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News and Notes From Around the World July 26, 2007

Posted by Soccer Current in Atletico Madrid, English Premier League, Manchester United, soccer, Spanish La Liga, sports.
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Manchester United

The Carlos Tevez/Manchester United saga took a strange twist when FIFA recommended the decision be handled by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. FIFA felt that their decision was in the best interest of all parties, and while that may seem to be the case for West Ham United this decisions puts a serious cloud on the proposed transfer of Tevez. With the decision being moved to another arbitrator it seems this transfer could potentially extend beyond the August 31 transfer deadline putting a serious damper on United’s off-season plan to shore up their attacking front. With no clear alternatives for United they hope that CAS can come to a quick decision on this matter so that they can move on with their plans for the upcoming Premier and Champions League seasons.

On a better note Manchester Icon Ryan Giggs got a boost from manager Sir Alex Ferguson when he stated that Giggs should be remaining at United for a long time to come which should put him in perfect position to pass Sir Bobby Charlton’s for the all time games leader which Charlton currently holds at 759. Giggs has been in a United uniform since he was 17 and has been the first choice left wing since the 91/92 season. Giggs is one of Manchester’s all time greats and it is nice to see that Ferguson has noticed this and is going to allow him the opportunity to pass Charlton on the all time games list.

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Atletico Madrid have reportedly sealed the transfer of Portuguese winger Simao Sabrosa from Benfica for a fee believed to be around 20 million Euros. The move returns Simao to La Liga where he once played for Barcelona. During his first spell Simao was only a teenager and he struggled to make first team appearances for Barcelona but with plenty of experience under his belt including last summers World Cup for Portugal he looks ready to make a huge impact in La Liga next season.

Breaking down the UEFA Champions League Contenders July 24, 2007

Posted by Soccer Current in AC Milan, Barcelona, Champions League, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Liverpool, Manchester United, Real Madrid, soccer, sports, UEFA, Uncategorized.
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Last week I read a statement made by Barcelona captain Carlos Puyol that stated that all of Europe’s top sides should be terrified of Barcelona this year as they posses the best attacking 4 in the entire world. While it is way too soon to tell who the real contenders for the Champions League will be this year I decided to take a quick look and give my prediction on who I feel will be the top teams in Europe‘s biggest club competition so without further ado here are the challengers: 

  • AC Milan – Any list of top contenders must include last years champion and finalist in 2 of the past 3 Champions League’s. While they have not added any big names to their roster they are going to be adding Ronaldo to their Champions League roster which will bolster an already dangerous attack that includes country man and current favorite for FIFA World Player of the Year Kaka, as well as Alberto Gilardino and Filipo Inzaghi from Italy’s World Cup Winning squad. If Alessandro Nesta can get back to 100% and Maldini decides to return and continue his spectacular displays along the left flank then the defence will be as good as always. Their midfield will continue to be their strength with Clarence Seedorf, Andrea Pirlo, and Gennaro Gattuso supporting Kaka. If Milan are able to sign either Samuel Eto’o or Andrei Shevchenko then I expect them to become the first repeat champions of this competition if not they will do no worse than become a Semi-Finalist. 
  • Barcelona – While I can not disagree with Carlos Puyol’s statement above that an attacking four of Messi, Ronaldinho, Henry, and Eto’o would be the most terrifying in all of Europe, Sky Sports is reporting that Milan officials are preparing a bid of up to 50 million Euros to bring Samuel Eto’o to the San Siro. Without Eto’o I would rate their attack even with Milan’s especially if that is where Eto’o winds up. Their midfield will continue to be solid if unspectacular with the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, and Deco. The back four for Barcelona I would rate as probably the best and deepest in the world, they are led by Captain Carlos Puyol and he is supported by new signings Eric Abidal and Gabriel Milito, as well as Lilian Thuram, Gianluca Zambrotta, and Rafael Marquez. If Barcelona is able to keep their attacking four together then they will be the team to beat heading into the Champions League Final but even without Eto’o they should be good enough to pull out a victory.

  • Real Madrid – Real Madrid is a team that is blessed with tremendous talents but also unlike the Madrid teams of years past they are young and hungry. The team is still being led by Spanish Internationals and Madrid stalwarts Iker Casillas in goal and Raul up top in the attack. Aside from Raul the Madrid attack boasts Ruud van Nistelrooy, Robinho, new signee Javier Saviola, teenage sensation Gonzalo Higuain, and the always temper mental but talented Antonio Cassano. The midfield is probably where Madrid will struggle most with no spectacular players, but they do have solid veterans like Guti that will pair up with young guns like Fernando Gago and keep Madrid in most games. The defense will again be anchored by reigning FIFA World Player of the Year Fabio Cannavaro, and he will be helped by new signing Christoph Metzelder as well as Spain Internationals Sergio Ramos and Michel Salgado. While Real Madrid does not have the depth at most positions like a top club would like they are one of the better sides in Europe and should be capable of a top 8 finish in this tournament.

  • Inter Milan – After 2 Scudettos in a row (They were awarded the 05/06 title after the match fixing scandal), Inter is now looking to stake a claim as one of Europe’s top sides with a big run in this years Champions League. Inter does not have the offensive firepower of some of the other teams in Europe but Hernan Crespo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are no slouches and if Adriano can return to his form of 2 years ago Inter will not be short of goal scoring options. The midfield is getting older and slower but with Patrick Viera and Esteban Cambiasso anchoring the middle this team should be in every match. The defense is led by captain, and one of the many Argentinean players on Inter, Javier Zanetti and he is helped in the back by Zidane head butt victim Marco Materazzi as well as Walter Samuel, Nicolas Burdisso, and Ivan Cordoba. An improvement of last years exit in the first knock-out phase will probably land Inter in the Final 8 of this years event but to make it any further they will need to improve the depth of their midfield as well as get consistent scoring from a erratic front line.

  •  LyonLyon makes this list based solely on the 6 consecutive French Ligue crowns they have won since 2001. While Lyon has a great squad compared to all of the teams in France, but once you begin to compare them to the teams from all over Europe you begin to see all of the deficiencies the team has as well as its general lack of depth. Lyon has become a training ground from which all of the top clubs come to pillage their best players. Over the past 3 years they have lost the likes of Michael Essien and Flourent Malouda to Chelsea and while Lyon has still been able to sustain those losses and win their domestic league, but when it comes to Europe’s top club competition you need to be able to replace your stars with players of similar or better quality to have a chance to compete year in and year out. I don’t see why Lyon shouldn’t make it out of the group phase and into the knock-out round of the Champions League but unless they get a great run of luck I don’t see them making it into the Final 8 of this years tournament. 

  •  Man Utd – Any doubts that Manchester fans had about the Glazer family not being willing to spend money on the transfer market when they first bought the team should all be erased by now. Not only have United been active in the market they actually outspent rivals Chelsea which a few years ago would have been unheard of. The final piece to United’s off-season spending spree, Carlos Tevez, should finally give Wayne Rooney a fierce partner up top that can finish and make game changing plays. The attack has focused solely on Rooney since the departure of Ruud van Nistelrooy and while he has been superb a partner that can keep opposing defenses honest should help him become one of Europe’s most feared strikers. The midfield is the strongest and deepest part of the United squad with eight players looking to play regular minutes. They are led by Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, United icons Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick, and a trio of new signings that include Owen Hargreaves, Nani, and Anderson. The defense will continue to play solid if unspectacular along the back line and the top players should be Rio Ferdinand, Gabriel Heinze, Wes Brown, John O’Shea, and the steady veteran presence of Gary Neville. If United goalkeeper Edwin Van der Sar can keep from having any collapses like the one he had last year in the semi-final in Milan then I don’t see why United should not be playing in their first final since they won the treble in 1999. 

  •  Chelsea – Since Chelsea started their wild spending ways a few years ago I always held a notion that they would become the Real Madrid of England, a club that would win many championships but eventually combust at the seams because of having to many stars and not enough places on the pitch to put them in. Now while I still stand by what I said I just don’t think this team will be able to win any hardware outside of England. The problems with Chelsea have nothing to due with the quality of play but more with the media attention they get because of the players they posses and the attention their coach, Jose Mourinho, loves to have. These days it seems Mourinho is just as happy when he gets quoted in the papers as he is when his team wins and that is fine if your team is winning like it did in years past. With all of Europe’s top clubs getting better and Chelsea’s only major addition being another midfielder to add to the already growing stable of center men on the team I just feel they took 2 steps back this year. Flourent Malouda is an excellent midfielder but Chelsea already had a cramped midfield with 9 other players trying to gain a place in the 5 midfield starters, so with 10 players trying to fill 5 spots there are going to be many unhappy players at training and on the substitutes bench. This squad is way to strong and potent to not be among the final 8 this year but until they are able to add a few more role players and have a better over all squad depth I just cant see them being a serious contender for this illustrious trophy. 

  • Liverpool – We have now made our way to the Champions League version of Cinderella. Every year Liverpool surprises us, even though they have lacked a first class striker since Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen were scoring 20 plus goals a year for the club, they always seem to make a deep run in Europe’s toughest club competition. Well the wait for a bona-fide goal scorer is over as “El Nino” Fernando Torres has joined from Spanish side Atletico Madrid to improve an attack that also boasts 2006 FIFA World Cup veterans Peter Crouch, Dirk Kuyt, and new signing Ryan Babel. While these forwards might not be as gaudy a collection as some of Europe’s other top clubs, you better believe that with Torres on the field opposing defenses will be way more leery of the Liverpool attack. The midfield will once again be anchored by the unbelievable Steven Gerrard and with the superb depth that Rafa Benitez has been able to bring to the middle of his field, this should be Liverpool’s strongest point. Jamie Carragher will lead a solid Liverpool back line that will have this team in the final 8.

Those should be the final 8 teams on the quest to the grand finale in Moscow on May 21st, 2008.  While each of these teams’ posses the quality to win this prestigious tournament I believe that Manchester United will come out with their first Champions League trophy since 1999 after a hard fought match against Barcelona. I feel that their depth at every critical position as well as the leadership and stewardship of Sir Alex Ferguson will be too much for the rest of the competition.    

Random News and Notes From Around the World July 23, 2007

Posted by Soccer Current in England, Manchester United, soccer, sports, Uncategorized, West Ham, World Cup.
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FIFA has lifted England’s hopes for hosting the 2018 World Cup, as soccer’s world governing body are looking to abandon their continent rotation policy and instead insisting that two tournaments have to pass before it can return to a continent. An English World Cup would definitely be a great experience I would rather see the tournament return to the USA for 2018. The 1994 tournament was probably one of the 2 or 3 best tournaments of all time and unlike most countries the USA would only need to make very minor upgrades to any stadiums as they boast some of the most modern and newest stadiums in all of the world.

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Freddie Ljungberg completed his switch to West Ham United today in a move that could potentially net Arsenal 3 million pounds. Ljungberg has been a cornerstone for Arsenal for almost 10 years and with the departure of Thierry Henry this summer he felt the club’s culture was changing from the one he grew to love. This move is a boost to the Arsenal youth movement currently being undergone by head coach Arsene Wenger. Arsenal has enjoyed much success over the last 10 years and Mr.Wenger realized that he needed to revamp the squad in order to continue this success into the future. I was not a big fan of the Ashley Cole sale last year but with the further sales this summer i think we need to wait and see how Wenger builds his side as he was the catalyst for the teams success over the past decade and he should be trusted to bring the club renewed glory in the future.

 Manchester United

What type of a news day would it be if the Carlos Tevez/Man Utd/West Hamsituation didn’t make it into the headlines. The meeting in Zurich this afternoon broke without any decisions being made on the matter and with only a few weeks to go until the transfer window closes United are hoping FIFA make their decision soon. As i have stated before i do hope that FIFA rules in favor of the clubs as third party owners are tainting the game that we all love.

Random News and Notes From Around the World July 20, 2007

Posted by Soccer Current in Fiorentina, Italy, Manchester United, Real Madrid, soccer, sports, World Cup.
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Totti

Azurri fans today is a sad day as Francesco Totti has officially announced his retirement from the Italian National Soccer Team after 58 appearances and 9 goals. While his loss on paper looks like a huge blow he has never really lived up to his hype while wearing the white and blue of Italy. His performance at the World Cup while steady was not as stellar as the one he orchestrated through out his league season with Roma where he lead Europe with 26 goals. So while he will be leaving with a World Cup Winners’ Medal its sad to see a player so special leave us wanting more as he steps away from the International scene.

 Fiorentina

Fiorentina have offered Cristian Vieri a one year contract as a replacement for the departed Luca Toni(Bayern Munich). While the 34 year old Vieri is on his last legs he is definitely an upgrade over most of the striker options available to Fiorentina at the moment.

Real Madrid Logo

Real Madrid is in the news again today as new coach Bernd Schuster remains steadfast that Chelsea winger Arjen Robben will be joining him in Madrid this summer. At this moment Chelsea is holding out and is adamant that Robben is not for sale but as we all know money talks, so if Real can come in with a good strong offer(read many many millions) then i dont see why Robben wont be in Madrid by August 31.  Real have also completed the signing of Jerzy Dudek, he of 2005 Champions League fame with Liverpool. While his signing isnt major news Real now have an excellent keeper with big game experience behind Iker Casillas so that will be a huge boost to the squad.

Manchester United

The Carlos Tevez/Man Utd transfer saga is now entering its third week with no sign of resolution. As of this moment Manchester have asked FIFA for an expedited hearing into the matter to resolve who owns the player. Right now West Ham United his former club and Tevez’s Manager Kia Joorabchian are both claiming to hold the rights to the 30 million rated player and the English FA is not allowing a transfer to go through unless they believe that West Ham is recieving the bulk of the transfer fee. I have an easy solution for FIFA on this matter and that is to get all those clowns like Joorabchian out of this game because all they do is tarnish it. Of course the club should get the bulk of any transfer fee and FIFA needs to get rid of all third party contracts as of this moment. Managers like Mr. Joorabchian are only in the game for the money and a lot of times their own clients suffer because of this. The practice of owning players is something that is big in South America where agents buy players rights from as early as 13 years old. After FIFA hands down its verdict on the Tevez matter the next order of business for Mr. Blatter is to figure out how to make sure this doesnt happen in the future we dont need any more black eyes in our sport.

How to Make Copa America Relevant Again July 19, 2007

Posted by Soccer Current in Argentina, Brazil, Copa America, Mexico, soccer, sports, Uruguay, USA.
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Brazil Celebrating 2

Well Copa America 2007 ended in Venezuela on Sunday and what do you know Brazil wins yet another tournament. While Brazil’s 8 championships in this event pail in comparison to the 14 both Uruguay and Argentina have, Brazil has won 4 of the last 5 Copa America’s and it doesn’t seem like they will be letting down anytime soon. At this point in time the Copa America which has been played 42 times since 1916 is about to be an after-thought in the world soccer conscience.What has caused this tournament that at one point in History was second to only the World Cup in importance fall so far?

How about the fact that in the 11 tournaments since the 1979 edition, that Paraguay won, the only country other than the Big 3 of Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina to win the event was Colombia in 2001 when every country in the tournament sent their Youth Teams over fears of terrorist actions in the unstable country of Colombia where the event was being held. Other than Colombia(1) and Paraguay (2), Peru (2) and Bolivia (1) are the only other teams to win this event with Paraguay and Peru being the only other multiple winners. That leaves 3 countries from South America (Chile, Ecuador, and Venezuela) as the only teams without a championship. While most of us would look at that and say well a lot of teams cant win the big one in the case of both Ecuador and Venezuela they cant even make it into the big game with Ecuador finishing fourth twice in 42 tries and Venezuela never even making the final four. While parity, or a lack there of, is a problem it isn’t the biggest and i want to list a few ideas of how i think this wonderful tournament can get back into the soccer spotlight.

The biggest change this tournament needs to make is to open the event up to all teams in North and South America so that the consumer base opens to an entire new market that has yet to be tapped. While they currently invite two teams from outside of South America to be apart of the event it is not enough. While opening the event up to more teams could seem like a logistical problem i don’t see it that way. They could expand the tournament field by 4 teams to 16 and in order to get to the final 16 participants a qualification tournament would be held two years prior to the actual Copa America just like Europe does for Each European Championship. One of the biggest problems that the event has is that while soccer is biggest sport in South America the continent is one of poorest in the world so consumers are not able to attend the matches or maybe they don’t even have enough money to own a television and watch the matches there. This addition adds 40 more nations into the event that while not all of them will be able to participate you at-least begin to brand the event in new regions that otherwise would not have cared for this event.

The last big change that needs to be made is for FIFA to step in and make all of the best players play in this event. One of the things that makes the European Championships so special is that the best players from all over Europe are playing in this event. Unfortunately outside of Argentina no team brought a full strength squad to Copa America this year. Its not that the likes of Juan, Doni, and Jose make me turn off the television when they are playing for Brazil, I would just rather watch Ronaldihno, Kaka, and Roberto Carlos. Part of the reason that these players ask for the time off is the grueling schedule they play in Europe during their regular season, but the main culprit is the lack of other great players and importance for this event. Some of the greatest players to ever play the game have played in this competition and it shows a lack of professionalism that these young players now see themselves above this tournament.

Part of this problem is the lack of relevance that this event has undergone over the last couple decades and while the problems probably cannot be fixed overnight they can be fixed. The first steps to fixing this problem is the commitment from FIFA that they will have all the best players available for this event as well as a big expansion that could grow it to regions  of Central and North America that otherwise would not have bothered to watch this tournament in the past.