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.