Team DB

‘Sir’ Becks

Like most of the country I’m rather enjoying the Olympics. Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony was truly, truly epic and now whether it’s swimming, cycling, gymnastics, rowing, weight lifting, basketball, volleyball or even archery I’m absolutely loving it – even more so as it’s in London. Unsurprisingly I’ve also been keeping tabs on the football, in fact I’ve got tickets for three matches!

A lack of home interest has never stopped me following Olympic football before now however just as England’s absence from Euro 2008 didn’t stop me living every moment but the fact that a team is representing Great Britain for the first time in 41 years certainly provides added intrigue. Unfortunately for me their victory over Uruguay means that they will have to reach the final, negotiating a half of the draw containing Brazil, for me to get to see them despite my unbelievable ticket windfall!!!

My tickets:

Quarter Final – Sat 3rd – Senegal v Mexico (with the missus)

Semi-Final – Tue 7th – winner of Sen v Mex against winner of Jap v Egy (courtesy of the legendary Pez-man)

Final – Sat 11th – Gold Medal match! (courtesy of the legendary Ken-babes)

Despite all of this excitement my favourite footballer and athlete of the games so far has been a man who isn’t even competing. A man who was instrumental in London’s successful bid and who was prematurely (but excellently) proclaimed as a knight of the realm as Britain received the Olympic flame in the Panathenaic Stadium. A man who out-James Bonded James Bond himself (whether that would have happened on Brosnan’s watch is open to debate) at the opening ceremony.

The greatest thing that has ever happened. Ever.

Now I don’t think that Beckham should have been in the GB squad just because he helped with the bid – as everyone seems to have said, ‘then Coe would be in the athletics team‘ but let’s not forget that Becks can still play a bit!!! Maybe it was right not to pick him (that was difficult to write) but wouldn’t it have been bloody brilliant if he’d had his Shevchenko moment…

Here’s what we missed out on as he scored a brace for LA Galaxy just a couple of weeks ago shortly after finding out he had missed out on a place in Stuart Pearce’s squad:

 

Portland Timbers meanwhile must be sick of the sight of him as he already scored something of a wonder goal against them back in April as posted here on Mountain’s Short Thoughts & Measured Musings.

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Roberto Carlos Retires (there are videos…)

Legend

Wow. So ol’ thunder thighs has officially hung up his boots. For my thoughts on that, pretty much see my thoughts on Ronaldo retiring last year.

Meanwhile, without further ado, here is that goal:

(The second replay behind the ball is the one, unbelievable scenes!)

 

125 caps for Brazil (11 goals)
1x FIFA World Cup: 2002 (runner-up 1998)
2x Copa América: 1997, 1999
1x FIFA Confederations Cup: 1997

Real Madrid (over 400 appearances, 50 goals 1996–2007)
3x UEFA Champions League: 1998, 2000, 2002
4x La Liga titles: 1997, 2001, 2003, 2007
3x Spanish Supercopa: 1997, 2001, 2003
2x Intercontinental Cup: 1998, 2002
1x UEFA Super Cup: 2002

(…and that’s just the highlights!)

More vids? Go on then…

 

Bobby Carlos: bloody hero.

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What’s Going On?

History maker

Updates:

The old Musings from Mountain’s Blog can now be found here on Mountain’s Short Thoughts & Measured Musings:

Football Italia: The all-time XI British & Irish footballers to play in Italy

In Arsène We Trust?… Yes of course. Here’s why.

Il Fenomeno and Me (and perhaps you too)

 

Coming soon on Mountain’s Short Thoughts & Measured Musings:

Something Olympicsey…

The Cool Wall Post 2…

Euro 2012 Retrospective (later this summer)…

& plenty more flotsam, jetsam and detritus for your consumption.

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Some Short Thoughts on the Euro 2012 Group Stage

Wot No Posts???

Wow. So the entire group stage has gone by without a single post!!! Sorry about that.

It’s no doubt due to the fact that I’ve been glued to the nearest television set since 8th June and today is the first day without a single match although I suspect that I’ve also been avoiding posting anything too trivial to immediately follow my post on Panorama’s Stadiums of Hate.

Euro 2012 has however been a bit good. The format of 15 of the best teams in the world (and Ireland) makes for a brilliant and unique tournament on paper that it has certainly not disappointed (good job UEFA has decided to change it to 24 teams for France 2016 eh?).

The Greatest Strike Partnership Ever?

Unable to replicate the heroics of their last major tournament in 2002, the Irish equalled the worst Euro record of all time with 3 losses and a goal difference of -8 (equal with Bulgaria in 2004 and Denmark in 2000 as well as Yugoslavia in 1984 in the 8 team format, so not bad company actually!). As they were in a group with Spain, the top-ranked team in the world, fellow top-10 team Croatia and the 2006 World Cup winners Italy this is not of course surprising (they played Saudi Arabia in 2002) although conceding within the first five minutes of the first four halves of football you play doesn’t help either! Hopefully the fans won’t turn on Trap though, he has after all worked wonders to get them there after the disappointment of losing the World Cup 2010 qualification play-off to Thierry Henry’s ‘hand of god’ moment.

The second ‘worst’ team at this year’s Euros? World Cup runners-up the Netherlands, a team ranked fourth in the world that boasts the talents of Van Persie, Sniejder, Robben et al. Unbelievably they also crashed out like a British Eurovision entry by registering ‘nul points’.

The Oranje were of course victims of the Group of Death that featured four of the top ten ranked teams in the world. Russia meanwhile, everybody’s ‘dark horses‘ after one half of good football, also failed to make it out of the group, only their group was more like the Group of Life! It was a situation that as it unfolded had commentators and tweeters alike getting themselves all worked up that a team captained by Andrei Arshavin seemed to ‘lack a sense urgency’ without even a hint of irony.

It’s not our problem we didn’t meet your expectations. It’s your problem.

–  Arshavin to fans (and commentators… and pundits… and half of twitter…)

Howd’ya like them apples?

The final matches of each group provided a head-to-heads before goal-difference/3 team mini league-tastic mathematical scramble with everything to play for (unless you’re Ireland… or Sweden). Personally I feel most sorry for Croatia and to a lesser extent Denmark, whilst Sweden could equally have made it through too had they not succumbed to a sensational Shevchenko swan-song in their opening fixture.

England won their group comfortably in the end despite not thrilling and the fact that anything could have happened in the Sweden game. What about the Ukraine’s goal that wasn’t given I hear you cry? Well, whilst we clearly still need goal line technology, IT WAS OFFSIDE! Glad we cleared that up.

Final Group Stage Standings

 

Game of the Group Stage

My favourite game of the Group Stage was Spain 1-1 Italy, pitting del Bosque’s strikerless stars against Prandelli’s 3-5-2. It was a fascinating clash of tactical styles with Italy negating the Spanish system for long periods whilst also finding the gaps in it despite having far less possession. It was only when Torres came on in the 74th minute that the Italian back three, which contained a midfielder in De Rossi as the ball-player, came unstuck but luckily for the Italians Fernando wouldn’t find his shooting boots until the next game (against the lucky Irish). As a ‘false’ centre-back De Rossi did an excellent job against the false 9s and despite having to hang on desperately later in the game it was the Italian system that worked better over the match as a whole. If Prandelli adopted the 3-5-2 because knew that del Bosque would start without a recognised striker then it was genius, if it was primarily due to the absence of key centre-back Barzagli whilst he recovered from injury then it was perhaps less so, but it worked.

CLICK TO ENLARGE

Right, now that the evening without any football has been filled with some football, bring on the Knockout Stage!!!

Let’s hope we all have at least one more opportunity to sing Three Lions at the top of our voices before the end!

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Stadiums of Hate and my trip to a place worse than hell

Last Monday Panorama’s Euro 2012: Stadiums of Hate aired on BBC One showing “shocking new evidence of racist violence and anti-Semitism at the heart of Polish and Ukrainian football“. The show caused controversy and met criticism from officials and many other viewers in both countries for being sensationalist and misrepresentative.

White Legion graffiti in Warsaw

The programme documented violence towards policemen and stewards and anti-Semitic and racist chanting and banners in Poland whilst in the Ukraine fascist ‘Nazi’ salutes were seen at every match as well as more anti-Semitic and racist chanting, a far-right group of hooligans and a racially motivated assault on a group of students by fans supporting the same team. With the exception of a reference to a specific banner displayed by fans of a Polish team in Rzeszów two years ago that read “Death to hook-noses” everything in the programme took place during a month long visit in the run-up to the European Championships being co-hosted by these two countries. It makes for extremely uncomfortable viewing.

Shaun in This is England

Jamie Stokes in the Krakow Post stated last week that “the image of this country (Poland) portrayed in the documentary does not reflect the one I know“. Whether Panorama’s coverage was as balanced as it could have been or not, most English viewers should be aware (despite the fears of many in the host nations) that the incidents shown do not mean that everybody in Poland and the Ukraine is racist, nor that all football fans in these countries are racist not least because it is not so many years ago that football in England was regularly marred by incidents of overt racism and hooliganism as well as pockets of highly questionable right-wing politics. Worse than that we were the ones that invented most of it; it is unmistakably linked to the so called English Disease that still rears its ugly head from time to time although thankfully not to the same degree as previously.

John Barnes kicks a banana from the pitch (1988)

Despite, or even partly because of this however, the severity of the scenes from Panorama happening in the present day are deeply disturbing. As Sol Campbell explains in total exasperation as he is shown footage of anti-Semitic chanting in Poland “I know it was (like this in England) at one stage but in the 21st century this is on another level“. The fact that this assessment comes from somebody that was still playing in 2011 and suffered racist and homophobic abuse as well as death threats at points during his career in England gives an idea of just how shocking some of the footage is.

Campbell is also somebody who has played for and against Tottenham in derbies where anti-Semitism has been seen in England with the added complication of Spurs fans referring to themselves using the ‘y-word‘, something confronted by David Baddiel and Kick It Out last year:

 

 

Campbell goes on, understandably, to question UEFA’s decision to award such a prestigious tournament to countries where football is suffering so overtly from various problems with so little apparently being done about it. Ukraine’s Euro 2012 director Markian Lubkivsky has described Campbell’s comments as insolent and stated that he does “not understand the aim” of Campbell’s comments before betraying his ignorance with the following astonishing quote:

“Nazi symbols can be seen at… any match in England, but does it mean that fans should not come to London for the Olympics?”

– Markian Lubkivsky (Ukraine’s Euro 2012 director)

For me however, this is not primarily about the Euros at all; as Michał Zachodny (who quite aside from this issue is well worth following on twitter: @polishscout) suggests, Panorama may have “proved to misunderstand the differences between club and international football” in Euro 2012: Stadiums of Hate. That said, The Netherlands had to complain to Uefa over racist chanting during their training session on Wednesday, ruining hopes of a racism free Euros before the first match had even kicked off.

Michał Zachodny explains in his blog for The Independent that whilst there is in fact much to praise about Polish football…

“Unfortunately, there is also the bad side. There is the right-wing side, strongly politicized, wanting to influence young minds of those flowing into the stands of stadiums in Poland. The nationalism is preferred among ‘ultras’ groups, the country is seemed as the greater good, while the main assumptions are, indeed, too close to what was shown on the BBC on Monday night.

Yet this is still only a minority. This is not coming from someone that tries to disagree with the real evaluation of the problem, but a person that knows it too well and tries to understand it and then solve it; not just make cheap sensation out of it…

Though there are issues regarding flags used by different groups of fans, their activity and chanting throughout each game, the most worrying thing is the attitude…

There are only rare actions taken by the football authorities in Poland against the biggest, yet decreasing, problem. There is no cooperation with fans, there is no encouraging them to report incidents, there is no idea how to punish those who are repeating abusive chants. Even after the Krakow derby, which was shown in the programme, Wisła and Cracovia were given relatively average fines for awful scenes throughout the ninety minutes. This is the real problem.

HCAFC in Krakow

This brings us onto the part of Panorama’s footage that I personally found most troubling; that of the Krakow derby. This is because in 2010 I travelled to Krakow on the kind of stag-do-esque football tour that probably gives the residents a justifiably dim view of us Brits, football fans or otherwise, and of course had a fantastic time. The city centre was beautiful, the people were mostly friendly and we even played some football! We all left Poland in no doubt that Krakow was an excellent place to visit.

(Although there was a hairy moment when it quickly became apparent that we were less than welcome on a certain section of a nearby beach, an incident when a policeman attempted to fine us an extortionate trip-ending amount of złoty before being bartered down to a fraction of his opening offer, the fact that we were staying in a place called the ‘Goodbye Lenin Hostel’ that sought to show “the absurdity of Poland’s communistic years ‘through colorful and optimistic glasses’” and we also stumbled upon what appeared to be a bizarre Nazi memorabilia market at one point…)

During our week there some of us, despite the light-hearted nature of our trip to Krakow, decided to make the short journey out of the city to visit the infamous Nazi concentration and extermination camps at Auschwitz. It is a trip that many England players themselves made today.

Auschwitz-Birkenau

Avram Grant says that after a person has visited Auschwitz for the first time “they are not the same after“, something I would certainly agree with. The Stalin quote about a single death being a tragedy and a million being a statistic, whether he said it or not, is all too true and even though we all knew of the camp until you actually visit it it’s almost impossible to begin to comprehend the atrocities that took place there. Around one and a half million human lives were taken at Auschwitz by fellow human beings. That’s one and a half million. Most of them were Jews.

It’s an almost unfathomable truth that slowly sinks in as you see the camp, the gas chamber, the crematorium, the medical experimentation block, the execution wall, the suitcases packed by the prisoners who didn’t know where they were being sent, the two tonnes of human hair cut from gassed victims that was to be sold to textile factories, the piles of thousands of victims’ shoes and glasses…

Victims’ hair, glasses and shoes at Auschwitz

As they got off the train to visit Auschwitz last week Avram Grant said to Dan Walker “and now we go to hell” before reflecting later that “hell is a nice word” for that place. Grant’s own father was a Polish Jew; a man who saw his family decimated by the holocaust, burying his own sister and father with his bare hands whilst at least fifteen other relatives perished at Auschwitz.

Avram Grant under the “Arbeit macht frei” sign (‘work will set you free‘)

Krakow is just 30 miles from Auschwitz. Oskar Schindler’s factory, also visited by England players, is in in the city of Krakow iself. Yet in the words of Nick Lowles from Hope Not Hate “anti-Semitism is very strong… as we saw tonight people had (anti-Semitic) T-shirts on, people were not being confronted by stewards“.

It is worth remembering also that not only were a large proportion of the Jews murdered at Auschwitz Polish but that tens if not hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish Poles were among the victims too.

Goodbye Forever‘ a Wisła fan’s T-shirt at the Krakow derby

The existence of any iota of anti-Semitism in such a place is appalling, the fact that the authorities have done so little to deal with it is even more so and is intensely troubling.

“…when Polish hooligans label their enemies ‘Jewish,’ they are doing pretty much the same thing that the average, middle-class Brit is doing when he calls his friend’s trousers ‘a bit gay.’”

Jamie Stokes (Krakow Times)

Views like the one expressed above, however apologetically conveyed, are disgraceful and only serve to exacerbate the problem.

Plaque at Auschwitz-Birkenau

Perhaps part of what has ruffled feathers in Poland and the Ukraine is that whilst Markian Lubkivsky may be wrong about the profligacy of Nazi symbols in English football, they have certainly been seen in other big ‘western’ leagues in recent years as well as racist chanting including incidents that forced Samuel Eto’o and Marco Zoro to walk off of the pitch in La Liga and Serie A respectively. Racism is clearly still a problem in football across Europe.

Despite this it is hard to believe that the situations in the host nations are not particularly bad cases (whilst appreciating at the same time that that Poland and the Ukraine are two very different countries). For me though it is the unchallenged anti-Semitism and extreme right-wing displays in Poland, especially in the South, given the context of what happened there in the last century that stand alone as the most shameful and disgusting state of affairs that I have been aware of in my lifetime as a football fan.

(left to right) Di Canio gives a fascist salute, Lazio fans with swastika banner in Italy, Real Madrid fans with swastika banner in Spain, anti-Semitic Hansa Rostock banner in Germany

For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women and children, mainly Jews from various countries of Europe. Auschwitz-Birkenau 1940-1945

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Merlin’s Premier League Stickers of the Week: I Remember When You Played… Chelsea ’98’s Coaches

Following Roberto Di Matteo’s unbelievable end to the season as Chelsea caretaker manager, here’s a look back at when he played as well as his team-mates from circa 1998 who have also tried their hand at management (they’ve all been at it!).

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Featured in 1997/98: Ruud Gullit (Terek Grozny manager; managed Chelsea, Newcastle, Feyenoord & LA Galaxy)

Featured in 1997/98: Roberto Di Matteo (Chelsea caretaker manager; managed MK Dons & West Brom), Gus Poyet (Brighton manager, was assistant at Swindon, Leeds & Tottenham), Gianfranco Zola (managed West Ham, was assistant for Italy U21), Mark Hughes (QPR manager; managed Wales, Blackburn, Man City & Fulham), Dan Petrescu (Kuban Krasnodar manager; managed Rapid Bucureşti, Sportul Studenţesc, Wisła Kraków & Unirea Urziceni), Gianluca Vialli (managed Chelsea & Watford), Steve Clarke (was assistant at Newcastle (& caretaker manager), Chelsea, West Ham & Liverpool), Dennis Wise (managed Millwall, Southampton, Swindon & Leeds)

Featured in 1998/99: Pierluigi Casiraghi (managed Lenano & Italy U21)

[All these (and more…) can be found in the Sticker Archive]

 

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Champions League Final Build-Up (3/3): Planning for Penalties

It’s 2008 and at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow Avram Grant’s Chelsea have taken the Champions League final against Manchester United to penalties. Luckily Avram has received the following advice for this very situation:

  1. Van der Sar tends to dive to the kicker’s ‘natural side’ more often than most keepers do. This means that when facing a right-footed kicker, he will usually dive to his own right and when facing a left-footed kicker, to his own left. Chelsea’s right-footed penalty-takers therefore have a better chance if they shoot to their ‘unnatural side’, Van der Sar’s left.
  2. The vast majority of the penalties Van der Sar stops are kicked to a mid-height and hence penalties against him should be kicked just on the ground or high up.
  3. Christiano Ronaldo often stops in the run-up to the ball. If he stops, he is likely (85%) to kick to the keeper’s right-hand side. He also seems to be able to change his mind about where to put the ball at the very last instant. That means that it is crucial for Čech not to move early. When a keeper moves early, Ronaldo always scores.
  4. If you win the toss you should choose to go first. Teams going first win 60% of the time.
Now that you’re aware of these instructions, here’s the penalty shoot-out that decided the 2008 Champions League Final… (The audio begins 10 seconds in.)
Chelsea lost the toss and (although not in the video) as Rio Ferdinand asked the bench what to do John Terry did in fact offer to go first. United unsurprisingly knew better and took the opportunity to go first themselves. As the shoot-out progresses Chelsea clearly follow the advice to great effect even though Ashley Cole very nearly ruins it all by ignoring point 1 and hitting his left-footed penalty to his ‘natural’ side (the keeper’s right). His penalty does creep in however, perhaps due to it being kept low as point 2 advised (all the initial Chelsea penalty-takers aim either high or low). With Čech following point 3 perfectly to thwart Ronaldo these simple instructions would have seen Chelsea crowned champions of Europe if only John Terry had not slipped.

85% of the time, he hits it there every time

The instructions were written by Basque economist Ignacio Palacios who was put in touch with Avram Grant by a professor of economics and mathematics at an Israeli university who knew them both. As the shoot-out goes into sudden-death Kalou is also able to follow the advice to the letter to beat Van der Sar with ease but by the seventh penalty the pressure was on. Chelsea’s first six had all gone to the United keeper’s left and although they varied in height, this repetition is approaching what economists call a ‘pure strategy’ and the problem with pure strategies is that they are predictable. As my girlfriend said straight away when I showed her the instructions: “Won’t the goalkeeper work out what they are doing?“.

Whether Cole putting his left-footed penalty to Van der Sar’s right would have thrown the Dutchman off the scent or whether he would equally have noticed that every penalty had been placed to the ‘unnatural’ side is hard to say but by the time Nicolas Anelka steps up, Van der Sar is onto them.

If you missed this the first time you have to go back and watch it because it’s simply brilliant: as Anelka is preparing to take his penalty Van der Sar actually points to his left, to where Anelka has been told to hit his penalty…

This undoubtedly fazes the Frenchman who hits a tame right-footed penalty to Van der Sar’s right at a mid-height, the type of penalty that Van der Sar is statistically most likely to save and the exact opposite of what Anelka has been told to do but he only did it because Van der Sar had let Anelka know that he knew that Anelka knew that he usually dived to the right against right-footed penalty-takers…

from Get Him To The Greek (Click for gif)

You would of course expect any team to do their research although this is usually primarily made up of working out what certain penalty-takers are most likely to do. A famous example of this that was also interlinked with some shameless mind games took place during the penalty shoot-out in the World Cup quarter-final between Germany and Argentina in 2006 where German keeper Jens Lehmann consulted a piece of paper from his sock before every Argentinian penalty!

As it turned out, the sheet featured hardly anyone that took one but it did for Ayala (“waits longtime, long run-up, right” i.e. keeper’s left) and after getting close to the other penalties, by the time Cambiasso stepped up to keep Argentina in the game he must have been wondering what on earth that piece of paper said about him! It said nothing at all but possibly still did enough to allow Lehmann to make the stop that put Germany through.

Crazy Jens with Andreas Köpke’s cheat sheet

Mind games aside for a moment, a good penalty-taker is of course neither as predictable nor as easy to stop as such ‘cheat sheets’ suggest. Long before advising Avram Grant, Ignacio Palacios took a sample of 1,417 penalties from 1995-2000:

Penalties to taker’s ‘natural’ side & keeper goes wrong way = 95% success rate (5% miss)
Penalties to taker’s ‘unnatural’ side & keeper goes wrong way = 92% success rate
Penalties to taker’s ‘natural’ side & keeper goes right way = 70% success rate
Penalties to taker’s ‘unnatural’ side & keeper goes right way = 58% success rate

This means that to maximise their chance of scoring a penalty-taker should shoot to his ‘natural’ side 61.5% of the time and to their ‘unnatural’ side 38.5% of the time. The players in the sample placed 60% to their ‘natural’ side and 40% to their ‘unnatural’ side – almost perfect.

The goalkeepers meanwhile should dive to the kicker’s ‘natural’ side 58% of the time and their ‘unnatural’ side 42% of the time. The actual figures?: 57.7% and 42.3%.

To be what economists call a true ‘mixed strategy’ however, penalty-takers must also alter their placement in a random sequence with no pattern at all – when looking at regular penalty-takers (those involved in more than 30 penalties in the sample) Ignacio showed that, unbelievably, players are capable of exactly that! It is impossible to predict which way a regular penalty-taker will decide to place their penalty.

Franck Ribery: subconscious game-theorist

The most impressive thing is that these players follow such perfect theory seemingly intuitively. Franck Ribery, to bring in a protagonist from tonight’s match whose penalties follow the theory, apparently doesn’t know which way he will shoot even once he has started his run-up!

This is not to say however that all penalty-takers are as unpredictable, the beauty of the penalty shoot-out is that it drags players who are not regular takers into the fray as well as, if it goes on long enough, players who don’t want to take one or have little aptitude to do so. When the penalty-taker is not an expert, they are far more likely to simply place it in their favourite spot and far less likely to make it un-saveable, meanwhile the pressure of the occasion may even have the same effect on even the most clinical penalty exponent (looking at you Cristiano!).

Ronal-D’oh!

I’ve been watching the tapes of Bayern’s games. I’ve seen everything I can but in the end it’s all about the moment and whether the penalty taker is strong enough to keep calm and place it well. If he does that then the keeper has no chance, so in a shoot-out you try to force people into mistakes.

In 2008, we had plenty of information about Manchester United penalties. We’d lost to them in a shootout before but you can’t always rely on what you’ve seen. You need to rely on your instincts.

Petr Čech

I always prepare myself for such situations, Our goalkeeping coach, Toni Tapalovic, showed me on his laptop before the match (the semi-final against Real Madrid) how Ronaldo usually takes his penalties. I learned that Ronaldo prefers to send the ball low to his left. In the penalty shoot-out, I was convinced that he would aim for his favourite spot.

Manuel Neuer

Whether Bayern are aware of the work of Ignacio Palacios is impossible to tell but it seems unlikely that Chelsea would employ such a bold team strategy in a Champions League Final shoot-out again (assuming even Ignacio could come up with pointers for facing Neuer!) but having won only 2 out of 9 penalty shoot-outs in the last decade if tonight’s match were to be all square after 120 minutes then Chelsea fans will certainly be wanting to win Pedro Proença’s coin toss!

Information primarily taken from:
 Why England Lose & other curious football phenomena explained by Simon Kuper & Stefan Szymanski

Related Posts:

Champions League Final 2012 Build-Up (1/3): The Stats

Champions League Final Build-Up (2/3): The Robben Final?

 

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Champions League Final Build-Up (2/3): The Robben Final?

In 2010 Dutch winger Arjen Robben suffered the heartbreak of losing what most would consider to be the two most prestigious finals in world football: the Champions League Final and the World Cup Final. Two years on and he has a third opportunity to claim the type of winner’s medal that most players can only dream of.

Oranje & Tangerine

Almost sixty year earlier with England only having bothered entering the World Cup for the first time in 1950 and with the Champions League’s forerunner, the European Cup, not beginning until 1955/56, the winner’s medal that England winger Stanley Matthews dreamt of was an FA Cup winner’s medal. Like Robben he too suffered heartbreak in the final twice, in 1948 and 1951, before he had a third shot at glory.

At 38 years old much was made of the 1953 FA Cup Final being Matthews last chance and in his autobiography (that I happen to be reading at the moment…) says that he knew it was his “final of finals” despite firmly believing that he could keep playing for several years as no doubt Robben does at only 28. (As it turned out Matthews, almost unbelievably, played for a further 12 years but he would never reach the FA Cup Final again.)

It was third time lucky for Matthews however as despite being 1-3 down with only half an hour to go his Blackpool side fought back to win 4-3 with the final goals coming in the 89th and 92nd minutes! (Man City eat your heart out!) The injury time winner was set up by Matthews himself who tore Bolton apart in the final thirty minutes of what is still known as the Matthews Final…

 

Interestingly though, Matthews says that the final should forever be known as the Mortensen Final insisting that it was his hat-trick scoring team mate Stanley ‘Morty’ Mortensen who was the real star of the show. According to Matthews, when he cut the ball back for the winning goal he was aiming for where, thanks to his near-telepathic relationship with Mortensen, he thought his team mate would be and was mortified to see that he had actually taken up a position at the far post.

Mortensen though, far from not being on the same wavelength, had decided that he was being too tightly marked to be sure of scoring and so vacated the area he knew the ball would come to, taking the markers with him, and called for Bill Perry to run into the space who duly converted. (Mortensen also scored a rocket of free-kick earlier in the match, undoubtedly he and Matthews were both in inspired form that day and the highlights are well worth a watch.)

Stan M & Stan M

So are Robben’s dreams of making it third time lucky himself largely dependent on the performance of and his relationship with Bayern’s enigmatic forward Mario Gomez? Robben may hope not as despite his impressive scoring record very few football fans would back Gomez to be either as clinical, brave or unselfish as Stan Mortensen was in 1953! Luckily for the Dutchman though he may not have to rely on Gomez at all as his style of play is very different to the one Matthews had developed:

“I was beginning to be tightly marked by full-backs, so I made a conscious effort to drop deeper to collect the ball… My goals had come from coming inside as wingers were apt to do at the time. Having given this much thought, I decided (in 1937/38) I would be better employed taking the ball to the dead-ball line and cutting it back for our oncoming forwards who couldn’t be offside if they received a backward pass or centre from me… I wasn’t scoring goals anywhere like I had been but this ploy created far more opportunities for our forwards.”

-Sir Stanley Matthews

Robben’s primary strengths lie not in what we would now consider ‘traditional’ wing-play, the style that Matthews helped pioneer, but in doing precisely what Matthews removed from his game: attempting to cut inside to deadly effect. Robben is more than happy to do it all himself if he has to as well as being capable of producing moments of pure magic such as his volley that did for the last English opponents he faced in the knock-out stages of the Champions League back in 2010… (The video below is great because it also shows the Bayern move before the goal, with Robben cutting in and attempting to shoot.)

Having already overcome one former club Real Madrid, knocking out Casillas, Ramos and Alonso who had beaten him in the World Cup Final and Mourinho (a former manager of his) who had beaten him in the Champions League Final, the script seems written for Robben, like Matthews, to finally have his cup final moment.

Robben & Čech in 2006 – only one will lift the cup this Saturday

In his way of course stands another former club of his: Chelsea. With a depleted defensive line and midfield due to suspension as well as players coming back in who may not yet be fully fit (similar can be said of Bayern of course), Chelsea may be hard pressed to contain Robben but if they are to win they will need to do more than tightly mark him as players started to do to Matthews. Formations and tactics have changed in many ways over the last sixty odd years and to deal with Robben they will need to take a leaf from Borussia Dortmund’s book and cover well, trying never to allow him a situation where he only has one man to beat whilst not leaving gaps elsewhere in the defense (no mean feat of course!) or else hope and pray that come Saturday night it doesn’t quite happen for the Dutchman leaving him perhaps to wonder, however briefly, whether a different approach to his game may have led to more overall chances for his team. Of course now I have written that he will probably win it with a cross from the byline!

Matthews picks up his hard earned medal in Coronation year – will Robben receive his in Jubilee year?

Finally, it would be criminal not to mention that Blackpool themselves have a rather important match this Saturday as well. Best of luck to them in the Championship play-off Final! “Suuuper, super Kev… Suuuper, super Kev… Suuuper, super Kev! Super Kevin Phillips!!!

Related Posts:

Champions League Final 2012 Build-Up (1/3): The Stats

Champions League Final Build-Up (3/3): Planning for Penalties

 

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Champions League Final 2012 Build-Up (1/3): The Stats

Click on the image below to view a graphical run-down of the task facing Chelsea on Saturday evening…

CLICK ON THE IMAGE FOR THE FULL INFOGRAHIC

Some key statistics from the infographic:

  • Bayern will be only the fourth team to ever play the Champions League final at home.
  • Bayern Munich haven’t lost a European game at home this season.
  • Chelsea have only won one game away from home in Europe this season.
  • Bayern Munich have faced English opponents in the final twice before and lost both times – Manchester Utd in 1999 and Aston Villa in 1982.
  • Chelsea have lost seven of their previous nine penalty shoot-outs.
  • Bayern Munich suspensions: Badstuber, Alaba and Gustavo.
  • Chelsea suspensions: Terry, Ivanovic, Meireles and Ramires.

This piece from Raphael Honigstein (@honigstein) for BBC Sport is also well worth a read:

Champions League: How Chelsea can beat Bayern Munich in final

Related posts:

Champions League Final Build-Up (2/3): The Robben Final?

Champions League Final Build-Up (3/3): Planning for Penalties

 

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Sunday 13th May: Man City, Madrid, Milan & Memories

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you are probably aware that on Sunday 13th May Manchester City were crowned champions of the Premier League in one of the most dramatic climaxes to a title race ever, right up there with likes of Liverpool v Arsenal 1988/89 and the final day of the Eredivisie 2006/07 both of which have featured on Mountain’s Short Thoughts & Bits in recent weeks. Add in the three-way scramble for the final guaranteed Champions League place not to mention relegation battle controversy and it was some end to a truly memorable season.

 

In Spain and Italy the titles were already wrapped up but far from making the final day meaningless, it was still one that will be long remembered…

Real Madrid signed off in style by beating Mallorca 4-1 to end the season on a record breaking three figure points total, topping Barcelona’s record of 99 points from 2009/10, whilst the win also saw them break the record for matches won in a single season.

Their 121 goals scored is also a record (an average of over 3 per game!). Their goal difference of +89 is also a record. Their 16 away wins is also a record. Sunday 13th May was the day that Madrid set down a marker, they didn’t just successfully prise the title away from the current Barcelona team, they redefined what was possible in La Liga and placed themselves firmly back at the top of the domestic pile.

A  Very Special Season

In Italy Sunday 13th May saw four true club legends bring their AC Milan careers to an end in a 2-1 win against Navara. Having each given at least a decade of service (a combined total of 43 years at the club) Alessandro Nesta, Filippo Inzaghi, Gennaro Gattuso and Clarence Seedorf are moving on in search of one final challenge before hanging up their boots for good.

Thank you for Everything

The fab four’s Milan trophy cabinet contains 2 Champions Leagues, 2 Scudetti, 1 Coppa Italia, 2 Supercoppe Italiane, 1 Club World Cup and 2 European Supercups. As Cassano says injuries may have cost Milan the title this season having been leading as late as March, robbing the outgoing heroes of a fairytale ending. The truth however may be far more interwoven with the tale of the departing four as there is of course one man missing from the picture above, somebody who was also at Milan for a decade and was there with them for every single trophy but who found another challenge at the end of last season before it was too late to do so at the top level. That man is of course Andrea Pirlo who was instrumental for Juventus in 2011/12 providing more assist (13) than any other player in Serie A. Milan’s loss was Juventus’ sizeable gain and it seems likely that this may have been the real difference.

Despite having already missed out on the title ‘Super Pippo’ Inzaghi, who scored in the World Cup in 2006 on his last ever appearance for Italy, did not of course disappoint scoring the winner on his final, emotional appearance for Milan…

Elsewhere in Italy another outgoing legend did get his fairytale ending. Sunday 13th May saw Alessandro Del Piero play his final game for Juventus in a match, like Madrid’s, where only a place in the record books was at stake. A 1-3 victory over Atalanta, in which Del Piero of course scored, saw Juve complete an entire Serie A season undefeated; the first team to do so since Capello’s Milan in 1991/92 and the first ever to do so in a 38 game season.

Invincible

Those of you who read my piece on Ronaldo’s retirement last  year will know that these era ending moments in player’s careers give me pause for thought. That piece contained quotes from Del Piero about Il Fenomeno as well as one from Batistuta who said “For me, Ronaldo is football“, well for me (along with Paolo Maldini who retired in 2009), Del Piero is Calcio going right back to my childhood. Thank you for the memories.

Sunday 13th May 2012, quite a day in football.

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