Celebrating club football and shining the light on incompetent and biased journos indulging in stereotyping and negativity.
Despite appearances to the contrary, having a family and a social agenda means that important milestones will sometimes be missed, so hopefully all 3 of my blog readers will forgive me for not posting anything on the last 4 games. I promise to catch it up over the next two game days. However, AJB is back tonight for a riveting Ukraine-Sweden game that is promising to be a firecracker!!! Sorry, forgot to turn off the Sky Sports / BBC hype pump, that wasn’t me talking.
It is interesting to observe how far the co-opting, and at the same time, the sanitisation and the numbing of fans’ passion has gone, and that corporations now feel quite unabashed in offering up their definition of what being a fan is about in full public view. Gone are the classic images of footballers fooling around with the ball in airports or just kicking it around in the stadium. The central theme running through one of the tournament’s main sponsors campaign (a company known for its various electronic products) is that what constitutes “the most dedicated fan” seems mainly linked to ability to dress silly and heavily going in for face painting. Never mind keeping up a positive attitude when things are not going well, or attending far away games in Eastern Europe surrounded by unfriendly cops. But commitments of that type do not make for media-friendly images that can be used to create that diffuse but sufficiently bland warm feeling that gives sponsors the sense of purpose in funding such nonsense.
Ukraine-Sweden, 11 June 2012, 20h45 kick-off: 2:1
Hollywood factor: Andriy Voronin’s signature pony tail offers a number of options: ideally that of a Eastern European baddie in straight-to-DVD spy thrillers, but failing that there might just be space in porn. What? He’s cut it off (the pony tail)? That’s what happens when you join Liverpool, all your self-confidence goes down the drain (exhibit B: Fernando Torres).
Old/mean man kudos: At 35, Andriy Shevchenko is Ukraine’s most senior and undoubtedly most illustrious player, having starred at AC Milan and then, erm, Chelsea. Notwithstanding that, despite looking as if he has just managed to grow his first beard, Bayern’s Anatoliy Tymoshchuk is another credible contender at 33. Otherwise, all of Ukraine’s players are really nice guys in touch with their sensitive side.
French connection: This is another stretch: former Lyon defender Pape Diakhaté, currently with Spanish club Grenada FC, officially spent 4 seasons at Dynamo Kiev from 2007 to 2011 (although he was loaned out for 2 of them). That should be amply sufficient to get him invited to the late evening piss-up on M6 that passes for a football discussion show, to offer his views on “what it’s like over there”. There might be a last dash attempt for pre-retirement heroics for Sheva, especially after that lovely flying header and if the new owners at PSG fail to land a current big name like Ibrahimovic or Tevez.
New hype kid most touted to join the English Premier League: 22-year old Andrei Yarmolenko is not exactly a household name just yet (as such transfer targets quickly become), but has managed to get himself noticed during Kiev’s recent Champions League outings. With a total of 12 goals (to 28 appearances) for club last season, and another 4 (out of 7) for country, he could be the new big thing for the right club. With Bili the Kid at Everton, blue would perhaps be a good destination for him, unless Arsène decides he can’t afford Dzagoev but wants to add to list of his alternative signings from Eastern Europea. Otherwise, on the left wing, Yevhen Konoplyanka was equally if not more impressive throughout the evening, showing lots of technical skills and courage to take on opponents directly.
Hollywood factor: Am I the only one to have noticed the striking resemblance between Sunderland’s Sebastien Larsson and comedy stand up “executive drag” star Eddie Izzard? I wonder who’s better at the other one’s skills – Larsson with the jokes, or Izzard with the ball?
Old/mean man kudos: In addition to Sweden, 34-year old Olof Mellberg has played in Spain, England, Italy and now Greece, for the last 3 years (at Olympiakos)! If that isn’t proof of a big heart, I don’t know what is.
French connection: Unlike for the Ukranians and many other nations covered so far, the Swedes seem to quite like playing in France. Goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson spent two years at Rennes from 2004 to 2006, Kim Källström has been at Lyon forever, while Johan Elmander got Europe to take notice while at Toulouse, from 2006 to 2008; a bit sadly for him, only Bolton was watching.
New hype kid most touted to join the English Premier League: at lot has been said of midfielder Rasmus Elm, currently serving at AZ Alkmaar and with 10 goals to his name this season. At 24, he might be a ripe for a new challenge.
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Historic moment of the match: The dramatic and emotionally loaded hug between Andriy Shevchenko and the grumpy old Oleg Blokhin following the former’s 2nd goal – they indulged in another one at the end of the game.
Hero of the game: Shevchenko, for that beautiful 1st headed goal, created from nearly nothing, and for confounding his critics (including this scribe) by deciding the game with the 2nd (and getting one over Ibrahimovic in the process).
So it’s now definitely over in the U.K., Italy and Spain and although there is still one more day left in France, Lille have definitely clinched the title (and thereby a double) with the key point squeezed from a tightly contested 2-2 against PSG. Excellent goals all around, see highlights here. I, like many, do feel that this was well and truly properly deserved, Lille showing both flair and consistency through out the season – as demonstrated by Eden Hazard’s graduation from “best hope” to “best player” at the French player awards show (UNFP). Marseille will finish second no matter what now, while Lyon and PSG will battle it out on the last day for the all important Champions League play-off spot. 7 sides are still hanging on to avoid the last remaining place for the drop: AJ Auxerre , Stade Brest, OGC Nice, Valenciennes FC, SM Caen, AS Nancy, AS Monaco will be wanting to get a win from that last game next Sunday to make sure they stay up. If I have to choose one, I’d put my money on Monaco as they are the worst off of all the above, and I trust Aulas will do everything possible to ensure that Lyon does not miss out on the CL spot.
In Italy, Inter finished off with a fairly convincing win at home against Catania, with 2 goals from Pazzini (a magnificent volley for the 1st) and a 3rd from Nakamoto – watch here. The nerazzurris thus comforted their position in 2nd spot with 6 points behind Milan AC but also 6 points in front of Naples, who drew with Juve in Turin. On the number of games in charge, Leonardo thus concludes his half-term with Inter as the best coach in Italy but more on that later. Udinese drew with Milan in the evening and thus secured the right for the Champions League play-off spot: let’s hope they do better than Sampdoria last year – the blucerchiati have been going downhill ever since that terrible night on August 24 last year when they went down in the return fixture against Bremen after they initially looked good to have qualified, and things really got tough after both Pazzini and Cassano departed. The two wolverine brothers Lazio and Roma will compete to regain some prestige in the Europa League next season, with the bianconerris looking enviously on with a lot of bitterness – “una stagione disgraziata, la peggiore degli ultimi 20 anni”. Even those words, albeit from La Gazzetta, are quite revealing of Juve’s profound malaise because what could be worse than the calciopoli and relegation? These words are also symptomatic of the lack of understanding of the causes of the stagnation of the club, which is primarily the responsibility of the club’s management that has been unable to create a sound basis for stability and the building of squad cohesion. Things are not likely to improve next season as the club looks on for another providential but probably inexperienced saviour from the past.
In Spain, Sevilla have incredibly managed to hold on to 5th spot despite achieving the same number of points as the two Atleticos, thanks to arelatively good recent run of results and last night’s victory against Espanyol, and in particular two magnificent goals from Alvaro Negredo – watch here. For a fairly chaotic season including a messy change of manager and the departure of one of the two main goalscorers (Luis Fabiano), that’s quite an achievement. Real Madrid finished 4 points behind Barça, evil José’s defensive outfit managing to put a paltry 8 goals past bottom placed Almeria. Cristiano Ronaldo thus finishes as top goalscorer. Valencia and Villareal confirmed their spots as 3rd and 4th, respectively, which they have been holding on to for some time, so it was only logical. On a sad note, Deportivo la Coruna drop down to Liga B: incredible to think that not so long ago they were challenging Milan, Manchester United and other European greats for European trophies.
In England also, the season came to a climactic finish with a mega relegation scrap between Wolves, Birmingham, Blackpool, Blackburn and Wigan. After a pretty thrilling 90 minutes of switcheroo for the drop spots, destiny settled on Blackpool and Birmingham. There will be general sadness for Blackpool who put in a very entertaining though defensively naive campaign, conceding far too many goals including on this final very important day, but not as much for general meanies Birmingham, and especially none from the Emirates. Smiles all round here though for Wigan and their coach Roberto Martinez, who would have to be top candidate to win the prize for the most positive coach in football today, maintaining a serene and positive outlook on his team’s potential through the most difficult of times. And I’d like to believe that it had a part in them finishing well – remember: not many people win away at Britannia. Elsewhere, Mancini’s Mancity (or the other way around) finished off in convincing style by seeing off Bolton 2-0. Arsenal settle for fourth place and will have to go through the Champions League’s play-off round to see some European football next season – I’d love it to be against Villareal. Well done to West Brom’s own Big Chief Tchoyi for grabbing a treble to save the blushes from his coleagues’ atrocious defending. I certainly wish I’d seen these ones coming for my Fantasy Football team selection but like Blak Twang, I ain’t done too bad. Following the day’s games, Chelsea have finally put an end to the least thrilling gossip trail of the second half of the season by confirming the dismissal of Carlo Ancelotti. All bets are now on as to who will be Roman’s next big money move – it would be nice to see Pep Guardiola trying out his skills in a different environment so the world can assess his skills outside the warm nest of Daddy Cruyff.
P.S. Speaking of Everton, thought Id mention that – thanks to a perceptive WSC reader’s letter a few years ago – upon watching MOTD tonight I was delighted to anticipate Everton defender’s Seamus Coleman’s second yellow and thus red card and thus confirm that the BBC’s golden rule “if they show you a player getting a yellow card, that means he’s getting the second later on” is truly and well still operational.
Convincing results for a number of favorite teams, and notably:
Calcio: Inter win at home (watch video highlights here) – following a convincing display on Tuesday at the Olimpico against Roma (0-1 victory for the black & blue in the 1st leg of the cup semi-final), it was always going to be tough to follow-up with another strong performance. And indeed it was not easy nor particularly graceful, but the result is there again: thanks to its character and resourcefulness, and aided a bit by the terrible state of the pitch (for once, though it has potentially cost us many points and also again Dejan Stankovic for another injury), Inter took all three points from a decisive confrontation with direct rivals Lazio. Down 1 goal and reduced to 10 men after yet another one of Morganti’s special favours that he mainly reserves for Inter – namely the red card for Julio César resulting in a penalty converted by Zarate – Inter seemed in a bad shape. But thanks to Wesley Sneijder’s free kick before half time and despite being one man down, the nerazzuri sourced serenity and skill from their deep stock of character and took the lead again through some cool finishing by Samuel Eto’o. Thought there were some close shaves in the 2nd half (Zarate going wide and/or hitting the crossbar on a couple of occasions), Leonardo’s squad were finally able to claim another important victory that sees them go second following Napoli’s second defeat in a row at resurgent Palermo (watch video highlights). Milan, meanwhile, maintained a clean sheet and grabbed a goal for another 3 points from Brescia.
La Liga: Sevilla win at home against fourth placed Villareal – initially knocked out by two quick punches in the 1st half (Rakitic free kick and another sumptuous goal by Negredo – see approx. on 13 seconds on this video highlight), the yellow sub marines (cheap pun intended) looked the more dangerous of the two outfits in the 2nd half. Subs Rossi and Cani both added potentcy in construction and Villareal came close on several occasions as Sevilla’s defense looked increasingly like its usual shabby self as the game went on. However, one important mistake allowed Sevilla to stretch their lead to 3-1 (Romaric) and despite Villareal pulling one back through Marchena, they ultimately held on to that one goal lead to claim 3 important points for a possible European place. It was not a pretty sight by any stretch, and by comparison the Barça-Real game on Tuesday way poetry compared to what went on (notably the new “ball-throwers” scandal which will undoubtedly go on for a few days despite condemnations by the president Del Nido and the coach Manzano). As noted earlier, Real Madrid won at Mestalla 6-3 against Valencia while Barcelona also got their 3 points away against Osasuna, winning 2-0. Atletico Bilbao is also doing quite well in 5th place thanks to claiming victory against local rivals Real Sociedad on Saturday.
Notable results / news from other championships: