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.