George Dearnaley

Massive test for Europe's best

2008-09-05 03:29

George Dearnaley

By midnight on Wednesday (SA time) some of Europe's best teams will be out the Champions League. There will be accusations and finger pointing, there will be resignations by some and the speculation about who will take over will start all over again.

Inter Milan are top of the Serie A by a long way, but they face an early exit after a poor performance away at Anfield. Steven Gerrard's late goal means Liverpool travel with a two-goal advantage and Inter will have to come out and attack if they hope to make up the ground. This will leave them vulnerable to the counter-attack, something Fernando Torres will look to exploit. I expect a tight game to start off with and should it remain goalless, Inter will come out of their shell. But they are going through a mini-slump at the moment, and have just lost their first league game (against Napoli) so my money would be on Liverpool to advance.

Arsenal take on the other Milan - AC - and they will not be in confident mode after their disastrous last couple of weeks. Their lead at the top of the Premiership has been whittled down to one point, they have seen a colleague break a leg, something that weighs heavily on the minds of young players, and they failed to take their chances in their home match against Milan - the reigning champions of Europe.

Current form

But football is a funny game - to quote a cliche - and the one thing Arsenal can do is score goals. Apart from Adebayor, they also welcome Robin van Persie back from injury and should Milan slow the game down and try to win 1-0, they might give Arsenal an opportunity to get a late goal and go through, possibly on the away goals rule. I don't think a 1-1 result is too far-fetched at this stage, but based on current form and Arsenal's lack of cover in the centre of defence, I would fancy Milan to go through to the next round.

Manchester United will not have it easy at home against Lyon, but the current form of star players Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Scholes and the entire defence, coupled with their European record at home gives them the edge.

Big shock

The big shock will come in Madrid! Real Madrid are top of La Liga and playing some good football, but their opposition are in excellent form. Roma are playing some of their best football, and star player Francesco Totti is on fire. Roma's 2-1 win at home means Real only need a 1-0 win to go through (on away goals), but I think Roma have enough experience and enough ammunition to surprise the Meringues.

In other matches, Barcelona should prove too strong at home against Celtic, Chelsea should be too powerful for Olympiakos after their 0-0 away draw in the first leg, Sevilla face a tricky home match against Fenerbahce, but should go through after scoring two away goals in the 3-2 loss and Schalke 04 will do enough (I think) to hold on to their single goal advantage away to Porto - although this prediction could go horribly wrong!

Chiefs' patience will pay off

I watched the recent Ajax Cape Town v Kaizer Chiefs match (not from the stands, but from right on the touchline) and was very impressed by Chiefs' performance. They should have won, even without the penalty that was blasted into the building site, but poor finishing and bad option taking in the last third denied them the three points. They are too far off the pace to win the league, but I fancy that more performances like that will see them reel off a few wins in a row and finish in a respectable position near the top.

The sad thing in SA football is the number of coaching casualties at this time of the season. Club owners in SA almost expect instant results and when these are not forthcoming, the "know-it-all" bosses, get rid of the coach, and hire a caretaker to do the job. This is not the way to go people.

Gordon Igesund is out at Sundowns (despite his acceptable games/wins ratio), Boebie Solomons is suspended at Leopards, Khabo Zondo is out at Celtic and the axe hangs over a few others. There are few instant success stories and our local bosses have a lot to learn about how to manage their football businesses on the field.

Joe is dead

I've just heard that my former AmaZulu teammate Joe Mlaba died of TB last week. Joe was a great little winger that tormented defenders before delivering a great cross. He is best remembered for his performances during the 1992 season that saw AmaZulu beat Chiefs in the Coke Cup final. He played once for Bafana Bafana, but his lack of discipline saw him drifting away from top class football. He was only 39.

  • George Dearnaley is a former Bafana star striker and current Sport24 columnist.

  • Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.


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