Archive for May, 2008

Manchester United 1-1 Chelsea: Penalty Kicks Crown the Red Devils Kings of Europe (UEFA Champions League FINAL)

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

Bravo United. For the third time in their history, the Red Devils are Champions of Europe, thanks to a 7-6 penalty shoot-out victory over a very unfortunate Chelsea side. The cruel executioner of penalty kicks made another victim Wednesday night, a Blues team which over 120 minutes had perhaps played better than their opponents, firing more shots in spite of an inferior ball possession. But perhaps fate had a grand plan in mind, and decided this Manchester United team was destined to win a double this year: after the English Premier League, Sir Alex Ferguson will add yet another trophy to his resumé, the second UEFA Champions League of his managerial career.

When it came down to it, Edwin Van der Sar’s save on Nicolas Anelka proved to be the decisive event, after the match had ended 1-1 following extra time (goals by Cristiano Ronaldo and Frank Lampard). It was supposed to be great game and it certainly did not disappoint (something not always true with games of this magnitude): there were goals, brilliant pieces of individual play, plenty of near misses, and just the right dose of competitive spirit. The game was a tightly balanced affair, with United playing their best football at the start and end of the game and Chelsea dominating everything in between, hitting a post and the bar.  It is also fair to mention that if the game had to be decided from the penalty spot, it was certainly not because of a defensive mindset on the part of the two sides. Rather, it was much more simply a result of episodes and chance that shaped the game, a refreshing novelty compared to Man Utd’s overly defensive tactics in the playoff round.

UEFA Champions League FINAL - Manchester United 1-1 Chelsea

(From Gazzetta): Effectively, the game only began as a contest 25 minutes after kick-off, as both teams made use of the initial exchanges to study each other’s play. Not that it was the first time these two sides were facing one another mind you, but there just were plenty of fouls and not much play in the initial minutes, making for a broken and unspectacular start to the match.

Then on 26 minutes, the breakthrough: United defender Wes Brown crossed from the right wing, Cristiano Ronaldo rose at the back post to head it in, forgotten by his marker Michael Essien. It was the Portuguese’s 42nd goal of the season, the 8th in the Champions League, making him top scorer of this season’s competition. 1-0 Man Utd.

The goal brought the game into life, which suddenly became an enthralling spectacle. Chelsea’s reply began in the 34th minute, when Didier Drogba crossed in the box and Rio Ferdinand (under pressure from Michael Ballack) almost scored an own goal, with Ewin Van der Sar narrowly tipping the ball out for a corner. United were immediately back at the other end, with Cristiano Ronaldo gliding down the wing and crossing in the box for Carlos Tevez, whose diving header was parried out by Cech. The ball could not be cleared however, and Michael Carrick brought the Czech keeper once again into action and forcing Cech to tip the shot over the bar.

At this stage of the game, the only fans that could be heard singing at the Luzhniki stadium were coloured in red, but this seemed to make no difference whatsoever to their team as Man Utd conspired to miss the easiest chance of the game. Wayne Rooney crossed from the right side, Carlos Tevez slid in from the middle of the box and somehow managed to miss an open goal. And what a costly miss this proved to be, as just before the end of the half a speculative long-range effort from Essien bounced first off Vidic, and then off Ferdinand to fall perfectly at the feet of Frank Lampard. The Blues man found himself in the right place at the right time, and suddenly brought the score level from 10 yards out. 1-1, and a lucky and certainly very timely goal for the Blues, as the referee blew for half time shortly after.

It was now the turn of the Chelsea fans to start singing their hearts out, their side lucky to find themselves in such a position after 45 minutes in which Manchester United, inspired by Ronaldo -who Essien in his makeshift full back position had failed to contain- were the better side.

Both sides began the second half without making any changes as the contest once again turned into a tactical and stuttering affair. Chelsea however were the ones showing the greater belief, heartened perhaps by the fact that they were still in the game despite some close shaves in the first half. Essien and Ballack both had good chances, and United now found themselves under increasing pressure from the Blues. Yet somehow, the Red Devils managed to keep Chelsea out and once again clawed themselves back into the game through Tevez (minute 75). It was Drogba however who blew the most glorious chance, the Ivorian waking from his apparent slumber to strike a stunning right-footed curler that beat Van der Sar but not the post. Chelsea were thus unable to capitalise on a great second half, and with the score tied at 1-1 the game went into extra time.

There were a couple of substitutions at the start of extra time, as Ryan Giggs came on for United to collect his 579th appearance in a red shirt (a new club record), and Solomon Kalou coming on for Chelsea. Chelsea were once again extremely unlucky as Frank Lampard struck a great left-footed shot only to see his effort hit the bar, with everyone in the stadium holding their breath. Chelsea (as expected the stronger of the two sides physically) did not however lose heart and continued to pile on the pressure. United however were not about to give up easily, and like all great sides showed great character and composure. This was almost rewarded when, following some inspirational left-wing play by Evra, Ryan Giggs almost scored from the edge of the box, his shot beating Cech but not John Terry’s head.

At the end of the first period of extra time Sir Alex turned to the fans pleading for all of their support for his players. The last few chances all belonged to United, and there was even a pile up in the box: with tempers flaring, Didier Drogba was the one to pay the highest price receiving his marching orders for a slap on Vidic. Then came the penalties and joy for United. Cristiano Ronaldo missed first putting Chelsea in the driving seat, but Blues captain John Terry blew the chance to clinch the game for his team, slipping and sending shot nº5 off the post. Thus Edwin Van der Sar became the hero of the night, as he saved Nicolas Anelka‘s effort and propelled Manchester to glory.


Manchester United F.C. MAN UTD-CHELSEA
[Match Highlights]
 Chelsea F.C.
GOALSCORERS: 26’ C.Ronaldo (M), 45’ Lampard (C)
MAN UTD (4-3-3): Van der Sar – Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra (122’ Anderson) – Hargreaves, Carrick, Scholes (87’ Giggs) – Tevez, Rooney (101’ Nani), C.Ronaldo. (bench: Kuszczak, Silvestre, O’Shea, Fletcher). Coach: Ferguson.
CHELSEA (4-3-3): Cech – Essien, R.Carvalho, Terry, A.Cole – Ballack, Makelele (122’ Belletti), Lampard – J.Cole (99’ Anelka), Drogba, Malouda (92’ Kalou). (bench: Cudicini, Alex, Mikel, Shevchenko). Coach: Grant.


Euro 2008 Italy Pre-Selection: Donadoni’s “List of 24″

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Tuesday morning in a press conference in Rome, the Azzurri coach announced his pre-selection for Euro 2008: 24 players (4 less than what everyone anticipated, and 1 to be trimmed down before May 28) which will be representing Italy in this Summer’s great European tournament. 

So without further ado, here are the “elected”:

Goalkeepers: Club:
Marco Amelia Livorno
Gianluigi Buffon Juventus
Morgan De Sanctis Sevilla
Andrea Barzagli Palermo
Fabio Cannavaro Real Madrid
Giorgio Chiellini Juventus
Fabio Grosso Lyon
Marco Materazzi Inter
Christian Panucci Roma
Gianluca Zambrotta Barcelona
Massimo Ambrosini Milan
Alberto Aquilani Roma
Mauro Camoranesi Juventus
Daniele De Rossi Roma
Gennaro Gattuso Milan
Riccardo Montolivo Fiorentina
Simone Perrotta Roma
Andrea Pirlo Milan
Marco Borriello Genoa
Antonio Cassano Sampdoria
Alessandro Del Piero Juventus
Antonio Di Natale Udinese
Fabio Quagliarella Udinese
Luca Toni Bayern Munich


So yeah, as you can see the never-ending issue “Del Piero vs. Cassano, which one to pick?” ended with the Don… selecting both. For Italy, I guess that can only be a positive thing: more talent to spare. We can only hope that the Sampdoria forward will keep the potential “Cassanata” locked in a drawer. Other stuff worth the mention is the non-selection of Filippo Inzaghi & Massimo Oddo (technical choice) as well as that of Vincenzo Iaquinta (injury).

In addition, Donadoni picked 24 players (i.e. 1 more than necessary) to begin pre-Euro training on Sunday, meaning one of them will have to leave the group on May 28 (date when the final lists have to be submitted to UEFA). In all likelihood, that player will either be Riccardo Montolivo (more likely) or Alberto Aquilani (less likely): despite the Fiorentina player’s recent run of form, Aquilani’s just been with the Azzurri group longer (albeit playing less and less with Roma recently).

Here’s what Roberto Donadoni had to say in his press conference (source: Gazzetta):

There are no reserves: these are 24 players, playing for a place. No decision has yet been taken, that wouldn’t be good for anybody. I put myself in the players’ shoes, it wouldn’t be nice to know that you’re in the 24 but then you’ll go back home. Everyone should feel in the same situation.”

BREADWINNERS – Donadoni hasn’t forgotten those who contributed to getting the national side into the final phase. “Those who are here have earned it. Others aren’t present, like Inzaghi and Oddo. For Pippo it’s not about his age, but purely a technical choice. I’m sorry for Oddo, who has been affected by an injury. It’s simply a physical situation. I believe that those who will be coming have displayed great commitment. In these two years, the team has proved something, playing in a certain way. But it can also change tactics, as has happened. The players need to feel that they are responsible.”

INZAGHI DISAPPOINTED – Pippo believed in it right to the end, then came the sad truth. “I am disappointed, above all on a personal level,” Inzaghi explained via the official Milan website. “I started this two years trying to build a positive relationship, frank and genuine. Among other things, I scored the first goal under the new manager, against Lithuania in Napoli. But seeing as goals aren’t the only thing which count in football, I thought I had displayed loyalty and commitment to the project, and to my relationship with the boss, both travelling to away games without playing, and accepting the call-up for the Faroe Islands last summer, in a European qualifier which offered three points just like all the others.”

The rossonero is bitter: “Then, silence. Despite my performances with Milan in all competitions, and my goals, 18, scored both in the winter and in April and May. Evidently my injury during the club season was sufficient to mean that I didn’t even deserve a phone call, to end what I had thought was an adult and mature relationship. I’m sorry I was mistaken, my sincere good wishes to the Azzurri for the European Championships.”

ANTONIO’S CHANCE – Donadoni also wanted to clarify his thoughts on Cassano: “Antonio isn’t a gamble. Enough talk of gambles, that’s OK at 16, 17, 18 years old. But the time for gambles is over. He has a great opportunity now, he knows what it means to be part of this group, and he will adapt himself to it. (…) I don’t want to think about the past any more,” the Azzurri manager confirmed. “I’m not very interested in what Cassano has been and done up to now. He needs to start again from scratch. Like everyone. Even those who have won something have to start over again. We have major task ahead and we must concentrate on this. If we live on memories then we will trigger negative reactions. He is part of a group of players who know one another, and as for what he can give in technical terms, I know very well. I wanted a complete squad.”

In search of the realisation of another dream. “There is no minimum objective. When we arrive on the pitch for the first match, we will try to win it, and so on for each game.”

ALE – On to the subject of Del Piero, Donadoni was clear: “Ale hasn’t surprised me. I already know the abilities of each individual player. Del Piero had a period of physical problems, and once these were overcome he was back to displaying the qualities he has.

CONTRACT – Aside from Euro 2008, Abete has settled the situation with Donadoni: a two year contract (up to and including the next World Cup). The agreement includes a free and reciprocal annulment clause, which can be activated to end the agreement within 10 days of the end of the European Championship. “I would like to thank President Giancarlo Abete for his recognition of my work. If Euro 2008 goes badly, I shall leave, there will be no need for the annulment clause,” Donadoni concluded.

Go bad? Let’s all hope that it won’t huh? ;)

You can further discuss the selections at here.

Spain’s Euro 2008 Roster – 23 Players, No Raúl

Monday, May 19th, 2008

No Maniche for Portugal, and no Raúl for Spain. Earlier this week, La Furia Roja manager Luis Aragonés released his final List of 23 who will be travelling to SwissAustria in June and as expected, Real Madrid’s captain was not selected. The feud between Aragonés and Raúl has been going on for quite some time now, and not even Raúl’s return to form these recent years could convince the Spanish manager to bring him back. 

Other notable absentees are Real Madrid’s Guti and Valencia’s Joaquín. This year’s pichichi on the other hand (Mallorca’s Daniel Guiza) earned his call-up through boatloads of goals, and will participate in the Euro expedition.

If you want to further discuss the selections, check out’s forum thread here.

Here’s the full list:


Goalkeepers: Club:
Iker Casillas Real Madrid
José Manuel Reina Liverpool
Andrés Palop Sevilla
Sergio Ramos Real Madrid
Carles Puyol Barcelona
Juanito Betis
Álvaro Arbeloa Liverpool
Fernando Navarro Mallorca
Raúl Albiol Valencia
Carlos Marchena Valencia
Joan Capdevila Villarreal
Cesc Fàbregas Arsenal
Andrés Iniesta Barcelona
Xavi Hernandez Barcelona
David Silva Valencia
Santiago Cazorla Villareal
Rubén de La Red Getafe
Xabi Alonso Liverpool
Marcos Senna Villareal
David Villa Valencia
Sergio Garcia Zaragoza
Fernando Torres Liverpool
Daniel Güiza Mallorca

Serie A Final Matchday – Week-end & Season Review (2007-08)

Monday, May 19th, 2008

Week-End Reviews

Well, it’s all over: another year of Serie A has come to a close, with Internazionale crowned champions of 2007-08. It was an exciting season but all good things must come to an end, and make way for Euro 20008. :)

Here are the results and summaries for matchday 38. I recommend in particular Italy Offside’s thorough round-up week 38 review

Italian Calcio Blog week 38 review

Italian Calcio Blog

Marco’s Pre-season predictions

For kicks, here’s the final ranking compared to the predictions *I* had made back in August.

Not too bad I’d say… Obviously I was way off on AC Milan and Lazio, but the rest was more or less in the ballpark for the top 10 teams no? :) And I defy anyone to tell me they had predicted Parma’s relegation.

Marco’s Actual
1. Milan Inter Champions League
2. Inter Roma
3. Juve Juve
4. Roma Fiorentina

5. Lazio Milan UEFA Cup
6. Sampdoria Sampdoria
7. Fiorentina Udinese

8. Udinese Napoli
9. Palermo Atalanta
10. Torino Genoa
11. Napoli Palermo
12. Parma Lazio
13. Atalanta Siena
14. Livorno Cagliari
15. Empoli Torino
16. Genoa Reggina
17. Reggina Catania

18. Cagliari Empoli Relegation
19. Catania Parma
20. Siena Livorno


Party Time

No ‘Goals of the week’ this time, but just a video celebrating Inter’s 16th Scudetto. Enjoy.


Results Summary


Serie A – day 38
Sampdoria – Juventus 3 – 3
Atalanta – Genoa 2 - 0
Cagliari – Reggina 2 – 2
Catania – Roma 1 – 1
Empoli – Livorno 2 - 1
Lazio – Napoli 2 - 1
Milan – Udinese 4 - 1
Parma – Inter 0 - 2
Siena – Palermo 2 – 2
Torino – Fiorentina 0 – 1

Parma 0-2 Inter: Saved by Zlatan, Scudetto Goes To Internazionale (Serie A Matchday 38)

Sunday, May 18th, 2008\'s headline: \

Serie AVeni vidi vici indeed. He came (or returned, rather), he saw, he conquered. While there is no doubt that this year’s Scudetto was the result of team effort, the Nerazzurri have but one man to thank for achieving that objective on the last matchday of Serie A… and that man is Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Returning from a lengthy injury and brought on by Mancini 6 minutes into the second half (with the score still tied 0-0), the magnificent Swede grabbed his magic hat and pulled out an extremely vital double: two goals to send Inter to Scudetto-heaven and Parma to Serie B-hell.

To quote Gazzetta:

This time there was no ‘crazy Inter’, but only ‘Inter crazy of joy’. This Scudetto has many fathers, from Moratti to Mancini, from Ibra to Zanetti, but above all it was spawned by suffering. A lot of suffering for Inter, probably too much considering all of the Nerazzurri’s missed chances throughout the year. In the end though the most important thing is winning it, and in that light when all is said and done, victory might feel even sweeter this way“.

I suppose it does, so congratulations to Inter!

(From Gazzetta): As many expected, Sunday’s fixture at the Tardini turned out to be an unavoidably nervous match, and not particularly nice to watch if you were looking for beautiful plays. The rain & very slippery pitch certainly didn’t help, but above all the player’s performance (every single one of the 22 starters) was conditioned by the importance of the score: Inter needed to win for Scudetto glory, Parma needed 3 points to fight relegation.

The initial minutes were somewhat balances, and perhaps even a little bit to the advantage of Parma: the home team came out very energetic, lively, and probably in better physical form. Stefano Morrone in particular was playing ‘Mr. Interdictor’ in midfield, stopping balls in with his head, feet, and any other legal parts of the body at his disposal. As a result: not many opportunities to score for either side, and the most exciting event coming from the first half actually arrived very early. In the 8th minute, news of Mirko Vucinic’s opener vs.  Catania reached Stadio Ennio Tardini, and local fans cheered and clapped: Parma only needed to win to avoid relegation. But above all in the grand scheme of things, this goal meant that Roma was virtually Serie A champion.

But to going back to Parma-Inter, not many chances to speak of as I was saying. In the 12th minute, a Morrone cross from the right wing was deflected by Julio Cesar into corner, and on the opposiing end, a beautiful delivery by Mario Balotelli was narrowly missed by Julio Cruz, allowing goalkeeper Nicola Pavarini to save. Local fans thus cheered referee Stefano Rocchi’s half-time whistle, satisfied with their team’s efforts in the first half, even if the score meant the relegation for Parma. In contrast, Nerazzurri fans in the stadium seemed sad and worried about the virtual status of the Scudetto (painted in Giallorosso at the time), but they rapidly regained their nerve at the sight of Ibrahimovic’s warm-up drills during the break. The Swede needed to bring a ray of hope missing during a very gray first half, just like the sky over Parma: few ideas and even fewer plays for Inter.

IBRA GOES HAYWIRE – Minute 51, Zlatan-time: Ibra is coming on (replacing a disappointing Cesar). The Swede quickly showed his skills on the wing and effectively changed the pace of the match: Inter were now strong in the attack, Parma relying on counters. And alas for Parma fans (already shaken by news of the Empoli lead), their mood would get even worse at the sight of Ibrahimovic’s Scudetto-winning goal. Andrea Gasbarroni lost the ball, allowing Inter to regain possesion and serve Zlatan in the middle: in a drill-bit from outside the box, the Swede slammed a precise daisy-cutter that landed in Pavarini’s bottom-left corner. 1-0 Inter.

The tide was turned: Inter were now virtual Serie A champions and were piling on the pressure. Mario Balotelli and Ibrahimovic again barely missed the goal, but the Parma players certainly weren’t giving up: all attacking with their heads low, and inevitably disorganized. Their counterattacks fell short however, and allowed Inter to seal the deal: a cross by Maicon on the right wing (after a good run) found Ibrahimovic completely unmarked on the opposite post, and the Swede fired a precise instep on the volley that left Pavarini no chance. 2-0 Inter and the Scudetto was on ice.

At about 16:40 CET (85 minutes into the game) Roma surrendered to Catania’s equalizer (after many many chances missed by the Elefanti) thus further guaranteeing Inter’s triumph. The Nerazzurri’s chants (“Ibra-Ibra” and “vinceremo il tricolor”) completely covered the referee’s final whistle and sent the many Inter supporters into delirium: La Beneamata had conquered the 16th Scudetto of their club’s history.


[Match Highlights]
F.C. Internazionale Milano
GOALSCORERS: 62’, 79’ Ibrahimovic (I)
PARMA (4-3-2-1): Pavarini – Coly, Paci, Couto, Castellini – Morrone, Cigarini (64’ C.Lucarelli), Parravicini (88’ Moretti) – Reginaldo (76’ Antonelli), Gasbarroni – Budan. (bench: Bucci, C.Zenoni, Martinez, Corradi). Coach: Manzo.
INTER (4-3-2-1): Julio Cesar – Maicon, Rivas, Materazzi, Maxwell – Vieira, J.Zanetti, Stankovic – Balotelli (76’ Pelé), Cesar (51’ Ibrahimovic) – Cruz. (bench: Toldo, Burdisso, Jiménez, Crespo, Suazo). Coach: R.Mancini.