Heineken Cup and MLB Playoffs Highlight Stellar Sporting Weekend
A packed weekend of sport delivers plenty of choices this week for both the armchair and pitch-side viewer in the UK and around the world.
Although there has been so much furore about the Ukrainian FA’s decision to sell the media rights to Saturday’s World Cup qualifier with England to a broadcaster with no intention of making the content free-to-air, there is so much else going on (and for England fans, with the team already qualified for the World Cup, much less to care about in that particular match) that the loss of coverage other than over the Internet is barely a problem.
For those desperate to know what’s going on, commentary will still be available on the radio (Five Live).
You can, though, pick up Russia’s vital match with Germany on ESPN. The winner is likely to qualify automatically for the Finals, whilst the loser faces a play-off. A draw favours Germany, although they do have the tougher final fixture (against Finland) in midweek.
On the same channel, Denmark take on Sweden later—A win for Denmark guarantees their place in South Africa, but a Swedish victory opens the door for them and possibly for Portugal too, if they beat Hungary.
The sporting weekend gets off to a strong, healthy, start though with the Heineken Cup. The northern hemisphere’s premier club Rugby Union competition gets under way tonight (Friday) with defending champions Leinster taking on London Irish in Pool Six, which also includes the (Llanelli) Scarlets and French side Brive.
The toughest group might be Pool Five though, with Toulouse, Sale Sharks, and Cardiff Blues potentially difficult opposition for Harlequins, controversially allowed their place in the competition despite "blood-gate". The Blues and Quins play Saturday lunchtime (Sky Sports).
Taking place all weekend, the Major League Baseball Divisional Series’ continue this evening, as well. The second game of the Minnesota Twins/New York Yankees matchup (ESPN America) looks a cracker, with the Twins needing to get back into the series, and Boston and the Los Angeles Angels also go at it in the late, late, night slot on the arguably stronger American League side of things.
In the National League, Philadelphia and Colorado split the first two games, and the wild-card Rockies are strong at home, so they might be favourites to edge past the reigning World Series champions. The winners will play either Joe Torre’s Los Angeles Dodgers or the 2006 champions, the St Louis Cardinals.
On Saturday, whilst the Premier League and Championship have the week off because of the International fixtures, Charlton will hope to take advantage of Leeds United’s inactivity and join them at the top of League One, whilst the FA Cup gets to the third qualifying round and the minnows of English football start to think about potential ties with former Premiership clubs like Southampton, Norwich and the aforementioned Charlton and Leeds in the First Round proper.
There’s plenty of motorsport from the United States on view this weekend as well, with the NASCAR Sprint Cup on Sunday evening getting towards the final stages of the Chase—Former F1 driver Juan-Pablo Montoya is still in a good position despite not yet having taken a victory this year, but he will have to contend with veterans Jimmie Johnson (winner of the last three titles), Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin, all driving for the dominant Hendrick Motorsport organisation.
Saturday sees the finale of the IndyCar season as well, with three drivers still in the hunt for the title. Scotland’s Dario Franchitti, New Zealander Scott Dixon and Aussie Ryan Briscoe are separated by just eight points heading into the final race at the Homestead, Miami oval track (Saturday night, Sky Sports).
Franchitti (2007) and Dixon (2003 and 2008), teammates at Ganassi Racing have both won the title before whilst Briscoe, driving for Penske seeks his first championship.
In the NFL, the intriguing match of the weekend sees Josh McDaniels’ surprisingly unbeaten Denver Broncos take on the New England Patriots. McDaniels took over the Head Coaching job at Denver this year after previous working for the Patriots.
However, the matches on Sky look less appetising this week. The later game between Atlanta and San Francisco certainly a more competitive contest than Cincinnati’s visit to the defensively-strong Baltimore Ravens will be.
Instead, you might want to catch the final of the Snooker Grand Prix (BBC2). However, with Ronnie O’Sullivan out of the event before the quarter finals, the favourites for the title are now the less-exciting John Higgins, Mark Williams and Peter Ebdon.
In cricket, the long-hyped Champions Trophy in India gets busy on Eurosport and Eurosport 2. Cape Cobras’ opening day victory over the Bangalore Royal Challengers may not have pleased the home fans, but there’s lots more cricket before the tournament comes to a climax. Saturday sees the Cobras play their second game, against Otago, whilst Somerset play the Deccan Chargers in Hyderabad.
Having started with Rugby Union, we finish with Rugby League. Whatever your feelings about Super League’s play-off system being largely redundant (and for the fourth successive year the Grand Final is being played between the teams that finished first and second in the league table), the end-of-season extravaganza at Old Trafford does at least provide a fitting and dramatic end to the season.
For a third straight year, Leeds Rhinos and St Helens face off, with St Helens looking to overturn the results from the last two Grand Finals when, having won the league they lost to the Rhinos in the Grand Final. If you can’t catch the match on Sky on Saturday afternoon, it is certainly worth catching the highlights on BBC2 at lunchtime on Sunday.
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