Monday, May 31, 2021

The curse is lifted

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

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

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

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

Maybe it is the year that that ended all curses!

The Salvadoran champions from FAS

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Chelsea triumph

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

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

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

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Mano a Mano

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Brøndby Champions

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

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

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


Friday, May 21, 2021

Keep Attacking

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Mighty Barcelona

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Happy Foxes

I enjoyed watching the FA Cup final, first of all because of the fans in the stadium; a small step towards the long-awaited normalcy...

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

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

Friday, May 07, 2021

The 2021 CONCACAF Champions League knock-out stages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Monterrey-Cruz Azul
  • América-Philadelphia Union

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

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

All-English final

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

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

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

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

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