Thursday, May 28, 2009

The biggest night in European football

Here it is. The moment that we have been waiting for the past few weeks. The Champions League final kicks off in less than two hours. In a sense, poetic justice has been done with the final featuring, in my mind, the two best teams on the planet at the moment, both in terms of what they have achieved this season so far (Man U has the EPL and the League Cup in the bag, while Barca won the La Liga and the Copa del Rey) and also aesthetically. So I don't really mind whoever wins. If you were to ask me a few months ago, I would have said Barcelona would have thrashed Man U. No doubt about that. In Messi, Henry and Eto'o, they have the best attacking triumvirate in world football, with all three players each scoring more than 20 goals this season. And their midfield helmed by Xavi and Iniesta, is basically the core of the Spanish midfield that won the Euro 2008 championship last year. However, it is in defence that Man U holds the edge over Barcelona. Especially so since Abidal, Dani Alves and Rafa Marquez will be missing from the Barca lineup tonight. The Rafa loss is probably not that huge of a setback because Gerard Pique is more than capable to replace him. But Dani Alves missing will be a huge loss for Barcelona, more so because of the attacking threat that he poses in tandem with Lionel Messi.

Here's to a fantastic night of football. May the best team wins!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The beautiful (and ugly) game

Much has been said about Chelsea's last minute away goal defeat (1-1) to Barcelona in the second leg of the Champions League semifinal last week, especially about how, arguably, Chelsea was hard done by an inept and incompetent referee, one particular Tom Henning Ovrebo, who "failed" to award the Blues at least three penalty decisions. Conspiracy theories abound about how the controversial decisions were influenced by UEFA wanting to avoid a repeat of an all-English final for the second year running. After all that has been written and said in the papers and on TV, here is my delayed take on it all.

As I have mentioned before, there were at least three potential penalty incidents claimed by Chelsea, all of which were not given by the referee. The first, involved a tug-fest between, if i can remember correctly between, Dani Alves and Florent Malouda, with both players pulling each other's shirt and trying to wrestle the other to the ground. When the referee blew his whistle, the action was indeed inside of Barcelona's penalty box. HOWEVER, the initial tugging, and therefore the foul, in my opinion began outside of the box. The referee was merely letting play continue just in case an advantage would rise in favour of the attacker (which in this case would be Malouda). In this regard, it is similar to a situation, where an attacker is hacked down outside of the box, in a clear foul, but the referee waves play on for an advantage just in case the ball would fall to another team-mate for another chance on goal. However, should the advantage fail to materialize, the referee is right to blow the whistle and pull the play back to where the earlier foul occured.

The second "penalty" occassion involved Gerard Pique, Barcelona's centreback, accidentally handling the ball inside the box. Although it was accidental, I believe a penalty should have been given. Yes, that's right. I'm with Chelsea on this one. I repeat. A penalty should have been given for the handball offence.

The third dubious penalty claim came in the final few minutes of the game after Barcelona had scored. In what was perhaps Chelsea's last chance to win the game, a strike by Ballack was blocked by Samuel Eto'o, as he turned his back to the ball. Ballack strongly claimed that the ball hit Eto'o's arm. But after seeing countless replays, I am convinced that the ball actually struck the back of Eto'o's shoulder. It would have been harsh to award a penalty for that.

So there you go. From three penalty claims, only one could and should have been given by the referee. So were the Chelsea players, especially Ballack and Drogba, right to harass and harangue the referee at the end of the game? A definite NO! A penalty decision missed by the referee occurs all the time. Three missed would have been, as Drogba said it, "a fucking disgrace." But like I have analyzed, there was only ONE valid penalty claim. And the referee could have missed it for a number of different reasons. For example, he may not have clearly seen the handball incident, (which i strongly doubt in this case). Or perhaps, he may have thought it was unintentional. Things like this happen all the time in football matches. By acting like thugs and threatening the referee, the Chelsea players acted like sore losers blaming everything but themselves for the defeat. Didier Drogba himsef missed two gilt-edged chances, one in each of the two legs, to carry Chelsea on to the final. And both were one-on-one situations with the keeper. A world class striker would have taken at least one of those chances. If you ask me, Barcelona deserves to be in the final. After all, they didn't concede at home. And Chelsea did. And in two-legged cup affairs, that's all that matters.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Manchester United 2009/2010 jersey leaked

My goodness. I hope this is not Man U's new kit for next season. If it is, I hope that now that it has been leaked, Man U will come up with a better looking shirt. Anyway, this design is supposed to commemorate Man U's first FA cup final against Bristol City

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Nature or Nurture

I just read an interesting news on BBC online about Bolivian football players being prescribed doses of Viagra to help them play better on high altitude. Viagra, as we know, helps to expand blood vessels and oxygenate the blood, thus providing more stamina and endurance to its users.

This brings up the question whether the recent Bolivia's 6-1 thrashing of Argentina was due to the Bolivian players inherent ability to play at high altitude or was Viagra the secret weapon that gave them the added advantage and propelled them into a resounding victory?

It's hard to say unless if the Argentinian team also used Viagra to help boost its chance of winning in La Paz. But if I have to make an educated guess, I'd say that it was the Bolivian players' unique biological structure i.e. "Nature" that made them play well on their native high grounds. I made this assumption based on two reasons: Not all humans are created equal and we are physically and mentally shaped by the environment we grew up in, and it is known that natives of high altitude have bigger-than-normal blood vessels and more expansive lung capacity to help them adapt to their surroundings; second, I doubt that South American teams with a long horrendous track record at La Paz are ignorant of ways - scientific or otherwise - to increase blood flows to the heart and brain that would help level the playing field, literally and figuratively speaking.

Argentinian and Brazilian team doctors and physiotherapists are not stupid and I'm almost certain they know the benefits of using Viagra in high-altitude matches. Why they almost never won in La Paz can then be chalked up to the Bolivian players' natural ability to play in thin-air environment. If, say, Malaysian national footballers are forced to play Zenit St. Petersburgh in the bone-freezing, snow-covered field of Russia, I'm sure they'll lose by 20 goals or more. What if the table is turned and Zenit has to play in hot and muggy Malaysia? I'm sure as heck it'll still win, but only by 10 goals or maybe less... Yeah, this goes to show how patriotic I am!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Red Devils achieved mission impossible to progress to the last four

The team that achieved the 'impossible', with Anderson cut out at the bottom left of the picture

What can i say? i'm over the moon and overjoyed with Man U's progress to the last four of the Champions League earlier this morning. I was getting really anxious before the match. Partly because no English team has ever won at the Dragao before and also because Porto is actually an excellent team, a fact that has been overlooked by most people. After all, they have reached the quarterfinals stage of the competition and they have beaten teams like Arsenal (in the group stage) and Athletico Madrid along the way. And in Lisandro Lopes, they have one of the best strikers in this years competition. 6 goals speak for his striking prowess.

Much have been made about the Dragao being an inpenetrable fortress, especially when it comes to English teams. But no English teams have ever played at the Dragao in a MUST WIN situation before, like the commentators at Sky Sports mentioned last night. However, Man U did get the supposedly unlikely job done last night. This was achieved, in no small part, due to Alex Ferguson tactical mastery. The 2-2 draw at Old Trafford in the first leg gave valuable insights about Porto's strength and Fergie set the team out with a plan to, first and foremost, put a leash on that, before everything else. Stop Porto from playing, and with the quality that exists throughout the Man U squad, Fergie knew the impossible could be achieved. The main thing that Fergie did was to put Wayne Rooney on the wing, and let Ronaldo be one of the strikers. This worked because Rooney is a tireless worker and a team player. Besides being a danger himself on the sidelines, he would also track back every time Porto had the ball, particular to keep a check on Cissokho, Porto's dangerous left wingback. Something which Ronaldo would not have done effectively, or rather, willingly. The second thing that Fergie got right was putting Anderson in midfield, in place of Paul Scholes. Anderson added steel and injected pace into Man U's midfield, something that was missing in the first leg encounter. Rio came back to partner Vidic in defence too, after being missing through injury for quite sometime. With the two of them in defence, Man U looked more solid and a clean sheet was finally achieved by a defence that have leaked in goals and have looked out of sorts, recently.

A wonderful performance on a wonderful night with a magical goal by Ronaldo to cap. Glory glory Man United 1000000x

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Four-cornered Dilemma

Of course I was heart-broken. And of course I was bummed out. I couldn't sleep after the highly-exciting, action-filled second-leg quarterfinal match between Liverpool and Chelsea last night, which saw to the Liverpool's defeat of 5-7 in aggregate goals.

I started watching with just a sliver of hope for a Liverpool's win after being down 1-3 in the first-leg match at Anfield. I read in BBC Sports that 97 percent of teams in the Champions League that won their first-leg matches by three or more goals went on to the next round. A very razor-thin chance indeed for the mighty Reds to buck the overwhelming odds.

But when the Reds raced to a 2-0 lead in the first-half courtesy of a stupendously-executed freekick by Fabio Aurelio and a confidently-taken penalty by Xabi Alonso there was suddenly a bright glimmer of hope on the horizon. One more goal to tie the series and two more goals to win it, and there was still the second-half of the match to be played. Well, that was the curse of it. Both teams came out of the half-time with guns blazing and traded goals until the dying minutes of the match, much to the disappointment of Reds fans everywhere. It's next to impossible to score that many goals at Stamford Bridge to begin with but Chelsea went toe-to-toe with Liverpool in this unexpected goal-fest. There are, of course, many mind-boggling puzzles and shoulda coulda woulda in the post-mortem analysis of the match but I'll leave the dissection to other pundits. I just want to forget about the match for now and move to, in my opinion, a more worthwhile pursuit: the Premier League championship.

Seeing that Man Utd is Liverpool's closest rival in contending for this season's domestic supremacy, it is only relevant that whatever Man Utd is engaged in right now will be in the interest of Liverpool. This brings me to tonight's match between Man Utd and Porto at the Dragao stadium. In thinking about this match I'm presented with a four-cornered dilemma: support Man Utd because of English football comradeship; support Porto because, like the wise Sun-tzu used to say, the enemy of my enemy is my friend; support Porto because I have a weak-spot for underdogs; or support Man Utd because I want them to get tired out for domestic matches as they go deeper in the European stage.

I still haven't made up my mind yet in choosing which team to support tonight. More likely it'll be Man Utd as I cannot see myself rooting for a team I don't know much and couldn't care less about. As much as I don't like Man Utd for reasons that only Reds fans understand, I still think the Red Devil is a much better team than Porto and deserves to move on to the semifinals of the Champions League. Whether Man Utd can pull it off at Porto tonight is a whole different matter. And as to the reason why I might be supporting Man Utd tonight, that I have yet to decide and it might have to wait until match time before I can be finally sure of the true reason behind my support.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A reply to True Grit (see post below)

nicely written, my friend. but u forgot to mention that Man U was missing Berbatov too through injury. And Tevez was probably out of breath after playing in La Paz and the long travel back to Manchester. I almost had a heart attack that night. It was one of the best games of the season in terms of drama and excitement, and the relentless attacking. And while i questioned Fergie's decision to throw in Marcheda as a potential saviour, i have since come to realize that a Man U fan should trust a man who was responsible for countless titles, and truly one of the greatest managers ever. The trophies and accolades speak for themselves. After all, unlike Fergie, we don't get the chance to see the reserves play week in and week out and to note their progress. I'm sure in this area, Fergie knows best. He brought us the Fergie Fledglings in the 90's and young players are still brought in to the senior squad to this very day.

Liverpool's victory over Milan in the Champions League final in 2005 was a tremendous one. It nearly gave me a heart attack too. I thought the game was truly over at 0-3 down. Milan conquered the first half and lost it in the second. Fabulous comeback by the Reds, i must say. And when u have a player like Gerrard to lead the club, anything is possible. Remember the FA Cup final against West Ham? and the comeback win over Panathinaikos in the Champions League group stage a few seasons back? Ermmmm, can we get Gerrard to play for Man U? Hahahahahaa