Monday, January 31, 2005

Bolton and good ole' Henrik "Toemrer" Pedersen

Working for a major donor organisation in a developing country can be extremely frustrating at times.
After such a frustrating week at work, I needed my usual escape, watching some good football with an ice cold draft beer!
While it did not seem overly exciting, I decided to watch the FA Cup match between Oldham Athletic and Bolton Wanderers. Bolton won 1-0 after scoring an early goal on a nice header by the young (and for me unknown) Ricardo Te Vaz.

While the game was a bit of a bore (although a good British Cup fight) it did bring memories to see good old Henrik "Toemrer" Pedersen: When I was a kid, I lived in a village in central Jutland called Bording, where I also played on the local football team. Although we sucked, I did get to play against some of the major teams in the area (with the not so internationally resounding names as AGF, Silkeborg, Ikast and Hammerum...). In another small village, called Ans, they had Mr. Pedersen on his team, and I am sure I got to tackle him a few times!
Of course, my (not so glorious) footballing career stopped there. While I went on to many years of schooling and travelling, Mr. Pedersen went on to become Danish league top-scorer, playing in one of my old favourite clubs Silkeborg. Later, he went on to England.

Strange to think that many years later, I would sit in a bar in Accra, Ghana, watching him play an FA Cup match in England!

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Not so cool Asante Kotoko

Great teams lose with grace, and accept the sometimes unpredictable decisions of the referee, in spite of disagreeing with them.
In Ghana, Asante Kontoko's players may still be hurt for losing the Confederation's Cup final to rivals from Hearts of Oak, but in yesterday's match, the Kotoko players displayed some deplorable behavior; tying 1-1 against Kpando Hearts of Lions, a penalty was awarded to Lions in the last minute of the match. Protesting strongly, the Kotoko players left the pitch, and the game had to be cancelled.
Losing is never fun. But it is a deplorable of a team pretending to be on the lead in Africa.
Kotoko is not so cool!

Monday, January 24, 2005

Valencia sucks

I used to stay in Castellon, North of Valencia, and not far from Villareal. Villareal just defeated Valencia 3-1, in a match where all goals were scored by Argentinians. One overshadowed them all, Villareal's Riquelme.
Now, some friend from Castellon sent me a message saying "Valencia sucks". These friends never said anything when Valencia took two titles last season, but obviously seem ready to rub Valencia's bad steam in my face. Screw them.
In any case, I agree that Valencia, under Ranieri, seems below the standard I am used to. It is depressing.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Real Madrid's Cup Spell

Real Madrid has not won the Spanish Cup, Copa del Rey, for twelve years. Such has been the meager performance in this tournament, that Spanish press says it must be a spell. Last year they were close, and supposedly should have defeated a modest Zaragoza side, but lost a humilliating defeat in the final - and ended the season without trophies.
While playing with the best in the final last season, the last-16 game against second-division team Valladolid last night was not a display of any starters: only Roberto Carlos -of the usual 11 starters, started on the pitch. What a show of arrogance!

Ironically, thinking it was too big a team, Valladolid also decided to spare some players... And as irony goes in football, 1-1 in Madrid was enough for Valladolid, after tying 0-0 at home.
Real Madrid have been overly optimistic after 2 + seven minutes victories in a row, but in which they have not played well. Where is the optimism after losing to a 2nd Division team?

The spell continues for Real Madrid in the Cup. Maybe for the rest of the season? I have no quarrels saying that I hope so...

Friday, January 14, 2005

Football fanatic of the year nominee 1

The year has just started, but I have my first nominee for the football fanatic of the year 2005.
The fans of Asante Kotoko. Last Sunday, as the final of the African Confederations Cup between Asante Kotoko and Accra Hearts of Oak went into penalty kicks, the excitement, nerves and euforia led to dozens of Kotoko fans simply fainting. On TV, I saw many people being carried away by medics.
While I certainly hope they all are doing well, and recuperating well (not only in health but also in spirit), the passion shown for the game and their team, should make them the very first nominee.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Danes in Spain

As a Dane, I will be happy to see some country-men in my favourite league, the Spanish.
I already watched Jesper Groenkjaer's good debut for Atletico Madrid against Real Madrid, although his good performance was overshadowed by the 'merengues' 3-0 victory.
And now it seems another Dane, Thomas Graversen, is set to change from Everton to Real Madrid. It will certainly not make me support Real Madrid (not even my idol Michael Laudrup could make me do that), but as an objective fan (if I have to be...), I can see that a player like Graversen is probably the kind of dynamo Real Madrid needs on their mid-field. The kind of player they lost when they let Makalele leave for Chelsea.
If Mr. Graversen goes to Madrid though (negotiations are still ongoing), his temper might be an obstacle. He is a tuff guy, with a very strong temper, who sees himself as a natural leader. In a team full of world class players with big ego's, Mr. Graversen might upset a fragile balance!
Can you picture a good fight between Mr. Beckham and Mr. Graversen? It would certainly make Real Madrid into a bigger circus than it already is.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Party in Accra!

The second leg of the African Confederations Cup final took place in Kumasi yesterday. Asante Kotoko had the upper hand after a 1-1 in Accra, and were set to take the title. But after a spirited fight and very exiting game, things proved differently.
Hearts of Oak came out with a much better fight than they had done in the first match. At the same time, Kotoko seemed happy to wait for Hearts to come to them, and did not attack much in front of their home crowd.
Five minutes into the second half, things seemed to go Kotoko's way, when Charles 'the terror' Taylor brought the home team ahead, to the spectacular joy of the home crowd.

But Hearts of Oak has the reputation of never giving up. In the first match they equalized in the last minute, and this time, they started attacking, while Kotoko coach Hans Dieter Schmidt, strangely brought in extra defenders.
Ten minutes before full-time, Lawrence Adjei scored the equalizer for Hearts, and the game went into a nerve-wrecking penalty shoot-out.
The players were actually excellent shooters, and the shoot-out went into the 8th kick, when Kotoko Captain Hendricks missed, and in the subsequent kick, Hearts took the trophy.

Celebrations erupted in Accra. I think many are still partying!

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Real Madrid's 7 minutes

Real Madrid won a 7-minute game against Real Sociedad. Apparently they played great, and there seem to be great expectations on the new year.
Wake up Real Madrid! You won, but games are usually more than 7 minutes! These might become the most glorious 7 minutes of Real Madrid in 2005!

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Tottenham-Chelsea: change the rules!

After Tottenham was stolen of a great triumph against Chelsea, the discussion has again emerged on the use of TV to assist the referees.
I have always found that football (soccer) is the most old-fashioned sport in the world regarding this, as near-dictatorial powers of the referee, gives him an unprecedented influence in the outcome of way too many matches.
Some people say that TV assitance would break the flow of the match. Nonsense. I am not arguing that TV should be used to clarify every small offense. Instead, it should be used when there is a clear and controversial goal-giving situation. Take for instance Maradona's famous hand-goal against England in 1986. In the time English players used protesting to the referee, the whole world saw the incident in slow-motion 4-5 times, and nobody but the referee was in doubt that Maradona had used his hand.
The same was the case with Pedro Mendes' clear goal for Tottenham against Chelsea. Only ones who did not see the ball over the line were the referee and the linesmen. And as so many famous coaches are now arguing, they would favour the use of TV in such situations.
This is just common sense. But I am most surprised about the lack of comments from referees. I have before heard Pierluigi Colina, undoubtfully the best referee in the world, say he is against the use of TV aid in matches. Are they not interested in improving the quality of refereeing!?
An alternative could be to have a 'goal-linesman'. That is, a linesman behind each goal, who could have the final word on such situations, as well as assist the referee in corner-kick situations, penalty-kicks, and other situations where the linesman is (more than too often) a bit too far away.
In times where commercialisation has made the stakes in football so high, and when the possibilities of improving the quality of refereering are so many, it is deplorable not to do anything.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Accra Hearts of Oak-Asante Kotoko

Not wholly passed my new years hangover, I went to watch the 1st leg of the Final of the African Confederations Cup, on January 2nd. First time ever two teams of the same country, namely Ghana, face one another in this prestigious tournament.
Hearts of Oak, the home team from Accra for the first leg, boasts a young and talented side, while Asante Kotoko, from the city of Kumasi, has an experienced side, which are currently defending champions of Ghana.
Since these teams are by far the two main teams in the country, they have a very strong rivalry that before has led to violence, so a lot of police and military was out for this game.

It was a burning hot Sunday afternoon, and I was surprised to see the quick pace which Hearts of Oak started with. In spite of some shaky flanks, Asante Kotoko's defense was very strong, centered around their captain Joe Hendricks. But the strikers of Hearts were at the same time not looking too good, and as the game progressed, Kotoko got more and more into the match.
The best player of the match was a small offensive midfielder in Kotoko, Stephen Oduro. Small in size, but with excellent technique, speed and physical stubborness he completely dominated the midfield. After one hour, it was also a strong run from him, which gave Kotoko a free kick outside the area. Although a good kick by former-Hearts player Charles Taylor, the keeper should have had it. Instead, he dropped the ball right on the feet of Michael Osei, who scored without problem.
After this, the experience of Kotoko shined through, while the inexperience of Hearts
became obvious, as the home-crowd grew more and more impatient. It seemed Kotoko's substitutions were excellent, while Hearts coach was waiting way too long before changing anything on a team that was looking more and more disillusioned.
The game went into 4 minutes injury time. In the last second of the injury time, a somewhat weak shot from outside, by young Hearts striker Louis Agyemang, equalized the match. A shame for Kotoko's goalkeeper, George Owu, who had otherwise played an excellent match.
Kotoko was understandably disappointed, having lost victory in the dying seconds. However, next Sunday they will have a fanatic crowd behind them, as they host the young Hearts team in Kumasi. I would put my money on Kotoko.

A jubilant Michael Osei after scoring