Ball Watching

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 May, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 May, 2001, 12:00am

The way these people tease us. It seems that all Hong Kong's soccer viewers will be able to see the European Cup final after all, thanks to terrestrial television. It might seem a small consolation but it is better than nothing.

TVB has grabbed the rights to the showpiece match of the European club season, just when we were beginning to worry. After the debacle of CABLE and ESPN's high-powered spat 18 months ago we have been deprived of live Champions' League action of any description through regular channels.

Of course, terrestrial TV came to the rescue in this fashion last year, too, buying the rights to the final. That proved a worthwhile investment as Real Madrid and Valencia served up not too shabby a game.

There was also the slightly strange intervention of iTV, the interactive channel owned by what is now PCCW. Last season they showed one leg of the Barcelona v Valencia semi-final on a pay-per-view basis but not live.

Also STAR Sports have thrown us crumbs of consolation this campaign by showing one match per week at the weekend, i.e. three or four days after it was played. (Although no such match is listed this weekend)

Otherwise it has been a case of scavenging for the odd scrap of footage on news bulletins. Fort those essential, must-see live games there are always the bars and clubs with more exotic satellite receptions. But you don't want every game to involve a major trek. Television is primarily a home entertainment and the domestic couch potatoes are being let down badly here in regard to live European Cup action.

TVB have also acquired the UEFA Cup final, which will be between Liverpool and Alaves, and the European Super Cup which is a bit of a silly one really, a sort of European charity shield between the winners of the European Cup and the UEFA Cup.

The deal entitles TB to show the next two UEFA Cup finals as well as this season's, plus the next two Super Cups. But for the European Cup they will have to negotiate again next year. By then one would hope that some better alternative was in place with either one of the newly licensed pay-TV firms or CABLE coming to terms with ESPN to show Champions' League games next season.

There are only two live Premier League matches this week but both are promising games. The battle for second and third places is getting intense and tomorrow's match from Highbury between Arsenal and Leeds will have a great bearing on the outcome.

Arsenal currently hold second place which guarantees an automatic Champions' League place next season. Leeds are fourth, four points behind the Gunners. A win for Leeds would set things up for a nail-biting final two matches. An Arsenal victory would virtually assure the Londoners of second place.

Meanwhile, Liverpool would probably be hoping for a draw as they lead leeds by goal difference only. When the sides met at Elland Road in November a solitary Olivier Dacourt goal settled the game in Leeds' favour.

The other side still in the picture for the third place are Ipswich. The remarkable success story of the Premier season, George Burley's team slipped to fifth last Monday when they lost 2-1 at Charlton but they are still level with Leeds and Liverpool even though they have played one match more.

That game at The Valley was shown live on CABLE and proved what good quality football is not the preserve of so-called big clubs. Charlton and Ipswich produced some great passing movements in a very entertaining match.

The fact that Charlton are eighth in the table and in the running for a UEFA Cup place is also remarkable, considering that both these clubs were promoted last season. Their success contrasts sharply with that of the third promoted team, Manchester City, who are hanging on to Premiership survival by the enamel of their fingernails. They need wins in their final two matches and to hope that other teams above them lose points. Unfortunately for them, City face Ipswich away in Monday night's lie match on CABLE. It's a scheduling quirk that has pitted Ipswich against both fellow promoted teams in the space of a week.

But if Burley's side play to their potential it's difficult to see them not furthering their European ambitions at City's expense.

When they met in November at Maine Road Ipswich won 3-2 with two goals from Marcus Stewart and one from Herman Hreidarsson. City came close to pulling off a fightback but scores by Paulo Wanchope and Steve Howey were not enough. Ipswich also beat City at Maine Road in a League Cup fifth-round replay, the 2-1 extra-time win coming through goals by Matt Holland and Mark Venus after Paul Dickov put City into the lead.

The big match from Italy this weekend sees first take on second as leaders AS Roma visit Turin to face Juventus. Roma played out a dramatic 2-2 draw with champions, city rivals and third-placed side Lazio in a game shown live on CABLE last week. Lucas Castroman struck a brilliant late equaliser for Lazio there. But considering Juventus had been held 1-1 by Lecce earlier in the day, after Filippo Inzaghi missed a late penalty, Fabio Capello's men knew it could have been worse.

There is a also a big game from Germany with fourth-placed Bayer Leverkusen at home to second-placed Bayern Munich. The Bundesliga continues to be one of the most competitive in Europe. Still four points separate the top five clubs. Bayern are level on points with leaders Schalke. Leverkusen are three points back, level on points with third-placed Borussia Dortmund. Bayern are coming off a great win in Madrid but they have had difficulty in following up their excellent European form at home.

Leverkusen, meanwhile, have slipped a little in their campaign in recent weeks and manager Bertie Vogts has been talking about leaving Germany because he feels his talents are not appreciated there.