to do to protect the image of this club.”

Barely days later the news broke that Cole had smuggled secretary Vicki Gough into his hotel room before away games with West Bromwich Albion and Hull City last season, an act in clear breach of the clubs code of conduct which states that all visitors are banned from the team hotel. This combined with the fact Cole has once again tarnished the clubs image, as well as lying to a senior club official previously means that the defender, currently out injured for three months with a fractured ankle, will be brought to task by Abramovich this week.

It is thought that Cole may well be fined two weeks wages (£200,000) for his latest transgressions, although some are speculating that Abramovich has, like Cheryl, grown tired of Cole’s continual appearances on the front page of the papers for his misdemeanors and may well be ready to sell the player in the summer. Although manager Carlo Ancelotti is believed to be ready to try and persuade the Russian to hang on to the player that he rates as the best left back in the world.

Given the intense scrutiny on his private life in England, Cole is believed to prefer a move to Spain, with both Real Madrid and Barcelona reportedly ready to stump up the £25m Chelsea would want for the defender.

And just as many betting sites online made the news yesterday by paying out on the Cole’s seeking a divorce, they may well be paying out once again in the summer if Ancelotti cannot plead his case to keep Cole well enough and the player makes his often rumoured move to Spanish football.

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Ferdinand’s back means that he isn’t

Newly appointed England captain Rio Ferdinand has been struck down with another back problem, ruling him out of Manchester United’s game last night with West Ham and the Carling Cup final with Aston Villa at the weekend.

Although there has been precious little information about Ferdinand’s fitness levels coming out of Old Trafford, there is a real worry now that Ferdinand’s back problem is a chronic issue and that he, like Ledley King with his dodgy knees, is only able to play a limited role compared to what he used to in the past.

The fact that the injury happened not in a game, but in training also adds further worry about the England captain’s long term future ahead of the crucial final third of the season. With Sir Alex Ferguson’s side already short of defenders, though Nemanja Vidic made a timely return from injury in the 3-0 defeat of the Hammers last night, Ferguson’s absence for any sustained period of time would be a huge blow as United attempt to claw back the deficit they conceded to Chelsea following their 3-1 defeat at Goodison Park at the weekend.

It has been rumoured in the British press for some time that Ferdinand’s back injury was far worse than has been reported at Old Trafford. There have been unconfirmed reports, though they do seem to bear more than a semblance of truth, that Ferdinand has been regularly attending a specialist clinic to try and alleviate some of the problems he is facing with his back. Chiefly because the injury is one that is not going to improve with an operation or any form of physiotherapy. Like Ledley King, Ferdinand is rumoured to have a chronic problem, that can only be managed on a day to day, week to week basis.

This, for me, underlines the folly of making him England captain. While a fully fit, in form Ferdinand is one of the best defenders in the world and a clear choice as England captain after John Terry’s ignominious demotion, the fact is his form has been poor (for both club and country) for the past twelve months, if not more. His injury record during that period is extremely worrying and many critics feel that the passage of time, or his back problem, has contributed to him losing at least half a yard of pace, maybe more. Certainly the way a half fit Fernando Torres breezed past him at Anfield with ease to score Liverpool’s first a few months back won’t have inspired great confidence amongst the Manchester United and England faithful.

This latest injury setback for the United man has come at the worst possible time. Having been awarded the captaincy, I, like many England fans, was hoping to see the Ferdinand of old emerge from this period of injury, poor form and suspension to cement his standing as one of the best defenders in the world, find his best form and lead the country to South Africa. Now I fear that taking him to South Africa at all may well be a liability.

Let us understand something, if Fabio Capello won’t pick Michael Owen or Ledley King due to their injuries or a lack of games, or both, then how can he give Ferdinand the captaincy and a guaranteed place on the plane? To me it doesn’t make sense. Yes on his day and fully fit, Ferdinand is a fantastic player and worthy England captain. But so is Michael Owen and Michael Owen has played more times for Manchester United in the past month or so than Rio Ferdinand. Michael Owen has made 5 starts for United in the league and come on as a sub 14 times. Ferdinand has started just 6 games. Ferdinand has played 11 games this season, Owen 10 and has played 20 times as a sub and scored 8 goals. Wes Brown in comparison has played 24 times for United in total. More than double Ferdinand’s total, and what is more, I’d venture he is in better form than Ferdinand too.

This is no great calling for Steven Gerrard to be named England captain (I personally believe Gerrard will play better without that responsibility, I’d rather see it given to someone like Lampard or Rooney) but I cannot follow Capello’s logic. He stresses the importance of players playing every week, being in form, fit and strong for the finals, yet names a captain who has not done any of these things this season and who could have a chronic back injury that could flare up at any time and rule him out of the World Cup tournament completely.

As good a player as Ferdinand could be, I don’t think that is a wise risk to take.

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100 days to go until the World Cup Finals

FIFA’s official countdown to the World Cup finals clicked onto 100 days to go today and fittingly enough, the most of the finalists will be taking their first steps in preparation for the finals over the next two days in a series of International Friendly matches, scheduled to take place across the world.

Brazil travel to Dublin

There are some intriguing clashes ahead. For example Carlos Dunga takes his Brazilian side to Dublin to take on the Republic of Ireland in what promises to be a hugely interesting clash between the sides.

Despite finding his best form for club side Milan this season, Ronaldinho continues to be overlooked by Dunga for the game and there now must be real doubts as to whether the former World Player of the Year will make the final squad.

For Ireland it represents the first chance to put last Autumn’s defeat to France in the play offs behind them and prepare for the Euro 2012 qualification tournament which is due to begin in September.

Bookmakers have Brazil, predictably, as strong favourites for the clash, the South Americans are currently around 4/9 for the win, while Ireland, who have not won in four games, are a 13/2 shot, though without Ronaldinho and possibly the injured Pato, the draw at 12/5 looks a decent bet as the Irish have an excellent record on home turf.

England host Egypt at Wembley

Wednesday night however sees the majority of teams in action. England host Egypt at Wembley stadium with the furore over John Terry and the decision on who replaces the injured Ashley Cole and sulking Wayne Bridge at left back.

It should be a good chance for some of the fringe players to stake a claim to one of the few remaining places left on the plane to South Africa barring injury. England are big odds on favourites to take the tie at 3/1 and it is 4/1 the draw with an Egypt win ranked at a hefty 8-1 shot.

Maradona faces Germany away

Two matches on the night however really stand out from the rest in terms of quality. Germany will host Argentina in what promises to be a real test for both sides. The Germans qualified well from a difficult looking group and will be confident they can continue their good form under Joachim Low against Diego Maradona’s Argentina who hardly impressed in the qualifiers.

Much will be expected of Argentina now as their build up begins and this is certainly a real test for Maradona’s men in Munich. Germany’s better form sees them start as 5/4 favourites, with Messi inspired Argentina 7/4 but the draw looks most tempting at 9/4.

France take on Spain

The other stand out encounter sees France take on Spain in the Stade de France, Paris in what promises to be an interesting clash between the two neighbours.

The French have a good record against the Spanish, including knocking Spain out of the 2006 World Cup Finals, but Spain are in imperious form at the moment, while France have struggled throughout qualifying and needed a hugely controversial Thierry Henry handball assist to beat Ireland in the play offs for the World Cup Finals.

It promises to be a hugely entertaining encounter between two sides who love to play the game the purists way and with players like Frank Ribery and Fernando Torres set to return to the international fold, it should be an ideal start to their world cup preparation for both teams.

Not even the finest betting sites online can split them, with both France and Spain offered 6/4, with 9/4 the draw.

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International friendlies

Now, I want to take nothing away from Fabregas. This season, along with Wayne Rooney, he has been the best player in the Premier League without a shadow of a doubt.

Indeed if any of the PFA or Football Writers can make a justifiable case for anyone else other than these two being the only contenders for their Player of the Year, then quite frankly we need to bring in the psychologists and ensure that people understand the game properly before they play it or write about it.

International friendlies only confirm what we already knew…

This week’s round of International matches did not really gift football followers any deeper knowledge of the 32 teams who will be participating in the Summer’s finals in South Africa, indeed it was pretty much a case of expected results for most of the teams down as the bookmakers favourites for the World Cup.

Higuain shocks Germany on home soil

Arguably the biggest shock of the night came in Germany where Diego Maradona’s Argentina finally seem to be finding some form ahead of the finals. The Argentinean side emerged from the clash in Munich with a 1-0 win, thanks to Gonzalo Higuain’s goal to hand Germany a rare home defeat.

The result will be a timely boost to Argentina ahead of the finals after a disappointing qualification campaign.

Spanish stroll against the French

Another side who struggled in qualifying struggled again last night. France, however, were hosting European Champions Spain at the Stade des France, but two first half goals from David Villa and Sergio Ramos were enough to give the Spaniards a comfortable victory.

The result only really confirms what most football fans knew however, that Raymond Domenech’s France are no longer the powerhouse of world football they once were and that Spain really are the real deal and well worthy of being one of the two major tournament favourites with most betting sites online.

Robinho returns to haunt the republic

The other favourites for the tournament, Brazil, took on Ireland in London and emerged with a 2-0 victory. In the end the result was a fair reflection of the Samba stars dominance in the second period. The first half was particularly untidy with little to impress the Emirates support and only a Keith Andrews own goal just before the interval separating the sides.

However Brazil got into their stride in the second period and capped a much improved display with a lovely second, scored by Manchester City exile Robinho. Certainly on their second half performance Brazil are rightfully regarded amongst the favourites along with the Spanish.

Crouch double rescues England

It was a game of two halves as well for England at Wembley. A shabby first half performance, which saw Egypt take a deserved lead through Zidan, was countered by a much improved second half performance that saw Peter Crouch net a double and Shaun Wright Phillips a rare strike to give England a much needed 3-1 victory over a side that are, on current form, Africa’s strongest nation.

Italians struggle for goals

Not that Italy would agree with that assessment. The Azzuri could only manage a disappointing 0-0 draw at home to Cameroon, a worrying result for the current World Champions who have struggled for goals throughout their qualifying period.

However few would bet against Marcelo Lippi having his team prepared perfectly for the finals and as such it would be foolhardy to discount them on the basis of a single disappointing result.

Holland, Serbia and Urugay all impress

There were some eye catching results on the night for other teams tipped to do well in the finals. Ivory Coast had a shocking result, going down 2-0 to South Korea at home, while Algeria didn’t fare much better, losing 3-0 at home to a Serbia side that looks set to give Germany, Ghana and Australia a real run for money in their very tough looking group.

Uruguay travelled to Switzerland and emerged with a classy 3-1 victory, that despite going a goal down to the home side. Holland defeated the United States 2-1, Dirk Kuyt and Klaas Jan Huntelaar scoring the goals for the home side and Portugal laboured to a 2-0 victory over China.

To conclude…

So, it is very much a case of as you were. Brazil and Spain look the strongest two teams by some quite considerable distance. Holland, England and Argentina look the best of the teams trying to close the gap on them, the French and Germans flattered to deceive, the Italians are starting slowly like they always do,

Portugal won but it was hardly convincing and some of the top African teams flattered to deceive with only Cameroon and Senegal (who beat Greece 2-0 in Athens, but haven’t even qualified for the finals) getting results that they would be truly proud of.

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Observations

I’ve seen some odd things in football in my time. I watched Torben Piechnik falling over a lot and being spectacularly inept at Anfield during Graeme Souness’ time at the club.

I was at Prenton Park on that incredible night when bottom of the Championship table Tranmere Rovers gave Premier League Southampton a 3-0 head start and came back to win the game 4-3 in the second half.

I’ve seen Tranmere play in a major cup final at Wembley (and, predictably, lose) and I’ve even seen Liverpool hammer Fulham 10-0 at Anfield and last night I saw something else to add to that list.

While watching Arsenal demolish FC Porto, I saw Nicklas Bendtner actually play as fantastically as he believes he is capable of and I also saw an Arsenal performance of customary style, verve and clinical finishing that was on a par with their 6-1 demolition of Everton on the opening day of the season.

And strangest of all, I saw them do all of that without a certain Mr Cesc Fabregas pulling the strings from midfield.

Fabregas and Rooeny: The class acts of the Premier League

Observations on an amazing sporting weekend

Well, I’m not usually a betting man to be honest. I have the odd flutter now and then, but nothing serious (as my win against losses record will testify) but this weekend, I stuck a few quid into a new account, got the best betting bonus I’ve had in a long time and then took this mother of all free bets and wasted it backing Aston Villa to win the Carling Cup! Doh!

It all started so promisingly too, especially when Vidic pulled down Agbonlahor. Quite why referee Phil Dowd didn’t send off the Serbian is anyone’s guess, by all interpretations of the law, the Serbian, one Dowd had deemed his tackle a foul, should have been sent off. 1-0 up and 11 against 10 would have been a very different game.

Dowd’s mistake however wasn’t the reason Villa lost. The reason was Michael Owen and his hamstring. Had the United man not pulled a hamstring late in the first half, Wayne Rooney may have been resting on the bench most of game, instead of celebrating scoring the winning goal and inspiring a fine and deserved United victory, but once again it came with the visible ‘assistance’ of poor officiating which worked in their favour.

While the Carling Cup Final was drama enough, that was nothing compared to what happened elsewhere at the weekend. In a stand-off that even Sergio Leone would have killed for, John Terry met Wayne Bridge in “handshake-gate” and nothing happened! Bridge avoided him! We’ve had replays and analysis of the event and I can concur that about 98% of the country, despite the press going ballistic about the incident, really doesn’t give a flying monkey’s testicle about it.

Even more amusing was what followed at the Bridge as Chelsea were outclassed, outthought and eventually outmanned by Manchester City, who triumphed 4-2. The only down side for the Sky Blues was the fact that the result handed city rivals United a timely boost in their quest for the league title. Ballack and Belletti both saw red and Craig Bellamy, that paragon of virtue and saintliness, followed up his timely double with a withering dismissal of John Terry’s character post game, stating; “Everybody in football knows what the guy is like. But that is off the field.”

Terry meanwhile stated “People in glasshouses should not throw stones”. Presumably because if he does something like this again, that is what he will be living in once his wife has finished in the divorce settlement.
Honestly, you could not see the pitch at Stamford Bridge on Saturday due to the number of dummies that had been spat out upon it.

On a more serious note, I wish Aaron Ramsey a speedy recovery from his terrible injury sustained at Stoke City, though I take issue with Arsene Wenger’s laughable assertion that somehow his players are being routinely targeted and maimed by fellow professionals. While I had sympathy with Eduardo over his tackle, to my eye, Ramsey was a victim not of Shawcross’s wilful intent to hurt, but simply his own speed of thought.

Shawcross tackle was one footed and at great pace. That caused a horrific injury and as sad as that is, it does happen in football. It has in the past and it will again in the future. To then turn this into some “everyone is out to get us” ramble, beggars belief really. Arsenal are not the only team to have players out through broken legs. Djibril Cisse and Stephen Warnock both broke their legs twice apiece while at Liverpool in the space of a few years. I didn’t hear Gerard Houllier complaining of some anti-Liverpool vendetta then.

So it was a good weekend and it would have been even better if Dowd had sent Vidic off and given me a better chance of winning some money…

Ah well, there’s always next time.

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