Matches Today: Intra-Portuguese Europa League final, Copa Libertadores quarters

May 18, 2011 — by Suman1

We lamented a bit last week over the close of the (European) club season, with most of the big leagues decided (and after the weekend, France (Lille) and the Netherlands (Ajax) also crowning champions). So what else is a CultFootball fan to look to, aside from the upcoming Champions League final (10 days away!)?  Well, just today there are three tasty matches to watch.

First, there’s the Europa League final taking place in Dublin between two Liga Sagres sides–the nearly Invincible Porto against Sporting Braga.  And later in the day, two Copa Libertadores quarterfinal 2nd leg matches– Brazilians Santos hosts Colombian Once Caldas (Santos having won the 1st leg 1-0 on the road), and Paraguayan side Libertad hosts Argentine Vélez Sársfield in Asunción (Vélez Sársfield won the 1st leg 3-0 in Buenos Aires).

(US TV coverage is as follows: the Europa League final is at 2:15pm ET live on DirectTV and rebroadcast on GolTV in the evening. The Copa Libertadores matches will be on Fox Deportes.)

Regarding the Europa League final, here is the Guardian’s Sachin Nakrani intra-Portuguese

The first European final to be played between two teams situated less than 50km apart is noticeable for the sporting chasm that exists between them. Porto, two-times winners of the European Cup and 25-times winners of their domestic championship, face a club whose proudest moment in their 90-year history came last season, when they finished second in the Primeira Liga.

That changes in Dublin on Wednesday evening, however, as Braga look to defy the odds again and win their first European trophy (second if anyone is counting the 2008 Intertoto Cup). Few give them a chance against André Villas Boas’s rampant champions, but within a squad whose home ground is built in a quarry there is a belief that they can unearth a golden moment for themselves.

Not sure where Porto and Braga are located? Neither were we:

View Larger Map

Porto in particular is worth watching.  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.)

Another squad of Invincibles?

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).

"I'm a Special One!" "I'm Special Too!"

And of course there’s 33-year old first-year manager Andre Villas Boas–who everyone is hyping up as another Special One.

Here is the Guardian’s Dominic Fifield posting yesterday on Villas Boas:

His coaching career is not yet two years old but already his reputation precedes him. The domestic Primeira Liga title is his. This club’s first European trophy since 2004 and the Portuguese Cup could both have been hoisted by Sunday. These days he spends his time attempting to shrug off constant comparisons with Mourinho, the mentor under whom he cut his teeth but with whom he no longer speaks, and the links with Chelsea, Juventus and Roma which refuse to go away.

And here is Michael Cox (aka Mr ZonalMarking) contributing a column on Villas Boas to

The similarities are clear — like Mourinho, Villas Boas is young, Portuguese, had no professional playing career to speak of, and is making his name at Porto. He is effectively Mourinho’s protégé, having worked under him at Porto, Chelsea and Inter.

Of course, Cox blesses us with detailed tactical notes on Villas Boas’s squad:


Adebayor to Real Madrid (& a Map of 18th Century Gold Coast of Africa)

January 26, 2011 — by Sean

Ex-Togo international Emmanuel Adebayor has completed his move from the stands of the Eastlands to a place on the pitch at the Bernabéu. It’s no shock that he was destined to make a move in this transfer window, seeing as he’d fallen to fifth in the Man City striker pecking order (behind even Jo, of all people). His training ground fight with Kolo Toure at the start of the month was an obvious indication of his frustration (though the two have apparently been at each other in some manner since their time together at Arsenal). How well will he do in Madrid? Considering he’s joining a coach who consistently gets the best out of his players, we imagine he’ll be back on top of his game in no time. It won’t hurt to be removed from the antagonistic relationship with Toure.

Abdebayor and Toure training ground skirmish

When their fight first happened, and it was revealed that theirs was a longstanding animosity, we thought perhaps the issues ran deeper than the training ground, and perhaps even so deep as national pride. Toure is Ivorian, while Adebayor is Togolese, but the countries are separated by Ghana, and don’t seem to have had much interaction in the way of modern conflict. Knowing as we do about language traits of natural-born Africans (the population generally knows a minimum of three languages: a European/colonial language (usually german/english/french in the west), an African language (often within the Niger-Congo language group, again in the west), and a very refined tribal language. Toure is Mandinka, a very large and old ethnic group that doesn’t extend into Togo. We’re uncertain of Adebayor’s tribal associations, but we’re pretty confident he’s not Mandinka. It’s not a stretch to think there’s been some baiting going on based on tribal stereotyping.

Further on this, let’s take a look at an 18th century European-made map of the Gold Coast (that includes tribal divisions, to some degree, and trading outposts). Overlaying a modern map, we’d see a run of African countries that have provided us with the best football from the continent—Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Cameroon, Nigeria are all along this coast. There’s not a ton to say about this map other than suggesting we appreciate it’s historical significance, and we wish we knew more about the history of tribal conflict in the area. (Also, unlike the editors of the newly sanitized edition of Huckleberry Finn, we think it’s important for us all to remember the proper history of names and naming, to appreciate the power of language, and to the understand importance of learning about the past to help inform our actions in the future.)

18th Century Gold Coast of Africa (from Univerisity of Florida Archives)

EuropeGeneral Knowledge

Where in the world is Slovenia?

June 23, 2010 — by Suman

Something I’ve been asking myself over the past couple weeks.  Here is the 1st hit upon Googling the title of this post.

The Slovene lands were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the latter’s dissolution at the end of World War I. In 1918, the Slovenes joined the Serbs and Croats in forming a new multinational state, which was named Yugoslavia in 1929. After World War II, Slovenia became a republic of the renewed Yugoslavia, which though Communist, distanced itself from Moscow’s rule. Dissatisfied with the exercise of power by the majority Serbs, the Slovenes succeeded in establishing their independence in 1991 after a short 10-day war. Historical ties to Western Europe, a strong economy, and a stable democracy have assisted in Slovenia’s transformation to a modern state. Slovenia acceded to both NATO and the EU in the spring of 2004.

So a Slovenia v Serbia matchup would be quite interesting–but unlikely to happen in this tournament.

(See also here and there for more.)