No goals at Porto versus Sporting

FC Porto and Sporting Lisbon held each other to a rather disappointing goalless draw in Saturday’s Portuguese top clash.

As a result, Porto remain in first place with a two-points advantage over Benfica and four points ahead of Sporting.

Nacional Funchal continue to apply pressure on the current top three, beating Academica de Coimbra 3-1 despite conceding an early goal from Lito.

Nene equalised in the 32nd minute and two second-half goals from Mateus earned the home side a clear victory.

Sat 28 February, 2009
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Anderlecht held by Mouscron

RSC Anderlecht are anything but certain to win this year’s Belgian championship, having been held to a disappointing 1-1 draw at Excelsior Mouscron.

The Brussels outfit had been on a winning streak, but things didn’t go as planned in Mouscron.

Gonzague van Dooren opened the score for the home side on 48 minutes and all Anderlecht could do was for Thomas Chatelle to level from the penalty spot in the 70th.

Standard de Liege could bring the gap with Anderlecht back to just two points, if they managed to beat Cercle Brugge on Sunday.

Third-placed Club Brugge beat relegation candidates Roeselaere 2-1. Simaeys and Vargas scored for the home side.

Sat 28 February, 2009
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AEK do as expected versus Thrasivoulos

AEK Athens remain near the top of the Greek league thanks to a 2-1 win over Thrasivoulos Fylis on Saturday.

Edinho gave AEK a 1-0 lead on ten minutes and Ismael Blanco doubled the advantage shortly after the break. Mauro Poy then did something back in the 57th minute but AEK held on to their lead.

Sunday sees the top clash between leaders Olympiakos and second-placed Panathinaikos. A win to Olympiakos would leave the championship practically decided.

Third-placed PAOK Saloniki travel to face Panionios.

Sat 28 February, 2009
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Sivasspor crash at Fenerbahce

Trabzonspor could move back into first place in Turkey as leaders Sivasspor crashed to a 4-2 defeat at Fenerbahce.

Sivasspor twice took the lead, trough Mehmet Yildiz and Murat Sözgelmez, but Ugur Boral and Semih Sentürk replied to level.

Boral then added another on 34 minutes and Diego Lugano netted the home side’s fourth in the 77th.

Sivasspor now share the lead with Besiktas, but might have to hand their top spot to Trabzonspor who play Antalyaspor on Sunday.

Sat 28 February, 2009
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AZ keep on winning in Dutch league

The Dutch title has come another step clozer for AZ Alkmaar, following a convincing 3-0 victory over FC Groningen on Saturday.

Graziano Pelle first scored in the third minute, and the Italian 23-year-old added another in the 57th. The third and final goal came from Moussa Dembele in the 84th minute.

Second-placed FC Twente face ADO Den Haag on Sunday, in an attempt to bring the gap with AZ back to nine points.

Sat 28 February, 2009
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Juventus squeeze past Napoli to keep title hopes alive

Juventus edged Napoli 1-0 on Saturday to keep their Serie A title hopes alive by cutting Inter Milan’s lead at the top to six points.

A deflected shot from Claudio Marchisio effort on the stroke of half-time gave Claudio Ranieri’s team the three points although Inter can restore their advantage on Sunday when they tackle AS Roma.

David Trezeguet was given a rare start in the Juve line-up and he could have scored after 15 minutes when Marco Marchionni’s cross found the French striker but his shot was saved by Navarro.

Moments later Juventus’s Nicola Legrottaglie was booked for bringing down German Denis and he will be suspended for the Turin derby.

Napoli could have scored on 38 minutes but Marek Hamsik saw his drive saved by Gianluigi Buffon in the Juventus goal.

Juventus took the lead in the 44th minute when Marchisio collected the ball from Christian Poulsen and his shot took a deflection off ex-Juventus player Manuele Blasi on its way into the goal.

Napoli thought they had levelled in the dying minutes of the game when Ezequiel Lavezzi found the net but his effort was ruled out for offside.

In Saturday’s other game, Mauro Zarate scored twice to give Lazio a 2-0 win over Bologna and keep up their hopes of a UEFA Cup spot next season.

Sat 28 February, 2009
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Kanoute at the double for Sevilla

An impressive Frederic Kanoute brace helped Sevilla come from behind to beat Athletic Bilbao 2-1 Saturday in a dress rehearsal of the Copa del Rey semi-final on Wednesday.

The Malian showed he was back to his best form by scoring either side of half time to help Sevilla beat Bilbao, who took the lead through Inaki Gabilondo.

Both sides started with weakened sides but while Sevilla were dominating it was Gabilondo who made the breakthrough after the visitors’ defence made a hash of clearing a corner and the left-winger fired home from 12 yards.

Kanoute though deservedly brought the sides level bringing the ball down well inside the area before beating the keeper and then after the break he calmly finished into the corner as Sevilla continued to take the game to Bilbao.

As the second half progressed Sevilla did take their foot off the pedal and late on Bilbao had chances to equalise notably through Gaizka Toquero but he missed in front of goal.

Later, Espanyol were looking for another David and Goliath act when they play Real Madrid at Montjuic having already toppled league leaders Barcelona a week ago.

Real travel to Espanyol in ominous form in the league having put together a nine match winning run which has seen the gap at the top of the table reduced to seven.

Real coach Juande Ramos believes a win is necessary to put behind them their Champions League set-back against Liverpool.

“We need to turn the page and concentrate on the league, all the games are important. If we are to catch Barcelona then there is no other option other than to pick up three points,” he said.

On Sunday, Barcelona face Atletico Madrid and midfielder Yaya Toure feels it’s imperative they don’t allow any more points to slip away.

“My team-mates and I are concentrated fully on the match at the Calderon because we know that we cannot allow Real to make any ground on us. Our last three games have been difficult for us in the way that the opposition have played,” he said.

Elsewhere, Villarreal will be looking to consolidate their Champions League place when they face Real Betis, while mis-firing Valencia below them aim to pick up ground with a win against Valladolid.

At the other end of the table Numancia are in deep trouble and have asked for a big attendance to get behind the players against Deportivo la Coruna.

Mallorca, who have put together back-to-back wins, know that a further victory against Sporting Gijon could take them clear of the relegation zone.

Sat 28 February, 2009
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Zambian Dennis a menace for Tanzania

Defender Dennis Banda was the unlikely hero as Zambia forced a last-gasp 1-1 draw with Tanzania in Ivory Coast Saturday and reached the African Nations Championship semi-finals.

The result coupled with a 0-0 stalemate between Ivory Coast and Senegal in the other Group A match left the Zambian ‘Copper Bullets’ top of the table on goal difference.

Unbeaten Zambia and Senegal completed their three-match schedules with five points each, improving Tanzania finished one point behind and Ivory Coast, the team seeded to win the mini-league, managed a solitary point.

Zambia return to the Ivorian economic capital Abidjan for a Wednesday showdown against the Group B runners-up while Senegal travel to the central textile city Bouake to confront the Group B winners.

Pacesetters Demcratic Republic of Congo play underperforming Ghana and surprise package Zimbabwe tackle Libya Sunday in the final Group B matches with all four countries in contention for last-four places.

The maiden edition of a tournament reserved for home-based footballers may lack the glamour stars like Emmauel Adebayor, Didier Drogba, Michael Essien and Samuel Eto’o bring to its ‘big brother’, the African Nations Cup.

But the Nations Championship offers the likes of Banda from Zambian army club Green Buffaloes a chance to share the international spotlight with the African footballers based in Europe.

Zambia were trailing Tanzania 1-0 at the Peace Stadium in Bouake and staring elimination when he ventured forward for a corner four minutes into stoppage time and volleyed the equaliser.

Tanzania had gone ahead two minutes from full-time when another defender, Shadrack Nsajigwa from champions Young Africans, fired a penalty awarded for handball past Davy Kaumbwa.

Ivory Coast, whose coach Georges Kouadio boasted before the tournament kicked off last Sunday that his team would become the first holders of the trophy, dodged a third consecutive defeat in a dour Abidjan struggle.

A capacity 35,000 crowd saw them crash to Zambia in their opening match, but just 2,000 die-hard ‘Elephants’ supporters turned up at Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium to watch them tackle physically formidable Senegal.

The woodwork deprived a midfielder from each team in the West Africa derby with a shot from Senegalese Vito Badiane rebounding off the crossbar in the opening half and Ivorian Aboubacar Diomande out of luck after half-time.

Sat 28 February, 2009
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Lille´s Euro tilt comes a cropper

Strugglers Valenciennes scotched Lille’s attempts to have a say in the French title race on Saturday with a 2-0 success which denied the former a temporary share of second place in the table.

Lille, who enjoyed a brief foray into the Champions League three seasons ago, stay sixth after goals in quick succession from Gael Danic and former Glasgow Rangers striker Jean-Claude Darcheville around the half-hour mark put paid to their lofty ambitions.

The northerners stay on 43 points from 27 games, one behind Bordeaux, who host Lorient on Sunday.

Toulouse were hoping to bag second place themselves at least overnight with three points at Auxerre in the late match.

Valenciennes pushed into midtable after they made it nine matches unbeaten in all competitions.

Reigning champions Lyon, who have a six-point lead over Paris St Germain, on Sunday host a Rennes side who in the event of a shock win could overhaul Lille.

PSG are also in action Sunday, at home to midtable Nancy while third-placed Marseille visit struggling Caen and St Etienne look to exit the drop zone with a win at Monaco.

Elsewhere Saturday, Nice saw their hopes of bagging a potential place in Europe fade after a 1-0 loss at Sochaux, now level on points with fourth-bottom Caen.

Nantes and Grenoble shared a 1-1 draw and Le Mans moved away from the danger zone with a 2-0 home win over a Le Havre side which appears doomed after a 20th league defeat left them ten points behind St Etienne.

Sat 28 February, 2009
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Last-gasp Lamps keeps Chelsea on upward curve

Frank Lampard’s added-time winner ensured manager Guus Hiddink marked his first home league game with a victory and lifted Chelsea above Liverpool into second spot in the Premier League.

Hiddink had steered his new side to victories over Aston Villa and Juventus since succeeding Luiz Felipe Scolari on a temporary basis, but his winning run appeared set to end when Olivier Kapo’s 81st minute effort cancelled out John Terry’s 25th minute opening goal.

But as so often during a troubled season, it was Lampard who came to his side’s rescue, heading home from close range in the 91st minute to move Chelsea to within seven points of leaders Manchester United and maintain their slender hopes in the title race.

Hiddink had criticised his new players after the midweek Champions League victory over Juventus, accusing them of sitting too deep and failing to capitalise on Didier Drogba’s first half goal.

And it appeared as though his words had fallen on deaf ears as Steve Bruce’s visiting side fought back in a bid to press their own hopes of qualifying for a place in next season’s UEFA Cup.

But Hiddink’s impact at Stamford Bridge has already been felt and a third successive win under the new manager strengthened belief that there is much more to come from the London club during the final weeks of the campaign.

It had looked very different during the opening 20 minutes when Wigan dominated and they should have gone ahead in the 18th minute when Paul Scharner blew a one-on-one chance with Petr Cech.

Wigan had been growing in confidence and Scharner’s near miss appeared to reinforce their belief that Chelsea were vulnerable.

And three minutes later they again exposed the defensive fragility that became a feature of their play this season under Hiddink’s predecessor Scolari.

The Brazilian manager was heavily criticised for his inability to resolve Chelsea’s problems defending set-pieces.

And there was stark evidence that the problem persists under Hiddink when Titus Bramble was allowed to rise unchallenged and head Charles N’Zogbia’s corner past Cech, only for England full-back Ashley Cole to clear off the line.

Maynor Figueroa pounced on the rebound but that too was hacked away, first by Cech and then by Terry and Wigan’s best chance of the opening stages was gone.

The scare appeared to shake Chelsea into life and they responded with purpose, quickly taking the lead and then going on to dominate the remainder of the first half.

Kirkland was forced to react quickly to keep out a powerful drive from John Mikel Obi but the keeper had no chance when Terry’s 25th minute volley was deflected past him by defender Emmerson Boyce, whose underpowered clearance had presented the Chelsea captain with his chance.

Immediately, Chelsea went looking for a second and Kirkland and his defenders were forced into a series of desperate saves and blocks to prevent the home side taking complete control of the game.

Titus Bramble cleared off the line from Michael Ballack after Lampard had blown a great chance, and then repeated the feat after the break, this time to deny Didier Drogba.

But with Wigan having weakened as an attacking force – and with the Stamford Bridge crowd reacting euphorically to news that Middlesbrough had taken a two-goal lead against Liverpool – there was a growing sense that Chelsea would not be denied victory.

However, with only Terry’s goal separating the two sides, there was always the chance Wigan could get back into it, especially when Hugo Rodallega was introduced to give Amr Zaki much needed support up front.

Drogba and Anelka both spurned chances to claim the second but as time progressed, Chelsea were again guilty of sitting back in their attempt to defend a lead.

And they paid the price when Kapo got ahead of Nicolas Anelka and met Figueroa’s expertly delivered low cross at the near post to side-foot the ball past Cech from six yards out.

There was always likely to be one more chance for the home side, however, and when it came Lampard responded coolly to claim the points.

Sat 28 February, 2009
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