Friday, June 18, 2010

Mark Gonzalez enjoying 'dream' tournament

Chile winger Mark Gonzalez has double reason for wanting to prolong his "dream" first appearance at a FIFA World Cup.The 25-year-old former Liverpool player was born in Durban and then lived in Johannesburg until the age of 10 as his father Raul, also a Chile international, played in South African football. Gonzalez, who appeared as a late substitute in Chile's impressive 1-0 win over Honduras on Wednesday, still has family in the country and is keen to visit them.

Gonzalez, now a CSKA Moscow player, said: "I think playing in the World Cup is the greatest thing that can happen to a soccer player. It is a dream come true. I don't know how to express how happy I feel or how we feel to be here. I have seen a few of my family, my uncle and a few cousins, but I haven't seen them all yet. They were at the game but I am looking forward to playing in Johannesburg or Pretoria so I can see more of them."

Chile will play in Pretoria in their final Group H match against Spain but they will have to reach the knockout stages to travel to the capital. The South Americans, in their first finals since 1998, can take a big step towards the second round if they can see off Switzerland in Port Elizabeth next Monday.

After that they must then turn their attention to their tough clash against European champions Spain and Gonzalez hopes to come into his own for that particular game. The former Real Betis and Real Sociedad player said: "I know all their players, their qualities and their skills. I know everything about their team. We all know what Spain are, they have very important players and are very dangerous. But we know we have the supporters in Chile and the family behind us. That is a very big motivation. It is the first time we have played a World Cup and we just want to do our best."

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Chelsea to kick off title defence at home to West Brom

Champions Chelsea will kick off their title defence at home to promoted West Bromwich Albion on August 14, the Premier League announced on Thursday.In other headline clashes of the opening day fixtures, Newcastle United will mark their return to the top flight with a mouth-watering trip to Old Trafford against runners-up Manchester United.Blackpool's opening Premier League fixture will be at home to Wigan Athletic before trips south to Arsenal and Fulham. They will also play at Manchester United on the final day of their first season in the top flight since 1971.

Arsenal, third last season, kick off their campaign with a tough starter against Liverpool at Anfield while Tottenham Hotspur host Manchester City, the side they pipped for the final Champions League qualifying position last term.Newcastle's match at Old Trafford is a re-run of the start of the 2008/09 season, at the end of which the Magpies were relegated and United went on to win the title.

The two clubs drew 1-1 on that occasion. Last season's top two will have to wait until Dec. 18 for their first encounter, with United travelling to Stamford Bridge. Carlo Ancelotti's Chelsea will then visit Old Trafford on May 7, two weeks before the end of the season.Avram Grant's first league game as West Ham United manager, after leaving relegated Portsmouth, will be at Aston Villa.

Switzerland beats Spain

World Cup favourites Spain crashed to a shock 1-0 defeat to unfancied Switzerland in their opening game of the tournament on Wednesday.A rock solid defence and a tremendous goalkeeping effort from Diego Benaglio saw the Swiss take the lead in the 51st minute through Gelson Fernandes and sustain wave after wave of pressure to hold on for the win in the Group H clash.

The victory was Switzerland's first-ever over Spain in 19 games dating back 85 years.
Fernandes' scrambled goal was exactly the type pundits said the Swiss might score against a Spanish team whose slick passing game failed to convert territory and overwhelming possessional advantage into anything concrete.A long, straight goalkick was picked up by striker Eren Derdiyok, whose path was blocked by an onrushing Iker Casillas.In the melee, the ball squirted into the path of defender Gerard Pique who fell as he twisted trying to clear the ball, and the Cape Verde-born Fernandes was left with the easiest of tap-ins.

Derdiyok could have made it two for the Swiss but saw his prod with the outside of his foot rebound off the post in the 74th minute.Spain will be left kicking themselves after dominating much of open play, while Vicente Del Bosque's selection policy will be questioned after the positive impact of strikers Jesus Navas and Fernando Torres off the bench.But the Spanish, fielding the backbone of the side that won Euro 2008, did have their chances.In the first tame 45 minutes, Pique's shot was parried by Benaglio, and David Villa made a real hash of a cross rather than shooting.

Benaglio, who saw key Fulham defender Philippe Senderos limp off with an ankle injury after half an hour, was tested more as Spain pressed in the second-half after going behind to Fernandes' goal.In short succession, Villa was thwarted by a diving Benaglio, Andres Iniesta saw a curling effort miss the posts by a metre, and Torres twisted and fired high and wide.Alonso then saw a 30-yard bullet of a strike come back off the woodwork with Benaglio well beaten. Navas had a shot well saved by the Swiss keeper and went narrowly wide shortly after.But the Swiss, often playing with nine of their 10 outfield players behind the ball, held on for the historic win and gave themselves hope of progressing to the second round, as they did four years ago in Germany.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Great Opening for FIFA 2010

The ceremony was followed by the first game of the tournament between the hosts and Group A rivals Mexico.Africa is staging the World Cup for the first time, with 32 nations competing in 64 games until the final on 11 July.Nelson Mandela was due to attend the opening ceremony but withdrew following the death of his great-granddaughter.Zenani Mandela, 13, died in a car crash when travelling home from the pre-World Cup concert in Johannesburg on Thursday.

She was one of the 91-year-old anti-apartheid icon's nine great-grandchildren.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation released a statement saying it would be "inappropriate" for Mandela, a former South African president, to be at the opening ceremony."We are sure that South Africans and people all over the world will stand in solidarity with Mr Mandela and his family in the aftermath of this tragedy," added the statement."We continue to believe that the World Cup is a momentous and historic occasion for South Africa and the continent and we are certain it will be a huge success."

The 40-minute ceremony began with a five-plane military flypast over the stadium, which resembles a huge African cooking pot.A group of drummers and dancers performed a 'Welcome to Africa' song that included an introduction to all 10 tournament's venues.The next sequence saw a gigantic beetle show off its football skills with the Jabulani - the official football of the finals - before large pieces of cloth were used to show a map of the continent.Musicians and artists from the other African finalists - Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria - also had their chance to perform in a joint sequence.

Mandela's World Cup message

Multiple Grammy Award winner R Kelly then sang the ceremony's showpiece song, 'Sign of a Victory' with South Africa's Soweto Spiritual Singers.But one of the loudest cheers was reserved for Mandela, whose image appeared on screens to a message of hope from him in song.Not everyone made it to their seats by the start, with traffic problems delaying some fans.But Archbishop Desmond Tutu and president Jacob Zuma were in attendance, along with the likes of United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, Mexican president Felipe Calderon, Prince Albert of Monaco and United States vice-president Joe Biden.

The global TV audience for the tournament will be made up of viewers in more than 215 countries and will run into hundreds of millions.The festivities began in earnest on Thursday, with Shakira among the artists at a vast pre-tournament concert in Soweto.The Colombian pop star performed the official World Cup song Waka Waka and was joined by a cast of international stars, including the Black Eyed Peas and Alicia Keys, along with African stars Amadou & Mariam and Hugh Masekela.

Since it was chosen as the first African host of the World Cup in 2004, South Africa has spent about 40bn rand (£3.55bn) on stadiums, transport infrastructure and upgrading airports.