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.