Saturday, August 31, 2013

First time ever I will support Real Madrid

The draw for the 2013-2014 Champions League took place yesterday. Real Madrid ended in Group B with Italian champions Juventus, Galatasaray and the champions of the great Danish league, FC Copenhagen. I sincerely hope Juventus will win the group. However, more notable than that, I have come in a situation where, for the first time in my life, I will be supporting Real Madrid. In the fixtures against FC Copenhagen I will be celebrating each Madrid goal as it were of my own team, just because I want to see Copenhagen crushed.
The Champions League draw looks as follows:

Group A:
Group B:
 Group C:
Group D:
Group E:
Group F:
Group G:
Group H:

The Supercup title

Perhaps it is a symbol of a season to come that Pep Guardiola's first title with Bayern Munich was the one title they have not won before.
But before lifting the trophy Bayern Munich had to suffer in the feet of Jose Mourinho's Chelsea, a side that already seems changed under the Portuguese. Mr. Mourinho is surely not a very sympathetic figure (and I am quite sure he cares less about people saying this about him), but the magic touch he did not have in Real Madrid, is something he seems to have brought back to Chelsea. All players fight hard, with spirit, something that was not the case last season. Also, their disciplined organization in the back, combined with excellent striking power (the arrival of Samuel Eto'o is in my view exciting news for all of us fans of the Cameroonian! Does he still have it in him?), makes Chelsea one of the contender for both the Premier League and the Champions League title, in spite of many people disliking it (I am not fond of it, but I surely still admire Mr. Mourinho as a fantastic coach).
When Fernando Torres brought Chelsea ahead things already looked difficult for Bayern Munich. When Eden Hazard brought them ahead in extra time after Frank Ribery's equalizer, it seemed that Chelsea, even one man down, was going to get a sweet victory. However, one thing to admire in Bayern Munich's super side, is the tenacity with which they continued creating chances, only to be hindered by a splendid wall in the form of Petr Cech! What a splendid goalkeeper he continues to be! Javi Martinez last minute equalizer was well-deserved, if not disappointing for Chelsea and Petr Cech in particular.
Penalty kicks are a lottery, and the loser in the final was the young Romelu Lukaku. It showed strength that he was willing to take that last crucial kick. But he will surely be at the forefront again together with the rest of Chelsea.
In the meantime, another title for Guardiola and another for Bayern Munich.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Amputee football in Liberia

It was a nice Sunday in Monrovia. The second Monrovia marathon took place in the morning, and I was among the runners for the 10 Km "baby" run. The real marathon was won by a Kenyan runner. It was perhaps an announcement of things to come when on Sunday afternoon Liberia were facing Kenya in a friendly match of amputee football.
Amputee is played on teams of 7 players. And these are amazingly strong players, who play in crutches for almost an hour, managing to do things with the ball that most two-legged people cannot do. It is fantastic to see these guys whose strength is not only physical, but most of all mental and spiritual; an example of people who have come a long way with more difficulties than most of us will ever face.
These guys deserve nothing but respect.
Liberia are in fact defending African champions in amputee football, and in spite of a meager showing at the amputee football World Cup last year (won by Uzbekistan) they continue, with Ghana, to be the strongest African side. This showed in yesterday's match against Kenya, where the Liberians had great ability in moving the ball around against a defensive Kenya side. The second goal for Liberia was in fact the result of an excellent combination and a beautiful curved shot. Liberia won the friendly match 2-0, and continues to build up for next year's amputee World Cup in Mexico.
I will surely be cheering for Liberia there!

Friday, August 23, 2013

First and second from below

Brondby has been in crisis for years now, and after the club was "saved" economically, they again had great expectations for the new season. But things have started horribly, and after five matches, Brondby is without a victory and bottom of the table. Things continue to look dim.
But more strangely, Brondby's arch-rivals and defending Danish champions, FC Copenhagen, are also without a victory and are second last. This week the consequence became that the Belgian coach, Ariel Jacobs, was fired, and new coach will become the Norwegian Staale Solbakken, who already coached the club to five titles, so expectations will be that he pulls Copenhagen up.
In the meantime the Jylland team with the uncharacteristic name of FC Midtjylland is leading the league with five victories in five games, and may already seem like a serious candidate for the title, although there is of course a loooooong way to go.

At least some things are like in the old days: Brondby and FC Copenhagen are again fighting for first and second place, albeit from below...

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Football lazy Saturday

While I was in Venezuela I did not play football once. It was therefore great when I joined a group of guys to play football yesterday evening. But figures that after four years without playing, I pulled a muscle. Today I have been taking care of my injury, on a rainy day that has not invited to go out either. So it has been a day entirely devoted to football: I woke up to hear the BBC World Football Phone-In on podcast, before watching the opening match of the Premier League, where Liverpool defeated Stoke 1-0.
The following match was between Arsenal and Aston Villa. The Gunners started well, but the referee did not favour Arsenal: the first penalty he gave Aston Villa was ok, but the second was a complete giveaway. Aston Villa's star, Christian Benteke scored on both (for the first penalty he was lucky). With a harsh red card to Laurent Koscielny, Arsenal seemed broken, and Antonio Luna's third for Aston Villa happened in the face of a broken Arsenal defense.
Arsenal will not be champion, but todays match was a special in their lack of luck and a lousy referee.
The third match I watched was Swansea-Manchester United. The most impressive in this match was Manchester United's strong attacking pair, Danny Welbeck and Robin Van Persie. With two goals each they broke down a Swansea side that was not playing badly, and for who Wilfried Bony at least scored a goal. But Manchester United seemed very dangerous, and a well-playing Antonio Valencia also contributed to the victory. David Moyes could impossibly have had a better start!
It is now evening in the laziest day of the year, and I will probably watch yet another match.

The Spanish league opening

The Spanish La Liga is opening this weekend. Call me crazy, but I am going to make a prediction: first and second are going to be Barcelona/Real Madrid, and the rest are just going to be fighting for third place...
Barcelona have a new coach and so have Real Madrid. Before the season starts, Real Madrid seems to have the upper hand under Carlo Ancelotti, having created a more quiet atmosphere than under the Jose Mourinho soap opera. FC Barcelona on the other hand are an unwritten chapter under Gerardo Martino. He is offensive, but more cynical as well. It will be interesting to see how Barcelona adapts.
No matter what, the Spanish league will be somewhat lame, since the only interesting thing, are the two top sides.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Opening the 2013-14 Premier League season

This weekend the best league in the world is finally starting! And it will surely be an interesting season with all the new signings and deals. One of the most interesting aspect, more than the eternal rumours of high-level transfers, are the many new high-level managers in Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea. And personally, I believe the winner of the league will be among one of these three.
Manchester City is perhaps my favourite to win the championship. With Manuel Pellegrini they will have one of the best managers in the world, and hopefully he can create harmony in a team with stars such as Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta, Samir Nasri, Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Edin Dzeko. On top of it, the team has just bought the fashionable Spanish striker Alvaro Negredo, so they will at least be one of the most interesting sides to follow.
Chelsea will also be a title contender, and what most people will be watching is surely Jose Mourinho's return to his old club. Hated and loved, he is surely one of the most controversial figures in football, and expectations will be high. The team has not changed that much since he was there, except for the notable absence of Didier Drogba. But perhaps Mourinho is the man to get the best out of Fernando Torres, Oscar and Eden Hazard.
Manchester United is starting a new era with David Moyes as manager. He will undoubtedly face pressure in the shadow of Sir Alex Ferguson, who said goodbye to the job with the title. While surely still a strong team, they have vainly been looking for reinforcements this summer.  Much will rely on some of their current stars such as Robbie van Persie and Antonio Valencia, while the rumours about Wayne Rooney's possible exit only seem to give the side instability.
Arsenal will not win the title. Under Arsene Wenger they continue to be one of the most interesting sides to see young super talents play at the highest level, but the fans, eager for a title, seem exasperated at not having a major signing. For me, this just shows how little appreciation Arsenal fans have for a side that even with a major signing, would not be likely to take the title.
Tottenham is surely one of the most interesting sides. Having finished fifth last season the club has ambition for more, and have made two big signings with Roberto Soldado, coming from Valencia, and the super-talented Paulinho, who caught the attention of Europe after the Confederations Cup, but who had been brilliant for Corinthians for a couple of seasons already. It seems unlikely that they will be able to keep Gareth Bale, who is likely to join Real Madrid, but they are surely a team to watch nevertheless.
Everton will also be starting the season with a new coach, Roberto Martinez, after David Moyes signing for Manchester United. They have not made major signings until now, but rumours say that Marouane Fellaini may be on his way to Manchester United. Like their neighbours Liverpool FC, Everton is unlikely to make much headway this season.
Liverpool are fallen giants, and most news from the club have been about the Luis Suarez soap opera. Really, they should just let the clown go... In the meantime, the club has tried to reinforce themselves with Aly Cissokho from Valencia, and are in the bid to get the Brazilian Willian, from Shakhtar Donetsk.
There are other teams that will surely be interesting to watch and who can play against any opponent (this is what makes it the best league in the world!): Swansea under Michael Laudrup  has ambition for more having been able to retain Michu. Sunderland under Paolo Di Canio has been upgrading its side with the signing of Josy Altidore, while West Bromwich Albion has gotten veterans such as Diego Lugano and Nicolas Anelka.
Be sure there is a great season ahead of us!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Papal football

Settling in a new country and with leagues slowly starting up, I have not had time to dwell much on football lately. However, last night I enjoyed watching the Papal match in Rome, between Argentina and Italy.
A match in honour of the first Argentinean Pope was indeed appropriate for two countries that share so much outside the pitch, and certainly also inside the pitch, where Italy played with the Argentinean Pablo Osvaldo as a replacement for Mario Balotelli.
Argentina also missed their greatest star, Lionel Messi, who could not give his divine touches due to an injury. However, Argentina seemed in control without him: they had more possession against an Italian side that seemed without concentration, in particular in defense, where a giveaway resulted in Gonzalo Higuain's opener for Argentina. Higuain has recently changed from Real Madrid to AS Napoli. I am of the opinion that this can only be a good deal for Real Madrid; in spite of a good goal and being a decent fighter, Higuain also misses too many chances; last night he had one huge miss.
Argentina without Messi or Aguero worked well, in spite of the poor Italians. In general the weakest part of Argentina is defense, and in spite of them not suffering too much (they could do nothing against Lorenzo Insigne's elegant goal), they have still not found a magic formula.
Argentina will surely be going to Brazil, and can already book their tickets in September in their qualifier against Paraguay. However, no matter Messi or the Pope, or any form of divine intervention, Argentina will not become world champion. They are far behind quality sides such as Germany, Brazil and the Netherlands, and light years behind Spain, the world champions of 2014 (who defeated Ecuador 0-2 in a friendly in Guayaquil, one of the strongest South American sides).
An interesting friendly Papal match, but one that is not worth much to anyone.