Crystal Palace earns Premier League promotion – Thoughts on Zaha, Zola, Holloway and Cassetti

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By now I hope you’ve heard about today’s thrilling finish to the English Championship where Crystal Palace defeated Watford 1-0 in extra time earning the Eagles the 20th and final spot in next year’s Premier League.

After fighting tooth-and-nail to a 0-0 draw after 90 minutes, the two sides went to extra time where the ageless Kevin Phillips blasted home a penalty just before the interval.

Here are a few thoughts on the game:

Wilfried Zaha is a gem of a player and, at £15 million, an absolute steal 

Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha, who Manchester United recently acquired for a paltry transfer fee of £15 million, is an absolute gem of a player.

He’s young (20 years old), raw, athletic and relentless. While not nearly as technically gifted, Zaha reminds me of Gareth Bale with a sprinkling of Demba Ba, Marouane Fellaini, Moussa Sissoko and Antonio Valencia.

Given his influence in both today’s match, drawing the winning penalty, and his brace in the second-leg of the Championship playoff semi-final, Palace will be devastated to see him go.

But fair play to Zaha, his departing gift for the Eagles was a fantastic match that supporters will not long forget. He could have taken it easy, knowing his ticket to the Premier League was already punched but instead, he tore it up, giving fans a taste of what’s to come. It was a very, very classy way to depart a club.

Really looking forward to watching the Ivory Coast born, England International blossom in the top-flight but have to be honest, I would’ve preferred him to play the 2013-14 season with Palace and then head to United.

Sad to see Zola stay in the Championship

I’m a bit sniffly over not having Watford manager Gianfranco Zola back in the Premier League.

The Italian was such a fabulous player both for Chelsea and the Premier League, in general. And now as a manager, he’s just a guy you want to route for. He’s got charm, commitment  passion, knowledge – the perfect makeup for a gaffer.

My gut tells me that Zola may want to stay at Watford for one more season to see the Hornets through to top-flight football. But then again, he  could very well see a nice offer come through from a club like Stoke City or Everton. Both clubs look poised to pounce on Wigan’s Roberto Martinez (Everton is also strongly linked to Porto’s Vitor Perreira) but don’t be surprised if you see the little Italian popping up in the mix.

Fired up to have Ian Holloway back in the Prem

As I reflected over Twitter earlier today, having Palace manager Ian Holloway back in the top-flight has me positively fired up. I could listen to him talk for days – easily one of world football’s best characters.

Here’s a snippet from the Palace manager after today’s match:

“I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with some great players and I’m very grateful to this bunch. We’re in the Premier League now and … god help us. We battled hard.”

If you see Marco Cassetti, buy the man a beer

Phillips’ game-winning spot kick came virtue of a reckless hack by Watford’s Marco Cassetti on Wilfried Zaha. My sympathies are with the Italian defender, who was undoubtedly drained from 105+1 grueling minutes.

Making matters even worse, Cassetti was the player who conceded the injury-time penalty that nearly cost Watford a semi-final aggregate victory over Leicester City. Tough to hate one a guy going through that so if you see Cassetti on the beach or local pub, do me a favor and buy that man a beer.

VIDEO: Gerrard’s juggle and finish leads Liverpool legends past Real Madrid

AP Photo/Rui Vieira
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Scoring at Anfield doesn’t get old, especially when your name is Steven Gerrard.

The English midfielder was playing in a friendly match between Liverpool and Real Madrid “legends” on Sunday, when he delivered this tasty goal (and assists to Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, and John Aldridge).

[ MORE: Under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

Gerrard redirects a cross over a lunging defender and into a place where he can lash a goal home to put the Reds up 4-0. He dedicated his Man of the Match performance to club legend Ronnie Moran, who died earlier this week.

Real’s comeback came up just short in a 4-3 final, with Fernando Morientes, Ruben de la Red, and Edwin Congo scoring for the visitors.

On a Sunday waiting for the international matches to begin, Gerrard supplies a nice highlight for the rest of us (Extended highlights free on Liverpool’s site).

Ozil bristles at talk of Arsenal selling him

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Mesut Ozil is on international break, and bristling at reports that Arsenal is going to sell him.

The midfielder’s absence from the lineup last week had plenty speculating on his future, even more than usual. His contract expires in 2018, and several reports claimed he’d join Alexis Sanchez as players destined for elsewhere.

[ MORE: Under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

Ozil was not called up by Germany, and has missed four of his last nine Premier League matches. Three of those were for illness, and he missed last week’s loss to West Brom with a hamstring injury.

From Metro:

“And you think Wenger tells the journalist before he tells me? Then I know him differently,” Ozil told German outlet Welt.

“I have a contract until 2018 in London and I feel very comfortable there. We’ll talk soon and then make a decision.”

Metro notes that Ozil also said he wants to win the Champions League, something that can only happen with Arsenal remaining in the Top Four. We suppose you could make snarky inferences from his “comfortable in London” phrasing, but we’ll leave it there.

Sydney FC clinches first place in A-League

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SYDNEY (AP) After clinching first place in Australia’s A-League without taking the field, Sydney FC enhanced its record achievement with a 3-0 win over the Perth Glory on Sunday.

Sydney FC won the Premiers Plate as regular-season champions after the second-place Melbourne Victory lost 1-0 to Brisbane on Saturday, when Sydney had a night off.

The Brisbane win left Sydney with an unassailable 11-point lead in first place with three rounds to play.

[ MORE: An under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

The Sydney side also created some history: it became the only team to have remained in outright first position in the standings for an entire season.

In the other match Sunday, the Wellington Phoenix beat Newcastle 5-0 to remain within five points of sixth-place Western Sydney for the final playoff spot.

Walking Dead? Star fittingly sees Exeter’s implausible comeback (video)

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As Rick Grimes, actor Andrew Lincoln regularly battles the undead on his show “The Walking Dead”.

As a friend of Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale, Lincoln was probably pretty happy to watch a team that would not die.

Exeter went down 3-0 when Yeovil Town broke a scoreless drought with a trio of tallies between the 62nd and 78th minutes.

[ MORE: An under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

But Exeter’s David Wheeler scored in the 88th minute, and Troy Brown and Reuben Reid scored a minute apart at the beginning of stoppage time to earn a point for the League Two playoff hopeful.

Couple things on this video, too:

— Check out the shove on the goalkeeper when trying to collect the ball after the first goal of the fight back.

— Watch the man with his baby behind the net after the third goal. Did Mom know how safe her little one was?