Archive for June, 2011

Veteran Friedel signs for Spurs

40 year old goalkeeper Brad Friedel has signed for Tottenham Hotspur in a free transfer from Aston Villa in what is believed to be a two year deal at the London club. Despite seeing fellow 40 year old keeper Edwin van der Sar retire at the end of this season, Friedel has no such plans to end his playing career and has joined up with Spurs who will be competing in the Europa League next season as well as aiming to break back into the top four of the Premier League.

The American keeper who first moved to England in 1997 when he signed for Liverpool has racked up an impressive 400 games in the Premier League which has included a run of not missing a single league game since 2004 with Blackburn Rovers and then Aston Villa. Friedel also holds the distinction of being one of only three goal keepers to have scored a Premier League goal, Paul Robinson and Peter Schmeichel being the other two, coming for Blackburn away at Charlton.

Friedel elected to leave Villa after his contract expired

Friedel is thought to have rejected a number of other offers from clubs including Liverpool and West Bromwich Albion as well as a new deal from Villa before deciding to join Harry Redknapp’s side. With Heurelho Gomes and Carlo Cudicini already established at Spurs, the competition for the number 1 spot will be healthy and is probably the strongest line up of goalkeepers in the league. Cudicini recently signed a new extension to his deal at Spurs but there have been rumours surrounding the future of Gomes and a possible move away back to his old club PSV Eindhoven.

Redknapp seems keen to keep his trio of goalkeepers together however with a long season ahead for Spurs which could include a deep run in the Europa League. The Spurs manager said “It is good to have three such experienced top goalkeepers at the club in Heurelho Gomes, Carlo Cudicini and now Brad and it means we have competition for places particularly with the number of games we will hopefully face next year both domestically and in Europe as well.”

Although into his 40s, Friedel has proved he still more than capable of performing at the top level and now that he has been confirmed as a Tottenham player, the battle begins to see who will be starting between the posts come the new season.

Schiavone in Final to Defend French Open Title

Francesca Schiavone is in the final of the 2011 French Open at Roland Garros after beating home hopeful Marion Bartoli 6-3 6-3 to defend the title she won here last year when beating Samantha Stosur in the final. Schiavone showed a great level of variety to her game as she coped much better with the windy conditions as the Bartoli crucially lost her service game when 4-3 down to the Italian who then served out the first set to the disappointment of the vast majority of fans watching the match.

Bartoli started the second set strongest though, breaking Schiavone at the first chance to take a 2-0 lead. However, the Frenchwoman couldn’t build on it and Schiavone broke back instantly and showed the vast array of ground strokes and the ability to create angles from all over the court that helped her win the same title last year as she broke Bartoli again to close out the match and end the home hopes of a French winner.

Francesca Schiavone looking to win a second straight French Open

Schiavone’s opponent in the final will be Li Na who overcame Maria Sharapova in straight sets, 6-4 7-5 in the first of the two semi finals. For Li it is her second straight appearance in a grand slam final after reaching the Australian Open final earlier in the year before losing to Kim Clijsters. The Chinese player took advantage of 5 double faults and 16 unforced errors from Sharapova to take the first set, but like Schiavone, she suffered an early break in the second set as Sharapova looked for a way back into the match.

However, Li continued to move Sharapova around on the clay surface on which she has struggled before and her problems with her serve in the conditions ultimately ended the game as she finished the match with her 10th double fault to seal Li’s passage into the final.

Schiavone and Li will meet on Saturday to decide the second grand slam winner of 2011. Meanwhile in the men’s draw, the semi finals will take place tomorrow with the top 4 seeds battling it out for a place in the final. Five time champion and World number 1 Rafael Nadal takes on the Australian Open runner up Andy Murray with Nadal a big favourite to advance for the chance of a 6th title whilst the on fire Novak Djokovic takes on Roger Federer. The Swiss player who has fallen behind both Nadal and Djokovic will be keen to show he is still a force in all the grand slams whilst Djokovic is still unbeaten in 2011, setting all sorts of records on the way as well as winning the Australian Open title. Both semis promise to be extremely exciting with the two winners meeting in the final on Sunday.

MacKail-Smith ready for the Premier League?

After leading Peterborough United back to the Championship, Scotland international Craig MacKail-Smith is on the verge of a move to the Premier League with a number of clubs rumoured to be involved in a battle for his signature. This seasons top scorer in League 1 with 27 goals, MacKail-Smith has been linked with a move away from the Posh for the last couple of seasons after showing an ability to find the back of the net on a consistent basis and after being asked to stay at the club following their relegation from the Championship next season, his goals have fired the club back up to the second tier of English football at the first time of asking.

MacKail-Smith has enjoyed his best goal scoring season this year

First coming to prominence with Dagenham & Redbridge whilst in the Conference, MacKail-Smith was instrumental in their 2006-2007 season in which they won the Conference title and earned promotion to the Football League. He moved to Peterborough the following season and once again tasted promotion in his second season with the Posh as they climbed from League 2 to League 1. A second successive promotion followed up to the Championship before last seasons drop back to League 1.

It is now clear that the striker’s future is away from London Road and having proved his worth as a goal scorer in the lower leagues, he will now have the chance to show if he can make the step up to the top level with a move to a Premier League club on the cards. There have been a number of players who have made the move from the same level to the Premier League and failed to make the grade. Obvious examples include Jon Stead and Nathan Ellington and MacKail-Smith will be keen to prove he is not another sharp shooter who can’t replicate their form at the top level. However, the 27 year old MacKail-Smith has certainly earned his chance at the Premier League after a number of consistent seasons whilst the likes of Stead, who was only 20 when he moved from Huddersfield in League 2 to Blackburn Rovers in the Premier League, burst onto the scene and was elevated before he was ready.

Newly promoted Norwich City seem to be the favourites to win the race for the striker in a deal apparently worth £3million although there has also been reported interest from Q.P.R, Wigan and Everton. Wherever he lands though, this is MacKail-Smith’s opportunity to establish himself as a Premier League player and achieve what would be a relatively impressive statistic of reaching double figures of goals in a season in all four leagues and the Conference.

Contador Hearing Postponed

Three times Tour de France winner Alberto Contador will be free to defend his title at the race this July after his hearing before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) was postponed until August. Spaniard Contador who won last year’s Tour de France ahead of Luxembourg rider Andy Schleck, tested positive for the banned substance Clenbuterol but he was cleared of any wrong doing by the Spanish Cycling Federation after Contador claimed the substance had entered his system through a piece of contaminated beef. However, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the International Cycling Union (UCI) both appealed the decision and the case was to brought in front of the CAS on the 6-8 June of this year.

The new dates set for the 1-3 August will now mean Contador will be free to take part in the Tour de France which begins on the 2nd July and concludes a week before the hearing’s revised date on the 24th July.

Contador, who claimed his second Giro d’Italia title last week has dominated the sport for the past four years, becoming only the fifth man in its history to win all three grand tours, the third being the Vuelta a España and he is thought to be aiming to become the first man to win the Giro and the Tour de France in the same year since Marco Pantani in 1998.

Contador enjoying his 2011 Giro d'Italia success

There are rumours circling however that the Spaniard may choose not to ride the tour and of course the race organisers do have the power to prevent a rider from entering if they feel it may damage the image of the race. That would have been a very surprising move however as Contador is the three time champion and would be the big favourite to go on and win a fourth, especially after how dominant he was in the Giro. Tour director Christian Prudhomme stated on Yahoo Sport “So yes, Alberto Contador can start the Tour,” to confirm the Spaniard is free to race at the event and Prudhomme like many fans and cyclists registered his annoyance at the delay of the hearing until after the race “We wanted a quick resolution, before the Tour, but it looks like it was too much asking.”

Similarly, Cadel Evans who has finished as a runner up twice in the Tour de France and will once again challenge for the Yellow Jersey with his BMC team this year stated “If he is innocent, well, I hope he is proven innocent and if he is guilty, well, he deserves to be punished…Why is it taking so long? Well that is the question. I am a little bit with everyone else on that one … a little bit mystified I guess.”

Obviously the correct outcome needs to be ascertained but like most fans and members of the cycling community; to have the case hanging over the Tour de France as well as the Giro d’Italia will provide an unwelcome distraction from the race. Contador himself has always expressed his innocence and has maintained his focus and level of performance, handling himself very well when coming up against opposition in the shape of fans who want to see him banned. Although he experienced the occasional bit of booing and insulting signs from fans at the side of the road in the Giro, Contador showed his supreme skill as both a climber and a time trialist as he walked away with the Pink Jersey, finishing a huge 6 minutes and 10 seconds ahead of next placed man Michele Scarponi. As well as the overall title, Contador won the Points Classification as he dominated the field.

For now, the hearing will once again have to be placed on the back burner as the Tour de France takes centre stage and Contador is just one of a number of riders hoping to be wearing the yellow jersey come July 24th and the Champs-Elysees.

Contador celebrates winning last years Tour de France with old team Astana

The question is will Contador even be lining up for his Saxo Bank-SunGard team at the Tour. After his Giro success Contador was rather non-committal about his plans for July “The Tour? We shall have to see . . . how I am going to recuperate, evaluate the extent to which I have recuperated. I have to speak about it with my sporting director and my team.” Personally I want to see Contador at the Tour as whatever you think of him he is still at the top of the sport and until an official decision is reached by the CAS he should be free to ride where and when he wants.

However, if Contador was to be found guilty at the end of this doping saga he could face a two year ban as well as being stripped of his 2010 Tour de France crown and the 2011 Giro d’Italia titles. For now though, lets all look forward to the start of the biggest race of the year next month.

Heat claim advantage

LeBron James after his first NBA title

Game 1 of the NBA Finals ended with the Miami Heat taking the early series lead after a 92-84 victory over the visiting Dallas Mavericks on the back of 65 points from their big three. LeBron James led the way for the home side scoring 24 points whilst Dwyane Wade, 22, and Chris Bosh, 19, weighed in with healthy contributions as they took the initiative in the best of seven series. Despite holding the Heat to 39 percent shooting on the night, the Mavericks’ own offense failed to deliver as they produced their worst shooting display of the playoffs so far. Dirk Nowitzki did sink 27 points but missed 11 of his 18 field goals as well as picking up a tendon injury on his left hand which may hamper him in the remainder of the series.

The Mavericks who had been free scoring during the entire playoffs so far, struggled to find their shooting form but in a low scoring first quarter, they held a one point lead at 17-16. The Mavs held their one point lead after the second quarter also as both teams enjoyed a much more profitable quarter in terms of scoring.

Dallas came out in the third quarter and extended their lead to 8 points before the Heat turned things around and dominated the rest of the third quarter to earn themselves a four point lead going into the final quarter after a buzzer beating three-pointer from James.

With two of the best closers in the game, the Heat pushed their lead out and managed to assume control, keeping the Mavs at bay and not allowing them to get to close to pulling off a sixth straight road win in the postseason. With neither team on shooting form, the Heat won the battle around the basket, bringing in an extra ten rebounds with James, Wade and Bosh bringing in a total of 28 whilst the Mavericks reliance on Nowitzki scoring 35-40 points saw them fall short. Nowtizki did pull in 8 rebounds and Shawn Marion collected 10 as well as 16 points.

Miami's big three led the way

Although the makeup of the Heat side has drastically changed since their 2006 Finals win over the Mavericks, the outcome was worryingly familiar for Mavs fans who have now seen their side lose five straight Finals games to the Heat. Those in Dallas will be keen for these Finals to take a similar pattern as the 2006 Finals however when the Mavs ran out into a 2-0 lead before Miami’s four straight victories took the title and a reverse of would please not only Mavs fans, but those neutrals that still hold a grudge against the Heat.

James stated “We’ve got a lot of work to do. … That’s one in the books. We’re excited about this game. Tomorrow we prepare for Game 2, and I see ways we can get better.” That final statement is certainly true as Miami have produced many higher level performances during this postseason which they will be looking to replicate. Meanwhile, the vastly experience Mavericks should be able to move on from this defeat completely and prepare for game 2 of the series which will be in Miami on Thursday June 2nd.

Owen remains at United

Michael Owen has signed a one year extension to his contract at Manchester United and will remain at the club for another season as they look to reach 20 league titles. The striker, who scored United’s final goal of the Premier League season in their 4-2 home win over relegated Blackpool, has only managed 16 appearances this season in all competitions, contributing 5 goals. Despite spending the season behind Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov in the United strike force, Sir Alex Ferguson has been impressed enough with Owen through the season to keep him on at the Premier League champions.

Owen to stay in United red

On his twitter account, Owen stated that he was “Delighted to be staying for another year” and now that 31 year old former Liverpool forward is confirmed to be remaining with the team, doubts are now cast over the future of Berbatov, the clubs top goal scorer in the last season. The Bulgarian managed 21 goals during the 2010-2011 campaign despite falling out of favour in the second half of the season as Rooney and Hernandez developed a strong partnership up top for Ferguson’s side.

Owen was included amongst the substitutes during the recent 3-1 defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League final ahead of Berbatov who was left out of the final squad and the Bulgarian told Sky Sports that he felt “ashamed” about being left on the sidelines for the game and he watched the match on a monitor in the United dressing room. Berbatov stated that he would like to stay with the club, “I will fight for the 20th title.” However, with him seemingly now falling behind Owen as well as Rooney and Hernandez in Ferguson’s plans, there will be a number of rumours surrounding potential moves away from Old Trafford coming out in the next few days and there will likely be many clubs both in the Premier League and across Europe alerted to the potential availability of the Premier League’s joint top scorer.