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).