The day the South Wales derby arrived in the Premier League

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On Sunday November 3, a monumental moment arrived in the Barclays Premier League… the first-ever South Wales derby was here.

After spending the earlier part of last week in Wales to find out what all the fuss was about, I returned for the main event at the weekend. I wasn’t disappointed.

Here’s my tale of Steel vs. Cooper, Capital vs. Second City… Cardiff City vs. Swansea City.

STARTING EARLY, THE BUBBLE ARRIVES

As I stepped off the train and breathed in the fresh air of Wales, fans with blue shirts swarmed Cardiff Central station in every direction I looked. “Hang on a minute, it’s only noon,” I thought to myself, but several of the locals were already ‘well lubricated’ shall we say. That said, there was not a sniff of violence. That’s all to do with the revolutionary police tactic of the ‘Bubble’ which has made policing South Wales derby much easier since it was introduced in ’97. Before that a ban was put on away fans traveling to the opponents ground, as the ferocity and venom hurled in both directions is extreme.

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I managed to get in behind the police lines and mix it up with Swansea’s fans in and around the metal fences.

So while Swansea’s fans spent all morning on a crowded bus in a slow police-escorted journey along a road that would usually take them 40 minutes to drive, Cardiff’s fans were sinking the lagers, having a sing-song and catching up with their pals. One set of fans were already in a better mood.

(MORE: Cardiff City vs. Swansea City – Rivalry and passion define soccer’s heyday in South Wales)

The police presence in the capital city was massive, as officers traveled round in twos to survey the many local pubs who had opened up early for the game. But, apart from groups of lads pouring out into the street in full song as the bars became crowded, there wasn’t much going on.

To the ground!

As I got to the Cardiff City Stadium about a 10 minute drive from town, I sat up shop in the press box, said my hello’s to my press brethren and was interviewed by BBC Radio Wales about what fans in the USA thought of the South Wales derby. Then, I took my life into my own hands as I could hear Swansea’s fans finally arriving at the stadium… nearly two hours before kick off.

I managed to negotiate my way through a massive metal fence and chat with the police officers who let me through to get amongst the Swansea fans. And here they came, one after the other, buses pulled in with military precision. Fans got off, were searched and had 30 or so police officers watching their every move in a penned in area as a green wire fence surrounded them. There was no way Cardiff fans could get to them in here. I wouldn’t say I felt safe, but not bad.

Fans began to filter in from both teams.

GAME-TIME, LET THE HATRED BEGIN

The announcers before the game at the Cardiff City Stadium had this to welcome Swansea’s fans…. “Welcome to the capital of Wales, Cardiff.” Which sent ironic cheers and jeers from the home fans and boo from the away section neatly tucked away on the left.  When Cardiff won the FA Cup in 1927, Swansea’s fans cheered and were happy for the Bluebirds… nothing like that anymore.

Just pure hatred.

Chants of “We are all going on a European tour!” emanate from the Swansea section as they taunted the home fans about their recent success gallivanting around Europe in the Europa League and they also had a pop about Cardiff’s controversial kit change from blue to tread to appease their Malaysian owner. Chanting about their famous black and white kit. “We’re Swansea City, we will always be White!” and “you used to be blue but now your red.”

(MORE: Setting the scene at the South Wales derby)

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The hatred and animosity spreads across generations in South Wales, just look at the young kid being told off by a police officer…

As a crescendo of noise built up, literally four to five feet away two Cardiff fans were almost fighting before the kick off. One bald guy was hitting the press box table and threatening to smash the computers unless we wrote positive things about the Bluebirds…

And there were still 45 minutes left until the game started! Our friend on the right was to be a constant nuisance throughout the game, the old guys from BBC Cymru (Welsh language radio station) sat to my right were horrified as this particular Cardiff fan preferred to bellow out obscenities throughout most of their live broadcast.

Anyway, finally, the teams arrived onto the pitch as famous Welsh hymns such as “Men or Harlech” were belted out and the old mining song “I’ll be there.” The noise was deafening as the two sides got into the pre-match huddle.

During the game the banter kept coming, and as Swansea had possession for most of the first half, Cardiff struggled to get anything going and lumped the ball forward whenever they could. Shouts of ‘Boring, boring” Cardiff rang out. When Swansea had the ball for large swathes, the same chant rang out from the home fans.

It wasn’t riveting stuff in the first interval, I have to be honest. But as often the case with these games, there’s so much local pride and pressure on the game, players feel restrained. It certainly seemed like both teams were scared of committing men forward or making a mistake.

Then in the 19th minute came a moment that livened up the home crowd as central defender Ben Turner put in a crunching tackle on Jonjo Shelvey as he surged forward. An almost tribal roar reverberated around the stadium to signify Cardiff’s physical presence unnerving the Swans.

(MORE: The South Wales derby; a tale of two cities – Part II)

For the rest of the first half not so friendly banter rang out between the two sets of fans, as Swansea pushed for the opener and Cardiff soaked up the pressure expertly. A few brief forays forward excited the home crowd, but Swansea were the better side as it was 0-0 at the break.

Remember the lively and slightly confrontational fan to my right? Yeah, he was at it again. Screaming obscenities at the top his voice while the radio guys who sat next to me looked on in horror. They put their fingers to their lips to try and silence him… the angry man’s wife then got involved and started hurling abuse in our direction. I’m staying out of this one.

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Following Steven Caulker’s header, Cardiff’s fans went absolutely berserk as they began to sense a famous win was in sight.

“What don’t you try turning up more often before you tell me to be quiet?” He replied. Or something to that affect.

After the interval Cardiff started brightly, as both Jordon Mutch and Peter Odemwingie got a sniff at goal and that seemed to crank up the decibel levels quite a few notches.

Midway through the second half a late challenge on Angel Rangel from local boy and Welsh legend Craig Bellamy, signified what type of game this was. “Bellamy, Bellamy **** him up,” came the chant from the home fans as Rangel protested on the floor. Personal duels all over the pitch were breaking out, Gary Medel vs. Shelvey, Michu vs. Steven Caulker, Bellamy vs. Rangel, and now you could sense Cardiff were starting to turn the screw.

Meanwhile at that point Swansea’s star man Michu was hobbling around and needed lengthy treatment on the sidelines, he was replaced. Our ‘friend’ to the right then hurled abuse at Swansea’s pony-tailed Spanish defender Chico Flores who threw himself to the floor theatrically after a meaty Cardiff challenge.

“Get your hair cut, you Spanish wanker!” That was the edited version.

As the second half wore on the decibel level continued to rise as Cardiff striker Peter Odemwingie urged the crowd to raise the noise as he thrust his arms into the air repeatedly to gee the home fans going.

Minutes later the home side went ahead as captain Caulker (a former Swansea player no less) rose highest to head home  Bellamy’s corner… cue utter pandemonium insides the Cardiff City Stadium.

In the video I captured above, you can see whole groups of grown men hugging each other, some fans just stood with their arms aloft towards the devastated section of Swansea fans and many… well, they just simply lost the plot.

As the noise levels dropped a little following the excitement of the goal, the home fans rejoiced in their dominance and stuck the knife in and let out a few reminders about their economical and cultural importance.

“1-0 to the Capital” rung out from the home fans.

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A Cardiff fans throws some ‘banter’ towards the Swansea section across the police barricade… I hope he used deodorant.

As the rain teemed down in South Wales, Cardiff went for the kill as they poured forward. But so did Swansea, now we have a game. There were a few hairy moments for the home side, but the incredible display of Medel pulled the home side through it as the ‘Chilean Pitbull’ scrapped for his life in the engine-room to keep the Swans at bay. In the end he went off injured with three minutes to play, after committing one lunging tackle too many. A standing ovation proved how pleased his fans were with the all-action display.

Grit, passion, determination and guile, Medel summed up this game. He was superb and I’d say the difference between the two teams. His tackling and clever possession stop Swansea creating anything in the middle.

As stoppage time approached all hell broke loose as the nightmare afternoon for Swansea’s fans continued.

Substitute Frazier Campbell raced cleared as a long ball bounced on the edge of the box, Swansea ‘keeper Michel Vorm came racing out of his goal and took out Campbell with a flying karate kick.

Cue a red card for Swansea’s goalkeeper and after they’d already made all three subs, right back Rangel had to go in goal… much to the delight of the home fans.

The final whistle blew, the songs rang out and Cardiff’s fans jigged their way out of the stadium and into the night sky of South Wales. They were celebrating a famous 1-0 victory in the first-ever South Wales derby, which had got better as it went on. Me? I didn’t want it to end.

CARDIFF CELEBRATES

Following the game I walked out of the stadium with a massive smile on my face, a newspaper over my head that really didn’t shelter the driving rain and a heavy heart that this match wouldn’t be returning to the PL until next February.

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An incredible setting for such a massive game, as the 106th South Wales derby surpassed my expectations.

Before I caught my train back to England, myself and another journalist sauntered into a local pub before we sped away from South Wales. The establishment we stumbled into was the Prince of Wales pub, and it was chock-a-block with Cardiff fans. To start with it was quite cordial, but then when the replay of Caulker’s game-winner was shown in the news bulletin on the big screens across this massive pub, Cardiff’s supporters celebrated like they were in the stadium all over again.

They were in dreamland, Sunday night was an evening they wanted to savor. Their victory and recent dominance over the “Jacks” of Swansea gives them much joy, as Cardiff have won three of the last four games against there fierce rivals.

And now they’re in the PL for the first-time in their history, Cardiff fans want more. They want to overtake their rivals Swansea and become the best Welsh team in one of the world’s best leagues.

The drunken band of fans were now jigging and singing their hearts out in the Prince of Wales pub, they had a warning for their heady neighbors down the coast.

“You Jack bastard’s, we’re coming for you!”

So long South Wales, see you in February. I can’t wait. But between now and then, bragging rights had swung Cardiff’s way. And boy, are they going to enjoy that.

Portugal considers resting Ronaldo ahead of group stage finale

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Portugal is on the verge of reaching the semifinals at this summer’s FIFA Confederations Cup, and the reigning European champions could be set to rest their biggest star ahead of their group stage finale on Saturday.

[ MORE: Confed Cup scenarios before final group stage matches ]

The team currently sits tied on four points with Group A leaders Mexico through two matches, and with New Zealand — who is already eliminated from advancing — left on the docket for Portugal, manager Fernando Santos is prepared to rest Cristiano Ronaldo.

“Everybody wants to watch Cristiano Ronaldo, even I want to watch Cristiano Ronaldo,” Santos said on Friday.

“I don’t know if I’m going to play with Cristiano or without Cristiano. Obviously, rotation will take place, that I can tell you.”

Portugal will be playing its third match in a seven-day span on Saturday, which certainly warrants a rest for Ronaldo and possibly some others for Santos’ side.

Hosts Russia sit one point behind Mexico and Portugal though, so it would be a bit of a gamble for Ronaldo to miss the New Zealand match, which will be played at Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg.

Reports: Arsenal nearing deal for Lyon striker Lacazette

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Arsenal appears to be on the verge of adding another French international striker, but the Gunners will have to pay up in order to secure the goalscoring specialist.

Various reports have linked the Premier League side with Lyon striker Alexandre Lacazette since last summer, but now, Arsenal is nearing a deal for the 26-year-old.

L’Equipe is reporting that Arsene Wenger‘s team is willing to pay over $67 million for Lacazette, who is coming off of a 28-goal season for Lyon in Ligue 1.

Meanwhile, Sky Sports confirmed the report, stating that the Gunners are in open talks with Lyon as the London side attempts to acquire the highly-touted forward.

Over the last four seasons, Lacazette has tallied over 20 goals in all competitions for the French club. The Lyon native had a career year in 2016/17, tallying 37 goals in all comps.

MLS Power Rankings — Week 17: East leads the way at the top

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The Western Conference has dominated MLS Cup for the better part of a decade, but it’s the East that continues to shine bright as this MLS season hits the midway point.

Here are PST’s latest MLS Power Rankings as we head into another busy weekend:

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]


TEAM RANKING (Last Wk)
 

22 (21)

21 (22)

 

20 (20)

Real Salt Lake: A win over Minnesota in their last outing was solid but the Claret and Cobalt still remain just one point above bottom out West.

D.C. United: A nice comeback win over Atlanta helped D.C.’s stock slightly, and apparently they’re one of the few clubs that has figured out how to have success against Tata Martino’s group.

Colorado Rapids: The Rapids were brought back down to earth after their three-match win streak. Despite that run, Pablo Mastroeni and Co. remain last in all of MLS.

19 (16) New England Revolution: Jay Heap’s group were flying high after a big win against Toronto, but another strong Eastern Conference side (the Chicago Fire) reminded the Revs how talented the East is.
18 (15) Philadelphia Union: Three straight losses have the Union back to where they were early in the season… at the bottom of the East.
17 (18) Minnesota United: There’s no doubt the Loons picked up their most exciting win thus far on Wednesday night against Portland. Adrian Heath and Co. will attempt to do something they haven’t accomplished yet in MLS; win back-to-back games.
16 (16) Montreal Impact: The Impact are unbeaten in four, but the Canadian side still has the fewest wins in MLS (4) through 14 matches played.
15 (19) Seattle Sounders: Rough conditions at Yankee Stadium shouldn’t have been anything the Sounders weren’t used to but the reigning champions couldn’t get it done against NYCFC before following it up with a solid draw against Orlando.

 

14 (14) Vancouver Whitecaps: A solid result against FC Dallas has the Whitecaps sitting in the final playoff spot out west.
 

13 (11) San Jose Earthquakes: The Quakes are winless in three and have scored just twice in the process. The club is hoping new signing “Vako” will be the DP spark the team needs.
12 (8) Columbus Crew: Greg Berhalter’s men have proven to be one of the better home sides in MLS. They’ll welcome a hungry Impact side on Saturday.

 

11 (13) Atlanta United: D.C. appears to be this club’s kryptonite. Atlanta will host last-place Colorado this weekend.
10 (10) Portland Timbers: It was an ugly match against Minnesota, but despite back-to-back losses the Timbers still sit third in the West.
 

9 (12) Orlando City: The Lions continue to show signs of improvement from their first two seasons in MLS. They’re late equalizer against the Sounders was the latest showing.
8 (9)  New York Red Bulls: 6-1 is the Red Bulls record against NYCFC. Even better for the Harrison side is that they haven’t lost at home to their New York rivals.
7 (7) LA Galaxy: Props to the Galaxy for their turnaround, but Curt Onalfo’s men need to clean things up at home. The Galaxy currently boast the worst home record in all of MLS at 1-3-3.
6 (5) FC Dallas: The defending Supporters’ Shield holders have a brutal schedule upcoming, which begins with another Texas Derby on Saturday.

 

 

5 (3) Houston Dynamo: This team keeps quietly going about its business, and despite it’s poor road record (0-6-2) the Dynamo sit second out West.
4 (6)  New York City FC: A big win over the Sounders should have Patrick Vieira’s men buzzing heading into their second Hudson River Derby in a span of 10 days.
3 (5) Sporting KC: Peter Vermes and Co. will face one of their biggest challenges to date when they head west to take on the surging Galaxy.
2 (2) Chicago Fire: The Fire are now unbeaten in eight, and it’s very fair to say that this club is pushing hard for the top spot in the East and the Supporters’ Shield.
1 (1) Toronto FC: Unbeaten in nine of their last 10, Toronto is still the odds-on favorite to win MLS Cup this season.

Celtic’s Griffiths tears into Rangers chairman after “gulf” comments

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Celtic star Leigh Griffiths took the Old Firm bait and promptly swallowed the fisherman.

If you missed it, Rangers chairman Dave King said Celtic should’ve been even further ahead of their rivals given the setbacks handed to Rangers, who finally climbed back to the Scottish Premiership this season.

Celtic went unbeaten, drawing just four of 38 matches and finished 39 points ahead of Rangers on the table.

[ MORE: Fabinho has interest in Man Utd ]

If Celtic won all 38, they could’ve finished 47 points clear of Rangers. So, we guess the gulf could be bigger.

Here’s what Griffiths had to say:

“What was the gulf? 30-odd points. How does he expect that to be bigger? They were touting at the start of last season that they were going to win the league and this and that.

Joey Barton was coming up and saying he was going to be the best player in Scotland – he lasted a few months. In the first [Old Firm] game, they got hammered 5-1 and they got hammered 5-1 at the end of the season. So, the gulf couldn’t be any bigger. This season, they’ll be trying to bridge the gap.

“Ultimately it’s about what we do and if we are at our best nobody in Scotland can live with us.”

It was absurd talk from King, who doesn’t need to amp up one of the world’s best rivalries and also doesn’t have a leg to stand on considering the dominant season from the Bhoys. Wow.