Barca wins; Bayern wins; Real Madrid loses…

Very interesting beginning of the quarterfinals in the Champions League. FC Barcelona faced Spanish rivals Atlético Madrid, at home, for the first leg and as it was expected, it was not easy. Diego Simeone’s club even scored the first goal of the game and by the same token, a precious away goal. Only to see its scorer, a certain Fernando Torres, being booked twice and sent off at the 35th minute of the match. This action gave a sight of relief to the home fans and more space to maneuver.

Bayern Munich FC scored quickly in the first half and was able to contain S. L. Benfica until the final whistle. Still a 1-0 result heading into Estadio da Luz will not be easy for the German giants and defending champions. At the same stage, last year, they lost 3-1 at Porto before beating them easily 6-1 in the return leg.

Real Madrid CF, coming off a surprising and positive El Clásico win against FC Barcelona, faces off a difficult battle. Losing 2-0 at VfL Wolfsburg will not do them any good. Playing at home will be a plus for Los Blancos, but as we have seen this season, even under Zinedine Zidane’s leadership, the team can be challenged and lose matches.It will be interesting to see what tactics will be used for the return leg at home for Real Madrid. Julian Draxler was a key player in this historic win. His pace, going after defenders and his knack for passing the ball well have been a nightmare for Real Madrid’s defenders to cope with, and nobody believes that it will stop there. After all, Wolfsburg have experience and most importantly, nothing to lose. Tricky tie.

As for Paris Saint-Germain FC vs Manchester City FC, the English club has scored two vital away goals despite some sloppy defending on their side and on Paris-SG’s part as well. This tie is wide open. The French club and Ligue 1 champions can win matches pretty much anywhere in Europe (expect at FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF, for now).

Sayed tuned…

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El Clasico 2016 – FC Barcelona vs. Real Madrid CF Aftermath

Lionel Messi vs. Cristiano Ronaldo.
Neymar Jr vs. Gareth Bale.
Luis Suarez vs. Karim Benzema.
Zinedine Zidane vs. Luis Enrique.

We could go on and on about the match-ups and the rivalry between so many players, managers, leaders that characterizes each El Clasico.

At the end of the day, it was Los Blancos who came out on top winning at the Camp Now by the score of 2-1 despite being a man down thanks to a second yellow card awarded to Sergio Ramos (who else) for a foul from behind on Luis Suarez.

FC Barcelona will surely be disappointed with the outcome of this result. They were undefeated in all competitions for the past 39 matches and are still in contention to win another treble this year. With Atlético Madrid winning earlier yesterday 5-1, the gap between the Catalan giants and the two biggest Madrid-based clubs is slowly shrinking to six and seven points respectively, although Los Blaugranas have the face-to-face advantage versus both teams (2-1 and 1-0 against Atlético; 4-0; 1-2 vs. Real Madrid).

It is still expected to see Barcelona win La Liga title, but for the Real Madrid and especially Zinedine Zidane, it will be a big boost to have won a first Clasico and away. Replacing the unpopular Rafael Benitez and trying to get the club back on track was not going to be an easy task and with the reputation of Real Madrid not hesitating to sacrifice a manager (for the right or wrong reasons), it was a risk for the former French maestro to take, with so little experience.

So far, we have to admit that, as usual, the Marseille-born former football legend is having success and there is no doubt that he can continue on with Real Madrid CF and maybe somewhere along the line, take over the French national squad and bring a FIFA World Cup back to his country, the one that he should have probably won in 2006 if it was not for the unfortunate incident against Italy. We have to wait and see.

Zinedine Zidane entraineur

Stay tuned…

Copa America Centenario 2016 – Argentina, Brazil, Chile or ?

La Copa America will celebrate its 100th anniversary this year and the United States of America has been chosen as the host country for this special event. The format of the competition has changed since 2007 from an every two year event to a more “normal” four year.

Last year, Chile, the host country, won its first continental title, on penalty kicks, against the Argentina of Lionel Messi, which failed, for a second year in row (after the 2014 FIFA World Cup against Germany) to win a final. This time around and not having to wait another four years, the squad led by Gerardo “Tata” Martino will hope to finally bring a professional trophy home, a first since la Copa America triumph in 1993.

It will not be easy. Several other countries want a piece of this silverware and this time around, 16 teams will be involved in the competition (Argentina • Bolivia • Brazil • Chile • Colombia • Costa Rica • Ecuador • Haiti • Jamaica • Mexico • Panama • Paraguay • Peru • Uruguay • United States • Venezuela).

  • Mexico, Costa Rica and Jamaica are in as CONCACAF Regional Cup Winners.
  • Haiti and Panama have been invited to join the competition as the two playoff winner and highest finishers of the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
  • The United States of America is the host country, as mentioned above.

Brazil seeks revenge, redemption, return to glory. The past few years have very difficult for la Seleção. Despite winning the Confederations’ Cup the past three occasions (2005, 2009 and 2013), it has had difficulties winning bigger tournaments since the 2007 Copa America vs. Argentina.

  • Defeats in Olympic tournaments, despite boasting names such as Ronaldinho in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing (China) and Neymar Jr. in London 2012 have been a little surprising and very disappointing.
  • FIFA World Cups have also been difficult experiences since its triumph in 2002 led by “El Fenomeno” Ronaldo. Defeats in quarter-finals vs. France in 2006 and the Netherlands in 2010 were difficult to swallow. This was nothing compared to the historical 7-1 annihilation at the hands of future champions Germany, at home, in 2014.
  • In Copa Americas, elimination in 2011 and 2015 against the same team, Paraguay, and in the same fashion, penalty kicks, have been a disaster as well for the supporters. Neymar Jr., the current captain of the team, wants to play in both competition this summer (Copa America and Olympic Games, held in Rio de Janeiro). FC Barcelona will have to agree to it before he can try to win both titles, which will be highly unlikely.

Uruguay, which holds the record for the most title wins with 15 Copa America trophies, has seen the return of Luis Suarez pay dividends already with his game-tying goal against Brazil in a recent FIFA World Cup Qualification match. Edinson Cavani (Paris-SG) has also been in good form the past few games. Can La Celeste win a record 16th Copa America? We shall see.

Chile, the current title holder, Colombia, an always dangerous opponent and the United States, the tournament host, are teams not to be taken lightly this year.

Who will raise this year’s Copa America Centenario? My prediction goes with La Albiceleste of Lionel Messi, who will grab a rare trophy missing in his already extra large cabinet.

La Albiceleste

Stay tuned…

Euro 2016 – Will France Win It ?

The European Championship is coming this Summer and France is hosting it for third time since its introduction in 1960. It has won it twice in the past (1984 at home and 2000 in Belgium/The Netherlands). Both times, the squad was led with legends as Michel Platini in 1984 and Zinedine Zidane in 2000. Nowadays, a young French team led by a natural born leader and trophy laden player, Didier Deschamps, hopes to finally get back to winning ways after about a decade of difficulties coinciding with the retirement of Zidane in 2006 after the FIFA World Cup Final.

This time, it appears that that France is not only loaded with talent but are angry to put e past behind them and make the most out their oppportunity at home. That could potentially culminate in lifting the trophy for a record third time (along with Germany and Spain). Players such as Paul Pogba (Juventus FC), Raphael Varane (Real Madrid CF), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspurs), Antoine Griezmann (Atlético Madrid), the return of former Chelsea and Real Madrid midfielder Lassana Diarra (Olympique Marseille), Blaise Matuidi (Paris-SG), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal FC), Patrice Evra (Juventus FC), Anthony Martial (Manchester United FC)  and a few others will constitute the backbone of a team that the French supporters hope will lead them to silverware on July 10th, when the final will kick-off.

Other countries will have their say in France…

Spain is the current title holder and after a disastrous World Cup compaign which saw them being humiliated by The Netherlands 5-1 and then eliminated by Chile 2-0, they would want to prove that this page of their history was simply an accident. Despite losing key players to retirement such as Xavi, David Villa, Xabi Alonso, Carlos Puyol.

Germany. The current FIFA World Cup holders will be looking at making the double in France (World Cup and Euro back-to-back). A few key players have left the national squad though such as Philip Lahm (Bayern Munich FC) and Miroslav Klose (SS Lazio). They can still bank on tremendous talent such as Marco Reus, Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich FC), Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich FC), Mario Gotze (Bayern Munich FC), Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich FC), Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund), to name a few. Will it be enough for “Die Mannschaft”? We shall see.

Countries such as Italy, England, Portugal can never be underestimated in international competititons and squads as Czech Republic, Turkey and Croatia can always surprise. But if a country has to be taken very seriously this summer, it has to be Belgium. I would not be surprised if this is the national team that surprises France and wins their first European Championship. The squad is simply full with top talent in almost several positions of the field/pitch. Thibault Courtois (Chelsea FC), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City FC), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham Hotspur FC), Laurent Ciman (Montreal Impact), Eden Hazard (Chelsea FC), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City FC),Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United FC), Dries Merterns (SSC Napoli), Axel Witsel (Zenit Saint Petersburg), Romelu Lukaku (Everton FC), Radja Nainggolan (AS Roma) etc. A very impressive list of fine players who just might be ready,in time, to lift a trophy and create history.

Stay tuned…