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Kompany ‘never ever’ lost faith

LONDON: Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany said he never stopped believing his side could beat Queens Park Rangers and win the Premier League title even when they trailed 2-1 going into stoppage time yesterday.

Goals from Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero in two unforgettable minutes duly secured an astonishing 3-2 home victory to earn City their first league title for 44 years as they pipped Manchester United on goal difference.

“We’ve done it before this season and I never stopped believing,” Kompany told Sky Sports.

“Never, ever, and when Edin scored that goal, it just reminded me of a few moments this season when against Tottenham (Hotspur) we scored in the last minute and against Sunderland we came from two down.

“You want to say it’s the personal moment of your life, but if I’m honest, please never again this way.

“We’ve been so good this season, especially at home, then all of a sudden today even though our first half was really good, we just couldn’t get through.

“It’s not sunk in yet, I don’t know what happened at the end to be honest, it was such a huge mess.”

Aguero repaid a large chunk of his £38million transfer fee when he showed astonishing calmness to skip past a tackle and rifle home the winner seconds from the end just as United, who had beaten Sunderland 1-0 away, seemed poised to retain the title.

Kompany said that it was not just City’s riches that attracted some of the game’s biggest names.

“I’m so happy for the guys, because we’ve given so much this season,” he said.

“It’s not us just coming here for the money, we’ve dreamed of this all our lives, when we were kids, when we were nothing and had no money. And now we are champions and that’s what it’s about for us.”

City manager Roberto Mancini was not so sure, screaming in frustration on the touchline as his team were unable to turn their total dominance into chances against their 10-man opponents who defended superbly as they fought to avoid relegation.

“Never, never like this, incredible. Five minutes to the end, I didn’t think we could win the game, but we wanted this title and we deserved it,” he said.

“It was incredible, impossible, we deserved to win this game, we had a lot of chances, it was incredible for me and the supporters and I’m very happy for them.

“For us, it was really important to win this championship and City have a big future.

“It’s the perfect finale for a crazy season. Crazy game and crazy last two minutes.”

United manager Alex Ferguson was similarly taken aback by the most extraordinary close to a Premier League season, but still found time for a dig at the side he previously dismissed “noisy neighbours”.

“Nobody expected that. Everybody expected City to win, but they did it against 10 men for half-an-hour and with five extra minutes to help them,” he said after Wayne Rooney’s goal had put him in sight of the club’s 20th title.

“But I congratulate City on winning the league. Anybody who wins it deserves it, because it’s a long haul. At the end of our game, our players didn’t actually know the results. Now, they’re really disappointed, I’m glad to say.

“There’s no other way they should be. They conducted themselves brilliantly today. Their performance level was good. I’m pleased at our performance this season. 89 points would win most leagues. It wasn’t our turn today.”

It was all looking much more straightforward when Pablo Zabaleta put City ahead late in the first half with his only goal of the season, but the defender admitted he thought his team had blown it against a Rangers side who avoided relegation anyway after Bolton Wanderers failed to win at Stoke City.

“At 2-1, I thought the game was gone, but right now I’m dreaming and I don’t want to wake up,” he said. “The most important thing is when you believe. When you fight to the end, sometimes you can get it, and I’m really proud for this group; players, staff and fans.

“You have to try to the end. We won the game in the last five minutes. It’s crazy, but I think we deserved it. We have fantastic players, and for this club it is a great step forward. Europe’s next.”

Mike Summerbee, a key member of the last City side to win the league in 1968, seemed in a state of shock.

“It was quite unbelievable, you couldn’t write that,” he said. “I thought we were out of it, then things change. I can’t go through things like that at my age.”

Former teammate Francis Lee said it was high time a new generation took over.

“I think we’ve got a new band of legends now,” he said. “We can retire into the legends club and just sit there with our feet up now.”

Arsenal claimed third spot and a Champions League place after coming from 2-1 down to beat West Bromwich Albion 3-2 at The Hawthorns.

Tottenham Hotspur sealed fourth place, and a possible Champions League qualifying tie, by beating Fulham 2-0, while Newcastle United finished fifth after losing 3-1 at Everton.

Harry Redknapp’s Tottenham face an anxious wait, however, as victory for Chelsea in the Champions League final against Bayern Munich would mean they take a spot in next season’s competition and send Tottenham into the Europa League. Chelsea warmed up for next week’s final with a 2-1 win over relegated Blackburn.

Liverpool’s disappointing season ended on a downbeat note with a 1-0 loss at Swansea.

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2012 in Soccer

 

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Ajax thrash Golden Arrows

Ajax Cape Town enhanced their chances of a top eight finish in the Premier Soccer League with a 4-1 win over Golden Arrows at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

The home side were off to the perfect start as they scored as early as the seventh minute.

The goal came from Khama Billiat, whose shot slipped through the hands of Arrows keeper Nkosingphile Gumede, following a good through ball from George Maluleka.

Just four minutes later and an even worse mistake from Gumede saw Lebo Manyama scoring with what had appeared to be a harmless cross into the box, the keeper somehow managing to allow the tame delivery to slip through his hands.

This spelt the end of Gumede’s afternoon, the young keeper being replaced by substitute Stephan Loboue.

But Loboue too was soon picking the ball out the back of the net, following Mathew Booth’s clinical 25th minute header; the defender netting with his fifth goal of the season after being given free rein in the box at Maluleka’s free kick.

Arrows however managed to give themselves a glimmer of hope just before the break when Siyabonga Nkosi showed his class and skill to jink through the Ajax defence before slotting the ball past Sander Westerveld and into the far corner of the net.

The second half saw Arrows with the first chance, but Tamsanqa Gabuza wasted his chance with a weak shot-cum-cross.

At the other of the field Ajax were close to adding a fourth goal when Maluleka hit the crossbar with a free kick after 55 minutes.

Ten minutes later and Nkosi did likewise for Arrows, the former Bafana Bafana attacker skimming the bar from 20-yards out.

In the 75th minute the Cape side were again on the attack and only a good save from Loboue denied Lebo Manyama from scoring with a well-struck shot.

Billiat should then certainly have extended the Urban Warriors’ lead with 10 minutes to go, but the Zimbabwean was unable to hit the target with only the Arrows keeper to beat.

Closing action saw both teams exerting pressure, action switching from end to end before Ajax finally put the game to bed with a well-executed Maluleka strike from 18-yards out, following some great work down the flank from Billiat.

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2012 in Soccer

 

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Empty-handed Ferguson remains upbeat

London – Alex Ferguson remained defiantly upbeat after a 20th English title was snatched from Manchester United’s clutches on Sunday – but when the dust settles on a dramatic season the wily Scot will ponder long on where it went wrong.

He talked up the experience gained by new signings such as Phil Jones and Ashley Young, whose first title chase ended in bitter disappointment as they lost out on goal difference to Manchester City despite ending with a very healthy 89 points.

Ferguson can also point to injuries and illness to key players, particularly leading central defender Nemanja Vidic and midfield workhorse Darren Fletcher.

“We take great credit from the fact that we have had so many injuries this season and we’ve coped with that very well. They are only young players, it was excellent for them,” Ferguson said on Sunday, offering a silver lining to the club’s fans who have no trophy to celebrate for the first time since 2005.

“They’ve experienced what has happened today and they’ll be around in five, six or 10 years time for Manchester United. The experience is good for them, even if it’s a bad one.”

“I would like to say on behalf of Manchester United, congratulations to our neighbours,” he added.

“It is a fantastic achievement to win the Premier League, it’s not easy to win, it’s the hardest league in the world and anyone that wins it deserves it.

“It was a cruel way but we’ve experienced many ups and downs in the 25 years that I’ve been here and most of them have been great moments. We have won the league three times in the last five seasons and we nearly did it again today.

“I’m pleased with their performance this season. With 89 points, it would have been good enough to win most leagues.”

Despite his buoyant mood after stoppage-time goals by Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero earned City a 3-2 win over QPR that rendered United’s 1-0 victory at Sunderland worthless, Ferguson will wonder how his side, traditionally so adept at closing out titles, squandered an eight-point lead in the closing weeks.

A 1-0 defeat at Wigan Athletic, the first ever for United at the humble north-west club, offered hope to a City side who had themselves let slip a big lead after a post-Christmas slump that looked to have scuppered their chances of a first championship since 1968.

A 4-4 draw at home to Everton, despite leading 4-2 with seven minutes left, smacked of carelessness and while Ferguson blamed poor defending, the fingers were pointed at him as United lost 1-0 at City on April 30.

United were strangely negative that day, seemingly set on defending a three-point lead rather than chasing the victory that would virtually have sealed the title.

It was a defeat that took matters out of United’s hands and while they finished with wins over Swansea City and Sunderland, City’s stoppage time 3-2 victory over QPR left United empty-handed.

While Wayne Rooney’s 27 goals under-pinned United’s assault on the title, the England striker lacked support at times with Mexican Javier Hernandez, so lethal las year, the only other player to reach double figures in the league with 10.

A lack of creativity in central midfield area was also a concern with veteran Paul Scholes coming out of retirement in January to provide guile.

At the back Rio Ferdinand’s battle scars began to catch up with him while Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are still works in progress, albeit highly-rated ones.

While United will lick their wounds, it is not all doom and gloom. Ferguson will be scouring the transfer market and with a couple of tweaks, will be ready to do battle with City again.

“We don’t need to worry about that (City),” he said. “I think we have a rich history, better than anyone, and it will take them a century to get to our level of history.

“But for us it’s still a challenge and we’re good at challenges. We’ll kick on from here

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2012 in Soccer

 

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Billiat’s pace may stop the Ajax slide

OVER the course of the season, Ajax Cape Town’s objectives have followed the club’s slide down the Premiership table.

At his first press conference as head coach of the Urban Warriors, Maarten Stekelenburg insisted that they were gunning for the title after coming so close on the final day of the previous campaign under Foppe de Haan’s guidance.

A few weeks ago, the coach said a top-four finish would be sufficient, but after a couple of indifferent results, the focus has now shifted to a top-eight finish and a spot in the 2012-13 season-opening MTN8 tournament.

The season promised so much for Ajax, but a disastrous second half has seen them struggle to keep pace with the leaders. Inconsistency on attack and defence has been the squad’s biggest problem, while indiscipline on the field has also been a contributing factor to their downfall.

And tonight, at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane, Ajax face a Kaizer Chiefs team that find themselves in a similar position, although Amakhosi should easily finish among the eight top teams in the country this season.

But a club of their stature, pedigree and support must still view this season as another failure, especially as their fierce rivals, Orlando Pirates, are the favourites to clinch back-to-back titles next weekend.

Stekelenburg’s team still need to face Golden Arrows at home and Black Leopards away to complete their league programme. Injuries at crucial times have also been a problem that has constantly robbed Ajax of momentum during the season. Never mind the suspensions, as six red cards and a plethora of yellow cards have been too many for a team hoping to compete for honours.

Tonight, Ajax will welcome Zimbabwean flyer Khama Billiat back after he served a two-match ban for an utterly stupid sending-off against SuperSport United. He missed the home draw against Pirates and the 4-2 defeat against Bloemfontein Celtic at the Free State Stadium.

Captain Granwald Scott is also expected to be in the team after an injury kept him out of the trip to Bloemfontein. Centre back Nazeer Allie, though, is only expected to be fit for Saturday’s clash against Arrows at Cape Town Stadium.

“The game could be too soon for Nazeer,” Stekelenburg said. “Khama Billiat is back, and we missed his pace upfront, as well as the variation he gives us on attack. I’m happy he is back.”

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2012 in Soccer

 

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Danger zone looms large for Santos

Santos remained entrenched in the relegation zone after they lost 1-0 to Free State Stars at Athlone on Wednesday night.

Santos had assistant coach Duncan Crowie back in charge for this game, with head coach Mart Nooij reported to be in hospital with an unspecified ailment.

Crowie saw his team making a reasonable start, with early-half chances to Phikolomzi Khefile and Eleazar Rodgers.

But after that, the effort and desire from the Peoples’ Team tapered off a little as the Free State side grew in confidence and used their superior pace and mobility to dominate most of the remainder of the first half.

The visitors scored what turned out to be the winning goal after just eight minutes when Dove Wome took advantage of a mistake in the middle of the park to fire home a well-hit volley.

Santos looked a stronger side in the second half. There were chances for Tawonga Chimodzi, who fired just over the bar, and then for Bheki Shabangu, who hit his shot over the bar as well.

Stars could have managed a second goal when Edward Manqele ran into a one-on-one situation with Pa Demba Touray, but the giant keeper did well to keep his team in the match.

At the other end, Santos continued to press forward but Nasief Morris fired in a relatively tame free kick and Shabangu fired a decent effort over the bar.

There was also a late chance for Rodgers, but Soriola Gege did superbly to get in the block, denying Santos a chance to salvage a point

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2012 in Soccer

 

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Ajax still ‘a work in progress’

Ajax Cape Town want to keep up their reputation for playing flowing football and entertaining fans but it is not always possible, says their coach Maarten Stekelenburg.

“We cannot always play fantastic football and win,” he told http://www.supersport.com as he reflected on dropped points at the weekend in the Absa Premiership.

The coastal club are battling to maintain the momentum of last season, when they came within a whisker of a winning their first ever league title. Recent league results have seen them fall off the pace.

But the new coach, who took over from legendary Foppe de Haan, says Ajax are still “a work in progress” as he seeks to create a team without the talismanic influence of Thulani Serero, now playing in the Netherlands.

“I’m happy when I see the effort from my players and the team spirit. Sometimes there will be games when we don’t come away with much but we have a lot of young players and for them to play well regularly at a high level is also a function of experience,” said Stekelenburg.

Ajax dropped points at home last Friday against Jomo Cosmos – being held to a 1-1 draw at the Cape Town Stadium – and before that suffered a 4-0 thumping at the hands of another struggling team, AmaZulu.

But the Ajax coach said he was confident matters would turn around as players like Nazeer Alle and Brent Carelse returned from injury.

“I still say that when we are playing well, we can beat any team in the league. But it is also true to say that in this league that when you are not playing well, you can also lose to any team.”

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2011 in Soccer

 

Liverpool 1 – Man United 1

This game was playing out exactly as it had been designed in the Anfield script: in his first start after six months out with injury, Steven Gerrard scores a free-kick in front of the Kop to beat Manchester United. Not a bad anniversary present for John W Henry. Only one little problem: Little Pea.

Javier Hernández headed in from a corner with 10 minutes to go to save a point for United and preserve the six-point gap Sir Alex Ferguson’s team have established over Liverpool.

To have their elation punctured will have hurt Liverpool fans but the long-term prognosis was encouraging, not just in the fact that they created more clear chances than the champions but that United also showed Liverpool the respect of genuine rivals. There is still a long way to go at Anfield but they are heading in the right direction.

The two teams approached this game like a blinking competition. It was about concentration, the elimination of error. When the mistakes happened – Ryan Giggs stepping out of the wall to let Gerrard’s free-kick through and Martin Skrtel slipping as he tried to mark Hernández – they were punished.

If you go by the team he selected, Ferguson had always expected this game to be decided in the closing stages. In a deliberate strategy, he left Wayne Rooney, Nani and Hernández on the bench (It could be argued that he started with only four of his strongest XI – David de Gea, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra and Darren Fletcher).

His ploy was to suck the energy out of Liverpool – who have tired badly in several games this season – before sending on the cavalry late on.

It made for what Kenny Dalglish aptly called a “pretty sterile” first half. Liverpool were hardly expansive themselves, with Andy Carroll dropped to accommodate the fit-again Gerrard. The meant five across the midfield and Luis Suárez foraging solo. The Uruguayan came close, denied by De Gea, but otherwise it was suffocating. Phil Jones started in the middle, man-marking Charlie Adam, a strategy of disruption.

At times, especially in the run up to half-time, it appeared that Ferguson had over-thought the problem, as United struggled to retain the ball and build coherent moves.

Would they not have been better simply trying to impose their own game? Yet Ferguson appeared to have called it right as the game drew into its last half an hour goalless, with Rooney and Nani warming up. It was the ideal moment for Liverpool to strike.

It was Adam, the man United had done so much to shackle, who created the opportunity. The Scotland midfielder managed to get away from Jones and then shifted neatly away from Rio Ferdinand, the United defender’s studs clipping Adam’s ankle. The Liverpool midfielder tumbled.

“There was the slightest contact but not enough to make a fella who is 12 or 13 stone fall on the floor like that,” said Ferdinand.

Gerrard, Stewart Downing and Adam stood over the ball. It seemed to favour the left foot but Gerrard, with his impeccable sense of occasion, pulled rank. The Liverpool captain’s effort was actually fairly tame, not getting sufficient height and power, but Giggs inexplicably split the wall. “It was bad defensive play,” Ferguson said.

Instead of trying to win the game, Ferguson’s substitutes were going to have to save it. There were 22 minutes left when Gerrard scored and Rooney and Nani came on shortly after. With 14 minutes left, Ferguson played his final card, sending on Hernández, leaving Rooney to play in central midfield.

Four and a half minutes after coming on, Hernández equalised. United won a corner on the left and Nani swung it in at the near post.

Hernández was being marked by Skrtel but had pulled away from goal, dragging the big Slovak defender with him. As the ball arrived and Hernández darted back into the six-yard box Skrtel slipped.

Welbeck had lost Jamie Carragher at the near post and flicked the ball into the danger area at the near post for Hernández to head in.

The game was now thrillingly stretched, both sides chasing the winner. While you might have expected the momentum to be with United, Liverpool were playing into the Kop and they finished much the stronger. Indeed, United were indebted to the resolution of De Gea.

The Spanish goalkeeper made an excellent close-range save from Dirk Kuyt and then tipped Jordan Henderson’s clever volleyed lob out of its goal-bound trajectory.

Even De Gea appeared beaten when Adam’s header across goal looped appetisingly in front of Suarez but Rooney executed a remarkable defensive block. Skrtel could only volley the follow-up deep into the Kop.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2011 in Soccer