(we are the freakin Champions)
V I V A E S P A Ñ A
The Opponent :
Dutch had a plan. Kick, kick, give the ball to Robben and pray, karate kick and then kick again(not the ball, but the Spaniards). It threw Spain off for the most part but they kept enough composure to win it in the end. It is a disgrace tha De Jong&Van Bommel wernt sent off in 120 minutes of UFC football! Thx to ref & ...Dutch tactics now Spain proved they can overcome scumbag tactics and still win. ¡Aupa España!
9 yellow cards 1 red for the Dutch, 5 yellow cards for the Spanish. To put it in perspective, Spain had 3 yellow cards in total upto the semifinals. Clearly only one team came to play football. I am super glad football won and Cynical tactics lost.
The drama :
Football gods were expectant to see these two long suffering nations to play a great game. And then they cringed at every crunching tackle, hissed at every missed goal, uffed at the cynicism and petulance. They seemed resigned to the travesty of penalties when 'Iniestaaazo' happened. And they celebrated. Football has w...on. Cynicism was beaten even if it meant employing a little dose of cynicism was needed it beat it.
Special Acknowledgements :
and a big thanks to Switzerland again, for beating Spain in the opening game and everyone (except Chile) tried to copy the Swiss strategy forgetting the amount of luck the Swiss had. Vielen Dank.
and a note to Maradona. Thanks for explaining that the goal posts are at the ends of the pitch and not on the sides. May be if you had used all that time to plan the ARG games instead of winding up others..
much more to come..
On to the final now. here is quick analysis.
Xabi-Busi X De Jong-Van Bommel ; Edge ESP
Xavi-Iniesta-Pedro X Sneijder-Kuyt-Robben : Edge ESP
Villa X Van Persie : are you kidding?
Having said that, football is funny and thats why they play the games. Bring on the final.
2. While the offside goal was unfortunate, the killer was the terrible 2nd goal. That was unacceptable. The game was over right there.
3. Looks like Man. Utd have got themselves a talented young striker (no not Rooney).
4. Messi denied a goal again, for the 4th game in a row. I dont think he cares as long as his team wins.
5. 5 world cups in a row, México exited in the 2nd round. The +ve side of it they made it out of the group 5 times in a row. 6th time lucky? we will know 4 years from now.
6. After the game ended, México fans were still singing and having fun unlike the Argentinians who had already left the scene. I liked the spirit. One of these years they will breakthrough and I would love to be a part of that party.
2. Having said that, German defence is not that reliable nor is the goalkeeper. England didnt even test them on a consistent basis.
3. Typical England, a world of hype coming in, huge letdown since day#1.
4. England scored 3 goals in 4 games only one of which came from a striker(Defoe). What happened to the 'world's best' striker Rooney (if you believed the hype)
3a. While we are at it can we please pull the plug on that Nike ad of Rooney?
5. Klöse's goal shows what is the difference between an average-good striker who scores 15 odd goals a season Vs a very good one who score 20+ goals a season, that extra bit.
6. England can put all the blame on the referee but it was 2-1 when the non-goal incident happened and almost 50 minutes of the game left, Germany scored 2 more in the 2nd half. Germany was superior to England in all aspects.
7. Fabio Capello is a great coach at the club levels where he can get the exact type of players he wants, I think he is yet to figure out coaching at the national level which puts extra limitations on the pool of players to select from. Even then I can understand if he is coaching Uruguay or Slovenia with a limited pool of players. But England?
8. Germany x Argentina - another classic, a repeat of the 2006 quarterfinal which Germany won on penalties after coming from behind. Can they do it again?
It is not just the Greek economy that is in crisis. Their football team is in the same boat if not worse. They looked very poor against a well organized and slick South Korea. I am impressed by the Koreans.
Game #4 Argentina x Nigeria - 1-0
The 'Maradona circus' has begun. Smashing start to the game with an early goal. Argentina played very well for about 30 minutes. They created a slew of chances but the Nigerian keeper stopped all but one of them. Nigeria played much better in the 2nd half and they were very close to equalize. Argentina is great going forward but very dodgy at the back.
Game #5 USA x England - 1-1
Undoubtedly the game of the day especially in the US. England started off very brightly with a very early goal. England was the superior side for most of the first half. However a monumental mistake by England GK allowed the US equalizer. The game was more even in the 2nd half although England dominate stretches but was unable to get past the US goal keeper. Probably the most entertaining game of the first two days.
Mexico started very brightly, forcing the SA goalkeeper into making some point blank saves. South Africa slowly got into the game and took a shock lead on a quick counter-attack early in the 2nd half. The home team grew in confidence every passing minute and were very close to going 2-0 up. However, Mexico battled back and equalized to draw level and thats how it ended.
Game # 2 Uruguay x France - 0-0
Quilmes the offical sponsor of the Albiceleste.
Lyrics here >>
Bendito sea el Mundial con que soñamos.
Bendito cada nombre que ha sido designado.
Benditos los pibes que siempre sacamos.
El peso de la historia, el respeto ganado.
Malditos sean los recuerdos dolorosos.
Maldita la impotencia, la injusticia que vivimos.
El volvernos a casa cada uno por su lado.
Las finales sin jugar, el quedar en el camino.
Bendita la anestecia general a los dolores,
Las tristezas que curamos con abrazos,
Las gargantas que se rompen por los goles,
El sentirnos los mejores por un rato.
Malditos los sorteos y los Grupos de la Muerte,
Los controles sin azar que signaron nuestra suerte,
Malditos los mezquinos que juegan sin poesía,
Los que pegan, los que envidian, los que rompen y lastiman.
Bendito sea el orgullo con que entramos a la cancha,
El potrero y la pelota no se manchan,
La tv que repite la gambeta,
Inflar las redes de los otros, inflar el pecho de los nuestros
Merecer la CaMiSeTA!!!
Los turistas, los cronistas, los sponsors, los amigos
El himno, las mujeres siguiendo los partidos.
Benditas las cábalas que dan resultado,
Las risas y el llanto que guardaremos tanto.
Y bendito ese momento que nos regala el fútbol
De poder cambiar nuestro destino…
Y sentir otra vez y frente al mundo …
lo “glorioso” y lo “groso” de ser ARGENTINO
There is so much that I dont have time to write about football and the world cup. I still need to write previews for the remain 27 teams. Looks impossible, but I will try.
‘Penta-campeon’ or 5-time champion and eternal favorite Brazil is one of the few teams that announced the squad of 23 players for the world cup with a month to go before the show-piece in South Africa kicks off on June 11th.
Coach Dunga announced a squad full of consistent performers, physically very strong players mirroring his own personality, very unlike the stereotype image of ‘jogo bonito’ (the beautiful game). Kaka to a large extent and Robinho/Nilmar to a lesser extent will add the creative element to an otherwise bland side. The exclusion of Ronaldinho surprised many, especially considering that he has been in good form for AC Milan all through the season. Exclusion of Adriano was largely expected, considering the train-wreck that he is. Lots of supporters in Brazil wanted him to name the young and very talented duo of Santos, Ganso and Neymar but Dunga resisted the temptation and instead went for a set of players who fit his mould and rewarded those who have consistently performed over the past few years.
Caveat: This is not your stereotype Brazilian outfit. Brazil will employ a classic 4-4-2 switching to a 4-3-1-2 every now and then. At the top, a big centre-forward Luis Fabiano (Sevilla) or Grafite (Wolfsburg) will be supported by Robinho who will be given a free role just behind the centre-forward. Kaka will play in the most advanced position in the midfield and will make his trademark powerful runs to the edge of the box with ample options to pass or shoot. One wonders if he has fully recovered from the long injury lay-off at his club Real Madrid but apart from that, Brazil’s hopes largely rest on the shoulders of Kaka. And opposition teams are well aware of this fact.
At the back Lucio and Juan will start in central defence with Bastos and Maicon as the left and right fullbacks. It is a pity that Dani Alves the dynamic right back of Barcelona will be forced to start on the bench. Pep Guardiola at Barcelona has tried Dani Alves on the right side of the midfield in a few games, and the results were mixed. I don’t think Dunga will be that adventurous but he might consider the option in case of suspensions or injuries. The midfield will include the hardworking Ramires, Kaka, Gilberto and either Felipe Melo or Elano.
The main problem for Brazil is the over-dependence on Kaka to do all creative duties and a lot depends on Robinho to attract the fullbacks and the central defenders of the opposition to make way for Kaka to making his runs in the final third of the pitch. Opposition teams will try to hurry Kaka into passing the ball and reduce his effectiveness.
Secondly Brazil is in the toughest group of the world cup alongside a strong Portugal and a very dangerous Cote d’Ivoire, and the complete unknown that is North Korea. I see this group won’t be decided until the last group match, where Brazil takes on Portugal. And to top that whoever comes 2nd in Group G will most likely get to face Spain in the 2nd round.
Finally Brazil don’t have cover for Kaka on the bench. They have to play different style if Kaka has an off day or he cannot play due to injuries. The methodical Dunga will have a plan B but the question is, will it work?
Brazil is in the toughest group in the tough lower half of the draw. I won’t be surprised if the fail to advance from Group G, however it is unthinkable.
I believe Brazil could go all the way to the finals if they don’t meet Spain in Round 2. If they end up running to Spain in the 2nd round, I see about 30% chances that they advance.
Prediction (avoiding Spain): Final
Prediction (Spain in 2nd round): 2nd round elimination
Team Bus Slogan: Lotado! O Brasil inteiro está aqui dentro! (The whole of Brazil is in here!)
Rating: 7/10. Imaginative.
México - Can ‘El Trí’ overcome their 2nd round blues?
After a bad start to the qualifying campaign under Sven Goran Eriksson, Javier Aguirre returned for a second stint with “El Trí” and ensured that México qualified with games to spare. In the process he built a team which is a goof mix of veterans like Cuauhtémoc Blanco, Rafa Marquez, Gerardo Torrado and exciting young players like Javier Hernandez (Man.United), Carlos Vela (Arsenal).
México has always played well in the group stages of the world cup. The usually get eliminated in the 2nd round. The two occasions on which they advanced to quarterfinals in 70 & 86, they were the hosts. The Mexican people support their team passionately and have high hopes. Having had the opportunity to live in México, I can vouch that the hype and expectations are comparable to those in India for cricket.
In the 90s the Mexican national team used to be made of primarily homegrown players from the Mexican league, probably the richest league outside the big European leagues. It has been changing a lot in the past decade, especially ever since Rafa Marquez moved to FC Barcelona. No almost half of the players in the team play in big leagues of Europe. Added to the mix, Javier Aguirre who has been very successful, this is a very well drilled team with a lot of exposure to the top players in the world.
Style of Play
México traditionally are very good with the ball. Slick passing by the pivots in the midfield, skillful wingers stuck to the touch-lines going up and down plus a host of good 2nd striker kind of players who play behind the center-forward. What they usually lack are quality strikers, the center-forwards in particular.
Depending on the opponent, they usually switch between a 3-5-2 formation against the more accomplished teams or a 4-5-1 (or a 4-1-4-1 with Marquez anchoring in front of the defence) against teams that are not good at possession. Two holding midfielders in the midfield like Rafa Marquez and Torrado play in front of the 3 central defenders Salcido, Osorio and Francisco Rodriguez. Andres Guardado will be play on the left wing and is a very good at the classic wing play as well as shoot from medium distance. Alberto Medina or Carlos Vela will do the same on the right side (or sometimes play as the 2nd striker). Guillermo Franco or the young Javier Hernandez will likely be alone up front with Giovanni Dos Santos/Cuauhtémoc Blanco in 2nd striker/free role. You will see México keeping the ball for long periods in the game even against accomplished sides.
México is one of the few teams who have been training together as a team (except those playing in the European Leagues) since April. They have played a bunch of friendlies against African nations to prepare for their first opponent South Africa and close out with a series of games against the top sides in Europe like England, Netherlands among others. This is a definitely a positive for México.
One of the causes of concern is the lack of enough quality in front of the goal. It was evident at the recent friendly against England at Wembley. México dominated possession in both halves of the game and created a lot of chances but failed to capitalize and were soundly beaten in the end. The lack of directness, rather the lack of a plan B to switch to a more direct approach should their plan A isn’t working has been the undoing of México for years.
The 2nd biggest issue is the lack of size, most of the players are small and they can be overpowered at times, especially while defending set pieces.
Depending on the their strengths oppositions will either counterattack by soaking up the Mexican possession and try to win free kicks close to the 18 yard box. If México falls behind their style of play makes is doubly difficult for them to come back. On the same coin if they take an early lead they can run away with the game against the best of them. A lot depends on the finish of Javier Hernandez and the experienced Guillermo Franco. Blanco will be primarily used as an impact sub in the 2nd half, at 35+ he doesn’t have the legs of the past but his vision and the reading of the game are still intact and can unleash a great pass at any time.
México are in an open group with no clear favorites. South Africa, France and Uruguay do not necessarily strike fear, but at the same time each of them will be feeling very good about their chances. They could run into bitter rivals Argentina in the 2nd round, a repeat of the 2nd round cracker in 2006 which the Argentinians won through a wonder goal from Maxi Rodriguez in overtime.
I predict México to breakthrough their wall and make it to Quarter-final. With a few lucky breaks with the draw, I won’t be surprised if they make it to the semi-finals because they are in the easier half of the draw.
Team Bus Slogan: ¡Es tiempo de un nuevo campeón! (It is time for a new champion).
Slogan Rating: 8/10. Bold and positive.
On the other side we have Jose Mourinho who demands (and gets) a carte-blanche and total control of the signings and transfers along with the training and managing the team.
Both are now united by necessity from Real Madrid's perspective as they have been searching for the elusive mix of the playing beautifully and winning. For Mourinho this is another jewel in his already glittering crown but based on his stints at Porto, Chelsea & Inter, he is more interested in winning than the 'play beautiful football' part.
Agreed, style of play is a very very subjective thing. Real Madrid fans and Madrid press are a fickle lot. These folks booed Zidane in his time as well Cristiano Ronaldo at times this past season.
Will Mourinho adapt? Can he achieve the twin objectives of Real Madrid to play beautiful football & win the titles?
Madrid is paying a boatload of money to get Mourinho to Madrid. Neither Real Madrid nor Mourinho is known for their patience. Lots of ego, pride and money. It remains to be seen how this will pan out through the summer and in the coming season.
1. Bayern came out firing and had the upper hand in the initial stages of the game.
2. Inter let Bayern keep majority of the possession and counter-attacked effectively
3. Julio Cesar made a few great saves and won half the final for Inter, quite probably the best goalkeeper at the moment in World football.
4. Di Michelis & Van Buyten had major problems coping with the crafty Diego Milito
5. Etoo started as a atriker according to the line-up displayed on TV, but in the end played as an auxilary defender on the wing for the most part.
6. Mourinho announced he is leaving Inter for Madrid. Nothing surprising there.
Man of the Match : Diego Milito
Man of the Match#2 : Julio Cesar
Question for next season: Will Mourinho satisfy the Bernabeu faithful's craving for beautiful football? If we go by today's game, at times Inter made Bayern look like Barça. Mind you, in Spain even the now-relegated Tenerife can play possession football very well.
After narrowly failing to qualify for Euro 2008, England under Fabio Capello have made quick work of their world cup qualifying group and qualified for the World Cup with relative ease. While the qualification was never in doubt from what was an easy group, England under Capello have been a revelation, especially the manner in which they overcame Croatia, England's bogey team from Euro 2008 qualification.
However, the real test for England and Capello is the World Cup. Capello raised the stakes when he told the reporters that not reaching the final would be a failure. Brave posturing from the seasoned Italian.
Capello has announced the list of 30 players to be pruned to the final list of 23 in the coming weeks. No major surprises except for the surprise un-retirement of Jamie Carragher and the inclusion of the injured Gareth Barry.
The selection of the likes of Michael Dawson, Leighton Baines, Ledley King, Tom Huddlestone, Adam Johnson, Darren Bent et al, shows that Don Fabio has made good use of his time watching a lot of EPL games to identify and reward the in-form players irrespective of their teams. Only 5 strikers have been named in the list of 30 which means it is almost certain that all of them: Bent, Crouch, Defoe, Heskey and Rooney will in the final squad.
How does England play?
England under Capello have played with lot more discipline than they ever did under Eriksson or McLaren. 4-4-2 formation has been the norm with Rooney as the main striker and Heskey primarily used to take advantage of his size and pull the central defenders to make space for Rooney as well as Lampard or Barry to drive from the midfield. John Terry and King/Carragher will start in the central defence with Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson as the fullbacks. The midfield diamond will have Lampard at the top with Stevie G and Lennon/Milner on the edges and Barry/Carrick at the bottom of the diamond.
Pacy winger Theo Walcott will mostly be used as an impact sub in the 2nd halves. Defoe will most likely be the first change for Heskey especially if England is trailing. Ashley Cole is very good on the left overlapping and supporting the attack.
The problem with this England squad is the imbalance in talent among GK, Midfield, Defence & Forwards. England has a great set of midfield players, very good defense, average GK and average strike force with the exception of one Wayne Rooney.
How will the oppositions play against England?
Oppositions will try to shadow and mark out Rooney, try and limit his impact by dragging him to wide positions. This is the where Emile Heskey's contributions will be crucial. Although he is not a prolific goal-scorer by any means Capello likes him because he has been doing a great job complementing Rooney.
England is not a ball possession team by nature; although the likes of Lampard and Rooney can keep possession against the best and win back the ball. In the group phase they will face Algeria, Slovenia and the USA. None of these teams is known for their possession football so England won’t have to worry a lot about getting starved of the ball. USA seems to be toughest of the three opponents and England open their campaign against USA. USA is a counterattacking team and from the little I know about Slovenia they will also play a counter-attacking game against England. On the surface Algeria seems to be weakest of them ball but be aware that they eliminated the African Champions and the fancied and very talented Egypt.
I predict this group to produce some of the dullest games of the tournament.
How far England will go?
England are in the easy half of the draw, I fancy them to make it to semi-finals.
England should come out of the Group C on top. Then they might run into either Germany/Serbia/Ghana or even the feisty Australia (Group D has no walkover). England has the fire-power to prevail over anyone from group D in the round 2 (unless they run into an in-form Ghana with crowd behind them). We could potentially have a juicy quarter-final or semifinal matchup between England-Argentina (nothing stokes up people like an England- Argentina tie).
Prediction : Losing semi-finalist.
Caption on the team bus: Playing with Pride and Glory >>
Rating: 5/10. In one word, Mundane.
Bayern’s journey to the final
Bayern Munich had trouble getting out of their group, just like Inter. They eliminated Juventus in the last group match to progress to the round of 16. They were lucky to eliminate Fiorentina through a clear offside goal. First leg ended 2-1 in Munich and the 2nd leg ended 3-2 in Florence. They faced Manchester United in the Quarter-final. Bayern were outplayed for most part of the first leg yet they took a slender lead of 2-1 to Manchester through and injury time goal. The 2nd leg seemed headed towards a blowout with United scoring 3 first half goals. A wonder strike from Robben in the 2nd half broke the hearts of the Old Trafford faithful.
Bayern dispatched another surprise of the tournament Olympique Lyon with ease winning both legs.
Keys to Bayern
Ribery on the left wing and Robben on the right wing have been the keys to success of the Bavarians. The tireless and opportunistic Croat striker Ivica Olic is the unsung hero of this team. There is nothing flashy in his approach but very effective. The backline is very dodgy yet they have been able to overcome the defects with grit and the flashes of brilliance on their wings. Louis Van Gaal had a tough time early in the season and was about to be fired. But the win in Turin over Juventus started the turnaround and now they are gunning for the treble having already bagged the German Cup and the Bundesliga title.
Keys to the final
There are no big surprises here. Bayern will miss Ribery and Inter will miss Motta through suspension. Bayern will use Robben on the right wing to draw the defenders and open space for Ivica Olic, Muller in the middle. Inter will try to shield out Robben to cut the supply to the Bayern strikers.
Inter will start in their 4-3-3 (or 4-3-2-1) formation with Etoo-Milito-Pandev trident in front supported by Cambiasso, Stankovic and Sneijder playing the linking with strikers and playing between the lines. Bayern has to come up with a good scheme to stop these guys. The central defenders of Bayern, De Michelis and Van Buyten are not very mobile. Philip Lahm, Scheinsteiger, Altintop will have to help out in defence to keep out the dangerous forwards of Inter. I believe this aspect will decide the game.
Inter will win 3-1, provided they start with a positive and attacking line-up. I cannot see the Bayern defence holding up to the threat of Inter forwards. However if they start with a more defensive lineup, with a holding midfielder in place of Goran Pandev, they will play into the hands of Bayern and I can see this go into extra-time.
The qualifying campaign was anything but smooth. Argentina made heavy work of beating a weak Peru in the final game and receiving a favor from Uruguay who drew in their final game enabling Argentina to squeeze into the showpiece in South Africa.
Almost 2 years in and trying out close to 100 players in the qualifiers and friendlies, experts and fans alike are scratching their heads on what this Argentina about, the formation, the style etc. If anything the provisional squad announced by Maradona made the matters worse adding more confusion.
Based on what Maradona has done in the past (again, this means jack as far as what he will do in the world cup :)) Argentina will play in a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 at the start.
Maradona announced that Heinze, Samuel, Di Michelis and Ottamendi will be the starting back four, the problem all of these are primarily central defenders. This is a big problem if the fullbacks cannot overlap and support the attacking midfielders. If you have seen Javier Zanetti with Inter the last few seasons, it makes no sense he is not in list of 30.
In the midfield, Juan Veron is the brain and Mascherano does the dirty work. The problem here is Veron is past his prime and is a 45-minute player at best. And there is no real backup for Veron. If Veron has to substituted early into the 2nd half, either Argentina have to change shape or put someone like Javier Pastore who is very different from Veron in his place.
Upfront, Maradona is spoiled for choice. He has Messi, Tevez, Higuain, Milito who have scored close to 120 goals put together season. Messi and Higuain/Milito are primed to start. Again, no clue why he has picked up 36 year old Palermo.
How will Argentina play?
Argentina will employ a 4-4-2 with Messi as the 2nd striker behind Milito or Higuain. Maxi Rodriguez and Angel Di Maria will probably accompany Veron and Mascherano in a classic 2-pivot 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1.
I see two main problems
1. With no true fullbacks, Argentina will lack both width and depth in attack.
2. Quality opponents could mark out Messi and make him come deep into midfield to get the ball taking him out of spaces around the box and between the midfield and the centre forward where he is most dangerous.
As a result, the back four and the midfield will be disjointed from the attacking players. I cant read Maradona's mind (i dont think anyone can) but the plan seems to be keep a clean-sheet at the back and either pass the ball to Messi and ask him to do the rest or lump long balls forward hoping to sneak a goal and ride it out.
If the above fails and Argentina go behind, Maradona will throw in more strikers but there is not much in the list of 30 that shows they can change something dramatically.
How far they will go?
Argentina is in a relatively easy group with Nigeria, South Korea and Greece. The quality upfront with Messi & company should see them through this group and they would run into either Mexico, France or Uruguay in the 2nd round. Again I can see Argentina squeezing through the 2nd round as they dont really run into a heavyweight.
Quarterfinals is the farthest I see them going, and I wont be surprised if they get eliminated earlier.
Note to Argentine Football Association (AFA) : Please go get a real coach. You are doing tremendous disservice to lot of hugely talented players. And this is coming from a die-hard fan of Diego Armando Maradona, the player.
Where: Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, Madrid, Spain.
The final of Champions League features two unlikely teams in Jose Mourinho's Inter and Louis Van Gaal's Bayern Munich. At the start of the tournament the fancied teams were the defending champions FC Barcelona the losing finalists Manchester United and the hosts Real Madrid, especially after their huge signings including Cristiano Ronaldo aka CR9.
The old cliché "that’s why they play the games" is very apt here.
Inter’s journey to final
Inter was drawn in a tough group with Barcelona, Dynamo Kyiv and Rubin Kazan. Both Barcelona and Inter had a lot of difficulty playing the Russian and Ukrainian champions, especially playing in Kazan in harsh weather conditions. Going into the last game of the group against Rubin Kazan, Inter was still not sure of advancing.
In the end, Inter finished 2nd in the group. They were drawn against Jose's old team Chelsea in the round of 16. Inter hasn’t advanced past this stage in a lot of years, and one of the reasons why Inter spent a lot of money last summer is to mount a serious challenge to win the Champions league. They have won a lot of Scudettos (Serie A titles) over the past 5 years. The first leg at San Siro was an open and entertaining game that ended 2-1. In the 2nd leg in London, contrary to everyone's expectations Mourinho sent out a very attacking line-up. This and the amazing work rate of Milito, Etoo and Motta ensured Inter's passage into the Quarter-finals, where they met one of the surprises of this year, CSKA Moscow. Inter dispatched them home with clinical effectiveness winning both legs 1-0 and set-up the drama-filled semifinal clash with the defending champions Barcelona.
The first-leg of the semifinal at San Siro was fast-paced and fascinating. Inter fell behind early but stormed back to score 3 goals against a lackluster FC Barcelona. Wesley Sneijder and Diego Milito played a blinder of a game. 3-1 first leg. Mourinho parked the bus at Camp Nou to get hold on gamely to the 2 goal advantage. Inter advance despite a loss at the Camp Nou 3-2 on aggregate.
Keys to Inter
The new signings Diego Milito, Thiago Motta and Wesley Sneijder along with Samuel Etoo have made the big difference for Inter. The work rate of Etoo and Milito and their application to defensive duties during key phases of the game have enabled Mourinho to start with 5 attacking players at time. A case in point is the defensive labor of Samuel Etoo in the 2nd leg of semifinal. He had no shot on goal but was constantly putting pressure on Barcelona's midfield. Solidity at the back with seasoned campaigners like Lucio, Samuel and Maicon along with a Julio Cesar in the goal, Inter is a very compact and a versatile team.
Credit goes to the manager Jose Mourinho and the director Massimo Moratti who was instrumental in bringing all the new players.
Watch out for Part#2 covering the journey of Bayern, the keys to the final and the prediction :).
Part #2 will be out in roughly 2 days time.
Tha brings to an end of a tumultous season for Villareal who touched the depths of being last in La Liga for a couple of weeks, coaching changes, injuries never let the team settle down to a rythm. Good luck for next season! Aupa Submarino!
Sevilla corral the final champions league spot in dramatic fashion, scoring the winning goal in the last minute of added time to pip Mallorca. Mallorca is the surprise package of the season as nobody expected them to challenge for Champions League spot.
Tomorrow the drama will unfold on the relegation dogfight with 4 teams on 36 and one on 33 and the mother of all of them, the title deciding Malaga - Real Madrid and Barcelona - Valladolid with Barcelona ahead of Madrid by just one point and Malaga & Valladolid in the thick of battle to stay up on 36 points each.
They will retain the core of the Euro 2008 squad and play the trademark ball possession and passing game. Fernando Torres will lead the forward line, with David Villa, who will drift into wide positions often; both supported by David Silva and Andres Iniesta on the wings with Xavi Hernandez in the midfield alongside Xabi Alonso or Marcos Senna. Ramos-Pique-Albiol-Capdevila will start at the back.
The bench will feature the electric winger from Seville, Jesus Navas, the prolific Pedro Rodriguez of Barcelona and the big center forward Fernando Llorente of Bilbao as an option B to help break through defensive walls in the second halves.
Coach Vicente Del Bosque has a potentially debilitating three injured players (Torres, Iniesta and Fabregas) with six weeks to go, who are expected to be fit just in time for the World Cup. Some key players from the Euro 2008, Marcos Senna and Santi Cazorla, are struggling and could miss the world cup. Injuries apart, I believe they have a strong squad and a very good talent pool to choose from.
The biggest positional weakness is the left-back position. First choice Joan Capdevila aged 32 is great going forward but teams can exploit the space behind him when he doesn’t track back. They can also stifle Spain on the left side if he stays back against attacking right wingers/backs. Tactically, counterattacking teams that are comfortable without the ball and opponents with a big physical presence will pose a threat to Spain.
Spain can go all the way, unless they run into Brazil in the second round - which cuts their chances to 50-50.
Spain has announced the 30 probables. No big surprises. The fact that they selected 5 goalkeepers in the list indicates they have few selection worries.
Prediction : Champion, if they dont cross swords with Brasil in the 2nd round
Madrid pull away in the 2nd half, Barcelona hold on to their 1 pt lead.
Villareal end the game with 9 men but still win keeping the Europa league hopes alive. Everything will be decided in the Liga final next week.
Cant wait for the matchday# 38
Barça win but not before some jitters after the modest Islanders from Tenerife equalized before half-time. Barcelona resolved the matters in the 2nd half with 3 goals.
The Barça win sets up a nice Mallorca X Madrid tomorrow in La Palma. Madrid has to win to keep up with Barça in the title chase. I fully expect another game like the Madrid x Osasuna on Sunday, gungho attacking, and little or no shape especially if Madrid are not winning in the 2nd half.
Messi scored a double, Xavi scored with and exquisite free-kick and Bojan scored the goal of the week for Barcelona. Joseba Llorente, who I felt was incorrectly left out of the startin g lineup, scored the only goal for the Yellow Submarine, 5 minutes after entering the game in the 2nd half.
Ibra came on late in the 2nd half, and it is clear that the problem is not all with Ibra and the fact is the home-grown Barcelona players dont seem capable of adjusting their game to help Ibra.
Real Madrid X Osasuna to start in less than 20 minutes. Real Madrid should win this easily, especially now that Osasuna is not in any real relegation danger.
Ibrahimovic cut a forlorn figure for most of the game and got substituted in the 2nd half. Barcelona brought him to make a decisive impact against defensive walls like the one mounted by Mourinho's Inter. But I dont he deserves all the blame. This is his first year in Spain and Barcelona, and he has scored in key games during the season. I suspect that the rest of the Barça squad is not trying enough to adapt to his style, his weaknesses and strengths. I dont believe he is as poor as he seemed in the 2 legs of this tie.
Another interesting aspect of this game was that Barcelona did not win many freekicks in dangerous positions eventhough Inter was defendig very very deep, practically in front of the box. Credit goes to the defensive scheme of Mourinho and more importantly the tactical discipline shown by the players of Inter. That Inter didnt have a shot on goal or anywhere near a goal is a telling stat. But today they didnt need to. They did their scoring in the first leg.
I think Inter X Bayern will be a very good final. I hope it is a more open game that what we saw today.
As for Barcelona, they are back to the drawing board. I think if Pep Guardiola has a weakness, it is his penchant to tinker with formations in key games. the 3-4-3 with Toure Yaya as the 3rd centerback and Alves and Busquets on the wing didnt work very well. Everytime Messi touched the ball there were 3 defenders closing him down. Only Pedro was stretching the field for the first hour or so. The entrance of Bojan in place of Ibra increased the threat of a goal but Barcelona simply couldnt create enough chances on goal despite of the numerical advantage.
As the Madrid daily "AS" puts it "Cibeles sleeps peacefully" Cibeles is the plaza where the Madrid fans celebrates their titles.
Quick Stats that come to my mind
- Barcelona, over the past 5 years won 2 European cups and made it to 4 semifinals.
- There are atleast 7 ex-La Liga players in these two finalists this year and most of the players are from either Barcelona (Motta, Etoo) or Madrid(Robben Sneijder, Cambiasso,Samuel) andMilito(Zaragoza)
- Inter as well as Bayern are on track for a Treble and if they achieve the treble they are on track for the 6-tuple, like Barça did last year. hmm Who would have thought about that 9 months ago :)
The good thing is that they are playing at home. The dice is loaded against them on pretty much every other aspect. Jose Mourinho doesnt lose many ties, let alone when he is carrying a 2 goal cushion from the first leg.
Barcelona's keys to success:
1. Play your game and cut out the errors. Look at it this way: Inter cannot play any better and Barcelona cannot play much worse than they did in the first leg. Despite all that + poor refereeing Barcelona bossed the game in the final 15-20 minutes.
2. 1-3 away is not as bad as it seems. Infact it is better than 0-1 on many counts. In either case, you need a 2 goal win in the return leg to advance. So if the score is 0-0 at half-time dont panic.
Inter will tire out.
3. If Inter score early, it gets a bit more complicated but not much worse or difficult that it already is. Keep your poise.
4. Score early, keep the crowd in the game.
5. Tactically, keep the shape and be patient.
6. Personnel, Toure over Busquets. Busquets looks like a push over among Inter midfield (althought Guardiola will most probably start Busquets)
Keys for Inter
1. Keep things simple and in front of you.
2. Play the same line-up. This will take some cojones from JM but this is his best chance to beat Barcelona. If he sacrifices one of the forwards for a midfielder, I say Inter will lose the game and the tie.
3. Hope Sneijder and Maicon recover soon enough to start the game.
4. Put someone on Xavi or whose sole job is to disrupt the Xavi-Messi link-up. This frustrates both these players and their patience will run out at some point and the Xavi tries to push up trying to do everything himself, and so does Messi who drops further back to get the ball. a Win-win situation for Inter.
Inter surprised me with their positive play in the first leg. If they do the same in Camp Nou and win the tie, they will be deserved winners.
We have a cracker in store for us. I cant wait for Wednesday.
1. Brazil: Ricardo Kaka is by far the biggest concerns of the Canarinha. His season has been plagued by hernia and the limited time he was on the pitch didn’t show much by way of quality. Real Madrid and their fans are impatient and are even accusing him of prioritizing the World cup above the club, a reaction to his prolonged absence from the pitch. Apart from Kaka, the biggest issue is the saga of Ronaldinho and whether he will be selected for the trip to South Africa. Smart money says he won’t make the summer trip to South Africa.
2. Spain: The injury list of Spain is very long. Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Fernando Torres are out for the season and are expected to make it just in time for the World cup. Another key cog of the reigning European champions, Marcos Senna is struggling after a lengthy injury lay-off. Team leader and first choice keeper Iker Casillas is having an ordinary season. At this point you have to say they are not favorites. Too many risks and over-reliance on a lot of key players returning from long injury layoffs
3. England: Ashley Cole is going through long injury layoff. Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand have had injury plagued past few months. England’s main worry is the lack of a high-quality goal keeper and a good 2nd striker to support Wayne Rooney. John Terry’s form is also a cause for worry.
4. Italy: The waters are still murky in the Azzurri. Coach Marcelo Lippi seems to be favoring the old guard and experience over youth. Iconic keeper Gigi Buffon is the main long term injury worry for Italy. The strike force is also not decided upon. The backline will look very different with the retirement of Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro is fading. Other fading stars include Alex Del Piero, Mauro Camoronesi and Andrea Pirlo. Totti might come back from retirement and although the public wants Antonio Cassano in the team, Lippi hasn’t budged so far.
5. Germany: No major injury worries for Germany but lots of question marks at a lot of positions. Goalkeeper, central defence and the strike partnership. Michael Ballack is having a lacklustre season at Chelsea. The good news is the young players like Muller, Ozil and Helmes are having great seasons in the German league.
6. Netherlands: Probably one of the few teams in a great situation as far as form of players and injuries are concerned. Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben are having spectacular seasons for their clubs Inter Milan and Bayern Munich respectively.
7. Argentina: Another team which apparently doesn’t have many injury concerns with the likes of Messi, Milito, Higuain and Tevez all scoring more than 20 goals in the season. The problem for Argentina is the lack of a good constructive midfielder who can piece together some passes and provide enough supplies to the players up front like Messi and Higuain. Maradona’s tactics (or lack thereof) will be one of the biggest hurdles for them at the World cup. They have to find a way to use the riches of talent they have upfront to cover up for the deficiencies at the back. A possession based playing style will solve the problem but Maradona has not been able to put an eleven on the pitch that can play possession football.
8. Cote D’Ivoire: Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire are the two best African teams in this World cup. Ghana is a balanced side missing their talismanic leader Michael Essien, but he should be ready for world cup. Cote D’Ivoire is very powerful with the Toure brothers (Kolo & Yaya), the deadly Didier Drogba and a slew of quality like Kalou and Zokora to name a few. There are no major injury concerns for these teams but a lack of tactical discipline has prevented the African teams from reaching a world cup semifinal so far. Looks like this could be the year Africa breaks their semi-final duck.
Bayern Munich is a much better team than your usual Bundesliga team. Here is stat that might surprise you. They were the 2nd highest spending team in all of Europe last summer next only to the $300 million spent by Real Madrid. But like many a great team, they started the season very slowly, mostly because of a lot of new faces in Robben, Mario Gomez to name a few apart from their new coach Dutchman Louis Van Gaal. Van Gaal is known to be a disciplinarian and the players initially had some trouble adjusting to his methods. Some bad results in the Bundesliga and a lackluster start to their Champions League group stage rang the alarms in Bavaria. But they held on, and needed a gutsy victory at Juventus in the final game of the Champions League group stage to get advance to the pre-quarterfinals.
They were distinctly lucky to beat Fiorentina in the round of 16, thanks to some bad refereeing in the home-leg and a wonder goal from Arjen Robben in the 2nd leg which broke the hearts of the team from Florence. A bit more of the luck and never-say-die attitude helps them to squeeze past Manchester United again through a wonder goal from Arjen Robben at Old Trafford.
The strength of Bayern is on the wings with Franck Ribery on the left and Arjen Robben on the right with their searing runs hugged to the line. Ivica Olic is a hardworking and persistent striker who is very dangerous with the rebounds and anything that is not saved cleanly by the defence. The midfield is manned by the hard-nosed Dutchman Mark Van Bommel and the tireless Bastian Schweinsteiger (now there is German worth his name :)). If they have a weak spot it is their central defence. Martin DiMichelis, Van Buyten and Badstuber are average at best and they have a lot of difficulty facing nimble and quick strikers.
Lyon a perennial winner of the Ligue 1, also started their season very slowly. They sold their best talent Karim Benzema to Real Madrid in the offseason, which the fans didn’t appreciate very much. Combine that with a sluggish start to the season, Claude Puel's team was under tremendous pressure to do well and advance from a tough group in Champions League. They delivered the goods in the Champions League dispatching the more famous Liverpool out of the group stages. Their reward for that accomplishment was a 2nd round tie with nine time champion Real Madrid, who despite their history hasn’t been able to get past the round of 16 for the past 5 years. They brought in Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Benzema to break the streak of disappointment. Lyon won the first leg 1-0 in a tight tactical game from a brilliant goal by Jean Makoun. The 2nd leg at the fabled Santiago Bernabeu started very badly with an early goal from Cristiano Ronaldo. The key moment arrived when Puel made some tactical adjustments to the Lyon midfield deploying an additional midfielder Maxime Gonalons in place of a central defender Boumsong. That completely threw Real Madrid off their game and the equalizer arrived in the form a great goal by the young Pjanic. One more year of disappointment for Madrid and ecstasy for Lyon.
Lyon beat another French team Bordeaux 4-2 aggregate over two legs. The first leg at Lyon was fairly one-sided 3-1 victory for Lyon. The game in Bordeaux was much more tactical as Lyon came to defend their lead and a 1-0 victory to Bordeaux wasn’t enough for Laurent Blanc's side.
How this game will play out?
If there is a weak point for Lyon, it has to be their defence. Cris & Boumsong are not top class and they will have trouble dealing with Ribery and Arjen Robben when the cut inside. Lyon has an unsung yet better midfield in Toulalan, Pjanic and Govou and the young Gonalons. They prefer playing a 4-5-1 with the powerful and intelligent striker, Lisandro Lopez upfront. Bayern normally employs a 4-4-2 with Olic paired with Gomez or Klose and Schweinsteiger and Van Bommel as the pivots in the middle. The Lahm-Ribery combination on the left side will be a constant threat. Robben, while an impressive player when fully fit isn’t built for the full 90 minutes. Bayern will try to use the width of the pitch and stretch the midfield of Lyon and the cut-ins of Ribery & Robben to unsettle the central defence. Lyon on the other hand will play on the counterattack, set up a midfield of containment and release Lisandro and Pjanic to catch Bayern in possession. This is a really difficult tie to predict as the teams are evenly matched overall but their strengths and weaknesses are in different aspects of the game.
A fun fact about this game is Karim Benzema who moved to Madrid, failed to get past the 2nd round again eliminated by his ex-team Lyon. Real Madrid sold Arjen Robben to Bayern to make way for Benzema, who has taken his new team to the semifinals with some sparkling performances.
- Lyon - won the French League, Ligue 1 6 years in a row until last season when Bordeaux finally dethroned them.
- This is the first semifinal for Lyon, who have been a regular in CL all these years but never got past the quarter-finals.
- This is also the first year where 2 French teams qualified for QF and one for the semifinals in a long long time.
- This is also the first time in 7 years where there is no English team in the semifinals.
- Bayern - Is known for their heartbreak loss to Manchester in the final of 1999 when they shipped in 2 goals in the dying minutes to lose the final 1-2. Although they won the cup a few years later, this year’s defeat of Manchester United is seen as some sort of revenge.
Last couple of weeks we witnessed a slew of great games in the quarter-final stage of the UEFA Champion League. This time of the year usually brings some of the best games and drama to all the football fans around the globe. This being a world cup year there is an extra buzz surrounding the superstars of the game, their form, and injuries etc., everything is magnified a few times over.
Reigning Champions FC Barcelona booked their spot in semifinals with some dominating and imperious display of flowing football against Arsenal over two legs. Leo Messi scored a ‘poker’ (hat-trick +1) against the Londoners in the return leg at Camp Nou.
Barcelona will face FC Internazionale aka Inter from Milan led by Jose Mourinho. Inter defeated one of the surprise teams of the tournament, CSKA Moscow. The other semi-final will be played between Olyimpique Lyonnais from Lyon and FC Bayern Munich from Munich Germany.
But there is no doubt that Barça X Inter is the marquee match-up with a lot of intrigue for various reasons. Firstly it is the reigning champions against the most high-profile coach in Europe. And they have already played each other in the group stages. Secondly Jose Mourinho was a part of the late Sir Bobby Robson’s coaching staff during when Sir Bobby used to be the coach of Barcelona. And finally because the Champions League final will be played at the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid, arch-enemy of Barcelona in the Spanish Primera Liga, who want Mourinho as their coach next year. Rest assured a lot of Madridistas will be rooting for Jose Mourinho and Inter during the semifinals.
And then there is the Etoo-Ibrahimovic angle. These two world-class strikers swapped the clubs at the beginning of the season and neither seems to have hit a purple patch with their new team.
Even though Barcelona dominated the meetings between the teams in the group stages, the semifinals will be a completely different ballgame for the following reasons.
1. Inter has improved a lot over the season, especially in the Champions League. Gutsy performance against Chelsea away from home where they employed the 3 out-and-out strikers in a 4-3-3 is just one example of their improvement in Champions League.
2. Wesley Sneijder. Sneijder has been very instrumental in the success of Inter in Champions League this season. His fits perfectly in the role behind the strikers and links very well between the defensive midfielders and the frontline.
3. Fatigue and injuries could be an issue for Barcelona. Most of their key players have been playing a lot of games at a high-level ever since August 2008, not just for Barcelona but for Spain in the Confederations Cup in the summer of 2009 and then the World club championships in December 2009. The effects are showing. Barcelona hasn’t been as dominant as last year. And just yesterday Andres Iniesta is injured in training and wont feature in either leg of the semi-final.
Although Barcelona has not been as dominant as last year, they have showed up to play in all the big games. Cases in point are the games against Arsenal, the Clásico over the last weekend at Madrid. They played their best football against their best opposition.
How will the semifinals play out?
The first leg is in Milan. Jose Mourinho has already suggested that he will gladly sign-up for a 0-0 at home, according to some Italian sports papers. I wouldn’t be surprised with that. 0-0 at home is not at all a bad result at home in Champions League due to the away-goals rule. I think Jose will be conservative. Play with just two strikers Etoo & Milito supported by Sneijder behind them. He will use an extra mid-fielder to cut the passing lanes of Xavi Hernandez. Samuel, Zanetti, Lucio and Maicon at the back will try to out-muscle the generally smallish attacking trident of Barcelona. The basic idea is to keep everything in front and crowd the midfield to disturb the flow of Barcelona’s game built around keeping the possession and slick passing. The might try to sneak a goal on a swift counter-attack catching Barcelona in possession but as Mourinho said their base set-up will be to smother Barcelona and will be satisfied if they don’t concede.
Barcelona will play their normal game of passing when in possession and pressing to quickly win the ball back for the most part. A 4-3-3 formation with the attacking trident of Pedro-Ibra-Messi. Messi will drop back to space between the frontline and the midfield trio a lot of times. This is something he has been doing a lot of late including starting in ‘the hole’ in a formatting resembling 4-3-1-2. This role gives him more freedom to run at the central defenders, who are more prone to make mistakes or a foul as well as who are less agile. It also allows him to get the ball from deeper areas, escape marking from the fullbacks because the fullbacks cannot afford to mark Messi in the middle of the pitch. If Ibrahimovic does play the game, Xavi will try a few long passes to beat the offside trap teams employed by moving the backline high.
If Barcelona manage to score early, Inter will be forced to open up and we could be in for a treat of goals. But based on how Barcelona & Inter have been playing of late I think this game will end in a 1-1 draw. I can’t see Barcelona not scoring, at the same time I think Inter will score as well.
The second semi-final between FC Bayern München and Lyon while not so glamorous will as interesting as Barça X Inter if not better. I will preview it in the next installment.