Champions League Draw – Goalkeeping

Now we know:
Wed 15/9/10 SC Braga (h)
Tues 28/9/10 FK Partizan Belgrade (a)
Tues 19/10/10 Shakhtar Donetsk (h)
Wed 3/1110  Shakhtar Donetsk (a)
Tues 23/11/10 SC Braga (a)
Wed 8/1210 FK Partizan Belgrade (h)
For those lucky enough to be going on a European tour – I wish, the bank manager won’t stand for it. He’s about to take out a contract on me if I don’t do something about my overdraft – Braga is just north of Oporto in northern Portugal. If the flights to Oporto are full you can fly to Santiago de Compostela, Vigo or La Coruña in Galicia in northern Spain, rent a car and drive. Alternatively there are train train and coach services from Galicia across the border in Portugal. There are also fast trains from Lisbon to Braga.
As it happens I couldn’t have done the trip anyway as I’m in Canada on business that week. I shall also be missing the home derby against the Forces of Darkness. Doh! I won’t even able to watch the SC Braga game on the box. I shall be on a train from Ottawa to Toronto at the time. Doh again! Back to the Champions League draw. Partizan Belgrade will be no pushovers, neither will Shakhtar Donetsk. They have a bright, shiny new 50,000 capacity stadium, the Donbass Arena which opened last year. No more having to relieve oneself in the field behind the away end at half-time. This will be a considerable relief (pun absolutely intended), particularly for the distaff side of the travelling Gooner Nation!
The new ground and a cosmopolitan squad comes courtesy of club owner, local oligarch Rinat Akhmetov. The American magazine Forbes estimates his net worth at US$10.9 billion (just over £7 billion). He succeeded previous owner Akhat Bragin who expired courtesy of a high-speed lead vaccination to the back of the head in 1995. The coup de grace was administered at the ground. Bragin was said by some to have been one of the capi of the Ukrainian mafia. Such occurrences are all too frequent in the nations of the former USSR unfortunately. The world over mafia-style gangs tend to adopt plata o plomo  as their business motto (money or lead, meaning take either the cash on offer or a bullet in the brain) as the Mexican drug cartels say.
Employing large sacks of €500 notes Shakthar has assembled a squad of international class players, including a large Brazilian colony. They won the UEFA Cup two seasons ago, the last before the competition was re-named to become the Europa League.
Partizan Belgrade has always tended to live in the shadow of its more illustrious city neighbours and rivals, Red Star Belgrade. They aren’t to be taken lightly however. SC Braga too has moved up the pecking order recently, challenging the local power trio of Benfica, Sporting Lisbon and FC Porto. Their ground O Estádio AXA is one of the most unusual and picturesque in Europe, being carved out of a quarry. It was built for the 2004 European Championships and holds 30,154. Braga is a pleasant city of around 180,000 inhabitants. Well worth a visit if you can spare the time and brass.
Belgrade is also an interesting place but I’d be wary of the ultra-nationalist fringe which is small but still substantial. Brits aren’t at all popular amongst this group for our part in the various wars during the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. With all due respect to the good people of Donetsk, it doesn’t have a great deal to commend it to the visitor I’m afraid. Getting there under one’s own steam is also a bit of a trek. There aren’t any direct flights there from Blighty. You have to fly via Kyiv.
One final note on the Champions League. I hope and believe that Eduardo will get the reception he merits both here and out in Ukraine from the Gooner Nation. He always gave all he had to give for us, both pre and post his horrific injury. His goals against Cardiff City in the FA Cup at the Grove, along with many others will remain happy memories. I also hope he leaves his shooting boots at home if he plays against us in either of the forthcoming games of course!
On another subject, I continue to be worried by our defending. We lack tactical discipline and concentration when we don’t have the ball. We can often get away with this in the Premier League but it can find us out in the Champions League as we’ve discovered. We just have to work far harder on our shape, co-ordination and concentration when not in possession. Also on our ball retention. The opposition simply can’t score if they don’t have the ball. Easy to say, harder to do in practice, but it can be done.
On that note, a welcome to our new central defender Sébastien Squillaci. A long and fruitful career in the centre of the known football universe mate. Bon chance! There are rumours by the hour in the media and blogosphere regarding a new goalkeeper or not. I have nothing new or useful to add, except to say that I continue to believe that a top drawer goalie is essential.
Keep the faith!

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