2017 | MARCH | MADNESS IN MOTION
This month’s eleven updates begin with another global goalie, sharing information about the structure and organization of world football. This goalie is the “back-up” to last month’s introduction to FIFA, providing more information about global entities that protect the game. This goalie plays in front of a solid team, that lines up in a 5-4-1 this month. This team of updates locks up the back end with comprehensive paragraphs about the UEFA Champions League, which is currently rolling out this season’s quarter-finalists. In the midfield, updates from Europe’s big leagues come together to entertain and hopefully move readers forward. Our lone striker is fresh and bright, working hard to introduce the start of the new MLS season. Enjoy this team of updates and please give to kids and teens to read because it builds vocabulary.
FROM THE PITCH
Backing up FIFA are six continental organizations, that are officially recognized as independent federations. These organizations receive financial and logistical support from FIFA in order to organize and operate regional tournaments for member clubs and countries. In return, the confederations and their members agree to support and embody FIFA’s statutes, laws, aims and principals. The six confederations are: The Asian Football Confederation – AFC; The Confederation of African Football – CAF; The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football – CONCACAF; The Confederacion Sudamericana de Futbol – CONMEBOL in South America; The Ocenia Football Confederation – OFC; and of course UEFA – the Union of European Football Associations. UEFA is not the oldest child, but is the most powerful of the bunch and even butts heads with father FIFA from time to time. UEFA’s president is Michel Platini. You kids – go ask your fathers or grandfathers about this guy and how he played the game. Get ready to hear about poetry (in motion), power (personified) and productivity (for both club and country… and now continent).
A great champions league showdown (surely, one of the best ever) was played this month between Paris St. Germain and Barcelona FC. In the first leg, PSG used a high pressure, high tempo approach to completely dominate an incredible opponent. The free flowing attacking machine of Barca was stopped in its tracks and left watching the impeccable football of the hosts. The 4-0 final score was a deserved scoreline as the Parisians enjoyed arguably their most famous win in this competition. Entering the second leg at the Nou Camp, most believed the Blaugrana needed a miracle to advance and the boys in red and blue delivered just that in a game for the ages. A home goal in the opening minutes provided a good start and goals on either side of halftime stirred the Catalan crowd into an immense frenzy… sensing that the impossible could be possible. The dream comeback took a big hit when PSG scored a coveted away goal just past the hour mark, meaning Barca needed 3 goals to advance. The minutes flew by and in other stadiums around Europe and the world, fans would have fled to the exits, but at the Nou Camp, fans never leave because… we will sing our team off, even in defeat and because… yes… anything is possible, when you have Messi, Neymar and Suarez around. This night, it was the Brazilian wonder kid Neymar who came to the rescue, whipping in a stunning free kick in 89th minute, stroking home a penalty in the 91st minute and floating over a beautiful assist into the path of Sergi Roberto, whose feet first dive redirected the ball into the net just in time to make the miracle a reality. Final Score – Barcelona 6 PSG 1 (6-5 on aggregate)… incredible, magical stuff. Barcelona becomes the first team to overturn a 4-0 first leg deficit and with it, booked their place in the quarter-finals for a record 10th consecutive year.
The Round of 16 tie between Arsenal and Bayern Munich had two very similar matches. Arsenal’s swift passing and speedy wing play troubled the German giants for bits of both first halves, resulting in many chances and a goal. But, in both games, as the minutes rolled by, particularly into both second halves, Bayern Munich’s dominance took over and the German juggernaught laid down two absolute drubbings on the English side, who could not contain the might and skill and professionalism of Bayern. Both games ended 5-1, resulting in a 10-2 aggregate victory for Bayern Munich, who proceed as a clear favourite for a place in the final. Poor Arsenal – they finally won their group (after years of finishing second) and expecting to avoid a major club again at this stage and were ready to finally make it past this round of 16. Instead, the draw gave them mighty Bayern Munich, who, this year uncharacteristically “stumbled” into the knock-out phase as a second place finisher. More European questions for the Gunners, while for Bayern, it’s off the final eight.
The two legs of the Round of 16 tie between Real Madrid and Napoli were also similar in many ways. In both games, Napoli scored first and in both games the champions answered with 3 goals of their own, leading to two 3-1 victories. In the first leg at the Bernabau, Real scored two goals shortly after halftime and in the second leg at the Stadio San Paulo in Naples, Madrid again scored twice just after the break to turn the game around and secure a place in the quarter-finals. Despite falling out the competition, Napoli deserve much credit for playing two competitive games and on both nights, putting a wee scare into the defending champions. To those who covet only results, Napoli will be considered clear losers (6-2 on aggregate), but to those who esteem effort, belief and process, Napoli will be held in high regard for attempting to go toe-to-toe with one of the best teams on the planet and for putting on a good show, albeit in defeat. For Zidane’s boys, it will be business as usual against whoever greets them in the quarter-final.
In an interesting Round of 16 match-up, German qualifiers Borussia Dortmund was drawn against Portuguese champions Benfica. In mid February, the two teams duelled in Lisbon, Portugal’s capital. Benfica scored the only goal in an entertaining match, but the better team failed to win. Dortmund bossed that game in many ways (69% possession, 14 shots to 5, 5 to 1 on target and 10 corners to 3) but its centre forward spurned many chances, including one from the penalty spot. This past Wednesday, Borussia Dortmund played the exact same match at home, except this time added clinical finishing. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the man who missed that penalty in the first leg, made a mends in a big way with a hat trick that helped secure a 4-1 aggregate victory and a place in the quarter-finals. Benfica will continue to search for answers and will no doubt be back to fight another day in this famous competition.
The four other Round of 16 second legs will be played out this week in four lucky locales around Europe. In Turin, Italy, Juventus look to finish off FC Porto. The Italian leaders scored twice in Portugual a few weeks back in a 2-0 victory. Leceister City trail 2-1 to Sevilla FC, but host these cup specialists in central England and go into this intriguing match playing as good as they have played all season. In Madrid, Atletico play host to Bayer Leverkusen and will nurse a 4-2 first leg lead. At the same time in southern France, more goals are likely at both ends as AS Monaco and Manchester City continue their shoot-out. Manchester City currently lead 5-3, but remember Monaco has been scrumptious at home, scoring 66 goals in 18 home games.
On Friday March 10th, Juventus hosted AC Milan in Serie A action. Two very skillful, very intelligent, very organized teams got together in Turin and put on a real show. Entertainment, drama, intrigue and a surprise ending made for excellent viewing. Juventus started well and had several chances to take the lead before actually doing so in the 30th minute. A second and perhaps third seemed likely, but as football goes, it was AC Milan who scored next, just before halftime on a swift counter that ended with a crisp pass and precise finish. Juventus restored its dominance in the second half, but were repeatedly stifled by last ditch defending and excellent goalkeeping from the Rossoneri’s number one Gianluigi Donnarumma. It appeared the spoils would be shared, but well into the fifth minute of four minutes of extra time, the referee spotted a hand ball in the Milan box, and pointed to the penalty spot. It was cruel on Milan, but Juventus will surely take it. Paulo Dybala curled into side netting a wicked penalty and Juventus grabbed all 3 points on the last kick of the game. The victory extends Juve’s lead to 11 points over AS Roma and 13 points over Napoli, who both play Sunday.
Spain’s La Liga is getting very interesting. Amidst all the talk about Luis Enrique’s tenuous position as Barcelona boss, the squad has secured a place in the Copa Del Rey final, orchestrated that incredible comeback in the champions league (see #2) and in La Liga, Barca have won 5 straight, including outscoring its past two opponents 11-1. Previous leaders Real Madrid start the weekend a point back dropping points in two games this month. The Galacticos do still have a game in hand, but that once healthy lead is gone. Sevilla’s fine season continues. The Sevillistas are third, having won 4 of 5, which keeps them in touch with the leaders. This weekend Sevilla host Leganes, Deportivo host Barcelona and Real Madrid host Real Betis.
In England’s top flight, the incredible excitement is happening from 2nd place to 6th place, with a seemingly weekly shuffle of the table. Entering this weekend, Tottenham and Manchester City possess 56 points each… Spurs edge second on goal difference. Four points back in fourth is Liverpool, who have righted the ship after a horrible start to 2017. Two more points back is Arsenal, who currently seem to be a club in crisis, however Arsene Wegner’s boys are known for strong league finishes. Inconsistent Manchester United are another point off the pace, but will never stop fighting for one of those four CL spots. By the way, Chelsea FC continue to be the class of the EPL, playing championship football week after week. The Blues have 66 points and a ten point lead. Antonio Conte’s boys are closing in on Chelsea’s 6th top flight league title.
This number ten, playing rover, runs miles around other parts of Europe, providing league updates. In France, AS Monaco entered this week’s action three points ahead of PSG and Nice. Nice have already played this matchweek, drawing 2-2 on Friday. In Germany, Bayern Munich has stretched its lead to 7 points over dream upstarts RB Leipzig. The German giants are well on their way to their gazillionth domestic trophy. In Holland, the top three is Feyenoord (63) Ajax (59) and PSV (55). In Scotland, Celtic are runaway leaders, followed by Aberdeen and Rangers. On Sunday morning, Celtic drew Rangers 1-1 in one the planet’s most heated derbies. In Portugal, Benfica and Porto are one-two at the top, followed by Sporting in third.
A new MLS season is upon us. Last year’s league champion FC Dallas, opened the 2017 campaign with an away win over LA Galaxy 2-1. Last year’s MLS Cup Champion Seattle Sounders began with a 2-1 loss away to Houston. East Champion Toronto FC were held 0-0 in Salt Lake City. Superstar Sebastian Giovinco missed a penalty for TFC. Other winners on opening weekend were: from the East, New York Red Bull and Orlando City and from the West, Portland, Colorado and San Jose. I’ll be looking forward to this weekend’s Toronto-Philadelphia game at Talon-Energy Stadium. Don’t forget, both divisions now have 11 teams each with this season’s additions of Atlanta United FC and Minnesota United FC.
FROM THE BENCH
On this month’s bench, all players are professional, with some other important items from European club football.
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 FA Cup quarter-finals are scheduled for this weekend. Middlesbrough hosted Manchester City in the early kick-off Saturday and Pep Guardiola’s talented team prevailed 2-0 after a thorough and convinving performance. In the later Saturday kickoff, Arsenal host Lincoln City. Lincoln City is a great story, exemplifying what is great about this incredible competition. Lincoln is the first non-league side into the final eight in 103 years. This true minnow gets to swim with one of the big fish… and at the Emirates Stadium, no less. For Arsenal, quite the opposite from its midweek opponent (Bayern Munich). On Sunday, Tottenham host Millwall United, from League One (equivalent to England’s 3rd division) and a goal from the prolific Harry Kane is likely. The fourth QF is a titanic one between Chelsea FC and Manchester United, scheduled for Stamford Bridge on Monday night.
The first legs of the Coppa Italia semi-finals were played a couple of weeks ago. In the first game, played on February 28th at Juventus Stadium in Turin, two-time defending champs Juventus beat Napoli 3-1. The old lady fell behind in the 36th minute, but equalized 11 minutes later. Goals in the 64th and 69th minutes secured this first leg advantage. On March 1st at the Stadio Olympico in Rome, Lazio ousted AS Roma 2-0 with a goal in each half. The second legs of both semi-finals will be played April 5th.
Europa League action entertained all those participating and all other soccer junkies, who enjoy watching our great game every day of the week, including Thursdays. This tournament is halfway through the Round of 16 with first leg matches played this past Thursday. Here are some notable results: Manchester United 1 Rostov 1 (in Russia); FC Coppenhagen 2 Ajax 1 (in Denmark) and Lyon 4 AS Roma 2 (in France). Second legs will be played this Thursday. For all scores and schedules, google “Europa League”.
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).