Jan 12, 2008

Saturday Soccer Summary, Jan. 12, 2008: Gunners Give Ground

The biggest shock of the EPL day took place at Emirates Stadium, where little Birmingham City managed to upstage mighty Arsenal and leave town with a well-deserved point. Arsene Wenger's men weren't the only top team to drop points, although I'm not really sure if Liverpool--who struggled to a 1-1 tie at Middlesbrough--are anything better than a mid-table squad right now. Don't believe me? The record speaks for itself: Reds have four ties out of their last four games, nearly all of which were against lousy teams: Borough today, Luton Town (!) last week, Wigan and Manchester City before that. Their last win, at Derby on Boxing Day, was about as lucky as they come (and also over a crap team). The noose is no doubt tightening around Rafa Benitez' throat.

Speaking of nooses being tightened, is there any hope for Fulham? Clint Dempsey and Co. are in big trouble after losing at Villa Park today: 19th place and five points adrift of next year's Premiership spots. Roy Hodgson better start working his magic soon, and Brian McBride cannot get healthy quickly enough, because it does not get any easier from here for the Cottagers: A week from today they host Arsenal. The weekend after that, Aston Villa (don't look now but Martin O'Neill's men are in sixth place).

England wasn't the only place where top teams struggled. In Serie A, ninth-placed Catania led second-placed Juventus for most of the game, before a questionable penalty call led to Alessandro del Piero's equalizer in the 90th minute. It was hard to see from the replay if del Piero was tripped or went down by his own volition. I've seen far more dubious penalty calls in my time (a certain one awarded to the Italian national team against Australia in the last World Cup comes to mind...) but Catania had been sitting back and all but begging Juve to take target practice all of the second half (and most of the first as well).

Demonstrations for how to dissemble inferior opponents--rather than playing down to their level--were on display today as well, however. Look no further than Old Trafford, where Man United put Newcastle to the sword with six (6) second half goals. United reclaim first place from Arsenal with the victory. In Spain, Barcelona beat up on Murcia by a 4-0 score.

The French Ligue Un returned to action today as well. No major surprises to tell you about there; four of the five top-placed teams (Lyon, Bordeaux, Valenciennes and Nice) won their games with Nancy (second) and Caen (sixth) playing a scoreless tie. In Portugal, second-placed Benfica managed only a scoreless tie against Leixoes (whoever that is) while first-placed Porto were leading their game against Sporting Braga at last check. In Greece, AEK Athens and Olympiakos continued their tit-for-tat, with AEK reclaiming the top spot thanks to a 5-1 victory over some minnow team today. Olympiakos can re-reclaim first place tomorrow, but they'll have to beat third-placed Panathinaikos (did I spell that right?). Hey, which Greek team will Clint Mathis be playing for?

The day's not over yet, though! Later tonight we have the Interliga finals. The Interliga is a money-making scheme the Mexican league sponsors to determine its entrants into the Copa Libertadores, which is akin to a Champions League of the Americas (for all you Eurosnobs). Two Mexican teams make the tournament, and these will be decided tonight. San Luis will play Atlas at 9pm EST (Fox Soccer en Espanol) for one spot, followed by Club America and Cruz Azul in the Clasico Joven.

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