Monday, August 31, 2009

One Week at a Time: Serie A 2

Milan vs. Inter

Could the Derby della Madonnina, the first big derby of the 09-10 season in any European league, live up to the hype? Inter came into the game favorites to win the scudetto after mostly adding to the squad that has won the Serie A four years running. AC Milan did not add much in the offseason, and suffered the huge losses of Carlo Ancelotti, Paolo Maldini and Kaka.

Milan got off to an expected start last week, winning at mid-table Siena. Inter were held to a tie at home by newly promoted Bari. On Saturday, Milan was the better side throughout the first half hour, and Inter looked out of sorts for a large portion of the beginning of the game. That would not last. Early on, Pato and Flamini seemed to have possession for a great deal of time and play off each other well in Milan's attack. Flamini even came in to protect his teammate shortly after Lucio's hard, clean tackle took down Pato, and brought down the Inter captain, earning a yellow card in the process.

Things were looking up for the rossoneri until Gattuso picked up an injury to his ankle about 20 minutes into the game. The nerrazurri started to take control of possession and impose their will on the game, and had an almost "Argentina v Serbia in the '06 World Cup"-like goal, stringing together eleven passes in a row before Thiago Motta placed a well taken shot past Storari for Inter's first goal.

Whatever knock Gattuso picked up sapped him of some of his pace, and in the 34th minute he lost Eto'o down the wing and resorted to bringing him down in the box to give Inter a penalty which Milito promptly buried for Inter's second goal.

Gattuso began to demand his way off the pitch in the 37th minute, and before Leonardo could make his move, Gattuso earned his second yellow with a harsh tackle on Wesley Sneijder. On his way off the pitch, Gattuso was yelling at someone on the sideline, and if it was Leonardo, it would be hard to blame him. It took entirely too long to get him off the pitch.

At the end of the first half Maicon and Milito had a nice give and go to set up Maicon for Inter's 3rd goal.

The second half began with Milan taking off Boriello and Flamini for Seedorf and Ambrosini. They would not be enough to salvage the game for a team playing a man down. There is not much else to say about this game. Watching the second half was almost a complete waste of time. Sure, Inter scored another goal on Stankovic's rocket shot, but could we really learn any more about these teams after a 3-0 first half where the losing team lost a vital cog to their midfield?

While Milan came out strong early in the game, they lost their legs early on giving way to the onslaught that is Inter. Overall, Maicon, Eto'o, Lucio, and especially Wesley Sneijder impressed for the black and blues.

Business As Usual

Barcelona begin defense of their Spanish Championship with a 3-0 over Sporting Gijon.
I thought Sporting Gijon played quite well and had alot of possession. They didn't bunker down and defend in numbers like Shakhtar did on Friday night.

However, they got burned on set pieces. If they could defend a bit better, they might be a team to look out for and improve on their 14th place finish last year.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

World Football Phone-In 4 Hour Special


Listening to it on and off throughout Sunday. It's the Brazillian shirt name reunion at Dotun's studio.

Did you know Bura, the Turkish expert, is only 19? Would have never guessed.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Carling Cup Third Round Draws

Per the BBC:

Arsenal v West Brom
Chelsea v QPR
Bolton v West Ham
Barnsley v Burnley
Hull v Everton
Leeds v Liverpool
Manchester United v Wolves
Manchester City v Fulham
Sunderland v Birmingham
Peterborough v Newcastle
Carlisle v Portsmouth
Nottingham Forest v Blackburn
Stoke v Blackpool
Scunthorpe v Port Vale
Preston v Tottenham
Aston Villa v Cardiff

To me, there are no true "must see" matches in this round, although the Leeds vs. Liverpool match could be interesting. Simon Grayson, who has been a major boost to Leeds since his arrival from Blackpool earlier this year, will have his lads up for that match.

Stoke vs. Blackpool will be of great interest to me and others on this blog, as Blackpool is the unofficial League Championship team of It's a Straight Red! The Seasiders, who are unbeaten this season, ousted Wigan 4-1 Wednesday, and continued their hot play today by beating Cardiff City 3-0.

Otherwise, the rest of the draw looks a lot like a standard week of EPL play.

Big Weekend

Two massive games for the beginning of the season in Arsenal/Man U and Milan/Inter. La Liga kicks off today with Real Madrid/Deportivo La Coruna, and Roma/Juventus tomorrow morning.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Europa League Group Stage Draw

Group A: Ajax, Anderlecht, Dynamo Zagreb, Timisoara

Group B: Valencia, Lille, Slavia Prague, Genoa

Group C: Hamburg, Celtic, H. Tel-Aviv, Rapid Vienna

Group D: Sporting Lisbon, Heerenveen, Herta Berlin, Ventspils

Group E: Roma, Basel, Fulham, CSKA Sofia

Group F: Panathanaikos, Galatasaray, Dynamo Bucharest, Sturm

Group G: Villareal, Lazio, Levski, Salzburg

Group H: Steaua, Fenerbahce, FC Twente, Sheriff

Group I: SL Benfica, Everton, AEK Athens, FC BATE

Group J: Shakhtar Donetsk (Holders), Club Brugge, Partizan, Toulouse

Group K: PSV Eindhoven, Copenhagen, Sparta Prague, CFR Cluj

Group L: Werder Bremen, Austria Vienna, Atheltic, Nacional

I don't think I've ever seen a Group L before... unless the World Cup one day goes to 48 teams and lets teams like Solomon Islands in!

Looks like Everton and Fulham are in tough. Celtics have a fairly easy road with two minnows in their group.

I'm still cheering for Dynamo Bucharest! I may adopt them at the team of Straight Red!

Steven and Kenny are back

WSD is now known as World Football Daily, and it will be a for-pay podcast/Ustream. According to the lads, it wasn't planned when Steven abruptly ended the show last Friday. The new show begins Monday 8/31.

Apparently Skype will be involved, and viewers/callers will be shown on the video stream if they have the capability.

They are planning a lot of giveaways, including sending someone to WC 2010. The early word on the cost is $9.95 per month.

OK, I'm Confused

Why is there no mention of Real Madrid?

Sure, this was the first time that Citeh has attempted to buy a title, but that shouldn't make them any more scrutinized than Real.

Yeah, the irony/hypocrisy of Abramovich supporting the measure is noteworthy, but still...

Clueless - Thy Name is Arsene Wenger

So, after UEFA does the right thing and charges Arsenal forward Eduardo with 'deceiving the referee', his manager, Arsene Wenger, decides that it's in his best interests to call the charge a 'witch hunt' and 'not an objective judgment of a case.'

Wenger goes on to say that the "charge implies there was intent and a desire to cheat the referee. Having watched the pictures again there was nothing conclusive. It singles out a player in Europe to be a cheat and that is not acceptable. UEFA has taken action that is not defendable."

I guess I shouldn't be surprised by these quotes from Wenger since he's the guy that never sees anything controversial when it's done by his team but by golly, he sees everything done by every opposition player. In this case, it's pretty obvious that Eduardo dove to win the penalty. Now, I'm sure he didn't enter the penalty box intending to dive but when the challenge came in, he sure as hell intended to dive and see if he could con the ref. The video is pretty damning but you make the call.

I can understand that Wenger is protecting his player because Eduardo will now be labelled a diver and a cheat and every referee in every match he plays will be on the lookout. But Eduardo only has himself to blame. Arsenal already led Celtic by 2 aggregate goals from the first leg so it seems odd that he would choose to dive in a game that Arsenal were pretty sure to wrap up anyway. I figure if you're gonna dive, make it count in a game that really matters. Now, whenever he gets in the box, every ref will have their eyes on him and if he does earn a penalty, odds are it won't be given. That's what cheating gets you, especially when you get caught. It goes for Ronaldo, Rooney, Diego, Henry and many others.

And that seems to be the point that Wenger is missing. If a player cheats, he should be singled out and have refs show more discretion when that player goes to ground to win a penalty or even just a free kick. It's a harsh lesson to learn but the game overall needs this type of lesson. To many potential soccer fans are turned off by this crap. I just hope that this isn't a one off and that UEFA decides to really take a stand this season. But it is UEFA and Michel Plantini so I'm not holding my breath.

Eduardo, the WWE is on line one ...

Arsenal forward Eduardo may face a two-match ban after the UEFA charged him with "deceiving the referee" in Arsenal's 3-1 win over Rangers. For those unfamiliar with Eduardo's epic dive, click here.

Thank you, UEFA, for setting a tone about diving early in the tournament. Soccer fans want to watch proper soccer, not a bunch of overpaid guys writhing on the grass after solidly colliding with air. I have no doubts that part of Americans reluctance to accept soccer as a major sport is diving and fake injuries to draw fouls. Come on guys, if you're going to act like you're injured, take some tips from the pros!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

UEFA Super Cup Preview

Most may think that Friday's UEFA Super Cup match between Barcelona and Shakhtar is more show than substance. Most would expect Barcelona and it's plethora of stars to run over the Ukrainians. However there are a couple of factors in Shakhtar's favour.

Since the Super Cup became a single match affair in Monte Carlo, the UEFA Cup winners have beaten the European Champions 7 out of 11 times. The most common theory would be that the UEFA Cup winners are motivated to beat the best in Europe and go harder while the Champions League winners just want to get the match over with and move on to more important things.

There is even more motivation in this year's edition because Barcelona and Shaktar were in the same Group in last year's champion's league. Barcelona won in a very controversial match.
Barca lucky to get out alive, fumes Shakhtar coach Lucescu

Shakhtar have not forgotten and will be out to prove all the experts wrong.

I hope for an entertaining game. I'll say a 2-2 draw.

To Advance After Abandonment

An incredible story from the newly formed Europa League. Dinamo Bucharest of Romania had to abandon their 1st leg home tie with Slovan Liberec of the Czech Republic due to fan violence (they were down 0-2 at the time). In soccer to forfeit means a 3-0 defeat. Apparently that was not enough because there was a 2nd leg and incredibly Dinamo Bucharest scored 3 goals on the road to send the match into extra time.

Video of the 3 goals and the end of shootout.

I will now follow them closely as I have a cinderella team to cheer for now in a competition I didn't really care about.

The Draw for the Group Stage of the Europa League goes Friday in Monaco before the Super Cup match.

There will now be 12 groups of 4. Top 2 teams in each group advance and those 24 teams will be joined by the 8 3rd place finishers from the Champions League for a 32-team knockout tournament.

Pot 1

Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR) (holders)
Werder Bremen (GER)
Villarreal (ESP)
Roma (ITA)
PSV Eindhoven (NED)
Sporting CP (POR)
Hamburg (GER)
Benfica (POR)
Valencia (ESP)
Panathinaikos (GRE)
Ajax (NED)
Steaua Bucharest (ROM)

Pot 2

Fenerbahçe (TUR)
Basel (SWI)
Lille (FRA)
Celtic (SCO)
Everton (ENG)
Club Brugge (BEL)
Heerenveen (NED)
Galatasaray (TUR)
Anderlecht (BEL)
Austria Wien (AUT)
Copenhagen (DEN)
Lazio (ITA)

Pot 3

Hertha BSC (GER)
Sparta Prague (CZE)
Dinamo Bucharest (ROM)
AEK Athens (GRE)
Slavia Prague (CZE)
Levski Sofia (BUL)
Athletic Bilbao (ESP)
Partizan (SRB)
Hapoel Tel Aviv (ISR)
Twente (NED)
Dinamo Zagreb (HRV)
Fulham (ENG)

Pot 4

CSKA Sofia (BUL)
Toulouse (FRA)
CFR Cluj (ROM)
Genoa (ITA)
Rapid Wien (AUT)
Timişoara (ROM)
Nacional (POR)
Red Bull Salzburg (AUT)
Sturm Graz (AUT)
Ventspils (LAT)
Sheriff Tiraspol (MOL)

Any of these teams your favourites?

One Week At A Time: Serie A 1

Is this really a soulless, clinical league? That's certainly its reputation among most followers of the three other "big" European leagues. Reviewing the table after one week doesn't help any defense of Serie A; four draws and six one goal wins. The table can't tell it all, can it? This season, I plan to throw myself into Serie A. For a few years now I've watched a lot of soccer, but not very much of the Italian variety. I did watch last spring's Milan derby, and it was one of the most entertaining games of the 08-09 season. It certainly belied my presumptions about Italian soccer. If this Saturday's game is one half as good as that one, we are all in for a treat. In my quest to immerse myself in calcio, I plan to watch at least one game a week, and then write about it here. I'll try to avoid watching, and writing about, only the big teams, but frankly, that may be harder in practice than in theory.

Siena and AC Milan opened their season in Siena's Stadio Artemio Franchi on Saturday. Figuring out if there is life after Maldini, Ancelotti, Kaka, and to a lesser extent, Beckham, has to be the first question for supporters of the Rossoneri. New additions Oguchi Onyewu and Klaus Jan Huntelaar did not make the starting eleven as Milan relied heavily on old hands. Watching Pato in action was one of my main goals of the game, but I quickly became more enamored with the team oriented style of play than any individual brilliance. There may not be a more talented midfield in any league than what Milan have in Pirlo, Gattuso, Ronaldinho, and Flamini. Each excels in his own distinct midfield role.

Both managers were dressed like GQ models or Europeans on Miami Vice (the TV show, not the movie). Are the Europeans fashion forward...or twenty years late? Other random pregame thought: Did I just see an ad for Sex Beans?

The game began average enough, each team possessing enough energy to seemingly run for days. However, both teams' adrenaline wore off after about 20 minutes and Milan's class began to show. Other than Pato, and perhaps Flamini and Silva, Milan is filled with players on the downside of their career arc. What they lack in youth, they make up in tactical superiority. The outpossessed Siena 2:1 over the course of the game. Milan's supremely professional style of holding the ball as much as possible should serve them well against the minnows of Serie A. Whether they have enough youth to challenge for the scudetto remains to be seen.

Pato opened the scoresheet in the 29th minute off a well weighted pass from Ronaldinho that took advantage of Siena's lazy offside trap. The duck was clearly onside, and he slotted past Gianluca Curci easily. Siena's only goal of the game came completely against the run of play, when Ghezzal tapped home a wide open rebound from Lukas Jarolim's shot from the left. The game tying goal, and subsequent confident Siena play forced Gennaro Gattuso to send a trademark growl to his teammates.

Other than Ronaldinho's assist of Pato's goal, he was not as involved in the game as I would have thought beforehand. He plays a role reminiscent of Juan Roman Riquelme. He doesn't run much, but when he does get the ball, he tries to supply well weighted passes to his attacking teammates.

Milan began the second half buzzing around which quickly led to Pato's goal in the 48th minute from Mathieu Flamini's unselfish cross. Other than a five minute stretch beginning in 75th minute or so, Siena did not offer much to challenge the Milan defenders. When challenged, Jankulovski and Silva were rock solid.

After the game ended, tempers flared with a few Siena players going after Pato. He must have said something while he ended the game by killing time in the attacking corner, and earned a yellow for berating the linesman. His teammates quickly came to his rescue as he was surrounded by Siena players. Pato made his exit with a smug look on his face. Can't really blame him for that.

One game in and it remains to be seen if this league is soulless and overly tactical. While it’s no Boca/River superclasico, Saturday's Milan derby is certain to have its share of passion in the stands. Let's hope the play on the pitch is deserving of it.

Carling Cup, 2nd Round

This week, Premiership Teams entered the Carling Cup for the first time this year as the 13 teams not involved in European Competitions entered into the 2nd Round.

Twelve of the thirteen teams survived. Close calls for West Ham, Stoke and Burnley as they needed extra time to advance. Even closer for Wolves who needed penalties. Teams also advancing to the next round were Sunderland, Bolton, Man City, Hull, Portsmouth, Blackburn, Birmingham City, Spurs

The one casualty was Wigan who lost to mighty Blackpool FC 4-1!

Wigan coach Roberto Martinez has been hailed as the next great young manager who likes to play offensive football. But they've been lacking goals so far. The last 3 matches Wigan have played, they've scored a combined ONE goal.

UEFA Champions League Draw - Group Stage

Group A: Bayern Munich, Juventus, Bordeaux, Maccabi Haifa
Group B: Man Utd, CSKA Moscow, Besiktas, Wolfsberg
Group C: AC Milan, Real Madrid, Marseille, FC Zurich
Group D: Chelsea, FC Porto, Athletico Madrid, APOEL Nicosia
Group E: Liverpool, Lyon, Fiorentina, Debreceni
Group F: Barcelona, Inter Milan, Dynamo Kiev, FC Raban Kazan
Group G: Sevilla, Rangers, Stuttgart, Unirea Urziceni
Group H: Arsenal, AZ Alkmaar, Olympiacos, Standard Liege

No Death Groups for the English Teams with three of them being extremely easy. Only Liverpool has a competitive group. I watched both legs of Debreceni and they were pretty organized and had alot of skill. They might surprise a few people.

Rangers got the easiest group they could have imagined. If they don't advance then they're just crap.

Group A and Group F probably the toughest.

Eduardo The Diving Cheat

Celtic players are furious and want UEFA to punish Eduardo for his blatant dive in their Champions League Qualifier on Wednesday night. As you can see in the slow motion video, the keeper didn't touch him. Did you think it was a dive at full speed. Did anyone watch it live and yell "Penalty" only to fell guilty later? The commentator seemed to know right away there was no contact.

So waht does UEFA do? Either the ref or Eduardo has to be punished right? The ref for making an error or Eduardo to diving. What do you think UEFA will do?

Thursday's Champions League Draw

The top 32 teams in Europe will discover their fate on Thursday 17:30 European Central Time as they are placed into 8 groups in the UEFA Champions League

They are places into 4 pots as follows:

Pot 1
1. FC Barcelona (ESP, holders)
2. Chelsea FC (ENG)
3. Liverpool FC (ENG)
4. Manchester United FC (ENG)
5. AC Milan (ITA)
6. Arsenal FC (ENG)
7. Sevilla FC (ESP)
8. FC Bayern München (GER)

Pot 2
9. Olympique Lyonnais (FRA)
10. FC Internazionale Milano (ITA
11. Real Madrid CF (ESP)
12. PFC CSKA Moskva (RUS)
13. FC Porto (POR)
14. AZ Alkmaar (NED)
15. Juventus (ITA)
16. Rangers FC (SCO)

Pot 3
17. Olympiacos FC (GRE)
18. Olympique de Marseille (FRA)
19. FC Dynamo Kyiv (UKR)
20. VfB Stuttgart (GER)
21. ACF Fiorentina (ITA)
22. Club Atlético de Madrid (ESP)
23. FC Girondins de Bordeaux (FRA)
24. Beşiktaş JK (TUR)

Pot 4

25. VfL Wolfsburg (GER)
26. R. Standard de Liège (BEL)
27. Maccabi Haifa FC (ISR)
28. FC Zürich (SUI)
29. FC Rubin Kazan (RUS)
30. AFC Unirea Urziceni (ROU)
32. Debreceni VSC (HUN)

Two teams from the same country cannot be in the same group

VfL Wolfsburg, FC Rubin Kazan, AZ Alkmaar, R. Standard de Liège, AFC Unirea Urziceni, Debreceni VSC, APOEL FC and FC Zürich will all be making their debuts in a competition which sees 18 nations represented in the group stage this year.

A couple of thoughts. Seville is probably the weakest team in Pot 1 and since they cannot get Real Madrid, they only ones they really have to dodge are Lyon and Inter. This may result in a very easy group. Real Madrid have a 2/3 chance of drawing an English team. Rangers are fortunate to be in Pot 2 as they will probably avoid a death group. They have a 50/50 chance of drawing an English team.

What's a good death group?

How about