THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE RETURNED FROM ITS HALF-TERM BREAK WITH SOME BRILLIANT ACTION, WHILST THERE WAS ALSO MUCH TO TALK ABOUT IN THE FA CUP. ELSEWHERE, THE SIX NATIONS IS BUILDING UP TO A GRAND FINALE, AND THERE HAS BEEN FURTHER JOY FOR TEAM GB IN SOCHI.
The weekend brought with it the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. In Saturday’s early kickoff, Arsenal hosted Everton at the Emirates in a game that proved to be action-packed. Despite being fairly even for much of the game, three goals in the final 22 minutes gave Gunners a 4-1 win, with Olivier Giroud bagging a brace. The Gunners will now face Wigan in the semi-finals, after they shocked the footballing world by beating Manchester City 2-1 at the Etihad, in a repeat of last year’s famous “cupset”.
The other semi pairs Hull with Sheffield United. Hull brushed aside Sunderland in their last-eight tie, winning 3-0, with the Black Cats suffering elimination from both domestic cup competitions in just eight days. United are the first side from the third tier of English football to reach this stage since Wycombe in 2001. The Blades eased past Charlton, recording a 2-0 win.
The Champions League returned in midweek after the international break, with Arsenal in action again, this time against Bayern Munich in Germany. Trailing 2-0 from the first leg, the Gunners faced a tough challenge. Bayern controlled much of the game, but a spirited performance by the away side saw them get a 1-1 draw, but subsequently lose on aggregate.
Manchester City faced a similar challenge when they travelled to Barcelona with a two goal deficit from the first game. Similar to the tie in Manchester, City’s defending was their own undoing as Lionel Messi opened the scoring following a mistake by Joleon Lescott. After Pablo Zabaleta was sent off, Vincent Kompany scored a late equaliser to seemingly get a consolation draw, but Dani Alves struck a late winner to secure a 4-1 aggregate win.
Meanwhile, Alan Pardew was handed a seven-game ban by the FA for his headbutt on David Meyler, including a three-match stadium ban; Tottenham face an uphill task to remain in the Europa League following defeat to Benfica; and Atletico Madrid and Paris St Germain also reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
Week 4 of the competition began with four teams still in the mix, but by the end of the weekend, it had become a three-horse race. Ireland remain in pole position to reclaim the title after a thumping 46-7 win over the Italians in Dublin. The home side ran in seven tries in total, two coming from fly-half Jonathan Sexton, who scored a total of 17 points for his side in Brian O’Driscoll’s final home appearance before retirement. The centre became the most-capped player international of all time by playing, with 140 caps.
France remain in the hunt as well, as they struggled to a 19-17 victory against Scotland at Murrayfield. Despite an early 6-0 lead for the French, Scotland came roaring back with two quick tries to lead 14-6 at the interval. However, the away side showed their title credentials with a strong second half showing, managing to come through to win 19-17.
England ended Wales’s dreams of a third consecutive trophy with a brilliant 29-18 win at Twickenham. The home side were in control as early as the fourth minute when Danny Care scored a converted try. Another try from Luther Burrell before half-time and some good kicking from Owen Farrell in the second period kept the Welsh at arm’s length, despite six penalties from Leigh Halfpenny.
Next week pits Italy against England in the early game, with England ideally needing a win by a big margin to put pressure on the Irish. Next up Wales play a dead rubber with Scotland in front of their home fans at the Millennium Stadium, before the grand finale between France and Ireland in Paris.
The recent success of Team GB in the Winter Olympics in Sochi has rubbed off on our Paralympic team his week. After not winning a single medal in Vancouver four years ago, skier Jade Etherington made sure the side would not be disappointed this time around by securing a silver in the visually impaired downhill event along with guide Caroline Powell on Saturday.
Etherington’s medal had a snowball effect for the remainder of the week as Kelly Gallagher won the country’s first ever Paralympic gold two days later in the visually impaired Super G two days later, with Etherington picking up a bronze.
The 23-year-old’s storming start to the Games continued into Wednesday when she recorded a third medal in the slalom, albeit a silver rather than a gold to complete the set. Friday brought further success for Etherington and Powell, as they became the first British women to win four Paralympic medals, with that latest triumph being another silver in the super combined.
The weekend could bring more success for GB as the wheelchair curling team have reached the semi-finals stage, where they will face Russia, and Gallagher and Etherington are in action once again on Sunday morning when they compete in the giant slalom.
After their win in the One Day International series, England went into their Twenty20 series against the West Indies in good spirits. However in sunny Barbados, the tourists came unstuck in the shortest format of the sport, ultimately losing 2-1. In the first game, the Windies scored 170-3 from their overs, before England struggled to 143-9 as the home side spinners tore through the batting lineup.
Tuesday’s second game did not get much better for England, as the home side won the game by five wickets chasing 153, with Darren Sammy hitting a blistering 30 not out from just nine balls to secure the series. However, there was some good news in the final game on Friday, as Chris Jordan starred with bat and ball to help England scrape a five run win and a bit of confidence heading into the World Twenty20 which begins on Sunday.
The Oscar Pistorius trial has entered its second week. On Monday the judge banned live broadcasting of the post-mortem examination, but it emerged that Reeva Steenkamp was shot three times, once each in the head, arm and hip. Further witnesses confirmed the sprinter’s love for firearms, and then on Thursday Mr Pistorius almost threw up in court whilst graphic photos of the murder scene were shown. The trial will continue on Monday.
Andy Murray was in action in America this week, competing in the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells. The British number one came past Lukas Rosol in round 2 4-6 6-3 6-2 and was then forced to work hard against Jiri Vasely in the next round. However, the Scot came undone in the last-16, losing in three sets to Miles Raonic. Elsewhere in British tennis, this week brought the news that former British number one Elena Baltacha has been diagnosed with liver cancer.