Sunday, May 27, 2018

The goalkeeper is the difference

The final of the Champions League 2018 was not as expected for two reasons: firstly, it was s disappointment for any football fan that Mohamed Salah got injured. The match lost a lot of its expectation even though Liverpool showed that they are a great team even without the Egyptian. But more unexpected was the horrible performance of Loris Karius. Liverpool have had goalkeeper problems for a long time, and Karius came in as an apparent saviour for the meager Mignolet. But the problem is that a great team cannot have a mediocre goalkeeper, and today Karius made all the mistakes that a goalkeeper cannot do.
I do not care about Karius. If you play at this level, you should have thick skin. But the truth is his mistakes were worthy of a bad YouTube video, and surely gave the victory to a Real Madrid side that for anything but the goalkeeper should have been up for Liverpool to defeat.
Real Madrid have beaten all European records and are surely the best team in history. But tonight they have one man to thank for it: Loris Karius.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

"My countries" in the World Cup

I am now living in El Salvador, a country that is not in the World Cup. For the last World Cup I was also in a country not represented, Liberia, and so I seem to be losing more and more countries in the World Cup. Of countries I have an attachment to, these are the ones in the tournament:
  • Denmark: Surprisingly qualified after a strong play-off match against Ireland, but I don't have many expectations. I saw them in qualification play a hugely boring match against Poland. They will likely compete for second place in the group against another boring side, Peru (I tip 0-0), and if they make it to the next round, expect that they will lose to any team from one of the strong groups (Nigeria, Iceland, Croatia or Argentina).
  • Argentina: Were it not for Leo Messi Argentina would not be in Russia. He is the only one can carrying a bunch of overrated and overpaid players without will or quality to play for a great country like Argentina. I find it sad that Higuain has made it to the team, and with a defense that has more holes than a Swiss cheese I cannot see that they will get beyond the first stage. Unless Messi is brilliant; he is the only one from whom anything looking like quality will come. But one man cannot make a football team; that is why it is a team sport!
  • Colombia: Colombia is the only of "my" countries I am expecting anything from. They have a great team, and pressure does not seem as enormous as other years. At the same time their group does not seem incredibly difficult: a totally overrated Poland (with one quality player in Lewandowski), a Japan side with new coach and little confidence, and a Senegal side without much experience. I expect Colombia to make it through, and then their quality will be tested against what will likely will be Belgium or England.
  • Belgium: I have lived the international life of Brussels, but will always have a soft spot for Belgium. They have a fantastic side, with one of their best generations ever, but were unable to shine at the highest stage in the Euro 2016, being eliminated by Wales. This should be their moment, again entering the tournament as favourites, but I do not expect them to perform when it counts.
  • Spain:They qualified in style and have some of the best players in the world, and differently from 2014, when Del Bosque could not get himself to select young talented players or study the opponents, this squad has a good balance between youth and experience. Spain are surely favourites for the title. 
 Some of "my other countries" will be missed, mostly El Salvador (as I am currently here), but certainly also Chile (my country of birth) and my favourite African side of Ghana.
All this said, I have a hard time getting excited for this World Cup. Will this be the last World Cup worth watching?

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Never say never

Last week I was following the Danish league from El Salvador, hoping to learn that Brondby had ensured the Danish title. A win at home against FC Midtjylland would make it certain, while a tie would make it highly likely. But they lost at home to the team from Jutland, and so the ace was with the latter, and in the last two matches they did not disappoint, defeating first the defending champions of FC Copenhagen and finally defeating Horsens at home to take the title. Brondby, in the meantime, only managed two meager ties, and ends on a hugely disappointing second spot, after having led the league for most of the season. Their recent Cup title is only a small reward for a team that has been mediocre for many years, and not won a Danish title since 2005, and suddenly seems far from a new title.
I had been ready to wear my Brondby shirt and celebrate. Instead I chose a weekend with no football, not even the FA Cup final (won by Chelsea), promising myself that I would NEVER again watch football.
But next weekend is the Champions League final, so I will wait a bit to never watch football again.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Atletico Madrid champion

On a day like today I do not like living in Latin America: I was unable to watch the Europa League final because it is in my working hours. I was half-following the match on Twitter, and was not surprised in the end when Atletico Madrid basically cruised to a 3-0 victory against Olympique Marselle. They deserve it mainly because of Diego Simeone, who has been heavily criticised this season, but is truly the reason that Atletico Madrid are where they are today: their third Europa League title since 2010; a period that includes two Champions League finals and one Spanish title. Atletico Madrid are the only team that poses a serious challenge to the dominance of Barcelona and Real Madrid, but also show how strong they need to be to compete against the two giants.
Since 2014 Spanish teams have won every European final, except for Manchester United's victory last year. It is indeed a testament to the strength in the Spanish league to have four top teams (although Sevilla has fallen this season), but it does not tell about the entertainment of the league. Here I am of the opinion that English, German, and Italian leagues are better. When it involves the big teams, things are just too predictable and easy for the big teams. In the other leagues (except the French) competition is much better, as more teams fight for the title and on a good day anyone can beat anyone. In Spain this is not the case.
So Spanish football is great because of its great teams, and less so because of its league.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

The owners of the Champions League

Since the Premier League was introduced in 1992 Liverpool have never won it. Their last League title was in 1990, and their last FA Cup triumph was in 2006. So compared to other English sides Liverpool does not seem to represent the best the Premier League can offer; since 1992 Manchester United has won 13 Premier League titles, Chelsea has won five, Manchester City three, Arsenal three (and 9 FA Cups!), etc. But when you look at the UEFA Champions League, Liverpool, who today qualified for the final against Real Madrid, have been dominant: three finals since 2000, including their legendary triumph in 2005. Only Manchester United have done (slightly) better since 1992 (when the Champions League was introduced in its current form): four finals with two wins (1999 and 2008) and two losses (2009 and 2011). But overall Liverpool's history far exceeds that of any other English side: with five wins in seven finals Liverpool is the all-time best English team in the European Champions Cup/Champions League, as well as the fifth best overall (behind Real Madrid, AC Milan, Bayern Munich and FC Barcelona).
It is impossible to say what history means, but it is clear that Liverpool, despite not dominating their domestic league or cup, are simply much better at the biggest European stage than some of the better domestic English sides such as Manchester City, Chelsea or Arsenal. Liverpool showed their European strength when they eliminated Manchester City in this season's quarterfinals, in a tie that they pretty much always dominated against the new English champions.
Liverpool just seems to be the English side that most "owns" the Champions League, and in the Kiev final they will face the European "owners" of the tournament: Real Madrid have won a record 12 European Champions Cup/Champions League out of 14 finals. They are the defending Champions, having won the last two finals (2016, 2017), and have in fact not lost a final in this tournament since 1981.
And who defeated them in 1981?

The final in Kiev will be huge, not just because these are two of the best sides historically, but also because both sides have been extraordinary in the tournament, fantastic players, and in particular because the two sides facing one another have whom I consider the two best managers in the world right now.

Forget the World Cup Final.

I guess on a personal note, before anyone starts bitching that I say something nice about Real Madrid, I must mention that I will never ever support Real Madrid (except when they play against the one team I dislike more, FC Copenhagen). I am a proud Anti-Madridista!