Aviva to host LOI Supporters workshop

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 LOI Supporters: Making a Vital DifferenceOriginal article appears on Pundit Arena.

Tomorrow (Saturday) morning will see a host of League of Ireland fans descend to the Aviva Stadium. No, this isn’t some Derry City or St.Pat’s fans turning up a day early for the FAI Cup Final. Rather this is a workshop being put together by Irish Supporters Network entitled “LOI Supporters: Making a Vital Difference.”

It was only a couple of week ago when FAI chief executive John Delaney described the Airtricity League as a “difficult child.” He also dismissed claims that the domestic game was in difficulty. Now League of Ireland fans will assemble at the home of the international team to discuss the future of the league and how they can play a role in it.

There will be various sessions running throughout the day to facilitate dialogue on what initiatives are currently taking place and what improvements can be made to improve the Irish game and draw more people to their local football ground. Representatives from the FAI will be in attendance along with members of Supporters Direct and Football Supporters Europe to talk about their own experience of fan engagement and hopefully, help supporters engage with their local club.

Some of the sessions which are planned for tomorrow, include

– Fan Engagement: What constitutes meaningful engagement and how can it benefit clubs and supporters?

– Supporter Liaison Officer (SLO): how the SLO role can develop and have an impact on Irish football

– Volunteers in Action: How supporters and volunteers are actively working to support their clubs week in week out

– Panel Discussion: How can we draw fans away from their TV and into our football grounds?

With so much on offer this weekend at the Aviva Stadium, there should be some food for thought for League of Ireland fans and how they envisage a positive future in the domestic game.

There are still a handful of places available for “LOI Supporters: Making a Vital Difference.” For details on tomorrow’s event go to www.heartofthegame.ie or find them on Twitter @HOTG_ie

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Keane expects a tough German response

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Roy KeaneOriginal article appears on Pundit Arena.

The Republic of Ireland squad were in good spirits this morning as they had a brief training session after last night’s demolition job of Gibraltar. The sole focus is now on the trip to Gelsenkirchen on Tuesday where they will meet Germany.

The World Champions suffered a shock defeat to Poland in Warsaw last night and questions will be asked in the Irish camp if they too can inflict another shock defeat to the Germans. Asked about the result and if the Germans were vulnerable, assistant manager, Roy Keane shrugged off any suggestion that home side will give anything less than 100% on Tuesday. “Football is not like that. Poland looked pretty decent and it really doesn’t change our mind-set. We know it’s going to be a very, very tough game for us,” said the assistant manager.

Asked if the loss of big name players like Philipp Lahm and Miroslav Klose has affected the German side, Keane was again adamant that the Germans would be still favourites to top Group D. “No. Obviously there is going to be changes there with new players coming into the group but they still have that quality and history behind them, they’re at home and they won their first game. So, I don’t think the Germans will be panicking. Far from it, I expect them to still be favourites to top the group,” commented Keane.

“It happens, you can lose football matches. You’d obviously expect a response from Germany at home. So it makes it even tougher. We’d expect Germany coming out firing on all cylinders so we just have to be ready for that,” said Keane on the anticipation that the Germans will be looking to make a statement against the Irish.

Roy also had praise for his namesake Robbie with the captain scoring his 63rd, 64th and 65th international goals on Saturday. The striker now sits atop of the all time scorers in European Championship qualifying history with 21. Roy said he always knew the Irish captain had it in him to be one of the best Irish players in history.

There were some injuries to report with Richard Keogh pulling out of the squad due to a hamstring injury while Daryl Murphy sat out the training session with an Achilles problem but Keane suggested that this was just a recovery rather than an injury that can rule him out of contention for Tuesday’s match.

As Keane suggested today, the Irish team should embrace the occasion on Tuesday rather than fear it. A lot of the talk about this group has been about Germany running away with the group. However, last night they showed that they are indeed there for the taking.

Granted, the Polish have a stronger side than the Irish and the Germans will be looking to fire back after Saturday night’s defeat but with the Irish going into the match with six points from six and confidence high in the group, the Irish could come away from the Veltins-Arena with a valuable point that will definitely shake things up in these qualifiers.

Republic of Ireland run riot in the Aviva

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Republic of IrelandOriginal article appears on Pundit Arena.

It was over before it began with the Republic of Ireland tearing apart Gibraltar 7-0 at the Aviva Stadium. It was a good days work for Robbie Keane in particular. The evergreen captain was on fine form as he scored a hat trick in just 18 minutes against the minnows. Goals from James McClean, Wes Hoolahan and a bizarre own goal from Gibraltar keeper, Jordan Perez sealed the victory for the Irish.

Manager Martin O’Neill, had warned against complacency in the build up to this game and his team didn’t disappoint in the opening exchanges with the Irish racking up 50 passes in just under five minutes. The Irish piled the pressure on the Gibraltar defence and they were rewarded for their positive start on the sixth minute when Man of the Match, Wes Hoolahan hit a long ball to Aiden McGeady on the edge of the right side of the box. The Everton winger laid it to Keane who had no problem putting the ball in the back of the net and starting off the evening’s proceedings.

Hoolahan was involved again in the build up to the second and third goal to set up Keane to earn his 64th and 65th goals respectively. The Norwich City man took a lofted pass on to his chest before passing the ball through for Keane’s run, who slotted home past Perez. Minutes later, Perez clattered into Hoolahan after failing to clear a shot efficiently. Keane stepped up and the hat trick was complete.

With those three goals, Keane now becomes the top scorer in European Championship qualifying history at 21 goals and now stands 12th in the overall international scorers list on 65 goals with Didier Drogba.

Hoolahan wasn’t to be denied a goal though after a wonderful performance. On the 56th minute, Keane laid the ball into his path. After skipping through an awful defence, he capped off the move with an easy, low shot to the near post that went past Perez.

O’Neill was happy with Hoolahan’s contribution in the game. “Wes did very, very well. Wes here at the Aviva has never failed to play well and he is good, particularly in a night like this here when we are looking for that little bit of craft to break defences down,” said the Irish manager.

The Gibraltar keeper, Perez, was already having a bad day before a sensational own goal added salt to the wound. Robbie Keane’s attempted chip was batted away by the keeper with the ball landing to McGeady. The midfielder’s shot bounced back from defender on the line with the ball. The ball landed at the feet of Perez, who, one can only presume, tried to clear the ball but instead hoofed it into his own net. I had to look around and make sure I was at the Aviva and not at home playing a game of FIFA.

After conceding two more goals, McClean’s second of the night and Hoolahan’s goal, Perez was hauled off by manager Allen Bula. The entire crowd at the Aviva were on its feet as the hapless keeper made his way off.

The Irish will unquestionably be satisfied with this win ahead of their visit to Germany on Tuesday night. However, all eyes will now be on that trip. There were many positives in the game but there were also glimpses in the game that showed the home side lacking concentration especially in the latter part of the game when Gibraltar were unlucky to at least come away from this game with a goal. Do this against the Germans and it could be the Irish that end up on the wrong side of a mauling.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Forde, Ward (Brady 69’), Wilson, O’Shea, Meyler, McGeady, Hendrick, Gibson, McClean, Hoolahan (Doyle 63’), Keane (C) (Murphy 63’)

Substitutes: Elliot, Westwood, Clark, Whelan, Long, Pilkington, Stokes, Quinn, Walters
Goals: Keane (6’, 14’, 18’), McClean (46’, 53’), Perez OG (52’), Hoolahan (56’)

GIBRALTAR: J.Perez (Robba 59’), Wiseman, R.Casciaro, R.Chipolina (C) (Santos 57’), J.Chipolina, Payas, B.Perez, Bado (Guilling 45’), Walker, Gosling, L.Casciaro

Substitutes: Coleing, Artell, K.Casciaro, Lopez, Sergeant, Priestley, Bosio, Garcia, Hernandez

Referee: Leontios Trattou (Cyprus)

Man of the Match: Wes Hoolahan

O’Neill Refuses To Look Past Gibraltar

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Republic of Ireland Team

Original article appears on Pundit Arena.

Punch-ups, voicemails and a ‘f**king p***k’ were the talking points this week in the lead up to the Euro 2016 qualifier between the Republic of Ireland and Gibraltar. Thankfully, this was not a bust up in the Irish dressing room rather it was the spicy details leaked from the Republic’s assistant manager, Roy Keane’s new autobiography that has overshadowed the preparations for this game.

However, manager Martin O’Neill refuses to indulge in questions about the former Manchester United skipper’s book. He would rather talk about Saturday’s match, a match in which he hopes to win ahead of the trip to Gelsenkirchen on Tuesday where they will meet World Champions, Germany.

O’Neill is refusing to look ahead though. He is adamant that his team’s focus is purely on the minnows. He knows that with a lack of focus there could be an almighty upset. “We have to win the game, it’s really just as simple as that. We have to win the match. This is very important for us. There are three points on offer, we have to go and win the game,” stated the Derry man.

O’Neill discussed how his Polish counterparts were ‘relieved’ to get the first goal in their game against Gibraltar. It had been a shaky start but the Polish really came into their own after taking a 1-0 lead into the break, they went on to win 7-0. Commenting on that game he said, “They found it difficult. They scored a host of goals towards the end of the game but they said they’d found it difficult. And I wasn’t sure what they meant until I watched the game. And, honestly, Gibraltar did cause a problem or two.”

There will be plenty of thought in regards to who makes the starting 11 on Saturday. One of the positions that will be of interest to fans and pundits alike is at right back, after Seamus Coleman was ruled out with a hamstring problem.

20 year-old Hull City right back Brian Lenihan was drafted into the squad as his replacement. It is dizzying times for the Cork man. Only a few months ago he was playing in Turner’s Cross for Cork City now he has signed with a Premier League side and could potentially make his debut for the Republic of Ireland senior team. However, the manger may be cautious to throw the new boy into the mix even though he stated that the Hull defender doesn’t look out of place in the training sessions.

Daryl Murphy will be another player looking to state his claim for a starting place at the Aviva. The Ipswich striker has scored five goals in six games, which has helped his team move into sixth place in the Championship table. The 31 year-old hasn’t started a game for the Republic since his debut against Ecuador in 2007. Since that occasion he has only made appearances from the bench, losing out to Shane Long and Kevin Doyle in partnering the perennial Robbie Keane.

With Germany ahead of them and the desire to qualify for 2016, the Irish squad will recognise that this is an important three points on offer. A slip up on Saturday for a draw, or dare say a loss, will undoubtedly dent the confidence ahead of the clash with the World Champions on Tuesday night.

Boca Juniors attmept to derail River Plate in the Superclásico

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Superclásico - River Plate vs Boca Juniors

Original article appears on Pundit Arena.

El Monumental, Buenos Aires is the setting on Sunday night for one of the fiercest rivalries in world football – River Plate vs. Boca Juniors – El Superclásico. Both have had contrasting starts to the Primera División with Los Millonarios leading the league undefeated while Los Xeneizes sit in 13th having only won four games from a possible nine.

Boca sacked legendary manager Carlos Bianchi after a miserable start to the season, winning just one game in the first four and replaced him with former defender Rodolfo Arruabarrena, who has only lost one in his seven games in the dugout. A win against their bitter rivals will adhere him to the fans for sure.

There will be plenty of talent on display during the game. These are teams that have had at one stage or another the likes of Radamel Falcao, Carlos Tevez, Gabriel Batistuta, Juan Román Riquelme, Hernán Crespo and one Diego Maradona on their books. A new age of players are taking the task of keeping this derby game alive and kicking and will not disappoint.

River Plate will be looking to Teofilo Gutierrez, the league’s top scorer to lead them to victory on Sunday. The Colombian has been on fire since the start of the season, scoring eight goals in eight games. He will be hoping to be supported by the likes of Leonardo Pisculichi, Carlos Sánchez, Tomás Martínez and his striking partner Rodrigo Mora.

Their opponents will look be looking for their attackers to up their game. Emanuel Gigliotti, Andrés Chávez and Jonathan Calleri have only scored twice each so far this season. Boca fans will be looking to Federico Carrizo to supply the ball to the forwards. The 23-year-old has provided two assists this season and will most likely play alongside captain Fernando Gago in the centre of midfield.

The only thing this game will lack is the Boca fans. Argentina’s government has banned visiting supporters from attending away games in an effort to prevent violence and hooliganism in the Argentinean game. However, that hasn’t prevented the Boca hierarchy from throwing a few sly jabs in the build up to the game. “The stands of El Monumental are only full when they [River Plate] come out champions,” stated Juan Carlos Crespi, the Boca Juniors vice president. He continued with the suggestion that Boca is better club than Bayern Munich because they have won more titles than the Bavarian club. A most audacious claim, to say the least.

River Plate, as previously mentioned, are undefeated with three solid wins over Independiente, Godoy Cruz and Tigre and two draws against Lanús and Arsenal in their last five games. Boca Juniors have three wins over Quilmes, Rosario Central and Olimpo, a draw against Banfield and a loss against Racing Club, which make up their last five games.

The head-to-head over the past five meetings between these teams lean in the favour of the home side with three wins going to River Plate, a win to Boca Juniors and the single draw. Eleven goals were scored over those five games, which shows that the games are usually tight. River’s 2-0 win back in January was the only time one of the opposite teams failed to score. It was also the highest margin of victory. Viewers can expect another tight game on Sunday as Boca Juniors attempt to cut the deficit between themselves and the league leaders.

If you are looking for something to do on Sunday night, a high to end the week before heading off to the office on Monday morning, do yourself a favour and watch this match. “Derby day in Buenos Aires makes the Old Firm game look like a primary school kick-about,” wrote Gavin Hamilton in The Observer. It is a game that will be intense and passionate, one that shows why football is such a great spectacle worldwide.

For a taste of what El Superclásico is about watch the video below.
youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4I2i7Evg8M