Saturday, December 31, 2016

Top Ten Best Players of 2016

On this last day of 2016, as we all reflect on the past year and the challenges of the coming, it is nice to dwell on football. It has not been a great year, but despite it all, the world football family sticks together.
The following is a list of my favourite 10 players of 2016. As with the list of best teams, it is a subjective list, but also influenced by what I have seen and read throughout the year.
10) Kevin De Bruyne: For a long time De Bruyne has been a talented player but has become better and better. Manchester City increasingly depends on his great skills, and are clearly weaker when he is injured (which he is too often). He was a bit weaker for Belgium at the Euro 2016, but at his best age he seems destined to better things.
9) Lionel Messi: Messi has already made his mark on a footballing generation, and he has become the undisputed leader of FC Barcelona. That said, the Catalan team is in transition, and if anything, they seem to depend too much on their "Holy Trinity" of Messi, Neymar and Suarez. At the national team level it was another bad year for Messi, who first quit the national team after losing the Copa America final, only to return a couple of months later. A weak Argentina side, who may not make it to the World Cup, depends on Messi at least as much as Barcelona does.
8) Alexis Sanchez: Arsenal is an excellent side that does not exude confidence. And what makes them even better is the fantastic Chilean, who is considered crucial in Arsenals' adventures in the Premier League and Champions League. Also on the Chilean national team he was crucial when the Chileans won their second Copa America title.
7) Antoine Griezmann: 2016 was perhaps a year Griezmann would rather forget as he lost both the Champions League and Euro 2016 final (and even missed a penalty in the Champions League final. But there was no denying that he was crucial in Atletico Madrid's 2015-16 season and their making the Champions League final and became the center of France's attack at the 2016 Euro. 
6) Robert Lewandowski: In another era Lewandowski would probably be considered the best striker in the world. He was the top scorer of an awesome Bayern Munich Bundesliga champion side, among other scoring 5 goals in the space of 9 minutes against Wolfburg. Although he was not as prolific with Poland in the 2016 Euro, his skills are super important for Poland. In October I went to see the Poland-Denmark World Cup qualifier, where a superb Lewandowski was the difference between two mediocre sides.
5) Riyad Mahrez: Already in 2015 Mahrez, who until then had been relatively unknown, became a star in the rising Leicester side. With Leicester's title Mahrez became a super star, also named Premier League Player of the year. He was sought out by many big clubs but stayed in Leicester, where he has been central in the Champions League campaign. Mahrez is also a crucial player in Algeria's national team who must be considered on of the favourites at the coming Africa Cup of Nations.
4) Neymar: Neymar is an important part of FC Barcelona's "Holy Trinity", and must be considered the best Brazilian player in the world, which automatically makes him one of the best in the world. In 2016 he also became crucial in Brazil's revived national team under Tite, underlined by their extraordinary 3-0 victory in a World Cup qualifier over Argentina, where Neymar outshined his teammate Messi. To top it off he was also part of Brazil's Olympic Gold winners.
3) N'golo Kante: Kante is the kind of player that tends to be forgotten, but is crucial for any team. He may not score the goals but works tirelessly. For Leicesters' Premier League winners he was the engine of the midfield, and after changing to Chelsea, he has become the midfield engine of a team that is leading the Premier League at the end of the year. It is not unlikely that Kante will win the Premier League for the second time in a row, and he has been a hugely important player in both teams.
2) Luis Suarez: Luis Suarez has continued growing as a player and in 2016 he has not only been a prolific goalscoring machine for FC Barcelona, but also an important team-player. He continues to be the type of player that gives all he has for his team, and the fact that he is not as temperamental as he used to be has only made him better. In my view the best striker in the world.
1) Cristiano Ronaldo: There is no way around it, as I think that Cristiano Ronaldo has this year really shown himself not just as a great player, but also as a great teammate and leader. His skills are unquestionable, and despite his occasional outbursts of arrogance (most of all in the Euro 2016 when they managed to tie Iceland), he has been a crucial leader in Real Madrid's Champions League winning side, and not least in Portugal's Euro winners where, despite being injured during the final, his sideline leadership was crucial in pushing the team to the title. A true great player in 2016.

Others who I almost got into this list: Dimitri Payet, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Pierre-Emerick Aubemeyang, Gareth Bale, Paul Pogba, Pepe and Diego Godin.

Let me wish everyone Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Top Ten Best teams of 2016

As every year I make my personal top ten list of my favourite football teams of 2016. It is not a list with objective criteria, but a subjective list of teams that for some reason or other have caused impression on me during 2016. It is of course not so subjective that I just post about my favourite teams (It has been a dreadful year for Valencia, a hugely disappointing year for Argentina and Denmark, while Brøndby has been doing well, although still dwarfed in the Danish one-team league by FC Copenhagen).
So my list is as follows:
10) Atletico Madrid: Although they did not win anything this year, they continue to be one of the most difficult teams to defeat in Europe, and must always be considered a candidate. Most memorable was their victories against FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich on the way to the Champions League final, where they were only penalty kicks away from a victory over Real Madrid.
9) Brazil Olympic side: For the first time ever Brazil took Olympic Gold in a penalty kicks final victory over Germany. While this was a historic achievement it also presaged a return of the Brazilian national team in World Cup qualifiers. And we all hope 2017 will be great for Brazil!
8) Chile: In a special Copa America Anniversary tournament Chile won their second Copa America in a row after penalty kicks in the final against Argentina. I was personally very disappointed alongside the rest of Argentina (and notably Lionel Messi), but that does not take anything away from Chile's great achievement.
7) Portugal:  Portugal were the victors of the European Championship, and for that they deserve to be on the list, although grudgingly, since they were poor champions of a hugely disappointing tournament with hugely disappointing matches. These types of tournaments, with 24 teams, are the early swan-song on national team football.
6) Iceland: While Portugal won, Iceland were the real champions of Euro 2016. Once in a while a small underestimated team makes people dream, and that is what Iceland did, not only against the later champions of Portugal, but notably in their incredible victory against overrated England. And their fans were truly fantastic!
5) Real Madrid: In January Zinedine Zidane became new Real Madrid manager, and under him the team seems to have found a stability they have been missing for years, as well as a good balance between the expatriate superstars and the local youths. While not taking the Liga title, they are leading at the end of the year, and most memorably was their Champions League final victory against Atletico Madrid on penalty kicks.
4) Sevilla: Sevilla has become the new team to challenge the duopoly of Spanish football. They made it to a memorable Copa del Rey final (which they lost to FC Barcelona) but most memorably took their third Europa League title in a row, completely outshining Liverpool in the final.
3) Chapecoense: Had it not been for the tragic plane crash that made them headlines all over, Chapecoense would still have made this list, since the small Brazilian team had made a stunning achievement in making it to the Copa Sudamericana. Chapecoense are forever champions.
2) Atletico Nacional de Medellin: Playing offensive and entertaining football Nacional de Medellin won the Copa Libertadores, and were on the way to another title when their final against Chapecoense was cancelled due to the tragic plane crash. In the face of the tragedy the club and its fans gave Chapecoense a fantastic farewell, and showed that what makes a team great is not just its titles but its dignity! They had a bad (and strange) Club World Cup, but that does not take anything from a great year.
1) Leicester: At the end of last year Leicester were first in the Premier League, but nobody actually believed that the little English side could get away with taking the title. Lo and behold, by May the impossible had happened, when Leicester were proclaimed Premier League Champions. This was surely one of the greatest football upsets of all time. Although they have been struggling to defend the title, they won their group in their first Champions League ever, and no matter what, 2016 will always be Leicesters' year!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Chapecoense tragedy

Football often brings people together, and today football fans all over the world have been brought together in mourning of the tragic plane crash in Colombia which has killed most of the Chapecoense team, who were on the way to play their first ever Copa Sudamericana against Atletico Nacional in Medellin.
Flight accidents have before hit the world football family: 1949, when the Torino side perished in a crash; the 1958 crash in Munich, which killed most of the Manchester United team; and the 1993 crash which killed the Zambian national team.

As Atletico Nacional just said in a statement: "De nuestra parte, y para siempre, Chapecoense Campeón de la Copa Sudamericana 2016."

Champions forever.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Klinsmann out

Five years with Jurgen Klinsmann of the US National Team ended with Klinsmann being fired. In World Cup qualification USA is last after defeats to Mexico 1-2 at home, and a 4-0 trashing by Costa Rica.
Klinsmann was hired amid great expectations, and despite some improvements, I think it has been disappointing, given the potential of the US. It all seemed to start well with a victory in the 2013 Gold Cup and World Cup qualification. In the World Cup they made it to the last 16, but it was not impressive at all, and having watched US in other tournaments, this team was not impressive: they rode on a defensive wave, that was only strengthened by a great goalkeeper. But when it counted, against Belgium in particular, US looked without ideas.
In 2015 USA only made it to fourth of the Gold Cup, losing to Jamaica and Panama. At this point USA seemed like a side that arrogantly thought they were too good for CONCACAF, but obviously were far below the big boys. A semifinal spot at the 2015 Copa America Centenario did nothing to take away this impression when USA lost 4-0 to Argentina.
The last defeats are just a confirmation of how far USA is from its potential. Klinsmann's replacement is Bruce Arena, who also coached USA from 1998 to 2006, which was plausibly the period of most advances for US football, most memorably illustrated by their 2002 World Cup quarterfinal, where they fully had the quality to be among the 8 best in the world.
Bruce Arena has been away for a while, but he has the quality to take US back up from the last spot in World Cup qualifiers.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

The potential of Manchester City

What a difference from the match two weeks ago in Barcelona between FC Barcelona and Manchester City! With Willy Caballero on goal the Manchester City defense also looked to have more confidence than with the hapless Claudio Bravo (who in my view cost the match two weeks ago), and the decisions showed that Pep Guardiola is perhaps more cynical and willing to change the style he has always promoted since his Barcelona days when the situation calls for it.
It all seemed to be going Barcelona's way in the first half when they went ahead 1-0, with Gundogan equalizing before half-time. In the second half Manchester City were a transformed side, and their energy and high pressure gave them their well-deserved first victory ever over FC Barcelona, and good chances to reach the knock-out stages of the Champions League. Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan (who scored one and two goals respectively) were simply fantastic, far overshadowing the FC Barcelona holy trinity of Messi, Neymar and Suarez (despite Messi's exquisite first half counter attacking goal on a pass by Neymar).
The match shows the potential of Manchester City: they have had a great team for years, but some kind of minority complex has continued to haunt them. If they get beyond that mental constraint, they could eventually reach the very top.
Despite the defeat FC Barcelona remains favourites for the title: they still have a splendid side, but Manchester City exposed some of its weaknesses in midfield and defense, as well as the lack of depth in some of their replacements. They seem to depend too much on their holy trinity.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

RIP Carlos Alberto

Carlos Alberto, Brazilian captain of Brazil's World Cup winning side of 1970, and scorer of perhaps the most memorable goal in football history has passed away.
This is what makes him immortal:

Monday, October 24, 2016

The new face of Valencia (hopefully)

I have always been an admirer of Cesare Prandelli: as Fiorentina manager he made them play good football, and also as Italy manager, he created a much more see-worthy Italian side, playing passing and pressing football, than at any time in Italian football history.
So it is with great happiness and expectations that I see him appointed as Valencia manager. That said, being Valencia manager is no easy task from a club whose fans and management have always been too demanding and too easily have fired managers who have gone to great success in other clubs. I certainly hope Cesare Prandelli will not be the same, and he has started positively, with defeat to Atletico Madrid, a victory over Sporting Gijon, and last Saturday a 2-3 defeat to mighty FC Barcelona, whom Prandelli's Valencia did not make so mighty. FC Barcelona had to win on a late penalty by Lionel Messi and some help from a hapless referee. But positively for Valencia it may look like good things ahead under Prandelli!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Bravo goalkeeper!

Guiardiola again returned to Barcelona with another team: in 2015 he went there with Bayern Munich for the CL semifinal, just to be destroyed 3-0 on two goals by Lionel Messi and one by Neymar. Last night Messi and Neymar were as welcoming to their old manager, who now returned with Manchester City: Messi scored three and Neymar one goal to give Barcelona a comfortable 4-0 win over the English side.
If anything, it shows Guardiola's near naivite to playing his old side, which arguably made him a great coach because he had no other than Lionel Messi. Since then he has managed strong teams, but is still to show that he can do great things in teams without the great little Argentine.
One of Guardiola's weakest decisions was again exposed last night: Claudio Bravo. More than anyone he cost Machester City when, at the score 1-0, he mishandled the ball and had no other option than to make an illegal save outside the area, costing him a red card, and putting Willy Caballero on goal. Caballero did not have chances on Barcelona's subsequent three goals (even though he saved a penalty from Neymar, confirming his excellent qualities as a penalty-stopper) with Manchester City three men down.
Guardiola preferred Claudio Bravo instead Joe Hart because he apparently had more technique, but again he costs goals exactly on his lack of technique, again proving that Hart is a far better goalkeeper! On top of it, FC Barcelona must have been smiling to themselves: they sold Bravo to Manchester City, knowing that the young Marc Ter Stegen is a far better goalkeeper, something he also proved last night with some excellent saves on Manchester City's attempts.
Some credit must go to Manchester City: they did play a good match, and even down 1-0 one felt that they could have come back into the match.
But with a goalkeeper like Bravo it is not easy to win against the best....

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Real Madrid-Legia Warsaw

I am not a Real Madrid fan. But as a football fan it is important to visit all the great football venues, so as I happened to be in the Spanish capital I went into watch the Champions League clash between Real Madrid and Legia Warsaw.
It is indeed a place waded in history, proud and impossible to intimidate. The rowdy and loud Legia fans screamed like crazies, but nothing can intimidate experienced Real Madrid fans, who have seen everything, and who are really there to see THEIR own side play great football. In that sense Legia and their fans were just today's complementary extras. 
I have the greatest respect for Real Madrid fans, just as for Barcelona fans, and this visit confirmed it.
Real Madrid fans were interested in seeing the team after some poor performances. Although they won 5-1, the performance was not outstanding against a quite poor Polish team. Without Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos the team looked shaky in defence, where they gave away a silly penalty, and Keylor Navas made some fine saves. Cristiano Ronaldo had a bad day (and perhaps should have been taken out earlier) while the fans were happy to see some of the lads from the "cantera" come in and score in the second half: Lucas Vazquez scored and excellent goal on a pass by Alvaro Morata, while Morata himself scored the last goal.
Borussia Dortmund defeated Sporting Lisbon and are now leading the group, but it is clear that Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid will be the two sides to progress to the knock-out stages.
Interesting experience and I am now able to say that I have been at the legendary Santiago Bernabeu.

Real Madrid-Legia Warsaw

Santiago Bernabeu

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Netherlands-France

The best thing about visiting the Amsterdam Arena to watch the World Cup qualifier between te Netherlands and France were the always fantastic Orange fans. The same cnanot be said for their home team, who losing 0-1 at home may be heading for another summer without participation in an international tournament. This may be like in the 1980s when the Dutch, after making it to the 1978 World Cup final did not qualify for the 1982 or 1986 World Cups or the 1984 Euro. We now had a Euro without the Dutch, and I frankly doubt that they can make it to Russia.
A pity because their fans will be missed.
In the meantime France, who should have been European champions, are looking strong. They still struggle in finding the right strikers to give them punch, but who cares when Paul Pogba is on fire and scores a great goal like he did against the Dutch!?

Netherlands-France

Monday, October 10, 2016

Poland-Denmark

I was in Warsaw and went to watch the 2018 World Cup qualifier between Poland and Denmark. Second match for both teams, where Denmark had opened with a 1-0 victory over Armenia and Poland had played 2-2 at home against Kasakhstan.
The atmosphere was great at the beautiful stadium in Warsaw (where they played the 2012 Euro final) and Polish fans were really behind their team. And in the first half they swept Denmark aside, leading 2-0 on goals by the fantastic Robert Lewandowski. Early in the second half Lewandowski made it 3-0 before Denmark scored two silly goals as Poland drew back, and let the Danes into the match, it became unnecessarily tense for the home side.
In the end Poland and Lewandowski prevailed to give them their first victory in the World Cup qualifiers, and us consolation hugs from Polish fans!
That said, if these are supposed to be the two top teams in the group, they have to do much better. Denmark lacks fantasy amid a lot of possession and Poland lack a defense that will not make you nervous. In the meantime Montenegro and Romania have become the teams to be beaten in this group (they both won 5-0 against Armenia and Kasakhstan respectively, teams Denmark and Poland struggled against).

Poland-Denmark

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A great Champions League round

Last night I watched Borussia Dortmund-Real Madrid. Always expect a great match between these two sides, and this was no disappointment with a 2-2 result and great play.
This evening I watched Celtic-Manchester City. A bravely fighting (and a bit lucky) Celtic side (which because of their fans is impossible not to like) managed an exciting 3-3 result against mighty Manchester City, which nevertheless looked a bit easy to shake. As FC Barcelona got a lucky 1-2 victory in Germany against Borussia Monchengladbach, the next match is bound to be a drama as FC Barcelona face Guardiola and Manchester City at home.
Atletico Madrid repeated their feat from last season's semifinals by defeating Bayern Munich 1-0 at home. Leicester continued showing their European potential by defeating FC Porto 1-0 at home.
The only thing I did not like at all, is that FC Copenhagen defeated Club Brugge 4-0....

Friday, September 23, 2016

The first three points

Finally Valencia harvested their first three points in the Spanish league! After the first four matches, Valencia was the only team with no points, and the pressure tonight against Alaves was clear: following the firing of Pako Ayesteran this week, Valencia needed a victory, and they managed a hard-fought 2-1 victory on a late penalty goal by Dani Parejo. The way the fans celebrated, it was clear how needed this was...
All that said, Valencia remains a strange club: this year started with the hapless Gary Neville as manager, for him only to be replaced by his assistant, Ayesteran. For the time being Salvador Voro will be caretaker manager, but truth is that the top management of Valencia seem utterly inept in appointing a solid and experienced manager that can live up to Valencia's always-unfulfilled potential.
I certainly hope they find an excellent replacement, and that this will prove to be the first of many many victories this season!
Amunt Valencia!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Das Reboot: How German Football Reinvented Itself and Conquered the World

Das Reboot, by Raphael Honigstein, tells the story about German football leading up to their incredible victory in the World Cup of 2014. Many forget that up to 2014 Germany had not won a major football title since 1996, despite being one of the great powers of World football. Although they had made the 2002 World Cup final (which they lost 0-2 to Brazil) German football was in crisis since their last major tournament victory in the 1996 Euro.
In 1998 Germany had been eliminated from the World Cup in humiliating fashion by Croatia, and in 2000 and 2004 they had fallen in the group stages of the Euro. This was not the Germany that everyone expected to win, not least themselves. Amid the need for change two sides faced one another, the conservatives that argued that German football should continue with its values and style that had before led them to victories, and a more reformist group of coaches and football managers that wanted to adapt German football to a modern attacking style, and not least to a changing Germany. The book traces the likes of Dietrich Weise, who helped set up a reformed youth system for spotting and nurturing talent, including working with schools, in that footballers should also have education, as aptly put by Volker Kersting, the youth director at Mainz (one of the clubs that gave birth to much of the renewed focus): “...the brain is the most important thing a footballer possesses. What doesn't happen upstairs can't happen down below at the feet either.” But Weise was not alone; a notable a group of reformist managers who promoted youth and a new style at club level, Ralf Rangnick, Jurgen Klopp, Thomass Tuchel and Mattias Sammer, all had important roles in the transition of German football.
 The 2006 World Cup in Germany plays a central role in the tale. Jurgen Klinsmann became the unlikely manager who wanted to change German football. As much as ever, Germany had to win the World Cup at home, but when they didn't, it was not a catastrophe.
Quite on the contrary: the 2006 team became one of the most popular teams of German history. Its attacking style, flat hierarchy, relaxed attitude and friendly players became a symbol of a marvelous World Cup, greatly described in the documentary “Ein Sommermärchen”.
In 2006 football in Germany was no longer about winning only, but captured the wider imagination of Germans.
Germany built on the 2006 World Cup “success” for the following years. Under Klinsmann's assistant, Joachim Low, they continued building on the attacking style and involving players in decision-making. In 2008 and 2010 they lost the Euro final and World Cup semifinal, respectively, to the best Spanish side of all time. In 2012 they lost in the Euro semifinal to Italy, but one could already see the potential of a technically skilled and confident team before the 2014 World Cup. The fruits of the focus on youth could already be seen in 2009, when German youth sides, who had never performed well, in one year won the u-17, u-19 and u-21 European championships. The victories counted up to 10 players who would eventually be part of the 2014 triumph.

The book is excellent as it inter-changes chapters on the background, and then the actual build-up to the 2014 final at the Maracana. Each of the major matches gets a chapter, with the matches against Algeria and Brazil standing out. Against Algeria, Germany was under enormous pressure against a team that had read well their style. Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer saved Germany, who in the end with patience and ball possession wore down the brave Algerians.
For the Brazil-Germany semi-final it is interesting it is to read how the German team had studied Brazil's weaknesses. Brazil had indeed not been strong in the tournament, and the Germans downplayed their chances, while knowing that the South Americans were under enormous pressure to win the World Cup at home; a pressure that the Germans had themselves been under in 2006.
The description of the final is fascinating, also considering that it was never a given that Germany would win; Argentina had one of the best teams in the world, and had it not been for Higuain's misses history might well have been different... The description of Mario Gotze's winning goal is excellent. Gotze himself a fruit of the youth system and an avid user of a computer simulation where players were made to repeat a move similar to the goal move, becomes in the book the ultimate proof of the successful transformation of German football.
I liked the book because unlike many other books it does not go into gossiping or some pseudo-psychological analysis of people. The focus is on football. In that regard it may be too detailed for the un-initiated. The book requires some prior knowledge of older German players, results and teams, or one will have a difficult time appreciating all the changes and details. But f you have that knowledge and an interest beyond German football, and also on football in general (I could not stop thinking why Brazil has not engaged in similar reforms that are very needed), this is a great book.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Two good and two bad things

After 1-1 in the first match of the Champions League group stage between Paris St. Germain and Arsenal, there are two good conclusions for Arsenal:
  • That the reserve goalkeeper David Ospina is in great form (he basically saved Arsenal)
  • The result
For Paris St. Germain, there are two bad conclusions from the match:
  • Edison Cavani's number of missed chances 
  • The result

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Manchester Derby

Probably no other match this season has been as awaited as the clash between Manchester United and Manchester City: The clash of two of the greatest clubs in the world, from the same city. Two football philosophies clashing; Mourinho versus Guardiola.
It had every ingredient for a great match, and it did not disappoint, with a high level of drama and fantastic play.
In the ever-rainy week in Monrovia, I almost panicked when my TV at home had no signal to send the match, so I hurried into my car to find a place to watch it. I was disappointed that I had to go to a couple of places near my house in Sinkor, but finally, five minutes into the match, I found a place to watch it.
I had not seen the lineups, but it was only after 40 minutes I realized that Paul Pogba, the millionaire signing, was playing....
Manchester City were all over in the start, playing a high pressure football that one has come to connect with Pep Guardiola. An outstanding Kevin De Bruyne scored the first goal, while Sergio Aguero's replacement, the 19-year old Nigerian Kelechi Iheanacho, scoring the second goal on a ripost from a DeBruyne shot.
At this point it seemed like Manchester City could tear United apart.
But then two of the new players the clubs have invested in took over: the new goalkeeper Claudio Bravo could not reach a high ball, which went to the ever-threatening Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored a goal that looked easier than it really was.
The fantastic Zlatan has scored four goals in as many matches for Manchester United and is proving that at 34 years he is still on fire.
Claudio Bravo on the other hand looks like he has a mountain to climb. Coming in for the club's legendary goalkeeper Joe Hart, he looked insecure and tired throughout the match. Guardiola preferred Bravo to Hart due to Bravo's apparent better technique, but even there he looked extremely weak.
I do not understand why Guardiola preferred Bravo over Hart. Yes, technique is important, but more so it is to have a solid and popular guard on goal, who knows the club and enjoys the respect of fans and teammates alike. It seems to me Bravo will have a long way to achieve that, and he could cost more goals.
In the end it meant nothing today: Manchester United put excellent pressure on City in the second half, in particular when Marcus Rashford came on the pitch. There will surely be more pressure on Mourinho to have the youngster start the following matches.
In the end City came out victorious, but much closer than it had seemed at one point in the match. Be sure the next match will be as dramatic!

Friday, September 09, 2016

Andres Iniesta

In connection with the publication of Andres Iniesta's autobiography, the Guardian has some interesting articles on the (already) legendary player, based on the book:
https://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/sep/06/barcelona-andres-iniesta-need-help-look-for-it
https://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/sep/07/pep-guardiola-andres-iniesta-barcelona-tactics-book-extract
Highly recommended, and I most certainly should get hold of the book!

Friday, September 02, 2016

South American World Cup qualifiers

A new round of South American qualifiers has just taken place, with Argentina jumping to top of the table with 14 points with a 1-0 victory over Uruguay, on a goal by the returning Lionel Messi. Uruguay, Colombia and Ecuador follow Argentina in the table, all with 13 points, and if it ends as it is, these would be the qualified teams for Russia. Ecuador, who until recently had been on first spot, surprisingly lost 0-3 at home to a Brazil side for whom the 19-year old new Manchester City signing, Gabriel Jesus, scored two goals. Brazil are now taking the 5th place, which is a play-off place, with 12 points, ahead on goal difference of Paraguay on 6th place. Paraguay has gotten stronger after a shaky start, and defeated the South American champions, Chile, 2-1 in Asuncion.
Chile, with 10 points, will be looking for a victory in their next match against Bolivia, to keep up with the teams above. It is nevertheless a testament to the high quality of the teams in South America that there is only four points difference between the 1st place and the 7th, with all having an option to qualify, or running a risk of ending outside the first five spots. The only teams that seem out at this point are Bolivia (6 points), Peru (4 points), and the hapless Venezuelans, who with 1 point are disappointingly out after previous years strong showing. That said, Bolivia, Venezuela and Peru have before shown that they are fully able to defeat any of the other sides, and that just gives the South American qualifiers more flavour and drama.
Be sure that there will be much more!

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Transfer deals in the Premier League

This season's Premier League is looking to be very interesting following the summer's Euro and Olympic games, and the arrival of new managers in some major clubs, just to add to the existing rivalries. Excitement was only added to the mix with a lot of interesting news coming from the transfer window that just closed.

In particular in the big teams of Manchester United and City, under the eternal rivals of Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola. At Manchester United Jose Mourinho has gotten hold of three stars for his team: Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Paris St. Germain, Hernrikh Mkhitaryan from Borussia Dortmund and most interesting of all Paul Pogba from Juventus. Ibrahimovic has already proven he will be good for goals and fight with his experience, while Mkhitaryan could be one of the type of players that could thrive under Mourinho. And the same can be said of Pogba: he is an incredible talent, but is arrogant and self-centered - just like Mourinho, who could plausibly tame the Frenchman.
In the meantime Mourinho is making his club unpopular again: the freezing out of Bastian Schweinsteigger is just the kind of thing a great player does not deserve.
That said, I am sure Mourinho will do great things with United.

At Manchester City Pep Guardiola has been more drastic that Mourinho, letting go of the English goalkeeper Joe Hart (to Torino), Edin Dzeko (to Roma), Samir Nasri (to Sevilla), Eliaquim Mangala (to Valencia) and releasing Martin Demichelies. In have come a group of players much more attuned to how Guardiola will want to play: John Stones has come in from Everton - likely to strengthen a slow back four under Demichelis. On goal Hart has been replaced by the Chilean goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, much better with his feet, and likely to venture out of the penalty area more than Hart would ever have done. A very interesting transfer is that of Gabriel Jesus from Palmeiras, one of very promising Brazilians of late, who could do great things under the style of Guardiola if he adapts quickly. Ilkay Gundogan (from Borussia Dortmund), Leroy Sane (from Schalke 04) and Nolito (from Celta Vigo) are the other interesting arrivals in Manchester City.

The defending English champions of Leicester have managed to hold on to some of their most prized players, although N'golo Kante left for Chelsea (where he will miss out on European football this season). That said, the champions have attracted some great players: the Algerian Islam Slimani has joined from Sporting Lisbon where he had an outstanding goalscoring record, and many may remember Slimani from Algeria's outstanding 2014 World Cup. The striker Ahmed Musa has joined from CSKA Moscow and the defensive midfielder Nampalys Mendy from Nice, who has often been dubbed the as the new Claude Makalele.

Much of Jurgen Klopp's work at Liverpool was to get rid of a long list of players that do not fit into Klopp's style, so Liverpool released a lot of players: Christian Benteke (who never managed to convince, went to Crystal Palace), Joe Allen (simply too slow and varying to play the tempo of Klopp, went to Stoke), Mario Balotelli (Liverpool never managed to tame the Italian, who went to Nice), Martin Skrtel (the veteran has gone to Fenerbahce), Kolo Toure (to Celtic) and Lazar Markovic (to Sporting Lisbon) have all gone.
Although arrivals at Liverpool have been less, the main one has been the Senegalese Sadio Mane, from Southampton, who became the most expensive African transfer in history. Expectations will be high, but he has already shown his class with a splendid goal in the 3-4 victory against Arsenal.

At Chelsea Juan Cuadrado has gone definitively (to Juventus), while Mohammed Salah has returned to Roma. In the meantime manager Antonio Conte has gotten hold of Michy Batshuayi from Marseille, who along N'golo Kante can give Chelsea a strong edge on midfield. But also the back has been "reinforced", with Marcos Alonso (from Fiorentina), and rather oddly, with David Luiz, who now returns to Chelsea from Paris St. Germain for 34 Mio Pounds after they sold him to the French side for 50 Mio in 2014. It was too much then, and it is too much now.
I do not know who has lost most from this deal; Chelsea or Paris St. Germain....

At Arsenal it is always difficult to figure out what Arsene Wenger is thinking. I still think he is one of the best managers in the world, but if I were an Arsenal fan, I would understand creeping frustrations. Jack Wilshere has gone to Bournemouth, a strange move for a player that has continued to contribute to the team. The exit of Joel Campbell (to Sporting Lisbon) and Tomas Rosicky (to Sparta Prague are less strange).
The arrivals in midfield seem strong: Granit Xhaka from Borussia Monchengladbach and Shkodran Mustafi from Valencia look like strong complements to midfield. The arrival of Lucas Perez from Deportivo la Coruna seems like more of a gamble: surely he has been a few of the Spanish scorers in the Spanish league dominated by foreigners, and Spanish offensive players have traditionally thrived with more space in the Premier League, but it still seems a gamble as Arsenal fans scream for a striker other than Oliver Giroud.

West Ham is one of the sides that has had most arrivals: Andrew Ayew has joined from Swansea (where he never really thrived, so hopefully he will in London), Simone Zaza from Juventus will be an interesting addition up front, while Sofiane Feghouli, coming in from Valencia, could potentially be a player to watch. Also, interestingly, Alvaro Arbeloa, has joined on a free transfer, coming from Real Madrid.

Tottenham's most interesting purchase is Moussa Sissoko, joining from Newcastle. The Frenchman was very strong in Euro 2016, and could have strong impact on Tottenham. Victor Wanyama from Southampton and Vincent Janssen are other strong additions in London.

Look forward to seeing all these players, and many more, in this fantastic new season!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Champions league 2016-2017

The draw has been made for this next season's UEFA Champions League, the greatest football tournament of all. And the groups are as follows:

Group A:
Ambitious bur underperforming Paris St. Germain and Arsenal are the off-hand favourites, but in particular Basel has before been known to pull some surprises

Group B
An interesting group with Napoli and Benfica at very similar level, and Dynamo Kiev being their usual power. Personally I will be supporting Napoli.

Group C:
This group will have great expectations as Guardiola's Manchester City will be face to face with the club he gave greatness, FC Barcelona. Monchengladbach could surprise, but don't bet on it, and expectations are likely low to Celtic.

Group D:
Two of the greats of recent years, Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid, make this a great group. Add PSV Eindhoven and a yet to show its strength Rostov, and we have a very interesting group.

Group E:
Basically all teams have a good chance of going through in this group, but I am expecting something from Bayer Leverkusen.

Group F:
Two of the greatest teams of recent years, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, will likely be guarantee of a great clash, and one has to tip both to go through.

Group G:
The surprising English champions of Leicester had a good draw for their first Champions League, but they will indeed have to be as good as they can be, notably against FC Porto. Club Brugge and FC Copenhagen are in the tournament to make surprises (and I am not too thrilled about the Danish team).

Group H:
The Italian champions and the Europa League champions are favourites although the Spaniards have traditionally had difficulties in this tournament (and then go on to win the Europa League). Olympique Lyon can always be a threat but are far from what they were 10 years ago. And be sure for a good fight by the Croatians.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Brazil-Germany in the final

This would be a great title for anything, except for the Olympic games...
No matter what, this is what the Olympic final in football for men will be, with big expectations to Brazil to make their first Olympic gold medal in football ever.
Brazil are favourites, but Germany are good. If anyone should know how good Germans are at football it is the Brazilians, but this is an opportunity for Brazil to get a bit revenge from Germany for the defeat in the 2014 World Cup.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Football is like love

Lionel Messi is a sore loser. So am I.
I admit it. I have many times said I will never watch football again when I get depressed after bad results (which has happened more than once...).
But football is like love; you suffer it, but you always return to it.
After Lionel Messi's hugely disappointing defeat to Chile in the 2016 Copa America final (his third final defeat with Argentina in as many years), Lionel Messi announced that he would quit the Argentine National Team. But now Messi has reversed his decision, as he has accepted a call back by the new Argentine Manager Edgardo Bauza to the World Cup qualifiers in September.
This is great.
I am sure Messi will be criticized by many for this, which many will see as inconsistent and hypocritical.
But I understand it, as I am sure any real football fan understands it.
I will now watch football again.

Friday, August 12, 2016

The best doesn't always win

One of the frustrations of football is also its beauty: that just like in life, it is not necessarily the best who wins. That is simply because football is such a varied sports that there are many ways of winning. An excellent example is Portugal's recent victory in the Euro 2016; hardly the best team, rather boring, but one cannot deny their achievement in reaching the title against teams that were better.
Every footballer knows this although it still frustrates them.
In the Olympic football tournament (for women) the defending world champions of USA were eliminated by Sweden in the quarterfinals after a 1-1 score in ordinary time, and then 4-3 on penalty kicks. This is a major setback for the USA, who had never not reached a semifinal. Sweden's victory was not pretty: they know that USA, with its amazing players, is a better side player for player (if anyone knows it should be the Swedish manager, Pia Sundhage, who four years ago coached the USA to Olympic gold). And to win against such a side they need to be defensive, disciplined, and for all that it is worth, cynical.
That is normally the way to win against better teams, as has been shown again and again. And it was that which the veteran US goalkeeper Hope Solo was sore about when she called the Swedish ladies "cowards".
Not very nice or fair-played said by Hope Solo, who was probably frustrated after the defeat.
I do think that Sweden will have it difficult in reaching the final, although of course they should not be underestimated. In the meantime it is sad to see the excellent USAmericans eliminated, but there is no doubt they will rise again from this setback.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Olympic football - women

The Olympic football tournament is only interesting because of women. Four years ago watching the men was a waste of time, but the women gave us some splendid matches, and this year we have all reasons to expect the same, if not better, after the fantastic Womens' World Cup in Canada.
Favourites are bound to be the defending Olympic and World Champions of USA, who are in group with France, Colombia and New Zealand. Among the team of USA superstars is the incredible Carli Lloyd, but also Ali Krieger, Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan.
Expect USA to make it all the way!
It is a bit disappointing that Japan, in full process of changing their team from the World Cup, did not qualify. Instead, the big challengers for gold will likely be Brazil and Germany.
Brazil is in group with China, Sweden and South Africa, where at least Sweden and China should also be considered contenders. Brazil nevertheless, captained by the legendary Marta, will be under pressure to take a gold medal home for Brazil. Other veterans, as Formiga and Cristiane.
Germany are in a  group with Canada, Australia and Zimbabwe, where Canada should be the one mostly considered favourites alongside the Germans. Germany is captained by the veteran superstar Anja Mittag, and Germany are sure to be contenders for the title.

No matter what, I would highly recommend to watch the womens' tournament rather than the mens', as I believe there will be much more entertainment, drama, and frankly, much better quality in the Women's football tournament.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Olympic football - Men

The Olympic games will be starting this week in Brazil (frankly I think the Olympic games will be great, simply because of Brazilian people, who will make it great despite all the economic and political problems in the country).
As often is the case, men's football is not highly rated, although one country in particular, Brazil, must be considered favourites and will be eager to win at home: Brazil has never won Olympic gold and after the World Cup debacle two years ago, Olympic gold will be a small consolation. Brazil is also bringing Neymar along as one of the three over-23 players allowed. Brazil will be opening against South Africa in a group that also includes Denmark and Iraq.
There are certainly other interesting sides in the 16-team tournament: Argentina, Honduras, Algeria and Portugal are in the same group. Portugal is coming with a strong team, although with no players that were part of the Euro 2016 squad. Argentina has defender Victor Cuesta as one of the over 23, but is otherwise with a team of youngsters, where their highly talented attack will be interesting to see: Angel Correa from Atletico Madrid, Cristian Espinosa from Villarreal and Cristian Pavon from Boca Juniors. Both Honduras and Algeria are with full under 23 sides.
The defending champions of Mexico are in a group with Germany, South Corea and Fiji (one of the few good things about Olympic football is that you can have countries like Fiji participating). Germany comes with another talented sides with veterans Sven and Lars Bender to provide the experience in midfield.
Finally, Sweden, Colombia, Japan and Nigeria are in another interesting group.

All in all, expectations are not great. I thought the men's tournament was particularly boring four years ago, and the most interesting to see is if any new players come about.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Pele: Birth of a Legend

On a recent flight from Monrovia to Brussels I had the pleasure of spending some of the boring time in a plane by watching the in-flight movie "Pele: Birth of a Legend", about the legendary Pele and his coming from humble backgrounds to win the World Cup in Sweden in 1958.
The movie does not have a deep character development, although it works in creating the great image of Pele for football fans, by tracing his difficult uprising, the challenges he faced as a talented youngster and relations with his family. A nice part of the movie is when the Brazilian players play around in a hotel in Sweden before the 1958 World Cup final (a scene that reminds a bit too much of a Nike commercial though) and then the excellent recreations of the final in Stockholm amid a hostile Swedish crowd and unlikeable Swedish team.

It may work for football fans, but the film's big disappointment is that it only superficially touches on some issues wider than football: Brazilian national identity (in the film, following the defeat in the 1950s World Cup final, Brazilians want to be like Europeans, rather than dwell into their mixed Brazilian identity), as well as racism and class differences (with Mazzola representing the higher classes of Brazil against the young Pele). The film would have been much better if it had managed to put it more into context, and even relate it to today's Brazil, where it seems that Brazil has completely lost its football identity: there is hardly a team further from the "Ginga" style than Brazil's team of the last ten years, in particular represented by Dunga, the most anti-Ginga Brazilian ever.

In footballing terms I was most disappointed that the film simplified some aspects of the 1958 World Cup: Brazil were not considered a decidedly weak side, their group was considered the Group of Death, and Brazil won it in style. It was correct that Pele only entered in the last group match against the USSR, but the big star of that match had been Garrincha's dribbling skills (in all, the film gives much less credit to the legendary Garrincha than he deserves). Disappointingly, the film totally skips Brazil's quarterfinal against Wales, which really made Pele a superstar: with his first and only goal of the match, he put Brazil in the semifinals. I find this strange, as Pele himself has described that goal as the most important in his career. It is true that the semifinal against a magnificent French side was a great victory for Brazil, but one must remember that France played most of the match without the captain and defense icon Robert Jonquet, who had broken his leg in a clash with Vava (Jonquet heroically stayed on the pitch, as substitutions were not allowed), something that greatly facilitated (still) Brazil's splendid victory.
The best part of the film is the final, where Brazil stunned a Swedish side, coached by the Englishman George Raynor, who had no respect for the Brazilians.

As a football fan the movie is ok, a bit disappointing for what it does not show, but very poor as a film describing the deeper relations between football and society.

Friday, July 22, 2016

He can only surprise positively

Sam Allardyce as new England national team manager is one of the most obscure appointments in modern time. Just like Brazil, England's FA is one that does not want to think in new ways.
"Hey, we are the best in the world anyways..."
In any case, Sam Allardyce can only surprise positively, as expectations to a new manager can never have been lower in football history!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Portuguese tears... of joy!

It is only grudgingly I congratulate Portugal and their fans for their in all manners surprising victory against France in the final of the Euro 2016.
Of course a team that wins a tournament of 24 teams, over seven matches, are to be congratulated and shown respect for their achievement, but indeed Portugal's way to the title was less than glamorous. The only reason they got past 1st round as best 3rd placed team (behind unglamorous Hungary and Iceland) was because there are now 24 teams in the tournament. In the last-16 they won a historically boring match against Croatia (first match without shots on target), and only beat Poland on penalties in the quarterfinals. Indeed, their defeat of Wales in the semifinals was their first (and only) regular victory of the tournament.
The final was an enormous disappointment: the first ever 0-0 in 90 minutes of a Euro final. France started well, but were a disappointment of nerves and lack of pace in front of a rather lame home crowd.
With an early injury for Cristiano Ronaldo everything seemed to be stacked against Portugal, but two  things happened: the team seemed better organized without Ronaldo, and manager Fernando Santos made some brilliant choices to re-adapt his team during the match. Eder, who entered late in the second half instead of the young Renato Sanches (youngest player ever to play a final), scored an excellent winner in the second half of extra time as the match was seemingly on the way to penalty kicks.
Cristiano Ronaldo cried when he had to leave the pitch, but when the match ended he joined the rest of his team in tears of joy for a victory as unlikely as the one suffered by Portugal itself in the final of Euro 2004.
Congratulations, grudgingly, to Portugal.

Friday, July 08, 2016

France-Portugal: the final

The final of the European Championship 2016 is ready after a lot of mediocre, and a few not so mediocre matches.
France, the home side, deserve to be in the final. Despite a friendly referee they were overall the better team against the German world champions, and Antoine Griezmann is a deserved star. France has only won tournaments when they are at home (Euro 1984 and the 1998 World Cup), and I certainly hope they win the tournament yet again!
Portugal... I am personally not impressed. Their first real victory were against a Wales team who was there mainly because of weak opposition. Their second final ever; their first one was a memorable home loss to Greece. And certainly they will be up against real opposition against France!
But the great thing (and the sad thing if you support France) is that in a final anything can happen, and even Portugal could win...
No matter what happens on Sunday, Iceland are the real champions of this tournament.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Germany-Italy football history

Finally some real matches: Germany-Italy in the quarterfinal of the Euro 2016. Another chapter in one of the greatest rivalries in football.
The sides played for the first time in 1923 (with an Italian 3-1 victory) and have since played one another 33 times, with 15 victories for Italy and 8 for Germany. Their first important match was in the 1962 World Cup Group stages (0-0), and their second important confrontation was in the 1970 World Cup semifinal, one of the greatest World Cup matches of all time, when Italy won 4-3 after extra time, and went on to lose the World Cup final to the greatest Brazilian side of all time.
In 1978 the sides again played 0-0 in the World Cup Group stages, but four years later came another legendary clash in the 1982 World Cup final, when Italy won 3-1 (and who does not remember Marco Tardelli's celebration?). In the 2006 World Cup, in Germany, Italy defeated the hosts in the semi-final 0-2, and went on to become World Champions.
Germany has never defeated Italy in a World Cup.
Their Euro history is much more recent: first time they played was in the 1988 group stages, when it ended 1-1, and in the 1996 group stages it ended 0-0 (and Germany later won the tournament). In the 2012 European Championships the two sides clashed in the semifinals, and Italy won 2-1 on two goals by Mario Balotelli, and then went on to lose the final to Spain.
Germany has never defeated Italy in a European Championship.

History is against Germany today. But if any side has defeated history in the last two years it is Germany. That said, they will be facing an Italian side that has all odds to continue having the upper hand against the Germans.
Whatever happens, it will be football history.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Portugal/Wales in the final!?

Either Wales or Portugal will be in the Euro 2016 final. I am not even going to bother with watching the semifinal between these two unlikeable sides. The real final will be in the other semifinal, and if Portugal or Wales wins, it shows how little the Euro is still worth.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Top 10 excuses for England

England is out, and with that their boring team and hooligans are going home to lick their wounds after showing their "skills" in Europe. Surely their manager Roy Hodgson (the most highly paid of all Euro managers) will have to go, and England will be reflecting and making excuses about their 2-1 loss to a much, much better Iceland side.
So with that, I would like to help the English and their excuses:

10. "Uh! Is that an Icelander farting or a mighty volcano!?!"
9. "We contributed to making football history"
8. "The Iceland manager is a part time dentist, which explains why they have more Teeth than the English"
7. "At least we lost to a non-EU side; better than being humiliated by France."
6. "The Icelanders do not have a professional league, which means they have more time to train passes and free kicks"
5. "Russia is out anyway, so nobody to get into fights with"
4. "We are still second best among the British teams"
3. "There are too many foreigners in English football; that is why we cannot develop the skills of our players"
2. "We are better off outside Europe anyway"
1. "I thought Iceland was part of the Shetland islands...?"

I quit

It was indeed Deja-vu in New Jersey, much more than I, or any Argentina fan had dared hope for. 0-0 in ordinary time, only for Chile to take the title on penalty kicks. The third final loss for Argentina in three years, they seem unable to take a title (and Higuain to score in a final....).
I have to admit that this was another hard hit after a week with many hard hits.
Lionel Messi missed a penalty, and after the match announced that he is retiring from international football at the realtively young age of 29, and with what is a World Cup ahead in 2018.
I respect Messi's choice, although I wish he would wait until after the World Cup. He is quitting, and the message I get, is that I should quit too. If a man who has won everything is quitting after an admittedly great disappointment, why should I not quit too? Why should we all not quit our disappointing lives of dreading in a threadmill of everyday life, just awaiting for next weeks' 90 minute escape from reality's boredom?
I gotta quit football, and focus on... nothing....

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The best that could happen to Belgium

Belgium lost their opening match of the Euro 2016 to Italy, and as things now appear, this may have been the best thing that could happen to Belgium in the tournament. Winning over Ireland and Sweden gave Belgium second place in the group, avoiding a clash against Spain, and instead putting them face to face with the surprising Hungarians, who nevertheless had no surprises for Belgium. An awesome Belgian side seems to be coming together as a team and defeated Hungary 4-0, with a splendid performance by Eden Hazard!

Belgium's next opponent will be Wales, a team that has also surprised positively making it among the eight best sides in Europe, but are hardly a team that will make the Belgians tremble in fear. Indeed, Belgium should be favourites to take a semifinal spot, where they will be facing either Poland or Portugal. Both teams should be beatable by the talented Belgians: Poland has been solid, but not a team that would be expected to make it all the way, while Portugal has been pathetically bad, and although they can only improve, it is hard to see how they could improve so much as to defeat the Belgians.
So, although many things can happen in football, Belgium's way to the final seems to be paved with possibilities. In the meantime, the other half will struggle: Germany will be facing either Spain or Italy, and the winner of that match will face France/England/Iceland in the semifinals (Iceland would be great but highly unlikely).
Whatever happens, I hope Belgium takes one of the final spots!

Absolute boredom

I thought that now that we have reached the knock-out stages of Euro 2016 matches would get more dramatic and interesting.
How wrong I was...
When I sat to watch Wales-Northern Ireland I was not expecting much, but got even less than I bargained for in a match where neither team seemed to have quality to break the defenses, and only an own-goal gave Wales the victory to make it to the quarterfinals.
After this bore, expectations were nevertheless high for the next match: Croatia-Portugal!
But this was even a greater bore; an insult to paint drying, which is far more interesting than what both these teams showed. It took them 116 minutes to make a shot on target, and when finally done, it gave Portugal the victory. I drank many beers to forget these two dreadful hours of my life.
The match compares to another absolute bore, Ukraine-Switzerland in the World Cup of 2006, and probably is worse, since this is apparently the first match in a major tournament since 1966 without shots on target.
After big expectations, I am happy that Croatia is going home, but must now live with the terrible knowledge that a Poland-Portugal quarterfinal is awaiting, and I will have to find something better to do, such as watching paint dry.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Deja vu in New Jersey

Chile defeated Colombia 2-0 to make it to the final of the 2016 Copa America Centenario. They will face Argentina in what is a repeat of last year's "normal" Copa America, which was won by Chile at home in Santiago on penalty kicks.
But things point to a different outcome this Sunday in . Argentina has looked awesome, and in fact already played Chile in their opening match, winning 2-1 in a match where their superstar, Lionel Messi, did not even play. Messi has since been on fire, and Argentina seem eager to both get revenge for last years' final defeat, and for getting their first major international title since 1993.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Reflections on the Euro 2016 Group stages

  • 24 teams are too many: all due respect to some of the surprise teams, but there were too many defensive and risk-free matches. 
  • Some groups in qualification were not very strong. Everyone from Austria's group (including Sweden and Russia), ended at the bottom of their qualifiers. Portugal's group included Albania and Denmark (the last of which was eliminated by Sweden in the play-off, another bottom team).
  • The goal average has been 1.95 (47 goals in 24 matches), and if it continues below 2, it will be the lowest scoring tournament since 1980 (when 27 goals were scored in 14 matches). It is not surprising given the quality of defenses and lack of risk taking from many sides, and we are well below the averages of the last three tournaments, all above 2.4 goals per match.
  • Despite few goals, some have been truly fantastic: Dimitri Payet's against Romania in the opening match stands out, but so does Luka Modric's against Turkey, Ronaldo's first goal against Hungary, and Axel Witsel's against Ireland (following 28 passes!)
  • It is hard to say which has been the best team, but some stand out: Italy (following their brilliant performance against Belgium), Croatia (their fans stood in the way of making them the only team to go through with three victories), Spain (two strong easy victories and a defeat to a great team), France and Germany (both teams won their groups as expected, but more is expected of them).
  • Some players have stood out: Andres Iniesta, Ivan Perisic, Dimitri Payet and Gareth Bale
  • Iceland has been the biggest surprise of the tournament, with 8% of their population in the stands. Surely they are not a seeworthy team in the technical sense, but their organization and fighting spirit has carried them this far, and they are the darlings of the tournament.
  • The other big surprise has been Hungary. It is refreshing to see a side that has meant so much in football history, but not participated in a major tournament for 30 years, back among the 16 best.
  • Portugal has been the biggest disappointment. And they have not won many friends by being too full of themselves and looking down on opponents.
  • We will all miss Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
  • Hooliganism, nationalism and (in)security have rightfully been issues of concern, and have cast a shadow over the tournament. A pity for the many good fans, but it does not take away the disgrace of hooliganism again making such a return in 2016.

Euro 2016: Round of 16

With the last matches of the group stages we are now ready to the knock-out rounds of the Euro 2016. There were quite some surprises, with no team going through with maximum points:
  • Switzerland-Poland: Each came second in their groups, after France and Germany respectively, and with good results they are very evenly paired sides, with both having good options of making it to the quarterfinals, where the winner would face Croatia or Portugal.
  • Croatia-Portugal: Croatia won their group ahead of Spain and have been one of the best teams of the tournament. Portugal on the other hand have been a big disappointment, just making it to third place behind Hungary and Iceland. Croatia are surely favourites, although one never knows with Ronaldo...
  •  Wales-Northern Ireland: A British clash where Wales will surely be favourites after their outstanding group victory ahead of England, with Gareth Bale central in a fantastic team effort. The Irish just made it through on the last 3rd spot following their victory over Ukraine, and surely Wales are favourites. The winner will face the winner of Hungary-Belgium.
  • Hungary-Belgium: Hungary has been the second biggest surprise of the tournament (after Iceland), winning their group with a strong team effort and confidence. Belgium has been a bit disappointing after they had been so highly rated, but they still have a fantastic team that should be able to take Hungary. But do not underestimate the Hungarians!
  • Germany-Slovakia: As expected the German world champions won their group ahead of Poland, and will be favourites against Slovakia, who went through as the best third placed side after Wales and England. The winner will face Italy or Spain, in what seems to be the hardest path to the final!
  • Italy-Spain: If any match is obligatory, it should be this one. Both started as the best teams of the tournament, but looked more shaky when losing their last group match. Still, Italy lost to Ireland with a largely substitute team, and if they can put a display on like they did against Belgium, they should be favourites against a Spain side that exposed many weaknesses against Croatia.
  • France-Ireland: Ireland did what they had to do when they defeated Italy in their last match to just make it through to the knock-out stages. France won their group, although they had to struggle in every match, and still has to show their full potential. That said, the hosts will surely expect a quarterfinal against England or Iceland.
  • England-Iceland: The sensational Icelanders are the darlings of the tournament having made it through on second place after Hungary and ahead of Portugal (take that Ronaldo!). Again they will be up against the odds. England made it through on second spot, and have played fine on occasions, but  seem to lack the last quality. England are surely favourites by far, but if the tournament has shown anything, it is that Iceland are not there just to be run over! So look out England, as the world supports Iceland!
In my view this is when the tournament really starts; there were too many boring matches in the group stages!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Argentina in the final

Argentina, led by a splendid Lionel Messi, are looking more and more unbeatable just as they reach the final of the Copa America Centenario.
Despite improvements and a big home support USA stood no chance of challenging Argentina, who won 4-0 with goals by Ezequiel Lavezzi, Lionel Messi, and two by Gonzalo Higuain.
Colombia or Chile will play for the honour to face Argentina in the final.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Spain up against real opposition

I was wary of everyone being so impressed about Spain's performance so far in the Euro 2016. A meager victory over a weak Czech side, and a strong victory against a weaker Turkish side are not much to brag about.
So it was bound to be interesting to see them against a real side, Croatia, who despite of their fans and the absence of Luka Modric, remain a strong outsider to the title.
And Croatia's performance against Spain proved the potential of the Balkan side: a 2-1 victory on goals by Nikola Kalinic and a splendid Ivan Perisic means that they are now group winners ahead of Spain.
I find it impossible not to like Croatia a lot, even though I try not to because of their fans.

In the meantime the match proved a lot of vulnerabilities in Spain, and notably in the selections of Vicente del Bosque; the change of Nolito for Bruno showed a certain insecurity. Iniesta looked tired, and should perhaps have been rested, while De Gea did not look good at Perisic's goal (I still think they should use the legendary Iker Casillas). And on top of it all, Sergio Ramos missed a penalty after a Silva dive, and one has to wonder why Ramos, of all people, shoots the penalty?
It is now likely that Spain will face Italy in the last-16, and that is also real opposition that is, perhaps, even better than Croatia.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The semifinals of Copa America

Every single of the semifinals of the Copa America will be special for me:
  • USA-Argentina: Two countries I am very fond of, with my football heart being unapologetically Argentine. Argentina has been fantastic in this tournament, defeating Venezuela 4-1 in the quarterfinals. They will surely be favourites against the hosts, but if USA has ever showed anything, it is that they must never be underestimated; they have the quality to defeat anyone!
  • Colombia-Chile: The country of my mother, against the country of my birth, I will be supporting Colombia, who has nevertheless not been looking that good. They defeated Peru on penalties after a boring 0-0 match, and they seem to lack spirit. Chile are the defending champions, and are in the semifinals after a historic 0-7 trashing of Mexico in what must be the worst result in Mexican football history (their worse defeat ever in a tournament, and first defeat in 22 games).
If things go as predicted, we will see a repeat of the 2015 Copa America final, although all four teams have the quality to make it.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The impossible rejoicing

Cristiano Ronaldo is a football genious. But his comments after the Iceland game showed a man too full of himself, a bad loser, who did not have the magnanimity to acknowledge the achievement of a team that uses its resources to the maximum (contrary to Portugal...).
But I acknowledge that it is because Ronaldo is a highly competitive man, and that is what makes his a football genious.
But when Ronaldo missed his penalty against Austria today, I must admit that I was more than delighted when Ronaldo missed his penalty.
No excuses, just himself, and that is the payback for his stupid comments after the Iceland game.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Go home Croatia

Croatia had in my view become the dark horses of the tournament: after an efficient victory against Turkey, they were again incredibly good against the Czech Republic. Up 2-0 on goals by Ivan Perisic and Ivan Rakitic, the Czechs got an undeserved goal on an outstanding header by Milan Skoda. Still, Croatia were in control, concentrated, to take the victory.
But then the Croatian fans stepped in: riots on the stands as flares were thrown into the pitch (I still do not understand how they can get flares into the stadium? Isn't France supposed to be under heightened security!!??? I feel so much safer....), and the match was stopped by the referee. Starting again, the Croatians lost some of their concentration, and gave away a silly penalty that Tomas Necid converted for the end result 2-2.
Croatia were on their way to the next round, but now they will be facing Spain, and if UEFA is in anyway consistent (don't count on it), they will hand Croatia a conditional disqualification, such as they did with Russia.
Sadly, a great team does not deserve to be in France, thanks to their Croatian supporters.
Go home Croatia.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Copa America Quarterfinals

We are now at the quarterfinals stage at the Copa America. These are as follows:
  • USA-Ecuador: The hosts won their group ahead of Colombia despite losing their first match to the South Americans. They will of course have an advantage with home support, but never underestimate Ecuador!
  • Peru-Colombia: Peru sensationally won their group after their controversial win against Brazil. They are surely a strong side, if inconsistent. Inconsistency can also be applied to Colombia, who started with two victories before losing their final match to Costa Rica, although with a team full of subs. Colombia will probably be slight favourites when playing with all their superstars.
  • Argentina-Venezuela: Personally I look very much forward to this match between two countries I am personally attached to. That said, I support Argentina, and they have won all their matches, even only playing Messi in one. They will surely be favourites, but Venezuela has shown they are difficult to defeat, and also, they have the confidence that they have lacked for a long time.
  • Mexico-Chile: Mexico won their group ahead of Venezuela on goal difference, and will now be facing the defending Copa America champions, who were runner-ups to Argentina. Both teams are strong, with Mexico playing with a big home-crowd, but the Chileans should probably prevail, also knowing they are defending their title!
This is the real football starting!

Reflections on the first round of Euro 2016

All teams have now been in action in Euro 2016, and I have some initial reflections:
  • Italy have been the most impressive team so far. Their ice-cold victory against the Belgians was what can make a team champions. Emanuele Giacherinni's and Graziano Pelle's goals were fantastic.
  • Belgium is not bad, and still has a chance, but needs to show much more commitment from their highly paid superstars.
  • Germany also looked in complete control against Ukraine, and with Italy, seems like the other team to beat after the first round.
  • Spain were good, but lack striking force. Then on the other hand, they have the splendid Andres Iniesta! Croatia, with their incredible midfield and an inspired Luka Modric, will certainly be able to challenge the Spaniards
  • England in the first half against Russia is one of the best England sides we have seen for a long time, but as so many Spanish fans, they seem unable to keep their heads cool.
  • Wales has been one of the best surprises in their 2-1 victory over Slovakia, and they should be able to defeat both England and Russia.
  • The biggest surprise has been Iceland after their tie against Portugal.
  • The biggest disappointment has been Austria, but not a big disappointment, as there have not been many.
  • France managed their obligatory opening victory against a hard-fighting Romania. That said, Romania would not have deserved a tie, and Dimitri Payet's goal remains the best of the tournament (with very hard competition from Emanuele Giacherinni's incredible control in his goal against the Belgians).
  • Northern Ireland has been the poorest side of the tournament. Poland should have scored more than their lone goal.
  • Much has been made of the hooligans. But there are also some great fans, and the best are Sweden's and Ireland's (who needs to be champions with fans like this?):

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Iceland is in the House!

Iceland qualified in style for the Euro 2016 from a very difficult group ahead of Turkey and the Netherlands (and behind the Czechs). So it is perhaps surprising that they have been considered the minnows of the tournament.
Not after today, where they are rather the Cinderella of the tournament, after an outstanding 1-1 against Portugal. Portugal were not as disappointing as they so often have been in these tournaments, although one cannot but feel that they again fell into their common trap of arrogance whenever they play "smaller" teams.
Iceland were equals to the Portuguese stars throughout most of the match and that should be a wake-up call for the other two teams in the group, Austria and Hungary (where the Hungarians surprisingly defeated Austria 0-2 earlier in the day). But what is interesting in this group is that all teams are strong and could make it to the next round.
Even the Cinderella of the tournament.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Brazil is out

Brazil lost 0-1 to Peru, and is out of the Copa America Centenario after 0-0 with Ecuador and a useless 7-1 victory over Haiti (Ecuador beat Haiti 4-0 in the other group match).
Despite the controversial nature of Peru's goal, in remains an inescapable fact that Brazil were poor, lacked teeth and strength  all over. It does not bode well for Brazil's World Cup qualification, where Brazil is currently not in one of the qualifying spots.
But what is Brazil's problem? For years now they have been sleeping on their former glory and not following all the changes happening in modern football. Dunga is certainly not the man to take Brazil into the 21st century football world, and it does not seem that the Brazilian FA is aware of the dire state of Brazilian football.
I hope Brazil gets back to being a footballing super-power, because they have given so much to football. But in the meantime, I congratulate Peru and Ecuador, who certainly deserve to be in the quarterfinals much more than Brazil.

Prelude to Russia 2018?

I cannot see there was such a surprise by the violent scenes inside the stadium after the England-Russia match in the Euro 2016. Let us face it: this had been building up for three days, with violence in the streets of Marseille, and anyone watching even on TV could feel the negative atmosphere in the stadium at the start of the match. It is fortunately not so common that fans buh during the other team's national anthems, but not so in last night's match.
There is understandably a lot of attention at the poor security arrangements in the stadium (it is truly incredible considering the apparent terrorist threat that they forget all other, more real, threats), but why is there not attention to the much deeper problem of European society?
UEFA, understandably, has campaigns against racism, but xenophobia is something that is inherent in all these tournaments, and with rising nationalism and economic and social crisis in Europe, the ghost of xenophobia is on the rise.
Because let us face it: football does NOT bring people together. Perhaps a few naive fans still think it is all about the friendly clash of sport. But reality is that football is increasingly becoming the  outlet for European nationalist sentiments; people who do not even know how to appreciate football, watch it because they get their hard-on with the national anthems and flags, and can look down on other nationalities.
This is, in my view, the real tragedy of the Euro in France and the clashes of the last few days.
I agree that UEFA should send the teams home if the fans cannot behave, but in the end it will do nothing to dampen the ugly nationalism. Football is only an image of wider society.
I hope I am wrong, but I think what we saw yesterday is only a prelude to much uglier things ahead in Russia 2018.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Best goal of the tournament

France won against Romania 2-1 in the opening match and an outstanding Dimitri Payet scored an incredible goal when the score was 1-1.
I do not care what will happen in the rest of the tournament, but that was the best goal of Euro 2016.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Champions of 100 Years and out

Uruguay has been the most winning team in the 100 years of the Copa America, and as one of the best teams in the World, expectations were justifiably high as they entered the 100 anniversary tournament in the USA. But after two defeats Uruguay is out.
Last night Venezuela, one of the few team never to have won a Copa America, defeated Uruguay 1-0, Uruguay's second defeat after losing 1-3 to Mexico.
Mexico defeated Jamaica, and incredibly, Venezuela and Mexico will now be playing for the honour of group winners, while Uruguay goes home, 100 years after they were the first winners of the tournament.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Euro memories

The Euro 2016 is soon to start in France. I must admit that I have a hard time getting excited about a tournament that comes in the background of political crisis in Europe and all the nerves it implies.
In football terms, the expansion of the tournament into 24 teams has in my view watered down the quality and excitement of the tournament; there are simply too many mediocre teams and too many matches before the excitement starts to get there in the quarterfinals. I predict that, as in the World Cup, the first round will be full of defensive careful teams who are more afraid to lose than wanting to take the risk of winning.
That said, in my continuing attempts at getting excited about the tournament I have reflected of some of the good memories of this tournament, based on the top 10 matches that have stuck to my memories. It is purely a subjective list, based not on the matches themselves, but on the circumstances under which I watched them (friends, place, time...);

10. Germany-Turkey 2008: This was the early build-up of a Germany that would take the world with storm and a Turkey side that took Europe with charm. This semifinal, won by Germany 3-2, I watched on a boat between Denmark and Iceland, with friends in a ship-bar where one could not help by get excited about what was a fantastic match.
9. Netherlands-USSR 1988: My first Euro memories are from the 1988 tournament. The 1988 final was an exhibition of a historic Dutch side with the fantastic Marco Van Basten scoring a fantastic winner.
8. Denmark-Sweden 2004: I watched this match full of dilemmas in a bar in Copenhagen. The problem was that 2-2 would put both teams through instead of one of the least charming Italy sides in history. And this was also how it ended after Denmark had tried to defeat their arch-rivals. So it was in many ways a great but bitter-sweet tie. On top of this I should mention that I started this blog right after the Italy-Denmark match in this tournament with the most boring post ever.
7. Spain-Yugoslavia 2000: I was in Spain for this match that Spain won 4-3. I watched it with a bunch of Spanish friends and one Yugoslav friend, and the taunting and good atmosphere of a fantastic and legendary match makes the day and the match specially memorable.
6. England-Germany 1996: In 1996 I was biking around the Danish island of Bornholm with two friends from High School. We watched the match in a bar in a small town. The bar was full of Germans, but all Danes in the bar supported England. The Germans in the end won on penalties to the delight of the Germans and disappointment of the Danes (who were not very gracious losers).
5. Spain-Germany 2008: This was the start of Spanish World football dominance, being their first victory since their meager 1964 Euro win, and I watched the match in a restaurant called "Matstofan" in Borgarness in Iceland, during a great road-boat-trip of the northern Atlantic, where football was constantly in the background (see 10 above).
4. Denmark-Netherlands 1992: I was actually in a hotel in Sweden, alongside my uncle and cousin, for this match. I had just returned from one year in the USA, where it had been difficult to follow football, and could not believe Denmark had made it to the semifinals. In the end Denmark won an incredibly dramatic match against the defending champions, and we were delighted.
3. Sweden-England 2012: I was there, in the beautiful Stadium in Kiev, for a great match won 3-2 by England. The Euro 2012 is the first and only time I have traveled to a tournament, alongside a great friend, and it was great.
2. Portugal-Denmark 2012: This match was won 3-2 by Portugal, and I was also there at the stadium in Lviv. Of course it was a bit disappointing to lose, but this was only secondary to the fun day in the beautiful and welcoming city of Lviv alongside many fans, and even ending the day in a karaoke bar after the match, singing alongside drunken Portuguese fans.
1. Denmark-Germany 1992: Every Dane alive in 1992 remembers what they were doing when Denmark won the European Championship. This was one of the miracles in footballing history. I had just returned from one year in the US, and was one week in Denmark before joining my parents in Spain. By the time I returned to Spain, Denmark were European champions, and I had watched the semifinal in Sweden (see 4 above) and I was in the small town of Ikast for the final. Ikast is not a city that is memorable for anything, but that day was an incredible party that I will never forget (just like everywhere in Denmark).

Sunday, June 05, 2016

A football match lasts 90 minutes

Liberia had good options to qualify for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon. Today they needed to defeat Togo at home in order to only need a tie in the last match in Tunisia to win the group. Eventually, a loss in Tunisia could be enough for Liberia to qualify as one of the best second-placed teams.
And Liberia started well, and were 2-0 up at the 60th minute in the Samuel K. Doe Stadium. But the Liberians seemed to have forgotten that a football match lasts 90 minute as they were celebrating their lead. The experienced Togolese managed to get 2 goals in the last half hour for a 2-2.
The tie is not enough for Togo, but puts the experienced Tunisians in the drivers' seat before the last match in Tunis against Liberia, where the Lone Star will now need a victory to win the group. Liberia defeated Tunisia in Monrovia, but it will be a totally different match in North Africa, and the Liberians cannot afford to be as sloppy as they were today.
I really hope that Liberia makes it; the Liberians deserve it, and it would be a great boost to the country. But it will not be easy, and they will have to remember that the match is 90 minutes!

Copa America Centenario

The extraordinary Copa America (recall one was celebrated in Chile last year) celebrating the 100 anniversary of the oldest national team tournament in the world started this weekend in USA.
This tournament is the first held outside South America, and I guess it is truly American, in the sense it includes the 10 teams from South America, and adds the six best teams from the North American and Caribbean region.
That said, it is a strange tournament in the sense it comes between years, in the middle of World Cup qualifications, and previous to an Olympic tournament that Brazil has decided to prioritize (that is why Neymar will be playing the Olympics and not the Copa America). It seems the tournament is more aimed at spreading the interest of football to the North American and Caribbean, and capitalize on an expanding market.
The priority seems to be money rather than football...

The 4 groups are as follows:

Groups A:
  • Costa Rica
  • Paraguay
  • Colombia
  • USA
Group B:
  • Brazil
  • Ecuador
  • Haiti
  • Peru
Group C:
  • Mexico
  • Uruguay
  • Venezuela
  • Jamaica
Group D:
  • Argentina
  • Chile
  • Paraguay
  • Bolivia
As is becoming more and more often the case with these national tournaments (including the Euro 2016), the expansion of teams does not augur for better football, but rather more mediocre first round matches. The first four matches of the tournament seems to confirm this: while Colombia started out with an important 0-2 victory against the US hosts, there have been two boring 0-0 matches with Paraguay-Costa Rica and Ecuador-Brazil, and a meager 1-0 victory of Peru over Haiti.
The most interesting match in the first round will undoubtedly be Argentina-Chile on Tuesday. This will be a repeat of the 2015 Copa America final, and both teams are going to the tournament with their strongest teams, and are thus two of the favourites to go all the way.

While it is hard to get fully excited about this tournament, it will probably have some very interesting matches to watch.

Friday, June 03, 2016

The Greatest Euro Matches: Spain-Italy (2012)

When the tournament started in Poland and Ukraine, there was no doubt that Spain were the huge favourites. They had won the European Championship of 2008 and the World Cup in 2010, and were favourites to make history by taking their third major title in a row.
With a base from FC Barcelona, complemented by some of the strongest players from Real Madrid, Spain's style of retaining the ball through passing (inspired from FC Barcelona) was proving highly efficient, although critics did point out repeatedly that it was boring football that did not seek goal enough (in 2010 they became world champions scoring the least goals of all time). The team largely consisted of players from the two big clubs in Spain: Iker Casillas was the captain on goal, behind his Real Madrid teammates Sergio Ramos, Raul Albiol and Alvaro Arbeloa, as well as Barcelona's Gerard Pique. Perhaps the best midfield in the world included a luxury choice of players such as FC Barcelona's Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Busquets, Real Madrid's Xabi Alonso, Manchester City's David Silva, and Arsenal's Santi Cazorla. Up front was surely Spain's least strong link, with Barcelona's Pedro Rodriguez, Chelsea's Fernando Torres and Sevilla's Alvaro Negredo all having been tried by coach Vicente de Bosque, but with him often preferring to play without a striker at all.
Spain had been awesome in qualification with eight victories in as many matches and scoring 26 goals. In the first round they had opened with 1-1 against Italy before defeating Ireland and Croatia to take first spot in the group. A poor French side had been dispatched with 2-0 in the quarterfinals and in the semifinal Spain defeated Portugal on penalties after a long 0-0 match. With only one goal scored against them and only six goals, Spain seemed to be confirming their defensive credential before they were to face Italy in the final.
Italy had for many years been a hindrance for Spain's advances, but in 2008 this had changed when Spain finally had defeated them after penalty kicks in the quarterfinal and gone to win the final (until then it had been 88 years since Spain had defeated Italy in a competitive match). Since then Italy had changed a lot under coach Cesare Prandelli, who was implementing a more offensive style than Italy had normally been used to. In qualification they had overwhelmingly won their group and had started the tournament well with 1-1 against Spain. They then tied Croatia 1-1, but a 2-0 win over Ireland put them in the quarterfinals where they defeated England on penalty kicks, and in the semifinals they defeated the German favourites 1-2.
The captain of the side was the veteran Juventus goalkeeper Gianluca Bufon. The team was otherwise built around Juventus midfield general Andrea Pirlo, who had at the time been the best player of the tournament, barely failing any of his many passes. Additional weight was given to the midfield by Paris St. Germain's Thiago Mota, Juventus' Claudio Marchisio, Fiorentina's Ricardo Montolivo or Roma's Daniele de Rossi. The team also had some quality strikers with Udinese's Antonio Di Natale and AC Milan's Antonio Cassano, as well as Manchester City's controversial Mario Balotelli.
In spite of it all it was somewhat surprising to see Italy in the final. They had fought hard, and it seemed like a bizarro world when Italy were not favourites against a defensive Spanish side. Coach Vicente de Bosque again started the match without an outright striker, instead playing the midfielder Cesc Fabregas as a type of striker.
Spain took the lead early on with a goal that bore the Barcelona trademark: after a long spell of possession Xavi made a perfect deep pass to Cesc Fabregas, who ran to the backline and passed the ball backwards where it hit David Silva in an awkward header, but making it 1-0 for Spain. Interestingly, David Silva was the only player in the starting lineup who was not from Barcelona or Real Madrid.
More bad luck struck Italy when they were forced to subsitute the experienced Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini due to an injury. In spite of this Italy tried to fight back, but Spain's domination was proven yet again when FC Barcelona's Jordi Alba made it 2-0 on a goal that looked very easy: Iker Casillas kicked out the ball to the left side where Jordi Alba passed it to Xavi, and then Alba himself rushed forward to receive a deep pass from Xavi on the right side of the offside trap. Alba's composed finish went past Bufon.
It was 2-0 at halftime and it barely looked like Italy had a chance. Prandelli replaced Antonio Cassano with Antonio di Natale, and soon after the start of the second half also put in Thiago Mota for Ricardo Montolivo, but after only a few minutes he had to be carried off on a stretcher. With all substitutions done, Italy had to play with only ten men for half an hour, and it was clear that all hope was gone by then.
Six minutes to the end of the match Xavi took the ball from Andrea Pirlo in midfield, perhaps symbolizing that Pirlo had been in his shadow the entire match. Xavi immediately found Fernando Torres with a deep pass and the Chelsea striker scored as he had done in the European championship final four years ago.
It almost seemed a repeat three minutes later when Xavi again found Fernando Torres with a deep pass, but this time Torres passed the ball to his Chelsea teammate Juan Mata as Bufon was coming towards him. Mata had just come on for Andres Iniesta and hammered the ball into an open goal.
The humiliation of Italy was total, and in spite of only a few minutes left one could see goalkeeper Casillas tell his players not to score more goals. In this match the Spaniards almost doubled their tally of goals in the tournament. It was the biggest victory in the history of European Championship history and Spain had become the first European team to win three major tournaments in a row with the 2008 Euro, the 2010 World Cup, and this. They were undoubtedly the best team in the world.

Kiev, July 1st 2012 Olympic Stadium 
Attendance: 63,170 
Referee: Pedro Proenca (Portugal) 

Spain-Italy 4-0 

Spain: Iker Casillas (c); Alvaro Arbeloa, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Jordi Alba, Xavi, Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas (Fernando Torres, 75), David Silva (Pedro, 59), Andres Iniesta (Juan Mata, 87). Coach: Vicente del Bosque 
 Italy: Gianluca Bufon (c); Ignazio Abate, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini (Federico Balzaretti, 21), Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio, Ricardo Montolivo (Thiago Mota, 57), Daniele de Rossi, Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano (Antonio di Natale, 46)

Goals:
1-0 David Silva (14) 
2-0 Jordi Alba (41) 
3-0 Fernando Torres (84) 
4-0 Juan Mata (88)