It’s Transfer Deadline Day!

August 31, 2012 — by Suman


It’s TRANSFER DEADLINE DAY! Deals can get done until 11pmBST tonight (= 6pmET), and no doubt there will be plenty of last minute wheeling and dealing. Follow along via the Guardian’s liveblog if you’re so inclined.

Amid all that is some actual action on the field. The European super cup is today–the UEFA Champions League winner vs the Europa League winner, so Chelsea vs Atletico Madrid. A couple subplots: Fernando Torres vs his old club, and Atletico Madrid’s goalkeeper Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois vs the club that might call him back next season to finally succeed Peter Cech (both subplots picked up via scanning Guardian headlines:
(the latter being a Sid Lowe interview)).

Other transfer rumors picked up from Guardian Football homepage: Chelsea to add even more attacking talent, in the form of German André Schürrle from Leverkeusen? With potential domino effects of Sturridge off to Liverpool and Andy Carroll to West Ham? Who knows, better to just watch things play out today as deals actually gets done.

Though it seems like Dimitar Berbatov is off to Fulham..or is he?? Now there are reports he may instead be headed…back to Spurs?? All this after deals were supposedly done for the enigmatic languorous Bulgarian to move to Fiorentina and then Juve!

We hope it is Fulham, as they need some good news of the import variety. Dembélé to Spurs is a big loss–Berbatov would be something of a consolation, but to lose him to Spurs as well would be doubly demoralizing. And maybe Demspey will be return to the fold at Craven Cottage?  On the other hand, Dembélé does seems like a decent replacement for Modric in midfield, who’s already made his debut for Real Madrid (more on that below).

In the opposite direction, Esteban Granero is going from Madrid to London–QPR, where Mark Hughes has been spending like mad, also signing this week Brazilian keeper Julio Cesar from Inter.  We do seem to recall Granero getting some playing time in Madrid last year, and impressing.  Madrid had signed him away from local rival Getafe a couple years ago, but (like Nuri Şahin–more on that below as well), Granero got lost among all the midfield talent in Madrid.

Following the Modric-t0-Madrid move, Edhino commented:

WTF is this ‘partnership’ between Spurs and Real Madrid anyway? Jose going to come to White Hart Lane to manage when AVB goes on his annual Riviera holiday? Bale plays for Madrid when Ramos hurts his toe? What??

Yes indeed, reports were that Spurs did announce they now have some sort of “special relationship” with Madrid  Though one would think that would have got them inside track on Şahin! That does seem like quite a coup for Brendan Rodgers, to have stolen that loan deal from Arsenal at the last minute.

Was it a matter of Rodgers convincing Şahin of his project, or of Wenger asking for more than Madrid was willing to concede (in terms of wages and/or an option to make the move permanent?) Or maybe even a matter Mourinho preferring to send Şahin to a place where he can’t come back to bite him in the ass (via a Champions League encounter, say?). We really don’t understand how/why these deals go down as they do. In any case, And maybe Şahin will be making his Premier League debut this weekend–vs Arsenal!

On the other hand, Alex Song made his Barcelona debut Wednesday, as a late sub for Busquets in the 2nd leg of that Spanish Supercup. Unfort we didn’t get to see it, but did skim the MBM, which said Barcelona were in shambles for a half (down 2-0 and down to 10 men), until Messi pulled them even on aggregate with a great free kick. But they couldn’t get another goal in the 2nd half, and lost on away goals. Guess a trophy is some consolation for Madrid after their horrendous start to the season domestically: a draw against Valencia at home, and then a loss against Getafe (which is apparently a shabby Madrid suburb). So already 5pts behind Barcelona–La Liga already lost?  (Btw, Barcelona-Valencia Sunday!)

But certainly their/Mourinho’s focus this season will be on the Champions League. The “Group of Champions” will certainly make for some interesting group stage viewing. Man City, Borussia Dortmund, and Ajax all get screwed in the draw for the 2nd year in a row.  We doubt that Ajax has a chance of competing (as usual, they sold a couple of their best players–Vertonghen to Spurs and midfielder Vurnon Anita to Newcastle), but we could see Borussia Dortmund advancing ahead of City.

I did get to see parts of one match this week: after my first day of teaching Monday, I needed a pint and some time and space, so stopped by Woodwork on the way home and had Ross put on Atletico Madrid-Athletic Bilbao. Watched Falcao score two fantastic goals, while Athletic couldn’t do anything. (I had to leave at halftime, but Falcao added a 3rd, and someone else
scored to make the final score 4-0.)

The Bielsa project in Bilbao is in shambles. The Fernando Llorente (to Juve) and Javi Martinez (to Bayern–for €40m! Apparently Song was Barcelona’s 2nd choice to reinforce their def mf & replace Seydou Keita, but they decided they couldn’t afford Martinez) deals still aren’t done, but does seem like they’re off. How demoralizing. Sid Lowe wrote about that this week as well:


What to Watch This Weekend: Aug 24-26

August 25, 2012 — by Suman

Second round of Premier League and La Liga matches this weekend, while Bundesliga and Serie A are also getting underway:

Friday, Aug 24

2:30pmET, Borussia Dortmund vs Werder Bremen (GolTV USA): Dortmund begins its quest for a 3rd consecutive Bundesliga title. For the 2nd straight year, they’ve lost a star to a bigger and richer club abroad–this summer it was Shinji Kagawa to Manchester United, the previous summer it was Nuri Şahin to Real Madrid (although looks like he will end up in England as well, at least for a season, on loan–to Liverpool?). But Dortmund are looking to pick up where they left off, with young star Marco Reus newly arrived from Borussia Mongengladbach.


Saturday, Aug 25

10amET, Manchester United vs Fulham (FSC, Fox Deportes): Two teams that got off to surprising starts last weekend, in opposite directions. MUFC lost at Everton 1-0, despite bringing on Robin van Persie as a late substitute. By all accounts, Kagawa was impressive, while Wayne Rooney was not. Fulham were impressive in a 5-0 demolition of , despite missing Clint Dempsey, whose situation is still unresolved.

12:30pmET, Chelsea vs Newcastle United (FSC, Fox Deportes): The match of the weekend. Chelsea expects to be challenging for the title, after big spending in the offseason and two straight wins to start this campaign. But although they’ve got plenty of talent going forward–new arrivals Edan Hazard and Oscar joining Juan Mata behind Fernando Torres–there are questions further back, in defensive midfield and in defense. Newcastle are looking to build upon last season’s impressive campaign and challenge for a spot in the top four.


Sunday, Aug 26

8:30amET, Stoke City vs Arsenal (FSC, Fox Deportes): Arsenal failed to score last weekend at home versus a Sunderland side that parked the bus. This match presents a clash of

11amET, Liverpool vs Manchester City (FSC, Fox Deportes):



Kicking Off 2012-13: What To Watch This Weekend

August 17, 2012 — by Suman


Another season of European club football is upon us, and so we here at CultFootball are back from a couple-month hiatus. Over at PoliticalFootballs, John Lally has a Premier League preview which runs to a few thousand words. And here on CultFootball, Rob Kirby devotes almost as many words to just Arsenal’s chances this season.

Without further preamble, here are our picks for opening weekend in the EPL–plus one match from the opening weekend in La Liga:

As usual all times ET, and all listing from (and links to) the very useful
Saturday, August 18:
Sunday, August 19:


(*) Note that the US TV right to La Liga (and Serie A, which kicks off next weekend) have been snapped away from GolTV by the new “beIN” network–a venture of Al-Jazeera Sports. Check your local listings to see if you can get it on your cable lineup.

Euro 2012Preview

Il gran finale di Euro 2012: España contra Italia

July 1, 2012 — by Suman1


The 30 (24+4+2) matches of Euro 2012 over the past 23 days have led to the finale, later today in the Ukrainian capital’s Olympic Stadium:

Euro 2012 Final :

1 July 2012
Spain Spain Italy Italy
Referee: Pedro Proença (POR) – Stadium: Olympic Stadium, Kyiv (UKR)


We’ll be gathering to watch at CultFootball HQ West, which should make for a good viewing atmosphere–not least because of one us is partial to Spain (arising from a longtime affinity for Dutch total football, through to Barcelona starting in the ’90s under Cryuff (& with Cocu, Kluivert, Overmars), to the technical brilliance to today’s tiki-taka); while the other has a rooting roots for Gli Azzurri (Italian ancestors plus childhood Saturdays spent watching the Serie A match of the week on the broadcast Italian channel, not to mention years spent as a defender).  

We plan to be live on the site–if not actually live blogging (something we haven’t done since the Spain-Netherlands match almost exactly two years ago), at least live in the comments below.

It is a great matchup for the finale of what’s been a great tournament–hopefully it will be a grande finale, living up to the high expectations the footysphere has for it.  Here is Daniel Taylor’s lede to his match preview–“Spain hope to pass into history as Italy look to Pirlo“:

Euro 2012 has been a success in many ways but is still waiting for its first classic match in the knockout stages. If a good tournament wants to be remembered as a great one a lot depends on what happens in the Olympic Stadium here on Sunday and whether the two finalists can conjure up the occasion the competition probably deserves.

Spain against Italy certainly has the potential after what the two teams served up, as a kind of appetiser, when they had a first look at one another during the group stages in Gdansk three weeks ago. Spain demonstrated that night, as they have before and since, that they will almost certainly dominate the possession, but there are legitimate reasons for Italy to deduce that the holders can be at least vaguely susceptible to the right combination of smothering tactics and quick, incisive attacking.

Similarly from another of Guardian Football’s columnists–“Potent Italy may be saving their best until last | Paul Wilson“:

What a wonderful tournament. Everyone seems to be saying so, whether out there or following the action on television at home. Great goals, notable performances, a consistently high standard of football and unexpected results right up until the closing stages. Even the final is being eagerly anticipated, and that has not always been the case in recent years.

Euro 2012’s last twist pits the favourites, Spain, on the verge of winning an unprecedented third modern tournament in a row, against the dark horses, Italy, who made such short work of Germany in the semi-final they must have a decent chance of springing one last surprise.

Some more pregame reading from Michael Cox, aka @Zonal_Marking:


CommentaryEuro 2012

Euro 2012: Semifinals Wrapup

July 1, 2012 — by Suman2


After four relatively disappointing quarterfinal matches, we hoped the two semifinal matches would live up to high expectations. Here is Sid Lowe writing right after the quarterfinals ended and the semifinal matchups were set:

Spain versus Portugal, Germany versus Italy. The semi-finals couldn’t be better. Packed with plots and sub-plots, redemption and revenge, history oozes through them. There is something big, something historic, something right about these match-ups. For Spain, “historic” could be meant literally. They are chasing a unique treble: no one has won consecutive European, world and European titles before. The closest were West Germany; they lost the 1976 final to the Czechs when Antonin Panenka took the penalty that Andrea Pirlo emulated.

The first semifinal certainly had plots and sub-plots: the intra-Iberian rivalry, a close Round of 16 match at World Cup 2010, Cristiano Ronaldo trying to carry Portugal practically by himself, backed by Real Madrid teammates Pepe and Fábio Coentrão, going up against another set of Real Madrid teammates (their club and Spain’s captain Iker Casillas, Xabi Alonso, Álvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos) combined with the core of archrival Barcelona (Gerard Piqué, Sergio Busquest, Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, Cesc Fàbregas, Pedro Rodríguez)–albeit lacking Ronaldo’s nemesis Lio Messi of course, but who was also a sub-plot to the tournament, as Ronaldo sought to finally accomplish with this tournament one of the few footballing successes Messi yet hasn’t.

The match itself was odd. The first half was compelling, as Portugal came out to play: pressing Spain, disrupting their usual strangehold on possession, making moves and getting the ball forward into some potentially dangerous positions.  Indeed, ZonalMarking headlined his match summary “Portugal upset Spain’s rhythm…”

But that was only the first half of the match–and the first half of ZM’s headline.  The 2nd half was desultory, with neither team creating much of interest. And for all of Portugal’s attempt to take the game to Spain, the 2nd half of ZM’s title was “..but fail to record a shot on target.”  That’s right–not a single shot on target for Portugal in 120 minutes of scoreless play.  Spain wasn’t much better in regulation. But contrary to the conventional wisdom that they might wilt given they were playing with two days less rest than Portugal, Spain found new life in extra time, thanks in great part to speedy wide forwards Pedro and Jesús Navas. (After Vincente del Bosque’s experiment of starting central striker Álvaro Negredo having failed. We still can’t believe striker Fernando Llorente hasn’t seen the field at all the entire tourament!)

It looked like Spain was going to repeat the feat of the World Cup final two years ago, with a winning goal in extra time–from Iniesta in particular, who couldn’t put a golden chance past Portuguese keeper Rui Patrício (who made a few big saves; plays for Sporting CP btw), created by a great attack and pass by Pedro. At this point Portugal looked spent, hanging on for penalties.

Like Italy-England three days earlier, penalties provided a memorable finish to an otherwise forgettable match. And like Italy-England, the shootout featured a Panenka, but from an unlikelier source than the cool Pirlo–here it was hard and hotheaded defender Sergio Ramos who surprised (especially after he skied his shot into the cheap seats in the shootout that ended Real Madrid Champions League campaign against Bayern in the spring). But there was more that will stick in the mind from this shootout: Nani pulling back Bruno Alves to take Portugal’s 3rd penalty; Alves then taking Portugal’s 4th, which he banged off the crossbar; Cesc stepping up to take Spain’s 5th, which he caromed in off the post, clinching the match for Spain, just as he hit the winning penalty in the Euro 2008 quarterfinals against Italy–and on this night leaving Cristiano Ronaldo at midfield shaking his head, not even having taken a kick, after being slotted for Portugal’s 5th shot!

So after four quarterfinal matches and one semifinal that less than impressed in footballing terms, it was left to a classic matchup in the last semifinal, which came through and provided a classic match. The memorable box score:
Although it Pirlo was again named Man of the Match, it was Balotelli’s evening. From Daniel Taylor’s match report, filed Thursday night from Warsaw:
It was the night Mario Balotelli announced himself as a serious, grown-up footballer, capable of shaping the bigger occasions. There have been plenty of times he has threatened it before but he has never shown so much efficiency and clinical, sometimes devastating, centre-forward play, or the unmistakable sense that he is unwilling to jeopardise all that raw ability with something far less endearing.
The outcome is that Italy will meet Spain at the Olympic Stadium, Kiev, on Sunday whereas Germany are denied a 14th appearance in the final of a major tournament and will be able to testify, in great detail, what a formidable opponent Balotelli is when his mind is clear and his only motivation is to demonstrate those qualities of penetration, directness and powerful finishing.
The two fantastic goals, which came largely against the run of play, and broke Germany’s spirit.  And the celebrations–it turns out “Il Postino” does celebrate, at least after a delivery like this:

And after a night like that:

“Tonight was the most beautiful of my life. I’ve waited for this moment so long, and it was even more special given that my mother came to watch and I so wanted to make her happy. After the game I went over to her and said: ‘Those goals are for you.'”


The details of the semifinal results, with links to’s match reports/facts:

27 June 2012
Portugal Portugal 0-0 Spain Spain
Spain win 4-2 on penalties
Referee: Cüneyt Çakır (TUR) – Stadium: Donbass Arena, Donetsk (UKR)

28 June 2012
Germany Germany 1-2 Italy Italy
Referee: Stéphane Lannoy (FRA) – Stadium: National Stadium Warsaw, Warsaw (POL)


CommentaryEuro 2012

Euro 2012: Quarterfinals Wrapup

June 30, 2012 — by Suman


After a tremendously fun twelve days of Euro2012 group stage matches, we found the knockout phase over the past week a bit of a letdown. Well, until the 2nd semifinal match on Thursday.

(This was originally going to be a wrapup of the quarters and semis, but got long enough with just the quarters. See here for some thoughts on the semifinals.)

The quarterfinals were all one-sided, at least in terms of possession and chances created. Indeed, they fell into the Manichean proactive/reactive divide that Jonathan Wilson identified early in the tournament, in a column about “the flaw of tiki-taka“:

A clear pattern has emerged from the first round of group games at Euro 2012. Holland against Denmark, Germany against Portugal, Spain against Italy, Ireland against Croatia, France against England, the first half of Poland against Greece: each have featured one proactive team taking the game to the opposition; one reactive team sitting deep with compact lines absorbing the pressure, trying to restrict the opposition and looking to score either from counter-attacks or set-plays.

That was also the pattern that emerged in the quarterfinal games: Portugal proactive against a reactive Czech Republic, Germany against Greece, Spain against France, and Italy against England.

But of the proactives, only Germany was able to finish their chances, lighting up Greece for 4 goals (reinforcing the then-growing conventional wisdom that der Nationalmannschaft were the clear favorites to win the whole thing).

The only drama in the first quarterfinal, a week ago Thursday, was waiting to see if Cristiano Ronaldo would finally score, which he finally did with an admittedly spectacular header late in the game (reinforcing the then-growing sense that just maybe he could carry them to the final).

Last Saturday night in Donetsk, Spain unlocked the l’autobus the French had garé, scoring an early goal, and then spent the 70 minutes playing the recently much-maligned tiki-taka, before adding a late PK score (oddly, Xabi Alonso scored both goals, in what was his 100th cap).

In the last quarterfinal match, Sunday in Kyiv, Italy bossed the match (especially the much-praised deep-lying midfield capo Andrea Pirlo), but Gli Azzurri  couldn’t find their way to a finish against Roy Hodgson’s English bus.  It was scoreless through 120 minutes, all the way to penalties, which at least made for a tense end to the quarterfinals–a shootout that will be remembered for Pirlo’s audacious Panenka.

From Daniel Taylor’s writeup in the Guardian:

Italy had 815 passes compared with England’s 320. The shot count was 35-9. Italy had 20 on target, one more than England managed in their four games. Andrea Pirlo put together more passes, 117, than England’s entire midfield quartet of Gerrard, Milner, Scott Parker and Ashley Young.

It was a peacock-like spreading of Pirlo’s feathers. What a player he is and what a moment when he ambled forward for his penalty and popped the ball into the back of the net. Hart had tried everything to put off Italy’s penalty-takers. He eyeballed them. He stuck out his tongue, pulled faces, made silly noises. He did everything but drop his shorts and squirt water from a flower. Pirlo talked afterwards of deliberately setting out to bring him down a peg or two. So he went for the Panenka chip, named in honour of Antonin Panenka’s decisive penalty for Czechoslovakia against West Germany in the 1976 final. Of all the moments that encapsulated Sunday’s quarter-final, it was this: the man in the England shirt acting the fool while the serial champion put him in his place and the rest of the football world sniggered behind their hands.

(Emphasis added, with a h/t to the English friend of ours who copied and pasted that last sentence to facebook midweek, prefaced with: “I know its ancient history now, but this sums up England’s lack of a game today.”)

The details of the quarterfinal results, with links to’s match reports/facts:

21 June 2012
Czech Republic Czech Republic 0-1 Portugal Portugal
Referee: Howard Webb (ENG) – Stadium: National Stadium Warsaw, Warsaw (POL)

22 June 2012
Germany Germany 4-2 Greece Greece
Referee: Damir Skomina (SVN) – Stadium: Arena Gdansk, Gdansk (POL)

23 June 2012
Spain Spain 2-0 France France
Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (ITA) – Stadium: Donbass Arena, Donetsk (UKR)

24 June 2012
England England 0-0 Italy Italy
Italy win 4-2 on penalties
Referee: Pedro Proença (POR) – Stadium: Olympic Stadium, Kyiv (UKR)

Euro 2012PreviewSchedule

Euro 2012: Quarterfinals Fixtures

June 21, 2012 — by Suman


The group stage is behind us–60 goals in 24 matches over 12 days–and now the quarterfinals of Euro 2012 are upon us. Four matches in four days, starting with the first kicking off in a few hours.  Here are your fixtures, along with a link for each:


Thursday, 21 June 2012
Czech Republic Czech Republic Portugal Portugal
Referee: Howard Webb (ENG) – Stadium: National Stadium Warsaw, Warsaw (POL)
  • Zonal Marking’s Czech Republic v Portugal preview: “The key battle is likely to be down the left flank. This is Portugal’s biggest strength going forward – they have the goalscoring potential of Ronaldo coming inside, and the overlapping threat of Fabio Coentrao bombing down the outside. But this means they’re also weak defensively down that side: all four goals they’ve conceded have originated from that side of the pitch, and Ronaldo’s non-tracking against Denmark was a problem Paulo Bento should have resolved earlier. As it happens, the right has been the strongest area of the Czech side…”
Friday, 22 June 2012
Germany Germany Greece Greece
Referee: Damir Skomina (SVN) – Stadium: Arena Gdansk, Gdansk (POL)


Saturday, 23 June 2012
Spain Spain France France
Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (ITA) – Stadium: Donbass Arena, Donetsk (UKR)
  • Jonathan Wilson poses The Question: position or possession?: “The flaw of Spain’s tiki-taka is that a team can control possession or it can control position, but it can’t do both.”
Sunday, 24 June 2012
England England Italy Italy
Referee: Pedro Proença (POR) – Stadium: Olympic Stadium, Kyiv (UKR)

Euro 2012PreviewSchedule

Euro 2012 Matchday 12: Last Day of the Group Stage – Sweden-France & England-Ukraine

June 19, 2012 — by Suman3


We’ve nearly reached the end of the Group Stage. Two matches to go in Group D today: Sweden-France and England-Ukraine, which will determine the final two quarterfinalists. Already in the final eight: Czech Republic, Greece, Germany, Portugal, Spain, and Italy.

The latter two claimed first and second in Group C with tense victories yesterday. Spain beat upstart Croatia 1-0 off a 88′ tiki-taka type goal: Cesc Fábregas with a looping lofted ball over the defense to Andrés Iniesta, who was just barely onsides, and who then played a square ball to substitute Jesús Navas, allowing him to blast it home unopposed.  But there were tense moments for Spain before that–most memorably, Spanish captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas denying Croatia’s Ivan Rakitic when it was still scoreless.  It was a crucial save, since a Croatia win, combined with an Italy win, would have see Spain shockingly eliminated.  As it is, Croatia goes home, but they certainly impressed in this tournament.

Italy finally won a game, 2-0 over Ireland, though it was also a tight game. Mario Balotelli added a spectacular insurance goal in the 90′–after which he was spectacularly gagged by his teammate Leonardo Bonnucci.

On to Group D.  Sweden is out, so it’s France, England, or Ukraine for the final two spots in the last eight. France or England advance with at least a draw–hence, Ukraine need to win in order to advance.  I’ll be wearing my Shevchenko jersey and rooting for them to do so.

Today’s fixtures, current group standings, and scenario matrix:

19 June 2012
Sweden Sweden France France
Referee: Pedro Proença (POR) – Stadium: Olympic Stadium, Kyiv (UKR)
England England Ukraine Ukraine
Referee: Viktor Kassai (HUN) – Stadium: Donbass Arena, Donetsk (UKR)


Group D

Teams P W D L F A +/- Pts
France France 2 1 1 0 3 1 2 4
England England 2 1 1 0 4 3 1 4
Ukraine Ukraine 2 1 0 1 2 3 -1 3
Sweden Sweden 2 0 0 2 3 5 -2 0

Scenario matrix via wikipedia:

Sweden have been eliminated.

On the last match day (19 June) the teams advancing from this group (winner; runner-up) will be:

If: France win draw Sweden win
England win England and France1 England; France England; France
draw France; England France; England England; France
Ukraine win France; Ukraine Ukraine; France Ukraine; England or France2
  1. England win the group if either of the following (otherwise, France win the group)
    1. England’s winning margin is greater than France’s by at least 2 goals
    2. England’s winning margin is greater by 1 goal and France do not score at least 2 goals more than England
  2. England are runner-up if either of the following (otherwise, France are runner-up)
    1. England’s losing margin is less than France’s by at least 2 goals
    2. England’s losing margin is less by 1 goal and France do not score at least 2 goals more than England