Posted by hiphopmama on March 11, 2009
Manchester United 2-0 Inter (Agg: 2-0)
- 1-0 Vidic, 4′
- 2-0 Ronaldo, 49′
Roma 1-0 Arsenal, Shoot-out 6-7 (Agg: 1-1)
England has the strongest league in the world. Hands down. I was hesitant to admit it for a while, especially because La Liga is my favorite to watch. But after watching Champions League action in conjunction with the individual leagues, it is essentially impossible to argue otherwise. In the two preceding years, three of the final four teams were from England (Man Utd, Chelsea, and Liverpool in both cases), and last year was an all-England final. Now, as we head into the quarterfinals, all four English teams have advanced, at the expense of Italy’s three representatives in the round of 16. Spain still has two teams alive in the competition, but only one of them – Barcelona – stands any real chance of making it all the way.
Defending champs Manchester Utd took out Italy’s last great hope and their Special coach (wonder if he knows what the connotations of that term are). While I had finally settled on Inter as the lesser of these two evils, I was not at all unhappy to see Mourinho get humbled like that. I wish it could have been at the hands of someone other than Fergie and ManYoo, but watching Inter bomb out of the Champions League with the coach they brought in specifically to get them better results in Europe was still sweet. Man Utd opened each half with a goal, which was just enough to finish off Inter. Sir Alex’s boys weren’t particularly impressive today, but they did what they had to do to beat Special Sauce and Co. Both goals came off beautifully delivered passes, the first a corner taken by Giggs and the second a chipped pass from Rooney. Ibrahimovic finally decided to show up and made some key contributions, but neither he nor Adriano could break all the way through the ManYoo defense. And the quintuple is still alive.
In the final England-Italy match-up, Arsenal carried a 1-0 home victory into Rome but watched that margin disappear on an early goal by Juan, who scored the game’s only goal in his brief return from injury Not long after leveling for Roma, he had to leave with a re-aggravated thigh injury, further depleting the Roman squad. Arsenal seemed the likelier of the two sides to score for most of the game, but they never found their way onto the scoreboard. The best chance they had came when Bendtner deflected the ball to start a lightning quick counterattack. Eboue dribbled up the right side and should have easily been able to pick out Bendtner in the middle for a straightforward tap home, but his disappointing season continued with a horrible ball that went long and ruined any chance Arsenal had of scoring for the moment. In the end it went to penalties, and Arsenal started poorly, with Eduardo’s weak shot blocked by Doni. Vucinic helped the Gunners even it up by getting a little too cute and sending one straight at Almunia with not much pace. Finally, after eight takes from either side, Tonetto stepped up and skied it over the bar, ending Roma’s hopes of any silverware this year.
We now have to wait till the 20th to find out the match-ups for the quarterfinals, which will be drawn from the following teams:
- Bayern Munich
- Manchester United
The round of 16 draw was a tad suspicious, with the Italian teams all matched up with English opposition, so the conspiracy theorists among us would probably say the broadcasters got their wish with all four English teams through. Whatever the case, I hope we get a more equitable shakedown for the quarters, preferably keeping Arsenal and Chelsea on opposite sides, since those are the last of my teams standing. Realistically, though, no one is touching either Man Utd or Barcelona, and barring an unfortunate draw, they should be the favorites to make the finals. Everyone else is a long shot at this point.
Posted in soccer | Tagged: adriano, almunia, arsenal, barcelona, bayern munich, champions league, chelsea, cristiano ronaldo, doni, eboue, eduardo, epl, ibrahimovic, inter, jose mourinho, juan, liverpool, manchester united, nicklas bendtner, porto, primera liga, roma, ryan giggs, scores, serie a, sir alex ferguson, tonetto, vidic, villarreal, vucinic, wayne rooney | Leave a Comment »
Posted by hiphopmama on February 24, 2009
The face of innocence
Inter 0-0 Manchester Utd
Pretty good for a goalless encounter, and just about the best I could have hoped for in this match-up of detested teams. I was still a game-time decision regarding who I would root for (or root against less, which may be more accurate), but in the end my hatred of CRon and Fergie won out over Ibra and The Special One. It was still hard to pull for Inter after wishing them ill for so long, but Cristiano’s glistening head kept me in line.
Let’s be clear: this result is a bigger disappointment for Manchester United. They were the better team today by a long shot, although Inter did eventually get their chances, and ManU really should have scored a few different times. Only some mediocre finishing and an incredible Julio Cesar prevented them from walking out of the San Siro up 1-0, 2-0, or even 3-0. Ronaldo put a couple of blazing free kicks on goal, but Cesar stopped them, including the one in the final seconds of stoppage time. He made a number of good saves in the regular course of play too and was easily Inter’s man of the match.
The home team had a few chances of its own, but Adriano was typically disappointing and Ibrahimovic once again disappeared in an important match. Inter looked completely unprepared for ManU’s intensity in the first half, but Mourinho obviously gave them the business because they were a different team in the second, attacking more often and keeping possession for longer periods. They still struggled against ManU’s passing game, but they were exposed for brief flourishes rather than for the full 45.
All in all, I’d say it’s a small moral victory for Inter to have held ManU scoreless and prevented them from getting the all-important away goal. That means that even if the teams tie at 1-1 (or anything higher), Inter would be the victors on away goals. I thought this tie was pretty close to begin with, with things tilting a smidgen in the direction of ManU because of their history of performing in the UCL, but after this scoreless draw I think expectations shift toward Inter a bit. Then again, that could end up being their downfall, since they haven’t always proven able to shoulder the weight of favorites anywhere else but in Serie A, so we will have to wait and see. Until then, at least I won’t have to choose between these two anymore. That only one of them will make it to the next round will be my only comfort for the second leg.
Posted in soccer | Tagged: adriano, champions league, cristiano ronaldo, ibrahimovic, inter, jose mourinho, manchester united, sir alex ferguson | Leave a Comment »
Posted by hiphopmama on January 1, 2009
It’s a brand new year, which means it is also officially mercato time. Now is the hour for ridiculous and absurd speculation to spill forth from every news source, reputable or not, about the never-ending rumors concerning players’ futures with their clubs. This is the first January I’ve really paid attention to it, so I’m hella excited for what will transpire. Here are a few of my hopes, in more or less vaguery:
- Mikel Arteta to Arsenal. Good ol’ Arseblogger has been calling for this one, and I am all in favor. I have been a fan of the Everton midfielder since I saw him drill one of the goals of the season in ’05-’06, and with Fabregas out for essentially the rest of the year, he would be a wonderful candidate to fill in for him. He is a seasoned player with plenty of Premier League experience who is great on free kicks. Unlike so many in the Arsenal squad, he would be ready to make an immediate impact, and he seems well suited to the Wenger style of play. Please make this happen, guys.
- Some kind of defensive help at Real Madrid. They’ve already inked Diarra (the second) and Huntelaar, but neither will directly solve the defensive woes that have proven so costly this season. To be fair, they played remarkably well in their match-up with Barcelona, holding them scoreless for 80+ minutes with a limited squad, but Canna and Salgado are old, Pepe is iffy, Marcelo can’t be bothered to defend, and Heinze is shit. That leaves the always stellar Sergio Ramos and a rejuvenated Metzelder as the only working cogs on the Madrid back line, which doesn’t bode well entering the second half of the season. I would also like to see a legitimate goal-scoring partner for Higuain up front, but I believe the offense will sort itself out if the defense can do its job at even a marginally functional level. It hasn’t been doing that so far, and you’ve seen the results.
- Anyone non-primadonna under 30 for AC Milan. This squad is ridiculously stacked with big names that cannot or will not get the job done. Ronaldinho is an enormously talented player, but the money they shelled out for him could have been better spent elsewhere, as this season has made clear. What’s done is done, but they need to avoid sinking money into hopeless products that can’t deliver on their promise. Names like Shevchenko and Emerson sound nice, but they are well past their prime and far from productive with this team. Not that anyone wants them, but they, along with others like Dida, should be off-loaded to free up room (and money) for some younger players with less notoriety who might be persuaded to play within the team concept to achieve better results. With Kaka, Dinho, Pirlo, etc., there’s no reason some talented youngsters couldn’t shore up the side.
- A new mentality for Chelsea. While thinking about this little wish list, I was easily able to come up with desirables for the other teams I root for, but I got stuck at Chelsea. There is clearly something amiss lately, despite the fact that they’re just 3 points back of league leaders Liverpool, but it’s not because of any major holes in the team. Essien’s injury has been the most costly, but Mikel has been a wonder as his replacement. Carvalho’s absence was painful as well, and if Scolari would have played Ivanovic in his stead more than Alex, the damage might have been more limited. Anyway, Ricky’s already making his way back into the lineup, so that’s a non-issue. (If Terry can keep his ass on the pitch, that is.) With a healthy Drogba and a surging Anelka, the strike partnership has all the makings of greatness, although recent (and not-so-recent) grumblings suggest the Ivorian may be on his way out. Bosingwa has been a revelation at right back, emerging as one of the team’s most consistent performers, and with Lampard leading the midfield there aren’t many gaps to fill. I suppose you could wish for better than Malouda on the left and perhaps find someone better to partner Anelka up front – especially if Drogba continues the histrionics – but the team’s biggest deficiency is psychological. It’s cliche at this point, but some of the old Mourinho toughness needs to come back. They were playing pretty football at the beginning of the season, building up an insane goal differential, but teams have adjusted and now they can’t pull out close victories either at home or on the road. Terry’s red card exploits surely cost them, but it’s hard to imagine them conceding the kind of painful late goal that hurt them against Fulham in years past. I’m not smart enough to know how something like this gets fixed, but if you’re being paid the big bucks to steer the ship, you better be able to figure something out, and fast. Oh, and stop playing Deco so damn much. Almost everyone else can see that he’s worthless out there. Joe Cole has no business fighting for playing time with him. Barça didn’t want him, and neither should you after this display.
Like I said, not much in the way of specifics there aside from Arteta, but that’s all I’ve got. For serious transfer rumors, I’m sure you’re consulting a much more reputable source anyway. However you slice it, Arsenal and Real Madrid are two of the big name clubs that desperately need some reinforcements and I hope they get them. Especially the Gunners, because they are a treat to watch when firing on all cylinders, and injuries have absolutely ravaged them this season. The same is true for Madrid, but I feel less sympathy over their plight seeing as they’ve won the last two Primera Liga titles and are generally a detestable bunch. Why I continue to root for them, I have no idea, but at this point it is what it is. Best of luck to all parties in the transfer market and the rest of the season.
Posted in soccer | Tagged: ac milan, anelka, arsenal, bosingwa, cannavaro, carvalho, chelsea, deco, diarra, dida, drogba, emerson, epl, fabregas, heinze, higuain, huntelaar, joe cole, john terry, jose mourinho, kaka, malouda, marcelo, metzelder, michel salgado, mikel, mikel arteta, pirlo, primera liga, real madrid, ronaldinho, sergio ramos, serie a, shevchenko | Leave a Comment »
Posted by hiphopmama on December 27, 2008
Number 21 is tackling Jesus!!
With the NBA season picking up steam, this has essentially become a Lakers blog. Which is cool, but I had initially intended to use it as a forum to talk about all the sports I watched, and I’ve definitely fallen off in that respect. With that in mind, I’d like to recap all the sporting action I’ve been watching, with an eye toward what current results are likely to mean in the near future. Without further ado…
Apparently no one wants to win the title this year, because every time one of the top teams slips up and presents an opening, the rest follow suit with disappointing performances to keep pace with the leaders. Arsenal are goners (not Gooners) at this point, but the remaining Big Three seem to win, lose, or draw together, as if they signed a mutual pact before the season stating that no one would run away with the title before the new year. Liverpool and Chelsea, in particular, have had their fates linked, with each team drawing games and losing points at the same time, and then both turning it around for a big win the following week. Friday’s games saw this happen again, as the top two squads gave dominating performances and secured three points apiece to stay logjammed at the top of the table (Liverpool currently sits one point ahead of Chelsea). It’s hard to figure Man Utd out at this point, since they’ve played two fewer games for the moment, but they’re certainly within striking distance, as are Aston Villa, the surprise upstarts of the season. They staged a miraculous comeback on Boxing Day – perhaps not so miraculous considering Arsenal’s form this year – surging from 2-0 down to tie the game with a stoppage time goal from Zat Knight. The draw kept Arsenal out of the top four for another week, three points adrift of Villa for the final Champions League spot. I had expected much more to be decided by the Christmas slate of games, but it appears we’ll be exactly where we started come January. How the teams approach the transfer market will thus likely have a big effect on the ultimate outcome.
Pep Guardiola is right to point out that there’s a long way to go, but it’s increasingly looking like a foregone conclusion that Barça will win the title this year. Real Madrid is all but out of the race, currently sitting in fifth place and twelve points adrift of the leaders. No team has been as ravaged by injuries as Los Merengues, so an infusion of new blood will be necessary if they plan to make a late run to defend their title, or even to reclaim a top four spot. They’ve already locked up Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Lassana Diarra, but another defender and someone to play on the right wing would be a big help to Juande Ramos as he tries to extend his stay with the team. Valencia has stayed near the top longer than expected, especially considering the injury to David Silva, and Sevilla are the closest to Barcelona in second place. Mind you, they’re still ten points back of the Blaugrana, but they’re in a better spot than anyone else to overtake them. If they can hang onto their players, that is.
Inter continue their league dominance, entering the new year six points ahead of Juventus, their nearest competitors, with AC Milan nine points off the pace. While it pains me to say so, Jose Mourinho has done well with his boys, not allowing malaise to set in for extended periods and fielding good squads suited to the task at hand. Juventus have been picking up steam, though, and are poised to make life tough for Inter down the stretch. While I want to believe that AC Milan are still in it, I doubt they’ll be serious contenders come season’s end. Their aging squad has added another elder statesman in David Beckham, and the return of players like Pirlo and Ambrosini has helped prop the team up recently. Still, Kaka and Ronaldinho have yet to prove they can play effectively together and neither has been exactly scintillating so far. The middle third of the table is remarkably tight as well, with Napoli, Genoa, Lazio, and Catania all within striking distance of a top four spot. If Juve (and hoepfully Milan and Fiorentina) can give Inter a run for their money, it should be an entertaining sprint to the finish line. Anyone but Inter!
And now to the good stuff. The NFL is in its home stretch, with one more round of games to determine the lucky teams who will make the playoffs. While the Giants and Titans are essentially marking time until their second round match-ups, there are a number of battles yet to be played out. The Eagles still have a shot at a playoff spot if they can beat the Cowboys and get a little help from teams like the Bucs, Vikings, and/or Bears. The Dolphins have their fate in their own hands and can clinch the AFC East with a win this week, regardless of what the Patriots do. New England, on the other hand, has to win and then hope for a Miami loss (or tie). Come on, Dolphins. The best game of the week will be between the Chargers and Broncos for sole possession of the AFC West title, although I’ll have a hard time watching because I dislike both quarterbacks so much. Both seem like your prototypical QB jock brought up to believe their shit don’t stink. I hope they both crash and burn, but that the Chargers still win. This has the potential to be one of the more interesting playoffs in a while, with a surprising array of strong teams all with a chance to do some real damage. Just think about it. When was the last time the Colts were a five seed? The Vikings in the three spot? And the Dolphins in the playoffs at all?? Despite their stellar records, none of the top teams looks really unbeatable, so every game should be a slugfest with the potential of an upset. As long as the Patriots don’t make it, I really can’t lose this year.
So that’s that. My sports viewing in a nutshell. Does anyone really give a shit? Nope, just me, but I’ll always take the chance to prove my extensive knowledge and remind people that I know more about sports than they do AND I’m a girl. How about that X chromosome?
Posted in nfl, soccer | Tagged: ac milan, ambrosini, arsenal, aston villa, barcelona, bears, broncos, buccaneers, catania, chargers, chelsea, cowboys, david beckham, david silva, dolphins, eagles, epl, fiorentina, genoa, huntelaar, inter, jose mourinho, juande ramos, juventus, kaka, lassana diarra, lazio, liverpool, manchester united, napoli, new york giants, nfl, nfl playoffs, patriots, pirlo, primera liga, real madrid, ronaldinho, serie a, sevilla, valencia, vikings | 1 Comment »
Posted by hiphopmama on November 17, 2008
After another disappointing loss, their third in four games, the Real Madrid coach was rumored to be on the hot seat for not getting the desired results from his all-star squad (read here about his stay of execution). The loss to Valladolid was indeed painful, in a different way than those losses to a resurgent Juve team, as Real once again looked hapless at the back and frankly uninterested in doing anything about it. It was a listless effort against a spunky team that, no matter how spurred on by their home fans, Real should have beat.
Still, when I heard about Schuster facing possible dismissal if his team lost that game all I could think was, “Only in soccer.” (Or football, or top flight European football – take your pick.) There is lots of talk about the “coaching carousel” in certain U.S. sports, particularly basketball, but it doesn’t even come close to approaching the kind of musical chairs that goes on in the big European leagues. Real Madrid is a case in point. Fabio Capello is brought in for ’06-’07, and he leads the team to a title. It was a grind, and it came down to the last week, but the team got it done. It wasn’t enough, though, and he was fired ostensibly for not playing the kind of football the Real Madrid faithful were used to seeing, adopting a more defensive style that was less flashy than the (notably title-less) Galacticos teams. So next up is Bernd Schuster, who brings back the razzle-dazzle (thanks, Ray Hudson) and leads the team to its second title in two years. So now, early on in the year and after the team’s first league loss, he is potentially on his way out, because these clubs operate on the Janet Jackson principle: what have you done for me lately?
I’ve always been a proponent of giving coaches time to prove their worth, especially if they come in with proven track records to back them. I’m admittedly a noob when it comes to European football, but my experience with the NBA tells me that you have to be patient. It takes time to come in, get a feel for the team culture, assemble the players you want on the roster, institute a new system (if necessary), and change the established mentality, all before you can expect to start winning. It doesn’t always take this long, but when it doesn’t, you can be assured that the system and players were already mostly in place before the new coach swept to power. Larry Brown ended up leading the Pistons to their first title in 14 years, but he did so with a team that Rick Carlisle assembled and brought back from the abyss and into contention. The addition of Rasheed Wallace in Brown’s first year was the thing that probably put them over the top and helped them beat my beloved Lakers. Similarly, when Flip Saunders came in and instituted a more open, offensive style – which was what management wanted from Carlisle all along, in addition to a more personable attitude – he led essentially the same group to the NBA Finals only to see them lose a tight battle to the Spurs. Jon Gruden propelled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a championship in 2002 on the back of Tony Dungy’s grunt work bringing that group together and instituting their renowned defense. Rotating new coaches in and out of already solid teams – as all of these big clubs are – is bound to be a 50-50 endeavor, yielding results as often as “disappointments,” however psychos like Ramon Calderon define those terms.
Thinking about these various coaches leads me to the conclusion that European football coaches are simultaneously more and less valued than coaches in the big sports in the U.S. Coaches in Europe are often superstars to the same extent as their players are, and their every move is scrutinized by the press and rival teams. Phil Jackson is only half jokingly self-dubbed the “Zen Master,” but it doesn’t approach the level of devotion that trails “The Special One” who currently resides in Milan. Despite this, even these larger than life coaches are rather easily disposed of and often for reasons that are entirely foreign to a stateside fan like myself. The Pistons ditched Carlisle partially for his surly demeanor as well as for a difference in opinion over team strategy, but it’s rare for feuds between coaches and team managers to be nearly as direct or as public as they are in Europe. Mourinho chafed under Abramovich’s insistence on Shevchenko’s position with Chelsea and was fired after taking the club to two consecutive league titles, while Capello was unceremoniously disposed of by Madrid for winning the title with less style than the Madridistas demanded. It’s hard for me to imagine an NBA or NFL coach sacked immediately after leading a team to a championship, no matter what justifiable reasons team management or owners might have. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it makes more sense to me that, if you’ve just come off a good performance, you might not want to shake things up. Then again, when you have the ability to just buy and buy and buy more talent, you have no incentive to work on building from what you already have, as happens in U.S. sports with at least a pretense of a salary cap. Instead, you can just ditch whatever doesn’t instantly work and move on to the next quick fix. Unfortunately, it seems like you might get just that – a QUICK fix that doesn’t serve your long-term interests.
But what the hell do I know? I’m just a dumb Yank.
Posted in general, nba, nfl, soccer | Tagged: bernd schuster, buccaneers, chelsea, epl, fabio capello, jon gruden, jose mourinho, larry brown, pistons, primera liga, real madrid, rick carlisle, roman abramovich, shevchenko, tony dungy | Leave a Comment »
Posted by hiphopmama on September 29, 2008
Inter made it interesting down the stretch, but AC Milan won this one through and through. The only goal came in the first half courtesy of Ronaldinho, who sent home a stinging header off a perfect cross from Kaka in the 36th minute. The two Brazilians linked up beautifully the whole game, almost connecting for a goal a few minutes prior to the eventual winning score. Milan generally dominated possession in a first half which saw a few good chances but was otherwise pretty straightforward. The second half, on the other hand, was about as contentious as expected between these two rivals. The refereeing was inconsistent at best, with Inter picking up four yellow cards and two reds in the second half after receiving none in the first. There were definitely a few questionable calls in there, including one stretch in which it appeared that every single Inter challenge resulted in a card. Burdisso was sent off late on a deserved yellow card, although his first yellow was more dubious. Materazzi also received a red card from the bench for complaining about a non-call in the penalty area when Milan’s Flamini hit Adriano upside the head, preventing a prime goal scoring opportunity for Inter. It was the third straight win for Milan after losing their first two, and it was Mourinho’s first loss since taking over at Inter.
The three Brazilians up front for AC Milan – Kaka, Ronaldinho, and Pato – played well together, creating opportunities and playing tenaciously. Inter’s strikers were considerably less effective despite having a number of good chances. Ibrahimovic looked less than his stellar best, and Mancini, in contrast to his recent good form with the team, was relatively timid as well. Maicon was a bright spot, as usual, but Quaresma did little to bolster the attack. Adriano and Julio Cruz came on in the 59th minute (for Mancini and Materazzi), and Inter’s offensive play picked up considerably upon their entrance. Adriano especially found himself in the right place at the right time, but he handled them disappointingly (noticing a theme here?), especially when he blew a header that could have tied the game. Abbiati played flawlessly in goal for Milan, stifling opportunities and grabbing the ball definitively in dangerous situations. It was Ronaldinho’s first goal for Milan, and it was pretty. =)
p.s. Am I the only one who wishes GolTV still had Serie A? I miss Ray Hudson screaming orgasmically about these games…
Posted in soccer | Tagged: ac milan, inter, jose mourinho, kaka, ronaldinho, serie a | Leave a Comment »