Saturday, December 27, 2014

My top-10 favourite players of the year

The following is my personal list of my 10 favourite footballers of the year; the players who were special, who I will remember:

10) Miroslav Klose: Klose is not the most memorable striker in the world, and is in the autumn of his career. But he has always been a fair player and a gentleman, and as part of the German World Cup side he went on to become the most scoring player in World Cup history. Perhaps unlikely, but not undeserved for a player who will be missed when he retires.
9) Lionel Messi: Messi has been criticized for not being at his former level, and at the World Cup, we only saw his genius in glimpses despite FIFA giving him a weird player of the tournament price. That said, he is still a marvelous player, scoring one goal after another, and carrying the entire weight of Barcelona on his small shoulders.
8) Diego Godin: Godin was core in the strong defense of Atletico Madrid which ended up taking the title. On top of this he was also a great threat in attack, witnessed by his crucial goals against Barcelona or against Italy in the World Cup for Uruguay. In my view, one of the best defenders in the world.
7) Thibaut Courtois: It has been the year of the goalkeepers, and at 22 Courtois is set to become one of the greatest ever. He gave Atletico Madrid the tranquility in defense they needed to take the title, and was immediately taken back to Chelsea, where he has continued being a wall. For Belgium he was also a strong last man. An amazing goalkeeper.
6) Toni Kroos: Bayern Munich, Germany, and now Real Madrid. Every team the German plays on seems to win, and he has been (and continues to be) a crucial side of all these sides. He is an outstanding passer.
5) Arjen Robben: It is easy to dislike Robben as he is a prolific diver, becoming infamous in the World Cup after his dive against Mexico. That said, it is undeniable that he is an incredible footballer, playing a crucial role in the Dutch World Cup campaign (taking his revenge on Spain) and most notably for Bayern Munich, where his characteristic runs continue to tear defenses apart (I particularly remember his match against AS Roma).
4) Cristiano Ronaldo: I like that Ronaldo is so competitive that he will settle for nothing less than being the best, and I am happy for him that he received the FIFA player of the year award. His goals for Real Madrid are incredible, and he has become more of a team player, although he will always, foremost, be an individualist. His poor performance at the World Cup showed this.
3) Manuel Neuer: At a time with many incredible goalkeepers, it is difficult to pinpoint the best, but Manuel Neuer it is. He made important contributions to Germany winning the World Cup title (playing almost as a libero against Algeria, he surely prevented a better Algeria for scoring) and is a bastion in Bayern Munich's defense. Neuer is a goalkeeper who would make any team great, and is already playing in great teams.
2) Philip Lahm: The Bayern Munich and Germany captain is often the kind of player most people take time in noticing, but he is the crucial piece in these two great sides. From varied defensive positions he varies between defense and offense superbly, and is often the player with most touches and longest runs. An absolutely world class player, who is already difficult to replace after having retired from the German national team.
1) Thomas Muller: Muller was an instrumental part of both Germany's and Bayern Munich's teams in 2014. Nobody really knows what position Thomas Muller plays, and in that sense, he is perhaps one of the most complete modern players in the world. He can play as striker, offensive midfielder, wing... and will probably define what it is to be a complete footballer for a foreseeable future.

It was not an easy list: there are indeed a lot of Germans and Bayern Munich players (there could have been more, with Bastian Schweinsteiger), and even two goalkeepers! I also think this is the first time for many years no Brazilians have made my list, although Neymar came close. But other players who could have come in and thus deserve a mention are James Rodriguez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Yaya Toure, Luka Modric,  Luis Suarez, Sergio Aguero, Javier Mascherano, Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

My 2014 teams of the year

I usually do a list of my favourite football teams in a year, and in fact I find that it has been particularly difficult this year, also considering that there has been a World Cup and some very exciting league results. But at the same time a lot of teams have disappointed: Brazil (who almost always appears on my lists) most of all with its pathetic display in the World Cup, but also other sides have been very disappointing either because of results or their style: Spain, Netherlands, Manchester United, Liverpool, FC Barcelona, Inter Milan...
So my list looks as follows:

10) Sevilla: Many Spanish teams are trying to challenge the rule of the big Spanish sides. Although Seville is far from achieving this, they still managed to go all the way in the Europa League, winning the final against the cursed Benfica.
9) Manchester City: The Premier League winners had to be stable and rely on Liverpool's slips to take the league title. They have stumbled in the Champions League, but memorable victories against Bayern Munich and AS Roma have ensured that they are still alive in Europe.
8) San Lorenzo de Almagro: The small Argentina club came to prominence when one of their avid supporters became Pope Francis I. And perhaps it was divine intervention when they went all the unlikely way to win the Copa Libertadores against Nacional from Paraguay.
7) Algeria: African sides largely disappointed again in Brazil. Except for Algeria, who played optimistic football and gave the later world champions a great match.
6) Costa Rica: The Ticos were the great darlings of the 2014 World Cup. Nobody would have guessed they could win a group ahead of three former world champions, and were only penalty kicks away from fighting themselves into the semifinals. Fantastic spirits and awesome fans really made Costa Rica one of the best in the world.
5) Germany Women's U-20: Yes, Germany became World Champion in 2014. Not just in Brazil, but also in Canada, where the young German ladies defeated Nigeria in the final to take the world title. The 2015 Women's World Cup will be in Canada, and be sure that there will be some very exciting sides! 
4) Bayern Munich: Bayern Munich have not been as great in 2013, but only because they did not win the Champions League when they were routed by Real Madrid. But they have been awesome in the German league, beating record after record, and played a memorable match when routing AS Roma in Rome in the Champions League.
3) Atletico Madrid: After nine years of total Barcelona-Real Madrid dominance in the Spanish league it was only wonderfully refreshing when Atletico Madrid took the league title. They did not play beautiful football, but efficient counter-attacking, and this also put them all the way in the Champions League final, where they were only a minute away from taking the title.
2) Real Madrid: Under Carlo Ancelotti the team has grown to look more like a football team than a bunch of stars. In this context, Cristiano Ronaldo has outshone his fellow superstars such as Benzema, Bale, James, Modric, Kroos, etc. Although they did not take the Spanish title, they took the Copa del Rey, the Champions League title, and seem set towards taking the league in 2015.
1) Germany: There is one footballing nation above all others: Germany showed in Brazil that they have far surpassed the South Americans in technique and tactics to become awesome World Champions. Germany will be powerful for the foreseeable future and were surely the team of the year in 2014!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

National Football Museum in Manchester

I was in Manchester and Liverpool a couple of weeks ago. Whatever one goes there for, football is at the forefront, and I saw this not only as I went to two football matches, but also as I was looking for Manchester Cathedral. A small medieval church was totally overshadowed by a huge modern building dedicated to the new religion of the 21st century.
The National Football Museum in Manchester is free to visit, and houses the Hall of Fame of players in the English league, as well as a fine collection of football items, such as the ball from the very first World Cup match between France and Mexico in 1930, or the shirt worn by Diego Maradona when Argentina played England in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal (and one has to admire the English for displaying a shirt that surely awakens mixed feelings). The exhibitions are organised quite well, telling the history of football in England from different perspectives, and does not shy away from including issues such as hooliganism, stadium disasters, or racism and the fact that Women's football in England was not recognized until the 1970s.
The museum includes a whole section on games, but I did not dwell into it. That said, for any football fan/devotee it is surely a great place to visit, probably more than the cathedral besides the museum...

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My apology to Manchester City

I should apologize to Manchester City. After having watched them at their beautiful stadium last weekend, I underestimated them. Before they went into their all-important Champions League match against AS Roma, I did not believe they could do what they needed to do, which was to win in Rome. They were without their superstars: Yaya Toure, Vincent Kompany and most important, the goal-machine Sergio Aguero, who is pretty much the reason they had not been eliminated earlier.
Without these guys, I do not believe that Manchester City has any real super stars, and I have not been impressed by their performances in the CL (including their victory over Bayern Munich! It was all Aguero).
That has now changed.
Manchester City were the best team against an AS Roma that, if anything, disappointed more than they did against Bayern Munich. Without forcing things, Manchester City worked hard to pressure the Italians. Every player delivered, not just the goalscorers Samir Nasri and Pablo Zabaleta, but also Joe Hart, who also did his part with a couple of great saves. It was the best team effort by Manchester City this season.
Congrats to Manchester City. No team will be comfortable playing them, but they have to play as well as they did last night to have hopes of progressing.


I went to the legendary Anfield stadium, home of Liverpool FC, for the Champions League match between the home team and Swiss FC Basel. Incidentally, Anfield is situated in Everton, not far from Goodison park, where the other Everton side plays.
I am not a Liverpool fan. But as a football fan one must be excited at visiting one of the most legendary stadiums in the world. And even for such a match: Liverpool was forced to win to go through!
And therefore, I believe I also had justified expectation of seeing a Liverpool side at its absolute best; of seeing a world class side run over a Swiss side that has otherwise done far too well in the CL for many years.
But as disappointing as Liverpool have been this season, as poor were they against Basel. In the first half Liverpool's performance unacceptable, more so considering the importance of the match. I've got to respect Liverpool fans for sticking with their team, because I am certain that such a performance in Spain would have made fans turn against their own side.
Bad doesn't describe how bad they were, while Basel were solid, had a clear plan, and knew what they wanted. Without too much of an effort they were leading 0-1 on a goal by an excellent Fabien Frey.
Things could only improve in the second half, and they did. Liverpool came out with more energy and pressure in the second half, and a splendid free kick by Liverpool's only genious, Stephen Gerrard, gave them 1-1, and hope, despite having lost Lazar Markovic to a silly (but in my view deserved) red card.
In the end, a couple of good chances were not enough, and Basel even had some good chances on the counter attack (Mignolet had one great save), so 1-1 was a fair result.
Very disappointing for a Liverpool side that simply does not have the quality that put them in the Champions League last season and I think Liverpool and football fans alike have the right to expect more from Liverpool.
That said, who needs to win when you have great fans? All repect for amazing Liverpool fans who are the ones to give Anfield its legendary atmosphere. Add to this some splendid Basel fans, where both sides sang and supported passionately but respectfully. Great to see it, and an inspiration to all fans!

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Manchester City-Everton

After an all night flight from Monrovia via Brussels I was not too tired to go to watch Manchester City-everton at the absolutely beautiful Etihad stadium in Manchester. The home team won 1-0 on a penalty goal by Yaya Toure. Sergio Aguero got injured and both Joe Hart and Tim Howard had amazing saves.
But for me the best was to experience two great teams in the best league in the world.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Aguero de Saviour and Messi's record

Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi are friends, and today they stole the attention in this round of the Champions League.
Aguero has before been the last minute saviour for Manchester City, and tonight, against mighty Bayern Munich, he was the saviour throughout. The first warning of his fast runs towards goal came when Mehdi Benatia brought him down in the area as the Argentine was getting through. Benatia was shown a red card and Aguero scored on the penalty.
But Bayern are Bayern: Xabi Alonso and Robert Lewandowski brought Bayern ahead 1-2, and it did look good until "Kun" Aguero was given two gifts: first Xabi Alonso gave Aguero a free run towards goal, and in the last minute of the match a hapless Jerome Boateng lost the ball to Aguero who made it 3-2 to Manchester City. Manchester City will now face Roma in a final decisive match about who follows Bayern Munich to the next round.
I do not know if they like Aguero in Manchester City. But they should.
In the meantime Sergio Aguero's compatriot Lionel Messi scored three goals in FC Barcelona's 0-4 victory against Apoel Nicosia (Luis Suarez scored the last goal. His first for Barcelona). Lionel Messi is apparently in a "crisis", but still averages more than a goal per game (I guess you have to be Messi to call that average a crisis) and with these three goals he beat legendary Raul to become the most scoring player in Champions League history with 74 goals.
And I think it is a safe bet that he will score more.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Africa Cup of Nations Qualifiers

The Africa Cup of Nations will take place in Equatorial Guinea in January, and the last qualifying matches took place today. One major surprise is that the defending champions from Nigeria failed to qualify: they needed to win at home, but only managed to draw 2-2 against South Africa. As Congo beat Sudan 0-1, they follow the Bafana Bafana to Equatorial Guinea. It will be great to have South Africa back among the best in Africa, although it is disappointing to see Nigeria out; the team was again hit by allegations of corruption and conflict prior to the match, and changes may be coming.
Another of the great African sides will not be there: A disappointing Egypt had already been eliminated before losing their final match to Tunisia, who won the group ahead of Senegal. In the meantime, the splendid Algeria that thrilled all of us at the World Cup lost 2-0 to Mali, but had already booked their place, while Mali will follow the North Africans with their victory. The giants Ivory Coast and Cameroon both made it to the finals by tying 0-0, while Ghana sealed their qualification with a 3-1 victory over Togo. In Ghana's group Guinea took the second spot by defeating Uganda 2-0. They were playing in Morocco because of the Ebola epidemic in Guinea. The same Morocco who forsook the tournament because of Ebola....
All in all, these are the 16 great sides that will compete in Equatorial Guinea:
  • Equatorial Guinea: the hosts
  • South Africa
  • Congo
  • Algeria
  • Mali
  • Gabon
  • Burkina Faso
  • Cameroon
  • Ivory Coast
  • Ghana
  • Guinea
  • Cape Verde
  • Zambia
  • Tunisia
  • Senegal
  • DR Congo
It could be a great tournament, hopefully not to be overshadowed by fear of Ebola, where big European clubs will not let their players join because of pure ignorance.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Ebola football panic

I have returned to dear Liberia after two months where I had to leave because of the panic that has hit everywhere. This has also touched football, showing that irrational and idiotic fear based on prejudice and ignorance are as much a part of football as in the rest of society.
The first example that has really baffled me is Morocco's refusal to host the African Cup of Nations in January, amid fears of the spread of the virus. Of the three countries with the contagion, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, only Guinea has a chance, albeit very small, of qualifying. But as with Europe and US, the fear of Ebola seems to be rooted in a general fear of Sub-Saharan Africa, not to say racism, as described in a recent article I read. Despite WHO saying that they saw little risk (notwithstanding that the three countries will not qualify, I do not think Ebola patients were considering traveling to watch football), Morocco went ahead to cancel it. Fortunately, CAF has reacted by throwing them out, as the tournament has been moved to Equatorial Guinea.
I hope Morocco faces a long suspension.
Another example is Borussia Dortmund not letting their Gabonese player, Pierre-Emerick Aubemeyang, not play for his national team in today's Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Angola, which ended 0-0, and keeps Gabon with good chances of qualifying for Equatorial Guinea.
Now, Gabon has not Ebola, and does not border any of the affected countries. Angola has not cases and does not border any of the affected countries. Even in the unlikely case that someone had Ebola, would they be playing football...?
Borussia Dortmund may be ignorant. However, I think that Ebola is just major clubs latest excuse for not releasing their African players. Expect more of the same.
This is beyond football. It is ignorance. It is racism by other means, and if football is going to fight racism, it should also attack decisions based on ignorance.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Mediocre Barcelona and efficient Real Madrid

Today's classic clash between the Spanish giants Real Madrid and FC Barcelona was not as exciting as previous matches. Before the match, nobody had scored against Barcelona during this season, and perhaps some were expecting Barcelona to have an advantage when Neymar brought them ahead 1-0. But truth is that Barcelona's goalless record has been against other teams in a league where only Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, and marginally Valencia and Sevilla, are quality sides. Truth is that Barcelona was facing quality opposition for the first time.
In the Champions League another quality side, Paris St. Germain, had already exposed the Catalonians serious defensive deficiencies. Today Real Madrid exposed them as well, and could have made the Catalonians look ridiculous if they had been more cynical. That said, when getting into the match Real Madrid was splendid: disciplined and quick on the counterattack, and with players working hard for the team (something that has often been missing in the club). Luka Modric and Toni Kroos were both fantastic in midfield, while Marcelo and Isco were a constant threat on the left side. And then the trio of Ronaldo, James and Benzema far out-shined the tired-looking trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar. Granted, Neymar scored and Suarez is still to understand his new teammates, but more worrying for Barcelona is the lack of depth, which is particularly acute in defense: Javier Mascherano continues to play in a position that is not his, while Pique lacks the quality to play at this level without Carles Puyol next to him. Tonight, he proved again that he is a player that can not be called more than mediocre, and he could have cost Barcelona much more than the one penalty that he gave away.
This will be a great season for Real Madrid, who were also impressive in the Champions League last week against Liverpool. Barcelona on the other hand, will have it harder and harder as they face will face quality teams.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Not-so Super Mario

Last season Liverpool came as close to winning the Premier League as they have come for a long time, and this had led to hopes rising among Liverpool fans for this season. So far, they have been disappointed, and the 0-3 trashing they received by Real Madrid in the Champions League only showed how far Liverpool are from reaching the levels of the world's best teams. If anything, Real Madrid were nice to play at a lower tempo, or the trashing could have become as embarrassing and overwhelming as what Bayern Munich had done in Rome the day before.
What perhaps symbolizes Liverpool's fall compared to last season is the players they let go, and the replacements that came in. Liverpool's defense is, if not a joke, somewhat comical, and while one can question the quality of current defenders, their lack of experience seems unquestionable. But one of the most clear changes in Liverpool is the absence of Luis Suarez, the "biter", and his replacement with Mario Balotelli. Liverpool good rid of a troublemaker, yes, but a quality and hardworking player, who despite his lack of discipline, always put the team ahead of himself. What Liverpool did well was to manage to rein in his psychotic traits during matches, and then get the best from his genius. They undoubtedly have been hoping to do the same with Balotelli, but the problem is that Balotelli's issues are different. While Suarez has been a problematic star in every team he has been at, Mario Balotelli has been a super talented problem child in every team he has played at. He has amazing skills, but he is lazy and self-centered; everything is about Balotelli. His controversial shirt swap with Pepe during half time of the match exemplified a player who thinks of himself before the team; his attitude and lack of fighting for the team on the pitch exemplifies this even more.
Perhaps Liverpool can change Balotelli. I hope so, because he is a fantastic player. But I doubt it, and I think Balotelli will turn into one of the flops of this season's Premier League, along with Liverpool's hopes to have a better season than last.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Spanish gratitude for Casillas

For the first time since 2006 Spain lost a qualifier, when they lost 2-1 to Slovakia in their qualifier for Euro 2014. And as everyone in Spain seems to be doing these days, they blame Iker Casillas, who made a mistake in allowing the first Slovak goal.
Spain should be thankful to Iker Casillas, a true gentleman and great sportsman: he and Carles Puyol were more than anyone else the architects behind the team that won the World Cup and two European titles.
And now they should perhaps be more thankful than ever: they can continue blaming a man who has done everything for Spain and for Madrid, for every crap performance of their team. Because Spain should face the truth; the problem is not Iker Casillas.
It is Vicente del Bosque.
With a lot of possession and dominance Spain only shot on goal seven times, and they continue insisting on Diego Costa, who is a genious under Mourinho, but who does not fit into the style of Spain. The refusal to use some of the yougn players was partly corrected when Paco Alcacer finally came on for David Silva and scored. But only partly, and Vicente del Bosque's refusal (or incapacity?) to change and to renew, will end up making the near future difficult for Spain, despite the country, along with France and Germany, having the most outstanding pool of football talent in Europe.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Valencia-Atletico Madrid

After a lovely morning in Brussels with running, museum and coffee, I decided to go into a pub to watch Valencia and Atletico Madrid, defending Spanish champions, play in the Spanish League. The bar was full of Atletico Madrid fans, who were being loud, obnoxious, and annoying. They are just like me, who fifteen minutes into the match could smile satisfied to myself, as Valencia was leading 3-0 after playing like a whirlwind and facing an Atletico defense that had not really realized that the match had started. Miranda scored an own goal, which would have been a great goal had it been in the opposite side, while newcomers Andre Gomes and Nicolas Otamendi scored the other two.
The sudden lead would perhaps have made many other teams fall apart, but one must respect Atletico Madrid, who fought their way back into the match, and dominated the remainder of the first half. Mario Mandzukic scored, but just before halftime Diego Alves saved a penalty from Guilherme Siqueira. Diego Alves is set to become the goalkeeper with most penalty saves in the Spanish league.
3-2 at halftime would have further unnerved Valencia, who second half were pressed back, and only had occasional counterattacks, but surviving Atletico Madrid's pressure.
3-1, and with this victory Valencia has shown that their newly-found resurgence is meant seriously; that they are ready to challenge the big ones in la Liga, and that they intend to return to Europe.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

And some other Champions League results

It has been another great round of Champions League matches, where all teams but three have managed to get points after two matches. CSKA Moscow are the only bad team, while Ludogorets Razgrad have been unlucky to lose to Liverpool and Real Madrid. In the meantime, Benfica, with two losses, must be the biggest disappointment so far.
In this round Malmo FF defeated Olympiakos, and while Atletico Madrid defeated Juventus, all teams in that group A have a victory, making it a very exciting and surprising contest. In Group B FC Basel today defeated Liverpool, who is performing far below (their own) expectations. FC Basel has been a giant killer for many years, and Liverpool seems to have forgotten... So in Group B Basel and Liverpool are trailing Real Madrid, but do not discount Ludogorets just yet!
In Group C, where I had the pleasure of seeing Anderlecht and Dortmund play, the Germans from Dortmund seem to be the team to beat. In the meantime Arsenal rose from the ashes to trash Galatasaray 4-1, with three goals of their new star, Danny Welbeck.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Anderlecht against the big boys

It is always special to go to a Champions League match, where the football quality is so high and the atmosphere electric. This was certainly the case today in a beautiful evening in Brussels for the match between the home side Anderlecht and the German giants Borussia Dortmund.
Anderlecht were understandably full of expectations after a flying start to the season and a good away result in Turkey against Galatasaray. The many injuries for Borussia Dortmund perhaps added to the expectations, but truth was that the young Anderlecht side today faced a side that was world class.
It is a joy to watch such a team play, and I greatly enjoyed seeing the speed, movement and technique of a team like Dortmund. I was particularly impressed about Shinji Kagawa distributing the balls, Pierre Emerick Aubemeyang and Ciro Immobile as eternal threats (Immobile scored the first goal on great combinations with Kagawa), and in defense, the great Neven Subotic.
That said, I have a soft spot for Anderlecht, and would have liked to see them do well against the giants. And in fact, they did not do bad; Dortmund were simply much better. The score of 0-3 was perhaps too much, with Anderlecht also having a few big chances, but truth is that just a few mistakes and lapses will not be forgiven by a team like Borussia Dortmund.
The German side should also be considered as a candidate to get far in the tournament.

The best were the fans: the Anderlecht fans were full of expectations and displayed a large banner at the start of the match, and supported their team well even when behind. At the same time the Dortmund fans were simply amazing. It must be such a boost of energy for the players to have supporters like that! I now wish more than before, that I can someday go and experience a match in Dortmund!

Worthy of a final

Paris St. Germain's match against FC Barcelona in the group stages of the Champions League was worthy of a final, as Paris won 3-2, and certainly announced themselves as serious candidates for the title.
FC Barcelona had looked awesome at the start of the season without any goals conceded, but that was to change when David Luiz brought PSG ahead on a blunder of the Barcelona defense. David Luiz, always somewhat irregular in his movements, played a great match, but certainly must have given PSG fans their moments of nerves. Without Ibrahimovic it was Edison Cavani and Javier Pastore who led a great attach by PSG, where Marco Verrati and Blaise Matuidi both scored for PSG. But also FC Barcelona showed great attacking power and the goals by Lionel Messi and Neymar were both of the high quality one has grown accustomed to with Barcelona.
One has to wonder whether Barcelona's awesome statistic is more because they have not faced qualified opposition yet, as they certainly did yesterday. The match showed that while outstanding, FC Barcelona certainly have weaknesses, and PSG that they must be reckoned with.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Valencia's transformation

It has not been easy to be a fan of Valencia over the last 10 years. In 2004 the club won the UEFA Cup and the League, but since then the team has been in huge financial troubles and besides a Copa del Rey title in 2008, has not been part of any European elite. Whenever there have been great players, these have been sold to some of the big teams of Europe to cover the mounting losses: David Silva, Juan Mata, David Villa, Raul Albiol, Roberto Soldado... they have all gone.
But times may be changing.
In May the Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim bought the majority stakes in the club, and he has brought in a long list of new players for the new season. Firstly, they have contracted some exciting new players: Rodrigo de Paul, an interesting 20-year old Argentine from Racing; Lucas Orban, another Argentine defender from Bordeaux, and Nicolas Otamendi from Oporto, an Argentine player who was highly sought in the market. Additionally, they got the young German world champion Shkodran Mustafi from Sampdoria and the young Portuguese defender Ruben Vezo from Vitoria Setubal.
But Valencia has also been out borrowing players: from Rio Ave the Brazilian defender Filipe August, and from Benfica the two exciting young attackers Andre Gomes and Rodrigo. After only five games both players have already scored goals, and both are on the verge of entering their respective national teams (Portugal and Spain).
Valencia has also borrowed two players from Manchester City: Alvaro Negredo and Bruno Zuculini. Negredo is still to make his debut, and the young strikers will surely not make it easy for him.
The most exciting young striker of Valencia is 21-year old Paco Alcacer, educated in Valencia's own ranks. He made his national team debut in August, and has a great career ahead of him.
Valencia's integration of its young players has been great this season: Antonio Barragan, Carles Gil and Jose Gaya are all from its own ranks.
Many big clubs have already had their eyes opened on the young defender Jose Gaya, but the great thing for many Valencia fans is that the club may now be able to hold on to its players. All the new blood is already making an impact, but Valencia was able to keep some of the most important players from last season, most notably Pablo Piatti, Dani Parejo, and Sofiane Feghouli, who after a great world cup with Algeria, was a highly coveted man!
After defeating Cordoba 3-0 Valencia is leading the Spanish league ahead of Barcelona, on goal difference. Of course, there is a long way to go, and Valencia are not really candidates for the title. That said, Valencia has announced its intention to return among the top of Europe, and with the young team at their disposal, will certainly be a force to be dealt with.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The crazy weekend

I have gotten too old to have more crazy weekends. So it is great that the Premier League does it for me! This was indeed a footballing weekend in the Premier League that will be remembered a long time. Some of the "big" teams like Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton all forgot that you still need to play football against apparently smaller sides. Most notably Manchester United, with all its expensive overrated superstars, was 1-3 up against Leicester, only to be humiliated with a 5-3 defeat.
But at least there is one great side in Manchester: the defending champions of City were playing at home to Chelsea. Mourinho did the usual: let the others possess the ball, and we will strike back. Chelsea had only one shot of goal all of first half, but nobody ever believed it would be easy despite this! In the second half Zabaleta got a correct second yellow on a challenge on Diego Costa, and one man up, Andre Schurrle brought Chelsea ahead after a fantastic and characteristic counter-attack.
That was when the Chelsea legend Frank Lampard came on for Manchester City. Chelsea fans received their former hero with applause, but this stopped when Lampard scored his first goal ever for Manchester City, equalizing against his old club.
If anyone had to write the perfect script, it would have been this.
The match ended 1-1 and Frank Lampard was applauded by both the home and the away fans in a fantastic show of sportsmanship and respect. And it was a fantastic way to end the craziest weekend in the Premier League for a long time!

Anderlecht's transformation

Back in February I was in Brussels and went into watch he Brussels side play and defeat Mols in a match without passion, where the fans expressed deep dissatisfaction about their side. It is now September, and I am back in Brussels, having had to leave Liberia, and again went into watch Anderlecht, this time against Cercle Brugge.
What a transformation! There is a new coach in Besnik Hasi, who seems to have put renewed faith in the side. I saw them first last week against Galatasaray in the Champions League, where they almost got a victory. They have also started the league well, and after 13 matches remains undefeated, and may be well underway for a new title.
What is likeable about the side is the use of many young players. Dennis Praet did not even play against Cercle Brugge, where instead Aleksander Mitrovic, Matias Suarez and Andy Najar scored the goals. The young Honduran in particular was excellent, but also Ibrahima Conte gave the team very good forward movement.
In the end Anderlecht won 3-2, and differing from February there was a great atmosphere, joy and hope about the side. If anything was not good it was the two goals by Cercle Brugge; Anderlecht was in control of the entire match, and the to goals by Cercle Brugge were a dent on this.
But Anderlecht could be a team to watch this season!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A fantastic start

After many lousy days in Brussels, I was happy that the Champions League was starting, and I was not disappointed. I watched the Galatasaray-Anderlecht match. With a lot of young players Anderlecht were a pleasant surprise, starting offensive, and taking the lead by a young talented player, Dennis Praet. If they failed it was in lack of experience when closing down and in the last touch in front of goal, and that is perhaps why Galatasaray managed to equalize in added time. But 1-1 is not bad, and for the next match the Belgians will face Arsenal, who were run over by Borussia Dortmund.
How can I get tickets for the match here in Brussels!?

Some of the other interesting results were Real Madrid's 5-1 victory over Basel, where Benzema scored a historic 1000th European goal for the Spaniards. The other Madrid side, Atletico, lost 3-2 to Olympiacos in what for many will be a surprise, while Monaco beat Bayer Leverkusen 1-0. With two goals by the great Carlos Tevez, Juventus defeated Malmo 2-0, while Liverpool had to struggle for a late 2-1 win over the Bulgarian underdogs of Ludogerets. Super Mario scored his first goal for Liverpool, but that, and the victory, are the only good things from that match for Liverpool fans.

I will eagerly be awaiting tomorrow's matches after what will seem like a never-ending wait!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Ungrateful bastards

Things have not started well for Real Madrid this season, and yesterday they faced the defending Spanish champions of Atletico Madrid at home on Santiago Bernabeu stadium. On goals by Tiago and Arda Turan, Atletico Madrid gave Real Madrid their second defeat in three matches. Real Madrid, with all its new superstars is simply not working. Maybe it will change with time as players get acquainted to one another, but as it is now they seem like a tired group of men without confidence.
Real Madrid fans are not accustomed to this, and yesterday they expressed their dissatisfaction with the team, where in particular Iker Casillas received the bulk of insults and buhs.
It is sad to see such a great legend, who has given so much to Real Madrid and to Spain, being pelted by fans who should be supporting him in a difficult time.
I have never been a Real Madrid fan, and now I am even less when they have such ungrateful fans towards a fantastic player and a gentleman (and I say this about a man who has always played in teams that I have not supported!).

Small contribution to a never-ending discussion

I watched two fantastic football matches yesterday. First, Manchester City and Arsenal tied 2-2 in an intense match. Both teams will be contenders for the title, and both showed their determination. Alexis Sanchez and Jack Wiltshere scored two fantastic goals for an Arsenal side that had some excellent moments in the match, while the Argentinians Sergio Aguero and Martin Demichelis scored the goals of a Manchester City side that with a couple of shots in the post at the end, almost took all three points.
The next match I watched was between numbers one and two in the Premier League, Chelsea and Swansea. Swansea started well, and seemed poised for an upset when they went ahead 0-1 on an own-goal by John Terry. But Chelsea's new goal machine Diego Costa then struck with three goals, making it his seventh in four Premier League matches! Chelsea won 4-2, and are now leaders of the Premier League. Diego Costa is not an extraordinary striker, but a great coach can bring the best out of him, and Jose Mourinho has most definitely done that. Chelsea has an awesome striking force, but their defense is looking weak, and that could well prove to be

The discussion about which league is the best continues to be lively, with many concluding that the Spanish league is best due to last season's Spanish dominance in the European tournaments. However, in my view, the reason that the Premier League is the best (followed by the German) is that you get many more of these high intensity, dramatic and goal-rich matches than you see in for instance the Spanish league.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Champions League 2014-15: finally some football!

Wow! The World Cup is only a faraway memory of drama and mediocre football when one can look forward to the 2014-2015 Champions League, whose groups were drawn today.

Group A:
  • Atletico Madrid
  • Juventus
  • Olympiakos
  • Malmo
Zlatan's old team of Malmo are a welcome Swedish return to the Champions League after many years. Atletico Madrid will be looking to repeat (or improve) last year's final, while Juventus and Olympiakos could in the end be the winners in this group!

Group B:
  • Real Madrid
  • Basel
  • Liverpool
  • Ludogorets
The surprising Bulgarians, who could easily become the neutral's darlings, face the defending champions, as well as the darlings of many, Liverpool. Basel has before shown that they must never be understimated.

Group C:
  • Benfica
  • Zenit St. Petersburg
  • Bayer Leverkusen
  • Monaco
Benfica and Bayer Leverkusen are two teams that play entertaining football, and are bound to be worth seeing. Zenit St. Petersburg is always a difficult team, while the Monaco fancy boys are not likely to win friends (at least not me).

Group D:
  • Arsenal
  • Borussia Dortmund
  • Galatasaray
  • Anderlecht
One of my favourite groups, with four fantastic teams. Always had a soft spot for Dortmund, while Arsene Wenger's Arsenal continues to be interesting year after year. Galatasaray will always create atmosphere with their fans while Anderlecht... Well, Anderlecht sucks, but I hope to get to watch them!

Group E:
  • Bayern Munich
  • Manchester City
  • CSKA Moscow
  • AS Roma
Manchester City continues to look for success in the Champions League, and this year may be their year. Bayern Munich under Pep Guardiola is still an awesome side, but not as awesome as yesteryear. AS Roma should not be underestimated and are a welcome return to the CL, while CSKA Moscow will be quickly forgotten.

Group F:
  • FC Barcelona
  • Paris St. Germain
  • Ajax Amsterdam
  • Apoel Nicosia
Barcelona and Paris are without a doubt favourites in this group, where their clash will be one of the ones to watch in the tournament. Ajax Amsterdam are a nice team, always worth a good match, and Apoel Nicosia have before caused trouble. And I like them because they eliminated Aalborg!

Group G:
  • Chelsea
  • Schalke 04
  • Sporting Lisbon
  • Maribor
Mourinho's Chelsea look like favourites in this group, and Chelsea could get far indeed. Schalke 04 are solid but can be shaken, and the same for Sporting Lisbon, who seems set to fight for second spot with the Germans. Maribor eliminated Celtic, and it is great to have a team from beautiful Slovenia in the Champions League!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Di Maria the saviour?

On the same day that Manchester United got destroyed in the League Cup 4-0 by a team called MK Dons (from the third tier English league) they announced that they have paid 84 Million Euros for the Real Madrid player Angel di Maria.
84 Million is a lot of money, and is in fact the most that an English club has ever paid for a footballer. Considering the fantastic players that have passed through the English league and not least through Manchester United, the amount seems completely out of proportion with who Di Maria is.
Granted, Di Maria is a good player, but he is not the player that can lift Manchester United out of the bad period they are in. Only one man can do that: Louis Van Gaal. The Dutchman has not had a good start, and perhaps Di Maria is part of a long-terms plan in Manchester United. But most of all it seems like a desperate gamble on a player that will have a pressure on him that he will not be able to take.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Tottenham-Queens Park Rangers

I have not had much time to watch football, as other things are currently more worrying here in Liberia. Today I did watch my first match for a while, as I tried to forget all other things around me. I had already thought that Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham would be one of the most interesting teams to watch this season.
And this was the first match I watched with them this season, and it was certainly worth it. Tottenham played a great match, with players like Erik Lamela (two assists), Emanuel Adebayor (one goal and one assist), Nacer Chadli (two goals) and Christian Eriksen all playing fantastic. 4-0 was none too small a victory for a team that will grow in confidence with this.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Premier league opening

With the usual World Cup hangover and a complicated situation in Monrovia, I have not had much time to dwell into the footballing pre-season. I recently met with a colleague and spent two hours talking about football, which was a wonderful escape from the disease that is otherwise the center of every conversation right now.
And the Premier league opening will help, at least me, in escaping the stress of the current situation.
The last two seasons have been incredible, with more amazing teams setting up to fight for the title:
  • Manchester City: The defending champions have not been looking strong in pre-season, with too many of their players injured or resting after the World Cup. This culminated in a 3-0 Charity Field defeat to Arsenal, and in their opening match against Newcastle they look to be missing many players. That said, Manchester City will likely be contenders for the title again. They have reinforced an already strong defense with Eliaquim Mangala, and as players get fit and into the season, will be moving up the table.
  • Arsenal: Arsenal fans are hungering for success, and the Charity field victory surely gives them hopes for this season. Further hopes are the purchase of Alexis Sanchez, the immensely talented Chilean, who will widen their attacking options. In fact, the challenge for Arsene Wenger will be to construct the optimal formation with a very deep squad. Arsenal are serious, and will be going for the title.
  • Liverpool: The loss of Luis Suarez has opened questions about the striking power of the Reds, in particular for a season where they will want to win the title after last season's "Almost". With the money from Suarez, Liverpool has been buying many players, most notably in Southampton. Rickie Lambert will be core in attack alongside Raheem Sterling, while Dejan Louvren is set to strengthen their defense. With the loss of Suarez, and having to incorporate new players, Liverpool may have less likelihood of being a title contender.
  • Manchester United: There are big hopes for the new coach Louis Van Gaal, who has had so much success everywhere he goes. There have only been two new signing though: Ander Herrera from Athletic Bilbao and Luke Shaw from Southampton. Players for the future, sure, but not really the signings that would give needed reinforcements for the defense. While all hope that Van Gaal can motivate Wayne Rooney and Robie Van Persie, alongside Juan Mata and Danny Welbeck, the weaknesses will be in the void left by Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. Van Gaal and Manchester United will not be fighting for the title this season, but for a Champions League spot, and for building up a new team.
  • Chelsea: One thing is sure about Jose Mourinho's Chelsea: David Luiz' departure for Paris St. Germain made them richer and better. Chelsea is a serious title contender. Mourinho has brought in some strong players to build on what he already has. Felipe Luis has joined from Atletico Madrid, a player who was one of the world's best last season (and Brazil sorely missed in the World Cup), and will be a force alongside Branislav Ivanovic in defense. Cesc Fabregas has also joined the side, and the striking force will be interesting for sure, with Diego Costa and Didier Drogba joining. Costa is a player that may have disappointed with Spain, but his style fits perfectly into what Mourinho wants from a striker. With Drogba, we see the legend return to Chelsea: many will see it as a publicity stunt, but last season Mourinho managed to squeeze some great goals out of Samuel Eto'o. And that is a gift to all football fans.
  • Tottenham: Another new manager with Mauricio Pochettino. He remains a young manager who has never won anything, but he impressed the entire football world with what he did with Southampton last season, playing high pressure football and making a bunch of young promising players flourish.  He will need the same qualities to motivate players who disappointed last season: Erik Lamela, Naser Chadli, Roberto Soldado, Emanuel Adebayor Paulinho and Mousa Dembele (Christian Eriksen was the only non-disappointment). It is certainly a promising side, but Pochettino is also still looking to reinforce it further with perhaps another striker (Jay Rodriguez seems to be in the pipeline). Be sure that Tottenham will be one of the most interesting teams to watch.
  • Everton: Everton finished fifth last season, and coach Jose Martinez has managed to keep on to his squad, most notably Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku, who completed his transfer from Chelsea. Both are young players who could have chose any clubs, but the fact that Everton managed to keep them points to the ambition to build up a stronger side that will qualify to the Champions League. Th
  • Stoke: I must admit that I know next to nothing about Stoke. However, one of the great things about the Premier League is that teams that are largely unknown can beat great sides, and that these small teams also have the capacity to buy great players. Bojan, the young Barcelona star that was hailed as one of the greatest a few years ago (at the tender age of 23 he has won two Champions League titles), is set to try to revive his career in Stoke.
Let a great Premier League season begin!

Monday, July 28, 2014

The pressure on Lionel Messi

There was a very interesting article in Semana on Lionel Messi (it is in Spanish). It is about how the pressure on a shy young kid, who only wanted to enjoy playing football, is destroying the talent of this player. And as with myself, the writer admits that all of us football fans are to blame for this pressure on this young boy. And of course FIFA, who need their trained monkey for their selfish circus.
And like the article says: Maradona was the first player who refused to be their monkey, and he denounced them as corrupt power hungry despots, and for that he was denounced, when all he said was the truth.
Lionel Messi: please start enjoying football again!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Brazilian dinosaur

Brazilian football suffered a terrible humiliation in this World Cup, and with the exit of Scolari it was perhaps time to find some renewal in Brazilian football.
Not so. Brazil has not learned, and seems determined to continue its slide further down the modern and beautiful game, and losing more of its many admirers.
The new national team coach is Dunga, who as captain in 1994 symbolized the modern Brazilian player: hard working, physically strong and with a hard kick, but with little technique and flair. Dunga would have been a great Scottish player in the 1980s.
And Dunga has already coached Brazil: in 2007 he coached them when they won the Copa America, playing a style of football that Brazil is becoming infamous for: destroying the opposition's rhythm with a lot of small fouls and purely going after goals on set-pieces. The exact recipe that has stopped working because Brazil has stopped producing players that could play like Spain or Germany.
Be sure that under Dunga we will see more of the same negative football from Brazil, who may risk more humiliation in the coming 2015 Copa America, and perhaps even in the World Cup qualifiers.
Could it be a World Cup without Brazil??
Too early to tell...
Nevertheless, Brazil is like a dinosaur that refuses to change and learn from the outside. One would have thought that Germany had given the Brazilians a footballing lesson, but like a stubborn old man, Brazil refuses to learn.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Top ten best things of the World Cup

I guess after getting annoyed and writing a negative post on the bad things of the World Cup yesterday, I should write one of the best things of the World Cup, in my personal view.

10. Seeing friends and family during this World Cup: For me this World Cup was an excuse to travel and enjoy with friends and family, and I did so shamelessly. I saw the best people in the world in Rome, Brussels, S-Hertogenbosch, London, Copenhagen, Viborg, Nyborg, Berlin. I am the luckiest person in the world.
9. Faryd Mondragon: When the Colombian goalkeeper entered the pitch against Japan it was a beautiful gesture by coach Pekerman, and Mondragon went on to become the oldest player that has ever played in a World Cup. And he even made a save!
8. Algeria: A marvelous team, clever tactically, with great spirit. They gave us a wonderful display against South Corea and then took on the later World Champions of Germany in a match that they could have won. And their fans were amazing!
7. Tim Howard: I was not that impressed about USA not taking many risks in their matches, if not for their organization and goalkeeping. But they survived attacking waves by the Belgians because of "Secretary of Defense" Tim Howard, who amid a lot of brilliant goalkeepers in this tournament, had the most memorable match.
6. Memorable Goals: James Rodriguez goal against Uruguay, Tim Cahill's goal against the Netherlands and Robbie Van Persie's first goal against Spain stand out as the most memorable and fantastic goals of the tournament. I cannot choose between them.
5. Miroslav Klose: The German striker has gone over to the history books by becoming the most scoring player of all time in a World Cup. It was ironically in the trashing of Brazil that he scored the goal with which he beat Ronaldo.
Klose is not as brilliant as some of the players he has beaten, but he is a steady, solid, modern striker, and a fantastic person, a true gentleman of the game, of which there are few today.
Miroslav Klose is and will remain one of the greatest ever.
4. Costa Rica: The moral champions of the tournament, without expectations, they defeated two former World Champions, tied England to win the "group of death", and then was only eliminated in penalty kicks by the Netherlands after fighting like warriors and with a fantastic goalkeeper in Keylor Navas (who seems to be going to Real Madrid). They ended the tournament undefeated in ordinary games.
3. German and Argentine fans: Great fans know this is a game. The banter is there along with the mutual respect despite the emotions of the match. During this tournament I met Argentine and German fans, and they all rocked. And the atmosphere they created for the tournament's final was great. They are both champions.
2. Germany: Fantastic, fantastic. They played great, but also had to fight when it counted, like against Ghana or Algeria. A team of world records; the first Europeans to win the World Cup in South America. The trashing of Brazil has already gone over to history; it is still unbelievable. 
1. Brazilians: Surely the Brazilian football team was the worst in history. But Brazilians do not need to win in football to be the best in the world!
Despite their government, FIFA, and all the problems ordinary Brazilians face in their everyday life, they welcomed the world with their warmth, kindness and happiness, and that is why the World Cup was a success!
Brazilians rock.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Top ten worst things of the World Cup

I am back to my dull and boring life. Without anything useful to do besides changing a flat tire on my car, I have reflected on the top ten worst things of this world cup. There was a lot of shit to consider, from the social problems in Brazil that perhaps became more prominent during the World Cup. But more directly related to the tournament these are the ten worst (and believe me, it was not easy to limit it to ten):

10. Unfair play: Yes, there were a lot of dirty plays in the world cup. Diving; elbows; kicks. One thing is that the referees allowed it. Another is that FIFA did not discipline any player besides Luis Suarez. This World Cup was one step back from fair play, which had otherwise been improving since the horrible 1990 World Cup.

9. The Golden Boot to Lionel Messi: I do not know if Messi wanted it, but he received it. I do know that FIFA were completely disconnected with the rest of the world in giving it to a player that may have had a fine tournament, but played without heart or passion in most games. Messi is a great player, but he is what Samuel Eto'o once described him as: "a Playstation player". He is a machine. And many more players deserved that prize than him. In my opinion Arjen Robben, Javier Mascherano and Toni Kroos all deserved it more.

8. Spain: Perhaps not so much Spain as their coach, Vicente del Bosque, who chose an old side, bet on the wrong players, did not study his opponents, had no tactical responses, and did not resign his post. Luis Felipe Scolari is perhaps the only other coach who compares in poor management at the World Cup.

7. Luis Suarez: enough said. He bit an opponent! The FIFA punishment was fair enough considering what he did, albeit unfair in its inconsistency.

6. Referees: Referees were bad. Not in the sense that they were decisive for any matches (although Brazil had some help in some matches, but it was not decisive I believe), but they were consistently bad, with little authority, allowing players too much very often, and punishing at the wrong times. Spray or goalline technology (did we really have to wait to 2014!?) hardly helped. The first card for diving was given to Oscar in the penultimate match of the tournament in a situation when there was no diving! The referee between Colombia and Brazil allowed the match to degenerate. I know referees have it hard: but they choose to be there, and they should be the first in making recommendations for making the game better!

5. Brazilian defense: Of course Luis Felipe Scolari is the first responsible for what happened to Brazil. But at the same time one has to wonder what happened to defenders who play in Chelsea, Paris St. Germain, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid... Against both Germany and Netherlands the Brazilians defended as if they had never put their foot on a football pitch.
David Luiz' was one of the worst performances I have ever seen, while I frankly think I could have played better than Marcelo. The defensive midfielders were also pathetic, most of all Fernandinho. While the Brazilian fans took it out on Fred, they should perhaps have thought of taking it out on any defender.

4. Tickets: It was a labyrinth to get ticket to games at this world cup. And FIFA insisted tickets had to be bought through them; that no other sellers were authorized. And then it turns out that FIFAs own ticket agency is part of a ticket scam!?!? That a guy staying in the same hotel as FIFA executives is arrested for ticket scamming!?!? Empty seats in first round matches that were apparently sold out, and many opportunities for re-selling despite FIFAs denial. What about creating an honest and transparent system?

3. Sexism: this should belong further down in the list if one takes into consideration the abuses of sex workers in Brazil. But here I just want to focus on the fact that while racism may be unacceptable, sexism is not. This world cup saw commentators, sponsors, fans, players objectifying and degrading women.
Discriminating against women, of any race, religion or nationality, is apparently ok. At least in this, FIFA is consistent

2. Nationalism: I will repeat myself. Too many people who don't know a thing about football watch it because of their petty nationalism and desires to express it and be prejudiced against other people. These are also the bad losers, who invent conspiracy theories about referees, FIFA and so on (the referees and FIFA are just other idiots!), to justify their defeats. They delight in being xenophobic and discriminatory; in players from opposing teams getting hurt (I was particularly disgusted by some Colombians making fun of Neymar's injury. I would have thought that the country that saw Andres Escobar die because of football, would know better as to delight in others' pain).
Sadly, my impression is that Nationalism, of the bad kind, is becoming worse and worse in a world that is more globalised. While players across countries are friends because they play in same teams, fans are busy building ever bigger barriers between themselves.
In the next World Cup we will see people die because of Nationalism...

1. FIFA: Granted that FIFA does get a lot of bad press, and that the press is not always fair. However, FIFA doesn't want to change; doesn't want to be accountable! They can ask Brazil to change laws about serving beers in stadiums but cannot distance themselves from eviction of people from their homes because of a World Cup? They can say a lot of things about respect and tolerance when they do not practice many of the things themselves. They can discipline a player like Suarez because of the press, but cannot discipline players for violence. They do not respect women, normal football fans, or players, but want respect themselves (respect is something your earn!). They have thousands of volunteers and government workers to do most of the hard work, while they themselves live in million dollar hotels and apparently get money from obscure Qataris?
The beautiful game is beautiful despite FIFA. I am afraid FIFA will one day make it as ugly as itself.

I got angry from writing this!

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Day After the World Cup: Football Hangover

I had really wanted to go to this World Cup, but unable to get a ticket I did not go. Still, I enjoyed as much as I could, taking vacation for the entire tournament, traveling to seven countries and seeing matches in Liberia, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France, England and Denmark. I spent time with great friends, met a lot of people, discussed football, cheered and celebrated no matter who won.
It was a lot of fun. And in the end the World Cup is and should be about that: fun and celebration.
Too many people take it too seriously. And this was surely one of the things I disliked a lot about this world cup: many people, who never bother to watch football between World Cups, got overly excited about the tournament. Too often people had opinions about matches that were more borne out of prejudices and conspiracy theories and not at all on football knowledge.

This World Cup was not bad. I do not share the opinion of those who say it was one of the best. It had some drama, moments and a couple of historical matches, but only a few more than the previous three world cups. It was a far cry from 1986, better than 1990 and 1994, and barely a bit better than 1998.
There were many goals in the first round, but not that many absolutely brilliant ones. Too many goals were from set-pieces or defensive errors. The knock-out rounds were more disappointing, with many teams that did not risk much in the offense (Netherlands, Argentina, USA, Costa Rica, Greece...). In my view only Germany and Colombia, and to a lesser degree Chile and Mexico, offered anything close to entertainment and willingness to take risk. In the end this is perhaps because of the disappointing performance of teams that we expected so much more from: Spain, Portugal, and most of all Brazil.
In the end it is a sad thing to remember this World Cup for: The worst humiliation ever of the great Brazilians. We will all keep speculating about what happened, but it did not give me any sense of satisfaction.

In the end I think this World Cup has further confirmed what I knew already: the four-year event is a show appealing to nationalist passions, and the drama it engenders is the only reason for the event.
In footballing terms it has lost its way.
The best football is what you see in the big European leagues. Club football out-shined national football a long time ago.
And the majority of players, global citizens of today, also know this...

As a spectacle for football fans the World Cup is also losing its way: this was not the world cup of football fans, but of rich nationalistic blood suckers of the people. Greed and power rules FIFA, who showed their enormous distance to fans by its inconsistent disciplinary standards, giving prizes where they were not justified, and inexcusable excuses for excesses.
FIFA not only exists in a glass house; that glass house is on another world, totally disconnected from what happens on planet Earth.
But the show must go on. And the show will be on again in Russia in four years...

Germany World Champions

In what was surely one of the greatest footballing feats of all time when Germany won the World Championship in Brazil. It compares to the great victory of the Germans against Hungary in 1954 at "The Miracle of Bern", but this was less a miracle than a foreseen victory of what proved to be the result of hard work and skills.
When the tournament began all odds were against a European side in South America, but the Germans were the best prepared team, tactically, physically and mentally, as well as the only team that combined clever tactics with skills and flair. On their way to the final they did have some problems against Ghana and Algeria. Against Ghana they played what remains the best match of the tournament, but they defeated some of the great teams of the tournament in style, such as Portugal, France and most notably Brazil.
In the last-16 match against a wonderful Algeria the German's high defensive line was exposed. Argentina also tried to take advantage of this, but with an Higuain who cannot score, a Sergio Aguero without skills and a Lionel Messi who seemed to want to be somewhere else, Argentina forgave the chances that came their way. Although 0-0 it was not a bad match; there were chances on both sides, spirited fight, intensity with fair play and tactical confrontation.
Like four years ago it had to be in extra time when one player outshone the rest: Mario Gotze, who at a young age already shined for Borussia Dortmund, gave Germany their deserved title with a splendid goal. I only wish I had been back in Berlin, where I watched a few matches in this World Cup, celebrating with the many great German fans!

Two matches in this tournament are bound to go over in history (and become part of my list of greatest matches): Germany's trashing of Brazil in the semifinal and this final.

The great Germans

I am a bit hungover right now. But just want to say that Germany are the right champions, the best team in the world, the greatest fans in the world, and I am delighted they won, if only a bit disappointed Argetina lost.
But losing to a great team is never a shame.
The only shame was that Lionel Messi got the golden ball. A joke, and an insult to many great players in the tournament.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The final: Germany

Germany has us all in awe. As a football fan they are impossible not to like. And I like them. Had it not been that they are playing Argentina, I would probably have been supporting them against anyone else.
It has been a joy to watch Germany develop its football over the last 12 years. They threw away the tight discipline and hierarchies that had given them so much in the 20th century, and developed a football that fit into the Germany of the 21st century; organized and tactically well-founded, but at the same time with flair and offensive pressure. They took the best of the Spanish tiki-taka and assimilated it into the German style, something that Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich have been practicing.
Watchers of the German league will know that it is a league with a lot of attacking, goals, and young talent. In the early 2000s German football implemented a plan to develop youth talents with a  focus on skills rather than muscle. The mayor clubs all signed up for it, and the result was a wave of European u-17 and u-21 titles. In 2009 they won the u-21 European championship in awesome style defeating England 4-0 in the final. Six players from that team are playing today: Ozil, Khedira, Neuer, Howedes, Hummels and Boateng (as an anecdote, Fabian Johnson, now playing for USA, was also part of that team).
At the same time they have some of their former greats in Miroslav Klose and Bastian Schweinsteigger, who both played the World Cup final of 2002, and so they build bridge between the old and new Germany.

Germany have been splendid throughout: they started with a complete trashing of Portugal, which was basically enough to win them the group, despite struggling against Ghana and winning 1-0 against the USA in a match where the Americans were more than happy to be defeated. They struggled against Algeria, who showed some of the German weaknesses, but were then systematic in defeating France with relative ease (the French never really threatened them), and then the historic trashing of Brazil has made them the best team of the tournament.
The Germans know they are favorites, but they also know they need to concentrate against a well-organised Argentine side with players who can decide a match in a moment of brilliance. Mats Hummels has been a fantastic defender ahead of Manuel Neuer, whom I rate as the best keeper of the tournament (closely followed by Sergio Romero). Phillipp Lahm should be back as right full back, with Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteigger and Toni Kroos, supporting the flow of Ozil and Thomas Muller, surely form the best midfield of the tournament, and could completely dominate the Argentine midfield, although it is not likely they will penetrate as easily the Argentine lines as they did with Brazil.
Germany must remain concentrated to win. If anyone can do it, it is the Germans. At the same time, they could lose, but if they do, they should still be admired for what they have done.

As an Argentina fan, I will be disappointed, but know there is no shame to be defeated by such a splendid Germany, and I would celebrate with all German fans!

The final: Argentina

I support Argentina and I am wearing my Argentina shirt today. It will be a long-held dream to see them again lift the trophy, as I still remember their last triumph with nostalgia. 1986; when football became my passion.
That said, I have been very critical of their play in this tournament. They are not that offensive side that many expected with the players they have. Perhaps it is understandable: this tournament has proven that headless attack is not a way to go, and Argentina has unfortunately, much before the tournament, been struggling with defensive weakness. In fact, I always thought that defensive weakness would be their problem. However, they have proven far better, if not careful, in defense. Marco Rojo and Martin Demichelis have been surprisingly solid, and Sergio Romero in goal has been one of their best players. Besides this Javier Mascherano has come out as one of the best players of the tournaments, playing splendidly as a holding midfielder.
The apparently strong attacking has been more of a problem. While we have seen glimpses of brilliance in Lionel Messi, he still looks tired, far from his best form, where he would be fearful to the Germans (remember his five goals against Bayer Leverkusen in 2012?). Sergio Aguero's eternal injuries has made him into a non-player in the tournament; not only absent, but even poor when he has come in. Ezequiel Lavezzi has been a better replacement, and worked harder in the last matches than in the first, where he seemed to think he was still on vacation. The same came be said of Gonzalo Higuain, who worked like a horse against the Dutch and scored the winner against Belgium. However, Higuain is still a poor striker; he was in Real Madrid, and he still is one who needs ten chances to score a goal. You don't get ten chances in a World Cup final!
Angel Di Maria has been one of the better Argentines, and his absence will be felt, although Benfica's young Enzo Perez has been a strong replacement. He does not provide the same offensive prowess as DiMaria, but has given the defensive midfield depth, giving space to the attackers.

Although I support Argentina, Germany are big favorites. But they do have weaknesses, and the team that exposed them most in this tournament were none other than Algeria, a side that fought bravely and had a style that is somewhat similar to Argentina.
Germany has played the entire tournament with a high defensive line. This also gave Ghana golden opportunities in the first round, and forced the brilliant Manuel Neuer to play almost as a sweeper. It worked but it was risky. Throughout the tournament, Argentina has faced very compact back lines that have given little space to their strikers, perhaps except for Nigeria. The Argentines do have the potential to exploit the high German defensive line.

Anything can happen in a final! I hope Argentina wins, but know it will have to be the match of their lives! The Germans are an amazing team!

The worst Brazil ever and the great Dutch

Too many people will be saying this for years to come: this is the worst Brazil side in history. I really thought that it could not get any lower than the 1-7 loss. While they may "only" have lost 0-3, the lack of commitment, belief, ideas, not to say a complete lack of basic defensive skills, were appalling to watch. A disgrace.
After apologizing for the defeat to Germany they should have shown better against the Dutch, but they did not, and no apology should be accepted.
It is sad for Brazilian football, and as I have said before, I hope they can recover, not least for their fans, who showed true greatness by clapping the Dutch players off. 
Most fans in the world would not have done that.

In the meantime, congratulations to the Dutch! I experienced their fantastic fans and support firsthand during this World Cup, and for that I will always be a fan of their side, even though I am still disappointed that we are not seeing more of the marvelous Dutch of yesteryear. This is a more cynical and result-oriented football.
Lucky for them it is impossible not to love the orange fans!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The disappointer's final

Netherlands and Brazil will be facing none another in the unnecessary fight for third place in this year's world cup. For both sides this is a huge disappointment considering their expectations before the tournament, but they can really blame nobody else.
Brazil is there after crashing wildly on the expectations and their lack of preparation and focus. The humiliation by the Germans could give the players an incentive to try to get a bit of honor. On the other hand the huge level of disappointment at not playing the final could result in a poisonous lack of motivation.
The Dutch started the tournament flying against Spain, but steadily worsened. Already in their second match they struggled to defeat Australia. In their third match they played cynically to defeat a Chile side that was not nearly as good as people said. The Dutch then made it to the semifinal with a controversial win and an unimpressive penalty win against Mexico and Costa Rica respectively. Against Argentina they were unable or unwilling to take a risk and only had one meager shot on target.
With the offensive traditions and capabilities of Dutch football, this World Cup has continued the Dutch national team slide into boring result-oriented football that we saw in 2010. One of the most likable teams in the world has become one of the least unlikeable defensive side in the world.

The match today will be the fifth time the two sides are facing one another. In 1974 they played for the first time in a match where the Dutch won 2-0, exposing a violent and poor Brazilian side. This in fact led to a revision of Brazilian approach to youth development that still resonates today.
In 1994 they played what is perhaps the best match between them in the quarterfinal. Brazil was ahead but Netherlands equalized to 2-2, before the great Branco scored on an angry free kick to give Brazil the victory.
In 1998 both sides met again in the semifinals, in a match that went into penalty kicks. With Cocu and Ronald de Boer missing for the Dutch, Brazil made it to the final against France, which until recently remained their heaviest World Cup defeat!
The two sides lastly met in the quarterfinal of the 2010 World Cup. Netherlands came back from being 1-0 down to winning 1-2 on two strikes by Wesley Sneijder. The Dutch did not win many friends and went on to lose the World Cup final to Spain 1-0.

The match for bronze between Brazil and the Netherlands today, will be between two sides that have strayed away from their football roots; two sides that after being admired for decades, are now largely seen as shadows of their former selfs. I hope that I am not the only football fan out there that hopes that the match today will be the first step in both sides returning to their former glory, and to the admiration of football fans all over. Football Total and Jogo Bonito have given the world of football so much that I hope they return to their roots.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Another comment on Brazil

The 1-7 debacle of Brazil against Germany will be discussed in and out for a long time. I still find it hard to believe: yes, Brazil were looking weak; yes, Brazil have not played beautiful football for many years; yes, many teams have done more to develop the game for a long time; yes, Germany are strong...
But all these things do not explain the pounding they received.
The legendary Zico made a strong comment on the match:

Implicit in this is a certain arrogance by Brazilians, but also the immense pressure they put the players under. Players who play for great clubs in the best leagues, but who were drugged with the adrenaline of nationalism and expectations, and could not focus on what they were there for.
In 1974 Brazil lost to the Netherlands and concluded that they needed to change their game, make it more "European", physical and result-oriented. This did lead to results. But the problem is that the 1994 and 2002 World Cup titles led Brazil to forget their footballing roots. Their identity should not just be about winning, but also about playing with the beauty and joy that Brazilians have in life.
Other great football powers have a clear idea of what they are and what they want to be. Brazil has lost that.
On and off the pitch Brazil is changing. It is such a wonderful country with such wonderful people, and I think they will find their way back, even though it will take some soul-searching and link back to their roots, just like Zico says in the article.

Forca Brazil!

Day 28 of the World Cup: Copenhagen, Denmark

Denmark did not qualify to the World Cup, but this has not dented world cup fever in this small Scandinavian country. In fact, it is nice to see the world cup with fans without a dog in the fight, who nevertheless understand the passion and enjoy to discuss the game.
On top of all this, it was a lovely sunny day in Copenhagen; one of those days where the streets are full of music, beer drinking, beautiful women and cheerful crowds. No city in the world is as wonderful as Copenhagen on a day like yesterday. It was the perfect build-up for the semi-final.

I must admit that after yesterday's Brazilian debacle (it is still hard to believe) I was not optimistic regarding Argentina's prospects in the semifinal against the Dutch. The Argentines have given a lot of space and have taken pace out of their matches. It seemed to me that Europe would totally conquer South America.
So that is why I decided to play it safe and not wear my Argentina shirt (four years ago I wore it for the Argentina-Germany quarterfinal in a bar full of Germans in Brussels, and that was not a good experience).
After the great day I went with a group of friends to watch the match at a beautiful area by the harbor of the city called Islands Brygge. This is where Danish TV, Danmarks Radio (DR), has set up a World Cup fan area with giant screens and beer sales. It is from there that the DR football pundits, led by the former player Peter Moller, comment on the matches.
This has also, during the tournament, become the place to watch matches with fans of all nationalities coming through Copenhagen. Yesterday was no exception with a large crowd of orange Dutchmen and another large crowd of noisy and partying Argentines, who sang and screamed their way through the match. I could not help to get more and more smitten by their passion, and was fully immersed in the match as it progressed.

The Dutch have been strange in this tournament. After their flying start against the Spanish World Champions, they became steadily worse throughout the tournament: it was as if the fear of losing won the farther they got, playing more defensively and lacking creativity in attack. We saw it in their controversial last minute win over Mexico and their disappointing 0-0 with the Costa Ricans, where they continuously ran into off-sides.
Against Argentina they did not seem to have improved, although a strong Argentine defense, that has grown throughout the tournament, must be credited. Javier Mascherano played a fantastic match as holding midfielder, and hopefully Barcelona is watching.
Argentina were indeed the better team, creating the few chances of a very tactical match. In the end it was the first 0-0 semi-final in World Cup history (we have had two historic semi-finals!), and penalty kicks were perhaps predictable. 
Argentina have always been good at penalties, and this time looked as good as every other, with Sergio Romerio saving two penalties. The Monaco keeper has been one of the stars of Argentina in this tournament, and hopefully he will find a new club and get more games after the tournament.
Yes, Argentina play boring, but this is not equal to playing badly. Rather it means that the Argentines do not risk much. And when their (for some) fearsome offensive power is marked closely, as it has been throughout the tournament, they look boring. 
But they are in the World Cup final; without playing violently, without referee help, without controversy. It has all been about hard work, concentration and consistency for Argentina. Germany are favorites after their trashing of Brazil. But this is not to say Argentina are without chances, and that Germany should underestimate them. Argentina will work hard and fight to the last drop to get the title in Brazil.

And I will be wearing my Argentina shirt for the final.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

European rule

Brazil being destroyed 1-7 was beyond everything that could be imagined could happen to Brazil. It is so beyond belief one cannot help but think of some kind of match fixing...
But ok, this was without a doubt the poorest Brazil side in history. Some players today were an utter disgrace for the proud yellow shirt; Fred continued to be a joke; Marcelo did not put one foot right; David Luiz must be causing nerves in Paris; Dante... Well, he does play in Munich...
What a joke! 
This match will likely lead to serious soul searching in Brazil, who over the last decades has given up on its football identity to be more result-oriented; to be more like Europe.

Now, why wouldn't they want to be more like European teams? This match is proof that the World Cup belongs in Europe. This is likely to be an all-European final. South American football has more trouble looking for results and fighting against each other than to threaten European dominance.
7-1 was something far beyond a German victory. It showed that the future of football is in Europe and in the USA, which is adopting Germany's style under Klinsmann.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Brazil-Germany: the evolution of the game

Brazil and Germany are the two most winning sides in the history of the World Cup. Brazil have played six finals and won five. Germany have also played six finals, and won three. The final of 2002 was between these two sides, and it was surprisingly also the first time that the two sides met in a World Cup!
In 2002 Brazil won 2-0 to become world champions.
It is therefore a special match tonight as the two greatest footballing nations in terms of history play one another for a place in the final at a World Cup in Brazil.
And the German have every reason to be optimistic: they have played well if not spectacularly, pacing themselves with the tournament. They are confident and well prepared physically and tactically.
In the meantime pressure is growing on the Brazilians, who must also be feeling a bit of nerves having lost two of their best players for the semifinal: Neymar is out with his fractured vertebrae and Thiago Silva is out with a suspension. Neymar has been the creative player for the Brazilians while Thiago Silva has held the feeble defense together. It seems Dante will now play alongside David Luiz in central defense. Dante, from Bayern Munich, will know the Germans well, but the Germans will also know that while both Dante and David Luiz are great players, they sometimes have a tendency to make silly mistakes.
One mistake can be decisive.

Brazil has been criticized a lot for not playing "Samba" football. Many people have short memories. When did Brazil play the style that they became famous for last time? In my view 1986, with the last breath of the team that had delighted the world with a stunning team, if not a somewhat naive 4-2-2-2 lineup that the clever Italians knew how to handle in the now legendary 1982 match.
In 1994 when Brazil became world champions for the first time since 1970, they certainly did not play entertaining football in any way. Instead, they were defensive, with holding midfielder Dunga in a central position and depending on Romario's incredible scoring abilities.
In 2002 Brazil almost did not qualify, and midway through the tournament Scolari decided to substitute Emerson in the midfield with the more offensive Kleberson, who gave Brazil more offensive depth and fed balls to Ronaldo. It was offensive efficiency, well played, but still not the type of samba we connect Brazil with.
Scolari is a clever man. He knows that you cannot waltz your way to a title, but you need cynicism as well. And certainly against Colombia he showed that he can play tough as well. But of course, with the pressure they are under, Brazil cannot afford to throw everything into playing football that pleases the eye. This Brazil rather plays on getting the free kick balls, a solid defensive, and occasional burst of brilliant creativity. This is much more what many connect with the Germans of yester-years. And ironically, the Germans are perhaps playing a more offensive game, more reminiscent of Brazil in 2002, than Brazil itself!

As everything in the world (and most people seem to be ignorants of this), football evolves. Brazilian and German football have both evolved into something different than they were in 1970, 1982 or 2002. That is part of the fascination of football.

Monday, July 07, 2014

RIP Alfredo di Stefano

Alfredo di Stefano, one of the greatest players of all time, has just signed for the team of angels in heaven, where he will play along other of the greats, but will surely be among the greatest.
Alfredo Di Stefano was born in Argentina, and developed his skills in one of greatest football generations ever, when Argentina in the 1940s had developed some of the best football in the world at the time. He won two leagues with River Plate before going to Millionarios, in Colombia, where he also got a few matches in their national team.
He finally went to Real Madrid, where the legend was born. Twice European player of the year, he also led Real Madrid to five European champions titles, scoring in five finals in a row.
After his retirement he was both a pundit and manager for various teams, and ended as honorary president of Real Madrid. 
Alfredo di Stefano was not only one of the best players the world has seen. He was a man of the world, having played for three national teams that he never forgot, but showed that love for peoples and countries does not have borders. He knew football moved passions, but that it is nothing more than a game. From this came his strong sense of humility and fair play.
At a time when we are playing a World Cup that contains the worst elements of nationalism, narrow-minds, greed and filth, the memory of Alfredo di Stefano should remind us of what football should really be about: a beautiful game between friends.