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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Radiant Spurs, Disgraceful Milan...

Tottenham returned to the San Siro once again this season to play AC Milan and hoped to avoid a drubbing they received earlier in the season playing Inter Milan, though they did score 3 goals courtesy Gareth Bale. But with the superman missing out through injury, Spurs would have had to play out of their skins to continue their dream debut season in Europe and it was down to Peter crouch’s deft touch to give Spurs the edge going into the return leg at White Hart Lane.

Celebrations by Crouchy
Redknapp brought his team to Italy with a renewed spirit, qualifying through the group stage on top from a group comprising of defending champions Inter Milan and believing that they carry on their dream run. But never in the 1st half did they seem like they would be able to fulfill this dream. Even Milan did seem rusty, with the game being controlled in midfield and almost put me to sleep. Abbiati was stretchered off after suffering from a concussion and in came Marco Amelia who was making his debut for Milan, on loan from Genova. A boring 1st half was all the inspiration I needed to sleep, but I put this thought off considering all the high voltages clashes I have previously witnessed and hoping this one too wouldn’t disappoint.

At the start of the 2nd half Massimiliano Allegri replaced Seedorf with Pato hoping to induce more pace to the Milan side. And definitely I felt I had made the right decision to stay awake to watch a much improved game on the pitch. But on the disciplinary front Milan were a disgrace. Flamini went in two footed on Corluka and it was the end of the game for Corluka but not Flamini as he was shown only a yellow card. How the referee let him be on the pitch after such a horrendous tackle is still a mystery. To top it Milan players were disrespectful when Corluka was receiving treatment on the pitch. Flamini was seen pointing to the clock, indicating wasting of time when his rightful place was in the dressing room and not on the pitch. Gattuso did a Cristiano Ronaldo when he roughed up Spurs assistant Joe Jordan on the sidelines. Frustration was Milan main opponent and it was displayed all through by Gattuso trying to take down Crouch time after time after time. Maybe this small man was jealous of Crouch's height. In between all this the fiery Lennon breaks quickly leading a counter attack and my word, the Milan defenders were no match for Lennon’s raw pace and he unselfishly passes the ball to Crouch who put it coolly in the back of the net. Spurs were defending this lead with all their might and Milan almost snatched it with what was the last touch of the game when Ibramovich put the ball beyond Gomes’ reach. Unfortunately for him he fouled Dawson and the referee disallowed the goal. What a relief for Spurs which could have otherwise ruined their wonderful night. A deserved lead and the away goal will give Spurs a major boost when they play Milan back at home.
Where is the 'RESPECT'?
With the final whistle, chaos reigned once again as Gattuso went after Joe Jordon and head butted him. Though Gattuso has now apologized for his actions I don’t think he should be left off without a ban. It was shame to such a beautiful game. The tackle by Flamini was dangerous, really dangerous and if that wasn’t a red card I don’t know what else could be. It was a miracle to see him play the whole 90 mins. The refereeing was excellent except for the decision taken on Flamini's tackle and credit to Stephane Lannoy of France for getting most of his decisions spot on. Tottenham were on course to win over the 90 minutes and deservedly they are going into the return leg with a lead they would like to build on. Harry just wave your magic wand!!!!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Del Neri Outwits Leonardo in the Derby d'Italia

Derby d'Italia, as the match between Juventus and Inter Milan is famously called, is always a fiery encounter and not just because it is a match between two giants of Italian football but due to their rivalry after the Calciopoli scandal. For Juventus, beating Inter has always been a thrill in itself and last night such emotions were visible on the faces of all the top Bianconeri directors. Alessandro Matri's goal at the half hour mark sealed the match. The match had a lot to it than what the 1-0 scoreline would suggest.

If anybody had doubts on Leonardo's tactical abilities, their view could have only been strengthened after last night's match. The game was won more by the Del Neri's tactics on how his team contained all the possible attacking threat from Inter. Giorgio Chiellini at left back produced a stunning individual duel with Maicon, a treat to watch for the neutrals and at the same time little forward movement for Maicon. Surprisingly, we saw Chiellini more in the Inter half before the 45 minute break. On the other end, Eto'o was well marked by the 18 year old Sorensen, a remarkable show of faith from Del Neri towards the youngster asking him to mark a very experienced and in-form striker in such a big match. Inter's 4-3-1-2 looked narrow as Juventus were able to cut out all the supply from the Inter wings. The pressure was now on Sneijder to provide that killer pass to Pazzini but both the players were allowed very little space with tight markings from Bonucci, Barzagli and Aquilani. Aquilani had a great game defensively but offered little going forward on the counter attack. Perhaps this match showed how much Inter relies on Maicon and Eto'o than Sneijder. Juventus, when in possession, made more meaningful runs into the Inter defence. This was one of the characteristics of Juventus before the winter break when they had a good unbeaten run.

Matri's continuous movement caused problems for Inter as he regularly dropped deep, collected the ball and shifted the play towards Krasic who used his pace well to burst into the box through the right. Javier Zanetti as a right back looked tired after his midweek International duty for Argentina.The goal was a result of a similar move with Krasic letting an unmarked Sorensen cross into the box and a fine header from Matri ensured Juve took the lead. Another point of reference for Juve attack was Luca Toni who held the ball up well thus creating space behind him.

Leonardo might have provided a few inspired substitutions in recent weeks but his hold on this game looked weak. Pandev was introduced for Kharja and later Japanese international Nagatomo for Cambiasso. However, this game will be also be remembered for the miss of the season from Eto'o who failed to bury the ball in the back of the net in front of an open goal at the dying minutes. He, instead hit the crossbar and it landed just in front of the line denying the chance of apoint for Inter. Hardly a minute later, Eto'o again fumbled to get past Buffon on one-on-one situation. The match was tensed till the death, with Inter desperately searching for the equalizer and thereby providing the required space for Juve to score a second. Matri missed a few decent chances but Juve fans will remember his brave effort of staying on the pitch to ensure his team won despite struggling with a pain on his ribs.

During the start of this season, Juventus overturned a bad league start with a home win against Cagliari and then continuing with a good unbeaten run till the winter break. The fact that fascinates the most is that this time too, after last week's away 3-1 win over Cagliari, this short run of two wins in two games could lead to something positive.

In the pic: Matri getting past Inter centre back Ranocchia, chased by Maicon.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

It’s Red, It’s ManU......

Rooney's magical shot to seal the derby's fate

The 144th Manchester Derby in the premier league held greater significance than all the earlier derbys not only because of the fact that it was a Manchester derby, not only because Tevez was playing for MCFC quitting MUFC two seasons ago but for a fact that in a long long time Manchester City seemed to be serious title contenders which I don’t think any ManU player or ManU fan will relish and also that in Tevez and Berbatov this game had the highest goal scorers in the league for this season till date. But it all came down to Rooney’s jaw dropping overhead kick 13 minutes from time which settled a pulsating Manchester Derby.

ManU came into the game with the absence of their central defending duo of Rio Ferdinand and Johnny Evans while Man City came into the game with a confidence exuberating Tevez who scored a hatrick in their last game. Sir Alex Ferguson had Berbatov on the bench which seemed really surprising considering that he has been ManU’s best player this season and it did threaten to backfire with ManU seemingly being less threatening than Man City in the early part of the game. Silva missed a chance very early in the game to score a goal from a beautiful Tevez through ball which otherwise would have done them a world of good. They missed a lot of chances which if finished would have put ManU out of the game. And rightly Man City were punished by Nani near the end of the 1st half when a long ball upfield by VanderSar was flicked on to Giggs by Rooney and a neat pass from the Welshman was intercepted by Nani, fooling the in position Zabaleta and a brilliant 2 touch goal by Nani put ManU ahead just before half time. Nani as a player has really come of age and he has perfectly filled the void which was created last season after the departure of Ronaldo and which did threaten to hamper their title aspirations.

Man City seemed to comeback into the game when a shot by Edin Dzeko deflected off the back of David Silva with the later having no idea about it. This could have been a moment from where Mancini’s side should have dominated but they faltered from time to time making no attempt to compliment their defence who were valiantly fighting to keep the opposition strikers at bay. And 13 minutes from time a deflected cross from Nani found an unmarked Rooney who hit an overhead shot into the top corner of the net. Not a soul moved. Joe Hart rooted to the ground. Such was the aura of the goal that there is nothing even Mancini could have done but appreciate the genius in Rooney. This goal was the last straw in Man City’s comeback efforts and maybe even in their efforts to win the premier League title this season.

This was a much improved game than the one played earlier in the season at Eastlands. City were marginally the better side throughout the 90 minutes of the game but it counts for nothing when you don’t take your chances. Man City themselves are to be blamed for letting go of such a good opportunity of carrying forward the challenge for the title. Mancini has to realize that individual stars are not around just to make the numbers or to be paid huge wages. He as manager has to repay the faith shown in him by the club’s fans and owners. Rooney for my part has silenced his critics with this performance. His play may not have been sparkling, but the goal, people, the goal!! This is Rooney's best goal considering that it came at a time when his morale was down and to surpass this effort this season would need an extraordinary effort. At Old Trafford, at the end of 90 minutes it was only red, it was only Manchester United!!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Crap Invincibles

I was being told by Starfish Stevie, our companion on footiemagic that ManU might just break Arsenal’s record of 49 unbeaten games in the Premier League for which all I had to say was ‘Chill! Such things are only bad dreams’

And that’s one thing no one has to even dream about right now coz Wolves ended ManU’s unbeaten 29 game streak, a treat for all other football lovers considering the fact that this team never deserved to be called “Invincibles” in the first place, a term that can only be associated with the great Arsenal team of 2003-04.

A statement by Sir Alex Ferguson in October reiterates, why even imagining that ManU would go unbeaten throughout the season would have been a mistake. "In this present league you cannot think for a minute you will go through undefeated. It is an amazing league this year." The present ManU team who were unbeaten till the last game weren’t even a shadow of the team which won the premier league titles in 06, 07 and 08 and to have remained unbeaten throughout the season and break Arsenal’s 49 game record would have needed more than luck.

Left : 'Invincible' Arsenal , Right : The 'So Called Invincible' MANU

Except for a few games, ManU haven’t really played like a team which could instill fear in the opposition. All the teams including the smaller ones have played them with great optimism which showed they believed that ManU couldn’t run away with the game. Only Berbatov and Nani have been their saving grace with Berbatov leading United's title charge so far this season, bagging 19 league goals, and is understandably delighted with the standards he has set following lingering criticism throughout his time at Old Trafford. Arsene Wenger on the other hand had built a team to compare with any side in Europe. With Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure at the back, Patrick Vieira and Pires in midfield and Henry partnering Dennis Bergkamp up front, Arsenal had too much steel and too much style for their Premiership rivals. They had bags of character too. But it all ended in controversy at Old Trafford as a harshly-awarded penalty spurred Manchester United to a 2-0 win in October 2004.

Very rightly Manchester United were defeated 1-2 by bottom placed Wolves and what a morale booster this will be for Mick McCarthy’s boys. They achieved what no team in the Premier League could achieve till date this season.

Wenger's 'Invincibles' will never be forgotten.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Juventus: A Project in Ruins

On Sunday evening, Palermo was 2-0 up at half time against Inter Milan at the San Siro, on the verge of a historic victory. In the second half, Pastore missed a penalty and thereby the chance to go 3-1 up and effectively kill the game. But Inter and in particular Pazzini fought back to win a thrilling game. On Wednesday evening, almost the same Palermo side, now playing at home, were again 2-0 up after 20 minutes. But this time there was no turnaround even after Marchisio's goal in the first half and Palermo bagged all the three points with their fourth straight win against Juventus. One of the newspapers, Il Giornale even came up with the headline "Juventus lose. Maybe this isn't news any more"!

These are difficult days at the Turin club. The Wednesday match was supposed to give some belief to the Bianconeri supporters who came to the Barbera hoping for a change of fortunes as their two most important January signings, Alessandro Matri and Andrea Barzagli, made their debut. Throughout the game, Matri looked isolated at the front and when the opportunities arrived, missed three glorious chances. It is too early to judge the impact he would make on this struggling Juve side but their transfer dealings have been far from impressive. Their bench consisted of Jorge Martinez, Simone Pepe among others, two players bought last summer and mediocre by the standards of the Old Lady of Italian football. Recently their president Andrea Agnelli expressed satisfaction over the January purchases saying ' now the fuel tank has been refilled' but the fans didn't seem to be convinced. Moreover, Inter rubbed salt over Juve's wounds by successfully taking Pazzini from Sampdoria. Pazzini had always been a target for Juventus and add to the the fact that both coach Del Neri and transfer director Marotta previously worked with Sampdoria and Pazzini, came to be of no use. Fullbacks have been another weak link in the team so far, the arrivals of Marco Motta and Traore may influence, or illustrate, the rating you would give to Marotta.

They are currently in 8th place in the serieA standings, out of Coppa Italia and Europa League. They have the same points as they had last season at this time of the year and finishing in the top four looks highly unlikely. However, the recent dismal showing by the Turin giants would not be putting any sort of pressure on Del Neri's job as Juventus have invested far too much to build on this team exactly how he wanted it. The rebuilding project was born last summer with a new coach, new transfer director and new players, looked like taking shape till December when this same side was called title contenders. Since the new year, injury to key players and fatigue factors have led the side down. Milos Krasic has played close to 60 matches this season, since he was playing with the Russian club CSKA Moskva during the summer due to the strange fixtures schedule in Russia. Alberto Aquilani, who impressed so much in the first half of the season that even earned him a call up to the Italian national team, looks to be failing to give the creative spark in the centre of midfield. And as mentioned earlier, depth in the squad lacks enough quality. It would be interesting to see how Juve would perform rest of the season because Del Neri being a disciple of 4-4-2 formation, certainly will not be changing formations or tactics.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Qatar's Asian Cup is a qualified success

Put forward as a dress rehearsal for the 2022 World Cup, the 2011 Asian Cup was nothing of that sort. Everything was going smooth and fine till there were complaints with fans being locked out for the final with lots of empty rows in the stadium. However overall it was a job well done by Qatar and we can expect a great show in 2022.

The final game between Japan and Australia was deserving to be called one. Like I had said in my previous post Australia looked like a complete Asian team and if someone looked like challenging them it was Japan and they did it. Australia didn't take their chances and Lee Tadanari made them pay when he scored from a well controlled shot on 109'. There were no other goals and Japan won the Asian cup for the 4th time.

The oil rich middle east nation of Qatar put up a show which was truly admirable. However the number of people turning up to the stadium is a major issue as people would prefer to sit at home and watch Real madrid or Barcelona rather than come out and support their team. This problem might be solved during the World Cup with a lot of visitors coming in. The distance between the stadiums will be a relief for everyone and fans might be able to sneak into all 3 games played on any particular day. Temperatures soaring to a high of 50C will be a major worry but Qatar has promised to aircondition all the stadiums. You can aircondition the stadiums but can you aircondition the whole country?  Another solution that has been put forward is moving the world cup to the winter months of January. This thought has already ruffled a few feathers.

For now the Asian Cup has passed off without adding more fuel to the critics' fire. What has become clear at the Asian Cup is that Qatar, for better or worse, will produce a World Cup like no other.