April 1, 2020

Inter and FC Bayern meet in Champions League Final

UEFA Champions League
Home and home competition between Europe’s top football (soccer) clubs from each of Europe’s top domestic leagues: England, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, etc.

Purpose: Determine Europe’s top club team.

Bayern Munich v. Lyon:

Bayern Munich punched its ticket to the Champions League final Tuesday night behind a natural hat-trick from Croatian striker, Ivica Oli. Oli tallied in the 26th, 66th, and 77th to propel Bayern to a comfortable win in front of its home fans at Stade Gerland.

Lyon faced a tough task from the outset, as Bayern brought a 1-0 lead into the game from the first leg. Lyon knew it had to score at least two goals while keeping the German giants scoreless, a challenging endeavor under the circumstances.

Bayer’s dominance, however, ensured the away goals rule never came into play, winning easily 3-0.

Between Oli’s goals Bayern’s mercurial Dutchman, Arjen Robben, wreaked havoc down Lyon’s right side, making slashing runs into the area and testing Lyon goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris. Bayern midfielder and German international, Bastian Schweinsteiger, also brought the crowd to its feet with 25-yard cannon shot that sailed just over the crossbar.

So, it’s off to the finals for Germany’s most well-known and most decorated football club, where they’ll face Italian opponents, Inter Milan.

Barcelona v. Inter Milan:

Inter Milan joined Bayern in finals by defeating defending champions, FC Barcelona, widely regarded as the world’s best club team.

Inter laid the foundation for its championship appearance by bringing a 3-1 lead to the Camp Nou for leg-two. The Catalans played shoddy defense in leg-one and were, quite frankly, outplayed by Inter in the first game as well.

Unfortunately, leg-two epitomized why professional football/soccer is still viewed as a tertiary sport in the United States:

1. This game had more theatrics than Broadway. Players on both teams dived all over the field at the slightest contact. There were grown men rolling on the ground, writhing in thespian pain, only to magically recuperate milliseconds later, jump to their feet and sprint 20 yards downfield.

2. One of the dives described above resulted in the harsh sending off of Inter midfielder, Thiago Motta, in the 28th minute. After Barca’s Sergio Busquets and Motta jostled for a ball, Busquets threw himself onto the pitch, holding his face. The match referee bit hook, line and sinker, issuing Motta a straight red card. I hope the referee watches the tape of the incident and is justifiably embarrassed. That single call impacted everything that remained of the match.

3. Now playing 10 v. 11, Inter employed a tactic football pundits refer to as “parking the bus.” After Motta’s premature departure, Inter immediately adopted a total defensive posture, positioning all of its players in or around its 18-yard box. While sound tactically, it has as much spectator appeal as watching paint dry.

4. Barcelona held possession of the ball for just under 80 percent of the game. Nearly 90 percent of that time spent dribbling and passing just outside Inter’s goal area, but unable to penetrate the wall of Inter players.

Not even the amazing Lionel Messi could save this game from itself. The little Argentine tried repeatedly to pry open Inter’s defense, but even his creativity fell short of solving the Inter puzzle. The current World Player of the Year managed only one dangerous attempt on goal, drawing a world-class, fingertip save from Inter keeper, Julio César.

Barca defender Gerard Pique finally broke through in the 84th minute. Showing true professional poise, Pique settled a Xavi pass and pulled it back from a sliding defender and the onrushing César and coolly put the ball into the goal.

The Pique goal brought the Catalan fans to their feet, but it was too little too late. There were no more miracle goals left in Barca. Final score Barcelona 1 Inter 0. Inter wins based on the 3-2 aggregate score.

Barcelona Triunfos

Wednesday, May 27th

UEFA Champions League Final:

Barcelona Crowned Champions of Europe:

    On the surface it had all the elements of a delicious match, including a plethora of tasty subplots. In the end it turned out to be a fitting game showcasing two of football’s legendary sides, Barcelona and Manchester United.

    The Questions:

    Many pundits billed the game as a showdown between the world’s two best players: Manchester United’s brilliant, Portuguese superstar and current World Player of the Year, Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona’s diminutive, Argentine magician, Lionel Messi. Which of these two tremendous players would impose his will on the game?

    Manchester United, reigning European Champion, was attempting to become the first team to win back-to-back Champions League titles in the history of the competition. Could the defending champions do what no other team previously accomplished?

    Barcelona was attempting to achieve an elusive treble. Having already won their domestic, Spanish league championship and the annual Copa del Rey competition, was there enough gas in the tank for Barcelona to win the Champions League?

    Legendary Barcelona player and current manager Pep Guardiola was a three-year-old when Sir Alex Ferguson began his coaching career. Could the Catalan’s first-year manager match wits with one of the games most brilliant tacticians?

    Even at their best, Barcelona’s strength is not defending. With four regular defenders missing—either to injury or suspension—could Barcelona piece together a patchwork defense to blunt United’s potent attack?

    Barcelona, while attacking well, looked defensively vulnerable and a bit frail against Chelsea in their Champions League semifinal. Only a miracle strike at the death by Spanish international Andres Iniesta secured Barcelona’s place in the championship game. Many, including Barcelona’s players and supporters, considered themselves fortunate to escape the Chelsea game. How would this play on the psyche of the Barcelona team and Pep Guardiola?

    Entering the championship game Manchester United appeared to be the more balanced team: potent in the attack, solid throughout midfield and stout defensively. Would this balance trump what is the best attacking club football team in the world? In La Liga play alone, Samuel Eto’o, Messi and Thierry Henry combined to score an amazing 71 goals. And Barcelona’s goal differential in domestic league play was 70 goals. Their closest competitor, Real Madrid, had a goal differential of 32.

    My Prediction:

    I believed the team scoring first would win. I thought if Barcelona scored first it would open the game, which suits Barcelona’s offensive style. If Manchester United scored first, I thought United could play a more tactical game and concentrate on defending, looking to catch Barcelona on quick counterattacks, an area in which Manchester United excels.

    The Game:

    For the first 10 minutes of the game United was the hungrier of the teams, dominating play and controlling possession. Watching those initial minutes primed me for what appeared to be the pending “Ronaldo Show.” A blazing free-kick by Ronaldo befuddled Barcelona keeper, Victor Valdes, and Park Ji-sung narrowly missed shuffling the ball into the Barcelona net.

    Ronaldo had several other close attempts, once dragging the ball just wide of the goal and a diving Valdes and again shooting wide from distance. In the first 15 minutes alone, Ronaldo had no less than five tries on goal. Had this pattern continued, United were sure to secure the first goal and take control of the game.
    Against the early run of play, however, Cameroon international, Samuel Eto’o, took a perfectly weighted pass from Iniesta, cut inside of United defender, Nemanja Vidic, and then held off Michael Carrick as he pushed the ball with just enough pace to beat united keeper, Edwin van der Sar. Barcelona 1, Manchester United 0.
    Suddenly buoyed by Eto’o’s goal, Barcelona seized control of the game. For the remainder of the first half and for the rest of the game, Barcelona held the lion’s share of possession.
    Down a goal, United were unable to focus on a counterattacking strategy. In the second half Ferguson introduced Carlos Tevez, Dimitar Berbatov and Paul Scholes, hoping to generate a greater scoring threat, but Barcelona’s defense was up to the task. My Man of the Match, Barcelona captain, Carlos Puyol, was seemingly everywhere, supporting the attack and snuffing out United’s few chances.

    Meanwhile, the slick, flowing passing for which Barcelona is known was evident all over the pitch. Whether it was Messi, Xavi or Iniesta creating opportunities, Barcelona outplayed United in every facet of the game. When Messi headed in a superb cross from Xavi at the seventy-minute mark, the game was all but over. Barcelona 2, Manchester United 0.
    For a competition typically characterized by caution and conservative play, this match deviated from the norm. Congratulations to both Manchester United and Barcelona for presenting a game worthy of these two great sides.

    Early commentary from pundits following the game had United not playing its best football. This may be so; however, United showed spirit and courage in playing attacking football. Barcelona deserves the championship and was clearly the better team. The Catalans took the game by the throat and executed a football clinic.

    On their game, Barcelona plays—without a doubt—the most entertaining brand of football in the world. They play the game the way it should be played, the way most teams can only dream of playing. Yes, Barcelona play technically brilliant, flowing, attacking football, and they are the best club team in the world.

    Congratulations, Barcelona! Viven de largo los campeones!

UEFA…Then There Were Four

UEFA Champions League
Home and home competition between Europe’s top football (soccer) clubs from each of Europe’s top domestic leagues: England, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, etc.

Purpose: Determine Europe’s top club team.

Manchester United vs. Porto

Defending UEFA Champions, Manchester United, returned to the UEFA Champions League semifinal for a second consecutive year behind an amazing goal from perhaps the world’s best player, Cristiano Ronaldo.

With only six minutes played, Ronaldo collected a pass from Anderson and let rip a shot from 30+ yards from goal. Porto keeper, Helton, had little chance of stopping the potent, imaginative strike.

United faced an uphill challenge after tying Porto 2-2 at Old Trafford in United’s home leg of the competition. Following the first leg, Porto was tied on aggregate goals (2-2) and held a significant lead in away goals (2-0). Additionally, no English team had ever beaten Porto on their home pitch.

On this night, however, United was more than up to the challenge. With Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic anchoring United’s defense, Porto were unable to find an equalizer despite three close attempts by Porto’s Bruno Alves during the opening period.

Next for United are Arsenal as for the second consecutive year three English teams—Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal—advance to the Champions League semifinals.

Arsenal vs. Villarreal

Tied 1-1 on aggregate goals after the first leg of their Champions League match with Villarreal, the Arsenal squad understood the challenge ahead of them: win the second leg of the competition by one goal or more to advance to the Champions League semifinals.

In Arsenal’s favor was Emirates Stadium, The Gunner’s home pitch. With the home fans behind them, Arsenal quickly left little doubt regarding the match’s outcome.

Theo Walcott’s strike at the ten-minute mark put Arsenal ahead to stay. Emmanuel Adebayor and Robin van Persie added to the score sheet in the 60th and 69th minute marks respectively, leading Arsenal to a decisive 4-1 win on aggregate.

Coach Arsen Wenger’s young Arsenal team looked dangerous and confident in dispatching a formidable Villarreal squad, setting the stage for a semifinal clash with defending Champions League title holders, Manchester United.

The pending Manchester United v. Arsenal semifinal has many delicious subplots: Wenger’s ongoing rivalry with United’s iconic manager, Alex Ferguson and Arsenal’s youth and talent v. United’s experience and formidable squad of defending champions. Whoever should emerge victorious, it’s positioned to be a classic for football (soccer) fans around the world.

May the best team win….

Chelsea Versus Liverpool What A Classic

UEFA Champions League
Home and home competition between Europe’s top football (soccer) clubs from each of Europe’s top domestic leagues: England, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, etc.

Purpose: Determine Europe’s top club team.

Tuesday night’s return leg between Chelsea and Liverpool was a cracker of a game. Chelsea held a significant advantage heading into Tuesday night’s clash at Stamford Bridge after scoring three away goals at Anfield a week ago. Chelsea up 3-1 on aggregate had scored three away goals placing them in a dominant position. Liverpool had significant work to do if they were to overcome Chelsea’s 3-1 aggregate and two away goal advantage. The fireworks to come surprised and delighted everyone.

Liverpool, trailing 3-1 from the first leg at Anfield, stunned Chelsea with two first-half goals from Fabio Aurelio and Xabi Alonso. The score now tied 3-3 on aggregate, still favored Chelsea due to the Blues 3 away goals at Anfield. Nevertheless, things were just getting started.

Three consecutive Chelsea goals in the second half from Alex, Drogba and Lampard put Chelsea in the catbird seat, leading 6-3 on aggregate and away goals. However, this amazing match took another twist when Liverpool scored twice through Lucas and Dirk Kuyt to leave them a single goal away from an unthinkable victory.

Liverpool continued to apply pressure; however, an 89th minute Chelsea goal from Frank Lampard secured the victory for Chelsea. Match score 4-4 on the night, but Chelsea goes through to the semifinals based on the 7-5 aggregate score line.

What an amazing game. For those of us who follow European football, it was a joy to see such a free flowing offensive exhibition. This is what true football is about. No stifling defensive tactics deployed here. Coaches Rafael Benitez and Guus Hiddink seemed content for the game to be a wide open affair. Kudos to the coaches.

If only all coaches and teams adopted this philosophy, perhaps football (soccer) could garner the popularity in the US it rightfully deserves.

Next up for Chelsea in the semifinals is Barcelona, Europe’s top club team in my humble opinion. I’m picking Barcelona to win the whole shebang, so Chelsea should savor tonight’s great victory. Chelsea’s Champion’s League campaign will soon end at the hands of the eventual champions, Barcelona.