Category Archives: Sports

FC Barca: A Tougher Path To Glory

What kind of season is FC Barca going to have with this new season? As a committed and passionate Barca fan, I find myself thinking about this a lot lately. You may be wondering why I would be worried or concerned about this judging by Barca’s superlative performance over the past 3 seasons. And of course, your musings would be justified. But, I have a sneaking suspicion that the journey for titles and trophies will be much harder for Barca this time around.

Let me start with their lack-luster preseason games. Based on their success last season, you might expect that the La Liga and Champions League victors would easily dominate their preseason matches. Having partied and rested for these games, you would expect them to show mental and match fitness that testify to their current dominance in this sport. But that was far from what actually obtained. Is it that the players are already burned out? Or could it be that having won 14 titles in three years, they now feel like they’ve done it all and so they now lack the fire-in-the-belly required to hunt for more trophies?

I know that the common retort would be to say that Barca was not really serious with these preseason games. Or that since many of our star players were away on international assignments or injured, we should be content with a result that wasn’t too dismal. But I have a different conviction on the matter. Please indulge me a little.

The preseason games would have provided an excellent avenue to assess the strength of the team overall so as to give valuable pointers on what positions in the Barca line-up needed to be reinforced. That would have helped determine what caliber of players to buy for what appears to be another grueling season. It seems to me that Barca appears slightly weakest in the back line/ defense line (I’m open to corrections by the way). Eric Abidal had an operation and is not yet at 100% capacity. Puyol was operated upon recently and is still recovering. Pique and Dani Alvez are also injured.  No matter how great your attacking line is, or how dominant your midfield is, you cannot expect to win games against strong teams if you have an underperforming backline. For Barca, their backline troubles were already there for everyone to see since last season. No wonder Mascherano is often deployed at the back. This is why I expected Guardiola to have gone for defenders as a matter of urgent priority instead of acquiring Fabregas and Sanchez.

I have nothing against Cesc Fabregas first of all. Unless Xavi is retiring at the end of this year, I don’t see why we needed to secure Fabregas when we already had Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Thiago Alcantara and Seydou Keita. Why did they have to spend all that money to get someone when we are already fully fortified at the position he normally plays?  The same thing worries me about the Chilean Alexis Sanchez. Do we not have able and competent strikers up front to take on the task of scoring goals? Of course we do.  Once again, I assure you that I realize how great these players are, and what a blessing their addition to the team is. For example, Fabregas and Sanchez just proved their worth in this first league match by scoring goals. I simply feel like Barca is better served securing every aspect of that formidable line-up—for me that means making important fortifications at the back line. I suppose we shall see if these new signings keep up this great performance. If they do, they’ll more likely snatch the starting duties from Villa and Pedro.

Anyway, we’ve seen Barca win the Spanish Super Cup, the Gampa Cup, and the UEFA Super Cup—a very impressive start to another title-chasing season. Messi, recently crowned the world’s best footballer, seems to be showing no signs of fatigue or depreciation as he continues to provide inspirational plays right when it is needed. I want to believe that Guardiola also has a secret desire to bag a few more titles in order to comfortably establish himself as the best football manager ever on this planet. If his drive and ambition to utterly crush all coaching records (even those set by Johan Cruyff) is matched by the same zeal from his players, then my worries will be assuaged for that can only mean that the tradition of glorious and excellent football by the Catalan giants will continue in these historic times. Truly, at no time ever has the world of football experienced the awesome beauty and majesty of Guardiola-era Blaugrana boys. If they lose focus or have too many injuries then I fear that their potential notwithstanding, they may not win the titles and the glory that is to come.

The season has just started, and as expected, the top 2 teams in the Spanish La Liga have kicked off their fierce battle for supremacy. Real Madrid started their season’s campaign to dislodge Barcelona from the helm by trouncing Real Zaragoza 6-0. Barca replied the challenge by demolishing Villareal 5-0—and just like that these two teams are first and second on the table; another cold war has started. Barcelona may have begun with a bang, but the real question is will they end with a bang or a whimper? What weaknesses are we going to discover about Barca this year? What sort of season lies in stock for them?

Mes Que Un Club—we’ll be watching and cheering all the way.

Golasoooo!

And now check out this football commentator in this match between Corinthians and Internacional:

First of all, if you have never played the exciting game of football (soccer) and you do not actively follow football, this may not make a whole lot of sense to you. But I present it to you all the same, perhaps, to see if I could elicit a chuckle from you.

You know, one of the things that make the game of football as exciting if not the most exciting sport ever is the antics of the commentators. For people like me who can enjoy a good soccer match regardless of commentaries, I’ll have to say that my experience is literally tripled or quadrupled when you have very passionate and committed commentators calling the game. It is the difference between a regular and possibly boring viewership, and one that literally holds you spellbound and glued to your seat in tense anticipation. And when, after much battle, a player manages to break the opponents’ defenses to score a gloriously majestic goal, some committed and talented commentators can literally make the blood rush to your muscles and the hair stand on your back as you scream with joyous abandon at what a talented player/team has wrought!

This is why I love to listen to Spanish and Arabic commentary when watching great games. I do not necessarily need the match info that people might glean from listening to boring English commentary. I am all about the passion, the energy and the beauty of the game—and when a goal finally comes through, I want very much to feel the supercharged and electrifying atmosphere in the stadium—I want that to come through from the energy and passion that the commentators bring to this beautiful game. So, at first, you may find this clip hilarious and that’s okay too. LOL. Just watch it a second time or possibly a third and imagine being on the field out there and witnessing this superhuman individual drive to goal-scoring excellence. Tell me it doesn’t give you goose-pimples watching that amazing goal! I’ll bet this commentator woke up the next morning and discovered he had lost his voice! 🙂

Please, if you have not watched a great soccer match with Spanish or Arabic commentary (Arabic commentary tops the list), you are missing some real excitement. Just try it and I want to guarantee that you’ll never be disappointed.  Please forget most of these dry English commentators—they can make you fall asleep watching the most exciting game of the year. It is a good thing that EA Sports, maker of FIFA 2012, have finally decided to listen to the wishes of the people, and with their next release, one can finally get that much desired passionate and ecstatic Arabic commentary.

Assalamu Alaikum!

If you have other clips of very exciting or funny football commentary, please do share! 🙂

Of Underwhelming Clasicos

Josep Guardiola

This season’s series of El Clasico clashes will end tomorrow after Real Madrid comes to the Camp Nou for the return leg of the Champions League semifinal encounter. The winner of that matchup will in all likelihood meet Manchester United in the final. Before these recent encounters between the Merengues and the Blaugrana started, a lot of devout football fans were beside themselves with joyful anticipation of a great season of impressive football that would thrill like never before. Memories of the 5-0 defeat that Barcelona handed to Real Madrid last November  were all the more reasons why people were anxious to see how Real Madrid would avenge that embarrassing defeat; or else, whether Barca would come close to another impressive and dominant performance.

Sadly, the past three encounters have left a bitter taste in my mouth. To tell you the truth, I am disappointed by what has gone down so far. I’ll make a few observations here.

A. Barcelona’s quality of play has been on the waning end lately. I don’t know exactly why that is the case, but their overall performance is not as crisp and as stellar as it used to be earlier this season. For one, Pedro and Villa need to rediscover their goal-poaching instincts. It used to be that in any match, the opposing team’s defenders could not really decide who to cast their attention on between the three forwards Messi, Villa and Pedro. Any one of them could score on you at any time, and so it was not very easy to exclusively mark one of these three to the point of figuratively taking him out of the game. Now, because it seems that the main task of scoring goals has fallen on Messi’s shoulders (in recent games), I find that opponents just find it easier to put 2 or 3 defenders on Messi thereby shutting him out of the game. Of course it doesn’t always work when Messi finds a way to score, but can you imagine what it would be like if when Messi finds himself in that position, the other two strikers pick it up and start banging in goals? And then there is the issue of the injuries that Barcelona have had lately. All these add up to slightly less than satisfactory performance from Barca in recent times as far as I am concerned.

B. Jose Mourinho’s football philosophy, or his tactical strategy towards games may be adored and praised by many, but I find it exasperatingly negative in matches against Barcelona. Anyone who has seen Real Madrid play against other teams realize that with Real Madrid’s formidable array of players (just look at their bench for crying out loud), they are capable of comprehensively beating any team in the world. The Real Madrid of yesteryears (before Mourinho came along) were masters at the beautiful free-flowing game of football. They had good attackers and good defenders and were content to let a game go on to its fanciful and spell-binding end. However, when Real Madrid meets Barcelona, for some reason Mourinho thinks it best to ask his formidable line of attackers to bury their goal-seeking instincts in order to defend the goal. I find that a very unusual strategy. Why in the world does Jose Mourinho think it a great strategy for a team like Real Madrid to “park the bus” against Barcelona—without directly or indirectly conceding that he considers Barcelona the better team? Does he think that Real Madrid cannot play a normal free-flowing game against Barcelona and win?

Jose Mourinho

C. As we have seen in the first two encounters, Mourinho practically gave up the midfield and football possession to Barcelona; content to just massively defend, quickly counterattack and fall back in a massive defensive posture again. To his benefit, that strategy yielded a 1-1 draw, and a 1-0 victory over Barca to win the Copa Del Rey. But as anyone has seen, that strategy is not without its downside. For one, it makes for a very dull and edgy game of football. The Galacticos have an impressive bench to take on any team in the world without feeling a need to adopt an overly defensive posture. But since Mourinho had successfully employed this “park a bus” approach in last year’s Champions league semis between Inter and Barca, he obviously feels that is the only possible way of getting any result against Barcelona. Secondly, that strategy often results in an overly aggressive game of football—one in which every contact in the game is exaggerated and possibly milked for referee sympathy.

D. When Pep Guardiola noticed Mourinho’s strategy in the first two encounters, he switched it up for the third game. Seeing that Mourinho simply wants to keep his men defending at all times, and relying on quick counter attacks to demoralize, Guardiola had to come up with a new strategy. So what did he do? He decided that the best way to go about this was to maintain maximum possession. And so Barca was content to just pass the ball around all day, daring and defying Real Madrid players to come out and attempt to get the ball. The result was a very dominant and frustrating 71% of ball possession for Barca in front of Real Madrid’s home fans. At a point, the crowd became restless and wanted some results from their players. But because of Barcelona’s stranglehold on the ball, Real Madrid’s players were frustrated to the point where they became inpatient and overly aggressive. You could see it in the kicks, jabs, pushing and shoving, tugging and grabbing that ensued. And that was just what Barca wanted, for they milked it to perfection—diving and feigning injury at every opportunity they got. It was all embarrassing to watch Alvez and Busquets falling all over the place pretending to be hurt, only to quickly jump up and continue after a card had been given. But who is to blame Barca for Real Madrid’s intentional decision to play an overly defensive game? Is Barca to blame for the fact that Mourinho chose not to deploy his attacking talents in the game?

E. Tomorrow’s game is probably going to be like the previous ones. I expect to see another overly aggressive game of football where impatient Real Madrid players try to suffocate the dominant and slithery passing game of Barcelona. But I have a nagging feeling that we will see another serious round of drama tomorrow. Barcelona defeated Real 2-0 on the home pitch and as long as they maintain a tie in this upcoming game, they’ll advance to the final. But anything can happen. If Mourinho dumps this overly defensive posture and comes out to snatch goals, then truly anything can happen. They might even succeed in beating Barcelona on their own field—a feat which is well nigh impossible this season. Perhaps this last encounter will give lovers of football a memorable and entertaining game of impressive football to be discussed for weeks or possibly months. But I doubt that. In all likelihood, we are going to witness another ugly match to emphasize the depth and bitterness of this long-standing rivalry.

So in three games we have seen a draw, and a win by both Madrid and Barca. What would tomorrow hold? Will it end in a draw?

El Clasicos 2011

Real Madrid vs FC Barcelona

Last year, this was what I had to write concerning the match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. I frankly did not expect that Barca would rout them 5-0. Well, guess what? That time is upon us again. yayyyyyyy!  Only that this time, we have the awesome prospect of watching 4 thrilling Clasico matches in the space of less than 3 weeks. yayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!

Now, I am going to say that considering the present shape of my Blaugrana boys—injuries and  card suspensions—I think they are going to have a very steep uphill climb against them when they get to the Bernabeu tomorrow. I might go as far as predicting a draw or a 1-0 victory for Real Madrid. What, you think Real Madrid will beat Barca 5-0?  Let me assure you that will never happen. At most I see a 2 goal difference and nothing more. I am even going to wager that we might even dominate Real Madrid on other game-stats like possession, goals on target etc.

It seems to me that we can lose this particular game and still win the league title.  What we really need to focus on  is the Copa Del Rey final next Wednesday and the upcoming Champions league semi final matches against Real Madrid. If we can beat them in the Del Rey final, and then beat them with enough margin in the Champions league encounter (so as to advance to the finals based on aggregates), then I think it would be only fair to tell Real Madrid fans to submit willingly to Barca as the undisputed Lords of Spanish football.

Less than 48 hours now. I cannot contain my excitement. Pep Guardiola seems ready. Jose Mourinho seems ready. Messi has been an absolute goal banger this season and he seems ready. Ronaldo is just shy of Messi’s 29 goals by just one goal so you know he is definitely ready and eager to score against Barca. The rest of the Barca team is ready despite the fitness worries. Real Madrid team is also ready to revenge the 5-0 loss. And finally, the entire country of Spain , and the entire football world is ready for this EPIC  CLASH. Get the drinks and  popcorn ready—we are in for some great times.

Just so we do not forget, here is a video of the 5-0 humiliation that Barca handed  to Real Madrid last November. It is absolutely delicious. Savor it because you never know when you will be blessed this way again.

Real Madrid vs Tottenham

I just watched an interesting Champions League encounter between Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspurs. Before the match started, I told myself that Real Madrid must do whatever they needed to do to win this match. The reason is fairly obvious: having dropped 8 points behind their archrivals FC Barcelona, I do not see a plausible scenario where they can succeed in winning the league title this year.

And that’s the rub isn’t it? So, even if they succeed in beating Barcelona in the upcoming El Classico, with 10 or less games left in the season, they would still need for Barcelona to lose a few more games home or away to get a realistic shot at the title. That is quite plainly, asking for too much. So, they had to come to this champions league match with a singular determination to do well. If they can keep their superior form, Jose Mourinho may nurse dreams of bringing the Champions League trophy to the Merengues.

So, I wasn’t surprised to see Adebayor score in the 4th minute of opening play as Los Blancos quickly surged ahead by one goal.

What I totally did not foresee was that Peter Crouch, the focal point of Tottenham’s attack, would bag a second yellow in this match and be sent off the pitch. What was his crime? He stretched out his long legs to stop the ball just as Marcelo was running to the ball. Noticing that Peter Crouch had already started going for the ball near the Real Madrid goal, Marcelo lifted himself up partially to avoid a direct collision, but then dramatically tumbled afterwards. It was a well-orchestrated fiction that duped the referee into believing that Crouch had committed a foul. Marcelo deserves an Oscar for that riveting performance.

With Peter Crouch gone, I knew at that point that the game was effectively over. Tottenham had no prayer in this match—certainly not against the caliber of Real Madrid. The first ended with Adebayor’s lone goal. It was during the second half then that Real Madrid came out guns blazing. Adebayor scored his second goal with a magnificent header; Di Maria blasted a powerful cannon that made the scoreline 3-0; and with 87 minutes gone, Kaka wires a cross that finds Ronaldo unmarked. He eagerly blasted another low shot that beat the poor keeper. 4-0 was an impressive way to defeat Harry Redknapp and his boys.

InterMilan lost to Schalke 2-5, strange as that seems to me.

Tomorrow, get ready to see Chelsea take on Manchester United in the Champion’s League. At that same time, FC Barcelona is set to play Shakhtar Donetsk. Barcelona, my team, will be playing at home and I frankly do not want to miss that match. However, I am confident enough to predict a victory. But I am also eager to check out the fierce rivalry between the number 1 and 4 of English football. At any rate, I’ll find a way to juggle both games. Did I hear someone, in earnest anticipation of tomorrow’s entertaining games say “the more the merrier”?

Gunners Vs Blaugrana

The entire soccer world is getting ready for tomorrow’s UEFA Champions league face-off between Arsenal and FC Barcelona. Arsenal comes to this match with a lot of confidence following their consistently good performance in the EPL of late. Besides, they’ll be coming out to avenge their disgraceful loss to the Blaugrana boys in the same tournament last year. If you can remember, the gunners came to that game bragging and threatening to dunt FC Barcelona a good clattering. When they were beaten 4-1 convincingly by an unstoppable force of nature called Lionel Messi, they had to learn the hard way that when Barcelona is your opponent, there is no need for empty boasts and an exaggerated show of confidence.

Arsenal prides herself as being the team in the EPL that plays the most beautiful and entertaining football. Nevertheless, I think that after their ordeal at the hands of Barcelona last year, they must have found some new respect for the Barcelona team, and are not likely to approach this crucial encounter with exaggerated confidence. That does not mean however that Arsene Wenger and his boys  will not give their very best in trying to prove to the world that they can beat any good team on any given day.

Barcelona, it has to be said, also needs to be wary of being too complacent; too self-assured of their invincibility, or too guarded. Since both teams play that free-flowing, multiple passes, gorgeous football, I expect a match filled with lots of dazzling individual skill as well as a clear demonstration of team cohesiveness. Barcelona should also not forget the rather disappointing result with Gijon last Saturday. It shows that with determination, Barcelona can still be made to draw or lose a game. The trick is to score against the Catalan Giants first and defend aggressively. Therefore Barcelona needs to exhibit a certain eagerness to show their fans that last Saturday’s match was just a slight road bump for better laid plans.

All in all, I expect a Barcelona victory. I predict that Barca will win 3-1.

O’er The Ramparts…

When Christina Aguilera royally fumbled the national anthem last Sunday, I quickly remembered why I have never been impressed by her so-called singing talent. Now, granted, it is not easy to perform on a grand scale like this, but come on, she should have been more prepared. Did she take the gig and think she could just waltz on to the stage and render a patriotic piece flawlessly without some measure of preparation? And if she actually did prepare, does it mean that all the time she was doing it, she never bothered to figure out the exact words? Or was this a case of stage fright?

It couldn’t be, could it? I mean, performing in front of mammoth crowds is supposed to be her thing isn’t it? At any rate, after her miserable performance, I took the liberty of scouting for some better attempts. The Star Spangled Banner is a powerful and patriotic song—it deserves to be done right whenever it is done. Think about it—the Super Bowl is viewed in other countries as well, so it is only fitting that it be performed as close to perfection as possible.  But I hear you murmuring that you never learned the words to the song. Well here it is:

O! say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

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Packers Vs Steelers

Tomorrow is the big day. It is the day of Super Bowl XLV—the greatest single sports event in these United States. This year’s super bowl will be played in the Cowboy’s beautiful new stadium in Arlington, Texas. The kickoff time will be around 6:30 on the East Coast. Already the excitement is in the air.

This year’s battle for the top prize will be between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers. I really have no dog in this fight because I will be satisfied with the victory of either side. I am sure by now, if you are a follower of this game, you already know the team you want to win. But you see, I am already thinking of the Super Bowl party I’ll be hosting with friends.  I’ll have to be careful though because I am the only one amongst my friends that is actually rooting for the Packers; the rest of my buddies are convinced that the Steelers would win. Therefore, to piss them off, I’ll cheer for the Packers even though I won’t really mind if the Steelers actually win it all. I wouldn’t want an ugly incident if or rather when these Steelers lose, so I’ll try not to rub it in.

Fortunately, I am no longer the gambling type, or I would have placed some real bets on a Packers’ victory. Later on, I’ll post some clips of the funny Super Bowl ads we’ll see. Enjoy the game.

Go Packers!

El Classico 2010

In the Spanish Primera Liga, there are indisputably two giant sides—Real Madrid and Barcelona. The meeting of these two titans of Spanish football, dubbed El Classico, is so huge that it attracts global attention.  And once again, an El Classico game is around the corner again. Tomorrow by 9pm local time, Real Madrid and Barcelona will square off again. Every true follower of the sport will definitely want to watch this match.

In the league standings, Real Madrid is at the top of the table; Barcelona is following closely behind, being separated from the top position by just 1 point. I need not tell you the amount of pressure that puts on Real Madrid to keep performing or they could easily be displaced at the top of the league table. So, if you are a betting kind of person, who are you going to bet on?

Well, let’s consider this:

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Congrats, Super Falcons!

LETS GO DANCING-•••Super Falcons are not only champions in women football. They are also champions in dancing. The girls showed off their stuff in dancing after tearing Equatorial Guinea to shreds 4-2 to reclaim the AWC trophy in South Africa.

It was less than a month ago that I was informed by Super Falcons defender, Ms. Onome Ebi, that she was finalizing her plans to travel from her base in Sweden to Nigeria. She was going back on a national assignment – the biennial African Women’s Championship. Before that, she had immersed herself in tough physical and mental preparations for the female version of the African Cup of Nations.

 

Onosky – as she is popularly known by in Bunibuni, a fast-growing internet community of diasporan Africans and friends of Africa – has one charming trait that always struck me. It is her general humility and quiet resilience. Each time we spoke as the days got closer for her departure to Nigeria, I couldn’t help but notice her unwavering patriotism, her sense of devotion to both club and country, and the ease with which she dealt with what must have been a very physically, mentally and emotionally challenging time.

Then she traveled. I contacted her briefly when she went back home and when she was getting ready, with the rest of Nigeria’s Super Falcons, for the flight to South Africa. I made the conscious effort not to call her during the tournament so as not to to become an unwanted source of distraction. I wanted her to sink all her energy and dedication, along with the rest of Super Falcons, into reclaiming the top prize. And, I am glad, to discover, as I was reading today’s headlines, that my bet paid off.

The Super Falcons are Champions again! Yes, they defeated Equatorial Guinea just yesterday!

They have demonstrated superlative football dominance in Africa. As a matter of fact, if the Nigerian male national team, the Super Eagles, were half as dominating as the Super Falcons are in these biennial African tournaments, I am sure that would be a great source of pride for Nigerians. To put it in proper perspective: the recently concluded female African cup of Nations is the 7th edition of that tournament – and the Super Falcons have carried the gold in 6 of those 7 tournaments. The 2008 winners Equatorial Guinea defeated the Falcons to win the gold. So, as you can tell, it was sweet revenge for the Falcons when they met with and beat Equatorial Guinea 4-2 in a most exciting finale.

Sadly, not too many Africans in the diapora knew that this tournament was going on; an even smaller number got to see any of the matches. I searched really hard and could not find anywhere on the air or on the web to see any of the matches. Nevertheless, my well-wishes were with Onosky and the Super Falcons. And indeed, they have done the nation proud. I cannot wait to call her with my profuse gratitude.

Bravo Falcons – keep flying high, keep your dazzle!

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