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!