Thursday, December 31, 2015

Top 10 Best Football Teams of 2015

There have been many great football teams in 2015. The following is what I consider the ten best teams of 2015:

10) Australia: Although not heard much about, Australia took the Asian football championship at home this year.
9) Sevilla: Again the south Spaniards took the Europa League title. They are among the best in Spain, although far from contesting the title. In the Champions League they ended trailing behind Manchester City and Juventus, but that means they will be defending their Europa League title in 2016.
8) Bayern Munich: The south Germans continue to be among the best in the world, leading in the Bundesliga and favourites to go all the way in the Champions League.
7) Juventus: They dominated in Italy in the first half of the year, and upset Real Madrid to make it to the Champions League final, where only mighty Barcelona stood on the way. They have been weaker after the great Andrea Pirlo left for the USA, but continue fighting for the Italian title and the Champions League title.
6)  River Plate: The winners of the Copa Libertadores also made it to the final of the Club World Cup, where Barcelona defeated them. That said, they showed that they have some of the best fans in the world!
5) Serbia U-20: The Serbian youths were surprise winners of the 2015 u-20 World Cup in New Zealand, defeating Brazil in the final. It augurs well for the future of Serbian football!
4) Cote d'Ivoire: The Ivorians finally won the Africa Cup of Nations that has been eluding them for many years in a final against Ghana.
3) Chile: Chile hosted a highly competitive Copa America and for the first time ever took the title in a final against their Argentine neighbours.
2) FC Barcelona: The Catalonians have only become better in 2016, winning everything in Spain, the Champions League, and lastly the World Club Cup. They are leading the Spanish league at the end of 2016 with a scoring record of 40 goals, 35 of which have been scored by their attacking trio of Suarez, Neymar and Messi.
1) USA: With a fantastic World Cup in Canada women's football showed that it is fully at the level of Men's football when it comes to national team football (there may be more differences at Club level). The tournament was at least as good as the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, culminating in a splendid final between USA and Japan. USA were amazing, winning 5-2, and in particular Carly Lloyd's performance should pass into World Cup History. With this, USA's Women's side is in my view, the best football team of 2015!

Top 10 Best Players of 2015

This is my top 10 list of my favourite players of 2015. While making the list I was increasingly annoyed that these lists are getting too similar as best players play in the best clubs, reinforcing that the impression of players being better and better. The best example of this is undoubtedly the amazing trio of Barcelona, Messi-Suarez-Neymar, who not only are incredible to look at as they take apart defenses, but also make a strong Barcelona side stronger. So I am not going to hide that this list is subjective:

10) Cristiano Ronaldo: Surely an amazing football player; speed, skills, technique. The problem that I do not rate him as highly as other lists may do, is that he in my view continues to be less a team player than he should be. It all circles around him, and when it does in a weaker side, like the Portuguese national team, he does not carry the team on his shoulders. That said, an incredible player.
9) Zlatan Ibrahimovic: a top player and an individualist that also expects the team to play for him. He has been strong in Paris St. Germain, but more so in carrying, almost single-handedly, his native Sweden to the European Championships.
8) David Alaba: Although he was injured part of the year, he continues to amaze as one of the strongest all-round players in the world. He has been used in almost every position in Bayern Munich under Guardiola, playing normally defender, but showing his immense quality. The fact that he captains an Austrian national team that sailed its way to the European Championship.
7) Paul Pogba: He has only grown as a player this year both for Juventus and for the French national team (although automatically qualified for the European Championships, the French have not been overly under pressure).
6) Luka Modric: Although Real Madrid has struggled towards the end of the year, the absence of Luka Modric due to injury showed that they were missing one of their most important players for part of the year. Modric is not also core of the Real Madrid team, but also of the Croatian national team.
5) Thomas Muller: for a long time he has been one of the best, if not the best, in the world. Surely he is one the best all-round players with both creative, defensive and scoring abilities, both on the Bayern Munich side as well as on the German World Champions. Both teams continue to be among the best in the world, with Muller as one of the pillars.
4) Neymar: Has really grown as a footballer in 2015 as part of Barcelona's terrific attacking force, where he has also shown himself as a good team players, notwithstanding his amazing technique. It continues to be very annoying that he has too much temper, as he showed in the Copa America, and also dives and cries too much whenever someone touches him.

3) Robert Lewandovski: The Polish striker has been amazing this season. Who can forget his five goals against Wolfburg? But not only that, he has scored goals in the Bundesliga and Champions League for Bayern Munich, as well as for Poland, leading them to the European Championships.
2) Lionel Messi: Undoubtedly the Argentine continues to be amazing despite a period of injury where the Barcelona side did great anyway. That said, he continues to be unable to shine as brightly on the Argentine national team that only made it to the final of the Copa America, and has started World Cup qualifiers with terible results.
1) Ivan Rakitic: Rakitic is more often than not overseen on a team with Messi, Neymar and Suarez. But among these superstars anyone should be able to see that Rakitic is the one putting up the hard all-round work that keeps the team glued together. He is perhaps the best example of a modern all round player in 2015, both on Barcelona and on the Croatian national team.

Not an easy list! Other players I considered for the list: Andres Iniesta, Sergio Aguero, Manuel Neuer, Alexis Sanchez, Claudio Bravo, Arjen Robben, Diego Godin, Arturo Vidal, Angel DiMaria, Tibaut Courtois, Carly Lloyd and Luis Suarez.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The real champions of the world

There was nothing unexpected in Barcelona destroying River Plate 0-3, with little effort, in the final of the Club World Championship in Japan. This is really the most irrelevant tournament in the world, since European dominance is so massive: there is not a single team in the Champions League that would not be better than the rest of the world teams.
That said, there is something where River Plate has nothing to envy any European club: their fans were absolutely amazing. Even down 0-3 they kept singing and supporting their side. This is something arrogant Barcelona fans (or arrogant fans from most clubs in Europe) would never do. The River Plate fans retain that heart and passion that is the reason for football being what it is, and today at the final, they showed that they do not need to win a title to be world champions!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Mourinho out

It was bound to happen. Jose Mourinho may be one of the most winning coaches in the world, but without results in an ambitious club, he cannot stay on. In fact, the surprise is perhaps how long he managed to stay on with poor results pouring in since the start of the season. But of course, he did give Chelsea the title, so the surprise is not so much that Mourinho is fired, but WHY everything seems to have gone so wrong for Chelsea this season!
Notwithstanding that the manager is ultimately responsible, it has been surprising to see a team that won the championship with a strong defense and committed and talented players, play entirely different: players that were incredible last season seem rather tired and weak, while the defense is sailing around against teams that barely got a chance last season.
This seems to go beyond Jose Mourinho's talents (and despite anyone saying differently, his CV speaks for itself), and may be a much deeper symptom of something at Chelsea. Mr. Mourinho, with his close history with the club, seemed to be the man to solve it, but it now seems difficult to see who.
Guus Hiddink...? I would want to see it before I believe it. And even more interesting will be to see where Mr. Mourinho himself will end up now!

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Champions League 2015-16 Play-offs

Some were disappointed, some were as expected, some were surprises, but in the end, we had an exciting first round of this season's Champions League, with the following play-off matches to go:
  • Bayern Munich-Juventus
Last seasons's finalists of Juventus are not as strong this season, and will surely have their hands full against a Bayern Munich side that will only accept winning the whole thing as an acceptable outcome.
  • FC Barcelona-Arsenal
Arsenal just made it through by an excellent 0-3 victory away to Olympiakos. On a good day, Arsenal can beat (almost) anyone, but a Barcelona that is looking awesome in attack is probably too big a mouthful.
  • Atletico Madrid-PSV Eindhoven
 Ateltico Madrid is joining the big 2 of Spanish football as another side set on the final. In their way will be a talented PSV Eindhoven side that contributed to Manchester United's early exit.
  • Manchester City-Dynamo Kiev
As many other English side, Manchester City has not been convincing in the Champions League, although they sometimes show their outstanding potential. They will have to play well to beat a Dynamo Kiev side that is strong at home.
  • Chelsea-Paris St. Germain
If there is a right time to defeat Chelsea it must be now, as the English champions are looking very weak. In the meantime, the Parisians have looked strong, although not sure they are ready yet to win the whole thing.
  • Zenit St. Petersburg-Benfica
Watch out for Zenit! As nobody watched they were awesome winners of their group, and are surely looking for even better results! Benfica also looked strong although they were edged out in the end by Atletico Madrid, but will also be looking for a good result.
  • Wolfburg-Gent
Two of the surprises will face one another. Wolfburg edged out ahead of Manchester United alongside PSV Eindhoven, and are surely a strong and talented side that will look for more. Gent on the other hand never expected to be where they are, and will play without pressure, as this is already a big success for the Belgian side.
  • Real Madrid-Roma
Any hope Roma will have of beating Real Madrid must come from the fact that the Spaniards have not looked strong as of late. That said, Real Madrid were awesome in the group stages and are strongly focused on another Champions League title.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Should the European Championship go ahead?

Horrible terrorist attacks create fear, and the recent attack in Paris has swept fear over Europe, and not least over football, as the Stade de France was also targeted in the last attack. Tonight, Germany-Netherlands was cancelled in Hannover due to a credible terrorist threat.
Can France really hold a European Championship where they guarantee security? (the former great Just Fontaine recently said in an interview that it should be cancelled). Will the continuous threat mean empty stadiums and a prison-like atmosphere in the stadiums and host cities? Will the tightening security mean more harassment and less freedom for football fans...?
Yoda once said that fear leads to anger, and anger leads to suffering. Beyond football, the reaction of Europeans to these horrible attacks is fear and anger, and this may lead to a lot of suffering in Europe and beyond. Football is only an unimportant side event to all this, but if the European Championship is held in a climate of fear and anger, it may be better to cancel it completely. Football is an expression of the society we live in, and there are many things wrong right now, and football cannot and will not contribute in any way to solve them. If anything, football is more something that exacerbates differences. It is not, as many say, a friendly competition between gentlemen, but rather the "gentle" expression of ugly nationalism. Beyond the fear, the anger could erupt into many ugly actions.
I hope I am wrong, but the risk of going ahead should be discussed more openly.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Zlatan to the European Championship

When two teams that are not among the top 20 of European football clash in a play-off match to qualify for the European Championship, one is justified in not expecting much in terms of quality. Denmark and Sweden was one of these play-off matches: two former greats who have fallen low, but with one difference between these two mediocre sides: Zlatan Ibrahimovic is still one of the greatest players in the world, and the one to watch out for in France. He played around a Danish side that was better than the Swedish at times, but who have no striker of any quality whatsoever, justifying Denmark's awful scoring record in qualification.
While Sweden has Zlatan, they will have to improve significantly if they are to have any chance at the European Championship. In the meantime, Denmark will have to work from scratch: Morten Olsen, the manager since 2000, is stepping down. He has been leading Danish football for 15 years, and the transition will not be easy, in particular because Denmark lacks talent in its youth. So it is unlikely to see Denmark in any major tournament for the foreseeable future.

But big congratulations to Sweden and in particular to the fantastic Zlatan!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Liverpool up, Chelsea down

Jurgen Klopp's long-awaited first victory as Liverpool manager came with a 1-3 away win against the defending champions of Chelsea. This will surely put expectations even higher for Liverpool, who looked confident and organized. There is much work to do though, and while I firmly believe that Klopp is the right man to make Liverpool better over the next year, I do not believe in immediate short term success.
As deserved as Liverpool's victory was though, one can only look in wonder at Chelsea and Jose Mourinho. Last season's awesome champions are a shadow of themselves. This was their third home defeat this season, and their third defeat in a week. It is not just that they are losing, but that they are playing dreadful! The commonly strong defense looks insecure and slow (Christian Benteke's third goal for Liverpool was an example of this), while players such as Eden Hazard, John Terry or Diego Costa, who were so strong last season, seem reduced to second-rate players.
Everyone is perplexed (if not a certain "Schadenfreude" at Chelsea). But the one who seems most perplexed is Jose Mourinho, whose normal arrogant confident makes him seem more and more like a man who does not have what it takes to lift his team from below. Perhaps he has been too long at the top, and this should be a test of whether he really is one of the greatest manager in the world.
Rumours of Mourinho being fired abound, although he seems to have the support of the fans and the players. But in Chelsea only Roman Abramovich decides, and he may not have patience with Mourinho, as he has never had patience with any managers. At the same time, this is his most winning coach ever, and it is not clear that there is anyone at his level to replace him.
So expect the Chelsea struggle to continue...

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Euro Qualified nations

20 out of 24 nations are ready for the 2016 European Championship in France. Despite the fact that I am those who think that a European Championship of 24 teams is way too much, I cannot help but notice some notable newcomers among the 20 nations, some of which would even have qualified with 16 nations, showing what is perhaps a power shift going on in European football:
  • Group A: The Czech Republic and Iceland qualified. Besides the big surprise of Iceland, ending on second place, the upset here was that the Netherlands did not qualify at all, not even taking the third spot, which gave Turkey direct qualification (and is it really something to be proud of to qualify as third out of six...?)
  • Group B: While not surprising that Belgium qualified on first place, it is perhaps a bit more surprising that Wales took second spot to participate in their first major tournament since 1958. That said, the group did not look that strong, with Bosnia-Hercegovina being the other contenders, and taking the play-off third spot.
  • Group C: Spain never seemed in doubt as group winners, although Slovakia did threaten them on the way. Ukraine will be going to the play-offs.
  • Group D: This was a surprisingly close group for the World Champions of Germany, who despite defeats to Poland and Ireland on the way, took the first spot and were followed by Poland. Ireland will be someone's difficult opponent for the play-off.
  • Group E: Perhaps the most surprising thing in this group is that England, as the only side in Europe, won all their matches, and scored a record 31 goals. Switzerland came on second spot with little competition from third placed Slovenia.
  • Group F: The big surprise of this group is that the 2004 European Champions of Greece ended in the last place, behind even little Faroe Islands. For a big nation, this is a bigger humiliation than the Netherlands fourth place in group A, and show the crisis Greece is in. The winners were also a surprise: Northern Ireland qualified ahead of Romania, while Hungary will be going into the play-ff.
  • Group G: Austria is the new country to watch in the European Championship as they won the group in style and swept aside their opponents. Russia came in second, with Sweden going into the play-offs.
  • Group H: One of the few groups with no surprises as Italy and Croatia took the two qualifying spots, and Norway not as unsurprising taking a play-off spot.
  • Group I: Portugal won the group with seven victories and only one defeat, to second placed surprise of Albania, who qualified deservedly despite also having been awarded a 0-3 victory after a scandalous match against Serbia. A Danish side which completely lacks the quality of former times took the play-off spot.
Of course, the 20th nation, not among the above, are the hosts of France!
The draw for the play-off matches that will decide the last four participating teams will take place next Sunday. 
We will soon know all 24 participating countries!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Monrovia traffic warning

Last week, at 7 AM, I was on my way to work in Monrovia. I usually pass by the Antoinette Tubman Stadium, but on this day, at that very early hour, the road was closed, causing an enormous traffic jam as cars were being re-directed around the stadium. The same happened in the afternoon, when closed roads led to more chaotic traffic congestions in the narrow pot-holed streets of downtown Monrovia.
The reason? At 4 PM Liberia were playing their first round World Cup qualifier against Guinea Bissau.
The match ended on a disappointing 1-1 for the Liberian fans, and before the away leg, I almost hoped that Liberia would be eliminated in order to avoid another agonizingly frustrating traffic jam.
But fortunately, there will soon be another traffic jam.
To many people's surprise, Liberia took a 1-3 victory in the away match against Guinea Bissau, with three goals by William Jebor, a 23-year old who is currently in the second Spanish Division club Ponferradina. Five goals in five matches for Liberia is not a bad statistic!
Liberia will now be facing none other than the African champions from Cote d'Ivoire! Also their neighbours, this has all the ingredients to be a dramatic match as the Liberians, highly motivated, will go for the upset!
Do not miss it! And plan for heavy traffic in Monrovia for November 12th!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The South American qualifiers

As Europe is entering the last phase of the Euro 2016 qualifiers, other places are quietly starting their qualification for the 2018 World Cup.
Not so quietly perhaps in South America, where the first round of qualifiers came with a number of results that may be a prelude to what could be one of the most interesting World Cup qualifications ever:
  • Chile defeated Brazil 2-0: As winners of the Copa America, Chile's superiority was only to be expected, although Brazil's weaknesses become ever more exposed. Brazil only shot on goal once in the match, and did not look like a World Cup team at all. While Chile's way to the World Cup seems very likely, Brazil looks like a side that will struggle.
  • Argentina's home loss to Ecuador: this was a huge upset, as no team who has lost at home in the first round has ever qualified for a World Cup. Argentina were a shadow of themselves without Lionel Messi. This may have been arrogance, but is only a reminder to all sides that you cannot underestimate any side in the South American qualifiers, where every side is World class, not least the excellent Ecuatorians.
  • Uruguay's defeat of Bolivia in La Paz: Of course Uruguay are favourites against Bolivia; but the fact is that this was the first time ever Uruguay had won a competitive match in the altitude of La Paz, where many teams have always struggles to play. The victory is also notable for the fact that Uruguay played without two of their best strikers, Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani.
  • Venezuela's home loss to Paraguay: Venezuela had been coming on in strides and have been known to be strong at home, but started with a loss against a Paraguayan side that is rebuilding after having missed the last World Cup. Venezuela seems unlikely to recover, while Paraguay are sure to fight to the end as they always do.
  • After their great World Cup, Colombia have been steadily underperforming, and they surely want to put this right by qualifying to the World Cup. Peru, on the other hand, has been steadily improving, so both teams are looking to make it to Russia. Colombia took their first step winning 2-0, but Peru cannot be counted out at all!

Friday, October 09, 2015

Jurgen Klopp to Liverpool

After the correct firing of Brendan Rogers it has now been confirmed that the ex-Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp will be going to Liverpool. Mr. Klopp surely has all the experiences to coach Liverpool: strong personality and charisma, a good approach to football, good selection of young players, as well as experience with a club that fought well to remain among the best. And most of all, and very differently from Mr. Rogers in my view, he normally has a plan! That is what most annoyed me with Mr. Rogers, that it was never clear where he wanted to go with his player selection and strategy.
That said, it will not be easy for Mr. Klopp: pressure will be higher to deliver at Liverpool (Dortmund is a big club, yes, but the expectations for titles are strangely lower), and he will no doubt be coaching in a much more competitive league in terms of fighting for the title (the German league is a competitive league in terms of fighting for Bayern Munich's scraps).
But no matter what it is bound to be a good renewal for Liverpool, which has been underperforming for years.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The day I became Napoli fan

I have never had a favourites Italian team. Many years ago I used to follow the Serie A closely, but this ended with the corruption scandals surrounding Juventus in the mid-00s. As an avid Maradona fan I had also always sympathized with Napoli. But the lack of results and the fact that I had never visited Naples, caused me not to become a fan.
That has changed today.
I am visiting the beautiful city of Naples for the first time in my life and when I learned that Napoli was playing Lazio I immediately got a ticket for the legendary stadium of San Paolo, the temple where they adored Maradona. As much of the city, the stadium is somewhat worn down, but remains beautiful and imposing, and with a fantastic atmosphere provided by the Napoli supporters.
The team itself has not started the Serie A in the best way, without victories in their first three matches. But that changed tonight when they resoundingly defeated Lazio 5-0. What most impressed me was how they achieved the victory: high pressure and good passing. There were certainly some signs of weakness in the defense (which stronger teams than Lazio could punish), the attacking combinations were flowing through Hamsik, Allan and Jorginho, to very mobile offensive players like Insigne and Higuaín (Higuaín is not a player I am fond of, but I must admit that he played a great match scoring two excellent goals. He certainly loves playing against Lazio!).
The new coach Maurizio Sarri has now led his team to score 10 goals in the last two matches (last week they defeated Brugge 5-0 in the Europa League), and his side is starting to show the potential for what could be a great season for a great team and a great city.
And I will be cheering on them all the way!

Estadio San Paolo

Napoli-Lazio 5-0

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Liberian chaos and delight

Every country I have lived in has done well in football while I am there, so I have expectations that this would happen to Liberia as well. And yesterday they were playing the first home match since the Ebola outbreak; a qualifier for the Africa Cup of Nations against Tunisia.
The match was not played at the main stadium, SKD, which is under renovation, but at the much smaller Antoinette Tubman stadium. Despite the never-ending rain I had bought myself a ticket for 50 USD, in the "around VIP" section. But when I got to the stadium one hour before the match it was complete chaos: people pushing through to get in whatever entrance; riot police that controlled nothing; and nowhere were there any Football Association assistants or ticket controllers to be seen. At some points it was outright scary, and at 4:30 PM (half an hour after match start) I gave up, as other Liberians with 50-USD tickets were loudly complaining that the Liberian Football Association would never refund the hundreds and hundreds of tickets that they probably have oversold.
It is sad for Liberia that their Football Association cannot even organize a football match...
Fortunately there are the Liberian footballers, normal Liberian guys who fight for their country, who managed to give them a not-entirely-expected 1-0 victory against Tunisia. I did not watch the match, but amid the chaos and heavy rain, I cannot imagine it was a good match, but who cares? Liberia are alive in the qualification: they lost their first match to Togo, but are still to face them and the underdogs from Djibouti at home, as well as what will be a difficult match in Tunisia.
That said, it is great that Liberia got some happiness for this fantastic victory!

Friday, September 04, 2015

The beginning of a saga

If there is any team I will surely support at next year's European Championships it is Iceland. The small charming and beautiful island nation has never been a footballing heavyweight, but has improved greatly in the last few years: they were only a play-off match against Croatia away from the World Cup in Brazil, but are now on the verge of qualifying for their first major tournament ever after defeating the World Cup bronze winners of Netherlands 0-1 in Amsterdam. One victory at home against Kazakhstan in the next match, and Iceland will have qualified.
The team is composed mostly of players in medium sized clubs and leagues, but play with an optimistic style, and most importantly, hard hard work.
With national team football becoming ever so boring, it is wonderfully refreshing to see small teams bringing surprises against some of the world's best, and these Vikings from Iceland will surely be making history in France next year!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Liverpool- West Ham 0-3

When you lose one of the best players in your history you are bound to have a period of transition. That said, Liverpool's summer changes have made sense: they got an incredibly strong James Milner  from Manchester City, who it turn was handed over the eternal talent Raheem Sterling. I have never been a Sterling fan, and would change him for Milner any time. Christian Benteke was signed to score the goals; although not as skilled as Sterling, he is physically strong and a good target man. And to give the creative edge they signed the Brazilian Roberto Firmino from Hoffenheim.
In the first three matches Liverpool did not start bad; the defense was solid although goals were missing.
That was not the case in yesterday's home match against West Ham, who got their first league victory at Anfield since 1963!
It was a strange match, because West Ham efficiently punished every mistake in Liverpool's defense. That said, these mistakes should not happen and are bound to be punished in the Premier League. While Rodgers may still be in the transition to post-Gerrard Liverpool, one has the feeling that this will be a roller-coaster season for Liverpool; they will fight with the new players under pressure to perform and with the rest of team looking for a guy to guide them.
West Ham, now managed by the Croatian Slaven Bilic are nevertheless a very interesting side with their new signings, three of which played fantastic matches yesterday: Pedro Obiang, Dimitri Payet and not least the young Argentine Manuel Lanzini, who even scored a goal and led the deadly West Ham counter-attach.
With their performance they surely appeared to be much better signings than Liverpool's!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Champions League 2015-16 Groups

This last month has been full of travels and work and I have not had much time to dwell much on a fantastic start of the season in Europe as well hugely interesting transfers. This will be another fantastic season, and not least in the Champions League where the draw took place today.

Group A:
  • Paris St. Germain
  • Real Madrid
  • Shakhtar Donetsk
  • Malmo
A very interesting group, where many eyes will be on Real Madrid versus Paris St. Germain, and in particular one Angel Di Maria. While they are the favourites by far, Shakhtar Donetsk is an experienced side in the tournament, and are usually very strong in Ukraine (although they may not get to play in Donetsk). Malmo is one of the surprise teams in the tournament after eliminating Celtic in the qualifiers. This will be their second CL participation in a row, and will play without pressure for more upsets.

Group B:
  • Manchester United
  •  PSV Eindhoven
  • CSKA Moscow
  • Wolfsburg
Manchester United and in particular Wayne Rooney made it to the CL in style with a heavy victory against Brugge. They will surely be happy about the draw; no easy side, but none Manchester United should not be able to defeat either. The Dutch champions from Eindhoven should be small favourites to follow United, but CSKA and Wolfsburg are both interesting sides, notably Wolfsburg, with a young side that surprised everyone in last season's Bundesliga.

Group C:
  • Atletico Madrid
  • Benfica
  • Galatasaray
  • FC Astana
Atletico Madrid are by now a very experienced CL side that is looking towards at least another semifinal. The Portuguese champions of Benfica had a bad CL last season and will be looking not to end last in their group this time, and the same is the case for the Turkish champions of Galatasaray, who last season not only were last in their group, but also conceded a terrible 19 goals. Finally, FC Astana, the Kazakh champions, are the Cinderella of the CL this season. Everything they do will be a surprise.

Group D:
  • Juventus
  • Manchester City
  • Sevilla
  • Borussia Monchengladbach
In my view this is the most interesting group, with last years finalists from Juventus looking to repeat the feat but without the legendary Andrea Pirlo, although with a fantastic team anyway. Manchester City enters the tournament with the same hopes as ever; and perhaps the experience of being humiliated by Barcelona last season will help them in this difficult group. Sevilla are one of five Spanish teams thanks to having won last season's Europa League. Just for that, they are a side to reckon with. Finally, Borussia Monchengladbach are in the CL after taking 3rd spot in the Bundesliga last season. They will look to create surprises with a young interesting side.

Group E:
  • Barcelona
  • Bayer Leverkusen
  • AS Roma
  • Bate Borisov
Not much to say about the defending champions of Barcelona, who must be candidates to be the first side to retain the title. AS Roma are probably not favourites, but will look to better their dreadful CL from last season that saw defeats at home to Bayern Munich and Manchester City. Bayer Leverkusen beat another Rome side, Lazio, to make it to yet another CL. Last year they made it to the last-16 only to be narrowly defeated by Atletico Madrid, and they certainly remember Lionel Messi from a legendary CL match in 2012. Finally, Bate Borisov participated in last season's tournament where they conceded an awful 24 goals (but did manage a victory against Athletic Bilbao), and perhaps that experience will help them this season, but don't bet on it.

Group F:
  • Bayern Munich
  • Arsenal
  • Dinamo Zagreb
  • Olympiakos
Many are already talking about the Bayern Munich-Arsenal clash. I think the Germans are big favourites, with Arsenal set not to show yet another disappointing European performance. This should be Arsenal's year if any! Olympiakos are not to be underestimated. Last season they won all their home matches in a difficult group, but lost all away matches. Just a slight improvement there should see them through. The Croatian champions are back in the CL after two years.

Group G:
  • Chelsea
  • Dynamo Kiev
  • FC Porto
  • Maccabi Tel Aviv
Chelsea will not be disappointed about the draw, although it may be special for Jose Mourinho to return to the club he first time took to the Champions League title (that is, if anything is ever special for Jose Mourinho!). The Portuguese made it to the quarterfinals last season and were full of hope after defeating Bayern Munich in the first leg, only to be destroyed 6-1 in Germany. Still, they should be favourites with Chelsea. Dynamo Kiev are back in the CL after two years absence after becoming Ukranian champions. With their experience and strong home record they should not be underestimated. In the meantime Maccabi Tel Aviv made it to the Champions League after eliminating always-experienced Basel. It will be surprising if they can do anything in this group!

Group H:
  • Valencia
  • Zenit St. Petersburg
  • Olympique Lyon
  • Gent
My preference is for Valencia so I am very happy they are back in the CL after defeating Monaco in a nail-biter. They will surely want to show their best, and this group does not look terrifying, but difficult certainly. Zenit St. Petersburg are Russian champions and have experience in the tournament, with a third spot in their group last season, while the formerly mighty French Lyon are back in the CL for the first time since the 2011-12 season. Gent, last season's Belgian champions, will be hoping to scrape a few points in the group.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Di Maria to Paris

The long running rumour that Angel Di Maria was on the way out of Manchester United have been confirmed. Next season Angel Di Maria will be in Paris St. Germain. For any football fan this is a welcome change; Di Maria is one if the best players in the world, but his change to Manchester United put him at a club with a coach that was not willing or able use Di Maria in his tactical setup. This reinforced a period where Di Maria seemed to lack a confidence that is so important for any footballer.
A player like Di Maria is certainly wasted on a club as Manchester United, but he will certainly fit in Laurent Blanc's Paris St. Germain where he will join other South Americans (and Argentines) such as Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Pastore, Edison Cavani, Thiago Silva, as well as the great Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The purchase of Di Maria is only bound to make Paris better this coming season.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

There will never be a greater Real Madrid goalkeeper

Iker Casillas is leaving Real Madrid for FC Porto. He is a living legend; he has been one of the most important - if not THE most important - part of Real Madrid and Spain for many years, having won every single title that there is to win in football. The past season he has been unreasonably insulted and humiliated by the Real Madrid club that he gave everything to, but still he is leaving without bitterness, saying that he will always be a Real Madrid fan.
That is exactly why is and will always be one of the greatest players of all time, and surely forever be the greatest goalkeeper Real Madrid and Spain have ever had and ever will have.

Monday, July 06, 2015

USA World Champion

In reality the World Cup final between Japan and the USA was over in the first 16 minutes, when USA was leading 4-0. The Americans, and most notably Carli Lloyd, had started like lightning, while the Japanese defense had not realized that the match had started.
Japan's defense was dreadful during most of the match, but this does not take the credit away from the USA. Carli Lloyd's three goals were fantastic, and her third goal, from the halfway line, will surely go over in history.
Japan grabbed on to whatever small hope they might have by scoring two goals through Yuki Ogimi and a Julie Johnston own goal, but soon after Tobin Heath made it 5-2 to ascertain American dominance. The only little respect Japan won in this match was that they continued fighting to the very end, but in reality the USA were far superior and are rightful World Champions for the third time and first time since 1999.
It has been a great tournament, and I look forward to next year's Olympic tournament next year (where the Women's game has been far better than the Men's for a long time!).

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Chile Campeon

The dream came true for Chile: they won the Copa America. It was one of those excellent 0-0 matches which any of the sides, Argentina or Chile, could have won. In the end penalty kicks had to decide the match, and after Messi's goal, it was Higuain who was to miss; as often happens, Higuain did not even hit the goal in a goalscoring position. When Ever Banega's shot was saved by Claudio Bravo, Alexis Sanchez scored coolly to give Chile their first title ever. Alexis Sanchez has had a rather anonymous tournament so it was highly deserved that it was him who scored this important goal.
Congratulations to Chile, but another huge disappointment for Argentina.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Warm-up for Chile-Argentina

These two videos, by Argentino QL, are hilarious!
Vivamos Esta Copa Sin odio
Argentino QI (I love the Condorito)

Vivamos todos un gran partido!

Japan-USA Final!

The Women's World Cup has been excellent, and the final is already highly anticipated to anyone that has followed the impressive growth of Women's Football over the last decade.
Japan-USA is a repeat of the 2011 Final in Germany, when the Japanese took their first World Cup title winning 3-1 in penalties after 2-2. In 2012 both teams again faced one another in the Olympic final, this time with the North Americans taking the Gold medals after a 2-1 victory.
The USA are probably slight favourites to take a title, which would be their third, making them the most winning football nation of the tournament (Germany has won twice). Playing in Canada is almost like playing at home, and in particular in the semifinal against title favourites Germany, when they won 2-0, the USA ladies were incredibly well-organized and showed their outstanding physical form.
Japan are in fact the only team of the tournament that has won all of its matches. They have been steady, disciplined, and continue playing a high quality fast-passing style of football. They will punish any mistake, just like they did to England in the semi-final, and will be eager to take revenge of the 1-2 Olympic defeat in 2012.
Of the players I must mention the two captains and veterans, who may be playing their last World Cup: Amy Wambach from the USA and Homare Sawa from Japan. Both in their mid-thirties they have nevertheless been solid foundations for their teams advances to the final. No matter what happens on Sunday, they are already to be remembered as two of the greatest women footballers of all time.
This Final will be at least as great as any Final the men play!!! So make sure to watch it!!!!

Excellent Peruvians and the coming final

One of the few positive aspects of this Copa America has been Peru. They were in a difficult group with favourites Brazil and Colombia, as well as a difficult Venezuelan side, where I do not think many gave them much of a chance. There is nevertheless no doubt that they were the best playing side of that group, and deservedly took second spot after a lucky Brazil. In the quarterfinals they beat Bolivia and in the semifinal gave Chile an excellent fight, only to lose 2-1.
As the news focus more on the coming final, few noticed that Peru beat Paraguay 2-0 to take third place in the tournament. This is a well-deserved result for a country that for many year has been under-performing. The new coach, the Argentine Ricardo Gareca, has organized the team, playing good offensive football, and expectations will surely be high as they enter the World Cup qualifiers this fall.

In the meantime we all justifiably have high expectations to the final between Chile and Argentina: two teams under two Argentine coaches that will want to attack and have outstandingly skilled players. It has all the ingredients to be a fantastic match, but I certainly fear that it will descend into ugly nationalism and unfair play.
I hope not.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Chilean fingers and a disgusting tournament

Chile will do anything to win the Copa America. And it is disgusting. Literally. In their quarterfinal against a hard-fighting Uruguay side they could have won by being the best team (they were), but instead, Chile will be remembered by Gonzalo Jara's finger in Edinson Cavani's ass (see a picture of it here).
A clear sexual assault if you ask me, no less disgusting than Luis Suarez bite, and if Edinson Cavani reacted, it was only the natural reaction of a man being assaulted in the most vile way.
This tournament is so sad for South American football: at a time when much of South America football is mired in accusations about corruption, one would expect that the football players would act any better.
But no. South American footballers seem only to be an extension of people that take pride in winning dirty, selfishness, provocations, drinking and driving, sexual misconduct, acting....
On top of this, matches have in general been of poor quality, hard fought, dramatic, but with nothing that can excite a real football fan.

I would urge everyone to watch the Women's World Cup instead; not because these women are better than men (they are), but because you will not see any men playing in the Copa America.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The World Cup Round of 16

Some very exciting Group stages at the Women's World Cup have ended. On the 20th June the knockout matches will start, with eight very exciting fixtures:
  • China-Cameroun: The only African side left against a Chinese side that will be looking to get far after doing well in the first round.
  • Germany-Sweden: Two of the best sides in Europe and the world. Germany, European champions, are favourites to win the title, while Sweden were considered title outsiders, but struggled to get past the first group behind USA and Australia. Germany scored 15 goals in the first round, and has the top scorer, Anja Mittag.
  • Brazil-Australia: The South Americans took three victories in the first round, and are surely favourites against an Australian side that should not be underestimated, ending second in "the group of death"
  • France-South Corea: France went on to win a difficult group after defeating England and Mexico, and will be facing South Corea, who struggled to get second spot behind Brazil in their opening group.
  • Canada-Switzerland: the Canadian hosts will be huge favourites against a Swiss side that is in the last-16 despite losing twice in the first round.
  • Norway-England: Norway, second ranked in Europe, will be facing an English side that is looking to get success in a World Cup for the first time.
  • USA-Colombia: the defending Olympic champions and favourites will be facing a Colombian side that surprised everybody in the first round, but who are unlikely to keep surprising.
  • Japan-Netherlands: The defending World Champions took three victories in the first round, and are looking to defend their title against a talented Dutch side.
Matches have been good, although some teams are still far below in quality (Ecuador, Ivory Coast). But this is much more refreshing football than the commercialism and bad spirit of the men's World Cup. Matches are examples of fair play and good spirit, something that does not exist in the men's side any more (there are virtually no gentlemen left in modern men's game).

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Colombian-Brazilian drama

Colombia-Brazil in the Copa America was bound to be a drama: the two sides hate one another after the 2014 World Cup Quarterfinal when Neymar was injured and Brazil won 2-1. Colombia got some revenge now, winning 1-0 and exposing that Brazil are a team of mediocre players with one superstar, Neymar. While Colombia are still not looking convincing after their opening loss to Venezuela, Brazil could lose to a Venezuelan side that were much better than both Colombia and Brazil in their opening match.
And note: it will be a Brazil without Neymar after his red card for kicking the ball...
Neymar is a great player, but he is not world class. He still dives too much and tends more to complain when things are against him. Things were surely against him last night: a terrible referee, Colombian provocations, missed chances and a bunch of teammates who are hardly at his level. And that frustration eventually exploded and may ultimately end up hurting Brazil...
Another player with a red card was Colombian Carlos Bacca, who viciously attacked Neymar after the Brazilian's headbutt. He will miss Colombia's last match against Peru. No mayor loss, although Colombia continues to believe in a Radamel Falcao who has absolutely contributed nothing to Colombia.
Brazil and Colombia now have a victory and defeat each before continuing to the last match of the group. However, after seeing them in their first two matches, it is all but impossible to sympathise with either side of violent rich prima donnas.

Monday, June 15, 2015

No bad teams in Copa America

The reason the Copa America is one of the best national team tournaments in the world is that all teams compete at a very high level. There are no minnows in the Copa America despite the historical dominance by Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina.
The current tournament is no exception, as it has already had "surprises". Argentina were up 2-0 but only managed to get 2-2 against ever efficient Paraguay. In the Group where Brazil and Colombia have been seen as certain favourites, Colombia opened by a surprising 0-1 defeat to Venezuela. The Colombian superstars (James, very poor Falcao and Cuadrado, Carlos Bacca, Ospina....) were surely thinking more of their own millions than of the fact that Venezuela continues to be an extremely well-organized and committed side, deadly efficient in counter-attack and not allowing the opponents many chances.
Colombia are not better than Venezuela, that is for sure.
In the meantime Brazil had to struggle against a quite impressive Peruvian side, who had decided that the best way to play Brazil was to attack high. This gave a quite entertaining match, where Brazil's 10 Dunga clones needed the brilliance of the non-Dunga clone Neymar to make an incredible pass to set up Douglas Costa for an incredible goal.
Sad for Peru, but they can take away the fact that they are not in Chile to be easily beaten, and they surely have chances against Venezuela, and not least Colombia!

Sunday, June 07, 2015

There could be no other champion

FC Barcelona could be the only champion; they were the the best team; they were the team with the extraordinary strikers; they are the team with Messi; they are the only right champion.
I only fee sorry for the great Gianlucca Buffon and Andrea Pirlo. Both deserved a title, but they are both great footballers who know that when you are up against the best, the best deserve it more.
Congratulations to a Barcelona team that I find better than the Guardiola-Barca. 

Saturday, June 06, 2015

The two great football events today

Today is, arguably, one of the greatest football days of 2015 with two of the greatest football events of the year taking place, both equally immense: the 2015 Champions League Final and the Opening of the Women's World Cup in Canada.
In Berlin, Juventus and Barcelona will face one another in a highly expected final. Barcelona are surely favourites against a Juventus side that will not be difficult to beat: nobody expected them to defeat Real Madrid in the semifinal, and coach Masimillano Allegri is a more astute coach than Luis Enrique. But astute may not be enough to stop Lionel Messi's magic. No matter what, it is a highly expected final.
Women's football is great. Anyone who thinks differently is a narrow-minded twit who has not been following the fantastic advances over the last decade. And this World Cup in Canada is set to be one of the best ever; I would not be surprised if it was better than the 2014 World Cup in Brazil in terms of quality. The opening match is between the hosts from Canada and China. And over the next months there will be fantastic matches to watch with great teams, such as Japan, USA, Sweden, Nigeria, and many others!!!!
Don't miss football today!

The worrying part about FIFA corruption

Every football fan in the World has suspected (if not outright known) that there was something fishy in FIFA: they organize tournaments that turn out to be great because of the fans and the players, but they obviously care little about fans and players, which is why fans and players care little about FIFA. Surely it is annoying that they make tons of money, but more annoying is when they make idiotic interventions in the game itself, such as inconsistent approaches to fair play, give prizes on the random rather than the futbolistic qualities, and consideration of money rather than what is best for players and fans (and this is where the World Cup in June in Qatar was outright stupid, and just as stupid, a World Cup in November. So no matter how you turn it the World Cup in Qatar is stupid).
Of course, if FIFA officials have embezzled money they should face justice, just like any other criminal. But as a football fan this is not the major problem, nor does this majorly affect the game. If it did, that would be the worrying part. The reports of FIFA paying off the Irish Football Federation for them not to complain of France's controversial qualification for the 2010 World Cup, is incredibly worrying.
Let us remember what happened: in the last play-off match Ireland was facing France. 10 minutes before the end of the match Thierry Henry scored the winning goal for France, in a situation where he had clearly handled the ball. The goal was accepted, and France went to the World Cup. Ireland would have had all reasons in the world to complain, but FIFA paid them not to.
Is it that FIFA did not want an investigation that would show that maybe there was an agreement that France should qualify? That the referee knew he had to ignore a handball? That some French players had been informed they could get away with things?
There is no doubt that in terms of money France was a more attractive team than Ireland. So did these FIFA people who rule football actually also decide the results...? That is what has me really worried about the latest allegation.
In the book "The Fix", Declan Hill documents worrying match fixing tendencies, possibly even at World Cup level. It is so worrying we, as football fans, may choose to ignore it. The possibility that FIFA manipulates football results is also one of those we will prefer to ignore: it is ok if they steal all the money, but manipulating results would be unacceptable.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Benitez to Madrid

Rafa Benitez has been confirmed as the new coach of Real Madrid after the Spanish giants decided to get rid of Carlo Ancelotti, unsurprisingly after he had won nothing this season.
If anything is unsurprising about Benitez' appointment is that it had not happened before. Rafa Benitez seems to have been aiming at this job ever since he started as a youth coach in Real Madrid and Castilla (a satellite club for Real Madrid): to be Senior coach of Real Madrid seemed to be in the cards, but he first had to build up his career. After some initial tries in Valladolid and Tenerife, it was at Valencia where Benitez first found success; he joined the team in 2001 and until he left in 2004 he brought two Spanish championships and one Europa League title. It was surely the best years of Valencia, who let Benitez go for the hapless Claudio Ranieri....
But that is another story.
Benitez went on to Liverpool whom he took to one Champions League title, one final and one FA Cup, but despite this, never to the craved Premier League title, and he left in 2011.
After a short unsuccesful stint at Inter Milan, Benitez went on to become "interim" coach of Chelsea, whom he took to a Europa League title, but never fulfilled the high expectations of the moneymen in London, and in 2013 he went on a two-year stint to Napoli, whom he took to a Cup title and gave them a somewhat decent return to Europe.
And now he has resigned to take the post he probably has been longing for: Real Madrid coach. It will be interesting, because he knows Real Madrid and is a very demanding coach. But at the same time he will be under the same pressure as any other Real Madrid coaches: titles or leave.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Cup Final weekend

 I had looked forward to a weekend of Cup finals in Monrovia, but was disappointed with two matches that did not live up to expectations, although the outcome was perhaps to be predicted.
I watched the FA Cup final in a small local shop in downtown Monrovia. Atmosphere was not as lively as expected; although Arsenal commands many loyal followers in Liberia, Aston Villa hardly raises any passion.
And it seemed the lack of passion was also on the pitch at Wembley, where Arsenal were far superior to an Aston Villa side that simply seemed to lack the spirit of the FA Cup. 4-0 to Arsenal was good entertainment, but it was not the excitement one has grown accustomed to in the FA Cup final.
The Spanish Cup Final, “Copa del Rey”, I watched in a local bar called Sajj. Most people were there to watch circus Barcelona, with their main magician Lionel Messi, and were not disappointed: Messi scored two goals, the first one spectacular, to give FC Barcelona a 3-1 victory over Athletic Bilbao that was never in any doubt, and that, if anything, could have been much larger. The Basques were a mere sideshow to the Barcelona act, and they never really stood a chance in a match whose result could have been called beforehand.
After a difficult start to the season (do any Barcelona fans remember how they were whistling and attacking Messi at the start of the season?), FC Barcelona are well on the way to winning the Triple if they take the Champions league against Juventus next week. As much as one has to respect Messi's magic and the joy of Suarez and Neymar alongside him, I would prefer to see Buffon and Pirlo lift the trophy next week.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Seville champions in Warsaw

On a day with a lot of football news of the bad kind (FIFA politics and corruption), we had a great Europa League final in Warsaw between the defending Champions of Sevilla and Dnipro Dniprotovosk from Ukraine.
I think nobody expected much from the Ukrainians; but you do not get into a final for nothing, and with spirit and skills they gave the Spaniards and football fans a great match. 3-2 was the Spanish victory with two goals by the tearful Carlos Bacca, who is following in the step of another Colombian, Radamel Falcao, who also won two Europa League's in a row, albeit with two different teams (Atletico Madrid and FC Porto).
This is not the first time Sevilla win the title twice in a row: they also did it in 2006 and 2007, and with four victories they are surely the best team in the Europa League over the last 10 years. 
Dnipro could not repeat what another Ukrainian side, Shakhtar Donetsk, did in 2009, by winning the title. But surely Dnipro should be proud of their team, which has made a mark in Europe this season.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Friends and losers

In 1994 Deportivo stood on the verge of winning the Spanish league in the last round of the league. Instead, they failed to defeat Valencia at home (with an infamous missed penalty by Miroslav Djukic), which gave FC Barcelona the Championship.
Today FC Barcelona, sure of the title, was playing for nothing against a Deportivo side that needed at least one point to stay in the top league. It was also the great Xavi's farewell match at home, so it was all a cause for partying for FC Barcelona. And the hosts gave their Galicians friends the needed result: 2-2, where FC Barcelona had been 2-0 up at halftime, but largely stopped playing football, as they obviously did not want any sad faces at their party.
This is not to say that Deportivo did not deserve it: I think everyone likes the club from Galicia, and nobody really wants them to be relegated.
Except perhaps Eibar and Almeria, who are going down instead (alongside Cordoba).
Almeria fought bravely at home against a Valencia side that still needed a victory to ensure their 4th place and a Champions League qualifier. The score was 2-2 until ten minutes before time, when Paco Alcacer gave Valencia the victory goal and Almeria a ticket down to second division.
It was an exciting end to the Spanish league, despite the continuous dominance of the top two sides.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Farewell to greatness

Steven Gerrard is one of those players that is impossible not to like as a football fan: he is an outstanding player with strong personality and a winning mentality that for many years has lifted Liverpool to greatness (most memorable is the 2005 Champions League final, a year during which he was among the best players in the world). And he is a man who has a quality that exists less and less in modern football: loyalty.
Loyalty to his club and his city; he had many chances to go and play in the best-paying clubs in Europe, but he chose not to go because his heart belongs in Liverpool.
Today he played his last match at Anfield, and nobody could help but being touched when the fans sang "You'll Never Walk Alone" to this player who did so much for them. It was nevertheless not a complete celebration, as Crystal Palace won 1-3, with Liverpool playing a very poor match.
Perhaps the poor performance was because of the emotions of the match. However, last year Luis Suarez left, and with Gerrard leaving, there are simply no World Class players left in Liverpool! Nobody could take over from Suarez, and nobody will be able to fill the enormous hole that will be left by Gerrard!
Gerrard will not only be missed in Liverpool though: any football fan with respect for great players will miss him. Me too.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The fall of the Champions

Real Madrid is the team of records in the Champions League, and this year they were hoping to become the first team to win two finals in a row. But it was not to be: they ran into a highly motivated and well-organized Juventus side whose Alvaro Morata, who grew up in Real Madrid's ranks, scored to eliminated his friends from Madrid.
Juventus were fantastic underdogs in both matches. They played like they really wanted the title. They were very organized and played with discipline.
Can they defeat mighty FC Barcelona? They have to play their best, but the Catalonians are not invincible!
So where does Real Madrid go from here? First of all, this should mean that Carlo Ancelotti is out. The problem is not that they will win no titles; the problem is rather that they have no plan, no tactics. If anyone should know that you cannot rely on your brilliant players alone, it should be Real Madrid! Against Juventus he played with fear: when they were up 1-0 Real Madrid drew back to defend, instead of attacking and closing the match.
They played more Italian than the Italians!
If I wanted Real Madrid to win, it would only have been for the great Iker Casillas, who has suffered several unfair attacks this season, and has been blamed for defeat after defeat. Ironically, the "old man" was the best player of Real Madrid, so I hope he shut up all those idiotic fans who cannot see that Spain's and Real Madrid's problems are not due to Iker Casillas, but due to their coaches!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Masters against mediocrity

Yesterday FC Barcelona got a major boost in the Spanish title race when their rivals from Real Madrid failed to defeat Valencia. 2-2 is likely to land the title in Catalonia.
Even as a Valencia fan I have to admit that the tie was not entirely deserved: Real Madrid pressured and had chances for a victory, and it was either a great Diego Alves or luck that saved Valencia. That said, looking at the top 4 teams in Spain, Barcelona is a deserved champion: Barcelona defeated Valencia twice in the league, 0-1 in Valencia and 2-0 at home. In the meantime, Real Madrid lost 2-1 in Valencia, and with 2-2, Valencia have been better than Real Madrid on their head-to-head tally.
The same is the case for Real Madrid against Atletico Madrid; Atletico won both matches, 1-2 and 4-0. FC Barcelona still have one away match left against Atletico Madrid, but they already defeated them 3-1 at home earlier in the season.
Only against FC Barcelona does Real Madrid have an acceptable head-to-head record: they won 3-1 at home, and lost 2-1 in Barcelona.
Real Madrid's poor record against the few Spanish top teams reveals two things: firstly, that the top of the Spanish league has become a bit more equal, and secondly, that Real Madrid may have a problem when performing against bigger sides; while they routinely trash all the mediocre sides of the Spanish league, they do not seem at the level when it counts.
Real Madrid still have the possibility to get the Champions League title, but must perform at the highest level to get past Juventus, and possibly the rivals of FC Barcelona in the final. If the final turned out to be all-Spanish, nothing but a victory would count, and Ancelotti's job would hinge on that.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Higuain the missing machine

Napoli are one semifinal away from a European final, and are surely favourites against the Ukrainian side Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. And in the first match in Naples tonight Napoli had 70% possession and 22 shots on goal. Still they only got a meager 1-1. Although Dnipro's goal was a clear off side, it does not take away that Napoli can only blame themselves for not taking advantage of their enormous pressure, and their striker Gonzalo Higuain, who missed some big chances.
This is not the first time Higuain misses chances. In fact, throughout his career in different teams, he has almost been more known for his misses.
In the other semifinal Sevilla seem to be underway to their second final in a row after trouncing Fiorentina 3-0. 

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Messi-Guardiola 3-0

It was a fantastic match between two great teams; there is no discussion about that. Every player delivered, with Lionel Messi nevertheless delivering the death punch to Bayern Munich with his two splendid goals and his late assist to an otherwise anonymous Neymar.
However, there is something to be said about Guardiola's approach to the match. Just like last year, when he totally failed in his lineup against Real Madrid, Guardiola totally overestimated the capacity of his own side to play 90 minutes of hard physical work with only three men in a line-defense. In the first half only the quality of Manuel Neuer saved them, but in the second half, after Messi's strike, the weakness of the lineup was exposed.
No bad words to Bayern Munich's players though. Were it not for Messi, they are at the level of Barcelona, even without their two stars Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery.
But where does this put Guardiola? Let us face it; he is not a tenth as good as Jose Mourinho (who is a real football genius), and not much different from Luis Enrique. As an admirer of Bielsa, he wants physically demanding pressing attacking football. As admirable as that may be, it is not realistic if you do not have the players and the physical strength to do it for an entire match (which is almost impossible; you need that degree of cynicism to finish the job). And was Guardiola a success in Barcelona? Of course he was; but despite his skills, the major reason for his success was the same reason for his defeat tonight: Lionel Messi.
Let us face it: without Messi, Guardiola is just another average coach, who will get results with a big club like Bayern, not because of his skills, but because Bayern spends all their money buying the best players in Germany for him.
Messi is the difference. Not Guardiola.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Semi-final of Dreams: Barcelona-Bayern Munich

The second semifinal of this season's Champions League will see two giants of world football face one another: FC Barcelona, with seven finals and four titles in the tournament, against Bayern Munich, finalist 10 times with five titles.
That said, their history of mutual confrontations is only quite recent. First time they faced each other was in the group stages in 1998, where Barcelona were eliminated in the group of death, and Bayern eventually made it to a memorable final against Manchester United.
In 2009 the sides faced one another in the quarterfinals, where an incredible Barcelona first defeated Bayern 4-0 on goals by Lionel Messi (2), Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry (and that attacking trio is as least as scary as the current trio), and then went on to play 1-1 in Munich. After this Barcelona defeated Chelsea and Manchester to become one of the most awesome champions of the European Champions League with a side that has already gone into history. A central man in that history was Barcelona's then-coach Pep Guardiola, who is now managing Bayern Munich, and the clash between Guardiola and the club he was born into is one of the most expected things of this match.
But Bayern Munich have also been part of Barcelona's history even before today's match: in 2013 Bayern Munich had built up a side that thoroughly dethroned the Spanish side in the semifinals of this tournament. In the first match Bayern Munich destroyed Barcelona 4-0 with goals by Thomas Muller, Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben, and they completed the humiliation winning 0-3 in Barcelona.
In many ways that semifinal signaled the end of an era and the start of a new one: for Barcelona they went away from their characteristic tiki-taka, but have found a new strength with their awesome attacking force and a solid defense around a Pique and Mascherano who complement one another well.
That era also showed an end of Spanish national team dominance, to be replaced by a Germany built around Bayern Munich, who went on to become World Champions in 2014. As Barcelona and Spain seek to reclaim their position, this semifinal clash will be another mighty battle in the epic football history of this decade!!!

Anyone who misses this match will not have the right to speak about football ever again!!!

Old man Pirlo

It was an epic clash when Juventus defeated Real Madrid 2-1 in the first Champions League semifinal. A fantastic match with interesting tactical moves, it was almost more a chess match between the coaches than a football match. That said, Juventus' Queen was a disappointment: the first time I saw the genius Andrea Pirlo play a poor match, it more than anything saddened me. Any guy my age identifies with Pirlo; a player who has kept at this level because of his brain, first of all, and then his skills, secondly, and lastly because of his physique. Makes guys like me believe that we are still worth something when our bodies turn too old, and we must rely all on brains.
But no, sorry guys, brains is not enough. Every success lies in youth.

I think Real Madrid will have the upper hand in the next match, with what should be a not-wanna-be-defensive Italian side. Only a touch of genius could save Juventus from a complete rout.
A touch of genius from an old man all old men will be cheering on.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Semi-final of dreams: Juventus-Real Madrid

Tomorrow evening we will see the first of two dream semifinals in the Champions League when the Italian champions from Juventus take on the Spanish giants of Real Madrid. This is a match between two of the greatest teams historically in European club competitions (Champions Cup and Champions League). Juventus has been in seven finals of this tournament and won two of them. Their latest victory was in 1996, but were also in the finals of 1997, 1998 and 2003. Real Madrid is, of course, the giant of this tournament, with ten victories in 13 final appearances, the latest one last year!
In fact, both side have already faced each other in both semifinals and in a final: in 1998 Real Madrid beat Juventus 1-0 on a goal by Predrag Mijatovic, which gave them their title after 32 years of waiting.
In 2003 the sides faced one another in a semifinal that is perhaps comparable to this year's: Real Madrid were defending champions with a side that included legends such as Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos and Raul. In the meantime, Juventus had a side with other great players such as Pavel Nedved, David Trezeguet, Liliam Thuram, Edgar Davids and Alessandro Del Piero. Real Madrid had won the first match at home 2-1, but Juventus played a fantastic match to defeat the Spanish 3-1, and make it to an all-Italian final against AC Milan (which the Milanese won).
Since this legendary semifinal they have met six times in the Champions League: four in group matches and two knock out matches (2005 last-16, where Juventus carried the day).

There is no doubt that Real Madrid are probably the favourites to progress to the final. But do not discount a hungry Juventus side who, having already taken the Italian title, can focus entirely on this, while Real Madrid still need to concentrate on the Spanish league race. However, both teams have some injuries of central players: for Juventus Paul Pogba and Kwadwo Asamoah will both be absent. For Real Madrid Karim Benzema and Luca Modric are out. Modric will surely be missed, and he leaves a space in the defensive midfield that could be exploited by the skills of Carlos Tevez and the genius of Andrea Pirlo. In the meantime, the absolute genius of a Cristiano Ronaldo who is on fire these days, could surely upset any chance that Juventus may hope for.

No matter what, it will be a splendid match that you cannot miss if you even barely like football!!!

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Weekend of Champions

Today Chelsea made sure of what everyone have been expecting: a 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace, on a goal by Player of the Year Eden Hazard, has made them champions of the Premier League, no matter what happens in the last three matches.
Surely Chelsea are not easy to like under the genius of Jose Mourinho. Their football is defensive and result-oriented. Just like Atletico Madrid's, who everyone liked last season...
No, Chelsea are well-deserved champions, and the credit lies mostly in the fact that they have been steady in the most difficult league in Europe (if not the world!). This is not a league where you can expect to win 8-0 against a lower-ranked team, but where you can lose points in every match if you do not concentrate (ask Manchester United, Liverpool or Manchester City). That makes Chelsea's achievement so much more deserving of praise. Mourinho is a genius and Chelsea are champions.
That said, subjectively, I must say that I can think of 19 other teams I would have preferred as champions of the Premier League....

And another noteworthy champion was Juventus, who won Italy's Serie A after defeating Sampdoria 0-1. Fourth title in a row for the Torino side that has retaken its awesome position as the best side of Italy. They continue in the Champions League, so this could be a golden year for the Italians, although they still need to get past Real Madrid.

Bayern Munich had had no competition winning a German league that is becoming too much like the Scottish of Spanish leagues: one to two team affairs where many matches are nothing but expecting how many goals they will score against an opponent that is mostly there for show. Sad that the German league, with perhaps one of the best youth systems in Europe, should come to be so dominated by one side.
In the meantime the French league is awaiting an exciting end with Lyon and Paris St. Germain both vying for the title - with the Paris side having a slight edge, but with everything still awaiting to happen!!

It has been a great football season in the European leagues indeed!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Three strikes you're out

I think that many had expected more, even from a luckless Paris St. Germain without Zlatan and a Thiago Silva who had to be replaced too early by the 15 Mio Euro David Luiz.
David Luiz has always been a nice guy; an eccentric player who easily catches the attention of people. The attention; because he has never been a world class player, and it is all too often displayed when he is alone against class. And today was no exception. Without Thiago Silva, the genius of Barcelona's attacking trio made David Luiz look mediocre. Not least Luis Suarez' third goal, when after tunneling David Luiz, he put a ball he could have kicked in softly, in the most difficult corner of the goal.
Luis Suarez was fantastic for a Barcelona side that almost seems the most focused side of the ones that are left in the Champions League.
Three strikes; Paris St. Germain is out.

In the meantime, Bayern Munich lost 3-1 to an FC Porto side that everyone in history has done wrong in underestimating (do not forget that they won the tournament in 2004), perhaps because Pep Guardiola's world does not know other teams that Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Manchester United. It will be interesting to see FC Porto; they can go all the way, but of course the ones that need to fight the most for it.
Three strikes; Bayern Munich may not be out yet.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Dortmund's fall

It has not been Borussia Dortmund's season. They have struggled in the German Bundesliga, where they are currently only in 10th place; they are unlikely to play Champions League next season, first time since 2011.
In the Champions league they have had some reason to forget their meager Bundesliga performance, as they won a group ahead of Arsenal, Anderlecht and Galatasaray. In the last-16 though, they have just been destroyed 0-3 at home by a Juventus side that has gotten a thorough revenge for their defeat against the Germans in the legendary 1997 Champions League final.
That said, such a thorough defeat at home can only mean that coach Jurgen Klopp, who has managed Borussia Dortmund since 2008 may be on his way out. It is a pity for a manager who has indeed given so much to Dortmund, but at the same time a club at this level cannot allow such results (considering that Schalke 04 and Bayer Leverkusen fell after fantastic matches, the Dortmund debacle seems so much worse!), and I am certain that Jurgen Klopp will have some excellent offers from other clubs.
It may be time for Mr. Klopp to leave.
In the meantime Juventus are the sole Italian representative in the quarterfinals, largely fruit of hard work, a deadly counter-attack and a splendid Carlos Tevez (who scored two and had one assist today). 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

10 Paris guys defeat 12 Chelsea guys

Paris St. Germain showed what it is to fight against a Chelsea team that is difficult to say anything nice about. Chelsea plays arrogantly, as if they could just walk through this match, and with some characters who behave like cheating mafiosi. And on top, the referee was Chelsea's 12th man on the pitch: Ibrahimovic got a tough direct card when all he was doing was trying not to hurt an overeager and overreacting Oscar (who should, together with Diego Costa, have been shown off with more reason), and then gave Chelsea a strange penalty in extra time for an apparent handball by Thiago Silva (I cannot see if he really touches it, but it is not on purpose, and does not change the ball's trajectory).
But Paris St. Germain fought on with admireable, and the only Chelsea player worth of his name, Thibaut Courtois, was the savoiur a couple of times, but even he had to give up as he was sentenced by lousy defending and splendid headers by David Luiz and Thiago Silva.
I think absolutely nobody in Europe will miss Chelsea.
No to Racism.

Legendary Moments

The UEFA Website has a pretty cool competition going right now where you have to vote for your favourite moments of the Champions League. With the (slim) chance of winning tickets to the Champions League final in Berlin, this is something I of course cannot let go. But of course, at the same time, it leads to a more personal reflection on the most memorable (and not necessarily best) moments of this fantastic tournament.
So here are ten memorable moments:
10) Lionel's Messi's one-man-show against Bayer Leverkusen in 2011
9) Bayern Munich's first half against Roma in 2014, which I watched in an airport before boarding a plane, but which is probably the best I have ever seen a team play in one half.
8) Rabah Madjer's heal goal for FC Porto in the 1987 final against Bayern Munich is a goal that is imprinted in my mind
7) Manchester United's late 2-1 victory in the 1999 final, which made me feel sorry for a Bayern Munich side that had played better throughout the match.
6) Bayern Munich's 2001 penalty victory in the final over Valencia which made me feel sorry for myself.
5) Chelsea-Liverpool's 4-4 quarterfinal in 2009.
4) The incredible final between Liverpool and AC Milan in 2005.
3) First time I was at the legendary Anfield was in December 2013, to see the great Liverpool against Basel in the Champions League. Incredible to be there, although Liverpool were not so great that day.
2) In 2000 when Valencia defeated FC Barcelona 4-1 in the semifinals of the tournament. 
1) The first Champions League match I went to was in Copenhagen in 1999 when Brøndby faced Bayern Munich in the first round. Allan Ravn gave Brøndby the victory and myself an out-of-body experience.

That said, I could think of quite a few more as I finish this list!!! The only ones I am completely sure about are the top 4.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

To fall with honour

Everyone will be talking about how poor Real Madrid were. Indeed, it is incredible that a coach like Carlo Ancelotti cannot motivate his players to play half-decently in the last-16 of the Champions League (arrogant fools perhaps do not realize that there are no bad teams at this level!), and continues to play with four offensive players when the entire defensive line is failing miserably (thank Modric he is back).
But more interesting is to dwell on a team that according to most had nothing to play for today. After losing 0-2 at home everyone doomed Schalke 04 out of the tournament; the match in Madrid a mere walkover. But Schalke 04 has shown that if you have to fall, fall with honour!
Indeed Real Madrid were bad, but it was also because Schalke played with an optimism and style that showed what football is all about, and gave a great show to their fantastic fans, who wasted nothing in coming all the way to Madrid. 3-4 victory against a Madrid team (among the 'best' in the world) that was hanging on to the tournament at home!
And while there were some great Schalke players I have to name two youngsters that I think have a great future ahead of them: Max Meyer and Leroy Sane were splendid, with the latter scoring a fantastic goal. Both are 19 years old, and both show that Germany is producing more and more fantastic young players than anyone else!
Schalke 04 fell with honour and will be missed.
Real Madrid is in the next round with no honour.
Today I became a bit of a Schalke fan.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Luis Suarez' and Barcelona's comeback

Starting in Barcelona was bound to be difficult for Luis Suarez, notably after his suspension for his famous bite in the World Cup. And much criticism was initially poured on him after his impressive goal-scoring record from Liverpool has not followed suit in Barcelona.
But as much as Suarez is a dislikeable character, his work ethic and skills call for respect, and that has now finally begun to shine through in an FC Barcelona whose South American attacking trio of Neymar-Messi-Suarez looks ever more awesome.
Yesterday Barcelona took first place in La Liga: Real Madrid lost to Athletic Bilbao, and the Catalonians destroyed Rayo Vallecano 6-1 to go on top. Messi scored three goals, and continues being a goal machine with 30 goals (equaling the ever-impressive Cristiano Ronaldo), but the most impressive was Luis Suarez, despite scoring "only" twice. With Messi given a more free role up front, Luis Suarez is more of a supporting player than he was at Liverpool. That said, in that position he is becoming more and more impressive. He works hard, creates a lot of chances, opens spaces for Messi and Neymar, and even has an impressive record on assists (third in the league after Messi and Ronaldo).
People were talking of a Barcelona crisis in 2014, but the club is now top of the league, in the Cup final, and seem poised for a Champions League quarterfinal.
And if anything, Luis Suarez has shown that he is a worthy and important piece of this Barcelona comeback.

Friday, March 06, 2015

A November World Cup?

I have been too busy on non-Football things lately, but have followed the discussion on the 2022 World Cup in Qatar being played in November according to FIFA.
Notwithstanding the allegations of corruption and the fact that this seems not to have been discussed during the selection process (?), I have to think like a football fan. First of all, let us not be hypocrites: surely temperatures in Qatar must be high, but we have demanded inhuman conditions for footballers in other World Cup: high temperatures, high altitude or even bad pitches are nothing new in the World Cup. So that is not really the main reason for me...

The World Cup is the reason I started watching football. The passion and intensity of a one month full of football was irresistible for me, and today the event still is very very special: the way an entire planet comes together around guys kicking a ball is fascinating, and if anything, the passion has only increased with media and crazy nationalism.
The World Cup is not the same any longer though.
While most of the best players play in a World Cup, the quality of football is at best mediocre, and the winners are surely not the best team in the world, nor the best country in the world, but the best short-term collective of footballers with a common passport. As such, the World Cup is a wonderful event every four years, during the summer months, when there is no other football!
That is my problem: November is a month when I want to focus on the Champions League, the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, the Bundesliga, yes, even the Danish League, all of which are really of much better quality than the World Cup!
I am sorry, I have reached a stage in my life where quality football comes first, and in November 2022 it seems I will lose the opportunity to watch good football for another second-rate over-hyped World Cup.
But I will watch it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

One of the eight best in Europe

What happened to Arsenal? They lost 1-3 at home to Monaco in a match that all Arsenal fans probably expected would give them a comfortable victory before the away match. No Arsenal fan could have imagined that Monaco could defeat them, and perhaps that is what happened: the players were infected by this underestimation of an opponent that may not be among the fashionable cream of Europe, but is surely a competitive side! They all seemed to ignore that, and perhaps most of all Arsene Wenger who should, if anyone, know Monaco.
Arsenal is out. They are still a strong team, but whether they are among the eight best teams in Europe is more than questionable. On the other hand, Monaco is.
Who in Arsenal would have thought?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Pellegrini's punishment

Manchester City are not that much worse than Barcelona, although in the first half of tonight's Champions League clash they appeared so: on two goals by Luis Suarez, the Catalonians were winning 0-2.
Only one person is to blame of the dismal first half performance: Manuel Pellegrini. His 4-4-2 lineup could have been genius, but after the first half appears reckless and ignorant of how Barcelona play. On top of this, Edin Dzeko in attack was a gamble that didn't work on a day when the high balls into the area were rather random, and when Dzeko seemed tired. And that is Pellegrini's second failure: while improving in the second half, his players seemed sloppy and not believing in themselves! How can a coach not motivate his players for such a match!?
Sergio Aguero's splendid goal and Joe Hart's penalty save gave Manchester City some meager hope that they might be able to progress. However, it is hard to believe that Manchester City have any chance whatsoever of progressing in the tournament.
In the meantime, it is getting more and more exciting to see the Messi-Suarez-Neymar Triple Alliance in action for Barcelona!

Saturday, February 07, 2015

The African final I will miss

I have traveled to a Colombia where all the football discussion is about James Rodriguez' injury and about Chelsea's signing of Juan Cuadrado. As Colombians hardly know Africa, the interest for the African Cup of Nations is hardly noticed. As I left Liberia Ghana had strolled to the semi-finals to face the Equatorial Guinean hosts. I had been telling some Colombians about the exciting tournament, but I am now embarrassed to have praised it: while Ghana were great and beat the hosts 3-0, the Equatorial Guinean hosts were a disgrace to football, causing riots and attacking the Black Stars and their fans. 
Another disgrace to African football.
Ghana are now in the final of a tournament that they have been favourites to win for more than ten years, but have failed to since 1982. They will face the mighty Ivory Coast, another side that has been steadily disappointing for a decade or longer, and who won their last African Cup of Nations in 1992; against Ghana!
So whatever happens on Sunday, one side will emerge from the sea of disappointments, while another will need a life vest.
In the meantime I will not be able to watch it, as I enjoy beautiful Colombia, but with my heart supporting Ghana!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The lucky last quarterfinalist

Yesterday Group D in the Africa Cup of Nations was decided: with Ivory Coast beating Cameroun 1-0, they won the group. But in the other match Guinea and Mali tied 1-1. This was the third 1-1 tie for each of them, and meant a draw would decide the quarterfinalist.
Guinea won, and will be excited to face Ghana in their next match, where Ghana will undoubtedly be the great favourite.
This must leave a bitter taste in Mali's participation, and one has to wonder whether there could not have been another better way of deciding this..?
Everyone knew that the teams were head to head when the matches ended yesterday. So why could they not have played extra time? Or perhaps gone directly to a penalty contest? One can argue that these are as much lotteries, but are they not better than a simple draw?
Guinea cannot deny they are the luckiest of all teams in the Africa Cup of Nations, no matter who wins!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Comeback Group Winners

Things have looked against Ghana in this Africa Cup of Nations: they started losing 1-2 to Senegal on a last minute goal. They then barely managed to defeat Algeria in the last minute. And today at first half, they were 0-1 down against South Africa. With Algeria leading 1-0 against Tunisia, it looked as if Ghana would end at the bottom of the group.
But Ghana have shown that they are a great side with a lot of routine by their ability to come back when things look the most difficult: with 17 minutes to go, and after intense pressure on the South  Africans, John Boye managed to equalize. With seven minutes to go Andre Ayew scored what would be the winner for the Ghanaians.
And with Algeria winning 2-0, the Black Stars moved from last to first in the group of death, ahead of the Algerians. Senegal, for whom everything looked so good, are out. So are South Africa, who played well, but who were up against a strong Ghana side that can still go all the way!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The first ones out

Living in Liberia it has not been easy to watch the Africa Cup of Nations. With matches at 4 PM I have been mostly at work, and quite a few places have preferred to show English Premier League. Very disappointing for the football culture in Liberia, a country that is light years from even qualifying to an African Cup of Nations.
On Friday afternoon I managed to watch my first match when I left the office early to watch Ghana versus Algeria while seeing the sun setting over the ocean at a bar/restaurant called Anglers. I was the only customer there when I rose to cheer Asamoah Gyan's late goal, that gave Ghana such an important victory. The final match against South Africa on Tuesday will be a drama!
Today the final round of matches of group A took place, and last tournament's finalists, Burkina Faso, needed to defeat Congo to continue in the tournament. But it was the Congolese who won 2-1 and are in the quarterfinals, quite surprising, by winning the group. In the other match, the home team of Equatorial Guinea came out celebrating after a 2-0 victory over Gabon, another side that more was expected from. The Guineans will be full of hope now in the quarterfinals of a tournament that they had originally been expelled from.
But a pity for Burkina Faso and Gabon; look forward to seeing them in the next tournament.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The 2015 Africa Cup of Nations

2015 will be a great football year. Besides the outstanding leagues, the Champions League, there will also be a women's World Cup in Canada, Gold Cup, Copa America, an ongoing Asian Cup in Australia, and today the Africa Cup of Nations starts in Equatorial Guinea.
African Cups of Nations have become better and better over the years, and this one is set to be great, despite missing the defending champions of Nigeria, who failed to qualify. Rather than saying it is because Nigeria were bad, I would argue that the fact that the champions did not qualify shows the versatility and strength in depth of African football. The only ones who will not be missed are Morocco, who were correctly disqualified for not wanting to host the tournament for their exaggerated panic for Ebola. I hope they stay out of African football for a long time.
The groups are as follows:

Group A:
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Burkina Faso
  • Congo 
  • Gabon
The hosts, who did actually not qualify for the tournament, have high expectations nevertheless as they play in front of their fans. Congo were the ones who qualified ahead of Nigeria, so will also have to be reckoned with, although expectations are probably not that high.
Last tournament Burkina Faso made it to the final, and will again be a team to watch, although one should also note that Gabon won their qualification ahead of exactly the Burkinabe. A lot of the Gabonese hopes are set on Pierre-Emerick Aubemegyang, who is certainly one of the players to watch in the tournament, but also watch out for Burkina Faso's own Jonathan Pitroipa, who was the most scoring player in Africa during qualification!
This is set to be a very close group!

Group B:
  • Tunisia
  • Cape Verde
  • DR Congo
  • Zambia
Cape Verde have been improving in huge strides over the last years, and in fact they also qualified in their group ahead of the Zambians, who are an experienced side, but not likely to repeat their fantastic victory of 2012.
Although DR Congo qualified as the best third placed team, it was behind the giants of Cameroon and Ivory Coast, and should thus not be underestimated. Nevertheless, the favourites of this group should be the Tunisians with an experienced side of European and Tunisian based players who qualified ahead of Senegal and Egypt.

Group C:
  • Ghana
  • Algeria
  • South Africa
  • Senegal
This looks like the Group of Death. Senegal qualified ahead of Egypt, even defeating the former champions in Cairo. South Africa are also back in the tournament after eliminating the champions of Nigeria in Uyo by tying them 2-2 in an intense match. Most players are home based and present a compact side.
Ghana enter the tournament as favourites yet again, this time under the tutelage of the former Chelsea manager Avram Grant. He has gone for a more young side with a lot of experience though, and  captained by a very experienced Asamoah Gyan.
Finally, Algeria, after their splendid World Cup, are certain to be going for the title. They have a strong side with the fantastic trio of Sofiane Feghouli, Yacine Brahimi and Nabil Bentaleb having become household names in Europe.
I cannot wait to see the Algerians in action, but of course, my heart is with GHANA!

Group D:
  • Ivory Coast
  • Mali
  • Cameroon 
  • Guinea
Player for player, Ivory Coast has one of the strongest sides in the world. They are captained by the African player of the year, the fantastic Yaya Toure, and a potent striking force with Gervinho and Wilfred Bony. But Ivory Coast has excelled in disappointing, the last time at the World Cup in Brazil. That said, they must be considered among the candidates for the title.
Cameroon in fact qualified ahead of Ivory Coast. Without any big superstars, Cameroon look more stable, and should be focusing at washing away the pathetic display they gave at the World Cup, where they were an embarrassment to watch.
Neither Guinea or Mali seem to be threats to Cameroon and Ivory Coast. Guinea were one of the last teams to qualify when they defeated Uganda in their last match, which was played in Casablanca due to the Ebola outbreak in Guinea (and yet the weird Moroccans did not want to host the tournament...), and expectations will not be as high as for other sides. Mali has an old side led by the veteran Seydou Keita, and only qualified after a last match victory over Algeria (who had already won the group).