Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Highest Attendance

While it isn't surprising that the NFL is the highest attended league in the world, the league with the 2nd highest attendance did surprise me.  The German Bundesliga is the 2nd highest attended league in the world with an average of 44,000 tickets sold (compared to 67,000 for the NFL).  While it is no suprise that soccer leagues across the world have high attendance, the fact that the Bunderliga of all leagues tops them all is surprising.  If I had to place a bet, my money would have been on the English Premier League being at the top.  It is also slightly surprising how dominant the NFL is, averaging 23,000 more tickets sold then the next league.  In a way though, the comparison isn't quite square, because the NFL only plays 16 games and each stadium only hosts 8 games a year.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Record Breaker

With 2 goals today in FC Barcelona's 4-0 victory over Levante, Messi has 82 goals in 2012 between club (FC Barcelona) and country (Argentina). He is currently 3 goals behind the record of 85 goals in one calendar year, held by Gerd Muller.  Admittedly, this is a rather obscure record, but this is what happens when you've already broken most conventional records.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Managing Chelsea

Earlier this week, Chelsea fired their manager Roberto Di Matteo, 8 months after getting hired as interim manager.  In this 8 months, Di Matteo lead Chelsea to a surprise European Championship, and also the FA cup in England.  This year, with the help of Di Matteo, Chelsea started out strong on top of the English Premier League table, before a recent spell of poor play saw them drop down to 3rd.  Chelsea is having difficulties in this years Champions League; they are 3rd in their group and are at risk of not advancing.  But what more can be expected out of a new manager? Chelsea must be a toxic wasteland to manage, knowing that any loss could result in your immediately release.  Of course, managers being fired is nothing new for Chelsea.  Since Roman Abramovich took over the team, there have been 10 different managers at the helm. At some point Abramovich has to give one of his managers some times to build something great.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Champions League Day 1 Review

FC Barcelona won their match with a dominating performance over Spartak Moskva.  The final score was 3-0 with 2 goals from Messi and Alves getting his first goal of the season.  Barcelona now has goals from 13 different players this year so far, an impressive feat.  Individually, Messi is now only 5 goals behind Muller's record of 85 goals in a calendar across competitions (club and country), which is also an impressive feat.  Barcelona has now clinched their group and will move on to the final 16. 

Chelsea lost their match 3-0 to Juventus, putting their pursuit to repeat last year's European championship in jeopardy.  They must win their last game against FC Nordsjælland and Juventus must lose to FC Shakhtar Donetsk for Chelsea to have a chance to progress. 

Monday, 19 November 2012

Champions League Preview

Barcelona vs Spartak Moskva: Barcelona is sitting fairly comfortable in their group, up 2 points on Celtic and 5 points on Benfica, but they are not looking to drop top spot to Celtic.  They lost their last Champions League game to Celtic in an upset, they want to avoid another.
Prediction: 4-1 FCB

Real Madrid vs Manchester City: With Manchester City sitting at the bottom of their group with no wins so far, they will be looking to make up some ground against Real Madrid.  This is a huge problem for Manchester City since they lost in the group stage of the Champions League last year as well.
Prediction: 2-2 draw

Chelsea vs Juventus: Chelsea and Juventus are sitting 2nd and 3rd in their group behind FC Shakhtar Donetsk, so this game is huge for both teams trying to come out of their group.
Prediction: 3-2 Chelsea

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Weekend Review

There were a few big shock results in the English Premier League this weekend.  First, current European Champions Chelsea fell 2-1 to West Bromwich Albion.  Only a few weeks ago, Chelsea was on top of the English Premier League table, but a 3-2 loss to Manchester United, a 1-1 draw with Liverpool and this current loss have dropped them down to third place.

The second shock result of the weekend was Manchester United falling to 1-0 to Norwich.  After defeating Chelsea a few weeks back, Manchester United was on top of the table, but with this loss, combined with a big 5-0 victory for Manchester City, the former English Premier League champions reclaimed their spot on top of the table.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Thiago Messi's New Contract

Last Friday, Lionel Messi and his girlfriend Antonella Rocuzzo had their child Thiago Messi.  It took only 6 days after the child's birth before he signed his first contract.  Rosario-based club Newell Old Boys signed the newborn child, the same club where Messi spent his childhood (aged 8 to 13).  This is just an odd story.  From the club's perspective, I suppose it's a low risk, high reward signing.  If he's good like his father, they either get a good player or will be able to sell him to a big european club for big money.  If he doesn't turn out to be much a player, how much could it have honestly cost to sign a 6 day old, even despite his last name. But why would Messi and his girlfriend put that kind of pressure on their newborn? We're not sure at what point Thiago will be forced to play, but a child shouldn't have that much pressure thrust upon him at such a young age.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Weekend Roundup

With the Vancouver Whitecaps' season officially over, this weekend's soccer was slightly less exciting.  However, there were still two games that I watched.  The first game was Manchester United against Arsenal.  This game had a lot of promise as it was Robin Van Persie's first game back against the Gunners since leaving during the summer transfer window.  To the surprise of absolutely no one, Van Persie made his old team pay only 3 minutes into the game with a goal.  The rest of the game was wildly uneventful, resulting in a 2-1 Manchester United win.

The other game I watched this weekend was Barcelona vs Celta.  It was an relatively routine 3-1 win for Barcelona, keeping their undefeated season alive, making this their most successful ever start to a season.  A couple of interesting notes though.  This was Messi's first game since the birth of his son Thiago Messi.  You could tell he really wanted that first goal to dedicate to his son, but it never came about. His frustration was clearly shown after getting checked by a Celta defender, he lightly punched him in the back, leading to a scrum.  It is good to see Messi so fiery this year.

Two exciting games coming up in the coming week.
Tuesday: Borussia Dortmund vs. Real Madrid - Can Dortmund prove that their previous Madrid victory wasn't just a fluke.
Wednesday: Barcelona vs. Celtic - Will Celtic return with their all our defending style, effectively playing soccer's version of the trap?

Sunday, 4 November 2012

White Caps Season

The Vancouver Whitecaps 2011-2012 season is now over, after losing 2-1 to the LA Galaxy in a one game elimination match.  Was the season a success? Certainly not an overwhelming success, but it also wasn't a disappointment.  They finished first amongst Canadian teams and are the first Canadian team to make the playoffs. They made the playoffs in only their second season.  They got solid performance from rookie Darren Mattocks.  Now for the negatives.  Heading into July, the White Caps were a respectable 7 wins, 5 ties and 5 losses.  Then it all went downhill, winning only 4 games in the final 4 months of the season.  The streak coincided with a large turnover of players.  They lost Davide Chiumento to Zurich, Hassli to Toronto FC, traded Sebastian Le Toux to NYC for Dane Richards, and brought in Barry Robson, Kenny Miller, and Andy O'Brien.  On paper, the refreshed White Caps looked much stronger, but never appeared.  It's hard to explain what happened in the final half of the season, but no one can be happy about it.  It will be interesting to see who the White Caps bring in during the offseason with the departure of Dane Richards, the possible retirement of YP Lee, among other chances I'm sure.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Referee Debate

The game of the weekend was an easy one to choose, but apparently a difficult one to ref.  EPL's top team Chelsea took on Manchester United (T2) in the most anticipated game early in the EPL season.  The game was a thriller, at least until the official decide to turn the game around.  Manchester United game out flying, scoring two early goals.  It looked as though the game may end up 5-0 for Man Utd.  Chelsea brought the game back by scoring two goals of their own, tying up the game.  The first controversial call came when Man Utd's Valencia was on a break and taken down by Chelsea's Ivanovic.  Though it looks like their legs become slightly tangled as Valencia went to ground, the rule is clear: If you player takes out their man on a breakaway, it is an instant red. This left Chelsea down a man.  Only a few minutes later, with Chelsea's Torres, on a partial break, was taken by a Manchester United player.  It looks as though as thought it was going to be a Chelsea free kick within range, but instead Torres received his second yellow for diving, resulting in a red card.  Two men down, Chelsea didn't stand much change, except to try to keep the game tie at 2-2.  Another blunder by the officials would ruin Chelsea's chance at that.  Man Utd's Javier Hernandez scored a goal, putting Man Utd up 3-2, from a clearly offside position.  It is unfortunate that the ref decided to call the game the way he did and ruin one of the most exciting games of the season.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

UEFA Champions League

FC Barcelona came awfully close to letting 2 points slip to Celtic in today's UEFA Champions League match, a match that resembled last year's semi-finals draw against Chelsea a little too closely.  Barcelona absolutely dominated possession for most of the game, but couldn't put a ball in the net (Possession was 76% to 24%). With the game tied at 1-1, Barcelona stuck to their guns, passing the ball and hovering just outside of Celtic's 18-yard box without being able to get too close to goal.  This was due in large part to some stellar defending by Celtic.  It can be argued - and Barcelona will do it adamantly - that they should have had the lead far earlier in the game, but wasn't the case.  It wasn't until the 94th minute that Jordi Alba was finally able to get the ball past Celtic's Foster.  

Tomorrow's game of the day is definitely the Borussia Dortmund v. Real Madrid.  Two fast counter-attacking teams with a ton of skill. It is bound to be a great match. 

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Playoff Bound!

I was fortunate enough to get tickets to tonight's White Caps match (4th row at center!) against the Portland Timbers before knowing the game would mean anything.  The game failed to deliver on all fronts.  It was simple, win the game to clinch a playoff birth.   The White Caps came out flat and lost the game in a low-action 1-0 affair.  This gave the Portland Timbers their first road win of the season and the Cascadia cup (given to the team with the most points out of Seattle, Portland, Vancouver).  However, the White Cap's fortune turned around later in the evening thanks to a 3-1 Seattle victory over FC Dallas.  This loss officially eliminated FC Dallas from the playoffs, making the White Caps the first Canadian team to make the playoffs in MLS history.  This isn't such a big feat since this is Montreal's first season and Toronto being Toronto, suck.  This is obviously not the White Caps would have envisioned themselves making the playoffs, but sometimes you just have to accept the luck you were given.  They have not played well since around the middle of July, and probably did not deserve to even make the playoffs, but all of that is moot, because they are in now.  They have a clean slate and can hopefully turn that into a long playoff run.  It won't be easy, obviously, with their first coming challenge coming on November 1st with a one and out game against David Beckham and the LA Galaxy, a team they have never beat, in LA.  So with that, let's hope for some more luck to come the White Cap's direction!

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Saturday Soccer: FC Barcelona vs. Deportivo La Coruna

After tying Real Madrid in their last game, Barcelona was looking to keep up their 8 point lead.  Barcelona broke the game open quickly, coming out to a 3-0 lead after the 17th minute.  They received goals from Jordi Alba, Messi and Tello. Deportivo started their comeback with a penalty kick goal which shouldn't have been called - it was a foul, but it was outside of the box.  By half time, Deportivo brought the score back up to 3-2, before Messi made it 4-2 at half time.  Only 2 minutes into the second half, Deportivo's Pizzi scored a beautiful free kick just a few yards outside the box to make it 4-3. Shortly after, Barcelona's Mascherano received his second yellow for hitting Deportivo's Ricky with an inadvertent shoulder.  With a completely make shift back line (Puyol, Pique, Alves, Mascherano all out), Barcelona was forced to try to run the clock out, playing conservatively until Messi, completing his hat trick, gave Barcelona some breathing room with a 5-3 advantage. Barcelona's joy didn't last long.  Two minutes after Messi's goal, it was Jordi Alba with an own goal to bring Deportivo right back into the game.  Luckily, Barcelona was able to hold on to secure the win and keep their 8 point lead over Real Madrid.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi is arguably the best player in soccer, even of all time.  Every year, Messi seems to set record after record at the club level.  Last year, he set the record for most goals in a La Liga campaign, most goals in a season across all competitions, and became the first player to score 5 goals in a Champions League match.  He finishes last year with the more goals and the more assists than any other player across all competitions.

One area that Lionel Messi has lacked is in his play with his home country of Argentina.  Compared to his 0.8 goals/game ratio with FC Barcelona, he has only scored at a pace of 0.4 goals/game with Argentina.  This is the last area where Messi needs to show his dominance in order to be among the best players ever in the game.  This may soon be coming to fruition.  In his international play in 2012, Messi has scored 11 goals in 7 games played, an impressive feat.  However, some of these goals have been scored against some underwhelming countries.  We will see how he holds up in the upcoming 2014 World Cup.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

International Week

I can't say that I ever get excited for soccer's international breaks.  I have to go an entire week without being able to watch the Whitecaps or FC Barcelona or whatever decent game is on (and not at 5am) in the English Premier League.  I might care a little more about international week if any of my associated countries were any good.  Those two countries are Canada (where I live, obviously) and Malta (where my mother's family comes from) and they are ranked 61st and 153rd respectively in FIFA's world rankings.  Needless to say, I will not be holding my breath for a World Cup appearance anytime soon.  However, I did actually get to see Malta score a goal against the Czech Republic on Friday in a qualifying game, which is a rare sight.  They unfortunately went on to lose 3-1.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

White Caps Playoffs

As it stands the Vancouver White Caps are in a playoff position, and look like they might just hang on to keep it.  Only a few months ago, it seemed highly unlikely that they might drop out of playoff contention, but a terrible terrible run of 5 or 6 games has made these last few games far more interesting.  If they do hang on to a spot, they will become the first Canadian MLS team to make it to the playoffs. Its not really that big of a feat.  If anything, it just shows how bad another Toronto sports team is.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

A Classic Clasico

With Barcelona leading Real Madrid by 8 points heading into today's Classico, it was bound to be good. The game started out with a bang with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring the early goal in the 23rd minute.  It was a low hard shot to Victor Valdez' near side post, a shot that Valdez would probably like to have back.  Barcelona struck back twice, taking a 2-1 lead after two goals by Lionel Messi.  The first goal was a fluky one after Pepe botched header left Messi 1 on 1 with Iker Casillas.  Messi's second goal was a beautiful free kick goal from about 25 yards out.  The shot soared over the wall and dropped right past Iker Casillas' outstretched hands.

After Ronaldo hurt his shoulder on what was an absolutely ridiculous bicycle attempt (the ball was well out of his reach, what was he thinking?), it looked like the game might be in Barcelona's favour.  But then, in classic Ronaldo fashion, he ties the game back up at 2-2 on a patented Ronaldo breakaway.  Final score, 2-2.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Carles Puyols

Every Vancouver sports fan knows just how frustrating a never ending series of injuries can be from watching the career of Sami Salo.  It seems as though every year, he struggled through a different injury, often of the incredibly odd variety (a pulled buttocks, bursted testicle and spider bite comes to mind).  Carles Puyol of FC Barcelona's current run of injuries could be worse (though not nearly as odd) than those of Sami Salo's.  At the end of last season, Carles Puyol had knee surgery on an injured knee that caused him to miss out on Spain's 2012 euro winning run.  When he returned from that knee injury this year, he was quickly sidelined again with a broken cheekbone.  Upon returning from the cheekbone injury, he again was sidelined with a knee injury.  Then finally, in today's UEFA Champions League matchup against Portugese Benfica, Carles Puyol was bit again by the injury bug.  After jumping up for a header, Puyol crashed awkwardly to the ground with one arm trapped underneath this body causing the elbow to bend in ungodly manners.  Here's to hoping this is the last of Puyol's injury worries.

Monday, 1 October 2012

FIFA 13, Hands-on

I finally had time this weekend to try out the new FIFA Soccer 13 and it did not disappoint.  The new first-touch engine was impressive, causing lesser skilled players to cough up the ball more often and putting a bigger emphasis on player passing. The career mode feature has some improvements, including international duty for players and managers, Champions League (called Champions Cup) and improved player signing engine (you can now offer players and cash for transfer fees instead of just cash).

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Saturday Soccer Review

There's no better way to spend a Saturday than watching non stop soccer action.  So far, three games watched (Chelsea vs Arsenal, Barcelona vs Sevilla, Manchester United vs Tottenham), one left to go.  By far the best game of the day was Manchester United vs Tottenham Hotspurs.  The first half was slow with the Spurs holding a 2-0 lead.  In the second half, Manchester United really turned on the pressure in the second half, completely dominated all the possession.  However, Manchester United couldn't pull out the come from behind victory like they so often do.  They ended up losing 3-2.

Barcelona took advantage of a soft red card call against Sevilla to come out on top 3-2.  They needed injury time to get the go ahead goal to keep the pressure on Real Madrid.  They are currently 11 points up on them, though Real Madrid has yet to play this week.

Again, the White Caps fail to win. Frustrating.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Barcelona vs Grenada

On Saturday, FC Barcelona faced off against Grenada CF in La Liga play.  As usual, FC Barcelona significantly dominated the game, but the result didn't quite match the possession of the game.  Grenada goalkeeper Toño had the game of his career, robbing Barcelona of many sure fire scoring opportunities.  The inability to score clearly affected FC Barcelona when, in the 40th minute, Messi lost his temper on his teammate David Villa.  This is a rare sight to see from the normally cool tempered Lionel Messi.  For about 30 seconds after the play, you can see the two battering up and down the field.  Finally, in the 84th minute, Xavi finally got one past Toño with an absolutely perfect shot; the goalkeeper didn't stand a chance.  The final score ended 2-0 for FC Barcelona after an unfortunate own goal but the Grenada CF center back.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Sidenote: iPhone 5

I really don't understand the people who line up hours or days before the new iPhone launch, though I am thankful for them.  I got my iPhone 5 on release day, while waiting for a combined 5 minutes between pre-ordering and picking up my phone.  I showed up at the very end of the day on pre-order day at the Bell store.  I was skeptical about getting my iPhone on the September 21st release date, but they assured me I would get it.  Yesterday, on release day, I showed up in the middle of the afternoon to pick up my ordered phone, but again I was skeptical.  But there it was, sitting there ready for me to pickup without having to sleep out outside the Apple store like so many oddly seem to enjoy doing.  This is my first time owning an iPhone, and I'm pretty happy with it.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Champions League Group Stage: Week 1 Follow Up

Unfortunately, despite some very close calls, there weren't really any major upsets in week 1 of the UEFA Champions League.

Let's start with the big game, Manchester City vs. Real Madrid.  Despite having been largely outplayed in the first half, Manchester City was fortunate to see the score show 1-0 after a 68th minute goal by Dzeko.  The two teams later traded goals, giving Manchester City a 3-2 in the 85th minute.  It was almost certainly going to be Manchester City win at that point, but their fortune quickly faded.  After an 87th minute Karim Benzema goal, it was Ronaldo's turn to play the role of hero, adding the winning goal in extra time.  My predictions were off to a decent start.  While the score may have been wrong, the result was right with a 1 goal Real Madrid victory and Real Madrid pressing early with 12 shots directed towards goal in the first half.

Not to be outdone, Wednesday was Lionel Messi's turn to play the hero.  This game should have been a cake walk for Barcelona at home, despite all of their injuries, but they just had to make it an interesting one.  In their defense, they were without a real center back, as Puyol is out with injuries and Pique had to leave the game in the 12th minute due to an ankle injury.  After an early goal by youngster Tello, Barcelona fell behind 2-1 due, in part, to a terrible own goal by Dani Alves.  Now it was Messi's turn, scoring two quick goals in the 72nd and 80th minute; a good start in his attempt to beat his own record for most goals in a single Champions League campaign.  From there on, it was Barcelona doing what they do best.  Keep possession, not letting Moscow have even a sniff at the ball. 3-2 victory for Barcelona.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Champions League Group Stage: Week 1

Tuesday marks the start of the 2012/13 UEFA Champions League campaign for many of Europe's top teams.  The group stage includes some of the most exciting soccer matches of the year, as many of the richest, most powerful teams in Europe get eliminated.  Last year saw the shock elimination of England's Manchester United and Manchester City, Spain's Valencia and Germany's Borussia Dortmund.

Undoubtedly, the biggest game of the week has Spanish champions Real Madrid facing English champions Manchester City (09/18 11:45 PST).  There will be a lot of money and egos on the field on Tuesday (we're not even sure if Ronaldo's will fit through the oversize doorways of the Santiago Bernabéu), with Manchester City spending nearly £1 billion transforming their team in the past few seasons, and Real Madrid always being near the top in terms of spending.  Look for a very aggressive Real Madrid side as they attempt to right the ship and get a much needed 3 points in this year's group of death.  Prediction: 2-1 Real Madrid victory.

Other games of note this week:
 - Chelsea vs Juventus: Can Juventus' stifling defense hold up to Chelsea's new look offense?
 - Valencia vs Bayern Munich: Can Bayern Munich continue their Champion League excellence against a strong Valencia side that is looking for retribution after failing to make it through the group round last year?
 - Barcelona vs Spartak Moskva: Can Messi's run of form carry an injury ridden Barcelona side?

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Soccer Saturday!

Soccer Saturday has come and gone leaving behind some interesting results. For me, the two biggest results were in the Spanish La Liga with Barcelona's 4-1 victory over Getafe and Real Madrid's subsequent defeat 1-0 to Sevilla.  With the loss, Barcelona still sits on top of the standings with 12 of a possible 12 points so far this season.  At the other end of the spectrum, today's loss has left Real Madrid with their worst start in the past 10 seasons, gaining 4 out of a possible 12 points.  While obviously not insurmountable, this 8 point advantage for Barcelona should prove helpful later in the season in their bid to return back to the top of La Liga.  It is hard not to at least partially blame Real Madrid's lack of form on Cristiano Ronaldo and his sulking ways bringing down the team's atmosphere, but for me, I hope he can keep it up.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Cleat Zone

This is the first of multiple (somewhere just above 26 posts, most likely) posts about 'The Beautiful Game', i.e. Soccer, i.e. Football, i.e. Footy, i.e. Association Football, i.e. Synchronized Diving.  I hope you enjoy!