UEFA Champions League: Ronaldo and his “big head”, a 17 year old bails out Barca

Manchester United 2, AS Roma 0

It’s called ‘having a team’s number’. Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney made sure of that. The heart of the Red Devils scored the first away goal without the aid of his backheel but instead it was his head and it put one foot for Manchester United into the Champions League semi-finals. Roma was without their usual maestro Francesco Totti and it showed with a lack of definitive finishing – but he will be back next Wednesday for the return leg. A 2-0 defeat at home will mean all things will have to go Roma’s way at Old Trafford. United was not without their inconsistencies, however, as Roma dominated the run of play for the first 15 minutes only to curse themselves over missed opportunities and the superb acrobatics of Edwin Van der Sar. Roma has a knack of scoring away from home, having done so twice this competition so far, and they will be looking to exploit a possible gap in defense left open by an injured Nemanja Vidic. Oh – by the way – it was Ronaldo’s 36th goal of the season. Unreal. It prompted Roma’s midfielder David Pizarro to call Ronaldo a “big head”.

Barcelona 1, Schalke 04 0

17-year old Bojan Krkic grabbed a much-needed away goal early in the match and led Barca to a 1-0 win in Germany. Highlighted by physical play, Rafa Marquez and Puyol organized a stingy defense capable enough of keeping Schalke’s big men Altintop and Kuranyi away from Valdes’ net. Nothing went on target for the Germans, whereas Thierry Henry troubled a weak left side and supplied the winning square pass to Krkic (the first of only 4 chances throughout for Barca). Near the end, things got sloppy, the crowd became weary, and whistles were heard in an attempt to prod Schalke into action. No luck, Barca takes the away goal back to Nou Camp. With Krkic’s goal, he became the youngest player to score in Champions League history.

TODAY’s GAMES: Liverpool vs. Arsenal, Chelsea vs. Fenerbahce

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Champions League Draw: Quarterfinals and Semifinals

I am sure you’ve already seen it but the quarterfinal draw looks like:

Manchester United v. AS Roma – can Roma avenge the 7-0 drubbing of last year? they did in the group stages

Barcelona v. Schalke 04 – as inconsistent as Barca has been as of late, I wouldn’t put a Schalke shocker out of order, Kevin Kuranyi likes clutch games

Chelsea v. Fenerbahce – another possible upset, but Chelsea will probably see the Turks off with no problem – Mateja Kezman might want to give his old club a lot of trouble though

Arsenal v. Liverpool – battle of the on-form strikers, Adebayor vs. Torres, I’d go with El Nino if I had to pick right now

Semifinal Draw

Manchester United/AS Roma vs. Barcelona/Schalke 04
Chelsea/Fenerbahce vs. Liverpool/Arsenal

Well, what do ya think? Will United breeze by Roma? Is Fenerbahce really an easy draw for Barcelona, especially with how they’ve been playing as of late? Who will come out on top in the Battle of Britain???

Smile Thierry!

My girlfriend is studying abroad in Barcelona and has become a Barca fan while living with a host family that firmly support Barca’s in-town rivals Espanyol. Guess who she saw while out the other day…? Right on queue, I got this picture right after hearing about the sighting…

thierry-henry.jpg

Maybe he should have been out practicing before their eventual 2-1 loss to Villareal today.

Thank you Emily.

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.

LA LIGA: Outsider´s Perspective of Camp Nou

Quick hello from Barcelona – and the slow computers of free-internet IES Barcelona. Attended Barcelona-Racing Santander last night. A 1-0 win for Barça thanks to a Thierry Henry knock-in. Couple observations and then the next time you´ll hear from me specifically is Wednesday.

Thierry Henry is simply a beast to watch in person. His grace is just as intimidating as his strength on and off the ball. Playing mostly on the left – but switching into the center when smart to do so – Henry handled the inexperience on the front line with him. Giovanni Dos Santos lined up on the right side, with Bojan Krkic in the center. Only Krkic had a great game as Gio made too many stupid passes to warrant praise (in fact all of Camp Nou jeered the little guy at one point)

We had a birds eye view of the field (meaning last row in the whole frickin´place), but it was great in terms of taking everything in.

Walking in, we were given Barça newsletters, which once inside, were promptly used by the masses to create paper airplanes. Many failed to reach their target – the pitch – instead, gliding down the three tiers and plunking an unsuspecting spectator in the head. Good for a few laughs, but it really summed up the atmosphere. Could be due to the opponent – one they´ve beaten 10 out of the last 10 times, but this stadium was somewhat quiet. Almost peaceful, to be exact. No real supporter group presence and my girlfriend at one point – one who has taken in many a-Red Bull games – added that the Red Bull´s supporter groups were simply much louder and dare I say it, more in numbers.

Regardless, the flow of play was slow, with quick stretches of brilliance. Combination passes, give and gos, feints, Maradonas, we got the whole lot, but Racing Santander was tough and frankly, Barça kept them in the game. Andres Iniesta is damn good – he caused most of the disturbances, while Deco was kept quiet the whole game and looked rather unfit. On top of that, Gio´s inconsistent play on the right caused for the crowd to ask for the return of their injured star Leo Messi. And it came, with about 15 minutes to go amidst a standing ovation from the Nou Camp crowd.

One other quick word, that stadium is OLD. Tradition or not…a 50 year old stadium, housing over 100,000 every weekend or so is interesting to say the least. No alcohol either. We couldn´t believe, but the grandeur of the place certainly made its mark. Just walking into the stadium, you could feel how important this club was to its city.  Poor Espanyol…

Danny Szetela dressed for the visitors, mainly due to injuries. Never saw time. He did get up to stretch out at one point though. Apparently, there is word of a loan move for him…don´t know much more than that right now.

Back with a big EPL post on Wednesday.

UEFA Champions League: Turkish Delight

Group standings. 

Group A

FC Porto 1, Liverpool 1

Jermaine Pennant was sent off with 30 minutes to go, but Liverpool survived finding the equalizer well before Pennant’s ejection and hanging on from there. Lucho Gonzalez converted an 8th minute penalty to put Porto up early.

Marseille 2, Besiktas 0

Having trouble finding domestic success again, but Les Bleus found a way past Besiktas with two late goals from trusty Julien Rodriguez and Liverpool outcast Djibril Cisse.

Group B

Chelsea 1, Rosenborg 1

Mourinho’s last game was a dud and the real question of the day was did he know he was walking out before the game or was his exit brought on by the result? Abrahamovich’s man Sheva saved the Blues’ tail by scoring on a header in the 53rd minute.

Valencia 1, Schalke 04 0

Not a great overall week for Bundesliga clubs, but it was David Villa’s class in the 63rd minute that propelled Los Ches by the blue-clad Germans. Otherwise, it looked like everybody else was content to settle for a draw.

Group C

Olympiakos 1, Lazio 1

Luciano Galletti put the Greek champions up 10 minutes into the second half and Lazio struggled to find someone to do their bidding as both Rocchi and Pandev were being shut down. With 10 minutes to, Luciano Zauri found the equalizer and Lazio accepted a tie – but the real question is, was he offside?

Real Madrid 2, Werder Bremen 1

There is still long way to go before we can fully evaluate this year’s Madrid squad, but they have shown more heart and dominance then in recent season’s past. Raul scored in the 16th minute but Boubacar Sanogo cancelled that out a minute later. We all know, however, that if you’re going to shut down Real – you must not give Ruud van Nistelrooy ANY – and I mean ANY – room. Well, Bremen did. Ruud replied – scoring with 15 minutes to go.

Group D

AC Milan 2, Benfica 1

Benfica never really threatened and for us American fans, all we really want to know is why no Freddy Adu? Anywhere? Andrea Pirlo exercised his ‘I’m better than you’ card and put Milan up within 10 minutes of the start. Pippo Inzaghi caught the bug and scored not long after effectively digging Benfica a nice grave to lay down in.

Shakhtar Donetsk 2, Celtic 0

I don’t get it. Rangers can rally against the likes of VfB Stuttgart while Celtic gets out-classed by Shakhtar, but when it comes to domestic play, Rangers loses 4-2 to Hearts of Midlothian while Celtic goes their first 5 unbeaten. Hmmm. A real nice crop of Brazilians have come out of Shakhtar (Elano to Manchester City, Matuzalem, etc.) and Brandao will surely be the next one to grab Western Europe’s eye. Especially after his performance against Celtic, scoring in the 6th minute. Claudio Lucarelli added his own 2 minutes later. The Brazilians really dominated this game, however, with Brandao, Fernandinho, and Jadson all having respectable games.

Group E

Barcelona 3, Lyon 0

Thierry Henry opened his account with Barca, while Lyon fought themselves mostly for the first 20 minutes but when Barca’s class kicked in – there was no fighting. Lionel Messi and Henry scored within the last 10 minutes of the game to put it out of reach.

Rangers 2, VfB Stuttgart 1

Stuttgart struck early thanks to the revelation of last year’s Bundesliga champion, Mario Gomez. Rangers evened it up not long after through the efforts of Charlie Adam, who since his terrible play against FK Zeta has seen little time. Adam came through, but Fernando Meira silver-plattered the lead with a foul on Alan Hutton. Hutton scored making it 2-1, giving the Gers 3 vital points, and taking the unofficial MVP of the match as he had his hand in both goals.

Group F

Manchester United 1, Sporting Lisbon 0

Cristiano Ronaldo’s homecoming was a good one – except for the whole destroying the lives and dreams of every Sporting Lisbon fan out there sort of thing. Okay, a little excessive – as it’s just the first match of the group round but Ronaldo scored the goal (on a diving header no less) that gave the Devils the win.

Roma 2, Dynamo Kiev 0

An out-classing – much of which had to do with the goalscorers Simone Perrotta and Francesco Totti. Trying to rack up points and goal difference before they meet Manchester United for a revenge-filled rematch?

Group G

Fenerbahce 1, Inter Milan 0

Brazilian Deivid supplied the goal just before the half-time whistle and Inter couldn’t respond at all. Could it really be that the presence of Roberto Carlos could push a team over the top? Either way, the key to the Turkish Champion’s victory was the efficient shut-down of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as he saw very little in the way of chances.

PSV Eindhoven 2, CSKA Moscow 1

Vagner Love’s late 89th minute goal couldn’t counter the firepower of Danko Lazovic and former AZ/Ajax striker Kenneth Perez who struck in the 59th and 80th minute respectively.

Group H

Arsenal 3, FC Sevilla 0

Yikes. Arsene Wenger has created a monster or else a little bit of confidence goes a long way. Cesc and Van Persie put the game out of reach but Eduardo grabbed another goal in injury time to drive the point home. The Gunners have started strong in both their Premiership and European campaigns, but are they pacing themselves?

Slavia Prague 2, Steaua Bucharest 1

An entertaining Eastern European battle that involved a showcasing of some burgeoning talent that you could see in the EPL/La Liga/Bundesliga/etc. sometime real soon. Marek Suchy showed why he’s considered one of the brightest prospects since Niko Kranjcar. Goals were scored for Slavia by Zdenek Senkerik and Tijani Belaid and for Bucharest, Dorin Goian.

EPL Daily: Sheva done at Stamford?, Fergie’s regrets, Man U wants another starlet

In the same vein as CHI’s most prolific poster Jeff, I have decided to adopt his ‘daily sweeper’ approach towards the EPL. Then we can touch on every little detail that I’ve wanted to share but not elaborate on…

There is still a lot to take place before out-of-favor striker Andrei Shevchenko even looks at coming to the MLS, but plans certainly just took a step forward.

“I don’t know why Mourinho isn’t playing me – I don’t understand it,” said the Ukrainian. “But I’m not worried. I will just wait for my chance to come.”

I’d be a bit worried. Solomon Kalou is on a fast track to become a starter at Stamford and Drogba isn’t going anywhere. Pizarro has impressed and should even more once he settles down…but it all comes down to, how can’t you play this guy? Or even give him another shot? Then at least you know whether or not to get rid of him or not – a question everyone is too up in the air about to decide upon.

Sir Alex Ferguson seems to be the man of the hour and a real chatty Kathy these days. First telling us all that there is no way that Beckham can transform American soccer by himself (which all in all is true, but the press messed with his words and said that there is NO WAY Becks can help American soccer step into the big three). Then, to make matters worse, he said something along the lines of, Beckham has never been the same since Victoria (once again, probably true – but why now? what’s the point?).

“He was never a problem until he got married. He used to go into work with the academy coaches at night time, he was a fantastic young lad”

Truth is, most of his rant has something to it in terms of the biggest obstacles the MLS/USL/PDL has to overcome. Fergie says they are – the geography of the USA and the loss of talent to overseas clubs. What he doesn’t see or care enough to talk about (and why would he?) are the youth initiatives, the growing connection between university/pro ranks, and proper scouting. What do you think? 

Fergie then goes on to say how much he regrets driving former Dutch defensive stalwart Jaap Stam out of Old Trafford (Stam was sold at age 29 for almost $40mm to Lazio). Who knew the guy was so conflicted…

Giovanni dos Santos – along with Andres Guardado, Patricio Araujo, Omar Esparza, etc. – make up the extremely promising youth corps that will be Mexico’s future. dos Santos, however, has already found his way to Barcelona and has been progressing through the ranks. It is this year he is expected to see some time, but since the U-20 World Cup, Sir Alex Ferguson has gone batty over the kid. Gio – for now – is still looking to sign a long-term contract with Barca, but considering how much Fergie shoveled out for Anderson and Nani, this move could happen.