2017 | FEBRUARY | GAME ON
This month’s team of eleven updates starts at the top, introducing our ultimate keeper of the game, who strives to put football first and keep the planet in order. Two centre backs (#2 and #3) keep the conversation international, while also expressing the importance of teamwork. This month’s two fullbacks (#4 and #5) are champions through and through and click us forward into the knock-out phase of UEFA’s two signature club competitions. The midfield works together to provide updates from Europe’s top club leagues. Up front, the strikers are set to surprise everyone with detailed paragraphs about historic cup competitions on the continent. On the bench, a few updates from youth soccer are provided, just for kicks.
FROM THE PITCH
FIFA stands for Fédération Internationale de Football Association and is the governing body of football, futsal and beach soccer. This organization was created in 1904 to bring together eight European nations, who wanted a competition to see who played best. FIFA has grown and grown and with a current membership of 211 countries, it is now fondly referred to as the United Nations of Football. FIFA’s main responsibility is organizing, operating and overseeing all major international football tournaments, first and foremost, The World Cup. FIFA’s headquarters are in Zurich, Switzerland and the current president is Gianni Infantino.
One day when we figure out high speed space travel and actualize warp drive capability, we will send our eleven best players (and the next best eleven for back-up) on a spaceship to compete with teams from other galaxies in the universe. Until then, we’ll have to settle for simply choosing these players and pasting their names in magazines, listing them on websites or including them in blogs, like this one. The following world eleven was chosen by 45000 players around the world and is called the 2016 FIFA FIFPro World Eleven:
Goalkeeper: Manuel Neuer
Defenders: Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo
Midfielders: Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Andres Iniesta
Forwards: Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Cristiano Ronaldo
Here is the bench, as selected by me Danny:
Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon
Defenders: Philip Lahm, Thiago Silva, Diego Godin, Jordi Alba
Midfielders: Eden Hazard, N’Golo Kante, Kevin DeBruyne
Forwards: Neymar, Robert Lewandowski, Antoine Griezmann.
Front and centre the past few weeks was the African Nations Cup, where this continent’s sixteen best national teams competed in the 31st edition of the tournament. The group phase found four group winners – Burkina Faso, Senegal, Congo and Egypt – and four second place finishers – Cameroon, Tunisia, Morocco and Ghana. All booked passage to the quarter-finals. Egypt did not concede a goal in the group stage or the quarter-final and won its semi-final on penalties to reach the final. Cameroon survived a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-finals and beat Ghana with two smart goals in the other semi. Burkina Faso took bronze, beating Ghana 1-0 in the third place match. In the final, Egypt started well and took the lead with a first half goal from Mohamed Elneny. The Pharaohs entered this match having never lost to Cameroon in a major tournament and hit halftime feeling the trend would continue. But, as champions tend to do, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon stuck together, dug deep and found ways to take over the game. Reforcements from the bench ignited this squad and an equalizer arrived on the hour from Nicolas Nkoulou, whose team was putting together an excellent second half. Possession titled toward the eventual champions, who also dominated territory, shots (15-4) and corners (6-0). Just two minutes from time, Cameroon scored a deserved winning goal after a sweet move and finish from substitute Vincent Aboubakar and the tournament found a worthy champion.
I said a few times, I do not have 23 players, I have 23 friends. It’s really unbelievable… I think this is the reason why we won.
UEFA’s Champions League knock-out phase begins next week with the Round of 16. This season marks the 62nd edition of the European Club Championships and the 25th season under the rebranded banner of The Champions League. Real Madrid of Spain has won this tournament the most times (11), including last year. The time for talk is over… let’s go find a champion. For fixtures, stories and hoopla, click here.
UEFA’s Europa League knock out phase begins next Thursday with the Round of 32. This tournament was founded in 1971 and was rebranded in 2009 and given its current name. Like every year, this knock-out phase brings together an excellent mix of famous teams (like Manchester United, Tottenham, Villarreal, Roma, Ajax) not so famous teams (like Astra Giurgiu, Krasnodar and Osmanlispor) and a bunch of others searching for glory. Three-peat champions Sevilla are playing in the Champions League, so we are on route to a new champion this year.
For matches, team news and opinions, click here.
In La Liga, the top of the table looks competitive with Real Madrid on 46 points, Barcelona 45 and Sevilla 43… but, look again. Real have two games in hand and can potentially stretch this lead to 7 points. I know… I know, in Spain, no lead is safe and both Barcelona and Sevilla are capable of long winning streaks. But, the leader’s recent exit from the cup means the Galacticos will be extra focused on winning the league. This weekend Real Madrid play Osasuna (love saying Osasuna)… Alaves host Barcelona (who are looking to avenge an early season loss)… and Sevilla travel to 11th place Las Palmas. Going into this weekend, La Liga’s top two scorers are from Barcelona – Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez – with 16 goals each. Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid is third with 13 goals, followed by Iago Aspas of Celta Vigo with 11. Real’s Toni Kroos leads the league in assists with 9, followed on 7 by Pablo Piatti of Espanyol and Barcelona’s Neymar.
England’s top league has been incredible this season. Parity is happening because on any given matchday, anything is possible. Many teams are dreaming big and planning for trophies, parades and European adventures. However, there is one major problem with this season… the title race appears to be over with the Chelsea Blues settling in as league champions. Most of the second half of the season remains, however catching these leaders will be a tall order. We can expect many more riveting matches and will have to settle for what should be an excellent race for 2nd, 3rd and 4th… which of course means champions league next season. By the way, last month’s biggest loser was Liverpool. In 2017, Liverpool have played 10 matches and have won one, lost five and drawn four. The Reds exited both English cups in a four day spell at the end of January and have fallen to 5th place, 13 points off the lead. No rest for the weary however, as talented Tottenham visit Anfield on February 11.
AS Monaco are the current leaders in France’s top league, known as Ligue 1. This dream season started rolling on August 28th when Monaco beat down the three-time defending champions, Paris St. Germaine 3-1. Showing it was no fluke, the leaders have one by one, mowed down opponents with sparkling team football and ruthless, clinical finishing, particularly at home, where the Monacons have dropped points in only two of twelve games at the Stade Louis II. Overall, Monaco have scored 70 league goals in 24 matches and enter this weekend with a goal difference of 47. However, the champions from Paris will not relinquish the title without a fight. The Parisians shook off a horrible December and have won 9 out of 10 games in all competitions in 2017, including Friday’s 3-0 victory in the wine country of Bordeaux. The victory brings PSG level with Monaco on 55 points, three ahead of OGC Nice, who sit third. Monaco host Metz on Saturday, while Nice travel to play Rennes on Sunday.
In Italy, Juventus continue to lead the way, entering this weekend’s set of games 7 points clear of second place AS Roma. Juventus won twice this week, beating Inter Milan 1-0 on Sunday and Crotone 2-0 on Wednesday. I wonder if the Old Lady isn’t quietly asking, if not begging, for a real challenger for the Scudetto. And if not Juve, then the rest of us are hoping for some sort of race for first. Come on Roma (we love you)… keep going Napoli (it’s your time to shine)… come on Lazio (don’t be lazy… be learned… and be-lievers)… come on Inter (this past month was one of your best in years). The top five are all heavy favourites this week, including Lazio, who play Monday against struggling AC Milan. This old juggernaught has only one win in its previous five league games. Napoli already took care of business this matchday, winning on Friday 2-0 over Genoa to temporarily leapfrog into second.
There is excellent excitement happening in the planet’s oldest cup competition… the FA Cup. Notable results from the fourth round (played two weeks ago) include a Leicester City triumph over Derby County after extra time in the replay and a thrilling Tottenham victory over 4th Division Wycombe 4-3, which required an 89th minute equalizer from Spurs and a winner deep into stoppage time. Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City eased into Round 5 with multi-goal victories. Round 5 (which is the round of 16) includes two teams from England’s fifth tier – Lincoln City and Sutton United. These minnows remain in dreamland for at least another 90 minutes. In that other domestic cup, two-legged semi-finals were played in January and found us the two finalists for the EFL Cup. Southampton ousted Liverpool with two impressive 1-0 wins and Manchester United outlasted Hull City 3-2 on aggregate to reach the finals. The final is scheduled for February 26th at Wembley Stadium.
The Copa Del Rey is Spain’s oldest football competition. This cup’s full name is Campeonato de España – Copa de Su Majestad el Rey de Fútbol. The English translation is Championship of Spain – His Majesty The King’s Football Cup. This past month witnessed the cup’s quarter-finals and semi-finals. League leaders Real Madrid fell out of the competition in the quarter-finals, drawing 2-2 away to Celta Vigo after losing 2-1 at home in the first leg. Other quarter-final winners were Deportivo Alaves, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona. In one semi-final, Alaves pitched two shut-outs to eliminate Celta Vigo and advance to the finals for the first time ever. In the other semi-final, two of Europe’s strongest teams played two physical, intense, skillful matches that were extremely enjoyable to watch. In the first leg, Barcelona jumped all over their opponents from the off and scored two top-drawer goals, one from Luis Suarez and the other from some little guy named Lionel Messi. Atletico Madrid showed grit, heart and belief and stayed in contention with a second half goal from their talisman Antoine Griezmann. The second leg began the way the first leg finished, with Atletico earnestly chasing the tie, searching for an equalizer. Chances were spurned however and just before halftime, Messi freed himself expertly, drove forward and shot hard and low into the corner. Miguel Moya saved well, but the ball happily fell to the feet of Luis Suarez who restored Barca’s two goal aggregate lead. Full credit to Atletico, who never gave up the fight, despite having an equalizer wrongly flagged offside and despite missing a penalty. A game tying goal arrived on 83 minutes, but this semi-final belonged to Barcelona, who hung on for a 3-2 aggregate victory. On May 27, FC Barcelona will attempt to win a record 29th King’s Cup and third straight.
FROM THE BENCH
The 2006 boys at Glen Shields Futbol Club (including my son) are training regularly every week and trying to get better every day at controlling, dribbling, passing and shooting that round (spherical) soccer ball. These boys are also trying to learn where and when to do all these skills TOGETHER as a team, one for all and all for one. Results from recent games are promising and the process of play is evidence that the boys are making progress. Keep working hard, keep learning everyday… and oh yes… keep having fun.
The 2008 boys at Vaughan Soccer Club (including my other son) are also training multiple times a week and most weekends get a short game. Mixed results in these games have not dampened the spirits of this talented bunch. On the contrary, the boys are working even harder to play this simple little difficult game. Also, no matter what, these boys keep smiling and laughing and having a great time playing this great game with their friends.
I’m coaching a grassroots soccer program for Maccabi Canada on Sunday afternoons. We’re working with young players, the youngest of which is a bunch of 2011 girls (including my daughter and several of her friends). These guys and girls are so wonderful, free and pure… that I can’t help but ask… who’s teaching who?
BY THE WAY
- These books are meant to be informative and fun (great for soccer people).
- These books find opportunities to provide lessons about soccer, sport and life (perfect for students of the game).
- These books are made to build vocabulary (perfect for kids with a dictionary or teenagers without one).
- These books are meant to be inexpensive (perfect gifts to players on your team, coaches on your staff, people in your organization or old friends who like a good story).