Sunday, June 25, 2017

Confederations Cup semifinals

There are not major surprises in the two semifinals of the Confederations Cup: the European champions and the World champions each won their groups, followed by the Latin American teams, namely the South American champions and the North American champions. So the semi-finals will be as follows:
  • Portugal-Chile: Portugal seems like a team that really wants to win this tournament, while Chile are certainly also committed, but look shaky. Chile often starts their matches well, but second half often seem tired, and in particular their defense seems vulnerable, led by a Claudio Bravo who does not seem too confident. I think the European champions will make it to the final.
  • Germany-Mexico: Joachim Low is experimenting with this German side, and although they have not looked like the best team in the world, they have made it to the semifinals through victories over Australia and Cameroon, and a tie with Chile. Mexico have been up and down, looked bad against New Zealand, but took points from their European counterparts of Portugal and Russia, and could certainly surprise a German side that is not wholly invulnerable.
The Russian hosts have been a disappointment, only managing a meager victory against a mediocre New Zealand, but were not up to the task against qualified opposition. It does not augur well for the World Cup, as Russian fans will not be motivated if their team is eliminated early on. The African champions of Cameroun were also disappointing, despite low expectations, but it shows that a potential African world champion is very far away. In the meantime Australia did well representing Asia, and New Zealand fulfilled all low expectations of the champions of Oceania.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Confederations Consolation

This will be a summer without major football tournaments, and so the FIFA Confederations Cup is a poor replacement. Nobody seems to really want to win it, as the modern myth that the winner will not be world champion, has really caught on among superstitious footballers. Rather, the biggest sides mostly want to try out some new players, so matches are bound to be a bit dry. Include to this the absence of some of the legends: nobody is saying it out loud, but the only former world champion present in Russia is Germany. The absence of Brazil, Spain, Argentina or Italy just takes some of the spice away.
All this said, I have been watching some matches with interest, only to confirm my cynicism about the tournament: Chile looked good against a dangerous Cameroun, but only seemed to seal victory when Alexis Sanchez finally came on. Portugal looked solid with Cristiano Ronaldo, and are perhaps the team that has most seemed eager to win the tournament. The hosts from Russia have put in decent displays, but are mostly worth seeing because of their fans. Mexico and New Zealand have been poor and Germany won their obligatory victory over Australia 2-3 by experimenting somewhat with some new players.
I hope it gets more interesting, or there will not be much consolation in this football-hungry summer.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

England World Champion!

Before today's u-20 World Cup final in South Corea we knew we would have a new World Champion. Neither Venezuela or England had ever been in a final at youth level. Venezuela had never been in a final at all, showing the incredible strides Venezuelan football has made in the last 15 years, while England had not been in any final since their legendary World Cup triumph in 1966.
So whoever won it would be special. Both teams had reached the final unbeaten, with Venezuela having a strong scoring and attacking record.
The Venezuelan side nevertheless seemed more stricken by the occasion than the English lads, who dominated first half, also taking the lead on a goal by Dominic Calvert-Lewin from Everton. This was in the face of a poor Venezuelan defense, who was saved by goalkeeper Wuilker Farinez.
In the second half the Venezuelans put more pressure on an English side that also seemed to grow more nervous, and there were many mistakes as the match progressed. It was more intense than beautiful, and only English goalkeeper Freddie Woodman seemed cool when he saved a penalty kick from Adalberto Penarando (the big Venezuelan star was a frustrating sight today), and became the best goalkeeper of the tournament and a hero for England.
England won 1-0 and are World Champions.
I was supporting Venezuela, but it was a well-deserved victory for England, who should take advantage of having such a talented pool of players. In the meantime, Venezuela made it to a final, and lost it. They have a base of players to fight for their first World Cup, perhaps in 2022, but I would not count on it.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Masters of the Universe

I watched the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Juventus  in a bar called Lila Brown in Monrovia. Not many people and a pleasant atmosphere, but as Liberia is entering rainy season the satellite signal was unfortunately quite bad, and it was difficult to enjoy the game in full.

After the first half the score was 1-1, and it still looked as the match could go to either side: Juventus had dominated the start of the first half until Ronaldo's excellent counter-attacking goal. Mandzukic made the outstanding equalizer, and with such a goal one could justifiably expect anything to happen.
But Real Madrid turned up the volume in the second half, and won 4-1 against a Juventus side that proved broken after only letting three goals in during the entire Champions League season. Cuadrado's unfair red card against Ramos' disgraceful acting did not make any difference, except the feeling of Real Madrid players being allowed to do whatever they want with impunity. Sergio Ramos does not deserve to be called a champion.

Despite Ramos, this is Real Madrid's 12th title, and the first time the Champions League is won twice in a row. It seals the club as the best in the universe. They have been very solid during the season, all thanks to the genius of Zinedine Zidane, who must surely enter the annals of one of the greatest managers of all time, alongside that of one of the greatest players of all time.
I truly admire Zinedine Zidane. What a pity he is with Real Madrid....