Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Argentina without Messi

South American World Cup qualifiers continue to be the most nerve-wrecking and closely fought contest in the world: every team can defeat anyone, and as the end nears seven out of ten teams can qualify, with one more outsider. Only Brazil, who started weakly but has risen over the last year, seem to be certain of going to Russia after their recent away victory in Montevideo against Uruguay, who remain in second spot.
But Argentina tonight lost away 2-0 to Bolivia, and will struggle to keep their closest competitors from Chile, Colombia and Ecuador away. Even Paraguay could beat them to the World Cup spot, and Argentina could risk a play-off match, or worse, not qualify!
Except for fans of Argentina (including myself) the worst consequence of Argentina not qualifying would likely be a World Cup without Lionel Messi. Let us face it; besides Messi, and perhaps DiMaria (and not counting an ageing and 'wasted-in-Barcelona' Mascherano), Argentina only has mediocre players who are not up to the task without Messi. Tonight's defeat to Bolivia was a case in point: after having defeated the South American champions of Chile last week (with Messi scoring the winning goal) Messi stupidly insulted the referee and got himself a four-match suspension. Argentina without Messi was a mediocre side unable to break the home side in the altitude of La Paz. With only four matches left, Messi will be available for only one. And they are not easy matches: Uruguay away, and Venezuela and Peru at home. Argentina's best hope seems to be that the other teams take points from one another and that they do not lose too many points in these coming three matches.
It is not looking good for a World Cup with Argentina and Messi!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The two teams nobody wanted to face

Atletico Madrid and Leicester were arguably the two teams everyone wanted to avoid in the quarterfinals of the Champions League. Atletico Madrid are a passionate, skilled and disciplined side that has proven to have one of the best defenses in the world combined with an unforgiving attacking force. Leicester on the other hand, seem to be a team that is set to continue surprising; the best team in the world when underestimated.
But all teams avoided them as both of these sides will be facing one another in the quarterfinals. An interesting anecdote is that two of the previous three times Leicester was in Europe, they were eliminated by Atletico Madrid (1961 and 1997). So this may be the time of redemption for Leicester.

The quarterfinals are as follows:
  • Atletico Madrid-Leicester
  • Borussia Dortmund-Monaco
  • Juventus-FC Barcelona
  • Bayern Munich-Real Madrid
All will be incredible matches. Juventus-Barcelona a repeat of the 2015 final. Dortmund-Monaco two teams playing attacking football. Bayern Munich-Real Madrid will see two of the best teams ever having played the tournament.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Leicester among the eight best in Europe

Surely Leicester are having a bad season in the Premier League, where rather than defending their title, they are almost fighting to avoid relegation. This is what led to a very unlikeable firing of Claudio Ranieri as manager, but frankly, since the charming Italian's exit, things seem to have improved.  I was never a fan of Mr. Ranieri, but he did achieve something extraordinary with Leicester, but it seems it was time to move on...
Last night Leicester eliminated the highly rated Europa League champions of Sevilla from the Champions League, making it to the quarterfinals. Despite a lucky 1-2 defeat in Spain, Leceister was all but lucky in their 2-0 victory playing an intelligent and disciplined match where they looked more like the team that took everyone with storm last season.
Leicester are not among the 8 best in Europe, and will be facing some giant in the next round. But do not discount them: Leicester has surprised before!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The sad comeback

Last Wednesday I found myself in a bar in the city of Danane, in Cote d'Ivoire, at first only half-watching the Barcelona-Paris St. Germain match, but getting caught by Barcelona's incredible last 3 minute comeback to eliminate the Parisians.
Along with most people in the bar, I was not happy. In Cote d'Ivoire they also supported Paris St. Germain. And whom I felt most sorry for were the Paris St. Germain fans; I know how it feels when your team loses, but I do not know how it feels when you come from the heights of happiness to the depths of sadness. I felt much more sad for them than for the Barcelona fans who just ten minutes before would have trashed their team out of the stadium.
In the end Barcelona did something incredible, but not elegant. Their attitude will and should annoy any decent football fans, and the admiration for Luis Suarez' skills are just frustrated by the ugliness of his antics.
But I cannot blame them: this is part of football, as much as I dislike it, and had it been my team, I would have been celebrating it like Barcelona fans did.
All great teams know how to stretch the rules, and Barcelona were just better at it than Paris St. Germain, which just makes it more sad for the great Parisians!!!
Barcelona is in the next round, but at least in Danane, as in Paris, it was not celebrated!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A match to remember

No matter what happens in the rest of this seasons' Champions League we will remember last night's match between Manchester City and Monaco. 5-3 and a festival of goals and drama, the only bad thing that can be said is that at times defenses looked very shaky. But that has to be seen against the background of strikers who all seemed to have a good day: Radamel Falcao looked as a young man from his pre-Manchester United days (despite him missing a penalty against Willy Caballero, who may be better than hapless Claudio Bravo, but still had a difficult match alongside his defense) and Sergio Aguero had one of those rare days when he was world class in an important match.  But most impressive was the young Leroy Sane, who is really proving to be the best transfer this season.
Monaco impressed because of their attacking prowess and positive attitude, and Radamel Falcao's penalty miss when they were up 0-2 may have cost them the match, despite them eventually going up 1-3 before Manchester City's memorable comeback. Manchester City showed an amazing character which should give them confidence for better results.
The return match in Monaco will be a must-see for every football fans: Monaco must attack, which they have shown they can, against a City side that has shown they cannot defend, so must attack. Do not miss it!