Weblog: The football punter

I won't be putting a line through Confeds Cup

YOU know you’ve a seriously major international football tournament on your hands when the opening fixture features, er, New Zealand.

Twenty-five years after Saudi Arabia hosted the first Confederations Cup (it was called something else back then), this utter after-thought of an event pops up again to the annoyance of any footballers who might have fancied a summer holiday.

And first up it’s hosts Russia against New Zealand.

Eight countries involved, three from Europe, and unsurprisingly it’s Portugal and Germany, European and world champs respectively, who dispute favouritism.

However, while the Portuguese have headed for Russia all guns blazing with a squad packed with world-class superstars plus Bruno Alves, the Germans have opted for a strictly third-string approach.

Household names like Manuel Neuer, Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller, Mats Hummels, Toni Kroos and so on, are back in their households leaving a fledgling German outfit flying the flag.

I’m going to put a line through them on grounds of experience having already put lines through Cameroon, the Kiwis and the Aussies, the latter just because I like putting a line through their name.

In fact the Aussies must be wondering why they’ve bothered with this. Having travelled halfway around the world to get there, they’ve now got to travel halfway round Russia for their three group matches which are played in Sochi (extreme south), St Petersburg (extreme north) and Moscow (somewhere in the middle).

I quite like the look of Mexico as an each-way option. Unbeaten in a World Cup qualifying section which continues to improve, they’ve flown into Russia with a full-strength squad and a lot of their key men play their football in Europe.

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Match in Focus

19:45 Sa 26May

Real Madrid v Liverpool

Home Win Draw Away Win
Key stats
  • Real have won just one of their last four Champions League meetings against English opposition
Expert verdict
Real Madrid have lifted the Champions League in three of the past four seasons but they could struggle to retain their crown against a lively Liverpool. Real have been the dominant force in Europe, with last year’s 4-1 thumping of Juventus in the final in Cardiff showcasing their superiority. However, Zinedine Zidane’s men have not bumped into a front three like the Reds’ often - Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane have netted 29 of their 40 Champions League goals this season - and they are vulnerable to the counter-attack.