1st Half:Finally the ball is in play. Mexico started with their usual short passing game, passing the ball around in the midfield. US was more than prepared for that, cutting off any long passes. The temperamental 'Cuau'Cuautehmoc is getting frustrated already. Mexican coach spewing up smoke with is cigarettes and generally shouting a lot of instructions. Since I was so close to the dugouts, I could listen to some and really cant post such stuff here ;-).
The game is getting fragmented in the midfield, precisely what US wanted. Mexico trying to attack up the middle and US packed in that region. Borgetti and Fonseca are not getting the service. The lone American forward hasn't touched the ball even once in the first 15-20 minutes. Home fans getting nervous. Jeering every whistle that goes against them.
The referee underlined his authority brandishing a couple of yellow cards, one on each side. Cuau got one of them. He is uttering all kinds of swear words at the referee. The fans around me were like "Tranquilo Cuau,Tranquilo"(Cuau, please take it easy man). Everyone knows that he is the most talented player of the 22 on the field. But its his temper or the lack of it that worries every Mexican fan and player alike.
20-25 min passed. 0-0. Mexico have their first corner. Nothing comes out of it. But slowly Mexico seem to be gaining the upper hand in the game but not visible or tangible enough to convert it into a goal. The seem to have adjusted to the 4-5-1 of US. And since the altitude effect is gonna kick-in anytime, Mexicans started playing clever. That is use the width of the field, making the US players run around them. But since the ball is in midfield US players really cant commit and try to win the ball. If they win that's fine but if they lose the 1-1 then they are in a serious pickle.
And the Mexicans started attacking in waves. Too often these rivalry games get bogged down in the midfield area owing to cautious approach of the coaches. But Mexico have found there swagger 20 min into the game and they laid a siege on the US goal.
Minute 25-30. 0-0 but the home team dominated the games last 5-10 minutes and it seemed as its a matter of time before they are on the score sheet. On the otherhand US players are visibly getting tired for the lack of oxygen and committing little errors in the marking. Half-time cant come sooner for them. And there you go goool !!! Borgetti strikes 1-0 Mexico. Uh huh. The flag is up. Offside :(. If that lineman listens to all the swearing that happened, he will never work another game ;). Saw the replay on the big screen and he made the right decision. But sorry Mr. Lineman we cant take the swear words back.
Borgetti and Mexico were not to be denied after 2 minutes when Borgetti heads home from close range after a badly taken corner, the ball falls to Fonseca at the byline, who has no other option but to lob the ball back into play which finds the head of Lozano who heads it laterally and wrong foots the US keeper, to find Borgetti all alone to head it in.
La pelota esta en el fondo (the ball is in the[back of the net])
Goooooooooooooooooooool1-0 Mexico !!!!!!!!
The crowd celebrate. the trumpets which went silent for a while are back in full flow. Drums. Songs. I high-fived with about 10-15 people around. And started singing with them in my broken spanish. I loved it. Well taken goal after a poorly executed corner kick. Play resumed. Mexico having the ball all the time now. Nothing working for US. Their star player Landon donovan is nowhere to be seen.
Minute 34-35 and a piece of genius from Cuau. from the near side at the half-line in the midfield, cornered by a defender hits a long diagonal pass, which at first seemed like another aimless pass but his vision is impeccable. He finds both is central forwards open near the US box. the pass was inch perfect and carved up the US defence like swiss cheese. And seeing Fonseca and Borgetti with the ball they entire US defence is drawn that side. leaving the near side all open. Borgetti passes it across to Zinha who makes no mistake in a 1-1 with the goal-keeper, skimming the ball over the hapless Kasey Keller.
Dos a Ceroooooooo Mexico (2-0 mexico)
It was a beautiful move. and the cool finishing of Zinha was the icing on the cake. US in total disarray now. This is the reason why Mexican coaches bear with Cuau. He can change the game in a couple of minutes. Mexico has a few more chances to increase the lead but poor finishing does them in.
Mexican coach needlessly gets sent off for arguing with the 4th official. So Jorge Campos (remember the goalkeeper from 94 and 98 world cups with flashy jerseys, polka dots in fluorscent colors) the assistant coach takes over. Fast approaching half-time US get their 1st or 2nd corner of the game and nothing comes of it. HALF-TIME: Mexico 2 - 0 USA
4 minutes of madness from US and mexico score a brace. Mexico in complete control of this game now. US has never won a game from 2 goals down against any decent opposition. You can expect Mexico to play some cattenaccio now and frustrate the US even more. But if US can pull one back quickly, we will have a match on our hands. But they need to get out of this 4-5-1 and go with a 4-4-2 which gives more options to attack.
I had some sodas and chips and all the good trash-food. After all the shouting, I needed that break badly.
As expected the US made a change and now they are in the more attacking 4-4-2 formation. And that could be seen right away, as they came out of the tunnel with purpose and vigor and a determination to turn it around. It wont be easy though. Mexicans will set up shop in the midfield and use their superior ball skills to keep possession. All in all a tough situation for US.US wins a few corners, Mexico defended them well.
seemingly out of nowhere US halve the deficit. Donovan muffs an easy chance to shoot but luckily for him the ball bounces to Eddie Lewis in the mexican box who slots it home on the far left-corner of the net.
The few US fans rejoice. Beer, Soda and assorted liquids came raining down on them. I am happy my section is far away from the US fans :-). Jeers and trumpets again.Osama chants again. Crowd is angry with Mexican defence also now. After a while the crowd settles down.
Around minute 70, after US has made all their 3 allotted changes, Mexico change their formation and with that the complexion of the game as well. In come Ramon Morales, and Alberto Medina and out go the goal-scorers Borgetti and Zinha. Its the 4-3-3 now a la The Netherlands. 2 speedy wingers with fresh legs on the left and right. With Fonseca as the lone striker. The US right and left backs were already tired and now have to chase these two hares who just entered the field. That effectively killed any chances of US comeback as these the full-backs have to be worried of the wingers and cant commit themselves to make attacking runs. Medina was on the near side to me and he won the ball everything against his marker.
If not for their poor finishing, Mexico should have scored 4-5 goals. But its a lot of fun to watch the tactics of your team just killing the other team. US didnt have any significant attacks after that. FULL-TIME Mexico 2 - 1 USA Woohooooooooo!! Mexico won Ole!
I think US lost the game before they even kicked-off. With their formation and tactics. When you play not to lose, more often than not you lose. A happy ending for me and La Aficion. They slogan proved right that the Giant is still alive. And the pride of La Aficion has been restored. Now the sights are set on the world cup. La Aficion wants more. Wants to exact revenge at the WC 2006. There is no chance of both teams falling in the same group at WC 2006. But there are ample opportunities that they meet in the 2nd round like they did last time around. Mexico wants to reverse that result. The team is much younger now and has some good playmakers and good defenders. Rafa Marquez can stabilize the first third of the field. And Borgetti and Fonseca in front could be a dangerous proposition against any team.
Spent close to 600 pesos (55 USD) for everything and I had the experience of my life. Took more than 2 hours for the trek back home but its all happy. Sharing jokes all along the travel with people around. Took a lot of pics, will post them as soon as I can scan them. (I am too tired of the Mastercard commercial cant plagiarize that now ;-) )
-To their credit the US restored parity when they beat Mexico 2-0 at Columbus Ohio last month.
-Both teams have since qualified for Germany 2006.
-US could have issues of depth in squad. Their first team can compete but not much else after that. This was perfectly illustrated when US got thumped by Costa Rica 3-0 the past weekend.
-Mexico needs to go in with a positive attitude. And Cuau please keep the antics off until after the WC.
-Mexico need to be careful not to rush in any of the enthusiastic youngsters from their U-17 championship side. The game that grown men play is much less forgiving and could destroy a promising career even before it takes off.
-I expect one of the 2 to be a surprise semi-finalist. I hope that its Mexico.-I hope all "play-not-to-lose" teams are eliminated in the first round of the WC. Woohoooo!!! one such side, Greece wont make it there :-)
Certain events I would have blogged if I had a blog at the time. Here is one of those. Sunday March 27th 2005 Mexico City.
The Preamble: So the day had finally arrived. Waited for this since the schedule for World cup qualifiers was drawn up in mid-2004. USA @ Mexico. Cant get any bigger in these parts of the earth. The two giants of the CONCACAF squaring off pretty early in the schedule. Though both are assured of their places in the World Cup Germany 2006, its a derby game. Reputations are made and destroyed in such games. Bought the tickets the first hour they went on sale. Location: Just behind the team dug-outs.
Recent results indicated the upper hand US has been enjoying over their southern neighbor. The most important result being the 2-0 victory they have achieved in the 2nd round of the World Cup 2002, when they tactically outplayed an ineffective Mexico with two quick counter-strikes and ended the promising show thus far of Mexico who topped their group beating up on Croatia and Ecuador and almost beat Italy who they drew with.
Lot changed for Mexican football since that fateful day. New coach. Lots of new faces in the team. Change of guard. But the wounds of that defeat still linger on for the likes of Rafa Marquez the skipper and a FC Barcelona regular. Both teams made good start to their Qualifying campaigns having won their first couple of matches with ease.
Estadio Azteca, Santa Ursula, Delegacion Tlalpan. Mexico D.F
One of the biggest and marquee football stadia in the world. Can hold upto to 120000 people and none will have a bad seat to complain of. Very well designed and very very well maintained, the Azteca hosted the 1968 Olympics, WC 1970 and WC 1986. Perched about 5000 ft above sea-level, the rarefied air of Mexico City and Azteca form the bedrock on which Mexico constructed their impressive World Cup resume. Since the 1950s when the qualifiers have started they have lost only once in Azteca. In 2001 to Costa Rica(You could pretty easily guess that the coach got fired after that loss ;-) )
Rarefied air along with the smog that's around Mexico city is the recipe for disaster for the visiting teams. Usually by the 30 min mark, players start feeling the effects like dehydration, heavy breathing which lead to lots of physical challenges even the fittest cant beat. Over the years teams have tried lots of tricks and methods to find a way around the problems caused by altitude. The US team trained for 3 weeks somewhere in Colorado which is more or less at the same elevation as Mexico City. But nothing like playing in altitude in front a hostile crowd of more than 100000.
I live in the North-northeast of the city and the Azteca is in the very south of the city. So its gonna take a while for me to reach there. The kick-off is set for just after 12 noon. Worst time to play in smog/heat/altitude. Now that's what is home-field advantage(as opposed to the rotational system of awarding test matches to venues in India).With my camera, Mexico jersey, a sun cap and a bottle of water and some candies set out the long trip to Azteca at 10 am. Took a bus to reach the nearest Metro station, Metro Cuatro Caminos. From there took the Metro to Tasquena. The train was not crowded yet. But there was a sea of green around me (including me) and some painted faces, lots of happy kids and their parents taking care of them. After about 40 minutes reached Tasquena. Had to take another Light Train from Tasquena to the Azteca. Now this train was full and overflowing with fans. The sea of green suddenly seemed to have tripled in size. Unable to get into to the first few of these light trains, finally force my way into the 3rd train and after 10 minutes, Viola ! I am in front of the huge Estadio Azteca. Lots of police in riot gear, some of them mounted on horses were seen every where. And finally I spotted some American fans. Wearing some 'Sams Army' T-shirts which, to be frank were very lame. Spotted some ESPN/ABC cameramen filming the crowds moving towards the gates. Heartily booed them and showed thumbs down. Finally converged near the gates and its something I have never seen. Everybody in green. Faces painted. Hair-dyed in red white and green. Trumpets. Wow !! Having seen Clemson football on a weekly basis never seen such a scene. With all due respects, all college football rivalries in the US cant get close the atmosphere around here. May be an India-Pakistan match but never been to one so cant comment. I dived right into the party. Got my face painted. And bought an ugly sounding trumpet. And some other assorted items. Ahora estoy Listo (Now I am ready). After a going through multiple security checks, I am off to find my seats. Its 1140 when I finally found my seats and sat there. Azteca is fast filling up. The chairs here are yellow and red. Every minute its more green and less yellow/red. The players seemed to have been warming up for a while and left the field just after I entered.
La Aficion - The Fans:
The Mexican fans 'La Aficion' are a fickle lot. When they support their team, you cant find more passionate/ardent supporters but when they are angry with the team or the coach due to some of his selections and formations they can get on the nerve of the coach. La Aficion was a bit nervous before the match and kind of subdued due to the match coinciding with Easter week and Easter Sunday(Santa Domingo). A more precise reason would be that of seeing their hegemony challenged by their hated neighbors. There was big banner posted in the stands behind the south goal say "La Gigante no ha muerto" meaning the Giant is not dead yet. Which signifies two things. The acceptance of the grave threat they are facing as the regional giants and the defiance. La Aficion wants this one badly. And they are ready with all the drums trumpets and war paints. The Sombreros (the big hats) and the mariachis and the flags and the jerseys above all, the heart and emotion.
Now this happened while I was at the game. Recorded it thro the TV tuner card of my laptop :-). The pregame festivities started at 10 am. There are two competing TV companies in Mexico and both show the game simultaneously. All games of the National team are shown by both. I think Doordarshan would want such a rule in India. Both networks hired a lot of helicopters and the coverage was real cool. One of the coolest thing was they should the speech of Bruce Arena, US coach to his players. Trying to talk up the disrespect shown be Mexico to US even after the beat them in the World cup 2002. And that they will break this hoodoo of Azteca and some expletives to the crowd and all usual pep-rally stuff. The Mexican dressing room was more light-hearted. Lots of smiles and laughs around. You could see the intensity in the faces of the senior members of the team like the captain Rafa Marquez and the veteran goal-keeper Oswaldo Sanchez.
So after reading all that's above and you are still not bored, that means either you absolutely have nothing to do or you need some help/counseling. The US has always been a defence-first team. Defend, defend and defend more. If the opposition gets frustrated and sends more men upfront, pounce on any lose balls and hit on the counter. So a lot of their games are usually dull and drab 1-0s or 2-1s. Mexico on the other hand are very good with the ball. They would try to control the ball from the midfield and the use the wings to send crosses to their central forwards. A more classic approach that has more risks but generally you can see pleasing football. This is why they hate to lose to US. The idea that US is technically inferior when comes to the ball-skills or individual talents. But they defend well as a team and get the results. Somewhat like how Greece won the Euro 2004. But such tactics can only get you so far and the real good teams will pick you apart easily. After that success, Greece failed miserably in the Olympics at home and are just about alive in their bid to qualify for the WC 2006.
US has never won a game in Azteca. Their best result is a 0-0 draw they secured in 1997(guess what happened to the Mexican coach after that ;-) ). And they have scored a grand total of 1 goal in here. But the prematch hype surrounded around how US has broken the domination of Mexico in this region. Hard to argue against that from the recent results. And how they have the team to tame the Mexicans in their own house this time around.
Mexico lined up in their favorite formation of 3-4-1-2 with Rafa Marquez pulling the strings from the back, 4 mid-fielders 2 of whom are the tough-as-nails variety whose only job is to win the ball. The other two on the wings will push forward with Cuautehmoc Blanco (genial but also temperamental) providing the service to the two centre forwards Borgetti and Fonseca. Pretty compact formation this. USA also lined up in their usual formation for away games and against the bigger teams. 4-5-1. A flat 4 line at the back with two real big central defenders and then a packed mid-field with Claudio Reyna orchestrating the transition from offense to defence and their most offensive minded player Landon Donovan on the right supporting the lone striker Eddie Johnson(who by the way is a very big and physical, pacy but lacking ball skills and the ability to be in right positions without the ball). This formation is meant to break the flow of the opposition in the midfield and frustrate them into mistakes.
Just Before Kick-off:
The teams line up. National anthems played. Some shouts of o5ama during the US anthem. Oh by the way, there were about 100-150 US supporters all of them in one of the corners of the lower levels. Glad I am nowhere near them. Cant describe what will be thrown at them if US were to score a goal.. Close to 110,000 are ready now. 109,850 supporting Mexico :). Trumpets are in full blow. Drums and anything that can generate noise is being used. USA is defending north goal and will attack from left to right.
Villarreal goes down 5-1 in Porto after taking a 0-1 into the half time. I will breakdown the details closer to the 2nd leg. Barring a miracle of epic proportions, FC Porto will feature in the final of the Europa League on 18th May in Dublin.
1st leg – 9.05pm CET 28/4/2011, Estadio do Dragao, Oporto, Portugal. 2nd leg – 9.05pm CET 5/5/2011, Estadio El Madrigal, Vila-real, Spain.
Of all the 4 semifinals in Champions league & Europa league this is the most intriguing match-up if not the most glamorous. These two teams practice distinct styles of football and are shoe-ins for next year’s Champions League. Porto is aiming for a treble, already secured the Portuguese League and reached the final of the Cup (Taça de Portugal).
Both teams have thumped their rivals in the quarter-finals. Porto dispatched Spartak Moscow 10-3 on aggregate and Villarreal thumping FC Twente 8-2 on aggregate. Most fans and experts believe that the winner of this tie is the favorite to win it all in Dublin on the 18th of May. Let us dive into the details.
(disclosure: I have only watched one game of Porto live, Benfica-Porto which was a bit of an anti-climax and ugly. So most of this is based on reading the match reports from various sources across the net)
Porto under Andres Villas-Boas have been sensational. Dominated the Portuguese league right from the beginning and sewed up the title very early. They replicated the same form in Europa league, waltzing through the rounds to reach the semifinal.
Porto will line-up in a 4-3-3 with the trident of Hulk – Falcao – Varela at the top and the Guarin – Fernando – Moutinho in the middle. Falcao is usually the furthest up front and Fernando is the deepest midfielder. (see diagram). Gaurin and Moutinho drive forward in possession to support the forwards. Hulk usually plays a bit higher up the pitch just off of Falcao on the right side sort of like 2nd striker in a 4-4-2. Varela is more the wide forward poaching at the far post or dragging the central defender off his position.
The playing style is a bit on the physical side with Guarín and Hulk among the top 20 in fouls committed department. Defensively Rolando & Otamendi are the regulars, both very steady in front of Helton. Fucile is injured so Sapunaru and Perreira are fullbacks used most often. Fucile is injured an errata in the picture. (thx @cahiers_dusport)
Based on some of the stats in the knockout rounds of the Europa League, Porto doesn’t dominate possession, but they are quick on the counterattack and use the size of Hulk to overpower opposing fullbacks and central defenders. Hulk is the sort of player that makes oppositions alter their usual game plan to counter his unique abilities. Moutinho plays the key role of providing the service for both Falcao and Hulk. He has a good midrange shot and is capable of a few searing runs through the middle and powerful midrange drives that Diego Lopez needs to pay attention to. Fernando is the deep midfielder and he rarely ventures into the attacking third of the pitch. The forwards of Porto take a lot of shots in general, midrange as well as from the edge of the box.
In a nutshell, they are very vertical when they have possession and defend in numbers when not in possession. (If this all sounds like Real Madrid of Mourinho in the recent clasicos, then I am with you :-) )
Villarreal CF (disclosure: I’m one of the biggest fans of Villarreal :) )
Villarreal had a tough time last year. Manuel Pellegrini was replaced by Ernesto Valverde and it didn’t work out. At one point Villarreal hit the bottom of the La Liga table. Around January 2010 Juan Carlos Garrido from Villarreal B took over from Valverde. After getting eliminated by Wolfsburg in 2010 Europa league, Villarreal concentrated on getting to the Europa League and finished 7th in Spanish Primera Liga. While they fell short, Mallorca’s expulsion from Europa league due to financial issues helped Villarreal to get into the Europa League.
After winning their group, they faced an impressive Napoli in the round of 32. After eking out a 0-0 in Naples and falling behind 0-1 at El Madrigal, they made a rousing comeback to win the game and the tie 2-1. They breezed past their next two opponents Bayer Leverkusen and FC Twente with four impressive wins.
Villarreal will line-up in their traditional 4-4-2 formation. It morphs into a narrow 4-2-2-2 in possession. Rossi & Nilmar lead the attack usually supported by Cazorla & Cani on the flanks and a double pivot of Borja Valero & Bruno. In the absence of the impressive captain Gonzalo Rodriguez due to a season ending injury, Marchena and Musacchio will pair in the central defence with Mario & Catala as the fullbacks. Villarreal game is centered on triangulation between Borja, Cani, Cazorla & the forwards. Both the flanks cut in naturally more often than not. Nilmar and Rossi switch constantly and Rossi at time drops back to get the ball.
How will the tie play out?
Both teams will try to impose their style of play. They might make minor adjustments but I don’t see any major tactical changes.
Most of the Villarreal attacks originate from Borja and Cazorla acts as the link to Rossi & Nilmar. Both Rossi and Nilmar move a lot without the ball to open up spaces for Borja and Cazorla to push forward and typically do a screen or two to liberate one of the forwards. Wakaso, a recent signing, relies on his pace to cover a lot of area. His main role will be to keep a check on Fucile/Perreira from pushing forward and double up to help Mario to defend Varela or Hulk when he switches to the left.
Bruno is the holding pivot for Villarreal does the ‘dirty work’ defending the likes of Gaurín and Hulk when he drops deeper. 2/3rd of the attacks will come through the middle if not more. Both Nilmar & Rossi have a great first touch and are not easily dispossessed. They have very good understanding among each other and combine very well with Borja & Cazorla.
Defensively stopping Hulk will be the highest priority. This is why the younger and taller Catala gets the nod at left back over the experienced Capdevila. Marchena and Musacchio have their tasks cut and will need to have very good understanding with the fullbacks to do a tag-team job on Hulk. In the middle they will try to starve Porto midfield of the possession by short passing. One of the reasons why Villarreal have sort of sacrificed Cani is to add some defensive muscle in the midfield. This has worked well very well in the Europa League especially against crowded midfields teams have tried to use to counter the yellow submarine. Based on what I’ve seen of the goals scored by Falcao, there were a lot of occasions where the opposition was defending Hulk with two and sometimes 3 players leaving both Varela & Falcao with a lot of space and time. This partly explains why Falcao is the highest scorer in Europa League with 11 goals. (Hulk has 4 goals).
Porto on the other hand will be more direct in its approach where Moutinho would try to feed the ball to Hulk as much as possible. If they see Villarreal doubling up to counter Hulk, they’d try to switch flanks to create mismatches and let their forwards take high percentage shots in 1-on-1 situations. Porto will definitely look at morphing into a 5-man defence which has caused a lot of grief to the yellow submarine and a lot of teams have exploited it. Bitter provincial rivals Valencia did it most. Porto might test Diego Lopez with powerful midrange drives which both Hulk & Moutinho are capable of delivering. Diego has to be careful not to be too far off the line.
One glaring advantage for Porto is the size. Villarreal is undersized in most positions as a result Gaurin-Fernando-Moutinho will be physical to muscle away Borja & Cazorla (probably the smallest player in all of Europa League) possession away. Porto might also try to push the fullbacks forward to force Cazorla and Wakaso into defending and not give them the freedom to cut-inwards where they are most dangerous. I saw a bit of this in Villarreal X Barcelona 2 weeks ago when Dani Alves did this to Cazorla. (Sapunaru/Perreira are definitely not Alves)
Porto will try to take advantage of the size in set-pieces. They will try to force fouls in the vicinity of the 18yard box to have a go at the undersized wall and the same goes with corner kicks
I think Villarreal will be happy to take home a scored draw. They will be content with a 0-0 or even a 1 goal loss too. Villarreal hasn’t lost yet at Madrigal in the Europa League. Porto will look to score as many as possible but I don’t see them risk a whole lot. They will try to keep a clean sheet. They will be happy with 1 goal win and very happy with 2-0 or beyond.
Subjectively speaking>> :-) (aka like a Bollywood movie, after a lot of drama, Villarreal wins in the end)
While Porto has been very impressive in the Portuguese league and in general in the Europa league, they struggled against CSKA Moscow who line-up in guess what? 4-4-2. the key for Villarreal is to keep possession as much as possible in the 1st half. If they can score a goal in Dragao, it will open up the pitch for the yellow submarine to launch a few lethal counterattacks. I trust Rossi or Nilmar to score a goal in Dragao and finish off the Dragon at El Madrigal. #AUPASUBMARINO
If you want to argue with me or tell me that I suck, be my guest at @aupasubmarino
After almost a year, trying to get back into the old habit of writing. A few big stories to be written.
1. Why am I a fan of Villarreal? - I get this question at least once a week, if not more.
2. The trip to El Madrigal, Vila-real.
3. FC Porto - Villarreal CF : Europa League semi-final preview.
Not sure when I will be able to address all three of them but safe to say, I might start with #3 and then switch to #1 before coming back to #2. Having said that, not sure exactly when this well happen. But all I can say is: Stay tuned.