THE COUNTRY’S LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE WINTER OLYMPICS CONTINUED THIS WEEK, AS TWO FURTHER MEDALS ENSURED THE JOINT-BEST RETURN OF ALL TIME FOR TEAM GB. ELSEWHERE, THERE WAS SOME HIGH QUALITY FA CUP AND CHAMPIONS LEAGUE ACTION, PLUS FORMULA 1 TESTING AND SIX NATIONS UPDATES.
Last week brought medals for team GB through the fantastic exploits of Jenny Jones and Lizzy Yarnold, and this week saw further success in both the men’s and women’s curling competitions. Both sides had been expected to make it to the semi-finals after strong starts in the round robin stage, and the women did so with relative ease. Defeat in their final group game against Denmark, when victory seemed a mere formality, resulted in Eve Muirhead’s side having to face Canada in Wednesday’s semi-final. A 6-4 loss in that fixture meant they would play Switzerland in the bronze medal match, and Muirhead led from the front as she won the game for GB off the final stone of the match, giving the side a 6-5 victory, and the country’s first medal in the sport since 2002.
The men, skippered by Dave Murdoch,put the GB fans through a whole range of emotions as they seemed nailed on to get a spot in the last four, only to lose their final three round robin matches and end up having to playoff against Norway for their chance to play Sweden in the semis. Murdoch, like Muirhead, proved to be inspirational, winning two points in the final end to snatch a 6-5 win for GB. Despite the Swedes winning the group stage with just one loss, it was a sense of déjà vu for Britain as Murdoch once again earned his side two points in the final end to progress to the final, and guarantee at least a silver medal.
The final with Canada proved to be incredibly one-sided. Canada raced to a 2-0 lead after the first end, and extended this to 6-1 after four, making Britain’s quest for the gold incredibly difficult. Another point secured by the Canadians in the eighth frame moved them into a nine points to three lead, and Murdoch decided then that enough was enough and forfeited the final two ends to hand Canada victory. However, a silver and a bronze represent incredible achievements, and I must pass on my congratulations, as I’m sure millions of people around the country do, to Dave Murdoch, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews, Michael Goodfellow, Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams and Claire Hamilton for their success.
However, there was further heartbreak for speed skater Elise Christie as she was penalised for the third different competition during these Games, having been adjudged to have caused a crash in her semi-final, which looks to have been an incredibly harsh decision. Elsewhere, double Olympic biathlete champion Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle has been sent home for failing a drugs test.
The past seven days have seen action from two different cup competitions. Last weekend brought fifth round FA Cup action, and as is so often with this competition, the games didn’t disappoint. There were two mouthwatering ties played out between the top four sides in the Premier League. On Saturday, Manchester City administered revenge on Chelsea for their recent loss in the league as they won 2-0 against Jose Mourinho’s men at the Etihad with strikes from Stevan Jovetic and Samir Nasri doing the damage.
In the other big tie, Arsenal faced Liverpool at the Emirates, just a week after losing 5-1 to the same opposition. However, there was to be no repeat of that scoreline as the Gunners recorded a 2-1 victory to seal their place in the quarter-finals.
The draw for the quarter-finals threw up some potentially mouthwatering fixtures. with Arsenal to host Everton at the Emirates, whilst Wigan, fresh from beating Cardiff, face an away trip to Manchester City in a repeat of last season’s final. Should Sheffield Wednesday overcome Charlton in their postponed tie, their reward would be a trip to city rivals Sheffield United, who are the lowest-ranked side left in the competition, and in the final tie, Gus Poyet could take his Sunderland side back to Brighton, who he was sacked by in controversial fashion last summer. These matches will be played over the weekend of the 8th and 9th of March.
City and Arsenal were also in midweek action as the Champions League returned from its Christmas break. The Citizens faced a tricky home tie against Barcelona on Tuesday night, but started well and put in a satisfactory performance during the opening 45 minutes. However, ten minutes into the second half, Martin Demichelis brought down Lionel Messi when the striker was through on goal, earning a red card for the defender. A penalty was also given, despite the initial contact being made outside the box, but Messi calmly converted it. A second goal from Dani Alves sealed a comfortable win for the Catalan side, and City have it all to do in the return leg in Spain on March 12th.
The Gunners also had a tough draw, as they came up against current European champions Bayern Munich. In a game in which they knew they would have limited chances, Mesut Ozil had a penalty saved by Manuel Neuer before a game-changing moment came in the 37th minute when Arsenal keeper Wojciech Szczesny was sent off for bringing down Arjen Robben in the penalty area. Despite David Alaba hitting the post, Bayern dominated the remainder of the game, and goals from Toni Kroos and Thomas Müller secured victory for the away side, who look likely to be in the quarter-finals.
Meanwhile, the other two ties played during the week also resulted in away wins. On Tuesday, Atletico Madrid continued their impressive European campaign with a 1-0 win in the San Siro against AC Milan, before Zlatan Ibrahimovic inspired Paris Saint-Germain to a 4-0 thrashing over Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday, with the Swede scoring a brace.
In the Europa League on Thursday night, Swansea produced a magnificent performance against Italian giants Napoli, drawing 0-0 with Rafa Benitez’s side at the Liberty Stadium. However, it was not such a successful night for Tottenham, as they suffered a 1-0 defeat away to Ukrainian outfit FC Dnipro. Spurs boss Tim Sherwood described the playing surface as a disgrace as a penalty from Yevhen Konoplyanka won the game for the home side, and means that Spurs have it all to do in the second leg next week.
Elsewhere in the footballing world, Wayne Rooney signed a new five-and-a-half year contract with Manchester United, worth a staggering £300,000 a week, while Felix Magath became Fulham’s third manager of the season, replacing Rene Meulensteen at Craven Cottage.
In Friday’s Six Nations match, Wales ended France’s unbeaten start to this year’s competition by producing a brilliant performance on a sodden Millennium Stadium pitch to win 27-6. Just five minutes in, George North capitalised on a collision between two French players to score a try, and five penalties from Leigh Halfpenny ensured a 20-6 lead at the interval. A further converted try by Sam Warburton sealed the win and pushed Wales back into contention to earn a third consecutive Six Nations crown. For a round up of Italy vs Scotland and England vs Ireland, see next week’s article.
In the cricketing world, Brendan McCullum became the first New Zealander to score a triple century in a Test match. The captain batted for nearly 11 hours to score 302 for his side, and also shared a Test-record sixth-wicket stand of 352 with BJ Watling, as the duo helped New Zealand to a draw in the second Test with India, winning the series 1-0 as a result.
Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes made a great start the second pre-season testing of Formula 1 in Bahrain. Hamilton and teammate Nico Rosberg both set quick times during the practice sessions, whilst Jenson Button also looked quick for McLaren. However, it was not as successful for current champions Red Bull, who have had a series of problems with the cars in both Jerez and Bahrain, whilst Ferrari also struggled for consistency. Red Bull boss Christian Horner has been so impressed by Mercedes, he has backed them to be the favourites for this year’s championship.