Saturday, June 23, 2018

Belgium in the house!

Belgium are fantastic, and pulled a great 5-2 against Tunisia. With Croatia, they are best team of the tournament so far. Although the have some weaknesses, hey play direct football and have splendid strikers. I hope they make it far, but still I have a lingering doubt whether they will make it when it counts.
Belgium is one of my favourites to go far, a country that loves beer and football, all football fans, not least myself, have a little Belgian part of our football hearts!

For the first time in my life

When Argentina faces Nigeria it will be the first time in my life I will not support Argentina. Argentina are the reason I love football, remembering their legendary 1986 victory with the amazing, incredible and great Diego Maradona (I do admire him more than anyone!). Since then, Argentina has given me both happiness and frustration over the years, but still, one knew that it would be a quality side of players who fight for the Albiceleste shirt.
That is not the case any longer, and I believe that Argentina needs a renewal; and this renewal will not come if they continue in the tournament. The squad is in total disarray; it appears Sampaoli is being thrown out by the players, while players appear to blame each other and nobody (I wonder if anyone, even some of the friends he has forced onto the squad, have told Messi that he should have sweat a bit against Croatia?).
While they may have hope, one thing Argentina must also remember is that Nigeria will give nothing away; that their strikers such as Ahmed Musa and Kelechi Iheanacho surely have the quality to run around the inept Argentine defense and their even more inept goalkeeper (in case Caballero starts at all). I think Nigeria deserves to be more in the last-16 than Argentina (or Iceland), and African representation would be great.
Finally, in the (unlikely) case Argentina wins, I would rather spare them the probable humiliation of facing a quality side in the next round, likely to be France. The French strikers and midfield are likely to have a field-day against Argentina! And we all know how Messi behaves when something is not to his little liking: just by walking around like a petulant child. He should grow some cojones.
It actually saddens me to say it, but I will support Nigeria.
In any case, I will not be able to watch the match, as I will be in Rostov-on-Don.

Friday, June 22, 2018

The nice thing about Costa Rica

The nice things about Costa Rica is that they have a great goalkeeper and defend heroically. But that is about it, and any football fan should be happy that Brazil won a well-deserved victory against a defensive side.
That said, Brazil were not great, and they are difficult to like with Neymar's petulance and acting. He would be 100 times a better player if he didn't waste his time (although to his benefit, one has to wonder whether the pressure these guys are under is too much. I don't think so; they get paid more than Doctors, Teachers, Nurses, Cleaners, etc., for kicking a damn ball!).
The cancellation of the penalty has completely justified VAR. And I hope Neymar and many of the other players in the tournament who do more acting than playing, are learning the lesson.

Why is nobody talking about Nigeria

Nigeria opened by losing to the best side of the tournament so far, Croatia. But a victory today could put them almost surely in the last-16. And it is not impossible, although Iceland are a good and solid side. A tie will mean that the last match for either team will be a final, with Nigeria having the better chances when facing the minnows of the group from Argentina. But do not count Nigeria out, and today we will have an indication of who will follow the Croatians out from the group.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The disaster waiting to happen, happened

Nobody who has been watching Argentina under Sampaoli can be surprised about today’s 3-0 humiliation by a great Croatian side (where Luka Modric outshone everyone). Argentina are not a football team, and have not been one for long. They don’t work together, have any ideas, and their defenders are among the worst in the world. And when Lionel Messi does not perform, their only real football player, the team ranks below the mediocre levels of mediocrity. Nobody performed today and the slight hope any Argentina fan had (and it was just a slight hope) were dashed by the incompetence of the team.
Argentina are out (I do not mind much their slight theoretical chance if they defeat Nigeria).

But let us look forward a bit. This could be good for Argetina. Just like Brazil’s 1-7 defeat to Germany led them to re-organize, this could lead to Argentina starting from fresh: (1) get some competence into the Argentine FA, who has been largely to blame for all the chaos around the national team for years; (2) revamp the failing Argentine youth system that used to be one of the best in the world, but has failed because of FA incompetence; (3) get rid of many of the current players, notably Aguero, Higuain and Mascherano, and build something around new younger players who, first of all, must play with heart for their country. This generation of Argentine footballs did their part, but shall quickly be forgotten. And all this must also include a farewell with gratitude to Lionel Messi. Gratitude, because he did a lot for the country during a difficult time for Argentine football: great player with amazing skills, perfect for the age of Playstation and Twitter.
But among the best there ever were..??
No way in the world.

I am personally hugely disappointed to see Argentina out. I will not bear my Argentina shirt for a long time. But I certainly hope and expect that a revived Argentina will be back. Not least because of the fantastic fans.

Gracias Peru!!!! Sos Grande!!!!

Peru are out of the World Cup after their initial defeats to Denmark and France. Peru doesn’t deserve it. They played a great game against Denmark and gave France a good fight in which they should have scored. But that is the tragedy of football; the better team does not always win because it is about scoring goals, the one thing Peru failed at.
Peru are a more see-worthy and entertaining team than either Denmark or Australia, so surely any objective football fan will be supporting whoever one of them will face in the last-16 (Iceland, Croatia or Nigeria).
Peru are also a young side, and thus I hope they will not be brought down by these defeats. They should know that they have to continue playing great and that football fans all over the world will be hoping to see their team and the great Peruvian fans in four years!!!!!

It wasn’t jetlag

I have just traveled for 22 hours from El Salvador to Denmark. I arrived a few hours before the Denmark-Australia match. I fell asleep during the match. It was not because of the jetlag, but more because this was perhaps the match with the lowest quality of the entire tournament. Two very poor sides with low levels of technique and organisation.The only good thing in the match was Eriksen’s goal. And while Australia’s penalty can be said to be controversial (in my view it was), it is not the reason Denmark did not win. Denmark did not win simply because they were crap.
And I will sleep again.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The best about the World Cup (so far)

For the first round of the World Cup I have been in El Salvador. I have before said how negative I am about this World Cup generally, but I would like to strike a more positive note by mentioning the top five things I have liked most about the World Cup so far in this first round of matches:
5) Denmark's luck: I watched the Peru-Denmark match in a Denmark shirt in an empty bar called Strikers in San Salvador. Denmark were lucky to say the least, but it felt good to finally have some of that elusive football luck that seems to favour everyone else but me.
4) VAR: I must admit that I did not like it in the first few matches. But as I see referees use it with more restraint it is becoming better; players do seem more careful that a crazy challenge could lead to a penalty or a goal, but at the same time referees are not using it all the time. Of course some of the decisions remain unclear (I do not think France should have had a penalty against Australia), but that should be part of the game. Now, the next step is to use it against all the acting that is still way too much....
3) The excuse for drinking beer: Perhaps pretty obvious, but the more I travel around the world I see this as one of the most common and best traits of the World Cup. And here in El Salvador it is no exception amid great people, football fans and the occasional beer.
2) Russia and its fans: Russia has been exceptional against expectations. Of course they are yet to face quality opposition, but an 8-1 score remains a great way to start any World Cup. And best of all they have been supported by fantastic fans that should put all the people who doubted a World Cup in Russia to shame.
1) Mexico and its fans: The Mexicans were very pessimistic before the tournament. Now they have turned around completely and consider themselves World Champions. But they always had a good team and defeated a lame Germany fair and square. But who needs to win if you have fans like the Mexicans? No matter the result they would have turned Russia into a party, and just the more so because of their victory. I will wear my Chapulin Colorado shirt for Mexico's next matches! Viva Mexico!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Qué Kagawa!

Colombia expected to defeat Japan as they did in 2014. Back then it was a stronger Japan side, and a Colombia side that was yet to take on the world stage. Today world renown Colombia faced a crisis-ridden Japanese side.
The first minute was probably crucial for how the match went: Carlos Sanchez was correctly awarded the first red card of the tournament when he made a hand save inside the area that must have been the envy of David Ospina. The great Shinji Kagawa did not miss the penalty (as others have done). Ten men down Japan were surely the most intelligent and fighting side against a Colombian side that clearly do not handle pressure well. Despite them equalizing thanks to a Juan Fernando Quintero free kick (with the help of hapless Eiji Kawashima on goal), Japan were the better team. Not even the great James Rodriguez coming on helped a side that stopped believing in the own skills as soon as Japan scored.
And all respect to an organized Japanese team: they did not seem in crisis, but were instead swimming in confidence. A splendid Yuya Osako scored the winner, and now Japan are suddenly looking like contenders for the next round.

Poland lost to 1-2 to a fantastic Senegal (giving Africa its first victory of the tournament). For many  people Poland and Colombia were the favourites of this group (in my personal opinion Poland has always been the most overrated side of this tournament; they play horrible football, relying on only Lewandowski's brilliance, and their fans are the most pathetic in the world). Now Poland and Colombia will be facing each other in the tournament's first "final".
Colombia are in my view a far better team, but if they play with as little heart and confidence when things go against them as they did against Japan, they will lose and break the hearts of millions of Colombian fans (including myself!!!).

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Disappointing Brazil

Alongside Germany, Brazil has been touted as one of the favourites for the title. And in the first part of the match against Switzerland they looked like possible champions. Right until Coutinho scored his fantastic goal, Brazil were by far the better team. But it seemed as if the goal was the end for them. They took down the pace, pulled back, and let Switzerland slowly enter the match, instead of attacking to get a second goal.
When the game seemed at its slowest, Switzerland equalized after a corner kick. Surely Steven Zuber seemed to push Miranda before scoring, and surely the Brazilians might have had a penalty denied. But this was not why they did not win. Switzerland were cynical, organized and physical. As the match progressed they did some tasteless free kicks and continuously stopped the game. Brazil were slightly unlucky not to score in the end, but one did leave with the impression that Brazil was unable to put on a higher gear when things seemed to go against them. Their reaction was petulant frustration, which the Swiss were good at pushing.
A future World Champion is tested when things go against them. In this regard, Brazil did not succeed today, but hopefully it may be that this meager 1-1 against Switzerland may represent a wake-up call for the great Brazilians.

Mexico defeats the World Champions!

Germany has been hailed as a favourite to defend their title, and today we saw what they are made of: a 0-1 defeat to Mexico, who had studied Germany's main weakness, namely their high and slow defense. This defense also almost cost them the title in 2018, but a German side without Lahm continues to use it, and this gave fantastic space to Miguel Layun, Carlos Vela, Chicharito, and most notably to Hirving Lozano, El Chucky, who scored the Mexican lone winner amid their many chances.
Germany pressed on, but bad luck, good goalkeeping and heroic defending gave Mexico the victory and Germany a costly defeat. But in the end, Germany have only themselves to thank: they entered the match with arrogance and underestimating Mexico. You cannot defend a title with such an attitude.
Mexico defeated the World Champions, but I hope this victory does not go to their heads. There are more very difficult matches ahead.

Denmark winning in El Salvador

I went to a place called Strikers in San Salvador to watch Denmark-Peru after the big disappointment of watching Argentina-Iceland. I was surely the only Dane there (I doubt there are any other Danes here) against a small group of Peruvians who seemed much more into it than I did.
Denmark won, and I was happy. Denmark played bad and were lucky to win, but that shows the luck factor in football. But you cannot count on luck throughout the tournament, and after having seen such a shitty performance, I cannot say that Denmark are certain not to lose against Australia or France. Peru on the other had showed skills but lacked to keep their head cool.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Messi and his attachments

I want to start by saying that Messi is a splendid footballer. In fact, he is the only real footballer on Argentina's side.
That said...
I have before said that this is the worst Argentina side ever. And I believe this more strongly than ever after having seen a side that doesn't know how to defend and that seemed never to have watched Iceland play (Iceland are a solid side that played as predictably organised as they did during Euro 2016 and during the qualifiers).
And Messi was a mess. I am not only talking about his missed penalty, but also about his attitude; he did not seem a man who wanted to win. Much has been made about him being better than Maradona or not and in my view this misses a point after having seen the match today: Maradona played for the team, but Messi plays for himself.  Messi does not understand, like Maradona did, that carrying a team is not about you doing everything, but about making your team-mates better, even if it takes attention away from yourself.

Back in Maradona's day he was as much a star as Messi is today. All eyes were on him and his carrying the team. And he did carry the team, even without having the ball: in many matches Maradona used the fact that all eyes were on him in order to pull back, pull some opposing players along, and thus give space to other skilled Argentinean players. He knew how to use the attention for the best of the team. Messi has no such skill; instead, it seems that Argentinean players have been told that all they need to do is pass it to Messi. Against Iceland is seemed that some otherwise decently skilled players (except the defenders, who do not even deserve to be called defenders) were afraid of taking any initiative of their own, because all initiative is supposed to be done by Messi. And when Messi doesn't perform, nobody is supposed to overshadow him, probably because Messi, as a narcissistic millennial, doesn't want anybody else to overshadow him, even if it may cost the team.
Messi will never do like Maradona, by giving space to other players, because that will overshadow his little own selfish self. That same little selfish self who cannot score on the penalties when it counts.

Argentina are supposed to be a great team, and they would be great if they were not just a one-man team, but a team where the best of each player came to its best (does the best of DiMaria or Aguero come forth???), and not just Lionel Messi's ego.
But Argentina cannot be World Champion. With or without Messi they are simply not good enough. That said, it is a wonder if they want to play and win or lose with honour. As it is now, there is no honour in just always passing the ball to Messi, who clearly does not have the willingness or skills to lift the skills of each of his team-mates; to make a group of players into a team, and not just an attachment to Lionel Messi.

In the meantime, Croatia beat Nigeria 2-0. Croatia are bound to defeat Argentina, and Messi and his attachment will be facing elimination against a Nigerian side that should be much more a team and a group than Messi and his attachments.

The use of technology

France deserved to win against Australia; they are clearly a better team than Australia (Bert van Marwijk has made them a solid, boring, physical team, which works better than what he did to Netherlands in 2010). But what this match will be remembered for is the use of technology by the referee, for good and for bad....
I am not in favour of using VAR for penalty situations or off-sides. It should only be used for outright violence or for goal situations. And in my view France's penalty was such a case: maybe it was a penalty (I do not think it was), but it is clear that VAR does not take the controversy away, but just adds to it. Such a call has a high degree of subjectivity that VAR does not eliminate.
The second French goal clearly showed the good use of goalline technology, and I can think of other situations where this goal would not have been called (think Germany-England 2010 or Brazil-Spain 1986). It is great that the message that the ball is in goal, goes directly to the referee, avoiding the use of VAR. This is a huge improvement, but the way VAR is being used is no improvement, but just serves to further create controversy.
I look forward to a faraway Star Trek future where AI Androids are refereeing. At least they will be immune to temptation, if not to hackers!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Opening match

I did not watch the opening match of the World Cup. But I heard it ended 5-0 for Russia. I am happy for the Russian fans, who have been vilified by the West. Otherwise, not much to be happy about: this is the largest winning scoreline in an opening match ever. So history happened, but not much to be happy about: it just shows that there are too many mediocre footballing countries in the World Cup, such as Saudi Arabia, and that we will have to wait a while before we start seeing some real football (knock-out rounds). And just expect this to be even worse when the World Cup is expanded to 48 teams: opening match between Saudi Arabia and Nepal...

Thursday, June 14, 2018

"World Cup" 2026

Today the "World Cup" 2026 went to the USA, Mexico and Canada in order for FIFA to make billions. Because of course the priority is not the game, but FIFA's money. A tournament in three countries (of which only one can be called a footballing nation) with what seems will be 48 teams participating cannot be called a World Cup but rather a nationalist get-together of mediocrity. The last World Cup will be this one in Russia.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

My predictions for the World Cup... or not....

I was going to make my predictions for this World Cup. But the truth is that I cannot. It is not because the usual reason (that I am always wrong). Rather, it is because I have realized I have a hard time getting excited about this World Cup.
I fell in love with the World Cup in 1986, and since then every four years have been special in my otherwise dull life. I remember where I have been every time, and remember many matches in a special way. Four years ago I was incredibly excited, and after trying vainly to get tickets for Brazil, I instead made a trip to many of the countries participating in the tournament, watching the tournament with friends around the world. My first disappointment in this tournament was again being unable to get tickets through a system that lacks transparency and ease.
But it goes deeper than this.
A friend recently asked me "Is it because it is in Russia?".
Absolutely not: I believe Russia will be as great hosts as anybody else would be!

No, the problem goes deeper to football: the ugly nationalism that football promotes (more or less consciously); the corruption and match fixing (having read the book "The Fix", I think this is much more widespread than us fans would like to know about); FIFA's insincere management of the game (well illustrated by the ticketing and the initiatives to expand the World Cup); the widespread misogyny in football that few really want to address; the hatred between fans that still assails the game; the players, who more as examples for youth, spend their time showing off their money and fame, and spend half their time acting on the pitch (football is sadly the most dishonest sport in the world); racism and xenophobia (yes, it exists and is growing in every single country and league); the hypocritical infiltration of politics into football (recently illustrated by German fans booing Gundogan in a match against Saudi Arabia); football's half-hearted and dishonest efforts in really trying to address all these problems....

Many years ago I read a comic by the great Enki Bilal, "Hors Jeu"; a bleak future world in which the last football match is being played, following the deterioration of the game due to violence, money, corruption, etc. While the comic ends with some hope when the narrator describes some children playing football on the street, as a symbol of the innocence of the beautiful game, I do wonder whether this innocence barely exists any longer, and that football is heading towards its own destruction.

The last World Cup...? Maybe I will get excited in a few days, but I have been trying without luck.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

The Clubs in the World Cup

In my view Club football surpassed national team football in terms of quality and entertainment a long time ago (but it does not appeal to the nationalist passions of people who usually never watch football), and in this context it was interesting for me to look into how the club representation is at the World Cup. So with a lot of time to myself I put it all into an Excell ark and started inputs.
There are 311 clubs from 53 countries represented among the 736 players in the World Cup. Of course, some country leagues, like Norway, Honduras or Guinea, are represented by one single player (Iceland, Panama and Senegal respectively), while others are very well represented. So according to the number of players alone, these are the top-ten leagues in the world:
  1. England: There are 133 players from 28 different countries in the World Cup. Only Panama, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Uruguay (perhaps a bit surprising due to the quality of its players) do not have players in England. The English League is not only the Premier League, but also Championship teams are well represented. The dominance of English teams is so strong that for instance Stoke, with five players, is better represented in the World Cup than giants Ajax Amsterdam!
  2. Spain: 79 players from 22 countries shows the strength of the Spanish league, although one should mention that 35% of these players come from two well-known clubs (more about this later). There are 23 Spanish teams with players at the World Cup.
  3. Germany: 66 players from 19 different countries play in Germany.  
  4. Italy: Italy did not qualify, but still Italy is very well represented in terms of clubs, and would probably be even better had they qualified. There are 59 players from 21 different countries playing football in Italy. This is of course not surprising with many players in big clubs like Juventus, Inter Milan, AC Milan, and even Sampdoria!
  5. France: 49 players play in France, with quite variety as they come from 19 different countries. One team accounts for 12 of these players (PSG), but note that the French team with players from most countries is AS Monaco, with 8 players representing 7 different countries (Senegal, Colombia, Poland, Croatia, Portugal, Belgium and France).
  6. Russia: Perhaps a bit surprising, but the hosts are well represented also at club level, with 37 players plying their trade in Russia. Although 10 different countries are represented, 21 of these players are in fact playing for Russia. The non-Russian teams with most players playing in Russia are Iceland and Iran (3 each).
  7. Saudi Arabia: 31 players are playing in Saudi Arabia, but this is because Saudi Arabia has 20 players in the squad playing there, 16 of which play for two teams (Al-Ahli and Al-Hilal). Egypt and Tunisia each have five members of their squad playing in Saudi Arabia, and Australia has one.
  8. Mexico: 22 players from seven different countries play in Mexico. Eight of these are in the Mexican squad, and seven in the Peruvian squad. The only player not from South- or North America playing in Mexico is the great Japanese Keisuke Honda (who is one of two Pachuca players in Russia).
  9. MLS (and this includes both US and one Canadian side): The growth of the MLS is shown by the fact that they are represented despite neither USA or Canada having qualified. There are 20 players from seven countries playing in the MLS. 12 of these players are from Costa Rica and Panama.
  10. Turkey: There are 19 players from 11 different countries, representing 11 different Turkish clubs. Perhaps most surprising is that Bursaspor has four players from three different countries in Russia (Nigeria, Senegal and Australia).
Now, perhaps more interesting than the individual leagues is to know which clubs are best represented in the World Cup:
  1. Manchester City: There was much talk of Germany not selecting Leroy Sane. And surely he will be lonely in Manchester, from where 16 players are going to the World Cup. These come from eight different countries. Brazil has four players from Manchester City, which is more than they have playing in the Brazilian league!
  2. Real Madrid: There are 15 Real Madrid players from eight different countries in the World Cup. This is despite some stars, such as Bale and Benzema, not going to Russia. Six Real Madrid players are going for Spain.
  3. Chelsea: The English side may have had a dreadful season but at least 14 of the players get to go to Russia with nine different teams, some of which will be fighting for the title, such as Spain, Brazil, Germany or France and perhaps even Argentina, Belgium or England...
  4. FC Barcelona: 13 players from nine different countries ply their trade in Barcelona. The most famous of these plays for Argentina, but many also represent some other big countries such as Spain (3), France (2), Brazil (2), Germany (1) or Uruguay (1)
  5. Paris St. Germain: 10 players from six different countries, the Parisian giants are well represented, particularly among the South Americans with Brazil (3), Argentina (2), Uruguay (1), but also with three French, two Germans and a Belgian.
  6. Tottenham: With 10 players from six different countries they are tied with PSG (but I decided to top Paris alphabetically). Five of these players are representing England.
  7. Juventus: If Italy had qualified Juventus would plausibly have been among the top clubs. Still, they are seventh with 11 players representing 10 different countries.
  8. Bayern Munich: The German giants have eleven players representing five countries. Seven of these are nevertheless playing for Germany, underlining the club's dominance in Germany.
  9. Manchester United: Ten players from six different countries play for Manchester United. Four of these play for England, but also two for Belgium, and one each for Spain, Sweden, France and Serbia.
  10. Al-Ahli: The runners-up of this season's Saudi championship are heavily represented in Russia with ten players from four different countries. Seven of these are in the Saudi squad (but Al-Hilal beats them with nine players in the Saudi squad), but also include one player each from Tunisia, Egypt and Australia.

The Greatest World Cup matches 1930-2014

Four years ago, for the 2010 World Cup, I did a series of the 50 greatest world cup matches of all time. I updated the list with three matches in 2014, and now it is time to update it with two matches from the 2016 World Cup, with a total of the 55 greatest matches in World Cup History (in chronological order!):
  1. France-Mexico, 1930
  2. Uruguay-Argentina, 1930
  3. Italy-Czechoslovakia, 1934
  4. Brazil-Italy, 1938
  5. Italy-Hungary, 1938
  6. USA-England, 1950
  7. Brazil-Uruguay, 1950
  8. Hungary-Uruguay, 1954
  9. Hungary-West Germany, 1954
  10. Sweden-Brazil, 1958
  11. Brazil-Czechoslovakia, 1962
  12. Italy-North Corea, 1966
  13. England-Argentina, 1966
  14. Portugal-North Corea, 1966
  15. England-West Germany, 1966
  16. West Germany-Italy, 1970
  17. Brazil-Uruguay, 1970
  18. Italy-Brazil, 1970
  19. West Germany-East Germany, 1974
  20. Yugoslavia-Zaire, 1974
  21. Netherlands-Brazil, 1974
  22. West Germany-Netherlands, 1974
  23. Argentina-Netherlands, 1978
  24. Hungary-El Salvador, 1982
  25. Algeria-West Germany, 1982
  26. Italy-Brazil, 1982
  27. France-West Germany, 1982
  28. Italy-West Germany, 1982
  29. Morocco-Portugal, 1986
  30. Brazil-France, 1986
  31. Argentina-England, 1986
  32. West Germany-Argentina 1986
  33. Cameroon-Argentina, 1990
  34. West Germany-England, 1990
  35. Italy-Argentina, 1990
  36. West Germany-Argentina, 1990
  37. Russia-Cameroon, 1994
  38. Italy-Spain, 1994
  39. Bulgaria-Germany, 1994
  40. Italy-Brazil, 1994
  41. USA-Iran, 1998
  42. Croatia-Germany 1998
  43. Argentina-England 1998
  44. France-Brazil 1998
  45. USA-Mexico, 2002
  46. South Corea-Spain, 2002
  47. Germany-Brazil, 2002
  48. Italy-Australia, 2006
  49. France-Brazil, 2006
  50. France-Italy, 2006
  51. Ghana-Uruguay, 2010
  52. Germany-Spain, 2010
  53. Spain-Netherlands, 2010
  54. Brazil-Germany, 2014
  55. Germany-Argentina, 2014
Cheers, and hope we will have more history in the making for Russia 2018.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Greatest World Cup Matches: Germany-Argentina 2014

The 2014 World Cup final will be remembered for two things: it made Germany the greatest footballing nation of all time and it made Lionel Messi the greatest player never to win a thing for his country.
Argentina entered the tournament by winning the always-difficult South American qualifying group (Brazil did not take part as they were hosts). Manager Alejandro Sabella had built up his team around the Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi, who he had made captain of the team. While Messi had scored 10 goals in qualification, he kept being criticised for not being as good with his home country as he was with Barcelona. But truth was that Argentina had been struggling with setting a style where Messi could be used optimally in a team. It was not because Argentina lacked strength in other positions: an ageing but experienced defense around Manchester City's Martin Demichelis and Pablo Zabaleta, alongside Benfica's Ezequiel Garay and Sporting's Marcos Rojo, in front of Monaco goalkeeper Sergio Romero. The difficulty of finding midfielders in support of Messi was not because of lack of choice: Fernando Gago from Boca Juniors, Lucas Biglia from Lazio, Enzo Perez from Benfica and Maxi Rodriguez from Newell's Old Boys were all in the squad, and complemented the sure starters Javier Mascherano from Barcelona and Angel DiMaria from Real Madrid, the only two players on the squad, besides Messi, of superstar quality. To play up front Argentina had what on paper looked like luxury choices with Inter's Rodrigo Palacio, PSG's Ezequiel Lavezzi, Manchester City's Sergio Aguero and Napoli's Gonzalo Higuain. These choices proved to be purely on paper.
Sabella was an intelligent manager who knew that a team, to win the World Cup, needed to balance play with defense and pace itself for the tournament. Argentina won its group with three victories against Bosnia-Hercegovina, Iran and Nigeria. Despite Messi scoring four goals there was criticism of their slow defense and over-dependence on Messi, as their apparent star strikers could not score (the two other goals were an own-goal and one by defender Rojo), and Messi, despite it all, looked tired, and only showed his brilliance occasionally. In the last-16 Argentina struggled to defeat Switzerland, with DiMaria providing a 1-0 victory late into extra time. Against Belgium in the quarterfinals Argentina won a hard-worked 1-0 victory with Higuain's only goal of the tournament, and in the semifinals Argentina again worked through a penalty kick victory against a difficult and cynical Dutch side. Although they had not looked impressive Argentina were nevertheless in the World Cup final in none other place that in their big rival's home, Brazil. Argentine fans were ecstatic as Brazilians clearly feared the humiliation of Argentina winning in Brazil. Of course, a Brazil-Argentina final would have been what everyone wanted, but this was not to happen when Brazil suffered the greatest humiliation in World Cup history when losing 7-1 in the semifinals to the other finalist, Germany.
This was the third final between Germany and Argentina following 1986 and 1990, with one victory for each. And Germany probably entered the final as favourites, not just because of their Brazil trashing, but because the had been impressive throughout the tournament: they opened with a 4-0 trashing of Portugal, an exciting 2-2 tie against Ghana and a routine 1-0 victory over the USA. They had fought hard to defeat Algeria in extra time in the last-16 and then went on to defeat France 1-0 in the quarterfinal before the now infamously legendary semifinal against Brazil.
Brazilians were surely supporting Germany before the final, and their final lineup had at this point also become admired by the entire world: Bayern Munich's Manuel Neuer was the best goalkeeper on the tournament; in front of him in central defense he had Borussia Dortmund's Mats Hummels and Bayern Munich's Jerome Boateng. On left back was Schalke 04's Benedikt Howedes and on right back the Bayern Munich and Germany captain Philipp Lahm, who had been one of the tournament's best players. A young Christoph Kramer from Borussia Monchengladbach was a surprise starter alongside Bayern Munich's veteran Bastian Schweinsteigger in central midfield, just behind the young Toni Kroos, who had been the best midfielder of the tournament and man-of-the-Match against Brazil. Behind the veteran striker Miroslav Klose (who against Brazil had become the most scoring player in World Cup history) were the splendid pair of Mesut Ozil from Arsenal and Bayern Munich's versatile Thomas Muller.
Argentina had been seriously hurt in the quarterfinal when DiMaria got injured. His replacement, Ezequiel Lavezzi, was nowhere near his level, and this proved crucial for Argentina's offensive capabilities in the final. That said, Argentina could have won a very tactical final with few chances: Gonzalo Higuain missed an open chance, alone with the goalkeeper, not even hitting the target, in what has become an infamous miss for a striker that has missed other crucial final goals for Argentina. A goal he scored in the second half was correctly disallowed for off-side, while Rodrigo Palacio, who came in for the hapless Higuain, also missed a big chance at the end of the match. Despite Argentine chances one always had the feeling that a German strike could prove deadly, and it was certainly close when Howedes hit the post following a corner.
But the match ended 0-0 in ordinary time, the third final ever with this result, and it could look as it was going into extra time when two substitutes constructed Germany's winning goal: Chelsea's Andre Schurrle had come on for Cristoph Kramer (who had been injured) and Bayern Munich's Mario Gotze had come in before extra time for Miroslav Klose. Schurrle crossed from the left and inside the area Gotze elegantly controlled the ball with his chest before hammering the ball into goal with a first-timer. He was the first substitute to score the winner in a World Cup final, and at only 22, the youngest as well.
Argentina did not really have any response in the last minutes, and Thomas Muller instead almost made it 2-0. But 1-0 was enough for Germany to be crowned World Champions for the fourth time, and the first European team to win in the Americas. To everyone's surprise (not least to himself), Lionel Messi was named best player of the tournament, a title which seemed more to be for the sponsors than for the player, who had seemed tired throughout the tournament.

Match Stats:
  • 10th July, 2014 Estadio Maracana, Rio de Janeiro 
  • Spectators: 74,738 
  • Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (Italy)   
Germany-Argentina 1-0 
Goals: 1-0 Mario Gotze (113)

Teams:
Germany: Manuel Neuer; Philipp Lahm, Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Benedikt Howedes, Cristoph Kramer (Andre Schurrle, 31), Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil (Per Mertesacker, 120), Miroslav Klose (Mario Gotze, 88)
Argentina: Sergio Romero; Martin Demichelis, Pablo Zabaleta, Ezequiel Garay, Marcos Rojo, Javier Mascherano, Lucas Biglia, Enzo Perez (Fernando Gago, 86), Ezequiel Lavezzi (Sergio Aguero, 46), Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain (Rodrigo Palacio, 68) 

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Greatest World Cup Matches: Brazil-Germany 2014

The semifinal between Brazil and Germany in the 2014 World Cup was, if anything, perhaps the strangest match ever, with a result that left the football world perplexed and Brazil on their knees. When Brazil won the hosting of the 2014 World Cup expectations were immediately enormous. Last time the greatest footballing nation on Earth had hosted the World Cup was in 1950, when they lost a traumatic final to Uruguay in what was remembered as “O Maracanazo”. Since then Brazil had won five World Cups, but the lack of winning it on home soil still lingered in Brazil's memories. So now was the time: this was to be not only the greatest World Cup ever, but would bring home the overwhelming superiority of Brazilian football. Brazil seemed to have reason to believe in their strength when they won the Confederations Cup rehearsal for the World Cup. Even though it had never been a priority for Brazil, the buildup of the World Cup made it crucial for the Brazilians to win at home, and a 3-0 final victory against the defending World Champions from Spain gave the Brazilians such an overwhelming confidence that some of the managers of Brazilian football, such as Carlos Alberto Parreira (managed the 1994 World Champions) and manager Luis Felipe Scolari, confidently announced that Brazil was on the way to winning the title. The squad on paper looked solid enough, as Brazil, as always had a selection of experienced players from Europe's biggest clubs: captained by the solid Paris SG defender Thiago Silva, who in defense had Chelsea's picturesque David Luiz, Barcelona's superstar Dani Alves as well as Real Madrid's offensive right left back Marcelo, and complemented by Bayern Munich's Dante and experienced players such as Maicon (Roma) and Maxwell (PSG). In midfield they had Chelsea's young star Oscar, his team mate Ramiro, Tottenham's Paulinho and Manchester City's Fernandinho. Not impressive, but experienced players to support the team's superstar, Barcelona's Neymar, whom all of Brazil was expecting to lead them to victory, despite the fact that Brazil side lacked quality strikers: Zenit St. Petersburg's efficient but inelegant Hulk and Fluminense's Fred were expected to put in the goals. Brazil were at this time not a team that had been playing the “Jogo Bonito” they had become famous for: they had won the Copa America in 2004 and 2007 playing a defensive and physical style, and in 2011 being eliminated in a strange penalty shootout where they missed all their penalties. In the 2010 World Cup Brazil made it to the quarterfinals, losing to the Netherlands more physical style, and so had not been impressive. Their Confederations Cup victory had been well-deserved but they were against a Spanish team that looked tired and burnt out (and confirmed the end of their greatest generation when they were eliminated in the following World Cup). The faith Brazilians had in their team was totally out of proportion with the quality, and as soon as the team started showing weaknesses, criticism and insecurity quickly made the confidence crumble. In their opening match Brazil had beaten Croatia 3-1, but were criticized for a non-existent penalty that got them started. In their second match they did not manage to impress in a 0-0 match against Mexico, and although they defeated Cameroon 4-1 in their last match, this did not take away the impression of a team that had eased their way through the first stages. In the last-16 Brazil faced a confident Chile side with one of its greatest generations, and as Chile were unlucky not to win, Brazil took a nerve-wrecking penalty victory. Colombia had been one of the best teams to watch in the tournament, and led by the elegant James Rodriguez, they looked to be able to upset the Brazilians. But Brazil came out to the match with one objective: stopped the rhythm of the Colombians and kick James in every occasion. It was one of the ugliest displays of any Brazilian team in history in a match where the referee completely failed. But it worked as the locals went ahead 1-0 by Thiago Silva, and then took a 2-0 lead on a splendid free kick by David Luiz. Although James got one back for Colombia, the Brazilians won. But there was a prize: the Colombians, without scruples to kick back on the Brazilians, took their revenge by a violent (and dangerous) kick to Neymar's back, taking him out for the rest of the tournament. Brazil's greatest star was out, and the team spent their time talking about how they would dedicate the title to Neymar, rather than concentrating on their next opponent: Germany.

Germany had been reforming its football since their weak appearances in 1998 and 2000. Despite their World Cup final in 2002, they were building up a young side for their 2006 hosting of the World Cup. Led by a team of young managers, many of them from Mainz and led by Jurgen Klinsmann, they were undertaking big changes to German football. Out was the focus on physical fitness and strength, and instead young players were being schooled on technique, ball possession and pressing football. In 2006 for the World Cup at home, the new team took over Germany with style: despite them not winning their positive style, their outgoing personality and their charm came to symbolize a new Germany for whom winning was not the most important, but who enjoyed the game. This new German side grew to become more competitive, and in 2008 made it to the Euro final only to lose to the best Spanish side in history. In the 2010 World Cup they made it to the semifinals, only to narrowly lose to Spain again, but with their young players looking better than ever, and in the 2012 Euro they made it again to the semifinals, losing to Italy. After qualifying in style, Germany certainly entered the tournament as one of the outsiders for the cup, although not as hyped as the Brazilian hosts, Messi's Argentina or Spain's defending champions. Manager Joachim Low, who had taken over the side from Klinsmann after the 2006 World Cup had been building up a squad of players that had played together for many years and besides understanding one another were really good friends. It included Manuel Neuer from Bayern Munich as arguably one of the best goalkeepers in the world, behind a defense that included Bayern Munich captain Philipp Lahm, also from Bayern Munich Jerome Boateng, Borussia Dortmund captain Mats Hummels, Arsenal's experienced Per Mertesacker, and Schalke 04's Benedikt Howedes, as well as a young Kevin Grosskreutz from Borussia Dortmund. The midfield was a pure luxury of youth and experience with Bayern Munich's Bastian Schweinsteigger, Real Madrid's Sami Khedira, Arsenal's Mesut Ozil, as well as Bayern Munich youngsters Toni Kroos and Mario Gotze. Also along was Bayern Munich's Thomas Muller who had been named best young player of the 2010 World Cup, and could plausibly play in almost any position, including attack. Although a versatile team, where players could play almost any position, the attack was led by two experienced veterans with Arsenal's Lukas Podolski and Lazio's Miroslav Klose, who was participating in his fourth World Cup and would go on to set many records in this World Cup. Germany opened the tournament with a stylish 4-0 trashing of one of the outsiders to the title, Portugal, where Thomas Muller scored three goals. In the following match against Ghana, Germany showed some defensive weaknesses in going down 1-2, but Miroslav Klose ensured a 2-2, making him the third player ever, alongside Pele and Uwe Seeler, to score in four different World Cups. In their last group match the Germans relaxed with a 1-0 victory over the USA. Despite making it to the next round Germany had shown some weaknesses with their high pressure and at times slow defense, and had to use all their quality to defeat a well-playing Algeria (who had wanted revenge for the 1982 scandal), being saved by a splendid Manuel Neuer playing as sweeper and a last minute of extra time victory goal by Mesut Ozil. In the quarterfinals the Germans had played an intelligent and solid match to defeat France 1-0, and were now to play the hosts of Brazil.

In the book “Das Reboot” the German players explain how they prepared for the match mentally; they knew they were up against a team under great pressure to have success at home, and that Germany could use this to their benefit. At the same time they expected to face a team that would give everything in front of their fans. As it turned out, the Germans were right on the first part, but wrong on the second. In the first half, as much as Germany were good, Brazil were disgracefully bad. The first goal, in the 11th minute, came when Thomas Muller was left completely uncovered for a corner kick. One could at this point have thought this was one of those typical mistakes that are punished by any quality team, but as the match progressed one could see that the Brazilian players were on another planet on that day. In the 23rd minute the German combinations tore apart a passive Brazilian defense and Miroslav Klose scored record goal beating Ronaldo to become the most scoring player in World Cup history. This started a complete Brazilian collapse: within six minutes Toni Kroos scored two goals and Sami Khedira one, to make it 5-0. All the goals were excellent combinations, and in particular Toni Kroos, who would be named Man-of-the-Match, played more as a Brazilian than any Brazilian.
As the home spectators were crying, the rest of the world could hardly believe what they were seeing. It was impossible to rejoice as one saw Brazil, a team everyone liked, being humiliated in such a resounding way. But as the first half ended with a 5-0 score, it was also impossible to wonder how Brazilians like David Luiz, Paulinho, Marcelo or Fred, were playing so dismally bad in a World Cup semifinal at home!? Most Brazilians in the world would have played better than what these guys did on that day!
Brazil were better in the second half, when there really was nothing more to play for and the Germans slowed down a bit. But when the Brazilians came forward, they encountered Manuel Neuer, who was the world's best goalkeeper. On the other hand, the Germans extended their lead: Andre Schurrle, who had come on for Miroslav Klose (clearly taking him out was not to spare Brazil), made it 6-0 and 7-0. The last goal was a spectacular strike worthy of any World Cup semifinal in Brazil.
Only in the last minute Oscar scored for Brazil. It mattered because it prevented the match from becoming Brazil's greatest defeat ever (so it only equalized their 6-0 defeat to Uruguay in 1920). But it was a game of records anyway: the greatest scoreline in a World Cup semifinal and Brazil's greatest home defeat ever. With it, Germany surpassed Brazil to become the most-scoring World Cup team ever and made it to their record 8th World Cup final. In the meantime, this was the greatest humiliation Brazil ever suffered and lost Brazil their place as the greatest footballing nation of all time, an honour that surely belongs to Germany today.

Match Stats:
  • 8th July 2014, Estadio Mineirao, Belo Horizonte 
  • Attendance: 58,141 
  • Referee: Marco Rodriguez, Mexico 
Brazil-Germany 1-7
Goals: 0-1 Muller (11) 0-2 Klose (23) 0-3 Kroos (24) 0-4 Kroos (26) 0-5 Khedira (29) 0-6 Schurrle (69) 0-7 Schurrle (79) 1-7 Oscar (90)

Teams:
Brazil: Julio Cesar; Maicon, David Luiz, Dante, Marcelo, Fernandinho (Paulinho, 46), Luiz Gustavo, Hulk (Ramires, 46), Oscar, Bernard, Fred (Willian, 70)
Germany: Manuel Neuer; Jerome Boateng, Philipp Lahm, Mats Hummels (Per Mertesacker, 46), Benedikt Howedes, Sami Khedira (Julian Draxler, 76), Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil, Miroslav Klose (Andre Schurrle, 58)

Sunday, May 27, 2018

The goalkeeper is the difference

The final of the Champions League 2018 was not as expected for two reasons: firstly, it was s disappointment for any football fan that Mohamed Salah got injured. The match lost a lot of its expectation even though Liverpool showed that they are a great team even without the Egyptian. But more unexpected was the horrible performance of Loris Karius. Liverpool have had goalkeeper problems for a long time, and Karius came in as an apparent saviour for the meager Mignolet. But the problem is that a great team cannot have a mediocre goalkeeper, and today Karius made all the mistakes that a goalkeeper cannot do.
I do not care about Karius. If you play at this level, you should have thick skin. But the truth is his mistakes were worthy of a bad YouTube video, and surely gave the victory to a Real Madrid side that for anything but the goalkeeper should have been up for Liverpool to defeat.
Real Madrid have beaten all European records and are surely the best team in history. But tonight they have one man to thank for it: Loris Karius.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

"My countries" in the World Cup

I am now living in El Salvador, a country that is not in the World Cup. For the last World Cup I was also in a country not represented, Liberia, and so I seem to be losing more and more countries in the World Cup. Of countries I have an attachment to, these are the ones in the tournament:
  • Denmark: Surprisingly qualified after a strong play-off match against Ireland, but I don't have many expectations. I saw them in qualification play a hugely boring match against Poland. They will likely compete for second place in the group against another boring side, Peru (I tip 0-0), and if they make it to the next round, expect that they will lose to any team from one of the strong groups (Nigeria, Iceland, Croatia or Argentina).
  • Argentina: Were it not for Leo Messi Argentina would not be in Russia. He is the only one can carrying a bunch of overrated and overpaid players without will or quality to play for a great country like Argentina. I find it sad that Higuain has made it to the team, and with a defense that has more holes than a Swiss cheese I cannot see that they will get beyond the first stage. Unless Messi is brilliant; he is the only one from whom anything looking like quality will come. But one man cannot make a football team; that is why it is a team sport!
  • Colombia: Colombia is the only of "my" countries I am expecting anything from. They have a great team, and pressure does not seem as enormous as other years. At the same time their group does not seem incredibly difficult: a totally overrated Poland (with one quality player in Lewandowski), a Japan side with new coach and little confidence, and a Senegal side without much experience. I expect Colombia to make it through, and then their quality will be tested against what will likely will be Belgium or England.
  • Belgium: I have lived the international life of Brussels, but will always have a soft spot for Belgium. They have a fantastic side, with one of their best generations ever, but were unable to shine at the highest stage in the Euro 2016, being eliminated by Wales. This should be their moment, again entering the tournament as favourites, but I do not expect them to perform when it counts.
  • Spain:They qualified in style and have some of the best players in the world, and differently from 2014, when Del Bosque could not get himself to select young talented players or study the opponents, this squad has a good balance between youth and experience. Spain are surely favourites for the title. 
 Some of "my other countries" will be missed, mostly El Salvador (as I am currently here), but certainly also Chile (my country of birth) and my favourite African side of Ghana.
All this said, I have a hard time getting excited for this World Cup. Will this be the last World Cup worth watching?



Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Never say never

Last week I was following the Danish league from El Salvador, hoping to learn that Brondby had ensured the Danish title. A win at home against FC Midtjylland would make it certain, while a tie would make it highly likely. But they lost at home to the team from Jutland, and so the ace was with the latter, and in the last two matches they did not disappoint, defeating first the defending champions of FC Copenhagen and finally defeating Horsens at home to take the title. Brondby, in the meantime, only managed two meager ties, and ends on a hugely disappointing second spot, after having led the league for most of the season. Their recent Cup title is only a small reward for a team that has been mediocre for many years, and not won a Danish title since 2005, and suddenly seems far from a new title.
I had been ready to wear my Brondby shirt and celebrate. Instead I chose a weekend with no football, not even the FA Cup final (won by Chelsea), promising myself that I would NEVER again watch football.
But next weekend is the Champions League final, so I will wait a bit to never watch football again.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Atletico Madrid champion

On a day like today I do not like living in Latin America: I was unable to watch the Europa League final because it is in my working hours. I was half-following the match on Twitter, and was not surprised in the end when Atletico Madrid basically cruised to a 3-0 victory against Olympique Marselle. They deserve it mainly because of Diego Simeone, who has been heavily criticised this season, but is truly the reason that Atletico Madrid are where they are today: their third Europa League title since 2010; a period that includes two Champions League finals and one Spanish title. Atletico Madrid are the only team that poses a serious challenge to the dominance of Barcelona and Real Madrid, but also show how strong they need to be to compete against the two giants.
Since 2014 Spanish teams have won every European final, except for Manchester United's victory last year. It is indeed a testament to the strength in the Spanish league to have four top teams (although Sevilla has fallen this season), but it does not tell about the entertainment of the league. Here I am of the opinion that English, German, and Italian leagues are better. When it involves the big teams, things are just too predictable and easy for the big teams. In the other leagues (except the French) competition is much better, as more teams fight for the title and on a good day anyone can beat anyone. In Spain this is not the case.
So Spanish football is great because of its great teams, and less so because of its league.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

The owners of the Champions League

Since the Premier League was introduced in 1992 Liverpool have never won it. Their last League title was in 1990, and their last FA Cup triumph was in 2006. So compared to other English sides Liverpool does not seem to represent the best the Premier League can offer; since 1992 Manchester United has won 13 Premier League titles, Chelsea has won five, Manchester City three, Arsenal three (and 9 FA Cups!), etc. But when you look at the UEFA Champions League, Liverpool, who today qualified for the final against Real Madrid, have been dominant: three finals since 2000, including their legendary triumph in 2005. Only Manchester United have done (slightly) better since 1992 (when the Champions League was introduced in its current form): four finals with two wins (1999 and 2008) and two losses (2009 and 2011). But overall Liverpool's history far exceeds that of any other English side: with five wins in seven finals Liverpool is the all-time best English team in the European Champions Cup/Champions League, as well as the fifth best overall (behind Real Madrid, AC Milan, Bayern Munich and FC Barcelona).
It is impossible to say what history means, but it is clear that Liverpool, despite not dominating their domestic league or cup, are simply much better at the biggest European stage than some of the better domestic English sides such as Manchester City, Chelsea or Arsenal. Liverpool showed their European strength when they eliminated Manchester City in this season's quarterfinals, in a tie that they pretty much always dominated against the new English champions.
Liverpool just seems to be the English side that most "owns" the Champions League, and in the Kiev final they will face the European "owners" of the tournament: Real Madrid have won a record 12 European Champions Cup/Champions League out of 14 finals. They are the defending Champions, having won the last two finals (2016, 2017), and have in fact not lost a final in this tournament since 1981.
And who defeated them in 1981?
Liverpool!

The final in Kiev will be huge, not just because these are two of the best sides historically, but also because both sides have been extraordinary in the tournament, fantastic players, and in particular because the two sides facing one another have whom I consider the two best managers in the world right now.

Forget the World Cup Final.
THIS MATCH WILL BE THE GREATEST OF 2018!

I guess on a personal note, before anyone starts bitching that I say something nice about Real Madrid, I must mention that I will never ever support Real Madrid (except when they play against the one team I dislike more, FC Copenhagen). I am a proud Anti-Madridista!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Club America-Santos Laguna

Today I happened to be in Mexico City, and as America were playing at home on the Estadio Azteca I decided to go to watch the match.
There is something special about being at the mighty and impressive stadium where Pele and Maradona both lifted the World Cup trophy. Where Maradona and Carlos Alberto scored two the greatest World Cup goals ever!
So more than anything it was fantastic to be in this altar of the game.
The match between America and Santos Laguna was important as it was the last match of the league stage of the Mexican Championship, and with both teams qualified, America nevertheless wanted a good result to end with a lower standing opponent. Santos were above America before the match, so a tie was ok for them, and you could see it by the fact that they largely decided to park the bus (altthough Djaniny did create some dangerous chances) in particular in the second half, when America tried to put more pressure on the visitors. But two substitutes made the difference: The young Paraguayan Cecilio Dominguez (who was nevertheless a surprising non-starter) came on and got a penalty that the ex-PSG and Milan player Jeremy Menez (who came in after four weeks out due to injury) scored on to give them the victory.
America ends on second position (behind Toluca) and will be playing the seventh qualified team.

The America fans were great, but watching the Mexican league I still would love to see the splendid Chivas and Rayados fans. I have still not fallen for a Mexican team, but may still with time!

Club América versus Santos Laguna 
Penalty for Club América

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The first Finalist

Never count Roma out: 5-0 down they managed to pull two goals back to lose 5-2 to Liverpool in the first leg of the Champions League semifinal. So all they need to do now is what they did against Barcelona: win 3-0 in the second leg.
While predictions in football are something to avoid, I predict this will not happen. Liverpool defend better than Barcelona, and Roma coming back from behind a second time would be completely unprecedented in history. Liverpool are almost sure to be in the final in particular thanks to two players who were outstanding today: Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino each scored two goals and made two assists, and are looking hungry for more goals in Rome.
Never count Roma out, but I count them out.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Five Hundred Years from now

My Grandfather took me to my first football match. It was not virtual, but on the actual ground, Nick Hornby Arena, for a local derby between Arsenel and Tottenham. It was their first Premier League clash following the Dark Centuries, when Arsenel had struggled in the lower leagues, while Tottenham had gone on to win their legendary 18 Champions League titles in a row, even winning the Penta in 2432 (Premier League, FA Cup, UEFA Champions League, FIFA World Cup and the Toto Cup).
My Grandfather was a sucker for Arsenel, just like all our ancestors back for generations. In fact, when nations were eliminated my Grandfather had immediately taken Arsenal (as it was called back then) as his primary identification marker.
"Some suckers take some old nation state, a religion or some city! But not me! I am an Arsenal man, because that is REAL!", our ancestor appears to have said, although no definite proofs have been found in his Life-Social-Media-Footprint that otherwise registered most of his life to an embarrassing level of detail.
I had not really wanted to go to the Nick Hornby Arena. As most kids in our generation, more accustomed to the virtual world, I was more comfortable with the crowds of Avatars in the Immersive Internet, where nothing physical could hurt you.
"Nonsense kiddo", my Grandfather had said. "You will love it! It has happened to everyone in our family! And who knows? You may be the first to see Arsenel defeat Tottenham for three-hundred years!"
I did love it. And I have loved Arsenal ever since. That match in the Nick Hornby Arena became legendary, not just because it was the first victory of Arsenel over Tottenham for 311 years, but also because it was the return of the legendary Arsene Wenger to manage the team.
"Ever since Arsene Wenger left Arsenel in 2018, everything just went downhill", my Grandfather was telling me as he usually did when he wanted to educate me about history.
"The Sea Rising, the Alien Invasion or the Robot Rebellion were just mere details compared to what happened to Arsenel! After 22 years of being one of the best clubs in the world, it just went downhill. Back then fans never knew how good they had it with Mr. Wenger, but they soon knew all right! Only ten years later Arsenal were playing in the lower European Leagues, mainly against other shite clubs from Finland and Catalunya!"
Indeed, things had gone from bad to worse. Arsenal's best result for 298 years was a quarterfinal against FC MidtogOstjyllandGymnastikOgIdraetsforening in the Danish Cup, where they only lost on penalties (and to pour salt on the wound, it was a John Jensen who scored the winner for the Danes).
During the Dark Centuries, when Tottenham was winning everything and an evil Alien Force was ravaging the planet, and people were returning to religion, Arsenal fans had gotten together to erect shrines and pray to Saint Arsene: please come back and lead Arsenal back to glory! It was then that the club had been renamed Arsenel, and initially things had looked good when they made it back to the Championship, where they had stayed for some decades as the Robots, who had helped defeat the Aliens, rebelled when their team of Real Madrid Robots was destroyed in the Champions League final by none other than Tottenham (and to be frank, every Arsenal fan had supported the Robots, meaning that they had fared quite well during the Robot Rebellion).
But it still took another 160 years before Arsenel were back in the Premier League. By then the club had been bought by a Jovian multi-billionaire who promised Arsenel fans all over the Galaxy that he would make Arsenel champions of something, but only managed to get them back in the Premier League after a legendary promotion match against Charlton Athletic played on the low gravity of the Moon (Charlton fans have been complaining ever since that the low gravity was the reason they kept shooting over the goal).
Nobody knows where the idea first came to create a new Arsene Wenger. Some rumours said it was after two drunken Arsenel fans working at the robot facility on Mercury, visited Madam Tussaud's museum, where they had seen a pretty bad wax-android version of Jose Mourinho discussing Relativity Theory with David Bowie. They posted it on Instagram, and soon Twitter-Galaxy was swarming with the hashtag #createanewWenger.
Arsenel fans all over the Galaxy poured all their economic and scientific efforts into the endeavour. Of course there had been many advances in cloning and bio-engineering, but to create a true exact copy of a historical figure had never been successful until these Arsenel fans took over. Some decades later Arsenel signed their new (old) manager Arsene Wenger, and he was to have his debut as manager in a clash against the defending champions of Tottenham.
311 years since Arsenel had last beaten Tottenham I was there when Arsene Wenger led them to a legendary 5-3 victory, and eventually the first title since the FA Cup in 2017 (also under Arsene Wenger).
I was only a kid who fell in love with Arsenel. Since then I have seen Arsenel win 12 Premier League titles, 17 Champions Leagues, 3 FIFA World Cups, 15 FA Cups (where Mr. Wenger beat his own record from the 21st century), and an unprecedented 23 Toto Cups! Five Hundreds years after Wenger left Arsenal, we are again winning because Arsenel can only win anything with the great Arsene Wenger as manager!
My Grandfather is not with us any longer, but today, FA Cup Final 2518, I am taking my own Grandson to Wembley Stadium in Paris to watch Arsene Wenger lead Arsenel to another victory against Tottenham! 

PS: The match ended 5-5 and went into extra time, but we are still awaiting to hear the final result

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Hoping for the first title since 2005

Last time my favourite team, Brøndby, won the Danish league title was in 2005. Back then, I was living in Ghana, but had returned on vacation and saw my favourite side take the title against Herfolge. Since then I have traveled the world, currently living in El Salvador, but Brøndby have not won a title since then, but have come through deep crises that almost saw the club disappear. The last few years Brøndby have been building a team to supersede the new "artificial" clubs of FC Copenhagen and FC Midtjylland (both are relatively recent clubs established in 1992 and 1999 respectively as mergers of more traditional sides. Since 2005 Copenhagen have won eight Danish championships and FC Midtjylland one). As a Brøndby fan I have been following it and hoping from afar, but not daring to really hope they could take the title despite them having had a consistent lead this season. While FC Copenhagen are no longer in the fight for the title, FC Midtjylland have been keeping up with Brøndby, so yesterday's match between the two sides was almost a final.
The match did not show in El Salvador....
But I was delighted to learn that after being down 2-0 in Herning Brøndby came back from behind and took a 2-3 away victory, and are now three-points clear at the top of the league.
Hope has become expectation, and I am ready to celebrate alone here in El Salvador!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Tickets for the World Cup in Russia?

Let me start this post by clarifying that I am naive and an idiot: I don't understand that buying a ticket for a football match has to be so complicated! I am the kind of naive idiot football fan who has the time and means to go to a World Cup match. I think it will be a great World Cup, that Russia will be great hosts, and I would really want to go to watch some of my favourite teams!

Today was the start of the last-minute phase of the sale of World Cup tickets. Having miserably failed to get near any tickets in the previous phases, I logged on early to see if I could get hold of tickets. Due to the time difference (I am in beautiful El Salvador), I did not log on at 2 AM Russia time, when the tickets went on sale in my region, but still tried to log on in the morning, only to get this message:
Fair enough, I was expecting some difficulties, so I started to wait...
And wait...
(While I of course did other things!)

I finally managed to log on. It was clearly crowded, as tickets were quickly disappearing, and for the matches I prioritized I kept getting the message:
Unable to get a ticket I gave up. After a discussion with a good friend we decided to go for one of the few tickets left for a match nobody wants to watch in a faraway corner of Russia.
So I will be going to the World Cup, even though I will attend a match that I am not really interested in, in a place that can only surprise me positively because outside Moscow and St. Petersburg, I have no knowledge or expectations about Russia. (I would be happy about any first-hand recommendations about Rostov-on-Don).

All these difficulties made me wonder whether tickets really are unavailable. On FIFA's website you can read that tickets are only to be purchased through FIFA:
Fair enough. I accept this, and this is also why I have done everything totally legit. However, surfing the net you can find plenty of sites offering tickets:
 
There is even a site comparing prices for the tickets:
These are not sites I found on the dark net: you can simply google them! FIFA knows well that they exist, but this does apparently not prevent the sites from openly (and transparently) selling the tickets.

Prices are generally higher than on FIFA, but they are not unattainable. The tickets seem legit, which means firstly, that they have had some way of hoarding these tickets through the FIFA site (which already requires some skills that an idiot like me doesn't have, since I was not even able to get a single ticket) and secondly that these sites, guaranteeing money back, must be pretty sure that FIFA's warning about not obtaining tickets outside their site is a largely hollow warning. These sites must be estimating that only a fraction of purchasers will be denied entry, opening up for a pretty nice margin for doing something that FIFA does not allow (I think that part of the speculation is that FIFA probably fears empty seats more). And conveniently, the burden is on the person who buys the tickets; a football fan who tried in vain on the FIFA site, only to be intimidated for paying more for a ticket that otherwise seems to be widely available.

All this said I am a naive and honest idiot: I am not so adventurous as to venture into one of these sites to get to the World Cup, even though I know plenty of fans will probably do it with no consequences. Honesty doesn't pay.

In the end, I find that all this leads to more questions about the ticketing for the World Cup: how do these sites get their tickets? How does FIFA allow it? How many people would get in through purchasing tickets on these sites? (I would love to hear if you are one!) Who is making the money...?

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Guadalajara one step away from the title

Toronto was looking to be the first MLS team to win the CONCACAF Champions League when they hosted Chivas Guadalajara in the first leg of the final. Toronto was unbeaten at home and was looking for a good result in snowy Toronto before heading to Guadalajara.
But it took only two minutes for Chivas to take the lead on a goal by Rodolfo Pizarro, and they were looking the better team until Jonathan Osorio equalized for the home team. Toronto were unlucky and some great saves by Miguel Jimenez kept the Canadians from taking the lead before halftime. In the second half Chivas seemed in good control, and took the lead through a great free kick strike by Alan Pulido, and in the end could have scored more goals against a Toronto side that seemed to have given up.
With 90 more minutes left, Toronto should not give up. But there is no doubt that they will be against all odds to take the title in Guadalajara, so it is likely that the Concacaf Champions League will remain in Mexico, but this time with a Chivas side that has not won since 1962.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Comeback week

With Roma's comeback and Juventus' close comeback (arguably halted by a referee decision) it was now the turn of the Europa League, where we got another amazing comeback when Red Bull Salzburg was behind 2-4 against Lazio. Ten minutes into the second half Lazio went ahead 0-1, and there you might have thought that Salzburg was done for. But no: after an equalizer, Salzburg scored three goals in three minutes to win 4-1 and make it to the semifinals of the Europa League.
Less impressive comeback was that by Olympique Marseille, who, trailing Red Bull Leipzig 0-1, won 5-2 and also made it to the semifinals. CSKA Moscow was up 2-0 against Arsenal, with hopes of another amazing comeback, but Arsenal scored two and progresses to the semi-finals. Finally, Sporting Lisbon managed to defeat Atletico Madrid 1-0, but that was not enough after having lost the first match 0-2.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Chivas-Toronto in the final

Chivas Guadalajara held on heroically to a 0-0 against New York Red Bulls, and following their 1-0 home victory made it to the CONCACAF Champions League final. There, they will face Toronto FC, who tied Club America 1-1. Their victory was never in doubt following their 3-1 home win, and when they went ahead 0-1 at the Estadio Azteca.
Chivas Guadalajara only won the highest honour in CONCACAF in 1962, and reached their last final in 2007. Given their poor season, this final will be very important for the Mexican side.
Last time a non-Mexican side won the tournament was in 2005 (Saprissa), and the last time an MLS side won was in 2000 (LA Galaxy). A Canadian side has never won the tournament before, so this will likely be a historical final: Toronto FC are surely favourites, having been solid throughout the tournament, while Chivas have struggled through the tournament and the season. The final is to be played over two legs, and here Chivas has a slight advantage as they will play the second leg at home.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Barcelona's unexpected elimination

I took time out for lunch to watch the Champions League semifinal in a restaurant in San Salvador. Manchester City-Liverpool was the match of choice. In San Salvador, few people watch English football, and most people prefer Barcelona or Real Madrid. So as everyone took for granted that Barcelona was through, there was nobody else watching football in the restaurant.
As expected Manchester City-Liverpool was a great match: City played a great first half, which they were unlucky not to be leading by more than a goal by halftime. But the second half saw a different Liverpool side emerge, as first Mohammed Salah and then Roberto Firmino gave the Reds a well-deserved victory and a place in the semifinal.
When Salah equalized for Liverpool it had become obvious that the match to watch was Roma-Barcelona, as the Italians were leading 2-0, and would sensationally go through with a third strike that all of a sudden did not look so impossible. Thus, many people in the Salvadorean restaurant turned their eyes towards the match, and were chocked to see Kostas Manolas score a third goal that in the end brought Roma through, and made them only the third team in the Champions League to overcome a three goal loss in the first match (the second one being Barcelona themselves when they defeated Paris St. Germain last season).
One cannot help but be happy for Roma, who did what everyone considered impossible, namely to defeat FC Barcelona's arrogance. Roma have done this throughout this season: Atletico Madrid and Chelsea underestimated them, but came behind them in the group stages. I do not think that Roma will win the Champions League, but any team that underestimates them will suffer the consequences.
I had a great lunch break, thank you.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Artists and other geniuses

What Cristiano Ronaldo did today with his second goal against Juventus was football art: a perfect "Chilena" (bicycle kick for the Anglo-Saxons) that can be watched again and again. Sublime in its timing, where the ball and the body perfectly bond in a second to create a goal that appears to be impossible, but made possible by Ronaldo's genius.
Cristiano Ronaldo is having a perfect Champions League season, carrying Real Madrid on his shoulders as other geniuses are carrying other teams.
Ronaldo? Messi? Neymar? etc? The discussion about who is best is idiotic. These are artists; geniuses at their trade. People may have their personal preferences, but nobody discusses whether Sheakspeare is better than Cervantes. Whether Van Gogh is better than Rembrandt. Whether Einstein is smarter than Newton. These are geniuses, and their genius can not be compared, it must only be praised and admired.
This is the case with footballers such as Ronaldo, and I am thankful I get to watch him and many other footballers.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

A ticket for me?

I have seen in the news that most European leaders and Royals will not attend the World Cup due to some alleged political case against Russia. While all these great and intelligent world leaders seem to be riling against one another, a small average guy like me is still hoping to get a ticket for the World Cup. I can take one of these leftover tickets. I will pay for it. I may not be a world leader, intelligent, nor even special in any way. But I just really want to go to a World Cup.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The worst Argentina ever

Recently a friend said to me that Maradona had made a bad team World Champion, and that Messi could make this Argentina World Champion. I completely disagreed: Compare the Argentina of 1986 without Maradona with the Argentina of 2018 without Messi, and you will see that the 1986 side was far superior to the spoiled mediocrity that Argentina is today.
Argentina in 1986 did not have the world's greatest players, but they had a solid team, that Maradona made the best of all. Without Maradona Argentina had good and experienced players such as Jorge Valdano (who contrary to one guy named Higuain would not miss the chances he got), Oscar Ruggeri (who was to become a solid Real Madrid defender), Jose Luis Brown (who replaced the veteran Daniel Passarella), as well as a strong midfield with players such as Jorge Burruchaga, Ricardo Giusti, Sergio Batista and Julio Olarticoechea. Carlos Bilardo was a cynical but organised manager, who knew what he had and what he wanted.
Maradona, with his strong leadership and indisputable skills, brought this team to the pinnacle of world football amid a number of teams that were probably better.
Argentina today has a lot of overpaid and overrated players. And Messi is indeed the world's best player, who has made his name in the Champions League and in a Barcelona team where he has an outstanding team around him. Rather than Maradona, Messi is perhaps better compared to George Weah, who in the 1990s was also the best of the world, but never managed to lift his national team. And unlike Maradona (or Weah), Messi may be brilliant but is not a born leader. He can win for the team (like when he alone qualified them for the World Cup), but he cannot lift the rest of the team to perform. The other Argentine players are simply not good enough.
Finally, Argentina has a manager in Jorge Sampaoli who has no plan with the team beyond "pass it to Messi".
Today, the debacle that is waiting to happen got its first warning when Argentina (without Messi) was thoroughly destroyed 6-1 by Spain. The same Spain that normally has difficulty scoring goals had no problem outclassing an Argentine defense that is barely worthy of being called a defense. In the end this is Argentina's biggest problem compared to 1986: back then Bilardo's defense gave little if anything away. Today, the defense is an open door which I doubt Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria will be unable to not score against, no matter how hard they try not to (and why would they...?).

Friday, March 16, 2018

UEFA Champions League quarterfinals draw

Exciting times in football! The quarterfinals following the draw today are as follows:
  • FC Barcelona-Roma: The Italians managed to squeeze past Shakhtar Donetsk and are facing mighty Messi, who defeated Chelsea in the previous round scoring his impressive goal number 100 in the CL. The Catalans are surely the favourites, and Roma can play almost without the pressure of expectations.
  • Sevilla-Bayern Munich: One could argue that this will be Sevilla's first real test after they defeated a very poor Manchester United in Old Trafford. United were so poor one can only be happy not to see them facing Bayern Munich, who took out Besiktas with ease, winning 5-0 and 1-3 respectively. The Germans are favourites, but one has to wonder if there is more in Sevilla, who after years of success in the Europa League, may now be looking for CL success.
  • Real Madrid-Juventus: A repeat of last year's final, when Real Madrid trounced Juventus. Real Madrid have only this title to play for this year, while Juventus are not looking as strong as they were last year. That said, this is an unpredictable match: while Real Madrid are favourites, Juventus showed with their comeback against Tottenham that they will always be a team to be reckoned with.
  • Liverpool-Manchester City: This should be a great match as it features two of the most attacking and entertaining teams of the moment. Add the local rivalry and the high profile managers of the clubs, and this is a must-see match with an unpredictable outcome. Both sides have been outstanding in the CL, easily getting past their last-16 opponents. In the Premier League, Manchester City is leading, and that may make them slight favourites, but they have already lost to Liverpool in the league.
We are eagerly awaiting for April to arrive!