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from Left field:
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from Mark Meadows:
The Reuters Soccer blog is merging with our sister site, Left Field -- Reuters' global sports analysis and opinion page.
In future please head to Left Field http://blogs.reuters.com/sport/ for all sports blogs including soccer articles.
from Left field:
The clock said 68 minutes, and no one at the Emirates Stadium in north London was looking at the action on the pitch as the fourth official held aloft his lit-up board to signal the re-introduction of Thierry Henry to English football.
Ten minutes later and he'd scored the game's eventual winner. Comebacks don't get this good this often.
from Left field:
For many football fans, the post-Christmas blues will be banished by the prospect of their club buying big when the transfer window opens in January.
But the out-of-contract players taking part in the FIFPro Winter Tournament in Oslo are hoping to get their futures sorted out before the window opens again.
from Mark Meadows:
'Tebow Time' runs out this week when the Broncos host the Patriots but the Lineman's time has come. We've been close to a perfect week a few occasions this season but with time ticking down Week 15 looks like a promising bet.
Record: 43-41. Last week 4-2; Pick of the Week: 12-2
PICK OF THE WEEK
Cincinnati Bengals (7-6) at St. Louis Rams (2-11) (Line Bengals minus-6.5) Remember when the Bengals were purring along with a 6-2 mark and there was chatter of a new pecking order in the AFC North. Well, not so fast. The Steelers and Ravens are back on top and Cincinnati is facing a must win date with the Rams on Sunday after dropping four of their last five. But two of the Cincy losses were to the Steelers, one to the division leading Ravens and a heart-breaking one-point loss to the AFC leading Texans last Sunday. St. Louis will not present the same challenge. Despite the swoon, the Bengals still have a very good shot at the playoffs while the Rams only shot is the number one draft pick. The Bengals will not have a better chance to get their post-season bid back on track going up against the sad sack Rams, who are coming off a Monday Night beat down by the Seattle Seahawks. Rams quarterback Sam Bradford saw action against Seattle but was clearly not over his ankle injury
and may not get the start. That would leave newcomer Kellen Clemens at the controls of the NFL's lowest scoring offence averaging just 11.8 points per game. Running back Stephen Jackson remains the Rams big weapon but will find the yards hard to come by against a very tough seventh ranked Cincinnati defence. Bengals running back Cedric Benson may be hobbled with an injured foot but is likely to have a much more productive day going against a St. Louis defence that is ranked dead last against the run. Cincinnati rookie quarterback Andy Dalton has thrown a touchdown in 10 straight games. Bengals scratch out a win, take Cincy and give up the 6.5.
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Seattle Seahawks (6-7) at Chicago Bears (7-6) (Line Bears minus-3.5) It's corny, I know, but the reason I like Chicago here is, that when you back a bear into a corner you are asking for trouble. These Bears have lost some of their bite without quarterback Jay Cutler and all-purpose back Matt Forte but the Chicago defence is as mean and ornery as any in the league. After three straight losses, the Bears playoff hopes hinge on this game and I expect them to be exceptionally tough in their den taking on a Seattle team that his making the trip east on short week. Caleb Hanie gets his fourth start under centre for the injured Cutler and must generate enough offence to give his defence a lead to protect. Running back Marion Barber must hold onto the ball and avoid the bonehead mistakes that cost Chicago a victory in Denver last Sunday. The Seahawks have produced some of their best performances of the season down the stretch winning four of their last five, including wins over Baltimore and Philadelphia. Marshawn Lynch is a beast and has been perhaps the NFL's dominate running back the last two months rushing for over 100-yards in five of last six weeks. Chicago will need a couple of big plays from kick returner Devin Hester and some points off the foot of field goal kicker Robbie Gould, who is six-for-six from 50-yards out this season but make no mistake, the Bears post-season hopes rest with a defence led by sack machine Julius Peppers and menacing linebacker Brian Urlacher. Take Da Bears and give up the 3.5.
- - - - Dallas Cowboys (7-6) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9) (Line Cowboys minus-6.5) The Bucs are out to save coach Raheem Morris's job, The Cowboys are out to save their season after gut-churning losses to Arizona and the Giants. If the Cowboys had not shot themselves in the foot and won those two games, they would be in control of the NFC East instead of tied for top spot with the Giants and battling for their post-season lives. While times are tough in the Big D, they are worse in Tampa Bay. How bad? How about being blown out 41-14 by woeful Florida rivals the Jacksonville Jaguars last week extending their losing skid to seven games. Tony Romo has never beaten the Bucs and the Cowboys QB has been playing well but once again Dallas is labouring through a dreadful December. Romo was on target tossing four touchdowns last week against the Giants only to have the defence squander a 12-point lead with less than four minutes to play. I expect to see Romo put up big numbers again this week with tight end Jason Witten and wide outs Dez Bryant and Mile Austin presenting plenty of problems for a leaky Bucs defence that is the league's second worse giving up an average of 28.5 points a game. Dallas will be without impressive rookie running back DeMarco Murray but Felix Jones looks back in good form coming off the bench to rush for over 100 yards. Dallas breaks out of December doldrums with big win. Morris walks the plank. Take the Cowboys and give up the 6.5.
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New Orleans Saints (10-3) at Minnesota Vikings (2-11) (Line Saints minus-6.5) The Saints are starting to look like the Super Bowl team many expected and march into the Metrodome on mission. With their Thursday night win the Falcons have kept the heat on the Saints, who have clinched a playoff spot but have their sights set on another NFC South division crown and the possibility of a first round bye. In other words, the Saints should be plenty motivated, something they have not always been this season (see a 31-21 loss to the winless Rams). Few teams have looked more dangerous the last month than the Saints, particularly on offence with Drew Brees at the controls of the NFL's top ranked attack averaging 447.8 yards a game. Brees has tossed for a league best 4,368-yards and 32 touchdowns (only Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have thrown more) and will add to those numbers going against a porous Vikings 26th ranked pass defence that is yielding nearly 250-yards a game and given up a league high 26 touchdowns through the air. Vikings defensive end Jared Allen leads the NFL in sacks but will not be able to provide enough pressure consistently to keep Brees from finding favourite targets Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas. After missing three games with an injured ankle, the return of running back Adrian Peterson will provide a jolt for a Viking offense that has sputtered under rookie quarterback Christian Ponder, who was pulled in favour of backup Joe Webb during last week's loss to the Lions. The Metrodome has not been a happy hunting ground for the Saints, who have just two wins in 13 visits to Minny and not returned home with a victory since 1993. But the Saints have five straight wins while the Vikings have five straight losses and counting. Take the Saints and give up the 6.5.
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New York Jets (8-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-8) (Line Jets plus 2.5) This one almost seems like a Christmas gift. Or a typo. When I first saw this I thought it was a decent wager taking the Jets and giving up 2.5.
Ok, the Eagles are at home, have Michael Vick back under centre and beat the Miami Dolphins last week to snap a two game losing skid and have never lost to the Jets (8-0).
from Left field:
There was the usual hushed silence and then sudden intake of breath heard in Nyon on Friday, though not for the Champions League Round of 16 draw but the first two ties of the Europa League Round of 32.
Holders Porto will play mega-rich Manchester City, they were the first two names out of the little plastic balls when UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino was finally able to open the second after Davor Suker had tried and failed, and Ajax Amsterdam will take on Manchester United.
from Mark Meadows:
Annoyingly for Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho, the supposed plot line of El Clasico on Saturday did not follow the script. The much-anticipated power shift from Catalunya to Madrid did not take place and his team are back to the drawing board as far as playing against Barcelona is concerned.
Mourinho blamed bad luck for the loss, as you would expect, but a lot of the press have zoomed in on Real's psychological barrier when it comes to facing Barca.
It is all because UEFA believes head-to-heads rather than goal difference in all group games should be the first deciding factor.
OK, I’m not actually going to list 100 reasons. The 100 refers to the amazing 100-1 odds some bookmakers have given to Denmark’s chances of winning Euro 2012 following Friday’s draw.
Yes they are in the toughest group with Germany, Netherlands and Portugal but it is quite possible for those three teams to cancel each other out with draws meaning Denmark only need a win and a draw to guarantee second spot.
For all the talk of his City career being over, after the Argentine was accused by manager Roberto Mancini of refusing to come on in a Champions League game in September, no concrete offer has been forthcoming.