Monday, October 27, 2008

The week that was..

It took a while but the 2008/09 European season finally took off this past week. While the financial markets around the world continue to collapse on the basis of poor decisions made by greedy @##@, European soccer provided a timely reminder why the game can be beautiful and continues to hold people’s attention.

The Champions league

  • Romania rising...sort of

  • There may be a new wave of Romanian cinema currently washing up on European shores, but its national soccer team is far from the high heights they hit in the early 1990’s when Hagi’s amazing skills put Romanian football on the map. But on a positive note two Romanian clubs have shown plenty of heart so far in the Champions league. On Oct 21, Steaua Bucharest almost pulled off an amazing victory over French powerhouse Lyon as they raced into an early 2-0 lead. And even after Lyon tied the game up, Steaua went into the interval with a 3-2 lead. But things went badly in the second half and Lyon capped a superb comeback and won 5-3. Despite the defeat it was a very good effort from a team that was considered too light in a very tough group of Bayern Munich, Fiorentina and Lyon. The loss caused Steaua boss Marius Lăcătuş to hand in his resignation, although the following words from team owner George Becali probably didn’t help matters: "I said that I would never sack Lăcătuş and I will respect my promise, so I will leave him alone until he drowns."

    The other Romanian team in the Champions League, Cluj, lost 1-0 away to Bordeaux but are still in second place in their group behind Chelsea and one point ahead of Roma and Bordeaux. Cluj’s opening day win away in Rome was easily one of the biggest upsets in recent European footballing memory.

  • Whoever gets more goals, wins..

  • Arsenal won their away fixture in Turkey quite easily but their 5-2 win over Fenerbahçe was down to them taking their chances much better than their opponents. The defending from both sides was quite poor, although Fenerbahçe probably displayed one of the most woeful examples of playing the offside trap seen in recent competitive European level.

    In Spain, Villarreal overcame a surprize lead by the Danish Champions Aalborg to run riot and win 6-3. Joseba Llorente scored a second half hat-trick but it was good to see Robert Pires getting a goal and beautifully setting up another just like in his old Arsenal days.

    Barcelona are hitting goals again and put 5 past Basel in Switzerland. Hleb is fit and appears to combining well with Messi in carving up opponents while the youngster Bojan Krkic is getting better with each game.

  • Some things never change

  • Once upon a time Ruud Van Nistelrooy was the king of scoring offside goals for Manchester United. After Ruud boy left Manchester for Madrid, Ferguson’s side had to try to score proper goals. But it seems they have now found a new offside goal king in Dimitar Berbatov as he scored two offside goals against Celtic in a 3-0 win. But Manchester continue to get away with dubious goals.

    Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan team beat Cypriot champions Anorthosis 1-0. Now, Jose promised attacking football for Inter this year but back in his Chelsea days, his team was known for grinding out boring 1-0 wins. While Inter’s games this season in the Italian league have ended 1-1, 2-1, 3-1, 1-0, 0-1, 2-1, 4-0, 0-0 and their previous two Champions league games were 1-1 and 2-0 results, it might still be early to brush off Jose’s boring tactical tag as his team have not impressed at all. When Jose was in England, he constantly complained about the English league and just two months in Italy, he is complaining about the Italian league. Hmmm...

  • Old Giants wake up finally

  • Juventus finally put on a good performance to outplay Real Madrid 2-1. The opening Juventus goal was a thing of beauty, scored by Del Pierro who certainly rolled back the clock and masterfully powered his shot past a stunned Iker Casillas.

    Bayern Munich are finally starting to put some wins together and easily won 3-0 at home to Fiorentina.

    English Premier League

  • A long record is over

  • Liverpool finally ended Chelsea’s 4.5 year unbeaten home record with a 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge. Prior to sunday's result, the last team to win at Stamford Bridge was Arsenal who won 2-1 against Ranieri’s Chelsea team.

  • The history of Arsenal through the eyes of Zola

  • Gianfranco Zola has certainly had his fair share of encounters with Arsenal and has faced four generations of the Arsenal team. Zola’s first encounter with Arsenal came in the 1994 Cup Winner’s Cup final when as a player for Parma, he took on George Graham’s Arsenal team. Back then Zola played for a dazzling Parma side packed with attacking talent but the Italians were undone by a solitary strike from Alan Smith while Arsenal’s resolute defense held firm to win by 1-0. Under George Graham, Arsenal were a strong defensive team who made it a habit of winning games 1-0, hence the “boring boring Arsenal” tag. But when Zola arrived in England as a professional player for Chelsea in 1996, he witnessed the transformation of Arsenal from a dull team to a fascinating attacking force. Zola arrived in England less than 2 months after Wenger took over at Arsenal. As a result, he came across Wenger’s first generation Arsenal side, including coming on as a sub in the 70th minute when Chelsea were leading 2-0 over Arsenal at Stamford Bridge back on Oct 1999. Five minutes after Zola’s arrival, Kanu struck a hat-trick in the last 15 minutes to grab a 3-2 win over Chelsea. Interestingly in another encounter with Arsenal in the 2002 F.A Cup, Arsenal opened the scoring just minutes after Zola took to the field. Of the many goals that Zola scored for Chelsea (including that back heel goal against Norwich), he found the back of the net against Arsenal on three occasions and was involved in some cracking games against the Gunners. Before Zola finally left England in 2003, he also encountered the second wave of Wenger’s Arsenal side led by Thierry Henry and Robert Pires.

    And on Sunday, Oct 25, 2008 Zola took on Wenger’s third generation of Arsenal team but this time Zola was not a player, but a manager. Zola is just 5 games into his managerial career with West Ham and it is still too early to predict which direction his new career will take. But on sunday, his West Ham side worked quite hard to keep up with Arsenal. Zola’s tactics might have right but in the end, Arsenal won a fascinating game thanks to Adebayor’s appearance as a game winning substitute.

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