By Dermot Clarke
In an otherwise great week for Irish sports (Eddie Irvine’s Grand Prix finish and Christy O’Connor’s victory in the Senior British Open), the Irish Youth team had to settle for the bronze in the European Youth Championships. Some say that this was a disappointment, and, when measured against the previous achievements of Brian Kerr-coached teams, perhaps it was. But third place for Ireland wasn’t bad.
Having beaten Spain by 1-0 and tied 3-3 with Georgia, the Republic, reduced to 10 men, were denied the chance to once again contest the final when they lost by 2-0 to a strong Italian team. In Sunday’s third place playoff, they emerged victorious over Greece by a score one 1-0 in a game that was more one-sided than the scoreline suggests.
Clive Delaney of UCD was the star of this one, scoring on his competitive debut, when his slightly awkward header beat Papadopoulos in the Greek goal. The game might have been wrapped up well before this had Richie Partridge taken his chances and Ireland must be wondering what would have happened had they been drawn in the other of the two groups. If Greece were the second best of the teams in that section, it was the inferior of the two. But, again, a bronze medal is quite an achievement and Kerr deserves another pat on the back for this latest mini-success.
Fiorentina take Gotham Cup
Fiorentina strolled to victory in the Gotham Cup at Giants Stadium on Sunday evening. Villa boss John Gregory may think his troubles are over with the imminent departure of Stan Collymore, but if Sunday’s display is anything to go by, they may be just beginning. Villa were totally outclassed by Giovanni Trapattoni’s side, and the man who enjoyed much success with Juventus seems to have built a side capable of living with the best in Europe.
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The addition of Enrico Chiesa formerly of Parma and Predrag Mijatovic from Real Madrid should allow Gabriel Batistuta a little more freedom and the brilliant Argentinian could break all Italian goal-scoring records this year, that being the case. Mijatovic put the Italians one up on 19, when a Rui Costa through ball found him all alone with just David James to beat, there was no need for the sleight of foot, but perhaps he doesn’t know big David: 1-0. Gareth Southgate hauled down Batistuta after a Mijatovic pass found him in the box. Gabriel took the spot-kick himself, hammering it into the top corner. There was no need to hit it so hard, but maybe the legend of David James hasn’t reached South America either.
Anybody with a fair knowledge of the history of Gaelic football will know that Dublin shouldn’t be allowed take penalties. However, Dion Dublin took the kick awarded to Villa against Pasquale Padalino, and, of course, it was saved by Francesco Taldo.
The second half started as the first had ended, with the Italians strutting about the pitch like confident cockerels as their English opponents toiled in the hopeless pursuit of a goal. Batistuta wrapped it up after three minutes when he again linked up with the excellent Mijatovic before tucking it home past David James, who was now beginning to look like his old bewildered self again. Rui Costa finished it off when he nonchalantly flicked it by James to end an embarrassing evening for the English side.
Liverpool continued their impressive preseason run, when they won the Carlsberg Challenge at Windsor Park, Belfast, at the weekend. Dutch side Feyenoord were the latest victims. New signing Vladimir Smicer starred for the 23 minutes that he played. Nursing an ankle injury, the Czech star came on after 51 minutes and almost scored immediately, forcing a great reaction save from Jerzy Dudek. Three minutes later, Smicer did score and fellow new signings Sami Hyppia and Titi Camara were both involved before Smicer shot home after some clever footwork.
Smicer departed after 74 minutes, having received another knock in the troubled area, but we had seen enough to suggest that the Czech will have a big impact on the coming season. With 62 minutes gone, Liverpool wrapped it up when Camara tapped home after a sharp looking Robbie Fowler had seen his effort strike the crossbar.
Liverpool dominated from there on in. Now friendlies are friendlies and mini-tournaments are mini-tournaments, but Liverpool have scored 16 goals without reply this preseason, In Sander Westerveld, they have a goalkeeper that isn’t David James. They have a fit and ready Jamie Redknapp, they have a hungry looking Robbie Fowler back, they will have Michael Owen soon and they have several signings so new that they won’t have acquired Scouser accents until at least three weeks into the new season. Who knows, they may pick up one of those competitions that Manchester United opt out of.
Cast your mind back to the European Cup semifinal. United were 2-0 down to a Juventus team who hadn’t lost a European Cup tie in the home leg ever. Roy Keane didn’t care; his goal to get them back into it did as much toward winning the title as the last-minute Sheringham and Solskj’r goals did in the final. His absence in the final left a huge hole in the team and, celebrate as they might have (and they were quite entitled to do so), but any United fan who thinks that the final was won on merit was viewing the game through crimson-tinted glasses.
Bayern dominated for most of the game and the Corkman’s absence had a lot to do with it. If Steve McManaman can earn $50,000 a week, Keane has to be worth double that. Keane isn’t looking for double, he’s looking for reason. It’s not greed, it’s entitlement. Roy Keane wants to stay at Old Trafford; if United lose him, on their own heads be it.