Gimme those predictions: Champions League Round of 16, Leg 2

Tuesday, March 4th

AC Milan vs. Arsenal
                (0-0)

The Gunners could go either way – too young, inexperienced to win at San Siro or young enough to not care or allow intimidation to get in the way of beating Milan at home. Wait…but is anyone telling Alexandre Pato to be nervous?
Prediction: 1-0, AC Milan

Barcelona vs. Celtic
                (3-2)

According to the girlfriend studying abroad in Barcelona, the town is OVERRUN by Celtic jersey-wearing fans, but none of that should affect the outcome of this game. Messi and company won’t mess up a good thing, especially when they need to refocus after a disastrous 4-2 loss to Atletico Madrid this past weekend. Barca is angry and Celtic haven’t won a road match yet in this season’s competition. Doesn’t mean the Hoops won’t fight hard…
Prediction: 2-0 (5-2) Barcelona

Sevilla vs. Fenerbahce
              (2-3)

Sevilla has home advantage which means it’s a virtual guarantee that Luis Fabiano, Frederic Kanoute, Dani Alves will be at the top of their game. If by chance, Alex and Mateja Kezman can catch Drago and Alves sleeping and get an early one, Sevilla could fold under pressure. This is going to be another high scorer though.
Prediction: 3-1 (5-4) Sevilla.

Manchester United vs. Lyon
                     (1-1)

Do you think Sir Alex Ferguson really wants Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa for the $90 million Lyon is asking for? Or is this a mind game – Sir Alex trying to mess with the youngsters’ heads before a big game. It’s a little bit of both and if Cristiano Ronaldo and Rooney work their usual magic, even first team goalkeeper and long term injury returnee Gregory Coupet will have a lot of work to do. Nemanja Vidic is supposed to return as well to shore up the defense, one that wasn’t tested much against Fulham. For Lyon though, all it takes is a Juninho set piece – home or away – to put things in the right place for OL.
Prediction: 2-1 (3-2) Manchester United.

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EPL/World Soccer Daily 1.14: Starbucks FC? Disney FC? EJ to Fulham talk again…and more!

STARBUCKS FC: No, I’m not talking about the possibility of Seattle’s expansion squad being named after the biggest coffee chain in the country. I am, however, implying that Starbucks is looking into (and take this with a Daily Mail grain of salt) an EPL club to invest in. Who may that be you ask? Who has absolutely no chance of staying up this year, with an American influence to boot? Not Fulham….but Derby. Apparently an American hedgefund, Shamrock, run by Roy Disney himself (‘guardian of the Walt Disney Empire’), will take a majority shareholding in the club despite it’s feeble prospects as a Championship club next year. Just read on yourself…

EDDIE JOHNSON: I’m not one to argue with the Washington Post’s Steve Goff, and this time is no different. Goff is reporting that Johnson left USMNT Camp the other day to finalize talks with Fulham USA. The Cottagers need all they can get to avoid the relegation zone which they firmly stuck in at the moment.

JURGEN KLINSMANN: Apparently Tom Hicks and George Gillett (owners of Liverpool) were in advanced talks with Jurgen Klinsmann to bring him to Anfield. That was until he took the job with Bayern Munich. Now instead of covering it up, Hicks has come out and publicly stated that his intention was to sign Klinsmann as Rafa Benitez’s time at Anfield might be coming to an end.

KEVIN KEEGAN: Now the popular vote over at St. James’ Park to be Newcastle’s new victim…er…manager. Many – including myself – would like to see him link up with Alan Shearer, grooming Shearer to be the eventual successor. Doubt it will happen though.

ALEXANDRE PATO: The 18-year old AC Milan starlet was given his first start yesterday and he did what he was supposed to do…score. On top of that, Ronaldo looked like his youthful self making it seem that he most likely will be sticking around Milan for another year or so. It was a 5-2 victory for Milan and possibly a turn around point now that the crowd has their trio – chanting “Ka-Pa-Ro” a good amount of the game. Ka = Kaka, Pa = Pato, Ro = Ronaldo. Pato had about 4 clear chances on net before he actually put one in, Ronaldo had a brace after 2 days of training and 14 double cheeseburgers, and Kaka added his name to the mix as well.

TIM BOROWSKI: German international Borowski is set to make the switch from Werder Bremen to Bayern Munich at the end of the season making him new hire Jurgen Klinsmann’s first signing. Klinsmann himself won’t arrive til the end of the season, but he is already starting to put the pieces into place. Borowski didn’t even give Bremen a shot at re-signing him as he jumped at the chance to work with Klinsmann, former national team coach.

EPL Daily 1.7: EPL Clubs Fall, Alves to Citeh?, Drogba to AC Milan?, and more…

SVEN-GORAN ERIKSSON: Calls for David Beckham’s 100th cap. And apparently Sven is now after another Brazilian. This time it is Heereveen’s goalscorer Afonso Alves who reported could cost around $30 million. Alves would be a good candidate to replace and improve upon the wantaway Italian Rolando Bianchi as Alves hit for 35 goals in 321 appearances last year with Michael Bradley’s Eredivisie squad.

BEN TOZER: Newcastle won the race for the 17 year old Swindon Town defender. Tozer is nowhere near the class of a Gareth Bale but has shown remarkable promise as of late, finding a first-team spot with League One squad Swindon.

DIDER DROGBA: Could be on his way out of Stamford Bridge – recently being linked to a switch for AC Milan and possible reunion with Jose Mourinho.

MANCHESTER UNITED: The Red Devils are expected to trump Arsenal in their claims of being the richest squad in the EPL. ManYoo is set to announce a whopping $490 million turnover. This might actually do something to quell the anti-Glazer sentiment that has ‘glazed’ United’s faithful. Here’s more.

FA CUP: A host of 3rd Round games saw 6 Premiership bite the dust with another 8 being to held to replays. Major losses – Everton (everytime I talk them up, they come crashing down), Blackburn, Bolton, and Birmingham. Big replay: Luton vs. Liverpool. Dempsey’s Fulham vs. Bristol Rovers. Replays will take place on January 15th and 16th, 2008. Your fourth round match-ups look like this if you’re curious. Click below for quick match recaps…

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La Liga Para Todos Dec 28-Muppets, Ronaldinho leaving and Transfer window

–Any article that begins with ‘Juan Soler is a Muppet‘ really gets my attention. The Valencia Offside does a great job of tracking all of the Che’s moves. With most of their legendary players getting the gate as of late, apparently some are not getting the pink slip, but rather will simply be left out of the lineup.

He held a news conference today at the Mestalla to explain to the world that David Albelda, Santiago Cañizares and Miguel Angulo aren’t sacked, they’re just riding the bench for now.

Uggh … this guy is the leader of the ship? We’re going down faster than the Titanic …

I have to agree with Cesar. When you have a player like Cañizares who has been at La Mesailla since 1998 and has been a driving force in the success of Valencia, you can’t just sit him on the bench. Just cut the strings and say goodbye. Valencia should give him the proper sending off that he deserves.

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MLS (Semi-)Daily Sweeper, 12.18: The REAL Dull-Drums, A World Cup Qualifying Must-Read

With the FIFA Club World Cup and the NCAA Championships done and dusted and half of Europe taking a winter siesta, things look to have really wound down for 2007. Speaking specifically about the U.S., a look at Fox Soccer Channel’s 15-day domestic forecast says it all: the only thing more pointless than an international club friendly is a days-old, tape-delayed international club friendly…that it stars the Major League Soccer (MLS) dog-n-pony show only makes it that much worse.

Given that, I’ll be going into a winter break of my own till the New Year, but won’t start that till the end of this week. I’ve got Christmas BS throughout, in any case, and will thus be too busy with food, euchre, presents, running my kids around, and having drunkenly aimless, yet unbelievably passionate arguments about everything under the sun to get to much for posting.

But there’s always today and the rest of the week – and, as Steve Goff points out on Soccer Insider, today is positively stuffed with activities. The time being what it is, I’ll get to those tomorrow…it’s not like the story is going to change on me. So, on with the show, this is it….literally…

– On ESPN’s site, Steve Davis posted the quintessential hubris-checker regarding the United States’ road through World Cup qualifying; those wanting a clearer explanation of what the hell he’s talking about can get that through My Soccer Blog’s road map for the first part of the journey. The latter is useful for Davis’ column, but by no means necessary. Speaking for myself, I’m most worried about the one I’m assuming worries everyone else least: the play-in home-and home versus either Dominica or Barbados. Yes, either team is miles below us, both in the FIFA Con-jo…er, World Rankings, and quality of play, but it’s the lower margin of error that brings the anxiety, not to mention the potential for MASSIVE, unbearable humiliation. The thing is, if the U.S. finds themselves in a funk, or if Barbados (to pick one at random) somehow steals a goal and plays killer, athletic defense…well, that’s it. Unlike in the round-robin stages, both games against whichever Caribbean minnow we face matter, at least so long as we don’t carry a butt-stomping lead into the second leg; anything less than a 3-0 lead going into the second leg and I’ll be more nervous than I ought to be given the opposition. This is the point of Davis’ column: weirder things have happened in World Cup qualifying. So, stay frosty, people. Continue reading

CWC: Urawa Red Diamonds 0-1 AC Milan…dang it.

(I’ll start with a confession: for the second day running, I screwed up my attempt at recording Club World Cup semifinal between Urawa Red Diamonds and AC Milan. Being an insomniac, however, I woke up in time to turn on the cable and record the second half. I can’t even beat old technology. The 21st Century is clearly going to be a bitch.)

And so we have the inevitable final – AC Milan v. Boca Juniors – the one I didn’t want. No one doubts these are the better teams; having watched the second half of AC Milan’s win over Urawa Red Diamonds, I have to admit the Italians played the better, more decisive game. For my money, the Brazilian Kaka was the difference, the man with that little something special to create the deciding opening, setting up a goal so neatly that even I could have finished it; Clarence Seedorf scored the winner. And AC Milan certainly controlled the tempo – Urawa contented themselves with counter-attacks – whether by choice I couldn’t quite tell – and they played with the precision and savvy I love about the Italian game; at times, it seems the Italians set out to prove with every game that precision alone is sufficient.

For all that, Urawa made Milan work for that goal. Moreover, the only thing stopping them from scoring a goal of their own was a modest boost in quality; in as little of the game as I saw, they found openings – big ones on a couple occasions – that flummoxed the Milanese, once to the point where Dida got all up in Gennaro Gattuso’s grill. They forced a couple saves, but Dida stood up to each.

What really separated the sides, however, was something simple as confidence; you could see it in the subtle shimmy Kaka used to slip by his defender, just the slightest pause to freeze the defender, before he bolted by him. This characterized most of what Milan did: their players move with the ball and react to one another seemingly on the assumption that the move will come off; it’s to the point where it’s second nature, automatic even. And it applied on both sides of the ball: once during the time when Urawa pushed for an equalizer, Milan lost possession on their side of the center circle; the second that happened, one of Milan’s defenders immediately dropped a couple steps and into the likeliest path forward for Urawa; it ended where he expected and that was it, attack thwarted. So…damn…efficient. And still Urawa found openings. A little better finishing from Urawa, just a little bit more speed of thought in the offensive third, and this one could have gone either way.

In fact, between this year and last year’s tournament (at least what I remember of it), I sense the Asians are getting close to the inevitable upset. Didn’t happen this year, but it’s coming…which gets me thinking about something else, but that deserves a post of its own. Coming shortly.

World Club Cup: Today and Tomorrow

Urawa Red Diamonds 3-1 Sepahan

Looks like a case of same result, different score.  As they did when the same two sides contested the AFC Champions’ League final in the middle of November, Urawa Red Diamonds beat Iran’s Sepahan by two goals.  And, in spite of this being the most evenly contested game of the FIFA Club World Cup so far, Urawa looked likely winners from the get-go.  The Japanese club pushed a frenetic pace through the first half and, after a series of attacks, forced a goal from the left though the hard work of Takahito Soma (great last name).

Sepahan, to their credit, fought hard from the back foot – for instance, it took the crossbar to prevent them from knotting the score at 1-1 through Emad Mohammed just after the start of the second half – but Urawa always stayed one step ahead of them.  Well, two when all was said and done, after Urawa’s Brazilian, Washington, scored from a crazy tight angle and Sepahan defender Hadi Aghily nodded in an own-goal (the second credited to him this tournament; poor in luck, but rich with hair, that one).

The general quality of this game put me in a mind to revise my estimation from yesterday’s post where I plopped CONCACAF into the thick of the fight for the #3 confederation in international soccer.  They’re still in there, but after watching Urawa run Sepahan ragged – and, not coincidentally, after watching Sepahan hold them off for long stretches – it seems the AFC (that’s the Asian Football Confederation…I’m pretty sure) has a dog in the fight boiling beneath the top two confederations, UEFA and CONMEBOL.  Put another way, I don’t doubt Urawa would run a team like Pachuca just as ragged as they did Sepahan.

And that constitutes something of a warning to AC Milan: if the Italians come out flat or complacent, the Asian club has enough in the tank to pull off the upset.  Urawa may not punch toe-to-toe with Milan when it comes to the technical and tactical, but, like most East Asian teams, they can go the full 90 and run a marathon besides, all of it flat-out.  They defend pretty well, too; had Marcus Tulio Tanaka not flubbed a moderately tricky touch, the Iranians’ consolation goal probably would never have come.  Milan’s offense poses more of a threat, of course, but, if this morning’s game is any indication, they’ll have to make space or struggle to find it.

So, that’s one more of this tournament’s – what? – seven games in the book and I’m again having to readjust my preferences.  There was just something about Sepahan I kind of liked.  Maybe it’s the thought of trying to get their Iraqi forward, Emad Mohammed, playing in MLS; he looked a bit like Maykel Galindo out there.  Whatever it was, they’re gone.  So…now who do I pull for?

I’ll stick with the underdogs, of course, but think I’ll pull for Etoile Sportive du Sahel; maybe they can stun Boca Juniors Wednedsay morning.  Probably not, I know, but, another upset – and a big one – would do this tournament good.