Saturday, June 12, 2021

The unimportance of football

 Just like all Danish and Finnish fans I had been looking forward to Denmark-Finland. For both teams it was a special match: a Danish team full of expectations playing at home in the European Championships, and Finland making their debut in an international tournament.

Finland won 0-1 in what was probably their only attempt on goal in the match, and while that in itself is a historical result, the match will be remembered for Christian Eriksen's terrifying experience when he went down in the 42nd minute of the match. There appeared to be some confusion, but it was soon clear that it was serious, and when we saw that medics giving CPR to Eriksen while shocked players stood around in tears, it became emotionally difficult to watch (I personally stopped watching).

Everyone feared the worse and the match was suspended. There will probably be debate about whether it was the correct thing to do, but an hour later the match continued, and despite Danish pressure Finland managed to get their extraordinary victory. 

Amid the sad circumstances of the match the mutual solidarity between fans and players was extraordinary, and even when Joel Pohjanopalo scored he refused to celebrate in respect. An hour later, Romelu Lukaku (who plays with Eriksen at Inter) dedicated his first goal against Russia to the Dane.

Football transcending rivalry is beautiful.

It is reported that Christian Eriksen is in stable condition in the hospital. As a sports-man he will probably be disappointed that Denmark lost, but I think that everyone considers his recovery to be much more important than any football result. So we all wish him and his family all the best, and congratulate the Finns for a great victory!

Friday, June 11, 2021

One year late, but it is here

Perhaps it is because of the COVID lockdowns, the lack of sports and excitement, or even the one-year delay, but I have been looking forward to these European Championships. This despite the low expectations on quality and the continued xenophobia, greed and politics that continue to haunt football in general, but very specifically when it comes to national teams.

That said, I will enjoy focusing on football ranting over the next month or so, and delighted to see fans in the stadiums!

The opening match was as much a disappointment about Turkey, as about a warning about Italy. I had certainly expected more from the Turks' young team, but they did not seem like a team that wanted or even believed that they could win , and only one shot on goal throughout the match is only witness of a team that was there to defend. 

And they defended well, but we can thank the Italians that it did not work, and Italy's 3-0 victory was not too big. Italy were deservedly rewarded for their patient pressure and dominance, and should indeed be considered one of the candidates to go all the way.

Who are these candidates anyway?

Let us start by saying that all teams can make it; there are no weak sides in the tournament, and on a good day the lowest ranked sides of Finland or North Macedonia can defeat the highest ranked of Belgium or France. And be certain that we will see surprises from smaller sides, as well as disappointments from some of the so-called "giants". That said, there are certainly some teams that I will personally find interesting to watch (in no particular order):

  • France: the defending World Champions have the most complete squad of all, with perhaps the best player in the world, N'golo Kante, as well as super stars as Kylian Mbappe or Rafael Varane, even a returning Karim Benzema, who had been out of the world cup squad. If things work for them as they did in Russia in 2018, they will win
  • Belgium: The side continues to be ranked number 1 in the FIFA world rankings, and continue to have a side that can defeat anybody. However, as in 2018, one has a feeling that they lack one last bit of something to go all the way. That said, personally, Belgium will be one of my favourite teams to watch, and as long as they don't face Denmark (which they will), to support
  • Portugal: One cannot dismiss the defending champions from 2016, despite it being the most boring final of all time. Portugal are still led by the Great Cristiano Ronaldo, who despite his age is still brilliant and surrounded by hugely talented players. Portugal will go for the repeat for sure, and will be contender, although I hope it will be more entertaining than in 2016....
  • Germany: The ever-strong German poor results lately have probably weakened expectations, but one would be silly ever to discount the Germans. This will be the end of the Joachim Low era, and no matter how they do, it will be interesting to see how it ends, and whether it lays a foundation for a new era of for German national football; the talented youngster are plenty. Personally I always look forward to watching Germany, but I never support them!
  • England: I will not support England in any match. That said, any football fan should be excited about their talented young team; after so many years England is managing to get hugely talented youngsters from the best league in the world. After making it to the semifinals of the World Cup they must certainly be considered contenders for the title; expectations from English fans are always huge, but this time they are justified
  • Croatia: I always love watching Croatia, simply because no matter what, they put so much passion into the game. After making it to the world cup final in 2018, they are nevertheless an older side, but still led by the Great Luca Modric, and many talented young players. Despite it all, they are unlikely to win the title, but could defeat anyone
  • Denmark: Of course I am biased, as I will support Denmark, but beyond that, I think that after many years of not having a full first-rate side, Denmark now has a full contingency of solid players, all playing in big clubs in some of the best leagues. In particular defense looks world class (including one of best goalkeepers in Kaspar Schmeichel), and there are many promising young players. The attacking power is still weak, and although they will have to do their best, on a good day they can defeat anyone

Of course, all 24 sides are worth watching, and may I add that Italy (winning today) and Spain should probably also be considered (serious) contenders for the title. Additionally, it will be great to watch and welcome the fans from Finland and North Macedonia to their first international tournament ever, and hope for them that they get some good results and fun on the way!

And last of all: let us enjoy this with respect and friendship centered around our common love for football, and forget all the narrow-mindedness that keeps separating us.

Monday, June 07, 2021

USA-Mexico in the CONCACAF Nations League

The inflation of national team tournaments has reached CONCACAF, and yesterday the very first CONCACAF Nations League final was played in Denver, Colorado, between the two all-dominant teams from the CONCACAF region, Mexico and the USA.

It was an eventful match in what I guess must have been historical in being the first final of this tournament. But also, it underlined the almost-hateful rivalry between the two sides that compete to be the best among all the small teams of CONCACAF. And in Denver the Mexican team was almost at home, as Mexican fans seemed to outnumber the home-fans.

Mexican fans have been known to be passionate, if not dirty, and as has been happening a lot recently, the match was suspended temporarily due to Mexican fans' homophobic chants of "puto". It is ok they suspend the match, and have fined Mexico for this. However, I would love to see this kind of approach in other parts of the world, not least Europe, where national teams still seem unpopular for the mere act of kneeling against racism.

The passion of the Mexican fans seemed to provoke the US players who in my view reacted wrongly to the Mexian fans' attacks. In particular when Christian Pulisic scored the penalty kick for 3-2 in extra time, he rain directly towards the Mexican fans silencing them.

A clear provocation that should have cost Pulisic.

After 2-2 in ordinary time (where the USA twice equalized a Mexican lead), USA went ahead on a penalty which was revised thoroughly on VAR. In the dying second of the match Mexico was awarded the chance to equalize on a penalty, but Andres Guardado's kick was saved by the young Ethan Horvath, who had come on as a substitute for goalkeeper Zach Steffan when he got injured. Horvath, who plays in Club Brugge in Belgium had two great saves before taking the penalty that effectively gave USA the title.

Horvath was the hero of the day.

Less of a hero was the Panamanian referee. Granted, it was not an easy match amid the near-hateful atmosphere in Denver, but the referee did not help, failing to efficiently strike down on the numerous little dirty tricks played by both sides.

It was an interesting and eventful match, but it is nearly impossible to want either of these teams to succeed.

Saturday, June 05, 2021

How I became a Brøndby fan

Recently Brøndby won the Danish league for the first time in 16 years. This made me happy, very happy, but also led to a reflection about why I support Brøndby; how did I become a Brøndby fan?

The first time I saw Brøndby play was in 1987, the year that Brøndby won their second Danish title, and were emerging as the dominant force in Danish football through the 1990s. This was in Ikast, a small town in central Jutland, which had a team that competed in the top Danish league. Now, you could consider that I was an Ikast fan; living nearby I went to many matches in Ikast, so it was the team I supported. That said, Brøndby was putting Danish football on the European stage, and that same year, 1987, Brøndby made it to the quarterfinals of the European Champions Cup only to be eliminated by the later champions of FC Porto.

In 1989 I went to the Danish Cup final with my father. Ikast-Brøndby is a legendary match that ended 3-3, and only in extra time Brøndby ended up winning 6-3 (check it out on Youtube). This was a Brøndby side with players that would become legends: Peter Schmeichel, Lars Olsen, Kim Vilfort, John Faxe Jensen, Brian Laudrup..., and although I supported Ikast in that match, I was impressed by the club and the fans.

Soon after I moved to Spain, USA, and the reference point when living abroad increasingly became Brøndby, and less and less Ikast. In fact, Ikast FS ceased to exist in 1999, when it merged with Herning Fremad to form FC Midtjylland. By this time FC Midtjylland, a team based in Herning, was simply too far from my Ikast-memories, and although I sympathize with the wolves from Herning, I simply feel no connection to the side.

My attachment to Brøndby on the other hand only grew. As I moved to the outskirts of Copenhagen for university, a rivalry was emerging between Brøndby and the newly minted FC Copenhagen. For me Brøndby, the team that had already given me some memories became my natural choice among the many teams in the Danish Superliga. 

I went to Brøndby matches  once in a while (far from enough) and in 1999, when Brøndby qualified for the Champions League, I went to all matches against Bayern Munich, Manchester United and FC Barcelona. The first match, against Bayern Munich, remains a treasured memory, when Allan Ravn's memorable late kick gave them a victory against a German side that would make it to the CL final that same season (against Manchester United).

Although I increasingly spent time outside Denmark, I was in the stadium in 2002 against FCK, another memorable match, when a late equalizer by Mads Jørgensen effectively gave Brøndby the title. 

By this time there was no doubt that I supported Brøndby, and as I have moved from country to country over the last years, Brøndby has remained my point of entry to follow the Danish League. I have been hugely disappointed over the last 10 years, as the club almost went bankrupt (and I purchased stocks in the club) and as they have been unable to wrestle the two powerhouses of Danish football: FC Copenhagen and FC Midtjylland.

But a new title has come, hopefully more years of Brøndby giving us new memories, wherever we are in the world!

Me

Monday, May 31, 2021

The curse is lifted

Cruz Azul has had an awesome season that they were expected to crown today as they played at home at the Estadio Azteca against Santos Lagunas in the second leg of the Mexican Guardianes finals. 

"La Maquina" had won the first leg 0-1, and with a 1-1 tie they took the title that had eluded them for 23 years, to a degree that many believed that there was a curse on the team. Perhaps the curse was in the player's head, as the team initially appeared  tense, and Santos Laguna was clearly the better side in the first half. But the second half was Cruz Azul's and they deservedly got an equalizer from their Uruguayan striker "Cabecita" Rodriguez. They were still nervous though, and the dying seconds of the match exploded into a brawl between the players, as the tension of the dying second was clearly too much for some Cruz Azul players.

A pity to end the match like that, but it was quickly forgotten amid the delight of thousands of fans, who have suffered so many disappointments for 23 years, but have stuck to their team. I am sure they will be celebrating like crazy!

It is interesting that quite a few leagues have been won by clubs that had been waiting for a title for many years, just as Cruz Azul (although none for 23 years!): Spain (Atletico Madrid, 7 years), Denmark (Brøndby, 16 years), Italy (Inter Milan, 11 years), France (Lille, 10 years), or even just here in El Salvador, where FAS took their first title for 12 years.

Maybe it is the year that that ended all curses!

The Salvadoran champions from FAS

Today I watched the final of the Salvadoran Clausura Championship between Alianza FC and Club Deportivo FAS, from the beautiful city of Santa Ana.

Alianza could win their third consecutive title, and together with Santa Tecla they have been the dominant club in El Salvador over the last years. FAS, in the meantime, is in fact the most winning club historically in El Salvador, but their last title was in 2009.

Despite a bad pitch on the Estadio Cuscatlan, the atmosphere was fantastic with fans returning to the stadium. Alianza played a poor first half and were behind 0-1 on an excellent free kick goal by Kevin Reyes. In the second half Alianza put pressure and managed to equalize, but were unable to get a decisive winner despite pressuring a hard-working FAS side. In the end it had to be decided by a dramatic penalty contest.

Twice Alianza had a match-ball in the penalty kicks. First, Henry Romero made a terrible shot that flew out of the stadium, and after CD FAS failed their first "sudden-death" kick, Alianza failed a second kick that could have been a winner when Michel Mercado hit the post. After scoring another, CD FAS goalkeeper Kevin Carabantes made an outstanding save that ended FAS' title drought and has surely started a well-deserved party in Santa Ana.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Chelsea triumph

The season 2020-21 did not start well for Chelsea, who fired manager Frank Lampard in January, and then contracted the German Thomas Tuchel. Under Tuchel the team has changed: they ended fourth in the league and made it to the FA Cup final, but today they took the biggest title of them all: the Champions league title, defeating the Premier League champions of Manchester City 1-0 in Porto.

The situation can be compared to the last time Chelsea won the Champions League in 2012, when Roberto Di Matteo took management over in mid-season, and went on to win both the Champions League and the FA Cup. Tuchel's success also carries a message to his former employer of Paris St. Germain, who fired him mid-season. Paris St. Germain were eliminated from the Champions League by Manchester City, and were pushed aside from the French title by little Lille, only to see their former manager take the CL title .

Personally I must say that Chelsea is not the most lovable club. Nevertheless, Tuchel has built up a very likable team of young players, and I am happy for players like N'golo Kanté, Andreas Christensen, Christian Pulisic and Edouard Mendy. They fully deserve the title and the glory that they have conquered today.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Mano a Mano

The Europa League final 2021 today was a good match. Manchester United and Villarreal were both concentrated and well-organised in a match with chances for both teams. In my view Manchester United were a bit better, and surely deserved the second-half equalizer by the ever-brilliant Edison Cavani. But in the end 1-1 was a fair result of a good match. 

That said, the match will mostly be remembered for the outcome of the penalty kicks: 11-10! There were only a few near misses in what generally represented two of the best-prepared teams for penalty kicks that I have ever seen. Both team´s players appeared cool-headed and concentrated for every kick, most of which were excellent with little or no chance for the Manchester United´s and Villarreal´s respective goalkeepers, David de Gea and Geronimo Rulli. 

At the score 10-10 it was time for a "mano-a-mano" between the two goalkeepers: first Geronimo Rulli scored elegantly against de Gea, before the Spaniard´s shot was saved by Rulli, giving the title to Villarreal and turning the Argentinean goalkeeper into the unexpected hero of the day! 

This is a historical victory for the team from the small town in the Province of Castellón. Their first European title!

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Brøndby Champions

Monday I was in the office, and listed eagerly to Danish radio as Brondby took their first Danish title for 16 years after defeating FC Nordsjaelland 2-0. Despite a nervous start the victory never seemed in doubt, and every Brondby fans has surely felt a sense of relief and eager victory. 

At least I did, as I alone in my office, lifted my arms in celebration, and the held my head a little bit higher as I walked out of the office. 

And make sure of one thing: there are now some people even in El Salvador, that know about Brøndby´s triumph! 

Cheers!

Friday, May 21, 2021

Keep Attacking

 Last time Brøndby won the Danish title was in 2005 under Michael Laudrup as manager. Since then things have not been good as the club barely avoided a bankruptcy as other clubs, most notably FC Copenhagen and FC Midtjylland became the best clubs in the country.

The last couple of years Brøndby has been a title contender, but without luck for the club or the passionate fans.  This season the title race is proving particularly close, but it has always seemed that FC Midtjylland were one bit ahead in the title race. With one match left that has changed: ironically, the arch-rivals of FC Copenhagen gave Brøndby an opportunity to take first place by defeating FC Midtjylland. Brøndby "only" had to win away to AGF, from Aarhus.

Although Brøndby went ahead early, they suffered a red card and an equalizer by AGF, and things suddenly looked bleak. But deep into the second half Mikael Uhre scored a winner for Brøndby punishing a dreadful but fortunate mistake by an AGF defender. 

I did not watch the match. I am in El Salvador; I was at work, but put on the radio in the office, and must admit that I could hardly even pretend to work as the nervous second half advanced.

On Monday, Brøndby faces FC Nordsjælland at home. A victory will give them the title. So nothing is decided yet, although anything but the title would be heartbreaking for Brøndby fans all over the world, even in El Salvador...

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Mighty Barcelona

 The Women's Champions League final has been dominated by Olympique Lyon, winners of the last five editions of the tournament, so today's final in Gothenburg was special in the sense that two teams that had never won the tournament, FC Barcelona and Chelsea, were facing one another in the final.

Both clubs have invested heavily on their women's sides and this investment has given fruit in what are plausibly the best two sides in Europe at the moment; both have won their respective leagues and have some of the best players in the world.

This was unfortunately not obvious in a strange final that was effectively over after a first half during which FC Barcelona walked over Chelsea: they went ahead after only 35 seconds in an unfortunate own goal by Chelsea defender Melanie Leupolz, and then basically cruised to a 4-0 halftime lead on goals by Alexia Putellas, Aitana Bonmati and Caroline Graham Hansen.

A well-deserved first Champions league title for Barcelona's ladies, and the way they are playing it may be the start of a new period of dominance by FC Barcelona.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Happy Foxes

I enjoyed watching the Champions League finals, first of all because of the fans in the stadium; a small step towards the long-awaited normalcy...

It was a dramatic match only after Youri Tielemans spectacular 1-0 goal for Leicester. Until then it had been a very tactical and rather risk-free match, and in particular first half was frankly a bore. But an FA Cup final is always a recipe for drama, and Chelsea pursued an equalizer only to be denied by Kasper Schmeichel and VAR (it was a close but correct off-side call that denied them a goal, although it was harsh).

Leicester won their first FA Cup title ever, and the fairy tale of the club seems to continue. In the meantime Chelsea have another final in two weeks: the Champions League final against Manchester City.

Friday, May 07, 2021

The 2021 CONCACAF Champions League knock-out stages

During the past couple of weeks I have been following the CONCACAF Champions League knockout stages.  I must admit that the last-16 were largely a bit of a bore with huge differences in the quality between the teams, except for the fact that Toronto FC defeated a poor Leon, the 2020 Guardianes champions. 

Perhaps this would be the year for an MLS teams to take the title (since the creation of the CONCACAF Champions League in 2008, Mexican teams have won every time): of the eight quarterfinal sides, five were MLS teams (Portland Timbers, Toronto FC, Columbis Crew, Philadelphia Union and Atlanta United), while only three Mexican sides were represented (América, Cruz Azul and Monterrey). 

But it was not to be: after the quarterfinals, only one MLS team remains, namely Philadelphia, who defeated a surprisingly weak Atlanta United. 

In general, the biggest surprise of the quarterfinals was, in my view, how weak the MLS sides appeared when faced with quality Mexican opposition. 

Toronto FC, whom I would have rated better after eliminating Leon, lost 1-3 at home, but in the return match in Mexico City, looked as a side that had already given up against a Cruz Azul side that barely needed to make an effort to win 1-0 in a very boring match. Columbus Crew was a bit better against Monterrey, and gained a 2-2 draw at home as the Mexicans did not concentrate at the end of the match; but back in Nuevo León there was little doubt of the Rayados' better quality as they won 3-1 against a Columbus side that also looked that they had given up beforehand.

Portland Timbers were aided by dreadful refereeing at home against América with an extra time penalty to make it 1-1. In Mexico City, Portland Timbers at least fought for their chance in what was the best of the four second-leg matches. But America was concentrated and played offensively in a match they won 3-1 (and don't mind another round of dreadful refereeing assisted by VAR!).

After the quarterfinals the semifinals (that will take place in August) look as such:

  • Monterrey-Cruz Azul
  • América-Philadelphia Union

Of course Philadelphia has a chance of making it to the final, and taking the title, but odds are probably on an all-Mexican final, where América-Cruz Azul would be a modern classic between the two rivals from Mexico City.


Wednesday, May 05, 2021

All-English final

After the second leg of the Champions League semifinals we have the finalists: Manchester City and Chelsea.

In my opinion, the best teams also made it to the final.

Manchester City will play their first CL final ever; something they have been trying for years. They were the better team in the second leg, by far, against a poor Paris St. Germain side that without Mbappe looked rather ordinary and a bitter bad loser. Initially I would have hoped to see them in the final, but in the end I was happy it was Manchester City.

Chelsea is the unexpected finalist, but since Thomas Tuchel took over as manager, the team seems transformed and it cannot be discounted at all that they can go all the way. After 1-1 in Madrid, the second leg in London was a good match: Real Madrid went for their chance, but a solid defense and splendid Edouard Mendy kept them away. Timo Werner brought the Londoners ahead in the first half, while Mason Mount made it 2-0 at the end of the match. Chelsea was solid, and their midfield-machine, Ngolo Kante, was truly fantastic, and if he plays as well in the final Chelsea will, in my view, be a slight favourite to take the title.

Manchester City is likely to win the Premier League, while Chelsea is in the FA Cup final (against Leicester), after defeating Manchester City. The sides will also face one another in the Premier League next weekend, so the rivalry of the year seems to be between these two English sides!

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Holes in the Parisian wall

It seems it is not to be the time for Paris St. Germain: in the first home leg of the Champions League semi-final they lost at home to Manchester City. 

In the first half one could not see it coming: PSG were by far the better team and were ahead 1-0 on a header of captain Marquinhos. The Parisians were in control, and were quite a joy to watch; they seemed happy on the pitch! 

But second half turned things around. Manchester City were better, yes, much better, but the Parisians also seemed to welcome the two Manchester City goals. 

First Kevin de Bruyne: what was clearly a cross into the area sailed quietly into goal at the far post. Keylor Navas looked surprised, but I would say that it is always the goalkeeper that should be covering that giant hole at the far post! 

Second, Riyad Mahrez scored on a direct free kick; a wall with holes is not a wall, and while Verrati was lying down to prevent any low shot, Mahrez just fired straight into the wall, where a giant hole led the ball straight into goal and 1-2 for Manchester City! 

PSG were clearly frustrated, and Idrissa Gana was shown a red card to round off an evening that started so well, but end up full of holes for PSG! 

So it seems Manchester City is heading for the Champions League final, where they may face Chelsea, who got a good away result, 1-1, in Real Madrid. But let us see…

Friday, April 23, 2021

FC Midtjylland grasping the title

 I don't have a way to watch Danish football in El Salvador. But I listened to the radio today as I have been grasping to the last straw of hope that Brøndby may take their first title since 2005. But FC Midtjylland has been one point ahead, and looked the stronger side as the Jutland team faced FC Copenhagen today. Ironically, a Copenhagen victory over FCM would give Brøndby a renewed chance for the title, and I must admit that I shortly hoped that FC Copenhagen would win. That said, as I heard in the radio that FCM got ahead 3-0 and were outplaying FCK, I was relieved that at least they were destroying Copenhagen (they ended winning 4-1) A lucky 1-0 victory would have been unbearable.

FC Midtjylland are now 4 points ahead of Brøndby on top of the league. There is still hope, but it seems most likely that they will again take the title. They deserve it, and are probably the most  ambitious professionally managed team in Denmark, and their hard work is rewarded. So a (premature) congratulations to FC Midtjylland, and will continue hoping for another season for Brøndby.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Football 1- Money 0

The Super League lasted only two days, as nine of the twelve clubs involved (except Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus) decided to withdraw after the massive outcry amongst so many people. Since then, some club owners have tried to apologize, while most notably Real Madrid President, Florentino Perez has continued to try to defend the idea with nonsense such as "we will save football". 

Thank God and Fans that the idea has been shelved (for now...).

But one has to wonder: WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?

These people are hugely rich businessmen, who own football clubs, and say that they want to save football; that they are interested in "dialogue" about how to save the game. But in everything they did with this league-idea is contradictory to this: no dialogue (not even their teams knew about the initiative) and no understanding of the traditions and culture that their business is built on. The total proof that a top 0.1% of the richest and most powerful men (always men) in the world, who think that they are the sole owners of the truth.

Truth=Money.

Florentino Perez has been talking about the money they have lost during COVID. I am no businessman; no economist; but I do know that sometimes times are hard, so I have an advise to any football clubs: spend what you have!!!! That is what all us normal people do. But you wouldn't know that.

I am happy it is over for now. But I hardly believe it is over. Money has been sneaking into the world of football for decades. Prices to go to a match are eye-watering (and I am one of the people who can afford it, so I won't be a hypocrite and say I haven't) and it seems impossible to find decent prices or unique TV packages where one can follow matches. 

If we want to save football, that is the dialogue one must have. That said, we must also admit that nothing lasts forever. Football has existed and grown to become a global sport for some 150 years. Maybe it has reached its pinnacle; maybe in 150 years from now football will be a funny quirk amongst historical nerds. Nothing lasts forever, but we are many who don't want to see its early demise.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The League of Greed

The news that 12 European top clubs would form their own European Super League has surely shaken the football establishment, with top politicians even commenting on what most football fans seem to consider a stupid, not to say dangerous, initiative for the sport. 

I always try to be open to any idea. A Super League would get encompass 12 strong teams into what would be some interesting matches. However, this is also the only good thing I can think about the initiative, as much as I try: a closed league would destroy competition and the possibility of the little guy beating the giant; it seems more an initiative for these top clubs to protect themselves and the humiliation of losing to the likes of Alcoyano, Aston Villa, Red Bull Salzburg or FC Porto...

I cannot in any way see that the clubs involved in this league are thinking about the best for the game of football; they must have never played or watched the game in their lives! It seems to be only a question  of who controls the money; the eternal human impulse of greed. 

Although the Champions League also gives plenty of money for UEFA the entire conflict seems to be about who gets the footballing millions: Some football administrators or some of the richest businessmen in Europe, with the financial backing of JP Morgan? 

What will probably happen is that they all will reach some lucrative deal to share the millions, while the interests of the fans are put aside; although many fan groups have said they oppose the Super League, I would be surprised if these same fans are not cheering their teams in the very same tournament in a few years. 

As old-fashioned as it may sound I hope the Super League comes to nothing; that the clubs that have taken the initiative are suspended. That fans, managers and players from these clubs come together to reject the greedy plans that threaten to destroy the sport that they all profess to love. 

But I won´t bet on it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Parisian nailbiter!

 The quarterfinal of this season Champions League between Bayern Munich and Paris St. Germain was an outstanding drama of last season's finalists. Bayern Munich played like worthy champions in both matches. In the home match they were hampered by the absence of Lewandowski as they created chance upon chance, only to be trumped by Paris St. Germain's efficiency in the form of Kylian Mbappe's efficiency. 

So all the cards were in the Parisians hands before tonight's second leg in Paris. 

At least in the first half the cards from the first match seemed to be reversed as PSG attacked and had numerous chances for a goal, while Bayern Munich only needed one chance for Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting to make it 0-1, and put the match within reach of the Bavarians.

The second hand was truly a nail-biter, specially if you are Parisian. it was not elegant, but they pulled back with everything to defend the narrow defeat as the Germans pushed forward, and in fact PSG had good chances on the counterattacks to make an equalizer.

Most PSG fans must have no nails left, but they made it. PSG eliminated the defending champions, and took a big step towards their ambition of their first CL title.

Neymar must be happy. He played a very good match, but missed some big chances, and if Bayern Munich had scored a second, those chances would surely have haunted him. Now he only has the next match to look forward to!

Friday, April 02, 2021

Supporting the workers in Qatar

 The world is quietly waking up to the scandalous human rights abuses in Qatar, which have been amply documented by Amnesty International. As the World Cup qualifiers have started, a team like Norway is debating whether to boycott the tournament, while other teams have been staging protests before their matches, most notably Germany and Netherlands. German players, such as Toni Kroos, have been particularly outspoken on behalf of the largely migrant workers who build the stadiums under conditions that should not exist in the 21st century, and even less under the auspices of the rest of the world and FIFA.

Other teams, such as England have been completely quiet, while Denmark or Austria made discreet protests, almost as if they were afraid to offend anyone, but still express support for the workers.

The discussion will fortunately rage on over the next months. But what about the most important thing? The workers? The people toiling under oppressive conditions so that we can be entertained?

It is not clear whether anything for real is being done to improve their lot, and I am afraid that as the qualifiers and the matches progress, their oppression will move to the background. While boycotting the tournament may not help anyone (not even the workers) a more explicit and committed distancing from fans, players and national associations may be more necessary than ever so that we do not get a World Cup stained by the blood and sweat of the most forgotten but most important people in the World Cup.

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Denmark riding on a wave

Yesterday I managed to watch Austria-Denmark online, alongside some Danish buddies over Skype, and with some beers at hand. 

Football-watching in COVID-times.

Denmark won 0-4 in Vienna, against the team that many consider the other contender for the World Cup spot. This was Denmark's third victory in a row in what must be the best start for World Cup qualifying for any team (journalists were already getting a bit too excited, proclaiming that Denmark was basically qualified): 0-2 victory against Israel in Tel Aviv, and an 8-0 trashing of Moldova means Denmark has 9 points and a score of 14-0!

But as much as the results of the matches, Manager Kasper Hjulmand is in possession of a lot of depth in his team: he used almost 22 players for the three matches, among them many young players, most notably strikers, a position where Denmark has been weak for years: 20-year old Mikkel Damsgaard from Sampdoria scored two against Moldova, and 21-year old Andreas Skov Olsen from Bologna scored two against Austria, and it appears more established players such as Martin Braithwaite or Yussuf Poulsen must be feeling some positive pressure from the youngsters. But also defense, where Denmark has solid players with international experience, seems to have young players to add to the depth of the team, such as Atalanta's Joakim Maehle.

Interestingly, Denmark u-21 team has also been playing the European Championships this last week, and also won their group with three victories against France, Iceland and Russia. So there is a lot of interesting young players coming up the ranks in Denmark.

Of course Denmark is not qualified yet. Far from it. And despite last night's routing of Austria, one feels that they are still to be tested against quality opposition. But after this last week, even with my un-apologetically biased eyes, I think that there is great cause for optimism about the Danish national team!

Saturday, March 20, 2021

The quarterfinals

 The draws for the Champions League quarterfinals are ready, and some really exciting matches ahead:

  • Bayern Munich-Paris St. Germain: Surely the most awaited match, a repeat of last year's final, and this year it can almost be considered an early final, as both remain top contenders for the title. This will be one of the top clashes of the year.
  • Real Madrid-Liverpool: Two of the greatest sides in football history in what promises to be another epic clash. Both sides have struggled this season, and the Champions League appears for both clubs one of the last attempts to get a title this season
  • Manchester City-Borussia Dortmund: Manchester City is doing very well this season, and are probably favourites to reach the semi-finals. However, Borussia Dortmund have been very strong in this CL, and have the most-talked about striker in the world right now in Erling Haaland, who appears to score in every match!
  • FC Porto-Chelsea: Both are former CL winners and probably two of the most underrated sides in the competition, but one must remember that they eliminated giants of Juventus and Atletico Madrid respectively, and one of them will make it to the semifinals, where they will make things difficult for whoever they face.

It is worth noting the absence of FC Barcelona, who for the first time since 2007 are not among the eight best teams in Europe. Also many news outlets have noted the fact that neither Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo will be in the quarterfinals, for the first time since 2005, but surely not the last time. Both great players still have a few good years in them, but this season's quarterfinals has reminded us all that we will not have the possibility of enjoying the two contemporary greats forever.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Cancelled football in South America

The South American World Cup qualifiers that were to take place in two weeks have been cancelled due to COVID. Or at least indirectly: the problem is that quarantine requirements in Europe has made it unlikely that most Europe-based players will be allowed by their employers to travel for the World Cup qualifiers. And obviously, nobody wants to play without their best players, so not only for the health risks, cancellation seems a very sensible decision.

In the meantime, the Copa America has still not been cancelled. It is still to take place in June-July, co-hosted by Argentina and Colombia. The two invited teams, Australia and Qatar, have both announced that they will not participate, leaving the 10 South American sides in the competition. There seems to be an exaggerated optimism that by June the problems of the European-based players will be solved, but besides this, a carelessness about the potential for the virus spreading in a continent that is already hugely affected by the pandemic. In this sense, cancellation seems like the most sensible option: not just postponement, like in 2020, but a full cancellation, and wait for better times.


Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Paris' feeble revenge

In 2017 I watched FC Barcelona pull off an extraordinary comeback in the Champions League against Paris St. Germain. As FC Barcelona was facing PSG again, in the last-16, some were hoping for a repeat after FC Barcelona's humiliating 1-4 home defeat in the first leg. Although it was not to be (the match ended 1-1), I have to say that this is one of the few times I have admired a Barcelona side's spirit, as they kept trying to attack, and were largely unlucky not to get at least a narrow victory. There is a lot of criticism against Barcelona, rightfully, but what they showed today should give Barca fans some hope, as the youngsters are taking up the responsibility. 

And of course: they still have Messi. He seems a bit slower, and also seems less committed than we have seen him before. But he is certainly still an amazing player, and scored a splendid goal (but also missed a penalty kick).

In the meantime one may be able to excuse PSG: at home, but without fans, and with the advantage of having to defend a 4-1 lead, they were very poor; they defended well (with Keylor Navas and Marquinhos playing splendidly), but there was otherwise not much to show, and surely, if they are going for the title, will have to play much better than they did today. At least they got a feeble revenge for what happened four years ago!

A future record?

The young Norwegian striker of Borussia Dortmund, Erling Haaland is one of the players to watch, not just this season, but as he is only 20 years old, also for the future. He has been a veritable goal-machine, and with Borussia Dortmund's elimination of Sevilla in the last-16 of the CL, he scored his 20th CL goal in only 14 matches, becoming the fastest and younger player ever to reach 20 CL goals.

This season he has minimum two more games left to score more goals, but he is likely to have many years ahead to reach the levels of the CL record-holders of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski, Raul and Karim Benzema (the top five goalscorers of the Champions League). Surely a lot of bigger teams must be looking at Haaland, but football fans will also be looking for years to come!

Dramatic justice in Turin

I just watched a fantastic last-16 drama in the Champions League between Juventus and FC Porto. The Portuguese side had won the 1st leg 2-1, so a 1-0 home victory for Juventus would be enough. But just as in the previous match FC Porto seemed to be more motivated and dynamic, and after 19 minutes went ahead 1-0 on a well-deserved penalty kick by Sergio Oliveira. FC Porto were the better side in the first half as Juventus retained a lot of possession, and the few chances they created were saved by a splendid Agustin Marchesin in the Porto goal.

Five minutes into the second half Federico Chiesa made it 1-1. It was in fact a beautiful attack where a sudden pass into the area was brilliantly taken down by Ronaldo, and served to Chiesa who splendidly kicked into the far corner, and one felt that there was now a match. But the referee Bjorn Kuipers thought differently: he gave Porto's Mehdi Taremi a red card at the most intense moment of the match. One observation here: the yellow card was correct, according to the rules, as Mehdi kicked the ball away after a referee call; however, it meant Taremi's second card, and in these intense matches I think that the referee has to give a call according to the intensity. It certainly felt, that at this moment, the referee was handing a gift to Juventus, and at least I went wholeheartedly into supporting Porto.

It was still half an hour from the end of the match when Federico Chiesa, with his second goal, made it 2-1. At this point it seemed that one man ahead, Juventus would bring victory home, but it was then that FC Porto became a heroic side fighting against the odds. They defended with everything until full time, and tired entered into extra time. Both teams were extremely tired, and extra time was more dramatic than well played, with many mistakes, fouls and chances, but also with drama and nerves. Only five minutes to the end Juventus conceded a clumsy free kick outside the area, and Sergio Oliveira shot hard, but with what appeared little plan. The defensive wall jumped and the ball sneaked into goal (and now one understands teams such as Atletico Madrid, who put a player lying down behind a defensive wall in such situations). Understandably, FC Porto celebrated like crazy, but maybe too early, as only one minute later Adrien Rabiot scored for Juventus, and the last few minutes were a nervous defending by the Portuguese side, but nevertheless enough to put them among the eight best teams in Europe.

A pity for Andrea Pirlo's Juventus, who may end the season without a title, but great for an FC Porto side who may be the side to watch in this season's Champions League.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Referee defender

Yesterday I was watching a top match in the Mexican League between Cruz Azul and Toluca. It was an excellent match won by Cruz Azul 3-2 (some excellent goals, specially Cruz Azul's third by Guillermo Matias Fernandez), but the main reason for writing about it was one of the most curious situations I have seen in a football match: the referee saved a goal for Cruz Azul at the score 2-0, when he got in the way for a shot into a completely open goal. You can see it here: 

In the end it had no impact on the result, and after the initial complaints, it seemed most players took the strange incident with humour. The referee´s running may be a bit strange, but it is hard to see that he is much to blame for a very strange situation.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Tears and sport-bras

I just watched the postponed 2020 Copa Libertadores final between Santos and Palmeiras. It was not a memorable match. It was tactical and physical, and in the entire first half not a single shot on goal. In fact, the match started only after the 90th minute, at the score 0-0, when the referee mysteriously added eight minutes of extra time as players were clearly tired in the humid heat of Rio de Janeiro. In those extra minutes the Santos manager, Cuca, received a red card in a situation where he did not seem to do much as a Palmeiras player pushed him. But after a long time of pushing and discussion, the match had only resumed for a few second when Breno Lopes scored on a beautiful header for Palmeiras. With another five minutes added Santos still had a bit of time, but in reality they hardly had the energy to put pressure on the winning Palmeiras side, who with the win have their second Libertadores title ever. The end of the match was full of tears, prayers, and a lot of players who took off their shirts to show their sports bras, something I had not seen before, but find welcoming as football struggles to becomes more tolerant.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Watching Valencia

 It is more than 20 years ago I became a fan of Valencia CF, as I spent a semester watching them make it to a Champions League final. But it has been some years ago that any hint of success has been near the club, and this season has started as one of the worst ever, as the team is lingering around the relegation area. Today I watched them play against Liga leaders Atletico Madrid. Although Uros Racic gave the Valencians an early and surprising lead, there was not much to be positive about in the match as Joao Felix, Luis Suarez and Angel Correa all scored to give Atletico Madrid the victory (and the veteran Luis Suarez, on his 34th birthday, showed class and experience in his goal, and is alone as the leading scorer of La Liga). 

Although many players have left the club, the players remaining are not players that should be playing to avoid relegation, but they do not appear to be performing or having belief in their abilities. It may be a period of lack of confidence that happens to a lot of teams, but the club is also in turmoil as fans today demonstrated against the club leadership who appears to be putting the financial issues ahead of the team (which is ok, but the problem is that in football these two issues are connected). Valencia should not be the kind of club that that should be relegated, but as it is going now, it appears there that it is heading.

There was not much to cheer about as I watched them today.

Friday, January 22, 2021

COVID-19 suspension?

As the COVID-19 virus continues to ravage societies in Europe, many have gone into renewed lockdowns. Although football continues to take place under protocols without spectators, the increasing reports of infections among players have led to discussions as to whether football should be suspended, just as it was last spring.

The discussion is one about what football is for: is it sufficiently important for society so that it should continue? 

As lockdowns pushed people's mental stability, the argument goes, football represents an escape from the reality of quarantines and fear of disease. I find this a strange argument: football has always and will always be an escape for the millions and millions around the world who struggle every day, but who love football. In this regard, football resembles more a religion than the entertainment sport it really is. So if Churches remain open, perhaps football should too?

Football is a mirror of wider society, but at the same time footballers are entertainers, and people see them (right- or wrongfully, mostly the latter), as examples; in this regard football has failed: they take measures not to shake hands at the start of matches, but they, when goals are scored, one sees them hug and kiss, and at the end of the matches hugs and handshakes are exchanged freely. While this does not mean that young strong men will get COVID-19, the example for a society struggling to contain the virus is not the right one. Furthermore, as more reports of sick players appear, one has to wonder whether many of these young men ignore protocols both inside and outside the pitch, and this represents not only a bad example, but a societal risk. 

Football has many societal costs; this should not be another one to add to the list.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Winter in Barcelona and Madrid

Amid a pandemic and and harsh winter in Spain, the two greatest Spanish football sides, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona are both undergoing extended crises. Both have recently suffered humiliating defeats that have underlined their current low forms and the fact that they increasingly risk ending with no titles this season, something that would be completely unheard of.

FC Barcelona has been in a deep crisis even since before their 2-8 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League. The drama of Lionel Messi's wish to leave and the changes of managers was already taking a toll on their performance, and the side has struggled in the new season under Ronald Koeman. This culminated in their recent Supercup 2-3 defeat to Athletic Bilbao, which also saw Lionel Messi receive his first ever red card in the Barcelona shirt when he punched an opponent in the last minute of the match. Messi's action appeared as a complete act of desperation, not just at losing at that match, but at the entire situation with the club. While Messi is clearly carrying a non-performing team on his shoulders (he is the most scoring player), he is clearly not happy; and this is not good for Messi, for his teammates, for FC Barcelona, and for football fans in general. FC Barcelona is in need of some renewal, and as of now, it does not appear that it can happen under the current circumstances.

In Real Madrid Zinedine Zidane, who has otherwise been an outstanding manager, seems unable to manage the crisis that culminated with Real Madrid being eliminated in the Copa del Rey by the 2B Division side Alcoyano, in what should otherwise have been a walkover for a team as Real Madrid. The beauty of football is that these results like these do happen (which Zidane also underlined), but it does points to a crisis where Real Madrid's style and player commitment seems shaky. The team appears to depend on Sergio Ramos, the veteran captain, who seems able to inject energy into the side. There has been a lot of talk of Zinedine Zidane losing his job, but perhaps it shows his enormous standing in the club (having won everything there both as player and manager) that he has not been fired yet. But a lot of (justified) questions are being asked about the route the club is taking.

Real Madrid and Barcelona are trailing Atletico Madrid in La Liga, but are still in the last-16 round of the Champions League, where their current form will be tested to the fullest against Atalanta and Paris St. Germain respectively.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Apache: the Life of Carlos Tevez

Another Netflix show with a football theme is the Argentinean series of 8 episodes about the life of Carlos Tevez. The show includes short interviews with Tevez himself at the start of every episode which chronicle Carlos Tevez' childhood in the poor Argentinean neighbourhood of Fort Apache, and in particular his family's and friends' struggles amid poverty and violence. 

While the story follows Carlos Tevez early life, some episodes and characters have been changed, most notably the story of his friend Danilo Sanchez, "Uruguayo": in the show he is Tevez' best friend and a very talented footballer who is chosen ahead of Tevez to play on the youth side "Liniers", but ends up as a drug addict and dies in a shoot-out. The character is based on a friend of Tevez, Dario Coronel, and in the show represent a sad contrast to how life goes for Tevez, but also to the struggle that young people, footballers or not, have in the most marginalised places in Latin America. It is admirable that Tevez made it with his immense talent, but there are thousands of sad destinies as well.

The show ends with Tevez getting his debut for Boca Juniors as a 17-year old, with his family and friends watching proudly (and his admirable parents, who are not his biological parents, Segundo and Adriana). We all know what happened after in Tevez career: success in Cruzeiro, West Ham, Manchester United, Manchester City and Juventus. At times full with controversy that led him to being an unpopular man in Manchester (because of the way he left both clubs), but also proof that Tevez is his own man, with strong roots in the place where he grew up, and an unconditional love and loyalty to his friends and family.

The show far exceeded my expectations, so I would recommend watching it.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Brazilian final

Yesterday Santos and Boca Juniors faced one another for the second final spot in the 2020 Copa America. Just as River Plate was unlucky against Palmeiras, Boca Juniors were poor as they never really rose to the occasion against an efficient and well-playing Santos side who won 3-0 on goals by Diego Pituca, Yeferson Soteldo and Lucas Braga. I was particularly impressed by the young Venezuelan, Soteldo, who scored a fantastic second goal, but all in all appeared as a fantastic player. It was the first time I saw him play, and hope to see him again.

With the all-Brazilian final we will at least be without the chaos of a River-Boca final as in 2018. After having watched both semifinals I see Santos as the favourites to take the title, which they took last time in 2011. Palmeiras are in their first final since 2000 (which they lost to Boca Juniors), and could take their first title since 1999.

The final will be played on January 30th on Maracana stadium.


Wednesday, January 13, 2021

VARi-Final

In the Copa Libertadores Semifinal second leg Palmeiras tonight faced River Plate in Sao Paulo. After River Plate had lost 0-3 at home in the first left, I did not have not big expectations to the match as I sat down and watched after a long day. But I was wrong as Marcelo Gallardo's side played a magnificent match and were ahead 0-2 at half-time, and continued attacking mercilessly against a Palmeiras side that at times seemed to be praying.

Palmeiras held, and made it to the final, after 10 minutes of added time and huge chances for River Plate. Despite of it being such an intense match, one left with the feeling that VAR had contributed negatively to its intensity as much of the added time was due to this. 

Gonzalo Montiel scored an excellent goal for River Plate to go ahead 0-3, but after a long time the referee cancelled the goal. For a long time it was impossible to see what happened (the commentators kept saying they could not see anything), but it appeared to be a very tight offside, two plays before the goal, where the ball appeared to be tackled into a player that was coming from an off-side position. Even after watching it five times, I had a hard time seeing the foul, and in the end VAR has helped nothing but Palmeiras and time-wasting.

A second situation was a penalty call for River Plate. For a long time they were ready to kick, until the referee decided to consult VAR, and then cancelled the penalty. This decision appeared less controversial, as the River player does appear to dive, but it is not definite, as there is a challenge. But the referee decision did not stand. In the last minute, another penalty situation (this time it was not given by the referee) could have gone River's way. Add to all this an extremely harsh red card for Robert Rojas, and one has the feeling that River Plate did not have bad luck, but rather VAR luck.

It is a pity, but I do not think that the leaders of football are using VAR the right way; in the end it just becomes another layer to controversy...

Palmeiras will face either Santos or Boca Juniors, who will face one another tomorrow in Sao Paulo, after 0-0 in the first leg.