Sunday, March 31, 2024

Alianza versus Aguila

 Tonight I went to watch a match in the Salvadoran top flight as the biggest team from San Salvador, Alianza, received Aguila, from San Miguel, who are the defending champions of El Salvador.

There was a good atmosphere at the Cuzcatlan Stadium and it was only one minute into the match when Anyelo Rodriguez brought the home team ahead after a disastrous defensive mistake by Aguila. Alianza played confidently and were dominating the first half, also helped by a double yellow for Aguila's Dixon Rivas, and were ahead at half time, with all advantages.

But Aguila's ten men came out well in the second half and Alianza appeared surprised and lacking concentration. In a situation where all attention was on an injured player, Aguila's Carlos Salazar equalised on a header, and Aguila appeared to be on top until, soon after, their player Darwin Ceren received a straight red card for a headless challenge. With only nine players Aguila pulled back to defend and waste time (they were good at that), while Alianza pressed, but their few chances were saved by the goalkeeper.

1-1 was surely disappointing for Alianza in a dramatic match, while Aguila celebrated as victors who had fought very hard.


Saturday, March 30, 2024

FIFA Break

Last week I was on a break and went traveling. A good time, as there was FIFA break, and I did apparently not miss much: I watched two matches in the respective countries. 

El Salvador played Argentina's World Champions. There was a lot of criticism in Argentina that they could not find a better opponent, and it is indeed hard to see that the match was useful for the World Champions. Playing on first gear they won 3-0 on goals by Cristian Romero, Enzo Fernandez and Giovani lo Celso. El Salvador had nothing to offer and besides a complete lack of interest for the match in El Salvador, it is also hard to see that this match was useful.

The other match I watched in Guatemala, where the locals faced Venezuela. A few days earlier Venezuela had given Italy a good fight only losing 1-2, and were favourites, but to my surprise Guatemala were well organized and created dangers for the South Americans. In the end the match ended 0-0.

Although there were interesting friendlies, like Brazil winning 0-1 in England and Colombia winning 0-1 in Spain, the most interesting part of the FIFA break were the play-offs for the last three spots at Euro 2024. Route A was won by Poland, who defeated a disappointing Welsh side on penalty kicks after 0-0. 

Route B was won by Ukraine, who will be a great welcome at the Euros, after they defeated Iceland 2-1.

The biggest surprise came in Route C were Georgia qualified for their first mayor tournament by defeating Greece in penalty kicks, after a 0-0 match.

I am now back after my vacation!

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Lazy Sunday matches

Despite it being a lazy Sunday at home I watched too great matches. The first was the FA Cup quarterfinal between Manchester United and Liverpool. 

Liverpool have ambitious goals now in Klopp's farewell season, while Manchester United is continuing its unstable ride under Erik ten Haag. It was nevertheless United who looked the strongest as the match got going and only ten minutes into the match it was the Scotsman, Scott McTominay who scored for United. Liverpool appeared uninspired but managed to put some pressure towards the end of the first half and it was Alexis McAllister who equalised, while Mohammed Salah brought Liverpool ahead just before halftime.

It was not fully deserved for Liverpool, but they showed some spine and appeared more confidence.

But confidence does not always translate into results: Liverpool pressured but they lacked concentration, both in attack and in defense, and they slowly let United into the match; three minutes before time Antony equalised for United after a clumsy Liverpool loss in midfield, and the match had to go into an exciting extra time (not that us neutrals cared). And just as the first half of extra time was ending Harvey Elliot brought Liverpool ahead 2-3, and they seemed to be in the semifinals, but again they lost concentration: Marcus Rashford equalised and in the last minute of extra time the young Ivorian Amad Diallo scored the winner for Manchester United after a quick counterattack following a Liverpool corner; a situation that seemed unnecessary (stupidly, Diallo got a second yellow card for taking his shirt off, and will miss the semifinal, showing him as a player that needs to grow...).

Manchester United will face one of the other victors this weekend: Manchester City, Chelsea, and every neutral's favourite, Coventry City, some the Championship!

The other match I enjoyed watching was La Liga match between Atletico Madrid and FC Barcelona. Atletico Madrid have the best home record in the league, but today FC Barcelona played perhaps their best match of the season, and one has to wonder if Xavi's resignation at the end of the season is in place.

FC Barcelona were completely dominant the entire match, and the few chances that the Madrileans had were taken care off by a strong Marc-Andre ter-Stegen. It was the former Atletico player Joao Felix who scored the first Barcelona goal after an elegant pass from Robert Lewandowski (Joao Felix used to plat for Atletico, and I found it unfair that the fans were after him throughout the match. He did show himself as the bigger man by not celebrating his goal though).

All in all, Lewandoski showed that he still has incredible skills, and his 2-0 goal in the second half was a typical center-forward goal, but the goal in the low corner from a difficult angle. It was the young Barcelona player Fermin Lopez who scored the third for Barcelona, who seemed to be enjoying the match as they have not done lately. 

This was the Barcelona we know...

With Girona losing to Getafe, Barcelona now takes second spot int he table behind Real Madrid. That said, with an 8-point difference it seems unlikely that Barcelona can overtake Real Madrid. That said, this result is a warning regarding their coming matches, in particular against PSG in the Champions League.


Friday, March 15, 2024

Champions League clashes

 The last 16 of this season's Champions League has been decided. Although some good and close matches (I greatly enjoyed Porto-Arsenal and Inter-Atletico Madrid, both decided on penalty kicks, which is in fact a relatively rare occurrence in the CL) I don't think that there were major surprises, and this means that the quarterfinals will all be huge matches:

  • Arsenal-Bayern Munich: Arsenal are having another great season, and as well being a candidate for the Premier League, they are surely also to be reckoned with in this tournament, although they were a bit lucky against FC Porto. Bayern Munich are always candidates, and will surely have a greater challenge against Arsenal than they did against Lazio.
  • Atletico Madrid-Borussia Dortmund: The Spaniards do not seem to be at former strength and had a close match against Inter, who might as well have gone through. Dortmund are strong, winning their group ahead of PSG and defeating PSV Eindhoven.
  • Paris St. Germain-Barcelona: Two giants who have before played some memorable CL matches. That said, neither side is at former strength. PSG struggled to get through the first round, although they seemed sure when defeating Real Sociedad in the last-16. FC Barcelona have been on a a rollercoaster this season, but have appeared better in the CL and defeated a high-rated Napoli in the last-16. Both sides could still go all the way despite their struggles.
  • Real Madrid-Manchester City: surely this is the most anticipated match and the one everyone would have expected to be the final. Manchester City is defending their title and walked over FC Copenhagen in the last-16, while Real Madrid struggled a bit more against RB Leipzig, but remain the team of the moment in Europe. The winner of this match could win it all.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

It is all good for Arsenal

The Premier League is as exciting as could be, and two of the title contenders faced one another today when Manchester City went to Liverpool, and with both teams fighting to keep a hold on Arsenal, who took the first spot in the league after defeating Brentford 2-1, their eight Premier League victory in a row!

Jurgen Klopp's announcement that he will leave appears to have given Liverpool new fire as they want him to leave with a title. At the same time the team is littered with injuries, and this is a cause of concern despite the fact that many young players have stepped up, and the side won the League Cup and have managed to stay afloat despite losing 3-1 to Arsenal in early February. 

Manchester City is also pushing hard to win their fourth Premier League title in a row.

Liverpool appeared as the more organized and pressuring side throughout the match, but never really overwhelming a Manchester City side that was always a threat, and even went ahead 1-0 in the first half on a goal by John Stones following a corner kick during which the forward post of Liverpool was strangely abandoned by the defense. It was not deserved as Liverpool continued to press forward, but with Darwin Nuñez continuously running into off-sides, and Luis Diaz constantly frustrating the City defenders, but never defining. In the second half Alexis Macallister equalized for Liverpool on a penalty awarded to Nuñez, and Luis Diaz came very close to score; the Colombian fought hard but was incredibly inefficient.

1-1 in the end meant that Arsenal stays on top with 64 points, followed by Liverpool, also with 64, and City with 63 points.

With 10 matches left, it proves to be an incredible end-race for the Premier League title.

Intense evening in Santa Tecla

Yesterday I was traveling home to El Salvador from Antigua, Guatemala, and spoke with a guy who told me about the Antigua football team, one of the best in the country despite being from a small town. I suddenly had a feeling that I really wanted to see a match, and tonight I went to watch a match in the Salvadoran first division between the local side of Santa Tecla and the visitors from Usulutan, CD Luis Alberto Firpo (the story about their name is worth a post).

All I can say it was a great evening in Santa Tecla with very lively Firpo fans and a Santa Tecla home side that played a fantastic first half: they were ahead 3-0 at halftime on three fantastic strikes by Andres Rivas, Alan Ocon and Mario Martinez. In particular the young Ocon was a constant threat on a Firpo side that appeared completely out of place.

Second half Firpo made some changes, including the entrance of a tall Brazilian, Mateus da Silva, which proved crucial as he soon shortened the distance on a rather lucky strike. That said, Santa Tecla were the better team and came very close to scoring a fourth on good attack combinations, but the goal eluded them as the match went into its last dramatic minutes: in the 88th minutes da Silva scored on a penalty called after a handball, and pressure increased on the locals. Into the added time one of the attacks seriously injured the Santa Tecla goalkeeper Christopher Rauda, who had to be replaced by the field player Jefferson Sierra. 

In a last minute attack the ball went past Sierra, and in Luis Suarez style the defender Alejandro Frezzotti saved the goal, but was shown a red card and in the subsequent penalty kick da Silva equalised to the disappointment of the locals and the celebration of the lively Firpo fans.

Great match, great time in Santa Tecla.FIRPO has equalized to 3-3 in the last minute against Santa Tecla

Saturday, March 09, 2024

Being on the blog

 I have not blogged for more than two months. I have before had periods during which I have blogged little, but they were either because of technical problems or because I was simply tired of football.

That is not the case now: I am following football a lot, and so many things have happened: the sad passing of the giants Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer; the (unlikely) Ivorian victory in the Africa Cup of nations; Jurgen Klopp's surprising announcement that he will leave Liverpool (as well as the lead in the Premier League and the League Cup victory over Chelsea); Paraguay's and Argentina's qualification for the Olympic Games; Real Madrid's good run (against Girona in particular) and Xavi's resignation from a very unstable Barcelona side; exciting Champions League matches, and even, closer to home, Messi making El Salvador go crazy when coming with Inter Miami to face El Salvador in a boring 0-0 match.

As I write this, I realize how many posts I have missed! But truth is that maybe the time of Blogs, like this one that I have had over 20 years, are over? Not that I mind that nobody reads it: I have always said it is like a diary, for myself, and in fact, when I read at my nearly 1500 posts, I see many moments of my life!

It is strange to think about, and it is perhaps a little bit of a loss of the discipline and inspiration to write when I see some of the many interesting football news. 

I must continue.