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!

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Chelsea champion

After a meager season, coach Andre Vilas Boas was fired and replaced with Di Matteo as Chelsea coach. Things have greatly improved under the Italian, who has brought the London side to the Champions League final, and now to his first title, winning the FA Cup final 2-1 against Liverpool. The FA Cup is one Di Matteo has helped Chelsea with a lot throughout the years: Roberto di Matteo played for Chelsea in 1997, when they won their only second FA Cup, calling forth a new period of greatness of the Chelsea side. He scored the first goal in their 2-0 victory over Middlesborough, and two years later, Di Matteo was again at the center stage scoring the winning goal in the 1-0 victory over Aston Villa in the FA final.
However, this is Chelsea's fourth FA Cup victory since 2007, and another player has helped them greatly in these four victories, the mighty Didier Drogba. Today, he scored the second goal for his side, continuing his impressive spell of scoring in every FA Cup final Chelsea has played since 2007, and is indeed the first player ever to score in four different FA Cup finals!
On top of it all, one must mention Ramires, who scored Chelsea's opening goal today: he is in fact the first Brazilian who has scored in an FA Cup final, thus adding a little bit of history to this great final, where all Chelsea fans deserve to be celebrating!

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Champions and records

With a 3-0 away victory against the team of the moment, Athletic Bilbao, Real Madrid made sure that their lead is too big to be overtaken by their archrivals of Barcelona to take their 32nd Spanish league title. This was a welcome victory for the team which has trailed the Catalonians for the last three years, and a great triumph for Jose Mourinho, who has now won the title in four different countries, and continues sealing his position as the world's greatest coach.
Real Madrid is now chasing a new record: if they win their last two matches they will reach an impressive 100 points, something the team has never achieved before (although there are 3 points given for a victory since 1996, and more matches than in the 1950s, this would still not have been reached, so it is amazing).
And while archrivals from Barcelona may be on their way down, their little star, Lionel Messi, became the most scoring player in a season in Europe when scoring three goals against Malaga in their 4-1 victory. With 68 goals (combined in the league, cup and Champions League) Messi has surpassed the legendary Gerd Muller who scored 67 goals in the 1972-73 season.