Sunday, May 29, 2011

Out of this world

I had anxiously been expecting a great game in the Champions League final, which I watched in my new football-hangout in Caracas over a few Soleras. I was not disappointed, although it did not go exactly as I thought. That FC Barcelona was so superior to Manchester United was surprising, and nobody can say that their 3-1 victory was undeserved. The Catalonians controlled the ball superbly, and besides an outstanding Wayne Rooney goal, Manchester United's players were all but invisible. One can say a lot of things about how much space the English defense gave players such as Xavi or Messi for some of the goals, but at the same time Barcelona are splendid in finding open spaces.
The great Sir Alex Ferguson, disappointed but graceful in defeat, immediately admitted that his team had lost to the best team in the world.

In the world? Many FC Barcelona players are out of this world, most notably Messi, and I really do not know what UEFA rules say about using extraterrestial life-forms on your team...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Carlos Tevez show

It is hard as a football fan not to like Carlos Tevez: a small, nice guy from one of the poorest and harshest neighbourhoods, who had a harsh upbringing, but fought against it to become an outstanding footballer. He is a great striker, and his constant fighting for the team, running, tackling, and taking responsibility upon his shoulders, has made him loved in every single place he has played. In all his clubs, from Corinthians, West Ham, Manchester United, and Manchester City now, he has become a hugely important captain, who has carried them to one of their first title for many years, the FA Cup final victory against Stoke recently.
But at the same time this great player is also a moaner, who creates a difficult atmosphere in every team: he has left clubs suddenly, after talking with the press about how unhappy he is, something that is also starting now in Manchester City, where rumours about his leaving for Boca Juniors have started to abound.
It is perhaps because of his upbringing and strong Argentinean mentality, but it is obvious that while he plays extraordinarily, he is not comfortable in England, and it has been said that he is there so that his daughter can get all the things he never had, something you can only sympathise with as a person, but is more difficult to swallow as a fan of one of the teams where you constantly hear him complaining.

There is no doubt Mr. Tevez would feel more comfortable in Argentina, but even in a country where a player like him is adored, he creates controversy. In the national team he has never performed really well, but he was a favourite of ex-coach Diego Maradona, who insisted on using him for the World Cup, sacrificing the mid-field general Juán Sebastián Verón with dire consequences against the dangeous German team during the 2010 World Cup quarterfinal.
Still, such an extraordinary player is difficult to keep out from the team, but that is exactly what Argentinean coach Sergia Batista seems poised on doing in spite of strong criticism from many sides, not least Mr. Maradona. But it does seem that if Argentina is to being the best out of Messi, Mr. Tevez does not fit into the neo-Barcelona style that Mr. Batista wants to implement and try out in the coming Copa América in Argentina.
Any fan will be disappointed not to be able to see such a player as Mr. Tevez, but at the same time, it is a question of the balance of the team which is the most important, and less so the qualities of independent players. And in that regard, keeping Mr. Tevez out may be the least bad option.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Adiós Deportivo

The excitement of the last round of the 2010-11 Spanish league was all about who would be relegated together with Almería and Hercules. It is perhaps telling about how poor the Spanish league is (outside the top 2), that in the last few rounds, up to eight teams were fighting relegation! While there are 21 points between teams number 2 (Real Madrid) and 3 (Valencia), there are only 19 points separating teams 4 (Villarreal) and 18 (Deportivo La Coruña).

Deportivo La Coruña has been a popular top team for 20 seasons in the Spanish top league. The Galician side even won the Championship in 2000, positively upsetting the power of the top teams. But with Real Madrid and Barcelona taking off from the rest of the teams, Deportivo has suffered, and this season has been dreadful, culminating yesterday. Deportivo was at home to Valencia, and needed points to avoid relegation. After a barrage of missed chances, Valencia ended up winning 0-2, and Deportivo became the last team to be relegated. Next season, this great Galician side will play in Segunda División, and the club and their fans will be sorely missed in the top flight!
Hope they will be back soon!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Porto champions

The 2011 UEFA Europa league final probably did not raise much interest outside Ireland (where it took place) and Portugal, from where the two finalists, FC Porto and Braga, came from.
I must admit that the match was also a big disappointment. Porto's 1-0 victory was fully deserved. Although Braga was organised, when Porto went ahead on a goal by the Colombian goal machine Falcao, Braga had nothing to offer in terms of threatening their fellow Portuguese.
FC Porto has been awesome in this Europa League, and adds this title to their dominion in the Portuguese league. This next Sunday they will have the opportunity to take a "small triple", if they win the Portuguese Cup, something they are undoubfully favourites for, if they are not too hungover from this victory!

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Repeat final

After Manchester United's perhaps expected 4-1 victory at home to Schalke 04, it is now confirmed that the Champions League final at Wembley om May 28th will be a repeat of the 2009 final, where FC Barcelona defeated Manchester United 2-0. Back then, the English side had been weak favourites, as many expected them to be stronger physically and tactically. But in fact, the Spanish side matched the English side in both respects, and was superior technically.
FC Barcelona is today hailed as the best team in the world, and is probably the slight favourite this time, although one must never underestimate Sir Alex Ferguson, as well as the United side being hungry for revenge.
No matter what, it will be exciting!

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The clasico foursome

Four matches between the archrivals of Real Madrid and Barcelona have ended. The first one, the league match (which I did not see because I was barbecuing with friends in Richmond, California), ended 1-1, and with 8-point difference, the league is quite certain to end in Barcelona for the third season in a row.
The final of the Copa del Rey was a 1-0 Real Madrid victory after extra time (I half-watched the match in a bar in Haights, in San Francisco, California). Finally Real Madrid won a title, and to this one must add that it is a title that has eluded them for many years (it was for instance the only title the splendid goalkeeper Iker Casillas had never won). It was in fact a well-deserved victory, and must have given the merengues confidence before the Champions League semifinals, that the entire world was awaiting eagerly.
I watched the first match after (I was at the bottom of the Grand Canyon when it took place). It was a disappointment of a Real Madrid team that did not seem to have confidence after their Copa del Rey victory, too much girly behaviour by the Barca players, and a referee that was good, but whose one mistake proved crucial: Pepe's expulsion. Barcelona won 0-2 in Madrid and the most memorable moment of this match was Lionel Messi's splendid second goal, although many will remember Mourinho's sour face.
Mourinho is surely a provocateur. As if these matches were not always surrounded by tension, he is only too happy to throw gasoline into the fire. In my view, it is part of the football entertainment today, but I am not sure it helps the players; there is simply too much spark in some of the players.
Real Madrid started the second match very well (this one, I watched at home), but as soon as Barcelona gets going with their passing game, the balloon runs out of air. It is characteristic for both the CL matches how superior Barcelona was in possession and in passing, and in spite of the good fight the Madrid side put up, the score was only 0-0 at halftime because of some splendid saves by the world's best goalkeeper, Iker Casillas. Still, 1-1 was enough for Barcelona, who may feel that they got a double revenge: against their archrivals whom they had never eliminated from a European semifinal, and against José Mourinho, who has been provoking them so much, besides coaching Inter when the Italian side eliminated Barcelona in last season's CL.

This foursome will surely go into history, as in a few weeks the ultimate rivalry of these two sides was put to the test. However, it further underlines the enormous problem this is for the "Scottish" Spanish league: it is effectively a two-team league. The rest of the sides are only in it for the spoils of the big ones (both sport-wise and economically). The Spanish league is a bore and it will continue to be, except when these two sides meet, as much as any football fan should love to see them play.