Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Though overshadowed by Arsenal's show-stopping performance in Milan, let's quickly look to Fenerbahce and note a few things:
1. The Champions League is a fantastic competition. We already knew this, but it's results like these that really confirm its greatness. The Turks were massive underdogs in this tie and though they won the first leg, everyone knew it would take a heroic effort to overcome Sevilla in Spain. Things didn't get any easier when Sevilla scored TWICE inside the first nine minutes, leading the game 2-0 and 3-1 at various points. Done and dusted. But there is no quit in this side, and the Hulk came through for them again with a 79th minute goal to force extra time. Arsenal may have initially rued the decision to take their foot off the gas and let Sevilla win the group, but at this point should be glad they drew Milan and not the Istanbul side.
2. When it comes to penalties, never bet against the keeper who made costly errors during the match. If anything, put your money on that guy. Though nobody likes to admit it, shame and guilt might be the most powerful motivators there are when it comes to human emotion. And after having a pretty poor game, Volkan Demirel came up huge for Fener when the chips were down. You had to expect it.
3. People whine about the same teams showing up in the Champions League and call for change, but at this point, we have a Turkish side knocking out a legit La Liga side and the current Champions out in the cold. The leading Italian and Spanish squads are both on the brink of elimination today. You couldn't ask for more entertaining plot lines. Enjoy the matches.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
- The announcers mentioned everything brilliant about Cesc's shot except for the fact that Adebayor and his defender provided a valuable screen. Kalac was caught off guard in several ways and Fabregas scored what could be his most memorable goal of his tenure at Arsenal. Beautiful. I look forward to watching it over and over again.
-I didn't even think it was in at first (that's what she said). I thought the ball was on the outside of the net until is trickled back towards the middle of the goal and Kalac looked upset. Freakout.com proceeded after that.
-No one is happier about that goal than Senderos who missed POINT BLANK. Inexcusable Philip.
-Rumors were flying that Milan were a bit fatigued coming into the match and after watching the last 30 minutes of the game I am starting to believe them. Pirlo looked a bit tired and fatigue could potentially explain why the Milanese came out with devastating and threatening soccer for the first 25 minutes but not much more after that.
-After the first half, Arsenal had the speed to match Kaka. Clichy, Flamini and Theo late, ran him down a few times. He looked confused at some instances that other mortals were successfully harassing him.
-Theo and Adebayor effectively slashed Milan's throat at the end of the game. Theo's run was tremendous and powerful and his pass even better. 90th or not, the fact that Adebayor scored is important. The man needed confidence - thanks Theo.
-Pato had a "disappointing" game claimed the commentators but I disagree. It was not a great game obviously, but I wasn't disappointed in his play.
-I stand by my Seedorf comment. He sucks.
- The Hleb call was terrible. Absolutely butchered.
- Everytime Kaka gets the ball with so much space - three times I believe - I wet myself a little bit
- The first half of the first half goes to AC, but the second half of the first half goes to Arsenal
- Cesc hit the post and my heart stopped a little bit
- Adebayor is playing really well. He doesn't seem to be getting frustrating and is in some zone where Togoans go
- Pato before trying to chip the keeper was playing out of his mind. It appears his antics have humanized him a little because he's been playing cautious Katherine ever since.
- Milan is WAY better without Seedorf. He must really suck and bring that team down because the wily veteran Pipo has changed their offense tremendously
- This is the most wide open Arsenal game I've ever seen
"Glad you could make it Mr. Fabregas," said a woman at the front desk. She sat comfortably with her legs crossed and her hair pinned up with shiny black hairsticks. Her dark hair matched her glasses and the lighting warmed the room with a golden hue.
"She's been waiting for you."
Cesc watched as the woman gracefully stood and started down a quiet hallway to his left. The stone hallway appeared to always be turning and he followed her for several minutes in silence until they finally reached a single spiral staircase. Here she stopped, turned, and smiled briefly without showing her teeth.
"It's up there."
The steps were thinly cut white marble with black speckles and there was no hand rail. Fabregas started up the stairway and climbed for so long he began to tire. His breathing increased and finally he stopped, gasping for air. He looked down, his chest heaving and one of the stairs began to light up. His eyes widened as a video lit the staircase. It was a small screen and he hunched down to better see. He instantly recognized what he was watching and continued up the stairs with new resolve. A few steps later he reached a door. The door led to a dark hallway and at the end of the hallway another door waited. It was locked. Try as he might, Cesc could not open the door. He searched the empty hallway for something, anything, that could open the door. Inside he heard a muffled voice. He knew exactly who it was. He began to panic and banged on the door with all his might. He still could not open it. He turned to walk away and the door began to illuminate. Again another video showed. Again it was small and he squinted to make out the pictures. He watched again, recognized the video and smiled. He stepped back, and kicked the door open. The sound of the door crashing to the floor echoed and deafened the hallway.
He entered cautiously at first until he saw a woman blindfolded and gagged across the room. He rushed over to her and took the rag out of her mouth. She stretched her hurting jaw only for a moment and waited for Cesc to remove her blindfold. She looked up at him with scared eyes and spoke softly, "We have to get out of here." He paused for a moment and began to untie her.
"I know," is all he could reply.
Finally free she stood next to Cesc and they were blinded by a glowing white light. They shielded their eyes and there appeared two sets of two doors on the wall across the room. Written in between the doors glowed the following phrase:
Each of you can only choose one door to enter. Two doors lead to San Siro, the other two do not. You must enter at once.
Cesc and the woman looked at each other in desperation and ran to the doors.
To be continued...
Barcelona vs. Celtic. Celtic have a lot to do. Too much, really. I, along with many others, believed that they could take Barca at home, and it looked like they might until Henry and Messi reminded the world why they get paid the big bucks. Now, they're facing a 3-2 deficit and a trip to the Nou Camp, meaning they'll need a two goal victory to go through. Though Atletico offered a blueprint for how to achieve this over the weekend, that was in Madrid and with an a strong, attacking side. Barca have not lost by more than a goal in the Nou Camp in all competitions this year and I think even a gritty, determined Celtic side will be hard-pressed to get a draw here.
Manchester United vs. Lyon. United have the decided edge in this one. Going to Old Trafford and getting a victory is no easy feat. Of course, if Lyon draw 2-2 or higher, they're through. 1-1 even sends things to extra time and penalties. But that late Tevez equalizer in France really took the wind out of Lyon's sails and United have been in absolutely sparkling form. It's true that in recent years they've become overconfident and then been dumped out of the competition, but I can't see that happening until later. Unless, of course, the French Ben's (Zema and Arfa) have the game of their lives against what might be the best Central Defense (Vidic and Ferdinand) in Europe.
Sevilla vs. Fenerbahce. I didn't see the result of the first leg coming, but that's because I forgot about the incredible atmosphere in Istanbul. Graham Poll, the legendary English referee, recently gave his opinion on the Champions League and named it as the most intense environment in the competition. It's no wonder that the Turks won all of their group stage matches played at home. However, Sevilla are substantially better at home than on the road, and bounced back from their CL defeat with a 5-0 mauling of Zaragoza. Fenerbahce aren't a bad team on the road and force many draws, but considering that a 1-0 victory puts Sevilla through, one has to give the Spaniards the edge.
AC Milan vs. Arsenal. If you think a 0-0 draw is necessarily boring, you didn't watch the intricate chess match that these two sides put on at the Emirates. The Arsenal midfield and the Milan defense were the true stars of the match, and a ton of individual skill was on display. However, since Emmanuel Adebayor failed to score in the last minute of that game, Milan return to the intimidating San Siro as favorites in this one. The fact that Arsenal need only finish with a score draw to advance on away goals would be much more comforting to Gunners if their otherwise outstanding team hadn't made a habit of getting thrashed on the road in cup competitions (Spurs in Carling, United in FA). This time around, the key figures will most likely be Kaka and Adebayor. Last time, Fabregas and Flamini did a wonderful job of shadowing the Milan superstar, allowing him to make his feared runs only when there was nowhere to go but the corner or straight into an Arsenal defender. And Adebayor did some good work up front... until it came to finishing. If Kaka breaks out, Milan could win big. If Adebayor isn't rendered toothless by the 4-5-1, receives good link-up play, and finds his magic finishing boots, Arsenal could nick it. And if both things happen, expect a classic.
Monday, March 3, 2008
1) I was ahead of the curve! Finally! Usually, I'm wrong about my match predictions or late to jump on a particular player's bandwagon. So when I'm right, I get to gloat. Here's today's Phil Ball article on ESPN SoccerNet hailing Atletico's Sergio Aguero as "the new Messi," which, by the transitive property, makes him the new next Maradona. I've been a big fan of this kid since he scored in the first minute of the first game of the season at the Bernabeu. Talk about ambition. Of course, now that he's had his breakout game against Barca (reminiscent of Messi's hat trick against Real Madrid last season), the whole world can appreciate his greatness and look forward to the day Argentina starts three under-5'8" strikers in a match just to see what happens. (I for one think it could work; all three have shown they can score with their heads, and it doesn't really matter how big you are if you can just run around tacklers with the ball glued to your foot.)
2) Let's not forget about Chelsea. Juan recently put up a post comparing the schedules of Arsenal and Man U for the remainder of the season. I myself have fallen into the trap of thinking the season a two-horse race. But I think both teams neglect Chelsea at their own peril - the Blues are only seven points back with a game in hand. Additionally, one notices that both United and Arsenal have yet to travel to Fortress Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea have not lost since 2004 (76 matches!). It amazes me that this hasn't garnered half the attention of Arsenal's unbeaten season. I mean, sure, they're boring as hell, but unbeaten at home in a period now spanning four seasons? That's complete dominance. Also, until they lost the Carling Cup Final, they were still in the running for the Quadruple. Even Man U couldn't say that. So I wouldn't rule them out yet.
Sunday, March 2, 2008
Team A = Arsenal and Team B = Manchester United
The beauty of this is that both Arsenal and ManU do not have 30 points remaining. They play each other so one TBD team has 30, the other 27, or if they draw, both have 28 points at most.