All Balls Don’t Bounce

Completely Random Sports Non Sequiturs From A Completely Random Hip Hop Head

Posts Tagged ‘porto’

Champions League Group Stage Draw

Posted by hiphopmama on August 27, 2009

Once you recover from the cleverness of the title of this post, continue on to find out the eight groups set up by today’s draw for the next phase of the UEFA Champions League, followed by my thoughts on them. Go on, treat yourself.

Group A
Bayern Munich
Juventus
Bordeaux
Maccabi Haifa

I can’t see Juventus having too many problems making their way through to the knock-out rounds in this group. No offense to either Bayern or Bordeaux, who will present tricky match-ups at the very least, but none of these teams has the same quality as Juve. Munich is the likely favorite to go through in the second spot, but look out for current Ligue 1 champions Bordeaux to challenge all parties.

Group B
Manchester United
CSKA Moscow
Besiktas
Wolfsburg

Sir Alex is sitting pretty after drawing this group, as Manchester United won’t face a single team from either Italy, Spain, or France, although they do have to contend with Bundesliga champs VFL Wolfsburg and Russian Premier League runners-up CSKA Moscow. Still, the Mancs should have little difficulty navigating this group, although I would love to see a shock results from the German upstart club.

Group C
AC Milan
Real Madrid
Marseille
Zurich

Humdinger of a match-up in this one, as Kaka makes his first return to the San Siro since moving to Real Madrid. Marseille are a very high-quality third team as well, so this one should be interesting till the end. It’s a tough group to predict in some ways, because we have little indication as to how the retooled teams of AC Milan and Real Madrid will perform this season. Milan’s opening day win over Siena was convincing enough, and Real Madrid’s preseason form was fairly encouraging, but real competitive play is another story altogether so we’ll have to see. Group C will definitely have some of the best storylines, though, no matter the outcome.

Group D
Chelsea
Porto
Atletico Madrid
APOEL Nicosia

This is one of just two groups that has three teams I could legitimately see getting through. You have to feel Chelsea are a lock, but both Porto and Atletico have equal claim on that second spot in my mind, at least for now. If Atletico’s strikers maintain the level of form they had last year, and if their back line can achieve some semblance of solidity, they should sneak through. But Porto are always tough at home and will be looking to secure their own place.

Group E
Liverpool
Lyon
Fiorentina
Debrecen

This is the other group with a three-way traffic jam at the top. Once again, the English team is the clear favorite, but Lyon and Fiorentina will really duke it out as well. Lyon will be playing to prove something after being knocked off the top spot in Ligue 1 by Bordeaux after seven straight years at number one, and finally breaking through in European play would help in that regard. I still expect the Viola to top them, though, and bolster the Italian presence in the quarterfinals.

Group F
Barcelona
Inter Milan
Rubin Kazan
Dynamo Kyiv

In case you needed any more Spain-Italy drama, you’ll get to see Eto’o and Ibrahimovic face each other after swapping teams as Barcelona and Inter face off in this easiest of groups to pick. Inter are the favorites to defend their Serie A crown, and Barça are favorites to win just about everything else, so unless they somehow cancel each other out, both will be waiting for the next draw for the knock-out stage.

Group G
Sevilla
Stuttgart
Rangers
Unirea Urziceni

This is the bland kind of grouping that convinces me that UEFA isn’t fixing these things, at least not at this early stage in the tournament. The lack of star power doesn’t mean a lack in quality, though, as Sevilla have a very solid team and Stuttgart have some big name players as well. Granted, most of them are cast-offs from bigger teams (Jens Lehman, Alexander Hleb), but the Germans will still have something to say about the outcome of this one. I’m happy to see Sevilla with a relatively clear path to the quarters here. They deserve it after all their workmanlike effort in La Liga, and more people need to see Jesus Navas. Wow.

Group H
Arsenal
AZ Alkmaar
Olympiacos
Standard Liege

As an Arsenal fan, I am more than pleased with the draw they got. As with ManU, they won’t have any competition from the biggest leagues (in Arsenal’s case, no Spain, Italy, France, or Germany). AZ Alkmaar and Standard Liege are the champs of their respective leagues, and Athens is always a tough place to play against Olympiacos, but with no Real Madrid, Inter, Juve, etc., you’ve got to think they got off easier. Hopefully they can lock up their spot relatively early and not have to bank on getting a result in Athens in that final game.

So that’s that. Barcelona-Inter and Real Madrid-AC Milan are the headliners of this group stage, which should mean some good head-to-head match-ups but with each team still making it through to the quarterfinals. I never completely understood how they set up the qualifying rounds, but it has indeed opened the way for some teams we wouldn’t normally see, a number of whom have a real shot to make it out of the group stage. Aside from pulling for Arsenal, I’m hoping for a good showing from the Spanish sides, because it’s about time La Liga started making a stronger showing outside of just the big two. Sevilla look poised to move on, and Atletico will like their chances as well, so we shall see. I don’t know how I’m going to wait till September 15th-16th to get this thing rolling.

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Two Out of Four

Posted by hiphopmama on April 15, 2009

adebayor-villarreal

Arsenal 3-0 Villarreal (Agg: 4-1)
     1-0 Walcott, 10′
     2-0 Adebayor, 60′
     3-0  Van Persie (pen), 69′

Porto 0-1 Manchester United (Agg: 2-3)
     0-1 Ronaldo, 6′ 

Of the four teams through to the Champions League semifinals, you could say that two of them came off my wish list – the two London teams, to be exact. I couldn’t be happier at Liverpool going out, except if Manyoo had bombed out as well. Instead, the always well-coiffed Cristiano Ronaldo ensured his team a place in the final four with a superb strike from 40 yards that sailed past Helton and was enough to seal the deal. Porto presented a few dangers, but they were mostly manageable and nearly all from set pieces, which Man Utd defended decently enough.

Arsenal put on a much more impressive display against Villarreal. Walcott broke the deadlock early when some weak defending saw him through, and he chipped one beautifully over the Villarreal keeper. The Spaniards never looked particularly threatening, other than the first few minutes of the second half, but after that the Gunners kicked it into another gear. Adebayor atoned for some boneheaded play with a lovely finish on the counterattack off another Fabregas pass. They topped it off with a Van Persie penalty kick on what was admittedly a dubious call made by the referee’s assistant. 

These two teams will face each other on April 29th, while Barcelona will face Chelsea the 28th, and once again we see the Premier League with three of the final four Champions League teams. Even with that numerical advantage, you have to give the edge at this point to the Spanish representative, Barcelona, who are once again on the rampage after a tiny hiccup in form in La Liga. Good luck to Chelsea in that one. As for Arsenal, they are the underdogs of the bunch, but I could see them pulling off an upset against the reigning champs, setting up a possible rematch with Barça. Just two more weeks to wait.

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Good News All Around

Posted by hiphopmama on April 8, 2009

Manchester United 2-2 Porto
     0-1 Rodriguez, 4′
     1-1 Rooney, 6′
     2-1 Tevez, 85′
     2-2 Mariano, 89′ 

Liverpool 1-3 Chelsea
    
1-0 Torres, 6′
     1-1 Ivanovic, 39′
     1-2 Ivanovic, 62′
     1-3 Drogba, 67′ 

It’s been a good 48 hours for me as a sports fan. My Lakers routed an inferior Kings team, and I got all good outcomes in Champions League quarterfinal action. After watching Arsenal fight back to claim a slight edge via their away goal draw with Villarreal, I was treated to a surprisingly tight game between Man Utd and Porto. I fully expected United to steamroll the Portuguese team, kinda like Barcelona did to Bayern today, but instead Porto struck first with a goal within the first five minutes and put Fergie’s squad on the back foot. The goal came as the result of cascading errors from Manchester, but Porto soon returned the favor when Bruno Alves very generously played the ball right into the path of Wayne Rooney, who had only the keeper to beat in order to tie it up. It was an edgy game the rest of the way, with United dominating possession and creating plenty of chances but never able to break through while Porto settled for the occasional counterattack. Things stayed level until the last five minutes, when substitute Carlos Tevez scored from close range off a lovely flick from Rooney. The Old Trafford faithful must have thought that was the final blow, but there was one more dagger left and it was in Porto’s hands. Not long after United scored their second, Porto broke out another blistering counterattack, Lisandro found Mariano Gonzalez alone on the left, and he stabbed it past Van der Sar before the big keeper could fully close out on him. Now, with two away goals in their back pocket, Porto return home to play the second leg in a stadium where no English team has ever won. It still seems far-fetched to say United are anything but full contenders, but it does even things up a bit now, doesn’t it?

And it wouldn’t be crunch time in the Champions League without a Liverpool-Chelsea match-up. This time it went down in the quarterfinals with Liverpool riding a wave of excellent form which included an impressive win against Man Utd at Old Trafford in the Premier League and a routing of Real Madrid in the UCL. Chelsea have looked resurgent under Hiddink, but the loss to Tottenham a couple weeks ago took the wind out of their sails somewhat and relegated their title hopes to the Wishful Thinking bin. So it was interesting to say the least to see them put in this kind of performance at Anfield, where Liverpool hadn’t lost in a couple millennia or so. It didn’t start promisingly for the Blues, who went down early on some sweet set-up play by Liverpool which resulted in a clinical strike by Torres. After that, though, the Merseysiders wilted from view into an indistinct mass with no one stepping up to carry the weight. Drogba followed the goal almost immediately with a one-on-one chance that Reina managed to stop, and Chelsea kept their foot on the pedal. Branislav Ivanovic became the surprise hero after he scored two goals, both headers off Chelsea corners, and gave his team a commanding lead with the two away goals. Drogba capped it by scoring Chelsea’s third off an assist from Malouda and putting Liverpool’s Champions League dreams in serious doubt.

Barcelona also embarrassed Bayern Munich, making them look like a B-league squad rather than the Bundesliga juggernaut they’ve been. They put four goals on them in the first half, then settled back and wiled away the second 45 minutes. I didn’t care too much about this one, but I always like to see Spanish sides do well, so I consider it a personal victory too. God has well and truly smiled on me.

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Champions League Draw Reality

Posted by hiphopmama on March 21, 2009

If you’ll recall, these were the quarterfinal match-ups I was pulling for, out of some misplaced sense of fairness to the better teams:

  • Manchester United-Villarreal
  • Barcelona-Porto
  • Liverpool-Chelsea
  • Bayern Munich-Arsenal

As it turns out, I only got one of the four match-ups right – Liverpool-Chelsea – but that doesn’t count for much given how many times those two have played in the Champions League recently (read: every year). So here are the actual match-ups as of Friday’s draw:

  • Manchester United-Porto
  • Barcelona-Bayern Munich
  • Liverpool-Chelsea
  • Villarreal-Arsenal

Aside from the Premier League quarter, the best of the bunch seems likely to be Barça vs. Bayern, which pits two teams in excellent European form against each other. Both have high-powered offenses, Bayern’s led by Luca Toni and Franck Ribery, Barça’s by Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry, and Samuel Eto’o, among others – and some solid midfield players. I see two key advantages for Barça that are likely to tip the scales. For one, Barcelona’s defense is the stronger of the two, especially if Puyol is healthy, as they can line up some combination of El Capitan, Rafa Marquez, Pique, Dani Alves, and The Ageless One Sylvinho. Abidal, the first-choice starting left back, is injured at the moment, but Sylvinho has filled in adequately for him and Bayern doesn’t have much to threaten that side with since Ribery tends to play from the middle. Which leads to the second point, namely that Bayern don’t have the tools to exploit Barça’s few weak spots. Their midfield isn’t strong enough to contend with the hefty possession command that Barça get from the likes of Yaya, Busquets, and Xavi. In the end, I believe Barcelona simply have too much for Bayern to handle at virtually every position. Not that it won’t still be a good couple of games, but I don’t see any surprises coming out of that one.

Manchester Utd drew one of the two teams they must have been eyeing and can’t be too sad to be facing Porto. Obviously, “all the teams at this stage are very good,” as everyone is required to say, but among equals, some are more equal than others. There isn’t much to discuss here – Man Utd should skate to the semis.

I’m pleasantly surprised to see Arsenal have the good fortune to draw Villarreal. No disrespect to Pellegrini and the Yellow Submarine, but when you had a chance to face Barcelona or Manchester United, Villarreal doesn’t look quite so daunting. It will still be a tough match, but even more than that, it should be fun to watch. Pellegrini’s trademark style of play will definitely look good paired up with Wenger’s, so it will be an eye-pleasing match-up at the very least.

And then there’s Liverpool-Chelsea. Was there any way this could be avoided? You just knew it was coming, whether in this round or the next. They also seem to be spoiling each other’s tea party, and this year will be no different. I’m not sure who to give the edge to here. Normally you’d have to say Liverpool, with their history in Europe and comparatively better season overall, but things are changing at Chelsea. Or at least they were until today’s lost to Tottenham, but that’s a topic for another post. Hiddink has the Blues playing tougher and with a sense of purpose, and with the Premier League essentially out of reach, the UCL takes on that much more importance for them. Same goes for Liverpool too, though, and I really don’t see them slipping up at this point. Much as I’d like to, I can’t put my money on Chelsea, although I’ll certainly be rooting for them. 

And I still don’t see anything preventing a Barcelona-Manchester United final.

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Champions League Draw Dreams

Posted by hiphopmama on March 19, 2009

You can’t really call it a prediction because it’s all based on luck, but these are the quarterfinal match-ups I’d like to see, if we were constructing it like an NCAA bracket with the strongest teams playing the, well, less strong teams. 

  • Manchester United-Villarreal
  • Barcelona-Porto
  • Liverpool-Chelsea
  • Bayern Munich-Arsenal

As a bigger fan of Arsenal and Chelsea than most of the other teams, I’d prefer to see them play the likes of Porto or Villarreal, but in terms of strict fairness, Barcelona and Manchester Utd have earned those lesser teams. I think it’s pretty obvious that those two are far and away the strongest clubs in Europe this year, although Liverpool is on their heels at the moment. I can’t make much of an argument either for or against Bayern because I don’t watch much Bundesliga action, but they have certainly looked impressive in UCL matches. 

In looking at the remaining teams, the only screwy thing that could happen – along the lines of all three Italian teams facing English opposition in the Round of 16 – would be if the four English teams were somehow kept away from each other entirely. There was plenty of talk when the draw for the last round happened about how it was a marketing dream to have more Premier League teams in the later rounds, and an even bigger boon to advertising revenues if we could get another all-England final. Personally, I think that’s a little boring. While I believe the Premier League is the strongest in Europe right now, just watching English teams duke it out seems counterproductive at the very least. If I wanted to watch Man Utd play Liverpool for high stakes…wait, I just saw that last weekend. I certainly wouldn’t sniff at a London finals match-up, but a little more diversity would definitely be a plus. It’s probably a moot point, because I really don’t see anyone beating Barcelona, at least not for a while, and the draw isn’t likely to shake out that way. For the sake of the tournament’s integrity and continued sale-ability, I hope tomorrow’s draw is less suspicious than the last one.

Anyone but United ’09!

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Champions League, Part Deux

Posted by hiphopmama on March 11, 2009

manyoo-inter

Manchester United 2-0 Inter (Agg: 2-0)

  • 1-0 Vidic, 4′
  • 2-0 Ronaldo,  49′

almunia

Roma 1-0 Arsenal, Shoot-out 6-7 (Agg: 1-1)

  • 1-0 Juan, 9′

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
  • Villarreal
  • Chelsea
  • Liverpool
  • Manchester United
  • Arsenal
  • Barcelona
  • Porto

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.

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Champions League Draw

Posted by hiphopmama on December 19, 2008

  • Atletico Madrid – Porto
  • Lyon – Barcelona
  • Arsenal – Roma
  • Inter – Manchester Utd
  • Real Madrid – Liverpool
  • Chelsea – Juventus
  • Villarreal – Panathinaikos
  • Sporting Lisbon – Bayern Munich

There are a few conspicuous things about these pairings. The first is the fact that the three Serie A teams drew Premier League opponents. Based on the performance of English teams in the Champions League in recent years, this wouldn’t seem to bode well for the Italians. However, looking at the match-ups individually paints a slightly better picture for the Serie A squads. Roma will take on an Arsenal team that has yet to really find its bearings this season. Unfortunately for Roma, the Gunners have played their best games against quality opponents, so that might be nullified. This has the potential to be one of the best match-ups because both teams play such open games. Juventus-Chelsea has the most back story to it, with Claudio Ranieri taking on his former team at Stamford Bridge, about which Ranieri said, “I can’t say I’m happy.” The biggest battle of all will be between Inter and Manchester United, two powerhouses currently playing well and expecting to go far in this competition. United are the reigning champions in Europe, but they are only just starting to hit their stride. Inter, on the other hand, came on like gangbusters only to slow down the slightest bit of late. This is an impossible one for me to watch because there is no one to root for. I am always looking for someone to upend Inter and their Special coach, but I cannot get myself to pull for Fergie and Ronaldo, so it will be Forza Inter in that one. 

The other noticeable thing in all this is the pairing of the non-biggies with each other. The match-ups of Atletico-Porto, Sporting-Bayern, and Villarreal-Panathinaikos all feature two teams who would be expected to fall by the wayside against the top-tier teams playing each other in the other ties. Because of how the draw came out, three of those teams will make it to the next round, while either Chelsea or Juventus, Inter or Man Utd, Real Madrid or Liverpool, Arsenal or Roma will be knocked out. It will make for a different look to the later rounds, that’s for sure.

Oh yeah, and Barcelona will play Lyon. It’s no disrespect to Lyon that it barely warrants a mention. Pretty much any opposition would elicit that reaction because of how incredible Barça have been playing. Let’s just say I don’t foresee any hicc-ups for the Catalans, although I’m sure Guardiola will convince them otherwise to ensure a good performance from his team.

As a fan of Arsenal (and secondarily Chelsea) in England and Real Madrid in Spain, I am at least satisfied with the draw. Liverpool is always a tough out in European play, but with a team that will hopefully be rejuvenated both through injury recoveries and new players, it’s a match-up Real can win. Roma is no push-over and they have been playing much better of late, but Arsenal could have faced much worse. As for Serie A, my team – AC Milan – didn’t even make it to the Champions League this year, so my only real interest there is seeing Inter lose. Except that I can’t root for Man Utd, so I’m really screwed there. In any case, it will be an incredible slate of games of which I’m sure I will only get sparing coverage. Gotta love that U.S. soccer coverage.

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