Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Top Ten Footballers 2021

It has not been an easy year to choose favourite footballers; there have been many great players, but also quite varying levels in what has been a long year, with many tournaments and that are hard on the physical and psychological aspects for players. This is my personal list of ten players that have caused an impression on me this year.

10) Lionel Messi: I was close to not putting Messi on the list. That said, he ended a dreadful 2020-21 season for Barcelona as the top-scorer in Spain, and a Copa del Rey. The soap opera of his change to PSG is hardly worth writing about, and the team has not yet been impressive. That said, Messi's great achievement is the Copa America title, where he was finally the experienced leader that Argentina has needed, in a team where he is well-integrated and the entire team is benefiting from his incredible skills.

9) Erling Haaland: One has to be careful about hailing new young stars, but Borussia Dortmund's Haaland was surely on fire, in particular in the first half of the year, when he was averaging two goals per match and reached his 20th Champions League in only 14 matches. He has stayed in Dortmund throughout the year, continuing scoring goals (he remains topscorer in the Bundesliga) at the end of the year, despite interest from all the big clubs. With Norway he missed World Cup qualification, but it will be interesting to follow him next year.

8) Mohammed Salah: Premier League is the best league in the world, and although Liverpool did not win titles in 2021, their performance has been impressive, and at the end of 2021 they remain contenders for the Premier League title with the great Egyptian as top-scorer with 15 goals, and well on his way to get the title of top-scorer that he lost to Harry Kane in the 2020-21 season. He only scored one goal for Egypt in 2021, but is heading to the Africa Cup of Nations and perhaps the World Cup in 2022.

7) Romelu Lukaku: The great Belgian won the Serie A with Inter Milan with himself as their leading goalscorer (but behind Cristiano Ronaldo in the Serie A). His change to Chelsea for the new season has been more mixed as he reintegrates into the Premier League. With Belgium he was also their main attacking threat, although Belgium disappointed in both the European Championships and the Nations League by not making it (yet again) to their full potential. But Lukaku remains a great players and a gentleman of the game.

6) Marquinhos: A bit of a strange year for Brazil's and PSG's Marquinhos because he did not win many of the titles that seemed at his grasp: with PSG they lost the French league to Lille and lost the Champions League semifinals to Manchester City. With Brazil, Marquinhos lost the Copa America final. That said, throughout the year Marquinhos has been a solid defender who is also a goal-threat with his potential headers.

5) Robert Lewandowski: The great Polish player of Bayern Munich is probably the best striker in the world, and according to Leo Messi himself, when receiving the Balon d'Or, was the rightful winner in 2020. Winning the 2020-21 Bundesliga with Bayern Munich, he scored an incredible 41 goals, the most ever in a season, and beating the record of legendary Gerd Muller. On the Polish national team he remains the leading goalscorer, and although Poland did not impress, he became the first Pole to score in three consecutive European Championships when he scored against Spain in June.

4) Edouard Mendy: There has been a lot of talk about goalkeepers this year; Gianluigi Donnarumma was named best player of the European Championship, and there have been impressive goalkeepers all-round (Emiliano Martinez, Kasper Schmeichel, Keylor Navas), but I think that Edouard Mendy has been the best of them all, being impressive in the European Champions League winners of Chelsea (and the first African goalkeeper in a CL final), and playing a crucial role in both Chelsea's and Senegal's strong defensive record.

3) Ngolo Kante: N'golo Kanté is one of the greatest players in the world, and alongside Jorginho make up an awesome midfield duo at Chelsea, that greatly contributed to the rise of the Londoners throughout the year, and their Champions League title. Kanté runs, tackles and intercepts throughout a match, and was also a key player for France's Nations League winners (despite the disappointment at losing out to Switzerland at the European Championships). Besides his outstanding qualities as a footballer, Kanté also displays one of the rare traits among footballers as being a humble man.

2) Alexia Putellas: I did not know Ms. Putella until this year, when I saw her shine in FC Barcelona's Champions League triumph against Chelsea. She crowned a fantastic season with Barcelona (where she also won the league) with almost-certain qualification for the 2023 World Cup, and is undoubtedly the best female footballer in the world right now, as well as certainly one of the best footballers overall in the world.

1) Jorginho: A fantastic year for a fantastic player who is perhaps the best in the world at the moment (just scoring goals is usually what gets all the credits, but versatile players like Jorginho do all the work on a pitch). He was the ever-working player in the Italian European champions midfield, and was the player who most ran in the tournament, recoveries, passes and interception. Surely having Jorginho on the team was like having an extra player, but also an intelligent player who is able to lead the team. And it was not only for Italy that Jorginho was impressive, but he was also key in Chelsea's Champions League triumph, and as Chelsea continues competing for the Premier and Champions League titles.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Top Ten Teams of 2021

In terms of football, 2021 has been a strange year with many leagues being won by unexpected teams, as well as harsh competition in the European top leagues, including national team tournaments (as well as Olympic games). So, while not easy, the following is my personal list of top 10 football teams that have made an impression of me in 2021:

10) Union Saint Gilloise: This side from the Brussels neighbourhood of Saint Gilles were promoted to the Belgian first Division after 48 years. And this season the underestimated side has taken everyone by storm, and as the year ends, the side is leading the Belgian first division ahead of Club Brugge, and are dreaming of a title that they have not taken since 1935. 

9) Brøndby: I am a Brøndby fan, so I won't hide my subjectivity here. That said, it was not only a personal delight that they took the title for the first time in 16 years, but more broadly it was positive to see another team being able to challenge the two dominant teams of Danish football, FC Copenhagen and FC Midtjylland.

8) Denmark: This was the year to again support Denmark. The Danes not only qualified for the 2022 World Cup in awesome style, but most memorably won hearts of many fans during the European Championships, where they played great football and with spirit after the near-tragedy of Christian Eriksen in the first match against Finland. Denmark made it to the semifinals, losing to England on a controversial penalty, but the Danish team proved yet again that in football, winning is not the most important thing.

7) Inter Milan: Many sides that had not won the league for a long time broke their spell. In Italy, Inter Milan had not won since 2009, and broke Juventus nine-year dominance to take their 19th Serie A title under the management of Antonio Conte (who in the new season changed to Tottenham). Under the new manager Simone Inzaghi, they are also ahead in the Serie A at the end of the year, and have also progressed to the Round of 16 of the Champions League, where they will face Liverpool.

6) Lille OSC: With the money and players that Paris St. Germain have available, it is difficult for any other team to challenge the giants for the title. Indeed the Parisians have won the title seven times in the past eight years. But the season 2020-2021 was won by Lille, managed by Christophe Galtier (who for the new season went to Nice), with a team that combined young talent and experienced players, but who most of all proved yet again that in football you don't (necessarily) win by just having a bunch of well-paid superstars.

5) Italy: Italy won a very entertaining and competitive European championship tournament (delayed one year due to COVID) in the final against England at Wembley, ruining the party that the English appeared to have planned for (and sadly many Englishmen proving sore losers). In my personal view this was the best Italy I have ever seen. It has been happening for some years now (I would say the 2012 Euros), but Italy has finally abandoned its infamous catennaccio, and have been great to watch. They have struggled in the World Cup qualifiers, but hopefully they will make it to Qatar.

4) Palmeiras: The Brazilian giants won the Copa Libertadores twice in 2021; due to the COVID delays the 2020 final was played in January, when Palmeiras defeated the fellow Paulistas of Santos 1-0. The 2021 final was played in November, and Palmeiras won again, this time 2-1 against Flamengo. Although they have not won a competitive Brazilian league since 2018, they are surely one of the best teams in South America at the moment.

3) FC Barcelona women: In a year where FC Barcelona's men have been poor, the women's side has been awesome, taking the first ever Womens' Champions League title for the Catalans in a final where they walked over Chelsea, winning 4-0. They are also totally dominant in the Spanish League, winning their third consecutive title, and while they excel as a team, they also have the best female player in the world in the form of Alexia Putellas. FC Barcelona could dominate women's football for many years to come.

2) Argentina: The organization of the Copa America was a mess. Originally it was to hosted by Colombia and Argentina, but at the last moment COVID prevented it from going ahead, and in the end it was hosted by Brazil, in a tournament that lacked the passion engendered by fans in its empty stadiums. Brazil were huge favourites to take the title, but in the final at the legendary Maracana an Argentinean side led by Lionel Messi won 1-0 and its first Copa America since 1993. It was also Lionel Messi's first title with an Argentine side that is also almost certain to qualify for Qatar with a team that could surely contend for the world title.

1) Chelsea: Chelsea did not start the 2020-2021 season well, but when they hired Thomas Tuchel to take over from Frank Lampard in January things soon changed and they went on to win the Champions League title in style, defeating Manchester City 1-0 in an all-English final. They also made it to the FA Cup final, nearly winning the double, but losing to Leicester only shows the high competitive level in English football. In the new season they continue playing well, but will have to fight hard for the title against Liverpool and Manchester City. They made it to the Round of 16 of the Champions League, only losing to Juventus to take second place in their group, and will be facing the French champions of Lille. Thomas Tuchel has done great work with the best midfielders in the world in the form of Ngolo Kante and Jorginho, but also impressive players in defense as Andreas Christensen, Cesar Azpilicueta, Antonio Rudiger, and the great Edouard Mendy in goal.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Sergio "Kun" Agüero

Nowadays 33 years is not too much of an age for a footballer. That is the age at which Sergio Aguero has announced an early retirement due to some kind of heart problems that gave him a scare a few months ago in an FC Barcelona match. Mr. Aguero´s Barcelona career was short (only four matches); but not so his 10-years at Manchester City where he became a legend. It also remains one of my own memories of Sergio Aguero when he brought the Premier League title to Manchester City with a memorable comeback against QPR. He ended up scoring 184 goals and winning five PL titles and one FA Cup during his time there. 

As an Argentina fan I think his performances were more disappointing despite his 41 goals in 101 matches. He was part of the 2014 and 2018 World Cup sides, as well as won an Olympic gold medal in 2008 and the 2021 Copa America winners. But I think he never reached the high levels that he reached in both Atletico Madrid and Manchester City.

That said, Sergio Aguero is a great player that will be missed on the football pitches, and with gratitude wishing him a great post-footballing career!

Sunday, December 05, 2021

The Qatari disgrace

 As more and more teams are confirming their qualification for next year's World Cup in Qatar, it is truly disturbing to hear that Qatar's small advances in protecting the rights of the workers are not advancing further, but in fact going back. Two weeks ago Amnesty International published a new report on how things are going, and they are indeed looking bleak. Barely a week after the report two Norwegian journalists were detained in Qatar after reporting on the fear and implicit corruption that is behind the organization of the World Cup.

I think it is clear that the Qatari regime appears to have no intention to improve the lot of its migrant workers, and also appears to be willing to go to great lengths to hide anything that could be problematic.

Obviously the World Cup will be held in Qatar. FIFA will not do that, and I am not going to bother reflecting on the despicable reasons for any of FIFA's actions. 

Neither will any government cancel its participation in the World Cup: there will simply not be a sufficient number of countries that will support it, and without this, there will be no meaning to do it. Indeed, the attention of the World Cup is only of great interest to most governments, as it only takes attention away from them at a time of crises all around the world.

The World Cup is the opium of the people.

So what can we do about it? How can we help our brothers and sisters, migrant workers, suffering and being oppressed in Qatar? (a country that also discriminates against women and LGBTI people). I think the recent European championship gave some small indications that I hope fans and teams participating in Qatar will take up: send a strong message; carry t-shirts calling for rights; carry pictures of the many workers who have died; send messages in support of LGBTI people and the family's of migrant workers who have lost their loved ones; wave the flags of Nepal and Bangladesh (where most migrant workers come from) during the matches; I hope players from all teams will take a knee as they have beautifully done against racism, but will do it for Human Rights in Qatar; I hope players will be vocal, as they have been doing a lot recently, and denounce the Qatari treatment of the weakest people who have built the stadiums where they can play, where only global millionaires will be able to get tickets to watch them.

Qatar doesn't deserve the World Cup. FIFA doesn't own the World Cup. The World Cup belongs to the people, to the fans and the players (who are fans too), and they will make the World Cup great, but hopefully denounce the greed of the people who claim to own the World Cup.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Canada Number 1 (!)

"Canada number 1" is something I have never said before, but it is the truth in the CONCACAF region´s qualifiers, where the top three qualify directly for Qatar, while the fourth gest a play-off. Although everyone who has been watching Canada lately knows that the team, captained by the phenomenal Alphonse Davies from Bayern Munich, is to be reckoned with, their rise culminated yesterday with a 2-1 victory over Mexico, the team that has historically always dominated CONCACAF. Canada already tied 1-1 in Mexico City, and recent victories over Costa Rica and Panama has put them on top, and we should all be looking forward to a clash between USA and Canada, going for first spot. 

Mexico, traditionally dominant in CONCACAF has fallen to third place after their two defeats to USA and Canada respectively, with 14 points, alongside Panama on fourth spot, also with 14 points. That said, it appears that the top four in CONCACAF is taking shape: after defeating El Salvador 2-1, Panama and Mexico are five points clear of Costa Rica on fifth place. Panama, coached by the Spanish-Dane Thomas Christiansen, are looking for their second World Cup in a row, and have already played some epic matches to defeat the USA, and coming from behind to defeat both Honduras and El Salvador. 

My prediction is that the CONCACAF will end as its stands, with Mexico, USA and Canada qualifying, and Panama going to the play-offs. 

 In the meantime, I should say something about El Salvador, because it is the country in which I am currently residing. El Salvador´s manager Hugo Perez is being widely criticised for the lack of results and from some quarters also for his selection of some players who were not born and bred in the country, but are rather a product of the country´s huge diaspora, mainly in the USA. The team is relatively young, and I think Mr. Perez has a long-term plan, to build up a base of young foreign-based players who are now gaining experience and could compete for the 2026 World Cup. Right now, the team is clearly not competitive at the highest levels; even when they went ahead early against Panama they lacked a high pressure and controlling the match against a much more experiences and tactically savvy Panamanian side. The problem appears a lack of patience with the lack of quick results and what I consider a strange lack of support when things are not going well: last week´s home match against Jamaica was not sold out in San Salvador even though it was a crucial match for a team that could still qualify for the World Cup. 

These are the matches where the stadium should be sold out. Instead, with lacklustre support, El Salvador and Jamaica tied 1-1, and with the defeat to Panama, El Salvador are likely out of the contest. Good luck, and hope they can get more support next time.

Heading for Qatar

 I must admit that I have been watching a lot of football the last few days; World Cup qualifiers from Europe, South America, Concacaf, and even watched good ole’ Liberia lose 0-2 to Nigeria, who goes on to win the group and is in the run for a World Cup spot.

In Europe all Group winners have been decided, with the two big surprises being Switzerland and Serbia. They Serbians did the unexpected by winning 1-2 in Lisbon to take first spot in the group ahead of Portugal, who were even 1-0 ahead and would have won the group with a tie. The other surprise were Switzerland, who did what they had to do by defeating Bulgaria 4-0, as Italy’s European champions were unable to get past 0-0 against Northern Ireland. Four years ago Italy also missed out on the World Cup in the play-offs, and although I think they will make it, the play-offs will be nerve wrecking: twelve teams will fight for three World Cup spots, and some of the teams besides Italy and Portugal include Russia, Poland, Wales, Sweden and Scotland.

The European sides going straight to Qatar from Europe are:

  • Group A: Serbia
  • Group B: Spain
  • Group C: Switzerland 
  • Group D: France 
  • Group E: Belgium 
  • Group F: Denmark
  • Group G: Netherlands
  • Group H: Croatia
  • Group I: England
  • Group J: Germany
In the meantime in South America Brazil and Argentina tied 0-0; Brazil has qualified while Argentina are on the verge of qualifying. Ecuador appears a relatively solid third after a strong 0-2 away win in Chile, while there is a bitter fight for he next two spots. Colombia, after yet another 0-0 against Paraguay is on fourth place with 17 points, with only two points down to Bolivia on 8th place. Bolivia defeated Uruguay 3-0 in La Paz, and are thus still playing for a place in Qatar. The only team that has no option of qualifying is Venezuela, while all other teams are still in the contest with just four matches left. Peru is currently in fifth place, with 17 points, following a win over Venezuela, and will face Colombia in the next match.
Await some epic matches in South America!

Friday, November 12, 2021

Brazil to the World Cup

There has never been a World Cup without Brazil, and Qatar will not be the first one. In fact, Brazil is looking as strong as ever. After twelve matches in the South American qualifiers they have eleven victories and only one tie, after today’s 1-0 home victory over Colombia. The Colombians were looking good in the first half, well-organized and occasionally dangerous despite their lack of goals. In the second half Brazil nevertheless pressed forward, and got their goal through Lucas Paquetá following a great pass from Neymar, who does a fantastic work on this team. All in all Brazil is strong on every position, playing great football, and are looking like a team determined to break the European hold on the World Cup title.

Despite Colombians lack of optimism, I still think that they will qualify. They are currently on the fifth play-off spot with 16 points alongside Chile on fourth and Uruguay on sixth. Colombians main problem is that they are not scoring many goals, although their defense is now looking solid after their debacle against Ecuador. The return of James and Falcao are in my view on the solution to their goal-scoring problem, although I still believe that with their quality they should make it to Qatar.

A World Cup without Brazil is unthinkable, but a World Cup without Colombia would be disappointing.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Coming Barcelona manager?

Ronald Koeman had to go after another recent loss of FC Barcelona, this time against Rayo Vallecano in the Spanish League. While Lionel Messi's exit and the clubs financial troubles were bound to affect the Catalan powerhouse, the impact has been much worse than was expected. That said, it is not only due to Messi's exit; already before the Argentine wizard leaving, the team appeared in trouble and largely depending on Messi. Without Messi, Koeman's tactical weaknesses have been exposed, because the team has sufficient talented players to be competitive. Koeman's plan with the team does not appear clear, and perhaps a new manager can give a push to the club and its talented players.

FC Barcelona is a complicated football club to manage (they are, indeed as their motto says "more than a club"), and a manager should know well the culture of the club. Koeman knew the club from his playing career, but did not manage to steer them in the right direction. The next manager appears likely to be another legend of the club: Xavi Hernandez, who left the club in 2015 after winning everything, is set to return. His experience as manager has only been at Qatar's Al Sadd, where he has won one League title, but his in-depth knowledge of the club makes him an obvious candidate for manager, perhaps to retake what other former players have done at their former clubs.

It will be a challenge for Xavi, but interesting to follow whatever happens at FC Barcelona.

Rayados Champions

 The final of the CONCACAF Champions League was again a contest between two Mexican sides: América against Monterrey. Neither team had ever lost a final. América are leading the Mexican league, and had won all their previous finals, but were playing in Monterrey, where the Rayados are notably strong (although they have not been looking strong this season).

But no statistics or history were obvious when the match got started: Monterrey attacked from the start and got an early lead by Rogelio Funes Mori, after a dreadful mistake in the clearance by the America defender Sebastian Cáceres. Funes Mori was in my view in a clear off side position when the pass was made towards him. But Cáceres failed clearance, when he touched the ball, seems to have nullified the pass, similarly to the situation when Mbappe scored in the recent Nations League final

I am still a bit taken aback by this new interpretation to the offside rules.

That said, 1-0 was enough for Monterrey to take their fifth CONCACAF Champions League title since 2011, and it was well-deserved in a match where they came closer to the victory than an America side that appeared far from its best form.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Manchester United in trouble

It is seldom one sees as one-sided a classic match as that between Manchester United and Liverpool on Saturday, when Liverpool gave United a legendary trashing of 0-5. Despite all of Manchester United´s weaknesses, one must first give credit to a Liverpool side that has found its groove from a couple of years back, and who will be battling for the Premier League title with Chelsea (and possibly with Manchester City, but I predict a race between Liverpool and Chelsea). Mohamed Salah, with three goals against Manchester United, is back as possibly the best striker in the world at the moment, while balance in defense and midfield seems to be perfect for Liverpool. 

 In the meantime Manchester United has no defence, and it was incredible to see two such experienced players as Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw being outplayed again and again by Liverpool´s attacks. Cristiano Ronaldo is a threat by the mere fact of his immense talent; a World Class Player without a doubt, but it does seem that the team is struggling tactically to integrate him. It is a pity to have a player of such quality only to show him off rather than to make the team better, but that is what seems to be happening. A lot of people are saying that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should leave as a manager, and with these results it is hard to disagree with, although there is also a feeling that the problem is deeper that the Manager, and that Manchester United, despite its immensely talented squad, needs something else to improve.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

No Human Rights in Qatar

In the euphoria of qualification we tend to forget that our football teams are qualifying to a World Cup in a country that should never have been awarded the tournament, and where the rights of workers are disregarded, bot to say abused.

A tournament that is built on the sweat and tears of thousands of people who do not have the luxury of enjoying football, but who have to fight to escape poverty. I was disturbed to read on Amnesty International´s site about the continued mistreatment and deaths of migrant workers in Qatar; it appears that having the world's eyes on you make no difference to how you treat people who work for you. 

Is there anything football fans can do? Why can we not scream our lungs out for these migrant workers? Why not carry banners and flags to the stadiums in support of these workers? Just like we carry rainbow flags, why not carry the flags of Bangladesh and Nepal, where many of the workers come from? Carry the pictures of these guys, guys like you and me, who were trampled on by football? Why not make such a fuzz that it can shame FIFA and the Qatari government into a minimum of respect for human rights? 

I hope there will be more of a fuzz to create attention and combat the abuse of migrant workers in Qatar.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Denmark is going to Qatar

The news that Denmark are qualified for the World Cup in Qatar have been news waiting to happen for a long time. With seven straight victories and a goal difference of 26-0 Denmark have been on the verge of securing qualification for a while, but it only happened today, when they defeated Austria 1-0 at home at Parken. It was not a truly exciting game, but the Danish victory was well-deserved, as they continue towards a record perhaps of 10 straight victories and no goals against in the last two matches against the Faroe Islands and Scotland respectively.

No matter what happens in those two matches Denmark are group winners and bound for Qatar, alongside Germany who qualified this weekend. These are the first two qualified teams, who along Qatar will form the 32 side in next year's World Cup.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Controversy in France's victory

I have no problem with France winning the Nations League final today, 2-1 against Spain. France went down 0-1 on a goal by Mikel Oyarzabal, but as they had done against Belgium the French side fought back to win the match, firstly by a spectacular equalizer by Karim Benzama, and then a controversial winner by Kylian Mbappe.

The problem with the victory was Kylian Mbappe's winning goal: it was clearly off-side. This time the problem was not VAR, but was the referee's interpretation that a slight touch by the defender Eric Garcia, meant that Mbappe received the ball from the latter.

Although I have read that this constituted the (strange) interpretation of a rule whereby the pass is deemed to come from Eric Garcia. However, if this is correct, it is a dangerous interpretation: the pass from Theo Hernandez  was clearly aimed at Mbappe, who was in an off-side position when the pass was made. Eric Garcia made an attempt to clear, but barely touched the ball as it reached its intended target. This was not an attempted pass from Garcia!

The great Kylian Mbappe was ice-cold in front of goal when given the opportunity.

France deserved to win, and congratulation to them, but it is clear that they won by a goal that in my opinion should not have been allowed to stand.

Thursday, October 07, 2021

Belgium... sigh...

Today's second semifinal of the Nations League was between France and Belgium, who were fighting to see off Spain in the final.

Belgium had plenty to fight for: their greatest generation ever have never won a title, and they were facing a French side that in 2018 beat them out of the semifinals to become World Champions. Belgium, despite being ranked #1 in the FIFA World ranking, have nevertheless shown plenty of weaknesses, and these were sadly exposed today to the disappointment of all Belgium fans (I include myself), just as they were some months ago against Italy in the European Championships.

Belgium have an awesome force in Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku, and in the first half of the match they played together to a splendid goal by Lukaku which put Belgium ahead 2-0, after a splendid Yannick Carrasco had put Belgium ahead 1-0. Although Belgium had not been outright dominant (who can dominate France anyway?), they looked the more dangerous and organized team, and I think we all thought that they could carry the match home after the first half.

All credit to France, who came out to play their chance in the second half, but the Belgians also appeared like a team that stopped playing: there was no speed or ambition in their play in the second half, as they seemed solely to rely on a poor defense, a strong Courtois, and long balls up to a lonely Lukaku. In the meantime France, World Champions, do have a powerful attack that nobody should underestimate: Karim Benzema made it 1-2, Kylian Mbappe made it 2-2 on penalty (and fully redeemed himself from the infamous penalty miss against Switzerland in July), and in the end Theo Hernandez made it 2-3 for France in the 90th minute of the match after an excellent build-up by a French side that played their chance against the feeble Belgians.

Have no doubt that France-Spain will be a great final. But for Belgium's golden generation this should be one of the biggest of many disappointments, and one should consider whether it is time for Roberto Martinez to go.

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Why the World Cup should not be every two years

 There has been a lot of discussion about this lately, with FIFA apparently gathering strength to propose to hold the World Cup every two years. As is probably to be expected I am against this: nothing is more special in terms of football than the World Cup (if not in quality, where the Champions League is much better), and already the expansion of the number of teams is diminishing its importance, and holding it every two years will further diminish it to nobody's benefit (I understand if FIFA sees it as a potential for short-term profit, but I cannot see how it can be any benefit whatsoever in the longer term).

And I think today's Nations League semifinal between Italy and Spain is another example that FIFA should be careful to not give us so many matches, that in the end nothing is special. The match was great, with the European Champions of Italy losing an exciting match 1-2 to a rising Spanish side. Arguably two of the best teams in the world, playing a competitive match at the highest level, but the stadium in Milano was not even sold-out! This should be proof enough that if too many matches are there, interest from fans will diminish.

A great match, and probably a great final, but there is already so much football, that FIFA must be careful to take away what makes it special.

Christmas every month would not be special.

Friday, September 17, 2021

The CONCACAF Champions League 2021 finalists

The CONCACAF Champions League has always been won by Mexican teams, and this year will be no exception as the finalists have been found, and they are both Mexican sides.

Philadephia Union were the only MLS team represented in the semifinals, but were against all odds when playing the Mexican giants of Club America. The Mexicans had won 2-0 at home, and repeated the victory in Philadephia with the same score.

Club America will be playing their 8th final in the CONCACAF Champions League/Cup, and the team managed by Santiago Solari have reason to be optimistic, as they have won all of their seven previous finals.

The other finalist will be the "Rayados" from Monterrey. They roundly defeated the defending Mexican champions of Cruz Azul. They first won 1-0 in Monterrey, and then trashed the Cruz Azul side in Mexico City 1-4. Sadly the match had to be suspended halfway through the second half (when Monterrey were already 1-4 ahead) due to the frequent problem in Mexican football of a homophobic chant (I don't understand much what suspending it does, as I think that whoever chanted did not care; much more efficient would be to find the perpetrators and suspend them from the stadium with a fine, and play future matches without spectators; if it continues, throw the teams out of the tournament!).

Monterrey have won the Champions League four times, the first in 2011, so all their titles have been in the Champions League era. And just as America: Monterrey have never lost a CONCACAF Champions League final.

So one of the teams will lose a final for the first time, and as strong as they are looking, it could be either of them.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

In Brugge

I had already said that Club Brugge could only surprise, and in the first match of their Group A in the Champions League the Belgian side surprised none other than mighty Paris St. Germain. One might think that the result of 1-1 was the surprise, with Club Brugge fighting to get a tie, but you would be wrong: Club Brugge deserved a victory, and were prevented by a Keylor Navas who proved that Donnarumma will have to fight hard to be a starter.

Club Brugge played exactly like Paris did not: as a team, and supporting one another throughout, some players stood out, notably the Colombian Eder Balanta, the young Charles de Ketelaere, and the captain Hans Vanaken, who scored the goal for Brugge. 

One must, first of all, credit Club Brugge for a fantastic match, which made Paris look weaker. That said, the Parisians seemed more like 11 talented individuals rather than one team. They will not win the tournament playing like that, and it is clear that they will have their hands full in their next match against Manchester City, who defeated RB Leipzig 6-3.

And nobody should be surprised about Club Brugge any longer!

Sunday, September 05, 2021

A most memorable non-match

Brazil-Argentina is one of the greatest clashes in the world, and today the two giants were to play a world cup qualifier today in Sao Paulo. The match started normally and I think all fans, including myself watching on TV, were hoping to watch a great football match, but instead it was a memorable show for its farcical scenes.

Five minutes into the match some officials ran onto the pitch and huge discussions erupted, which ended with the Argentine team walking off the pitch and the match suspended. The officials were apparently Brazilian health officials, who were there to deport four Argentine players, whom they alleged had breached Brazilian COVID-19 rules to enter Brazil. 

The four players are Premier League players, and according to Brazilian rules, people who have been in Britain must quarantine for 14 days. It was due to this that Brazil had not called up any of its players in the Premier League, after players had been disallowed to travel by their clubs. Argentina, on the other hand, had called up the players despite their clubs trying to block it, and the players had allegedly lied in the COVID-19 forms when entering Brazil. At the same time, Argentina appears to allege that they are under CONMEBOL and FIFA rules that have provided exceptions to quarantines; rules that were introduced for the Copa America.

There is no doubt whatsoever that anyone, including football players, must fulfill quarantine rules. But it is also the case that when these rules are not clear, then guessing becomes the rule. It appears that neither the Argentine Football Federation nor CONMEBOL had checked up with Brazilian authorities about the presence of the players. At the same time, the Brazilian football association appeared to have no problem with the Argentina PL players, and for three days Argentina were in Brazil, but only when the match had started, the Brazilian authorities decided to take action on the players, which appears if not farcical, at least strange.

In the long-winded TV images from the discussions it was nevertheless refreshing to see Brazilian and Argentina players being confused together, and as the good friends they are, smile at the farcical situation at a moment when they should have been facing each other in a footballing contest.

In the end this is another example of chaotic and disorganised football, that adds nothing positive to South America's image of being the home of the world's best footballers, but also the world's worst football organisers...

Friday, September 03, 2021

Why not throw them out?

 Hungary’s fans behaved as racist animals in their enormous defeat against England in Budapest. Besides the happiness that we should all have when Hungary loses, and the way we should celebrate when these people don’t qualify for the World Cup, this again brings to the forth the football organizers’ lack of willingness to do anything about it.

Firstly, if Hungary has already been ordered to play three matches without fans by UEFA; how come FIFA does not act on this? Do they not talk to each other? Or just assume that the racists are not interested in World Cup qualifiers?

Secondly, why such feeble punishments? Three matches without fans and some fine that they can pay with pocket change? Why not something like banning them from playing home games, not for a few games, but for years? Or rather, in my view, why not show that we mean to combat the scourge of racism by simply throwing out the teams of the tournament?! This would not be new: countries have been banned from World Cups for “government interference” or even using overaged players… 

I know some people would argue that a majority should not suffer from the animal behavior of a minority. But when the racism happens consistently at every game and there is no internal rejection of this behavior by the “majority”, then the majority is, sorry to say, complicit in the behavior. This includes everyone; also those in and around the team: your fans are part of your team, not just when they are great, but also when they are beasts (England knows this…), and so you carry a responsibility too; don’t’ turn away from it.

So these teams should just be thrown out of the tournament. 

Nobody will miss them.

European World Cup Qualifiers

The last two days have seen some interesting European World Cup qualifiers (which I have unfortunately not been able to watch):

  • Denmark is continuing on the way to the the World Cup: a 2-0 victory against Scotland was their fourth straight victory, and with a score of 16-0 they appear to be more and more certain to qualify
  • Portugal defeated Ireland 2-1 on two goals by Cristiano Ronaldo, which makes him the most scoring player on any national team ever.  (and more to come). Truly a legend.
  • Sweden defeated Spain 2-1 in Stockholm to take the first spot in group B and make things more exciting in a group that initially seemed like a walkthrough for Spain
  • England defeated Hungary 0-4 in Budapest and with four victories also appear on their way towards the World Cup, although Poland, who defeated Albania 4-1, are right behind them
  • The European Champions of Italy played their first match after winning the title, but were disappointing as they only managed 1-1 at home to Bulgaria
  • Germany played their first match under their new manager Hansi Flick, and won an unimpressive albeit important victory 0-2 over Liechtenstein. This puts them in second spot behind a surprising Armenia

Let us be frank: the only national teams worth to watch are in Europe, South America, and some in Africa. Today I had a ticket to go to see a CONCACAF World Cup qualifier: El Salvador versus USA at the Estadio Cuzcatlan in San Salvador, but given the chaotic evening traffic it was impossible for me to even get to the stadium. This would have been my first football match for two years, and my only consolation is that it was between a USA side that I will never ever support, and a Salvadoran side whose only claim to fame is having lost 10-1.

So I could care less.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Ronaldo's return to Manchester

Cristiano Ronaldo will return to Manchester United, the club that saw his career take off after he joined them at the young age of 18, and spending six years there, winning three Premier League titles and the Champions League in 2008. In 2009 Ronaldo changed to Real Madrid, where he spent nine years that made him a legend, with four CL titles and 450 goals (the most scoring player in Real Madrid's history). 

Ronaldo's last three years in Juventus saw him win a Serie A title and scoring an amazing 101 goals. But it was perhaps not what Ronaldo expected, and the transfer to United has happened amid stories that he wanted to leave.

Manchester United may be his last club, as he is already 36 years old (but in amazing physical shape), but also a club that will clearly be fighting for titles during the season: Ronaldo will be joining a club with Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford, Luke Shaw, Bruno Fernandes, Fred, as well as Raphael Varane (former teammate at Real Madrid). 

I think all football fans should be grateful that we will continue to see a fantastic player for more years at the highest level.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Champions League 2021-22 Groups

I have been disappointed that Brøndby did not manage to qualify to the Champions League after two defeats to Red Bull Salzburg. It was probably for the better, as Brøndby has started the season really bad, and may struggle both in the Danish League, as well as in the Europa League (which they will play). Despite this, there are now many reasons to look forward to the Champions league following today's group draw:

Group A:

  • Manchester City
  • Paris St. Germain
  • RB Leipzig
  • Club Brugge

Messi's new club, PSG, against Guardiola's Manchester City, in its continuous search for European glory, alongside always-strong RB Leipzig and a Club Brugge that can only surprise!

Group B:

  • Liverpool
  • Atletico Madrid
  • AC Milan
  • Porto

There is no way around it: this is a group of giants; AC Milan, who is finally back in the CL for the first time since 2014, alongside Liverpool and the Spanish champions of Atletico Madrid, who always have ambition for the title, and Porto, who can always defeat anyone. This group will be impossible to predict.

Group C:

  • Sporting Lisbon
  • Besiktas
  • Borussia Dortmund
  • Ajax Amsterdam

Not likely that the future champions will come out from this group, but an interesting group nevertheless, where Borussia Dortmund are probably favourites (still with Erling Haaland?), but with all other teams surely with a chance, all champions of their respective leagues in Portugal, Turkey and the Netherlands.

Group D:

  • Inter Milan
  • Real Madrid
  • Shakhtar Donetsk
  • Sheriff Tiraspol

Two giants from Inter and Real Madrid are huge favourites in this group, where Shakhtar and Sheriff will hopefully be able to upset the two giants.

Group E:

  • Bayern Munich
  • FC Barcelona
  • Benfica
  • Dynamo Kiev

Another group with only giant clubs. The "new" Barcelona will likely struggle to show how good they are without Messi. Bayern Munich are surely huge favourites in the group, as the others appear quite even in terms of fighting for the second spot in the group.

Group F:

  • Villarreal
  • Manchester United
  • Young Boys
  • Atalanta

The two finalists from the Europa League will face one another again, with Manchester United appearing as a team that has become stronger since then (and soon with Cristiano Ronaldo). Atalanta though, is a team that has shown that they can defeat anyone. Young Boys may struggle to compete.

Group G:

  • Lille
  • Sevilla
  • RB Salzburg
  • VfL Wolfsburg

The French champions from Lille and ever-ambitious Sevilla appear as the favourites in this group, but in particular Wolfsburg could surprise.

Group H:

  • Chelsea
  • Juventus
  • Zenit St. Petersburg
  • Malmo FF
It is great to see good ole' Jon Dahl Tomasson back in the Champions League, although this time as manager of the Swedish champions of Malmø, who will have to play their best in this group against the defending champions of Chelsea, the Russian champions of Zenit, and mighty Juventus

Friday, August 20, 2021


I recently watched a documentary on Netflix about Pelé, the legendary Brazilian footballer.

Pelé is perhaps the greatest player of all time, but certainly the greatest player of his generation. The documentary circles around his four World Cups and his importance at a time when Brazilian society was undergoing profound changes, with modernization and the wake of a dictatorship. The documentary dwells relatively much on the dictatorship, with an implicit criticism of Pelé never taking a clear stand against the dictatorship. Pelé at no time appears to be much interested in politics, and the issue remains relevant to this day: what can or should we expect from footballers, who have been thrown into an unlikely fame for the mere fact of kicking a ball. At the same time the documentary also shows how Pelé transcended football, becoming a world-wide super-star that symbolized and represented Brazil beyond all the political upheavals.

Pelé actually describes himself as an average guy that happened to be good at kicking a ball, and his enormous humility is extremely likeable, but it also borders on boring for a documentary about such a nice guy outside the pitch.

The footballing part is both the most relevant and interesting part of the tournament, and Pelé crying when he recalls the finals of 1958 and 1970 truly shows how much football and the finals meant for him. The interviews with many of his teammates such as Mario Zagallo, Jairzinho or Clodoaldo, also gives weight to Pelé as not only a great player, but also a great friend. At the same time I think that the very interesting stories behind the Brazilian team in each World Cup (including the 1966 World Cup, when opposing teams violently struck down on Pelé's brilliance) could have benefited greatly from including some of the opponents, in particular defenders and goalkeepers who had to struggle with a player of a quality that was almost unseen back then.

In the end the documentary is great for anyone interested in football history, and the focus of Pelé, who remains a legend among legends in international football, but the documentary could have been better.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

RIP Gerd Muller

 This week one of the greatest footballers of all-time passed away at the age of 75: Gerd Müller, is arguably the best striker of all time; although some of his records have been broken over the last years, he remains the most scoring player of the German league. He was for many years the most scoring player of the German national team with 62 goals in 68 matches (until Miroslav Klose beat him, but with more than 100 matches). He was European Footballer of the year in 1970, after he had become top-scorer at the 1970 World Cup, and his legend was perhaps cemented by his goal in the 1974 World Cup final, which gave West Germany the world championship:

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

PSG "Galactico II"

With the transfer of Lionel Messi to PSG the French club has strengthened its already strong team, and it would appear that few, if any, clubs will be able to compete with them at the French league level or European level. Because Messi is only the most famous of the new players that have arrived in Paris this summer, a list that includes: Gianluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan's and Italy's fantastic young goalkeeper), Giorginio Wijnaldum (the Netherlands' captain and solid Liverpool player), Achraf Hakimi (Inter's and Morocco's brilliant right-back) and Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid's and Spain's legendary defender). These players enter a team that already includes Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Marquinhos, Keylor Navas, Marco Verrati, Leandro Paredes, Angel DiMaria, Julian Draxler, Pabloa Sarabia, Rafinha, etc.

The undoubted quality that PSG has is no guarantee that they will be successful in their pursuit for titles, but it is certain that they are the team to watch in the coming season. Almost 20 years ago Real Madrid were dubbed "Galacticos" for the quality of players they had back then; PSG this season appears to be "Galacticos II".

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Messi's exit from FC Barcelona

Lionel Messi's 21-year stay at FC Barcelona has ended. We all knew the day would come, but I guess the shock was about how abrupt the end was, not least for Lionel Messi himself, who appeared crying during the subsequent press conference

Everything comes to an end, and this moment is one for remembering the incredible contributions Messi made to FC Barcelona and to Football during his stay at the club. He has been an incredible player to follow.

Because let us admit it: it is not the fact that he is leaving, but how it happened. FC Barcelona has appeared a money-circus for many years, and Messi's exit appears as much as an economic tit-for-tat between la Liga and the club's management, who after pushing for the so-called European Superleague has had its financial troubles exposed. In sporting terms Messi's exit gives Ronald Koeman little time to build a transition to a new team and they appear weak as the la Liga season is about to start.

In sporting terms Messi's exit could be interesting, and perhaps he may also be interested in a new challenge as his career nears an end. Paris St. Germain is increasingly being touted as his next club, and this will surely be interesting as he reunited with Neymar, and will play alongside extraordinary players such as Kylian Mbappe, Angel Di Maria, Marco Verrati, and even Donnarumma in goal! If Messi can adapt to another team than Barcelona (something that is not guaranteed, as he has never done a change before) the Parisians will surely look like the team to beat next season.

In the meantime, I hope Messi adapts and continues making football fans happy wherever he ends up.

Sunday, August 08, 2021

When spectators are redundant

FC Copenhagen faced the Danish champions of Brøndby today at home in a sold-out match, the first since the post-Corona reopening. However, expectations were disappointing as the newly arrived fans used the match to light smoke bombs and throw things at the players.

I hope FC Copenhagen and Brøndby both get huge fines for this behaviour, and on top of this FC Copenhagen should not be allowed to play with spectators for a number of matches.

In terms of football the match was intense. FC Copenhagen were leading 2-1 at halftime on goals by Jonas Wind and Davit Kocholava for the home team, and Tobias Børkeeit for Brøndby. All goals came following corner kicks, as did the second half equalizer for Brøndby by Sigurd Rosted, and both teams are looking weak in defense; hardly like the best teams in Denmark as they would like to see themselves. But as the match progressed Brøndby were inefficient while FC Copenhagen scored two more goals by Jonas Wind and Pep Biel, to take their 4-2 victory.

The defending champions of Brøndby only have 3 points after their first four matches in the league, and after having sold some of their best players from last season appear as a team that will struggle to hold and unlikely title in this season. In the meantime FC Copenhagen may appear stronger than Brøndby, but will certainly have to improve, specially in defense, to be a serious title-contender.

Saturday, August 07, 2021

Gold medals

Olympic football is usually overshadowed by other sports and this did not appear much different this time in Tokyo, although it is surely interesting.

Canada took their first ever gold in women’s football, after taking bronze in the last two Olympic Games. They defeated Sweden after extra time and penalties, with the Swedes taking their second silver medal in a row. The world champions of the USA took bronze, which must surely have been a disappointment for the Americans.

On the men’s side there were not many surprises: the final was between the two favourites of Brazil and Spain faced one another in the final that became an intense affair, with both teams able to take the price, but the match ended 1-1 with goals by Matheus Cunha and Mikel Oyarzabal respectively. In extra time Malcom scored the winner for Brazil, giving them their second football Olympic gold in a row.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Racism in Portsmouth

 It was with interest that I saw that the second-rate club of Portsmouth in England sacked three players from its youth academy for their racist messages against the English players who had missed penalties in the Euro 2021 final between England and Italy. They did the right thing in taking action against the youths, but I just wonder if the club is taking the right action; they appear to be doing what is expected of them, rather than taking any responsibility for themselves: these players are academy players and are only that stupid if this is an accepted behaviour in the academy. I doubt they would say things like this for the first time. And they are young players, likely young teenage idiots (like most of us have been) too full of themselves to think before they act.

They have done something deplorable, and they do not belong in the academy. I understand that part. But I would expect that the club tries to look upon themselves and what type of academy they are creating; what type of values they are educating their players with. As part of a community, what type of "Portsmouth" they are envisioning, where young men appear to feel comfortable being racist assholes.

Whatever the club has done to the youths, it should not take away the responsibility of Portsmouth itself.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

The hate engendered by football

The European Championships were great but unfortunately the tournament was accompanied by the eternal problem of bad fans, nationalism and racism. The fans that were most widely discussed were the English fans with their booing of national anthems, breaking into Wembley stadium for the final, and the racist abuse against England players following the final. This appears as just a continuation of decades, many decades, of problems with English football fans (for many years I had a problem supporting English teams at all, still do, mostly because I connected English football directly with the hooliganism of the 1980s, when I started watching football), so this should not be that surprising. However, the problem of these "bad fans" is hardly only an English problem; booing at national anthems happens in every stadium and racism continues being rampant all over footballing Europe, becoming more evident with social media. I am still convinced the vast majority of football fans, English and beyond, are decent people, even the ones that behave in this way!

What is the problem then?

Football is a simple game of kicking a ball in an "us-against-them" contest. While idiots exist in all societies, the simple premise of the game attracts a higher proportion of idiots among the population. Idiocy tends to be enlarged by emotional events such as a football match; add nationalism and a media that pours gasoline on a fire rather than building bridges (including social media, but certainly not excluding the traditional media), and you get the perfect cocktail for idiots to do their thing, while the rest of people wonder who the hell those idiots are!!!???

As a fan I understand the passion: I have also experienced moments of intense disappointment, of injustice, of hating the other team when they score a goal. However, a minimum level of intelligent human beings should realize that these are fleeting emotions that cannot define our lives. That would be idiocy!

I have had long periods of disappointment with football (as I have also shown in this blog), and these were mostly caused by the intensity of hate that I have repeatedly experienced in football: Hate towards other teams, players, fans, countries, races...  I still have a really hard time not seeing football as a sport of hate, but I do love the game, the passion and occasional fraternity between fans (that we fortunately also saw in this tournament, but is in my view all too rare), and have decided that I will try to ignore, as far as possible, all these idiots that are a scar not only on football, but to society at large.


Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Champions League qualifier for FC Midtjylland

 After a fantastic European Championship (which far exceeded expectation), football continues: the Gold Cup is currently taking place in North-, Central-America and the Caribbean, and some exciting women's football is to start in the Olympic games. More interestingly, leagues are quietly starting (the Danish Superliga having started this week, and other interesting leagues to start a new season in the following month) including Champions league qualifiers.

With Brøndby winning the Danish League they are to have a play-off match to qualify to the Champions League. In the meantime the runners-up from FC Midtjylland also get an option to qualify to the Champions league starting in the second round play-offs of the League Path (whose losers will get into either the qualifying or league stages of the Europa League). Last night I watched FC Midtjylland play the first leg of their attempt to qualify in an away match to Celtic in Glasgow.

1-1 was an excellent result for the team from Herning (even though the away-goal rule has been eliminated) against a Celtic side that nevertheless were the better team in the first half, were leading 1-0 on a goal by the young Israeli Liel Abada, but made it all more difficult for themselves when Nir Bitton received a second booking for reacting angrily to Anders Dreyer's apparent dive. During his participation in the match Bitton appeared way too angry; his first booking had been after an overly eager tackle after which he looked like he was going to murder someone, and the card was well-deserved when he should have kept his head cold. In the meantime Dreyer appeared only too happy to have provoked Bitton's card; he received a card for his dive, and in the second half received a second half for exactly the same reason in a situation that was surely not a dive, but the Swiss referee appeared too eager to punish him for something.

10 against 10 opened a bit more the match, but Celtic never became overly dominant in the second half, where Evander equalized on an excellent free-kick. The will face each other in Herning in one week.

Monday, July 12, 2021

The finals

I had a long trip from San Salvador to Denmark, but I managed to watch this weekend's two great football finals where the home teams, each in their own legendary stadium, lost to the away side.

The Copa America final on Saturday at Maracana Stadium between Brazil and Argentina, was won 0-1 by the Argentineans through an excellent first half strike by Angel di Maria. The Brazilians were not bad, and managed to put some pressure on Argentina in the second half, but in the end the Argentine defense stood strong and Argentina even had the biggest chances for a greater victory.

Argentina's first international title since 1993, and the first time Lionel Messi, losing three finals before this one, had taken a title with his national team, so in every way this was a special (and well-deserved) victory for the Argentineans.

On the European championship final: much of England had for days been prematurely announcing that football would come home, hardly aware that football is already home everywhere else in the world. And this kind of premature celebrations hardly win any sympathy: while the English were (understandably) disappointed most of the world (including myself) celebrated Italy's European Championship triumph.

Having watched the match, England should be disappointed: they went ahead 1-0 after only two minutes on a goal by one of the tournament's best players, Luke Shaw. England kept playing well, but slowly Italy got more comfortable on the pitch, while England, oddly, retreated more and more to defend their lead. One can only feel that they should have kept pressure, trying to close the deal, instead of more or less openly inviting Italy back into the match. 

The Italians do not say no to an invitation and Leonardo Bonucci's second half equalizer was fully deserved as England totally left the match to the splendidly unforgiving Italians.

As  extra time was approaching its end Gareth Southgate made some curious changes, clearly aimed at putting in the kickers for a nerve-wrecking penalty kick contest: Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho came in at the end, and it were exactly those two who missed for England after they had been put in a golden position by Pickford's save of Andrea Belotti's kick. Even though Jorginho missed another for Italy, the only 19-year old Bukayo Saka did not have the nerves to make a proper kick, which was saved by the best player of the tournament Gianluigi Donnarumma (only 22-years old, he may well become one of the best goalkeepers in footballing history), giving Italy their second European champion's title, the first being in 1968.

The most talented young players from England were punished for their infinite talent, and that was the most heartbreaking thing in a final won by the best team of the tournament.

Italy was the best team of the tournament as a whole; a solid, attacking team, scoring most goals (alongside Spain) and with one of the best defensive records, they showed few weak points. All in all, a splendid team, and I reiterate that I find this the best Italy side I have ever seen.

England, in the meantime, won few friends: granted, they played the tournament with the cynical planning required to win a tournament; winning, but not impressing, with a strong defense and some extremely talented players. That said, they seemed too calculating, too careful, despite their immense talent, something that only became too obvious in the final. 

But more than the team, the English fans won no friends in the rest of the world. The vast, vast majority of English fans are good, decent hardworking people (like the vast majority of fans in the world), but they retain a greater minority of brainless hooligans than anywhere else in the world, and their society seems in total denial that they exist: booing at national anthems, using lasers against opposing sides, insults and spits, were sadly overshadowed by the fans storming Wembley before the match and most of all by the racist insults suffered by English players after the defeat.

Who the hell wants to win with supporters like that...?

I have never supported England and never will, but I understand the greatest disappointment that real English fans may feel (even in their denial): that their team's achievement of reaching a final will forever be overshadowed by the memory of the idiotic few ruining the party of the many.

Thursday, July 08, 2021

When winning is secondary

Today's semifinal match between England and Denmark was a dramatic fight between the English home-stars and the hard-fighting Danes. The result of 2-1 for England was perhaps not as surprising as how it happened: Denmark taking the lead on a spectacular free kick goal by the young Mikkel Damsgaard and then an own-goal equalizer by Simon Kjaer, before the game went into extra time, where a very weak penalty call gave Harry Kane the chance to score the winner for England after he caught the rebound from Kasper Schmeichel's save. 

Denmark lost with their heads held high. It is of course always disappointing to lose, but if this great tournament has shown anything, it is that winning is secondary. 

What happened to Christian Eriksen in the match against Finland should have underlined the forgotten truth in our post-COVID world: football is not why we celebrate, it is our excuse to celebrate together! Danish fans have every reason to celebrate and be proud of their team and of themselves; decent and hardworking people who just want to enjoy a friendly contest!

Just as the vast majority of fans all over the world.

Maybe it was not a penalty; maybe England did not deserve the victory (I think they did), but in the end it does not matter much, and I am just happy I have been able to enjoy this tournament and a Danish National team that in my view are as much champions as the legendary teams of 1986 and 1992!

For many people it will be impossible to support England in the final: it was disappointing that many English fans booed the Danish national anthem, and as often happens, English media appears only too happy to pour gasoline on the fire of nationalism that sadly continues to haunt football. I will certainly support Italy: I love how they are playing and the joy that some players (notably Chiellini) appear to have at playing.

I hope it will be a great final, and whoever wins will be a great winner (because just as there are bad losers, there are really bad winners), and that fans will celebrate the sport that brings us together, so that we can all be champions!

In the meantime I shall have a beer to celebrate the champions from Denmark!

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Emiliano Martinez' taunts

Argentina and Colombia played a good semifinal match in the Copa America tonight. Argentina went ahead 1-0 early in the game by Lautaro Martinez after some poor Colombian defending, but had few other chances in a close first half. In the second half Colombia dominated and got the equalizer on an excellent goal by Porto's Luis Diaz, and despite good chances for both teams, the match ended 1-1 and went directly to penalty kicks (Copa America has not been playing with extra time).

The curious thing about the penalty contest was that there were microphones very close to the players, and one could hear everything the goalkeepers and players said as the kicks were taken. Napoli's David Ospina was quiet, but the same was not the case for Emiliano Martinez, the Argentinean goalkeeper who plays in Aston Villa (and is apparently a close friend of Ospina from their time at Arsenal): he continually taunted the Colombians as they were going to kick, and it appeared to work! After Davinson Sanchez and Rodrigo de Paul had missed for Colombia and Argentina respectively, Yerry Mina missed following a heated exchange with Martinez, where the latter said "I know you, Boludo", and went on to save the kick. When Edwin Cardona made the last kick for Colombia Martinez continued heavy taunting, so much that the referee went up to him and said "no swearing" (which I find very amusing, as swearing is very common in football), but in the end he saved Cardona's kick, giving the Argentines the victory without needing to use their last kick.

Emiliano Martinez surely turned out as the star of the match, both for his goalkeeping skills, but surely also for his foul mouth!

Argentina will face Brazil in the final of the Copa America.

The first finalists

The semifinal match between Italy and Spain went as I expected except for the result: the Spaniards, whose quality has varied enormously during the tournament played some of their best football against an Italian side that was not allowed to play the possessive attacking style that has characterized their games in the tournament so far, and with better strikers Spain could have carried the day. 

Despite Alvaro Morata´s equalizer following Federico Chiesa´s outstanding first goal for Italy, Spain missed big chances or simply poor shots against an Italian side whose defense did not look as steady as in previous matches (this may be a comfort to their opponents in the final). 

In the lottery of penalties the misses came firstly from Dani Olmo, who until then had played an outstanding match, and then Morata, whose miss will probably be remembered more than his goal, and add fuel to his many critics. 

Although Spain deserved better in this match there is no doubt that seen over the entire tournament Italy are the right finalists. They have been strong and have a strong team spirit led by the ever-smiling Chiellini, who appears to love every moment of the tournament. 

Perhaps Chiellini is one of the few people who have realized that it is only football, and enjoying it must come before the result... 

Like almost every Dane in the world I am excited about tomorrow´s match, but weary about Danish chances against a top-motivated English side playing in front of its home spectators. Denmark (luckily) defeated England in a Nations league match in October last year (a prelude to their excellent World Cup qualifiers and this tournament) and will play without the massive pressure of expectation that burdens the English players. But I would still say that chances are heavily stacked (90%) in England´s favour to make it to the final and face a fantastic Italian side!

Friday, July 02, 2021

The best Italy ever

One of the reasons I have had a difficult time supporting Italy over the years is their defensive and awaiting style. I have always felt that they have the players to put more pressure and use their attacking skills, while combining their defensive capabilities, surely some of the best in the world.

Roberto Mancini's Italy has these qualities, and it is impossible not to fall in love with this Italian side, and today against Belgium (whom I supported) they were truly a better side against a Belgian side that managed to create good chances (not a mean feat against this Italy), but who were surely outplayed by a better Italian side, winning 2-1 on goals by Nicolo Barella and Lorenzo Insigne. Belgium's weaknesses, that had been exposed by Denmark and Portugal in previous matches were just too obvious against the Italians, and a disappointed Belgium will have to go home in the quarterfinals just as they did in 2016.

Italy looks like the team to beat to take the title, and they will now face Spain in a repeat of the 2012 Euro final (won by Spain) and the 2016 last-16 match, (won by Italy). Italy will surely be the favourites after today's match, but also because Spain did not impress at all in its penalty-kicks victory over Switzerland who, with a bit of fortune, could have pulled another surprise as they did against France. 

Spain-Italy matches are by definition impossible to predict, but  I think that this Italy side will be the favourite of any neutral fan, including myself!

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

What I think and what I wish for

So we now have the four quarterfinals after some really exciting last-16 eliminations, and after these I feel more confident to make some predictions, although in these knock-out matches anything can happen, and it has been reaffirmed that there are no bad teams in this tournament. 

On a good day everyone can beat anyone.

And there is certainly also a difference on what I think will happen and what I wish for. So here come my predictions for the quarterfinals:

  • Spain-Switzerland: both teams come from two extraordinary knock-out matches, but I would not expect another epic drama; Spain are enormous favourites and must be delighted that they will not be facing France. At the same time Switzerland are surely hoping for more, and will be playing without pressure, but they will be facing a Spanish side hungering for success and with a lot of talent. I think it is 99% sure that Spain will make a semifinal, although I hope that the little guy can beat the big guy again, and Switzerland pull another surprise.
  • England-Ucraine: England defeated a poor German side, but nobody has scored against them, and they are looking more and more like having the cold-blooded confidence to go all the way. Ucraine in the meantime are there through a combination of luck and fight, but not exciting play. They defeated the most boring team of the tournament, Sweden, 2-1 after extra time, in one of the most boring matches of the tournament, and thus deserve to be where they are, but they are almost sure to get no further. On the more personal level it hurts to admit that I would rather see England in the semifinal, because I think it would be good for the tournament.
  • Denmark-Czech Republic: In my unashamed subjectivity I hope that Denmark will win and make it to the semifinal. But I am concerned at how happy the Danes are not to be facing the Dutch when the Czechs actually showed themselves a much better team that the Dutch. Football teams are more than the sum of their individual players, and both Denmark and the Czechs have shown that, but I think that the Czechs have an upper-hand, because I think that they are more cold-blooded and will enter the match better-prepared than the Danes. I think the Czechs will win, but I hope the Danes will.
  • Belgium-Italy: In some ways this is a moral final between two of the best sides of the tournament, but they have also been shaky at times, and certainly don't appear invincible. Belgium struggled to defeat Portugal (and were indeed a bit lucky) and with some injuries appears to be vulnerable to the Italians. The Italians also struggled to defeat Austria, but they prevailed with their heads level and made it to the next round. I therefore think that Italy is slightly more likely to prevail (60-40), but I certainly support Belgium wholeheartedly!

So if we take how I think it will go, these will be the semifinals:

  • England-Czech Republic
  • Italy-Spain

In this scenario I predict a final between England and Spain.

But in my hopeful scenario these would be the semifinals:

  • England-Denmark
  • Belgium-Switzerland
And hopefully a final between my two favourite teams in the tournament, Denmark and Belgium (with Denmark taking the title!)

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Exhaustion from so much excitement!

The two last-16 matches in the European Championship today were two incredible matches that left me exhausted after such rides of drama, goals and emotion! But this is truly what football is all about!

Spain had to fight unusually hard to defeat Croatia in what frankly should have been a relatively easy game for Spain against a Croatian side that still wins morally by the mere fact of their never-ending fight. Unai Simon's own goal was the single most comical moment of the entire tournament (and congratulations to the goalkeeper for rising up to the challenge and having some great saves afterwards), and put Croatia ahead when everyone was expecting Spain to score the first goal. That said, when the Spaniards finally managed to score by Pablo Sarabia, they were in complete control, and we all thought that the match was over after Cesar Azpilicueta and Ferran Torres made it 2-1 and 3-1 respectively.

But Croatia never gives up, and they managed to score two late goals by Mislav Orsic and Mario Pasalic to take the game into extra time.

In extra time, after Alvaro Morata made it 4-3 for Spain following some dreadful Croatian marking, the game was nevertheless over, and when Mikel Oyarzabal made it 5-3, the tired but brave Croatian had little energy left to mount a comeback.

Spain are in the quarterfinals, and very likely semifinalists, as Switzerland, whom they will face (and probably defeat) in the quarterfinals did them the favour of eliminating France in another exciting match.

Switzerland took an early lead by Haris Seferovic, the Benfica  striker, and they took their lead to halftime. France mounted a feeble pressure early in the second half, until Switzerland were given a penalty, that could have given them a decisive lead, but Hugo Lloris saved Ricardo Rodriguez penalty kick. After that France were like another team, and Karim Benzema put them ahead with two quick goals, before Paul Pogba made it 3-1 on a spectacular strike.

By this time France were in total control, and it seemed unlikely that the Swiss could make a comeback, but alas, they did: Seferovic made it 3-2 on another header where the French central defenders (Rafael Varane and Clement Leglet) looked very poor, and in the dying second Mario Gavranovic made it 3-3 on an excellent strike that also exposed a slow French central defense.

The French appeared defeated even when they were up 3-2, and despite some chances in extra time we all had the feeling that the Swiss would pull the surprise in penalty kicks (and the Swiss seemed very happy when it went to penalty kicks). There were some great kicks by both sides until it came down to the last kicker: Kylian Mbappe, who had played a very poor match to say the least, and the youngster crowned it by having his penalty saved by Yann Sommer, and putting Switzerland in the quarterfinals.

Kylian Mbappe is only 23, and I hope he can overcome this. That will define him as a great player, or merely another good youngster.

The World Champions are out, and Switzerland have made it further that even they had dared dream (and in all likelihood as far as they will make it).

Sunday, June 27, 2021

The underrated Czechs

I had been hoping that Netherlands and Denmark would face one another in the quarterfinals for no other reason to see some of the best fans in the world competing in beer drinking.

But it is not to be. Instead Denmark will be facing the unpredictable Czechs, who played a fantastic match against the Dutch, who have every reason to be disappointed after their excellent first round. The Czechs were extremely well-organized, and in the second half managed to completely close down the Netherlands, for whom Matthijs de Ligt red card proved crucial: the young Juventus player had been extraordinary in defense, and his absence left a huge hole in the Dutch defense which the Czechs fully exploited with goals by Tomas Holes and Patrik Schick.

After watching the Czechs today I think that they are a much more difficult adversary for Denmark than the Netherlands would have been, but I doubt that we will see a repeat of the Euro 2004 quarterfinals when the Czechs walked over an overrated Danish side. This is a better and more united Danish team than back then, and surely have a chance to defeat the Czechs, but would be extremely wrong in underestimating them!

The first two quarterfinalists

Denmark destroyed Wales 4-0; the the first time in European Championships that a team has won two games in a row with at least 4 goals, so that underlines the wave that the Danish team is riding on, and they appear to have reason to be (carefully) optimistic about the quarterfinal, where they will face either the Netherlands or the Czech Republic. I am saying carefully because, despite it all, Denmark has some weaknesses that stronger teams can exploit. Wales started the match well, but when they went behind on a goal by Kasper Dolberg, they had nothing to offer; that will not be the case for any team that Denmark will face in the quarterfinals.

That said, the Danes in the quarterfinals is proof of enormous mental strength in a team that has been on an emotional rollercoaster over the last two weeks.

Italy won 2-1 against Austria after extra time. After the first round Italy was rightly touted as perhaps the strongest team of the tournament, but today they looked weaker against a well-organised Austrian side who with a bit of luck and better technique could have won against the long-undefeated Italians. At the score 0-0 the game had to go into extra time, where the Italians went ahead 2-0 on goals by Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina. That said, the Austrians scored the first goal against Italy in 11 matches when Sasa Kalajdzic pulled one back, and did give a bit of excitement to the last minutes of the match.

Italy will face the winner of Portugal-Belgium. Despite them not winning as overwhelmingly today, the Italians should still be considered favourites, specially because they can keep their heads cold in a match like this one. In my view Italy are still one of the favourites to take the title.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Colombian indignation

 I watched an interesting match in the Copa America between Colombia and Brazil yesterday. Colombia was in need of a result after losing to Peru and tying Venezuela, while the home-team of Brazil was just expecting to continue their unbeaten run towards the title.

The Colombians were far better organized and concentrated than in previous games and went ahead 1-0 on a spectacular half- bicycle kick by the Porto player, Luis Diaz. Brazil had most possession, and some chances (among them a shot on the post by Neymar), but the Colombians seemed in control, until 10 minutes before the end of the match.

It was a strange situation. A Brazilian pass bumped into the referee, and the ball went to another Brazilian, who played the ball wide, and the cross into the area went to Roberto Firminho, who headed weakly, but past a compliant Ospina in the Colombian goal, who should surely have blocked.

The massive protest from the Colombians were because the play should not have continued when the referee unwittingly passed blocked the ball. The referee and VAR disagreed and awarded the goal.

In my view the goal was ok; the referee is a bump on the pitch, and him unwittingly hitting the ball can go both ways. However, there is little consistency in the rule, and in particular during the Euro 2021 we have seen many referees stop play in such situations.

The protests meant 12 minutes of injury time, and in the dying seconds the Brazilians scored their long awaited winner after a corner kick that found a completely unmarked Casemiro to head Brazil into victory. The Colombians can only blame themselves for such poor defending, but it is understandable that they are angry about the first goal. That said, they showed they are still strong, and should focus on that.

The usual suspects

Before the tournament Group F had been dubbed the "Group of Death", with Germany, Portugal and France, and then Hungary as an attachment. In the end Hungary proved the greatest team of the group, and it is a pity that they did not make it through, fighting bravely against the Germans in Munich, but only making it to 2-2 after being ahead twice.

It was exciting, and one was almost hoping for a repeat of the legendary 1954 World Cup final, but this time with Hungary coming out on top.

In the end it was "the usual suspects that made it through".

Germany end up in second spot in the group, and will be facing England at Wembley stadium in one of the most classic matches in modern football. This time though, England will look like favourites, as the Germans have looked shaky, and the English have the best opportunity show themselves from the best sides.

Just never underestimate the Germans like they underestimate others.

The defending world champions of France have not looked impressive either, although they are still favourites to go the whole way, specially because they are pacing themselves. A 2-2 score against was enough for them to win Group F and they will now be facing Switzerland in the last-16; the Helvetians are never easy to play against, but France should be expected to make it through. Karim Benzema scored both goals for France against Portugal, and his experience and skills may be paying off for the French.

Portugal is through on third spot in Group F; same as in 2016, and then went on to win the whole thing. The Portuguese look shaky in defense, as they did against Germany, but they have fantastic individual talent, crowned by the great Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo scored both goals for Portugal against France (on two correct penalties) and he has equaled Ali Daei, the legendary Iranian striker, as the most prolific national team goalscorer of all time, and it appears likely that he will be the most scoring ever, and add another record to his legend.

It will not be easy in the quarterfinals though, as Portugal will face the fantastic Belgians. That said, the Portuguese are confident that they can defeat anyone on a good day.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Sweden and Spain through

 Sweden without Ibrahimovic is a solid albeit not entertaining team, and they have shown it by winning Group E ahead of Spain, and in the last match against Poland in a dramatic way. Poland had to win to make it through, but went down 0-2 on two goals by Emil Forsberg before making a heroic comeback through two goals by the great Robert Lewandowski and the hope of a victory, but in injury time Viktor Claessen scored the winner for Sweden that put them in the first spot ahead of Spain. 

Spain had been hoping to take the first spot when cruising over Slovakia by a 5-0 victory. Spain finally managed to show some efficiency in front of goal, although it was against a Slovakian team that showed one of the poorest performances in the tournament, and they deserve to be out.

Sweden will be facing Ukraine in the last-16, while Spain will be going to Copenhagen to face Croatia. Sweden will be big favourites against the Ukranians, who just made it through on a third place, while Spain and Croatia will surely be a clash between two teams that have yet to show their best sides.

England through

England entered the tournament as one of the favourites, and have proceeded to win their group D today after defeating the Czech Republic 1-0 on a first half header by Raheem Sterling. England thus go through with seven points and a score of 2-0. In their last-16 match England will face the runner-ups of Group F (France, Germany, Portugal, or even Hungary, who could defeat Germany, and with France beating Portugal, could become runner-ups, as unlikely as it may appear), and will thus face a quality team. England have not looked like a world-beating team in the first round, but that makes them, in my view, more likely to succeed: a winning team needs to pace itself to the knock-out matches, and that may be what England needs to do to make it all the way. No matter who they face, it will be an exciting match with England playing at home.

Croatia made it as runner-ups with a 3-1 victory over Scotland. While not looking as good as they did in Russia, Croatia is a team that, on a good day, can beat any team in the world. After a solid start the Czechs only took the third spot. In the match against England it was a bit disappointing that they did not try harder to go for a goal and become group winners, but they appear satisfied to just make it beyond the group stages. I doubt that the Czechs will make it any further, and their memory from the tournament is likely to be Patrick Schick's spectacular 2-0 goal against Scotland.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Danish Delight

It is great to be wrong, and I was wrong about the end result in group B, where I had thought the two final matches between Belgium and Finland, and Russia and Denmark, respectively, would end 0-0.

For a long time the Belgians appeared unable to open the Finnish lock that would have put the Nordics through in their first tournament ever. In the end it is a pity for Finland, but they lacked the luck when their goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky pushed a rebound into goal. And when the great Romelu Lukaku made it 2-0 for the Belgians there was little the Finns could do.

The Belgians win the group with three victories, and although they have not been spectacular, they confirm that they can go all the way.

At the same time in Copenhagen Denmark started a bit nervously against Russia, who had a big chance to go ahead. But after the young Mikkel Damsgaard scored a spectacular goal to put Denmark ahead, the Danes were in control. Russia was forced forward and this gave the Danes the space they had lacked in the first half, but it was only a gift from a Russia defender, who passed the ball to an unmarked Youssuff Poulsen in fron of goal, that Denmark scored for 2-0. Despite Andrem Dzyuba scoring on a penalty for the Russians, Denmark were in control, and great goals by Andreas Christensen and Joakim Maehle put the Danes in the unlikely second spot in the group.

Finally the Danes improved their scoring statistics, which had been dreadful after the first two matches, but most of all, the victory was an emotional tribute to Christian Eriksen, who is doing well and must have been as delighted as every Danish fan about the result.

Denmark will face Wales in the last-16, and while they have to play up to their best, Denmark surely has a chance to make it to the quarterfinals.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

The Group A results

Group A has finished in the Euro 2021, and Italy won the group in style with three victories and a score of 7-0. After their first two 3-0 victories against Turkey and Switzerland respectively Roberto Mancini had decided to rest many players against Wales, and although the Welsh did get some good chances, the Italians always seemed comfortable with their 1-0 victory, and continued to their 30th unbeaten match.

Italy will face the runner-up in group C: either Austria or Ukraine, who are indeed facing one another in a mini final to decide who faces the Italians in London, in match were the Italians will be huge favourites to make it to the quarterfinals.

Wales ended up runner-up in the group ahead of the Swiss on better goal difference, and will be looking to play the runner-ups in group B (probably Finland or Russia) and a repeat of their successful 2016 campaign. In the meantime Switzerland must await the results of other group to see whether they go through on this spot. 

Turkey is going home after three defeats in one of the most disappointing performances of the tournament.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

First in a long time

Yesterday I went out to watch football. Not at the stadium, but in a bar. This was the first time in almost 18 months that I did this, so it felt special; a small step towards the normality that we all eagerly await.

With limited TV channels offering the Euros in San Salvador, it was not easy to find a good sports bar, but I found Punto Marino Sport in the upmarket neighborhood of San Benito. Despite the name it is not really a sports bar, and I was the only person there watching football, while reggaeton music played in the background.

I nevertheless enjoyed it. First I watch England-Scotland in what was predictably a spirited fight by the Scotsmen, who largely deserved the victory, against an English side that hardly lived up to its enormous expectations. 0-0 was a fair result, and now England will play a thrilling match against the Czech Republic, who defeated Scotland 2-0, and who are looking strong. Scotland will face Croatia, and it is interesting that all teams in that group have something to play for.

I next watched the Copa America. Chile defeated Bolivia 1-0. I have been watching many Copa America matches, but I must admit that it lacks excitement and passion. The empty stadiums mean that the matches are like a party without music, and most games have been defensive and few goals. In its 0-0 tie with Colombia, Venezuela basically refused to attack, and Brazil's matches have been kind of one-sided.

The tournament should probably have been cancelled. It is nearly impossible to get excited about it (although a few beers help!).