Neal Collins

Benni’s back in business

In the end, all it took was a quick stop-off on the way home from not-so-sunny Scotland to sort out the Benni McCarthy problem once and for all. After Bafana Bafana had lost 1-0 a fortnight ago in Aberdeen, somewhere close to the arctic circle, coach Carlos Alberto Parreira did what World Cup-winning coaches do when they want their nation's best striker to play for them. He asked him.

Africans put the boot in

Never before has the Premier League season been so dominated by African players as we head towards the second weekend after the biggest-spending, most-hyped pre-season on record. Prepare for more. It doesn't matter where you look this weekend.

Catt and The Axe keep SA flag flying

Two very different South Africans have grabbed the headlines in Britain this week. One is at the peak of his career, enjoying his first goal in England and is responsible for unfashionable Blackburn Rovers becoming the first side into the last four of the FA Cup. The second admits to old legs and ''feeling like a grandad''.

Benni poised for superstar status

Benni McCarthy, the boy from the backstreets of Cape Town, is the toast of English football this week after two dramatic interventions changed the face of the game. Expect more of the same on Sunday at Ewood Park, where he should fire Blackburn Rovers into the FA Cup semifinals.

UK teams looking good in Europe

Warning: you might get a severe case of déjà vu reading this. It's not my fault. Two weeks ago, the Champions League featured Chelsea seeing off Barcelona, Liverpool sinking Bordeaux, Manchester United too good for not-so-wonderful Copenhagen, Celtic shocking Benfica and Arsenal coming home from freezing Moscow with their diminished tails between their legs.

Hits and myths of Premiership pre-season

David Beckham for Newcastle. Ruud van Nistelrooy ditto. Patrick Vieira to Manchester United. The whole Italian team headed for Chelsea. Steve McClaren to rejuvenate England. And most bizarrely of all: Wembley to be ready for the next FA Cup final.

Charity Shield: No gentle introduction to the season

The Charity Shield was once a rousing curtain-raiser to a long winter in the mud. These days, rechristened the Community Shield for tax and fraud purposes, we head for the traditional clash between the league champions and FA Cup winners, with Liverpool having already played in Europe -- and with winter and mud just a distant memory after the driest, hottest British summer ever.

Bolton’s good Fortune

Cristiano Ronaldo's words to Wayne Rooney before the Portugal versus England World Cup quarterfinal were not ''I'm going to get you sent off'', but, as Rooney reveals in his new biography: ''Where's Quinton Fortune going?'' That's how much the Manchester United players care about the South African who was never given quite enough starts at Old Trafford. And now we know. Bolton Wanderers.

It’s Togo to go

You can't rule out Germany, and Poland gave England a run for their money in qualifying. Sweden are solid at the back, and Trinidad and Tobago could be the joke side of the tournament. The Netherlands had the best qualification record in Europe this time. Neal Collins looks at the chances of all 32 teams in the Soccer World Cup.

Gunners silenced

London doesn't take kindly to defeat. And Londoners certainly don't take kindly to referees who repeatedly sin against their clubs. Arsenal's brave but ultimately fruitless 2-1 failure against Barcelona in Paris in the Champions League final on Wednesday night will be picked apart for weeks to come.

A few mad weeks for English soccer

What a crazy week in prospect. West Ham ready to lose hopelessly to a superior Liverpool in the FA Cup final on Saturday while Wembley lies unfinished. Arsenal ready to lose hopelessly to a superior Barcelona in Paris on Wednesday while their best player, Thierry Henry, considers a future in Catalan stripes.

Premiership ends with a decided whimper

Ah, the final Sunday of the Premiership. Glorious spring. This year, sadly, there's not that much to play for. Chelsea have romped off with the title, paying a mere £600-million for the privilege of becoming the second side ever to retain the Premiership. Sunderland have finished bottom by a record-breaking margin, even if they get something at Villa Park on Sunday.

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