Dark Night Must Not Eclipse Black Stars Destiny

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Muntari (left) and Boateng (right) have been sent home in disgrace from the World Cup in Brazil

As the group stages wind to a close, tomorrow offers us the chance to pause for breath and recall our favourite World cup moments so far. Barring England’s meek exit, and the pending punishment awaiting Luis Suarez, Brazil 2014 has been a roaring success, with unexpected heroes Joel Campbell of Costa Rica and Greece’s Georgios Samaras emerging to add extra colour to the Copacabana.

But while the Brazilians themselves are renowned for rhythm and dance, it is the synchronised steps of Ghanaians in celebration of Asamoah Gyan giving them the lead against Germany last Saturday that will be remembered as fondly as any seaside samba this summer. 

 

Image The joyous moment was short-lived; Miroslav Klose levelled, equaling the all-time record for goals at World Cup finals, and with news today of Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng being sent home in disgrace, those who line up to face Portugal in the must-win match in Brasília later this afternoon will be forgiven for feeling they are dancing to a swan song at the Estádio Nacional.

Irrespective of his indiscretions, Muntari would have been unavailable for selection against the Portuguese, following two bookings in the Black Cats’ opening matches, but with reports emerging of the former Portsmouth midfielder’s row and subsequent slap of Moses Armah Parker, a member of the side’s Management Committee, manager James Kwesi Appiah has acted swiftly to send the 29-year-old home.

If USA were not already in the box seat for Group G qualification, three points better off with a superior goal difference, they most certainly are now, as both Muntari and Boateng, who joined his former AC Milan teammate on the flight back to Accra following a training ground bust-up with Appiah, are two senior squad members capable of individual brilliance.

Muntari, who is believed to have run around the team’s hotel holding a broken glass aloft, has shown his philanthropic side already this summer, spotted handing out money to poor children on the streets of Brazil, but the lesser lights of Christian Atsu, Andre Ayew and the lethal Gyan should not show equal charity to Ronaldo and company today (kick-off 5pm, BBC) when it is they who have made the bigger impact than their more illustrious but sullied comrades. 

Uruguay Can Emulate The Class of 1950

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Spear-headed by Suarez and Cavani, Uruguay can repeat World Cup glory on Brazilian soil 64 years on

There is one country more than any that has fond memories of a World Cup tournament in Brazil.

Uruguay stunned their South American counterparts in the 1950 World Cup final with victory in Rio’s Estádio do Maracanã, and five-time winners Brazil have the burden of a host nation’s expectations weighing on their shoulders again this summer.

With England and Italy flattering to deceive in warm-up matches, and beatable Group C opponents waiting in the last 16, Uruguay should target a likely quarter-final date with Brazil as a minimum requirement.

While the journey for many countries would end when faced with a daunting encounter against Luiz Felipe Scolari’s fancied side, such a prospect holds no fears for a nation that has previously overcome such a hurdle.

Oscar Tabaraz’s team reached the semi-finals in 2010 and will fancy their chances of going further with the World Cup now to be played on their home continent. No longer the surprise package of major tournaments, Uruguay added the 2011 Copa America title to their fourth-placed finish in South Africa four years ago.

Detractors will point to their barren run of form endured during qualifying for Brazil, finishing fifth in the CONMEBOL group, and needing to overcome Jordan in a two-legged play-off to book their place at the finals.

The fitness of Liverpool striker Luis Suarez has also been a bone of contention for pundits looking at the side currently seventh in the FIFA World rankings as a potential winner from outside of the hosts, holders Spain and Argentina.

But the presence of Paris Saint-Germain striker Edinson Cavani alone is enough to strike fear into the very best of defences. The former Napoli forward scored 22 goals in his debut season in France, but signaled his reluctance to play second fiddle to Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the French capital.

Performing well at the World Cup could pave the way to another lucrative move for the man who scored six goals in qualifiers – with Uruguay standing to benefit from a striker desperate to attract suitors.

Cavani and company face Costa Rica first on June 14, meaning that talisman Suarez may well be rested ahead of the two games which are likely to decide who makes it through to the knock-out stages.

While last season’s Premier league top scorer battles to shake of his knee concerns, there are other factors playing in their favour. The South Americans have already experienced the temperatures of Brazil, along with group rivals Italy, who both played in last year’s Confederations Cup, finishing fourth behind the Italians in third.

While sterner tests await this summer, La Celeste [the sky blue one] will take heart from two clean sheets from tests against Northern Ireland (1-0) and Slovenia (2-0) in the past fortnight.

Beneficial conditions coupled with a growing list of injuries to some of the leading lights in the modern game make Uruguay a strongly appealing outside tip to lift the trophy in the Maracana once more come July 13. 

Arsenal Ladies 2-0 Everton Ladies

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Arsenal forward Danielle Carter was a constant menace to the Everton defence in Sunday’s FA Women’s Cup Final

Arsenal Ladies put their dire league form aside to comfortably overcome Everton and replicate the success of the men’s team by lifting the FA Women’s Cup at Stadium: MK on Sunday.

Goals from inspirational captain Kelly Smith and Yukari Kinga helped the Gunners to their 13th FA Women’s Cup success, and with it show green shoots of recovery following the ignominy of three straight home defeats in Head Coach Shelley Kerr’s swansong for the club.

The margin of victory may have been greater for the north Londoners were it not for the heroics of Toffees’ stopper Rachel Brown-Finnis, but retaining the cup represents the perfect platform on which to build for the incoming management team at Meadow Park.

Out-going Kerr, who announced her pending resignation last week, spoke in her programme notes of the need for patience as the newly assembled squad looks to gel on the pitch, but Arsenal barely resembled the side currently propping up the FA WSL table with a solitary point from four games.

Everton, in truth, have fared little better this season under manager Andy Spence; a point and one place better off, the Toffees lacked penetration in an insipid performance from which only striker Nikita Parris emerged with any credit.

Less than 24 hours after Wembley hosted a pulsating night of British boxing, these two heavyweights of the women’s national game came to blows, and it was England’s all-time record goal scorer Smith who delivered the killer punches, to crown an FA Cup and FA Women’s Cup double for Arsenal for the first time since 1998.

Serenaded prior to kick-off by the voice of X-factor 2013 finalist Luke Friend, it was Everton who wasted little time in hitting the right notes in front of the 15,000 in attendance as Parris blazed over when allowed space on the right after three minutes.

The Gunners, who reached the final with a devastating illustration of profound attacking flair in the 5-3 win over Chelsea last month, responded well to the early pressure, and were it not for smart goalkeeping by stopper Brown-Finnis at the feet of Danielle Carter, they might have been ahead.

Brown-Finnis was well beaten moments later, however, as Rachel Yankey’s stunning 25-yard shot cannoned off her right post. As Arsenal looked to convert their dominance into a slender lead, Smith then dragged a shot wide having been picked out in the left channel by the busy Shinobu Ohno.

It was a warning sign the Toffees failed to heed as just shy of the quarter-hour mark, Arsenal were deservedly in front.

Carter, who was excellent in the first half, was impeded on the edge of the box by Everton full-back Alex Greenwood, following a determined surging run, and from the ensuing free-kick, Smith curled the ball left-footed beyond the outstretched Brown-Finnis to record her sixth goal in this year’s competition.

In a first half that the Gunners went on to dominate, opponents Everton’s best chance of an equaliser fell to Millie Turner, but she could only direct her near-post header over. Indeed, better luck in the final third might have increased Arsenal’s lead; Carter again got the better of Greenwood down the right, and having cut inside, saw her left-foot graze the right-hand post.

Japanese starlet Ohno then saw her right-footed free-kick kept out by a combination of goalkeeper and defender, and on the stroke of half time, the constant threat Carter nearly scrambled a close-range effort over the line, but the ball somehow stayed out.

Head Coach Kerr would have been delighted with her team’s first-half efforts, and Smith showcased her undoubted ability minutes into the restart, as a trademark left-foot shot bounced off the Everton woodwork for a third time.

Determined to avenge the 2010 final defeat to the Toffees in which the Merseysiders prevailed 3-2 after extra time, Arsenal doubled their lead on the hour-mark as the onrushing Yukari Kinga was found by Smith, and her right-foot shot was placed low inside Brown-Finnis’ right-hand post.

Parris came closest to halving the deficit with 12 minutes remaining, but her header flashed agonisingly wide of Emma Bryne’s left post, but Casey Stoney missed a more presentable opportunity at the other end, as the Reds’ defender lifted a header over from 6 yards.

Carter was denied the goal her performance deserved in injury time, again by the post, but the victory was Arsenal’s, as they quashed recent anxieties over their pedigree in what they hope will now kick-start their league campaign.