Ghana 2-2 DR Congo: Leopards fight back to extend Afcon draw streak

Coach Claude Le Roy’s side came from two goals down to draw with tournament favourites the Black Stars

By Joshua Ansah

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Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu opened the scoring for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations after converting from a well-worked move before Kwadwo Asamoah gave Ghana a two-goal lead, but goals from Tresor Mputu and Mbokani drew DR Congo level.

Both sides started the game well, each winning a corner kick inside two minutes but both defences held their ground and cleared the danger. 

Congo were then first to get their passing game together after that early period but the Ghanaians also grew into it with only some last ditch defending preventing Udinese’s Agyemang-Badu from getting a clear shot at goal from a well-placed cut-back. 

Congo replied with a chance of their own as some good work down the right flank set up Lualua whose effort was parried onto the bar by Fatau Dauda. 

A similar move saw Mbokani set up Mputu whose effort flew high as DRC looked to exploit the weakness of Asamoah playing at a largely unfamiliar left-back role. The Ghanaians settled back into the game and both sides continued to have a go at each other though no clear cut chances were created until Asamoah Gyan was played through on-goal with pin-point accuracy by Derek Boateng, but the Al-Ain forward dallied too much and sliced the ball wide. 

Congo responded with a sustained period of pressure but the Leopards were stung in the 40th minute as Agyemang-Badu scored the first goal of the tournament after an amazing bit of play from Asamoah who played a quick one-two with Gyan before setting up Agyemang-Badu for the tap-in. 

DR Congo went right back into the Ghanaian half sustaining another period of pressure but were almost caught out again as Mutebe Kidiaba had to react quickly on the stroke of half time to prevent a fierce in-swinging cross from getting to its target.

The Ghanaians came out well in the second half carving out another good opening but Kidiaba did well to save at his near post. But Asamoah was on hand to head in from the resulting corner taken by Mubarak Wakaso to give the Ghanaians a two-goal cushion four minutes into the second half. 

Congo responded to the goal as they had responded to all Ghana’s chances in the game, with another period of pressure but this time they made good use of it as Mputu did well to pull one back with a smooth finish after a great through ball put him in a position to slot past the keeper. 

Congo sustained the period of pressure and were robbed of an equaliser only by a couple of very good last ditch tackles. The Ghanaians responded again but Gyan failed to get his effort on goal past the first defender despite being in a very good position. Congo were, however, level in the 67th minute after a smooth finish from the spot by Dieumerci Mbokani who won the spot kick off Jeremiah Akaminko.

Gyan then stung Kidiaba’s palms with a fierce shot a couple of minutes later before heading wide from a good cross in the 73rd minute as the Ghanaians looked to get back in front. Kidiaba then had to make a great save from a tricky free kick barely a minute later from Wakaso whose delivery was causing DR Congo a lot of problems. The Leopards, however, caused problems of their own, with Dauda having to produce a world class save to prevent his side from going behind. 

Both sides tried to find the winner but neither managed it with Congo having a scare late into injury time as Kidiaba almost carried a save from Gyan’s header into his own net, as the 29th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations is still yet to see any team win a game. Both sides will however will be looking to build on this result against the other group members, Mali and Niger.

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Real Sociedad deserved victory yesterday

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Real Sociedad. It’s a name that does not light up when La Liga is mentioned. But on saturday, this club showed that with determination you can achieve even the impossible. Nobody was expecting Barcelona to lose after they had gone two goals up and hit the post twice; all in the first half; but they did lose, and Real Sociedad were the perpetrators. 

Barcelona had gone 19 games unbeaten going into this match and it was going to be business as usual. It was business as usual anyway, until Gerard Pique got that red card and Fabregas, who was having a good game was substituted. From then on the tide rolled in favour of Real Sociedad. Wave after wave of corner kicks resulted in the second goal before Barca’s heart was broken in the closing stages of the match.

All in all, even as a devoted Barca fan, i think Sociedad deserved to win. Hala Sociedad!!!

This is what football should be.

Vilanova frustrated by Pique sending off in Sociedad defeat

The 44-year-old was left frustrated by the Spaniard’s red card which sparked a stunning comeback that ended their unbeaten run in La Liga

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Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova has spoken of his frustration over Gerard Pique‘s red card which sparked Real Sociedad‘s stunning comeback and inflicted a first Liga defeat of the season on the Blaugrana.

Vilanova’s side appeared to be cruising thanks to early goals from Lionel Messi and Pedro, but they ceded their 19-match unbeaten streak in the Primera Division and eventually lost 3-2. 

“Even if his sending-off was for a clear foul, there must have been 200 other cases similar to his tonight,” Vilanova told reporters after the match. “I don’t have to add more.

“At half-time, I told Pique to be careful, as his next foul would most likely result in a second caution,” he added.

But the Barca boss also praised Philippe Montanier’s side, adding: “Credit to Real Sociedad. 

“Their win is more due to their merit, rather than us not playing well. I have nothing to reproach the players for.”

The Catalan giants have now failed to win at Anoeta in three consecutive seasons, and club captain Carles Puyol was quick to point out their opponent’s strength at home.

“We should have scored more in the first half, but even if we had a 3-0 lead, it would not have been over, they have a great team,” the veteran said.

Xavi echoed his compatriot’s comments: “It’s a pity, we could have gone up with Messi’s shot against the post in the first half. The loss had to happen one day though, let’s move on.”

In spite of the loss, Barcelona still lie top of La Liga, 11 points ahead of second-placed Atletico Madrid.

If Real Madrid were to play Manchester United now, they would lose

Jose Mourinho’s men overcame Valencia in the sides’ Copa del Rey first leg at the Bernabeu on Tuesday, but played poorly and must improve ahead of their European tie in February

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COMMENT
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

Cause for concern. Real Madrid claimed the result they were looking for by defeating Valencia2-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu on Tuesday, to move a step closer to the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey. But another poor performance left lasting doubts over their chances of success against the biggest teams at home and abroad. As things stand, Madrid would surely lose toManchester United if the two clubs met currently. Luckily, Jose Mourinho’s men have three more weeks to prepare for their Champions League clash with Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. And they need them.

La Liga is already a distant dream for the reigning champions. Madrid trail Barcelona by 18 points in the Primera Division (with a game in hand) and must now focus their energies on the Champions League and the Copa del Rey. The worry, however, is whether the capital club can raise their game for the momentous meetings with the likes of Barca and United in the coming weeks. Their season’s success will depend on it, but the early signs from 2013 have been far from encouraging.

Following the dire display at Osasuna last Saturday, things could seemingly only get better for Madrid. And they did, albeit only marginally. If the goalless game in Pamplona had provided nothing in the way of redeeming features, the win over Valencia had left little more.

TOUGH TESTS ON THE HORIZON
Opponent
Competition Date
Valencia (a) La Liga 20/01
Valencia (a) Copa del Rey 23/01
Barca/Malaga (h)* Copa del Rey 30/01
Man United (h) C. League 13/02
Barca/Malaga (a)* Copa del Rey 27/02
Barcelona (h) La Liga 02/03
Man United (a) C. League 05/03
A Madrid (a) La Liga 27/04
*Must beat Valencia    

On the plus side, Cristiano Ronaldo returned from suspension, looked lively and was a positive presence throughout Tuesday’s game. The Portuguese was also handed a rousing reception from the Santiago Bernabeu, backing their star man more than ever before. But not even Ronaldo could lift the mood on a cold and forgettable night in the capital.

Karim Benzema’s goal just before the break had broken the deadlock, but Valencia could count themselves unfortunate with several dubious decisions, as Roberto Soldado was incorrectly penalised on three separate occasions for offside. The former Madrid man had also seen a strike ruled out for the same offence in similar circumstances at the Bernabeu in the sides’ 1-1 draw back in August. And he was furious.

“Something always happens [to us] at the Bernabeu,” midfielder David Albelda had told reporters after that result, but Valencia only had themselves to blame on Tuesday as they contributed to their own downfall. Madrid’s second goal arrived via a clumsy challenge from Andres Guardado, who turned the ball into his own net via Gonzalo Higuain’s hand. Although unintentional, it was probably the Argentine’s most significant offering on an uninspired yet ultimately successful night for the home team.

Madrid now travel to Valencia in La Liga on Sunday and then face Ernesto Valverde’s men for a third time in the space of a week as the two teams meet again in the second leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final tie on Wednesday. Play as they did on Tuesday, however, and there is no guarantee of success for Mourinho’s men in either fixture. 

In the end, a two-goal advantage should suffice in the cup, but a semi-final against either Barcelona or Malaga is likely to need a significant shift in gear from the capital club. Sub-standard showings like those of last Saturday or Tuesday are unlikely to cut it.

And thoughts of progressing past Manchester United in the last 16 of the Champions League can also be firmly extinguished if displays continue to be below expectations. Jose Mourinho’s mind is no doubt now geared towards triumphing in that double date in February and March, but he has to get it right and that means much improvement between now and then.

Tales of dressing-room discontent persist, with Mourinho and Ronaldo recently clashing, while injuries are hardly helping, either, but these next few weeks could go on to define the 49-year-old’s time in Spain. And if the coach and his under-performing players cannot club together to hit the heights in the remainder of 2012-13, an already unconvincing campaign could end in tears – sooner rather than later.

Follow Ben Hayward on 

Arsenal’s transfer failures & Chelsea’s managerial turmoil takes shine off once-great derby

Knee-jerk sackings, expensive flops and an interfering owner have hampered the Blues, while the Gunners have been held back by a lack of spending and the sale of star players

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COMMENT
By Ewan Roberts

Not so long ago, the prospect of Chelsea and Arsenal locking horns would have had fans salivating; the two sides dominated the Premier League, trading blows – domestically and in Europe – and titles. Arsene Wenger’s ‘Invincibles’ were stocked with flair and artistry, whileJose Mourinho’s Blue revolution turned the west London club into an efficient and brutal victory machine.

For a brief three-year period between 2003 and 2006, Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson had struggled to contend with the new-found financial clout of Chelsea, or the Thierry Henry-led north London juggernaut, while Manchester City, pre-Sheikh Mansour, were an insignificant speck on the football horizon, battling relegation after spells in the lower leagues.

But now, almost a decade after Roman Abramovich’s arrival, Manchester has re-established itself as the crème de la crème of English football. Sir Alex, as he has so often done, rebuilt his side, winning the title in four of the last six seasons – and is on course to do so again – while Roberto Mancini’s City are hot on the Red Devils’ heels, fighting to defend the trophy they lifted in dramatic fashion last May.

As such, Sunday’s London derby between Chelsea and Arsenal has become a rather less interesting sideshow. Neither side can win the Premier League, while any notions of this match deciding the best team in London have become obsolete since the rise to prominence of Tottenham. Spurs finished two places and five points ahead of Chelsea last season, and have a six-point cushion over the Gunners this year.

The Manchester duopoly has tightened its grip on the Premier League, leaving the once dominant London pair fighting to maintain their relevance and battling to cling onto a lucrative place in the Champions League. While Arsenal’s trophy-less decline has been steady, Chelsea’s fall from grace – the Lady Luck-aided Champions League swansong aside – has been more dramatic.

At this time of the year Chelsea would normally be fielding questions about their title aspirations, instead Rafa Benitez has been incessantly quizzed about his own future (or, as the interim pre-fix suggests, lack of) and the form and confidence of Fernando Torres. ‘Chelsea’ and ‘title’ have barely been whispered in the same breathe.

The Blues are already 13 points adrift of pace-setters Manchester United, and crashed out of the Champions League at the expense of Shakhtar Donestk and Juventus. Now Abramovich will watch his side take part in Europe’s second-tier competition for the first time since purchasing the club – with Chelsea having featured in the Champions League in nine successive seasons, escaping the group stages each time.

Chelsea’s hierarchy is a barely tangible mess, with the club’s Russian owner meddling with transfers and refusing patience in the pursuit of an attractive style of football. Carlo Ancelotti was sacked despite finishing second in the league and claiming a domestic double the year before, while his successor, Andre Villas-Boas, lasted just a few months. Even a long-waited Champions League crown couldn’t prevent Roberto Di Matteo from being axed.

Villas-Boas was meant to overhaul Chelsea’s brand of play and revamp the Blues’ increasingly old and poisonous dressing room. But Abramovich did not back his young manager, pandering instead to Chelsea’s influential veterans and a €58m flop. The Russian’s insatiable and impatient thirst for his own Galactico-littered, Barcelona-style plaything achieved only uncertainty, while his habit of buying the players he wants, rather than the players Chelsea need, recurred once more.

For Arsenal, the opposite is true. Wenger appears increasingly reluctant to diverge from his pedestalled philosophy of developing young players and, despite the huge wealth of the club, the Gunners have largely operated at a net profit each year.

What little money that has been spent, has been invested poorly – which is perhaps the reason for Wenger’s trepidation in the transfer market. The likes of Lukas Podolski (€12m), Olivier Giroud (€12m), Andrey Arshavin (€16.5m) and Gervinho (€12m) have failed to ignite the Premier League despite their massive outlays. 

The fact that the initial €19m fee spent on Santi Cazorla – more of an opportunistic purchase on Wenger’s part – represents Arsenal’s record buy is damning, especially when you consider that Manchester City spent over 50 per cent more on James Milner. The reliance, to the point of feverish worship, on Theo Walcott, which saw the club cave in to his astronomical wage demands, further highlights Arsenal’s lack of top talent.

Wenger’s willingness to sell his best players has also stunted the north London side. Robin van Persie joined Manchester United in search of long-awaited silverware, while Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy have all tasted success since leaving the Gunners. Arsenal’s bank balance may look rosy, but their position within the elite of English football is increasingly perilous.

Having fallen behind the Manchester clubs, and been caught up by Tottenham and Everton, Chelsea and Arsenal are scrapping simply to cling onto the hope that they can return to their once-dominant standing in English football.

But Chelsea have been here before under then-boss Mourinho, where the ‘Special One’ had to break the Arsenal-Manchester United stranglehold in order to truly announce his arrival. In that sense, Chelsea are back to square one, a shrewd managerial appointment away from challenging again, while Wenger will look to endure once more, waiting – hoping – for another golden generation to bloom.

Follow Ewan Roberts on 

The Dossier: With no Messi, how can Guardiola turn Bayern into Barcelona mark 2?

The former Barcelona coach will continue his career at the Allianz Arena from next summer, but how can Roten supporters expect their side to play under the 42-year-old?Image

TACTICAL ANALYSIS
By Jonathan Wilson

There has been much speculation about why Pep Guardiola chose to join Bayern Munich rather than waiting for a more lucrative offer from a Premier League club, and much of it centred on how they conduct themselves off the pitch. 

But it’s easy to believe Guardiola has been influenced as well by how they fare on the pitch – this season and last – as Barcelona have topped the possession and pass completion rankings in the major five European leagues, Bayern Munich have been second. Bayern is not a replica of Barca but at least the raw materials available to Guardiola are relatively familiar.

In terms of shape, Bayern this season have tended to play a 4-2-3-1, with Mario Mandzukic as a mobile centre-forward (although neither as mobile nor – obviously – as talented as Lionel Messi), two of Xherdan Shaqiri, Thomas Muller and Franck Ribery wide (with Arjen Robben to come back when he returns to fitness) and Toni Kroos as the central creative presence. 

Given Kroos’s mobility and willingness to work back, it’s a 4-2-3-1 that can often appear more like a 4-3-3. The versatility of Guardiola in his final season at Barca makes it hard to say exactly what shape he preferred but the default in previous campaign was a 4-3-3, albeit one with a single holder and two creators, rather than the double pivot and single creator of Bayern.

BAYERN’S BUSQUETS
Javi Martinez could replicate the role that his countryman had under Guardiola at Barca

It’s impossible at this stage to speak with any certainty of how Bayern will set up next season but there are certain correlations between their personnel and those of Barca. 

Both full-backs, Philipp Lahm and David Alaba (or Rafinha), relish the attacking side of the game and so should be able to operate reasonably similarly to how Dani Alves and Eric Abidal (or Adriano) played for Barca under Guardiola – even if it’s unlikely Lahm will ever be deployed as a winger in the way Dani Alves could be.

The other key figure could be Javi Martinez. Guardiola liked him enough to try to sign him from Athletic Bilbao and his reading of the game, passing and defensive qualities could see him become Bayern’s Sergio Busquets.

Busquets remains probably Barcelona’s least appreciated player, the breaker of waves in front of the back line who also sets the tempo for their passing; it’s easy to imagine Martinez operating in a similar way. 

Kroos is a natural fit just in front of him (if Bayern used a midfield shape similar to Barcelona’s) but there must be doubts as to whether Bastian Schweinsteiger, for all his energy and commitment, has the passing quality to operate in a midfield three if Guardiola replicates his Barcelona approach. 

Martinez could also play – as he did at Athletic – as a ball-playing central defender, as Javier Mascherano did for Guardiola’s Barcelona (indeed, as Busquets did on occasion), which opens the possibility of a switch to a back three. 

Martinez developed at Athletic under Marcelo Bielsa, whose tactical thinking, particularly his desire to win the ball back as high up the pitch as possible, was a major influence on Guardiola

It’s another link to one of his tactical mentors that may be more significant, though. In the early nineties, as Bielsa was developing his 4-3-3/3-4-3 hybrid in Argentina, adapting the principles of Total Football to modern ends, Louis van Gaal was doing much the same at Ajax. Van Gaal then moved to Barcelona, where he was a major influence on Guardiola the player. It was, of course, Van Gaal who laid the foundations of the modern Bayern after being appointed coach there in 2009. 

TIKI-TAKA IN MUNICH?
Will Pep attempt to create Barcelona’s revolutionary brand of one-touch and pass-and-move football?

German football – and Bayern in particular – had been slow to come round to pressing. Although West Germany at national level and Bayern and Borussia Monchengladbach in the club game had success playing a variant of Total Football in the seventies, they did so without pushing their back four high up the pitch. 

When Freiburg exploded into the Bundesliga in 1993 – and beat Bayern 5-1 the following season – it was their pressing that other teams found so difficult to deal with. More recently, the likes of Mainz and Borussia Dortmund have overachieved with an approach based on pressing.

It was Van Gaal who instituted pressing at Bayern. They took to it cautiously at first and more aggressively under Jupp Heynckes, although it is still at nothing like the level of Barca’s. Guardiola will presumably attempt to accentuate that aspect of Bayern’s game, although somebody as astute as him and as a aware of the psychological dimension of the game will surely be wary of going too far, too soon. 

Barca’s players, after all, are trained in pressing from the academy, something in which German football lags. Equally it’s hard to imagine either Robben or Ribery pressing with any great discipline. 

So there are differences, and there are compromises Guardiola will have to make. Barcelona was a unique environment, one in which, for two decades, everything has been built to playing a certain way. 

Bayern is not like that but stylistically it is probably as similar to Barca as any of Europe’s major clubs.