Thursday, April 20, 2017

Forca Juve

I was delighted, sitting in Fuzion, in Monrovia, watching a great Juventus side tie 0-0 in Barcelona to make it to the CL semifinals. As the match wore on one supported Juve more against a Barca side that just seems that they are entitled to win and when things are against them they cannot handle it, least of all Neymar.
There is a difference between a great fighter and a bad loser, and Neymar is not the former.
But with this we have four teams in the semifinals, two Spanish, one French and one Italian: Ream Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Monaco and Juventus.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Feeling sorry for mighty Bayern

It is not often one feels sorry for one of the biggest teams in Europe, but tonight I felt sorry for Bayern Munich as they were eliminated from the Champions League by Real Madrid.
Don't get me wrong: despite my dislike for Real Madrid they are a truly great side, but that is why such a victory as that tonight leaves a sour taste in ones mouth.
Bayern Munich played well; much better than in their hapless first match at home, and when they went ahead 0-1 on a penalty by Lewandowski, one had the feeling that they could win the match.
There are a lot of bad referees out there, but fortunately, they are seldom defining for who wins the match (despite what many unnamed managers in England may say...), but tonight there can be no doubt that the refereeing was defining for the result. First Arturo Vidal's non-existant second yellow card (and this is not to say that he was moving close to second yellow), when Casemiro should have had a red card at least as much, and the secondly Cristiano Ronaldo's equalizing 2-2 goal, which was so clearly off side that one either has to question the skills, eyesight or worse of the linesman.
In the end the Germans fell apart and lost 4-2, but the match had been decided at the 2-2 goal and the red card already.

Real Madrid, a great team, are in the semifinal to defend their title, followed by their local rivals Atletico Madrid, who had to fight hard to defeat a Leicester side who will not be in the Champions League again in the foreseeable future, if ever.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Argentina without Messi

South American World Cup qualifiers continue to be the most nerve-wrecking and closely fought contest in the world: every team can defeat anyone, and as the end nears seven out of ten teams can qualify, with one more outsider. Only Brazil, who started weakly but has risen over the last year, seem to be certain of going to Russia after their recent away victory in Montevideo against Uruguay, who remain in second spot.
But Argentina tonight lost away 2-0 to Bolivia, and will struggle to keep their closest competitors from Chile, Colombia and Ecuador away. Even Paraguay could beat them to the World Cup spot, and Argentina could risk a play-off match, or worse, not qualify!
Except for fans of Argentina (including myself) the worst consequence of Argentina not qualifying would likely be a World Cup without Lionel Messi. Let us face it; besides Messi, and perhaps DiMaria (and not counting an ageing and 'wasted-in-Barcelona' Mascherano), Argentina only has mediocre players who are not up to the task without Messi. Tonight's defeat to Bolivia was a case in point: after having defeated the South American champions of Chile last week (with Messi scoring the winning goal) Messi stupidly insulted the referee and got himself a four-match suspension. Argentina without Messi was a mediocre side unable to break the home side in the altitude of La Paz. With only four matches left, Messi will be available for only one. And they are not easy matches: Uruguay away, and Venezuela and Peru at home. Argentina's best hope seems to be that the other teams take points from one another and that they do not lose too many points in these coming three matches.
It is not looking good for a World Cup with Argentina and Messi!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The two teams nobody wanted to face

Atletico Madrid and Leicester were arguably the two teams everyone wanted to avoid in the quarterfinals of the Champions League. Atletico Madrid are a passionate, skilled and disciplined side that has proven to have one of the best defenses in the world combined with an unforgiving attacking force. Leicester on the other hand, seem to be a team that is set to continue surprising; the best team in the world when underestimated.
But all teams avoided them as both of these sides will be facing one another in the quarterfinals. An interesting anecdote is that two of the previous three times Leicester was in Europe, they were eliminated by Atletico Madrid (1961 and 1997). So this may be the time of redemption for Leicester.

The quarterfinals are as follows:
  • Atletico Madrid-Leicester
  • Borussia Dortmund-Monaco
  • Juventus-FC Barcelona
  • Bayern Munich-Real Madrid
All will be incredible matches. Juventus-Barcelona a repeat of the 2015 final. Dortmund-Monaco two teams playing attacking football. Bayern Munich-Real Madrid will see two of the best teams ever having played the tournament.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Leicester among the eight best in Europe

Surely Leicester are having a bad season in the Premier League, where rather than defending their title, they are almost fighting to avoid relegation. This is what led to a very unlikeable firing of Claudio Ranieri as manager, but frankly, since the charming Italian's exit, things seem to have improved.  I was never a fan of Mr. Ranieri, but he did achieve something extraordinary with Leicester, but it seems it was time to move on...
Last night Leicester eliminated the highly rated Europa League champions of Sevilla from the Champions League, making it to the quarterfinals. Despite a lucky 1-2 defeat in Spain, Leceister was all but lucky in their 2-0 victory playing an intelligent and disciplined match where they looked more like the team that took everyone with storm last season.
Leicester are not among the 8 best in Europe, and will be facing some giant in the next round. But do not discount them: Leicester has surprised before!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The sad comeback

Last Wednesday I found myself in a bar in the city of Danane, in Cote d'Ivoire, at first only half-watching the Barcelona-Paris St. Germain match, but getting caught by Barcelona's incredible last 3 minute comeback to eliminate the Parisians.
Along with most people in the bar, I was not happy. In Cote d'Ivoire they also supported Paris St. Germain. And whom I felt most sorry for were the Paris St. Germain fans; I know how it feels when your team loses, but I do not know how it feels when you come from the heights of happiness to the depths of sadness. I felt much more sad for them than for the Barcelona fans who just ten minutes before would have trashed their team out of the stadium.
In the end Barcelona did something incredible, but not elegant. Their attitude will and should annoy any decent football fans, and the admiration for Luis Suarez' skills are just frustrated by the ugliness of his antics.
But I cannot blame them: this is part of football, as much as I dislike it, and had it been my team, I would have been celebrating it like Barcelona fans did.
All great teams know how to stretch the rules, and Barcelona were just better at it than Paris St. Germain, which just makes it more sad for the great Parisians!!!
Barcelona is in the next round, but at least in Danane, as in Paris, it was not celebrated!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A match to remember

No matter what happens in the rest of this seasons' Champions League we will remember last night's match between Manchester City and Monaco. 5-3 and a festival of goals and drama, the only bad thing that can be said is that at times defenses looked very shaky. But that has to be seen against the background of strikers who all seemed to have a good day: Radamel Falcao looked as a young man from his pre-Manchester United days (despite him missing a penalty against Willy Caballero, who may be better than hapless Claudio Bravo, but still had a difficult match alongside his defense) and Sergio Aguero had one of those rare days when he was world class in an important match.  But most impressive was the young Leroy Sane, who is really proving to be the best transfer this season.
Monaco impressed because of their attacking prowess and positive attitude, and Radamel Falcao's penalty miss when they were up 0-2 may have cost them the match, despite them eventually going up 1-3 before Manchester City's memorable comeback. Manchester City showed an amazing character which should give them confidence for better results.
The return match in Monaco will be a must-see for every football fans: Monaco must attack, which they have shown they can, against a City side that has shown they cannot defend, so must attack. Do not miss it!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Valentines Day in Paris

Everyone, except FC Barcelona, seems to know that Paris Saint Germain has a quality team who under Unai Emery has learned to prepare for a match. And Barcelona seemed stunned the entire match as they proved inferior to PSG in every regard. It would have been nice to have a "Manita" to rub in Barcelona's faces, but in the end it was "only" 4-0, a result FC Barcelona can be most thankful about.
First about PSG: They seem to be the team of the future. Young players like Adrien Rabiot and Julian Draxler excelled, while "older" faces such as Marco Verrati, Angel Di Maria and Edison Cavani totally outshined Messi, Neymar and Suarez. Di Maria and Cavani both scored goals full of love on what was also their birthday.
The main reason for the result was a splendid PSG side who could go all the way if they play like today! But one must also mentioned FCB: the fact that they played such a horrible match can only be blamed on the manager, Luis Enrique. Do not mind the demotivated side, but some choices were simply awkward; Andre Gomes instead of Rakitic made them lose the midfield and Sergi Roberto was so bad as right-back (admittedly not his natural position) that it was like handing Draxler a highway to run on.
Barcelona are all but out of the Champions League and with meager chances of winning the Liga title, they may take a consolation with the Copa del Rey, but the question is whether this is enough for Luis Enrique to maintain his job.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Stuck in no-mans land when Cameroun won

I was unable to watch the Final of the Africa Cup of Nations because I was stuck in a second-rate football country because their lousy national airline could not get me off the ground to go to beautiful Liberia. And how is it that in this country there was nowhere to watch the final?
In any case, it was only great that Morocco was out in the first round, and hope they do not even make it that far in the future.

But much more important is that Cameroun won! The fact that I did not see it does not diminish the accomplishment of a team that not much was expected from at the start of the tournament, but who, most of all, showed discipline and camaraderie. They were perhaps the team that most wanted it, and to come from behind against such a defensively disciplined team as Egypt was a great achievement.
It is great to have the Indomitable Lions back among the best in the world!

Friday, February 03, 2017

Semifinal disappointments

The two semifinals of the Africa Cup of Nations are over, and many did not expect the outcome, and are rightfully disappointed (myself included).
Burkina Faso played a great match against Egypt, and in particular in the first half were in total control. But the Egypt of Hector Cuper are extremely well-organized in defense and are deadly in counter-attack. Although Burkina Faso scored the first goal against the Egyptians in the tournament, the end result of 1-1 tokk the match to a penalty shootout where the veteran goalkeeper Essam El Hadary saved the day for Egypt.
The Burkinabe are understandably disappointed, but expect to see more to them in the future.

Then there is Ghana: a dominant African power who have been in the last 6 semifinals, but have not managed to win the tournament since 1982. And again they were favourites to beat a Cameroon side that has been full of problems in this tournament. But the problem with Ghana is that they see themselves as rightul champions: and you are no kind of champions until you have won the final. Cameroon won 2-0 on a match were they fought hard and just seemed to want it much more than Ghana. And that is the real credit of the match: an excellent Cameroon side that will surely give everything to defeat Egypt!

I had been hoping for a Ghana-Burkina Faso final. But while we can see these teams play for bronze, the final will nevertheless be very interesting!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Africa Cup of Nations Quarterfinals

The year has for me started a bit oddly, with a lot of travels and work that has not fully permitted me to dwell into football. This is a pity since one of the best tournaments that modern national team football has to offer has started in Gabon, namely the Africa Cup of Nations. And although I have only watched a few matches from my base in Monrovia, it is full of excitement!
Firstly, the hosts from Gabon were eliminated in a group won by Burkina Faso ahead of Cameroon. The most talked about was the elimination of the Gabonese, but credit to a tournament-oriented Burkinabe side and a Cameroon side of indomitable lions who have not gone beyond first round since 2010.
Gabon's elimination was not as sensational as that of the highly rated Algerians, who with a team full of stars were expected to make it far. But a defeat to Tunisia and ties to Senegal and Algeria saw them out with meager 2 points, while an exciting Senegal side won the group ahead of Tunisia.
Another big team eliminated were the defending champions of Ivory Coast. Much was also expected, but like the Algerians they also only managed 2 points with ties against DR Congo and Togo, while losing 0-1 to Morocco in the last all-important match. Morocco are not exciting to watch, but solid, and Ivory Coast's stars seemed to underestimate them. The big surprise was probably the DR Congo, who ended up winning the group ahead of Morocco, and will be one of the sides to watch.
In the last group Egypt and Ghana did what they were expected to do, easily outplaying Mali and Uganda and playing for first place tonight, in a match Egypt won 1-0, playing very intelligently against a Ghana side that could surely go all the way with its experience and talent.
With this great first round, we now have the following quarterfinals:
  • Burkina Faso-Tunisia
  • Egypt-Morocco
  • Senegal-Cameroon
  • DR Congo-Ghana
The matches promise to be great in a tournament full of surprises. Most of these teams follow their dreams of victory instead of dear of losing!!
Although I will not be in Africa to follow all the quarterfinals, be sure I will!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

48 team World Cup!?

Today FIFA decided to expand the 2026 World Cup from 32 to 48 teams. This is another decision that will undermine the footballing interest in a World Cup that all fans love, but which has steadily fallen in football quality during this century, and will surely deteriorate more with this. Surely, in the short term, it may bring interest in countries that never have had a chance of qualifying. But when these countries lose again and again to other mediocre teams in mediocre matches, it will bring less and less interest among the real football fans, if not among the (many) people for whom World Cup football is nothing more than a Nationalist Masturbation. We will see more flags and hysteric nationalism, but less quality football.
At least under Sepp Blatter, for all the many things you could criticize him for, football came first. Under the new FIFA leadership it is the short term prospect of making millions to the detriment of the game. UEFA supports it; I am not surprised as they decided to expand the European Championship exactly for the same reason. But the difference is that UEFA presides over the tournament with the best football quality in the world, namely the Champions League.

I started loving football because of the World Cup. It was where football dreams were made. I have been seeing the World Cup deteriorate as I grow older, and for any young football fans football dreams are now made at Club level, mainly in the Champions League. I am sad to see the World Cup fade into the irrelevance of mediocre football, and I view this as one of the biggest nail in the coffin of the World Cup's.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

The continuing Valencia crisis

I had really hoped that the arrival of Cesare Prandelli as Valencia manager would change things for the (now tiny) Spanish giants. But I was wrong, after only three months in charge, and only one league victory, Cesare Prandelli has resigned in a way that has to make Valencia fans wonder if the problem with the club is the managers (there have been nine managers since 2012) or something more systemic.
Mr. Prandelli's qualities as a manager cannot be doubted, and he is just one among many successful managers who have left Valencia without success. So what is wrong with Valencia? Is it a management who thinks more of numbers than about football? Is it players who have no commitment for the club? Is it fans who are not supportive enough of young talented players?
Or is it rather a combination?
Truth is that Valencia, who ten years ago was among the great clubs in Europe, is now nothing more than a mediocre club that fights to avoid relegation. And as a fan of Valencia, it hurts to realize this.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Mexico 1986 memories

In 1986, 30 years ago, I spent a couple of months in Mexico. It was just up to the 1986 World Cup, and I had come from Argentina, and was going to Denmark, and this became, in my subjective view, the best World Cup ever!
So it was interesting when recently I came over some old t-shirts and a cap purchased right before the World Cup:
One of the t-shirt had the teams of group E:
A memorable group won by Denmark (it was their first World Cup) and followed by the later finalists of West Germany. Who would have thought this group was going over to history?
The t-shirts are old and too small for me today, but certainly remain an old memorabilia worth keeping for a football World Cup history fan!