Tuesday, January 1, 2008
Rae's Say: New Year wishes
How many of us actually follow through with our New Year resolutions? Exactly!
So, with that in mind, rather then bore you with this commentator's laundry list for 2008, here's a selection of my footballing wishes for the next twelve months. Fairy godmother, are you listening?
I'll start off my wish list in the UEFA Champions League. Wouldn't it make a pleasant change to see a team from outwith Italy, Spain and England lift the trophy? I know it's well-nigh impossible for such a miracle to occur, but the draw for the last sixteen has given the outsiders more than a scintilla of hope.
That the two Milan giants were paired with English heavyweights, while Schalke came out of the hat together with Porto, means we have a proper cup competition, and not merely a vehicle for the already powerful to underline their omnipotence. There will be cries from the privileged to introduce a seeding system for the last sixteen in future. We must close our ears.
The African Cup of Nations in Ghana will likely be gripping. Personally, it makes little difference to me who wins. However, my second wish for 2008 is that Premier League managers with African players on their staff, stop whingeing about the timing of this competition.
Football bosses are street-wise people, not the naďve lambs you might think they are, when they speak about the injustice of losing Joseph, Sulley or Didier for weeks on end. It's not Africa's problem that top English clubs have suddenly become magnetically attracted to the continent's football talent. Besides, how many future Premier League players will come to the fore in Ghana? More than one, I suspect. The clubs can't have it both ways.
Euro 2008 in Austria and Switzerland will be a huge success. It could hardly be otherwise, at the very heart of Europe, in eight delightful venues. My worry concerns the on-pitch performances of the co-hosts. Austria have plumbed the depths in recent years and are in no fit state to push for a place in the tournament's later stages.
The situation isn't anywhere near as desperate for Switzerland. In fact, I'm backing Köbi Kuhn's team to surprise a few of the big guns in June. My hope is that at least one of the two Alpine nations will make it to the knockout stages and keep the home fire burning.
Finally, bear with my self-indulgent side. It has probably gone unnoticed to the football world at large, (and for understandable reasons), but Aberdeen are in the knockout stages of European competition for the first time since 1986.
Based on budgetary considerations, the Dons have no business sharing a table with most of the other sides in the last 32. Fittingly though, 25 years on from lifting the old Cup Winners' Cup, Aberdeen have been drawn against one of the teams they outwitted back in 1983. Bayern Munich, who fell victim to the 'let's pretend we've messed up the free-kick' routine that Alex Ferguson had saved for the big night, will make a return visit to Pittodrie in mid-February. A repeat of Aberdeen's 3-2 aggregate victory is unlikely. But to wish for at least one moment of magic from Jimmy Calderwood's young guns in the course of the tie is not asking for too much!
Wherever you are, wherever your loyalties lie - Happy New Year!
As regular readers of this column will know, I have the perfect remedy for the northern winter chill as the new year is ushered in. It's quite simple, and involves nothing more ambitious than mentally transposing oneself to Australia!
It gets that bit easier when you add the Hyundai A-League (now in its third season) to the equation.
In case you haven't been following developments down under, Central Coast Mariners (beaten finalists in 2006) were favourites to win the minor premiership - until a few hours ago. Lawrie McKenna's men crashed to a 5-2 Hogmanay hammering at the hands of last season's champions Melbourne Victory.
The upshot of it all is that Central Coast and Queensland Roar, coached by ex-Socceroos boss Frank Farina, are level on 30 points with 3 rounds remaining.
Sydney FC, who now have the charismatic John Kosmina at the helm are only 3 points behind the co-leaders.
I never got to meet Phil O'Donnell. However, I'll never forget being in the Hampden press box for the last time as a BBC Radio Scotland commentator describing O'Donnell, then a teenager, scoring for Motherwell in their thrilling 1991 Scottish Cup final win against Dundee United.
O'Donnell's untimely death at 35 on Saturday, unfortunately brought many of us back to earlier this season when the Sevilla player Antonio Puerta lost his life.
Colleagues tell me Phil truly was one of the good guys.
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