Monday, December 10, 2012

Messi Passes Mueller


The unstoppable Lionel Messi set a record for goals scored in a calendar year and kept unbeaten La Liga leaders Barcelona six points clear of Atletico Madrid in a nervy 2-1 win at Real Betis on Sunday.

The Argentine World Player of the Year netted his 85th and 86th goals of 2012 in an entertaining game at the Benito Villamarin in Seville to overhaul the previous best of 85 set by German Gerd Mueller in 1972.

Messi's exploits overshadowed those of Atletico striker Radamel Falcao, who earlier put bottom side Deportivo Coruna to the sword with a five-goal haul in a crushing 6-0 home success.

The prolific Colombian, known as 'the tiger' and coveted by many of Europe's richest clubs, took his tally for the season to 16 in 15 matches as Atletico restored a five-point advantage over city rivals Real Madrid.

Jose Mourinho's Real side had to twice come from behind to scrape a 3-2 win at Real Valladolid on Saturday which closed the gap to Atletico, who they beat 2-0 at the Bernabeu last weekend, to two points overnight.

However, Atletico responded by romping to a 12th win in 15 outings this term against a promoted Depor side in danger of dropping straight back to the second division.

Barca have won all their games this season apart from a 2-2 draw at home to Real in October and Messi's double put them on 43 points, with Atletico on 37 and Real on 32. Betis are fifth on 25 points, level with fourth-placed Malaga, who thumped Granada 4-0 on Saturday.

"It seems impossible that he (Messi) can score that quantity of goals in a year but there are three matches left and we hope he keeps increasing his tally," Barca coach Tito Vilanova told a news conference.

"We hope he has a long way to go in his career because he is very young," he added. "I don't think we will see another player like him."

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

LA Galaxy Wins MLS Cup

From the Associated Press:

CARSON, Calif. - David Beckham stood on the podium with his three sons, an oversized Union Jack knotted around his Los Angeles Galaxy jersey. With a practiced lift and a broad smile, he raised the sparkling silver cup over his head to a raucous ovation amid a confetti blizzard.

Now that's a Hollywood ending worthy of a star.

Beckham wrapped up his MLS career as a two-time champion Saturday, with Landon Donovan's tiebreaking goal on a penalty kick in the 65th minute propelling the Galaxy to a 3-1 victory over the Houston Dynamo in the MLS Cup.

Omar Gonzalez tied it in the 61st minute with a long header for the Galaxy, who defended their title in a rematch of last season's championship game. For the second straight year, Beckham raised a trophy that stands as evidence of the 37-year-old English midfielder's indelible impact on American soccer during his six seasons in Los Angeles.

"It's been a successful six years here, and now that we've won the second one, it's even more satisfying," Beckham said. "I just hope people have enjoyed me playing here. It's what I always hope for when I step on the field."

With a stirring second-half surge capped by Robbie Keane's goal on another penalty kick in injury time, Los Angeles won its fourth MLS Cup, tying D.C. United for the league record.

The Galaxy also gave an appropriate farewell to Beckham, who will play elsewhere in the new year before eventually returning to MLS as a team owner. With rumors linking him everywhere from Sydney to Paris, he hasn't disclosed his immediate plans beyond a Christmas vacation back home in England.

Los Angeles will miss Beckham, but the glamorous global icon is going out at an apex for MLS' highest-profile franchise.

"I just hope I've brought a bit of interest to the game (in America)," Beckham said. "If that's the single thing I've done, then great. But I think the foundations are there now in this league. It's a 17-year-old league, and the foundations are great. It will continue to grow."

After Calen Carr put Houston ahead in the 44th minute, Beckham and his high-scoring teammates systematically broke down the defense of the Dynamo, who lost the MLS Cup 1-0 to Los Angeles on the same field last year.

While Gonzalez got the equalizer on a cagey play by MLS' top defender last season, Keane played another stellar attacking game for Los Angeles before earning his own penalty kick when Houston's Tally Hall knocked him down in the box.

Donovan redeemed himself for missing an open net in the 13th minute by burying his penalty kick after a handball in the box by Houston's Ricardo Clark. The U.S. national team star, who is also contemplating a departure from soccer, won his record-tying fifth MLS title while scoring his fifth career MLS Cup goal and the record 22nd goal of his postseason career.

"It's a little surreal," Donovan said. "In any sport, to repeat is really hard to do. ... For me personally, this felt more satisfying (than last year). We could enjoy it a little bit more."

After Keane's goal clinched it, Beckham left the game to a raucous standing ovation from the packed stadium amid chants of "Thank you, David!"

Beckham hugged Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, who won his fourth MLS title, and just about everybody on the Galaxy bench before the game ended moments later.

Beckham streamed onto the field with his teammates and waved thanks at the fans before he was joined by his three sons, all clad in No. 23 Galaxy jerseys.

"Today was always going to be an emotional day for myself, win or lose," said Beckham, who also won trophies in his final seasons at Real Madrid and Manchester United. "Coming off was tough, but I enjoyed the win today."

The pregame rain cleared long enough for MLS' sunny farewell to Beckham, who arrived in Los Angeles in 2007 from Real with designs on changing the American perception of the world's most popular game. The league has grown steadily during his tenure, with most MLS franchises on sound financial footing and in excellent stadiums, although the sport's popularity and TV ratings haven't matched the other American pastimes.

Beckham was wildly cheered by many of the same diehard Galaxy supporters who booed him three years ago after his loans to AC Milan and an injury-riddled start to his Galaxy career. The Home Depot Center souvenir stands were loaded with Beckham shirts, including one that said "Take Me With You!"

These two franchises have combined to win eight of the last 12 MLS titles, dating back to the Dynamo's days in San Jose. Houston seems stuck as a supporting player in the Galaxy's story, despite its rally from the Eastern Conference's last playoff seed to the championship match.

"You have to be proud of what we've accomplished once again," Houston captain Brad Davis said. "It isn't easy to get to this game, and this is the fourth time in seven years. It's a credit to this group of guys."

After winning the title last year on a Beckham-to-Keane-to-Donovan beauty of a goal, Los Angeles nearly had another storybook score in the 13th minute when Beckham launched a long, high pass to a sprinting Keane, who slipped behind the defense and centered it perfectly for Donovan.

But he inexplicably pushed his shot inches wide of the post, leaving him with both hands on his head while the stadium released the usual post-goal confetti anyway.

"When you're in a moment like that, you feel like you let the team down," Donovan said. "Candidly, it sat with me until halftime. I took a few minutes at halftime, sort of collected myself, and tried to stay present, because you can't change it."

The Dynamo improved their pressure late in the first half, and Adam Moffat's long pass eventually set up Carr's impressive near-post goal past Josh Saunders.

Carr leaped the corner flag in celebration of a rare score for the forward, a Bay Area native who joined the Dynamo last season and managed just four goals this year.

But with Keane and Beckham leading the second-half charge, the Galaxy finally broke through when Gonzalez stuck around the box after a failed setpiece and managed to bounce a looping header past Hall. Gonzalez's delayed return from injury this season sparked the Galaxy's late-season surge.

"At the beginning of the season, I didn't see myself getting back to this level," said Gonzalez, named the game's MVP.

Clark was then called for a handball in the box in the 65th minute after an extended defensive scramble by the Dynamo. It was another high-profile mistake by the U.S. national team player whose turnover led to Ghana's first goal in the Americans' 2-1 elimination loss at the World Cup two years ago.

"When the penalty came, I'm not going to fool anyone and say I was calm about it," Donovan said. "I was pretty nervous. But you have to keep going, and every one of these guys said, `Forget about it. Keep going."'

After Donovan scored, Houston frantically pressed for an equalizer in the final minutes, but Saunders and his defense repeatedly denied the Dynamo. After Hall wrapped his hand around Keane's thigh to stop a chance in the box, Keane confidently ended it with his sixth goal of a spectacular six-game playoff run in the Irish national team captain's first full MLS season.

"Being successful doesn't come easy," Beckham said. "You have to work at it. I tell my children every single day that if you want to be successful, it's hard graft. It doesn't come easy, and I think we proved that this year."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Messi Tops AP Global Ratings

From the Associated Press:

Lionel Messi moved back to the top of the AP Global Soccer rankings, and Barcelona stayed No. 1 in the team poll after a 4-0 win over Levante in the Spanish league.

Messi earned 183 out of a possible 200 points from The Associated Press' panel of 20 global soccer journalists. Last week's winner, Paris Saint-Germain striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, was second. Ibrahimovic topped the previous poll mainly for his four goals for Sweden against England.

Barcelona was voted the top club of the week after stretching its lead to three points over Atletico Madrid and 11 points over third-place Real Madrid.

Ibrahimovic had 124 points, while another Barcelona player, Andres Iniesta, moved into third place with 119.

''Two clinical finishes from Messi got Barca rolling towards a 4-0 win against Levante and followed his Champions League double against Spartak,'' panelist Will Tidey of the San Francisco-based Bleacher report said. ''Gerd Mueller's record is just three goals away.''

Mueller, a former Germany and Bayern Munich great, holds the record for most goals scored in a calendar year with 85.

The panel's two Italian voters, Paulo Condi of La Gazzetta Dello Sport and Aurelio Capaldi of Rai Sport, paid tribute to Iniesta.

''He made things easy for Barca as he twice set up Messi, scored a goal and allowed Cesc Fabregas to kill the game,'' Capaldi said.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Messi Passes Pele


Lionel Messi surpassed Pele's milestone of goals in a calendar year by scoring for the 75th and 76th time in 2012 to move within nine of Gerd Mueller's all-time record as Barcelona won 4-2 at Mallorca in the Spanish league on Sunday.

Barcelona was rolling 3-0 at the break thanks to goals from Xavi, Messi and Cristian Tello. But Mallorca scored twice in four second-half minutes through Michael Pereira and a Victor Casadesus penalty but Messi struck to bring Mallorca's comeback to a halt.

Messi was influential from the outset, forcing Dudu Aouate to intercept his cross from Xavi's free kick from the right.  Dani Alves' 20-yard shot was also repelled by the keeper.

"Leo's records are spectacular," Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova said. "It's spectacular when you think that he scores so many goals. Some few players reach these numbers in seven or eight seasons, he does it in one. And most of his goals are great goals."

This is the latest scoring feat for the Argentine forward. He scored 73 goals in the 2011-12 season for Barcelona, breaking the European club record of 67 goals set by Mueller in 1972-73. He also set a Spanish league record of 50 goals last season and broke Cesar Rodriguez's 57-year milestone of 232 goals to become Barcelona's career scoring leader.

Barcelona's 10th win in 11 rounds extended its club-record start and maintained an 8-point gap over third-place Madrid after its 2-1 victory over Levante. Second-place Atletico Madrid remained three points behind the leaders after its 2-0 win over Getafe.

Friday, November 9, 2012

DC United Stuns Red Bulls !


HARRISON, N.J. — D.C. United entered its Eastern Conference semifinal series with the New York Red Bulls as an outside shot to make any noise in the playoffs. Despite finishing the season on a seven-game unbeaten streak and putting up the third highest point total of any MLS team—all without the use of defending MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario—pundits and opponents alike seemed to think of United as little more than an unexpected road bump for the likes of Sporting Kansas City or New York.

Three red cards, two own goals, one snowstorm and one hurricane-induced schedule swap later, United is suddenly the odds-on favorite to win the conference final, having emerged from yesterday's game at Red Bull Arena with a wild, wide-open 1-0 victory over their rivals. The win—which brought the aggregate score for the home and away series to 2-1 and sets up an face-off with the Houston Dynamo in the Eastern Conference finals—was vindication for a team that many had already written off.

"We are the most successful team in the league," United President and CEO Kevin Payne said after the match, standing in the center of a raucous post-game locker room celebration. "Not New York. Not Los Angeles. Nobody else. Us. And tonight, this team lived up to that tradition."

This was never going to be an ordinary game. After working around Hurricane Sandy and a powerful and unexpected blast of winter weather that pushed the game back from Wednesday to Thursday, most of the small crowd—the announced attendance was over 14,000, though it appeared there were between 5,000 and 6,000 actually there—knew to expect the unexpected. How fitting, then, that the game's biggest moment would be something out of the ordinary: an encroachment call on a penalty kick attempt. And how impossibly perfect, then, that the person who made the call was none other than Mark Geiger, who'd victimized United earlier in the year with a similar call.

This time around, United found themselves benefiting from Geiger's pet peeve. In the 71st minute, Red Bulls forward Kenny Cooper was alone on goal. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid—who'd already bailed his team out with several critical first-half saves—charged out to meet the onrushing attacker. It was a clear foul meriting a red card. Hamid was sent off without hesitation. Substitute Joe Willis, who hadn't seen action in months, was brought on to replace him.

Cooper stepped to the spot and calmly converted the penalty kick, but Geiger disallowed the goal after noticing that three different Red Bulls players entered the box early. On the ensuing re-take, Willis guessed correctly and stopped the attempt. It proved to be too big a blow for New York to overcome.
Hamid didn't say much about the card, but he made it clear some 90 seconds after leaving the pitch that he didn't exactly agree with the call via his Twitter account. (The tweet has since been removed). Add that to the list of anomalies in this series: ejected player goes to locker room and immediately tweets his distaste for NBC Sports color commentator Kyle Martino's agreement with the referee's decision.

United's lone goal came just two minutes before full time, courtesy of rookie phenom Nick De Leon, who confidently struck a ball from the right side of the box that eluded Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles. The assist on the goal came from a most unexpected source—Robbie Russell. Russell, a veteran defender filling in for the suspended Andy Najar at right back, had played only 12 minutes since returning from an injury in September. “I just saw a black shirt running across my face and wanted to put [the ball] in front of him,” Russell said after the game.

The goal sent United's supporters into a frenzy. Some 250 fans—many of whom had spent 11 hours on buses the previous day, only to watch the match be cancelled—made the trip back up. The clubs and league again arranged for buses and tickets for the supporters, a move originally made as a consolation to United after the schedule swap.

United Head Coach Ben Olsen was painfully aware of the sacrifices involved in traveling for a mid-week game.

"Some of those supporters out there, they're probably already booking their tickets to Houston," a smiling Olsen said. "I don't think they'll ever work again, some of them are gonna get fired [laughs]. It just means a lot to the guys and this organization."

While United celebrated the victory, the feeling in the New York locker room after the match was one of utter devastation. Dan Dickinson, who covers the Red Bulls for Gothamist, described how Thierry Henry consoled Cooper as he fought back tears, unable to come to grips with the cruel reality that his season was over. A despondent Tim Cahill also came to the aid of his teammate: "What can you say? It’s life. I’ve missed penalties in the past. I don’t even for one instant blame him."

So, what's next for United? The club will travel this afternoon to Houston, where they'll face the Dynamo, which entered the playoffs as the lowest seed in the Eastern Conference and promptly knocked off top-seeded Kansas City. The game, which had originally been slated for Saturday but was pushed back to Sunday due to the postponement of the United-Red Bulls series, will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network (4 p.m. kickoff).

One United player is certainly looking forward to the Texas sunshine. "Yeah, the weather should be good," Chris Pontius said. "I don’t think any game should be cancelled down there, right?"

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

DC United Back to Playoffs !


All United needed was a draw Saturday night at RFK Stadium to end a five-year postseason drought. But in the closing moments of a tense match with considerable implications, reserve midfielder Lewis Neal scored in the clear for a 3-2 victory over the Columbus Crew, touching off a display of raw emotion not seen at the old ballpark in many autumns.

“It was like the old days,” said Coach Ben Olsen, who played 12 years for United. “I don’t like to bring up the old days very often, but the feeling in that building felt like the good old days, and I would like to keep that around.”

Backed by 19,647, the largest crowd of the year, Brazilian midfielder Marcelo Saragosa scored the critical tying goal early in the second half, his first of the season to cap the second comeback of the evening.

In added time, with the Crew needing to win in order to keep its playoff hopes alive, United took advantage of ample space in Columbus’s back. Branko Boskovic steered the ball to Neal, who one-timed a low shot past charging goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum.

United exhaled and celebrated — a moment five years in the making.

“It was an unbelievable effort and it’s an unbelievable feeling,” Neal said. “We’ve done what we set out to do and know we can prepare for something bigger.”

In extending its unbeaten streaks at home (12-0-4) and overall (5-0-1), United (17-10-6, 57 points) overtook the Chicago Fire (17-11-5, 56) for second place in MLS's Eastern Conference and drew within three points of Sporting Kansas City with one week remaining. Sporting can clinch the top seed with a victory or draw at home Wednesday against Philadelphia.

D.C. will visit Chicago on Saturday with an opportunity to secure a first-round bye and an automatic spot in the conference semifinals, which begin in two weeks.

“Relief, excitement — it’s been a long time coming,” leading scorer Chris Pontius said. “Everyone is excited for the opportunity. We’re sitting in a good position. We put ourselves in a good position.”
It didn’t start out well, though.

The Crew went ahead in the seventh minute on Eddie Gaven’s finish, and two minutes after United’s Nick DeLeon set a club rookie scoring record with his sixth goal, Jairo Arrieta restored Columbus’s advantage in the 41st with a bending shot that hit the right post and deflected off diving goalkeeper Bill Hamid’s trailing foot.

But in the 59th minute, Saragosa struck a 22-yard one-timer through a tangle of players and into the lower right corner.

Brandon McDonald made it possible with a play that epitomized United’s determination. Off a set piece, the center back failed to cleanly win a high ball but stuck with it and swept a pass to Saragosa, a defensive midfielder who recorded his third goal in 131 MLS regular season appearances.

“I had to take the opportunity; I had to score the goal,” he said. “I am the player that works hard every time, but I needed to do something different.”

In describing the goal, Saragosa also spoke of his father, Gilson, who died in April at age 60. “I scored this goal with my heart,” he said.

Columbus suffered a pregame setback when starting center back Chad Marshall was scratched because of ankle tightness. His partner in the previous five matches, Julius James, was ruled out Friday with a hamstring injury.

United had not lost since Sept. 1 but hadn’t played any playoff contenders either. Without injured star Dwayne De Rosario, United turned to blue-collar tactics to grind out results and move into postseason contention.

“We’ve grown closer since Dwayne went down,” Olsen said. “It was survival. Everybody understood we have to be a real team and commit to each other and bail each other out. Slowly over this six-week period it has got us to the point where we are today. Everyone is buying into it.”

Olsen received contributions Saturday from a pair of industrious veterans, Saragosa and Neal, who are in their first season with United. The defense showed cracks but withstood pressure by the Crew (14-12-7) while the match was still even.

When Neal scored, a playoff berth firmly in hand, Olsen leaped onto the emptying bench and nearly tumbled. At the final whistle, Hamid said he “started running with my arms in the air and kind of blacked out because this is something special.”

Said midfielder Perry Kitchen: “It’s a whole new season now.”

One that United hasn’t experienced in a long time.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Messi vs. Ronaldo: 2 - 2


Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo matched each other blow for blow at the Nou Camp Sunday, bagging two goals apiece as Barcelona and Real Madrid battled out an entertaining draw in the first Clasico of the La Liga season.

Tito Vilanova's Blaugrana headed into the game eight points clear of their archrival and boasting a 100 percent record from their first six matches, but found themselves trailing midway through the first half when Ronaldo netted for the sixth straight Clasico.

But Messi equalized with a scrappy goal soon after and then put the hosts ahead with a stunning free kick on the hour, only for Ronaldo to capitalize on sloppy defending midway through the second half to ensure honors ended even.

"It should be prohibited to say which is the best in the world," Madrid coach Jose Mourinho said. "They are both from another planet."

It was, perhaps, a fitting end to the latest head-to-head duel between arguably the two best players in the world, who for the last two seasons have engaged in a two-way scoring race unlike anything the Spanish league has seen before.

"(Messi and Ronaldo) both try to do everything they can to help their teams and score goals," Vilanova said. "If Ronaldo hadn't coincided with Messi, perhaps he would get even more recognition."

Barca midfielder Andres Iniesta was handed his first start since the Supercopa aggregate defeat against Real in August, while Adriano partnered Javier Mascherano at center-back with Gerard Pique (foot) and Carles Puyol (dislocated elbow) sidelined.

Mourinho made three changes from the team that won 4-1 at Ajax in the Champions League on Wednesday, with Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil and Angel Di Maria replacing Michael Essien, Kaka and Jose Callejon.

The visitors began brightly and created the better of the early chances.

Ronaldo -- scorer of a midweek hat trick in Amsterdam, and the winner in this corresponding fixture last season to virtually assure Madrid the title -- crossed from the right for Karim Benzema, who miscued his volley horribly wide from 12 yards when left unmarked in the 13th minute.

Six minutes later, Ozil sent over a corner and Sergio Ramos leapt above the Barca defence only to direct his header inches wide of Victor Valdes' goal.

The warning signs had been there but Barca failed to heed them and the opener duly arrived midway through the first half. Benzema turned neatly on the edge of the box and fed Ronaldo, who lashed home a low left-footed finish that beat Valdes at his near post.

It could have been 2-0 moments later when Khedira burst down the right before feeding Benzema. The Frenchman spooned his effort against the post, though, and Di Maria sent the rebound wide with the goal at his mercy.

The home team suffered a further blow when Dani Alves' involvement ended in the game after 28 minutes. The Brazilian was replaced by Martin Montoya.

However, two minutes later Barcelona was level. Madrid failed to clear their lines from Pedro Rodriguez's cross and, after bobbling around in the area the ball fell kindly to Messi in the six-yard box and he lashed past a helpless Iker Casillas and into the roof of the net.

Both sides had decent penalty shouts turned down at the start of the second half, Ozil going down after contact with Mascherano before Iniesta appeared to be clipped by Pepe.

Vilanova's team took the lead in spectacular style on the hour mark, Messi picking himself up after being fouled by Xabi Alonso and dispatching a brilliant left-footed free kick up over the wall and curling away from the diving Casillas.

Whatever Messi could do, though, Ronaldo could do too, and swiftly matched the Argentina forward's eight goals in La Liga this term six minutes later.

Ozil slotted a slick pass through to the Portuguese, who had been played onside by Adriano and coolly slotted past Valdes to get Madrid back on level terms.

The final quarter was end-to-end stuff, though Mourinho's men were seemingly the more content with the point.

Messi floated a shot high and wide from Jordi Alba's cut-back, with Iniesta's cross scrambled clear by Marcelo soon after.

Gonzalo Higuain, a 62nd-minute replacement for Benzema, saw his cross deflected to safety by Mascherano before the final few minutes were played out almost entirely in Madrid's defensive third.
Montoya was almost an unlikely match-winner on 88 minutes but his right-footed attempt from the edge of the box crashed back off the bar, before Pedro burst through in stoppage time and unleashed a left-footed shot which flew just wide.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Barca Blasts Benfica 2 - 0


Barcelona continued their imperious form this season as they retained top spot in Champions League Group G with a 2-0 victory away over Benfica.

Alexis Sanchez struck after six minutes and Cesc Fabregas added a second following the break to leave Barca with a 100 per cent record from their opening two games while Celtic are on four points following their earlier win away to Spartak Moscow.

Sergio Busquets was sent off with two minutes to go after a clash with Maxi Pereira.

Tito Vilanova arrived at the Camp Nou over the summer looking to win back the Champions League, which they have lifted twice out of the last four years, and the domestic league title.

And despite the pressure of replacing Pep Guardiola he could hardly have made a better start with also six wins from six in la liga.

Now Vilanova's men turn their attention to the small matter of the El Clasico on Sunday against Real Madrid - but they will be without Carles Puyol, who dislocated an elbow after falling heavily on his arm.
"It was a costly victory for us but we are happy with the result against Benfica who are a strong side. It was a nasty injury (for Puyol) and he has already had one this season so this isn't very normal," said Vilanova.
"We have had a lot of problems at the back and it would be nice to play the El Clasico with a full squad but still we are playing well at the moment and have five days to recover."

Benfica coach Jorge Jesus had only words of praise for his players.

"We weren't lacking in any area. We were against the side who in my opinion is the best in the world and in any game they have about 70 per cent possession. We were excellent in the first half and didn't deserve to go in losing," he said.

"At 2-0 Barca consolidated, defended the result and made it difficult to come back at them."

The main news for Barcelona before kick off had been that Puyol was returning from injury to lead the team from the back while Andres Iniesta was fit for a place on the bench.

For Benfica seeking their first victory against a Spanish side since the 1982-83 season they were missing defender Luisao and up front Oscar Cardoza, while playmaker Pablo Aimar, who had overcome a strain, was left out of the starting eleven as Jorge Jesus sought a more mobile midfield.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Barca Outlasts Spartak 3-2

From The Washington Times:

BARCELONA: Lionel Messi came to the rescue with a late double to earn Barcelona a 3-2 victory over Group G opponents Spartak Moscow in Champions League competition, which coach Tito Vilanova termed ‘very important’ for his side’s campaign.

The hosts went ahead early on through Cristian Tello, but an own-goal from Dani Alves after 29 minutes brought Spartak back into the contest.

Barca were enjoying the vast majority of the play but Romulo’s second-half goal put a damper on them. Messi, though, put their European ambitions back on track with two poacher’s goals inside the last 20 minutes.

“To start off with a win is very important,” said Vilanova. “This was never going to be an easy game as we were playing against a Spartak side with good players including a lot of foreigners.”

Spartak’s Spanish coach Unai Emery had never beaten Barcelona during his time in charge of Almeria or Valencia and it was always likely to be a severe test.

“We are not happy obviously with the way the game turned out,” said Emery. “But if there’s something good to take from it then we made it difficult for Barcelona and we know that we have a bright future.”

Monday, September 10, 2012

Strikers Clinch Playoff Berth


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Sept. 8, 2012) – The Fort Lauderdale Strikers (9W-7T-9L) clinched a spot in the NASL Playoffs for the second consecutive season with a 1-1 draw against the Puerto Rico Islanders (10W-7T-8L) in front of 4,704 fans at Lockhart Stadium on Saturday night. Puerto Rico scored in just the second minute of the match, and the Strikers answered in the 8th minute, but there would be no more scoring in the match. Fort Lauderdale will now take to the road for their final two regular season games against the Atlanta Silverbacks and FC Edmonton. Should the team finish the season in third or fourth place, Fort Lauderdale would host a first round playoff game at Lockhart Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 29.

“I thought we played well tonight, and obviously we’re pleased to be in the playoffs for the second year in a row,” said Strikers head coach Daryl Shore. “We know we have to play two tough road games and we’ll go into these games with a playoff mentality to stay focused and work together.”

The match started with a bang when Islanders forward Nick Addlery collected a turnover 35 yards from goal and fired a shot which skipped off the wet field, hit the inside of the left post and went into the net past Matt Glaeser. Puerto Rico took the lead 1-0 and the goal was Addlery’s ninth of the season.

The Strikers would even the match just six minutes later when a ball played into the area came to midfielder Hosman Ramos whose pass took a minor deflection and fell to the feet of Pecka. The second-year Striker shot toward net and the ball struck the bottom of the crossbar and bounced into the goal.

The match remained even the rest of the first half. In the second half, the Strikers were able to create several chances with forward Andy Herron breaking in on goal more than once. Unfortunately the best chance was called for offside and the Strikers were left without a victory in their regular season home finale.

“The support tonight was absolutely fantastic by our fans and unfortunately we were unable to reward them with a win, but both teams really pushed to get the winning goal and I felt we played well tonight,” said Shore.

Fort Lauderdale finished the regular season with a record of eight wins, four ties and two losses at Lockhart Stadium producing 28 points. The mark is a significant improvement on their 23 points earned at home in 2011. In order to return to Lockhart Stadium in the post season, it is likely the Strikers will need to win their final two regular season games. A home game would be ensured should the team reach the second round the 2012 NASL Playoffs.

The Strikers next travel North to face the Atlanta Silverbacks on Saturday, Sept. 15, at 7:30pm. at Silverbacks Park.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

United falls to RSL 1 - 0


 SANDY, Utah — D.C. United played with passion and conviction Saturday night, a refreshing renewal after several limp performances on the road. But consistent with the club’s travel shortcomings this summer, United conceded a goal shortly after halftime and dropped a 1-0 decision to Real Salt Lake in front of 20,334 at Rio Tinto Stadium.

“We talked about having to change our mentality on the road and the way we go about things to have success,” Coach Ben Olsen said. “We did a lot of that, and it showed. The guys gave a hell of an effort. It’s just disappointing the final stuff wasn’t there. If we play that way on the road, we will start picking up points on the road.”

 After an 84-minute lightning delay interrupted the first half, United (12-10-5, 41 points) lost its sixth straight away match and fell into a fifth-place tie with the Chicago Fire (two fewer game played) in MLS's Eastern Conference. The Columbus Crew (12-8-6, 42) overtook both D.C. and Chicago with a last-minute victory over Montreal on Saturday.

Five clubs will advance to the playoffs in late October, and what seemed six weeks ago like a sure postseason berth for United is now in jeopardy. D.C. is 2-5-2 in its past nine league outings.

There were, however, signs of encouragement. Despite playing a fifth game in 14 days and missing several regulars, United displayed more fire than in recent trips and threatened several times, most notably Dwayne De Roasrio's drive off the left post in the first half.

Will Johnson’s 49th-minute header was decisive for Real (14-10-4), which ended a four-game winless stretch and extended its mastery over United in Utah to 6-0-1 since 2006.

“We created enough chances to at least tie this game and maybe sneak out with a win,” defender Dejan Jakovic said. “It’s a tough one to swallow, even though it was probably one of our better games on the road.”

Midfielder-defender Andy Najar (tooth abscess), midfielder Branko Boskovic (virus) and forward Hamdi Salihi were the latest absences, joining defenders Daniel Woolard (concussion) and Robbie Russell (foot).

As a result, the bench was far from full strength and the starting backline required adjustment. Brandon McDonald moved from the center to the right side and Jakovic and Emiliano Dudar partnered in the middle.
Olsen stuck with De Rosario and Lionard Pajoy on the frontline, with Maicon Santos back from a toe injury in reserve.

The match had barely gotten underway when flashes of lightning drew closer to the stadium. At the 3-minute 15-second mark, referee Silviu Petrescu waved the players off the field.

Multiple storms passed through the valley as the sun faded, creating eerily beautiful cloud formations above the Wasatch Range and a rainbow beyond the south end of the suburban stadium.

The players were afforded 15 minutes to warm-up again before play resumed. From late afternoon until the weather ambush, the temperature dropped about 20 degrees.

When play re-started, both sides released pent-up energy and attacked with vigor. Real’s Javier Morales pumped a distant shot that Bill Hamid touched over the crossbar and United’s Chris Pontius cut back in the box but curled a shot wide of the far post.

In the 28th minute, Pajoy’s high pressure forced a defensive mistake. Pajoy supplied De Rosario for a wicked bid from 28 yards. With both arms extended, goalkeeper Nick Rimando appeared to have a slight touch on the ball before it crashed off the left post and caromed across the six-yard box, barely missing the right corner.

United continued to attack with confidence but lacked a final, decisive pass and finishing touch. Real’s late pressure forced United to make desperate clearances from the box. The half ended with several threats but no goals.

Real broke through four minutes after halftime on a fortuitous deflection. Paulo Junior’s cross from the left side nicked the sliding McDonald. Before Hamid could adjust, Johnson beat him to it and nodded in from four yards for his third league goal of the year.

The deflection “threw a lot of us off,” Hamid said.

United pressed for the equalizer, but Rimando blocked Pajoy’s effort deep in the box, the Colombian fired a free kick fractionally wide of the top left corner and Rimando disrupted De Rosario in the box.

“Our energy and commitment was good,” Olsen said. “I’m just disappointed their efforts didn’t come up with anything. [ellip] If we put that kind of effort and mentality into the rest of the season, we will get to where we want to be.”

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Rowdies thump Strikers 3-0

From the

FORT LAUDERDALE — The Rowdies clinched a spot in the NASL playoffs Saturday night with a 3-0 win over Fort Lauderdale at Lockhart Stadium.

Rowdies goalkeeper Jeff Attinella picked up his ninth shutout of the season and the 14th of his career. The former USF and Countryside standout came into the game leading the league with 97 saves, and had four Saturday.

The Rowdies (11-7-6) opened the scoring in the 78th minute after substitute Raphael Cox deflected defender Takuya Yamada's header into the net past goalie Matt Glaeser. It was Cox's first goal since joining the Rowdies last month.

The deflection by Cox, who entered in the 55th minute, caught Glaeser offguard.

Tampa Bay defender Frankie Sanfilippo made it 2-0 in the 82nd minute.

Sanfilippo entered the 18-yard box after an individual run through the defense of the Strikers (9-9-7), and his shot trickled by Glaeser for his second goal of the year.

Forward Carl Cort, who also joined the team last month, scored in the 90th minute. Forward Mike Ambersley placed a through ball to Cort, who was left one-on-one with Glaeser. His initial shot was blocked, but Cort scored off the rebound for his first goal in the NASL.

In the 19th minute, Fort Lauderdale midfielder Michael Tetteh received a red card after being sent off for retaliation and violent conduct.

The Rowdies are undefeated in 11 of the 12 meetings against the Strikers since 2010.

The Rowdies return to action Saturday when they host Atlanta at 7:30 p.m. at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Real 2 Barca 1 in El Clasico

With the summer Olympics behind us, attention again returns to La Liga, where FC Barcelona resumed its longstanding derby with Real Madrid in a heartbreaking 2 - 1 loss to surrender the Spanish Super Cup to Real, marking an inauspicious beginning to new Barcelona Boss Tito Vilanova's tenure.  As reported on BBC Sports:

"Real capitalised on two blunders to quickly go 2-0 up in the second leg at the Bernabeu, with Gonzalo Higuain and Cristiano Ronaldo firing in.

Barcelona had Adriano red-carded for hauling down Ronaldo but the visitors pulled one back through a superb 35-yard Lionel Messi free-kick.

The 2-1 second-leg win levelled the tie at 4-4, with away goals decisive.

The result meant Tito Vilanova was denied his first trophy as Barcelona boss and he will need to look no further than his lacklustre defence for the reason.

He had warned his side that Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid outfit would have extra motivation, because not only were they chasing the first silverware of the Spanish season, they were also looking for their first win of the new campaign at the fourth attempt.

But his players did not heed his words and Higuain, who had an early shot saved, stole in after Barcelona centre-back Javier Mascherano missed Pepe's speculative lobbed clearance to sidefoot through the legs of keeper Valdes.

Another defensive mistake let in Ronaldo and, after audaciously back-heeling the ball over centre-back Gerard Pique, he bided his time before powering in a shot to put Real 4-3 ahead overall.

The hosts were scything through Barcelona's flimsy defence at will and Valdes had to fend away yet another Higuain effort in a one-on-one confrontation.

Real centre-back Pepe headed in a Xabi Alonso free-kick but the goal was disallowed for a push on Mascherano.

The visitors were struggling to cope and Adriano's dismissal for a professional foul in the 28th minute only increased the size of their task, although Messi's spectacular free-kick just before half-time gave the visitors hope.

Pedro could have brought 10-man Barca level after beautifully controlling a long Mascherano pass, but his shot was saved by Iker Casillas.

In another captivating El Clasico there were plenty of chances as Barcelona strived for the goal that would have earned them an aggregate win, while Real attempted to put their arch rivals away once and for all.  Sami Khedira was denied by Valdes after a jinking run into the area before new Real signing Luka Modric, on as a substitute, had a close-range strike blocked before Messi drove an injury-time shot agonisingly wide for Barcelona as the home side held on for their first Super Cup victory since 2008."

Saturday, August 11, 2012

US Women Take Gold

From The Washington Post:

LONDON — They stood on the medal stand because of Alex Morgan's head and Abby Wambach's feet, because of Hope Solo's hands and Becky Sauerbrunn's brain. There are teams that pay lip service to the group they have assembled, to togetherness and unselfishness and sacrifice for each other. And then there is the U.S. women's soccer team, which pulls those qualities together, ties them with a bow, and presents them as it did Thursday night, with Olympic gold at stake.

“We all have such an extreme belief in each other,” Wambach said. “I can’t explain it. . . . It’s the trust that we’re going to find a way.”

So against Japan, in front of a packed house at historic Wembley Stadium, a player who might have been discarded two weeks ago found the way.  Carli Lloyd headed home one goal in the first half, then booted home another in the second, the tallies that beat Japan, 2-1, for the Americans’ fourth gold medal in five Olympic tournaments.

That it was Lloyd who became a star in front of 80,203 fans — more than have ever seen a women’s soccer game in England — fit the American team like a Speedo. When the United States opened this tournament July 25, Lloyd was on the bench. At 30, a veteran of two Olympics and two Women’s World Cups, this was not a position to which she was accustomed, nor one she embraced.

“If somebody tells me I’m not good enough to start,” Lloyd said Thursday, “I’m going to prove them wrong.”

When veteran midfielder Shannon Boxx strained a hamstring in the opener against France, Lloyd was on. From there, she was a force. “I probably was the most consistent player all tournament,” she said. Only Wambach scored more than Lloyd’s four goals in the tournament, an indication that contributions can, and do, come from any source with this group.

“We felt like a team,” Solo said. “Carli gets benched, she comes back, and she has the game of her life. Everybody felt like they could contribute. Everybody. . . . Honestly, it’s the first time in my athletic career that I felt like it was a true team.”

It had to be against Japan, the relentless, possession-oriented unit that beat the United States a year ago in the final of the Women’s World Cup. When Morgan beat a defender deep on the left side, and got her foot on a cross that looked sure to be headed to Wambach – until Lloyd came zipping through to put her head on it – the Americans were up 1-0. Not eight minutes had run off the clock.

But the United States felt as if it were back-pedaling much of the remainder of the first half, so persistent were the Japanese. In stepped Solo, the goalkeeper who has that I’ll-be-in-the-center-of-it-all aura. In the semifinals, Solo and the U.S. defense allowed three goals to Canada, more than they had allowed in four years.

“She definitely took that personally,” Wambach said. “She wanted to make a difference.”
In the 17th minute, she made what amounted to a point-blank save on Nahomi Kawasumi, and the Americans cleared the ball after it pinballed off defender Christie Rampone. In the 18th minute, she leapt to get her left hand on Yuki Ogimi’s rope of a shot, deflecting it off the crossbar.

“She’s the best goalkeeper ever, I think, on the planet,” Lloyd said. “Huge saves. And that’s what she does. She comes up big in big moments.”

There were more big moments to come. In the 54th minute, Lloyd was “just kind of doing what I do best,” dribbling directly at defenders and then creating space for herself. The rocket she unleashed from just outside the penalty area gave Japanese goalkeeper Miho Fukumoto no chance, and the Americans led 2-0.

This was, in effect, Lloyd’s moment to say to U.S. Coach Pia Sundhage, “How the heck did you bench me – ever?” But in the celebration, there was none of that.  “Didn’t pout about it,” Wambach said of Lloyd’s reaction two weeks ago. “Was a great teammate. Was a professional.”

There were nervous moments to come, because in the 63rd minute, Ogimi pulled Japan within 2-1. And with roughly seven minutes remaining, Japan stripped Rampone of the ball just outside the U.S. penalty area. Mana Iwabuchi bore in on Solo, solo herself.

“I knew I had to make the save,” Solo said. “That was my only thought.”

She could go about it, though, because she knew Sauerbrunn, a reserve defender, would have Japan’s other offensive options marked behind her. Solo and Sauerbrunn had talked about such a moment, and the goalkeeper had faith that the defender would do her job.

“That’s this team,” Solo said. Iwabuchi fired. Solo lunged. And the ball deflected away.
“At that point,” Wambach said, “I just kept pounding my chest saying, ‘Guys, this is only about heart!’ ”

When the referee finally, mercifully, blew the last whistle, the U.S. team split into two separate, bouncing huddles. Several Japanese players fell immediately to the turf, and their distress lasted throughout the American celebration. By the time the United States came together as one group – Megan Rapinoe jumping on one back, then another, then another – the Japanese gathered in an orderly circle, sharing their misery by themselves. And with that, Queen’s “We Are the Champions” rang through Wembley as if Freddie Mercury was belting it out live.

The respect that these two teams had for each other was apparent in the days leading up to the rematch, and when Japan formed a straight line to face the crowd – even as Iwabuchi still buried her face in her shirt, trying to dry the tears – the crowd applauded enthusiastically.

But when the flags were raised, and the “Star-Spangled Banner” played, each and every U.S. player sang it out. They sang it together, because at the end of a tumultuous year and a long Olympic tournament, it’s the only way they knew how.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Spain Bombs Out of Olympics

From the Chicago Tribune:

Spanish soccer fans were forced to confront a rare case of failure on Monday after their Olympic side crashed out of the London Games without scoring a goal.

Shock group D defeats to Japan and Honduras, both by a 1-0 scoreline, sent the Spanish packing, El Mundo, perhaps slightly prematurely, declaring "a return to the dark ages" on Monday.

Sports daily Marca more circumspectly lamented "a sad end for a team that arrived at the Games full of hope and aspirations".

The Spanish players were furious with Venezuelan referee Juan Soto after he turned down two penalty claims in the second half on Sunday in Newcastle.

After Spain's senior side majestically swept aside all before them at the World Cup and European championships, their under-23 side presented an ugly image to the world by angrily surrounding the referee at the final whistle.

"Spain said goodbye to the Games with a dismal cocktail," Marca wrote, complaining of "bad luck, bad refereeing and a terrible image at the final whistle as a result of the buildup of tension during the match."

Spain's exit deprived them of a chance to add an Olympic title to their world and European crowns, which had helped lift a country struggling with rising unemployment, sweeping austerity measures and a banking crisis.


El Pais daily said the Olympic team's performance in London, and the players' behavior towards the match officials, had damaged the image of Spanish soccer.

"Football has never gone well with the Olympics, but with the soccer brand that currently sets the country apart it was the right time to return the sport to the summit it scaled in 1992," the paper wrote, a reference to the gold medal triumph at the Barcelona Games.

"But it not only fell off a cliff, it did so verging on the ridiculous against opponents of little pedigree like Japan and Honduras. A total failure."

Writing in As sports daily, columnist Alfredo Relano compared Spain's flop to times past.

"It was a step backwards, a trip down the time tunnel that reminds us that everything wasn't always so great," he wrote.

"That we have experienced exceptional times and we have to be prepared for when they come to an end."

El Mundo described the shock of seeing Spain humiliated on the soccer field after a period of unprecedented success as "a fearsome blow to the stomach, one which leaves you winded".

Former Spain striker Fernando Morientes acknowledged that the Olympic side had not been "up to the task" but said he had faith the young squad, most of whom helped Spain win the European Under-21 title last year, would come good.

"This team is an exceptional group in every sense and it would be wrong to apportion blame," Morientes wrote in El Mundo.

"They are sure to bring us a lot of joy. We have faith in them, they are the future."

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Return of the Cosmos !


"What was old is new again ... or something like that. The New York Cosmos, still arguably the most recognizable brand in American soccer despite a nearly 30-year absence, will be returning to the NASL in 2013, the league announced on Thursday. They will be the ninth team in the league, which will admit Ottawa as team No. 10 in 2014.

"The history of the Cosmos and soccer in the New York City area are intertwined," NASL Commissioner David Downs said in a statement. "Bringing the Cosmos into the NASL is a logical next step as we embrace the heritage of our own past and now reunite the Cosmos, Strikers, Rowdies and several markets with ties to the NASL’s early days. Most importantly, we look forward to the Cosmos enhancing the quality of our league both on and off the field."

There are still some rather significant details of the Cosmos' return to be worked out, the biggest of which is where they'll play home games. There have been several rumored sites for a potential home, but there was a notable absence of anything official in the release.

During their heyday, the Cosmos were drawing crowds of nearly 50,000 to Giants Stadium. Players like Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Giorgio Chinaglia helped lead them to a record five Soccer Bowl titles and made them the most successful team during the original iteration of the NASL.

The Cosmos name has lived on more as a branding idea than anything else, and previous attempts to relaunch have failed spectacularly. Their most significant moment in recent history was probably a group of former stars suiting up in Cosmos gear to play against Manchester United in Paul Scholes' testimonial last year. This move heralds their most significant step toward returning to top flight soccer, though.

"The owners of the Club are committed to running the team to the highest professional standards both on and off the field," Cosmos Chairman Seamus O'Brien said on the team's website. "As we look to the future, on a national and international stage, we remain conscious of the Club's unique and unmatched history, and the role this has played in the lives of so many of our fans. It is with this legacy in our heart that we set our minds to the future."

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

United Returns to Form

From :

Here's a bit of Major League Soccer-related conventional wisdom: win most of your home games and average at least one point on the road, and you'll be in the playoffs come November.

In recent years, D.C. United seems to have forgotten that formula, losing at home—often in heartbreaking fashion. Over the past couple of campaigns, the Black and Red have been downright awful at RFK Stadium, going 7-16-9 while watching its attendance numbers dwindle in return.

This season, however, has been a completely different story. With a home record of 7-1-2, DCU has already matched its win total from the previous two campaigns and is making the venerable stadium a fortress once again. The club continued its winning ways on Saturday evening, trouncing the Montreal Impact 3-0 in front of its largest (and sweatiest) crowd of the year—18,032 people.

The victory—combined with a Sporting Kansas City Loss and Red Bull tie—allowed United to reclaim sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference.

"It's great," midfielder Chris Pontius said after the match when asked about his side's home performance. "It's the one thing for our fans and this organization, every one of our goals this year is to take back RFK and make it a fortress to play against us this year, and I think we've done that. "

United's goals remain clear. "We always say if we win at home then we find the road to be a playoff team," Pontius shared after the match. "So, we are winning at home and we are doing all right on the road as well. We need to get a couple more results on the road and boost ourselves and create the gap between us and some of the top teams in the East."

United's July looks nearly empty—the club will travel to Houston on July 15 for its next match, and will play at Columbus the following week. We won't see them at RFK in a league match until early August. If you need your DCU fix before then, though, you'll have your opportunity on July 28 when the club takes on Frencdh powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain.

One thing is for sure—if United keeps its current form, we'll have to stop talking about the team as a playoff possibility and start talking about it as a cup contender.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Spain Reigns in Ukraine !

The Spanish national football team has once again demonstrated their dominance over Europe this past weekend, crushing Italy 4 - 0 enroute to a historic repeat as European Champions and their third consecutive major international tournament victory in a row.  This unprecedented achievement catapults Spain into the 'Greatest Team Ever' debate, without a doubt, as no other nation-- not even mighty Brazil -- has achieved three major championships in a row.

Even without standout striker David Villa and defensive captain Carles Puyol, the Spanish were imperious and unstoppable.  David Silva collected a beautiful cross by Cesc Fabregas in the 14th minute and scored the first goal.  Then, a few minutes later, Xavi Hernandez sprung the offside trap that let Jordi Alba find the back of the net, essentially putting the game away by halftime. 

The early moments of the second half saw the Italians coalesce and launch some dangerous attacks on the Spanish goal by striker Mario Balotelli, but the outstanding goalkeeping of Iker Casillas once again saved the Spanish from conceeding any goals.  At the age of 31, Iker Casillas has now won five league titles, two Champions League trophies, one Copa del Rey, two European Championships and a World Cup.  No wonder Spaniards call him 'Saint Iker.'

And then the wheels fell off for Italy.  In the 62d minute, substitute Thiago Motta limped off the field with a pulled hamstring, leaving Italy down one man.  With the chance to put the game away, the Spanish attacked mercilessly, as substitutes Fernando Torres and then Juan Mata scored two more late goals to complete Italy's misery.

After the match, the Italians were philosophical.  "Against Spain, you accept losing more easily," said Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon. "It was a great adventure. In a final, you have to win but today we played against a team of incredible quality."

So now it is official: Spain is the defining national team of our era.  Are they the greatest ever ?  No one can say for sure; but we have now reached the point where that is a legitimate question.  The absolute dominance of Spain over the international soccer scene over the last four years is undisputed and has defined an era.

All that remains now, is another World Cup victory in Brazil in two years.  Viva Espana !!!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Spain to Euro Final !

From Sports:

"Spain is just one victory away from making history with a third straight major tournament win.
Spain labored to a penalty shootout win over Portugal to reach Sunday's final, where only Germany or Italy can keep it from an unprecedented trio of victories.

The record run is on course even if Spain's attack hasn't exactly lived up to high expectations, with the team's ability to grind out results becoming its trademark in Poland and Ukraine.

Spain is the only team besides West Germany to reach three straight finals, and the team can go one better than that West German side from the 1970s with a victory in Kiev.

''Spain has already made history and now we continue making it,''captain Iker Casillas said. ''I hope people remember this all their lives because who would have thought we could achieve this four years ago.''
The Spanish, who won the Euro 2008 and World Cup in 2010, remain on course after Cesc Fabregas netted the decisive penalty after Wednesday's game ended 0-0 after extra-time.

''I had an intuition. In the afternoon I was thinking about it, that I would have a unique opportunity and I told (assistant coach) Toni Grande that I didn't want to shoot second, that I wanted to shoot fifth,'' Fabregas said at the Donbass Arena. ''I think I spoke to the ball, I know what I told the ball. I said 'I think we'll be together right to the final.'''

Vicente del Bosque's team has an extra rest day over its opponent, something that will be appreciated as the Spanish coach admitted that he replaced Xavi Hernandez against Portugal because of fatigue.
And there are no preferences for the world champions in the final.

''In either case, whichever team gets out of the semifinal will be a great team,'' Del Bosque said.

Spain's biggest concern going into the final will be its starting attack after surprise choice Alvaro Negredo failed to gel with his teammates against Portugal. Fabregas or Fernando Torres are the favorites, with the pair having scored two goals each and each starting twice in five games.

Despite its inability to find the back of the net, Spain remains upbeat about its chances.

''Spain keeps making history, nobody has done what we have and now if we win Sunday's final we can add the exclamation point to this era,'' said defender Sergio Ramos, whose audacious soft chip in the penalty shootout helped put Spain in command. ''I hope people appreciate how difficult it is to get to where we are. Spain won't always win every game, but we hope that's not the case on Sunday.''

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

DC United On a Roll !


Moments before entering the field of play, substitutes off of D.C. United’s bench receive a brief series of last instructions.  With Head Coach Ben Olsen presiding over on-field activities, assistants Pat Onstad and Chad Ashton are usually left to deliver the all-important final message.

That message was crystal clear in the final quarter-hour of Saturday’s 1-0 win over Philadelphia: HOLD THE BALL.

“That was obviously the idea,” Lewis Neal said of his assigned duties after coming on in the 61st minute.  “It wasn’t really happening for us all over the field.  It was one of those times when [D.C.’s technical staff] were trying to get us on to just get a hold of the ball a little bit and keep it.  I thought we did an OK job of that.”

Eleven minutes after Neal replaced rookie Nick DeLeon, Branko Boskovic joined the Englishman as another set of fresh legs in midfield.  The pair combined to complete 24 of their 26 attempted passes as United denied Philadelphia any prolonged spells of possession at a time when the Union were pushing for a score.

“Those guys are real possession guys,” Olsen noted when asked about his second-half midfield reinforcements.  “I thought they bought us some real time on the offensive possession, and that was key down the stretch.”

Boskovic’s effort in a central role was particularly impactful.  The Montenegrin picked up his third assist in as many outings while completing all eleven of the passes he attempted during an 18-minute stint.
“He controlled the midfield,” Dwayne De Rosario said of Boskovic.  “He found the little pockets when I was underneath and we started to knock the ball around and keep possession in [Philadelphia’s] half, which was lacking a little bit."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

DC United Wins Again !


"Hey guys, guess who's in first place?

D.C. United, that's who.

United rounded out a three-game homestand Saturday evening with a victory over the New England Revolution. After taking the full nine points from those three matches, the black-and-red find themselves in sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of New York and two points ahead of Kansas City.

While they've played a couple of games more than some of the teams chasing them, United's point total is still something to marvel at. United haven't found themselves in first place this deep into a season since the summer of 2009, and the three-game winning streak is their longest in league play since 2008.

If I sound like a cheerleader right now, you'll have to excuse me. This team has been very, very fun to watch lately.

How different is this team from last years? After jumping out to a 2-0 halftime lead on goals from Brandon McDonald and Dejan Jakovic, United quickly gave up its lead in a five-minute span early in the second half. DCU's 2011 squad would've given up the ghost at that point.

"This year our guys have been so good at keeping themselves composed and know that it is going to come," McDonald said after the match. "For me, I wasn’t worried about the two goals.”

And neither was United striker Maicon Santos, who came off the bench and nailed the game-winner in the 61st minute. A year ago, the idea that United would be able to bring their leading scorer in as a sub would have been laughable. But with options like Hamdi Salihi, Dwayne De Rosario, Chris Pontius and a game-fit Branko Bošković in attack, United can afford to do just that.

Still, United head coach Ben Olsen expected more from his squad: "It’s strange because I feel unfulfilled," he told the assembled media after the match. "I think our team feels unfulfilled, but it’s nice to feel unfulfilled and have three points in the back."

And that's possibly the most hopeful sign of all for United fans. This team expects to win, and it expects to win convincingly. Gone, for now, are the days where blowing a two-goal lead and skating out with a victory are good enough. United has started to demand more from themselves.

Based on Olsen's attitude about the three game winning streak, the best may be yet to come. Said Olsen: "When you’re in this, it’s tough to pat yourself on the back. I want to keep going. I want more points, and I want to do big things here, and I want these guys to experience big things."

Monday, May 21, 2012

De Rosario is On Fire

From USA today:

"Dwayne De Rosario scored two first-half goals, and D.C. United handed Toronto FC its MLS-record ninth loss to open the season, 3-1 on Saturday night. 

Hamdi Salihi added a second-half goal for United (7-4-3). The Washington club is unbeaten in its last seven home matches, including victories in the last four.

Danny Koevermans scored for Toronto, a loss away from tying the league record for the longest losing streak at any point in a season. Real Salt Lake lost 10 in a row in 2005.

De Rosario has scored three goals in his last five matches, and has four multi-goal games since D.C. acquired him in a trade last June with the New York Red Bulls.

He put United ahead in the first minute when he outraced Toronto's Ashtone Morgan and headed in Branko Boskovic's free kick. De Rosario doubled D.C.'s lead in the 43rd when he drove in Chris Korb's low cross after Josh Wolff played Korb down the right.

Toronto appeared to have new life in the 71st minute when Koevermans reached a long, straight free kick from Julian de Guzman and scored from close range. But Salihi struck two minutes later, reaching Andy Najar's cross after Najar eluded de Guzman and Jeremy Hall on the right.

Salihi, signed in the offseason from Austrian club Rapid Vienna, has four goals in his last five games after failing to score in United's first nine matches."

Monday, May 7, 2012

Guardiola Retires !

From :

Josep ‘Pep’ Guardiola has confirmed on Friday he will be leaving his position as Barcelona coach in the summer. His contract was due to expire at the end of June and he informed the players at training that he would not be extending his stay at the Nou Camp.

At the club’s request he promised to give it further thought but emerged with the same decision. Barcelona president Sandro Rosell has announced that Guardiola’s assistant Tito Vilanova will become first-team coach for next season.

The 41-year-old rose through the ranks at FC Barcelona, making 263 first-team appearances as a defensive midfielder for the Catalan side from 1990-2001. He retired as a player in 2006 and soon after became Barcelona B coach.

On May 8 2008 Guardiola replaced Frank Rijkaard as first-team coach. In his first full season in charge, his Barcelona side completed the treble of La Liga, Copa Del Rey and the Champions League.

He has led Barcelona to two Champions League crowns, three La Liga titles, one Copa Del Rey, three Supercopas, two UEFA Super Cups and two FIFA Club World Cups in his four-year tenure. Guardiola received the FIFA World Coach of the Year 2012 back in January.

Barca’s current campaign season has come up agonisingly short in the past week after the Catalan giants were beaten by Chelsea on Tuesday in the Champions league semi-final, on the back of Real Madrid’s 2-1 win at the Nou Camp in La Liga which left Barcelona seven points behind Jose Mourinho’s men with four games remaining. Chelsea (17/10) will now play FC Bayern Munich in the Champions League final, with Bayern priced as 4/9 to lift the trophy at their home ground, the Allianz Arena.

Guardiola said: “I would like you to understand that this is not an easy decision for me. But I would like to explain my reasons for this decision.

“I have always wanted short-term contracts. Four years is an eternity as Barca coach. I have given everything and I have nothing left and need to recharge my batteries,” he added.

At a press conference, President Sandro Rosell said: “We have called you today to announce that Pep Guardiola will not continue in charge of the team next season.

“Thank you Pep for all the happiness you have brought us and for bringing a model of football that can never be questioned.”

Monday, April 23, 2012

Barca Falls to Madrid


"It can’t get more cruel and hurting for Barcelona than to hand over the title to Real Madrid at Camp Nou. More depressing for the Catalans was the fact that Cristiano Ronaldo, a player whose big-match temperament has been under constant scrutiny this season, finally shook off any nerves to perform whereas Barca’s blue-eyed boy Lionel Messi failed to even penetrate into the box.

It is noteworthy that the El Clasico played last December was almost identical to this past weekend’s, except for the scoreline where Barca were away and won 3-1. They replaced Real Madrid at the top of La Liga and then there was no turning back as they raced to the title and also took the top honours in Europe. But one major difference in both these matches that was very clearly visible in this El Clasico has been the impact of Daniel Alves. Not just his delivery into the box but his ability to hold the ball has somehow seemed to have failed him in the last two matches. He was incredibly awful in both the Chelsea and the Clasico match. It seemed very uncharacteristic of him not to constantly keep delivering those balls into the box. More frustrating is to see him lose the ball just for an opposition winger to counter-attack.

Another very glaring aspect in Barca’s downfall was the substitutions of Xavi. In both the matches, Pep Guardiola chose to substitute Xavi and bring in Pedro and Sanchez respectively. Though Sanchez scored the equaliser, he did not make as much impact as someone who is fit enough to replace Xavi in such a crucial match should.

These might be trivial issues. But, the most important concern of Pep Guardiola now must be to deal with his defensive crisis and a certain attacker called “Tello”. How can the inclusion of Tello be justified on such a stage where the stakes are so high? Certainly, his finishing abilities do not warrant a place for him in this Barcelona side. More pressing an issue is that of Victor Valdes and Carlos Puyol. Though Puyol played his heart out in this match, both Puyol and Pep must realise that age is catching up with Mr. Barca. He cannot go on forever. This was evident from Madrid’s first goal. It was a classic case of a goalkeeper poorly placed and a defender who took an eternity to clear the ball at his feet with two attackers lurking around him. Puyol could have done much better as that goal just boosted Madrid’s confidence. They effectively shut out Barca in the first half by making them play within themselves and offering them no penetration into the box. But, before Chelsea come back next week,Pep must surely pep up his goalkeeper who is looking out of place recently."

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Barca Crush Getafe 4 - 0

From the UK Guardian:

"The Chile forward Alexis Sánchez scored twice as Barcelona swept to a 4-0 home win over Getafe that moved them to within a point of La Liga leaders Real Madrid on Tuesday.

Sánchez curled in the opener from Lionel Messi's layoff after 13 minutes and the world player of the year netted his 39th league goal and 61st in all competitions this season from an Andrés Iniesta backheel.

Sánchez and Pedro headed goals within three minutes of each other in the second half.

Barça, who were 10 points adrift of Madrid just over three weeks ago, cranked up the pressure with a 10th straight win and moved to within one point of their arch rivals."

Monday, April 9, 2012

Messi Nets 60th Goal

From the Hindustan Times:

Lionel Messi became the first player in almost 40 years to score 60 goals in a single European top-flight season after a brace helped Barcelona come from behind to beat 10-man Zaragoza 4-1.

Messi's 23 goals from the last 12 games has helped him arrive at the landmark 60 figure, the first time since Gerd Muller scored 67 goals in the 1972-73 season for Bayern Munich.

With a minimum of nine games still to play in the league and cup, 24-year-old Messi has the German's record well within his sights.

Barca's victory on Saturday also helped the champions slash Real Madrid's lead to three points with Jose Mourinho's side facing a tough April schedule, starting against third-placed Valencia today.

After that comes the Madrid derby against Atletico and the El Clasico showdown with Barca also to feature. 

"All we can do is keep going and see what happens in the matches still to play. We knew this would be a difficult game for the way that the opposition has been playing in the last month and the state of the pitch made it worse for both of us," said Barca coach Pep Guardiola."

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Barca vs. Milan 0 - 0

From Fox Soccer:

AC Milan held Barcelona to an entertaining 0-0 draw on Wednesday in the opening leg of the quarterfinals, the first time in 30 matches and more than two years that the Spanish team had been held scoreless in the Champions League.

The last time Barcelona failed to score in the Champions League was in the 0-0 draw with Rubin Kazan in November 2009.

Milan will find out in the return leg at the Camp Nou next Tuesday how much it will regret Robinho's woeful miss early on, while Barcelona should've had a first-half penalty when Alexis Sanchez was brought down by goalkeeper Christian Abbiati.

Lionel Messi, who has scored 55 times this season, had a goal rightly ruled out for offside at the San Siro.
This is only the second time a match between these two European heavyweights has ended scoreless in 14 meetings.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who spent an unhappy season at Barcelona, was also kept quiet although he should have done better with two opportunities.

These teams played each other in the group stage, with defending champion Barcelona beating Milan 3-2 in November in their last matchup. And the opening stages of this game appeared to promise a similar amount of goals.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Pre-Season News

As La Liga winds down and the MLS, NASL and USL-PRO leagues prepare to gear up for the upcoming season, its time to visit our favorite domestic teams to see how they are shaping up.

DC United scored its first points of the new season this past weekend, by posting a 0-0 draw against the talented Vancouver Whitecaps.  With one point now in the league standings, it's too early to judge how effective this United side might really be, but we're glad to see the black and red back on the pitch once again.

In NASL action, our beloved Fort Lauderdale Strikers scored a 7-2 pre-season thumping of Barry University this weekend, showing the kind of form that brought the Strikers to the NASL championship game last season.  With off-season moves that strengthen the defense, we expect the Strikers to be as good or even better than they were last season.  The Strikers open their season on March 31 against in-state rival Tampa Bay Rowdies in the latest rendition of the Florida Derby.

Speaking of Tampa Bay... we are happy to note that the franchise has finally resolved its trademark dispute with the previous owners of the Rowdies trademark and logo, and as of December 2011 the franchise is once again known as the Tampa Bay Rowdies.  This move at last fully restores the colors and traditions of the old NASL teams that built the Florida Derby back in the 1970's and 80's. 

Finally, in USL-Pro League action, Jedi Soccer's favorite USL team, the Charleston Battery, dropped a 2-0 pre-season match against the Wilmington Hammerheads.  The Battery's home opener is on Saturday April 14.

As the European season overlaps with the US domestic season, this is a rich time of the year for Jedi Soccer, as we track and write about our favorite Jedi Soccer sides:  FC Barcelona, DC United, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and the Charleston Battery. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Messi Becomes Barcelona Career Scoring Leader

From The Washington Post:

Step aside John Cruyff. Move over Laszlo Kubala, Romario and Ronald Koeman. And, please, don’t even mention Ronaldinho.

If anyone doubted who is the best scorer to don Barcelona’s burgundy and blue, Lionel Messi ended the debate in emphatic fashion on Tuesday night with a hat trick to become the club’s career goals leader.

Messi broke Cesar Rodriguez’s 57-year-old Barcelona record, getting his eighth hat trick of the season in a 5-3 Spanish league win over Granada that increased his goals total to 234.

“We are before the best player in absolutely every facet,” Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said. “He is capable of everything that a football player must do and he does it every three days. I am sorry for those who want to dethrone him, but he is simply different from all the rest. Messi has entered the history of the club at just 24 years of age. If he continues like this in the coming years, he will score so many goals that he will never be surpassed.”

Guardiola said that Messi was to soccer what Chicago Bulls great Michael Jordan was to basketball.
“Jordan dominated his sport and Messi dominates this one,” the former Barcelona midfielder said. “The first thing about Messi to point out is his mentality. He has great quality, of course. But the important thing is his mental strength.”

While Cesar set the mark in 13 seasons from 1942-1955, Messi needed just under eight campaigns to pass his milestone.

“He is defining an era. He is the best,” Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdez said.

Nicknamed “The Flea” for his headlong, goal-bound bursts, Messi made his Barcelona debut in 2004.
He tied Cesar’s record on a left-footed shot in the 17th minute for his 232nd goal, then chipped the goalkeeper for a 3-2 lead in the 67th. He added a goal from a tight angle in the 86th, increasing his season total to a career-best 54.

A three-time FIFA player of the year, Messi has 17 goals during a seven-game scoring streak and leads La Liga with 34 goals, two ahead of Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo.

The hat trick was Messi’s 18th for Barcelona and gave him 154 goals in his last 153 games over three seasons. His six hat tricks in La Liga this season tie the record set by Ronaldo last year.

Messi has scored 153 goals in the Spanish league, 49 in the Champions League, 19 in the Copa del Rey, eight in the Spanish Supercup, four in the Club World Cup and one in the European Supercup.

Late Monday, Barcelona announced Cesar’s total from 1942-55 was three fewer than the team previously said. A review by Barcelona’s Center of Documentation and Studies and the La Vanguardia newspaper determined Cesar did not score goals attributed to him during the 1947-48, 1948-49, 1949-50 and 1952-53 seasons and also credited him with an additional goal in 1945-46.

Barcelona’s sixth consecutive league win cut first-place Real Madrid’s lead to five points ahead of its game at Villarreal on Wednesday.

“Messi was calm as always after the game and thanked us all for our efforts,” said Cristian Tello, who also scored for Barcelona. “I have no doubt that he will end up as the best to have ever played this sport. Each game he shows that he is on another level. He doesn’t stop surprising us.”

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Messi Scores Five !

From Huffington Post Sports:

For all the astonishing feats in his young career, Lionel Messi had never scored five goals in a professional game. And no one had ever scored five times in a Champions League match.

Well, check both of those off.

With another mesmerizing performance, Messi helped defending champion Barcelona crush Bayer Leverkusen 7-1 Wednesday night to advance to the quarterfinals with a 10-2 aggregate win.

"Without Messi, Barca is the best team," Leverkusen coach Robin Dutt said. "And with him, they are in another galaxy."

The three-time FIFA player of the year scored in the 25th, 42nd and 49th minutes for a 3-0 lead and his 17th career hat trick for Barcelona, then added goals in the 58th and 84th minutes for the first five-goal game of his professional career.

"We'll never see a player like him again," Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said. "He is one of a kind."

The last time a player scored five goals in European soccer's top club competition had been when Ajax's Soren Lerby did it against Omonia in the old Champion Clubs' Cup in 1979-80.

"Messi is a joke. For me the best ever," Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney wrote on Twitter.

"I can't remember the last time I scored five goals, so I'm very happy," Messi said. "It's nice to score five goals.

"What was important was to win," Messi said. "That's what we wanted to achieve, now we're in the quarterfinals and we did it impressively."

Monday, March 5, 2012

Barca Surges Past Sporting

From Daily News & Analysis:

"FC Barcelona, playing without their talisman Lionel Messi who was suspended for the game, beat Sporting Gijon 3-1 at the Camp Nou. 

The win takes Barca to within seven points of Real Madrid.

Sporting manager Javier Clemente began the game on Saturday without a striker in his side and a packed defence to try and stop Barcelona, Xinhua reported.

The Catalans had two good penalty appeals turned down in the first half before Andres Iniesta opened the scoring following a brilliant passing move from the reigning league champions.

The game looked to be clearly going Barca's way, but it changed radically in the first minute of the second half, when Gerard Pique was sent off for supposedly bringing down Miguel de las Cuervas. It looked a harsh decision and more so when David Barral turned home a low cross from the resulting free kick.

Barca lost their shape and were unable to break down a well organised Sporting until Keita scored a fine left foot shot with 11 minutes remaining. It was his first league goal of the season.

Xavi Hernandez sealed the win after linking with Andres Iniesta two minutes from time. The midfielder took a magnificent through ball and clipped the ball over the keeper into the net."

Next up for FC Barcelona is a date with Bayer Leverkusen this Wednesday in Champions League competition.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Messi Saves the Day Again

From Reuters:

"Lionel Messi’s quick thinking and brilliant execution fired Barcelona to a 2-1 La Liga win at Atletico Madrid on Sunday that kept the gap on leaders Real Madrid to 10 points.

The World Player of the Year caught the Atletico defence napping to score a breathtaking 81st-minute free kick and settle an intense battle at the Calderon after Atletico striker Radamel Falcao had cancelled out Daniel Alves’s opening goal.

As the home defence lined up to defend the free kick wide on the left, Messi noticed Atletico goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois out of position and curled a stunning strike over the Belgian’s head into the far top corner for his 28th league goal of the season."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Messi Crushes Valencia 5 -1

Coming off an unexpected loss last weekend to Osasuna and a mid-week 3 - 1 triumph over Bayer Leverkusen in Champions League competition, this week FC Barcelona came roaring back to their championship form in a 5 - 1 rout of Valencia, in which Lionel Messi scored no less than four goals. 

As reported in The Hindu:

"Lionel Messi scored four goals to inspire Barcelona to a 5-1 victory over Valencia on Sunday in the Spanish League, but the champion still remains 10 points behind leader Real Madrid.

Messi, playing his 200th game for the club, took his league goals tally to 27 for the season and 42 in all competitions although third-placed Valencia had stunned the Spanish and European champion by taking a shock early lead.

“The most important thing was that the team played like we did against Bayer Leverkuson in the Champions League in midweek when we won 3-1,” said Messi after his Camp Nou master class.

“There are lots of crucial challenges ahead and it's necessary to keep going like this.”

The pressure was on the Catalan side after defeat last weekend away to Osasuna and it got off to a poor start with Pablo Piatti giving Valencia the lead after nine minutes.

Martin Montoya, in the side with Dani Alves suspended, and Gerard Pique left Piatti unmarked and keeper Victor Valdes came and failed to reach a Sofiane Feghouli cross allowing the diminutive striker to tuck the ball in.

The home fans were becoming restless but Messi responded once again when his side needed him most with two goals in five minutes.

Adil Rami failed to clear a cross and Messi coolly finished from a tight angle.

The Argentine then got ahead of the Valencia defence to meet an Eric Abidal cross and while the keeper Diego Alves saved his initial shot, he was able to sweep in the rebound.

Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas were both denied by Alves while the former Arsenal player then hit the woodwork with an acrobatic effort.

The home side continued to push forward after the break with Alves stopping a Messi header with a wonderful save and Fabregas badly miscued before Messi gave Barca a cushion by firing in a rebound after another Alves block.

Messi completed his hat-trick with 15 minutes to go and then notched up his 42nd goal of the season after running clear of the defence and clipping the ball over the keeper.

With the Valencia defence in disarray substitute Xavi Hernandez lobbed the ball over the keeper for the fifth in injury time.

Despite the rout, Barcelona is still struggling to retain its title after Real Madrid had swept past Racing Santander 4-0 on Saturday.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Osasuna Shocks Barca 3-2

From CNTV:

"Spain's Primera Liga powerhouse Barcelona faced Osasuna on Saturday. Pep Guardiola’s 3-time defending champions went into the game seven points behind first-place Real Madrid in the league standings, and faced a critical match against an underdog playing at home.

The sides battled on a Osasuna’s bumpy pitch in Pamplona, and a swirling wind didn’t make Barca’s players any more comfortable. The home team seemed to adapt quicker. Serbian striker Dejan Lekic beat Victor Valdes at his near post after only five minutes. Osasuna led it 1-0.

The Navarran squad kept the pressure on, and it scored again in the 22nd. Lekic arrived unmarked again off a low cross to find the net. Barca went in at the break trailing by two goals for Barcelona turned to its youngsters to lead the squad back. 51st minute, Isaac Cuenca provided the cross for Alexis Sanchez. He made it 2-1.

But Osasuna came back with a huge goal, four minutes later. Valdes made a poor clearance and Osasuna’s Raul Garcia squeezed a shot in off the post. The score stood at 3-1 and Barcelona was on the ropes.
Barca put veteran Cesc Fabregas into the lineup. He found Cristian Tello for a nice move with a smash high into the net. The champs closed it to 3-2.

Osasuna struggled to hold on. Barcelona seemed to score its third, but the goal was waved-off for offside. Osasuna finished off the win, 3-2 over Barcelona."

Monday, January 30, 2012

Barca Drops More Points


"When Barcelona were held to a 1-1 draw in the Catalan derby at Espanyol earlier this month, Pep Guardiola and his players preached positivity. There is a long way to go, they said: Over half the league was left to claw back Real Madrid's five-point advantage.
But that five-point margin is now a deficit of seven and the champions now have less than half of the league to overhaul their fiercest rivals.

Barca had looked so impressive as they thrashed Malaga 4-1 in their last away fixture in La Liga, with Lionel Messi bagging a brilliant hat-trick. That, along with the 2-1 win at Madrid in the Copa del Rey 10 days ago, appeared to have banished the Catalan's away-day blues.

However, Saturday night's goalless game at Villarreal was about as bad as it has been for Guardiola's side this season - and not even Messi could save them from another disappointment on their travels.

That's 13 points dropped now for Barca in the league this term, already two more than in the whole of last season. And if Madrid - who beat Zaragoza 3-1 earlier on Sunday - can match their haul of 49 from the first 19 fixtures, the Catalans will need to win all of their remaining 18 games to claim a fourth successive title. Impossible, surely, even for this spectacular side."

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Messi Crushes Malaga


"Lionel Messi scored a rare header in his hat-trick on Sunday to lead Barcelona to a 4-1 win at Malaga, keeping the pressure on Spanish leaders Real Madrid, who later stayed five points clear at the top with a 4-1 win over 10-man Athletic Bilbao.

Messi started the rout in the 33rd minute and then added two more after Alexis Sanchez had doubled the lead at the start of the second half. The Argentina forward now has 22 goals this season so far in just 19 appearances.

Despite Pep Guardiola's side's strong showing, the hosts were the more threatening side in the early going. Before 20 minutes had passed, Isco had three chances in the space of two minutes, but Victor Valdes saved each acrobatically to keep the contest scoreless.

Barcelona have struggled away from home this season, with just one win in their previous four outings. But once Messi found the net for just the second time on the road this campaign, the hosts had little trouble making Malaga look like the team they were before a 60-million-Euros overhaul in the off-season.

Andres Iniesta passed to Adriano out wide and he squared for Messi to guide a graceful header past diving goalkeeper Willy Caballero in the 33rd. The Fifa Ballon d'Or winner finished powerfully into the left side of the net, beating the outstretched arms of Caballero. It was Messi's first headed goal in the league this season and just his 10th-ever for Barcelona out of 216 goals.

"(Messi's) greatest virtue is his consistency," Guardiola said. "He has been playing at such a high level for a long time. These goals will help him in the games to come."

Barcelona made short work of Malaga after half-time as the visitors improved, with Alexis Sanchez pouncing on the rebound following a shot by Thiago Alcantara and firing inside the top of the goal in the 48th.

As special as his first goal was, the second was pure Messi. The three-time Ballon D'Or winner put the result beyond doubt three minutes later when he recovered the ball in Malaga territory, skirted through a swarm of reeling defenders and slotted a left-footed strike into the left corner.

He hit the crossbar from a free kick in the 75th but was not to be denied seven minutes later when he charged down the left flank, rode a defender's tackle and beat Caballero with a light touch of his left foot to send the ball bouncing into the far side of the net.

"There is a long way to go, all the second half of the season, and we will keep pushing all the way," Messi said."

Monday, January 16, 2012

Barca Over Betis 4 - 2


"Barcelona squandered a two-goal lead before seeing off 10-man Real Betis 4-2 to cut Real Madrid’s lead at the top of La Liga back to five points on Sunday.

Two goals from Lionel Messi and a goal apiece from Xavi and Alexis Sanchez fired them to the victory after Ruben Castro and Roque Santa Cruz had levelled.

Betis had Mario Vazquez sent off with the score at 2-2 with 20 minutes remaining and Barca never looked back.

Now the focus is turned to the Spanish Cup on Wednesday when the two giants face each other in the first leg of a quarter-final tie.

Real Madrid had came from behind on Saturday to win 2-1 at Mallorca with late goals from Gonzalo Higuain and Jose Callejon.

“The cup is a different competition so we have to change our mentality. What we do know is we will go all out to get through the tie,” said Xavi.

“We have no doubts about our play, although we know we can play better or worse than tonight. Our philosophy is always the same, we go out to attack. We were eight points behind Madrid and Betis made it difficult for us because they wanted the ball.”

Barca coach Pep Guardiola added of Wednesday’s game: “It’s always good to go into a game on the back of a win, but we know who we are up against and we’ll try to play the best game we can.”

Monday, January 9, 2012

Barca Draws Espanyol 1-1

From SB Nation:

"Three wins, four draws and one loss. Just 12 goals for and nine goals against in eight games. This sounds like it could be the road record of a Europa League contender, but it is instead the road record of mighty Barcelona. The reigning La Liga and UEFA Champions League title holders have taken just 13 out of a possible 24 points on the road through 17 rounds of play in La Liga.

Compare that to title contenders Real Madrid.  Los Merengues have a record of 7-1-1 on the road, with 27 goals for and just five goals against. Four of those five goals were conceded in matches away to Valencia and Sevilla. They shut out Malaga on the road. They also recorded a 4-0 victory away to Espanyol, Barcelona's Catalonia rivals.

Los Cules dropped another two road points on Sunday in a 1-1 draw against Espanyol, and it can hardly be called a lucky point for the hosts. Not only did they play very good football that was deserving of a draw, but it was a repeat of what the viewing public has seen from Barcelona throughout the season. Away from the Camp Nou, a draw is the most likely result for Barcelona, a characteristic that isn't exactly befitting of the best team in the world.

What's gone wrong for Barcelona on the road? Obviously, it's impossible to pick out any one thing. A team of Barcelona's talent doesn't simply stop playing great football and stop scoring goals because of one singular factor, though there is one giant elephant in the room regarding Lionel Messi and his teammates' inability to step up when he isn't at his best.

It's important to separate out what went wrong in the Espanyol game and what has gone wrong in previous poor road performances. First of all, there was an inherent formation issue for Barcelona on Sunday. Not to harp on formations too much, because they are not the be-all, end-all of football and they had less to do with the outcome of the game than individual performances, but it's worth mentioning.

However, the blame for this draw will not fall on Carles Puyol or Pep Guardiola. Instead, the man who is likely to catch the majority of the criticism in the papers is Lionel Messi. Depending on how one looks at it, this could be abysmal or absolutely perfect timing. Messi is all but set to capture the Ballon d'Or on Monday as the best player in the world during the calendar year 2011. A number of Messi detractors say that he has better teammates around him than Cristiano Ronaldo or any other major star outside of Spain's big two, and that his goal and assist tallies are inflated as a result.

When someone reaches the heights that Messi has reached, both in his personal statistical tallies and in his success with his team, there must be a brigade of people who find every reason to detract from their accomplishments. After what happened on Sunday and what's happened over the first half of the La Liga season, it's astonishing that these people have any ammunition.

Messi was not at his best on Sunday. He was by no means poor, but he was certainly average. When Lionel Messi is average, Barcelona are usually average. Sometimes, they need him to be truly spectacular to squeak out the minimum acceptable result. As good as his co-Ballon d'Or finalist Xavi is and as good as the rest of their teammates are, Barcelona depends as much on Messi as any team depends on one player.

As long as Lionel Messi is simply very good and not playing like the best player in the world, Barcelona will look very good, but nothing like the best team in the world. Regardless of the result of the first edition of El Clasico, that's a title currently reserved for Los Merengues, who look like they can lose the second Clasico outright and still win the league.

Barcelona return home to face Real Betis next week, a match which they will probably win with relative ease. Their following two matches are away to Malaga and Villareal. They are tough tests, but also games that Barcelona need to win if they want to say they are currently as good as their title rivals. If Barcelona finish with anything but nine points out of their next three matches, the title could belong to Madrid in January."