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Even Mourinho can’t halt Serie A decline as England dominates

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The sight of Serie A sides flopping in the Champions League has become a familiar one and although the three teams eliminated this week were a little unlucky, a mental block against English opposition is developing.

Inter Milan coach Jose Mourinho, who won the trophy with Porto in 2004, was hired in June largely to boost their hopes of challenging Europe’s elite after years of failure.

However, his confident nature and man-management skills can only go so far and he acknowledged that the Italians need something extra if they are to really threaten the continent’s best teams.

The former Chelsea boss talked of his side lacking the necessary “intensity” after being eliminated in the last 16 by holders Manchester United on Wednesday following a 2-0 defeat.

FA Cup — life in the old pot yet

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Speaking as someone who once sat in a brick-built outhouse at the bottom of the garden for five years writing a book about the FA Cup, I have rather a soft spot for the old pot.And so, it seems, after all these years, do Arsene Wenger, Alex Ferguson, David Moyes and many other managers, some of whom have not always treated the competition with the respect I still think it deserves.It seems almost every year at about this time, the same stories are run about how the FA Cup has lost its magic and the competition is now a mere end-of pier show compared to the Champions League and Premier League.The doomsayers point to dwindling attendances at grounds and dipping TV viewing figures to prove the FA Cup is not what it was.Last season the jump-on-a-bandwagon team proclaimed the cup “was back” because of all the upsets along the way that meant that just one Premier League team — Portsmouth — reached the semi-finals. Portsmouth v Cardiff was an “old-fashioned” final, a throwback to the 1920s and 1930s.This season the same voices are proclaiming the cup is dead again because Manchester United, Chelsea and Everton are all in the last four with Arsenal set to join them, although Hull City are still involved, and can still of course win it for the first time in their history.But the critics can’t have it both ways. Some years there are upsets, some years there aren’t — and irrespective of the outcome, an FA Cup match does have a different atmosphere, a different tempo and a different level of excitement to a league match, even if both teams are in the same division and regularly play each other.I was at Fulham v Manchester United on Saturday and saw a magical performance from Michael Carrick, Carlos Tevez and their team mates as United crushed the home side 4-0.Despite modern improvements there is still a timeless feel about watching matches at Craven Cottage next to the River Thames, just as there is still a timeless feel about the FA Cup.Sometimes it ebbs, sometimes it flows. I still believe that for most fans, nurtured on just a little history who still appreciate the romance of the game, you can’t miss it for a moment.PHOTO: Everton’s Marouane Fellaini (R) challenges Middlesbrough’s Justin Hoyte during their FA Cup quarter-final at Goodison Park, March 8, 2009. REUTERS/Phil Noble

Gentlemen. No swearing please!

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Former Tottenham Hotspur defender Gary Mabbutt said recently that he never swore once during his 19-year career that ended in 1998.

It’s ironic, for nowhere is swearing more prevalent than in soccer. Over the years foul language has cemented itself as part of football culture.

Premier League deja vu creeping in again

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As Dimitar Berbatov sluggishly rolled in Manchester United’s winner at Newcastle United on Wednesday it suddenly occurred to me that the Premier League season that threatened a different story is heading for a very familiar ending.

At the top, the midweek matches saw United record their 11th consecutive league win and strengthen their grasp on the title, while Chelsea and Liverpool consolidated Champions League spots and Arsenal made up ground on an Aston Villa side which might just be running out of steam.

from Africa News blog:

Togo need a miracle

It is hard to fathom what the motivation for Jean Thissen’s decision would be. He takes on the job as national team coach of Togo just over two weeks before the resumption of Africa’s World Cup qualifiers and with the very real prospect of having to do without his best player.

Thissen is the third new coach to take over at the helm of a side who are still in the World Cup race and set out at the end of this month on the final leg of the fight for one of the five berths for the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.

What are United’s quintuple chances now?

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Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson dismissed the suggestion in his usual style.

After beating Spurs on penalties to win the English League Cup final on Sunday he was asked if United could complete a “quintuple” of trophies.

Vlog on the Pitch talks title racing with Wenger

Join vlogmeister Owen Wyatt as he takes the plunge and asks John Arne Riise whether he’s still a better player than Andrea Dossena, the man who replaced him at Anfield.

And talking of the Premier League, Arsene Wenger thinks Liverpool’s title hopes are still alive, and that none of the top teams are playing to their full potential. Dare to disagree with Wenger? Let us know in the comments, or record your own video rant and send us a link. If we like it, we’ll embed it here.

Round one to Liverpool, but don’t believe Benitez rumours

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Rafa Benitez celebrated a famous victory over his hometown club when Liverpool beat Real Madrid 1-0 in their Champions League last 16, first leg on Wednesday.He outfoxed his counterpart Juande Ramos with an astute tactical display, but anyone linking the Spaniard with a move to the Bernabeu in the near future would be mistaken.

Real Madrid are in limbo. Former president Ramon Calderon sacked Bernd Schuster in December and installed Ramos on a contract to the end of the campaign, and then was forced to resign in disgrace after a vote-rigging scandal at a club general assembly was exposed.

So are we set for another all-English Champions League final?

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There’s still a long way to go to the final in Rome but from what we saw over the first legs of the opening knock-out round of the Champions League a lot of people will be expecting another all-English affair at the Olympic Stadium.

If you take Mark’s dad as an authority, and I’m sure he knows as much as anyone, serie A sides are unlikely still to be challenging but is there anyone else capable of preventing another Premier League tour match?

If Inter are the best in Serie A…

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My dad was a sports journalist too so he has seen a fair few matches in his time.

After Inter Milan’s 0-0 Champions League draw with holders Manchester United at the San Siro, he sent me a very abrupt text message.

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