Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Champions League Preview

So this week, we have two of the biggest games of the footballing year so far. The greatest club competition in the world, the Champions League, has reached the semi-final stage, and this week sees the second legs of those ties, letting us know who will contest this year's Final in Madrid on May 22.

The first of the semi-finals is the one we have tonight, Lyon x Bayern at Stade Gerland. The first leg last week in Munich was an interesting encounter, Bayern coming out as 1-0 winners thanks to an Arjen Robben goal, but it wasn't all positive for the German giants. The sending off of Bayern's talisman Franck Ribery means he will be unavailable for selection this evening, along with winger Danijel Pranjic who reached the yellow cards limit in the first leg. If you add that to the injury to Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and fitness worries over Martín Demichelis, Daniel van Buyten and Diego Contento, we see Bayern with a depleted squad, and they will surely have to make a few changes from last week's game. However one big positive for Bayern's team selection is that they will welcome back Dutch midfielder Mark van Bommel from suspension, and he will bring a lot to their midfield in such an important game.

OL have selection worries of their own, with Jeremy Toulalan suspended after his red card last week, and there are injury doubts over centre-half Cris and winger Michel Bastos. There are also worries over the fitness of Jean II Makoun and Lisandro López, but both should play. OL will be able to welcome back French international centre-half Jean-Alain Boumsong who is fit again after injury. Another worry for Lyon is the large amount of players who are only one yellow card away from being suspended for the Final, if they were to make it through. Six of their key players (Cissokho, Cris, Delgado, Gonalons, Kallstrom and Pjanic) all of whom are expected to start this evening, would miss the Final if they were yellow carded and OL progress.

Now as I mentioned, Bayern are leading the tie 1-0 going into tonight's game thanks to Arjen Robben's goal last week in the Allianz Arena. Last week's game was a little slow at times, OL playing defensively without taking many risks going forward, meaning they were hard for Bayern to break down, but also that Lyon did not threaten their German hosts half as much as they needed to. Expect Lyon to really go for it tonight, as they know they need to score at least twice to win the tie.

I'm looking forward to a really open game tonight, with goals and both teams going forward for the win. The smart money would be on Bayern to qualify tonight, as you would expect them to score at least once during the game, and if they do, OL would then have to score three times to progress. However it would be unwise to write off Lyon, they have a really strong team this year, and you will remember they recently went to the Bernabeu and defeated Real Madrid to advance to this stage. OL have some great attacking players, Lisandro López being the pick of the bunch, a really dangerous centre-forward, who is athletic and strong, and has a great eye for goal. If OL really go for it tonight, creating chances and asking questions of the Bayern defense, then I believe they have a good chance to get the goals they need.

As we know, Bayern are fantastic going forward. Dutch winger Arjen Robben is in unbelievable form, scoring and creating goals. However their defense has been much less convincing, with the worst defensive record out of the four remaining teams, conceding 13 goals so far in this year's tournament. With a question over the fitness of centre-halfs Demichelis and van Buyten, Bayern will more than likely field an unfamiliar back four, and they will be hoping it doesn't affect them too much. If Bayern's defence is anything but solid, OL can really take advantage and score goals into their German opponents. Bayern are aware of this though, with Mark van Bommel saying that it isn't a problem if they leak goals, because even "if we [Bayern] concede six goals, but score five, we're through". Doesn't really make the most sense, but it seems he believes Bayern's attacking strength will compensate for their defensive frailties.

My prediction for tonight, similar to what van Bommel was saying, is 2-1 to OL. I believe Lyon will really go for it, and will find gaps in Bayern's defense, but Bayern are too good going forward right now, and I expect them to score at some point in tonight's game and seal their place in this year's Final. So there is about an hour left before the game, if you are a betting person and looking for some quick tips before the game, I'd go for my 2-1 prediction, and for most likely scorers, its got to be Lisandro and Arjen Robben.

I'll be back either later tonight or the same time tomorrow to preview the other big semi-final, Barca-Inter. So look out for that.

Enjoy the game!

Friday, 16 April 2010

Who's Number One? (Part 2: Wayne Rooney)

Now the second part of my 3-part series on the best players on Earth right now. Last time was Messi, this time I'll talk about the reason England have a decent chance in World Cup 2010...

Wayne Rooney (Manchester United & England)
Date of Birth: 24 October 1985 (age 24)
Place of Birth: Croxteth, England
Position: Striker

Ever since he scored the winner for Everton against Arsenal in 2002, five days before his 17th birthday, Rooney has been tipped for big things. What followed was a £25.6 million transfer to Manchester United, then 6 amazing seasons at Old Trafford, and Wayne Rooney is widely accepted as one of the most dangerous players in the world.

Similar to Messi, Rooney is in one of the best places in the world to play football being at Manchester United. This season he leads the offensive line, finding great success linking up with Antonio Valencia and Nani on the wings. In his time at Man Utd he has had some fantastic players to play alongside, Ryan Giggs, Dimitar Berbatov, Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and Ruud van Nistelrooy but to name a few. Despite competing with some big egos and a lot of quality, Rooney has always been the first name on the teamsheet, and shows his quality in every game.

The reason why Rooney always seems to play well is that without a doubt he is the most determined player in the world. No matter how United are playing, no matter how tired he may be, Rooney will put 120% into every tackle, sprint the full length of the field at top speed, and put the ball into the goal with amazing power.

There isn't much point going through all of Rooney's best attributes, because he is the closest to a "complete footballer" I have ever seen. He has amazing stamina and determination, he is unbelievably fast, he has great balance and strength, his shooting skills are amazing, and his positioning and heading is now up among the best. He is even a pretty good tackler.

Rooney has all of these skills at 24 years old, when he has his best games he is capable of single-handedly defeating teams, he is the reason that England have a real chance at the World Cup this summer. I mentioned his age there, most forwards will reach their peak between 27 and 31, so that would suggest Rooney still has some time to develop (yes I know, he might get even better), and with his mentality and determination he really could improve even more.

On my Leo Messi post, I posted a really long video with all of his best skills and moments of genius, but for Rooney, I think this video is more appropriate. It is a compilation of all of his goals in this seasons Champions League. There is only five goals there, and we all know he has scored better quality goals, but these show some of his best striking attributes, and his value to the Manchester United team.

That's everything for Rooney just now. Tomorrow he plays in the Manchester derby against Man City, a hugely important game for Man Utd's title hopes, and at WilliamHill.com, Rooney is even money to score at any time in tomorrow's game.

The next and final post in this three part series will talk about one of Wayne Rooney's former team-mates, another candidate for number one in the world.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Brazilian Football: 2010 So Far..

Now as a few of you will know, I am currently residing in São Paulo, Brasil for the next month or so, and following on from my previous post about Brazilian football, I thought I would post a bit of an update on the current 2010 Brazilian football season.

As is mentioned in that previous post, the Brazilian football season starts in January with the State Championships, which run until May, when teams get prepared for the National Championship, the Brasileirão. So what I'm going to do here is give a little recap of where we stand currently in the major state championships, and any important cup competitions.

We'll start with arguably the biggest of the Campeonatos Estaduais, the Paulistão of São Paulo state.

Campeonato Paulista

The Campeonato Paulista, or Paulistão as it is popularly known, is the State Championship for the state of São Paulo. The top division is made up of 20 teams from the state. Each team plays eachother once during the campaign, after all games have been played, the four best-placed teams enter into the final knockout stage to compete for the trophy.

Generally speaking, the top four is usually made up of the G-4 clubs in São Paulo state; São Paulo, Palmeiras, Corinthians and Santos. This year has been a little different though, with only São Paulo and Santos progressing to the final stage.

Of the two that missed out on the top-four places, Palmeiras had by far the more disappointing campaign. The Verdão finished in an embarassing 11th position, with 6 losses and 11 points behind fourth place. This recent disappointment is just another in a series of disappointments for Palmeiras fans, and they will be fearing what may happen if the team does not improve quickly with the 2010 Brasileirão approaching soon. Palmeiras' main rivals Corinthians were the other G-4 side to miss out on a top-four place. Unlike Palmeiras, Timão came very close to qualification, only missing out by one point.

Now enough about the teams that failed to make it, let's go over the four semi-finalists. First of all, the most impressive team of the tournament this year, Santos. Finishing 10 points clear of their nearest challengers, Santos dominated this year's Paulistão, beating teams by four or five goals on a regular basis, even recording a 9-1 victory over Ituano. Santos are a team in a great position, with the loan signing of Robinho, and great performances from young stars like Neymar, Paulo Henrique Ganso and André, they are truly a great team to watch.

The next two qualifiers are the surprise finalists, Santo André and Grêmio Prudente. Both sides had solid campaigns, with both finishing on 37 points. Arguably, they would not have qualified if São Paulo, Corinthians and Palmeiras played to their potential, but with the poor performances of the other G-4 teams, the hard work and perserverance of Santo André and Grêmio has paid off with a semi-final place.

The last semi-final place went to São Paulo, despite having a fairly disappointing season by their standards. The Tricolor finished with 36 points, with 5 losses, just managing to outmuscle their rivals Corinthians and reach fourth place. The four finalists will now compete in two-legged semi-finals (Santos x São Paulo and Santo André x Grêmio) to compete for a place in the two-legged 2010 Paulistão final.

Here is the final league table and the schedule for the semi-finals of the 2010 Paulistão. Note that the times are in Brazilian time (UTC-3). The semi-finals will most likely be available to watch this Sunday on the free bet365.com Live Streaming service.

(tables taken from globoesporte.globo.com)
Image and video hosting by TinyPic
Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Campeonato Carioca

The Campeonato Carioca is the State Championship for the state of Rio de Janeiro. The format is a bit different from the Paulistão, as the Carioca is split into three phases, the Taça Guanabara, the Taça Rio and the Finals. In the Taça Guanabara, the 16 teams in the top division are split into two groups of 8. The G-4 of Rio de Janeiro (Flamengo, Fluminense, Botafogo and Vasco) are seeded so they are split equally into the two groups. The teams then play every team in their group once, and the top two from each group progress to the knockout stage to determine the winner. This year, Botafogo became the champions of the 2010 Taça Guanabara, defeating Vasco 2x0 in the final.

Next comes the Taça Rio, it's format is very similar, with the 16 teams kept in the same groups as the Taça Guanabara, but this time they play each team from the other group once. Then, same as the Taça Guanabara, the top two sides from each group progress to the knockout phase to find the winner. The winner of the Taça Rio will then play the winner of the Taça Guanabara in a two-legged final to determine the winner of the Campeonato Carioca (unless of course the same team wins both the Taça Guanabara and Taça Rio, then they are automatically crowned champions).

This year's Taça Rio saw Flamengo and Fluminense cruise to victory in Group A, and Botafogo and Vasco progressing from Group B, Vasco only qualifying by one point. This weekend will see the semi-finals of Botafogo x Fluminense and Flamengo x Vasco. The winner of the Taça Rio will then play Botafogo over two legs to decide the Campeonato Carioca (unless of course Botafogo win the Taça Rio as well). The Final will be played at the Maracanã on the 26th April and the second leg on the 2nd May. Once again, there is a good chance these games will be shown on bet365.com's free Live Streaming service.

Campeonato Gaúcho

Now, just a quick review of some of the other major state championships. The Campeonato Gaúcho is contested in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, home to the two big sides from Porto Alegre; Internacional and Grêmio. The format is somewhat similar to the Carioca, with 18 sides contesting two seperate cups (this time the Taça Fernando Carvalho and Taça Fábio Koff) with the winners of each playing a two-legged final for the Campeonato Gaúcho title. One difference from the Carioca, is that in each cup, the top four from each group progress to the knockout phase, as opposed to just the top two teams in the Carioca.

The 2010 Gaúcho has so far seen Grêmio win the Taça Fernando Carvalho, beating Novo Hamburgo 1x0 in the Final. Currently, the Taça Fábio Koff is in the quarter-final stage, Internacional and Ypiranga booking their places in the semi-finals against eachother, after beating Novo Hamburgo and Caxias respectively. In the other quarter finals, São José eliminated Inter de Santa Maria through penalties for a place in the semi-finals where they will face Pelotas, who surprisingly outclassed Grêmio to win 2x1 in the fourth quarter-final.

Inter will now be desperate to win the Taça Fábio Koff, to set up the grand final against bitter rivals Grêmio, and they will be highly favoured to do just that. The semi-finals will be played this weekend and may well be available on the bet365.com Live Streaming service.

Campeonato Mineiro

The last of the Campeonatos Estaduais I'll review is the Campeonato Mineiro of Minas Gerais state. Minas Gerais is the second most populous state in Brasil behind São Paulo state. It contains the urban centre of Belo Horizonte, home to the two big sides in the Mineiro; Cruzeiro and Atlético Mineiro. The Mineiro has a simple and straightforward format, there are 12 teams in the top level, throughout the campaign each team plays one another only once. Then the 8 best-placed sides advance to the knockout stage to decide the champion.

At the moment, the 2010 Mineiro is in the semi-finals stage, Cruzeiro facing Ipatinga and Atlético Mineiro being drawn against Democrata-GV. The first legs of these semis will take place this weekend, with the second legs played one week later. Generally a Atlético x Cruzeiro final is expected, but after the solid league display of Democrata-GV, Atlético may have a tougher time making the final than they first thought.

Copa do Brasil

Copa do Brasil is Brasil's top domestic cup competition, held in high regard in clubs throughout Brasil with the 2011 Copa Libertadores place at stake for the winner a huge incentive for success.

The tournament itself has a straight two-legged knockout format with 64 teams entered (they qualify either through their 2009 State Championship performances, or by CBF rankings). Teams that are qualified for the 2010 Copa Libertadores are not entered into the competition due to scheduling conflicts, so that means that reigning champions Corinthians and Flamengo, Internacional, São Paulo and Cruzeiro were not entered.

Currently we are in the last-16 stage of the tournament, and only two Série A teams have thus far been eliminated, Botafogo and newly promoted Ceará. The last-16 ties include four all-Série A clashes and the first legs are played on Wednesday 14th and Thursday 15th April, with the second legs one week later. The complete list of last-16 ties are as follows:

Corinthians-PR x Vasco de Gama
Goiás x Vitória
Santa Cruz x Atlético-GO
Palmeiras x Atlético-PR
Fluminense x Portuguesa
Grêmio x Avaí
Santos x Guarani
Atlético-MG x Sport

Now, that's it for this post. I do recommend you have a look out for these upcoming games, the State Championships get quite tense, and with local pride at stake in every game, expect some really intense encounters. I'll post a final review of these competitions in May, just linking back to this post letting you know how it all turns out...