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State of the Union: Arsenal, Polkraine

June 15, 2012 — by Rob Kirby3


The Arsenal won’t play a competitive match until August, but that’s no reason to cease obsessing and expounding upon the team. With two of our strikers, a few top wingers and midfielders, a couple central defenders and a goalkeeper in Polkraine, we’re fielding a mostly full team. No fit right back or left back, but then that was the month of January. This is familiar territory.

As internationals enter the final round of the group stage matches of Euro 2012 on different teams, some have excelled in Poland and Ukraine, while others hide their heads as they make their way to the exit.

In Group A, Russia captain Andrey Arshavin, Czech Republic captain Tomas Rosicky and Poland first-choice goalie Wojciech Szczesny have been facing off in a tightly competitive, if comparatively weak, group.

Current Zenit St. Petersburg loanee Arshavin has had a great Euro comeback, putting in some of his best performances since Euro 2008, with three assists thus far. Whether it derives from finally playing in his preferred position behind the striker or whether he simply feels happier and more comfortable captaining a side of his countrymen is unknowable, but Russia currently sit atop Group A and look poised to go through to the knockouts. A victory or draw against Greece would seal it, but a late game counterattack from the notoriously difficult, itinerantly attacking  Hellenic defense could scupper Russian hopes. Arshavin can help ensure that does not happen. He still has moments of listless apathy, such as the second half against Poland, and would never dream of tracking back, but the mercurial Little Tsar still shows the moments of genius that made Arsenal fans so excited to sign him in January 2009.

Finally fit and in form again after so long, Rosicky unfortunately suffered an Achilles issue in the second match of the group stage and looks out for the count no matter what happens in the final match against Poland. Hopefully he can recover in time for the new season, but few players shake off Achilles problems without long layoffs. But having spent abundant time at adjoining physio tables with fellow rehab regular Thomas Vermaelen, he probably already knows this all too well. Sadly for Tomas, his tournament is likely over.

Wojciech Szczesny got sent off in the opening match of the tournament for a clumsy penalty but returns for the winner-takes-all match against the Czech Republic, in a bid to salvage his rep on home soil and help Poland progress to the quarterfinals, after missing the draw against Russia from suspension. From a purely selfish, club-centric point of view, hopefully he can put in a good showing even if cohost Poland ultimately fails, so that no psychological hangover haunts the big keeper in the Arsenal campaign ahead. Sadly for club and country backup Lukasz Fabianski, even with Szczesny out of the picture an injury keeps him from getting his big moment on the home stage, especially as he actively seeks pastures new and desperately needs the visibility. You can’t help but feel a bit bad for the guy. Until you remember why he got bumped down to number two and get your blood pressure up all over again. And bay wolfishly for his blood.

In the Group B group of death, Arsenal captain Robin van Persie, Arsenal headache Nicklas Bendtner and new signing Lukas Podolski have been facing off, while the recovering Per Mertesacker (ankle) has looked on from his seat on the uncomfortable Teutonic bench.

Nicklas Bendtner, a.k.a. the Great Dane, a.k.a. the best striker in the history of scoring goals, had a mostly anonymous match in the surprise victory over Holland but then clawed and headed Denmark even with Portugal on Wednesday with a handy brace before the Portuguese snatched the crucial late goal. If last year’s Sunderland loanee can put in an impressive shift against Germany in the final match of the group, all while resisting the urge to drop trou for illicit underwear advertising, the ultra-arrogant wantaway forward will have made good use of his time in the shop window. Furthermore, Denmark may just eke through to the knockout stages. But then Lukas, Per and the rest of the German horde won’t make it easy for them, unless Die Mannschaft willingly and shadily go for a draw to shaft the Dutch and ensure their bitter rivals’ exit. Murky sportsmanship terrain. Of course, revisiting the issue of Bendtner and the shop window, buyer beware. His Royal Car Crashingness plays outstandingly well for country (20 goals in 50 appearances), less so for club (22 in 99 league matches).

By contrast, Robin van Persie had been on fire for for both club and country in 2011 and 2012, although new eyes watching the Oranje going into what might be the country’s final match of this Euros could be forgiven for not knowing it. That said, van Persie managed a fantastic right-footed, chocolate-legged consolation goal in the crunch match against Germany, but not enough for the Netherlands to take any points from the encounter. With Holland sitting bottom of the table in the Quartet of Death with zero points, the future doesn’t look especially rosy. Perhaps the national team’s collapse could be Arsenal’s gain, though. In an ideal world, RvP returns to preseason well rested and ready to sign on the dotted line of contract extension. A backlash from the Dutch (and world) media may just make him appreciate the loyalty Arsene Wenger and the club have showed him over his many injury-plagued seasons. One can hope.

Arsenal new boy Podolski has played well for Germany, even if he has not scored. The former Cologne striker has put in excellent performances for Germany the last two World Cups and in the 2008 installment of the Euros, so with Germany unlikely to exit anytime soon, he’s got time. Perhaps he’s just pacing himself. He has scored 43 goals in 99 appearances for Germany, so a betting man would say he’s got goals in him, yet.

National teammate Mertesacker won the fitness race for the bench, but has yet to feature in either of the German victories in the group. As disappointing as benchwarming may be, one must remember he went off at Sunderland with an ankle ligament injury last February, an injury that kept him out for the remainder of the season. The fact that he has not suffered any new niggles or problems in training bodes well for the new season, and the veteran center half may yet have a role to play, as many expect the Germans to go the distance this summer.

Group C features no current Arsenal players–only the ones that got away, like former captain Cesc Fabregas (the hurt, it still hurts so much…) and Eduardo, the awesome but tragically leg-shattered Croazilian.

And in Group D, we’re back in traditional Arsenal territory. The group does, after all, include France (and England). But as opposed to past years where the French contingent drew from an overabundance of Arsenal riches, Laurent Koscielny alone keeps the flames alive for injured compatriots Bacary Sagna (leg) and Abou Diaby (bones on self-destruct)–and only from the bench, at that. Meanwhile, England flanking speedsters Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain pace it up on the English attack, though the elder young’un came on only as a super sub against France.

Oxlade-Chamberlain, in particular, has made huge strides in his adaptation to international competition, especially in his tournament debut against France at the Shakhtar Donetsk home stadium. He seemed unfazed by the moment and never got pushed around by the French. Late sub Theo, however, never even touched the ball in his one-minute cameo on the pitch. Hodgson clearly rated the teen higher than his precursor.

But then came Friday and the England/Sweden match. England went up after Andy Carroll shocked the world and forgot to blow it. Then England went down 2-1, Hodgson signaled for a substitutio,n and who should pull them level but fresh supersub Walcott, his first goal for England since the hat trick against Croatia in 2008? And then who would dribble, charge deep into the box and deliver the powerful cross to the flukey rebounding backheel of Danny Welbeck that killed off the game and looks to have sent England to the quarters? None other than the original Speedy 1.0 himself. Oxlade-Chamberlain (the 2.0) came on in the 90th minute, but Theo authoritatively made his case for both club and country with his second half display, all the more important as the race for Arsenal wing positions heats up between the two Southampton graduates, especially if Podolski lines up on the left wing at season’s start, as expected. (Obviously all depends on the $64.44 million dollar question of RvP’s presence/absence.)

As for possible Arsenal recruits, Yann M’Vila and Oliver Giroud of France seem good prospects, even if neither has really had a chance to fully shine at the tournament, though for different reasons (knee, former; Karim Benzema, latter). Each played about 20 minutes in the match against Ukraine on Friday. And Samir Nasri showed that he’s still good, if still despicable and utterly devoid of any gratitude to his former team or coach. Open letter to Emmanuel Frimpong: at your earliest convenience, please tweet, “If hating weak chins is wrong, I don’t want to be right.” Or just hand that punk a pimpslap beatdown. Word, Dench.

Wayne Rooney is now eligible to rejoin the starting XI of the English squad, but Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain have deputized well in the meantime and kept the English firmly in the competition under Roy Hodgson’s tightly structured defensive regiment. Rooney could catapult the team to the knockouts, but that is far from the point here. The Euros is a way to see Arsenal players in new and different rescramblings, not about hyping players from Manchester United, no matter how hair-transplanted or talented. Any such trains of thought are hugely and boringly off-topic. And to the extent that they do register, hugely irritating.

Stay tuned for the next installment of The State of the Union: Arsenal, Polkraine. May an Arsenal player be hoisting the trophy two weeks hence.

Euro 2012EuropePreview

Kicking Off Euro 2012, Part 4: Where To Go For Ongoing Coverage

June 8, 2012 — by Suman2


Part 4 of our Kicking Off Euro 2012 series: where to go for ongoing coverage over the next few weeks. We’ll try to be posting, but here’s where we’ll be going ourselves to keep up with the tournament:

Guardian Football: Our primary source for football news. Still anglocentric in its top headlines and most-read articles, but probably the least so of the English papers, Go directly to their Euro 2012 section (but also see below for a more detailed guide to their coverage).

ZonalMarking: The other site we’ll be visiting daily–the tactics blog run by Michael Cox, who also contributes columns to the Guardian.  He’s already posted team-by-team previews in his Euro2012 section, and will no doubt be posting match analyses daily.

If somehow we’re still hankering for additional commentary, we might drop in on the Euro blogs of FourFourTwo or In Bed With Maradona. We’ll probably call up and on occasion. And lately we’ve been reading a lot of Grantland–encouraged to see there are two preview pieces up.  Though neither are by Grantland contributor Brian Philips, who is one of our must-read football writers, and who also oversees the infrequently updated Run of Play–so we’ll also be looking for commentary from him and on there (or lacking those, certainly via his twitter).

But more on the Guardian and their Euro 2012 coverage.  They’ve got their usual stable of excellent columnists covering the tourney–we’ll be looking in particular for commentary from Sid Lowe commentary on Spain; Rafael Honigstein on Germany; Michael Cox on tactics; Barney Ronay on the absurd; and Jonathan Wilson on historical, tactical, and Eastern European analysis and arcana.

No doubt those guys will be among James Richardson’s guests on the pod. During the season, it’s Football Weekly, which we listen to religiously twice-weekly. But for Euros they go into hyperdrive and morph into “Euro 2012 Football DAILY”; that’s right, a daily dose of the pod.

The pod lands daily for the next three weeks!

In addition to their usual contributors, the Guardian has assembled an “Experts Network” for the tournament (“A unique collaboration with media outlets from around Europe bringing a local flavour and expertise to coverage of Euro 2012 on”)–see Part 2 of Euro 2012 gear-up for links to the resulting team-by-team previews.

There will be plenty of their idiosyncratic liveblogs (often penned, we hope, by Barry Glendenning)–not only for every match, but also a daily liveblog for the tournament news:

You will be able to follow live minute-by-minute coverage of every game in Poland and Ukraine, while we will also have a live blog every day throughout the tournament as well. Our writers will be on hand with updates, both here, on our Twitter interactive and on daily live webchats every lunchtime.

As our ever, we welcome and look forward to your thoughts, comments, accusations of lazy journalism and bias both on Twitter and in the comments section below the line. If there’s a better way of whiling away the working day that doesn’t involve breaking the law, we certainly can’t think of one.

The Twitter interactive is something we just came across: an interactive map, showing what and where their writers’ are tweeting. You can even filter by venue, group, or team:


Guardian Football's interactive Euro 2012 twitter map


Euro 2012EuropePreviewSchedule

Kicking Off Euro 2012, Part 1: Calendars & Fixtures

June 8, 2012 — by Suman4


Part 1 of our Kicking Off Euro 2012 series: a couple nice interactive calendars–and below them, the full fixture list:

  • Actually, first off, for us US viewers, here is ESPN’s fixture list along with details of their television coverage.  The majority of matches are on ESPN, with a handful on ESPN2–and all of them will be available for streaming on! (Which is great not only for those of us without cable, but also because it means all the matches should be archived for replay after the fact–particularly helpful since kickoff times are 12pmET and 2:45pmET.)
  • Ok, on to the fancy interactive calendars.’s “tournament map” might seem  a bit dense at first glance, but that’s because there’s a lot of information there–it nicely gives you all the groups and fixtures in one view:'s Euro 2012 "Tournament Map" (click for larger image)


Click on the image above for a better view, but better to click thru for the interactive version on UEFA’s site–rolling over a given group, team, date or venue highlights those particular matches. Even better: clicking on a particular group, team, fixture or venue brings up a pop-up box with details and links to the rest of UEFA’s copious Euro 2012 coverage.  We’ll likely have this tournament map open in our browser the rest of the month.

(Some notes on the design: it’s a 2D matrix with dates across the top, groups/teams on the LHS, and venues on the RHS. Which highlights the rational design of the tournament: each group plays its matches in just two venues, and the group stage fixtures rotate through the four groups in order: first two Group A matches on the June 8, then Group B on June 9, Group C on June 10, Group D on June 11; then the second set of group matches (Groups A-D on June 12-15, respectively) and the third and final set of group matches (Groups A-D on June 16-19, respectively)).

  • As they did for World Cup 2010, has produced a beautiful and elliptical interactive calendar for Euro2012.  You can again view fixtures by team, date, group or venue, by rolling over the points on the inner perimeter.  It’s available in English or Spanish—and conveniently you can set your timezone for kickoff times.  By rolling over the segments in the outer perimeter, you can also bring up a map Poland and Ukraine with the venues, or a map of Europe with the competing nations:'s elliptical Calendario


Finally, here’s the full fixture list:

Friday, June 8
Warsaw, Group A: Poland v Greece (12pmET)
Wroclaw, Group A: Russia v Czech Republic (2:45pmET)

Saturday, June 9
Kharkiv, Group B: Holland v Denmark (12pmET)
Lviv, Group B: Germany v Portugal (2:45pmET)

Sunday, June 10
Gdansk, Group C: Spain v Italy (12pmET)
Poznan, Group C: Republic of Ireland v Croatia (2:45pmET)

Monday, June 11
Donetsk, Group D: France v England (12pmET)
Kiev, Group D: Ukraine v Sweden (2:45pmET)

Tuesday, June 12
Wroclaw, Group A: Greece v Czech Republic (12pmET)
Warsaw, Group A: Poland v Russia (2:45pmET)

Wednesday, June 13
Lviv, Group B: Denmark v Portugal (12pmET)
Kharkiv, Group B: Holland v Germany (2:45pmET)

Thursday, June 14
Poznan, Group C: Italy v Croatia (12pmET)
Gdansk, Group C: Spain v Republic of Ireland (2:45pmET)

Friday, June 15
Kiev, Group D: Sweden v England (12pmET)
Donetsk, Group D: Ukraine v France (2:45pmET)

Saturday, June 16
Wroclaw, Group A: Czech Republic v Poland (2:45pmET)
Warsaw, Group A: Greece v Russia (2:45pmET)

Sunday, June 17
Kharkiv, Group B: Portugal v Holland (2:45pmET)
Lviv, Group B: Denmark v Germany (2:45pmET)

Monday, June 18
Gdansk, Group C: Croatia v Spain (2:45pmET)
Poznan, Group C: Italy v Republic of Ireland (2:45pmET)

Tuesday, June 19
Donetsk, Group D: England v Ukraine (2:45pmET)
Kiev, Group D: Sweden v France (2:45pmET)


Thursday, June 21
QF1: Warsaw: Winner A v Runner-up B (2:45pmET)

Friday, June 22
QF2: Gdansk: Winner B v Runner-up A (2:45pmET)

Saturday, June 23
QF3: Donetsk: Winner C v Runner-up D (2:45pmET)

Sunday, June 24
QF4: Kiev: Winner D v Runner-up C (2:45pmET)


Wednesday, June 27
SF1: Donetsk: Winner QF1 v Winner QF3 (2:45pmET)

Thursday, June 28
SF2: Warsaw: Winner QF2 v Winner QF4 (2:45pmET)

Sunday, July 1
Kiev: Winner SF1 v Winner SF2 (2:45pmET)


Europa League Final Preview: The Basque Lions vs The Madrid Mattress Makers

May 9, 2012 — by Suman


The UEFA Europa League final is upon us. It’s an all-Spanish match later today, with Atlético Madrid vs Athletic Bilbao facing off at the National Arena in Bucharest.  It’s a late kickoff in Romania: 9:45pm EEST, which corresponds to the usual 2:45pmET/11:45amPT for those of in the US.

(Athletic Bilbao’s nickname is Los Leones, while Atlético is known as Los Colchoneros–The Mattress Makers.  Hence the headline.)

See here for a quick overview of the road these two clubs took the final, and see’s match centre here for previews, feature articles, lineups, stats, etc.  From UEFA’s match backgrounder:

This term Athletic won their home Liga fixture 3-0 in October with the help of two Fernando Llorente goals [a match report here], but a Falcao double consigned them to a 2-1 loss at the Vicente Calderón in March [a match report here].

We previously wrote about Athletic Bilbao initially in November (here), ahead of their home match against Barcelona. We focused there on the interesting relationship between Athletic Bilbao’s manager Marcelo Bielsa and Pep Guardiola. (The two who will meet again in a couple weeks, when Barcelona and Athletic meet in this season’s Copa del Rey fnal. It will be Guardiola’s last match managing Barcelona. Coincidentally that match will take place at the Vicente Calderon, Atlético’s home ground.)

Bielsa and Atlético’s manager Diego Simeone also know each other very well:

Bielsa was Simeone’s coach with Argentina between 1998 and 2002. Both were involved in Argentina’s 2002 FIFA World Cup campaign, where they failed to progress beyond the group stage. Simeone made the last of his 106 international appearances under Bielsa in Sapporo, in a 1-0 defeat by England on 7 June.

Simeone was also celebrated player for Atlético, spending two stints playing in Madrid (1993-1997 and 2003-2005), and his return to the club mid-season as manager has been a very successful one, at least in terms of results. In addition to guiding the club to this European final, Atlético is still in contention for a Champions League spot.  See here for excerpts from a Sid Lowe column about the return of El Cholo to Atlético.

Regarding the squads, here are some players to watch:

Athletic Bilbao: Fernando Llorente up front, at “la punta” of the attack, a player who has won 19 caps playing for Spain (including an appearance in South Africa for the World Cup-winning side); speedy and skilled 18-year-old Iker Muniain, who plays in an attacking midfield role, often out wide; behind them 23-year old Javi Martínez, formerly a central midfielder who Bielsa has moved back into central defense; and right back Andoni Iraola.

Atlético Madrid: Colombian striker Falcao is the primary goal-scoring threat, although young Spanish winger Adrián López has also been scoring in Europa matches; behind them look for Brazilian midfield playmaker Diego.

It’s worth listening to this week’s Guardian podcast. After the discussion of Newcastle-City (and Arsenal’s woes), and Sid Lowe discussing Granada-Real Madrid, he previews today’s match (and afterwards James Richardson and Paolo Bandini discuss the Milan derby and Juve’s scudetto).


Three Is the Magic Number (The Arsenal Represent, Represent Remix)

April 26, 2012 — by Rob Kirby2


Three matches remain, and in light of Chelsea’s spot in the Champions League final, third place has now become crucial for ensuring a spot for Arsenal in next year’s competition. If the Blues win the European Cup, third will no longer guarantee an automatic group stage spot, but if the qualifying round is what’s available, we need to grab the opportunity with both hands. Considering the season the team have had, it’s still a tremendous achievement.

Newcastle’s breathing down Arsenal’s neck in a run of supremely good form, a rejuvenated Chelsea still has an outside chance of getting into the top 4 on league merits (imagine that) and though Tottenham has been tailspinning out of control, they are more than capable of righting that ship/plane and ending strong.

If Arsenal should fail in the pursuit of third but still get fourth, the wait between the league finale on May 13 and the Champions League final in Munich on May 19 will be excruciating. For once, let’s not put ourselves through that particular ringer. One would hope Chelsea loses anyways, but I would hate for them to control our chances for being in the competition.

Speaking of the evil not-those-kind-of-players moneybags, it seems forever ago but there was the small matter of a London derby with Chelsea a week ago. The 0-0 draw may have been a bit of a snoozefest, but a point against Chelsea is never a bad result, even if they essentially put out their second string. And they obviously made the correct tactical decision, one that set themselves up for the dreaded but impressive aggregate victory over Barcelona. Perhaps we should have done better against their second string, but no use crying about it now.

At the end of the day, Arsenal controls its own destiny. Win all three matches and third goes to the Gunners, end of story. Fail to do so and we must rely on Tottenham to slip up again and for Newcastle to drop points against one or more of Manchester City, Chelsea, Everton and Wigan. If we can’t do the business and our rivals can win all their matches then, well, they deserve it. As would Chelsea if they best Bayern Munich in the Champions League finals. But I really don’t want us to have to be gracious losers.

On paper, matchups against Stoke, West Brom and Norwich do not present insurmountable feats, but then again we have an abysmal record against bottom-of-the-table teams. And Stoke is not a lowly team, although their mouth-breathing knuckledraggingness sometimes fools one into assuming so.

PFA Footballer of the Year, Robin van Persie, the only forward in the top-flight to have featured in every league game this season, is exhausted. Hopefully, however, he can marshal his not inconsiderable fight and skill to push us over the line. And then he’ll want to stay and we’ll sign some incredible support players and the future will be so bright we’ll want to blind ourselves because we can’t handle the truth of that future and the unbridled happiness it brings.

First step: Stoke away. Sure, it hasn’t in recent times worked out so well for the London boys but no time like the present to start a new trend of relentless domination. Recommendation for the day: Shawcross the Shawcrossers and let’s kick some Pulisian ass. Simple, really. (To clarify, I don’t want us to break any legs. Simply to destroy them, set the pitch ablaze and then apply a liberal layer of salt on top, Carthage-style.)

Come on you Gunners!


An All-Iberian Europa Final Four

April 6, 2012 — by Suman


Yes, we’re eagerly looking forward to the big-name UEFA Champions League semifinal ties–but don’t overlook UEFA’s other final four. (Indeed, as Zonal_Marking wrote for ESPN today, the Europa League deserves more respect.) Given our growing interest in La Liga beyond the Big Two, yesterday’s quarterfinal results make for an especially interesting Europa League run-in: Athletic Bilbao, Atlético Madrid, Valencia, and Sporting Clube de Portugal advanced to the semifinals, setting up an all-Iberian set of semifinal ties:

1st legs on Thursday April 19:  Atlético Madrid-Valencia & Sporting CP-Athletic Bilbao

2nd legs a week later, Thursday April 26: Valencia-Atlético Madrid & Athletic Bilbao-Atlético Madrid

As we wrote earlier in the week, the Athletic Bilbao-Schalke tie was the only was that was pretty much wrapped up after the 1st leg, with Athletic’s 4-2 win in Germany. But the return leg at the legendary San Mames turned out to be a match worth watching (not that we did, unfortunately). It was a game of tit-for-tat: Dutch marksman Klaus-Jan Huntelaar  scored, pulling Schalke to within one goal on aggregate–but then Athletic equalized shortly 4 minutes later. And then it happened a second time: Raul scored yet another European goal, but Athletic equalized 3 minutes later.  So Athletic wins another tie in convincing fashion, by an aggregate of 6-4.  They have to be considered the favorites to win the whole thing, given how much energy they bring to their Europa fixtures.

The other three ties had 2-1 scorelines for the home team in their first legs: Atletico, AZ Alkmaar, and Sporting CP were leading Hannover, Valencia, and Metallist Kharkiv, respectively.

The match at the Mestalla was one we thought might be worth watching–and it was, in some sense, as Valencia quickly and convincingly turned the tie around. They were up 2-0 by 22′–both goals suprisingly by French international center back Adil Rami, off assists from the impressive Algerian youngster Sofiane Feghouli and the always dangerous Roberto Soldado. They added 2 more scores in the 2nd half–Spanish international wingback Jordi Alba scored one, and Pablo Hernandez added the final goal. The 4-0 win gave them a 5-2 win on aggregate.

The other two ties came down to the final minutes. Sporting CP held on for a 1-1 draw in far eastern Ukraine, eliminating Metallist. And in Hannover, Falcao scored a fantastic late goal to seal the deal for Atlético. Via twitter at approx 5pmET:



If You’re Going To Watch One Primeira Liga Match All Season…

March 2, 2012 — by Suman1


…make it O Clássico, “arguably the most important match in Portuguese football,” kicking off later today at the Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica (aka the Estádio da Luz):

SL Benfica vs. FC Porto, 3:15pmET (available via in the US; see here for other TV listings)

Not only is it a classic and heated Portugese rivalry, the two clubs are currently battling it out at the top of the Primeira Liga table–even on points with identical records, with Porto ahead on goal differential.

Here’s what the top of the table looks like:

Team Pld W D L F A Diff Pts
1 FC Porto 20 15 4 1 47 13 34 49
2 Benfica 20 15 4 1 47 16 31 49
3 SC Braga 20 14 4 2 42 16 26 46
4 Sporting CP 20 11 5 4 31 16 15 38
5 Marítimo 20 11 5 4 30 22 8 38

We have to admit, we’re not close observers of Portuguese domestic football, and hence the only times we’ve seen either of these clubs play has been when Porto has played in the Europa league, last season en route to their title in that competition, and over the past few weeks when they were eliminated by Manchester City.

Actually, here is what we wrote last spring, ahead of Porto’s victory of Sporting Braga in the Europa League final:

They’ve had a remarkable season: they won the Liga Sagres going away, going undefeated in the process (27 wins, 3 draws, 0 losses).  They were also undefeated in their Europa League group, and marched through the knockout phase, beating a couple Spanish and a couple Moscow clubs along the way: Sevilla, CSKA Moscow, Spartak Moscow, Villareal.  (Braga dropped down from the Champions League after finishing third in their group behind Shakhtar Donetsk and Arsenal, although they did defeat Arsenal 2-1 at home in November. In the Europa knockout phase, they beat Polish Lech Poznan, before upsetting Liverpool, then Dynamo Kyiv and finally another Portuguese power, Benfica, in the semis.)

For today’s match, keep your eye on the handful of rising stars on their squad, quite a few of whom are South American: the Brazilians Fernando and Hulk (yes, the Hulk); Colombians Falcao and James Rodríguez; Argentine midfielders Fernando Belluschi and Nicolás Otamendi; Uruguayan defenders Fucile and Álvaro Pereira. They also have a few Portuguese internationals (midfielder João Moutinho, winger Silvestre Varela, the Cape Verdean-born defender Rolando).

All of those players are still with the squad, with one big exception–striker Falcao was sold over the summer to Atletico Madrid.

For reference, here’s Porto’s current squad:

No. Position Player
1 Brazil GK Helton
2 Brazil DF Danilo
4 Brazil DF Maicon
5 Uruguay DF Álvaro Pereira
6 Colombia MF Fredy Guarín
7 Argentina MF Fernando Belluschi
8 Portugal MF João Moutinho
10 Uruguay MF Cristian Rodríguez
11 Brazil FW Kléber
12 Brazil FW Hulk (captain)
13 Uruguay DF Jorge Fucile
14 Portugal DF Rolando
15 Portugal DF Emídio Rafael
17 Portugal FW Silvestre Varela
No. Position Player
18 Brazil FW Walter
19 Colombia FW James Rodríguez
20 Angola FW Djalma
21 Romania DF Cristian Săpunaru
22 France DF Eliaquim Mangala
23 Brazil MF Souza
25 Brazil MF Fernando
26 Brazil DF Alex Sandro
27 Argentina FW Juan Manuel Iturbe
30 Argentina DF Nicolás Otamendi
31 Brazil GK Rafael Bracalli
35 Belgium MF Steven Defour

And Benfica’s:

No. Position Player
1 Brazil GK Artur
3 Brazil DF Emerson
4 Brazil DF Luisão (captain)
6 Spain MF Javi García
7 Paraguay FW Óscar Cardozo
8 Brazil FW Bruno César
9 Spain FW Nolito
10 Argentina MF Pablo Aimar (vice-captain)
12 Portugal FW Yannick Djaló
14 Uruguay DF Maxi Pereira
16 Portugal FW Nélson Oliveira
19 Spain FW Rodrigo
20 Argentina MF Nicolás Gaitán
No. Position Player
21 Serbia MF Nemanja Matić
24 Argentina DF Ezequiel Garay
27 Portugal DF Miguel Vítor
28 Belgium MF Axel Witsel
30 Argentina FW Javier Saviola
33 Brazil DF Jardel
34 Portugal DF André Almeida
36 Portugal DF Luís Martins
37 Portugal MF Rúben Pinto
38 Spain DF Joan Capdevila
39 Portugal GK Mika
47 Portugal GK Eduardo (on loan from Genoa)


What To Watch Among All These International Friendlies Today

February 29, 2012 — by Suman


It’s yet another FIFA day of international friendlies today.  The ones involving European teams are getting more interesting, as we’re just a handful of months away from Euro2012 kicking off in Poland/Ukraine, and hence managers are starting to sort out their squads.

Given that, here are a handful of matches that might actually be worth watching (all times ET, with US TV/streaming info via WaPo’s SoccerInsider):

Switzerland vs. Argentina: 2:30pmET, GolTV

Italy vs. USA: 2:30pmET, ESPN2, Galavision,

Germany vs. France: 2:45pmET, (tape at 6 p.m. on ESPN Deportes)

England vs. Netherlands: 3pmET, Fox Soccer Channel, Fox Deportes

Spain vs. Venezuela 3:30pmET, ESPN Deportes,

Here are some reasons why these matches:

Switzerland vs. Argentina: We got interested in the Swiss squad last week–in particular that they’ve got a contingent of ethnic Albanian kids born in Kosovo around the time Yugoslavia was slipping into civil war.  We came across this from watching first Napoli–who have not only Swiss captain Gökhan İnler (born in Switzerland to Turkish immigrants) but also Blerim Džemaili (born in Macedonia to Albanian parents)–and then Basel (Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri) in the Champs League last week.

Plus it’s Argentina. Not only Messi, but also Mascherano (also Barcelona), Gago and Lamela (both Roma), Kun Aguero (Man City), and Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid). Though apparently Angel di Maria (also Real Madrid), Javier Pastore (PSG), and Ever Banega (Valencia) are not in the squad this time–the latter because he broke his ankle last week in an “automobile mishap“–he forgot to set the handbrake on his car while filling up with gas.

England-Netherlands: Can’t way we’re all that interested in the England squad (as usual, the English press is hyperventilating about things like who caretaker manager Stuart Pearce has named captain). We’re more interested to see who Holland plays, as a guide to who Bert Marwijk will take to Poland/Ukraine this summer (where his side should be 3rd favorites, behind Germany and of course defending world and Euro champions Spain). In the midfield, will Marwijk stick with the experience and pragmatism of de Jong, van Bommel and Sneijder (although the latter has been struggling with Inter, to the extent that Mr Zonal Marking recently wrote a column for ESPN titled “What’s wrong with Wesley Sneijder?“).  Or will he give younger, more dynamic midfielders like Kevin Strootman, Georgino Wijnaldum (both PSV) and Urby Emanuelson (who’s impressed lately playing for Milan) a chance?  He has plenty of big-name experienced options up front: Dirk Kuyt, Klaus Huntelaar, Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie.  From a column about the Oranje in today’s Guardian:

Van Marwijk’s successful route to Poland and Ukraine was founded on the firepower of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (12 in eight games), Van Persie (six in six), Dirk Kuyt (six in nine), Ibrahim Afellay (three in six) and Sneijder (three in eight).

It’s a real shame Affelay tore his ACL back in September, getting ready for his first full campaign with Barcelona (after joining them from PSV last January.)  The good news is that he recently resumed training, with the possibility that he may yet appear for Barcelona this spring, and hence receive consideration for the trip to Poland/Ukraine.

The more experienced strikers above are joined on this squad by three younger attacking guys that still play in Eredivisie: Luuk de JongOla John (both Twente), and Luciano Narsingh (Heereveen).

Italy-USA: Balotelli not chosen for Italy–in his place a 20yo kid named Fabio Borini, who’s currently playing for Roma (on loan from Parma?).  For the US, one headline we saw was that Klinsmann included yet another son of a US serviceman, who plays for Borussia Dortmund’s reserve squad.  See TheShinGuardian comprehensive match preview here.

Germany vs. France: Germany are co-favorites to emerge triumphant in Poland/Ukraine this summer.  In fact, some observers think that on recent form they’ve actually nudged ahead of Spain.  The lineup is stacked with young dynamic talent.  Of course there’s a large contingent of Bayern Munich players (Manuel Neuer, Jérôme BoatengThomas Müller, Toni Kroos), even though usual captain Phillip Lahm is apparently sitting this one out.  And there’s the two players that have moved to Madrid, Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira.  In fact, those two and Miroslav Klose are the only three on today’s squad that play outside the Bundesliga.  We’re interested in seeing some of those young players, who play outside of Munich: up and coming star Marco Reus (Borussia Mönchengladbach); Marcel Schmelzer and Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund); André Schürrle and Lars Bender (Bayer Leverkeusen).  It’s a shame Borussia Dortmund’s Mario Götze is still out with a pelvic injury–hopefully we’ll see him in action this spring (as Dortmund looks to hold off Bayern to repeat as Bundesliga champions) and summer.

We threw in Spain-Venezuela only b/c we’re interested in seeing who Spain plays–beyond the usual suspects. Headlines in the English press last week were that Torres didn’t make the cut for this one (and hence looking unlikely for Euros this summer), but it’s interesting to see that it was not only Soldado that got picked up front, but also this kid Iker Munian (19yo) that plays for Athletic Bilbao. In fact, Athletic has as many players in the squad as Real Madrid (4 apiece)–and no Barcelona or Madrid players among the strikers chosen. The squad:

Victor Valdes (Barcelona), José Manuel Reina (Liverpool), Iker Casillas (Real Madrid); Alvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid), Carles Puyol(Barcelona), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Andoni Iraola (Athletic Bilbao), Gerard Piqué (Barcelona), Jordi Alba (Valencia); Javi Martínez (Athletic Bilbao), Xavi (Barcelona), Andrés Iniesta(Barcelona), Cesc Fábregas (Barcelona), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid),Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Santi Cazorla (Malaga), Thiago Alcântara (Barcelona), David Silva (Manchester City), Jesús Navas(Sevilla); Fernando Llorente (Athletic Bilbao), Iker Muniain (Athletic Bilbao), Juan Mata (Chelsea), Alvaro Negredo (Sevilla), Roberto Soldado (Valencia)

Breakdown by club:
Barcelona: 8
Real Madrid: 4
Athletic Bilbao: 4
Valencia: 2
Sevilla: 2
Malaga: 1
Liverpool: 1
Chelsea: 1
Man City: 1

On the other side of the ball, note that Venezuela also features an Athletic Bilbao player (defender Fernando Amorebieta, who was born in Venezuela to Basque parents.  From A Football Report piece about Athletic Bilbao’s Basque-only policy:

Here’s the story with Amorebieta.  He was born in Venezuela in 1985.  His parents, however, were Basque, from a small town in Bizkaia called Iurreta.  They were in the Americas on business, and while in Venezuela, Fernando was born.  When he was two, the family moved back to Iurreta, and it would be another twenty years before Fernando returned to the country where he was born.  What makes Amorebieta able to play for Athletic is the fact that, despite being born in Venezuela, he comes from Basque parents and a Basque family, and he essentially grew up in the Basque Country.  Thus, Athletic had no issues with signing him in 1996 to play in the youth system despite not having been born in Spain.