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A German Champions League Welcome

13 Sep

This year’s Champions League group stage features a number of mouth-watering match ups, highlighted by the ideological battle between three English Premier League and Bundesliga clubs. The debt-ridden, price gauging, heavy spending English vs the financially sound, responsible Germans. While Manchester City are made to wait until the end of the month to face Bayern, Arsenal and Chelsea face stiff competition this afternoon and their opponents have approached the encounters in differently.

Chelsea host Bayer Leverkusen and the return of Michael Ballack. Midfielder Sidney Sam decided to stoke the fires with this post on his Facebook page:

Unfortunately, the fire Mr. Sidney stoked might be big enough to light a birthday candle at best. The black manikin is more intimidating than that school boy smile and 1990’s thumb down. He would have been better off tweeting the contemptuous remark without the photo. Now he just looks like an idiot.

Borussia Dortmund, who last faced Arsenal in 2001-02 in much the same circumstances as reigning Bundesliga champions, host the north London outfit in their 80,000 strong Signal Iduna Park today. To welcome the Gooners, Dortmund created this  video:

Pretty cute, no? Might work better as a homage to their home fans in anticipation of a new campaign. Then again, the cheery and uplifting nature of the video is still probably frightening to a Gunner team stripped of all confidence and wracked with pressure. Apart from Barcelona vs Milan, this is easily the must-see match of the afternoon.


Greatest Champions League Goal Ever?

6 Apr

Schalke’s 5-2 destruction of Inter last night was both shocking and riveting. It also, rather unfortunately, overshadowed one of the greatest goals ever scored in the competition. Some might label it indescribable, but dissecting Dejan Stankovic’s volley only adds to its greatness.

For starters, the ball from Cambiasso to Milito is inch perfect and had Manuel Neuer not left his goal to clear the ball, Inter would have had a breakaway and probable goal. So don’t blame the Schalke keeper. Like Zidane in 2002 (now the second best goal in Champions League history), Stankovic had about five hours to set his feet and wait for the ball to come down, measuring it’s trajectory and drop point. Don’t underestimate how difficult this is – a ball coming at pace over a long distance, setting yourself flat footed unaware of defenders around you, and volleying through the ball on the fly with perfect contact and precision.

Even more staggering is the violent power Stankovic put behind his shot to cover the 50 or so yards to the goal. Flat footed!! Zidane walked into his shot and he only needed to cover a third of the distance.

Finally, it is important to look at the trajectory of the shot itself. The perfect shot takes an angle that prevents a well positioned, fully stretched goalkeeper from making any contact (see Di Maria’s strike from yesterday). Another way to judge perfection is where the ball hits the net. In Di Maria’s case, the ball struck the side netting – always moving away from the keeper to the only open area.

Clearly, Neuer was out of position and the goal was gaping for Stankovic. But that ball could have bounced at the eighteen and rolled in. It could have bounced at the byline and rolled in. Yet it didn’t. The ball landed in the exact position where the net meets the ground, bouncing up off the bar.

There is always room for debate, but I can see little to argue why this goal should not top the list.

Pope Benedict XVI Supports Arsenal

9 Feb

The Pope has finally revealed his true colors in an attempt to sabotage next week’s mammoth Champions League clash between Arsenal and Barcelona.  Many people believed that as a son of Bavaria and former Archbishop of Munich, Bayern were his club of choice. However, a sudden turn of events has exposed the North London outfit as the true identity behind the red and white cloak he wears.

Pope Benedict has arranged for the Spanish World Cup winning squad to visit the Vatican next Monday, just 48 hours before the first leg at the Emirates. Without a doubt, such an invitation is both an honor and privilege for any individual, and you would be forever lambasted for turning it down. However, such a decision now confronts a number of players – specifically the eight Barcelona players who will miss an entire day of training just 48 hours before kickoff. Fabregas is another, but one man, as pivotal as he may be to Arsenal, is not nearly as detrimental as eight players – all of whom are starters for Barcelona.

It should be no mystery as to the timing of this event. The Pope surely watched Barcelona’s demolition of Arsenal last year, and the manner in which they are crushing records in La Liga to date. It seems that only an act of God could slow this team up. Well, just short of divine intervention, the most senior figure in the Catholic church is using his influence and close relationship with the man upstairs to derail the Catalan freight train by inviting the team to the Vatican seven months and three days after their World Cup final victory over the Netherlands.

Seven months and three days later… Coincidence?

Champions League Round of 16 Draw

17 Dec

The dreadful group stages are finally over, and we can now look ahead to the round of 16, two-legged knockout round. These days, it seems almost a foregone conclusion that certain match-ups will emerge, that there is a conspiracy to force two clubs upon each other at the most inopportune time, or opportune depending on who you ask. This year is no different as a repeat of May’s final, Wenger’s now correct premonition, revenge, and snooze-fests were drawn in Nyon earlier today. UEFA, in all their glory, will continue the expanded schedule of the round of 16 to maximize viewership and TV revenue. The first legs will be played February 15/16 and 22/23, followed by the second legs on March 8/9 and 15/16.

Undoubtedly, all eyes will turn to the premiere match-up of this round as Arsenal face off against Barcelona. Of course, it may only prove premiere in the sense that both clubs play the most aesthetically pleasing football on the planet. Although as was evident in the first 45 minutes at the Emirates, and Messi’s dismantling of the Gunners in the return leg, this is and most likely will be anything but a competitive confrontation. Barcelona almost seem better than they were last year coming off a near-perfect demolition of Real Madrid 5-0. Meanwhile in North London, Arsenal have only themselves to blame for finishing second in the group and consistently lacking the big-game gusto both in Europe and domestically.

Elsewhere, Bayern will relish the opportunity for revenge against a Mourinho-less Inter Milan, after losing in the 2010 Champions League final 2-0. Benitez has this club in a tailspin as they distance themselves ever more from league leading Milan each week. Bayern should expect a “healthy” Arjen Robben by that time and will like their chances this year.

Real Madrid and the round of 16 are a poisoned union, having been eliminated at this stage of the tournament six times running. Earlier this year, it was a familiar foe in Lyon who knocked out the Spaniards convincingly over both legs. With Mourinho at the helm this year, chances are quite minimal that Lyon will repeat their feat. Although you never know with Madrid.

As for the other English clubs, United and Chelsea emerged relatively pleased with draws against Marseille and Copenhagen respectively. Tottenham’s group topping performance, however, conveniently landed them Serie A leading AC Milan. Redknapp surely must be wondering how his porous defense will deflect the attacks of Ibrahimovic, Robinho, and Pato. However, Milan’s aging squad will only get older by next year and Tottenham have shown everyone their ruthless speed and attacking prowess throughout this tournament. Can Zambrotta really corral Gareth Bale?

The full draw is below:

AS Roma v Shakhtar Donetsk
AC Milan v Tottenham Hotspur
Valenca v FC Schalke
Inter Milan v Bayern Munich
Lyon v Real Madrid
Arsenal v Barcelona
Marseille v Manchester United
Copenhagen v Chelsea

Terrible Goalie Blunder

8 Dec

Is this the worst goalie blunder of the season? The competition is quite stiff but Sander Boschker of FC Twente staked his claim for that award last night in Enschede.

22 minutes into the match, center back Peter Wisgerho passed the ball back to his keeper for clearance. Maybe there was a sudden flash of lightning or a beautiful fan took her shirt off in the stands. Whatever it was, Boschker completely took his eye off the ball and kicked nothing by cold Dutch air. The ball continued its trajectory and nestled nicely into the side netting. Wisgerho unfortunately was credited with the own goal on the score sheet.

Boschker has since dug himself a nice big hole in his backyard and will hibernate there until the end of winter. Hopefully, when he wakes up in the spring, his horrific miss will be distant memory…

Or, he has to live with it for the rest of his life. My bet is on the latter.

UCL Matchday 6 Day 1 Top Goals

8 Dec

The first day of the last two days for teams to solidify their place in the round of 16 saw a few sensational defeats but not many surprises. Except of course Schalke, who won their group (a lackluster group to be fair) while trudging through a miserable domestic campaign in Germany. Inter had only first place in the group to fight for, and they got tonked 3-0 away to Werder Bremen.

Although the ultimate results were not too eye-opening, the fashion in which the teams reached those results was a different story altogether. 26 goals in 8 matches and finishes of every kind made for plenty of highlight real material.

Here are the very best goals from yesterday – free kicks, bicycle kicks, headers, and volleys. Not to shabby indeed. Continue reading

UCL Matchday 5 Day 1 Top Goals

24 Nov

Incredible goals all around Tuesday night. There could have been many more, if not for the endless number of crossbars and goalposts hit. Regardless, some real eye openers  to whet your appetite: Continue reading

How many more screw ups before replay is introduced?

4 Nov

As Pippo Inzaghi started his run, I screamed at Gattuso to get rid of the ball and play him through. Whether he didn’t see his teammate or simply thought the ball would never reach the Pippo is anyone’s guess. Regardless, when he finally released the ball, I got up to go to the bathroom as he had missed the opportunity and Inzaghi was visibly two yards offsides. Next thing I know, the commentator is screaming “Goooool” on my television screen – Milan had taken the lead.

If you watched the match, the error was crystal clear. Senile grandparents going blind could have seen the gap between Inzaghi and Madrid’s back four. Nevertheless, Howard Webb’s “world class” linesman kept his flag down for one of the worst offsides goals you will ever see. Football cannot continue like this.

As a fervent Barcelona supporter, I was thrilled to see the Madridistas cheated and robbed. As a football supporter though, I was shocked and humbled by the realization that this travesty could very well happen to my own team on any given day. Or to yours.

Even more vexing was the fact that up in the stands, sitting in the very best seat in the house, was UEFA President Michel Platini – the stubborn grump who paraded himself in front of the Scottish FA proclaiming the initiation of video replay would result in “Playstation football.”

“The referee has to be helped by the clubs, the fans, by players, by the media and also by the authorities – everyone has a responsibility. It is why we have added two assistants for Champions League games this season. It is a logical step with so many cameras that can pick up incidents: the more eyes there are to assist the referee, the better the chance of spotting those incidents.”

Logical step? Logic would state that the 5th official standing on the end-line would have an actual flag on his stick, and the ability to call fouls or handballs. Logic would state that with so many cameras providing extensive and numerous angles, video replay would be used. Logic would state that anything coming from Platini’s mouth on the subject is moronic.

Do you want a logical recommendation to embrace technology? Baby steps. We can all agree it would be rather presumptuous and unrealistic to expect Sepp Blatter and Platini to allow video replay for everything immediately. Referees have a place in the game and their discretion must remain in tact (we cannot start overruling fouls and hand balls). Instead, start slowly. Start with something like offsides goals. The ebb and flow of the match would not be affected, as Platini often fears. In fact, the scoring team would probably waste more time celebrating at the corner flag than video replay would. Find the mistake, call the offsides, disallow the goal, and give the other team (in this case Madrid) a free kick at the spot.

The integrity of the sport is at stake here. Something must be done.

Where do you stand on the issue?

UCL Matchday 4 Day 2 Top Goals

4 Nov

They may not be the best goals you’ve ever seen, and there may not be very many, but they were tops for the day. Only three made the cut:

Nicolas Anelka (Chelsea) vs Spartak Moscow

Gabriel Heinze (Marseilles) vs MSK Zilina

Pinheiro Moisés (Braga) vs Partizan Belgrade

Pep Guardiola and Stale Solbakken almost come to blows

3 Nov

I love my manager – one of the classiest and humble perfectionists on the planet, who always takes the high road and never gets mired in the childlike banter many managers employ. However last night, Guardiola’s patience reached its breaking point as the Barcelona manager confronted FC Copengan’s Stale Solbakken in a very heated exchange that almost got physical. Apparently, Guardiola was pissed at Solbakken for attempting to infringe on the Barcelona man’s unflappable sense of style – shaved head and stubble, scarf, tapered coat, tie, and vest. It is a look that sends shivers down my spine every time I see Pep on the sideline. However, the Copenhagen man wears it with a little less class and sets an extremely bad example for that look…

Okay, I only wish that was the issue at hand. But in all seriousness, Solbakken had made a number of remarks before the match in reference to José Manuel Pinto, the Barcelona keeper suspended two matches by UEFA for unsportsmanlike conduct after he imitated the referee’s whistle to stop a Copenhagen player from advancing on a break-away, who thought the ref blew for offsides and stopped playing. In an unprecedented scene in the career of one of the quieter managers, Pep stood up for his man.

(Details of the exchange and the video after the jump)

“Ask him (Solbakken) what happened, he knows how to manipulate the media very well,” Guardiola barked after the incident. “I think he has behaved very badly in this situation.”

Before the match, Solbakken made comments to the extent that Pinto’s suspension was not enough.

“What he cannot do is ask for a four-match ban for Pinto and say that Pinto is a bad apple,” Guardiola said.

“Pinto is a player who goes in for fair play and he’s an important part of our dressing room…I don’t think a coach should do something like that.”

The Copenhagen manager, on the other hand, tried to douse the flames by saying everything was taken out of context, and that his remarks were simply bad humor.

“I don’t care if Pinto is sitting on the bench or on the sofa at home. We wanted to protect Cesar because he looked stupid and had a bad time after that.”

“After we had shaken hands he started to say something about UEFA and I think he meant the whistling incident,” said Solbakken.

“I said that he (Pinto) should have got five games, that was just a bad Norwegian joke…Maybe he doesn’t understand Norwegian humour, I’ll have to take that on me…I really respect Guardiola, he’s one of the finest coaches but I think he was told something wrong.”

Norwegian humor my ass. At least stand behind what you said. But as for Guardiola, watching that video should put an huge smile on any Barcelona supporter’s face. Not that we ever doubted his passion and obsession with winning. But it’s always nice to see the man in charge lose his cool (finally!) and confront an opponent in defense of his players.

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