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Archives for May 2011

Vieira remains the man for the big occasion

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Chris Bevan | 07:57 UK time, Friday, 13 May 2011

Manchester City's training ground, Carrington

Manchester City midfielder Patrick Vieira may be nearing the end of his illustrious career but the bad news for Stoke City fans is that he remains a man for the big occasion.

The veteran Frenchman has undisputedly been there, seen it and won it - you cannot argue with his haul of domestic trophies in England and Italy, or his World Cup and European Championship winners' medals with France, so he can speak with authority when he talks about what ending a 35-year trophy drought would mean for City.

It is something that he mentions frequently when he does the rounds in an improvised mixed zone at City's media day ahead of Saturday's FA Cup final against the Potters, joining David Silva, Yaya Toure and, eventually, Edin Dzeko to answer questions in a temporary marquee erected on one of their training pitches at their Carrington base.

While Toure and Silva held fort on the top tables, Vieira danced around the journalists on the edge of the tent, giving the whole occasion the air of a particularly surreal wedding. Dzeko played his part in the analogy too, keeping to the tradition of such events by arriving extremely late.

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FA Cup hurt lingers for Banks

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Chris Bevan | 10:09 UK time, Thursday, 12 May 2011

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England v Brazil highlights fom 1970 World Cup

He is a World Cup winner, famous for 'that' save to deny Pele and rightly recognised as one of the finest goalkeepers the game has ever seen, so Gordon Banks can look back on his playing days with relatively few regrets.

But, when the England legend takes his seat at Wembley for Saturday's FA Cup final, he will be hoping his beloved Stoke City can take care of some unfinished business from more than 40 years ago.

Banks held aloft the Jules Rimet trophy in 1966 but he never got his hands on the FA Cup, despite being within touching distance on several occasions.

He appeared in two finals for Leicester City, losing to Tottenham in 1961 and Manchester United in 1963, but it is being reminded of defeats by Arsenal in two semi-finals with the Potters in 1971 and 1972 that still makes him angry, four decades on.

The Gunners went on to lift the Cup and complete the double in '71 but, when I spoke to him this week, Banks was adamant that Stoke should have progressed instead. They led 2-1 at Hillsborough, deep into injury time, when a contentious corner led to a penalty and a last-gasp Peter Storey equaliser.

Banks remembers the incident vividly and his description of it provides a reminder that controversial refereeing decisions are not just a modern phenomenon.

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Russell Downing's long road to the top

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Chris Bevan | 22:37 UK time, Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Given how long he has waited for his moment in the sun, you could forgive Russell Downing if he pinches himself when he lines up with his Team Sky team-mates ahead of Saturday's team time-trial that starts this year's Giro D'Italia.

The Giro will be Downing's Grand Tour debut, at the grand old age of 32, and represents a "dream come true" for the amiable Yorkshireman. By the very nature of their sport, professional cyclists are used to slogging away for little or no reward, but Downing's road to the top of his sport has been particularly long and hard.

The current crop of talented young British riders, including the likes of Mark Cavendish and Downing's Sky team-mate Peter Kennaugh, have all come through British Cycling's Olympic Academy programme, something that did not exist when Downing was trying to make his name in the saddle.

Instead, he had to rely on his own personal support network and, crucially, his stubborn deternination to succeed. The latter has been apparent since he won his first race at the Clairville Velodrome in Middlesbrough at the age of seven.

Everything else has fallen by the wayside, from a promising football career - he was on the books of Rotherham United, his hometown team, until he was 16 - to his apprenticeship as a joiner with Kiveton Park Steelworks when he left school.

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