Archive for September, 2008

Soccer “Four Nations” Tournament 2009: An Idea for France, Italy, Spain, and Germany (and maybe England)…

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

You know the Rugby Six nations Championship? The one involving the England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales rugby national teams and taking place every year?

Well, the French Football Federation (FFF) and Club France 2010 (the management company taking care of all things Les Bleus till the 2010 World Cup) have had this crazy idea: why not do the same thing for soccer? And make it a regular occurrence?

Enter the Four Nations Soccer tournament, featuring France, Spain, Italy, and Germany (and potentially England as well).

It’s not the first time France has had this sort of initiative: remember the Tournoi de France back in 1997? Held shortly before the France 98 World Cup, this 4-Team tournament reunited France, England, Brazil and Italy for some very good footy showdowns. It’s in this tournament that Roberto Carlos scored his famous insane-bending free-kick.

Anyways, “there isn’t a concrete project as of yet, just an ideasays FFF president Jean-Pierre Escalettes. “But it would perfect to exploit the free period between June 6 and 10, as all of these 4 nations have no international fixtures during that time” he added. “It’s such a shame that the big European nations face each other so rarely. If we can change that we should. The tournament could then be transformed into a regular fixture, to take place in France (or another European country) every year or ever two years“.

For Spain and Italy, who will be involved in the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009 from June 14 to 18, this would also be a perfect opportunity to get some pre-tournament training/test-matches…

What do you think? Good idea? Or do we already have too many soccer tournaments lying around?

UEFA Cup First Round, Leg 1 – Viva Italia: Clean Sweep for Milan, Sampdoria, Napoli, and Udinese

Friday, September 19th, 2008

Italian teams made 4 out of 4 in the UEFA Cup Thursday night. Indeed, in the round just before the Group Stage all four Serie A sides in action recorded first-leg victories, some welcome news after the difficulties Roma and Fiorentina encountered in the Champions League. Uefa.com reports. Partial video highlights here.

Seven-time winners AC Milan are having to adjust to a rare season without UEFA Champions League football (not to mention a terrible start to the Serie A campaign) and they quickly found their feet with a morale-boosting triumph against FC Zürich. Meanwhile Sampdoria were the night’s big winners, hitting five past FBK Kaunas in Genoa, while Napoli held off a spirited Benfica and Udinese impressed in their away win to Borussia Dortmund.

Milan vs. Zürich

.

After opening the Serie A season with successive defeats, Milan lifted their spirits with a convincing win against Zürich. Andriy Shevchenko twice went close for the Rossoneri before playing a part in the opening goal a minute into added time at the end of the first half. Zürich goalkeeper Johnny Leoni saved his shot but Marek Jankulovski was on hand to volley in the rebound.

Zürich striker Alexandre Alphonse’s 66th-minute header hit the post and just seconds after that Alexandre Pato doubled Milan’s advantage with a 25-metre free-kick. Substitute Marco Borriello made it three after being teed up by Shevchenko on 74 minutes, though the Rossoneri’s celebrations were tempered by Dušan Djuric‘s 30-metre drive soon after which ensures Zurich return to the Letzigrund with a foothold still in the tie.

.

 AC Milan
MILAN-ZURICH
3-1
FC Zürich
GOALSCORERS: 45’ Jankulovski (M), 56’ Pato (M), 73’ Borriello (M), 78’ Djuric (Z).
MILAN (4-3-1-2): Dida – Antonini, Bonera, Kaladze, Jankulovski – Ambrosini (68’ Emerson), Flamini, Seedorf – Kaká – Pato (65’ Borriello), Shevchenko (75’ Ronaldinho). (bench: Kalac, Favalli, Darmian, Gattuso). Coach: Ancelotti.
ZURICH (4-4-1-1): Leoni – Stahel, Tihinen, Barmettler, Stucki – Djuric, Aegerter, Okonkwo, Alphonse – Abdi (88
Mehmedi), Hassli (77’ Nikci). (bench: Guatelli, Lampi, Koch, Buchel, Sconbachler). Coach: Challandes.

.

Sampdoria vs. Kaunas

.
Emiliano Bonazzoli and Antonio Cassano both scored twice as Sampdoria put one foot in the group stage with a crushing victory against the Lithuanian champions. Bonazzoli broke the deadlock when he headed in Angelo Palombo’s corner (14) and added a second eight minutes later. Cassano got in on the act before the break and scored again 12 minutes into the second half with a fine curling free-kick.

A dire night for Kaunas was compounded when Vytautas Lukša was sent off for a second yellow card with three minutes to play before substitute Bruno Fornaroli headed another in the final minute.

.

 U.C. Sampdoria
SAMPDORIA-KAUNAS
5-0
FBK Kaunas
GOALSCORERS: 14’, 21’ Bonazzoli (S), 35’, 57’ Cassano (S), 90’ Fornaroli (S).
SAMPDORIA (3-5-2): Mirante – Lucchini, Gastaldello, Bottinelli – Stankevicius, Delvecchio, Palombo (79’ Dessena), Sammarco, Pieri (46’ Ziegler) – Cassano (59’ Fornaroli), Bonazzoli. (bench: Castellazzi, Franceschini, Mustacchio, Marilungo). Coach: Mazzarri.
KAUNAS (4-5-1): Dreer – Radzius, Baguzis (46’ Rikmevicius), Kancelskis, Manchkhava – Zubavicius, Ivaskevicius (79’ Arouri), Mendy, Zelmikas, Luksa – Ledesma. (bench: Vertelis, Valskis, Fridikas, Cinikas, Mamic). Coach: Couceiro.

.

Napoli vs. Benfica

.

Napoli prevailed in a five-goal thriller at the Stadio San Paolo, but Luisão’s 59th-minute strike to reduce the arrears leaves Benfica well placed for the return. The Portuguese side had appeared in good stead in Italy when David Suazo (16) headed them in front, yet within three minutes goals from Luigi Vitale and German Denis had turned the match on its head.

Both owed much to good fortune and there was more than a hint of luck in Napoli’s third goal ten minutes after half-time too as Léo diverted Christian Maggio‘s cross past Quim. Luisão quickly responded, however, to leave the tie in the balance.

.

 S.S.C. Napoli
NAPOLI-BENFICA
3-2
S.L. Benfica
GOALSCORERS: 16′ Suazo (B), 18′ Vitale (N), 20′ Denis, 55’ Maggio (N), 60’ Luisão (B).
NAPOLI (3-5-2): Navarro – Santacroce, P.Cannavaro, Contini – Maggio, Blasi (46’ Pazienza), Gargano, Hamsik (76’ Pià), Vitale; Denis (66’ Zalayeta), Lavezzi. (bench: Gianello, Rinaudo, Aronica, Montervino). Coach: Reja.
BENFICA (4-4-2): Quim – Maxi Pereira, Luisão, Sidnei – Urreta (46’ Balboa), C.Martins (56’ Katsouranis), Yebda, Reyes – Di María (63’ Nuno Gomes), Suazo. (bench: Moreira, Amorim, Jorge Ribeiro, Vitor). Coach: Quique Flores.

.

Dortmund vs. Udinese

.

First-half goals from Antonio Floro Flores and Gokhan Inler put Udinese in the driving seat at the Westfalenstadion as the Italian side made the most of some sloppy Dortmund defending to take control of the tie. Floro Flores struck on the break 8 minutes in before Swiss international Inler doubled the advantage when he turned in Simone Pepe’s cross with 34 minutes played.

A young Dortmund side regrouped after the interval but were fortunate not to fall further behind as they pressed for a way back into the tie.

.

BV Borussia Dortmund
DORTMUND-UDINESE
0-2
 Udinese Calcio
GOALSCORERS: 8′ Floro Flores (U), 34′ Inler (U).
BORUSSIA DORTMUND (4-4-2): Weidenfeller – Rukavina, Subotic, Hummels (23′ Santana), Lee – Blaszczykowski, Hajnal (63’ Frei), Kehl, Kringe – Valdez, Zidan (9’ Tinga). (bench: Ziegler, Federico, Klimowicz, Schmelzer). Coach: Klopp.
UDINESE (4-3-3): Handanovic – Ferronetti (83’ Motta), Coda, Domizzi, Lukovic – Inler, D’Agostino, Isla – Pepe, Floro Flores (78’ Quagliarella), Sanchez (68’ Di Natale). (bench: Belardi, Sala, Pasquale, Tissone). Coach: Marino.

.

Lyon 2-2 Fiorentina: Alberto Gilardino Strikes Twice… But the French Get Back (UEFA Champions League 2008-09)

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

Fiorentina had the French “Lion” almost tamed. In their nth rendez-vous with top European football (since the 2001-02 season, OL have won 7 consecutive Ligue 1 championships), Lyon started the match at ferocious pace, but after a couple whip-cracks by Alberto Gilardino (coupled with an almost flawless Viola defence) the beast had stopped roaring.

However, thanks in no small part to Swedish referee Peter Frojdfelt, the French team got the helping hand they needed to draw level. A shame, because this was probably the best version of La Viola since the season’s start.

(From Gazzetta): Lyon’s start was frightening. The French lauched themselves forward with full of use of their offensive weapons: Fred, Govou, Juninho and most of all Karim Benzema. Remarkably however it was Mathieu Bodmer, a defender, who fired the overhead shot hitting the crossbar and making the Viola fans shiver.

But then in minute 11, La Viola found the way to flip the game inside out: Montolivo recovered the ball, Felipe Melo switched the play to the right to Luciano Zauri, whose cross found the noggin of Alberto Gilardino. Violin-man’s lovely diving header opened the scoring, and Prandelli was ecstatic. 1-0 Fiorentina.

A goal which really did the trick for the visitors, pumping gas into the Viola’s game and morale. Of course, the French responded with venom, mainly through Benzema who was driving Zauri mad on the left flank (but Frey always kept close guard right behind him). Then there were the Fiorentina counter-attacks, with Sergio Almiron hitting the top corner with a shot for the highlights reel, and Adrian Mutu who (thanks to Boumsong’s mistakes) forced goalkeeper Hugo Lloris into a miraculous save. Also, there was La Viola’s second goal: a textbook maneuver that sent Mutu down the right flank to provide the pinpoint cross for Il Gila. ‘Nother header, and 2-0 Fiorentina.

Lyon began the second half in the same manner as the first, pounding away through the drive of Benzema and Juninho. On occasion the French pressure was incessant, but the Viola were organised in defence and Frey continued to be exceptional. French coach Claude Puel tried some substitutions, shortly imitated by Cesare Prandelli (ready to play the Alberto Santana card).

Then however came the episode that opened the match up for Lyon, something which will much talked about in the week to come. With Zauri writhing in pain on the ground (he later had to be stretchered off and substituted) Lyon calmy manufactured their goal via a Benzema-Piquionne combination, amid protests from the Viola to kick the ball out and the complete indifference of the referee (the same referee which had allowed Van Nistelrooy’s goal vs. Italy to stand during Euro 2008). 2-1.

From that moment the game changed, and the French, aided by the psychological blow to their opponents, found the equaliser five minutes from the end. From 30 yards out, everyone expected Juninho Pernambucano to deliver one of his famous free-kicks, but instead the Brazilian midfielder faked the shot and rolled the ball towards Benzema on the right. The French youngster, devoid of marking, then simply had to slam a hard shot towards the first post, surprising Frey. 2-2.

Just as not all teams are like the Viola, not all teams are famous for their fair play.

.

Olympique Lyonnais
LYON-FIORENTINA
2-2
[Match Highlights]
 ACF Fiorentina
GOALSCORERS: 1′, 42′ Gilardino (F), 73’ Piquionne (L), 86’ Benzema (L).
LYON (4-3-2-1): Lloris – Reveillere, Boumsong, Bodmer, Kallstroem – Makoun (60’ Ederson), Toulalan, Juninho – Govou (89’ Mounier), Benzema – Fred (65’ Piquionne). (bench: Vercoutre, Cris, Gassama, Mensah, Pjanic). Coach: Puel.
FIORENTINA (4-3-1-2): Frey – Zauri (76’ Jorgensen), Kroldrup, Dainelli, Vargas – Almirón, Felipe Melo, Montolivo – Kuzmanovic (64’ Santana) – Gilardino (81’ PazzinI), Mutu. (bench: Storari, Gobbi, Donadel, Jovetic). Coach: Prandelli.

.

Juventus 1-0 Zenit: The Bianconeri Dreamt It, ADP Dealt It (UEFA Champions League 2008-09)

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

Ladies & gentlemen, it was destiny. Almost three years after their last Champions League appearance, Juventus’s return to the top European competition could only have born the captain’s signature. In a moment of free-kick magic, Alessandro Del Piero delivered the victory to the Stadio Olimpico crowd, a magistral (“magistral”? Look at me, I’m talking like Ray Hudson now) execution that fooled the Zenit keeper and rocketed the ball into the back of the net. Europa, siamo tornati!!!

(From Gazzetta): Juventus grabbed their first points of the 2008-09 UCL season Wednesday, and can thank captain Alessandro Del Piero for it. A well-earned result in a hard-fought match which, considering Real Madrid‘s presence inside the group, makes the win all the more important.

The difference tonight was made by a moment of brilliance, that of the Bianconeri’s most charismatic player: Il Capitano. A moment which, in the light of today’s performance, was just as precious as Gigi Buffon’s saves with the score still tied. Juve did not radiate brilliance in this match, far from it, but against a very tough opponent (which after their UEFA Cup triumph rose way up to the new UCL challenge) Ranieri’s men nonetheless confirmed their thirst for victory, even if they did not play exceptionally well. After all, winning through mediocrity (not that Juve deserve that appellation) is one of the main qualities great teams are made of.

Depending on whether you’re a “glass half full” or “glass half empty” kind of guy, you might want to look at Juventus’ first half as either positively (intermittent bits of good play) or negatively (not a very convincing display overall). Zenit’s three-man attacking formation forced the Bianconeri wing-backs to limit their movements forward, thus disabling the wing support for Camoranesi and Nedved. Meanwhile Sissoko and Poulsen provided plenty of interdiction quality in the middle (equaled in that regard by Anatoliy Tymoschuk), but were struggling in terms of playmaking. That part was left to Del Piero, thus forcing the Juve captain to backtrack from his forward position as a result.

There was only so much ADP could do though: he couldn’t launch a pass, make the run, and then be there to receive it at the other end. Not with David Trezeguet constantly being harassed by the two Zenit center-backs, and unable to provide a wall pass. On the other end, Zenit certainly hadn’t come to Turin as mere spectators: well set-up by a Denisov-Arshavin (seemingly “pardoned” and returning from bench-exile) combination, €30m-man Danny Alves missed an almost certain goal in front of Buffon, who watched the ball slip inches wide of the post from 12 yards out.

Thus inevitably, the first half ended on a (fair) 0-0 scoreline, also because whatever little sparks of light Juve produced (such as Del Piero’s double cross for Trezeguet and Camoranesi, wide on both headed counts) were inevitably silenced by the Italo-Argentine’s injury (and forced replacement) at the half hour mark. Especially since Ranieri didn’t feel like playing the Iaquinta card this time, deciding to go for the more balanced (read: defensive) Hasan Salihamidzic.

In the second period however, the match finally started to pick up pace. Not right away, although Radek Šírl‘s 11th minute one-on-one with Buffon (with a big suspicion of offside) definitely provided some scares for the Juve faithful (Gigi was brilliant in his off-the-line rush anyways). 15 minutes later, the Bianconeri had their biggest chance yet when a Nedved set-piece was deflected toward the post by Christian Poulsen. Vyacheslav Malafeev showed off his reflexes between the posts and parried away.

Poulsen’s chance was however a prelude to the goal, a brilliant moment of set-piece magic by Alessandro Del Piero. 30 metres out and quite a few yards to the left, the Juve captain donned his magic free-kick boots and applied (with a little inspiration from Juninho/Pirlo/C.Ronaldo) a fantastic swerve-to-the-left-then-swerve-to-the-right trajectory to his shot. Malafeev was surprised, and the entire Stadio Olimpico erupted in joy at the ball hit the inside of the goal mesh, ending a two-year European goalscoring drought for Juventus. 1-0 in big effing style. The Old Lady is back Europe!

.

Juventus F.C.
JUVENTUS-ZENIT
1-0
[Match Highlights]
 FC Zenit St. Petersburg
GOALSCORERS: 75’ Del Piero (J).
JUVENTUS (4-4-2): Buffon – Grygera, Legrottaglie, Chiellini, Molinaro (57’ De Ceglie) – Camoranesi (31’ Salihamidzic), Poulsen, Sissoko, Nedved – Trezeguet (87’ Amauri), Del Piero. (bench: Manninger, Mellberg, Marchisio, Iaquinta). Coach: Ranieri.
ZENIT (4-3-3): Malafeyev – Anyukov, Krizanac, Puygrenier, Sirl – Denisov, Tymoschuk, Zyryanov (80’ Dominguez) – Arshavin, Pogrebnyak, Danny. (bench: Contofalski, Hubocan, Kim, Radimov, Fayzulin, Ricksen). Coach: Advocaat.

.

Panathinaikos 0-2 Inter Milan: Zlatan Passes, Mancini Scores… Adriano Provides the Cherry on the Cake (UEFA Champions League 2008-09)

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

Olé José. Julio Cruz’s likely destined to leave a big “ass mark” on the subs bench this season, but Inter Milan are “cruising” nonetheless. Carried forth by the genius of Ibrahimovic, the timely finish of Amantino Mancini, and a new-found Adriano (ok, he only played for 10 minutes… but that’s stil good right?), the Nerazzurri travelled to Greece and got rid of their Panathinaikos rivals with a convincing performance.

So, bring out the old cliché phrases. You know, Veni, vidi, vici, or that very special Wham Bam! Thank you ma’am that FSC report journalist likes to say. And so on and so forth…

(From Gazzetta): Surprising as it may seem, the start of the match was not easy for Inter. Cambiasso was surrounded in midfield, Mancini undergoing some rough treatment (“illegal intimidatory blows”, as Gazzetta calls them), while the entire backline looked like a wall about to crumble. But it was only a small, fairly painless ripple in the atmosphere at the Olympic stadium of Athens, completely covered in green.

Before Mancini’s goal in the 27th, Inter had managed build three good scoring opportunities. First, Ibrahimovic‘s indecision wasted a good Vieira through ball, then a near-”trivela” and a long-range rocket (also from Zlatan) forced Pana’s goalkeeper to showcase his pouncing abilities. On the fourth opportunity however the Nerazzurri broke through, thanks once again (would you have doubted it) to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The magnificent Swede put up a display of concentrate of technique, agility and power. On the run and eluding his three man-marking defenders, Inter’s nº8 served the ball on a platter to Mancini, who then just had to apply the finish. 1-0 Inter.

On the other end, Julio Cesar kept busy with two saves on Bryce Moon, surprising & dangerous with his long-range blasts (one deflected onto the crossbar) and penetration power (his 1-2 pass with Gilberto Silva was ruined by a poor touch in front of goal). Risky business for Inter, which highlighted the faults in the current Nerazzurri defence (conceding at least one goal per game since their Supercoppa match). From midfield up however Inter was impressive. Scary and impressive, especially with Ibrahimovic and Mancini combining so easily with one another it looked they were playing together for years.

If ref Mejuto Gonzalez had used the same cautioning criteria as in the first half (Matrix getting carded on his first foul on Salpingidis), Cleyton wouldn’t have had time to rip out a left-footed curl (inches wide) from just outside the box that nearly sent the stadium into rapture. A Panathinaikos opportunity synonymous with Inter’s late-match troubles, as shown by Julio Cesar’s saves on Gilberto Silva (free-kick) Lazaros Christodoulopoulos (long-range drive).

At this point, Mourinho decided to tighten the offensive screws by replacing Vieira & Quaresma with Muntari & Figo, as well as by leaving target-man Zlatan on the field. A good move, because the pass for Adriano‘s 2-0 tally came just from the Swedish striker. The embrace between Zlatan and the re-born Brazilian had high symbolic value, especially because of its timing: one year after Inter’s loss to Fenerbahce (during the Mancini-era). In European context, the new José-directed Internazionale could not have had a better inauguration night.

.

Panathinaikos FC
PANATHINAIKOS-INTER
0-2
[Match Highlights]
F.C. Internazionale Milano
GOALSCORERS: 27’ Mancini (I), 85’ Adriano (I).
PANATHINAIKOS (4-2-3-1): Galinovic – Vintra, Simão M.J., Goumas, Nillson (73’ Hristodoupoulos) – Mattos, Gilberto Silva – Moon (82’ Souza), Cleyton, Karagounis (36′ Ivanschitz) – Salpingidis. (bench: Tzorvas, Sarriegi, Tziolis, Spyropoulos). Coach: Ten Cate.
INTER (4-3-3): Julio Cesar – Maicon, Córdoba, Materazzi, Maxwell – Vieira (63’ Muntari), Cambiasso, J.Zanetti – Quaresma (62’ Figo), Ibrahimovic, Mancini (81’ Adriano). (bench: Toldo, Santon, Cruz, Balotelli). Coach: Mourinho.

.