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Weekend Boxset: Not so quiet quitting


This week we not only join Jurgen Klopp and Xavi in their long notice period, there's also quarter finals from Afcon and the Asian Cup and the Derby D'Italia.

Seven great matches to take you from Friday to Sunday. It’s the Sound of Football Weekend Boxset.

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All times are UK


Africa Cup of Nations 2023 quarter-final: DR Congo v Guinea
20.00 on BBC Three & iPlayer and Sky Sports Premier League
One of the most astounding facts of this amazing tournament is that none of the quarter-finalists from the last Afcon have made it to the quarter-finals of this one. The knockout stage has produced as many shocks as the group stage did and it feels like any of the sides left in can dare to dream. DR Congo are probably still best remembered under their nation’s previous name Zaire. In 1974 they became the first sub-Saharan African side to qualify for the World Cup. They won hearts but were under-funded, under-prepared and generally treated as a bit of joke (a search for “Zaire free kick”, would probably sum it up). But where they led other African nations followed. This DR Congo side are still yet to win a match at this tournament having drawn all three group games and going on to knock out Egypt in a penalty shoot-out that went down to the goalkeepers. Guinea are the slight underdogs but that’s probably as much down to their lack of previous success. Their win against a tricky Equatorial Guinea in the round of 16 was their first ever win in the knockout stages of Afcon. They’ve managed to get this far largely without two of their best players: captain Naby Keita and Stuttgart’s Serhou Guirassy who are both recovering from injuries that have limited their time on the pitch in the tournament. Host’s Ivory Coast or Mali await in the semi-final. GS


AFC Asian Cup 2023 quarter-final: Iran v Japan
11.30 on TrillerTV+
The Asian Cup might have flown under the radar in the UK due to the rights being held by niche streaming service TrillerTV, and Afcon being held at the same time, but there’s already been plenty of entertainment in the knockout stages, including Iraq’s Aymen Hussein getting a red card for a bizarre mock-meal eating goal celebration. And the quarter finals starts bringing together some of the region’s heavyweights. Four-times champions Japan were the pre-tournament favourites and while a group stage loss to Iraq wasn’t in the plan it does leave the Blue Samurai with a slightly kinder path to the final, as shown by a comfortable 3-1 victory over Bahrain in the Round of 16. Iran, on the other hand, needed penalties to squeeze past a stubborn Syria team. But while Japan go in as favourites, they’ve yet to keep a clean sheet and have been uncharacteristically wasteful in front of goal. The winners of this match will face either Uzbekistan or Qatar in the semis and will be favourites to advance to the final. That’ll be added incentive for Team Melli, who are chasing a first continental trophy since 1976. This could well be the tie of the round. GA

La Liga: Alavés v Barcelona
17.30 on LaLigaTV and Viaplay Sports 1
Wednesday night’s home victory over Osasuna kept tonight’s visitors in the hunt for third-place and maintained the five point gap over fifth-place Athletic Club. It was also Barca’s first outing since head coach and club legend, Xavi, announced he was leaving the Catalan giants. Despite guiding them to the La Liga title last season, a recent 4-1 hammering at the hands of Real in the Super Cup preceded a 4-2 Copa del Rey exit at the hands of Athletic Club. Three days later came a 5-3 home defeat to Villarreal, after which, Xavi threw in the towel. Who will want to take over at Barca, a club with off-field problems so acute that their position among the European elite is becoming more and more compromised by the day? Hoping to take advantage of the situation are Alavés who come into this fixture off the back three consecutive wins which has last season's play-off winners comfortably in mid-table. Last time out was a convincing 3-0 win against bottom club, Almeria, where Samu Omorodion grabbed a brace and looked like what can only be described as a right handful - he’s one to watch out for given Barca’s leaky defence. While the Catalans do have their injury problems, there is a silver lining with Vitor Roque scoring his first goal for the club only a minute after coming on against Osasuna. His athletic near-post header converted an exquisite cross from Joao Cancelo, delivered by the outside of his right boot - it really is a joy to watch. A difficult one to call given Barca’s inconsistencies, but it should be a good one. JB

Africa Cup of Nations 2023 quarter-final: Cape Verde v South Africa
20.00 on BBC Three & iPlayer and Sky Sports Football
As I mention above, there is a genuine feeling that anyone of the remaining teams could win this year’s Afcon. If it’s Cape Verde it would be an even bigger story than when Zambia won the title under Herve Ranard in 2012. The Blue Sharks have been breathtaking in this tournament so far and fully deserve to be considered potential champions. South Africa’s peak on the international stage came just five years after the country was readmitted into sport following the end of Apartheid. They won their only Afcon as hosts in 1996 but from there performances in the tournament went into a very slow decline. They were losing finalists in the next tournament, losing semi-finalists in the one after, then they were losing quarter-finalists, and by the time they hosted the World Cup in 2010 they were no longer qualifying for Afcon. The success of this Bafana Bafana side could well be down to the fact that most of their squad play in their strong domestic league, including nine players from recently crowned African League champions Mamelodi Sundowns. There’s a club-like cohesion to Hugo Broos side that their rivals often lack by drawing squads from a dozen different leagues. That theory might be quickly shot down if Cape Verde win here - their squad play in 17 different countries. New tournament favourites Nigeria will meet the winner in the semis if they don’t slip up against Angola. GS


Championship: Middlesbrough v Sunderland
12.00 on Sky Sports Football, Main Event & Ultra
Sunderland make the thirty-mile journey south to North Yorkshire where they hope to avenge the 4-0 hammering they received at the Stadium of Light back in October. Dan Neil’s sending off was the catalyst for the second-half collapse which was one of six consecutive victories for the Smoggies, reversing their dismal start to the campaign. They’ll be without the impressive Morgan Rogers who left for Aston Villa in the transfer window, but could hand a debut to left-back Luke Thomas, who joined on loan from Leicester. In the same window Sunderland signed three players including former Spurs man, Romaine Mundle. He’s described as a pacey winger and is more than likely a replacement for the brilliant Jack Clarke, who is likely to leave in the summer. Boro go into this game having had twelve days rest, which they will have needed following the 6-1 thrashing Chelsea gave them in the League Cup semi. Regardless, they are only four points off sixth and could pull level with the visitors if they win today. Indeed, the last time Sunderland won at Boro was back in 2012 when Martin O’Neill was in charge. What a contrast to the charlatan currently leading the team, who are surely only one defeat away from a full-on fan rebellion. This was delayed following last week's 3-1 home win against a poor Stoke side, but I sense patience is at breaking point among my countrymen - and this isn’t because of your London accent, Michael. Home win. #BEALEOUT JB

Premier League: Arsenal v Liverpool
16.30 on Sky Sports Premier League, Main Event & Ultra
With both apex club’s fighting for the Premier League title this fixture was big enough but the drama of Kloxit only adds to the occasion. Jurgen Klopp’s long goodbye may become a ticker tape parade at this rate. Since the Liverpool coach handed in his notice last week, the Reds have eased their way past Norwich in the Cup and took Chelsea to school in the league on Wednesday. Earlier in the week following speculation that Virgil van Dijk may follow his coach out of the club (Dijxit?), the Liverpool captain had to stoop to publicly declaring his commitment to the club by appearing on Men In Blazers. You’d have to say that if the performance against Chelsea is anything to go by there is no lack of passion and desire to pack Jurgen off with a truck full of trophies. And as the kop gradually bids farewell to their greatest coach since Paisley, they welcome young Conor Bradley who scored one and laid on two more on his home debut. The 20-year-old Northern Irish right back is making football look easy and is putting Trent Alexander Arnold under immense pressure. So all good in the hood at Anfield. Up next, it’s the Arse at the Emirates. A place they went to only last month in the cup and won 3-0. The Gunners recent form is worrying. Yes, they have won their last two league games, but those matches were against a poor Nottingham Forest side and a truly wretched Crystal Palace. You have to go back to December before the last Premier League win against a decent team (Brighton 2-0). Arsenal coach, Mikel Arteta, when not batting away questions about a move to Barcelona (Arxit?), this week, is waiting on the fitness of striker Gabriel Jesus. TD

Serie A: Inter v Juventus
19.45 on TNT Sports 1
While Inter were busy at last month’s Supercoppa Italiana in Saudi Arabia, Juve took the opportunity to take top spot in Serie A for the first time this season. They did so with a comfortable away win against a Lecce side in free-fall, but then failed to press home their advantage by drawing at home to second from bottom Empoli, who are enjoying a new-head-coach bounce under Davide Nicola. Inter returned from Riyadh with the Suppercoppa and went straight back to business, putting another dent into Fiorentina’s stuttering Champions League ambitions. Neither side have suffered a single defeat in the league since Sassuolo took them both down a peg in the last week of September. The Turin leg of the Derby D’Italia, at the end of November, ended a draw. Inter perhaps would feel they should have come away with more as Juve scored with their only shot on target. Inter now have the chance to open up daylight between themselves and their only real challengers for the title. With the form they’ve been in a four point lead and a game in hand (at home to Atalanta at the end of the month) could be too big an ask for the Old Lady to overhaul, even without the distraction of European competition. GS

Alternative viewing: If you prefer your derbies to from the same city then one of the biggest is on LaLigaTV and Viaplay Sports 1 from 20.00 - Real Madrid v Atlético Madrid. A huge game for the table-topping hosts before they welcome their closest challengers Girona next weekend.

Whatever you watch, have a great weekend.

Graham, Terry, Jan and Gary

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