Daily Archives: December 15, 2011
If my memory serves me right, the 2006 World Cup in Germany was a tournament that had a lot of drama from start to finish. The low point of the tourney still remained that infamous headbutt by the Pope of modern-day football on the Italian tattooed up defender.
From a Nigerian perspective, not qualifying for the tournament was a major disappointment because it took a header from Angola’s Fabrice Akwa against Rwanda to seal the Super Eagles fate. Angola was paired with Portugal, Iran and Mexico but the Teranga Lions were extremely disappointing in their maiden World Cup.
Even after Austin Eguavoen’s men smashed 10 goals past Algeria and Zimbabwe, it wasn’t enough for his side and the head-to-head rule played a big role in ensuring that the Super Eagles waited for four more years to grace the World Cup again.
However, my main focus will be on the Czech National team. In the days when the country was simply known as Czechoslovakia, the eastern Europeans were superpowers in world football but after the split up with Slovakia, the Cazech Republic came close to glory in the Euro 96 final but where on the wrong end of two Oliver Bierhoff headers.
The team grew from strength to strength after that disappointment and the squad assembled for the 2004 European Championship in Portugal was tipped to go very far. They got their Euro 96 revenge win a 3-0 win over Germany but they were ousted from the tournament by the eventual surprise winners Greece.
In the 2006 World Cup, the Czech team was paired with USA, Ghana and Italy with many key figureheads of the Euro 2004 squad being a vital part of the country’s jigsaw puzzle. Petr Cech arrived in his maiden World Cup on the end of two back to back Premier League wins with Chelsea and he was heralded as one of the best young goalies in the business since the days of Iker Casillas.
Marek Jankulovski marauded the left flank with his mazy runs and he was supported by Robert Kovac, Tomas Ujfalusi and Zdenek Grygera. The Czech midfield had the biggest names of them all. Tomas Galasek was given the task to protect the back four while Vladimir Smicer and Karel Poborsky provided wit from the flanks. The Czech midfield was orchestrated by two technicians; the great Pavel Nedved and the Little Mozart known as Tomas Rosicky.
Shortly before the World Cup, Arsenal made a swoop for the Czech midfielder from Dortmund so gooners worldwide watched the tournament closely to get a glimpse of what was to come next season and they were drooling with the prospect of watching Rosicky play after his two thunderbolts against USA.
He opened his Arsenal account with a similar surface-to-goal missile when the Gunners visited Hamburg and it was also a landmark game for Farmer Emmanuel Eboue because he scored his first Arsenal goal in the same fixture. Rosicky was also key in Arsenal’s 3-1 FA Cup win against Liverpool with two well taken goals.
The 2007/08 campaign was undoubtedly Rosicky’s best campaign for Arsenal as he was part of that formidable midfield that came close to Premier League honors. He attacked from the left while Aliaksandr Hleb did the damage on the right. Cesc Fabregas and Mathieu Flamini forged a telepathic understanding in the middle of the park.
Rosicky’s rise to ascension in Arsenal hit a steep end when he suffered a knee injury in January 2008 and it sidelined him for the best part of two pregnancy periods (18 months). He kept struggling with niggling injuries and has failed to command a first team place.
At the age of 31, age is creeping in on the Czech midfielder and he has gone down the pecking order in Arsenal with the likes of Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey getting the nod above him.
He’s reaching the twilight years of his career and he would love to play football week in week out and an escape route has surfaced because Felix Magath of Wolfsburg has declared that he wants to sign the midfielder this January.
I’m a big fan of Rosicky because he adds some drive into Arsenal’s attack and he’s a good impact sub but if he wants to go back to Germany, I don’t expect Arsene Wenger to stand in his way. He declared years ago that he ‘owes’ Arsenal after the way the club handled his injury problems and I wonder if he’ll stay with the club in their bid to challenge for honors this season.
However, the future looks uncertain for Wolfsburg’s Aliaksandr Hleb after Magath told the media Vultures that he’ll let the Belarussian go when his loan spell expires. He had a glittering career at Arsenal but he has found out that the grass isn’t greener on the other side.
The Champions League started in September and it has been cut down to just 16 teams after the group stages that lasted for three months. Eight teams were offered another chance in the Europa League while eight other teams went back home with nothing.
As expected, the big boys of Europe topped their groups with the main surprise being last season’s finalists Manchester United knocked out of the group stages. Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, Benfica, Real Madrid, Barcelona Arsenal, Chelsea and surprise package APOEL Nicosia topped their groups.
Napoli, CSKA Moscow, Basel, Lyon, Bayer Leverkusen, Marseille, Zenit St Petersburg and AC Milan earned second spot in their respective groups.
No team can play a club from their group or any side from the same country so the draws are going to be very spicy as Arsenal stands a chance of playing Napoli, CSKA, Basel, Lyon, Leverkusen, Zenit or Milan.
The Gunners would like to be paired with CSKA, Basel, Lyon or Zenit but I have a hunch that Michel Platini and his suit wearing chums will want a repeat of the knockout stage of the 2007/08 season were Arsenal paired up with AC Milan.
Seeded group winners will be away in the round of 16 first legs on February 14/15 and 21/22 and at home in the return matches on March 6/7 and 13/14. The draws will take place tomorrow at 11am in Nyon, Switzerland.
Whoever the Gunners will be paired with, I’m confident that Arsene Wenger and his men will put up a performance good enough to book them a place in the quarterfinals. At least, they won’t be paired with FC Barcelona this time. 😀
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