Sunday, May 30, 2010

"My" countries in the World Cup

As the World Cup is less than two weeks away, it is time for a personal review of the state of "my" countries participating in the World Cup:

Argentina: I lived in Argentina as a child, and my football heart is unapologetically Argentinean, no matter who they play against. With their extraordinary players, first and foremost Messi, I have huge hopes, but at the same time, I share the nagging doubt about some of the selected players, some of the absent players (notably one of my own favourites, Javier Zanetti, as well as Gabriel Milito), and their style. Still, I will be celebrating each of their victories!

Chile: I was born in Chile, and although never really followed them in footballing terms, I hope the team does well under coach Marcelo Bielsa. They will surely be exciting to watch, as they are the South American team participating that will be playing the most attacking football. But history is against them.

Denmark: I am Danish by passport and father, and will be cheering on the Danish Dynamite. The team is not as exciting nor talented as previous years, but it is solid, and will not be easy to play against. That said, they will probably be fighting for the second spot in the group with Cameroon, as Netherlands seems like an awfully big mouthful, although Denmark has defeated the Dutch before when grossly underestimated!

Ghana: Ghana was the first African country I lived in, and will never forget the wonderful people and atmosphere. I was living there during the last World Cup, where Ghana was a sensation, and was caught in the wonderful atmosphere. Although I am surely biased, I do believe that Ghana is the best footballing nation in Africa, and should have a great chance of getting far. However, the absence of the injured Michael Essien will be very difficult, and their continuous lack of a quality striker will also affect them. In any case, I will be wearing my Ghana shirt and cheering for the Black Stars!

Spain: I have lived in different parts of Spain, have some Spanish family, and feel closely connected to the country. In footballing terms, I have never been a huge fan of the national team (as many Spaniards, I much prefer to support a club, in my case Valencia), but was happy for their deserved victory at the Euro 2008, and recognise their wonderful players. Still, expectations will be enormous, and Spain has before crashed their heads against the walls of big expectations.

USA: I lived there for a year when young, but it was a bit like living in football wasteland, and I don't exactly support them... Still, their progress since 1994 has been spectacular, and it will be interesting to see if the excellent national team can take it further. In any case, be sure that I will be cheering for Team USA against England, hoping they can repeat the legendary 1950 match!

Well, I will obviously have plenty to cheer for! I will miss some other of "my" countries: Colombia, Mozambique, Belgium,and surely, Venezuela!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Real Madrid coaches

Much is being said about José Mourinho's new tenure of coach of Real Madrid (he is being officially presented on Monday), and expectations are huge, obviously, when the best coach of the world joins a club whose aim is nothing less than winning everything. Surely this is a great challenge for a man with unlimited ambition, but pressure will also be enormous. Manuel Pellegrini did not do badly as a coach, and seems very bitter at leaving, as he was obviously not allowed to continue building on what he had started.
And this is something that seems to have been rampant in Real Madrid since they fired the coach Vicente del Bosque in 2003 (he had won two Champions League and two league titles since 1999), Real Madrid has had the following list of coaches:
  • Carlos Queiroz, 2003-2004 (11 months)
  • José Antonio Camacho: 2004 (4 months)
  • Mariano García Remón: 2004 (3 months)
  • Wanderlei Luxemburgo: 2004-2005 (11 months)
  • Juán Ramón López Caro: 2005-2006 (6 months)
  • Fabio Capello: 2006-2007 (11 months)
  • Bernd Schuster: 2007-2008 (17 months)
  • Juande Ramos: 2008-2009 (7 months)
  • Manuel Pellegrini: 2009-2010 (11 months)
Nine coaches in seven years, with an average time of 9 months per coach tells of a club that puts too high demands on its coaches in a league that is increasingly competitive, and does not let these coaches build up a team. They are proof of a club that views footballing success as something to be bought.
With the quality of players and the skills of Mourinho, it will surely be interesting to see Real Madrid next season, but the question remains whether the charistmatic, brilliant and controversial Portuguese also will leave as soon as the previous coaches!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Greatest World Cup matches: France-Brazil (2006)

After the 2002 debacle, France had again had problems in the European Championships of 2004, where they had been eliminated in the quarterfinals by the later champions of Greece. For the 2006 their qualifying campaign had not been convincing in a group where they should otherwise have done better, but the team had qualified ahead of Switzerland.
On paper, France retained one of the strongest teams in Europe: Fabien Barthez from Olympique Marseille, the veterans Patrick Vieira and Lilliam Thuram from Juventus Chelsea’s Claude Makalele and William Gallas, Arsenal’s prolific goal-machine Thierry Henry, Bayern Munich’s Willy Sagnol, as well as Olympique Marseille’s talented Frank Ribery.
The star of the ageing team was undoubtedly Real Madrid’s Zinedine Zidane, three time FIFA World Player of the year (1998, 2000, 2003). He had announced his retirement from the national team in 2004, but in the face of France’s meagre qualifying campaign had returned in 2005, and had captained the team to qualify.
It was indeed a team to be feared, but they remained unconvincing.
In the opening matches France had been poor to say the least: they had opened with 0-0 against Switzerland and 1-1 against South Corea, before a 2-0 victory against Togo had put them through to the last-16 against Spain. The Spaniards had been outstanding in the first round, and were looking to defeat the shaky French. But in this match the French players stepped up a gear, showing that they were indeed a team to be reckoned with, and won 3-1.
In the quarter-finals they were to face the defending world champions of Brazil.
Brazil had, as always, entered the tournament as huge favourites. The team looked at least as good as the winning side of 2002, with Ronaldo continuing from where he had left off in 2002, and complemented by FC Barcelona’s Ronaldinho, AC Milan’s Kaka, Inter Milan’s Adriano, Bayern Munich’s Ze Roberto, as well as Real Madrid’s Roberto Carlos and the veteran captain Cafú, from AS Roma.
Brazil had indeed also looked awesome: in the first round they had swept aside all opposition, defeating Croatia, Australia and Japan. In the last-16 they had crushed a naive Ghanaian side 3-0, in a match where Ronaldo had become the most scoring player ever in World Cup history by scoring his 15th world cup goal in the match against Ghana, thus passing Gerd Müller’s record of 14 goals. Brazil were now huge favourites against the French in the quarter-final, in what some were touting to be revenge for the 1998 World Cup final where France had crushed Brazil.
It was to be no revenge, and if anything, Brazil played an even worse match than in 1998: had it been a stronger French side, the score might have been as bad.
That said, Zinedine Zidane was spectacular: he completely dominated the midfield, playing the ball superbly, and inspiring his team-mates, and in the first half setting up chances both for Laurent Malouda and for Patrick Vieira, but without resulting in goals. In spite of the 0-0 score after the first half the Brazilians had been a shadow of themselves, while France had been far superior.
This continued as the second half started, and 12 minutes into it, France finally went ahead: Zinedine Zidane took a free kick from the left side, and the ball went perfectly to Thierry Henry, who by the far post was completely alone to volley the ball into the net. Although it was a great goal, the fact that Henry stood so alone can only be blamed on Roberto Carlos, who in one of the most pathetic pieces of defending in World Cup history, seemed to be tying his shoes as the free kick was taken, instead of marking Henry. The images are so blatant that it has led to conspiracy theories flourishing on the internet, but it is perhaps more correct to say that while Roberto Carlos was a great offensive right back, he was an extremely sloppy defender; this was not the first goal that he cost, but surely it was the most important.
The zombie-like Brazilians seemed unable to reply, while France remained in control of the midfield, and even created more chances for a second goal.
Towards the end of the match, Ronaldo came close to getting an equalizer for Brazil, but was denied by Fabien Barthez. Instead, France won as they had done eight years before, and Brazil repeated against France, what is perhaps the poorest match that the mighty South Americans have ever played in a World Cup.
France in the meantime, emerged as favourites to win the tournament, and in the semifinals defeated Portugal to make it to the final, where they lost to Italy after penalty kicks in Zinedine Zidane’s last match on the national team.

Match Stats:
  • 1st July, 2006, FIFA WM Stadium, Frankfurt
  • Attendance: 48,000
  • Referee: Luis Medina Cantalejo (Spain)
France-Brazil 1-0
Goals: 1-0 Henry (57)

France: Barthez; Abidal, Vieira, Gallas, Makalele, Malouda (Wiltord), Zidane (c), Henry (Saha), Thuram, Sagnol, Ribery (Govou)
Brazil: Dida; Cafú (c) (Cicinho), Lucio, Juan, Roberto Carlos, Kaká (Robinho), Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Ze Roberto, Gilberto Silva, Juninho (Adriano)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Gold, grace and farewells

Inter Milan won their first European title since 1965, and their first Champions League title after a fully deserved 2-0 victory against Bayern Munich at Madrid's Santiago Barnabeu Stadium.Personally, I watched the match in a farm in eastern Venezuela, not wanting to miss what was one of the matches of the year, but expectedly disappointing...
Expectedly disappointing, because Jose Mourinho's Inter played as brilliantly boring with a controlled defensive and amazing attackign power, where the Argentinean Diego Milito shined above all others with his two goals.
Inter have won everything, and are undoubtfully the best team in the world, in spite of the fact that their way of playing is not so entertaining as that of FC Barcelona: Inter closed off from Bayern's superior possession, and when they didn't, Julio Cesar was there with spectacular saves (any more doubt about Brazilian goalkeepers....?).
Besides Milito and Inter's defense, Bayern Munich played a great match where they might have deserved better. But the true victors were the Bayern Munich team and fans: they immediately recognised they had lost to a better team, and I think that seldomly has a team and fans taken a defeat with such grace.
A great team loses with grace, and Bayern Munich is, in that sense, the greatest club in the world.

The most talked about thing about the final was José Mourinho who is, - according to numerous rumours- , apparently to be staying in Madrid, as coach of Real Madrid. His attitude at the match seemed to confirm the rumours, as he amid the celebrations of the victory seemed to be sayign goodbye, although this is all hard to tell because of Mourinho's showmanship.
However, he is undoubtfully the best and most charismatic coach in the world, and if he goes to the Spanish giants, it will surely bound to be interesting.

That said, the night belongs to Inter and to all great Inter and Bayern Munich fans, who all deserved to win!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Greatest World Cup matches: Italy-Australia (2006)

Football has reached the entire world, but some parts have been reached later than others. Oceania has been a region dominated by rugby, and football has been peripheral and largely dominated by the region’s largest country, Australia. However, due to the region’s poor performance in world cup history, Oceania has historically only had a play-off place to play for, usually against an Asian or South American country. It was usually Australia that had to play it, and usually they lost, although they were steadily improving as some Australian players were getting experience in Europe and the game slowly grew in popularity. For the 2006 campaign the Australian football federation hired the outstanding Dutch coach, Guus Hiddink, to lead the team to the World Cup. And over two matches against the number five of South America, Uruguay, Australia managed to qualify to its first World Cup since 1974 (incidentally, also in Germany).
The team was a healthy mixture of players of diverse backgrounds and with experience from European leagues: this included an experienced defence with the Middlesborough goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer on goal, Crystal Palace defender Tony Popovic, Blackburn right back Lucas Neill, and Craig Moore from Glasgow Rangers. The team also had very skilled strikers in the form of Millwall’s Tim Cahill, Osasuna’s John Aloisi and the Leeds United strikers Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell (the latter was nevertheless injured for this match).
The Australians had surprised everyone by unexpectedly going through on second spot in a rather difficult group: they had opened by defeating Japan 3-1, and had in the second match put up an excellent fight against the Brazilian world champions, but still lost 2-0. In their last match they managed 2-2 against Croatia in a dramatic match, which effectively put them in the second round, where Italy was awaiting.
Italy was looking strong without forcing it. They had won their group by defeating Ghana and the Czech republic and tying the USA. As usual, the team coached by Marcelo Lippi did not play any exciting football, but had some outstanding players on all positions, particularly in defence that included Inter’s Fabio Cannavaro (that year to be given the prize as World Player of the year) and Marco Materazzi, Juventus’ Gianlucca Zambrotta and the excellent defensive midfielder from AC Milan Gennaro Gattuso. In midfield Italy had the elegant AS Roma player Francesco Totti, although he surprisingly did not start in for this match, but was replaced by Juventus’ Alessandro Del Piero.
The first half of the match was very equal with both teams standing well in defence. The best chances went to the Italian strikers Luca Toni from Brescia and Verona’s Alberto Gilardino. Toni came very close to scoring on a header after only three minutes, and an excellent turn-around shot that was well saved by Schwarzer. Gilardino had a good volley that the Australian goallie also saved. With 0-0 at halftime Italy should probably have been in the lead, but Australia had not played badly.
Five minutes into the second half things changed: Marco Materazzi was given a very harsh red card by the Spanish referee Luis Medina Cantalejo for a tackle on Marco Bresciano. One man down, Italy lost some of its power going forward, and Australia started to dominate possession. However, it proved difficult for the Australians to create chances confronted with the excellent Italian defenders. The FC Basel midfielder Scott Chipperfield had a good shot that was saved by Gianluca Buffon, but otherwise the Asutralians seemed afraid to risk more in attack by opening too much in the back against deadly Italian counter-attacks. Thus, the match went into a relative stalemate and everyone was expecting that the match would end goalless. But in the fourth minute of added time, Fabio Grosso got through on the left side, and entered the Australian penalty box. Lucas Neill tried to tackle rather clumsily and Fabio Grosso immediately let himself fall in the area. Perhaps it was to compensate for the harsh dismissal against Materazzi, but the Spanish referee gave the Italians the penalty kick from a situation that would not normally be given.
Francesco Totti, who had come in to replace Del Piero in the second half, kept his head cool and scored. The referee blew the whistle to end the match a few seconds later. Italy was in the quarter-finals.
Australia was out, but Italy in fact went on to become world champions, after defeating Ukraine, the German hosts, and France in the final. Australia’s feat was in the face of this all the more impressive, and perhaps a premonition of things to come for the “socceroos” (and may I add that they should change this stupid name).

Match Stats:
  • 26th June, 2006, Fritz Walter Stadium, Kaiserslautern
  • Attendance: 46,000
  • Referee: Luis Medina Cantalejo (Spain)
Italy-Australia 1-0
Goals:1-0 Totti (pen) (90+5)

Italy: Buffon; Cannavaro, Grosso, Gatuso, Zambrotta, Perrotta, Pirlo, Matterazzi (RC, 50), Del Piero (Totti), Toni (Barzagli), Gilardino (Iaquinta)
Australia: Schwarzer; Neill, Moore, Cahill, Culina, Viduka, Grella, Chipperfield, Wilkshire, Sterjovski (Aloisi), Bresciano

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Towards the triple?

Bayern Munich was powerful when they defeated Werder Bremen 4-0 today to take the German Cup title. They are now all-powerful in Germany, and in one week can crown themselves champions of Europe if they take the CL title against Inter. It will be hard without Frank Ribery though, and against a team that is also looking to win the triple.

A team that could have been there as well, is Chelsea. Today they won the "double" of England by winning the FA Cup on a 1-0 victory against Portsmouth, after winning the Premier League title last week. But that is all they will get this year (as if it weren't enough...).

Greatest World Cup matches: Brazil-Germany (2002)

Germany and Brazil are unquestionably the two greatest footballing nations in the world, but as one of the greatest paradoxes of world cup history, it remained a fact that the two nations had never faced one another in the most prestigious competition in the world. It seemed as if there was a curse on them facing one another, since every time it was about to happen, either would be eliminated.
It was thus a true historical event when the two nations finally faced one another in nothing else but the first world cup final of the new millennium, as well as the first world cup to take place in Asia. Brazil were undoubtedly favourites against a German team that in spite of its history had not been rated very high, and their presence in the world cup final was a surprise.
In the first round the Germans had started by crushing Saudi Arabia in a resounding 8-0, only to be followed with a 1-1 tie with the Republic of Ireland, who had only managed to equalize in the last minute. Still, a 2-0 victory over Cameroon in their last first round match, had given the Germans the first spot.
The following three matches were three narrow 1-0 wins against Paraguay, USA and the South Corean hosts which saw Germany make it to the final. Their star had undoubtedly been Bayer Leverkusen’s Michael Ballack, a classic strong German midfielder with extraordinary power, who had scored the winning goals against both the USA and South Corea. However, Ballack was out of the final due to a suspension, something that seriously weakened the German side.
Brazil on the other hand had looked more and more like finalists during the tournament, although they had not been highly rated before, due to one of the worse qualifying campaigns in their history. However, when the tournament started, the team grew: in the first round they scored three victories against Turkey, China and Costa Rica. In the last-16 they defeated Belgium 2-0 while seeing off the strong English side 2-1 in the quarterfinal. Finally, in the semifinal the Brazilians defeated the surprising Turks 1-0, to make it to their seventh world cup final. Brazil’s stars had been many, but three had crucially carried the team: FC Barcelona’s Rivaldo was the midfield playmaker, Paris St. Germain’s Ronaldinho was a magician on midfield, and Inter’s Ronaldo who had at that point scored five goals in the tournament. Of course, these were complemented by the experienced right back from Real Madrid, Roberto Carlos, Bayer Leverkusen’s strong defender Lucio and AS Roma’s Cafú, who was also the captain of the team (and who became the first and so far only footballer to have played in three consecutive World Cup finals).
69,000 spectators at Yokohama World Cup stadium and billions all over the world were to watch a historical final that nevertheless didn’t reach the heights of the two countries’ football history.
It was widely expected that Germany, underestimated and without their star player, would pull back and defend, but instead, the Germans opened the match with good passing and refreshing attacking football that seemed to take the Brazilians by surprise. The absence of Ballack was not felt as his team-mate from Bayer Leverkusen, Bernd Schneider took over the midfield.
Still, with space to play, the Brazilians slowly worked themselves into the match, and Ronaldo had some big chances where he should have scored. Right before halftime the young Kleberson from Atlético Paranaense, who had been one of the revelations of the tournament hit the crossbar.
Still, as the teams went to halftime with a goalless draw, one had the feeling that the match could still go to either side.
Germany again started the second half by attacking, and had two big chances, first when Bayern Munich’s Jens Jeremies’s header was saved on the goal line by a defender, and then Bayer Leverkusen’s Oliver Neuville had a shot on the post.
It still looked like the match could go to either side when, halfway into the second half Ronaldo finally scored, after his misses in the first half: Rivaldo shot on goal, and Oliver Kahn, who had otherwise not committed one mistake the entire tournament, was unable to hold the ball, which fell right to the feet of Ronaldo, who did not forgive the mistake.
Ronaldo’s second goal 12 minutes later was much more elegant: Kleberson cam through on the right hand side and passed the ball to Rivaldo on the edge of the German penalty box. Instead of shooting, Rivaldo jumped over the ball, that continued to Ronaldo, coming from behind. In full control Ronaldo coolly placed the ball outside Oliver Kahn’s range.
The match ended 2-0 for Brazil, which was deserved, but Germany had played an excellent match.
Brazil, and Ronaldo in particular, had exorcised their horrible performance from the 1998 final against France, to take their fifth world cup title.

Match Stats:
  • 30th June, 2002, Yokohama World Cup Stadium
  • Attendance: 69,029
  • Referee: Pierluigi Collina (Italy)
Brazil-Germany 2-0
Goals:1-0 Ronaldo (68), 2-0 Ronaldo (79)

Brazil: Marcos, Cafu, Lucio, Roque Junior, Edmilson, Roberto Carlos, Gilberto Silva, Rivaldo, Kleberson, Ronaldinho (Juninho), Ronaldo (Denilson)
Germany: Kahn, Linke, Ramelow, Neuville, Hamann, Jeremies (Asamoah), Schneider, Metzelder, Frings, Klose (Bierhoff), Bode (Ziege)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Greatest World Cup matches: South Corea-Spain (2002)

Almost every home-team in a World Cup has been followed by accusations of favourable referees under controversial circumstances: Italy in 1934, Chile in 1962, England in 1966, Argentina in 1978, Spain in 1982, Italy in 1990, etc. So it was perhaps only a surprise to the Europeans when South Corean success in the World Cup of 2002 (that South Corea co-hosted with Japan) happened amid controversial refereeing decisions. This is a pity, because it obscures the fact that South Corea actually had an excellent team that played great football, and deserved the glory that they received by being the first (and so far only!) Asian team to make it to a World Cup semifinal.
South Corea had traditionally been the most powerful footballing nation in Asia, participating in every World Cup since 1986. Although they had been steadily improving, they had still not gone beyond the first round, and not even won a match yet. The Coreans were eager for this meager record to change as they were to co-host the 2002 World cup, hoping that home support would carry them further. Also, the Coreans had hired the experienced Dutch coach Guus Hiddink, who had time and resources to build up a solid team, playing quick passing football and taking advantage of the speed of the Corean players.
The Corean players were largely unknown outside Asia, but some of them were surely world class: the Anyang Cheetah’s Lee Young-Pyong (the best left-winger of the tournament) and Kyoto Purple Sanga’s Park Ji-Sung were to have excellent careers in Europe after the tournament (Hiddink took them both with him to PSV Eindhoven from where they went to Manchester United and Tottenham respectively); the veteran Hwang Seun-Hong was one of the most prolific strikers in Asia, while the offensive midfield had the charismatic Perugia offensive midfielder Ahn Jung-Hwan and Kashiwa Reysol’s Ju Sang-Chul.
The Coreans opened the tournament with their first world cup victory ever, 2-0 against Poland, before tying the USA 1-1. In their last first-round match they defeated Portugal 1-0 to take first spot in the group, sealing their already most successful World Cup to date. In the last-16 South Corea played Italy, and won 2-1 after extra time in a controversial match, on a late goal by Ahn, who was told by his upset Italian employers that he didn’t need to return to his club in Perugia …
South Corea had thus made it to the World Cup quarterfinal where they were to play another European power, Spain.
Spain was continuously looking for the World Cup glory that had always eluded them. In 1998 they had a terrible World Cup when they had been eliminated in the first round, but had entered the 2002 with an excellent qualifying record under coach José Antonio Camacho. The team had also started the tournament well with three consecutive victories against Paraguay, Slovenia and South Africa before facing the Republic of Ireland in the last-16. The Irish youngsters gave the Spaniards a terrific fight in a match that ended 0-0, and was only won by Spain after penalty kicks.
In spite of the Corean prowess against the other European sides, Spain was optimistic and as usual underestimating of the non-European sides, as it was clear that they were to face each other in the quarterfinals.
42,000 eager Corean fans assembled at Gwangju to push their team to victory against the Spaniards, and the Coreans also started well: the first quarter of the match they put pressure on the Spaniards, being both quicker and playing better passing football. However, the Spaniards, using their superior technique, slowly worked themselves into the match, in particular by the young Joaquín from Real Betis, who was often getting through on the right side, as well as the Real Madrid striker Fernando Morientes having some good chances that were well saved by the Corean goalkeeper Lee Won-Jae.
Early into the second half Valencia’s Rubén Baraja scored, but the goal was disallowed for pushing inside the Corean penalty box.
This was only the first goal that Spain would get disallowed as they increasingly seemed to get more nervous in the face of the fanatic home-crowd, an Egyptian referee that was very friendly to the home team, but also to the strong physical form of the Corean side, who also sought victory: the young Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas had a splendid on a volley from Park Ji-Sung.
As the match ended 0-0, it seemed that the Coreans had more strength.
However, two minutes into the extra time Spain had another goal disallowed, this time completely unjustified: Joaquín got to the back line and centered to Morientes, who scored on a header. But according to the referee, the ball had gone out of play, something that it clearly hadn’t. This only added fuel to the accusations of match-fixing against the Coreans.
The extremely unlucky Morientes had another close chance in the first half of the extra time, when he hit the post on a good volley, but the ball wouldn’t go in, and the match had to be decided on penalty kicks.
The Coreans were excellent at penalty kicks, since the matches in their national league were always decided on penalties in case of a tie. Thus, they scored on every one of their kicks, while Spain missed one: the young Joaquín was clearly nervous when he was to kick Spain’s fourth kick, and missed horribly. Hong Myung Bo’s final kick gave the Coreans the place in the semifinal against another disappointing tournament for Spain.

Match Stats:
  • 22nd June, 2002, Gwangju World Cup Stadium, Gwangju
  • Attendance: 42,114
  • Referee: Gamal Al-Ghandour (Egypt)
South Corea-Spain 0-0 (After Extra Time)

Penalty kicks:
South Corea-Spain 5-3
  • 1-0 Hwang Sun-Hong
  • 1-1 Hierro
  • 2-1 Park Ji-Sung
  • 2-2 Baraja
  • 3-2 Seol Ki-Hyeon
  • 3-3 Xavi
  • 4-3 Ahn Jung-Hwan
  • Joaquín misses for Spain
  • 5-3 Hong Myung-Bo
South Corea: Lee Woon-Jae; Choi Jin Cheul, Kim Nam-Il, (Lee Eul-Yong), Yoo Sang-Chul (Lee Chun Soo), Kim Tae-Young (Hwang Sun-Hong), Seol Ki-Hyeon, Lee Young-Pyo, Ahn Jung-Hwan, Hong Myung-Bo, Park Ji-Sung, Song Ching-Gug
Spain: Casillas; Helguera (Xavi), Puyol, Hierro, Nadal, Baraja, De Pedro (Mendieta), Romero, Valerón (Luis Enrique), Joaquín, Morientes

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Chelsea champions

With a victory at home against Wigan Athletic, Chelsea could today become Premier League champions for the 2009-2010 season.
And I guess the victory could not be more resounding: 8-0, and Chelsea could proclaim themselves champions, ahead of Manchester United, whose 4-0 victory over Stoke meant nothing. Didier Drogba scored three goals, and also ends as the most scoring player of this season's Premier League, ahead of Wayne Rooney.

Congratulations to all Chelsea fans who must surely be celebrating as they deserve!

Friday, May 07, 2010

Greatest World Cup matches: Mexico-USA (2002)

North and Central America had until the end of the 20th century been the most backward footballing region in the world, barring Oceania and Antarctica. The game had been totally dominated by Mexico, who was the only one to qualify again and again from the region (except in 1982 when Honduras and El Salvador qualified), but generally did rather poorly, except for when they hosted it in 1970 and 1986. The USA on the other hand had been totally absent from the world football stage from 1950 to 1990, but then started improving since the successful 1994 World Cup. In 1998 they had nevertheless been the worse team of the tournament, but had in 2002 under coach Bruce Arena built up a strong, disciplined and experienced side. Among these players were the Blackburn goalkeeper Brad Friedel, Ajax Amsterdam’s talented John O’Brien, the Columbus Crew striker Brian McBride and the hugely talented 20-year old Landon Donovan, playing for San José Earthquakes on a loan from Bayer Leverkusen. The team was captained by the veteran Claudio Reyna, with a long career in Europe and at the time in Sunderland.
As the US entered the tournament, everyone knew that they should not be underestimated, except perhaps Portugal, who played as if the match was decided beforehand when opening against the USA: the north Americans were ahead 3-0 after 40 minutes, and won the match 3-2. A tie against the South Corean hosts was enough to give the US the second spot in the group, in spite of losing their last match against Poland.
Mexico had qualified to the second round of every tournament since 1994, and had a solid team, with powerful strikers such as Jared Borghetti from Santos (who is the all-time leading goalscorer of the Mexican national team), the blond veteran Luis Hernández from América, and Real Valladolid’s Cuahtemoc Blanco. In midfield they had Sevilla’s Gerardo Torrado and in defense they had the strong Monaco defender Rafael Márquez, who was also the captain of the team.
Mexico had impressed in the first round: they had opened by defeating the always’strong Croatians 1-0 and Ecuador 2-1. In their last match against Italy, 1-1 had been enough for them to win the group ahead of the Italians.
The two neighbours with the love-hate relations, and strongest nations in the CONCACAF region were now to face one another for the first time ever in a World Cup. Mexico were obviously favourites after their splendid start to the tournament, but the US players were sure to put up a strong fight.
Mexico started well, putting pressure on the US, and getting both a shot and a corner kick within the first five minutes. It seemed Mexico’s match, but after eight minutes the US attacked for the first time: Claudio Reyna made a splendid rush down the right side, outrunning two Mexican defenders. From the backline he passed the ball into the Chicago Fire striker Josh Wolff on the near post. Heavily pressed by a defender, Wolff passed the ball backward to a completely unmarked Brian McBride, who right in front of the goal placed the ball perfectly.
1-0 to the USA was very surprising, and gave the US team comfort in pulling back, letting the Mexicans come forward, and threaten on their quick counterattacks with Reyna and Donovan. The Mexicans were unable to create great chances, except for a powerful header by Jared Borgetti after a Brad Friedel mistake, but the excellent goalkeeper saved the situation himself with an excellent block.
The second half started similarly to how the first half had ended, with Mexico trying to put pressure, but without getting clear chances, and with the Mexican strikers seeming strangely timid in front of goal.
Halfway into the second half the US scored a second goal on another of their rare but deadly counter-attacks: Fulham’s winger, Eddie Lewis got away on the left side and crossed the ball into the Mexican area, where Landon Donovan perfectly headed the ball into goal.
Against all odds the efficient team USA was up 2-0 against their Mexican neighbours, who were getting more and more disillusioned as the match progressed, and it became more and more obvious that they would be unable to open up the efficient US defense. In the last minutes the frustration grew into violence, as the Mexican captain Rafael Márquez was sent off with a direct red card for an outrageous attack on the US striker Cobi Jones.
In the end, Mexico’s disappointed players didn’t even fall with grace in this unexpected defeat to the US, who had shown they were worthy winners. In the quarterfinal they narrowly lost 1-0 to Germany, but with this victory against Mexico they had proven that they were one of the top eight footballing nations in the world, and that they should never be underestimated.

Match Stats:
  • 17th June, 2002, Jeonju World Cup Stadium, Jeonju
  • Attendance: 36,380
  • Referee: Vitor Melo Pereira (Portugal)
Mexico-USA 0-2
Goals: 0-1 McBride (8), 0-2 Donovan (65)

Mexico: Pérez; Márquez (RC, 88), Torrado (Garcia Aspe), Vidrio (Mercado), Morales (L. Hernández), Borgetti, Blanco, Luna, Carmona, J. Rodriguez, Arellano
USA: Friedel; Berhalter, Mastroeni (Llamosa), O’Brien, Lewis, Pope, Reyna, Sanneh, Wolff (Stewart), McBride (Jones), Donovan

Thursday, May 06, 2010

League triumphs

The football seasons are ending all around Europe, with some interesting and notable results!

Last weekend FC Twente won their first Dutch championship ever, upsetting the power of the usual greats of Dutch football; Ajax Amsterdam, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord.

In France, Olympique Marseille coached by the former French national team captain, Didier Deschamps, today won the French Championship for the first time since 1992 (not counting the one they were stripped for in 1993 for bribery) with a 3-1 victory over Rennes, while their closest rivals Auxerre lost points to Olympique Lyon. This also further upsets the balance in French football, where Olympique Lyon had won for seven seasons in a row until Bordeaux won last season.
French club football is entertaining and surely the league, such as the Dutch, is more varied than in some other countries where the leagues have only become a rivalry between 2-3 clubs, with the rest being mere spectators.

Such a league is the Ukranian league, where Shakhtar Donetsk and Dynamo Kiev always fight for the title. This season it was Shakhtar's turn as they defeated Dynamo Kiev 1-0 to take the title.

In Spain, Real Madrid is still trailing FC Barcelona by one point, with both teams winning against anyone they encounter. Today Cristiano Ronaldo was spectacular scoring 3 goals in Real Madrid's 4-1 victory against Mallorca. There are now really (and sadly if you are a fan of the Spanish league) only two teams in the Spanish league, with the rest just vying for the extra Champions League spots that Spain gets only because of Real Madrid's and FC Barcelona's exploits.
I must admit though that I am very happy that Valencia CF just made sure that they will be in the CL next season by winning 3-1 against Xerex, but one should not expect too much of them among the top of European football - in Spain they are only "the best of the rest of them"....

The German Bundesliga is often dominated by the southern German giants of Bayern Munich, who with a 3-1 win over Schalke 04 almost made sure they will be German champions this season. In fact, Bayern Munich will be going for "the Triple", as they will be playing the final of the German Cup against Werder Bremen, and the CL final.

The other CL finalists, Inter Milan from Italy also has all chances to win the "Triple", and took their first step by winning the "Triple" by taking the Italian Cup with a 1-0 victory against AS Roma, who is also their closest rival for the Serie A title. But also there Inter Milan is set to win: with two matches left they are 2 points ahead of the Romans, and will also be hoping to win their third title in Madrid on May 22nd.

In England the Premier League title is a struggle between Chelsea and Manchester United, with Chelsea very close to taking the title. In the meantime, Arsenal is sure of one of the CL spots, while Tottenham Hotspurs made sure that they will be in the CL next season by defeating Manchester City 1-0. It will surely be interesting to see the Londoners in Europe next season!

A lot of happy and some disappointed fans!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Top 5 Stephen Gerrard excuses

Liverpool and Chelsea played today in another important match in the extremely close race for the title between Chelsea and Manchester United. After a 2-0 victory, Chelsea is only one victory away from winning the Premier League title. But what will perhaps be mostly remembered about the match is the Liverpool captain's Stephen Gerrard's gift to the Chelsea team after half an hour at the score 0-0: Gerrard made a perfect pass in front of the goal to Didier Drogba, who had no problems bringing Chelsea ahead.

But What happened to Mr. Gerrrard...?
5. "I thought the guy in the blue shirt was Pepe Reina!"
4. "No entiendo español"
3. "Never walk alone, Didier"
2. "If the league title is not to be for Liverpool, it should not go to Manchester United!"
1. "Hey, Abramovic! Look at my passing abilities!"

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Greatest World Cup matches: France-Brazil (1998)

France had always been a reluctantly great footballing nation. With great teams, from their 1958 bronze winners to their legendary squad from the 1980s, the title of champions of the world had nevertheless eluded them, in spite of the huge amount of enormously talented players that were being produced in the excellent youth academies of the countries. Although the 80’s team had retired, new stars were there to take over in the 1990s: Eric Cantona, Jean-Pierre Papin and Yuri Djorkaeff were only a few of the many stars. France had nevertheless been unable to capitalize on this talent: France did not qualify to the world cups of 1990 and 1994, and at the 1992 European Championship they had fallen in the first round to the underrated Danes. However, the French were committed to build a new team to do well in the World Cup at home in 1998. Gerald Houllier had been fired after the debacle at not qualifying for the 1994 World Cup, and his place was taken over by Aimé Jacquet, who started building up a new team around the young star Zinedine Zidane. He did not select some of the major French stars like Jean-Pierre Papin, Eric Cantona and David Ginola for the 1996 European Championship, where the French with a defensive style made it to the semifinals. Although the team was heavily criticised for being too defensive, it soon became obvious that it was a very solid and stable team, and when the world cup started, the French entered as one of the favourites.
And indeed, the Blue and multiethnic team swept all opposition aside in the first round: three victories against South Africa, Saudi Arabia and Denmark saw France through to the last-16. The following two matches were more difficult: first, France faced Paraguay, a solid and defensive team centered around the legendary goalkeeper José Luís Chilavert. France won a hard-fought victory 1-0 after extra time.
In the quarterfinal the French hosts played Italy in one of the classics of international football. Another hard-fought match where France won on penalty kicks after a goalless draw.
In the semifinal France played the sensational Croatians, who were playing their first World Cup and had made it to the semifinals. In another difficult match France won 2-1 on two goals by the Parma defender Lilian Thuram – the only two international goals of his career.
Thus, France was ready for its first World Cup final ever, at home in Paris, and ready to face the defending Brazilian world champions.
Brazil had as always entered the tournament as heavy favourites for the title. But it was obvious from the start that the team was less stable than the 1994 team, although with a stronger attacking force that included the veteran Bebeto, FC Barcelona’s offensive midfielder Rivaldo, and the the Inter striker Ronaldo, who at the time was the best player in the world, already having been awarded the FIFA world player of the year award in 1996 and 1997.
The Brazilian team opened with a hard-fought 2-1 victory against Scotland, before going on to defeat Morocco 3-0. Although they had qualified for the next round before their last match against Norway, their 1-2 defeat showed them as vulnerable. The last-16 match against Chile was won with 4-1, but the quarterfinal again showed the Brazilians in trouble against European teams that gave the Brazilians little space and punished defensive mistakes. Still, Brazil managed to win 3-2 against Denmark, before facing the Netherlands in the semifinal. Again in a difficult match, Brazil managed 1-1 after extra time, and won on penalty kicks.
Although not playing brilliantly, Brazil had nevertheless made it to the World Cup final, but was to play one of the worse matches in their history against a French side whose outstanding players were highly motivated, riding on a wave of intense national excitement, that came to its full expression during the national anthem being played in a full Saint Denis stadium in Paris.
While the French were being pushed forward, Brazil was having problems before the match: there were rumours surging about Ronaldo, who was said to have had a breakdown only hours before the match, and should not have been able to play (other Brazilian players later said that they feared for Ronaldo’s life). However, the rumours also said that Ronaldo had been forced on the pitch by his and the Brazilian team’s main sponsor, Nike, who obviously also denied it all.
This was indeed the culmination of the commercialization of the world cup that had been going on since the 1980’s, had reached a pinnacle at USA 1994, and was now firmly established: All the rumours about Ronaldo were perhaps more a symptom of the fact that the World Cup no longer belongs to the fans or the teams, but now belongs to the sponsors.
This final was to see Adidas (France) against Nike (Brazil).
France started the final in complete dominance, offensively, and putting pressure on the Brazilians. Captain Didier Deschamps had a good long range effort, and after only four minutes the Auxerre striker Stephane Guivarch had a great chance when he was played open by a splendid Zinedina Zidane pass, but missed. Brazil was quite anonymous against the overwhelming French attacks, although Ronaldo had a creeping shot and Rivaldo an excellent header, that were both saved well by the charismatic and confident French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez from AS Monaco.
Finally, in the 27the minute the French pressure bore fruit: Real Madrid’s Roberto Carlos gave away a corner-kick (and got himself a yellow card on the way for kicking the corner-flag in frustration) that was taken by Arsenal’s Emmanuel Petit. He kicked it towards the near post where Zinedine Zidane got in front of Leonardo and headed hard into goal.
1-0 to Brazil by the Algerian-descended Zinedine Zidane from Juventus, who had been the best player of the tournament, but had until then not scored a goal.
France continued the pressure after the goal, and at the end of the first half Zinedine Zidane scored for the second time, something that had not happened in a World Cup final since Mario Kempes for Argentina in 1978.
France was leading 2-0 at half-time and had been far superior to the Brazilians.
In the second half the pressure was on the Brazilians, and coach Mario Zagallo put in the offensive Denilson for Leonardo. The French on the other hand, could pull back and threaten the Brazilians on counter-attacks. Within the first fifteen minutes of the second half the Brazilians had two good chances, one to Ronaldo and another one to Bebeto, who was given a free chance by a Barthez blunder, but his shot was cleared by Marcel Desailly.
On the other side, Guivarch had a huge chance for a third for France, but shot over the goal, and was soon replaced by Cristophe Dugarry.
Soon, Brazil was given new hope when Marcel Desailly, who had been one of France’s and the world’s best defenders during the tournament, was given his second yellow card for a challenge on Cafú. Down to ten men, Aimé Jacquet replaced Yoiri Djorkaeff with the more defensive Patrick Vieira, and explicitly played in counter-attacks. The Brazilians were nevertheless still unable to threat the French goal and instead, in the dying minutes of the match Emanuel Petit scored after a good French counter-attack, thereby sealing the French victory.
France, one of the greatest footballing nations never to win, had finally taken the World Cup title in their first final ever.
And Adidas was victorious as well...
This was one of the world cup finals with the greatest qualitative difference between the two sides ever; France was simply far superior on all aspects of the game, while it was probably one of the poorest matches a Brazilian side has ever played.

Match Stats:
  • 12th July, 1998 Saint Denis, Paris
  • Attendance: 80,000
  • Referee: Said Belqola (Morocco)
France-Brazil 3-0
Goals: 1-0 Zidane (27), 2-0 Zidane (45), 3-0 Petit (90)

France: Barthez, Lizarazu, Leboeuf, Desailly (RC, 68), Thuram, Djorkaeff (Veira), Deschamps, Zidane, Petit, Karembeu, (Boghossian), Guivarch (Dugarry)
Brazil: Taffarel, Cafu, Aldair, J. Baiano, R. Carlos, C. Sampaio (Edmundo), Dunga, Rivaldo, Leonardo (Denilson), Bebeto, Ronaldo