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UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday saw some of Europe’s most famous clubs progress into the knock-out stages of the competition, which is begin in February next year.
It was week 5 of the Group Stages and over in Spain, it has to be said that Manchester United and Villarreal, even though they were two of the teams to progress, produced a pretty boring and uneventful goalless draw. The only good moments came in the first half when a shot by the Portuguese striker Ronaldo produced a great save from Diego Lopez, the Villareal goalkeeper. Lopez deflected the ball onto the bar. Later the Utd’s and England star forward Wayne Rooney produced a cross that was deflected towards the danger area but it came to nothing as the Villareal player Capdevila managed to clear the ball to safety.
The same player, Capdevilla, was also involved in the evening’s most unsavory incident. With just 6 minutes of the game remaining he lunged and produced a rather ugly tackle on another of Man Utd’s star players, Ronaldo. Cadevilla was, quite rightly, given a red card by the referee and he was off to take an early shower.
Unfortunately, it was the end of the road for Glasgow Celtic and Gordon Strachan. Celtic, in the same Group E as Manchester Utd, must have thought they could have gone to Aalborg and got a good result. A win was the only chance Celtic had of staying alive in the competition. However, there will be no more European nights at Celtic’s Park Head stadium this season. There will not even be the consolation of playing in Europe’s second string competition, the UEFA Cup. Celtic will finish last in Group E thanks to a 2 – 1 defeat against the hugely unfancied AaB Aalborg. Not too many people would have put too much money on Celtic finishing last in this group when the draw was first made way back in the summer.
However, the game did start well for Celtic, as they led 1 – 0. But tragedy struck with just minutes remaining as the Celtic player Gary Caldwell could only turn the ball into his own net after a goal mouth scramble. Tears of sadness in the east end of Glasgow, whilst no doubt tears of joy in the city’s west end!
Over to Group F where Lyon, the perennial leaders of their domestic French league, beat the Italians of Fiorentina. Lyon therefore also progress to the last 16 of the competition. Not surprisingly, Lyon will be joined by Bayern Munich in the final stages after they overcame the Romanians of Steau Bucharest at the Allianz Arena. All the big teams are certainly lining line for battle when the Champions League reaches the sudden death stages.
The qualifaction situation is no different in Group G as both Arsenal, losing finalists in 2006 to Barcelona in Paris, and FC Porto, winners in 2004 when their manager was Jose Mourinho before he arrived in the west end of London to manage Chelsea, both made in through to the last 16 with wins over Dynamo Kiev and Fenerbache respectively.
However Arsenal did leave it a little late against Kiev with the winner coming only 3 minutes from the end of the game, scored by Bendtner. That must have come as a huge relief to Arsene Wenger and all connected with Arsenal. Since their excellent win in the Premier League against Man Utd as few weeks ago, which at the time silenced a few critics, it has been nothing but bad news and bad press for Arsenal with more defeats and the William Gallas affair, which resulted in being striped of the captaincy.
Finally on Tuesday evening, two more of Europe’s «Big Guns» made it safely through with the final week of the Group Stages to spare. Both Real Madrid, 9 times winners, and Juventus of Italy confirmed their places in the knock-out stages after Real beat BATE Borisov and Juventus drew 0 – 0 away to Zenit St Petersburg, the current UEFA Cup holders. Unfortunately, the result knocked Zenit out and it now look likely that they will be able to defend the crown they won last season in Manchester against Glasgow Rangers. Although that probably will not be too much of a consolation to them.
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On Sunday, the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia reached a grand finale with France hoisting the coveted gold trophy after beating Croatia 4-2. And soon the new season of the English Premier League will kick off as are other leagues in Europe. For soccer lovers, these are exciting times!
What is of more interest to me though is how all the transnational players that ply their trade in these lucrative leagues communicate effectively. I mean how do their coaches manage to get the message across on the training field to all these players of different nationalities? Could it be that a player that speaks many languages has more chances for success in these cutthroat competitive leagues than those who don’t?
Multilingualism gives one an edge over others
Oh yes, multilingualism gives one an edge over others. Arsene Wenger who was at the helm of Arsenal FC for 22 years became hugely successful not only because of his coaching nous but also because of his ability to speak many languages. Monsieur Wenger speaks six languages fluently: French, English, Japanese, German, Italian and Spanish. This ability helped him to transmit his ideas clearly and easily to the players who could not speak English. For example, when he signed Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona in 2003, the latter didn’t speak or understand a word of English. Thus Wenger always interacted with him in Spanish. He also encouraged him to learn English and by the time Fabregas left the club, he was bilingual; very fluent in English and Spanish.
Wenger’s realization that the ability to speak many languages helps players to bond and understand the world and football philosophy better saw him advocate for language learning in Arsenal’s youth setup. The benefits from this quickly spilled over so much that everyone knows about the «Arsenal way», which is basically about Arsenal’s synergy; Arsenal players having a bond akin to one close family as well allowing their feet to speak a language of their own on the field by playing quick, beautiful and aesthetic football that is hard to imitate.
Also the fact that football managers and players that are multilingual have been hugely successful wherever they have plied their trade shows that speaking many languages is a huge plus. For example, Pep Guardiola who has been very successful in Spain, Germany and England as a manager speaks German, English, Catalan, Spanish and Italian. Jose Mourinho who is also one of the most successful football managers speaks Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian and English fluently.
Cristiano Ronaldo who has four times won the Fifa Ballon d’Or as the best player in the world speaks Portuguese, Spanish and English, whereas Manchester United star Romelu Lukaku who was born in Belgium but has Congolese roots is fluent in six languages: Dutch, French, English, Spanish, Portuguese and Swahili.
All these coaches and players are hugely successful because their ability to speak many languages helps them to easily receive and internalize messages. It gives them that extra edge and boosts their confidence. They can easily settle into many geographical realms and feel at home, thanks to their ability to easily interact with the natives of those areas.
As people continue to intermarry and travel, being multilingual becomes a necessary skill that comes with many opportunities. Moreover, many countries today have more than one official national language, thus those unable to communicate in at least two or more major languages such as English, Chinese, Spanish, Arabic or Hindi, will soon be left behind in a world that gets more complex and competitive with every passing day. However, translation companies have also kicked in to save the day with services like Somali translation services, Yoruba translation Services, Malagasy translation services, Africa Conference Interpreters among many others.
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Raúl grew up in a modest neighbourhood of Madrid, in the suburb Marconi de San Cristóbal de los Ángeles. His father, don Pedro, was a fan of Atlético Madrid, the club where he started playing after a short period in San Cristóbal’s team. Atletico Madrid coach didn’t notice anything special about him because he was very thin and weak. Raul later turned to Real Madrid’s C team and quickly made it to the first team in 1994/1995 season. Raúl possesses a distinctive celebration, with each goal acclaimed by a kiss of his wedding ring, an acknowledgement to his wife Mamen Sanz. They have four sons: Jorge (February 25, 2000), who is named after Jorge Valdano, Hugo (November 20, 2002) and twins Héctor and Mateo (November 17, 2005). He likes reading, especially the books of Arturo Pérez Reverte, and listening to all sorts of Spanish music. He also enjoys hunting and watching bullfighting.
Luís Nazário de Lima ‘Ronaldo’
Ronaldo was born in Bento Ribeiro, a neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Like many of his contemporaries, he began to play football in the streets of his neighbourhood.
In April 1999, Ronaldo married Milene Domingues. The marriage lasted four years and ended in divorce. The couple had a son, Ronald (born 2000). In 2005 he got engaged and married Brazilian model and MTV VJ Daniella Cicarelli, who became pregnant but suffered a miscarriage, their relationship lasted only 3 months. He is currently dating brazilian model Raica Oliveira. Besides being of interest to tabloid journalists, Ronaldo’s relationships with women apparently have a deep effect on his performances on the pitch. A soccernet.com article by Andrew Downie assessing Ronaldo’s fitness ahead of the 2006 World Cup pointed out a correlation between the striker’s form and the happiness of his love life, noting that his most prolific periods of goalscoring have coincided with the times when he was happily married In 2005 Ronaldo became co-owner of A1 Team Brazil, alongside Brazilian motorsports legend Emerson Fittipaldi. The team participates in the newly launched A1 Grand Prix series, with Nelson Piquet, Jr., Tony Kanaan and João Paulo Oliveira as drivers.
It is rumored that Ronaldo is considering leaving Real Madrid, expressing discomfort with their fans at the stadium. He has been linked with a return to former club F.C Internazionale, where he has often spoke of his desire to one day return. AC Milan could also show some interest in his name, especially after Andriy Shevchenko has left for Chelsea F.C.
Major League Soccer has also expressed interest in signing him. According to reports, Ronaldo turned down a ten-year, $120 million contract from the New York Red Bulls of MLS, saying
Right now I have a contract with Real Madrid and I’m only thinking about the World Cup, but without a doubt, the American market is one of my goals for the future.
(It was reported on ESPN during the broadcast of the Brazil-Croatia match on June 13 that the Red Bulls actually denied making Ronaldo an offer.)
Ballack is 6′ 2 ½» (189 cm) tall and weighs 179 lbs (80 kg). He and his girlfriend Simone have three children – Louis, Emilio and Jordi.
Ronaldo de Assis Moreira ‘Ronaldinho Gaúcho’
Ronaldinho was born on March 21, 1980 in Vila Nova, a poor suburb of Porto Alegre, Brazil. He was the youngest of three children. Ronaldinho’s mother Miguelina is a former salesperson who later studied to become a nurse. His father João was a shipyard worker and amateur footballer for Cruzeiro. The family moved to a more affluent district of Porto Alegre when Ronaldinho’s older brother Roberto signed to play professional football for Grêmio. João died when Ronaldinho was 8, after suffering a heart attack while swimming in the family’s pool. Injuries ended Roberto’s career prematurely, and he now manages Ronaldinho. Ronaldinho’s sister Deisi works as his press coordinator. Ronaldinho’s son, named João after his father, was born on 25 February, 2005. João’s mother is Janaína Nattielle Viana Mendes, a former dancer on the Brazilian television show Domingão do Faustão.
In his childhood, Ronaldinho’s skill in football began to blossom due to his particular interest in futsal and beach football, which later developed into a fondness for more standardised football. His first brush with the media came after a 23 goal flurry against a local team, at just 13 years of age. His reputation as a footballer was built up through his childhood, particularly since he was a prolific goalscorer in the Egypt 1997 under-17 world championship. His stylish play at the tournament also caught the eye of many. He is a huge fan of Brazilian music, and occasionally plays the drums and sings with friends in Barcelona.
In 1997, Beckham started dating the Spice Girl Victoria Adams and their relationship attracted a great deal of media interest.
He married Adams at Luttrellstown Castle, Ireland on 4 July 1999. The wedding attracted tremendous media coverage. Beckham’s teammate Gary Neville was the best man, and the couple’s son Brooklyn was the ring bearer. The media were kept away from the ceremony as the Beckhams had an exclusive deal with OK! Magazine, but newspapers were still able to obtain photographs showing them sitting on golden thrones. 437 staff were employed for the wedding reception, which was estimated to have cost £500,000.
The Beckhams have three sons: Brooklyn Joseph Beckham (born 4 March 1999), Romeo James Beckham (1 September 2002) and Cruz David Beckham (20 February 2005).
Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite ‘Kaká’
Kaká married Caroline Celico on 23 December 2005 in São Paulo, Brazil. The wedding was attended by fellow players from his national team, as well as other well known international players. Guests included Ronaldo, Adriano, Cafu, Dida, Júlio Baptista and Brazilian national coach Carlos Alberto Parreira. Kaká first met Celico in 2002, and they started dating soon after. The relationship survived Kaká’s move from São Paulo to Italy in 2003, while she was still at school. It is likely that Celico will stay in Brazil in the short-run, but the couple plan to live together in Italy soon. Against the stereotypical trend of football stars, Kaká is proud he was a virgin when he married. Celico’s mother, Rosangela Lyra, is the director of Dior in Brazil.
Zinedine Yazid Zidane
His wife, Veronique, is a former dancer and model of French-Spanish ancestry. They married in 1993 and have four sons named Enzo, Luca, Théo and Elyaz.
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In the last four years, the richest football club in the world has had it really bad. It won no trophy at all. And this current season, hopes were really high that the team would win a major trophy, with the appointment of the former coach of Juventus, Fabio Capello to be in charge of the team. Capello, who had coached the team once in the nineties, had led Juventus to win two back-to-back Scudetto titles in Italy in 2004 and 2005. With such high qualifications, it was assumed that he was eminently qualified for the job and would lead the team back to winning ways. While he resumed as manager, Capello vowed that he would only lose five matches in the league (la liga) all season.
However, with just about twenty matches into the league, Capello has lost seven matches. And he has led the team to some of it’s worst performances in recent history. Real has lost some vital home games in the Bernabeu against lowly rated teams like Recreativo and Levante, who are at the bottom of the league.
In a run of ten matches, the team scored just three goals, a far cry from it’s high scoring nature in the past. Even the recruitment of new players in the January transfer window has not helped matters. The club now lies four points adrift of Barcelona on the league table.
Having being knocked out of the King’s cup by Real Betis, the only hope of winning any trophies this season are in the champion’s league or the Spanish league. On current form, the chances of the team winning in Europe are very slim. As such, the expectation is that the team is more likely to go empty handed again this season.
What could have led to the current crisis in Europe’s most successful football club?
For one, the coaching style of Capello has been much criticised by the players and fans. The new manager’s defensive style has not been popular with fans and neither has it produced the desired results.
Also, the sudden change in the club’s player recruitment policy from the era of buying «galacticos» or world famous players, to that of buying relatively unknown players seem to have affected the club internally. It is not uncommon to hear of wranglings and power play in the dressing room.
Also, the manager’s apparent dislike for some players has helped in polarising the club and dampening the team spirit. The recent comments by the club president, and the manager about some key players in the team, which was hyped by the media, served to show the extent of the animosity that exists within the club’s rank and file.
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This season mirrored many others of the previous few seasons, as Arsenal again displayed beautiful stylish, flowing football and they produced some memorable nights at the Emirates Stadium, including the defeat of Barcelona in the Champions League group stage and an emphatic victory over Chelsea.
The optimism of the early season was short-lived as Arsenal again finished the season without a trophy, the Gunners finished in fourth place in the Premier League, which will now require them to qualify for next years Champions League group stages.
Like so many of the previous seasons in recent years, the Gunners season was full of promise and they looked certain to win their first trophy for six years when they faced a lowly Birmingham side at Wembley Stadium in the Carling Cup Final in February, but Arsenal were surprisingly defeated by a determined, tough tackling Birmingham side, who showed a resilience that Arsenal have sadly lacked over recent years. The defeat in the Carling Cup Final appeared to shock the team and their confidence evaporated, as their season finished with a whimper.
Even the most fervent Arsenal fan must now begin to question the policies and management of Arsene Wenger, who enjoyed so much success during his early season with the club. Failure to correct obvious problems within the central defence and a lack of tenacity within the team, took its toll as the season progressed. Many fans have refused to criticise the manager in previous seasons, but now most realists will admit that any criticism are justified.
Wenger has vowed to continue with the club’s policy of developing their own players and refusing to spend huge amounts in the transfer market, unlike many of their Premiership rivals. This decision will place the manager under huge pressure next season, with the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and even Liverpool set to spend large amounts on players during the summer months.
Arsenal are still credited with playing beautiful football and have continued with the development of several young players, including Jack Wilshere who is set to become a leading player for both club and country in the years to come. Wojciech Szczesny is proving that he has the talent to become the reliable goalkeeper that Arsenal have been seeking for several seasons.
Arsenal’s activity in the transfer market this summer will be closely watched, failure to make the right signings could be a defining moment for their manager, as the fans who pledge their allegiance to the manager and display banners around the stadiums reading «In Arsene we trust» they may finally lose patience.
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Firm followers of UEFA competitions and most especially the Champions League, can attest to the reality that there have been EPL sides in the semi-final of the champions league for the previous six seasons i.e. 2003-2009.
In the past six seasons, EPL sides regular in the champions league (Liverpool FC, Manchester United FC, Chelsea FC and Arsenal FC) have all some way featured in the semi-final of the champions league in the past six seasons, which made English and even foreigners marvel at their absence this season, in the semi-final of Europe’s elite club competition.
In 2005, Liverpool (the all red) and Chelsea (the true blues) locked horns in an entertaining semi-final with both sides led by managers who have managed his team for barely two seasons, Liverpool went on to win the encounter, after a closely contested semi-final match. Liverpool eventually emerged triumphant in that year’s Champions league, after defeating Ac-Milan in an epic final which saw one of the greatest comebacks in football history, 3-0 to 3-3 and then victory.
The proceeding year, Arsenal featured in both the Semi-final and final of the Champions league, to mark a turn-around in their footballing history, but were not so lucky to win the trophy after only qualifying for their first final match in the champions league. They battled with Barcelona in that year’s final, i.e. 2006 final, but got beaten by 2 goals to 1, with Jens Lehmann sent off in that match.
In 2007, Liverpool and Chelsea once again were drawn to do battle in the semi-final of the 2006/2007 season. With the first leg drawn to be played at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea had the opportunity of progressing, and they took full advantage of the home factor by defeating Liverpool by a lone goal after a highly contested fixture. At Anfield, Liverpool played with caution while also surging forward in search for the goal that will put them on level terms with Chelsea, luckily for Liverpool the goal came. A low cross from Steven «general» Gerard found an unmarked Daniel Agger, who sliced the ball through the bodies of Chelsea players and bang into the net early in the first half. Liverpool preserved the one goal lead even after 90 minutes until the extra time was over, then it was time for the ultimate decider; penalty kicks, Pepe Reina was the hero of the day as he saved the deciding spot kick to send Liverpool into the final for the second time in three seasons and a replay of 2005 final with AC-Milan, that dispatched Manchester United in the other semi-final clash by 5 goals to 3 on aggregate.
The final was a highly anticipated one, as two of Europe’s power houses in club football go head-to-head to decide the winner of the 2007 Champions League, eventually two Pippo Inzaghi goals, which made him the highest goal scorer in the Champions league, won Ac Milan the trophy for the seventh time in their footballing history.
The following year saw the best from English teams in the Champions League. All four English representatives made it to the quarter final, with three (Liverpool, after ousting Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester United) out of the four progressing onto the semi-final, Liverpool were eventually dumped by fellow English team Chelsea. The progression of Chelsea into the final in 2008 was the first time they were playing in the Champions League’s final; they battled with Manchester United for the coveted trophy, matched United strength for strength, skill for skill, technique for technique, but were just unlucky to miss out in the spot kicks, as United went on to win their third and Sir Alex Ferguson’s second UEFA Champions League trophy, which also aided Cristiano Ronaldo in winning the world player of the year award.
The year 2009, saw a different football style displayed by a team. 2009 Champions League was won by Barcelona of Spain, after showing the footballing world how the game should be played; neat defending, accurate passing, and clinical finishing: characterized the play of Barcelona en-route to winning the trophy for the third time in their history, after triumphs in 1992 and 2006.
2010 came with a lot of promise for the English sides, after bright starts from all the sides in their respective groups; Liverpool won its first game against Debrecen at Anfield, by a lone goal scored by Dirk Kuyt, which made him the club’s third highest goal scorer in Europe with 12 goal to his name. Chelsea also won its first game against FC Porto by a lone goal scored Nicolas Anelka, in a dull encounter due to the water soaked pitch.
Manchester United didn’t do badly in its first game; same was the case for Arsenal, all the English representatives representing well to the delight of English stalwarts. Things started becoming shaky as the competition progressed further to its crucial stage. Liverpool were ousted very early in the competition, as they were ousted in the group phase, even before the last group game. The victory of Fiorentina over Olympique Lyonnais in the game before the last, meant Liverpool were forced to the Europa league were they have solace recently, making an impressive run to the semi-final, having not scored lower than three goals on aggregate in the previous rounds, i.e. round of 32, round of 16 and quarter final, which has earned them a clash with Athletico Madrid away in Spain.
Chelsea were next up for elimination, after a partly successful run in the group onto the round of 16. Chelsea had great scares during a few of their group phase games, Athletico Madrid away in Spain was one those, where they had to settle for a 2 all draw after going through Didier Drogba, only to see a Sergio Diego Aguero brace give Athletico the lead, but Drogba proved to be very clinical in finishing when he slotted his second past Athletico’s goal. The most surprising of Chelsea’s group phase result came on the last day of the group. Apoel Nicosia making only its debut in the Champions League held all conquering Chelsea, with a full first team squad, to a 2 all draw at Stamford Bridge.
Arsenal had the most impressive group phase performance where they picked up 16 of the 18 available points in a group which consisted of Olympiakos, Standard Liege, and Az Alkmaar, which are low pedigree teams with frequent Champions League due to inability to make it through the preliminary.
Manchester United, I would say, had an indifferent group campaign. Had a great start, but flattered during the crucial mid games, needed the last game to confirm qualification but put threw any doubts into the thrash after a Michael Owen hat-trick cancelled out Edin Dzeko’s opening goal, for VFL Wolfsburg at Old Trafford.
With the progression of three tops teams from England into the round of 16, hopes and expectation were extremely high. The English teams, however, didn’t get the perfect draws, Chelsea were billed to face Inter-Milan, tutored by Jose Mourinho, Manchester United drawn to do battle with 7 times European champions, Ac-Milan, and Arsenal getting a re-match of the 2009 group game against Porto Fc, 2004 winners.
The first legs saw the English teams face real test of strength, skill and technique.
Manchester United were tested for all the mentioned above against Ac-Milan, first in Giuseppe Meazza, San Siro and then in Old Trafford, but then they emerged victorious on both legs, winning 7-2 on aggregate, with Wayne Rooney scoring four of the seven goals, i.e. 2 goals in each leg.
Arsenal had a similar situation, against Fc Porto, the Portuguese representatives giving them a good run for their money, most especially in Portugal, where the first leg was hosted, which Fc Porto won by 2 goals to 1, in a match which Porto’s second goal by Falcao, was a bit controversial, appearing to be an offside goal.
At Emirates stadium, Arsenal showed no mercy, firing 2 goals past Helton in goal for Porto in quick succession, and at half time, it was Arsenal 2 Porto 1. Porto started brightly in the second half of the game, attacking Arsenal from all angles of the pitch. As the game grew, Arsenal became for more confident, and began playing like the Arsenal we are use to watching in league games. Samri Nasri threw the Emirates into ecstasy, when he dribbled past three Porto defenders and slotted past helpless Helton, who tried to rush out to prevent the goal, but all to no avail. Super sub, Emmanuel Eboue, came on minutes later and sealed the victory, with a clean finish, after he outran the Porto defenders and was set up by Andre Arshavin, with only the keeper to beat, he rounded him neatly before netting Arsenal’s four to cap a fine performance from truly smoking gunners. Nicklas Bendtner, who had earlier netted 2 superb strikes, added a third to mark his first hat trick in his Arsenal career.
It wasn’t a bed of roses for Chelsea neither, as they had to suffer defeats in the hands of Inter-Milan on both legs, which put paid to their Champions League campaign. At the magnificent Giuseppe Meazza, Inter tested Chelsea for wits, work rate and technique, as both teams played out their lives to progress in the competition. Chelsea partly outplayed, but all the «ball possession» could not fetch them the win which they set out to achieve. The ball possession favoured Chelsea in the first leg match, but these were not translated into goals neither were they translated in the goal attempt, shot-on-goal, and so on. Of all the teams which started European campaign in September, Liverpool can be deduced to be the most disappointing of all, due to the fact that it was knocked out in the group phase.
Presently, there are only two English teams in European competition, Liverpool FC and Fulham FC and they both have interesting fixtures in the semi-final, having to face Athletico Madrid and Hamburg, respectively.
There is the possibility of an all English Europa league final, a feat which has not been achieved for over 6 seasons.
The absence of premier league teams In the semi-final of the champions league, in my own estimation, does not connote the fall of the premier league, rather the sole reason is the reality that we have come to face, which is the fact that teams form other countries have sat down and reviewed the methods of English teams, which they have applied, and it has worked magically and very effectively too.
English teams were neither totally outclassed, outpowered nor outplayed, but rather the element of luck was against them, and also the English teams have had a good run in the past, so let other teams enjoy same, so people won’t say the Champions league is an English competition. The English teams will rise up to take what’s rightfully theirs, which is the prestige it has earned over the years, a prestige which in my estimation, is in jeopardy considering the inability of making it to the semi-final of Europe’s elite club competition.
Upon this I settle, the absence of English teams in the semi-final of the champions league is by no means equal to the fall of the premier league, and besides which other league is so unpredictable as the premier league? A league where any team can beat any team, home or away; name the league.
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After losing the Player of the Year award (Ballon d’Or) to Lionel Messi for four consecutive years Cristiano Ronaldo won the accolade in 2013. This and the great start Ronaldo has made in the new season have livened up an old debate as to whether he is a better player than Messi.
The discussion has focused on a particular set of statistics, namely, goals. To the extent that the data can help us to hazard an educated guess about player performance, Messi is the better of the two at club and international levels.
However if goals are used as the criteria to compare players it is not sufficient to look only at the number of goals scored. You also have to break down the conversion rate into such things as whether the shots are from inside or outside the area, the goal expectation i.e. whether an average player would score given the chance presented and the quality of the opponents.
The findings of a recent mathematical study were published in the Washington Post which showed that in 2009 to 2013 Messi’s average chance quality (i.e. quality of chances created) was higher than Ronaldo’s. Ronaldo had more shots but were mostly from long distance and he only scored 30 goals from 587 such shots whereas Messi scored 28 goals from his 287 long distance shots. Messi was more efficient because a higher percentage of his shots were converted i.e. 9.75 % to 5.11%.
The study found that Messi is better at getting into goal-scoring positions since he had 29 danger zone shots (from inside the area) to Ronaldo’s 20.
Messi is also a better finisher. In the period 2009/10 through 2013/14 Messi averaged 40% more goals than expected goals compared to Ronaldo’s 20% (see WASHINGTON POST – Despite great season, Cristiano Ronaldo is not better than Lionel Messi; by Michael Caley, November 7, 2014).
Last season Ronaldo broke the norm and outscored Messi. This propelled him to win the Ballon d’Or in 2013. But this has to be looked at in light of the fact that Messi missed a part of the year through injury and when he resumed playing he almost caught up with Ronaldo’s tally of 31 by scoring 28 by the end of the 2013/14 season.
Also, in the current season Ronaldo has made a great start by scoring 12 non-penalty goals to Messi’s 7. A plausible explanation for this is not that Ronaldo is now a better player but it is attributed to the changing roles of both players at their respective clubs.
With the addition of Neymar and Luis Suarez on the flanks of Barcelona’s 4-3-3 formation Messi now plays a deep-lying playmaking role which has led to his goals trending down while his assists are going up. His goals per game fell from little under 1.50 in the season 2012/13 to 0.86 in 2014/15 while his assists in 2013/14 was little under 0.50 and rose to 0.86 in the current season.
At Real Madrid the trend was the opposite. With the recent addition of Gareth Bale and James Rodriques in the midfield Ronaldo is now more of a striker and less focused on distribution. He now takes more shots from inside the penalty area and in the current season his 12 non-penalty goals except for 2 were from inside the box. His goals per game rose from 1.00 in 2013/14 to 2.20 in 2014/15 while his assists in the same period fell from 0.25 to 0.17 (ESPN FC GLOBAL- Realigning Stars: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo face changing roles; by Michael Cox, October 23, 2014).
Messi has a better strike rate than Ronaldo. The all time stats for all competitions show that Messi has 44 goals from 95 caps (0.46 goals per game) whereas Ronaldo has 51 from 116 caps (0.43 goals per game) (INTERNATIONAL STATS – November 8, 2014).
World Cup – Messi also surpasses Ronaldo with 5 goals from 15 caps (0.33 goals per game) to Ronaldo’s 3 goals from 13 caps (0.23 goals per game) (INTERNATIONAL STATS etc.).
Messi’s record is very impressive. In 2014 he led Argentina to the final, was voted Man of the Match in 4 games (the most of any player in the competition) and won the Golden Boot as the best player of the tournament.
Contrary to what some critics say he was the most deserving of the latter award. He had the most impact on the competition as Argentina would not have progressed to the final without him. He was the joint highest goal scorer with 4 goals and assists, created the most chances, had the most successful dribbling runs, made the most deliveries into the box and produced the most through balls of any player.
In contrast, Ronaldo has a sorry record. He has only scored thrice and against weak opposition, namely, a penalty against Iran (2006), the sixth goal in a 7-0 win against North Korea in 2010 and a late goal against Ghana in 2014. In the last tournament his only real contribution was an assist against the USA.
QUALITY OF OPPONENTS
Messi has more career goals for club and country. He has a total of 420 goals in 564 games (or 0.74 goals per game) while Ronaldo has 449 goals in 702 games (or 0.63 goals per game).
The important difference is that the Argentine has more game changing goals and against stronger opposition. His goals are directly associated with winning titles in La Liga, Champions League victories, Olympic gold medal matches and Youth and Club World Cups.
For example, as at March 24, 2014 for Barcelona he has scored against the best teams namely, 21 against Real Madrid (Barcelona’s fiercest rival), 20 against league champion Atletico Madrid and 18 against Sevilla (most successful club in Andalusia). In the Champions League he has 12 against German teams, 8 against English teams and 5 against Italian teams. And in the World Cup 2014 he scored 4 match winning goals.
Ronaldo on the other hand has failed to score in decisive matches and succeeded in scoring multiple goals against weak teams not only with his club but with his country. For example, in the English Premier League for Manchester United he only scored 2 goals in 9 games against Liverpool (United’s fiercest rival) and scored 1 goal in 15 games against stalwart Chelsea.
In the Champions League for United he failed to net in his first 26 games and although he scored in the final in 2014 for Real Madrid he had little impact in the other final in which he played in 2009 in a 2-0 loss to Barcelona.
In Spain in his first 9 games against Barcelona (Real Madrid’s main rival) he scored just 3 goals.
In the World Cup he has a sorry record which was discussed above and in the European Championship he has 6 goals against minnows Greece, the Czech Republic and a weak Holland team and underperforms against strong teams like Germany and Spain.
All in all the stats show that Messi is the better player because he is better at getting into goal scoring positions, is a better finisher and is a more efficient goal scorer. Messi has an age advantage because he is 27 and Ronaldo is 29 and though it is likely that both will still be playing for a few more years the Argentine will have more time than Ronaldo to extend his record of achievements. In the meantime the debate goes on.
Victor A. Dixon
November 20, 2014
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For the third season in succession Chelsea found themselves pitched against the current European champions, Barcelona in group A. Werder Bremen and Levski Sofia make up the quartet and it would be a huge surprise if either of those teams progressed.
In group B Inter Milan, Bayern Munich, Sporting Lisbon and Spartak Moscow will do battle. Bayern have been weakened by the loss of Ballack to Chelsea, but should still be good enough to get through. Inter Milan have strengthened at the expense of their scandal hit rivals in Italy and will be hard to beat.
Group C sees Liverpool, winners in 2005, returning to the scene of their Istanbul triumph to play Galatasaray. Turkish football seems to have gone off the boil and Gala might struggle against both PSV Eindhoven and Bordeaux.
Group D pitches Valencia, Roma, Olympiakos and the dangerous Shaktar Donetsk, and the first two should make the last sixteen.
Group E sees the most successful European team ever, Real Madrid against Lyon, Steau Bucharest and Dynamo Kiev. Real begin the campaign under the returning Fabio Capello and they should improve on last season’s dismal performance. Lyon under Gerard Houllier are still improving and should qualify.
Group F coughs up an Anglo-Scottish clash. Manchester United sent a reserve team up to Glasgow just before the season started and duly thumped the Scottish champions 3-0. Not many give Celtic much chance against United’s first XI who have started the season on fire. Benfica look dangerous again. They knocked both United and Liverpool out last term and will need to be respected. FC Copenhagen makes up the quartet and may surprise a few people.
Group G features Arsenal, last year’s beaten finalists, and they take on Porto, CSKA Moscow and Hamburg, not an easy group on paper for any of them and Arsenal will have to improve on early poor results at their brand new stadium. But expect them to qualify. No London team has ever won the European Cup/Champions League and Arsenal are desperate to beat their rivals Chelsea and Spurs (they’re in the UEFA cup this time) to that particular honour. But Arsenal have lost several notable players such as Pires, Campbell and Bergkamp and though they have young rapidly improving players like Van Persie and Walcott, it is hard to envisage them picking up the trophy this time round.
Group H sees the banned, but reinstated AC Milan host surprise qualifiers Lille, AEK Athens and Anderlecht. Expect AC to win the group comfortably, and the others to all take points from one another.
For those who like a bet, early odds quoted go: Barca 4/1 favourite, Chelsea 5/1, Real 9/1, AC Milan 10/1, Man Utd 11/1, Inter 13/1, Arsenal and Liverpool 18/1 and 20/1 plus on all the others. You can still get a free $30 bet at betfair.com by inputting the code 6CHE3VPWJ when required.
So who will land the pot of gold of the Champions League this year? Barca have added Thuram and Zambrotta from Italy, but they were surprisingly smacked 3-0 by their compatriots Sevilla in the Super Cup, the match between the Champions League and UEFA cup winners. Barca displayed a surprising weakness in the centre of their defence and John Terry and his pals at Stamford Bridge are certain to have noted that. Best of the outsiders is the fast improving Lyon.
Chelsea have added Ballack and the wonderful Shevchenko, and may be Ashley Cole too. As I have written elsewhere, I think Chelsea can do it this time. They would surely trade the Premier League title for the Champions League. But what do I know? I’m still working for a living. Make up your own mind. Good watching.
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There’s nothing like a little bit of trivia to test your knowledge of the sport of soccer. You may say that soccer is your favorite sport, but how much do you really know? Following are some facts and tidbits that you may or may not know about soccer.
· Soccer originated generally in its present form in Britain.
· The world’s oldest club formed in 1857 is Sheffield FC
· Soccer is the most played and most watched sport on Earth
· Soccer is called football in practically every country except America, who call ‘Grid Iron’ football and football soccer.
· Famous soccer rivalries include the Old Firm (Scotland), Manchester derby, London derbies, Milan derby, Real vs Barcelona, and many more.
· Some famous soccer players: Pele, Maradonna, Charlton, Eusebio, Cruyff, Dalglish, Ronaldo, Beckham, Mattheus.
Those are some basic bits of soccer trivia and facts. How much did you know? Well, here are so more soccer facts to test your knowledge:
· The sport of Association Football (often referred to as soccer or simply football) is the most popular team sport in the world, in both number of spectators and number of active participants.
· The largest attendance for a soccer match ever was 199,854 people – Brazil v. Uruguay in the World Cup at the Maracana Municipal Stadium, Rio de Janeiro, July 1950.
· In the largest soccer tournament ever, no less than 5,098 teams competed in 1999 for the second Bangkok League Seven-a-Side Competition. Over 35,000 players involved!
· The most goals scored by one player in a single soccer match was 16
– Stephan Stanis (France) playing for Racing Club de Lens in December 1942.
· Based on video evidence, one of the fastest ever scored was in 2.8 seconds by Ricardo Olivera (Uruguay) in December 1998.
· The international governing body of soccer is the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), based in Zurich, Switzerland.
· Diego Maradona was only 16 when he made his soccer debut for Argentina.
· Soccer goalies didn’t have to wear different coloured shirts from their teammates until 1913.
· Eusebio scored 46 goals in the European Cup for Benfica.
· Chris Woods once went 1196 minutes without conceding a goal while at Rangers, from between November 26 1986 and January 31 1987.
· Ryan Giggs’ dad was a professional Rugby League player.
· In 1973, the entire Galilee team spent the night in jail for kicking their opponents during an Israeli League game.
Have you had enough soccer trivia and facts? These are only a few of the interesting soccer facts that are floating around out there.
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