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Saturday, March 8, 2008

PREMIER REPORT

English powerhouses prove mettle in Champions League


LONDON — The rest of Europe may not find it particularly exciting but the prospect of four Premier League teams in the quarterfinals of the Champions League underlines where the European football power base lies.

Christopher Davies

Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United saw off AC Milan, Olympiakos and Lyon with Liverpool taking a 2-0 lead to San Siro where it faces Inter Milan on Tuesday. Four out of four would be five-star stuff — United and Chelsea could even face each other in the finals of the F.A. Cup and Champions League in May.

The success of English clubs is no surprise. The influx of super-rich foreign owners plus the multibillion pound overseas television contract negotiated by the Premier League means England's elite clubs can compete with and beat the rest in the transfer market.

Chelsea, with Roman Abramovich's backing, can outbid anyone for anybody. Manchester United can pay Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez the sort of salaries that will keep them at Old Trafford. Arsenal has made an art form of finding young talent and turning the players into superstars, while Liverpool's £23 million investment in striker Fernando Torres is looking like a bargain.

Arsenal's 2-0 win in Milan, Italy, was the pick of a splendid week for England in Europe. It is difficult to recall a better display by a visiting team at this level or a more comprehensive one-man show than that of Cesc Fabregas, inevitably dubbed the San Hero.

The Spaniard is still only 20, which means he is seven years off his peak, a worrying prospect for opponents. The old war horses of Milan were overrun by the young Gunners — on one occasion Theo Walcott was running at Milan legend Paolo Maldini, 39, the Arsenal teenager half the Italian's age and roughly the same age as his son. The biggest dilemma facing Arsenal and United is that history proves it is almost impossible to win the Champions League and the domestic league.

If defense wins titles, then Chelsea is the team to watch. Its 3-0 win over Olympiakos meant it is 10 hours and 21 minutes since conceding a Champions League goal. UEFA statistics show during that time the Blues have had possession for 65 percent of the time, and manager Avram Grant said: "This is the best way to defend, having possession. If we continue to defend like that, anything can happen."

Of the three other teams through Barcelona is the one to avoid. The Catalans can blow hot and cold but when they blow hot they are almost unstoppable. Turkey's Fenerbahce is in uncharted waters and though Istanbul can be intimidating its opponents, whoever they are, will have been there, seen it and done it. Schalke 04 is sixth in the Bundesliga and was beaten by Chelsea in the group stage qualifying with eight points, the lowest of the teams to advance.

* * * * *

TIM CAHILL belatedly apologized for the goal celebration against Portsmouth last weekend. The Everton midfielder dedicated to his brother Sean who is serving a six-year sentence for grievous bodily harm with intent.

Police called the attack on Christopher Stapley "a brutal and terrifying assault" that left the victim blind in one eye. Passing sentence at Croydon Crown Court in January, Judge Robert Rhodes told Cahill: "You ran and kicked a defenseless man, who was on the ground, at least twice. You kicked him in the face and his injuries were terrible."

Tim at least apologized for his actions which is more than his brother did.

A row started outside a minicab firm in Bromley (Kent) after Sean has been to a night club. Cahill denied kicking Stapley in the head during the brawl, but traces of the victim's blood, hair and skin were found on the Australian's left shoe. CCTV cameras caught him punching several members of the public and kicking a man in the head twice as he lay defenseless on the floor. Stapley suffered extensive damage to his teeth and a perforated retina, causing permanent damage to his eyesight.

Cahill was arrested and charged for the July 2004 assault, but fled the country in April 2005 before the case came to court. A warrant was issued for his arrest in May 2005, a month after he had left the country and arrived in Sydney.

In March 2007, Cahill was arrested by New South Wales Police at the request of the UK authorities. Cahill was jailed for four months in July 2007 for breaching bail before being given a six-year sentence two months ago.

While one can appreciate Cahill supporting his brother, to do it in such a public way was effectively condoning the vicious attack.

After scoring against Portsmouth, Cahill crossed his wrists as if handcuffed in a gesture of support for Sean. Cahill said: "It was a spontaneous and emotional reaction but was only intended to signify to my brother that I was thinking of him and missing him. I wholeheartedly apologize if any offense was caused."

If!!!

Christopher Davies writes about the Premier League for the London Daily Telegraph.


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