Archive for June, 2007

Old Reign in Spain

June 8, 2007

After taking a break for national team action, the La Liga title race commences again this weekend.  All the revelant contenders play on Saturday (21:00 CET, 3:00pm EDT).   Leaders Real Madrid (72 pts) have a tough game at Real ZaragozaBarcelona (72 pts) host city rivals Espanyol in a bitter derby battle.  And FC Sevilla (70 pts), minus starting strikers Frederic Kanoute and Alexander Kerzhakov, visit mid-table Mallorca.

Real Madrid has their fate in their feet.  Win their final 2 games and the title is going to Real for the 30th time.  They hold the tiebreaker over Barca based on their better head-to-head results.  But both teams have tricky games this Saturday.  Real face a scrappy Zaragoza squad that is fighting for a UEFA Cup berth.  And Zaragoza is fantastic at home beating Barca 1-0 in April and thrashing Real Madrid 6-1 last year in the Copa del Rey.  Barca will be without the suspended Ronaldinho when they battle old foes Espanyol.  With no hope of reaching Europe next season and fresh off a heartbreaking loss in the UEFA Cup Final, a loose Espanyol side would relish ending Barca’s attempt at a 3rd straight La Liga title. 

Patiently lurking in 3rd is UEFA Cup winners Sevilla.  They’ll be missing their top 2 strikers but should prevail against Mallorca.  Sevilla is a fantastic team to watch as they play a nice, fluid attacking style.  The club has risen to great heights in the past few seasons with consecutive UEFA Cup titles, solid campaigns in La Liga and are finalists in the Copa del Rey (Spanish Cup Final) against Getafe on June 23rd.  Hopefully Sevilla can afford to hold onto this talented team as the big clubs will be circling for several of their players this summer.  

There are few other sub-plots to La Liga worth mentioning.  Red-hot Villarreal has won 7 straight to move 1 point out of the UEFA Cup berths (5/6th place).  Earlier this week in training Villarreal’s striker Diego Forlan and midfielder Marcus Senna fought for almost 2 minutes after some heavy tackles.  Seems these guys are pumped.  Villarreal host relegation-threatened Athletic Bilbao.  Bilbao has played over a 100 years of top-flight football and never been relegated.  All makes for a very intriguing game on Saturday evening.

Transfer News

Liverpool continues to lock-up their core players as Spanish goalkeeper Jose Reina and Spanish midfielder Xavi Alonso signed new deals.  TTL wholeheartely approves of all the recent re-signings but wonders when LP will make a splash in the transfer market. 

French international and Olympique Marseille winger Franck Ribery signed a 4-year deal with Bayern Munich.  Ribery is a nifty little player who sprang into prominence at the World Cup last year.  Thought he’d be going to Arsenal but Bayern ponied up a whopping 26 million Euro transfer fee for Ribery.  The German giants are having a busy transfer season as Ribery is their 6th signing so far.  Finishing in 4th place in the Bundesliga and not qualifying for the Champions League has spurred Bayern to reload. 

Kudos to coacher Bob Bradley for his first “official” win with the USA.  The former interim coach guided the USA to a 1-0 win over Guatemala in what most people labelled a boring Gold Cup game.  A win is a win.  Enjoy the games you play and watch.      

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A Year to Go

June 7, 2007

Today marks one year to the start of Euro 2008 in Austria/Switzerland.  Let’s look at which countries helped their cause after last night’s games

The big boys from Germany, Spain, France and Italy all took care of business with victories.  Oh, and welcome back to the club merry old England.  The Three Lions dispatched minnows Estonia 3-0 with David Beckham setting up 2 goals.  The 2nd England goal features a truly spectacular pass from Beckham to the robotic freak, Peter Crouch.  Be a huge surprise and a gusty call by manager Steve McClaren if Becks isn’t recalled to the England side for the qualfiers in the Fall.  Maybe Tom Cruise can lend Becks his plane for the LA to London flight.  It will make for a delightful shopping excursion for the ladies

Armenia shocked Poland 1-0 behind Hamlet Mkhitarayan’s goal causing their Prime Minister to perform an impromtu victory dance at the stadium.  Another reason why football is awesome, dancing heads of state.  Can’t fathom Bush breaking out into a jig if the USA beats Guatemala in the Gold Cup today.  For a nice preview of the Gold Cup hit the ever reliable thatsonpoint.

Scotland escaped their curse of The Faroe Islands with a 2-0 win.   And lest TTL forget, Albania continued their dominantion of Luxembourg, emerging from the Grand Duchy with a 3-0 away win.  The current tables are here with the next major slate of games on September 8th and 12th. 

Transfer News

Continuing with the midfielder merry-go-round, Newcastle captain Scott Parker has joined West Ham on a 5-year deal. 

Rumors are in a high gear concerning the fates of big names Thierry Henry, Arjen Robben, Miroslav Klose, Samuel Et’o and Florent Malouda.  Stay tuned as the transfer market is heating up. 

Tomorrow will look at this weekend’s La Liga action as Real Madrid, Barca and Sevilla continue their quest for the title.  Enjoy the games you play and watch. 

England vs Themselves

June 6, 2007

It is another day of red-hot qualifying action for Euro 2008.  Actually, there are not many good match-ups tonight but let’s delve into some of the more intriguing ones.  Remember the top 2 teams in each group qualify as the host nations, Switzerland and Austria, are already in. 

Estonia v England

Simply a must-win game for England in Tallinn (great city by the way).  England are languishing in 4th place in Group E behind Croatia, Israel and Russia.  Captain John Terry calls it the most important game in his brief captaincy while embattled manager Steve McClaren desperately needs a win to save his job.  McClaren’s putting his faith in returning vets Michael Owen and David Beckham to spark a lackluster team.  TTL thinks England would be fine if they benched Frank Lampard and let Steven Gerrard run the team from his preferred central midfield role.  Regardless, it shouldn’t matter tonight as Estonia is without suspended 2006 Estonian Player of the Year, Raio Piroja.  As Raio goes, so goes Estonia.  Oh, and the Estonians are also winless and goalless in their qualifying games. 

Croatia v Russia

Russia travels to Croatia in this Group E encounter.  Russia’s manager Guus Hiddink stated a draw would be “a good result” for his young Russian side.  A draw wouldn’t hurt either teams qualifying chances.  Croatia currently leads Group E while 3rd place Russia’s fate will be decided in their 2 games with England in the fall. 

Faroe Islands v Scotland

Scots make all things fun.  So TTL is on the Scottish whiskey wagon so that the Tartan Army will be out en masse next summer in Switzeria.  The Scots are 4th in Group B, but only 3 points from the top.  Scotland has suffered embarrassing draws on their last 2 trips to the Faroe Islands.  Think the Scots will prevail tonight at Toftir Stadium. 

Italy faces a relatively tough task at Lithuania will other giants Spain, Germany and France should win easily. 

Transfer News

Brazilian left fullback Roberto Carlos is moving on from Real Madrid after 11 seasons.   The Brazilian will be plying his trade for Turkish champs Fenarbache next season. 

Manchester City bad boy Joey Barton has thrown his last punch for that team.  The 24 year-old midfielder is headed to Newcastle on a 5 year deal spurning West Ham’s offer.  Guy is talented but has a habit of punching teammates.  Maybe the Cubs should sign him.  Zing!! 

Back tomorrow with a recap of the night’s qualifying action.  Enjoy the games you play and watch.   

Poor Sweet Lou

June 5, 2007

What a week for the Cubs?!?!  In all their storied history, not sure if the Cubs have ever bottomed out as completely as last week.  Let’s recap:

May 29th:  Before the Marlins game, Cubs manager Lou Pinella speaks about all the fundamental things the Cubs need to correct.  Main topic was baserunning.  In the 5th inning, Mark DeRosa gets thrown out at 3rd while trying to advance from 2nd on a grounder to shortshop.  In the same inning, Michael Barrett is picked off 2nd base by the Marlin’s catcher.  Cubs lose 9-4 and Pinella says “that might be our worst game of the year.”  If only that statement was true.   

May 3oth:  Cubs hold 30-minute players only meeting before game that is endorsed by the manager.  Players presumably talk about baseball-related matters.  Then in true Cubs fashion, get smacked 9-0 by Marlins behind a strong pitching effort from former Cub Sergio Mitre.  Pinella calls it “a good old fashioned, you know what — a butt-kicking.”  He adds for comic relief that at least Cubs ran the bases good. 

May 31st:  Merciful day off as Cubs have lost 8 of 10.  A friend sends the following email:

In the top of the 8th inning last night, Florida was winning 8-0 and with 1 out some minor-leaguer doubled and then took third on a wild pitch.  At that point something incredible happened.  The Cubs pulled their infield in at all 4 positions.  Swear to god.  As if they could come back from 8 down, but 9 was insurmountable. Almost as incredibly is that the next minor-leaguer batting hit a soft roller to second, DeRosa looked the runner back to third and got the out at first.  It worked!  The knowledgeable baseball crowd gave a loud (sarcastic) ovation for executing so well on defense.  Unbelievable.

Cabrera then knocked a base hit to bring in the 9th run.

Apparently the Cubs are now using games to catch-up on some much needed practice. 

June 1st:  Cubs erupt as Big Z and Barrett fight.  (Volume is a bit low, but turn-up to hear Pinella’s post-game rant). 

Cubs are once again a national joke.  The baseball media takes a break from the only 3 topics they cover, Bonds, Clemens, Yankees/Red Sox, to break out all the tired woe are the Cubs tales.  Yipee. 

June 2nd:  Cubs manager Lou Pinella is ejected for his 8th-inning tirade in 5-3 loss to the Braves.  Later, he is suspended 4 games for making contact with an umpire.  No truth to the rumor that Pinella is pissed about the length of the suspension.  He wanted it to be much longer. 

June 3rd:  Cubs break out of 99-year funk and hammer the Braves 10-1.  (And they won last night as well).   

Like any true Cubs fan, and despite the new lows the Cubs hit last week, TTL has not given up on this season.  The Cubs, 24-31 on the year, are only 6 games out of 1st in the atrocious NL Central.  Optimism remains steady that Cubs can win the division at .500 and then get swept in the 1st round of the playoffs.  The Tribune Co. can claim a successful season and complete the sale of the team for 600-700 million dollars.  Gives the new owners enough time to prepare for the Centennial celebration of the Cubs last World Series win.   As Jack Brickhouse famously said, “any team can have a bad century.”   

Transfer News (doesn’t really go with Cubs theme today, but leaving it due to technical difficulties)

Some wheelings and dealings from the summer transfer market.   Manchester United raided Portuguese clubs last week, signing Anderson and Nani.  Very impressive coup for the Red Devils.   

Mark Viduka has taken his Aussie goal scoring ways to Newcastle from Middlesbrough, furthering speculation that Michael Owen won’t return to Newcastle. 

Chelsea hasn’t splurged at all but did get the impressive defender Alex back from PSV Eindhoven.  He was loaned out to the Dutch club this season and will provide a great back-up to central defenders John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho.  Also Bayern Munich striker Claudio Pizarro has joined the Blues on a free transfer.   Most importantly for Chelsea, none of their signings is African, as Chelsea is set to lose Drogba, Mikel, Kalou and Essien for a month next season as these stars play for their respective countries in the African Nations Cup. 

Liverpool signed captain Steven Gerrard and defender Jaime Carragher to improved 4-year deals while continuing their snit with UEFA over fans’ behaviour at the CL Final. 

That’s it for today, as Justine Henin is currently kicking the crap out of Serena Williams (6-1, 1-0).  Back tomorrow with preview of the Euro 2008 qualifying games on Wednesday.  Enjoy the games you play and watch. 

Euro 2008 Recap

June 4, 2007

Hello again.  Saturday saw a full-day of qualifying action for Euro 2008.  All of Saturday’s results and the current tables are here.  There is another round of qualifiers on Wednesday night (June 6th).  TTL will have a preview of the important/interesting games on Wednesday, but let’s look back at the weekend’s events. 

Danish Fury

In a very unfortunate incident, a Danish “supporter” rushed onto the pitch and attempted to horsecollar German referee Herbert Frandel (who was the referee in the CL Final).    Sweden was justly awarded a penalty in the 88th minute when the Danish fan attacked.  This spoiled a fantastic game in Copenhagen, as Sweden raced to a 3-0 lead but couldn’t hold it as the Danes courageously fought back to level it at 3-3.  Highlights of the whole game here with some sweet Danish announcing.  The incident occurs at the 5min mark. 

Hate this sort of thing.  Went to 2 Danish games at Euro 2004 and thought their fans were excellent.  Friendly, passionate, just some good Viking people.  Just shows what 1 idiot can do (although a couple of more fans made it onto the pitch as well).  Maybe this guy had a few too many Carlsbergs in him but still no excuse.  He’ll probably be banned from football matches for a long time. 

As for the Danish team, it is not official yet, but 99% likely they’ll be awarded a 3-0 forfeit lose.  The referree has the right to abandon any game due to crowd violence and it certainly applies in this case.  Credit to the Danish players for helping control the situation but the damage was done.  Denmark faces some long odds on qualify for Austria-Switzerland ’08 now, as they are a distant fourth in Group F behind Sweden, Spain and the surprising Northern Ireland (only top 2 teams in each group qualify). 

Another sidebar is the fate of Danish midfielder Christian Poulsen whose stomach-punch ignited this sordid affair.  An ashamed Poulsen apologized post-match, but is certain to face a nice suspension after his Zidane-like meltdown.  This could have major ramifications for his club team, Sevilla, who are still chasing a treble this season.  The UEFA Cup Champs are in 3rd-place in La Liga with 2 games left and face Getafe in the Copa del Rey Final on June 23rd.  Poulsen is an integral part of this team and if he’s suspended for these games it could adversely affect Sevilla’s dream season.  But the UEFA court of justice moves awfully slow, so maybe his suspension will start next season.   

Quickies

In the other fixtures, all the big powers, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Portugal won.  In a mild upset, Bosnia-Herzegovinia beat Turkey 3-2 keeping things very tight at the top of Group C.  And mighty Albania triumphed over the giants from Luxembourg 2-0. 

TTL offers condolences to Cubs manager Lou Pinella.  Poor Lou had no idea what he was getting involved with when he joined the Cubs.  Will be a full posting on this topic tomorrow. 

Enjoy the games you play and watch.