Friday, December 31, 2004

Top 10 football teams of 2004

These are my top 10 favourite football teams for 2004:
10) Argentina Olympic team: Olympic champions, deservedly and far ahead of the other teams.
9) Barcelona: A year cut in two season has not given them any titles, but they have risen from a lousy 2003 to become the most exciting team in Europe at the moment, ahead in the Primera Division, and as favourites in the Champions League.
8) Monaco: No titles, but a charming team in the Champions League. A very memorable game was their victory against Real Madrid in the quarterfinals, taking the Southern French all the way to the final.
7) Deportivo Caldas: Surprising winners of the Copa Libertadores, this Colombian side barely lost the Intercontinental final to FC Porto.
6) Chelsea: With Mr. Abramovich spending, they have continued to become better all year, just to rise in this season to the top spot in the Premier League, as well as being very strong in the Champions League. Titles are still missing though, but I do not think for long...
5) Brazil: Can any list like this be without Brazil? This year they won the Copa America, beating Argentina in the final - actually, first time this had ever happened! Also ahead in the South American World Cup qualifiers, makes them an obvious choice for the list
4) Arsenal: Last season by far the strongest team in the Premier League taking the League title, without losing a single match! This made for the undefeated record in the Premier League with 38 matches. However, success in the Champions League has been absent, and they seem to have been surpassed by Chelsea. There is still much left of the season though...
3) Valencia: Same season won the Spanish league and the UEFA cup, to become the best Valencia team ever, as well as the best team in Spain. Have gone a bit down the new season, but continues second in the Primera Division.
2) Greece: A major surprise when they upset everyone to become European Champions. Granted, their style was not exciting, but they did deserve the victory because of their spirited fight, and because in the end, they were the smartest. Have not continued the same though, and might have a hard time qualifying for the world cup.
1) FC Porto: Winners of the Champions League, the intercontinetal cup and the Portuguese league. After the succesful season many stars left the team, including coach Mourinho. Still they continue in the Champions League, with tenacity to defend their title.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Wanderlei Luxemburgo to Real Madrid - lots of work!

Brazil's ex-national coach Wanderlei Luxemburgo is set to be the new coach of Real Madrid. He will be the fourth coach in a year. Third of the season. And from what we saw recently, he will have plenty of work: Losing 0-1 at home to Seville, Real Madrid played horrible. They are now down to fifth spot. Mr. Luxemburgo will surely have a lot of work.

My Top 10 favourite players of 2004

I have compiled a list of my very personal best top-10 players of 2004:

10) Ludovic Giuly: Also had an amazing season on the right midfield of Monaco, making it all the way to the Champions League final. This got him a deserved spot in the French national team, and later on the rising Barcelona team, where he has continued strongly.
9) Arjen Robben: The young Dutchman has impressed me all year, first at PSV Eindhoven, and more so after his change to Chelsea. He was also one of the best in the Dutch team in Euro 2004, although I thought he was not given enough playing time.
8) Roy Makaay: The Dutch striker has been one of the keys to success of this season's returning Bayern Munich side. He continues being as poisonous as a rattle-snake in front of the goal.
7) Xavi: In my view, the best Spanish player this year. In the renewed Barcelona side, he has managed to become the fighting mid-field general, who can make beautiful passes as well as score beautiful goals.
6) Samuel Eto'o: Has proven he is one of the world's leading strikers, especially after his change from Mallorca to Barcelona. In Barcelona, with his speed and technique, he has been amazing.
5) Frank Lampard: has been excellent in Chelsea and in the English national team. He is a very complete player, who scores important goals, puts up a spirited fight and organizes well the game. If he continues next season, he will be one of the foremost players of the Premier League, as well as in Europe.
4) Deco: What a season it must have been for Deco! Was simply the amazing centerpiece of the FC Porto side that won the Champions League. After that, he changed to Barcelona, where he has been an important contribution to the rise of the Catalonians. He did not have a very good Euro 2004 though; in spite of Portugal making it to the final, Deco did not show the strength he had shown in FC Porto.
3) Andrij Schevchenko: A world class striker, who continues bombarding the goals in the Italian league, one of the hardest for strikers in the world. With AC Milan he has also been very strong in the Champions League, and I believe that he will continue to be one of the main striking forces of Europe next year.
2) Wayne Rooney: I was simply amazed by Mr. Rooney during the Euro 2004, when his amazing tenacity brought him forth as a superstar. And I thought the expectations were too high for the youngster when changing from Everton to Manchester United. But I was wrong, which Mr. Rooney showed in his very first Champions League match against Fenerbahce, scoring three beauiful goals. I hope he continues.
1) Ronaldinho: Maybe I need not say so, as so many have said it already: but Mr. Ronaldinho is certainly also my favourite player of 2004.

It has actually been hard for me to make the list, as there have been many great
players this season, whom I could easily have included on this list, like Ruud Van Nistelrooi, Dellas, Paulo Ferreira, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruben Baraja... So many great players!

Friday, December 24, 2004

Top 10 Football turds of 2004

The football year 2004 has had many good and bad things. As I am on a Christmas break, I will spend the next days giving my TOP-10s of the football year 2004.

As every year, there have been stars, heroes, as well as villains and plain idiots. The last category is what I would charmingly call "turds": And so, I have made my personal list of top-10 football turds of 2004:
10) David Beckham: He is still a great player on the pitch, but the image he constantly gets in the media, makes him an obvious choice for this list. This year it was stories about his extramarital affairs, as well as his bragging about his own 'intelligence' when forcing a yellow card upon himself on an England World Cup qualifier.
9) Ferencvaros fans: Otherwise fans of a great team, they did show their worst side in an UEFA cup qualifier against Milwall.
8) Florentino Perez: Symbolizes all the arrogance of Real Madrid. In the 2003/2004 season he got his "galactic" team together, just to have one of the worst seasons in Real Madrid's history. Then there was the whole soap opera with Camacho as coach for a couple of weeks.
7) Adrian Mutu: a young talented and succesful player in one of the best teams this season, but he ruined himself going for the cocaine.
6) Portuguese stadion security: in a time of terrorism, it was pretty pathetic that a Barcelona man managed to run through the whole security perimeter and across the pitch to Luis Figo, in the EURO 2004 final in Portugal.
5) Stig Tøfting: The former Hamburger SV and Bolton player was having a good season with Danish team AGF, just until a recent Christmas dinner with the whole team, where he again got into a mayor fight, got him fired. So he just made it to this list at the last moment!
4) Christian Andersen and Flemming Østergaard: You have to be Danish to know these two clowns. But when you do, you understand the low level insults of people with small brains.
3) Spanish fans: There has been a grave problem of racism for many years in Spanish football. It came to a head in the November friendly between Spain and England in Madrid, where Spanish fans repeatedly harassed the coloured players. A sick symptom of pathetic Spanish fans.
2) Francesco Totti: Deserves to be high up on the list. He could be a good player, but he prefers to be an unapologetic spitter, kicker and defender of violence against referees. Most idiotic comment this season must have been when questioned about the images of spitting at Christian Poulsen in the Euro 2004, he said "I do not recognize Totti there." I surely did.
1) Luis Aragones: the Spanish national coach, had to defeat Totti by being the most obvious exponent of the unapologetic Spanish racism in football. First his comment on Thierry Henry, and then his defence of Spanish fans attack on coloured players, makes him the nummer one turd of 2004.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

FIFA Player of the year

Just as I had expected (and surely, many others), Ronaldinho, the Brazilian Star in Barcelona, has been awarded the FIFA player of the year award. Mr. Ronaldinho is the fourth Brazilian player, whose name starts with R, who has played for Barcelona, to win this award. This is the stuff conspiracies are made of...
In any case:
Congratulations Mr. Ronaldinho!

Saturday, December 18, 2004

The Champions League draw

I have said before that I cannot wait for the CL knockout stage, starting on February 22nd. After the draw yesterday, I feel like a little child eagerly waiting for Santa Claus, like Romeo waiting for Juliette, like a shipwrecked waiting to be rescued, or like a blossoming tree waiting for summer.
Surely any good football fanatic is counting the days!

What a draw! Three of the games will be between two former winners of the tournament:
Real Madrid-Juventus: Two legendary teams, with some of the best players in the world. A repeat by the way, of the 1998 CL final, won by Real Madrid.
Manchester United-AC Milan: Both teams have an amazing record both at home and in Europe. AC Milan won the CL only two years ago, while Man U won in 1999. Still they have not faced one another in an important game since the 1960s.
FC Porto-Inter: A hard one for the defending champions, who will have to display some of their finest attacking football to upset a strong Inter defence, with a scary attacking force.

And there is more:
Bayern Munich-Arsenal: The South Germans are looking to return to the strength of former times, and look good this season. Arsenal is still searching for success in Europe. With both strong teams, this will be a hard fight which can go to either side.
Barcelona-Chelsea: Two of the teams that are looking best this season, both in their respective leagues as well as in Europe. Both play amazing attacking football, with an awesome striking force. This could surely become a game to go into the history books.
Werder Bremen-Lyon: Two of the surprises this season. None are to be underestimated, and both have the potential of going all the way. Particularly Lyon is having a great season, with a very strong team.
PSV-Monaco: The young and talented PSV side may continue surprising with their good skills. Monaco will have to display some of the force that got them to the final last season. But with their very skilled players, this will also be a game to watch.
Liverpool-Leverkusen: Matches featuring English and German teams are always good for a spirited fight. Liverpool showed a lot of spirit beating Olympiakos, and will have to show the best against a very strong Leverkusen side, that has already shown how to humilliate Real Madrid this season.

I will not come with my predictions just yet, but just say that there will be emptiness while waiting for February 22nd.

Friday, December 17, 2004

New Ghana national coach

I was recently going for a late evening run in Accra, near my house, when I had the pleasure of running by the Ghana football Association. Noticing much going on there, I later realized that there had been a presentation of the new national coach of the 'Black Stars'. This is the fifth national coach in two years time.
Ratomir Dujkovic, from Serbia, is the man who will hopefully lead Ghana to its first ever world cup appearance in Germany in 2006.
I hope it works, but Ghanaian national teams seem to be very unstable in spite of the great talent. There is work to do for Mr. Dujkovic, but I wish him all the best!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Player of the year 2004

FIFA, as well as other shortlists, have three players as candidates for Player of the Year Award.
Ronaldinho, Schevchenko or Henry?

I would go for Ronaldinho. This year has been his year. After seeing his magic in Corea/Japan 2002 and in Paris Saint-Germain, it was only a question of time before he would surpass the other Brazilian stars. In a stunning Barcelona team this year, this is just what he has done. In the spring, Barcelona started to win, although too late to get the championship they did end ahead of arch-rival Real Madrid in the Spanish League. This fall, Barcelona and Ronaldinho have kept the pace and have been shining brightly in both the Spanish League and in the Champions League. At the same time, although getting limited playing time, Ronaldinho has been a frequent star in the Brazilian national team, which this year both won the Copa America and is in front in the South American World Cup qualifiers.

Thierry Henry's chance should have been last season. This season, although certainly still a goal-scoring machine, Mr. Henry has certainly been out-shined by rising stars. At the same time, Mr. Henry has not managed to shine in great international tournaments: in the Champions League Arsenal has not made it all the way, and in the Euro 2004 with the French national team, Henry was a disappointment together with his team-mates.

Schevchenko has also had a great season with AC Milan, and continues to prove that he is the obvious choice in the Milanese attack. However, AC Milan is not an entertaining attacking team, and thus Mr. Schevchenko to a certain degree lacks the flair of Ronaldinho, something which is also part of winning the honour. At the same time, while success has been frequent with AC Milan, Schevchenko has never enjoyed success with an otherwise talented Ucranian national team. Absent from the Euro 2004, and not doing too well in the World Cup qualifiers, Mr. Schevchenko is not having success everywhere.

I will certainly go for Ronaldinho. But he only wins because he has been a star shining a bit brighter than the other stars this season.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Champions League first round wrap up

At the start of this season's champions league I made some predictions as to how the groups would fare.
After a fascinating last round, the result of my predictions are as follows:

Group A: The group was closer than I thought. But as I predicted, Monaco won, after destroying Deportivo in La Coruna. Deportivo has been a great disappointment, and must be tired of humiliations from Monaco. Liverpool was extraordinary in the last game against Olympiakos, managing to get 3-1 after being down 0-1. With that result, they took the second spot, just as I had predicted.
Group B: I predicted Real Madrid would win. This looked far-away at one point, but with good fight, Real Madrid managed to get the second spot. Leverkusen was a revelation. They played very fine, and deservedly won the group after defeating Dynamo Kijev. The Ucranians were very strong as I had thought, and it must be disappointing for them to play the UEFA. I had predicted Roma to go on, but thankfully they did not: they were pathetic and uncharming.
Group C: Juventus won the group, as I had expected. They will be very hard to beat, but they are not entertaining. Bayern Munich was much stronger than I thought, and played well to get the second spot. I had predicted Ajax Amsterdam for this, but the youngsters were far from the glory of former times.
Group D: I am proud to say that I had predicted Lyon to win. The French side is amazingly strong this season, and any team will be wrong to believe it will be easy to beat them. They can get very far... Manchester United got the second spot. Just as I had predicted, they were the unchallenged winners of the group.
Group E: Arsenal won the group, which I had also predicted, although they fought harder for it than I thought. I had thought PSV would be second, but they were much stronger than I thought, in particular defeating Arsenal in one of the games. PSV is also a team to watch, and I still think Arsenal will have an early exit again this season.
Group F: AC Milan and Barcelona were unchallenged winners of the group, just as predicted. Celtic and Shakhtar both showed spirit, but Barcelona and Milan are very strong, and look as strong contenders for the title.
Group G: One of this season's disappointments have been the Spanish champions of Valencia. They were very bad in this round, and did not progress after their pathetic loss 0-2 to Werder Bremen. I had wrongly predicted them to win the group. Winners were Inter, whom I also had predicted for the second spot. Werder Bremen have been very strong, and deservedly got the second spot after defeating Valencia both at home and away.
Group H: I had predicted that Chelsea, under Mr. Mourinho, would win the group. They also did, and are looking strong, both in the Premier League and here in the CL. They can indeed get very far. FC Porto edged through on the second spot. The defendign champions have not been looking as strong as last season, but I had expected them to go through.

My biggest mistake was not expecting the German teams to do well. Actually, I had predicted they would all be out after first round. Instead, they are all through. I guess I fell into the old football trap of underestimanting the Germans. Never do that in football...

My UEFA Champions League League Fantasy team, Abruniohene, had a lousy round, and looks to get worse, as many of the teams the players are on, are out. Oh well, at least I was good at predicting...

Cannot wait till February 22nd 2005!!!!

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

December 7th

I missed the pathetic loss of Valencia at home to Werder Bremen. Why? Because I was following the democratic process in Ghana, by being an observer at the presidential and Parliamentary elections. As the game was starting, I was sitting in a small school in the Volta region. It was dark, hot, full of mosquitos, I was tired, and sitting listening to a guy counting votes for 3 hours.
I could not stop thinking of the game! Today, I see Valencia was pathetic, the team lost without grace, Angulo was shown a red card, and Mr. Ranieri even stated that he understood the attack against referee Anders Frisk in Rome.
This must be time for Mr. Ranieri to be fired. He is destroying a team with proud traditions of team spirit, pride and good football. He was incompetent in Chelsea, and I am tired of him also bringing his negative football to Valencia.

What a lousy day for my 30th birthday.

Monday, December 06, 2004

BBC Documentary: Football and Fascism (review)

I recently watched a BBC documentary on football and fascism in the Europe of the 1930's. It showed how Mussolini, Hitler and Franco respectively used football as a political propaganda tool. As a person with a keen interest in both European 20th century history and in football, it was interesting programme, although the programme at times often rather simplified the hsitorical context, such as the German annexation of Austria or the reasons for the Falagist victory in the Spanish civil war.

But the programme was certainly interesting in regard to how football was used by these regimes as a tool in their propaganda machine. For instance the way in which Mussolini in the 1930's sponsored and pressured Italian football, leading directly to the victories in the world cups of 1934 and 1938.
In 1934 Mussolini directly influenced the Swedish referee Ivan Eklind, who dined with Mussolini before refereeing the final against Czechoslovakia. Mr. Eklind had also been referee in the semifinal between Italy and Austria, where he had gone very far in what he allowed the Italian players to do. The programme strongly suggests that Italy should not have won, but goes on to largely ignore the fact that Italy also was victorious in France in 1938. Italy did have an extremely good team in the 1930's. While the quality of the team always will be put in doubt by Mr. Mussolini's actions, the fact remains that they were victorious in two world cups, and their players were leading in what was one of the world's best leagues at the time.
Austria of the 1930's plays a important part in the programme's part on Nazi Germany. In the 1930's, Austria's national team was one of the bets in the world, led by the charismatic and popular Max Sendelar, one of the greatest players of the time. With the 'Anchluss', that is Germany's annexation of Austria in 1938, many Austrian players were absorbed into the German team. But Max Sendelar became a symbol of Austrian nationalism, and died under mysterious circumstances in 1939. The program focuses much on these mysterious circumstances under which he was found gassed in bed, together with his Italian girlfriend. It is obviously insinuated that he was killed by the Nazis. Nothing has ever been clarified, but the method would be very like the Nazis.
But this is not the only focus on Hitler. As is well-known, the Nazis were exceptional in using propaganda as a political tool. The 1936 Olympics were the first with the massive use of a mayor sporting event to promote the political agenda of the Nazis. The German football team was also part of this political machinery, and the programme alledges that the only football game Hitler ever went to was when Germany sensationally was defeated by Norway in the 1936 Olympics. I guess Norway were the Jessee Owen of football by this great result!
However, the programme tends to exaggerate the importance of this result, insinuating it undermined the regime. While football is a valuable propaganda tool, it was more an expression of the society and politics of 1930's Europe, and not a direct influence on the sustanability of the regime. This is a fault in the programme which is continued in the last part, which is about how Francisco Franco, in Spain, used football, and in particular the success of Real Madrid, as a tool in its relations with the outside world. That the international success of Real Madrid during the 1950's was central in ending Spain's isolation after World War II, is an overstatement to say the least. It ignores the whole cold war and anti-communist context leading US foreign policy at the time.
But that Franco was indeed a Real Madrid fan, and used its success as a stage to show off, is beyond doubt. It is interesting to hear an interview with the great Alfredo Di Stefano, who largely tells the period as he saw it: "We were just playing football, and paid little attention to the politics around us".
Real Madrid's success played an important element in attesting the superiority of Madrid over other Spanish regions, notably Barcelona. Today the rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid stems very much from this period, where also Catalan nationalism uses the football of FC Barcelona as a political platform - a fact mentioned shortly, but otherwise largely ignored by the programme.
There is little doubt that Real Madrid had the upper hand in the 1950's, also showed by Real Madrid's amazing team of those years; by far the world's best at the time. Truly "Galacticos" - whose record will probably never be beaten: five European cups and six Spanish championships. Mr. Di Stefano's own transfer to Real Madrid was part of the upper-hand of Real Madrid: Barcelona had confirmed the transfer (according to Mr. Di Stefano himself, he was already ready to go to Barcelona), but at the last moment, there was a mysterious intervention to get him to Madrid. As we all know today, he was the greatest player ever in Real Madrid, which is not a small feat!
The BBC programme is recommendable to anyone interested in the role of politics in football, and viceversa. Politics and football do go hand in hand more often than not. As such, football was also used by fascist dictatorships, and the programme gives a good, although at times simplified, view of how it happened. But it is important to notice that football was just one little element of the political game, and that the use of football as a political tool is in no way an exception to these regimes.