Posts Tagged ‘Spain’

Ballon d’Or 2012: A Case For Ronaldo

Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are the three nominees for the Ballon d’Or this calendar year. But of course only one of them can win the award. The Ballon d’Or is meant to be awarded to the most outstanding player of the year and not given to someone who may be the best player on the planet. Of course team achievements are a huge part in the selecting of the winner. But ultimately it is down to personal achievements.

The obvious favourite is Barcelona’s Messi who is about to break Gerd Muller’s goal scoring record for a calendar year. The Argentine has, at time of writing, 84 goals with three league games remaining a Champions League fixture and a Copa del Ray fixture. This is a phenomenal achievement and one we will not see again for a long time. Unless the little man has a similar year in 2013. Despite this spectacular landmark Messi isn’t in a one horse race for the Ballon d’Or which he has won three years in a row. The two other contender’s have just of much of a chance of winning the prize. This is mainly down to the European Championship that took place this summer, which of course, Messi did not partake.

First up, his teammate, Iniesta. Iniesta is part of what could be considered the greatest international side there is. He’s the linchpin in Spain’s dominance of world football at the moment and was named player of the tournament of the European Championship. Iniesta also won UEFA’s Champions League best player this year, where Messi and Ronaldo were the other nominees, but many saw this as a mere token gesture to a fantastic career. Alas Iniesta is the outsider of the three and when the best player in the world today is argued it is argument between Ronaldo and Messi and not Iniesta.

Ronaldo Silencing the Nou Camp

Ronaldo Silencing the Nou Camp

So then the man from Madeira, Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo had probably his best season since his 07/08 season with Manchester United, which saw him win the Ballon d’Or. With Real Madrid he won the La Liga title as Jose’s men finally toppled their Catalonian rivals. He also was instrumental in Portugal’s Euro campaign as they were knocked out on penalties in the semi-final to eventual champions Spain. In that semi-final for 90 minutes it was Portugal that were more dominating and looked the more likely to grab a winner. In extra time tired legs showed and the game eventually went to penalties. Ronaldo, who always wants to be the hero, elected to take the fifth peno but it never came to that as Spain went through after their fourth penalty. Ronaldo who has similar percentage of importance of goals as Messi does at Barca has scored a remarkable 58 goals this year but even that number is dwarfed by Messi’s 84. But sometimes stats alone can lead you down the wrong path. What is 84 goals if they are all the third and fourth goal in a 6-0 win? Compared to a 1-0 winning goal? The difference is simple, one is a goal that boosts the goal difference and the other is changing one point into three. Of course, that is a very harsh statement and an exaggerated one but nevertheless can serve a purpose in deciding the Ballon d’Or winner.

Lionel Messi, The Current Ballon d'Or Winner

Lionel Messi, The Current Ballon d’Or Winner

Alas I am not going to sit down here and go through all 84 of Messi’s goals and 58 of Ronaldo’s but I will look at the key games of the year. When the El Clasico took place last season Real were four points clear and a victory would all but guarantee the title, the match took place in the Nou Camp and after Alexis Sanchez cancelled out Sami Khedira earlier effort. The match was perfectly poised, until Ronaldo got on the end of a Mesut Ozil pass and slotted the ball past Victor Valdes silencing the 90,000 Barca fans. On a night that ultimately decided the title where both Messi and Ronaldo were playing only one of them scored the winning goal. The other two defining games of the respective player’s season was their Champions League semi-final. Barca faced Chelsea and Real Madrid faced Bayern Munich. Both players saw their teams behind after the first leg and both where playing at home in the second leg. Barca drew 2-2 with Chelsea and Messi missed a penalty which saw Chelsea through 3-2 on aggregate. Real Madrid won 2-1 (levelling the tie on aggregate) and it was Ronaldo who scored both for Madrid, Madrid were eliminated on penalties. The other time Messi and Ronaldo faced each other throughout the year (bar the super cup) was in the league this season where both Messi and Ronaldo were on target twice in a 2-2 draw.

So despite Messi’s soon to be record goal scoring year, The Ballon d’Or may not fall on his lap and the Portuguese man may just take home the award four year’s after first winning it.

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Spain, The Best Ever?

Amid all the celebrations of Spain’s success comes the argument; Are they the best national side ever?

But first, which teams rival Spain?

First up: The Brazil team of 1970, a fantastic side with fantastic players, playing with the traditional Brazilian brass and style. A side that included Pelé, Carlos Alberto, Roberto Rivelino and Tostão and was coached by Mario Zagallo. It certainly has all the attributes to be credited with the award. The Brazilian team won the World Cup in Mexico beating Italy 4-1 with goals from Pele, Gerson, Jairzinho, and Carlos Alberto and up until this Spanish side they were regarded as the greatest national side by many. But you have to remember that in 1970 the World Cup was made up of just 16 teams, which means fewer teams but also suggests that it was more competitive from the start with no easy games.

Next up: West Germany of 1974 no doubt one of the finest sides that Germany produced and one of the finest to come from Europe. A side that included Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller, and Paul Breitner. West Germany beat a Johan Cryuff led Dutch side 2-1. West Germany also hosted the tournament.

My third challenger: This would be the French side that won the 1998 World Cup which was also hosted by France. This French side was littered with stars including the irresistible Zinedine Zidane. Alongside Zidane there was a 20 year old Thierry Henry, Laurent Blanc, and Didier Deschamps. France beat Brazil 3-0 with Zidane getting two and Petit getting the third. This French side also won the European Championship in 2000.

But what about the current Spanish side? What makes them most people’s stand out choice?

This Spain side become untouchable, quite literally, with stats showing that Spain dominate most matches in possession and passes attempted/completed. But for me what stands out between this Spain side and the other great national sides is that this isn’t just a great team but this is more of an era. The Spanish era started in 2008 when they won the European Championship they continued their good form and style in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa with Spain lifting the iconic trophy after beating Holland 1-0 after extra time. In this year’s European Championship Spain always looked in control of their own destiny and ran out 4-0 winners against an Italian side that merited more than the scoreboard suggested. But in any case it seems Spain are set to be the team to beat in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and if they do manage to retain their World Cup crown they would defiantly be regarded as the best by almost all.

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In any case the beauty about football is that it is a game of opinions and the simple case is that we will never know which side is the best national side ever.

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Spain vs Italy: Euro 2012 final

Two of these teams met in Group C on June 10th, where they played out a fairly entertaining 1-1 draw. Now though both Italy and Spain will be hungrier, knowing that either of them could be crowned champions of Europe in just a few hours time.

A lot of football fans doubted Italy’s ability to make it out of their group, never mind go all the way to the final. When the Italians met Germany in the semi’s, it looked like it could be the end of the road for the Azzuri but a vintage display by Pirlo and a Balotelli brace proved to be enough with Italy winning 2-1. Cesare Prandelli has got his tactics pretty much perfect for every game so far, including the opening fixture vs Spain in the Group. They have not trailed for a single minute at the tournament so far. Italy are the only team to put the ball in the Spanish goal so far at this Summers finals and will be confident they can do it again.

It doesn’t come as much as a surprise to people that Spain have made it to the final. However, they haven’t done it with the same style and class that they won the previous World Cup and European Championships with and have received criticism from certain parts of the footballing community for not playing with a true striker in some of their games, the first of which was Italy. The Spaniard eased past Group C, topping the group unbeaten. They then bet France with ease and proceeded to the semi’s where they met Portugal, which Spain won on penalties. If they do in fact win the Euro’s then there is no arguing that this Spanish team is one of, if not the greatest international side of all time.

Key Battles 

Andrea Pirlo vs Xavi

Possibly the two best passers of the ball in world football so it’s obvious to see why these men will be influential for both their sides. Andrea Pirlo has carried his Scudetto winning form to Euro 2012 and has been Italy and arguably the tournaments greatest player, picking up three man of the match awards out of Italy’s five games so far. Xavi was one of Spain’s key players in 2008 & 2010 when they lifted silverware. Nothing has changed. He is still pulling the strings in the middle of the park for ‘La Rojas’, completing 465 successful passes so far in this tournament. Xavi can tend to go under the radar during the match which is one of the reasons why he is such a threat. Give either of these players an inch and they will make you pay with a pinpoint pass that could have a huge say on who’s set of supporters will be celebrating come the end of the night.

Gianluigi Buffon vs Iker Casillas 

“[Gianluigi] Buffon and [Iker] Casillas? That face-off will be crucial”, they are the words of legendary Italian goalkeeper Dino Zoff. He could prove to be correct. Goalkeepers are one of the key players for most teams out there but there are very few teams in the world that can claim to have goalkeepers as solid and consistent as Buffon and/or Casillas. They both captain their sides and both have made well over 100 caps for their country. I expect this game to be a very tight one so both keepers will have to be at their best if either of them is to lift the trophy at the end of the night.

Now mere moments away from kick-off, who will be come champions of Europe?

Will it be Del Bosque’s Spain or Prandelli’s Italy?

Ronaldo & Portugal v Spain

Ronaldo celebrates his goal versus the Czech Republic

Ronaldo celebrates his goal versus the Czech Republic

Portugal take on Spain tonight in the first of the Euro 2012 semi finals. It has been a fantastic tournament thus far, with just one 0-0 draw which in turn had a wonderful penalty shootout including that Pirlo chip.

The four semi-finalists each deserve their spot and all have a good chance of lifting the trophy. Although in Portugal’s case it isn’t a team effort as such, it is more of a Ronaldo plus 10 other men’s effort that has gotten them to the crunch stage of the tournament.

But is that fair to the rest of the team? In the Portugal squad you have players such as Nani, a Champions League winner and a three time Premier League winner; you also have Raul Meireles, who has recently won the F.A Cup with Chelsea and played a vital role in the team that got Chelsea to the Champions League final this year; also in the squad is centre back Pepe and left back Fabio Coentrao who won the La Liga title with Real Madrid (although Coentrao did only start 11 league games); Also in the squad is full back Joao Pereira who is hot property at the moment and is apparently being chased by Chelsea.

All those have an impressive CV individually but none are superstar players that can win a game on his own. Up step Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal’s form at the tournament have been consistent with Ronaldo’s individual form, against Denmark, Ronaldo had a poor game and Denmark really had a good chance of getting something out of this game and, probably should have. But Portugal’s lesser stars got them a vital three points winning 3-2.

The last game of Group B was Ronaldo’s first good performance in the tournament grabbing the two goals for Portugal that took them through to the quarter finals as runner-ups to Germany.

In the quarter finals, another Man of the Match performance by Ronaldo and another goal was enough to beat Group A winners Czech Republic to see Portugal through to the semi-finals and has given Ronaldo the required confidence he needs to overcome the World champions and defending European champions Spain. The Spain side, on paper, look deserving of their crown as World and European champions and thus far have been impressive to have eased into the semi finals, the Spanish play some amazing football at times and it seems that Portugal will have to play a more reserved game if they have any chance of getting through to the final. Portugal’s tactics may result in a dull game but hopefully it won’t be. Hopefully the Spanish play at a higher tempo then usual to break down their opponents and Portugal in turn can brake fast with Ronaldo on the end of a Nani through ball possibly? Ronaldo v Iker in a one on one situation, who would win this battle of nerve?

There is no doubt though, if Portugal win tonight and beat Spain through a Ronaldo goal or individual piece of magic that he would be a certainly to pick up this years Ballon d’Or award as Messi doesn’t play in an international tournament this summer.

Football Topic end of season awards.

The end of the season has come and it’s time to declare the winners of each category in our opinion for the Premiership, Serie A and La Liga.

Barclays Premier League:

Darren’s picks –

Player of the season: Vincent Kompany
Young player of the season: Sergio Aguero
Manager of the season: Alan Pardew
Signing of the season: Nikica Jelavic
Overachievers: Newcastle/Norwich
Underperformers: Aston Villa
Flop of the season: Stewart Downing
Comeback player of the season: Paul Scholes
Moment of the season: City’s comeback on the last day to clinch the title.
Match of the season: Man United 4-4 Everton
Goal of the season: Haten Ben Arfa vs Bolton. Wonderful solo run.
Hero of the season: Fabrice Muamba. It was amazing to see him back at the Reebok.
Villain of the season: Luis Suarez/Joey Barton
Unsung Hero: Alex Song

 

Our young player of the season.

Craig’s pick –

Player of the season: Robin Van Persie
Young player of the season: Sergio Aguero
Manager of the season: Alan Pardew
Signing of the season: Demba Ba
Overachievers: Newcastle
Underperformers: Aston Villa/Liverpool
Flop of the season: Stewart Downing
Comeback player of the season:Paul Scholes
Moment of the season: Fabrice Muamba returning to Reebok
Match of the season: Arsenal 5-2 Tottenham
Goal of the season: Mata Volley v MUFC
Hero of the season: Mario Balotelli
Villain of the season: Carlos Tevez
Unsung Hero: Grant Holt

Serie A:

Ibra had his best season as an individual but failed to win a major title in the end.

Player of the season: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Young player of the season: Gaston Ramirez
Manager of the season: Antonio Conte
Signing of the season: Andrea Pirlo
Overachievers: Lazio
Underperformers: Inter/Genoa
Flop of the season: Diego Forlan
Comeback player of the season: Andrea Pirlo/Diego Milito
Moment of the season: Del Piero and Pippo Inzaghi scoring on the last day of the season
Match of the season: Inter 4-2 Ac Milan/ Inter 4-4 Palermo
Goal of the season: Juan Cuadrado vs Siena
Hero of the season: Heroes, Udinese offering to take care of the late Piermario Morosini’s disabled sister.
Villain of the season: Delio Rossi for attacking his own player/ Genoa Ultras.
Unsung Hero: Antonio Nocerino

La Liga:

Player of the season: Cristiano Ronaldo
Young player of the season: Javi Martinez
Manager of the season: Jose Mourinho
Signing of the season: Radamel Falcao
Overachievers: Malaga
Underperformers: Villarreal
Flop of the season: Ruud Van Nistelrooy 28Games 4 goals
Comeback player of the season: Abidal playing again after cancer
Moment of the season: Ronaldo silences the Nou Camp
Match of the season: Levente 3-5 Rayo Vallecano
Goal of the season: Ronaldo 1st v Levante
Hero of the season: Eric Abidal
Villain of the season: Pepe
Unsung Hero: Xabi Alonso

Pepe seemed to be constantly in trouble. What’s new?

Who would be your picks?

Europa League Final 2012

On the 9th of May in Bucharest, Athletic Bilbao will meet Atletico Madrid in an all-Spanish Europa League final.

Athletic Bilbao have been praised for their attractive football that they play. They are a team that never seems to stop attacking from kick-off to the final whistle.

Bilbao topped a group containing Slovan Bratislava, Red Bull Salzburg and big spending Paris Saint-Germain. In the round of 32 they scraped by Lokomotiv Moscow on away goals. Following this they met Manchester United, a game which many expected them to lose. However they outplayed United at Old Trafford and won 3-2. They later bet them in the San Mamés 2-1, progressing 5-3 on aggregate. Bielsa’s men knocked out German side Schalke to progress to the semi-finals where they contested in a highly entertaining fixture with Sporting Lisbon. It took a late Fernando Llorente goal to put them through.

Having not won a trophy since 1984, this season could prove to be one of Bilbao’s most successful yet being in both the Europa League and Copa Del Rey final.  The Basque side have only made it to one European Final previously, the Uefa Cup final in 1977 where they lost on away goals to Juventus. They will be hoping for better luck this time around.

Llorente celebrates his 88th minute winner against Sporting Lisbon.

2010 winners Atletico Madrid will be hoping to add their second Europa League to their trophy cabinet come the 9th of May.

Los Rojiblancos only lost once in a group that included Udinese, Celtic and French side Rennes. They comfortably bet Lazio 4-1 on aggregate  in the Round of 32. Besiktas proved to be no match for Atletico as they were brushed aside, losing 6-1 over the two legs. Like Bilbao, Atletico Madrid met a German team in the quarter-finals, Hannover 96. Madrid won 2-1 in each leg, which progressed them to the semi’s where they met fellow Spanish side Valencia. This was to be Atletico’s toughest task of the Europa League campaign. However, a Falcao brace helped them on their way to a 4-2 win at the Vicente Calderón. In the second leg, Valencia attacked from the start but it proved to be a frustrating night as they couldn’t get the goal they so badly needed. Then on the hour mark, Atletico Madrid forward Adrián shot down any hope of a Valencia comeback as he put the ball past Diego Alves. On the 80th minute Atletico captain Tiago was sent off and will now miss the final.

Atletico Madrid players celebrate goal against Valencia.

Atletico striker Radamel Falcao will be hoping to get a goal or two in the final to move him up the Europa League scoring charts. If he can score two he will be the second highest goalscorer in Europa League history on 30 goals only after two seasons. He could also lift his second Europa League in two seasons following his success with Porto last year.

The end of an era?

Following Barcelona’s exit from the Champions League at the hands of Chelsea, questions were being asked. Is this the beginning of the end for one of footballs all time great teams? This is the first time Barcelona have failed to win in three consecutive games since 2009.

It was truly a week to forget for Barcelona, as they lost to their rivals Real Madrid 2-1, which led to them falling a colossal seven points behind with only  four games left. The competition that the Catalan club have won for the past three seasons is on it’s way to the capital, Madrid.

Following that defeat they went into the Champions League semi-final second leg match against Chelsea at the Camp Nou. Many expected Guardiola’s men to bounce back and proceed to the final in Munich following their 1-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge the week before. However this was not the case. Ten men Chelsea battled and secured their place in the final with a 2-2 draw. One of the major talking points of the game was Barcelona’s penalty, one that Lionel Messi stepped up to take and missed. Are teams starting to adapt to Barcelona’s “total football” tactics?

Guardiola is set to leave Barcelona at the end of the season.

Not much people would argue the fact that Pep Guardiola is one of the finest managers in the game today, having won 13 trophies with Barcelona in just four years and turning them into one of the most attractive  free-flowing teams in the world today. Although his time with Barcelona is now up. Guardiola has announced today at a press conference that he will be stepping down as manager come the end of the season. He will hope to leave on somewhat of a high by beating Athletic Bilbao in next months Copa Del Rey final.

Two questions are on everybody’s lips, 1) What’s next for Guardiola should he leave Barcelona? 2) Who will replace him?

1)  Many expect him to take time off management following claims that he is “exhausted” and at only 41 years of age he won’t be in any hurry to get back. However when he does return it’s rumoured that it will be to the Premiership, although I wouldn’t rule him out taking over the Spanish national team.

2) It’s official, Francesc “Tito” Vilanova will succeed Pep Guardiola as manager. Vilanova was assistant coach under Guardiola since 2008 and has been part of the reason for Barcelona’s success. Tito was once the manager of Barcelona’s youth team which featured Messi, Pique and Fabregas. Will he be the one to bring the Champions League trophy back to the Nou Camp next season?

Is this just a minor setback or is this truly the end of the “Barcelona era”?