The Premiership relegation picture; massive pressure attached

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So many players through the years have told me the same thing about life in soccer abroad:

There is pressure attached to playing for trophies and spots near the top of the table, of course. But make no mistake, they say, there is no pressure like the incomparable, desperate weight that comes with a fight to avoid relegation.

Nothing cuts so deeply in the game abroad, where the systems of promotion and relegation are omnipresent (and sometimes shadowy) features of the landscape. The scourge and the stains of relegation aren’t just psychological, either. Club solvency could be at stake. Individual reputations certainly are. Not to mention this: any top flight club that falls through the relegation trap door will almost certainly see a big roster breakup.

Think of your office or place of business. Think about working alongside a good group of people, about forming alliances and sharing good times, all in the name of working toward bigger, shared goals. And then think about the weight of knowing that it’s all coming in for a hard landing – one that may well see the entire group broken up mercilessly.

Well, here you go: Wigan meets Blackburn today in a match laden with relegation implications.

Blackburn is holding on by the thinnest of threads, one that could easily snap today, when anything but a win would officially cast Rovers down with Wolverhampton as two of the three sides already relegated for 2011-12. (Wolverhampton has been circling the relegation drain for weeks now.)

A Wigan win would seal the “staying up” deal for Roberto Martinez’s club, which has performed so admirably down the stretch. A draw would probably suffice for Wigan, too. (See the full EPL table here.)

A Blackburn win would assist Bolton, where U.S. internationals Tim Ream and Stuart Holden earn their keep. Either way, Bolton will carry its fate into Round 38 this weekend.

That’s because Queens Park Rangers (still ahead of Bolton) looks like the sacrificial lamb, about to go into Manchester City with all the glory of the EPL title about to fall spectacularly around the Etihad Stadium, so long as City takes care of business.

Bolton goes to Stoke City this weekend; anything but a win means curtains for the Wanderers, which would fall into England’s second tier.

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.

Report: Guardiola close to adding $43m Benfica goalkeeper

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Year Two of the Pep Guardiola era at Manchester City could feature another big goalkeeper purchase.

Claudio Bravo hasn’t panned out in sky blue, and Joe Hart doesn’t look likely to be coming back. Wily Caballero is getting the lion’s share of the minutes right now, playing every minute aside from a trio of FA Cup matches since February.

[ MORE: Podolski scores screamer in German finale ]

$43 million is the fee noted by Abola when it comes to the latest target for Guardiola, a neck-tattooed Brazilian by the name of Ederson.

The Benfica backstop, 23, has 20 clean sheets in 32 appearances this season. He signed a new six-year deal in late January, but money may talk here.

Podolski goes out with super goal; Germany tops England

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The highlight of Wednesday’s international friendly docket was Lukas Podolski‘s final match for Germany, and the former Arsenal man did not disappoint his crowd.

But first, Canada plays its first match since unveiling new coach Octavio Zambrano.

[ MORE: Zlatan still bitter with Guardiola ]

Scotland 1-1 Canada

Zambrano saw plenty to like from his new side, as Canada went ahead early with a goal from former Scottish youth Fraser Aird. Toronto-born, the ex-Rangers and current Falkirk man got his first Canadian goal against the team he represented at U-17 and U-19 levels.

Norwich City’s Steven Naismith redirected Tom Cairney‘s shot to make it 1-1 before the break, but Scotland never found its way back into Canada’s net.

Germany 1-0 England

Lukas Podolski scored his 49th international goal in his final cap for Germany, and it was spectacular.

Joe Hart didn’t stand a chance.

The match saw big stops from both ‘keepers, as Hart thwarted Leroy Sane on a second half break after Marc-Andre Ter Stegen defied Dele Alli in the opening 45.

Podolski subbed off in the 84th minute to wild applause, but it must sting slightly to know you finished an illustrious career one goal short of a nice, round 50. We guess he’ll have to rest on his millions and millions of earnings and loads of on-field honors.

Elsewhere
Vietnam 1-1 Chinese Taipei
Philippines 0-0 Malaysia
Cyprus 3-1 Kazakhstan
Yemen 0-1 Palestine
Cambodia 2-3 India

McClean to wear No. 5 in honor of deceased ex-teammate

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James McClean is a colorful personality who doesn’t shy away from strong opinions — he once called Jurgen Klopp “a bit of an idiot” — and the West Brom man is using the big stage of World Cup qualifying to proudly honor a deceased ex-teammate.

McClean has long before friends with Derry City captain Ryan McBride, who shockingly died hours after leading his side to a league win this weekend. Given his age (27), few saw it coming even after McBride admitted to feeling ill after the match.

[ MORE: Zlatan still bitter with Guardiola ]

McBride and McClean played together at Derry, and the latter was excused from Republic of Ireland training to attend funeral services this week.

He’s still expected to play a role in Ireland’s World Cup qualifier against Wales on Friday, and McClean will don the No. 5 of McBride. Irish defender Richard Keogh usually wears the number and agreed to the change.