Friday, April 27, 2012

The all-Spanish final

A Spanish team will win a European title in 2012.
If someone had said this a year ago, most people would have probably burst out either Barcelona or Real Madrid, but truth is that neither of these sides will win a European title this season. Instead, Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid will face one another to be the Spanish side to take the title in the UEFA Europa League.
It was certain that at least one Spanish team would make the final when Atletico Madrid faced Valencia in the semifinal, and went through easily, by winning both matches. In the other semifinal, Athletic Bilbao faced Sporting Lisbon. After losing 2-1 in Lisbon, the Basques took the final after a 3-1 victory.
On the way to the final Bilbao has eliminated Manchester United and Schalke 04, and are also fighting for the Spanish Cup title (where they could leave FC Barcelona without titles in 2012). They are surely the team of the moment in Europe, and should not be underestimated! In fact, I think they are the ones most likely to lift the trophy!
In any case, everyone should look forward to this all-Spanish final!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bayern Munich-Chelsea! The best final!

Perhaps it is because I live in South America, where almost all European football talk is limited to Barcelona and Real Madrid. Granted, they are amazing sides, but I have been kind of getting tired of all the hype for a while, and was really hoping we would not get another Real Madrid-Barcelona final. We had many of them last year, and now there has gone a bit of inflation into their matches.
After last night's elimination of FC Barcelona, hopes were nevertheless set high by Real Madrid and its fans, that they finally might take the crown as the world's best team from their archrivals.
But they had to get past Bayern Munich, a side that in spite not having the German title in sight any longer, has been strongly focusing its attention on the Champions League, where the final is set to be played at home, in Munich. This seems to have escaped the attention of many overly-focused to-2-Spanish-league-enthusiasts.
Granted Chelsea had a lot of fortune in its defensive victory over Barcelona, but Bayern Munich was clearly fully up to facing Real Madrid. Today's match was splendid, perhaps the best match of this season's Champions League. Real Madrid seemed to have it all in their hands, just like Barcelona against Chelsea, and like Barcelona, they were not unable to keep the lead. Bayern Munich was still dangerous, and when the game went into extra time, both teams seemed very careful. I understood this more about Bayern Munich, but it surprised me more of Real Madrid. Perhaps it shows that Mr. Mourinho did have careful respect for the German side, him being a far superior footballing brain than most of us.
In the end, the penalties may be a lottery, but if you are smart, you increase your chances. Real Madrid seemed to be solely relying on Iker Casillas' brilliance, while I think Manuel Neuer (who is also a very strong goalkeeper!), had more carefully studied the Real Madrid players, and played more on the psyche of the shooters. The pathetic miss by Sergio Ramos was a case in point, where Neuer could be seen as approaching Mr. Ramos before his shot.
I am happy we will see an English-German final of the greatest European football tournament, and I think it will be a great match. I would put my money on Munich though.
And I wish I could be there to see it...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The fall of Barca

After losing 0-1 in Chelsea, I was personally expecting (though not hoping) that Barcelona would pull through at home. And after leading 2-0 and being one man up after John Terry's pretty silly red card, it looked as if Barcelona were on their way to a new final. But then Lionel Messi, the "best" player in the world, missed a penalty, and with a 1-2 goal by Ramires, Chelsea was suddenly in the match again. Barcelona needed another goal to get through, and pressed on in the second half, but only to see Fernando Torres score the equalizer in the last minutes of the match during a counterattack.
Last weekend Barcelona lost the league after also losing at home to Real Madrid, and only a few days later, is now out of the Champions League. They may also lose the Cup final to Athletic Bilbao, and this will be the end of the Barcelona dream team. Used to winning at will over the last few years, Barcelona does not have the mentality or the style to rise above these disappointments. What it needs is a major overhaul and build up a new team.
I am happy for Chelsea!

Monday, April 09, 2012

Great 0-0 match

People who do not know anything about football will often assume that the entertainment level of a match is about the number of goals.
This is surely not the case and tonight's match between Real Madrid and Valencia was proof of it. A great and intense match with many great chances, fantastic saves (and a save counts as a goal!), intensity and drama. For Real Madrid, this was almost a defeat, and you can clearly see the nerves in Real Madrid's faces: after having a lead of 9 points down to FC Barcelona, it is now only 4 points, and in spite of being able to maintain a one point lead in case they lose to FC Barcelona (something everyone seems to expect), another slip of nerves like the one today could likely cost them the league. There are more points between Real Madrid and Valencia in the table than between Valencia on third spot, and Gijon on the 20th and last spot. Just tells you that Real Madrid and Barcelona should win every match against the others, but that unlucky slips, like today, are bound to happen.

Valencia played a great match (wish they played like this always!), tactically intelligent in defense, and dangerous in the counterattack, where they hit the post twice and forced a couple of good saves from Iker Casillas. At the same time, Real Madrid's defense was shaky at times, but with good individual performances, notably Pepe played a good match; if he just weren't such a cry-baby! He had a situation where he kicked after Arbeloa, a player from his own team.... Xabi Alonso and Mesut Ozil had bad days, while Ronaldo and Benzema fought in vain against the Valencia wall. That said, it was probably Real Madrid who in the end should have gotten the victory, but too many missed chances and too much diving made it impossible.

The fight for the Spanish league title between Real Madrid and Barcelona seems to have opened up again, and it will be fascinating to see how it ends!

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Juve on top

I must admit that Italian football has been something I have followed less and less since the scandal in 2006 that relegated the great team of Juventus. Back in the Serie A in 2007, Juventus is now leading the Serie A. I came after their victory against AC Milan a couple of weeks ago, and today, when AC Milan did not manage to defeat Fiorentina, Juventus did what they had to do, and defeated Palermo 2-0 away. With seven matches left, Juventus is one point ahead of AC Milan on first spot, and has it all in their hands to take the title. That said, there are some very exciting matches coming up, not least the next match at home again Lazio.
But I do hope Juventus takes the title!

Friday, April 06, 2012

Spanish might

The Spanish League is a boring affair. Real Madrid and Barcelona are the ones always fighting for the title, glory and money, while the rest of the teams are left with the spoils. And one of those spoils is the UEFA Europa League, as the two giants are left to fight for the Champions League title.
The UEFA Europa league is indeed a B-league, where one sees the teams that are simply not strong enough to make it in the Champions League. That said, the Europa League is not devoid of quality or entertainment, and one can look forward to semifinals where three Spanish teams will be fighting for the spoils:
  • Valencia-Atletico Madrid
  • Sporting Lisbon-Athletic Bilbao 
Valencia is still third in the Spanish league, but has looked unstable of late, something that Atletico Madrid has not; under coach Diego Simeone and a splendid striker in Radamel Falcao (who won the UEFA Europa League last season with FC Porto), Atletico Madrid are looking like a slight favourite.
Another succesful coach (and also from Argentina) is Marcelo Bielsa, who is doing wonders with the talented Basque side of Athletic Bilbao. They are in the Spanish Cup final and after eliminating both Manchester United and Schalke 04 (two teams who were coming from the Champions League) from the tournament, should be counted as favourites against Sporting Lisbon.
I would put money on a purely Spanish final.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Champions League

My dream remains to go to Champions League final after I tried to sign up for tickets at the UEFA site for the second year in a row. It does seem that going to see a final is even something only for the selected few, and not for the masses.
Just as actually playing!
Four teams have made it to the semifinals after the quarterfinals. FC Barcelona dispatched AC Milan after a 3-1 home victory, while their Spanish rivals of Real Madrid had few problems in defeating Apoel Nicosia 5-2. Bayern Munich continue to aim to be playing the final at home, after defeating Olympique Marseille 2-0, while Chelsea defeated Benfica 2-1 to make it as the only English team in the quarterfinals.
The semifinals will look as follows:
  • FC Barcelona-Chelsea
  • Real Madrid-Bayern Munich
Chelsea will be eager to avenge the 2009 semifinal, where a lousy referee stole the match from them (even though Barcelona became the right winner of the tournament). Real Madrid against Bayern Munich will surely be a geat match.
But I believe that the script has already been written: it will be a final between the two great Spanish rivals in Munich, and I will not be there to see it.