Saturday, March 23, 2013

South American Qualifiers

I wore my Argentina shirt to work yesterday, as I was excited about Argentina getting revenge for the 1-0 away defeat to Venezuelan in the first round of the qualifiers. While Venezuela has been rising over the last years, the one thing they have still not achieved is to get a point in Argentina. And it was not to happen: Sabella's Argentina was superior to Venezuela in all respects, and in spite of Gonzalo Higuain's last goal being a clear off-side, Argentina's 3-0 victory was fully deserved. Argentina is quite certain to be in Brazil, and will be a contender for the title.
Venezuela is fighting for the fourth and fifth places in the South American qualifiers with Uruguay and Chile. One of these teams will lose out about Brazil. With Venezuela's loss, they had to hope their contenders did not do well, and they were lucky. Uruguay, who has been struggling lately, only managed to get 1-1 at home to Paraguay, who equalized late after Luis Suarez had brought the Uruguayans ahead. In the meantime Chile lost 1-0 to their arch-rivals Peru, so they remain in sixth place with 12 points, the same as Venezuela in fifth place (the play-off spot) and with Uruguay in fourth place with 13 points.
To make it all more interesting, Peru now has a chance to contend for one of the spots with 11 points.

Together with Argentina, Colombia is playing awesome football. Yesterday they played Bolivia at home and won 5-0 in an impressive performance with goals by Teofilo Gutierrez, Pablo Armero, Carlos Valdes, Macnelly Torres and Radamel Falcao. The team is attacking and possessing, and under Jose Pekerman they will be a team nobody will like to face in Brazil.
The pressure on Colombia will be from their passionate fans, who can go from the greatest expectations to the deepest depths of ingratitude to their team.

Next Tuesday Colombia will come to Venezuela in a match that is crucial for the home side, while Chile and Uruguay are facing each other in what will be another dramatic match.
There is no doubt that the South American qualifiers are the best qualifiers in the world in terms of quality, drama and excitement, and this will continue for the next matches!

European World Cup qualifiers

After a great round of World Cup qualifiers, the teams that will be going to Brazil next year begins to take form.
Two things are great about Denmark's great 3-0 away victory against the Czech Republic: firstly, Denmark returns as a contender for a spot in the 2014 World Cup. With a victory against Bulgaria next week, it will all look good again. Secondly, it happened without Nicklas Bendtner, who is suspended after another drunken incident, and clearly is not needed any longer on a renewed Danish team. Italy is leading the group.
Spain is still the world's greatest team, but their world cup defense has not started well, and they are starting to suffer from their lack of goals with enormous possession. After tying France at home, Spain tied Finland 1-1 at home, and they are forced to get a good result in Paris next week against France. I still cannot see how in the world Spain would not qualify.
In Group A Belgium and Croatia will be fighting for the first two spots after 2-0 victories over Macedona and Serbia respectively.
Montenegro got another away victory to Moldova to take a perhaps surprising first spot in group H ahead of England, Ukraine and Poland. But England won a historic 8-0 victory against San Marino, and can take first spot if they win against Montenegro next week.
Germany won 3-0 over Kazakhstan and is cruising its way to Brazil. The same is the case of the Netherlands who took its fifth victory in five games defeating Estonia 3-0 in group D, where Hungary and Romania are fighting for second and third spot ahead of Turkey, who is barely hanging on.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Champions League quarterfinals

The greatest surprise in this season's Champions League is that among the eight quarterfinalists there are no English sides, something quite unheard of over the last few years. FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are of course there, followed by the surprise Spanish side, Malaga. Two very strong German teams, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich are there, as are Juventus, Galatasaray and Paris St. Germain from Italy, Turkey and France respectively.
It is a refreshing batch of teams that were crossed the following way for the quarterfinals:
  • Galatasaray-Real Madrid
  • FC Barcelona-Paris St. Germain
  • Bayern Munich-Juventus
  • Malaga-Borussia Dortmund
Bayern Munich-Juventus is surely the most interesting match, although it will also be interesting to see the new multi-million ambitious side of Paris St. Germain take on FC Barcelona. Besides their spectacular match against AC Milan, FC Barcelona have not looked unbeatable this year, and the Parisians certainly have a chance if the hit the day.
But whatever happens, I do not hope it will be a Real Madrid-Barcelona final.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Top 10 heartbreaking penalty misses

It is really heartbreaking to see your team lose on penalties, or when a penalty would have meant the difference between winning or losing. And if it is heartbreaking for the fan, how heartbreaking may it not be for the player?
The recent Africa Cup of Nations semifinal between Ghana and Burkina Faso, where the latter won on penalty kicks, made me think of the most heartbreaking penalty kicks I could think of in my life. Here are my top ten:
  • 10) Chris Waddle, England against West Germany, semifinal of the 1990 World Cup: The only interesting thing in this World Cup was the penalty kicks, and I would have loved to see England against Argentina in what would have been a historic final. 
  • 9) Joaquin, Spain-South Corea, quarterfinal of the World Cup 2002: A historic triumph for Asian football, but a great defeat by the young Joaquin who never seemed really to recover from this.
  • 8) Mauricio Pellegrino, Valencia-Bayern Munich, Champions League final 2001: Valencia will never come so close to a CL title. Pellegrino missed the last kick to give the Germans their title and me a really bad day.
  • 7) Pierre Wome, Cameroon-Egypt 2006 World Cup qualifier. The score was 1-1 in Yaounde in the last match of the group. Cameroon had to win to make it to the World Cup. In the 90th minute Cameroon got a penalty kick. Nobody wanted to kick, so Wome stepped up, and shot wide. Cameroon did not make the World Cup and Wome was frozen out of the Cameroon national team.
  • 6) Maxime Bossis, France-West Germany, semifinal of the 1982 World Cup: France surely had one of the best teams in the world, and after a spectacular semifinal against West Germany, it went into extra time and penalties, where Maxime Bossis missed the last shot for France, and Horst Hrubesch could take the winning kick for the Germans.
  • 5) John Terry, Chelsea-Manchester United, Champions League final, 2008: It was Chelsea's first Champions League final against the rivals of Manchester United, and the intense and dramatic match ended 0-0. In the penalty kicks captain John Terry could take the shot that would give them a victory, but he slipped and missed, and Manchester went on to win as the kicks continued.
  • 4) Zico, Brazil-France, World Cup quarterfinal 1986: One of the best players in history in one of the most memorable teams, in what many consider the best World Cup match ever. Zico missed a penalty at the score 1-1 in the second half, and Brazil went on to lose in penalty kicks.
  • 3) Roberto Baggio, Italy-Brazil 1994 World Cup final: The star of Italy's team in the 1994 World Cup missed the last kick that ended up giving Brazil the World Cup in the first World Cup final that was ever decided on penalty kicks.
  • 2) Miroslav Djukic, Deportivo la Coruna against Valencia, 1994: Little Deportivo La Coruna had been leading the Spanish league most of the season until the last match, where a victory at home against Valencia would give them the title ahead of mighty FC Barcelona. At the score 0-0, La Coruna was awarded a penalty in the last minute of the match. Bebeto refused to take it. Djukic took it, and missed, and the title went to Barcelona.
  • 1) Asamoah Gyan, Ghana-Uruguay in the 2010 World Cup quarterfinal: Ghana was the only third African side to make it to a World Cup quarterfinal. In the last minute of extra time, Uruguay striker Luis Suarez saved the ball with his hand to avoid certain defeat. He was immediately shown a red card and Asamoah Gyan was set to make the shot that would make Ghana the first African side in a World Cup semifinal. But he made a high shot that just touched the crossbar, and in the following penalty kicks Ghana lost.
These are the ones I can think of that have made me annoyed. Of course, there are some I am happy about: Batty's miss against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup; Van Basten's against Denmark in the 1992 Euro semifinal; or Aldo Serena against Argentina in the 1990 semifinal.
There are surely more that I either do not remember or know about, so I would love to hear some of your opinions!