Sunday, December 30, 2012

Best players of 2012

This is my personal list of favourite players of 2012:

  • 10) Cristiano Ronaldo: Ronaldo is one of the most gifted players of our time, but that is also what makes him so frustrating. He had a marvelous season for Real Madrid when they took the Spanish title, but it seems he only glows when things go well for the team. Perhaps it is a personality or attitude problem, but he will not become one of the best in the world even though he could.
  • 9) Miroslav Klose: At a time where you see more assholes than gentlemen in international football, Klose is a marvelous rarity. The veteran has done very well in Lazio, which is in second place in Serie A, but I mostly include him for a goal he scored against Napoli, where he got the referee to disallow it by pointing out to him that he had scored by hand! A true sportsman!
  • 8) Robbie van Persie: One of the most noted transfers was when Arsenal captain van Persie changed to Manchester United this summer. Both in Arsenal and in Manchester the Dutchman has been a goal machine, and he has been a huge contribution to Manchester United's first spot in the Premier League in the fall.
  • 7) Didier Drogba: One of the reasons that Chelsea has not been as good in the fall is the absence of Didier Drogba who retired to play in China after bringing glory to Chelsea by scoring both in the FA Cup final and in the Champions League final. He is not only missed by Chelsea fans but by any football fan who loved to see this absolutely brilliant striker!
  • 6) Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Ibrahimovic is a unique player. Which other player has given birth to a verb, "Zlatanera"?  He was scoring a lot of goals for AC Milan before his change to Paris St. Germain, where he is currently the top scoring player in the French League as Paris takes first spot. Also, he scored what is probably the most memorable goal of the year in a friendly match against England in November.
  • 5) Xavi: Xavi continues to be the mid-field general of both FC Barcelona and Spain, two of the best teams in the world, not least for his impressive vision.
  • 4) Radamel Falcao: The Colombian striker is perhaps the best striker in the world at the moment. In a revived Atletico Madrid side he has been a goal machine, leading them both to the Europa League title, the UEFA Supercup and a second place in the Spanish league, where his scoring record this season is only second to the mighty Messi.
  • 3) Andrea Pirlo: When the Italian veteran changed from AC Milan to Juventus in 2011 it seemed as if he were reborn. He was the outstanding midfield general on a side that in 2012 went on to win their first Serie A title since 2003, and in the Euro 2012 he was simply superb in leading an Italian side that played a more offensive football than other Italian sides was playing. He would have been the best player of the tournament had he not been dwarfed by the mighty Spanish in the final.
  • 2) Andres Iniesta: It is a pity that the brilliant and elegant Andres Iniesta still has often suffered from injuries during the year, as this prevents fans from admiring one of the greatest players of time. In FC Barcelona he still is outstanding and it was fully deserved when he was awarded the prize of best player of the tournament, as well as his award as UEFA best player of the year, ahead of his team-mate Lionel Messi!
  • 1) Lionel Messi: There is no way around it. This has probably been the best year for Lionel Messi ever (in spite of an absence of titles, with only the Copa del Rey). He was simply unstoppable in scoring goals, making it to 91 goals in the year, breaking legendary Gerd Muller's record. These goals have not only come for Barcelona, but also for the Argentine national team, where he seems to have finally become good after many years of disappointing.

Best teams of 2012

Here is my personal list of the teams I found to be the best in 2012!

  • 10) Tahiti: It was not on the big news much, but in June 2012 Tahiti won the Oceania Nations Cup. It was the first time ever this tournament was not won by Australia or New Zealand, and it will be fascinating to see the unknown Tahitians face some big nations in next year's Confederations Cup. 
  • 9) Mexico Olympic team: It was a hyped London Olympic football tournament, where some of the favourites showed little. The great favourite were Brazil, but the South Americans were prevented in the final from winning their first Olympic gold ever by a better Mexican side.
  • 8) USA Women's side: It is a pity that Women's football only get attention during the World Cup and Olympics. In the London Olympics the quality and drama of football undoubtedly came from the women, where the USA side ran away with gold after defeating the world champions of Japan in a great final. It was a tournament with some fantastic matches and a great winner.
  • 7) Manchester City: Usually the great team in Manchester has been United. But with huge investment by wealthy Arabs Manchester City overtook their neighbours and took their first Premier League title since 1968 in a memorable match against Queens Park Rangers. They were a huge disappointment in the Champions League in the fall, where they fell in the first round, but are still second in the Premier League behind Manchester United.
  • 6) Chelsea: One has to admire when Chelsea got out of some difficult months in the spring by taking the FA Cup and the Champions League title. In the fall, when things started to go sour in the Premier League and in the Champions League, they just fired Roberto Di Matteo. Things seem to have improved a little with Rafa Benitez, but it does not take away that Chelsea is as much a soap opera as a football club...
  • 5) Juventus: The great Italian side won its first Serie A since 2003, and the team has been doing well in the Champions League where they were instrumental in the the elimination of the defending champions of Chelsea in the fall.
  • 4) Atletico Madrid: Over the last years there have only been two clubs in Spain, but now it seems Atletico Madrid, under coach Diego Simeone, may be able to threaten the duopoly. While finishing only 5th in the League, they went on to win the Europa League, and have maintained a second spot in the league throughout the fall.
  • 3) Borussia Dortmund: The German side only seems to be getting better and better. In 2012 they won the "Double" in Germany, winning the Bundesliga with most points ever won by a German champion. While they are currently trailing Bayer Munich and Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga, they topped a great year by winning their Champions League group in style ahead of Real Madrid, Manchester City and Ajax Amsterdam. 
  • 2) Corinthians: Winners of the 2012 Copa Libertadores against Boca Juniors in the final, they went on to win the FIFA Club World Cup against Chelsea, the first time in five years it was not won by a  South American side.
  • 1) Spain: At the Euro 2012 Spain showed that there is really no threat to their hegemony on the international football stage. This was the third major tournament they won in a row and they won it in awesome style, in spite of the criticisms (including from myself) about their style, where they have too few goals to show for their immense possession.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Corinthians World Champion

Brazil's Corinthians have just become Club World Champions 2012 after defeating Chelsea 1-0 in the final in Japan on a goal by Paolo Guerrero. A fully deserved victory as Corinthians seemed like the team that most wanted to win the trophy; Chelsea were good in the first half, and had some good chances that were prevented by an excellent Cassio on the Brazilian goal. But Chelsea seemed not to have studied their opponents! A bit arrogant one might say, after they walked through Monterrey in the semifinal, but they seemed to have no idea about Corinthian's somewhat defensive counter-attacking style that made them win this year's Copa Libertadores. Corinthians is undoubtedly one of the best teams in the world, but Chelsea did not seem to realize that.
Peruvian striker Paolo Guerrero was excellent, but in particular Paulinho and Emerson Sheik both were outstanding, and an important reason for Corinthians being able to call themselves World Champions!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

United on top in Manchester (and in England)

The Manchester derby between United and City was bound the be a great match, considering the wonderful players both teams have, their eternal rivalry and the fact that they are 1 and 2 in the Premier League respectively. City were on fire as the game started, but it was Wayne Rooney who put United ahead 1-0 and 2-0 in the first half, ending City's initial dominance, and distancing themselves on first spot.
But last year City won the title by fighting back in the last match, and it was no difference this time. When Carlos Tevez came in for Mario Balotelli it seemed it gave City a boost, and with goals by Yaya Toure and Pablo Zabaleta, they got the match on 2-2, and City's hopes were clearly up as the match was coming to an end.
But in the last minute a free kick by Robbie Van Persie put United in front, giving them a victory that gives them a comfortable six-point lead in the Premier League table.
A great match; only bad thing was the behaviour of the Manchester city fans (why do we call them fans anyway?).

Thursday, December 06, 2012

The classy exit of the champions

The defending Champions League champions, Chelsea recently fired their coach, Roberto Di Matteo, after their latest defeat in the CL, 0-3 to Juventus. This meant that today they had to hope that Shakhtar Donetsk would defeat Juventus at home and themselves defeat FC Nordsjaelland. And under the new coach, Rafa Benitez, the defending champions did all they could to defend their title against a meager Danish side. 6-1 was the final score, but it was not enough.  Juventus won 0-1 in Donetsk, meaning that both the Italians and the Ukranians continue to the next round.
Chelsea are out, but it was a classy exit, and it will be interesting to see Rafa Benitez in his new (temporary) role as Chelsea manager.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Victors and losers

The group stages of the 2012-13 Champions League are coming to an end, and there were some interesting matches today.  In group C Malaga has been unbeaten and were sure to finish first before today's final match against Anderlecht. Things were different for the Belgians, who needed to win to at least get an Europa League spot. It did not help them that AC Milan lost 0-1 at home to Zenit St. Petersburg. Still, it was a splendid match in Malaga, where the Andalucians went twice ahead on two great goals by Duda, while Milan Jovanovic and Dieudonne Mbokani also scored two beautiful goals to equalize. In the end Anderlecht came really close to the victory but were prevented by goakeeper Idris Kamenei.
A great match and a pity to see Anderlecht out, but it will be equally interesting to follow a very interesting Malaga side in the next rounds. AC Milan follows them on second spot in spite of their defeat.
In group D Borussia Dortmund has been awesome and sealed their first spot by defeating a meager Manchester City side 1-0. The English champions are thus out of European football for the season, while Ajax squeezed into the Europa League with poor four points after being destroyed 4-1 by Real Madrid, where it was excellent to see the great Kaka score a beautiful goal for the Spaniards.
In group A Paris Saint Germain defeated FC Porto 2-1 in a group final to take first spot, while in group B Arsenal missed the first spot by losing 2-1 to Olympiakos (who makes it to the Europa League), but Schalke 04 takes first spot with a 1-1 result against French champions of Montpellier.
Tomorrow they will be playing the final matches of the last four groups.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Galaxy MLS champions

This year's MLS final was a repeat of last year's final between LA Galaxy and the Houston Dynamos, and it was to be David Beckham's last match for the LA Galaxy. Whatever one thinks of Beckham (a pretty boy, yes, but an outstanding footballer, fighter and representative for his country, whose career is one of the most interesting ever in football) undoubtedly Beckham has had a huge influence on the growth of the MLS.
And the final was indeed an exciting and high quality match. Houston was best in the first half, but Galaxy also had good chances with the incursions by Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan on the passing by Beckham and Juninho. Donovan missed a huge chance in the first half, so it was instead Calen Carr who brought Houston ahead in the last minute of the first half when Adam Moffat totally tore apart the defense on a great pass.
In the second half Galaxy put more pressure on Houston, and fifteen minutes into the second half Omar Gonzalez equalized on a header after a Juninho cross (Omar Gonzalez was the best player of the match). Soon after a Robbie Keane goal was annulled for off-side, but the way was clear, and a few minutes later Galaxy was awarded a penalty when a Dynamo defender made an illegal save in the area, and Landon Donovan scored, clearing himself for his first half miss.
After this it did not look as if Galaxy could be shaken, and in the last minutes of the match Robbie Keane scored the 3-1 goal on a penalty kick. It seemed a bit strange that they would not have let David Beckham kick as a last homage to the great Englishman.
Nevertheless, the victory, and the well-deserved title, David Beckham's second was surely homage enough!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New old coach for Brazil

Brazil must win the 2014 World Cup at home. The most winning football nation in World Cup history has never won the World Cup at home (until Spain won it, they were the only ones), after their debacle in the 1950 World Cup against Uruguay. There is no doubt that not winning it at home again would lead to a similar collective depression as 1950.
Therefore the matches of the Brazilian national team under manager Mano Menezes have been followed closely, and have surely not been convincing. Brazil was set on winning their first Olympic gold in London, but lost the final to Mexico, and although they had good results against weaker sides, they seemed to struggle when up against quality sides. Last week Brazil played what is effectively an Argentie B-side in the "super-clasico" friendly match. They won 2-1 on a penalty kick by Neymar in the final minutes of the match. But Brazil had looked weak against Argentina, and during the match fans had cheered for the return of coach Luis Felipe Scolari.
So Menezes was fired, and Scolari has been announced as new coach. He was also made coach in 2001 when Brazil was in crisis and failing to qualify for the 2002 World Cup. Scolari succeeded: he led the team to take the 2002 World Cup title, and then stepped down as coach. Since then he has had a disappointing career, first coaching Portugal, then Chelsea, Bunyodkor in Uzbekistan, and ending in Palmeiras, from where he was fired a few months ago after the team was at the bottom end of the Brazilian championship. Without work, he was called for from many parts to take over Brazil.
It remains to be seen whether he can put Brazil on the right track for the World Cup. In 2002 he had an incredibly talented generation of Brazilian players that included Cafu, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo. While this generation is surely talented it remains to be seen whether Scolari can bring out the best of them, and whether the best of them will be enough to give them the World Cup title they are longing for.
All eyes are on Luis Felipe Scolari.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The cruel fate of Di Matteo

Last March Roberto Di Matteo became interim coach for Chelsea at a moment when the Londoners were in crisis. Within a few months he guided Chelsea to the FA Cup title and to their first Champions League title ever. Within a few weeks he was no longer interim, but permanent manager. Now, barely six months after taking Chelsea to the greatest triumph in its history Di Matteo has been fired after some disappointing results. They are "only" third in the Premier League and are struggling in the Champions League were Juventus' 3-0 win over them sealed Di Matteo's fate.
A cruel fate, to be hailed and then fired within the same year! And one has to doubt whether this is not a too hasty decision by Chelsea's management: Di Matteo may have given rapid success, but he had a strong team, where there have been changes since last season (they lost their star player, Didier Drogba!). One would think that a manager needs time to build up a competitive team!
But no, short-term thinking is the rule in Chelsea, just as it is in other teams that think they can buy quick success, and where loyalty only reaches to their wallets.
There are rumours now about a new coach. Rafa Benitez has been mentioned, but in some places only as "interim" if Chelsea can get hold of Pep Guardiola.
I think everyone is "interim" in Chelsea.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Stop crying

FC Nordsjaelland lost 2-5 at home to Shakhtar Donetsk, but the most talked about thing about the match was a goal Adriano scored at the score 1-0 for the Danes, when he picked up a ball that was supposed to be returned to the Danes after fair-play situation.
Of course it is totally against the ideals of fair-play what Adriano did. But it is not against the rules. You cannot be sentenced for being an asshole, but you can for doing something illegal.
Perhaps FC Nordsjaelland should be thankful: they can complain that they were cheated so that everyone can forget that they got their butts kicked!

Valencia and Bayern Munich through

In the economic crisis Valencia has been in for years they need any penny they can get, so to get as far as possible in the Champions League is part of this.  In the CL Group F they were today playing at home against Bayern Munich. A tie would put both teams through as Bate Borisov lost to the last-placed Lille at home, diminishing their own chances to go through. With a victory, Valencia could even look at winning the group, so it was a disappointing start to the game as Valencia's first real chance only came 30 minutes into a pretty lame match, where both teams at first seemed happy with a tie. However, when Antonio Barragan got a red card for Valencia, it seemed that 10 men played better than they had before! Fifteen minutes from the end Valencia went ahead on a goal by Sofiane Feghouli, and understandably Valencia celebrated like crazy. But only a few minutes later Thomas Muller equalized for Bayern.
Valencia could still go through on first spot by defeating Lille and hoping Bayern does not defeat Bate Borisov at home, but that seems unlikely, and Valencia should just be delighted to be in the next round to keep those Euros flowing in...

Monday, November 19, 2012

MLS Western Conference final

The MLS Western conference second leg final yesterday saw the Seattle Sounders, in front of a great crowd in Seattle, win 2-1 over the LA Galaxy. However, this was not enough, as Galaxy had won a resounding 3-0 victory in the first leg that puts them in the National final to defend their title from last year against the same team as last year, Houston Dynamo.
LA Galaxy was nevertheless a disappointment in the match against Seattle. They came to Seattle to defend, which could make sense, but without Landon Donovan they seemed like a very ordinary team against Seattle, who in the first half came out to attack, knowing nothing else counted. In the first half they were leading on a goal by Eddie Johnson, who even had another goal erroneously annulled for off-side. When Zach Scott brought the Sounders ahead 2-0 they were dominating so much that everyone would be excused for expecting Seattle to make a third.
But two things happened. First, Coach Bruce Arena put the Brazilian Juninho in on midfield, and he suddenly gave LA Galaxy much more dynamism in the counterattack and more defensive depth.
The second thing was the referee...
It is sad that a referee takes center stage in such a game. He made a lot of small calls that favoured Galaxy, but in the end it was an absolutely scandalous penalty call for Galaxy, which Robbie Keane scored on (Galaxy's great player of this season also scored two goals in the first match). This took some air out of the Sounders while giving Galaxy renewed confidence. In spite of attacks by Sounders they were disappointed, and Galaxy should send flowers to the referee.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

For Zlatan!

Sweden inaugurated a new stadium in Stockholm, Friends Arena, with a friendly match against England tonight. But in this inauguration one man took all the attention: Sweden's superstar striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. There has never been doubt about his quality, although sometimes he can be petulant and lazy. But tonight his talent was extraordinary. With all four goals in their 4-2 victory, he almost singlehandedly gave Sweden the victory. His second goal, where he took the ball down with the best while running and hammered it in was a brilliant piece of skill, but surely everyone is talking about his fourth goal, where he did a spectacular bicycle kick from 30 meters out. Besides the skill, it was a bit lucky, you have to grant him that, but a great player is the one with the confidence to try such a kick! Ibrahimovic is having a great season in Paris St. Germain as well, and one has to wonder if Zlatan is not, indeed, the best striker in the world at the moment! 

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Great Celtic

Even though Celtic play in the world's most boring league, their victory today against the leaders of the world's second most boring league was truly impressive. Because no matter how you turn things, FC Barcelona are a much better football team than Celtic. But the beauty of football is that sometimes David beats Goliath. Two weeks ago Celtic were close to tying Barcelona away, and it was some of the same tough, defensive style, with good counterattacking, that gave them today's important victory, that puts them ahead of Benfica to take the second spot in the group. In other matches of this round of the champions league, Real Madrid tied 2-2 at home to Borussia Dortmund, who are set to take the first spot in the group, where Manchester City are on their way out after 2-2 at home to Ajax Amsterdam. While Manchester City were dreadful in the first half they were rightfully angry with the Danish referee who cheated them for a goal and a penalty in the second half, favouring a Dutch side full of Danish players.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cool little guys

Some teams do not have the quality to be competitive in the UEFA Champions League, but they are nevertheless fun to include due to the occasional upsets they can cause in the tournament. There is no doubt that FC Nordsjaelland, the 2012 Danish championship side, is one of these sides. In their first two matches they lost 2-0 and 0-4 to Shakhtar Donetsk and Chelsea respectively, although nice and polite things have been said about their style. Today at home against Juventus they were looking for their first goal.
I watched the match on ESPN, where the Latin American commentators spend around 10 minutes talking about the great Michael Laudrup, whose son Andreas plays for FC Nordsjaelland. But as the game progressed they had only admiring words to say about the dedication of the tenacity of the Danes against the Italians. Some five minutes into the second half Mikkel Beckmann scored the first CL goal for the Danes on a splendidly taken free kick, and then the match became more fun as everyone was expecting one of the occasional upsets in the CL. Although goalkeeper Jesper Hansen had some amazing saves against the Italians, Mirko Vucinic in the end managed to equalize for the Italians.
The match ended 1-1, and FC Nordsjaelland may be a bit disappointed, but truth is that Juventus remains a far better team than the Danes, who have now made a little upset against the Italian champions. Pretty cool for some little guys, but that is also what it will remain.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Football in New York

Last week I spent in New York. This fantastic city is not known for its football, but nevertheless I had some good footballing experiences in the city.
There is surely vast footballing talent in the USA, but only in recent decades has it begun to seep through to the highest level, although the potential surely remains unexploited. So it was very interesting to me when a friend invited me to see a High School match in Brooklyn between the two local schools, Brooklyn International High School and Prospect High School. Although organisation and great variety in skills, there were surely some skillful players on both sides, but most importantly, eager to play football! The match ended 2-3 to the Prospect side, much to the disappointment of Brooklyn International, who had been leading and playing better way into the second half. But both teams are in their play-offs, and I hope they both do well!
Brooklyn Internatonal High School football match
On Saturday evening, after enjoying a beautiful day in the city, I went to have a beer in the great local football bar, Woodwork, in Brooklyn. Watched the last minutes of FC Barcelona's 4-5 victory against Deportivo La Coruna, but then greatly enjoyed watching the MLS match between the New York Red Bulls and Sporting Kansas City.
New York is probably one of the more known teams in the MLS, counting in its ranks such greats as Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez. But the fact is that Sporting Kansas City are the leaders of the MLS Eastern Conference with a Danish goalkeeper, Jimmy Nielsen. He has already become one of the highest ranking goalkeepers in the MLS, making it twice to the all-stars, and is close to becoming the number one goalkeeper of the season. With some great saves Nielsen contributed to the 0-0 draw, and their first place in the Conference, but it should be mentioned that the New York Red Bulls are already in the Play-offs as well.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

World cup qualifier in Brooklyn

I love traveling to the USA, but normally, I do have a hard time finding places to watch football. All in all, this is still not a football country. However, today I did get a delightful surprise in Brooklyn New York. I was looking for a place to watch the South American qualifiers, and a friend told me to go to "Woodwork", on Vanderbilt avenue in Brooklyn. While they were not showing the South American qualifiers, they were showing the last match in the first round of the CONCACAF qualifiers, where the USA were facing Guatemala at home. A tie was enough to let both teams through, but the USA were surely the best against a poor Guatemalan side that nevertheless went ahead 0-1, before the USA scored three goals for the victory.
Fully deserved, and I think the USA are on their way to Brazil.
And "Woodwork" was a great place, just until the match ended and they put on a presidential election debate.
Apparently they are having elections sometime soon in the USA. I vote for Clint Dempsey.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Fix

I have often said "the referee is bought" during football games to the amusement of many friends. It is funny, but I have always meant it as only half a joke; there is no doubt that the bribing of referees in football matches has happened at the highest level. Notable examples are the semifinal of the UEFA Cup in 1984, where Anderlecht had paid the referee, who gave them a dubious penalty and disallowed a clear goal to win the match, as well as the scandal of referee Robert Hoyser in Germany in 2005, as well as the bribing of referees in the 2006 Italian match fixing scandal.
All these cases are mentioned and examined in Declan Hill's outstanding but somewhat depressing book about match-fixing in football.
Depressing because, as Mr. Hill himself mentions in the book, all football fans like myself would rather not know about this. We keep living in an ideal world, defending poor refereeing (even when we demand TV to help out referees, some people say that the game should allow for referee mistakes. After reading this: should we also allow for purposeful "mistakes"?) as well as idealizing players and the ideals of fair play in the game.
Surely most people involved in football are dignified and fair people, but we are still blinded to the fact that some players have known to be corrupt, as Mr. Hill documents. Lack of income, clubs without money, and the sheer funds involved in gambling make the possibility of match fixing way to real, even at the highest level. While he never definitely proves fixing of matches at the 2006 World Cup, the indications that he finds should be enough for a serious investigation to be opened.
He looks at match fixing in Asia, Europe (Germany, Italy, France, Belgium and Finland are just some examples where he documents massive fixing within the last 20 years) and in the World Cup. It would be interesting if he had also looked at South America, and even more deeply into Spain, where many clubs in deep economic crises seem to have fertile ground for match fixers to operate.
But the sad truth is that either there is too much money (and this power) in fixing and too little interest in destroying the dream of "the beautiful game" for authorities to take real action against the problem.
And we are all guilty: the fans for wanting to ignore the problem, the media for downplaying it, and football administrators for wanting to close their eyes (and in some cases, according to Mr. Hill, even implicit complicity by refusing to investigate cases as those during the 2007 Women's World Cup or by giving administrative positions to people who have been known to be involved in match fixing).
Although really depressing, the book ends with a positive note, where Mr. Hill uses the case of football in the poorest and most violent neighborhoods of Nairobi, Kenya, to show that football in spite of it all still can bring a lot of positive with it.
However, that should not close our eyes, even if we want to close them, to the fact that we have all probably been witness to fixed matches...

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Oscar's first goals

It is fantastic to have the Champions League back, the best football on the planet. And not least to start with some excellent matches! Firstly, Real Madrid's hard-fought 3-2 victory against Manchester City, and secondly, today's match between the defending champions of Chelsea, and the Italian champions of Juventus.
This summer Chelsea bought a young Brazilian from Internacional from Porto Alegre, Oscar. He has for a while been one of the many Brazilian talents, and has had success in the Brazilian league and in his first matches on the senior Brazilian national team. He has also had some injuries, but his move to Europe probably came at the right time. And against Juventus today he showed that he may have great potential on making his name in Chelsea: he scored the English team's first two goals, and in particular his second goal was a beauty!
Oscar's two goals were nevertheless not enough to give Chelsea the victory in a great match. Arturo Vidal and Fabio Quagliarella scored for Juventus to give them an excellent 2-2 result at Stamford Bridge.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Rise of the lamas

I do not have much sympathy for Peruvian fans: their whistling of the national anthems of Venezuela and Argentina in their recent qualifiers are just disgraceful. But I guess that is what you can expect if you are a lama.
That said, Peru has risen in this qualifying round. Their home win against Venezuela brought them back in the race for the World Cup, and in their last game against Argentina, in spite of the 1-1 tie, they showed that they surely have the quality to compete for the World Cup spots. They fought very hard, bordering the illegal, but with spirit and passion against an Argentinean side which looked dangerous by Higuain and Lavezzi as the Peruvians successfully annulled Messi. Argentina's defense nevertheless had to fight hard against the incursions of Farfan and the threats of Pizarro (although he missed a penalty). Peru went ahead on a goal by Eintracht Frankfurt's Carlos Zambrano, before Gonzalo Higuain equalized. In the second hand Peru came closest to the win, but Argentina pulled through to a useful tie that keeps them in first spot, while Peru keeps a door open on 7th place.

Venezuela, who had lost to Peru, came back with style by defeating Paraguay 0-2; another historic first for Venezuela, who had never won in Paraguay before. Paraguay, who has qualified to every World Cup since 1998, seems unlikely to qualify with their last place in the South American qualifiers.
Ecuador surprised Uruguay, who is apparently entering a crisis period, by 1-1 in Asuncion, and the surprising Ecuatorians are on third place behind Argentina and Colombia.
Colombia were surely the team of the round: after their resounding trashing of Uruguay, they played wonderfully and defeated Chile 1-3, in one of the most difficult away matches there are. Having made a hugely talented team work, Jose Pekerman is looking more and more likely to take Colombia for their first World Cup since 1998.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

South American World Cup qualifiers

South America surely has the most exciting qualifying. All against all, nine teams (this time Brazil is not participating for being hosts) battle closely to get the 4 and a half spots for the tournament. And all are good teams. Unlike Europe, there are no San Marino's or Andorra's here. Just nine world class teams.
While Colombia took an important step with their 4-0 victory against Uruguay, Argentina moved to first spot after defeating Paraguay 3-1. Argentina did not start well, tying Bolivia and losing to Venezuela, but the Argentinean football machine seems to have gotten going. Lionel Messi, who has been criticised so much in playing for Argentina (from me as well) finally seems to have gotten his act together. Last night he was great, and scored on a beautiful free kick. At the same time the team is working well with Gago on midfield and Higuain on top, although the team should only be able to improve with the return of Sergio Aguero and Javier Mascherano (both had suspensions for this match).
Argentina will not be world champion in 2014. For that their defense still looks too shaky, and they depend too much on their stars rather than the collective. But a World Cup would not be the same without Argentina.
Venezuela is the only country in South America never to have played a World Cup, but with a strong a disciplined side they surely have their first real shot at the world stage. They started well, but have fallen behind lately with a loss at home to Chile. Last night Venezuela needed points away against Peru. At the same time, this was Peru's last call, needing a victory to remain with a chance to qualify. Venezuela played a great first half and went ahead on a free kick goal by Juan Arango, but in the second half Peru were a transformed side, and with a red card to Gabriel Cichero, Peru went on to take the victory with two goals by Schalke 04's Jefferson Farfan.
Both teams seem to on the edge for fighting for the last half spot for the World Cup, not unlikely against Ecuador, who moved up to third spot, ahead of Uruguay, after defeating Bolivia 1-0. Ecuador's third spot is based on four home victories, and they will struggle more away (as they already showed when they lost 4-0 to Argentina in Buenos Aires). This will be seen for the next round, on Tuesday, when Ecuador travel to Montevideo to face Uruguay.
Chile was the sit-over in this round, but remains in second spot, and it will be the match of the round when they take on Colombia in Santiago on Tuesday. In the meantime Venezuela travels to Paraguay, and Argentina will be facing Peru in Lima.

Uruguayan debacle and Colombian delight

Uruguay had a horrible Olympic tournament, where they had expected much more. And also, in the South American world cup qualifiers they have looked shaky in their last games.
Colombia on the other hand, have been full of expectations with Pekerman, and although winning, the magic formula have eluded them. In their home match against Uruguay, in Barranquilla, today, this changed. Colombia played with good possession and patience as they wore down Uruguay, and were extremely dangerous when they got near the Uruguayan goal. The currently strong Radamel Falcao scored the opener, while the popular (and quite controversial) player from Barranquilla's own Atletico Junior, scored two great goals. Napoli's Juan Camilo Zuniga closed the humilliation of Uruguay. While this is Uruguay's first defeat in the qualifiers the worries must be clear, as Uruguay still has some very difficult away games ahead of them. Today's defeat is a sign that Uruguay may. Be entering a period of decline after the enormous success of the last few years. Old stars like Diego Lugano and Diego Forlan have lost their shine, while stars like Edison Cavani or Luis Suarez are simply not working on the national team.
It is great for Clombia, who cansurely shine in the World Cup, but the warning signs are up for Uruguay.coc

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Van Persie at center stage

One of the most noted club changesin the recently closed transfer window was that of Robbie Van Persie's change from Arsenal to mighty Manchester United. Truly the Dutchman has started well, and today against Southampton was the player everyone talks about. Manchester United had great difficulty against Southampton! Who started going ahead before Robbien Van Persie equalized. But in the second half Southampton scored a second, and when Robbie Van Persie missed a penalty it looked as a coming surprise with the Dutchman as the sinner.
With only three minutes to the end Van Persie decided to put United back into the match when he scored his second, and in the 91st minute he scored his third goal on a beautiful header to give Manchester United the victory.
Surely Van Persie is to take center stage as Manchester will struggle to be back on the title track.
In the meantime Van Persie's old club, Arsenal, Has not started with too much of a goalscoring capability without the Dutchman. Their first two matches ended 0-0, but today they got their first victory, 0-2 away against Liverpool, a team which in the other hand is looking as if it might be struggling to do anything worthwhile this season.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Falcao's Super Cup

In 2007 Atletico Madrid sold Fernando Torres to Liverpool, who had a great season there. In 2011 Torres signed for Chelsea, where he mostly has been complaining.
Today Torres was facing his old club in the final of the UEFA Super Cup. As winners of the Champions League Chelsea were probably slight favourites, and Fernando Torres is set to take over the role of goalscorer from Didier Drogba.
But perhaps Chelsea should look to Atletico Madrid for a quality striker.
Radamel Falcao has been a scoring machine in every club he has played. First in River Plate, and then moving to FC Porto in 2009, where he scored an unprecedented 72 goals in 85 matches, among them the winning goal in the 2011 Europa League final. For the 2011-2012 season he moved to Atletico Madrid where, in the shadow of the great Spanish teams, he has continued pouring goals in, among them two goals in the 2012 Europa League final.
Today Falcao again sealed himself as perhaps the best striker in the world at the moment (and one must consider that he is not playing in one of the best teams!), when he scored three goals against Chelsea, who were humiliated by the Europa League winners 4-1. Torres completely disappeared in an extremely poor Chelsea side, but the true star was Radamel Falcao.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Champions League qualifiers

I must openly admit that I was fearing Denmark would for the first time ever have two teams in the CL. Not because I have anything against Denmark with two teams, but it depends on which two teams. And while I think it is great FC Nordsjaelland will play their first CL ever, I am not in favour of FC Copenhagen, so I was delighted when Lille won 2-0 in a hard-fought extra time match.
France will have three teams in the Champions League this season.
Braga defeated Italian Udinese to join FC Porto and Benfica as the three Portuguese sides, while Italy was left with only two sides.
Borussia Monchengladbach was eliminated by Dynamo Kiev to leave only three German sides, Bayern Munich, Schalke 04 and Borussia Dortmund.
Malaga will also be playing their first Champions League ever, after eliminating Panathinaikos, to complete four Spanish sides. Only Spain and England have four sides represented, but it still remains clear which is the best league in the world: the Premier League is represented by four teams, all qualified directly, three of which are in the top seed: Manchester United, Arsenal and the defending champions of Chelsea. It should be noted that the English champions, Manchester City, are not top seeds!
All in all, there is a great variation of interesting teams from different countries:
  • Spain: Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Malaga, Valencia
  • England: Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea
  • Italy: AC Milan, Juventus
  • France: Lille, Paris St. Germain, Montpellier
  • Germany:  Bayern Munich, Schalke 04, Borussia Dortmund
  • Portugal:  Benfica, Braga, FC Porto
  • Ukraine: Dynamo Kiev, Shakhtar Donetsk
  • Russia: Zenit St. Petersburg, Spartak Moscow
  • Greece: Olympiacos
  • Netherlands: Ajax Amsterdam
  • Belgium: Anderlecht
  • Turkey: Galatasaray
  • Scotland: Celtic
  • Belarus: Bate Borisov
  • Croatia: Dynamo Zagreb
  • Romania: CFR Cluj
  • Denmark: FC Nordsjaelland
The draw for the groups is on Friday.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The (second) most boring league in the world

The Spanish league starts today, and the script is already written: Real Madrid and Barcelona will be facing each other for the title. The only issue is whether Barcelona's new coach Tito Vilanova will be able to continue Pep Guardiola's success.
In the meantime, 18 teams will be fighting to avoid relegation.
That can be interesting too....

The best league in the world

The Premier League starts today, and every football fan should be looking forward to it. Last season ended spectacularly when Manchester City took the title in the final seconds of the last match ahead of their rivals of Manchester United. And City already took a title by winning the Super Cup match against Chelsea 3-2 last week and will still be hungry this season. But it will surely not be easy. Manchester United has bought a couple of high profile players to strengthen their side: firstly Shinji Kagawa, who was bought from Borussia Dortmund, will greatly strengthen United's midfield and attack; and secondly, Robbie Van Persie, the Arsenal captain has joined United and will contribute to their attacking power.
In the meantime there will also be other sides going for the title. The Champions League winners of Chelsea have lost their greatest superstar, Didier Drogba, but will be hoping that Fernando Torres can take over, while some interesting new players have joined the side, such as the Brazilian youngster Oscar and and the gifted Marko Marin from Werder Bremen.
With Arsenal losing Van Persie it would seem doubtful that Arsenal would be able to go for the title, but Arsene Wenger's side has purchased strong new players, such as the Spanish international Santi Cazorla, the French international Olivier Giroud and the German star Lukas Podolski.
Tottenham ended in fourth place last season, and keep the ambitions for more. Their most high profile purchase has been the strong Belgian defender Jan Verthongen, but most interesting will be to see whether their new coach Andre Villas-Boas can swipe away the fiasco he had at Chelsea.
Liverpool's main change has also been the coach, where Kenny Dalglish was fired and replaced with Brendan Rogers, who will have to try to continue the success he had at Swansea at Liverpool.
The best thing about the Premier League is that there are many "small" teams with strong sides that all can win against any of the giants, and that is what makes the league so exciting! Quality, drama, fight and great fans.
On a personal level I might say that unfortunately I have never had an English favourite team, which of course takes the passion a bit away, but at the same time it permits me to say objectively that it is certainly the best league in the world!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Viva Mexico!

Mexico fully deserved their 2-1 victory against Brazil today in the Olympic final, and seals Mexico's strength in youth football, where they are U-17 World Champions and did well in the last Copa America with a team that looked very much like the one that won gold today.
But in spite of Mexico's superiority, what will be most discussed in this final is Brazil. A silver medal may not sound bad, but when you expect to win gold, it can only be a disappointment. With a strong team, they came to London to win gold, the only international title that they have never won. And when favourites Spain and Uruguay were eliminated, it seemed the path to gold was paved for Brazil.
However, Brazil's defense has looked shaky, and this was exposed by Mexico today. Rafael, Thiago Silva and Juan played like blind chicken, and all in all, Brazil did not look harmonious nor to really believe in their gold medal. The strong argument between Rafael and Juan towards the end of the match said it all about a Brazil side with some talented individualists like Neymar, but who, when it comes down to it, play more for themselves than for the team.
Brazil's goal is to be world champion in two years, and this Olympic side was to pave the way. But like this defense and attitude, it is impossible that Brazil will win the World Cup, and it is now even worth questioning whether Mano Menezes even has a future as coach of Brazil.

But all in all, congratulations to Mexico and their fans for a wonderful performance!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Golden USA ladies

Since women's football entered the Olympics in 1996, the USA ladies have been in every final. Today they were set to win their fourth Olympic gold medal in this sport in a repeat of the 2011 World Cup final USA-Japan, which Japan surprisingly won..
Japan is a patient team. They bite and fight themselves into the match, but that seemed to go against them today. USA started like lightning, and Carli Lloyd brought them ahead 1-0 after only seven minutes. Only then did the World Champions wake up, and hit the post, forced some good saves by the USA goalie Hope Solo, and should even have had a penalty. At the same time, the USA were still dangerous on their counterattacks. In the second half Carli Lloyd in fact brought USA ahead 2-0 on one such counterattack. Japan continued pressing, and got one goal, but in the end it was not enough. But a final worthy of the best. Any football fan should love both the US and Japanese ladies, who play with style, passion, happiness and some of the dignity that you hardly see in men's football any more.
You do not see any ladies cry at every tackle. Be ready to, in the men's final, to see a bunch of men cry like... well... I was going to say girls. But clearly men's football could learn from the women!
Gold for the USA, silver for Japan, and bronze for Canada, who beat France in the match for bronze.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Girl power

Maybe this Olympic tournament is when women's football begins to get the respect it deserves. At least it has been much more entertaining, not to say dignified, than the men's, and it was topped today by two splendid semifinals which in terms of quality, technique, skills and drama were absolutely top level.
First, the outstanding French side played against the world champions of Japan. Both sides are relatively new additions to top level women's football, which in my view has previously been hampered by women too often trying to emulate men. Not these sides however. Japan plays a patient, organised but very technically skillful style, while France plays with power as well as skill. Japan won 2-1, but France put enormous pressure on the Japanese, and even missed a penalty that would have taken the match into extra time. France's goalkeeper, who made an appalling mistake in the first half to give Japan their first goal, will not be sleeping well tonight, but France will nevertheless have a good shot at bronze medals against Canada.
Canada is also a recent newcomer to top level women's football, and in this semifinal played their mighty neighbour, the USA. The north Americans are undoubtedly one of the most watchable sides in women's football, full of style, skills and charisma, as well as an admirable fighting spirit. Today they needed all these qualities against their northern neighbours. Three times the Canadians were leading, every time on a goal by their captain Christine Sinclair, but every time the USA managed to get back into the match, which thus ended 3-3. During the extra time, after half an hour of nerves and fight, everyone thought the match would go into penalty kicks when Alex Morgan scored the winner for the USA in the last second of the match.
Surely bitter for the Canadian ladies who nevertheless were splendid, and should be thanked by all football fans!
The final will be a repeat of last year's world cup final, where Japan surprisingly defeated the USA. One thing I will I am certain of though, is that it will be a splendid match between two splendid sides of ladies who could beat most men team's in the world!
Do not miss the final!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Olympic football

Spain's youngsters might be excused for being too young to remember Honduras against Spain in 1982, when Spain, as huge favorites in the World Cup at home, lost 0-1 to the little Central American nation that most Spaniards might be excused not to be able to find on a map.
Today Spain should have been at least as big favorites as they had been in 1982 when the two sides played in the Olympic tournament. But after Spain's poor performance against Japan, it was obvious that Spain was beatable, although surely they could not lose to Honduras!
But they could.
Spain is out of the Olympic tournament, and although many may say it doesn't matter, it is surely a huge disappointment for a country used to winning everything, not only at senior level, but also at youth level.
Uruguay is one of the other pretenders for a gold medal, but have not looked strong in their opening 2-1 victory against the UAE. In their second match they were up against a Senegalese side, that although not talked much about, are surely also a team that have set their eyes on Olympic medals. And with their 2-0 victory against Uruguay Senegal have shown that they must be counted with. Uruguay have a very important match next Wednesday against the British hosts, who after defeating the UAE are looking at the quarterfinals.
Uruguay looks like another big exit to follow Spain.
Brazil on the other hand should now be the number one contenders for the gold, after their second victory of the tournament, 3-1 against Belarus. But if anything, the tournament has shown that no team can afford to underestimate their foes. This is what makes the Olympic football tournament so exciting!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Olympic upset

As the hangover from the recent Euro 2012 has passed, I have had somewhat of a football break just until today when the Olympic football tournament has started. Olympic football has often been looked down upon by European sides (unless they win themselves), but the tournament is largely admired by the rest of the world, and the youth sides, combined with three "extra" stars, are usually very strong indeed. In fact, Brazil and Uruguay are both going to the tournament with sides that will likely will be very similar to their 2014 World Cup sides, while Spain has a team of players that have all won a number of youth European championships, as well as three world champion players. So as the tournament begins, there is no doubt that Spain were favourites in their opening match against Japan. But this is also the beauty of Olympic football: usual favouritism counts for little, and in this match Japan was truly much better than Spain. Their 1-0 victory was too small against a Spanish side with a very weak defense and no attacking prowess. Passing the ball around (and in generally poorly) they simply did not create any chances, and they are not looking like a gold-winning team at all. Spain may still rise in their coming matches against Morocco and Honduras, but they must improve if Spain is not to be among the best, as they have otherwise been ever time over the last years.

Monday, July 02, 2012

The best and worst of Euro 2012

After the end of the Euro 2012, it is time to reflect on what this tournament actually gave us. Here are my (personal) top ten best and worst things about the tournament, beginning with the bad:
  • 10)  Non alcoholic beers in the stadiums: Need I say anything...?
  • 9)  Petty nationalism: it seems an integral part of these tournaments to see European's propensity for petty nationalism that has nothing to do with football.
  • 8) Spain, until the final: yes, I know that they proved themselves in the final, but until then Spain had played holding back, passing the ball, and not shooting enough. Matches like the one against France were a bore. It would have been respectful to football fans to dispatch of a team like France with a humiliation.
  • 7) The pitch in Warsaw: A disgrace that Poland could not come up with a decent pitch in their major stadium.
  • 6) BBC Panorama: the way a sensationalist and exaggerated British TV show had slandered Ukraine before the tournament. Ukraine in particular were great hosts!
  • 5) Netherlands: they came into the tournament as huge favorites but disappointed greatly with their worst performance ever. I do hope they return to their former total football style.
  • 4) France: Many teams were a disgrace in this tournament, but France must take the cake. Full of talented players, it just seemed like none of them wanted to be there.
  • 3) The qualitative difference between teams: Europe is dominated by a few world class sides (Spain, Germany, Italy, Portugal) and a lot of mediocre sides. It showed in the quarterfinals, and in four year, with 24 teams, the number of mediocre sides and matches is set to make it Euro 2016 of mediocrity.
  • 2) Racism: Although greatly exaggerated by some media, it did show its ugly face among fans from Poland, Croatia, Spain and Russia. These countries should be ashamed of their brainless minorities.
  • 1) Russian and Polish fans: the biggest disgrace of the tournament was the confrontation of the fans from these two countries. If they cannot get these pseudo-nationalist idiots under control, their teams do not belong in these tournaments.
And the 10 best things about the tournament:
  • 10) I had the privilege of watching this Euro 2012 with great friends in four different countries, among them Ukraine, where I went to three great matches!
  • 9) Referees: I find it hard to say this, but in general the referees were really good. Except for the appalling mistake of disallowing a Ukrainian goal against England (and TV should be used in these situations!), I don't think there were really major mistakes by the referees, who were largely invisible, just as referees should be.
  • 8) The campaign for respect: In the face of football's capacity for dividing as much as uniting, I thought UEFA's Respect campaign was good. That said, they still need to do a lot more and follow up with actions against people from countries that did not live up to these important ideals for the tournament.
  • 7) Fans: In spite of the loud minority of idiots, far most fans were great, and I had the privilege to be among a great many fans from Denmark, Portugal, Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Sweden, England who were all great people and just out there to enjoy.
  • 6) Spain showing they can play beautiful efficient football in the final: when they needed to show it, they showed their overwhelming best, leaving no doubt as to them being the best team in the world.
  • 5) "Super" Mario Balotelli: A great player with great charisma who grew during the tournament, just to be crushed in the final. Still, his two goals in the semifinal against Germany stand out as some of the best in the tournament. 
  • 4) Andres Iniesta: One of the greatest players of the tournament, and the one that shone the most in the best side of the tournament.
  • 3) Italy: Until this tournament I had never supported Italy. But this was a great Italian team, offensive harmonious, with splendid players. One even felt sorry for them when they lost the final!
  • 2) Andrea Pirlo: In my view the best player of the tournament, and the ageing captain of a great Italian side, that probably played his last tournament for the national team.
  • 1) Ukraine: I had the privilege to visit the country for three matches, and met a well-prepared and friendly country, that more than lived up to being hosts. Thank you to Ukraine!

Simply the best

If there was ever any doubt about tonight's result of the Euro 2012 final they were thoroughly put to rest by a splendid Spanish side, that gave the most crushing victory in a major international final ever, 4-0 against an Italian side, where hopes (if not expectations) had been high after their victory against Germany in the semifinal. But simply, from the start to the end, Spain were superior. Granted, Italy had bad luck with Chiellini's and Thiago Motta's injuries during the match, that made Italy's quest to match Spain nearly impossible.
But Spain would have triumphed anyway.
Congratulations to their fans.
Spain is now the first team to win three tournaments in a row, and in this tournament they have proven their abysmal superiority over the rest of Europe's national teams. They have played boring, not really wanting (and they didn't need to, in spite of it being so boring to watch) to overstretch themselves until it really counted. They put all their technique in against Italy, and they seal themselves as the best team in the world, and the foremost candidates for the World Cup title in 2 years, when they can really seal themselves as the best team in history. Although many things can happen in two years I cannot see any team really being a threat to them in South America or in Europe - perhaps only Germany, who with a young team have a lot ahead of them.
But for now, and for the future, glory belongs to Spain.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Great Germany, fantastic Italy

As so often before, I was wrong about one thing: history repeated itself once more in last night's semifinal match between Italy and Germany. Italy was again better than Germany in an important match, much to the disappointment of the Germans that surely has been one of the most entertaining teams of the tournament, and surely it is a shame to see them out. However, they can hold their heads high (perhaps except for the pathetic mistakes by Mats Hummels and Phillip Lahm in defense that gave Italy their two goals) for contributing to the best match of the tournament. Additionally, Germany has a young team with what I believe is a great future, and they will eventually win a tournament.
And as I said before, Germany have had great fans who should be prud of their side.
Italian fans have nevertheless all the reason to be proud. I have always been very critical of Italian sides, not least when they won the 2006 World Cup, but this Italian side I like very much; they play intelligent offensive football. In Andrea Pirlo they have the best best player of the tournament, a general towering above a solid and harmonious side where also Marchissio, Montelivo, Chiellini and Cassano all have had a great tournament. And of course, Mario Balotelli. His second goal apparently reached the speed of 120 Km/h! An extraordinary shot in the two goals by the controversial player who dedicated the goals to his adoptive mother. A wonderful player who deserves the best, he will be a constant danger in the final.
Spain and Italy have reversed roles: where before Italy seemed to be the cynical and experienced side that ran away with the victories, they are now the side that will attract much sympathy, while Spain, who in previous times have been supported for their offensive yet naive style, will now be the towering favourites to take a new title. It won't be easy though against a motivated Italian side that has been improving throughout the tournament, and both Croatia and Portugal have shown that Spain can be shaken.
In any case, we should all look forward for the final on Sunday!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

History in the making

Tonight two of the greatest sides in the history of football will face one another in the semifinal of Euro 2012. Between them, Italy and Germany have 7 World Cup titles, 12 World Cup finals, 4 European Championships and 7 Euro finals. Not including Brazil, these two sides are surely the best in the history of football, although today they are both eclipsed by Spain's brilliant side. That said, both sides have the ambition to take the throne again in a possible final against Spain, so be sure that they will try everything in the semifinal tonight.
The two sides have met thirty times in international matches, with Italy winning 14, Germany 7, and nine draws. In international tournaments, Italy has been the best, as they have never lost a match to Germany in either the World Cup or the European Championships. Of their World Cup clashes, two matches stand among the greatest World Cup matches of all time, namely their legendary 1970 semifinal, where Italy won 4-3 after extra time, and the 1982 World Cup final, where Italy won 3-1 to take the title. Their latest World Cup encounter was in 2006, when Germany, as home side, lost the semifinal 2-0 to Italy, who went on to win the World title in the final against France.
During European Championships the sides have met twice, in 1988 and 1996, both in the group stages, and both ending with a draw, 1-1 and 0-0 respectively.
But history cannot tell us much about the result tonight: The two sides that are playing tonight are very different than those from previous years. Germany started a rejuvenation of its football in 2002, and the side that plays today is much more technical, entertaining and harmonious than in previous times. Under coach Cesare Prandelli Italy has also changed, becoming more offensive, and relying less on their defense.
Both sides have looked strong in the tournament and are surely the only ones capable of taking on the mighty Spanish in the final. But be sure that no matter what, tonight another historical chapter will be written in the history of encounters between these two giants.
Good luck to both sides!

The triumph of brilliant boredom

Let me start by saying that Spain is currently the best football side in the world, and that is something that has to be respected. However, the Spanish, who have won many admirers over the years, are now turning that admiration into desperation. Last night's victory against Portugal in the semifinal of the Euro 2012 was hard-earned against a fighting but not sufficiently cold-blooded Portuguese side, but the Spanish continue to play a style that while efficient, is evermore boring to look at.
For many years Italy was criticised for their defensive Catennaccio style, where one goal and a brilliant defense gave them many triumphs, but exasperated many fans who would prefer to see Italy's brilliant players entertain. Now Italy, under Cesare Prandelli, is playing much more offensive, but Spain seems to be starting to play a "Catennaccio a la Paella"; without being outright defensive, they rely on their incredible passing abilities and possession to do the occassional brilliant outburst that give them one of their less-than-frequent shots on goal. With its strong defense and the world's best goalkeeper this style is proving highly efficient, but incredibly boring to look at by neutral fans like myself, who would like a more direct style. Spain has even gone to the lenghts of not playing with an outright striker for some parts of the matches, something that to me seems like defensive arrogance rather than some brilliant strategic choice.
Footballing styles come and go, and there is no doubt that given the brilliant players Spain has, they can play like this, and they remain favourites to take their third major title in a row next Sunday. But when their current players come of age, another style, hopefully more entertaining, will become more dominant. Germany is currently the side with the greatest potential to take over from the Spanish, and with a more direct style that will not be as incredibly boring as the last three matches that Spain has given us in the tournament.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Iberian clash

The first semifinal in the Euro 2012 tonight will be between the two Iberian teams Portugal and Spain. Both are great teams in their own right, but Spain, as defending World- and European champions are the ones to beat for the Portuguse side that has still never won anything, but been close a few times. This is the 8th time the two sides will face each other in a major tournament, with Spain having won four, two ties, and one victory for the Portuguese. The last time they met was indeed two years ago in South Africa, when the future World Champions won 1-0.
Under coach Paulo Bento the Portuguese have only become better than they were in 2010, and thier star, Cristiano Ronaldo, has grown as a plyer in Real Madrid these years, as well as having grown in the tournament. Him and his teammates, many of which play in Spain (three in Real Madrid) will be hungry for success against a Spanish side that has been effective but very boring to look at during this tournament. Against France in the quarterfinal they won it purely on routine against a French side that was not worthy of a quarterfinal.
Good luck to the fans of both sides.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Euro 2012 Quarterfinals

The first round of the Euro 2012 is over, and the quarterfinals are now ready. Although the quality has not been overwhelming, it surely improved after the first round of matches. Still, I feel that too many teams have played too controlled and not direct enough. At the same time the exit of both home sides has been disappointing, and the biggest surprise has been the hopeless performance of the Netherlands, who with Ireland was the only side to exit the tournament with three straight defeats.
The quarterfinals are as follows:
  • Czech Republic-Portugal
The Czechs are probably the team that most grew in the tournament; in the opening match they lost 4-1 to Russia, and the played lousy during much of the match. But a victory against Greece and against the home side of Poland gave them the first place in the group, and should not be underestimated. However, Portugal should be favourites. The Portuguese played a fine match against Germany in spite of losing, but what put them in the quarterfinals were the two victories against Denmark and the Netherlands. Portugal are by no means impossible to defeat and their greatest enemy are probably the careless arrogance with which they often confront sides that they do not consider as good as themselves, as well as the lack of confidence they have when falling behind. It is clear that they have nevertheless been working on these mental shortcomings under Paulo Bento, and with an incredible Cristiano Ronaldo they should be on their way to the semifinals.
  • Germany-Greece
This match will be talked a lot about politically given the current crisis in Europe, where an overpowering Germany has been accused of imposing its economic might on a careless and defensive Greece.
Footballwise, Germany is the only team with three wins, even in the "group of death", and should be considered the main favourite to win the tournament.
Greece has been a surprise: after almost winning their opener against Poland they lost to the Czechs, and were under pressure in their last match against the group leaders of Russia. But playing with passion, Giorgios Karagounis gave them the winner. It will be a great loss that Karagounis will be out for the quarterfinal, but be sure that the Greeks will play with passion against the giant favourites of Germany!
  • Spain-France
The defending World Champion have routinely played their characteristic passing game to win their group, but have still not looked as completely overwhelming as four years ago. For periods Italy and Croatia played at least as well as the Spaniards, and except for the match against Ireland, they sometimes have seemed to lack directness. Andrés Iniesta has nevertheless been the star of the team, and as he did two years ago in South Africa, he may be able to carry the Spanish all the way to the title yet again.
Spain are huge favourites against France, who has not looked impressive. They dominated against England but were either unwilling or unable to score. Their best match was against Ukraine, but for their defeat against Sweden they were very poor. The side is full of strong talented players, but if they in any way are to have a chance against Spain, they must play far better.
Spain should be in the semifinals.
  • England-Italy
This quarterfinal is between two big sides that are both looking to be back among the great. Italy has played well under Cesare Prandelli, but still has periods where they seem tired, something that they cannot afford to do much. On the good side, their main strikers, Balotelli, Di Natale and Cassano have all scored, and it is a luxury choice to choose their striker. With Andrea Pirlo also looking great, Italy should have good chances against England.
Still, this English side should not be underestimated. They managed to win a very difficult group with controlled football, a bit of luck and tenacity. It is not exciting to look at, but this English side seems to be past the "Spice-Boys" mentality of the last few years.
I think this is the most difficult quarterfinal to make a prediction about, but I hope Italy will win.

Good luck to all sides.

Ukraine left out

After having recently travelled to the Euro 2012 in Ukraine I was hoping to see the friendly Ukranian fans continue in the tournament. This seemed so much more urgent after Poland left the tournament as the worst host nation ever. At least Ukraine won their opening match against Sweden, but after losing their second match to France they needed a good result against England.
On the other hand England, with a tie and a victory, could play more controlled, and with the return of Wayne Rooney expectations were surely high.
Ukraine played a good match, but it was indeed Wayne Rooney who scored the winner for England after a silly mistake by the Ukranian goalkeeper. That said, the real executioner for the Ukranians was none other than the referee. Down 0-1 the Ukranians put pressure on the English, and scored a goal that clearly went over the line, but that was not allowed by the referee.
A very poor call.
Maybe England says that this is payback for the goal they had disallowed against Germany in the 2008 World Cup, but Ukraine did not deserve this payback for something they had no influence on.
A pity for Ukraine.
England ended up winning the group with two victories and a tie after a pathetic French side lost 2-0 to Sweden. This is quite impressive considering that England has not played well, but has been efficient and lucky. They will now face Italy, but should not be discounted. In fact, I believe this may be England's year.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ukranian travels

Over the last week I have been in Ukraine, exclusively to watch football. A lot had been said in an exaggeratedly eager English media to put down the country, but truth is that the English should be ashamed.
Ukraine is a beautiful country, and under the most difficult circumstances, they have prepared as well as anybody for this tournament (and I am not saying that they do not have problems).

The first match we went to was Denmark-Portugal in the Western Ukrainian city of Lviv. We had travelled on an all-night train to get to Lviv, and without a reservation at all, got a hotel room at the first place we walked into.
So much for all the stories of sold-out places....
There was a good atmosphere in the small charming city of Lviv, with fans happily mingling and drinking beer before the match. That said, if I have to criticize anything in Lviv, it must be that the stadium is situated on a field quite a distance from the city, and although a caravan of busses transported people to and from the stadium, it was tedious to get there. Also, since there was nowhere to go near the stadium, we had to bring a few beers along which we could enjoy on the grass outside the stadium.
After Denmark's sensational victory against the Netherlands in their opener, expectations were high among the Danes. However, the Portuguese are strong, and after Denmark won the group ahead of them in the last two (World Cup and Euro) qualifiers, Portugal also went into the match with a high degree of respect for a Danish side that nevertheless is far inferior to the talented Portuguese. And Denmark did indeed seem to start best until Pepe brought Portugal ahead. When Helder Postiga brought Portugal ahead 2-0, I think most of us Danes in the stadium started to fear what could happen, but on the other hand we have to admire the tenacity of the Danes, and the poor attitude of the Portuguese (Cristiano Ronaldo, who missed some horrible chances, was later quoted as saying that they had thought that victory was pretty certain with 2-0). First, Nicklas Bendtner, who always scores against Portugal, scored a first for the Danes before halftime. And then in the second half Denmark put pressure on the increasingly nervous Portuguese, Bendtner scored the equalizer for Denmark, it seemed that Denmark could in fact take home a very important tie, or perhaps even better, a victory! All of us Danish fans were very excited!
But sometimes in football things are not to happen. Substitute Silvestre Varela scored the winner for Portugal in a bit coincidential situation, where he hit the ball perfectly.
A great disappointment for the Danes, but great for the Portuguese. In fact, after the match, trying to drown our sorrows, we ended up drinking beer and singing karaoke until the early morning with a group of Portuguese fans.
An excuse to party no matter if you win or lose.... That is really what all great football fans should consider such a tournament.
Warm-up: Denmark-Portugal

The second match we had tickets for was England-Sweden at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev. This is a beautiful stadium where the final of the tournament will be played, situated centrally in Kiev and with good accessibility. The atmosphere was also excellent before the match, with an overwhelming majority of merry Swedish fans in the zone we got in through (barely any English fans, which I guess had been directed in through another part. Apparently there were indeed some problems with English behavior in spite of the heavy police presence that we saw during the match). And wearing our Denmark shirts, we got a lot of sympathy from our Swedish neighbors.
We had extraordinary seats on second row behind the Swedish players box for what turned out as the best match of the tournament so far. I was happy to see Sweden play so well against an English side that in spite playing better than against France, still seems overly defensive. Still, Steven Gerrard is a crucial player for England, and gave the perfect pass with which Andy Carroll brought England ahead, and the English were leading at halftime to the disappointment of the many Swedish fans, as well as me.
But Sweden started the second half the best: only five minutes went by before Olof Mellberg equalized, and ten minutes later all Swedes were delighted when Mellberg scored again to bring Sweden deservedly on front.
Maybe this is England's year, as they are lucky at the right moments. Theo Walcott equalized for England on a goal where the Swedish goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson looked somewhat confused. After this, both teams had chances, until Danny Welbeck scored a spectacular and lucky goal for England. After this, Sweden seemed broken, and England was closer to 4-2 than Sweden on an equalizer. Sweden was out, but has been a good side in the tournament.

The two matches we had bought tickets for before the tournament were Denmark-Portugal and Sweden-England, and had originally planned to stay the last days in Kiev.
But on our way into the Sweden-England match we were approached by a young Canadian guy who offered us two tickets for the Germany-Denmark match in Lviv for 30 Euros a piece. Following the principle of not planning our trip, we immediately bought the tickets, and the next morning we had to go out on a mission to get train tickets back to Lviv, as well as a return to catch the flight we had from Kiev on the day after the match. Our luck did not leave us: we got the last tickets on the night train that same night, and return tickets on the new fast-train between Lviv on Kiev, arriving 3 hours before our flight.
And in Lviv, we again got a hotel room in the first place we walked into.
Not planning a trip is the best way of travelling.
The atmosphere in Lviv was if anything livelier than for the previous match, but this time the Danes were heavily outnumbered by a lot of German fans who in my view turned out to be some of the best fans I saw during this tournament. Friendly and with great songs, there was a slight feeling that Denmark had already been defeated before the match started.
Still, there were high hopes among the Danes knowing that the match also depended on the other match being played as the same time, Portugal-Netherlands, where the Dutch vice-World Champions had to win to avoid the total humiliation of exiting the tournament with three defeats.
I was surprised to see Germany play with controlled respect for the Danes, even after they went ahead on a goal by Lucas Podolski. But Denmark again fought back, and Michael Krohn-Dehli equalized for the excited Danish fans. In the meantime the Netherlands was leading Portugal, and Danes started singing happily. In the second half Denmark played fine, although too controlled as news came in that Portugal had equalized, since Denmark then needed a victory. There was not increased pressure, and instead, ten minutes before the end of the match, Lars Bender scored the winner for Germany.
In the meantime Portugal had scored a winner against the hopeless Dutch, and it was certain that Denmark would be out of the tournament together with the Netherlands.

It was of course a disappointment that Denmark was out, but in fact I think that Denmark did far better than I would have expected before the tournament.
And of course, it was a great experience to see these matches and experience the atmosphere of the tournament in a beautiful and friendly country such as Ukraine and with a great friend!

Monday, June 11, 2012

The first round of Euro 2012

We have now had the opportunity to watch every team play in the Euro 2012, and if I have to say anything, it is disappointment.  this start of Euro 2012 has been marked by a Europe in crisis: off the pitch we have had match-fixing, racism and politics, and we have already seen the first hooliganism. This seems to be what Europe is all about... Welcome to it Poland and Ukraine!
And on the pitch it has not been much better. While a tournament usually starts with a bit of nerve and fear (not to say the outward cowardice showed by teams such as England and France),I cannot help but compare what I have seen until now with the World Cup qualifers in South America I have been following lately, as I live in Venezuela.
In South America there is no doubt, that in spite of all of the problems, passion and creativity still dominate the matches on the pitch. Be sure that all teams will fight for the last point, and will use their utmost skills and creativity to score goals. Teams like Uruguay and Argentina are fully at the standard of the best in Europe, while Colombia, Venezuela, Chile, Peru and Ecuador surely have the quality to defeat almost any team in this year's Euro after the first round, and they are much more entertaining to watch.

In spite of me being delighted for Denmark, as football enthusiast I must admit that the Dutch lost to a clearly poorer Danish side, and that they had nothing to show when faced with adversity. Russia was good, in spite of playing a lousy Czech side, while Germany and Italy get acceptable marks for their performances, rising as the favourites of the tournament. Finally, that the best team in Europe, the world champions, chooses to play without a striker, is telling of a team that just wants to be playing a passing-catennaccio, instead of actually scoring goals. We are seeing too much defensive, careful football, with too few shots on goal, too many dives and cry-outs (sadly, I have started to think that players should keep playing when a player is lying crying on the pitch; they are usually up 20 seconds after the referee has stopped the play!!!! I would love to say they are like girls, but girls are more rough than the porcelain cry-babies we are seeing in this tournament!), as well as an apparent lack of pace (has it been a too long season for many players, then UEFA must do something about it) and generally poor technique.

I expect it to improve, but considering these things, I find it appalling that the next Euro 2016 is set to be with 24 teams. Pressure, quality and performance can only become worse by making a tournament which is just at its right size (if not too big). This may be the advantage of South America, where only 10 teams play all against all in the most competitive national team tournament in the world, with highst concentration of talented teams. In Europe, we are diluting the power of our football, and this is perhaps only a symptom of a Europe being diluted in general.

Summer football

The match between England and France had the atmosphere of a dentist´ waiting room. In a 1-1 match that had a very slow pace, it was an enormous disappointment to see an English team that did not want to do anything but defend, while France somehow wanted to win, but was without much creativity. This was more like a summer friendly match than the start of a great tournament!
Two great nations that live on their history, but who hardly deserve to be in the next round of the tournament, and I really hope Ukraine and Sweden (which ended 2-1 to the home side later) will dispatch these two sides, whose otherwise great fans seem to have become boring and without creativity as well.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Mediterranean tie

It is seldom that I support Italy, mostly because I have always been critical of their historical and cynical catennaccio style. However, contrary to what many think, teams do change styles, and the Italy of coach Cesare Prandelli is not a team that plays that way.
On the other hand, I have also been critical of Spain, while admiring their technique and possession, I have always felt they do not shoot enough, and the fact that they are the team ever to win the world championship with least goals (which is amazing considering that there are more games today), shows that they are simply not direct enough.
So I was kind of divided today, just until the match started, and I found myself supporting an offensive and motivated Italian side against a Spanish side that started the tournament bordering the same arrogance with which they started the World Cup in 2010 (when the defeat against Switzerland I think in fact gave Spain such a warning, that this led them to win the tournament).
This is not the same Spain though: while they still miss striking power, more so after missing David Villa (Fernando Torres is worthless), they are seriously weakened by the absence of the best Spanish player of the decade, Carles Puyol.
Italy started well against Spain, and should have been ahead in the first half, with notably Mario Balotelli missing unforgivably. In the second half Spain pushed forward though, but only seemed truly to wake up after Antonio Di Natale (who had come in for Balotelli) brought Italy ahead on an excellent through ball.
What shows that this is not the same Italy as before is that their marking or defensive style did not make them pull back and effectively defend their lead. In the meantime Spain's equalizer, by Cesc Fabregas, was an example of how efficient Spain can actually be when their passing game works out.
Spain pushed forward for the winner with a couple of good chances for Italy on the counter-attack in what was, in the end, a great football match.
1-1 works out for both sides, who surely will take their next to games lightly, and will hopefully be punished for it. Still, I would rather see Italy in the next round than Spain.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Glorious(-ly lucky) Denmark!

I had planned my vacation from Venezuela so that I would arrive in Denmark to watch the first match of the Danish Dynamite against the mighty Dutch vice-champions of the world. It was with anticipation, but without expectation. In my view, for the Danes to defeat the Netherlands, with all its stars, is nearly impossible.
But that is the beauty of football: sometimes the impossible happens.
Denmark won 0-1 on a goal of Michael Krohn-Dehli. In spite of playing organised, with a strong defense and a good goalkeeper, nothing can take away from the game that Denmark also was lucky, with the many missed chances of the Dutch. To give the Danes a bit of credit, one must also say that the Dutch, towards the end, seemed to have lost faith that they could turn it around, and that kind of lack of confidence against a small team like Denmark, is what will cause the Netherlands not to win the Euro 2012.
Denmark will not win the Euro 2012 either, but this victory, no matter how it came, was fantastic in giving Danish fans hope, and that the so-called Group of Death has become not only deadly, but infernal!
Go Denmark!

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Uruguay's Venezuela complex?

Uruguay is one of the best footballing nations at the moment: semifinalist of the 2010 World Cup, winner of the 2011 Copa America, and currently ranked number 3 in the FIFA World rankings (behind Spain and Germany), they were looking to cement their lead in the South American World Cup qualifying group against Venezuela in Montevideo today.
Venezuela has been on the rise lately, and were number 2 in the qualifying group after some excellent initial results where they have, among others, defeated Argentina. And in fact, in spite of Uruguay's power, they have in fact had really bad results against Venezuela: not since 2001 has Uruguay defeated Venezuela, and in 2004, Venezuela gave one of the biggest humiliations Uruguay has ever had by defeating them 0-3 in Montevideo in another World Cup qualifier.
Still, I think most people expected Uruguay to win, and in the first half they indeed dominated and were leading 1-0 on a goal by the veteran Diego Forlan.
Although I live in Venezuela, I am not a big fan of the team, but like they played today, one must bow in respect: highly organized, disciplined and with a patience that seems to be their main characteristic, they slowly fight themselves into the match as Uruguay seemed to get more tired and comfortable. Some warnings had been given to the Uruguayan defense by some high balls into the Malaga striker Solomon Rondon, and it was indeed one such ball, in a perfectly timed counter-attack five minutes before the end, that Solomon Rondon scored the equalizer on a perfect header to the disappointment of the home fans.
This is a very important result for Venezuela, and although still early, it is looking more an more probable that they may qualify for their first World Cup ever (being the only South American side never to have gone to a World Cup).
I still think Uruguay will qualify, but this great footballing nation seems to have a problem with Venezuela.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

While I was in Europe

I just spent ten days in Europe: Barcelona, Prague, Brussels and Madrid. I had originally planned to try to go to Munich to the CL final, but when I could not get tickets, I went to Prague and watched the final at the lovely and lively Old Square. It was on the same day where the Czech Republic had played and lost to Slovakia in the semifinal of the hockey World Cup, so there was a disappointed atmosphere under the sun in the square. Still, most places were full as the Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Chelsea started.
Much bad has been said of Chelsea's defensive style in their defeat of Barcelona, so surely how they played against Bayern Munich cannot be surprising. Chelsea has been reborn under Roberto DiMatteo, so why change style? Surely Bayern Munich was most attacking, but it is also about defending and counterattacking, and Chelsea have proven great at both. Just as we were expecting a home triumph after Thomas Mullers' late goal for Bayern, Didier Drogba scored after Chelsea's first corner kick in the entire match. Undeserved perhaps, but any football fan knew what this meant for Drogba, who again scored in the most important game ever for Chelsea.
Then, that Bayern's great player Arjen Robben could not keep his nerve on the penalty spot, made everyone feel that this would be Chelsea's night after all, and indeed it was: after penalty kicks Chelsea took their first, and well-deserved CL title ever!
Roman Abramovich, the guy that did exactly what I would do if I had a billion dollars, has finally taken the most prestigious prize of all. And he should surely keep Roberto DiMatteo as coach!

Watching the Champions League final 
I was in Madrid on May 25th on the day of the Copa del Rey Final between FC Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao. Two hours before the match I went to Vicente Calderon Stadium, in part to experience the already lively atmosphere around the stadium, but also to see if it was possible to find some re-sell ticket. The latter was impossible, but surely experienced the lively atmosphere between fans of two teams that were having their last chance to win something this season. FC Barcelona surely would have expected to be somewhere else, but were triumphed by Chelsea and Real Madrid in the CL and Spanish League respectively. In the meantime, Athletic Bilbao had not expected to be so close at the start of the season, but they have surely grown under coach Marcelo Bielsa. They nevertheless lost the Europa League final to Atletico Madrid, and were surely hoping for glory in this match. Before the match started I found a tapas bar to watch it in, and talked with a passionate Bilbao fan who told me with tears in his eyes his memory of Bilbao winning the league as a child, and how for them, this meant much more than for Barcelona fans: "We have the club in our hearts, and we have won nothing for 28 years!"
There really was no contention about the best team of the match though: With two goals by Pedro and one by Lionel Messi, Barcelona was comfortably ahead 3-0 in the first half, and really did not seem to make too much of an effort to win the match in the end. The biggest pleasure of the players was clearly to give coach Josep Guardiola a proper goodbye with yet another title.
A pity for the Bilbao fan I talked to, but he was right about their passion: after the match I saw proud and dignified Bilbao fans all around the streets of Madrid, while Barcelona fans seemed to disappear into bed to sleep over yet another victory of those they are so used to...

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Heart attack!

This morning I went running 10 Km in Caracas, and just came home to watch the last round of the Premier League.
Surely, the Premier League was closer to giving me a heart attack in what was perhaps the most spectacular league ending in many years!
Manchester United and Manchester City were at level points, but due to goal difference, Manchester City had the best chance: by winning at home against Queens Park Rangers, they would be champions, while United had to defeat Sunderland, and hope Manchester City did not win.
Manchester United won 1-0, and it seemed for a long time that they would again be champions. But as crazy as the season has been for City, as crazy was the match against QPR.
Manchester City was totally dominant, but a bit nervous, and only ahead 1-0 at half-time. Still, one had the feeling this could not go wrong, but in the second half Djibril Cisse equalized for QPR after a huge error in defense by Joleon Lescott. Still, City continued to dominate, and one was expecting a goal for the home side even more after Joey Barton, behaving like a wild animal (let us see what the Premier League will do about this) was shown a red card, further weakening his side.
But football is unpredictable, and in a sudden counterattack (and QPR had only three shots on goal in the match!), Jamie Mackie brought the away team ahead, and suddenly it looked like the title would go to the other Manchester side.
But what characterizes a great side, is willpower. Against a defensive wall, City continued to press forward. They were still down by one when five minutes extra time were announced. After one of their numerous corners, Edin Dzeko got in a header, and with 2-2, City put all forward. And in the dying seconds of the match Sergio Aguero turned the threatening disappointment to unlimited glory: getting a through ball into the area, he hammered in the winner that gave Manchester City their first title since 1968.
What a glorious end to the Premier League season, confirming that it is truly the best league in the world.
And well, I can only imagine what all those Manchester City fans have been going through! A few years ago it seemed an impossible dream that they would ever win a league, and now they have won the title ahead of their eternal rivals from Manchester United!
What a glorious party they must be having!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Glory for Atletico Madrid

I was on my way back to Caracas from Maturin, perfectly planning to arrive to watch the Europa League final in Bucharest between Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao. But due to a delay in my flight with Aserca, the match started while I was in the air, and only managed to watch the second half in my local bar "Machangos", where Atletico Madrid was already ahead 2-0 on two great goals by the Colombian striker Radamel Falcao, who also scored the winner in last years' final, but playing for FC Porto. A great achievement by the striker.  With a goal by the outstanding midfield general Diego, the Madrid side sealed a 3-0 victory against a Bilbao side that had entered the final as favourites, but proved weak and ineffective when it counted. Surely a disappointment for coach Marcelo Bielsa, who has nevertheless lifted the Bilbao side since his arrival, and will still have one more final to fight for when they face FC Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final.
Atletico Madrid did not start the season well, but have also grown under coach Diego Simeone, who must take a lot of credit for the victory.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Juventus champion!

Last time Juventus won the Italian championship was in 2006, but due to the "Calciopoli" scandal that same year they were stripped of the title, and relegated. They returned to the Serie A in 2007, but had so far been unable to win the title. Until now. It had been coming, but with today's 2-0 victory over Cagliari, and Inter's 4-2 victory against AC Milan, Juventus has again taken the crown as Italy's best team!