Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Champions League elimination round

 The Champions League Group stages (the last ones in this format) have just ended. 

The elimination of two English sides was one of the first surprises: Manchester United were shambles, and ended bottom of Group A, which was totally dominated by Bayern Munich, while FC Copenhagen took first spot after having defeated Galatasaray on a cold day in Copenhagen. Copenhagen, although a reluctant surprise, will now face the defending champions, also from Manchester. City have been awesome, winning all their group matches, and will (hopefully) be too much for FC Copenhagen.

Another English team that ended bottom were Newcastle. After trashing Paris St. Germain, it appeared they had something to offer, but only two draws and three defeats and they were out. It is all the more improbable, because a victory at home in their last match against AC Milan could have put them through as Borussia Dortmund and PSG tied 1-1 (in an exciting match), but AC Milan won, and took third spot.

While the Spanish sides of Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Real Sociedad and Atletico Madrid all won their groups, the former greats of Sevilla were as much a shadow of themselves as they have been in this season's La Liga. They ended bottom of the group behind Arsenal, PSV Eindhoven and Lens.

German sides will be represented by three sides: Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig, while from Italy's Serie A, Napoli, Inter and Lazio have made it through.

All in all we are looking at some interesting knock-out matches starting in February:

  • FC Porto-Arsenal
  • Napoli-FC Barcelona
  • Paris St. Germain-Real Sociedad
  • Inter Milan-Atletico Madrid
  • PSV Eindhoven-Borussia Dortmund
  • Lazio-Bayern Munich
  • FC Copenhagen-Manchester City
  • RB Leipzig-Real Madrid

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Playing like World Champions

 Brazil playing at home to the World Champions, their Argentinean rivals, is always bound to be a dramatic match. The World Cup qualifier a couple of days ago was no exception to the rule, and we even feared that the match would be suspended due to the fan disturbances before the start of the match.

It was sad to watch, but also odd how Brazilian police and stadium authorities appear to have next to no control over fans who are mixed in the stand, and to what the Argentinean players (who admirably rushed to defend their fans) appeared overly excessive reactions by Brazilian police.

Argentina, led by Messi, appeared ready to abandon the match, but in the end the match went ahead. One had to wonder how this dramatic start would affect either side. At least for the case of Argentina, the entire situation seemed to energize them, and in what became a rather dirty match, they were clearly much smarter than the Brazilians.

Brazil pressed high, made a lot of small fouls, specially on a dynamic Rodrigo de Paul who, as Messi largely disappeared from the match, took over the midfield with a fighting spirit, but also with small provocations for the Brazilians, who fell into the trap, and got a lot of yellow cards. At the same time, Brazil's pressure did not shake the Argentinean defense, who played the ball coldly around.

It was an intelligent and fighting Argentine side who got the winning goal on a header by the veteran Nicolas Otamendi following a corner.

Despite losing to Uruguay, Argentina remain head of the table. In the meantime Brazil are in shambles, on sixth spot, behind Ecuador. Were it not because most sides qualify, Brazil would be in risk, but I still think they will qualify.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Bielsa's Uruguay and South American qualifiers

 The South American World Cup qualifiers are ongoing. Argentina's defending World Champions had not lost a game since their World Cup defeat to Saudi Arabia. Yesterday, they played Uruguay at home at la Bombonera (instead of the Monumental, where they usually play, since it had been reserved for one Ms. Taylor Swift). Uruguay has been doing well under their legendary Argentinean manager, Marcelo Bielsa, who has discarded some of the older players such as Luis Suarez and Cavani with success. Last round they defeated Brazil, and this time they defeated the World Champions.

It was a good match with chances for both sides, but in the end Uruguay's relentless high pressure paid off. The first goal was thanks to Matias Viña's high pressure and passing the ball to an open Ronald Araujo. Uruguay's second goal was a perfect counterattack following a Messi loss of the ball, and leaving Darwin Nuñez to outrun Otamendi.

Argentina remain in first spot, but Uruguay are second and under Bielsa appear a renewed side.

In the meantime Brazil are trailing. Having tied Venezuela and lost to Uruguay they needed something from Colombia, but got nothing despite an early lead by Gabriel Martinelli. They had more chances but Colombia pressed forward, and in the end got the victory through two Luis Diaz' headers in the second half. It has been something of a week for Liverpool's Luis Diaz, whose father was released by kidnappers only a couple of days before the match...

Brazil are now in fifth spot in qualification, behind Venezuela, something they are certainly not used to. That said, with more teams in the World Cup, they are still likely to qualify.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Reluctant admiration amid disappointment

 I still consider myself a Valencia fan although the team has over the years gone from disappointment to disappointment. One of these disappointments has been the fan's racism, something that is sadly still too common in Spain. One player who suffered racist attacks in Valencia was Real Madrid's Vinicius Jr.

I certainly supported Valencia against Real Madrid today, and even after Dani Carvajal's early goal for Madrid I hoped that Valencia would equalize, only for Hugo Duro to give us some shameful misses. But Real Madrid were far superior in the end, and a victory of 5-1 was fully deserved, and one could even not help to admire Vinicius Junior who, with two goals, contributed to Valencia's humiliation.

It was a sporting disappointment for a fan like me, but well deserved for Real Madrid in every other respect.

Sunday, October 01, 2023

Exciting Premier League

 It all points to a very exciting Premier League. After 6 consecutive victories, Manchester City finally crashed by losing 2-1 to Wolverhampton, showing a league where all teams are competitive. Manchester City remains in first spot though, one point ahead of Tottenham. 

Tottenham defeated Liverpool 2-1 in a dramatic and intense match. Liverpool were looking good until Curtis Jones got a red card, after which Tottenham put pressure and got ahead by the outstanding Son Heung-Min. This happened after Luis Diaz had a goal cancelled by VAR for offside, in what did not look as an offside (the lines the TV channel I watched it on clearly showed no offside, but the VAR never showed the lines, making it all look very suspicious....). But Liverpool pressed on and Cody Gakpo equalised in the dying seconds of the first half.

Tottenham put more pressure in a second half that appeared full of nerves, and for Liverpool's Joel Matip when he scored an own goal in what was literally the last kick of the match in the 96th minute, and giving relief to the home crowd.

Tottenham thus took second spot on goal difference ahead of Arsenal, while Liverpool is on fourth spot with 16 points. Aston Villa and Brighton are fifth and sixth respectively with 15 points each, so all teams can win an exciting Premier League!