Friday, May 30, 2014

Greatest World Cup Matches: Spain-Netherlands (2010)

The first World Cup final on the African continent was special for many reasons. Firstly it was the first all-European final outside Europe, but also the first final ever without the participation of either Brazil, Argentina, Italy, or Germany.
And there was certainly going to be a new world champion: for Spain it was their first World Cup final; it was the third for the Netherlands, having lost their two previous finals in 1974 and 1978.
The Netherlands had always had a complex of not achieving the pinnacle. Besides their European Championship title of 1988, success had always been close, but still eluded them. With some of the best football academies in the world, the Dutch produced a long array of incredibly talented players who were schooled in the Dutch model of total football, combining tactical and physical skills and a well-developed understanding of the game.
The Netherlands always entered the tournaments as favourites, but had largely disappointed. In 2008 the former Feyenoord manager Bert van Marwijk was made manager of the team to lead them to the 2010 World Cup. In qualifying the Dutch made a clean sweep by winning every match. But there was criticism on their style: always being proud of playing beautiful football the Dutch became, like the Argentines, divided on whether to play more cynical in order to get results. The 2010 team was a result of this. The team contained some superb technical players such as Inter Milan's Wesley Sneijder, Arsenal's Robbie van Persie and Bayern Munich's Arjen Robben, but also some uncompromising players such as Bayern Munich's Mark van Bommel, Manchester City's Nigel de Jong (known as the lawnmower) or Everton's John Heitinga. While there were occasional brilliant moments, the team played much more result-oriented and physical football than previous Dutch sides. And it seemed to be working.
Arriving at the World Cup the Netherlands won all three matches in the first round against Denmark, Japan and Cameroun. In the last-16 they defeated a Slovakian side that had eliminated the defending World Champions of Italy 2-1 on goals by Robben and Sneijder.
In the quarterfinals the Dutch played the favourites of Brazil. After being down 0-1, Wesley Sneijder scored twice in the second half to give his side a semi-final match against the double world champions from Uruguay.
The Dutch won an exciting match 3-2 and were ready to face Spain in Johannesburg.

As defending European champions Spain entered the tournament as the biggest favourites, although they started with a debacle when they lost their first match 0-1 to Switzerland. It was a match where Spain had possession and chances, but their feeble attack gave no results. Spain lacked a strong striker, and manager Vicente del Bosque sometimes chose to play without a striker, giving Spain a lot of possession but little to show for it. Spain was not an outright defensive, but their strength was surely their outstanding defense around FC Barcelona's Carles Puyol and the Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
In their following two matches Spain nevertheless fought themselves back to win the group by defeating Honduras and Chile. The next three games resulted in three narrow 1-0 victories against Portugal, Paraguay and Germany to make it to the final. All victories were achieved by a high level of possession that had become Spain's trademark, just as FC Barcelona, but without the powerful striking force of the Catalonians. Still, Spain had every reason to be optimistic before the final against the Netherlands, who nevertheless must have noted the possibility of winning against Spain's low-scoring side.

It was not a nice match. Netherlands came out to destroy Spanish possession, and had already been booked five times in the first 30 minutes. Nigel de Jong should have been given a direct red card by a vicious karate kick against Xabi Alonso, but a forgiving referee Howard Webb only booked him and the Dutch attacks did nothing but break the rhythm of the match.
This was the least likely Dutch side in the history of football.
While not being able to play as polished as before, Spain had most possession; Sergio Ramos had a great chance on a header that was saved by Stekelenburg, but otherwise it was a hugely disappointing first half.
The ugliness continued in the second half, and the increasingly frustrated Spanish also joined the Dutch side's physicality; while they continued having more possession, Arjen Robben had the biggest chance of the match to put the Dutch ahead after Wesley Sneijder had torn apart the Spanish defense, but Robben was prevented by the great Iker Casillas.
In the 83rd minute, Arjen Robben had another a good run against Casillas but Spain's captain again saved his side.
Before that Sergio Ramos had missed a free header to put the Spanish ahead, but in the end it was 0-0 of a very ugly final that went into overtime.
Spain tried to put pressure on the Dutch with Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas coming in for Xabi Alonso. And Fabregas had the first big chance of extra time when he missed a goal alone with Stekelenburg. In the second half of extra time the Dutch were finally given a red card when John Heitinga brought down Fernando Torres. And soon after this Spain scored the winning goal after a controversial situation where the Dutch should clearly have awarded a corner-kick after a free kick.
But the Netherlands had made no friends, and nobody really cared about the Dutch protests after Andres Iniesta smashed the ball in with his right foot after Fabregas' through-pass caught Iniesta on-side.
Spain were champions.

The fourth 1-0 victory for Spain in a row made them the least-scoring World Champion ever. Still, a well-deserved title, and nobody felt sorry for the Netherlands. It was a record final in terms of yellow cards (12), and it was a pity that the first final on African soil should have been such an ugly match after a wonderful tournament. A historical victory, not only because Spain won for the first time. It was also the first victory of a European side outside Europe.
 
11th July 2010
Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg
Attendance: 84,490
Referee: Howard Webb, England 

Teams:
Spain: Casillas, Pique, Carles Puyol, Ramos, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Capdevilla, Busquets, Alonso (Fabregas), Villa (Torres), Pedro (Navas)
Netherlands: Stekelenburg, Van der Wiel, Heitinga (RC, 109), Mathijsen, Van Bronckhorst (Braafheid), Van Bommel, De Jong (Van der Vaart), Kuyt (Elia), Van Persie, Sneijder, Robben 

Spain-Netherlands 1-0 (after extra time)

Goals:
1-0 Iniesta (116)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"My" countries in the World Cup

The World Cup was my entry to football. I liked seeing countries play, learning about them, and also seeing countries play that I had an attachment to. This continues to be the case, surely more than the quality of football, which is generally much lower than even in secondary European leagues.
That said, of course, there are certain countries I will be watching with more interest than others due to personal attachment to those countries (but as you can see, it will not mean I will support them. This is football, and has nothing to do about my view of the country!):
  • Argentina: I lived in Argentina as a child, and my heart is unapologetically Argentine when it comes to national team football. While I will support them, I have many doubts, perhaps because my hope has been shattered so often. Messi, Aguero, Di Maria, Gago, Higuain, Mascherano... It appears a strong side, but in my view they lack balance in defense and weight in midfield. I will be celebrating every one of their goals though.
  •  Belgium: I have worked in Brussels, and visit Belgium every year. And even though it is in an international atmosphere where I have been far from Belgian reality, I have always been endeared to the Red Devils. Be sure I will drink a good Belgian beer and support them as their exciting young team may take Brazil with storm!
  • Chile: I was born in Chile. I have not had particular attachment to their national team, and four years ago I was one of the few unimpressed as I thought they needed a bit more cynicism under Marcelo Bielsa. This year Chile are, if anything, better than four years ago, and may be the favourites of neutrals. While everyone has expectations, these can also be shattered, as Chile could easily be eliminated in the first round. Whatever happens I won't celebrate, but I won't cry either.
  •  Colombia: I have Colombian background, and Colombia is finally back in the World Cup with a strong side. Under Jose Pekerman they play a bit old-fashioned Argentine football, but which also goes back to the strong Argentine influence on Colombian football. They have splendid attacking power (not only the doubtful Falcao) but a defense of old men. They will be popular as a team and for their fans, and I will be cheering with the rest of the world.
  • Ghana: Ghana is the first African country I lived in, and was there during the 2006 World Cup, when I became a big fan of the Black Stars. In 2010 I cried with the rest of the world when they did not make the semi-finals. This will be a new test for a side that has nevertheless become more cynical over the years, playing a physical and defensive style that almost seems out of tune with the happiness of Ghanaians. I was almost happy when they were eliminated by Zambia from the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations. While I will wear my Ghana shirt every time they play, I hope that they will play better football.
  • Spain: I have lived in Spain and have Spanish family and there is little not to love about the country. That said, on a football pitch I have always been critical of Spain. While I was happy they won the 2008 Euro, and admit they deserved the titles in 2010 and 2012, I remain critical of the possessive-defensive style and lack of directness. The total dependence on two clubs that annoy me are also a cause of criticism that makes me generally not support the national team. I do believe they are favourites for the title though.
  • USA: I lived in the USA and have visited the country, where I have so many friends, many times. Football (I refuse to call it soccer) has never been the priority but I have followed closely as they get better and better. It will be interesting to see them under Jurgen Klinsmann, who set forward to change US football when he became national coach.
There are of course some countries I will be missing: Denmark, Venezuela, and Liberia!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Monrovia troubles

The Champions League final is one of the most important matches of the year for every self-respecting football fan (and even for the ones who do not respect themselves, like myself). So it was with eagerness I speculated where to watch the match within my Monrovia-bubble.
Now, you have to know that I am an idiot; I never take decisions, but linger forever in the analysis.
After I put down an offer, I went to a bar called "Jamal's" to watch the match. I have watched a match there before. A large screen, but it is catering to fans for specific matches; otherwise they do not like football.
Twenty minutes into the match the screen went black. After three minutes (that is about as long I am willing to wait) I ran (yes, I ran, have you ever run in hot and humid Monrovia?) three blocks to a bar called Sajj. This is where many expatriates go to hang out and drink beer, and indeed, they had put up two screens. I got into the place just as Diego Godin had brought Atletico Madrid ahead 0-1.
Without the possibility of focusing on the match, I was nevertheless happy that Atletico were ahead. Would they really be able to do it...? I would have thought it impossible.
And of course it was impossible. There is only one great team in Madrid.
I found a good spot in Sajj, but halfway into the second half it started raining, and that meant we lost the signal. 50 quiet people in a bar to watch football...
The signal came back in the 92nd minute of the match, just in time to see Sergio Ramos equalising. After this, it was only a question of time before seeing the writing on the wall; years of experience and nerves from the midgets, but Real Madrid won 4-1, humiliating Atletico Madrid much more than they deserved. The saddest thing seemed to be that Diego Simeone went crazy and Raphael Varane did not understand what it is to win. So in the end, a match that all of Madrid should win, became a bit less of a victory for the city.
A bitter-sweet 10th for Real Madrid.
But this is not the saddest part of the match: I managed to watch extra time, drink a couple of beers, but never managed to watch the entire match. It reminded me of the Liverpool-AC Milan final of 2005, when light went out during the penalty kicks, when I also went crazy.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The cold-hearted German

Jurgen Klinsmann has announced his final 23-man roster for USA's World Cup side, and the most surprising of this is that he has left the veteran Landon Donovan out of the roster. Landon Donovan, 32-years old, is surely the best player the USA has produced and played three World Cups.
To be fair to Mr. Klinsmann, this could be because he has something up his sleeve; because he has professional reasons to leave out a player who has not had a spectacular season with LA Galaxy, and who not long ago went on a sabbatical.
That said, when one looks at some of the choices in other positions, one has to wonder whether the choice was beyond professionalism. Chris Wondolowski is a striker around Donovan's age, but hardly his experience. Jozy Altidore has had an unimpressive season with Sunderland. Youngsters like DeAndre Yedin, John Brooks and Julian Green may all be something for the future, but without hardly any experience it seems incredible that all three are going instead of Donovan.
While Landon Donovan may not be at his former best, his experience and quality remains unquestionable. With Jurgen Klinsmann's son's tasteless message in Twitter, rejoicing at Donovan being out, one cannot but question whether Klinsmann's choice was more personal than professional; that he is not willing to give USA's best player his last moment of glory.
Mr. Klinsmann appears like a cold-hearted man leaving Landon Donovan out. Only success in a hugely difficult group will take this impression away.

Greatest World Cup Matches: Germany-Spain (2010)

Germany is one of the giants of world football. In spite of reaching the World Cup final of 2002 and making it to the third place in 2006, they were hungering for another title when they entered the World Cup in South Africa in 2010.
Surely, German football was not the same it had been in the 20th century. After the debacles at the World Cup in 1998 and the Euro in 2000, Germany had started to rebuild its youth system around more skillful players and playing a more attacking football. This had resulted in an immensely popular side at home in 2006, when they made it to the semifinals under Jurgen Klinsmann with a youthful, attacking side that in many ways came to illustrate a new, diverse and multicultural Germany. The team of 2010 was also full of young stars, such as Werder Bremen's Mezut Ozil, Stuttgart's Sami Khedira (both were soon to change to Real Madrid) or Bayern Munich's Thomas Muller. These were supplemented by other great and more experienced players such as Bayern Munich's Bastian Schweinsteiger, Phillipe Lahm and Miroslav Klose. Germany had opened by trouncing Australia 4-0 in a match where they looked as candidates for the title. Although they lost their second match to Serbia, a 1-0 victory over Ghana in the last match gave them the first spot in the group. In the next two matches Germany suddenly looked unbeatable: they first triumphed over their eternal rivals of England with a resounding 4-1 victory and then destroyed Diego Maradona's Argentina 4-0 in the quarterfinal.
Germany was ready to take on the huge favourites of Spain!
In international football Spain had historically always been a notable under-performer. With a mass of talent and some of the best clubs in the world, Spain had never reached a World Cup final and had only succeeded internationally in 2008, when they had won the European Championship by defeating exactly Germany in the final.
With the Euro title Spain entered the 2010 World Cup as huge favourites, not least because of its amazing players that had been harvested mostly from FC Barcelona's base as the best club in the world, and complemented by Real Madrid's flood of talent. Barcelona's Xavi and Andres Iniesta were surely the best midfield pair in the world. In defense Barcelona's captain Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique were complemented by Real Madrid's uncompromising Sergio Ramos, and in goal Real Madrid's Iker Casillas was definitely the best goalkeeper in the world.
Although Spain entered the tournament huge favourites, they fell in their first match against a defensive Swiss side that managed to get a 1-0 victory. This was perhaps healthy for the favourites who went on to defeat Honduras and Chile to win the group anyway. In the last-16 Spain defeated their Iberian neighbours Portugal 1-0 and in the quarterfinal had enormous difficulties defeating their former colony of Paraguay 1-0.
Still, they had made it to their first World Cup semi-final since 1950, and were eager to get into their first final ever as they were to face Germany, the most scoring team in the tournament.
While Germany were without one of the best player of the tournament, Thomas Muller, Spain were in the strongest line-up, with seven Barcelona players and three Real Madrid players on the pitch. In the first half there was the predictable passing around by the Spanish, with the Germans trying to fight their way into the match. Even though Spain seemed to be passing the ball around a lot without getting anywhere, they still had the few best chances, while Germany still felt they could win the match at the end of the first half when Mezut Ozil should have had a penalty on a challenge from Sergio Ramos.
Perhaps it was this knowledge that Spain was so dominant without getting anywhere that prompted them to put more pressure in the second half. With Xabi Alonso at center stage, balls were passed more aggressively, but with little effect. Instead, halfway through the second half the young Bayern Munich talent Toni Kroos had a good shot that was saved by Casillas, and one might feel that Germany was still in the match.
But one of the many qualities of this Spanish team was their eternal patience. At no point did it seem they got nervous about Germany's chances, but instead they kept passing the ball, looking for the opening.
And finally it came in the 73rd minute.
Barcelona's Xavi took a corner into the area where his club captain Carles Puyol headed the ball with a smash, and even though the Spanish players never looked nervous, their celebrations certainly looked as relief.
It was now Germany that looked in shock. While coach Joachim Loew made a desperate offensive change, Spain's patient possession continued. In the last minutes Spain's young Barcelona striker Pedro even missed a huge chance to make it 2-0 when he preferred to be egotistical rather than play Fernando Torres, but that was quickly forgotten when Spain emerged victorious on Puyol's goal. Spain had been superior to Germany and went on to win the World Cup final, thus sealing their position as the best team in the world.
 
7th July 2010
Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban
Attendance: 60,960
Referee: Viktor Kassai, Hungary

Teams:
Germany: Manuel Neuer, Friedrich, Sami Khedira (Mario Gomez), Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mezut Ozil, Podolski, Miroslav Klose, Piotr Trochowski (Toni Kroos), Phillip Lahm, Mertesacker, Boateng (Jansen)
Spain: Iker Casillas, Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol, Sergio Ramos, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Joan Capdevilla, Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso (Marchena), David Villa (Torres), Pedro (Silva)

Germany-Spain 0-1

Goals:
0-1 Puyol (73)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The strong man who will lift Manchester United

It has been confirmed that Louis Van Gaal will be Manchester United manager next season, after he has taken the Netherlands to the World Cup. Mr. Van Gaal is a controversial but highly successful coach. With Ajax Amsterdam in the mid-1990s he won everything, including the Champions League. He was then in FC Barcelona where he won the league and the cup, but left amid controversy with players and in particular the media, who hated his strict personality. Mr. Van Gaal then went to the Dutch national team, and incredibly, returned to Barcelona for a short stint, but was quickly fired, and in 2004 returned to Ajax Amsterdam, only to resign.
In 2005 Mr. Van Gaal went to AZ Alkmaar, where he won a title, before going to Bayern Munich in 2009, winning everything and the title of best manager in 2010. It was never clear why he left, but in 2012 he returned as Netherlands manager.
Mr. Van Gaal is a strict coach, almost fearful. There is not much place for humour, but a no-nonsense approach, where the he prioritizes the offensive and technical qualities of the side. This will be good for Manchester United, who also in Alex Ferguson had a disciplinarian. On the other hand, Mr. Van Gaal has clashed with fans and management in other clubs when he is criticized. He may face criticism at some point in Manchester United, but will surely face it with a more stiff face than the soft David Moyes. In the end that is what Manchester United may need: a strong man.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Ungrateful Barcelona

Barcelona is a great team with lousy fans. After having given them so much, they were not big enough to support Lionel Messi when the young lad is obviously going through a different time. I doubt they would have done the same to Xavi, Puyol or Busquets, their Catalonian boys. Messi will be staying in Barcelona for at least two years more. But at one point they will discard him with no thanks. 
One who was discarded with no thanks was Tata Martino, who has been replaced by Luis Enrique, who played for both Barcelona and Real Madrid in the 1990s. He was coaching Celta Vigo until now. It will be interesting to see how he will do, as he seems relatively untested at that level, with a lousy period in Roma behind him as well. On the positive side he knows the club, and understands expectations from the ungrateful lot.
His first challenge will be to strengthen the team and first step was already taken by signing the young Borussia Monchengladbach goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen.
The ungrateful doors of Barcelona are open.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The champions

I managed to watch both matches yesterday on two screens in a bar in Monrovia. And both teams I was supporting came out as champions.

For a week I will be Atletico Madrid fan, and yesterday they took the first step in what could be their greatest season ever. 1-1 against FC Barcelona was enough to give them the Spanish league. This is the first time since 2004 a team other than Barcelona and Real Madrid has won the league, and the first time since since 2008 that the top-two is not Real Madrid and Barcelona.
So this is fantastic for Spanish football, and a victory against the rich-man arrogance of the two big sides.
That said, and from a more footballing perspective, Atletico Madrid are hardly a very entertaining side. They are defensive, strong pressure and good counter-attack. Simeone plays the kind of football that so many people hate Mourinho for playing. Simeone is a great coach, and it will be hugely interesting to see him coach another team some day.
Martino has been a flop as Barcelona coach. I could have told them that: when he coached Paraguay he played anti-football. Without Puyol the weakness of Barcelona's central defense has been exposed throughout the season. Without Xavi and closing the wings, Atletico managed to make Barcelona's possession seem like little else but... possession...
I think that Barcelona will take much longer rebuilding than Real Madrid, who in my view are likely to be champions next year.

The FA Cup final is always a fantastic match, and this year it was no exception. Arsenal were huge favourites against Hull, but the Arsenal defense did not hear that the match had started before Hull were ahead 0-2. Hull fought bravely and Arsenal pushed with everything, and finally they managed to get 2-2. In extra time Aaron Ramsey scored the 3-2 winner for Arsenal, who now took their first title in nine years.
One cannot help feeling a bit sorry for Hull and their great supporters. That said, Arsenal deserved the title mostly because of their great coach, Arsene Wenger, who has been under increased pressure this season as title remain absent from a club that expects much more. It is not easy to win titles (statistically you have to admit that most teams don't), but more important is to be true to a style and football approach, which in Arsene Wenger's case is about good, intelligent football, using many young and talented players.

So congratulations to Atletico and Arsenal fans! I had a few beers for both teams yesterday, and I am sure that there are many people happily hungover in Madrid and London today!


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Dilemma

I cannot believe that on such a great football day, the Barcelona-Atletico Madrid and the Arsenal-Hull FA Cup final take place at exactly the same time! I do not know what game to watch! I always watch the FA Cup final! It is always a fantastic match and I am excited about Arsenal's possibility of winning a title after so long! Barcelona-Atletico Madrid is the first game in a week where the entire world, including myself, will be Atletico Madrid fans. Nothing more beautiful if they could screw both Barcelona and Real Madrid. But it will be hard, and this match will prove to be intense, with Barcelona under pressure to prove that they are more than mere nostalgia for former times.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Greatest World Cup matches: Ghana-Uruguay (2010)

The first World Cup in Africa came amid criticism whether the South African hosts were ready to host the tournament. On the pitch however, there was surely no doubt that Africa was ready: since the 1970s African football had taken enormous strides to take its place among the top world football. First Cameroun and Morocco had taken the world by storm in 1982 and 1986, and were then joined by Nigeria, Senegal, Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana, all nations that in their World Cup appearances had performed at the highest level.
So as the tournament came to Africa for the first time ever, expectations were understandably high. But most were left disappointed: After a promising opener, the South African hosts proved to be the first host nation eliminated in the first round of a World Cup. Nigeria, Algeria and Cameroun all came last in their respective groups, while Cote d'Ivoire came third in a difficult group behind Brazil and Portugal. After the first round, only one African team was left in the tournament: the “Black Stars” from Ghana.
Ghana had until 2006 been a notable under-performer at senior level, while they had come to the forefront of youth football: World champions for U-17 in 1991 and 1995 and runners-up in the U-21 World cup in 1997, as well as a memorable bronze medal in the 1992 Olympics. The incredible pool of talent and a high level of organization had always made it only a question of time before Ghana would emerge on the stage, something that finally happened in 2006, for their first world cup, where they surprised everyone by making it to the last-16 ahead of the Czech Republic and the USA, and there losing to Brazil.
In 2006 they had been one of the youngest sides, so in 2010 they were a team with more experience that was to face Serbia, Australia and Germany in the first round. Under the Serbian coach Milovan Rajevac it was a more cynical Ghanaian side than the charming but naive side of 2006. They had started with a difficult 1-0 victory over Serbia and had then tied 1-1 with a fighting Australian side. Both goals were scored on penalty by the Rennes striker Asamoah Gyan. In their last group-match Ghana lost 1-2 to Germany, but when Australia managed to defeat Serbia, Ghana was through on goal difference.
In the last-16 Ghana faced the USA, and as in 2006 the Black Stars won 2-1, but after extra time.
As only the third African team to make it to a World Cup quarterfinal, all the hopes of the continent were now with Ghana, who were to face Uruguay. The team had been strong an efficient, but had been mired in some controversy as the Inter Milan striker, Sulley Muntari, who had been suspended from the team during qualification, had been expelled for insulting Rajevac. However, captain Stephen Appiah's plead to the coach had allowed Muntari to be pardoned by the coach.

It was proper that the double world champions of Uruguay would participate in the first World Cup in Africa; as the first hosts and champions themselves, Uruguay had also been the first country to use black players on their team, at a time when other countries were still immersed in their colonial racism and idiotic arrogance.
Although Uruguay had struggled to qualify (they qualified as the very last team after a hard-fought play-off match against Costa Rica), they arrived to the tournament with a powerful striking force in Diego Forlan, from Atletico Madrid, and Luis Suarez from Ajax Amsterdam, supplemented by players with a lot of experience in the top European leagues.
Uruguay started with a tie against France before defeating the hosts of South Africa 3-0 and Mexico 1-0 to take the first spot in their group. In the second round the South Americans played South Corea and won 2-1 on two goals by Suarez, and were now to face Africa's darlings in the quarterfinals.

The Uruguayan team started best in a match between two very skilled but also very physically strong sides. The South Americans completely dominated the first twenty minutes of the match, and the Wigan goalkeeper Richard Kingson had two good saves. But slowly Ghana fought themselves back into the match, and towards the end of the first half they were dominating when Uruguay was seriously weakened: Their experienced captain, Diego Lugano from Fenerbahce in Turkey, was injured and had to replaced by Andres Scotti. And things started to look bleaker for Uruguay when Ghana went ahead in the last seconds of the first half. The goal was scored on a long-range effort by the controversial Sulley Muntari, whose shot curled in such a way that it caught goalkeeper Fernando Muslera on the wrong foot.
But Uruguay kept their cool, and ten minutes into the second half Diego Forlan took a free kick outside the Ghanaian area, and also gave the ball a curve that caught Kingson on the wrong foot.
1-1.
The match then became a hard fought physical affair, with chances on both sides, although Luis Suarez missed a couple of great chances against Kingson. 1-1 in ordinary time, and the extra time was mostly characterized by tiredness, nerves and long-range attempts as the minutes slowly moved forward, until the last minute of extra time: Ghana got a free kick on the right side outside the Uruguayan penalty area. As the last kick of the match, they sent all men forward to try to get a goal before the penalty kicks. Dominic Adiyiah, AC Milan player who had come in for Muntari, got a strong header towards an empty goal, but Luis Suarez, who was standing on the goal-line, saved it with his hands to avoid Ghana taking the victory.
The referee was not in doubt: direct red card for Luis Suarez and penalty kick for Ghana, which would put them in the semifinal of the World Cup. Asamoah Gyan, who had scored three goals in the tournament, two of them on penalty, completely overshot his kick.
The villain, Luis Suarez, celebrated the miss from the sidelines.
Most people had the feeling that Uruguay, after looking into the deep hole of elimination, had all the advantages as the penalty kicks started. After John Mensah and Adiyiah missed for Ghana, Sebastian Abreu elegantly scored the goal that put Uruguay in the semifinal of the World Cup.
Until now, no African team has come closer to a World Cup semifinal. And it is scant consolation that Uruguay, without Suarez, lost the semifinal 2-3 to the Netherlands, and went on to lose the bronze match as well, 2-3 to Germany.
 
2nd July 2010
Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg
Attendance: 84,000
Referee: Oligario Benquerenca (Portugal)

Teams:
Uruguay: Muslera, Maxi Pereira, Diego Lugano (Scotti), Victorino, Fucile, Alvaro Fernandez (Lodeiro), Perez, Arevalo Rios, Cavani (Abreu), Luis Suarez (RC, 120), Diego Forlan.
Ghana: Kingson, Pantsil, Vorsah, John Mensah, Sarpei, Annan, Inkoom (Steven Appiah), Asamoah, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Suley Muntari (Dominic Adiyiah), Asamoah Gyan

Ghana-Uruguay 1-1 (after extra time)

Goals:
1-0 Sulley Muntari (45)
1-1 Diego Forlan (55)

Penalty kicks:
Ghana-Uruguay 2-4
0-1 Forlan
1-1 Gyan
1-2 Victorino
2-2 Appiah
2-3 Scotti
Mensah missed for Ghana
Pereira missed for Uruguay
Adiyiah missed for Ghana
2-4 Abreu

The Greatest World Cup matches

Four years ago, for the 2010 World Cup, I did a series of the 50 greatest world cup matches of all time. Obviously, this list has now grown, in my view, to 53, so here are the three matches I have decided to include in the list, and will be writing each week for the next three weeks:
  • Ghana-Uruguay, 2010
  • Germany-Spain, 2010
  • Spain-Netherlands, 2010
Yes, I have no life. But I love football and history!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The curse lives

In 1961 and 1962 the legendary Hungarian coach Bela Guttmann led Benfica to two European Cup triumphs. Following the second victory, over Real Madrid, he left the club in a dispute over salary. When leaving he said that Benfica would not win a European title in one hundred years. Since then, Benfica have lost European finals in 1963 (AC Milan), 1965 (Inter), 1968 (Manchester United), 1983 (Anderlecht), 1988 (PSV Eindhoven), 1990 (AC Milan) and 2013 (Chelsea). Tonight was their eighth try as they entered the Europa League final against Sevilla.
It was a very tactical game, but Benfica surely had the best chances to score during the match, but continuously hit a wall of Sevilla players and the goalkeeper Beto. In the end it all went to penalty kicks, and this is where the curse may really have kicked in: Oscar Cardozo and Rodrigo looked more like little children with very weak penalty kicks that Beto easily saved. It was enough to give Sevilla a 4-2 victory.
Everyone cried: Benfica fans in desperation and Sevilla fans of joy.
The late Eusebio, who was brought to Benfica by Bela Guttmann, famously prayed at Bela Guttmann's grave to lift the curse, but this has not happened. The curse lives on, and maybe Benfica will have to wait to 2062 before they can win a European title again...

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Premier League champions

I was in Sierra Leone when Manchester City took the 2014 Premier League title. I must admit that I have had a soft spot for Manchester City since their heart attack victory of the 2012 Premier League. At the same time I think Manuel Pellegrini is a coach who has finally deserved a title; he was running the risk of becoming the most successful coach in Europe without a title! But his cool and commitment to attacking football are praiseworthy and probably hugely important in guiding the team at the end of the season.
Despite Liverpool also deserving the title, Manchester City proved to be the most stable side, in particular at the end. When stability and consistence counted, it seemed that neither Liverpool or Chelsea  could stand the pressure.
This was an incredible Premier League season. Not only the dramatic end with the top-3, but also so many great games and great sides that have surprised positively, like Southampton and Arsenal (despite them being disappointed for not getting more. It is ironic, because at the start of the season I think they would have been content with what they got). Manchester United and Tottenham have been disappointing, of course, and it will be interesting to see how they build up for next season.
There is a World Cup in the way, but surely every fan will be waiting eagerly for next Premier League season to begin.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Update: Trying to get a ticket for the World Cup

In my interest for a World Cup ticket, I inquired the company offering tickets about how it could be that they could offer them. This was their reply:

"Dear customer,
I understand you are looking for tickets to the following match,
to which we have a limited number available now.
www.easysportstickets.com

Valid tickets

As informed on our site, we are a company reselling tickets in the secondary market, being now the biggest one in Europe after 16 years doing it. We are getting all tickets from the official suppliers so we guarantee them as official and original ones.

VIP Gold/Platinum are our best alongside seats, as close as possible to the pitch and the half line, and the best view of the match (VIP Platinum is 1st floor and VIP Gold is 1st or 2nd floor). These tickets do not include any package.
Category 1 can be any seat alongside, any tier or side of the pitch, not necessarily central.
Category 2 can be any seat located in a corner of the stadium.
Category 3 can be any seat behind the goal, any tier and either end.
Best Available tickets are the best available price, and can be anywhere in the stadium.
Away section tickets will be with the visiting team supporters, and this section is usually located in the corner or behind the goal.

If you have a special request for a more specific location within the category you have selected, we recommend you write a comment in the comment box, and we will do our best to match your request.
Shipping:

Tickets will be delivered up to two weeks before the event to your home address, be it local or abroad. You can include the shipping address in the specified shipping address section when placing an order. In the case of a late release of tickets from the official supplier, we will contact you to request a shipping address in Brazil, such as a hotel address. This is also an option if you are going to be travelling (you can let us know your arrival date and hotel details). We ship tickets exclusively with registered express courier companies, the safest way to ensure you receive your tickets on time, and at your door.

If you decide you want the tickets, please order ASAP, because the price will be higher soon, and the availability is limited for this highly demanded event!

For anything else, please contact us by e-mail or by phone.

Best regards,

Sales Department
www.easysportstickets.com"

Of course, I should not let these guy's message stand alone, and asked FIFA pretty much the same question. This was FIFA's reply:

"Dear Customer,

Thank you for contacting the FIFA Ticketing Centre.

No other websites or parties have any rights to legitimately sell Tickets for the Competition. If you see any other website offering Tickets for the Competition you can be certain that this is not a legitimate sales channel. Please note that any Tickets obtained from any other source (for example, unauthorised intermediaries such as ticket brokers, internet auctions, internet ticket agents, internet or other unofficial ticket exchange platforms)can be automatically rendered void and invalid and do not entitle the Ticket Holder to enter the Stadium or to any refund or further compensation. Upon request from FIFA, Ticket Holders must explain how, from whom, for what consideration and from where they obtained their Tickets.

The company you have identified does not have any legitimate tickets to sell, and is not authorized to sell tickets. We have reported them to consumer protection authorities, and suggest that you do the same. Acquisition of tickets from such sites poses the risks that are identified on www.FIFA.com/tickets on the page identified as “Authorized Sales Channels.”

All information about ticket availability and sales phases is posted on www.FIFA.com/tickets.

Kind Regards
"

 I do not know what to make of all this. I think FIFA is honest in the sense that they are the only authorised to sell tickets, but at the same time they are not saying something about them knowing that many tickets are out there. I think the company is honest about them guaranteeing the tickets, but they are not saying something about there being a risk that it may not be honoured by FIFA....

I do not think I will be going to the World Cup.
Ever. 

Monday, May 05, 2014

The side that could not be champion

A few weeks ago it seemed that Liverpool would win the Premier League title. They were playing well. They were confident. And most important of all, they seemed to be more consistent than their closest opponents. Perhaps it was nerves, pressure, or maybe even a curse, but now it seems very unlikely that Liverpool will be champions. Chelsea's 0-2 victory at Anfield was the first blow to Liverpool, who then had to hope that Manchester City would slip in their three remaining matches. City took the first step by an excellent 2-3 victory at Everton. So today the pressure was on Liverpool, away to Crystal Palace.
Liverpool were 0-3 up with 11 minutes left, only to throw it all away. Crystal Palace made it 3-3!
Liverpool have one match left in the Premier League, at home against Newcastle. If they win, they will end the league with 84 points. Manchester City currently has 80 points, and two matches at home against Aston Villa and West Ham respectively. Liverpool must attach themselves to the feeble hope that Manchester City, who has only lost one home match in the season (like Liverpool, to Chelsea), will lose one of these last two matches.
Miracles can happen, but they do not seem to happen to Liverpool any longer.
That said, Manchester City will be great champions.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Trying to get a ticket for the World Cup

I have no life. But I have a job where I make good money and have the opportunity of taking days off. It is in this context that I have wanted to find a ticket for a World Cup match. I had my eyes set on Chile-Spain in the legendary Maracana stadium, and applied for tickets through the somewhat random FIFA ticket process. Of course I did not get a ticket. Guys like me never do. But of course, I am still looking, and if you search for "World Cup tickets" on google you will find that there are apparently a lot of tickets. On a ticket sales site I have found a ticket for 497 Euros!
Would I pay that for the ticket. Absolutely yes. But have I done it? No.
I am in doubt of the ticket being real. I wrote FIFA and asked whether this could be real, and their message was "Thank you for contacting Fifa Ticketing Service. Please be advised that the only authorized ticket selling platform is www.FIFA.com. Any tickets purchased on any other website will not be honored."
Fair enough, and pretty clear. Not long ago I bought a ticket for a Premier League match on one of these sites, and was told at the stadium that it could not be used because someone had purchased many tickets with the same credit card (I paid for another ticket). I did nevertheless get the money back from the site, which apologized, which makes me think that they are, if not legit, at least honest about selling their tickets (At the same time, I am impressed about the club, where it is not difficult to limit how many tickets are bought on the same credit card). I would buy a ticket for Chile-Spain right now for 497 Euros. But my fear is getting there, traveling all the way to Brazil, and stand there as an idiot when they tell me that the ticket "will not be honoured", even if they give me my money back.

FIFA limits how many tickets you can buy. But how come there are so many sites offering tickets as well? If tickets can only be bought via the FIFA website, isn't what all these sites are doing illegal? How come FIFA does not warn even more about these sites?
It is not about the money. It is about getting into the match. And as it seems to me, there is no way to getting in by dealing with FIFA, although there seem to be a lot of tickets around.
I want a ticket.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

The first step

Manchester City took the first step to the 2014 Premier League title with a 2-3 away victory to Everton. It was an exciting match where Sergio Aguero equalised for Man City after Ross Barkley brought Everton ahead on a splendid goal (Barkley may not have gotten the message that Everton should lose, since he played a great match).
Edin Dzeko did not win many friends when taking out time and complaining for no reason, but can still be credited for the remaining two goals for Man City, while Romelu Lukaku scored for Everton. Perhaps we should get used to it: Edin Dzeko's tears may be the only thing Bosnia-Herzegovina has to offer in the World Cup.
But it was a big step, being he most difficult match left for Man City, who are only two matches away from the title.
Pressure!

Friday, May 02, 2014

Top ten consolations when you lose

With age comes wisdom. When I was younger I would become quite depressed for days when my football team lost. While my recent disappointment about Valencia's last minute debacle brought down my world for a moment, I have subsequently reflected more on this type of disappointment, which all football fans have undoubtedly tried. Here are the top ten things that console me when we lose:

10) A Beer
9) Blame the coach, who did not do what you would have done.
8) Demonise the opposing team (Easy if it is a country)
7) Complain on social media (from personal experience I can also recommend a blog)
6) Another beer.
5) Look at old clips of your team's glorious moments.
4) Complain to someone who never watches football and cannot understand the subjectivity of your apparently objective arguments.
3) More beer.
2) "Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. That is football".
1) Beer.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

From light into darkness in a moment

I have been supporting Valencia CF since 2000, and they made me incredibly happy in 2004, when they won the Spanish league as well as the Europa League title. Since then, Valencia has done from bad to worse. They have no chance of playing Champions League next season and are not much more than a mediocre side over the last season's. But against all odds they had made it to the Europa League semifinal to play another Spanish team, Sevilla. Despite losing 2-0 in the first leg in Seville, hope was there: in the quarterfinal Valencia had lost 0-3 to Basel, only to win 0-5 in the second leg!
Why not a comeback against Sevilla...?
And it seemed to be on the way. Until the 94th minute Valencia were 3-0 up, and heading to the final. But then Sevilla scored one of those goals that should never happen. One of those goals that brings you from heaven to hell in a moment; that turns happiness into sadness; euphoria into disappointment; light into darkness...
It could have been a fine football week. Now it was only a football week. And a horrible week at that.

Madrid-Madrid final

It was bound to be an interesting final no matter what happened between Chelsea and Atletico Madrid, and indeed, it is now confirmed that the final in Lisbon on May 24th will be a local derby between David and Goliath, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid.
Real Madrid are favourites for sure, but Atletico Madrid showed great quality when they brushed aside Chelsea 1-3 in Stamford Bridge. It was a strange Chelsea side. The line-up without Schurrle and Azpilicueta as right-half seemed a bit surprising, but they seemed to dominate and with patience, went ahead 1-0. But Atletico's 1-1 right before halftime made Chelsea lose their nerve while it gave Atletico a boost of energy.  Chelsea's defense looked the shakiest I have seen them in the season as Atletico's pressure improved. Although it was not a big penalty, it was only deserved when Diego Costa made it 2-1. Arda Turan's Turkish delight of a third goal only sealed a legendary night for Atletico Madrid, and what must be one of the most embarrassing defeats for Chelsea and Mourinho.
I cannot help but think that Chelsea underestimated Atletico Madrid, and already had their minds in Lisbon. At this level, underestimating an opponent is an unforgiveable mistake.

I will definitely support Atletico Madrid in the final, as I think everyone who is not a Real Madrid fan will. They are huge underdogs in every sense of the word, but Real Madrid will know that their opponents will fight to the last second. That is one of the great inspirations Diego Simeone have given this side. At the same time, I cannot feel but a lingering doubt about Atletico's nerves, as I cannot but help to think of the CL final of 2000 (which is very painful to me): Valencia were having a splendid season, far better than Real Madrid, and arrived at the Champions League final almost as favourites against Real Madrid. In that final they completely lost their head, impressed by the setting and by them being so close to the title. Real Madrid tore them apart with a 3-0 victory...
I am afraid something similar could happen, but certainly hope not. It would only be wonderful for Spanish football if Atletico Madrid won both la liga and the Champions League..