Saturday, August 30, 2008

Champions League 2008-09 group draw

The draw for the 2008-09 UEFA Champions Legaue took place last night with the foolowing groups:

Group A: Chelsea is likely to win, and no tips on the runner-up. The Romanians will be interesting to watch.
  • Chelsea (England): Last season's finalists enter the tournament as big favourites under a new coach. Will be exciting to watch them, and they are certainly contenders again as well as favourites in the group.
  • AS Roma (Italy): The Italians are always strong, and AS Roma is an example of it. They won't get my support though...
  • Bordeaux (France): The team coached by former French super-star Laurent Blanc will be interesting to watch, since they are relatively unwritten at CL level.
  • CFR Cluj (Romania): These are the Romanian and should thus not be underestimated. Still, without knowing much about them, they are a completely unwritten team.
Group B: Inter Milan, as a serious contender to the title, is by far the favourite. The surprising Cypriots will be interesting to watch as well.
  • Inter Milan (Italy): Under the new coach José Mourinho, and an already star-filled team, they should this season be even more serious contenders for the title.
  • Werder Bremen (Germany): Not as strong as in previous years, but I still is the safest bet to follow Inter to the next round.
  • Panathinaikos (Greece): Will have to hold up the flag for Greek football after Olympiakos sensational elimination against Famagusta.
  • Anorthosis Famagusta (Cyprus): The surprising Cypriot team is in after a sensational win against the Greek champions of Olympiakos, but will have their hands full!
Group C: Barcelona is by far the favourite, and could get a flying start to the tournament. I think the other three teams will be fighting for the crumbs...
  • FC Barcelona (Spain): A renewed Barcelona under Pep Guardiola will be interesting to watch, now without Deco and Ronaldinho, but with Messi playing a much more important role.
  • Sporting Lisbon (Portugal): Portuguese teams are always hard to play against and so will Sporting (don't check their web-site though: it is crap!).
  • FC Basel (Switzerland): Their second CL appearance, the Swiss will be interesting, but I don't think they will make it far.
  • Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine): The defending Ukrainian champions are becoming a common team in the CL. Last season they finished last in their group, let us see what they can do this time!
Group D: This group has some of the most interesting encounters in the group stages! Liverpool-PSV is a classic encounter, and Fernando Torres facing his old club Atlético will surely also cause talk!
  • Liverpool (England): Always better at European level than in the Premier League, they will probably be hard to beat again, although the group surely looks difficult!
  • PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands): Dutch champions doesn't that say it all?
  • Olympique Marseille (France): Good to have the southern French giants back in the CL!
  • Atlético Madrid (Spain): Hungry for European success, they will be hard to beat, as well as good to have them back in the CL!
Group E: Manchester and Villarreal usually have some good clashes, and the Scots always put up an entertaining fight. However, Manchester United should be considered the favourites by far.
  • Mancherster United (England): Defending champions, they will surely be the team to beat, and will have to fight very hard to win again.
  • Villarreal (Spain): The "yellow submarine", siilver winners in Spain last season, are in the second CL; in their first one, two years ago, they tied Manchester United twice and reached the semi-finals...
  • Celtic (Scotland): Awesome champions of the Scottish league, Gordon Strachan's team will as always be liked in Europe, but will have to fight much more for the points!
  • Aalborg B (Denmark): The Danish champions are in their second CL ever, but will probably have an early exit.
Group F: Olympique Lyon and Bayern should be fighting for the top-spot in this group, and I would give the Germans the edge. Nevertheless, the two other teams are strong outsiders and may tease the other two.
  • Olympique Lyon (France): Continuing as the most awesome team in French football (seven titles in a row now), and having played well in the previous CL's, success has nevertheless eluded them. Will this be their year...?
  • Bayern Munich (Germany): Good to have the Germans back after their notable absence last season. They are German champions, and under Jurgen Klinsmann, I would consider them a contender for the title.
  • Steaua Bucharest (Romania): The most traditional Romanian club has been in the CL many times, and won highest European honours in 1986. The participate as Romanian runners-up this season, but should nevertheless not be discounted (and an addition here: great for Romanian football!)
  • Fiorentina (Italy): Hard to beat, boring to watch... Farewell!
Group G: Difficult group where all have an option, perhaps with FC Porto and Arsenal with a slight edge. I tip the Portuguese to go on top.
  • Arsenal (England): Arsene Wenger's team came closest to European success when they reached the final two years ago. This season the team looks less strong, and I doubt they can reach that far, although they can never be discounted.
  • FC Porto (Portugal): Portuguese champions and two-times winners of the CL/Champions Cup (1987 and 2004) they are again a potential outsider for the title.
  • Fenerbahce (Turkey): Turkish runners-up last season, but managed to qualify for the CL with an experienced and capable side which surely will be hard to defeat.
  • Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine): The traditional Ukrainian side ended second in Ukraine last season, but qualified to the CL after destroying Spartak Moscow in a Soviet-era traditional clash.
Group H: Probably the hardest group as both Real Madrid, Juventus and Zenit St. Petersburg must be considered some of the best teams in Europe. Every match will be interesting. Borisov will be facing some expensive first-hand training....
  • Real Madrid (Spain): Spanish champions and as always, serious contenders for the title.
  • Juventus (Italy): "The old lady" is back in Europe after their forced relegation in 2006, and they are very welcome! They will be interesting to watch, and will surely want to show they belong in the CL top! A serious outsider for the title.
  • Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia): The defending UEFA Cup champions and Russian champions are playing their first CL, and will be a team to count on, and will give everyone a serious fight. Another outsider for the title!
  • BATE Borisov (Bielorussia): I know nothing about these Bielorussian champions besides the fact that they are sensationally in the CL after defeating Levski Sofia.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

David Villa in Valencia

I am delighted that the Euro 2008top-scorer, David Villa, has decided to stay in Valencia.
Rumours have lately connected him to Real Madrid, but I am happy that he will not waste his talents and playing time for going to Madrid.
This season will hopefully be Valencia's, after a few meager years, and David Villa will be central in this!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Gold for Argentina

The Olympic final between Argentina and Nigeria was not an entertaining match: in fact, it was one of the worse matches Argentina played in this tournament, and while Nigeria was tactically sound, and managed to control the deadly Argentinean strikers, the heat in the stadium in Beijing seemed overwhelming for both teams.
Nevertheless, Argentina wins gold for the second time in a row (on a fine goal by the Benfica player Angel Di Maria) and emerge as one of the favourites in the coming World Cup.
I have never hidden my outright preference for Argentina, and I am of course delighted! I have to thank the Nigerians for a great tournament, and must add that the three best teams got the medals in the Olypic games of Beijing:

Gold: Argentina
Silver: Nigeria
Bronze: Brazil

Congratulations and thank you to these teams!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gold for the USA

In truth in football it is not always the best team that wins. And I mean "best" in the sense that it is not the team that plays the nicest football, that creates the most chances, that attacks the most, that plays the most entertaining.
This was exactly what happened in the Olympic women's final between Brazil and the USA. I think the USA did not have a shot on target until the 85th minute, while the Brazilians were constantly in possession and attacking.
Here though, I must also say another truth in football: the more clever defeats the more naive. One must respect the discipline and defensive tactics which did that the Brazilian ladies, in spite of overwhelming superiority in possession, never really got a great chance. The North American ladies thus fully deserved the gold ahead of the naive (and unlucky in the end!) Brazilians.

So congratulations to the USA for their gold medal!

That said, there is a deeper problem here for the sake of women's football.
I have before said that I do not find women's football too exciting: it is too mechanical and with too little flair. The Brazilian ladies have been the first to add flair to women's football, thus making it more entertaining to watch. But if teams that play like the USA did today continue winning, women's football will always be too boring to watch! With all due respect for the tactical prowess of their victory, it is more exciting to watch someone count grains of sand than to watch someone play like the US ladies did today!

The European champions in Copenhagen

Yesterday there were friendly matches all over the world, and Denmark was honoured of hosting the winners of Euro 2008, Spain, in Copenhagen, for the first match the Spanish are playing as holders of the title, as well as with their new coach, Vicente del Bosque.

The match was played in the shadow of the plane-tragedy in Madrid earlier in the day, and much celebration that was to take place was cancelled.

But at least for the Danes, there was not much to celebrate: going into the World Cup 2010 qualifiers in just a couple of weeks, the Danes have to admit that they were completely overrun by a far superior Spanish side. Spain played like champions, yes, but Denmark made it all too easy for them: I have not seen such dominance, away, for a long time, and it must worry the Danes, in spite of it being "only" a friendly match.

Spain won 3-0, on two goals by Xabi Alonso and one by Xavi Hernandez.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Argentina in the Olympic final

I do not think that the game was played harshly: in fact, I feel that the Brazilian red cards were way too harsh! Nevertheless, the Argentinean victory was fully deserved in this semifinal between Argentina and Brazil which should have been the final.

3-0 for Argentina on two goals by Kun Agüero and one penalty by Juán Román Riquelme, and they are now ready to face Nigeria in a repeat of the Atlanta 1996 Olympic final, where the Nigerians ran away with a not entirely deserved victory.
But thank you to the wonderful Brazilians; I hope they win the bronze medal against the poor Belgians, and well... GO ARGENTINA!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Being a Brøndby fan....

I am a Brøndby supporter, and I consider Brøndby the best team in Denmark. That said, there are some bad things about supporting Brøndby, primarily the "fans"/hooligans who give the rest of us Brøndby supporters the following reputation:
  • We have never read anything but the label of a beer
  • Our diet is composed of pizza, burgers and cheap beer
  • We have never talked to any woman besides our mothers and the woman selling beer at Aldi
  • If we ever have children, we will name them all Kim Vilfort, even the girls
  • Our geographical abilities are limited to knowing the bus number to the stadium
  • We cut each others hair, and that is why we're all bald skinheads
  • None of us have ever held a job for any longer than until the next match
  • More than a Brøndby victory, we like beating up people
  • Burp, fart, shit, puke...
  • None of us actually know the rules in football...
Sadly for the real Brøndby fans, the vast majority of supporters who dearly love the blue-yellow team, who love football and who know how to behave, there is a small group of Brøndby supporters who for some reason keeps following our team, giving us the above reputation and making trouble like they did yesterday in Århus, after Brøndby lost 2-1 to AGF. Therefore the loss is doubly sad.

Go Brøndby!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Goodbye and thanks for nothing

Cameroun and Italy, in the first round of this Olympic tournament, played some of the most boring football ever, and now, both teams are out, in the quarterfinals: farewell to both, and thanks for nothing.

I did not see Italy lose 2-3 to Belgium, but I am happy they did: every time Italy is out in football it is a reason to be happy!

What I did see though, was Brazil's extra time 2-0 victory against a Cameroonian team who did not seem to have gone to China to kick a ball, but rather to kick the men. This should not surprise about Cameroun though: they have always played physically, bordering on the outright violent, and are one of the teams ever with most cards in the world cups. And today they lived up to their style: destructive and boring football, nothing to do with that so-called "Olympic spirit".
While Brazil was not impressive, very slow and lacked fighting, they did the whole world a favour by eliminating Cameroun. And I hope Cameroun doesn't come back to the Olympics.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The wolves from Midtjylland

When I was a young lad I lived for a while in central Jutland, not far from Ikast. Back then, Ikast had a team in the top Danish league, and did quite well: they played a memorable cup final against Brøndby in 1989, and I went to many of their matches. It was all a bit strange for this little town in the middle of the marshes, but it was so: local traders, traditionally with a lot of money, poured money into the team.
Some years ago the teams of central Jutland, Ikast and Herning, got together to make a big team, seated in Herning, but pulling from Ikast's success. They created a team with the really stupid name, FC Midtjylland. I have always found it a silly thing, and have never supported them: I would prefer good ole' Ikast, and I find that FC Midtjylland is an artificial money-creation, more than a team with traditional support.

That is my personal opinion, but not to take away the extraordinary results over the last years as the investment of FC Midtjylland money-men starts to pay off: FC Midtjylland is leading the Danish Superliga, and last night they opened up at European level! In the UEFA Cup qualifers FC Midtjylland was to face the Premier League team from Manchester City. A Danish team should be no problem for a Premier League team, and although the English stars grossly under-estimated the Danes, it doesn't take away the fact that FC Midtjylland played a great match and deservedly won 0-1 in Manchester.

The team emblem is a wolve, so the wolves roared in England last night.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Standard Liege-Liverpool

I rather enjoyed last night's spirited fight between Standard Liege and Liverpool in the Champions League qualifier. Although it ended 0-0, it was a good match - one where both teams knew that the promised land of the Champions League would not come by itself.
Standard Liege, in front of a great crowd in the Belgian city, has every reason to be disappointed: missed penalties and some huge chances were not used, and that will make it very difficult when they face the reds in Liverpool.

It is a pity that one of these teams has to be out of the Champions League already; they would both be great!

The funeral in Aalborg

Last night the Danish champions Aalborg Boldklub (AaB) took a big step towards qualifying to the Champions League by defeating FBK Kaunas 2-0 in Aalborg. AaB has played in the Champions League once before, but back then qualified because Dynamo Kiev was suspended because of a bribery scandal.
Now, they have the chance of qualifying for the first time, and become the first Danish team to have played in the Champions League twice. This is very important, to say the least, but could you see it on the spectators...?
They were playing at home, on such an important match, but the little stadium wasn't full. And as the match progressed, support was only available from some 20 fans. In fact, this looked much more like a funeral than then home-team winning a qualifier for the Champions League.
I guess AaB fans are poor supporters, and boring fans, but it will be a pity for Champions League to have big teams go play in Aalborg and there being barely any atmosphere at the stadium! If that would be the case, I'd prefer Kaunas.
Get yourselves together AaB fans!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Olympic quarterfinals

The first round of the Olympic football tournament is over without major surprises: Brazil and Argentina have lived up to their aspirations with three straight wins each, and are ready to the quarterfinals. It has not been amazing though: Brazil seems to have eased their way through Belgium, New Zealand and China, while Argentina had to fight a bit more against Ivory Coast and Serbia, but looking awfully strong nevertheless.
The three European teams in the quarterfinals, Belgium, Netherlands and Italy, have been efficient, but an absolute bore of the kind that makes one want to watch paint dry rather than them. In their last match, Italy and Cameroun played for the 0-0 draw that would take them both through in some of the worse football ever seen.
Not really Olympic spirit there.
Finally, besides Cameroun, we have two other African teams in the quarterfinals, Ivory Coast and Nigeria, who will in fact each other in an all-African quarterfinal.
As it is now, the four quarterfinals on Saturday are as follows:
  • Argentina-Netherlands
  • Ivory Coast-Nigeria
  • Brazil-Cameroun
  • Italy-Belgium
I make no discrestion that I want an Argentina-Brazil final: it would be best for the Olympics and for football fans in general.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


On a completely different note, I am missing some countries from the Olympics: Western Sahara, Greenland, Faroe Islands, Gibraltar and Tibet.

Cheers to them, because they belong in the Olympics!

2008 Olympics

The football tournament has started and today I watched my first match: Brazil destroyed New Zealand 5-0, and one could really see the different levels! Brazil was sooooo superior to New Zealand that it was almost sad! And Ronaldinho played excellently, although the background was a poor New Zealand side.
I guess that is one of the down-sides of the Olympics, even more than world cups (where it nevertheless happens as well): too many teams of a very low level...
So until now, the predictions are holding: Brazil and Argentina (with an incredible Messi) have won both their games until now.

On a different note, I also watched a woman's game: the USA defeated Japan. I don't have much positive to say; the game was a bore, and the atmosphere was irritated by continued high-pitch screams throughout the match....

I need a life.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Olympic football

The Olympic games in Berlin are about to start, and football is one of the sports where the country's will be competing.
The history of olympic football has always been rather awkward, and still today, the position of olympic history is very strange: something in between a semi-youth tournament supplemented with some star players.
For the first Olympic games, when there was no world cup, the Olympics were considered like the world cup, dominated by Europeans. This was just until unknown Uruguay in 1924 blew all Europeans away, and the groundwork was laid for the first world cup in 1930 in Uruguay. Then, for many years, olympic football became the ground of amateurs, dominated by Eastern Europeans, who had "state amateurs".
In general, it was a bore, and no competition with the World Cup: one can also see this in relation to countries that were the best in the world, were not to be seen in the Olympics: Brazil, England, West Germany, Argentina... (with only possible exception of some Eastern European countries).
Over the last years this has started to change, and the allowing of new players has made the tournament a bit more interesting, although some participating nations still only show off with a secondary youth team.
The great exceptions for these Olympics in Beijing are Brazil and Argentina. Argentina are defending champions from 2004, and Brazil is keen on winning its first gold ever in football. They therefore have shown up with very strong teams, and are by far the favourites to win the whole thing.
Nevertheles, because olympic football is such a bore, one doesn't know what may happen. However, I may add that it is not really worth bothering with games in the first rounds, until the semi-finals, unless you are from one of the countries playing.

Olympics Gold Silver Bronze
1900 Paris Great Britain France Belgium
1904 St. Loius Canada United States
1908 London Great Britain Denmark Netherlands
1912 Stockholm Great Britain Denmark Netherlands
1920 Antwerpen Belgium Spain Netherlands
1924 Paris Uruguay Switzerland Sweden
1928 Amsterdam Uruguay Argentina Italy
1936 Berlin Italy Austria Norway
1948 London Sweden Yugoslavia Denmark
1952 Helsinki Hungary Yugoslavia Sweden
1956 Melbourne USSR Yugoslavia Bulgaria
1960 Rome Yugoslavia Denmark Hungary
1964 Tokyo Hungary Czechoslovakia East Germany
1968 Mexico City Hungary Bulgaria Japan
1972 Munich Poland Hungary USSR
1976 Montreal East Germany Poland USSR
1980 Moscow Czechoslovakia East Germany USSR
1984 Los Angeles France Brazil Yugoslavia
1988 Seoul USSR Brazil West Germany
1992 Barcelona Spain Poland Ghana
1996 Atlanta Nigeria Argentina Brazil
2000 Sydney Cameroun Spain Chile
2004 Athens Argentina Paraguay Italy
2008 Beijing

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Pathetic Glasgow Rangers

In last seasons' UEFA Cup final the Russians of Zenit St. Petersburg were far superior to a poor Glasgow Rangers side.
With a new Champions League season starting, Glasgow Rangers had the opportunity to get a qualifier against the Danish champions AaB - all they had to do was defeat the Lithuanian champions, FBK Kaunas. One would expect that for a team like Glasgow Rangers this should not even be an issue, but in one of the first surprises of this seasons Champions League, the Lithuanians eliminated the UEFA Cup finalists.
On the one hand it is positive that we will have a team in the Champions League from such puny leagues as the Danish or Lithuanian, on the other hand it is pathetic that Glasgow Rangers can't manage to go through (all due respect to the Lithuanians).

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Euro 2008 road/boat-trip

This Euro 2008 also took me on a combined road-boat-trip with some friends like during the 2006 World Cup. Destination: Faroe Islands and Iceland.
In fact, the trip started on the day that Turkey was playing Croatia, when the four of us going on the trip met up in the Danish town of Viborg, from where we would drive to Hanstholm on the following day to take the ferry that would take us to the North Atlantic islands.

Viborg has a football team called Viborg FF. Until last year they played in the best Danish league, with decent results. However, Viborg is more of a handball town, and after being relegated, I think it’ll be a while before we see them in the “Superliga”.
Perhaps it was the lack of a local team, but there were not many people in the local sports pub where we went to watch Turkey-Croatia over many good Classic Fadøl.
It was perhaps understandable, since the match was not overly exciting, but all the drama happened in those last minutes of the extra time: Croatia scored to 1-0 with one minute left but the never-give-up Turks equalized in the last second. We were not many in the pub, but you could feel the drama when the disappointed Croats without confidence lost the penalty kicks.

After seeing the Cathedral of Viborg we continued to Hanstholm on the next day to get on our Smyril Line Ferry, M/S Nörrona, where we would spend the next two days on our way to the Faroe Islands.

The boat was full of all Scandinavian nationalities and a lot of Germans. So although the lounge bar of the ferry was full for the evening’s match, there seemed to be no major support for either the Netherlands or Russia. Over beers on the rocking ship we saw a surprising turn of events in the tournament: the Dutch had until then seemed invincible in their first-round matches. But a Dutch coach, Guus Hiddink, heading the Russians, apparently knew how to handle his countrymen. Although it took them into extra time to win 3-1, the Russian victory was very well-deserved and they were ready for the semi-final.

No flying-Dutchman on the North Atlantic.

Although the Faroe Islands were not participating in the European Championship, the game the following day would see one of the teams play that had defeated the Faroe Islands in the qualifiers. In fact, the Faroe Islands scored half of all their goals in the qualifiers against the Italians, who barely defeated the Faroese with 1-2 and 1-3.
Italy had disappointed in the tournament so far, but everyone knows that Italy starts playing well in the latter round, while Spain is completely opposite: the Spaniards start well, and end up losing.
So it was with only cautious optimism, not to say outright pessimism, that we got comfortable to watch Spain-Italy in the lounge-bar after passing the Shetland Islands.
But Spain won! After penalty-kicks all right, but a deserved and unexpected victory in a long 0-0 match between the two Southern European giants.
Spain was now ready to their first semi-final since 1984, and we had a couple of days break from the damn boat and from football on the lovely Faroe Islands, where besides amazing landscapes we saw a football pitch situated beautifully between the cliffs at Eidi.

One more day on the boat until we were on Iceland, but not before we watched the first of the semi-finals between Germany and Turkey on the lounge of the ship.
There was, now, no doubt who most people were supporting: there were many Germans on the boat and not a single Turk.
The Turks were also like that on the pitch in Basel, where there were many injured players. Still, Turkey gave another memorable fight against the mighty and annoyingly efficient Germans. Often the Germans were having trouble against never-ending Turkish attacks, and it was incredible when the Turks equalized to 2-2 with only two minutes left of the match; were the Turks about to do it again…?
But if anyone can do late victories, it is Germany: Phillipe Lahm scored a winner for the Germans with only a few seconds to go, and there was just a petty celebration from the Germans on the ship, and no party. I think one Turk on the ship would have partied better than the hundred of Germans that were already there.

In the qualifiers for this Euro 2008, Iceland was in the same group as Spain (1-1 in Reykyavik and Spain won 1-0 in Mallorca). So it may have been proper that we arrived at the port of Seydisfjördur in Eastern Iceland, on the day when Spain was facing Russia in the semi-final.
We drove for a couple of hours, passing the mighty waterfalls of Dettifoss, before making it to Myvatn, with its other-worldly landscapes. There, we were to stay at a cabin at the charming Dimmuborgir Guesthouse.
We arrived in a hurry, as the match was already starting. There was no TV in the cabin, so we sat down at the kitchen table of the owners, in front of a small TV, to watch the match.
One of us broke his glasses and thought he was provided with some condoms to repair them… (no further comments necessary…).

Spain had defeated Russia 4-1 in the first round, but after Russia’s match against the Netherlands and the return of Arshavin, expectation were rightfully higher on the Russians. Nevertheless, the Russians were hugely disappointing: they hardly threatened the Spanish goal and although Spain scored late, they won 3-0 in a victory that seemed much too easy.

Spain-Germany in the final!

Iceland is amazing, and we thoroughly enjoyed the following days, almost forgetting there was a major football tournament going on as we went hiking among lava, whale-watching, smelling sulphur and playing yatzy in the most obscure places we could find.
On the day of the match we went white-water rafting on the Jokulsa river near Varmahlid. It was a great and challenging raft on an absolutely gorgeous glacial river along narrow cliffs. There were three rafts, ours a combined Danish-Canadian crew, and one with only Germans. Of course, the Germans started shouting “Deutchland!” as they ventured out on the rapids, and we immediately replied “Viva España!”

Perhaps it was a premonition of things to come for the Germans that same evening: on a 4-level rapid our raft slid through almost perfectly, while the German raft tipped over into the cold water in a spectacular fall.
A cold shower for the Germans, and it would not be the last on that day.

We stopped on the way to Reykyavik in Borgarness to watch the match. We found a small cozy restaurant with a large TV, where we also had a well-deserved hamburger after our days’ adventure.
And although the place was full of German tourists/fans, we had no doubt that we won (well, Spain as well…): we had plenty of beers and openly celebrated Torres’ goal. So much that one German annoyed said at the end of the match: “You must be happy Germany lost…”
We were indeed, but even happier that Spain had (finally) won!

“Viva España” became the motto of the last few days in Iceland, where we went discovering around the “Golden Circle” (Pinghvellir, Godafoss and Geysirs) and the beautiful city of Reykyavik.
Go to Iceland! Even to watch football!

Sunday, August 03, 2008


Yes, I am back-posting from all the posts I would write in my little notebook during my recent trip through half the world.
Sorry - I guess this blog is as much a football-diary.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

República de la Boca

I took a walk in the beautiful picturesque neighborhood of La Boca, in Buenos Aires, today. Besides its art and atmosphere, it is yet another place where football has an important place in life: Blue and yellow colours dominate, being the colours of the local team, the great Boca Juniors, one of the greatest teams in the world, bound with traditions, and whose stadium, "La Bombonera" overlooks the neighborhood like a cathedral.
It is indeed an inspiring place, and my only regret was that I was not there to go to a match to experience the passion. Nevertheless, got some pictures:

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


I am in Brazil. The land where football is a religion; where some of the greatest players continue to come from.
It is truly amazing to see, and one gets to understand the passion: it is beyond mere fanaticism, a mere “Hobby”. It is something that is inherent in everything – just taken for granted. I love it.
And one understands the super-power status they hold in the beautiful game: one sees people, kids, everywhere playing it. Football pitches, balls, improvised, in perfect state, professional, amateur, all ages. This is not Tanzania, where they think this is “government support” – it’s a way of life!
I recently loved watching a game in a small bar in Paraty, just to feel the passionate atmoshpere. It was between the two Rio-teams Flamengo and Vasco da Gama (the “Classic of the Millions” as it is known as). Flamengo is probably the most traditional club in Brazilian football; at least the one with the most fans, and the bar in Paraty was no exception: the place was packed with passionate Flamengo supporters who celebrated feverishly when Flamengo went ahead 1-0 on a grave defensive error by Vasco da Gama. Still, this was nothing compared to the celebration when Cristian scored an absolutely stunning long-shot goal.
Beauty was celebrated much more than a “mere” goal.
Flamengo is now my adopted Brazilian team.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Top 10 bummers of Euro 2008

It is not because I feel it was a bad tournament, quite on the contrary, but I can unfortunately think of a number of things that were a bit of bummers in this tournament – on the other hand, some of these things are also what made the tournament memorable!
So here comes the top then bummers of Euro 2008:

10) Boring teams: It has been a great tournament, with great matches and good football. And although the winning team, Spain, swore for the beautiful and attacking football, a few teams seem to be stuck with their defensive style.
9) Austrian football association: An Austrian brewery promised free beer for life to any Austrian player who scored. But when Vastic scored for Austria against Poland, the Austrian FA said no to the price…
No to free beer!!?? Please…!
8) UEFA referee rules: Inconsistency in the implementation of rules seems the most consistent thing in international football. This Euro 2008 was no exception, mostly during Ruud Van Nistelrooi’s first goal against Italy: everyone thought it should have been off-side, since the last Italian player was outside the pitch. However, rules say that he was still “in play” – shattering what everybody else thought.
Now, why should such a rule be kept secret…?
7) David Villa’s injury: David Villa became the top-scorer of the tournament with four goals in only two matches. He could have gotten many more.
6) Gomes: The German striker was a complete flop. I think nobody even got scared when he was put in in the final against Spain, and his missed goal against Austria was one of the biggest misses I have ever seen.
5) Czech Republic: The ageing Czechs were not so much a disappointment because of their mistakes (like Peter Cech’s against Turkey – he still is a great goalkeeper), but more because of the lacking capacity in closing off a match. The Czech team seems to be arrogant: we saw some of the same in the 2006 World Cup, and think a game is finished before the 90th minute.
Fortunately the Turks proved them wrong.
4) Portuguese spirit: While the Turks showed incredible fighting spirit, the Portuguese super stars were completely opposite. While rightfully hailed as favourites when the tournament started, it took only an organised and efficient German side to take away their arrogant confidence. In the last half hour of the quarterfinal the Portuguese players seemed like tired and defeated old ladies.
Portugal didn’t win because they lacked winner-mentality.
3) Greece: The defending champions of 2004 were poor to say the least.
2) France & Domeneqc: France was a huge disappointment. With the players they have their performance bordered the pathetic in spite of good moments against the Netherlands. And here, I must blame a coach which seemed too arrogant, superstitious and disrespected to lead a top-rate team of super-stars to anything.
France was hugely disappointing and that is a pity for football.
1) Swiss TV: It was completely unproper when Swiss TV used a text from the old Nazi lyrics to the German national song for the Germany-Austria game. Not only unproper I guess, but also disgusting and an insult to the great German team and people (and please, this does not mean I will support them!)

Top 5 Best things of Euro 2008

The Euro 2008 was exciting, great matches, entertaining football, drama and tenacity. It was one of the best international tournaments of the last years.
In my personal opinion the five best things of the tournaments were the following:

5) Netherlands in the first round: The Dutch started the tournament like super-men, trashing the Italians and French in spectacular matches which led one to think about their spectacular teams of the 1970’s. It was a pity that they were unable to keep it up, but still, I loved seeing them, and look forward to see if they can do better in South Africa.
4) Russia: Welcome back to the Russians! Under Guus Hiddink and with some marvelous players the Russians showed that they were rightfully in the tournament. Look out for the Russians!
3) Austrian fans: In general the fans of Euro 2008 were great – although don’t mind a handful of trouble-makers, a few petty nationalisms and high prices. But I liked the Austrian fans, who gave their otherwise petty national team excellent good-humoured support which surely gave the players and extra incentive.
2) Turkish tenacity: The “crazy” Turks showed how much it matters never to give up, and for that they gave us some memorable matches in Euro 2008: Their amazing come-back against the Czechs, the incredible last-second equalizer against Croatia, and their spirited fight against the Germans were all examples of good ole’ fashioned spirit, and many teams could learn from this.
1) Spain: Spain were the best of the tournament, firstly because they finally managed to win a major tournament, and secondly because of how they did it; they played brilliantly.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Littla Kaffistofan in Iceland

I have been in the Faroe Islands and Iceland for some time now (In fact, I watched the Euro 2008 final in a small café/restaurant in Borgarnes). And well, have just had underlined the fact that there are football fanatics in every corner of the world:
We had been driving for some one hundred km, when we decided to have a cup of coffee in a small non-descript road-cafeteria in a very desolate place: Littla Kaffistofan.
When we got inside the little café, we could see we were in a football-fanatic home: every inch of the walls were covered by flags, pictures, posters, shirts of teams from all over the world, as well as pictures of players and autographs. One small side-room was dedicated exclusevily to Icelandic players, of which, I am ashamed to say, I only know Eidur Gudjohnsen.
I believe we were somewhere between Hveragerdi and Reykyavik, and I would recommend anyone who likes football to check it out, since it was one of the nicest football places I have ever visited.
The following pictures are courtesy of Stig Nygaard:

Monday, June 30, 2008

España Campeón!

Spain became a deserved European champion today. Six games resulting in five wins and one tie (against the defending World champions and winning on penalties) speaks for itself: Spain was by far the best teams of the tournament.
Lifting an international trophy (besides their somehow meagre 1964 victory, which I wouldn’t really count) has finally come to Spain. I must humbly admit that I doubted whether I would ever see this happen, but I am now delighted I did. Spain, the greatest footballing nation that had never won anything, has finally done it to take its rightful place among the greatest.
The best thing about this Spanish team was its depth: even with the top-scorer Villa out, new excellent players were there to take over. All players out-did each other in what must be a new generation of Spanish players who manage to look beyond the petty nationalisms that have overshadowned Spanish football.
Viva España!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Germany back! (But Turkey will be missed)

Germany defeated Turkey last night in a delight of a match, where the Turks again showed some of the greatest spirit seen on a football pitch seen for a long time: these “crazy” Turks shows that in football one should never give up!
The Turks will be missed: Last night they almost did it again, but against another of the traditionally figthing teams in the world: Germany…
Well, the German are again like in the good ole’ days: a boringly efficient team, that annoys by its pure efficiency and great players. You have to admire them! And I am happy to have Germany back like I like them, that is, to dislike them in my sheer admiration.
Football is much better like that - Germany could win the whole thing. I personally don’t hope they will win, but they’d deserve it for their tenacity and efficiency.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A trip

I am off on a long trip that will take me from one side of the world to another. I do hope, however, that I will be able to watch football: I am hoping that we will be able to watch football in desolate places, to repeat our 2006 World Cup road-trip.
In any case, I am expecting that updates will be difficult over the coming period. But I shall try.

Germany in the semifinal

I guess it was somewhat to be expected: the Portuguese were unable to stop the efficient Germans who, like in the good ole' days, just become better and better as the tournament goes on.
How far can they go? They will be facing Croatia or Turkey in the semifinal, and neither looks that intimidating after Germany's good game today against an also well-playing Portuguese side. Still, the Portuguese were unable to stop some German players who really excelled: Ballack was incredible (well, he did make a small foul in his third goal, but I am sorry to say, these things happen often, and mostly to the advantage of the defender... I can only blame the referee!), but was closely followed in great performance by many other Germans: Hitzlsperger, Podolski, Lahm and the returning Schweinsteiger.
This team can go far. But how far...?
It is a pity however, to see the Portuguese out again. They play good and positive football, and have some amazing players: Deco was stunning today, and Bosingwa an eternal threat on the right side.
But as a team, they simply were not as good as the Germans, and one is left with the impression that the Portuguese again lost to the cleverer team, just like when losing to Greece in 2004...
Sorry to Portugal, congratulations to Germany!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Euro 2008 quarterfinals

The group-stage of the Euro 2008 ended last night with a well-deserved Russian victory against Sweden. The Russians are a young exciting team that has tried to play football, and last night did excellently against an old and boring Swedish side.
I think this Euro 2008 has so far been great; it is long ago we have seen so much entertaining and good football on national level. Perhaps it is because at the European level, with only 16 teams, we tend to see less of the second-rate teams abounding in other tournaments, but truth is that teams like like Netherlands, Spain, Russia and Portugal all play entertaining attacking football, just like Croatia and Turkey play refreshing and beautiful football. Both Germany and Italy have also shown that they can, but still don't do it in every match.
But now, the quarterfinals look as follows:
  • Portugal-Germany: the Portuguese are favourites against the Germans. But the Germans are not to be underestimated!
  • Croatia-Turkey: The Croatians are favourites after three victories in a row, but the Turks have shown that they never give up! Predict a great match!
  • Netherlands-Russia: Russia's Dutch coach Guus Hiddink will face his country with a young Russian team that is not afraid to play up against the best. At the same time, the Dutch have an amazing side that has won three impressive victories and scored stunning 9 goals on the way.
  • Spain-Italy: Italy always defeats Spain, and I believe it will happen again, but I certainly hope to be wrong as it will be a pity to see the exciting Spanish team out of the tournament.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

God doesn't watch football

I have a friend called Søren. We met up last night at a pub in Copenhagen to watch Italy play France. None of us were supporting Italy, and prior to the start of the match, Søren said: "If Italy is eliminated today, it will be God's punishment because the elected Berlusconi!"

As it turns out, and it has been confirmed again, God doesn't watch football.

Italy ahead

Although it is hard to swallow, Italy won a well-deserved victory against a lame and unlucky French side. France is out and Italy is in, and will be facing Spain in the next round.
The Spanish are already nervous, anticipating the disappointment that the Italians so often give them: the Italians are quadruple world champions, Spain has never won anything, and has often been hindered by the Italians! Even Spain's biggest defeat ever, 7-1, was to Italy, in 1928.
Their last important match was in the quarterfinal of the 1994 World Cup, when Italy won 1-2.
Although I support Spain, and I think that Spain has been playing best, my prediction is that italy will win and continue ahead to the semifinal.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

France-Italy: Not for children

First time Italy played an official national football match was in Milan in 1910. They won 6-2 against one of the other best teams in history, France, laying the groundwork for an almost-centennial rivalry.

Tonight they are at it again in an all-for-nothing match in the first round of the Euro 2008. True, both teams have been a huge disappointment so far, but with their backs against the wall, the match tonight could truly be a drama PG-16.

The two countries have faced each other 35 times in official matches (tonight will be their 36th) with Italy winning 17, France 8, and 10 matches ending in a draw. The last includes two penalty shootouts: one memorable one in the World Cup final of 2006, where Italy won, and another one in the quarterfinal of the 1998 World Cup, where France won (and eventually became world champion).

In fact, the last ten years has only seen important matches between these two giants: besides the 2006 World Cup final, they also faced one another in the Euro 2000 final, where France won after exra time after Wiltord equalized Italy’s lead in the 90th minute, and Trezeguet scoring the winner in extra time.

In the qualifying for this current Euro 2008, the two teams also faced each other, and after the 2006 World Cup, France came out the best: they won 3-1 at home and managed to tie 0-0 in Italy to win the group.

Tonight will be a completely different story, but be certain that a new chapter of drama is to be written into the books of these two football giant’s rivalry.

I hope good and fair football will be the winner, and wish the best to all the charming fans of either team!

And in other news...

While the European Championship in Austria/Switzerland is currently taking much of the news here in Europe, there are still things happening in the rest of the football crazed world, not least of all, qualifiers for the coming world cup 2010 in South Africa.

In the South American qualifying group Paraguay has gone ahead of everyone else on top, after defeating the mighty Brazilians by 2-0, on goals by Roque Santa Cruz and Salvador Cabanas. At the same time, Argentina managed an uneasy 1-1 at home against Ecuador, to remain second in the qualifiers, and Colombia is third, after a tie with Peru.
With Brazil fourth, the match Argentina and Brazil next thursday will be another clash of giants between the two top ranked teams on FIFA's World Ranking.

In the African qualifying zone there were some very surprising results showing that some of the more "traditional" big teams will have difficulty qualifying. In group 5, World Cup 2006 surprises of Ghana lost to Gabon; they are still top of the group, but with Libya and Gabon tracing them in what could become very close indeed.
In group 8 Rwanda defeated Morocco, and is now topping their group, while Cameroun's stars only managed a 0-0 in Tanzania, but is still poised to win their group 1.
Another giant, Angola, lost 3-1 to Uganda in group 3 in a group where three teams (Angola, Uganda and Benin) are tied with 6 points at the top.

Finally, in the Asian qualifiers' group 2 Japan won 3-0 against Thailand, and is now poised for a clash against Bahrain to win the group. Also, poor Iraq, after not being allowed to play temporarily by FIFA, nevertheless managed to rise and win against China, and will hopefully continue to next round together with Australia by defeating Qatar in their last group 1 match (in the Asian qualifiers, as in the African, the top two teams go on to a second group stage).

The World Cup in South Africa is on its way!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Auf Wiedersehen

Tonight Germany defeated Austria 1-0 in Vienna. The Austrians are out, while the Germans have made it to the quarterfinals, where they will be facing Portugal.

The current German national team started the tournament with the same charm and offensive play we remember them for in the last World Cup. After what we saw tonight, that seems ages away: we saw a German team play for the result, boringly, against a spirited but inefficient and insufficient Austria side. This German team reminds one more of the 1986 team, and one had some flashbacks to another memorable game in 1982, between the same two teams, where the result was the main thing...

Besides Ballack's amazing free-kick, which gave the Germans the victory, there was nothing really noteworthy in the German side. On the contrary: they were slow, inefficient and at times the defense looked very shaky; if the Portuguese are given the space the Austrians at times had (and wasted), they are in for a bad defeat, and Austria will not be the only Auf Wiedersehen we'll see this week!

I do hope the Germans give us some of the nice playing of what we have seen them do before, because that could make an extraordinary match against Portugal!

In the meantime, thank you and farewell to Austria.

Football fanatic blog 4-years birthday

It is today 4 years ago I started this little football blog here, and I will celebrate by having a beer. The site itself is older: although I do not know the exact date I started to set up this web-site, I know it must be around 10 years ago these days, since it was up to the 1998 World Cup, when I decided to post all my information on the World Cups to share with the whole world.
Since starting the blog 4 years ago, it has been up and down with football and being unable to update the site.
I am no computer expert and I am deeply aware of the many technical faults on my site; but it is my little darling, where I can get my outlet for my football passion.
Cheers to everyone who reads this site: beer is on me.

Thank you Turkey and Czech!

Sometimes football gives you some amazing experiences, and tonight was one of them: in the last match of the first round, Turkey and the Czech Republic were playing a small final, as a winner had to be found on who would continue in the Euro 2008 or go home. Both teams had it all to play for, and the atmosphere was truly great.
The Czechs started off best, and went ahead in the first half by Jan Koller. Although the Turks started best in the second half, the always-dangerous Czechs scored to 2-0 by Plaitsil. The game looked set for the Czechs.
But the Turks have shown they don't give up, and in the last 15 minutes, scored 3 goals - the last one a great strike by Nihat (who also scored the second after a grave mistake by goalkeeper Peter Cech). It was an absolutely amazing comeback, and the match ended in drama when Turk goalkeeper Volkan was red-carded, and the Turks, out of substitutions, had to put a player on goal in the last nerve-wrecking moments of the match.
It is great for the super-Turks, but also sad for the charming Czechs (their fans shall be missed!). But that is football, and these kind of matches are what make it great.
Congartulations to the Turks, and thank you very much to both teams!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Champions are out

In spite of their boring style I thought Greece were deserved (albeit not worthy) champions of Euro 2004. Last night, on their second consecutive loss in Euro 2008 (0-1 to the Russians), the defending champions are out, and deservedly so. They are simply not as good, and their boring style should not be copied. This should be the year of entertaining football!
Sorry to the great Greek fans, but it is true.
Bye bye Greece.
The last match of the group between Russia and Sweden will be a nail-biter, as both teams can go through. Although I personally would go for the Russians, I (sadly) believe the Swedes are more disciplined and better organised, besides their absolutely wonderful strikers (Henrik Larsson is still, at 37, one of the greatest players ever!).

Viva España

Admittedly, I have not often supported Spain. But yesterday I gave one of my greatest shouts of celebration of the latest years, when Valencia's David Villa scored the winner for Spain against Sweden.
While it makes it so the better that a Valencia player is the most scoring in the tournament so far, I like this young Spanish team, who may be poised to exorcise the ghost of bad tournaments that has always hunted Spain. They entertain and they have shown they fight well in the face of boring defensive teams, like the Swedes, who - alwys difficult to play against - are mostly in the tournament to make us all sleep.
My support for Spain was enhanced from seeing so many obnoxious drunk Swedes who are blind to the fact of their team's boring and overly tactical display. While I am never blind to credit its merits in times when they win, it is boring and bad for football, when a team like Sweden can pull a good result from a team like Spain.

Although I think the Netherlands is the best national team I have seen in years, my support in this Euro 2008 is with Spain (for now...).

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Euro 2008 in Brussels

Brussels is a great place to watch football, simply because there are Europeans of every nationality around, unconditionally supporting their teams in the good old fashioned nationalistic manner.
On Place Luxembourg, people come out from their oh-so-important jobs in shiny offices to join crowds watching the games on many of the bars on big screens. I was there the day before yesterday, as Spanish flags were everywhere, together with goofy-looking Russians. Yesterday, Portuguese crowds led the way, but many charming Czech ladies were also around, more discreet, but certainly cathcing more attention.
There were even Swiss we could make fun of after Arda Turan scored the winner for the Turks.
Plenty of beer, friends, and football!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

First round of the Euro 2008

First round matches are over, and so far, there have been no major surprises, but too many disappointing teams.
In Group A Portugal confirmed their status as favourites by firmly defeating the never-to-be-underestimated Turks 2-0. At the same time, the Swiss hosts, in my view, disappointed by losing to the Czechs, and will have to show more in their coming matches if they are to hope going through. Portugal should be watched out for surely!
Germany was powerful in group B against a hugely disappointing Polish side, who made such defensive blunders that they qualify as the worse team so far in this tournament. At the same time, the Austrian hosts lost to the Croatians on Modric's lone penalty, but deserved better, and surely should not be underestimated by Germany. The Austrians should defeat the poor Poles.
Group C promises to be thrilling in spite of the Netherlands giving such a powerful display of football: it wasn't that they played so well (everyone should know that the Dutch can play like that), but it was the more amazing considering that they defeated the defending world champions, Italy, by 3-0! It was a powerful display, and the Dutch are looking like serious contenders for the title. The same cannot be said for the world's 2nd, France. They were hugely disappoiting in the 0-0 game against Romania - a match so boring I fell asleep prefering to watch paint dry.
Lastly, Group D started off with an exciting 4-1 victory of Spain against Russia, with three goals by Valencia's David Villa, who thus looks like a serious contender for most scoring player of the tournament. While Spain should also be considered a contender for the title, one should not forget their history of starting off well and disappointing later. Meanwhile, the Swedes were unforgiving in their 2-0 victory against the defending champions of Greece, who are looking at an early exit from the tournament.

In spite of this being the first round only, and many things could still happen, my top-5 favourites for the title are as follows:
  1. Netherlands: after their display against the Italians, they seem to be the team to beat. I hope they will be able to keep up that kind of playing, for the good of football!
  2. Portugal: Will be more interesting to watch against a big team, but surely played well, and Cristiano Ronaldo seems to be on a roll.
  3. Germany: Played surgically with an elegant Ballack leading the midfield against the Poles, who were nevertheless hugely disappointing.
  4. Spain: They often disappoint, but if they can play like they did against Russia throughout the tournament, they may put all historical critics (like myself) to rest.
  5. Italy: They lost, hugely, but can still bounze back and must show that they are world champions indeed!
But who knows...?

EURO All-time most scoring players

With one goal against Italy (albeit in a clear off-side position), Ruud Van Nistelroij has equalized the legendary Marco Van Basten with five goals, in the number of goals scored in the UEFA Euro finals of all time.
In fact, the table of all time scoring players in the UEFA Euro finals is probably going to go through some changes soon:
  1. Michel Platini, France, 1984, 9 goals
  2. Alan Shearer, England, 1996 and 2000, 7 goals
  3. Patrick Kluivert, Netherlands, 1996 and 2000, 6 goals
  4. Marco Van Basten, Netherlands, 1988, 5 goals
  5. Savo Milosevic, Yugoslavia, 2000, 5 goals
  6. Milan Baros, Czech Republic, 2004, 5 goals
  7. Nuno Gomes, Portugal, 2000 and 2004, 5 goals
  8. Thierry Henry, France, 2000 and 2004, 5 goals
  9. Zinedine Zidane, France, 2000 and 2004, 5 goals
  10. Ruud Van Nisterooij, Netherlands, 2004 and 2008, 5 goals
  11. Jurgen Klinsmann, Germany, 1988, 1992 and 1996, 5 goals
Michel Platini's achievement of 9 goals in 5 matches, as the tournament was much smaller then, is probably never going to be beaten. Nevertheless, as can be seen from the table, there are some players in this year's tournament which are contenders to the second and third spots, of Alan Shearer and Patrick Kluivert respectively: Milan Baros, Nuno Gomes, Thierry Henry and Ruud Van Nistelrooij are all in the current tournament with 5 goals.
Of these however, only Van Nistelrooij and Nuno Gomes seem with good possibilities, since
Milan Baros has had a poor season and barely starts in for the Czechs, while Thierry Henry is still dangerous but playing on a French team that seems more and more tired and demotivated.
And well, then there are other marginal players who may enter the list after this Euro: David Villa, or Cristiano Ronaldo or Lukas Podolski, depending on how their teams do in the tournament the coming weeks!

Friday, June 06, 2008

UEFA EURO 2008 Fantasy football

With the EURO 2008 starting on this coming Saturday, the fever is kicking in (and it is a great feeling to have it back!). And as is appropriate in such times, I have made a team called "The Ugly Outfits" on the UEFA Fantasy football site.
The team is as follows:
  • Goallie: Nikopolidis (Greece)
  • Defenders: Heitinga (Netherlands), Lahm (Germany), Sergio Ramos (Spain), Senderos (Switzerland)
  • Midfielders: Ballack (Germany), Robben (Netherlands), Kranjcar (Croatia), Nani (Portugal)
  • Attackers: Torres (Spain), Nuno Gomes (Portugal)
I am allowed one substitute, where I chose Frei (Switzerland).
It is not easy to choose these teams, and I am under no illusion that this is a brilliant side. But at least I have tried to choose some solid players not everyone takes, as well as some of the more conventional players. If they don't perform, one can substitute, although that surely also needs to be done with care.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

New and old coaches

Football rumours of coaches are plenty these days, but apparently some things are clear: Sven Göran Eriksson is out of Manchester City and will apparently turn to coach the Mexican national team. Surely pressure will be less than when he coached England!
And finally José Mourinho will be returning to the football world: the arrogant Portuguese is probably the best coach in the world, and an already strong Inter Milan side will be even more frightening with him as coach.

Monday, June 02, 2008

EURO 2008 predictions

The EURO 2008 is starting on Saturday with two matches in group A: the hosts of Switzerland are facing the unpredictable Czechs, while the favourites of Portugal are facing Turkey.

With a lot of exciting football matches ahead it is time to make my predictions of the tournament (where I am, to be honest, usually pathetically wrong...):
  • Group A: A strong defense and home support will bring the Swiss to the top of the group, with Portugal just behind (the two teams will share points in the last game of the group).

  • Group B: The Croatians have a young and talented team, and is ready to repeat what they did in 1998: they will defeat a German team which I believe will disappoint for its third EURO in a row. Croatia will win the group, ahead of Austria, which without a strong team will take advantage of playing at home.

  • Group C: This is the "group of death", and is thus the hardest to predict; I am certain we will see some close matches. The Romanians are an exciting young team, but they won't prevail. Instead, I believe the Netherlands will win the group, taking advantage of what i believe will be a tuff last repeat of the 2006 World Cup Final, but where the French will prevail ahead of the Italians, to take the second spot in the group.

  • Group D: This group is also hard to predict, but I believe the Russians will surprise by winning the group. Spain will largely disappoint, as usual, but will squeeze past the Swedes to take second place in the group. The Greeks will lose their 2004 title.

With these predictions on the first round, we are looking at the following quarterfinals (I will not make any further predictions here):

  1. Switzerland-Austria: The co-hosts clashing!

  2. Croatia-Portugal: Surely to be an utterly intense match!

  3. Netherlands-Spain: Can Spain do it?

  4. Russia-France: The surprising Russians against the dangerous French.

According to this, we could plausibly be looking at a final between Russia/France/Netherlands and Portugal/Switzerland.

In the Facebook UEFA Euro 2008 predictor (I have before written about the football applications on Facebook) the most predicted team for champion is Spain, closely followed by Portugal. Although one can seldomly count on history alone, this is interesting: Spain often go in as favourites, but besides their victory in 1964, they usually disappoint. I don't believe their team this time is particularly stronger than previously - who knows...? Maybe that is why they could make it...

The teams mostly picked as runner-ups are Germany and Italy, and this shows that people are perhaps hoping/expecting to see a new winner, in spite of one of the big powers who usually win. Neither Italy nor Germany have done well in the last couple of European Championships, and although one should never-say-never with these super-teams, I don't believe that they will do well this time either.

In any case, I have been wrong before, and the greatest fun is to discuss it over beer and watch some great games, as well as taunt our fellow Europeans!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Empty Chairs

I was just going through some old pictures and came by an old picture of "The Empty Chairs", a 7-side team I played on at the European Commission while doing the so-called "Stage" there in 2001-2002:

It was great fun, we were a great an charming side, but didn't make it beyond the first round, because the games were usually on a Sunday, after massive amounts of beer warmed us up on Satruday evening.
Still, I believe we are the best team not to win a tournament since Hungary in 1954 or Brazil in 1982.

Cheers for the old days!!

Michael Laudrup to Panathinaikos?

Michael Laudrup has always been one of my favourite players, and as coach, first in Brøndby and then in Getafe, he has also proved a highly qualified football personality.
Since announcing his leaving of Getafe a few weeks ago, there has been widespread speculation of where he would be coaching, and he has on-off been connected to Benfica, Sevilla and FC Barcelona. I have no idea how serious these rumours have been, but now it seems confirmed that Mr. Laudrup will be going to the Greek club, Panathinaikos, replacing the Portuguese José Peseiro.
While I think many fans would have liked to see Mr. Laudrup in one of the bigger clubs in Spain or England, Panathinaikos will no doubt be a challenge: the Greek fans are passionate, and there is great competition in the league which for the last four seasons have been won by Olympiacos (must be mentioned that the Greek league has been a pretty one-sided affair since 1997: Olympiacos has won every year, with the exception of 2004, when Panathinaikos won their last title).
There is no doubt that Mr. Laudrup will be under pressure to bring Panathinaikos back to the title, and that will be a challenge I wish him the best of luck with!

Saturday, May 31, 2008

"Foreigners" in football clubs

FIFA has decided to set a limit on the number of foreign players in national club sides. The proposed rule is a so-called 6+5 rule, where national club sides will be obliged to line up at least 6 players eligible to play on the national team of the said country (the rule is to start by the year 2012).
With this, FIFA and Mr. Sepp Blatter have shown an extraordinary disregard of the forces of globalisation and the free movement of labour in the EU (no matter how one views the EU, the free movement of labour is one of its great achievements). But more worryingly, as a football fan, they show disregard for the quality of football which they say they are there to protect.

It is comforting that policy makers, in particular in the European Parliament, are already saying that FIFA should not expect any special treatment: citizens with the correct work permit should not be hindered from working in another member state. And this touches upon the fundamental rights of people, and football should have no exemption!
Also, the clubs are also echoing their worries to the new FIFA rule, not only in terms of its obvious illegality, but also in terms of footballing: it is obvious that many clubs, like Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, FC Barcelona, etc. - all big teams in the Champions League (as well as many teams in countries not even participating in the CL!), will have to completely re-set their teams.
And will this be good for football quality...?
With the advent of the Champions League we have seen some of the best and most competitive football ever. It is sad indeed, often, that clubs/teams/players are dominated by the desire to make money, instead of fighting for their clubs (notable examples abound though; note Mr. John Terry, a classical example of a Chelsea player by heart), but perhaps we should consider that the good old-fashioned days are gone, and that we cannot legislate ourselves back in time.
The many foreigners (be they Europeans, outsiders with European citizenship, or African/South American/Asians) in European clubs have greatly improved the quality of the game and the teams. I also believe it has pushed local players to be better, to improve themselves, because of the improved competitiveness.
And if the youth-training in some countries has not followed on this, that is where the problem lies, and not in the number of foreigners in the big teams!

As in many other things, globalisation is here to stay, and FIFA seems set on fighting it, with the consequence that football quality will deteriorate.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

South Africa as World Cup host

I have said it before, but here I am going to underline it: am not looking forward to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and I believe FIFA made a great mistake by giving the World Cup to South Africa in its eagerness to give it to some African country.
While I think South Africans current attitude to foreigners is a popular disgrace from a country that should know better (how about some of the neighboring countries having to play there?), I do not believe the South Africans have what it takes to organize a pleasant, world class tournament which welcomes the world, like we have seen in Germany, Japan/Corea, France, USA, etc. The country is gorgeous, yes, but suffering by violence, poverty and corruption. I am afraid that with prices of tickets and organizational issues, we will see as many empty stadiums as we saw during the African Nations Cup in Ghana in January.
And Ghana is a footballing nation, with a talent and passion for the game which is unheard of in South Africa!

It is often mentioned how important it is for a tournament that the host nation does well (that is one of the reasons the hosts don't have to qualify, as well as get an automatically easier draw by being seeded highest), but would South Africa do well...? Although it is hard if not impossible to predict, I think we may be looking at an elimination in the first round: South Africa didn't participate in the 2006 World Cup, they were plainly bad in the African Nations Cup, and talented South Africans players are notably absent from big European clubs where other African players are superstars (a notable example perhaps being the ageing Benny McCarthy in Blackburn?). And while there have been rumours about Carlos Alberto Parreira's resignation as South African coach, the new and relatively unknown Joel Santana does not bode well for the organization of the South African team...

South African sport has always been dominated by rugby (where they are great world champions) and cricket; South Africa is simply not a footballing nation. With a world cup on its door, one can already see the large commercials and promotional posters, but the "fever" which grips other countries is unexistant; it is hard even to find a pub to watch a Champions League game in Johannesburg, and when finding it, one finds that nobody watches it nor cares.

If the world cup must be held in Africa, it should be in one of the many great African footballing nations: Ghana, Nigeria, Morocco, Egypt, Senegal, Cameroun... However, as is true, these countries do not seem to have what is called the "organizational infrastructure".
Apparently South Africa does (just don't walk out at night, specially if you are from a neighboring African country).

Such a great event belongs to real footballing nations and although I have been wrong before, I have very low expectations to a World Cup in South Africa.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

and one more thing - more subjective...

I ended up supporting Manchester United....
(I am not proud...)
But I want history to be repeated: Manchester United won their third trophy, 50 years after the plane accident in Munich. And well, history is on their side, and sorry to say to Chelsea, it is not on their side: Manchester United will continue to be a great team in 100 years, but will Chelsea...?
I doubt it.

Sweat, blood and tears

1-1, and Manchester United winning after a nail-biting drama which Turgenjev could not have described better.
It was a dramatic final in Moscow between Manchester United and Chelsea. We saw beautiful details, great defending, tactical choices, and each team had one half: Manchester was completely dominating first half while Chelsea was the best in the second.
(and may I add one comment here: was the linesman blind!?)
At the same time, in this epic final, we saw players sweat and fight until cramps started biting their expensive legs; they all wanted to win the trophy!
And as in many dramas, there was blood: Paul Scholes' nose as well as an almost war-like intensity between the players, such as the duel between Vidic and Drogba, in the end leading to the headless send-off of the Ivorian (no doubt he deserved it - he lost his head, and that is it).
And in the end, there were tears as well: John Terry's missed penalty, when all Chelsea fans and players could almost touch the trophy, is sure to be remembered as one of the moments of the final: Mr. Chelsea, a great player, the captain, missing the penalty. At the same time, the best player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo missed a penalty before that (and he shot pathetically: I am certain every football fan thought "He'll miss", when he stopped shortly before kicking), which led him to cry of relief when Van der Saar made the winning save against Anelka.

Tears of joy and of grief were lost amid the heavy rain in Moscow.
Manchester United deserved to win, but Chelsea didn't deserve to lose.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid

Manchester United's concentration for tonight's Champions League final cannot be the best as the rumours of Cristiano Ronaldo's exit for Real Madrid are getting out of hand: Alex Ferguson called a Spanish journalist "idiot" for asking about it, and apparently, Manchester United are adamant about letting their super-star (who has a 5 year contract) go.
But Cristiano Ronaldo apparently wants to go - will he want to leave the possible Champions League champions?
In any case, the rumours cannot be good for Manchester United, as Chelsea gets its time to fully concentrate on the match.

Monday, May 19, 2008

EURO 2008

The European Championship for national teams is starting soon, on June 7th. As all leagues have pretty much finished, and thus, the EURO 2008 in Switzerland/Austria will be a good afterthought/hangover, full of exciting matches for all football fans.
I must admit that I have far higher expectations to the EURO 2008 by now than I would have to the World Cup, where too many teams mean too many boring matches between lousy teams. But with more of the better teams and a more compact format, the EURO 2008 should not suffer from this (nevertheless, I do predict some incredibly boring matches between some of the more tactically-minded teams).
Although some people say that the EURO 2004 in Portugal was a bore with the wrong winner, I do not agree: Greece was not an exciting team, but were deserved winners. In fact, another beauty of the European championships is that you actually have the realistic possibility of seeing surprises by "small" teams winning: Greece is only one example, but Denmark in 1992 is another (This also makes it very difficult to predict the tournament!)

Greece will undboubtfully have a hard time defending their title, although their group D does not look impossible; they have been paired with Spain, Sweden and Russia.
Sweden is as always unpredictable, and could both win and lose, while Spain again goes to a big tournament with a super-team, but without winning it. Russia is another interesting team: they qualified at the last moment because of England's exit, but were otherwise not overly impressive in the qualifiers.

What I would call the "group of Death" is group C, where the world champions and number two, France and Italy, face each other in a repeat of the 2006 World Cup final. The other teams in the group are the ever-talented Dutch, and a young talented Romanian side, who actually qualified ahead of the Netherlands in their group. Watch out for them!

Group B will see some interesting clashes, where Germany will try to wash away their huge disappointments from the EURO 2004 and the EURO 2000, where they didn't qualify from the initial stages. But it won't be easy, as they will be facing teams who are sure to want to defeat the Germans: Poland has qualified strongly (ahead of Portugal), and after a dramatic match in Berlin at the 2006 World Cup, will be sure to want to upset their big neighbor.
For Croatia any game against Germany is special: in the EURO 1996 they lost in the quarterfinals, but in the 1998 World Cup quarterfinals they destroyed Germany 3-0 in a legendary match which brought Croatia to the forefront of world football. Croatia-Germany is a match I would never want to miss!
The last team in the group are the Austrian hosts; a team that has not showed great results in the last years, their possibilities as hosts are difficult to estimate.

Group A will see the Swiss co-hosts in some interesting matches, although the group otherwise doesn't personally excite me very much: the Swiss are good, but in the 2006 World Cup were very defensive and boring. The group could see a tense match between Turkey and Switzerland, who played last time for the 2006 World Cup play-offs, when Turkey proved disgraceful. Nevertheless, Turkey is still an interesting team, that anyone should watch out for.
The other two teams in the group, Portugal and the Czech Republic, are powerful outsiders: the Czech had a good EURO 2004, but a lousy 2008 World Cup. They still have a powerful team, and won their qualifying group ahead of Germany.
Finally, Portugal still has a super team, and with the world's currently best player, Cristiano Ronaldo. However, it remains to be seen whether they can go all the way after their disappointing loss at home to Greece in the EURO 2004. But I would certainly call them the favourites in group A!

I shall soon make my predictions for the tournament, but be sure that it will be fun, as European nations again face each other for the title of the best team of the continent!