Saturday, December 03, 2022

The World's 16 best footballing nations

The Qatar World Cup continues to be an ugly political event that has come to symbolize ugly nationalism, disrespect, inequality, abuse and greed.

But I think this is just a symptom of our world.

In footballing terms the group stages have been interesting. After Brazil sensationally lost to Cameroun (and frankly this is as surprising as Argentina losing to Saudi Arabia or France losing to Tunisia) it is the first tournament since 1994 during which no team has gone through with maximum points (the same happened in 1958 and 1962, so it is not a common occurrence). But more interesting is that this is the first World Cup where all continental federations (except Oceania) are represented with at least one team (CONCACAF 1, CONMEBOL 2, CAF 2, UEFA, 8, AFC 3). 

The eight matches are as follows:

  • Netherlands-USA: The Dutch got through with two victories and one difficult tie to Ecuador, and are surely not as strong as they should be. USA is the only representative from CONCACAF and looked well-organised to defeat Iran and tie England. It will surely be difficult for the Dutch, but I hope they prevail
  • Argentina-Australia: Despite their opening loss to Saudia Arabia Argentina won the group and remain favourites. They are surely huge favourites against Australia. The Asian representatives went through on hard work but winning against two poor sides, Denmark and Tunisia. They were overrun by France and should be on their best to defeat Argentina (but certainly not impossible). I support Argentina wholeheartedly.
  • France-Poland: The defending champions are looking strong, but lost to Tunisia in a match with many substitutes. They are surely favourites against the Poles, who look delighted just to have gone through. That said, no expectations could be Poland's strength as they still have quality players who could hurt France. But I expect France to prevail.
  • England-Senegal: England will underestimate Senegal, that is a given, and I will surely support Senegal, where other players have stepped up in the absence of Sadio Mané. Koulibaly was spectacular against Ecuador and will face English players he knows well. It will be a close match I think, with England as weak favourites.
  • Japan-Croatia: Japan winning the Group of Death is one of the surprises, and Croatia have surely seen that Japan defeated both Germany and Spain, although also that the Japanese do have weaknesses. If Croatia can take advantage of their quick passing then they could hope for a repeat of 2018. Japan I think are slight favourites though.
  • Brazil-South Corea: The Corean victory against Portugal means that they prevented us from a repeat of the "Maracanazo" classic between Brazil and Uruguay. Don't mind that though. Corea and in particular their fans are the best side through. Brazil are enormous favourites, but the Coreans do and should not fear anybody, and could cause a sensation!
  • Morocco-Spain: This is probably the clash I look most forward to. Neighbouring countries; the African upstart with a great team and confidence, against the European giants with some truly fantastic players. It has all the ingredients to be a fantastic match!
  • Portugal-Switzerland: The Portuguese went through on first place with two wins and one loss, but appear not to have been tested yet. Switzerland will surely be a test. They showed their quality already in last year's Euro when eliminating France in an extraordinary match, and in this tournament have shown themselves solid in the back, but also strong in attack when it counted against Serbia. This match could go to either side!

Uruguay will not be missed (sad but true)

Let me start by making one thing clear: I have been to Uruguay a few times, and love the country and the people. That I am happy they were eliminated in a tournament where men kick a ball around, has nothing to do with that.

I was looking forward to Ghana-Uruguay. I supported Ghana, surely, I have lived there, and I lived through with passion and admiration the famous 2010 quarterfinal. In the end Uruguay went through, although it was in a way that was not elegant and surely without the justice that Ghana had deserved. But the Ghanaians in 2010 went out with dignity. 

Yesterday Germany's manager was asked if he was angry that they had been eliminated by a bad VAR call (Japan's second goal), and Flick correctly said that Germany had been eliminated by their own lack of results. Germany this year also went out with dignity.

But going out with dignity is not something that the Uruguayans have shown today. Quite on the contrary, they are accusing VAR, FIFA, world conspiracies and the Universe for their elimination after their 2-0 victory over Ghana, which was simply not enough to go through as Portugal lost 1-2 to South Corea.

Get over yourself Uruguayan football: bad referee calls are a normal thing that has always existed in football, and sometimes they have gone with Uruguay, and sometimes against Uruguay. 

Just like they do for any side. There is no grand conspiracy against Uruguay. Uruguay were just not good enough: they should have attacked against South Corea and been more efficient against Portugal. And that is why Uruguay got eliminated, and fortunately so, because it is simply not nice to see such sore losers with lack of dignity in the tournament.

Thanks to Ghana for a great tournament, and congratulations to Portugal and South Corea!

Friday, December 02, 2022

German debacle and Japanese triumph

 The Group of Death ended almost as a heart attack. All teams had a chance to go through and all teams were through and out at different times during the matches Costa Rica-Germany and Japan-Spain.

Costa Rica were not given many chances after their opening match 0-7 humiliation to Spain. But after a surprising win over Japan, they had every chance of going through if they defeated Germany. Germany in the meantime only had to win, having only lost and tied to Japan and Spain respectively. Things were going according to plan when Serge Gnabry scored after 10 minutes, but despite dominating, Germany were simply unable to get another goal, and halfway into second half the Costa Ricans looked at a possible sensation when Yeltsin Tejeda equalized and then went ahead when Manuel Neuer scored one of the strangest own-goals of the tournament. Germany pressed on and in the end managed to win 4-2 with two Kai Havertz goals and one by Niclas Fullkrug.

But in the end Germany, the former footballing giants, were out in the first round nevertheless, for the second time in a row, and only the third time since 1938....

Germany only had themselves to blame, but at the same time they were not fortunate with the result of the other match where Japan defeated Spain against all odds.

It was a boring match in the first half. Spain went ahead on a goal by Alvaro Morata, and were passing the ball around comfortably against a Japanese side that appeared to have nothing to offer. Luis Enrique apparently saw not reason to change anything, but Japan certainly did and the manager put in Kaoru Mitoma to put more pressure in midfield and Ritso Doan, who had scored the equalizer against Germany when coming. And it took only three minutes before the Freiburg striker capitalized on a high pressure on the Spanish defense and equalized for Japan.

The Spaniards appeared a bit shocked about the equalizer (which shows most of all a degree of arrogant conformity) and as Japan continued pressing they got the lead through Ao Tanaka.

Now, this was a controversial goal that no VAR technology can take away: the ball appears to have crossed the touchline as Kaoru Mitoma made the pass to Tanaka. I think it crossed, but lengthy VAR check found that it had not crossed the line. Although I still think it crossed the line, I must admit that different pictures from different angles may show different things...

I don't think technology is always right, and this is certainly one of those calls which are hard to decide.

But the goal stood, and Japan was ahead. 

It was here that Luis Enrique's reply appeared weak. Japan, as was to be expected, stood back and fought hard. But Spain continued passing the ball, relatively slow and without the quick explosions that are often necessary to open a defense. This was surely disappointing because Spain have some fantastic players, but appears to lack explosion and creativity when it came to come back against a team they should defeat.

Japan will face Croatia in a match that could go to both sides, while Spain will face Morocco in a match where Spain has to be much better than they were today.

Morocco repeating history

In 1986 Morocco were the first African team that were group winners in a World Cup. They won the group ahead of three European nations (England, Poland and Portugal). Although Morocco were eliminated by a rather disgusting and foul West German side in the last-16, they were pioneers of the era when African teams were to be reckoned with (Cameroun and Algeria had already warned about this in 1982). 

That is why it is so great that Morocco has again won a World Cup group, and again ahead of two European powerhouses, Croatia and Belgium; the latter ranked number 2 in the world, and surely never expected to be out to Morocco! 

All Morocco needed in their last match was to defeat the already-eliminated Canadians to win the group, and 25 minutes into the match were already ahead 2-0 on goals by the great Hakim Ziyech and Sevilla's Youssef En-Nesyri. Although they did suffer after an own-goal by  Nayef Aguerd, the score held (with a bit of luck), and as Croatia tied the hapless Belgians (surely the end of the golden generation), Morocco were group winners and a delight for Africa and the world!

Morocco will face Spain in what will be a clash to look forward to. Not only neighboring countries with close relations, but also many Moroccan players who play in Spain and know Spain well, such as PSG's Achraf Hakimi (born in Madrid and came through Real Madrid's youth academy), Sevilla's goalkeeper Yassine Bounou, or Osasuna's Abde Ezzalzouli (who has come through Barcelona's youth). 

Spain are surely favourites, but Morocco has shown that they are a strong and competitive side that does well against European sides that underestimate them. Spain would be wrong to underestimate a team that seems to be riding on a wave!

Thursday, December 01, 2022

Argentina group winners

Most people had written off Argentina after their opening defeat to Saudi Arabia. Including myself. But Argentina rose to the occasion, first defeating Mexico 2-0 and now Poland 2-0 on two goals by Alexis MacAllister and Julian Alvarez. Poland were a big disappointment, except for the great Wojciech  Szczesny, who in the first half saved a completely inexistant penalty from Messi (amazing that you can justify a wrong call with VAR).

So Argentina win the group ahead of Poland, who just squeezed through ahead of Mexico on goal difference. It was a pity for Saudi Arabia that they did not go through after defeating Argentina, but it does seem that it was indeed a one-off. Tata Martino's Mexico were impossible to like, so in the end Poland were the best team to go through in what in the end was a relatively easy group for Argentina.

Argentina will enter the knock-out stages with two victories and a defeat. The same as France (who lost to Tunisia), and despite their opening match defeat to Saudi Arabia continue to be a candidate for the title. They have weaknesses in defense and will have to play well to defeat a well-organised and hard-fighting Australia.

But I am delighted to have been proven wrong (so far) about Argentina!



Dumb Danes

I did not watch Denmark's debacle against Australia as I was working. It was surely for the best as Denmark played like shit and were surely arrogant (before the match I heard Danish commentators referring to the Australians as "a second division side"). Matthew Leckie scored a great goal where he made fun of Denmark's apparently star-defenders.

The painting was on the wall in the first two matches already; Denmark played without taking a risk and without passion. Maybe it was because of the whole armband controversy; they decided never to confront FIFA and Simon Kjaer, who was afraid of getting a yellow card for taking a stand, did not even play the last two matches.

After the great Euro 2021, when the Danish team managed to create passion, expectations were high (Mine as well), and this is surely the biggest disappointment any Danish national team has given me. A poor performance and a complete lack of cojones.

Go home.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The best and the worst after two games for each team

Things are taking shape, more or less, in this World Cup; some teams are out, some are in, but many more have a lot to play for as we enter the last matches of the group stages.

This is a personal list of what I have liked and disliked in the tournament so far:

  • Best team: Brazil! After many years during which Brazilian football had lost its way (culminating in the infamous 1-7 defeat to Germany) the Brazilians under Tite are now back with a solid and technically skilled side that so far has defeated two complicated and defensive European sides, Serbia and Switzerland. There is a lot of tournament ahead, but Brazil is more and more looking like the side to beat (alongside France and Portugal perhaps).
  • Best goal: Richarlison against Serbia. No doubt, and showing the quality that Brazil has
  • Worst side: Qatar. Not only should they never have been hosts, but they are also poor in footballing terms, showing nothing on the pitch and with fans who leave before the end of the match. Nobody will cry their elimination. Perhaps Costa Rica were worse against Spain, but they lifted themselves up at least
  • Darlings: Canada. Impossible not to love the young Canadians who put up great matches against Belgium and Croatia, but are out nevertheless. However, the world will love to see them again. Of the teams that are still in the tournament, Ecuador are perhaps the darlings to watch
  • Dark horses: Morocco and Ecuador. Two great sides that have pulled some excellent results, so hard to choose between them. Ecuador should have defeated the Netherlands, and have a thriller ahead against Senegal, while Morocco has tied Croatia and defeated the mighty Belgians, and with Canada left, they may win the group
  • Biggest Surprise: Morocco, because they appear likely to win the group. But one should also add Saudi Arabia, due to their result against Argentina, but we are still to see whether it was a one-off and whether they are able to make it through
  • Biggest Disappointment: In a hard contest I pick Belgium. They were lucky against Canada and had little to offer against Morocco, so it is the end of an era for the Belgians who I think are on their way out. They may be followed by other disappointing sides like Germany, Wales, South Corea, Denmark and Uruguay
  • Best players: So many, but to mention a few (including some players to watch) Hakim Ziyech, Kylian Mbappé, Alphonse Davies, Enner Valencia, Pedri, Casemiro, Aurelien Tchouameni, Richarlison, Bruno Fernandes, Wojciech Szczesny

Still a lot to watch, and the list will surely change as the tournament progresses.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Life in the Group of Death

Before the tournament Group E was touted as the "Group of Death", with Germany, Japan, Spain and Costa Rica.

It does seem that the last round will mean the elimination of a team.

Germany lost their opening match against Japan, and were forced to pull a result against Spain. 1-1, after Niclas Fullkrug equalized Alvaro Morata's lead for Spain. Germany has one point, and is forced to defeat Costa Rica by some margin.

Costa Rica were terrible when losing 0-7 to Spain, and nobody must have given them a chance against the Japanese who were coming off fresh from defeating Germany. But that is football: a defensive match and only one shot on goal by Keysher Fuller was enough to cause the upset. Costa Rica are still in it, and will surely fight for a result against Germany, as unlikely as it may appear.

Things look more difficult for Japan. Had they defeated Costa Rica they would have been through, but can now look forward to a difficult match against Spain. A match they should win, assuming that Germany will defeat Costa Rica... If Germany wins, and Japan loses, Japan would be out. If they tie, it would come down to goals scored. Spain seems most secure due to their many goals, although they are not certain: if both Costa Rica and Japan win, both European sides would be out!

Incredible combinations in what will be an exciting last round in the Group of Death!

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Canada out, Morocco in

 Canada has been a joy to watch in this World Cup; led by Alphone Davies they have a young and talented side, and mark my words: this is not the last we will have heard of Canada.

Against Croatia the Canadians were up against a great side that kept their cool after Davies' shock opener, and through Andrej Kramaric and Marko Livaja managed to turn a difficult match around, with Lovro Majer making it 4-1 in injury time in a too-large victory. 

Croatia are serious about this tournament, and may reach as far as they did in 2018.

Canada were very unlucky to lose 0-1 to Belgium. Belgium's performance appears to not have been a one-off, and today a great Moroccan side were superior to the famous Belgians. Morocco went ahead on a free kick goal by Abdelhamid Sabiri (and Courtois did not look too good either), while Zakaria Aboukhlal made it 0-2 in injury time. Hakim Ziyech was simply fantastic and is certainly a player that can carry Morocco very far in this tournament.

I was recently in Morocco, and can imagine the partying in that football-crazy nation!

Morocco can take first place in the group with a victory over Canada (it will not be easy!), while Belgium is forced to win against a Croatia that looks far stronger than Belgium. It appears unlikely, and it may be that elimination in the first round of this World Cup will be the end of Belgium's golden generation of players.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

The M-Saviours

Today I woke up to watch two matches I had been very excited about to watch in this World Cup: Denmark-France and Argentina-Mexico. Both are in each of their ways almost modern classic, as the sides have played often in both World Cups and European championships (in the case of Denmark-France).

Denmark-France was as expected  match where France would dominate the puny and defensive Danes. While the absences of Kanté and Pogba were barely felt for France, Denmark missing Delaney and Kjær were a huge weakness for a side that came out to tie. In the end going for a tie should be punished, and it was by no other than the great Kylian Mbappé, who scored both French goals when squeezing in between the Danish defense in tight spaces, even after Andreas Christensen's equalizer.

France has weaknesses: the dependency on Kylian Mbapppé's speed and their lack of concentration in defense (Denmark should never have had the quality to threaten them), but with two victories in two matches they should be considered favourites, even though they are yet to face any quality opposition.

Denmark in the meantime has to defeat Australia. This is in no way a given (they tied in 2018), but nobody would cry for this Danish side to be eliminated.

Argentina were up against the wall after losing their opening match to Saudi Arabia, and were to face a Mexican side that has looked very weak lately, but are managed by Tata Martino who has in depth knowledge of Argentina (he has managed Paraguay, Argentina and Barcelona). He put a strong disciplined defense, and although Mexico had a couple of approaches in the first half it appeared clear that they were going for the tie. After 0-0 in the first half Argentina pressed more, but at one point it appeared that nothing would open Martino's lock. In the end it was none other than Lionel Messi who with a quick and precise shot from outside the area gave them a well-deserved lead, and the young Benfica player Enzo Fernandez who came on to make it 2-0 with a great strike, and give Argentina a victory that Mexico never had any reply to when it came to attack.

Playing like this Mexico should struggle to defeat Saudi Arabia (who played great against Poland despite losing 0-2, and are still playing to make the last-16). In the meantime Argentina showed that they are still in the tournament, and their next match against Poland will be a heart attack. Poland are not brilliant but certainly have an attack than can threaten Argentina's shaky defense, and one of the tournament's best goalkeepers in Wojciech Szczesny.

Don't miss it.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Now that every team has played

The first round of the World Cup is over, so it is a good time to assess what has been good and bad, and what teams are worth looking out for.

  • Qatar: besides the fact that they should never have had the World Cup, they are a poor footballing nation, and hopefully will be out in the first round
  • Netherlands: defeated Africa's best side, Senegal, and for that they should be counted on. Another test will be against an Ecuadorian side that is stronger than was expected
  • England: their 6-2 win over Iran was noteworthy, and surely they must be counted as candidates. But at the same time it was a strange match with political overtones and an injury, so England must still be tested against stronger opposition
  • Argentina: a sensational loss to Saudi Arabia does not necessarily mean they are out; in 2010 Spain opened by losing to Switzerland and went on to win the entire thing. However, an Argentina led my Messi appears to lack this kind of stamina, and the side also shows weaknesses in defense that will prove good for opposition
  • France: despite the absence of some of their key players the defending World Champions are looking to defend their title. France has star quality substitutes in every position, and although they were up against a quite primitive Australian side they will probably face little problems in overcoming Denmark and Tunisia to win the group
  • Belgium: one of the favourites undeservedly won against a fantastic Canadian side, and should therefore still be considered favourites. Canada will be interesting to follow though, and could easily become the darlings of the tournament if they pull good results in their coming matches
  • Spain: after their trashing 7-0 of Costa Rica they are surely one of the candidates for the title. But although they played well, it was against a very cheap background: Costa Rica's match must stand as one of the worst performances of any team in World Cup history. Spain will get far I think, but will be tested against better teams
  • Germany: Their loss to Japan was a surprise, but not a huge one. Germany cannot win by name alone, and everyone seems to have forgotten that four years ago they lost to South Corea, In my view Hansi Flick made a tactical error when withdrawing Musiala and Gundogan, giving all initiative to the Japanese, who knew Germany well (most players play in German clubs). That said, Germany has slow defenders, something that will make them suffer against bigger teams. I expect Spain to defeat them, and Germany may likely be on the way out
  • Japan: they have been improving over the past two decades; anyone who has watched football should know this, and nobody seems to recall four years ago when they defeated Colombia and almost eliminated the mighty Belgians in one of the best matches of that tournament. Anyone who is surprised about Japan should simply shut up and stop watching.
  • Brazil: They passed their test against a defensive and disciplined Serbian side winning 2-0 in a match where Richarlison scored what is the best goal of the tournament so far. They overcame a difficult match, and with few visible weaknesses are, in my view, the favourites to take the title after the first round of games.

 Of course, as in any World Cup, many things can and will happen. Teams will improve, others will decay.

John Oliver explaining the World Cup in Qatar

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

This World Cup is already disappointing

Surprises are bound to happen in the World Cup, and one of the biggest surprises in World Cup history (and personally for me and many Argentines a disappointment) was Argentina losing 1-2 to Saudi Arabia in the first match of the group stages. Argentina, who has not lost since 2019, lost now, and the prospects for winning the World Cup look dim for the Argentines. Although many could recall that in 2010 Spain lost their opening match to Switzerland, and went on to win the whole thing, Argentina clearly does not have the quality to pull back from the abyss of elimination. A Messi who only plays well when things go his way, and behaves like a little spoiled child when they don't is barely the type of quality player that Argentina or anyone would need. 

He is no Maradona. Expect Argentina to be out as they go up against better opposition in the form of Poland and Mexico, who tied 0-0.

Another, albeit lesser, disappointment was Denmark. Not as much because they managed 0-0 against a highly underestimated but strong Tunisian side (anyone who did not know about their quality has never watched football), but more because the Danes have lacked spine in confronting a FIFA who has not allowed them to play with training shirts that say "Human Rights for All" (how in the world is that a political message!?), and subsequently were also told to play without the "One-Love" armbands or face consequences. The latter was also a warning to other teams, who all succumbed to FIFA's threats.

In my view Denmark lacks spine. The Danish Football Association (DBU) claims to be a member of FIFA to push for change, but does not stand up to FIFA when they are doing something clearly wrong. How far does this reach? Will they even shy away from criticizing open corruption!!!??? I would be more proud of a Danish National Team that stood up for something and lost, than a spineless winning side; and they may not even be a winning side how they were playing against Tunisia.

Be fucking Men, and take a stand while you play your football with pride and to the best of your abilities, even if your opponents are not just 11 players, but also the referees backed by a powerful greedy organization!

I would be proud if Denmark would take the first step to withdrawing from FIFA and take other countries with them.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Qatar-Ecuador 0-2

Despite the allegations of bribery Ecuador showed they are a great side and won a well-deserved opening match against the hosts of Qatar 0-2 on two goals by the veteran Enner Valencia (oldest player to score in an opening match of a World Cup, and the first to score two goals since Italy's Angelo Schiavio in 1934). It could have been a larger victory for a side that controlled the match, and in particular the young Brighton & Hove Albion player Moises Caicedo could be one of the players to watch in the tournament.

Good start for Ecuador, but they now have two difficult matches ahead of them against Netherlands and Senegal.

I don't support Qatar. I hope they get trashed in every match as the worst host nation ever, of a footballing celebration that should have taken place in a real footballing nation. And today, in front of their home spectators they were as poor as a pub side (ironic, since you cannot buy beer); I hope they also get trashed by Netherlands and Senegal, something that should be no problem if they play like today.

Thanks Ecuador!

Clubs in the World Cup

 Club football is better that National Team football, in particular as FIFA continues everything they can to ruin the World Cup. That said, the World Cup of course still attracts attention (including for myself, as it is the reason I started to watch football), and on part I find particularly interesting is to see which clubs are represented among the many players in the World Cup. Of course some star players from countries that did not qualify are absent, as are injured played (notably for France the absence of stars like Karim Benzema and Ngolo Kante, or Sadio Mane for Senegal). But the quick exercise still throws some illuminating stats on the best leagues and clubs in the world.

There are according to my best analysis, 299 clubs from 44 countries represented among the players in the WC. The best represented leagues are as follows:

1) England: 155 players in the World Cup play in 38 different clubs. 27 of the clubs are Premier League sides, with the remaining clubs from the Championship, and even leagues 2 and 3 are represented!

2) Spain: 86 players play in 21 different Spanish clubs. That said, over half of these players (50) play in just four clubs: Real Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid. It is a league overly represented by the top teams.

3) Germany: 80 players from 20 clubs, three of which are 2. Bundesliga clubs. 

4) Italy:  70 players from 23 clubs. Considering Italy did not qualify, this is testament to the quality of the Italian league, who would be even better represented if Italy had qualified. 

5) France: 52 players hailing from 23 clubs, and a very varied group as well that includes many Africans in smaller clubs. 

6) Saudi Arabia: 33 players from 10 clubs. Not testament to a strong league, but to the fact that the entire Saudi squad is made up of local players, and then four countries have one or two players playing in Saudi Arabia as well.

7) Qatar: 33 players from 8 clubs. Just as with Saudi Arabia, the entire squad is made up of local lads, with 19 players coming from two clubs alone, Al-Sadd and Al_Duhail

8) USA: perhaps testament to the growth of MLS (and note that there are three Canadian MLS teams represented, not included here), 24 players from 17 clubs play in the USA. Of course, not all these are MLS clubs

9) Belgium:  24 players from 12 clubs play in Belgium, with Club Brugge in particular well represented with 8 players from five different countries. 

10) Mexico: 23 players from 9 different clubs, mainly Mexicans, but also some other Latin Americans.

It is notable, perhaps showing the shifts of global football, how under-represented leagues like the Argentina and Brazilian are, as well as China (only two players), while one sees growth in Japan and South Corea.Other smaller leagues like Scotland, Portugal (Benfica in particular) and the Netherlands (Ajax Amsterdam) are also well represented.

And well, which are the clubs with most players in the World Cup? (Strongest?):

1) Bayern Munich: 17 players from eight different countries play in Bayern Munich. They are of course heavily represented in Germany, with seven players, but also France has four players who play in Bayern. Note I counted Sadio Mane, so one has to be subtracted as the Senegalese find his replacement

2) FC Barcelona: 16 players from eight countries ply their trade in Barcelona, of which seven play for Spain.

3) Manchester City: 15 players from a variety of nine countries play in City. The most are four ENglishmen for England, but also three Portuguese play in City.

4) Al-Sadd: The Qatari side has 15 players in the world cup. 13 of these are on the Qatari, but they also have one Ghanaian and a South Corean.

5) Manchester United: The city of Manchester is well represented. 14 players from 9 countries play in United, including 3 Brazilians, 3 Portuguese and 3 English.

6) Real Madrid: 13 players from seven countries, although Benzema must be discounted, there are still 2 French, 3 Brazilians and 2 on the Spanish squad.

7) Al-Hilal: 12 players, and all on Saudi Arabia's squad

8) Tottenham: 11 players from 10 countries, also makes Tottenham the side represented in most countries.

9) Chelsea: 11 players from 9 countries.

10) Atletico Madrid: 11 players from 7 countries, three on the Spanish squad.

11) Paris St. Germain:11 players from 7 countries, including three on the Portuguese squad, and a variety of other countries. And of course, Mbappé for France

12) Juventus: 11 players from six coutnries, among them three Brazilians and two Argentines

13) Borussia Dortmund: 11 players from six countries, among them five on the German squad

14)  Ajax Amsterdam: 11 players from four countries for the Dutch giants, but here one must count seven players in the Dutch squad.

15) Sevilla: 10 players from 5 countries in the Southern Spanish club. Interestingly they have none on the Spanish national team, but among them three in the Argentine squad and two in the Danish 

16) Arsenal: Nine players from 7 countries.

17) Rennes: The French side has eight players from seven countries, and in terms of French teams, only trails PSG. Only one player in the French squad, but two on the Belgian

18) Brighton & Hove Albion: A surprise in the Premier League, but also has a strong side with eight players from 6 countries, among them three players from the competitive Ecuadorian squad.

19) Club Brugge: The Belgian side has eight players from five countries

20) AC Milan: Another Italian club that would surely have more if Italy had qualified, but has seven players from six countries.

These are the top 20. Eintracht Frankfurt, Brentford, Inter, Monaco, are also interesting clubs, but although this is far from complete, it is an interesting list as we enter the world cup!

Friday, November 18, 2022

Bribery accusation

 One SportsBrief report today is accusing Qatar of having bribed Ecuadorian players to lose the opening matech between Qatar and Ecuador. The accusation appears grounded on a twitter account of one Amjad Taha, but it appears difficult to find further information on what the claim is based on.

The sad thing about this, which may not appear true, is that it remains entirely plausible that this could happen; Qatar probably paid to be hosts, so they could be considering bribing their way through the tournament.

And whoever believes that this is not possible at this level should read Declan Hill's exposure of match-fixing in football, which besides documenting match-fixing in the top European leagues, discusses match-fixing in the 2006 World Cup. So it is certainly possible.

However, there are reasons to be skeptical about the accusation, not just because the lack of documentation: firstly, why bribe many Ecuadorian players, one or more of whom could step out and reveal what was happening? Much easier would be to simply bribe a referee (something that Declan Hill documents is quite common), or  simply the goalkeeper to make one drop? Or just intimidate Ecuador by different means that do not need bribery? (something Qataris are probably good at). Furthermore, an accusation like this, appearing plausible, could be an elaborate way to get many people to make bets for Qatar to win, creating a distorted betting market, something that is often the case in football, and which is monitored for alleged bribes. 

Surely there is a lot of betting going on; billions moving around for this World Cup.

So I find this particular story to be implausible, although I find it plausible that it will happen in the World Cup, and that this is not the final accusation in a World Cup that should have never been awarded to these Qataris.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

The World will expose Qatar

Let me get this out of the way before I start blogging a lot about Qatar: That country should never ever have been awarded the World Cup. Purely on football terms it is ridiculous to give the World Cup to a country that has never participated and that barely has a functioning league structure. But besides that, the problem is that you have someone hosting the entire world, who don't really want to host the world. It is a country where there is widespread discrimination against sexual orientations, women, and not least thousands and thousands of migrant workers. On the latter, it is estimated that up to 6500 workers have died constructing the stadiums; this is of course a figure that is disputed, but it seems beyond dispute that at least hundreds have died.

And that is already too much, no matter how you turn it. Nobody should die constructing football stadiums.

There is much discussion about boycotting. I am going to watch as many games as possible. While I will enjoy the football, I hope that both players and fans, together with a critical media (that will be prevented from doing their work by Qatari authorities for sure), will expose Qatar for what it is: a filthy regime built on migrant work that pays to get good propaganda that they do not deserve. I hope every opportunity will be used to expose them.

Someone else needs to be exposed as much as the Qatari regime: FIFA, who for money and greed is destroying the World Cup, not just by giving it to a country like Qatar (incredibly Sepp Blatter, a man with firsthand knowledge of the dirty inside workings of FIFA, said that Qatar should never have been awarded the tournament), but also by its idiotic proposals of expanding the tournament and making it every two years, proposals that are so blatantly against the beauty of the sport and the fans.

It hurts that football is being destroyed by these people, and we as fans (and as decent humans) should denounce it as much as we can. 

Let us show these people that football can bring us together against greed and evil!

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Burgos CF

As mentioned, I recently participated in the Budapest-Bamako rally. I wasn on the team "Diamond-Child Burgos", since we were bringing materials to a school in Freetown, "Diamond Child School", and because my two team-mates are from the old city of Burgos. 

Known for its UNESCO World Heritage Cathedral, Burgos has never really been known for its football. Burgos CF is in the Spaniosh second division where they have languished for decades. But the last few years Burgos has more ambition, and have the former Oviedo, Swansea and Napoli player as manager. In these years Burgos CF has been constructing a team that is currently vying for a first division spot. In fact, they started the season strongly, beating the all-time record of any Spanish team with a clean sheet, going 928 minutes without conceding a goal. 

The club's prospects are reasonably creating expectations in Burgos. I did not know much about the team, but it was central during the trip across West Africa (alongside the Salvadoran flag), and I will surely be following and cheering on Burgos as they make history!

Burgos CF

Friday, November 11, 2022

While I was gone

For the past three weeks I have talked a lot of football, but barely watched any, as I have been participating in the Budapest-Bamako rally. This has of course been a challenging but awesome experience, but in the meantime many things have happened in the football world, as we approach the coming World Cup. 

The most important action happened in the Champions League, where the group stages finalised with some surprising, and some less surprising results. Spanish teams did particularly badly: former finalists of Atletico Madrid ended dead last in Group B, while FC Barcelona and Sevilla made it to third place in groups C and G respectively, and in particular Barcelona was a disappointment, losing 0-3 to Bayern Munich at home. Real Madrid are the only Spanish team through, as winners of group F, ahead of RB Leipzig.

Portuguese teams on the other hand have looked strong: Porto and Benfica are through as group winners, the latter ahead of mighty Paris St. Germain, through goal difference after defeating Maccabi Haifa 1-6 in the last match.

The German Bundesliga and the English Premier League are well represented in the knock-out phases. In the former case, Bayern Munich went through as winners of group C, while Eintracht Frankfurt, RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund are all through as runners-up. In the case of the four English teams, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City, all went through as group winners, while Liverpool went through as runners-up in group A, despite defeating the group winners of Napoli in the final match.

Italian teams have been strong, in particular Napoli, winning their group A ahead of Liverpool, but also Inter Milan and AC Milan going through as runners-up of groups C and E respectively. The disappointment was Juventus in group H, who were no match for Benfica and Paris St. Germain.

Finally, one Belgian team went through: Club Brugge as runners up in Group B, behind Porto, after heaviliy losing the final match 0-4 to the Portuguese, but at the same time ahead of Bayer Leverkusen and Atletico Madrid.

The knock-out matches, scheduled for February next year, looks as follows:

  • RB Leipzig-Manchester City
  • Club Brugge-Benfica
  • Liverpool-Real Madrid
  • Tottenham-AC Milan
  • Eintracht Frankfurt-Napoli
  • Chelsea-Borussia Dortmund
  • Inter Milan-Porto
  • Bayern Munich-Paris St. Germain

I need not say (but will anyway), that the matches most fans will be watching for are Liverpool-Real Madrid and Bayern Munich-PSG; although all matches will be fantastic!

Most leagues are shutting down this week, as players either go on leave or to joing their national teams for the World Cup. Some exciting weeks are ahead!

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Greatest World Cup Matches: France-Croatia (2018)

Russia had been a controversial choice to host the World Cup, but had prepared well for a tournament that covered large distances, but also showed Russia from its best side, despite all the initial misgivings.

France had entered the tournament as one of the pre-tournament favourites, just as they had done two years before at the 2016 Euros, where the team had nevertheless been defeated by Portugal in a very boring final. Manager Didier Deschamps, who had captained France to their 1988 World Cup title most definetly counted with one of the most talented sides in the world: a solid midfield with some of the world’s best midfielders in Manchester United’s Paiul Pogba and the Chelsea’s ever-working genius Ngolo Kanté, as well as Juventus’ experienced Blaise Matuidi. Also defensively the teams stood strong with Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris on goal, behind Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane and Barcelona’s Samuel Umtiti, and two excellent backs in Stuttgart’s Benjamin Pavard and Atletico Madrid’s Lucas Hernandez. But what was strongest was its attacking prowess, led by the young genious of Paris St. Germain’s Kylian Mbappé, alongside Ateltico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann and Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembelé. France’s manager, Didier Deschamps, had even cut out the star striker from Real Madrid, Karim Benzema, amid some controversial rows among players.

France had won a difficult qualification group ahead of Sweden, Netherlands and Bulgaria, but were not impressive in the first round of the tournament: they defeated Australia 1-2, Peru 0-1, to tie Denmark 0-0 in a bore of a match to win the group. In the last-16 France faced a potentially strong Argentina with a shambolic defense in what turned out to be a great match, France won 4-3 with some fantastic goals, and France coming back from being 1-2 down. In the end it was in Kyllian Mbappé’s speed that made the difference, him winning the penalty kick of the first goal, and scoring two other goals to put France in the quarterfinals.

Uruguay were defeated 2-0 on goals by Varane and Griezmann for them to face the best team of the tournament in the semifinals: Belgium. In a strong match with many chances but two great goalkeepers, France won 1-0 on a header by the Barcelona defender Samuel Umtiti, and were ready for their first World Cup final since their 2006 defeat to Italy, where they were to face a surprising Croatian side.

Croatia had been at the top of World football since their independence, and had already made it far in the 1998 World Cup, when they reached the semifinals. They were always a team to be reconned with, having a long list of players in Europe’s biggest clubs, and the 2018 squad was no exception: an experienced defense that included Atletico Madrid’s SimeVrsaljko, Sampdoria’s Ivan Strinic and Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren, in front of Monaco’s Danijel Subasic in goal. Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic and Juventus Mario Mandzukic were strong strikers, but the big stars were in midfield, where two of the world’s best midfielders dominated: Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic.

Despite this amazing lineup Croatia had not qualified directly: they had come second to the surprising Iceland (who in 2018 qualified for their first World Cup ever), but had qualified to Russia through a play-off victory over Greece.

Croatia were paired again with Iceland in the first round group, alongside Argentina and Nigeria, and the Croatians cruised through a group that looked difficult: they defeated Nigeria 2-0 in the first match, and completely outplayed Argentina, winning 3-0, in a match where Modric and Rakitic completely tore apart the South Americans. In the last match in Rostov, they defeated Iceland 2-1 and were alongside Uruguay and Belgium the only side to win all their matches in the first round.

In the last-16 Croatia faced Denmark in a very close match that ended 1-1 (with Modric missing a penalty in the dying minutes of extra time), and had to go to penalty kicks, where Croatia proved cooler, winning 3-2.

In the quarterfinals Croatia faced an exciting Russian home-team, who had unexpectedly made it to the quarterfinals after defeating Spain in the last-16. It proved an exciting match, with Denis Cherysev bringing the Russians ahead on a splendid goal, but Croatia equalising through Andrej Krmaric, and then going ahead 1-2 in extra time, before a fighting Russian side equalised in the dying seconds of the match. But as against Denmark, Croatia were the better side from the penalty spot, and were to face England in the semifinals.

There were, as always, huge expectations amid the English fans that they could make their first final since 1966, and probably also a bit of under-estimation of the Croatian side, whose penalty wins were also seen as lucky. And England did indeed start the best, and went ahead after only five minutes, but if anything, Croatia proved that they never give up, and after pressing in the second half equalised through Ivan Perisic, and in extra time Mario MAndzukic gave the Croatians the victory, and their first World Cup final ever.

Against all expectations and in their first World Cup final, Croatia started as the best team dominating possession and controlling the midfield. But as often happens, it was the French who went ahead in what was basically their first attampt: a free kick into the area was touched by Mario Mandzukic head, and the hero of the semifinal had brought France ahead with an own-goal. However, it did not shake the Croatians who deservedly equalized ten minutes later when Ivan Perisic controlled and powerfully shot from the edge of the area.

The 2018 World Cup had been the first to introduce Video Assistance Refereeing (VAR) to help referees in difficult decision. And VAR intervened for the first time in a World Cup final, although not without controversy. During a French corner kick the ball hit Ivan Perisic’s hand; initially the Argentine referee did not make a call, but watching the repeat on the VAR screen, he changed his mind and gave France a penalty kick that Antoine Griezmann scored.

In my opinion it was not a penalty.

2-1 at halftime, and although Croatia came out to play their chance in the second half, France appeared in control and ready to utilize the young Kylian Mbappé’s speed for their counter-attacks. France made it 3-1 by Paul Pogba, and it was indeed Kylian Mbappé who made it 4-1 with a powerful shot from the edge of the area. At only 19 years of age he became the youngest goalscorer in a World Cup final since the legendary Pelé in 1958. While Mbappé was not the revelation of the tournament, he was the tournament’s best young player, and had probably been awarded player of the tournament award had it not been for the brilliant Luka Modric.

With a 4-1 lead the match was effectively over, but France’s goalkeeper Hugo Lloris decided to give Mario Mandzukic a present but losing control of the ball in front of goal and letting Mandzikic push it into goal. Mandzukic is thus the only player to have scored for both teams in a World Cup final.

4-2 and France were champions for the second time since 1998, but Croatia had been a worthy and dignified finalist, and won many hearts. It was also the first final since 2002 that did not go into extra time, and was thus one of the most special finals in World Cup history, and a worthy final for a great tournament in Russia.

July 15th 2018  
Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow 
Attendance: 78,011 
Referee: Nestor Pitana (Argentina) 

Teams

France: Hugo Lloris (c); Raphael Varane, Samuel Umtiti, Benjamin Pavard, Lucas Hernandez; Paul Pogba, Ngolo Kanté (Steven Nzonzi, 55), Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Blaise Matuidi (Corentin Colisso, 73), Olivier Giroud (Nabil Fekir, 81). Manager: Didier Deschamps 

Croatia: Danijel Subasic; Slime Vrsalkjo, Dejan Lovren, Domagoj Vida, Ivan Strinic (Marko Pjaca, 81); Ivan Rakitic, Marcelo Brozovic, Ante Rebic (Ante Kramaric, 81), Luka Modric (c ); Ivan Perisic, Mario Mandzukic. Manager: Zlatko Dalic 

France-Croatia 4-2  

Goals

1-0 Mario Mandzukic (OG) (18) 
1-1 Ivan Perisic (27) 
2-1 Antoine Griezmann (p) (38) 
3-1 Paul Pogba (59) 
4-1 Kylian Mbappe (65) 
4-2 Mario Mandzukic (69)

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Real Madrid- Barcelona 3-1

 After Leo Messi's and Cristiano Ronaldo's farewell to the Spanish league both Barcelona and Real Madrid have, after some adjustments, returned to the top of the Spanish League, and after Real Madrid's awesome league win last season, both teams were head to head at the top of the league as they were to face one another in the "Clasico" in Madrid.

Real Madrid went ahead after only 12 minutes on a goal by Karim Benzema, who has risen to become the star of the team, and after 35 minutes the Uruguayan Federico Valverde brought Real Madrid ahead 2-0 on a great strike at the edge of the penalty area. Despite this, Barcelona was not shaken, and in particular in the second half threatened Madrid's goal, and when Ansu Fati came on he certainly put pressure on the home team. Ferran Torres scored one back, and Barcelona came very close to an equalizer (and in my opinion should have had a penalty), but in the last seconds of the match VAR gave Real Madrid a (correctly called) penalty kick, which Rodrygo scored on to give Real Madrid all three points, and they are now three points ahead of Barcelona at the top of the table.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Greatest World Cup Matches: Belgium-Brazil (2018)

Belgium entered the 2018 World Cup in Russia as one of the favourites to take the title. They were ranked 3rd in the FIFA World Ranking and the “Golden Generation” that had made it one of the best sides in the world were in their best age. The entire Belgian squad played in some of Europe’s best clubs, and looked strong in every position. Among the stars were the fantastic Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, as well as strong strikers with the Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Napoli’s Dries Mertens. The defense was led by Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany, alongside some highly experienced players in Thomas Vermaelen, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Finally, Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois was perhaps the best goalkeeper in the world at the time.

Belgium had qualified in style, scoring an incredible 43 goals in ten matches, and they basically continued scoring goals in Russia: they opened by defeating the debutants of Panama 3-0, then defeated Tunisia 5-2, before winning their last match against England 1-0 and winning their group.

In the last-16 the Belgians were favourites against Japan, but had to struggle when they went down 0-2 early in the second half, and appeared on the way out. But the team showed great stamina when they came back from behind to win 3-2, and make it to the quarterfinals, where they were to face the mighty Brazilians.

After the 7-1 debacle at the 2014 World Cup Brazil had entered a period of refelction and renewal under the manager Tite, who had focused on taking advantage of Brazil’s technical skills and attacking prowess. In qualification they had swept aside opposition, only losing one match on the way. As always, Brazil was a team of stars from European clubs and strong in all positions: Liverpool’s Allison on goal, behind a solid defense with players such as PSG’s Thiago Silva, Inter’s Miranda, Real MAdrid’s offensive winger Marcelo and Atletico Madrid’s Felipe Luis. In midfield the Brazilians had stars such as Barcelona’s Philippe Coutinho and Paulinho, Manchester City’s Fernandinho and Chelsea’s Willian. And up front the biggest star of them all, PSG’s Neymar.

Brazil were certainly a team that would compete for the title, but did not look strong in their opening match when they only managed a tie 1-1 against Switzerland, but they still went on to win the group with two 2-0 victories over Costa Rica and Serbia respectively. In the last-16 Brazil faced Mexico, also winning 2-0.

Despite Belgium’s victory over Japan they had looked shaky against he quick Japanese attacks, and manager Martinez had decided to start with Felllaini and Chadli, both players who had come on against Japan and scored. In the meantime Brazil’s center-backs, Thiago Silva and Miranda, had looked solid throughout the tournament. Against Mexico Neymar had looked strong and able to shake up every defense, but the Brazilians were without Real Madrid’s Casemiro, who had been replaced by Fernandinho.

First half was very entertaining. Brazil managed to put pressure on a Belgian defense that sometimes played very deeply, but who had the sure hands of Courtois to take some chances that came near. The closest was an attempt following a corner kick which Thiago Silva did not control, but the ball hit the post nevertheless. In the meantime Belgium also managed to create chances with their highly mobile and quick atatcks that put the otherwise solid Brazilian defense under pressure. It was Belgium who first scored: after a corner kick the ball struck Fernandinho’s arm as he was trying to head away, and instead went into goal.

Brazil continued attacking looking for an equalizer, while Belgium felt more comfortable on the pitch, and looked incredibly dangerous when they counter-attacked. And it was in one of these counter-attacks that the movement of Lukaku, Hazard and De Bruyne tore the Brazilian defense apart as De Bruyne received the ball and struck marvelously hard and precise into goal.

Belgium were leading 2-0 at half-time and were looking as semifinalists, although everyone expected Brazil to come with everything in the second half as Firmino came on for Willian, and later on Douglas Costa and Renato Augusto came on for Gabriel Jesus and Paulinho respectively. Belgium instinctively pulled back but continued to be dangerous on the break (Eden Hazard had a close attampt on a counter-attack), but it was a game largely dominated by Brazil who, when them managed to get a shot, were most often stopped by Courtois. It was only in the 73rd minute when Renato Augusto scored on a header after a lovely flip into the area by Coutinho, and gave renewed hope to the Brazilians who put extra pressure. Both Firmino and Renato Augusto had some big misses, but in the end it was Courtois who, in the dying seconds of the match had a spectacular save on a shot by Neymar: one of those saves that is worth a goal and a title, and which made Courtois Man of the Match.

Belgium won 2-1 and with five straight wins were looking to take the title. But in the semifinals they lost 1-0 to France. Belgium went on to win third place against England; Belgium’s best World Cup result ever, but not what had been expected from them after their fantastic victory over mighty Brazil.

6th July 2018
Kazan Arena, Kazan
Attendance: 42,873
Referee: Milorad Mazic (Serbia) 

Teams: 

Belgium: Thibaut Courtois; Vincent Kompany, Toby Alderweirld, Jan Vertonghen, Thomas Meunier; Axel Witsel, Nacer Chadli (Thomas Vermaelen, 83), Marouane Fellaini, Kevin De Bruyne; Eden Hazard (c), Romelu Lukaku (Youri Tielemans, 87). Manager: Roberto Martinez 

Brazil: Alisson; Miranda (c), Thiago Silva, Marcelo, Fagner; Fernandinho, Phillippe Coutinho, Paulinho (Renato Augusto, 73), Gabriel Jesus (Douglas Costa, 58); Neymar, Willian (Roberto Firmino, 45). Manager: Tite

Belgium-Brazil 2-1

Goals

1-0 Fernandinho (OG) (13)

2-0 Kevin De Bruyne (31)

2-1 Renato Augusto (76)

Sunday, October 02, 2022

Manchester-Manchester

 I have not had much time to watch or think football lately. I have missed many great matches, but today I took time to get up early and watch the Manchester Derby between Manchester City and Manchester United. Both teams have looked fairly strong of late, with Manchester City trailing Arsenal in the second spot of the league table, and Manchster United on a positive curve, with four victories in a row. Therefore the derby was expected to be interesting.

But it was not.

Basically Manchester City trashed United in the first half, leading 4-0 at halftime. The entire team seemed on fire, and with Phil Foden and Erling Haaland in particular, each scoring two goals. In the second half Manchester United tried meager pressure, and perhaps got a bit of hope when Antony scored for the reds. But Foden and Haaland were not done and each scored again, to bring the score to a humiliating 6-1. In the dying minutes of the match Anthony Martial scored two for United, making sure that the humiliation was not total, although no doubt there will be strong criticism for losing like they did to their home-city rivals.

Haaland has surely been the signing of the season. He has scored 14 goals, topping the goalscorers list, which he appears sure to win!

Monday, September 26, 2022

Estadio Centenario

 I am visiting Uruguay, a legendary football nation. Unfortunately, due to recent crowd trouble, I was unable to go watch Peñarol, who were playing against Montevideo Torque without spectators (I watched a really boring match in a bar, with Peñarol losing 0-1 to one of the lowest placed teams in the league).

But I was able to visit the site of the legendary Estadio Centenario, site of the very first World Cup final of 1930. Unfortunately I found the museum to be closed on a Sunday, a big disappointment, but I was still able to walk around the stadium, see a statue honoring the Jules Rimet Trophy (including great homages to the Maracanazo in the 1950 World Cup final, which also defines Uruguayan football), and all in all take in the history of this beautiful country and city.

I hope soon to return to Montevideo, and see more of their football.

Scultpure to the Jules Rimet Trophy

Friday, August 26, 2022

Champions League 2022-23 draw

Seasons have started and football is on the go. I have nevertheless had busy months, with a lot of things in my head (both good and bad), and football has come a bit in the background, and I have not seen much, although been following the news and the start of the new leagues, interesting changes and discussions.

Sometimes we just go through these stages in life.

But as a warm up to an exciting new season we today had the draw for the Champions league:

Group A: 

  • Liverpool
  • Ajax Amsterdam
  • Glasgow Rangers
  • Napoli. 

An exciting group where Liverpool would appear as the favourites, but the English side has not started the season well, while Napoli and Ajax Amsterdam are looking to progress as well.

Group B

  • Atletico Madrid
  • Bayer Leverkusen
  • FC Porto
  • Club Brugge

Atletico Madrid are the natural favourites in a group where the defending Portuguese champions are favourites to go along with the Spaniards, with Brugge and Leverkusen looking to cause an upset.

Group C

  • Bayern Munich
  • FC Barcelona
  • Inter Milan
  • Viktoria Plzen

This appears as the group of death, with Bayern Munich and Barcelona looking for another of their many epic clashes, but also with the Italian giants with good options to progress. The Czech champions will not be given many odds by many, so they can only surprise.

Group D:

  • Eintracht Frankfurt
  • Marseille
  • Tottenham Hotspurs
  • Sporting Lisbon

Eintracht Frankfurt will look to continue European success from the Europa League in the Champions League in a group where all the other teams nevertheless are ambitious and have options at continuing to the next round. They will all compete.

Group E:

  • AC Milan
  • Chelsea
  • RB Salzburg
  • Dynamo Zagreb

AC Milan and Chelsea are the likely winners of the group, but both the Austrian and Croatian champions could create an upset. 

Group F:  

  • Real Madrid
  • RB Leipzig
  • Shakhtar Donetsk
  • Celtic

The defending champions of Real Madrid have gotten a group that they will surely be happy about. Although there are no easy groups in the CL, the Spaniards are huge favourites, with all three other teams looking to fight for the runner-up position.

Group G

  • Manchester City
  • Sevilla
  • Borussia Dortmund
  • FC Copenhagen

An interesting group with three giants and FC Copenhagen. The Danes have caused surprise before, but will have to do their best to fight against these three giants. Manchester City may again appear the favourite, but the experience of Sevilla and Dortmund may take either side on the first spot.

Group H

  • Paris St. Germain
  • Maccabi Haifa
  • Juventus
  • Benfica

PSG are to try yet again ina group where Benfica and Juventus will be difficult teams to face. Nobody will expect anything from the Israeli champions, who will play with no pressure.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Fantastic England

 The Euro 2022 final between England and Germany was a great match, as expected. Both teams played great football and the title could have gone to either side. When Ella Toole brought England ahead (another great goal as she had done against Spain) one thought England had the edge, but in fact they appeared nervous as Germany pressed on and scored a fantastic goal by Lina Magull, who was one of the best players of the match.

Extra time. Anything can happen, and indeed it was a bit of a coincidental goal by Chloe Kelly, after a corner kick, that gave England the winning goal. Indeed, the victory could have gone to both sides, but over the entire tournament England were surely the best team, and as they all say, football finally came home. And contrary to the overpaid guys, it is difficult not to be smitten by the joy and great football of the English ladies.

Congratulations to England! 

Cheers!

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Euro 2022

The last couple of months have been busy with work and personal things. I have had an extraordinary vacation in Denmark watching the Tour de France (with the Danish Jonas Vingegaard currently in the yellow jersey, but doubting he will win), and have watched little football.

Of the little I have watched, it has been the women's Euro 2022 taking place in England. In Denmark there was much excitement about a tournament in which they came runners-up in 2017. But for Denmark it was a huge disappointment, and I must admit that if a national team is to excite me, these women totally failed. In the opening match against Germany Denmark were lucky only to lose 0-4 to a magnificent German side. And notwithstanding that the Germans were magnificent, the Danes lacked spirit and fight, besides committing basic mistakes in defense. Although Denmark had a  chance to qualify to the second round by defeating Spain in their last match, they also lacked fighting spirit and ambition as they defended in a match they had to win (and deservedly lost 0-1).

While Denmark should be disappointed, this is nothing compared to Norway, who were considered favourites for the title, but were eliminated in the first round, and in particular their 0-8 defeat to England will ring out as one resounding humiliation for years to come. In the meantime England, the home side, look like the team to beat: 14-0 and three victories. But certainly Germany, Sweden and perhaps even France or the Netherlands are looking very strong in what looks like an exciting knock-out round:

  • England-Spain
  • Sweden-Belgium
  • Germany-Austria
  • France-Netherlands

Thursday, June 02, 2022

Reason to be excited about Argentina

Today's match at Wembley was called the "Finalisima", as it was the contest between the European champions of Italy and the South American champions from Argentina. It is a replacement for the defunct "Confederations Cup", so the match did carry honour and a title for both sides; Italy played to get some consolation from their botched World Cup qualification, while Argentina is clearly aiming at building a team that will be a serious contender for the World Cup title.

Argentina has been strong in the South American qualifiers, and their good form was underlined when they took the South American title, their first title since 1993. But with today's 3-0 victory Argentina should now be considered a serious contender for the title in Qatar. Lionel Scaloni has built an outstanding team that includes Lionel Messi, rather than building the team up around him. Rodrigo de Paul and Giovanni Lo Celso are outstanding and dominate the midfield, with an excellent understanding with Lionel Messi, who also combines well with Lautaro Martinez (who scored the first goal against the Italians after a sharp run and pass by Messi), while Angel di Maria is as dangerous as ever, scoring a great goal after a great pass by Martinez.

Argentina was totally dominant in the second half and the match could have ended with more goals with more luck for the Argentines, although Paolo Dybala made it 3-0 in the dying seconds. But Argentina were far superior to the European champions, who got no consolation from their botched qualification.

For an Argentina fan like myself it is difficult not to be really excited, more excited than for many years, about this Argentina side!

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Choripan and CL final

I had gotten all ready to enjoy yesterday's Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool with beer and choripán, but besides the beer, food and company, it was largely a disappointment.

Firstly, the delay in starting the match signaled not only gross incompetence, but total disregard of fans. While a lot of things are being said about what happened, it does seem incredible that these things can happen; this is hardly the first final they have organised...? At the same time one could see UEFA and FIFA dignitaries mingle amid celebrities in their luxurious seats, and a total disregards of the fans for whom they "manage" the game...

Secondly, the match was a disappointment. Liverpool created the match against a Real Madrid side that proved yet again that they only need one chance to win a match, and this time their 14th European Champions title. Vinicius Jr. scored the goal in a Real Madrid counterattack. Liverpool attacked and attacked, but besides a disciplined defense, they faced an incredible Thibaut Courtois, who seemed to save everything that came his way. In my opinion the Belgian goalkeeper is Real Madrid's greatest hero in getting the title.

Disappointment for all of us who were hoping for a Liverpool victory, but congratulations to Real Madrid fans.

Ready for Champions League final

Monday, May 23, 2022

Manchester City champions

 Although in the end everything finished as one might have expected (City and Liverpool victories), the end of the Premier League ended with a high level of excitement, with the surprise always looming.

To be champions City needed a win at home against Aston Villa. But with 20 minutes elft Aston Villa were ahead 0-2, and there was a clear fear in the stadium (although Liverpool were at the time not winning). But goals by Rodri and Gundogan (who came in to make two) within a magic period of five minutes, put things straight and the title in Manchester.

Liverpool knew what was happening in Manchester, and that a victory would give them the title. But Wolverhampton were a hard nut to crack, and the Wolves went ahead already in the third minute. Liverpool pressed on an towards the end of the first half Sadio Mane equalized. Knowing the result in Manchester the Reds pressed on, but the goal did not come until the 84th minute by way of Mohammed Salah. But by this time City were already up, and even though Salah scored a third in the last minute, they hardly celebrated it as they knew it was but for nothing but the goal-stats.

Liverpool ends as runner-ups, but they have an FA Cup title, and next week they will be vying for the Champions League title in a clash of Titans against Real Madrid.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Mighty Olympique Lyon

 This season's Champions League final was between the two best women's sides in the world: FC Barcelona had cruised to the final, and after last year's trashing of Chelsea, were probably slight favourites to continue their dominance in women's football. But facing them was Olympique Lyon, the most winning team in the women's CL, and one that had defeated FC Barcelona 4-1 in the 2019 final.

It was not to be a revenge for the Catalonians, who looked completely overwhelmed in the first half. It was only six minutes into the match when Amadine Henry scored a brilliant goal, and Ada Hegerberg and Catarina Macario scored as well to put the French ahead by the 33rd minute. And in particular the great Ada Hegerberg was playing a great match with vision and great technique.

Just before halftime Alexia Putellas scored for Barcelona, giving the many Barcelona fans in Turin hope for the second half. Surely FC Barcelona improved, but Lyon, whose defense is perhaps one of the best in the world, stood its ground, although they also made a lot of time-wasting which was surely frustrating to everyone (and largely unnecessary).

In the end Lyon won a well-deserved 8th title. And the final was a fantastic match with great atmosphere in Turin, continuing the growth of women's football!

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Eintracht Frankfurt Champions

The two teams playing the Europa League final today are not usually considered amongst Europe's best, but both sides were deservedly in the final after a strong campaign.

On the one hand Eintracht Frankfurt may not have had a strong Bundesliga season, but they have shined in the Europa league: they won their group undefeated and went on to defeat Betis (Copa del Rey champions), FC Barcelona and West Ham to make it to the final.

On the other hand Glasgow Rangers had only finished second in their group, but went on to eliminated Borussia Dortmund, Red Star Belgrade, Braga and RB Leipzig.

Frankfurt seemed to have the edge at the start of the match, but it was Rangers who went ahead in the second half on a goal by Joe Aribo after some clumsy mistakes in the German defense. But only 10 minutes later Frankfurt deservedly equalised on a goal by the Colombian striker Rafael Santos Borré. The match ended 1-1, and despite chances to both sides, the game went into a nerve-wrecking penalty contest. 

It is often said the stars miss the crucial penalties, and in this case it was Rangers' star Aaron Ramsey who missed the penalty in an extremely poor shot. Rafael Santos Borré scored the final winning penalty, and ended up being the star for Eintracht Frankfurt's first international title since they won the UEFA Cup in 1980!

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Copa del Rey final

Today I watched the Copa del Rey final between Betis and my old darlings of Valencia. Valencia have been a disappointment this season, where European football appears far away and a victory in this final could at least achieve that, as well as winning this prestigious title (which Valencia last had won in 2019).

The match itself was a typical cup final: a passionate but fair fight and with each team having their moments. Borja Iglesias brought Betis ahead, but Hugo Duro equalized with an elegant lob over the goalkeeper. 1-1 was the result of the match, and after extra time it had to go into penalty kicks (the first Copa del Rey Final to do so since 1998), and Yunus Musah's miss for Valencia decided the match as Betis scored on all their kicks.

Another disappointing Valencia day; I had hoped it would be different.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Remembering Freddy Rincon

Just about week ago I heard that the ex-striker from Colombia and Real Madrid had been in a car accident, and was in criticial condition. Just a few days later, having beers with a Venezuelan friend in Miami, he told me that Rincón had passed away at 55. 

A tall and quick striker, he had a long illustrious career that brought him, amongst others, to Palmeiras, Napoli and Real Madrid. But as I spoke with my friend I remembered Freddy Rincon for one very special moment: in 1990 I was a young teenager, sitting in an apartment in southern Spain, watching the World Cup match between West Germany and Colombia. It was the last group match, and the Germans were all but qualified while Colombia could not lose. I supported Colombia wholeheartedly as they attacked and attacked, but could not score. Instead, Germany went ahead, completely undeserved (but specially back then it was considered so “German”). In the last minute Freddy Rincón received the ball from “El Pibe” Valderrama and scored the equalizer that put Colombia through.

When that ball went in I jumped and screamed so much that neighbours and family worried that something had happened, but it was just one of those moments of absolute football joy that I remember having, and a treasured memory.

Thank you Freddy Rincón. RIP.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Losing or winning with dignity

 Manchester City, alongside Real Madrid, are the remaining teams in the Champions League no neutral fans will want to win.

Manchester City progressed today after 0-0 away to Atlético Madrid in match that was bound to be intense  as Atlético would seek to catch City’s 1-0 victory of the first match.

Atlético surely went for it, and although City defended well, they could have deserved a goal. But let us face it; it would have been an epic fight between two great teams had it not been ruined by poor sportsmanship and attitude. City wasted time and acted (two sins every single team, including Atlético, are guilty of, and which is a shame to football in general); but Atlético let it’s desperation at a goal become the lack of dignity of being eliminated.

Felipe showed the worst character of a footballer when he went on a revenge tackling of Foden (granted Foden acted, but it does not excuse anything) and acted and even touched the referee repeatedly when he gave him a highly deserved second yellow. 

How can that kind of behavior be accepted in football…? Are there really no standards? Even in “the heat of the moment”?

And worst of all: two great managers, geniuses at their job, Simeone and Guardiola: show some dignity! Even as a n example to your players (and to young football fans). They were the biggest the biggest disgrace of what could have been remembered as an epic encounter.

It is a bit depressing to see these kind of matches. 

Real Madrid will face Manchester City in one semifinal, while Liverpool will face Villarreal. The world will support the winner of the latter in the final.

Supporting Chelsea for a day

It was a fantastic match between Real Madrid and Chelsea in the Champions League quarterfinals, and as I got into the match, and Chelsea appeared on the way of doing the impossible after losing the match 1-3 at home, I was totally behind Chelsea when they were up 0-3 (and huge respect for the fantastic charisma and qualities of Antonio Rudiger, and Timo Werner's great third goal).

But Real Madrid are the best club in history for a reason. 0-3 down Luka Modric pulled what was simply a world class pass to Rodrygo who could easily first-time the ball into goal, and extra time of a great match that was perfect for neutral fans.

Karim Benzema scored the 2-3 for the Spanish side in extra time, and put Real Madrid in the semifinals and eliminated the defending champions.

Real Madrid are not playing great; against PSG they were the lesser team for three halves. But they punish every mistake and have the edge when it counts, and nobody should underestimate them.

In what was a bigger surprise though, Villarreal eliminated mighty Bayern Munich after 1-1 in Munich. Villarreal eliminated Juventus, and are the surprise side in the semifinals. They do not play great football, but rely on a solid defense and counter-attack, but it would be great to see a small team go all the way anyway!

Saturday, April 09, 2022

World Cup draw

 I have been busy with work, traveling, and non-football things in my head and heart, but I have nevertheless followed last week's World Cup draw, which points at some very interesting matches in Qatar (that should never have had the World Cup):

Group A:

  • Qatar
  • Ecuador
  • Senegal
  • Netherlands

This group could plausibly be the most difficult one to predict. Qatar are playing their first World Cup, but as hosts they have been preparing for years and will not want to disappoint at home (even though I will not support them). Senegal are African champions and with a strong core of experienced Europe-based players. Netherlands are always strong, but can also disappoint, while Ecuador has sufficient experience and skills to upset any team. Watch this group, and support all but Qatar.

Group B:

  • England
  • USA
  • Iran
  • Scotland/Ukraine/Wales

This is an interesting group that could potentially be the Anglo-Saxon world against Iran. Iran are surely not to be underestimated, having qualified with style, and will recall their 1998 group win over USA. England are probably favourites to win the group, but USA will recall that they have never been defeated by England in a World Cup, and most famously recall the 1950 miracle in Belo Horizonte. If Ukraine qualify, the group will be watched even more closely for political reasons in an already highly politicized World Cup.

Group C:

  • Argentina
  • Mexico
  • Poland
  • Saudi Arabia

This is a good draw for Argentina, although of course they should never underestimate any of the teams in the group. But Argentina is playing excellently, have a hungry Lionel Messi likely in his last World Cup, so should hopefully (I fully support Argentina) pull through. Mexico has looked very poor in qualification, so Poland and Saudi Arabia have good chances in pulling through, where expectations to Lewandowski's Poland will probably be highest.

Group D

  • France
  • Denmark
  • Tunisia
  • Peru/Australia

This group is curiously a 75% repeat of the 2018 group C, which included France, Denmark, Peru and Australia. That group was won by France (who went on to become World Champions), with Denmark as runners-up, and an excellent Peru was unlucky to be eliminated. France are surely favourites, but note that the defending winners tend to do badly when they have to defend their title (Denmark notably defeating France in 2002), and that may be a hope for the other teams. Denmark are surely much better than they were in 2018, but Peru will be looking to avenge their rather unfair 2018 defeat. Tunisia are the most unwritten chapter of the group, but never to be underestimated.

Group E:

  • Spain
  • Germany
  • Japan
  • Costa Rica/New Zealand

This could potentially be the "Group of Death". Two former World Champions Spain and Germany, and both teams are also contenders for the title. At the same time Japan is always highly competitive, growing stronger in every World Cup (remember their spectacular match against Belgium in 2018). In the meantime neither Costa Rica or New Zealand are to be underestimated: remember in 2014 when Costa Rica won the "Group of Death ahead of England, Italy and Uruguay?

Group F:

  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • Morocco
  • Croatia

This group has four exciting teams. Belgium is at the end of its most golden generation, and while they are still ranked number 1 in the world, one no longer has the feeling that they are able to go all the way. That said, they should be favourites in a group that sees the exciting Canadians, in the first World Cup since 1986, as well as Croatia, finalists and the world's darlings from 2018. Morocco is never to be underestimated, and may have hopes of fighting it out in the group.

Group G:

  • Brazil
  • Serbia
  • Switzerland
  • Cameroun

Brazil are surely huge favourites in the group, and contenders for the title that they have not taken since 2002. Of course they cannot underestimate any of the other teams, which have their strengths, but will have to fight it out between them. Switzerland may have a slight edge: a very strong team that eliminated France from the Euros, and won qualification ahead of European champions Italy, they have shown that they can take on everyone. Serbia has a strong base of experienced players but have never made it past the group stages since 1998. The same can be said of Cameroun; it is great to see the Lions in the World Cup again, but they have not made it past the group stages since 1990!

Group H:

  • Portugal
  • Ghana
  • Uruguay
  • South Corea

Portugal may be favourites in this group, even though nothing is written, of course, and Portugal can lose to all of these teams. That said, the match everyone thought about when they saw the draw was the legendary 2010 World Cup quarterfinal between Ghana and Uruguay, which saw Uruguay through after penalty kicks and Luis Suarez' infamous hand ball save. Ghana will look for revenge, but will have to keep their heads cool against an experienced Uruguay side, while Ghana at times has looked shaky (most recently in their disappointing Africa Cup of Nations). In the meantime South Corea is most certainly a team to reckon with, having qualified for every World Cup since 1986 they have the experience, although they have struggled to get past the group stages (That said, in 2018 they knocked out the defending champions of Germany).

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Qualified and not qualified

We are in the last stages of the World Cup qualifiers. 

In Europe two decisive playoff matches saw Portugal and Poland qualify by defeating North Macedonia and Sweden respectively; both were 2-0 home victories. The Macedonians were never really close to pulling another surprise against the Portuguese, while the Swedes play without fantasy or passion, and will not really be missed in Qatar. One team remains to qualify: Wales will face the winner of Scotland-Ukraine, which was postponed due to the war in Ukraine.

In South America there was little to play for for everyone but Peru and Colombia. A victory for Peru against Paraguay would put them in the play-off match, while Colombia had to defeat Venezuela and hope that Peru did not win. Both Peru and Colombia won, but it was not enough for Colombia, who will be missed in Qatar (I am personally very sad not to see them qualify), but they only have themselves to blame for missing another World Cup (the last they missed was 2010). Peru in the meantime is going into a play-off match in June against Australia or the United Arab Emirates. It seems it will be Australia, and against them I think Peru's chances will be 50-50 of making it to their second World Cup in a row.

In Africa there was enormous excitement as the second legs of the playoffs took place with some upsets. Firstly, Nigeria will miss their first World Cup since 2006 when they only managed a 1-1 at home to Ghana, who I am personally happy to see back in the World Cup after they missed Russia 2018! 

In a near-repeat of the Africa Cup of Nations final Senegal eliminated Egypt after penalty kicks, following a 1-0 victory that had equalized Egypt's 1-0 victory in Cairo. The Senegalese fully deserved the victory as they were the ones looking for it, rather than the defensive Egyptians. That said, the victory was marred by the fans, who abused laser-lights at the Egyptian players, making the match appear like a rave party.

The other big upset was Cameroun, who defeated Algeria 1-2 in Algeria after having lost 0-1 at home. The match had to go into extra time, and after Ahmed Touba scoring an equalizer for Algeria in the 118th minute, Cameroun seemed eliminated, but a goal by Karl Toko Ekambi in the last kick of the match (124th minute!) put Cameroun in Qatar in what was surely a devastating blow for the talented Algerians. At the same time it will be great to see Cameroun back in a World Cup after the missed out on Russia 2018. 

Tunisia and Morocco will make up the rest if African contingent to Qatar.

Only three teams remain to qualify, and it will (likely) be decided among these: Wales, Scotland, Ukraine, Peru, Australia, United Arab Emirates, New Zealand and Costa Rica.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Things decided in CONCACAF

 El Salvador had no chances to qualify following their recent tie with Jamaica, so in today's qualifier against Costa Rica they had only honour to play for as I went to cheer for them in a lovely sunny afternoon in San Salvador.

Costa Rica did not seem like a team that had a World cup spot to play for, but at the same time their experienced players gave the Salvadoran defense problems, and Costa Rica were leading 1-2 at halftime on goals by Anthony Contreras and Joel Campbell, that most of all exposed Salvadoran defensive mistakes. At the same time Costa Rica let El Salvador play the ball around, but without getting really dangerous, except when Cristian Gil Hurtado was excellently played into scoring position to pass Keylor Navas.

Second half was poor: Costa Rica defended and spent time, while El Salvador continued playing the ball around, but seldomly getting really dangerous.

The victory puts Costa Rica in the top four for CONCACAF, and they may still get third spot if El Salvador manages to take points from Mexico. 

In the meantime the long expected qualification of Canada was confirmed as they trashed Jamaica 4-0 at home (they lost their first match in qualification last week to Costa Rica), and it will be interesting to see if they can continue their regional success at the world stage, 36 years after their previous World Cup in 1986 (from which I have an anecdote for another blog-post).

In the meantime congratulations to the four teams from CONCACAF, and for El Salvador, they have to continue growing, and should have a chance at the next World Cup.

 
El Salvador-Costa Rica

Friday, March 25, 2022

What is VAR for anyway?

In South America VAR is useless. I remember a Copa Libertadores match when they spent 10 minutes reviewing a goal to find an extremely thin offside in a largely irrelevant situation. And today in the qualifier between Uruguay and Peru we saw what appeared to be a goal that had crossed the line not reviewed by VAR.

Aren't these the exact situations when VAR should be used!?!?

Mind you, I support Colombia (who finally scored seven games later, to win 3-0 against Bolivia), and Uruguay's 1-0 victory over Peru means that Colombia can still qualify with one match left (they have to defeat Venezuela and hope that Peru does not defeat Paraguay). However, if the referee and VAR had not conspired, Peru would have had the chance for direct World Cup qualification instead of a playoff, and that is simply unfair for Peru!

Disgraceful refereeing, but I could be wrong. Judge yourself:



Italian tragedy

Italy will be the most missed team in the World Cup, and that is a tragedy for football fans all over. The Italy that won the Euro this year were the best Italian side, but were defeated today in the World Cup playoffs against North Macedonia in a match where the Macedonians played their only chance: defending and hoping for the counterattack, which they got in the 92nd minute and gave Aleksandar Trajkovski the winning goal for the away side.

Despite dominating the Italians never seemed able to fight their way through, so the Macedonians have every reason to be proud about this huge upset. That said, they are certainly not qualified as they will now face Portugal, who defeated Turkey 3-1 to advance to the playoff final.

If the Macedonians advance to Qatar they will certainly deserve it!

Two World Cups in a row without Italy. Unheard of for a team that only had not qualified in 1958 (in 1930 they did not enter).


Sunday, March 20, 2022

Xavi's first Clásico

 When Xavi Hernandez became FC Barcelona manager in November the mighty Catalonian side were in a slump; on the way out of the Champions League and outside the top spots in the League, and expectations were that Xavi would have time to build up a new side. 

Today FC Barcelona roundly defeated the La Liga leaders Real Madrid 0-4 at the Santiago Bernabeu, and they played like the Barcelona-side of other times; the result was not larger only thanks to Courtois in the home goal.

FC Barcelona has always had a talented side, even after Messi left, but Xavi has given them confidence in their style; notably the often-criticized Ousmane Dembelé appears to have had a rebirth under Xavi. The team has also been supplemented by some extraordinary players: Ferran Torres (signed in December) was outstanding today, with one goal, and the newly signed Pierre-Emerick Aubemeyang scored two goals.

FC Barcelona are still 9 points behind Real Madrid, who remains likely to win the league, but the result today certainly announces that FC Barcelona is back on the top under Xavi's leadership. They can still win the Europa-League, and after defeating Galatasaray this week, are probably favourites.

Real Madrid in the meantime played what is arguably one of their worst games of the season, and although they remain comfortably on first spot, this result hurts and exposed some weaknesses that were also seen when they played Paris St. Germain in the Champions League. Karim Benzema, who did not play today, was able to punish PSGs dreadful mistakes when everything seemed in their favour. But without Benzema today the counterattacks lacked something, and when going behind, they offered nothing in the way of a comeback. Ancelotti could offer nothing to counter Barcelona's game, and that was perhaps the biggest surprise of the match.

Be sure that we will see much more of Xavi's Barcelona.