Archive for September, 2007

Party in Your Pants

September 19, 2007

Actually, the party is at Emirates Stadium tonight in North London when Arsenal and Sevilla get it on. For a full preview of this game from the Gunner’s perspective check out the superb A Cultured Left Foot. The comment section alone is thoughtful reading for Arsenal fans.

Throw out TTL’s (un)proven theory of 1st games in CL Group stages lacking offensive firepower. Hoping the goal-scoring carries over to tonight. But in order to look forward, we must first venture back to the past. Specifically, some TTL headlines from last night’s action.

Liverpool, were “very, very bad” in the words of their Manager Rafa Benitez. LP were lucky to draw 1-1 with Porto as the Portuguese Champs dominated the game everywhere but the scoreboard. LP conceded their 4th penalty kick of the year(!) in the 8th minute and Lucho Gonzalez converted from the spot. This was after Steve Finnan’s poor clearance almost gifted Porto a goal in the 2nd minute as only a fine stop from Pepe Reina prevented a goal. The Dutch porn-star Dirk Kuyt headed LP level after 17 minutes but that was the high point of LP’s evening. Jermaine Pennant picked up a needless 2nd yellow forcing LP to play a man down for the final 32 minutes and some staunch defending kept it tied. TTL was furious at Pennant for his ill-tempered game all night and forcing me to watch LP play with 10 men. The best one can hope for is a draw at that point. Could have just chanted “Defense, defense” for the rest of the game. Ruined a perfectly fine night of football and wouldn’t find seeing Pennant rotated out of the much ballyhooed rotation for his poor performance.

Shakhtar Donestk proved the Ukraine is strong in hammering hapless Celtic 2-0. Celtic has lost 13 CL away games on the trot and they certainly weren’t convincing last night. Realistically, Celtic is playing for 3rd in Group D as 3rd-place finishers are put into this season’s UEFA Cup. But Celtic will need a much improved performance as Donestk could easily scored 5. Every time TTL glanced at the game the Ukrainian side had Celtic under pressure.

Andriy Shevchenko rescued Chelsea from an embarrassing home loss to Rosenborg. The Blues drew 1-1 as Rosenborg put in a good performance and benefited from Chelsea twice hitting the post in the 2nd half. And things keep getting worse for Chelsea as it appears both Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba will miss this Sunday’s tilt with Manchester United at Old Trafford. TTL suggests Jose Mourniho skip the omeletes all-together and go with scrambled eggs.

Spain won their duel with Germany as Real Madrid beat Werder Bremen 2-1 and Valencia won at Schalke 04 by the score of 1-0. Always think the Bundesliga teams are slightly overrated as its been awhile since a German club made a good run in the Champions League.

Here are tonight’s games. Already covered Arsenal-Sevilla today and yesterday, so TTL sincerely hopes it lives up to my high expectations. The other two games that TTL will be watching are Sporting Lisbon v Manchester United and Barcelona v Lyon.

It’s a homecoming in Lisbon for former Sporting stars Ronaldo and Nani along with Man U’s influential assistant coach Carlos Queiroz who managed Sporting from 1994-1996. There’s a good chance Wayne Rooney will play tonight after recovering from his metatarsal injury. (Ok, it’s officially spooky that as Rooney comes back from his injury England/Wigan striker Emilie Hesky broke his metatarsal). Rooney and Carlos Tevez have yet to play together, so it’ll be interesting to see when/how their partnership up-front meshes. They’re both fantastic players but TTL is wary of their ability to play with each other since their styles are quite similar. Both like to drop deep to pick-up the ball, run hard at defenders and are not great in the air. The situation could parallel the Lampard/Gerrard situation on the English national team as that team floundered because Gerrard and Lampard were unable to play well together despite both being good/great players. Just bears watching.

As for Barcelona v Lyon need to see if Lyon’s window to win the CL has passed. The 6-time defending Ligue 1 Champs were TTL’s trendy pick to win it last season before they exited with a whimper in the 1st knockout stage at the hands of Roma. They started slow in their domestic league this season but have regained their stride winning 4 in a row. And have traditionally played well on the road in the CL the past few years. On the other side is Barca, off to a slow start in La Liga as “los magnificos” are yet to find the goal with any consistency being held to goalless draws in 2 of 3 league games. A team built for offense is sputtering as manager Frank Rijkaard searches how to array his attacking talent of Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto’o and new 17 year-old sensation Bojan Krkic. This could be the game of the night if Arsenal-Sevilla fails to deliver.

Until tomorrow.

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Champions League Kickoff

September 18, 2007

Welcome to the 2007 Champions League. Without further ado, here are tonight’s fixtures with all games starting at 2:45pm Central for those midwestern fans. This is game 1 of the 6-game Group stages with the Top 2 teams from each group advancing to the knockout round of 16. The Group stages rarely produce too many surprises, as a smaller club may win an odd game against the likes of a Barcelona or Chelsea but won’t advance in the end. The 6 games really favor the bigger clubs whose quality/quantity of rosters help them through the grind. Normally the 1st games aren’t known for exciting football as teams usually play not to lose. But let’s hope that is not case this season.

TTL’s game of the night is FC Porto v Liverpool. Porto, the defending Portuguese champs, welcome last-year’s runners-up to the Estadio do Dragao for an intriguing game. Porto is playing excellent football while opening the season with 4 consecutive wins in their domestic league. LP is also on good form, despite being held to 0-0 draw at Portsmouth on Saturday. Steven Gerrard will play tonight and it will be his 80th European game for the Reds. Look for an edgy, tactical game as Porto has only conceded 1 goal this season and LP usually plays a counterattacking style on the road in the Group stages. With Marseille and Turkish side Besitkas also in Group A, winning away from home will be a tough task. Don’t think LP will win tonight, but a draw will suffice for their purposes.

Defending champs AC Milan welcome another Portuguese side, Benifica (and America teenager Freddy Adu) to the San Siro in a rematch of the 1963 Final. Enough said about the Italian clubs the better. And while TTL is an extremely giving mood, let’s give props to Arsenal, top of the table in the Premier League for the 1st time since 2004. Henry who? Although soon could be referring to the Gunners as the Kalashinkovs.

Chelsea hosts Norwegian side Rosenborg at Stamford Bridge without the injured Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Ricardo Carvalho, Michael Ballack, Wayne Bridge and Claudio Pizarro. Which lead to this typical baffling Jose Mourinho quote:

“The style of how we play is very important. But it is omelettes and eggs. No eggs – no omelettes! It depends on the quality of the eggs. ‘In the supermarket you have class one, two or class three eggs and some are more expensive than others and some give you better omelettes. ‘So when the class one eggs are in Waitrose and you cannot go there, you have a problem.”

TTL wholeheartedly concurs. After spending roughly 1 trillion assembling a roster the past 3 seasons Chelsea should be able to serve up a decent omelette.

Continuing with the food analogy, tonight’s games are some tasty appetizers before tomorrow’s encounter of Arsenal v FC Sevilla which is like steak stuffed with sushi. What a mouthwatering games as these 2 teams are simply fun to watch play. Arsenal is in full form at the moment as their short-passing game is shredding Premier League defenses. And Sevilla plays with a real spirit and commitment to attack as the 2-time defending UEFA Cup champs must win more games 3-1 than any team in recent memory. Put it on your sporting calendar.

Will be back tomorrow (no false promises) with a recap and preview of Wednesday’s action. C’mon Liverpool.

Live blogging England v Russia

September 12, 2007

Even worse than reading about fantasty teams (TTL’s NFL team won, ha) is reading how busy someone is. So no excuses about the lack of posts. Like the Cubs TTL is failing in the clutch. But will attempt to remedy the situation tonight with a live blog of England v Russia starting at 8:30 CET or 2:30 EST depending on your time frame. Until then.

England v Russia Live from Wembley.

Love the Match of the Day tune on BBC, one of those songs that hasn’t changed in 20 years. England starts an unchanged team from their 3-0 win over Israel on Saturday. That is:
Robinson (goal) Richards, Ferdinand, Terry (captain), A Cole in defense, Wright-Phillips, Gerrard, Barry, J Cole in midfield with old Liverpool and England teammates Hesky and Owens up-front.

Russia, managed by the excellent Guus Hiddink, is expected to play 11 men in defense and hope for a draw. The Russians have only conceded 1 goal in their 8 qualifying games.

Here is a quick peek at the Euro 2008 tables and they show this a MASSIVE game in Group E as Croatia and Russia have easier games ahead than England. Remember, the top 2 in each group advance to Euro 2008 next summer in Austria/Switzerland.

Russia is starting a team with all 11 players currently plying their trade in the Russian League. It includes a set of identical twins at right/left back. And it would take me until halftime to type out all their names.

TTL predicts a comfortable 2-0 win for England. Why? Because Lampard is injured so the midfield belongs to Gerrard. He is England’s best player and paired with Barry who’ll hang back a bit defensively, Gerrard is free to surge forward, something he does ever so well for club and country.

86,000 fans, including 5,000 Russians, greet the teams as they walk on the field for their respective National Anthems. Wembley is buzzing. God Save the Queen indeed as the English fans overpower the singer on the pitch.

TTL will also be flipping occasionally to check on France v Scotland from Paris, a big game between the top 2 teams in Group B. Also, fair play to USA rugby team (the Eagles) who lost 25-15 to Tonga today. USA is playing some competitive rugby.

3min
Early corner for the Russians as they power forward (surprisingly) and England struggles to clear their goal.

6min
Hesky already proving his worth as big target, heading a ball back down to Gerrard who had gotten forward. Hesky is reborn this season for Wigan and England. He last donned the national shirt at Euro 2004. Richards long throw troubles the Russian defense and corner to England. Barry plays in a great ball, its cleared out to him and then Barry sends in another good ball that Michael Owen cooly places in the right corner with his right foot. GOAL and the perfect start for England. 1-0.

9min
England fans taunt their Russian counterparts with a chorus of “You’re not Singing Anymore.” Gerrard plays through Hesky who misses due to a great save and Owen stumbles trying to pounce on the rebound. It’s like Liverpool circa 2000-2003.

13min
Jerkoff (sp) is providing some danger from Russia down the right flank and he sets up a decent chance for Russia which is buzzed into the side netting. Apparently, tiebreakers in the qualifying are determined by head to head match-up so this game and the one in Moscow are immense as Owen skips past a few defenders while England emulates Brazil and pass the ball with some aplomb all over the pitch.

16min
Another corner for England. And before all the pundits praise Manager Steve McClaren for these performances remember he was forced into this “makeshift” line-up by England’s injury woes. Nothing quite like the buzz of the crowd when Gerrard launches a shot from way out. He sliced it way right.

19-23min
Russian captain sneaks behind Terry and Ferdinand and only an unlucky bounce of the ball prevented him from having a one v one with the English keeper. The impressive Gareth Barry tracked back from midfield to break-up the attack. He and Gerrard are dominating the game. But just like that, Russia counterattacks and scores but the goal is disallowed by the non-blonde Swedish referee who ruled that the Russian player controlled the ball with his hand/arm first. Tough call need to wait for more replays. Still, a warning to England. Who, respond quickly, as Wright-Phillips heards over the bar after a great cross from J. Cole as they try and reenact their goal from Saturday.

24min
Robinson is forced into making a good save as the Russians look dangerous on the attack.

27min
As the England backs Richards and A. Cole bomb forward, Russia is finding some space down the flanks, especially down the left side. Hesky bails England out, by fighting off two defenders and holding the ball until more England players join him in attack. Unheralded skill, but a big striker who wins balls in the air and holds it up is a huge asset to a team.

30min
Barry wins a ball, plays it back to J. Cole who unleashes a good (deflected) shot that the keeper parries away. This a fun game, as these teams are both attacking with some verve. Hesky wins another ball in the air and heads it down to the rejuvenated Michael Owen who unleashes a right-footed laser into the top left corner for his 40th goal for the Three Lions. 2-0!

34min
England is rampant, like they are playing 12 on 9. The Russians aren’t closing down well (shocking for a Hiddink-coached side) and England seemed poised to score every few minutes. Best performance by an English side in a long time.

38min
France and Scotland are tied at 0-0. Let’s go Scotland!! Russia makes a change bringing on another forward and taking out a midfielder to change their alignment to a 4-4-2. “England are in harmony” according to John Motson, the Vin Scully of English soccer broadcasting.

41min
Continuing my love/hate relationship with England, TTL doesn’t want England to qualify but is estatic that Owen is finally playing well again after 2 disastrous injuries. The cold-blooded striker is the reason why TTL became a Liverpool fan.

45min
Russian freekick right at the half is cleared harmlessly away. Would really like England to rest Gerrard in the 2nd half as England should be able to maintain their 2-0 advantage in the 2nd-half. For the record, Owen scored in the 7th and 31st minute. Count TTL among the impressed by England’s superlative 1st-half.

Half-time replays show England got a big break as Russia’s goal should have counted. But when things are going your way you get calls like that.

Scotland and France are 0-0 at the half. The 3rd place team in that group, Italy are up 1-0 in the Ukraine at half. The dreams of N. Ireland look to be dashed as they lost 2-1 to Iceland despite David Healy’s 12th goal of the qualifying campaign. They also lost on the weekend to Latvia.

47min
Gerrard almost bulldozes through the Russian defense and the Russians promptly respond with a nice 1-2 down the the right flank and buzz a shot past the post. A minute later, a Russian cross just misses an outstretched leg. Two good chances for Russia as Gerrard drives forward and forces a good save from a left-footed shot.

50min
Zerkoff and the substitute Brusoff causing England some real problems in the back as this turns into a wide-open affair. The Russians don’t want to go quietly into the goodnight as they are now playing with 3 strikers. Yes! Why not go for some goals. Russians deserved to be rewarded for this risky strategy but they are leaving themselves vunerable to a counterattack and possible hat trick for Mr. Owen.

55min
The overrated A. Cole is having all sorts of problems at the back for England. Think Aresenal were right to deal him to Chelsea for William Gallas. England are all over the place at the back as the Russian pile on the pressure.

58min
Ribery denied by the excellent Scottish keeper Ben Gordon as it is still 0-0 in Paris. England seem content to absorb pressure and have lost control of the game. Haven’t had enough possession to stem the Russian hordes. J. Cole found Gerrard open at the penalty spot but the Liverpool skipper completely mishits it.

61min
England looked to have regained the upper hand but here come the Russians as they have a freekick from a dangerous spot that they promptly waste. Another change for Russia: Shrusonklsy for Shithalkcmeonk. Problem with playing 3 strikers is the difficulty in working the ball up to them, especially past the rock that is Gareth Barry. He’s having a fantastic game.

65min
Hesky continues to be a menace (too big to be a nuisance) by getting his head on every ball sent his way. The Russians are valiant, but it is a young side and they seem to be lacking that little bit of class needed to score goals. Think some changes might be in store for England as they look a bit tired. Good low cross from the Russians but suddenly they only have 1 man on the receiving end. Where did all the strikers go?

68min
England broadcast record as it takes 69minutes to mention Beckham. Announcers are wondering about who’ll be selected for the next round of qualifying game in October. Gonna be a headache for McClaren as these 11 have made a STRONG case for their inclusion. Great news, as McFadden puts Scotland ahead 1-0 in France. Oui! Italy is up 2-1 in the Ukraine.

71min
England have regained control of the game by keeping possession. Don’t think the Russians have it in them to come back now as the clock ticks.

75min
Owen almost send Wright-Phillips clean through but is thwarted by his own unsteady feet. Feel that England now more likely to score than Russia. As that sentence is typed, Russian forces Robinson into a good save from a wicked left foot shot. Oh, what a different game this would be if that goal wasn’t dissallowed. J. Cole involved in 2 straight controversial tackles and receives a yellow. Crowd is booing as Russia almost works a nice freekick into the box but England clears. Hesky comes off from Peter Crouch while Russia makes its 3rd and final change.

80min
Crouch immediately heads one down to Wright-Phillips whose fine right-foot volley is pushed aside for a corner. Scotland continues to lead with 10min to go. England corner as they push for a 3rd. Barry takes it with his left and the keeper punches away from Terry. Barry plays it back and Ferndinand channels his old striker skills by beating the keeper at his near post (poor keeping, he’s actually Russia’s 3rd choice) and England lead 3-0.

85min
All just a formality now, so switching over to Scotland game. Watching it on French TV featuring Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on color commentary. Scottish wearing some uncharaterisitic white uniforms with gold numbers. Awful, do they think they’re Italian. Looks to be all hands at defense as the French stream forward. Lots of Scottish banners hanging up as the Tartan Army loves to travel to support their side.

87min
In honor of the injured Thierry Henry, Scotland players dribble the ball to the corner flag to waste time and force French defenders to take it from them. TTL absolutely abhors this technique. Pass it around, it’s ridiculous to dribble around like that. Gordon makes an easy save as the French look dangerous despite the Scottish wall in front of them as the clock hits 90.

3 minutes of injury time as even the normally stoic Wenger is psyched for a French corner. Scottish counterattack as they clear their lines but then lose possession. Ribery is everywhere for the French as Scotland boots the ball all the way back to the French keeper. Scots break-up another attack but the French have a corner in the 92nd minute. Get a head on the ball drawing another corner which is cleared as the final whistle blows and the Scots have a monumental 1-0 win in Paris to go top of their group. Yes!!!!

Great scenes in Paris as the Scottish fans go wild in the stands. Solid night of football. England win 3-0 and more importantly the Scots prevail in Paris. Enjoy the games and thanks for reading. Back tomorrow with a recap of all the qualifying action.

What time is it?

September 6, 2007

Actually, time for my fantasy football draft but TTL is boldly not studying this year. After getting burned by drafting with a little bit of knowledge the past few seasons, going with the gut this year. That’s all you’ll hear about my NFL fantasy but maybe more on my Premier League Fantasy Team (c’mon Clint Dempsey) as the season goes on.

The 2007 Rugby World Cup begins Friday in France. Most pundits including TTL (a little bit of knowledge is dangerous) predict New Zealand to win it. The All-Blacks have only won 1 WC despite being the best rugby-playing nation in the galaxy. There is a huge gulf in talent between the top 8 sides and the rest of the world, so expect some ridiculous scores posted on teams like Namibia, Portugal and sadly the semi-pros from the USA. The big interest in the pool stage is who takes 2nd in Pool D, France or Ireland, although Argentina has a puncher’s chance of sneaking into 2nd. Anyway, the 2nd-place finisher faces NZ in the quarterfinals which is something that contenders Ireland and France want to avoid at all costs. Particularly the French, as this game takes place in Cardiff, Wales and not in France. And the tournament organizers, the IRB, whose dream final is NZ v France in Paris.

TTL enjoys international rugby and will spend some time at the pub watching games. And due to an unprecedented media blackout of the RWC watching live games might be the only way to go.

Also glad that England will relinquish the Web Ellis trophy they won in Australia in 2003. The defending champs are a shadow of the physical side that bullied and kicked its way to the title. Definitely have a like/loathe relationship with England international teams as TTL knows all the players and sorta wants England to do well but just so I can root against the English. They’re like a nation of passive-aggressive Philly fans but with much cooler singing.

As this post takes on a personal nature, might as well bemoan the fate of the Cubbies. Dropped into a tie for 1st in the Central with Milwaukee today after closer Ryan Dempster gave up 4 in the ninth to lose 7-4 to LA. Troubling developments all week as this team looks close to imploding a la 2004. Not playing very good baseball, particularly at the plate, as they continue to swing away with reckless abandon. Over the 4 game series the Cubs’ batters walked 18 times, stuck out 22 times, left 58 men on base and grounded into a mind-boggling 10 double plays. Not quite the winning formula. As a lifelong Cubs fan it is terrifically exciting when the Cubs play meaningful September baseball. Just wish they wouldn’t play so much like typical Cubs.

That’s it for today. Thanks for checking TTL.