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Stevenage v Hartlepool

Saturday, 09 August 2014, 15:00

Sky Bet League 2

Champion contenders

What a fantastic Champions League final we have in prospect.

Last Updated: 03/05/13 at 10:22 Post Comment

Bayern Munich celebrate at the final whistle after beating Barcelona 7-0 on aggr

Bayern Munich celebrate at the final whistle after beating Barcelona 7-0 on aggr

Bayern showed just how hard it will be for Borussia Dortmund to beat them at Wembley as they produced a near-perfect performance against Barcelona.

The gulf between the two sides was as eye-opening as the 7-0 aggregate scoreline indicates and Bayern could possibly be the dominant force in Europe for some time to come.

They dismantled Barcelona on their own ground and next year they will have Mario Gotze and Pep Guardiola on board, and maybe even Robert Lewandowski. It's quite a scary prospect, really.

Re-building

This first all-German European Cup final has been a long time coming.

We've gone through the cycle of Spanish domination and, now it has come to an end in emphatic fashion, it's time for Barcelona to undertake some serious re-building.

Jamie Redknapp asked the question 'how many of Barcelona's players who started last night would get into the Bayern side?' Iniesta and Xavi maybe, but not many more.

Our guest at the Nou Camp, Michael Ballack, was understandably very proud and very bullish about German football and he's very much looking forward to the final.

Bayern are odds-on favourites to win but Michael wouldn't dismiss Dortmund, that's for sure.

It's staggering to think that Bayern have won the Bundesliga title in record time and are now in the Champions League final yet the manager, Jupp Heynckes, has effectively been forced out of the club.

This is a guy who has only managed in three Champions League campaigns - once at Real Madrid and twice at Bayern - and has got to the final every time.

It's an astonishing record and I'm certain that a top European club will come in. The fact he's 67 is neither here nor there - just ask Sir Alex.

Justice

This weekend the race for the second automatic promotion spot in the Championship will be decided - and it's fair to say it will have to go some to match the drama of last week's Soccer Saturday.

The climax to the Brentford-Doncaster match was impossible to script and you can only feel sorry for Uwe Rossler.

That said, having listened to Paul Walsh's reports all afternoon, it was probably the right result in that Doncaster seemed relatively in control during the course of the game and let's not forget that they had been top of the table for eight weeks up until the previous weekend. So maybe a little bit of justice was done in the end, albeit in dramatic fashion.

Saturday was a sad day for Aldershot and Barnet as they were relegated from League Two but for every story like that there is another one of unconfined joy and this time AFC Wimbledon were celebrating.

I think a lot of neutrals would have been delighted that Wimbledon stayed up having emerged from the wreckage of their former club.

Impressed

Back to this Saturday and in the cold light of day you'd think that Hull would be favourites to beat Cardiff at home but their form has slumped pretty dramatically in recent weeks and their confidence seems to be at rock bottom.

Their playing surface, which doubles as a rugby pitch, doesn't engender a lot of confidence either but, on the positive side for Hull, Cardiff's season is to all intents and purposes over and Malky Mackay may choose to give some of his younger players an opportunity.

Meanwhile, you couldn't help but be impressed by the manner in which Watford - who are at home to Leeds on Saturday - played at Leicester.

They are breath-taking going forward; they play an exciting brand of football and have definitely got goals in them but they are vulnerable at the back.

I definitely see Watford winning. It's just a question of whether Hull can eke out a victory against Cardiff and I think that they might just do it.

Characters

Both Hull and Watford are managed by engaging characters so, whether Steve Bruce or Gianfranco Zola take their respective teams up, the Premier League is in a no-lose situation.

It's important not to under-estimate how well Zola has done at Watford. I've been critical, at times, of the number of loan players Watford have picked up from Italy but I have to say that Zola has moulded them fantastically well and the team plays with style and a flourish.

It would be great to see Zola back as a Premier League manager having had a small taste of it but Brucie is one of the game's great characters as well.

He never knew when he was beaten as a player and the same is true of him as a manager; there is no such thing as a lost cause in his book and, on a personal level, I like him a lot.

Jeff's Gem of the Week

There are a couple of contenders this week with Liverpool winning 6-0 at Newcastle and Aston Villa putting six past Sunderland. While Christian Benteke got all of the headlines at Villa Park, how good was Matt Lowton? At the start of the season I told to the Soccer Saturday boys to look out for him because he's a young, talented, attacking full-back and they all scoffed (as they usually do at anything I say) but it's fair to say that's no longer the case.

But this week's 'Gem of the Week' is not a performance by a team or a player, but it is by a group of supporters - my lot at Hartlepool. Now I know that fans turn up in fancy dress at football grounds up and down the country but Hartlepool co-ordinate it like no-one else; this year they travelled to Crawley en masse dressed as penguins and the photos of them on the tube and in the bars of London are absolutely terrific.

As I was flying out to Barcelona earlier this week, I was stopped by a member of staff at Gatwick who is a Crawley fan and was at the game. He told me that halfway through the game the penguins en masse burst into a chorus of 'I believe I can fly' and that it just brought the house down; the Hartlepool supporters received a standing ovation from the Crawley fans for their efforts.

This particular fan also told me the atmosphere between the two sets of fans made it the best game he and his son had ever been to. I'm hoping that the Hartlepool fans will be in fancy dress at the end of next season celebrating promotion back to League One.

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Readers' Comments

I

worry about these types of conclusions on a teams brilliance when it was very clear that Argentina had 4 chances where they really should have scored and on chances alone then it would have been the more pragmatic Argentinians who would be the best in the world. I like the Germany team but this just shows that even with planning it relies on a great deal of luck and finding your opponents at just the right time.

dryice
Reward At Last For Years Of Careful Planning

W

e all know the British public don't have the patience to plan for 14 years. No chance. As soon as our young players don't win the world cup they get harrassed and abused to the point of mental breakdown. No, England likes to react to failure by sacking the manager and tearing up their best laid plans in favour of something shiny and new to keep the knee jerkers happy.

HarryBoulton
Reward At Last For Years Of Careful Planning

G

lad Messi was player of the tournament, there was no-one more deserving. Except Robben. And James Rodriguez. Or Muller and half the Germany team etc etc

sailingmagpie
Golden Ball award for Messi

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