Archive for April, 2007

Title Races Galore

April 27, 2007

Results from last night’s UEFA Cup semis:  Osasuna beat holders Sevilla 1-0 and Espanyol shocked Werder Bremen 3-0.  Return legs are next Thursday. 

Before looking at this weekend’s big domestic matches, let’s salute those fine footballing teams who have already clinched titles.  Congrats to French Ligue 1 champs Olmpique Lyon (a swank 6th consecutive title), Scottish Premiership champs Celtic (who else?) and Italian Serie A champs Inter Milan who thrived in a waterdowned league.  While Inter certainly played brilliantly in the Serie A this year and finally won some silverware, remember Juventus was trolling in Serie B and AC Milan docked points for their roles in a corruption scandal.  Aah, those backhanded swipes at Italian football felt good.  Kind of cathartic, like a stiff headbutt to the chest.  Now to the games of meaning. 

Sunday is the last day in the Dutch Eredivisie and upstarts AZ Alkmaar are prepared to party like its 1981.  AZ, PSV Eindhoven (who’ve blown an 11 point lead) and AFC Ajax all have 72 points, but Alkmaar has a significant lead in goal differential meaning a win versus Excelsior gives AZ the title.  Since 1965, AZ is the only team besides the big 3 of Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord to have won the Eredivisie (in 1981 ahaha).   The Dutch football authorities are taking no chances, bringing replicas of the Kampioenschaal (whew!) trophy to all the pertinent venues on Sunday.  But TTL doesn’t see the need as AZ should win and be able to showcase their fun, attacking style of play in the Champions League next year. 

In the German Bundesliga there are 4 games remaining and here’s the table.  Schalke 04  are favorites to win it, especially considering 3 out of their 4 games are against bottom tier clubs.  But those games can be tricky, especially since those lower teams are battling like mad to avoid relegation.  Bremen has the team to put pressure on Schalke unless last night’s 3-0 loss in the UEFA semis has dented Bremen’s confidence.  Also of note, Bayern Munich lies in 4th place 5 points adrift of Stuggart.  Only the top 3 sides qualify for the Champions League, so Bayern is in real danger of missing out for the 1st time in 11 years.  No tears here, as always like to see new teams get a chance. 

To sunny Spain, where in keeping with the laid-back Mediterranean attitude the Primera Division still has a cool 7 games remaining.  The title race is scintillating.  Barcelona hosts struggling Levante this weekend while Real Madrid travels to relegation threatened Athletic.  Sevilla hosts Espanyol in a possible UEFA Cup Final preview.  The real moving and shaking should come next game (May 6th) when Real Madrid battles Sevilla. 

Now to the best league in Europe (in TTL’s humble opinion), the English Premiership.  Commiserations to Watford who were relegated last week.  Great coach and a decent squad but they were not up to the Premiership grind on a weekly basis.  They should contend next season in the Championship and possibly get promoted back up.  To the top of the table where Man United have a 4 point lead over Chelsea with 4 games to play.  Tricky games this weekend as Chelsea hosts Bolton while Man U travel to Everton.  TTL predicts Chelsea squeaks out a home win while Man U escapes with a draw.  But circle Wednesday, May 9th on your calendar as Chelsea welcomes Man U to Stamford Bridge in the game that will decide it.  

Since it is Friday, it is time for the Best of Sports #3.  This clip is dedicated to Sri Lanka and Australia who do battle on Sunday in the Cricket World Cup Final.  Its an amazing strike from Ruud Van Nistlerooy that capped a team move where 9 Real Madrid players touched the ball (including Ruud on 2 different occasions) with 13 one-touch passes involved. Unfortunately, can’t find the whole build-up but the finish and the Spanish announcing is fantastic. 

Have a good weekend and enjoy the games. 

Ugly Night

April 26, 2007

Chelsea beat Liverpool 1-0 last night and it pains to type this, but the best team won.  LP is lucky it wasn’t worse (TTL predicted a tight 1-1 game WRONG).  Jose got the best of Rafa, as Chelsea defended magnificently and caught LP on the counter time after time.  Drogba was sensational and linked up with a resurgent Joe Cole for the only goal.  Chelsea even managed to avoid cards, ensuring they’ll have everybody for the return leg next Tuesday.  Did enjoy referee Markus Merk giving the ever complaining John Terry the brush-off after the game. 

Where to start with LP’s performance?  Their passing and defense, particularly in the 1st half, was shaky at best.  Riise almost gifted Chelsea a goal with a horrific backpass.  Lofting the ball to the diminutive Bellamy and porn star Kuyt upfront was tactically horrible, as Terry and the world class Carvalho easily handled the high balls.  Good ploy when the freakish Crouch is on the pitch, terrible waste of Bellamy and Kuyt’s pace and movement.  Think Rafa outfoxed himself starting Zenden.  Decent enough sub but not worthy of starting the CL semis.  He brought nothing to the table despite his best efforts.  Check out this thoughtful analysis of Zenden’s performance and the game in general.

Bottom line:  LP never looked like scoring, despite dominating possession at times in the 2nd half.  Sure Cech made an otherworldly stop on Gerrard’s half-volley but that was LP’s only real chance of the game.  If Reina hadn’t played well in goal and Chelsea been a bit more ruthless might have been 3-0.  As it stands, Chelsea goes to Anfield up 1-0.  If Chelsea score an away goal, then LP need to score 3 to win it.  Behind an absolutely raucous crowd think LP will even it at 1-1 before Chelsea scores on a patented deflected goal in the 80 minute to win it in the most painful manner possible.  Just feels like the year of Chelsea. 

In other footie news, the semis of the UEFA Cup are tonight at 20:45 CET and 2:45 EDT.  Spain is mirroring England’s success by having 3 teams in the semis with the all-Spanish semi of CA Osasuna v Sevilla and Espanyol v Werder Bremen(German).  Return legs are same time next Thursday.   Quick predictions are Sevilla and Bremen which would set-up a good final in Glasgow on May 16th. 

Tomorrow will be a weekend viewing guide as the Premiership, Bundesliga, Eredivisie and Primera Division all have hotly contested title races.  Until then, enjoy the games. 

CL Semi Preview #2

April 25, 2007

Bit pressed for time today, so a just a quick word on last night’s thrilling 3-2 Man U victory (TTL predicted Man U to win 2-1 in a good game WRONG).  Great, enthralling game with Ronaldo scoring in the 5th and Rooney in the 91st to win it.   Kaka provided 2 goals of simple brilliance reducing the Man U defense to bumbling idiots on the 2nd. 

Still think Milan has a good chance to win it, but will need to score at least 2 goals next week as don’t think any team can shutout Man U right now.  But on to the main event.

Chelsea v Liverpool(20:45 CET and 2:45 EDT on ESPN 360 Online?!?!)  2nd leg is next Tuesday at Anfield (Liverpool) at same time.

Unfortunately this game probably won’t be the 5 goal thriller of last night, but most likely a choppy affair.  These clubs know each other very well.  Since 2005 they have played 11 times, with Chelsea winning 5 of 6 in the Premiership while LP has memorably knocked Chelsea out of the CL semis in 2005 and the FA Cup semis in 2006.   YES!!  (TTL is a huge fan of  LP and hope they destroy Chelsea but will attempt to write a nonpartisan preview anyway).   

Jose “The Special One” Mourinho is whinging all week about how LP is the favorite since Chelsea is rundown from playing in so many competitions.  Like so much of Mourinho’s ramblings there is a grain of truth to it.  Chelsea did look tired on Sunday in the draw versus Newcastle but when you spend 300 million pounds building a club maybe get some decent subs.  Nobody feels bad for Chelsea. 

Rafa has a whole complement of players to chose from tonight for LP while Chelsea is missing Ballack through injury and all-world Essien due to suspension.  Which leads to the interesting subplot of the night as Chelsea’s Drogba, Diarra and Cole will all be suspended for the return match if they get carded tonight.   Look for John “Captain England” Terry to be all over the referee protecting those players for Chelsea. 

Game will be terribly hardfought in the midfield with Chelsea’s Lampard and Makelele doing medieval combat with LP’s Alsonso and Mascherano, who is the steal of the year.  Amazing how a guy with 22 caps for Argentina can’t find a spot at freakin’ West Ham yet can start immediately for LP.  No wonder why West Ham is getting relegated.  But TTL digresses. 

Each team will probably only create a few good chances as the game should be very tight with guys not having lots of time on the ball to create.  Both teams are decent on set pieces and can break quickly.  Chelsea will probably attack a bit more being at home but this feels like the 1st round of a heavyweight fight.  A lot of mouthing off, dancing and clinching with the real haymakers to be unleashed next week.  TTL predicts a 1-1 draw.  Enjoy the game and YNWA. 

CL Semifinal Preview

April 24, 2007

Back from Thailand and thanks to PM for managing the site.  Lots of things have gone on in the worldwide sporting arena, but let’s focus on the future.   The semifinals of the Champions League are here.  Let’s dive in. 

Manchester United v AC Milan (20:45 CET and 2:45 EDT on ESPN2)   1st leg tonight with the 2nd leg at the San Siro (Milan) on May 2nd. 

This is a classic match-up of Man U’s youth vs Milan’s experience.  Youngsters Wayne Rooney and newly crowned Premiership Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo will battle out against the old warhorses of Milan who will most likely start 6 players over 30 including their 38 year-old captain, the incomparable Paolo Maldini.  For some perspective, Maldini played his first European game with Milan in 1985 when Ronaldo was 7 months old and Rooney was not even born.  

Manchester United is flying high coming off their 8-3 aggregate win over Roma in the quarterfinals which included a historical 7-1 stomping at Old Trafford.  But Man U are decimated by injuries, with 1st choice defenders Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic all sidelined.  Not a good sign as Man U certainly do not want to surrender a crucial away goal to Milan. 

Milan is also on a great run, knocking off Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals and on a 5 game winning streak in the Serie A.  Their only injury concern is their goalkeeper Dida who might miss the game due to a sore shoulder.  The Rossoneri have reached the CL semifinals for the 4th time in the past 5 years which includes defeating Man U in the knockout stage in 2005.  But they have only won the Final once on this run, coincidentally at Old Trafford in 2003 when they defeated Juventus 3-2 on penalties in an awful game.   

As for tonight, it looks interesting.  The onus is on Man U to go forward while Milan will try to absorb the pressure and look to counterattack through Seedorf, Kaka and their lone striker Inzaghi.  Man U certainly has the weapons to attack with midfielders Scholes and Carrick orchestrating a devastating attack featuring Rooney, Ronaldo, Giggs and Alan Smith, whose return to form following his terrible broken leg 14 months ago is remarkable.  Each team is certainly capable of scoring goals and Milan must be relishing its chances to attack United’s shaky back 4 defenders. 

TTL believes the key to this leg is midfielder Michael Carrick from United.  He’s got to play just in front of the 4 defenders and bust-up any Milan attacks at the expense of his going forward.  He’s played this role internationally for England a few times and has to succeed tonight.  If the Man U defense falls under constant pressure, they’ll be hard pressed to secure that vital shutout.  United certainly do not want to travel to the San Siro next week having conceded any away goals. 

Milan’s key is that the superb midfield of World Cup heroes Pirlo and Gattuso control the action thus limiting United’s substantial offensive threats.  Also, an intriguing subplot to this game is the battle between Ronaldo and Kaka over the mythical best player in the world moniker.  They are similar attacking players whose creativity and willingness to dribble by anyone is breathtaking to watch.  Ronaldo’s repertoire of passing and dribbling skills is circus-like while Kaka gives off the impression he can score every time he touches the ball.  Both are extremely fun to watch. 

TTL’s prediction is a 2-1 United win in a good, open game setting up Milan winning the tie next week in a nail-biter.  Enjoy the game tonight. 

A Night at Camp Nou

April 17, 2007

Back in November was fortunate to spend the weekend in Barcelona and managed to make a visit to the famed Camp Nou stadium to see Barcelona v Zaragoza.  At the time Barcelona was in 2nd place in the Primera Division and Zaragoza was in 3rd.  (Currently Barca is in 1st place while Zaragoza resides in 5th). 

Tickets are not to difficult to obtain for most Barcelona games as Camp Nou is the biggest stadium in Europe with a capacity of over 98,000.  Considering that most European football grounds seat under 40,000 makes it all the more impressive. 

The pre-match atmosphere was convivial.  Many of the people on the metro were “tourist” fans from other countries (like TTL) and even saw two ladies from the USA wearing their Barca scarves.  Around the stadium, the bars were packed with people drinking and eating tapas, but there was no real urgency about the fans.  No singing or chanting, just people relaxing and having a good time.      

Camp Nou is a good stadium for fans.  The sight lines are good, easy to get around in, spacious concourses and decent food.  Had seats in 3rd level behind a goal (get what you pay for) but ended up being fine.   Sat with some genuine old-time Barca fans.  Couple next to us brought their seat cushions, peanuts and experience of watching a combined 5,000 live games.

Spaniards are football fanatics and enjoy attacking, technical football.  Not lots of singing or banner waving in the crowd, just ripples of applause for smart passes, good runs off the ball and in appreciation of individual skills.  They do enjoy whistling (booing) the referee and linesman though. 

Zaragoza took a 1-0 lead and then things got really bad for Barca as Argentian whiz kid Messi limped off (broken toe but playing again).  The supporters were getting restless until Ronaldinho headed an equalizer from a corner to even it up. 

2nd half was tense.  Barca had a ton of possession but no real chances.  Then there was a good dust-up along the sidelines with 1 Zaragoza player getting ejected for his 2nd yellow.  Benches cleared out to the touchline and there was lots of jostling between players and coaches.  Passions aflame and Camp Nou was rocking.  Literal cauldron of noise as the supporters sensed victory and urged Barca forward.  Zaragoza defended bravely but had no defense for this touch of class from Ronaldinho.   

That goal came in the 85th minute and pretty much everyone was on their feet the rest of the game.  The place exploded again in injury time when Saviola tapped in a Ronaldinho free kick that hit the crossbar to give Barca the 3-1 win.  What a game!

If you ever get a chance to attend any European football games do it.  Even if the game itself isn’t great, the atmosphere surrounding the game is definetely worth experiencing.  

European Club Football Primer

April 10, 2007

As the football season winds down in Europe, thought it would be a good time to explain how most of the leagues operate.  Keep in mind this a general outline of how most leagues and competions work.  It is by no means an exhaustive account but hopefully it will enlighten one on the basics.      

Domestic Leagues

Each country has its own domestic league which runs roughly from late August until May.  Most games are played on the weekend.  The most prestigious leagues are in England (Premiereship), Spain (Primera Division), Italy (Serie A) and Germany (Bundesliga).  

Each club plays 1 game at home and 1 away against all of the other clubs in their league (ex 38 games in Premiership).   Teams receive 3 points for a win and 1 point for a tie with the winner accumulating the most points like hockey.  The top 3 or 4 clubs qualify for the UEFA Champions League the next year and 5-7ish qualify for the UEFA Cup.  The bottom 2-3 clubs get relegated meaning they are sent down a league.  Each country has several tiers of professional leagues much like minor league baseball except there are no real affiliations between clubs.  The top clubs from the lower leagues are promoted to the next level.   

Domestic Cups

Each country has some type of cup competition open to clubs from all or most divisions like the FA Cup in England or the Copa del Rey in Spain.   The formats vary slightly but mostly consist of a 2 leg (home and away games) tie between clubs with the winner determined by aggregate score after the 2 games.  Then there is usually a lottery-type draw where all the winners are randomly placed against each other.  Most countries don’t institute an NCAA type bracket until the quarterfinals.  Most cup finals are 1 game playoffs played at a neutral stadium like Wembley in England.  These competitions usually throw up some good upsets and are taken quite seriously by clubs and fans alike.   

UEFA Champions League

Clubs have to qualify for this most prestigious competition by either winning their domestic league in smaller countries (ie Switzerland) or finishing in the top 3 or 4 in bigger countries (ie England).  There are 3 rounds of qualifying in the summer where the champions of smaller countries compete against each other (and the lower finishers in the big leagues) to make it into the final 32 team tournament that starts in September.  Games are played on several Tuesday and Wednesday nights at 20:45 CET from September until May. 

The format for the tournament is as follows:  Group Stage (September-December), 1st knockout round, quarterfinals, semifinals and final. 

Group Stage

The 32 teams are seeded into 8 #1 seeds, 8 #2 seeds, etc.  Then 1 team from each seed level is selected and placed into a 4 team group.  This is to avoid having big clubs like Barcelona and Chelsea (#1 seeds usually) being placed into the same group.  Also at this group stage, no teams from the same country (ie Barcelona and Real Madrid) are in the same group.   

Each club plays the other 3 clubs in their group home and away.  After 6 matches, the top 2 teams (on the point system) advance to the knockout round.  3rd place gets a UEFA Cup spot while 4th is eliminated. 

1st Knockout Round

There is a random draw where the 8 1st place teams are pitted against the 8 2nd place teams with 2 stipulations:  teams from the same group will not play each other nor will teams from the same country.  Ties are decided over 2 matches (home and away) with aggregate goals deciding the winner.  In case of a tie, then the team with the most away goals wins thus making away goals vital and encouraging away teams to attack.  If teams are still tied, then there is 30 minutes of extra-time followed by the dreaded penalty kicks. 

Quarterfinals and Semifinals

8 winners are randomly drawn against each other but again 2 teams from the same country shall not play each other in the quarterfinals.  Same home and away format as last round.  Only change is there is now a bracket in place and teams know their road to the final.  Also, teams from same country are finally allowed to square off in the semifinals.

Final

Final is 1 game with extra time and penalties used to determine a winner in a tie.  It is hosted at various stadiums around Europe (last year Paris, this year Athens) so there is always a slight chance some club could play at home for the Final.

UEFA Cup 

TTL finds it best to let UEFA itself explain this competition.  Early stages are a real mess before final 32 engage in traditional two match knockout competition until 1 game final at a neutral site.  Not as prestigious as CL, but its a pretty big trophy for teams to win. 

Hope this helps one to understand European football a bit better.  It’s great fun. 

Musings on sports & Best of Sports(2)

April 6, 2007

Quick recap of the UEFA Cup quarterfinals from last night with the 2nd legs being played next Thursday night.

AZ Alkmaar 0 Werder Bremen 0.   Strange that neither of these high-scoring squads hit the mark.  Bremen slight favorites to advance at home next week. 

Bayer 04 Leverkusen 0  Osasuna 3.  Spanish side shocks Leverkusen in Germany and looks a lock to go through with 3 away goals. 

Sevilla 2  Tottenham 1.  Sevilla were down a goal but came back to win.  Still give the edge to Tottenham to knockout the defending champs next week, especially if central defender Ledley King is healthy and returns to the lineup.  He is one impressive defender. 

Espaynol 3 Benefica 2.  Espanyol led 3-0 before Benefica notched 2 vital away goals in 2 minutes.   Momentum and the away goals are with the Portuguese side as Espanyol has to be a bit stunned they let Benefica off the hook. 

Some random thoughts as TTL surveys the sporting landscape from across the pond. 

Yes, Dice-K was impressive yesterday (10ks, 1ER, 1 walk in 7 innings) in a 4-1 Red Sox victory over the Royals.   Can the media please turn down the hype machine for a few months though?  This was the freakin’ Double Royals featuring no one.  If you are gonna spend a billion on a pitcher, he better beat the Royals.

Speaking of spending gazillions, TTL’s beloved Cubbies (Cubs when they win, Cubbies when they lose) lost 5-2 in Cincy yesterday.  And it has been mandated by the god of storylines that every article written about the Cubs this year reference their off-season spending, Lou Pinella and the impending sale.  Done and done. 

The Masters teed off and look at the high scores.  Mother Nature cooperated (ironic that she would after Hootie stepped down) with some hot, dry conditions and Augusta is playing tough.  Love it if on the back nine on Sunday a whole gaggle of golfers were vying for the Green Jacket.  Always makes for compelling theater. 

Not a huge hockey fan but Toronto v Montreal on Saturday night will be a good one.  Winner gets in playoffs and loser goes home.  Slightly huge game north of the border between two heated rivals. 

The MLS kicks off its 11th season this weekend.  Big year for the league with a new expansion club, the Toronoto FC, and the arrival of some English dude on August 5th.  Head to the always superb Thats On Point for a witty season preview.   

Well, its Friday, so its time for the Best of Sports.  As the quest for the Stanley Cup begins here’s a clip from this year’s fabulous Ottawa-Buffalo game won 6-5 by the Sabres in a shootout.  Its gets a Best of Sports nod because its an all-out brawl featuring the always entertaining goalie fight. Its 8 minutes long but worth watching especially with the hysterical announcing. 

TTL is off traveling for 2 weeks.  This blog will be guest edited by fellow sports junkie PM. There’ll be plenty of posts going up, so have a good weekend and enjoy whatever sports you’re watching. 

  

CL Recap

April 5, 2007

AS Roma defeated Manchester United 2-1 in a game marred by violence in the stands.  Don’t have much to write now on this topic but will have a post up about hooliganism in the next week.  As for last night’s incident, you can read about it here

As for the game, Paul Scholes was shown an iffy second yellow in the 34th minute.   Reduced to 10 men, United escaped with a narrow defeat and even managed an all important away goal courtesy of a cool finish by Wayne Rooney.   (TTL predicted a 1-1 game WRONG).  Think Roma blew a big chance last night and United are the favorites to advance after next Tuesday’s game at Old Trafford. 

Valencia and Chelsea drew 1-1 (TTL predicted a 1-0 Chelsea win WRONG) setting up what should be a wild game at the Mastella.  Chelsea had a lot of possession but never seemed like they’d get a 2nd goal.  Valencia defended well and went ahead 1-0 on a wonder goal before Drogba scored his 30th goal of the season to level it for Chelsea.  Just get the feeling that Valencia are going to squeak through next week. 

Tonight is the 1st leg of the UEFA Cup quarterfinals featuring:

AZ Alkmaar (Dutch club) v Werder Bremen (German)

Bayer Leverkusen (German) v Osasuna (Spanish)

Espanyol v Benifica (Portuguese)

Sevilla v Tottenham

AZ against Bremen should bring a windfall of goals but the pick of the games is Sevilla v Tottenham.  Sevilla is the defending UEFA Cup champion and lies 2nd in the Primera Division a mere 2 points behind Barcelona.  Tottenham has rebounded from a sluggish start and are in 6th place in the Premiership.  Both sides play an open, attacking style which should lead to plenty of chances. 

Back tomorrow with some more soccer news and the Best of Sports. 

Rather be Red

April 4, 2007

Liverpool gave a whipping to PSV Eindhoven by the tune of 3-0 last night (TTL predicted LP to win 1-0 in a boring match WRONG).  Next week’s return match at Anfield looks to be a stroll in the park as PSV manager Ronald Koeman declared “you’d have to be from another planet” to think PSV can win the tie.  The only bad news on the night for LP was Fabio Aurelio’s achilles injury which looks to be quite serious.  Nice 2 minute recap of the game below. 

AC Milan and Bayern Munich played to a 2-2 draw in an uneven but exciting match (TTL predicted an entertaining 2-2 game KUDOS).  Belgium international defender Daniel Van Buyten scored 2 poaching goals for Bayern with his 2nd goal coming on the last kick of the match in the 93th minute.  Always play to the whistle Milan. 

Milan were the better side throughout and only some great saves by the Bayern’s reserve keeper Michael Rensing kept the German side in the match.  Milan were also awarded a dubious penalty kick by the Russian referee whose appointment was widely criticized before the match by Bayern team officials.  Italian conspiracy alert!  Anyway, this tie is delicately poised with Bayern being the slight favorite to advance due to the away goals rule and since Milan will be without the service of their suspended striker Gilardino in the return leg next Wednesday.  

Now let’s breakdown tonight’s other quarterfinal games. 

Chelsea v Valencia(20:45 CET and 2:45 EDT) 

This shapes up to be the best match-up of the quarterfinals.  While Chelsea is the oddsmaker’s favorite to win the CL, Valencia is the team no one wants to face.  They defend very well, have a huge homefield advantage in the return leg at the deafening Mestalla stadium and score goals thanks in large part to striker David Villa whom Chelsea have been rumoured to buy.   As always at this late stage in the year, injuries will play a huge part as Chelsea are without winger Arjen Robben and all everything Michael Essien.   Valencia are missing winger Edu, the suspended pair of Navaro and Marcheno, and their leading scorer Fernando Morientes. 

Both teams play a similar counterattacking style, preferring to catch teams out of position on the break.  The onus is on Chelsea to try and score at home, but TTL thinks both teams will play carefully setting up a very tense clash next Tuesday in Valencia.  Chelsea to win 1-0 tonight in a game devoid of many goal scoring opportunities. 

Manchester United v AS Roma  (20:45 CET and 2:30 EDT on ESPN )

Will Ronaldo and Rooney finally score some vital goals in the CL for United?  Can Roma’s thumb-sucking Totti, who many Italians consider their nation’s finest player, deliver in his first CL quarterfinal?  How many yellow cards will be given out for players taking dives?  And is Roma the team that will stop United’s drive towards winning the Treble (Premiership, FA Cup and CL championships)?  The answers are after the clip. 

Playboy Ronaldo and shrek will play well, but think the old guard in Scholes and Giggs will shine in Rome tonight.  Totti presents some danger on set pieces but Man U’s midfield keeps him under control in open play.  Two yellow card will be given for faking dives.   In the end, Roma is not the team to derail United’s Treble dream as Roma cannot get in done in the return leg at Old Trafford.  But tonight Roma will give Man United some trouble in a passionate 1-1 draw.  Back tomorrow with a recap and some other tidbits. 

Enjoy the games. 

Champions League Quaterfinals I

April 3, 2007

It is a beautiful time in the sports year.  NCAA tourney has just ended, Opening Day has arrived, the NBA&NFL playoff marathons beckon, the Cricket World Cup, NFL draft zaniness, the MLS kicking off and crunch time in domestic soccer leagues across Europe.  Good stuff.  O.k. granted Cricket isn’t drawing huge interest in many places, but the “highlights” on BBC are excellent for lulling off into a peaceful slumber.  But let’s leave the dreamland of Cricket and focus on the Champions League quaterfinals.  First leg is tonight with the next game on April 11th. 

AC Milan v FC Bayern Munich (20:45 CET and 2:45 EDT & available on ESPN Deportes/Setana USA)

Milan hosts Bayern in a rematch of last year’s 1st knockout round encounter won by Milan 5-2 on aggregate.  Bayern will be without star keeper Oliver Kahn and Dutch midfielder Mark Van Bommel who are suspended tonight.  The German side has been playing well lately having defeated Bundesliga leaders FC Shalke 04 by 2-0 on Saturday.  Meanwhile Milan has struggled in the Serie A and currently reside in sixth place.   But they boast a remarkable home record at the San Siro in the CL having won 15 of their last 18 home games in the competition. 

First encounters in the two-leg format are difficult to predict since neither side wants to make a crucial mistake and put themselves in early difficulty.  Coupled with that traditionally these are two of the toughest defensive sides in all of soccer, it would seem to point to a tactical (ie boring) affair.   However, Milan is hinting at fielding two strikers (Gilardino&Inzahgi) which would certainly open things up for the offensive maestro Kaka to play in loads of space just behind the strikers.  Kaka is amazing to watch and capable of destroying teams through his passing or scoring.  And Bayern has demonstrated a ruthless desire to attack lately and possess two deadly finishers in Maakay and Podolski.  Breaking down Milan is always difficult especially with a healthy Nesta back in central defense but if English WC hero Owen Hargreaves can successfully control midfield for Bayern goals should be on the offer.  Therefore, TTL is going with an entertaining 2-2 game which would greatly benefit Bayern because of the away goals. 

PSV Eindhoven v Liverpool (20:45 CET and 2:30 EDT on ESPN2). 

TTL is a LP fan and was relieved when LP drew PSV.  And all the indicators point to LP coming through this tie victorious.  The teams played twice in the group phase drawing 0-0 at PSV and LP winnning 2-0 at Anfield.  The Dutch squad has seen a huge lead in the Eredivisie closed to 3 points and is decimated by injuries, playing without vital centre-back Alex and striker Kone.   Meanwhile, back at Merseyside, LP simply knocked out the defending champs Barcelona in the previous round and hammered Arsenal 4-1 on Saturday behind the robotic freak’s sensational hat-trick. 

Expect PSV to play a very defensive-minded game and try to frustrate LP at every opportunity.  The PSV manager Ronald Koeman has enjoyed numerous successes lately against English clubs with PSV knocking out Arsenal in the last round and his Benefica side defeating LP and Man U in last year’s CL.  Koeman has said he wouldn’t mind a boring 0-0 draw but TTL thinks an in-form LP squad while nick a 1-0 win, albeit in a boring game.   

Back tomorrow with a recap and a preview of the other quaterfinal games, Chelsea-Valencia and AS Roma-Manchester United.  Enjoy the games.