Same old España

Friendlies are a waste of time.
No seriousness attached to them.
Players try to protect themselves from any serious injury.
You cant read much into the performances of a friendly, good or bad.

But this is España. They are strong favorites to win the Euro 2008. Although, none of their past record gives any indication of that. They have the talent and quality players. Allover the pitch.

So when Spain has a bad friendly, a 1-1 draw against a woeful Peru (they are still playing as i write this but i dont think there will be any more goals) it is big news. All the nightmares of the past flash past you.

NEWS FLASH ::: Capdevila scores for España! va a ganar España 2-1!!! vaya golazo de Capdevila!

Continuing on, that goal doesnt hide the lame goal given up by the spanish defence. All the nightmarish underachievement of the past make you feel like the history will repeat again.

After tonight's game, I am still unconvinced by the Spainish team. Their best formation with 2 strikers Villa and Torres means they will play a lot of passing and the moves take a while to build up. Which is trouble in a group with Russia, Greece and Sweden.
And to play just a lone Torres up front, is not in their comfort zone as they are not long-ball team. The long-ball suits Torres perfectly as he demonstrated in Liverpool but in Spainish national team he may have to work a bit and adapt to playing on the ground and linking with the impressive David Villa.

Capdevila, like a few times before, saved the blushes for Spain. Wednesday's game against United States, who will provide a tougher opposition than what Peru offered will be a good indicator of what people can expect from Spain in their first game against Russia 10 days from today.

Ou la la!!! Less than a week left for the kick-off. :)


Counting down to the Big Cup

The title of this blog and the stuff published so far have had no direct relation.

Not anymore.

All the 16 teams have been announced. Some surprises like the sudden withdrawal of Clarence Seedorf from the Dutch national team for 'personal reasons' is quite a blow for their plans.

Others like Pavel Nedved stayed retired. No Francesco Totti. No Trezeguet. No Raúl. But Materazzi is coming..so opponents beware.

Austria is a total unknown to me. I am only slightly better with Switzerland thanks to their exploits in World Cup 2006. Greece is coming back. Quite a few of the all conquering (albeit in a boring way) 04 team are back.

Czech Republic is another team with a lot of new faces compared to the 2006 World Cup. Germany is bringing bank more or less the same team that played so well in 06.

Portugal - as usual are overloaded with midfielders and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Spain - Has talent strewn all over the pitch starting from Torres/Villa upfront to Pepé Reina, the backup goalkeeper. But that doesnt meant much as they rarely live upto expectations. There is no reason why the script cant be different this time but if history is any indicator of things to come, the usual script will repeat.

Italy - Alessandro Del Piero is in the best form of his life. Although he presents a challenge to coach Donadoni as to the position he fits in his system, its still a sensible move to have someone on a goal scoring streak over the past few months in the team.

France - A very strong team in a very strong group that includes the Netherlands, Italy and Romania. Trezeguet is the biggest omission from the squad. I think if were playing for any of the otther 15 teams in the finals, he would be selected based on his form and ability to score goals.

Russia - Russian football is riding high on the phenomenal success of Zenit St. Petersburg in the UEFA Cup.

Sweden - Always a tough team to beat. Could be the swansong of the great Henrik Larsson. If Ibrahimovic is fully fit, they can cause a suprise.

Croatia - Their best striker Eduardo is out due to that huge injury he sustained playing for Arsenal a few months ago.

Turkey - Turkey is one of those teams with a lot of good players most of whom dont get the publicity as they play in the Turkish League. They are very capable of an upset or two.

Poland and Romania complete the 16 with a couple of solid yet unspectacular teams. Look out for Chivu, Contra and Mutu from Romania.

And I realized a few days ago that Leo Beenhakker is coaching Poland :). I know that he coached Real Madrid, Club ámerica in México and more recently Trinidad and Tobago to the world cup. But I am sure the old man has coached many more teams in his long career.


Dag Frank!

Frank Rijkaard has coached the final game for Barcelona on saturday.

Shame on the management of Barcelona for the way they handled the whole affair of him being replaced. But Frank never complained. Took all the blame for the wrongs of some of his extravagant squad.. most notably Ronaldinho.

Last year around February, Barcelona was cruising in the league. Had a huge lead over Madrid although their Champions League campaign didnt go as far, they were still expected to win La Liga. Madrid was in all sorts of chaos. The whole beckham saga of signing with MLS Soccerball LA Galaxy, the crowd's distaste for the practical and unstylish means of Fabio Capello. Suddenly something happened. Madrid caught fire. Ruud Van Nistelrooj carried this team and then when Beckham came back for the last 10 odd games they kept pulling win after win. That amazing run coincided with a funk of Barcelona and to this day they havent shaken off of that funk.

Frank is not blemishless. He is criticised for his lenient ways towards his players notably their training habits. He has always been that way. Its just that folks like Ronaldinho couldnt handle the huge success of winning 2 Ligas and 1 Champions League in 2 years. Rijkaard put Barcelona back on the map of European greats after the mess left by Luis Van Gaal.

One of the problems not very well publicised is the departure of his hardman assistant Henk Ten Cate at the end of last season. Henk was the guy who used to do the 'dirty job' of a task master in the coaching set up of Frank. Although it is well documented in Barcelona that Ronaldinho and bunch of other stars were never known for their affinity to training and practice.

Apart from the obvious contributions in trophies Frank overlooked the maturing of exciting youngsters like Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Giovani dos Santos and Bojan Krkic, who no doubt will be his legacy.

The famous 4-3-3, the committment to attack and play attractive football, he never wavered from any of that. A case in point is that inspite of the wretched season Barcelona had, Manchester United barely got past them in the CL semis.

Thank you Frank for everything. Wish you all the best in your new job. I am sure you will find a great one. The people in Barcelona, Madrid and the Spanish league will miss you greatly. I was never a Barça fan, and I am still not one, but would love to see you back in Spain.

Adiós Frank. May be you are a good fit in Milan to coach Kaka, Pato & Co!

ps: Dag = Adiós = Bye in Dutch :)


Zenit Glory

Zenit St. Petersburgh lift the UEFA Cup for the first time in their history. Deservedly so against a Rangers team who were playing for the penalties from minute 0.

Its a great run by the Rangers team scoring just 5 goals in 8 games! to progress to the final. Zenit had more enterprise and in the end they won it deservedly. Eventhough the first goal took all of 70 minutes to come, it was inevitable the way Rangers approached this game. As it is the case often, teams that come to defend cant switch gears after they get behind. And usually they stay behind till the end.

Congratulations Zenit! Well deserved win after beating some tough teams along the way including Bayern Munich, Villareal and Bayer Leverkusen among others.

That leaves us with the final of Champions League next week in Moscow between Chelsea and Manchester United.

La Liga is done and dusted. Relagation drama set to reign the last gameday of the season this weekend.

Premier League concluded.

Serie A is still alive thanks to the big-egohead Materazzi for refusing to let more accomplished players take the penalty. Now they travel to play against Parma who are fighting for their Serie A lives. Interesting stuff.

Gotta go home. Tiring day.
Aupa Submarino


Celebrating 2nd place

Villareal is celebrating. Big time.

If you see their celebrations spilling over a few days one might wonder if they had won a big cup or league championship. No they did not win the spanish league. They came a distant but comfortable 2nd. Except for a couple of weeks they were never even discussed as serious contenders

Truth be told, they never considered themselves as title contenders. Thanks to the inability of the big clubs like Real Madrid and Barçelona to string together a few wins in the months of March and April meant that little Villareal found themselves in the midst of a title challenge. Can Villareal really pull it off. They had a couple of chances to close the gap with Madrid but they failed to capitalize. Call it nerves, lack of experience, out of depth, anything.

I think it doesnt matter.

Little Villareal from Vila-real notorious for
-having just one decent hotel,
-a small stadium that holds about 20,000 in a city (i am being generous) with a population of about 45,000
-languishing in the lower levels of spanish regional leagues not so long ago ( about 9 yrs ago)
is 2nd in arguably the worlds best league top-to-bottom.

With 1 game to go:
Villareal has 74 points.
Real Madrid has 82.
Barçelona has 64.

If they win their last game Villareal will end the season on 77 points.
To put it in perspective, 77 points would have won La Liga in 6 of the last 10 years!!!

I think thats an incredible achievement for a small club. And they achieved it playing very attractive football for the most part. They do play on the counter a lot of times but thats not for the lack of skill or the ability to play a possession football ala Barçelona, they adapt to the opponent.

One of the keys to their success is playing a consistent style of football home and away. They have the 2nd best away record in La Liga (on Madrid has a slightly better record). Strong midfield play with Senna, Pires and Cazorla support potent but undervalues strikers like Nihat and Rossi (yep! he used to be a Man Utd player 2 seasons ago.). An all round good team without any superstar but not many passengers either. And a great coach in "El Profesor' Manuel Pellegrini.

A few years ago this team was over-reliant on a bunch of Argentinians led by the moody genius Juan Roman Riquelme. They had that amazing run in Champions League when they lost by a whisker to Arsenal (Riquelme missed a penalty that would have sent that tie to overtime). He followed it up with the typical moody and unprofessional behavior. Pellegrini had built the entire game of Villareal around Riquelme. Results dried up. Riquelme got worse. And the midway through last season the professor had enough. He decided he wont use Riquelme anymore. Shock waves through Spain...(errr.. not true... i made that up :)). Everyone thought that thats the end of Villareal's fairy tale couple of season. They were teetering towards the mid-table mediocrity.

They had signed Pires at the beginning of last season but he got injured pre-season. He came back in the later parts of the season. He helped beat Barçelona in his first full game after the long injury layoff. It was written off as a one-off win then. Then they win 9 games in a row to close the season in 5th!.

The message to Spain and Riquelme in particular was clear. Villareal has moved on. The clawed back from adversity. I am not exaggerating but its really difficult for small clubs to come back from such a talismanic loss and getting over the hangover of a fairytale season. There are a lot of examples where small teams have had their moment in the sun and faded into oblivion. Villareal is one of the few clubs that rewrote that script.

This season they used a lot of players from their youth system. They made 15 mill Euro by selling Diego Forlan (who they got for almost free from Man Utd) to Atletico Madrid.
Matías Fernandez is an exciting talent.

It helps that they are managed nicely and their owner is dedicated to the long term future of the club. One of the little known facts is that they have one of the better youth systems in Spain and a fantastic training facility.

Cheers to Villareal! Aupa Submarino! Vaya Vaya!

Looking forward to next season, things will get much tougher for the Yellow Submarine. People expect more. Opponents will try to break them down more. They are in the Champions League group phase where they will face atleast 2 clubs with a much higher pedigree and longer history than them. But I think they can succeed. If they can keep their coach they is a very good chance of repeating the success of this season.

One of these days I would like to go watch a game in El Madrigal. Wearing the Yellow Jersey!Submarino Amarillo! :) :)

As Nihat put it after clinching the 2nd spot:
2nd in La Liga is as good as winning the championship for Villareal.

Whle i dont normally subscribe to that filosofy, I will give it Villareal...only this year. Next year they have to aim for the 'real' championship.


Super Geta!

This is a piece I wrote after the heartbreaking loss of Getafe at home to Bayern Munich in the 2nd leg of the UEFA cup quarterfinal.

If they can hold on to their coach and keep playing this way next season, they can be the next Villareal :)

No kidding. The UEFA cup quarterfinal between Getafe and Bayern Munich was an epic. Did anyone follow this game?

This is the 2nd leg of the Quarterfinal. 1-1 was the result in Munich. 90th minute away goal by Getafe. A monumental upset on the cards. Getafe is a small club at the southern outskirts of Madrid. They don’t have much of a history in the Primera Liga much less in terms of winning trophies. Their best showing was a final in the Copa Del Rey in Spain last season( they are in the final again this season). They never sold-out their nice little stadium ever. The other thing they are notorious for is the fact that their president is a life long registered member of the Real Madrid fan club.

In that backdrop this team of no-names played out of their skins to get the away goal and draw in Munich. Their best player that day was the young Spanish midfielder Rueben de la Red apart from the goal scored Cosmin Contra(does anyone remember him play for Inter Milan or some big Italian club for a while). Over the last week so much build for Getafe (now christened as “euro-geta”). The stadium sold-out. The king of Spain who doesn’t watch much football normally, decided to watch this one. The crown prince too. And then a few stars of Real Madrid and a whole bunch of other big suits are in house to watch the beloved EuroGeta hold out the European giant Bayern. (the joke was that everything and everyon except the Olympic torch were present at the game). Getafe missed some players due to injury and accumulation of yellow cards but then again.. its not like they had any super-stars to begin with.

Opening of the game was electric. Bayern almost scored in the first minute. (uiy uiy! Madre mia!sufriendo el Geta ). Disaster in the 5th min. De la Red direct red for a foul. Seemed a bit harsh but I was just listening and to a radio station from Madrid so it was injustice.. UEFA wants big clubs in the finals.. referee is bought.. bla bla.. all the usual stuff. .

Geta re-jigs a bit.. pull a striker back to play midfield. They lined-up 4-4-2, brave when even bigger teams line-up with a packed midfield to stifle opposition with the away goal advantage. More disaster. One of the midfielders is injured and had to be subbed. (oh and the usual referee is bought comments continue with every whistle that goes against the home team) Bayern starts peppering the 18 yd box of Geta.. lots of crosses misses a few that hit the post and a lot of desperate defending.

And then close to half-time.. comes the Gol!!!!! Geta scores!!!! That man Cosmin Contra again! 1-0 getafe. The king and the prince jump from their seats to celebrate (as described in the radio.. 10 Vs 12 (referee included) and still Geta scores!). Incredible game. After the redcard I didn’t think they stand a chance against the powerful Bayern side. Amazing that they went a goal up at halftime. Second half saw more desperate defending and goalkeeping. Getafe had their moments to score a 2nd and make it difficult for Bayern. About a minute or two left in the regulation. Bayern force corner after corner and finally to the stunned silence and the disappointment of all of Spain (and myself) Bayern equalizes… .


I was absolutely sure Geta will shut it down try to take it to penalties. Cos Bayern had the following 4 attackers on the field. Toni, Klose, Ribery and Podolski. Boy was I wrong. Getafe scored 2 in the first half of extra-time. 3-1! 1 playing a man down for almost all the game against a very superior opponent (atleast on paper). Bayern intensified their attack and the game was practically being played in or around the penalty box of Getafe. Luca Toni scored the 2nd in 117th minute. Nerves. Nerves. Toni scores a definitive and a cruel (for everyone except Bayern fans may be) 3rd in what would be the last moments of the game! 3-3.    Bayern eliminates Getafe on away goals.

I think this is the first time I ever wished we had the Golden goal or even the Silver goal rule. As it always happens, “almost” doesn’t make it.

Super game. Cruel result. Aupa Geta !


League : La Liga - they are a bit up and down this year but still top to bottom they are still a very good league, Ronaldinho's mess notwithstanding.

Team(s) : Villareal CF. El submarino Amarillo. The Yellow Submarine. Aupa! will finish #2 in the league which means direct entry to the UEFA Champions League group stage next year. Losses at key moments meant they couldnt mount a challenge to Real Madrid who had their share of ups and downs through the season. Players to watch out : Matías Fernandez - Matígol, ' el turco' Nihat.

Chivas Guadalajara. El rebaño sagrado. the best team in México which hires only Mexican players born on Mexican soil. In the play-offs of the Mexican League this season. Arriba Las Chivas!

And of late Getafe! - the reason - see the next post :)

Countries : India (i hope to see them play in a World Cup in my lifetime), Argentina (Maradona is God!), México, and sometimes Spain, Italy.

Players : too many to list.

Style : Good football in general. Lots of ball movement and players moving well without the ball. Pace is good but just running up and down gets boring. Man marking like Greece in Euro 2004 in any way shape or form is a no-no.

Radio or TV? I love radio. Especially live narration in Spanish :). From Argentina to Mexico to Spain. Awesome!

Here I go Again

Euro 2008 is less than a month away.

A few years ago my dream was to travel to Germany for the 2006 world cup and soak in the atmosphere and experience. As it goes with a lot of dreams, it didnt happen.

2 years on.. its Euro 2008. I am not going their either.

Lots of passion for football, so much that at times I wish I were a football reporter.

The plan is to keep this blog going even after Euro 2008 and if all things go for me upto 2010 when I plan to go to South Africa.

I have the crazy habit of writing in multiple languages (eventhough I cant claim expertise in any of them). Spanish mostly.

So here I go again.