Tomas Rosicky flashbacks lead Arsenal at West Brom

Leave a comment

It’s a rare day that Tomas Rosicky is healthy enough to remind us: He was once one of the more exciting soccer players on the planet. Saturday was once of those days.

Scoring twice in 82 minutes before being subbed off, Rosicky led Arsenal to a 2-1 win at West Bromwich Albion, a result that temporarily vaults the Gunners into over Chelsea and into fourth place in the English Premier League.

Arsenal’s also within one point of third place Tottenham, though it won’t last long. Chelsea hosts a wayward Sunderland on Sunday while Spurs welcome Everton to White Hart Lane. In all likelihood, Arsenal will be back in fifth by Monday morning.

(MORE: Tracking England’s relegation battle.)

That doesn’t mean today’s points won’t prove valuable. Regardless, they were certainly well-earned. Only Manchesters United and City have more home wins than West Brom’s nine, with the Baggies having conceded only 14 times in as many matches at The Hawthorns.

Rosicky began bucking that rate in the 20th minute when his run onto a Gervinho ball allowed him to head past Ben Foster for the opener. Just after halftime, Rosicky completed his brace, following up his own blistering shot to double Arsenal’s lead.

The Gunners upped the level of difficulty late in the match when Per Mertesacker saw straight red after bringing down Shane Long. But Steve Clarke’s side was unable to build on James Morrison’s conversion and were kept off the scoresheet over the final 19 minutes.

While Arsenal’s three points were the day’s most important development, Rosicky’s performance was the most interesting. In addition to his two goals, Rosicky was among the team best passers statistically, at or near the top of the team’s rankings in rate of passes, accuracy, and chances created. He also cleared a Claudio Yacob header off the line early, saving West Brom’s opener.

It was a glimpse of the player who teamed with Pavel Nedvěd, Tomáš Galásek, and Karel Poborský in one of Europe’s best midfields during the mid-2000s. Quick, creative, with the ability to add goals, Rosicky had everything you’d want in an attacking midfielder, except health.

We’re long past the days of hoping Rosicky can stay fit. He’s 32 years old, and when the Czech Republic needed him so much at last summer’s European Championships, he couldn’t last the tournament.

But when he is healthy, Rosicky’s still capable of making an impact. And against a team like West Brom, he could be the difference, just like he was on Saturday.

FIFA subjects 2026 Morocco World Cup bid to fresh scrutiny

Steve Haag/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Morocco’s World Cup bid is facing fresh scrutiny this week with the arrival of another delegation from FIFA after an initial task force found deficiencies in the proposals for the 2026 tournament.

In a downbeat conclusion to the visit by the FIFA inspectors last week, Morocco’s bid leader acknowledged it had to improve the quality of the submission made to FIFA in March because inadequacies were identified by football’s governing body.

[ MORE: UCL semifinals predictions ]

The previously unplanned second inspection of Morocco is an indication of the more rigorous process introduced by FIFA following criticism in 2010 that World Cups were awarded to the riskiest nations in 2018 (Russia) and 2022 (Qatar).

There will also be closer scrutiny of human rights of the bidders before the vote on June 13 when Morocco is currently due to be taking on a joint challenge from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The Associated Press revealed last week Morocco did not declare its anti-LGBT law to FIFA in the human rights risk assessment included in the bid book. The documents – along with the North American submission – will now be scrutinized for any gaps by human rights experts.

“That process involves an expert third-party assessment of the robustness of the human rights content of both bids that will directly inform the administration’s own evaluation,” Rachel Davis, who sits on FIFA’s human rights advisory board, told the AP.

“We are confident that the process will result in a fair assessment of the human rights situation in all four countries involved in the bids, and a roadmap for how to deal with any deficiencies that FIFA will then require the successful bidder to commit to.”

Davis, who is managing director of the Shift human rights organization, said an evaluation of the human rights in the bidding nations will be included in a report to the FIFA Council, which will also assess the verdict of the evaluation task force. A bid with low scores can be blocked by the council from advancing to a vote of up to 207 football nations at the FIFA Congress on June 13.

While Morocco has said it needs to spend almost $16 billion on infrastructure for the 48-team World Cup, including building or renovating all 14 stadiums, North American does not require any tournament-specific building work. Morocco bid president Moulay Hafid Elalamy said at the end of the FIFA inspection that officials “made some remarks on the conditions of some of the stadiums.”

The new batch of technical staff being deployed from FIFA HQ to Morocco did not make a similar follow-up visit to North America after the task force inspected the rival bid’s facilities this month.

“Following the visit of the 2026 bid evaluation task force to Morocco last week, it was decided to have an additional working visit this week to complement the initial analysis of the task force and clarify some aspects of the bid,” FIFA told the AP.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Watch Live: Everton v. Newcastle

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Everton host Newcastle United on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Toffees and Magpies both sitting pretty in midtable.

[ LIVE: Stream Everton-Newcastle ]

Sam Allardyce and Rafael Benitez have both been around the block a few times but at the moment Allardyce is under pressure and Benitez is working miracles with four wins on the spin as the newly-promoted Magpies have stayed solid defensively all season.

In team news Everton start Tosun, Walcott and Bolasie in attack with Wayne Rooney in midfield.

Newcastle make one change with Islam Slimani making his first start for the Magpies as he comes in for Dwight Gayle.

LINEUPS

Everton

Newcastle United

UEFA Champions League semifinal predictions

Getty Images
Leave a comment

With the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League to kick off over the next few days, let’s take a look at both games and predict which teams will make it to the final in Kiev on May 26.

[ MORE: Champions League scores

Liverpool or Roma? Real Madrid or Bayern Munich?

Here’s the lowdown as two eagerly anticipated games take center stage across Europe.


Liverpool vs. AS Roma
First leg: Apr. 24, 2:45 p.m. ET at Anfield
Second leg: May 2, 2:45 p.m. ET at Stadio Olimpico

This should be one heck of a tie with defending optional for both teams but both have very different ways of playing. Jurgen Klopp will unleash the fluid trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino on an often brittle Roma defense but the Italian giants have a giant in their own up top in the shape of Edin Dzeko. How Virgil Van Dijk and Liverpool’s defense deal with the threat of Dzeko will likely decide the outcome of this game. Liverpool will look to feed off the famous Anfield atmosphere to wrack up a big first leg lead before they head to Roma for Leg 2, and I fancy Salah to blow his old team away in the first leg. Liverpool to advance 4-2 on aggregate.

Bayern Munich vs. Real Madrid
First leg: Apr. 25, 2:45 p.m. ET at Allianz Arena
Second leg: May 1, 2:45 p.m. ET at Santiago Bernabeu

A proper heavyweight clash as Bayern and Real do battle knowing that whoever wins will be the favorites in the final. Cristiano Ronaldo is in the form of his life (again) after a slow start to this season and Zinedine Zidane’s side made hard work of it against Juventus in the last round but are on course for a third-straight UCL trophy. As for Bayern, they have been in imperious form and you feel like Robert Lewandowski can get the better of Real’s center backs. Expect this to be a tight game with extremely high quality from both teams. Real being at home in the second leg is a big advantage. Real Madrid to advance 3-2 on aggregate. 

Cologne’s Hector extends contract despite likely relegation

AP
Leave a comment

COLOGNE, Germany (AP) Germany defender Jonas Hector has shunned reported interest from Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund by extending his contract with Cologne – despite the club’s almost certain relegation from the Bundesliga.

Cologne, eight points from safety with three games remaining, says its 27-year-old captain has signed a two-year extension to 2023 instead of using a release clause in his contract.

Hector, who has been at the club since 2010, says, “It wouldn’t have been a problem to switch to another club after this season but it didn’t feel right for me. I belong to Cologne and want to tackle the new season with the team and the fans behind us.”

Cologne sporting director Armin Veh says Hector’s decision is, “a great signal for the team, the club and our fans.”