Champions League Quarter Finals Aftermath: Don’t Hate the Referee, Hate the Game!

The turning-point moment: Arturo Vidal sees second yellow in Bayern Munich’s Champions League loss to Real Madrid.

After listening to arguements for and against the competence of referees, especially after the most recent Real Madrid versus Bayern Munich Quater-Final Champions League match, I came up with that title.

Do not get me wrong. I totally love the beautiful game of football. It’s almost un-hateable but, during the quarter-finals, did the referees miss key decisions? I think they did.

Infact, sometimes I think they were so blind and needed a guide dog sometimes to help them make decisions.

That being stated, we should note that there has never been a time football refereeing has been deemed good enough. Every football supporter feels that the referee is always against them even though many a times the players of their beloved teams are guilty as charged.

Football has gotten as much coverage as it is getting nowadays and all the lucrative TV deals are there to milk every single talking point there is.

If you think the referees are incompetent, it’s not their fault that they are incompetent, blame the body that hires them. Its as simple as that.

Referees have always and always will be controversial, especially in big games. But let’s look at the conditions that set these controversies up: Players act, coax and encourage referees to get on their side for every decision. Then the smallest of every decision is contested then the referees are blamed for the outcomes.

A certain “Grumpy One” would often cite referee mistakes as excuses for his sides incompetence when a match doesn’t go his way.

The associations and authorities also need to assist the referee in his duties if they want less complaints. Case in point for the video referees: if all the teams involved want it, why not introduce it? If it, improves the credibility of the game, why not bring it in?

In my opinion, if there should be blames, blame Ribery that lost chances, blame Robben and Lewandowski for not being clinical enough. Those are then fine margins for me but it’s easier to blame the referees.

We can say the referees weren’t good enough on the day. We can also make the argument that Bayern weren’t either.

The best team over two legs won it. Again it’s more justifying to blame the referee. But the beautiful game created the circumstances everyone is now complaining about – maybe not everyone.

 

About Author

Kolawole loves to talk about football amongst other things, passionate about Liverpool, Coutinho and Jurgen Klopp. You can catch the silent observer on twitter @kopainzy

What I Learnt from the UEFA Champions League this week

One for the road: Sergio Ramos celebrates scoring for Real Madrid against Napoli. Photo credit: @realmadriden

“We are only halfway through the tie. There are 95 minutes left and lots of things can happen.

“I go into the game with a positive mood. We have to do everything really well, both in defence and in attack. PSG are a really good side.

“Of course, lots of things have happened since the first leg. We have improved and have put in some good performances. We are optimistic by nature and convinced of what we can do. We will try to make the most of the favourable circumstances.

“If a team can score four times against us, we can score six times against them. We have seen that before this season. We have nothing to lose.”

What better way to begin discussing one of the most exciting weeks in UEFA Champions League history than to start with the words of the Barcelona coach cum prophet, Luis Enrique?

The 7th and 8th day of March, 2017 will remain etched in the memories of football fans for as long as I can think of. History was made, records were shattered and the already-immortal ones became even more immortal (if that word exists).

While so many will talk about how Arsenal ’10-d 2′ bottle things up after a fine start to a football season, the major talking point of the week was the showdown in Barcelona.

It’d have been hard to think of any record that Barcelona had not shattered. But a 4-0 first leg deficit was a high hurdle, a new one for the ‘Catalan gods.’ But they proved themselves once again, as one of the best, if not the best, in the world of football.

The greatest comeback you’ve ever seen? I thought so too!

Aubameyang came to life with a hattrick. Benfica couldn’t hold on. Real Madrid stuttered at first (a trend fast becoming a norm for the Los Blancos), then came back to win in Napoli.

What else did I learnt about the UEFA Champions League (UCL) this week?

Borussia Dortmund’s Yellow Wall

1. The UEFA Champions League is in a World of its Own…

When day turns into night midweek, and the stars litter the sky, the best in Europe come out to play. The competition is the UEFA Champions League and the word ‘play’ has been taken to another level.

It may not be the most-watched football competition in the world but, the Champions League has a way of catching (capturing too) attention the world over.

It’s not certain there’s a puppeteer pulling the strings behind the curtains, but if there is, this one puppeteer is a good one, one that is getting better with each passing Matchday.

Each night, drama is expected to happen. And with each night of football, the UCL doesn’t fail to disappoint. It serves up high drama with each passing night and the fans everywhere (well almost, taking timezones and who won or lost into consideration) go to bed satisfied.

It’s fair to say it’s just the Round of 16. But that makes things scary too. What level of action awaits fans in the quarter-finals? Semi-finals? Of course, we know mouth-watering clashes await fans… but no one knows how exciting they’ll be. We can only anticipate.

 

2. … and the Premier League Can’t Seem to Keep Up

For letting Barcelona overturn such a massive first leg deficit, the whipping league for the week should be the French Ligue 1. PSG should be ashamed of themselves, right? Well, it’s a two-sided coin – and I’ll let you choose which side to stick to.

While you’re choosing, I’ve singled out England’s Premier League for some butt-whopping in this piece. This is a league that prides itself on being the toughest, – they’re closely followed by the English Football Championship. Lol, I know I know, I sound incredulous to most right now… but that’s how the bitter truth can look like sometimes. – meanest, unforgiving football league in the world.

On Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and even on some Mondays, these big shots strut their stuff, confidently and amazingly. The display takes your breath away. You see amazing goals, and master tactical plans being executed by players who are obviously close to the top of the football world’s food chain.

But when Tuesdays and Wednesdays appear, England’s top guns disappear into thin air. The fearsome English lions all of a sudden transform into harmless cubs. Then they’re knocked around haplessly by Europe’s ‘Senior Men.’

Then with repeated terrible European outings, Europe’s so-called minnows get the required confidence to step up to the plate too and either try a home run or slam dunk or a hole-in-one. And most times, they succeed, overpowering most of these ‘English Local Champions.’

The Gunners tried to prove themselves in the first half of their clash against Bayern Munich, but they couldn’t hold on or increase their lead. They had to let another five in, yet again!

I know you’re tempted to quickly mention the ref’s decision to send Koscielny off and how it affected the display of Wenger’s men on the night. But, as a football team, if you can’t keep playing well regardless of the kind of hand you’re dealt, aren’t you a spine-less, weak-hearted football club?

Sounds harsh, I know but English clubs have to wake up to the current reality. Benitez’s Liverpool, Fergie’s Manchester United and the rest didn’t win the UEFA Champions League by playing like boys. They weathered the storm, played like men and created space for themselves in history.

3. Referees?

You know, it’s almost impossible to talk about football these days without certain refereeing issues rearing their ugly heads.

The most recent episode of this unsatisfactory series before this week started was the Zlatan-Mings incident (just so you know, I still feel Ibrahimovic should have been sent to the showers earlier than scheduled. But heck, what do I know? I’m just a bloody football fan).

I can easily make a case for these referees: They’re humans, not robots or machines. As thus, they have EVERY RIGHT to make some terribly questionable calls every once in a while. But, what happens when those calls have huge, permanent effects on games?

Case 1: Arsenal, Koscielny, Lewadowski and the Red Card

It’s the responsibility of a player, defender for that matter, to know what to do while he’s sharing his own 6-yard box with an opponent. Rules are rules. Break them and get broken.

Koscielny, inside the six-yard box, stops a Lewadowski who is through on goal (stops here means he slightly touches the Polosh international who milks the situation and goes to ground faster than you can say “Alice in Wonderland.”).

Centre ref points to the spot, flashes a yellow and everything is fine. Remember, during this time, the Gunners were in cruise control. They had their hands, in a way, wrapped around the necks of the Germans.

One of the extra refs (those ones that stand beside the goal post) says something to the center ref. Yellow transforms into red and Arsenal go on to ship in 5 at the end of the day). A famous Frenchman called the ref’s move a scandalous one. I concur!

Case 2: Barcelona, PSG, and the Suarez Dive

I’ll save my breath for this one and let the gif do most of the talking.

I know they can’t see it all everytime but, arrrggghhhhh, some mistakes can’t be condoned at this high level of football. It’s just unforgivable.

Two weeks ago, Impossible. Two weeks after, “Nothing is impossible.”

4. Football Is Just Crazy

That’s the best definition I can find.

It was hard to imagine Barcelona overturn that 0-4 deficit in Paris. I thought Arsenal had learnt their lessons. I thought Cavani’s goal had put the final nail in Barcelona’s coffin. I thought Napoli would give Real Madrid a run for their money on Italy.

All these were my thoughts… until football came strolling along with its craze. All norms became abnormal in seconds with a rebirth of that famous Aguero goal by Sergi ranking high on the list of ‘irregulars.’

It’s hard to put football in a box… football is JUST CRAZY!

So far, this year’s UEFA Champions League Round of 16 has been ‘goals-full.’ And the drama continues next week before the highly anticipated draws for the quarter-finals.

Quick one before I stop writing…

Are there really draws? Or is it just one of the master plans of the puppeteer hiding behind the curtains? This was the topic in the blog’s discussion room yesterday.

With repeated draws in the past like Real Madrid v Lyon, Bayern Munich v Arsenal, Barca v PSG and more, what do you think? Are draws in football, especially in the UCL, really just draws or… is there more to it than meets the eye?

Let me know what you think by dropping your comments in the comments section. I’d love to hear from you.

About Author

Rotimi Daramola is a freelance football writer, football analyst on radio (The Beat FM), and football content creator that is in love with the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and also engage with him on Twitter @Rotdav

C. Ronaldo’s New Role, 1-5/02/2017, Beautiful Goals and more from the UEFA Champions League Week

Coincidence?

Coincidence?

“We have been royally treated this week in the UEFA Champions League”

– Match Commentator of the Real Madrid vs Napoli game.
Nothing could be truer than that statement. In just two days, the pain of the absence of Europe’s ‘Premier Football Competition’ was swept away by amazing contests, beautiful goals and shocking results (Hello Paris).

The stage had already been set, since last year, for exciting clashes between Europe’s best. Of course I looked forward, mouth-wateringly, to the encounter in France and the one in Spain the moment the draws were made.

But I got more than what I bargained for this week – and I’m sure I’m not alone on this boat!

After just two nights in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clash, Barcelona are already four goals behind, a certain English team shipped in 5 in Germany and the current holders had to wiggle their way past Napoli.

How about a bigger picture?

All 4 Valentine

All 4 Valentine

1. From Paris… With Love

PSG vs Barcelona, in recent times, has always been a tight contest. It has never been an affair that was too one-sided.

In one corner of the ring, you’ll usually haven’t the French, busy trying to stamp their authority in European football. In the other corner, the Catalan giants, looking to further assert their European authority.

So, you can understand why it’s almost always the classic case of a game “kinda too close to call” whenever these two entities meet. But, the meeting between PSG and Barcelona on Valentine’s Day, in Paris, wasn’t one too close to call. IT WAS A ONE-SIDED AFFAIR!

You are forgiven if you thought Barça’s MSN gang ran riot and terrorized their French hostages on the night because that’s what they know how to do best. On this fateful night, it was the exact opposite. PSG scored two unreplied goals (two beauties by Di Maria) in each half of the game to take a four-goal advantage into the second leg.

Surprised Barcelona didn’t score? With the way the PSG players played, it was impossible for the clubside from Spain to score. The closest they came to scoring was a header from Umtiti that hit the woodwork.

The work rate of Unai Emery’s men was un-freaking-believeable! Names like Aurier, Rabiot, Cavani, Veratti seemed to be on the move every time. The little pockets of space Messi’d usually enjoy in games like this were closed up. The Argentine was locked out. Neymar was isolated. Suarez? You know the rest.

The French side never seemed to slow down. For example, Barcelona were encamped in their own half for the entire first 5 minutes of the 2nd half. This is testimony enough about PSG’s resilience to kill the game – despite being 2 up already at the time. Add another 5 minutes, and Di Maria had rattled the net again, this time with a beauty from his left foot.

3 – 0.

By the 75th minute, PSG’s left-back had dribbled past Neymar, went on a mazy run, and supplied Cavani who scored the fourth with a one-timer. During this time, PSG’ had already registered10 attempts on target compared to Barca’s lone attempt on target.

Barcelona went visiting... 4 nothing!

Barcelona went visiting… 4 nothing!

The Catalan giants seemed distraught. The big and mighty names disappeared at the sight of regulars like Rabiot, Aurier, Draxler and the young Presnel Kimpembe. The fabbled “Barcelona Connect” struggled to connect throughout the game.

Now, the Catalan giants have an uphill task of overturning a four-goal deficit at the Camp Nou, a challenge no club In Europe has ever tackled successfully.

2. Real Madrid and CR7’s New Role

Before this game, there was something unnerving about the UCL form of Napoli. This was a team that could spring surprises. They won their group. It’s almighty Real Madrid, I know. But the Italians almost pulled off a Spanish surprise.

Their set-up from the word go startled and rattled Zidane’s men. Their quick exchange of passes seemed to catch Modric and co off guard. Sometimes, it looked like tiki-taka. At other times, it looked like something never seen before.

The passes were fast, the runs sharp and it didn’t take long before they opened their account, scoring inside the first 10 minutes of the game thanks to Insigne. And to think that Real Madrid had been doing all the playing during this time. That was the wake up call for the leviathan.

Realising that the ‘highly dreaded’ away goal had just been conceded, Real Madrid started creating chance after chance and Benzema found a way to pull Madrid back on level terms.

C. Ronaldo then unselfishly cut one back for Toni Kross, who finished cooly with a low shot. Then there was Casemiro’s beauty of a goal that got Rafa Nadal laughing and left Morata stunned on the touch line.

Jubilant: In case you missed Casemiro's cracker, look it up and watch it. Thank me later ;)

Jubilant: In case you missed Casemiro’s cracker, look it up and watch it. Thank me later 😉

Speaking of C. Ronaldo, it’s not exactly clear who has given the Portuguese football god this new role he now performs in: maybe his age has forced him to start operating in this new capacity, maybe it’s Zizou. It’s quite hard to tell. But the obvious remains: Cristiano Ronaldo is now more of a team player and less selfish.

Case Study: His assist for Toni Kroos Is one CR7 would usually take aim from. It was inside the opponent’s 18-yard box, a confort zone for Ronaldo. But he chose to pass Instead.

There was the 85th minute pass to Marcelo which he could have chosen to fire home as soon as he received the pass in the 18-yard box.

Seeing as the usually goal-hungry CR7 hasn’t scored a UCL goal in 523 minutes, it’s weird to see him break the UEFA Champions League assist record. Wonders, they say… http://www.goal.com/en/news/8/main/2017/02/15/32726982/ronaldo-breaks-champions-league-assist-record?ICID=HP_BN_2

3. No Love Lost at Odds of 5-1

“The game ends Arsenal 1, Bayern 5, for the second year running.” – Match Commentator.

But for Ospina, the scoreline may have had three digits. And you know whose the double digits would have been. This one was a contest between men and boys.

Forget what Arsene Wenger said about missing Koscielny. The Arsenal team that played against Bayern Munich on Wednesday wouldn’t have survived if they had a XI full of Koscielny’s. The English side was just helpless.

Swept away by the Germans: Arturo Vidal  and Lewandowski

Swept away by the Germans: Arturo Vidal and Lewandowski

It was a mismatch from the blast of the ref’s whistle and Arjen Robben’s beauty of a goal (how many times have I said this?) was a testament of things to come. Yes they got an away goal, but shipping in 5? De javu. De javu. De javu.

Is it time for Wenger to go? I don’t know. I can’t say. Ask your friend who’s an Arsenal faithful (please let me know what they think by leaving me a comment. I’d love to hear from you).

A Round of Applause please?

A Round of Applause please?

Some may say the job’s only half done for the Bavarians. And they’re right. Only a handful of German goals in England will rightfully settle this one.

Benfica beat Dortmund by 1-0. That’s still the most open game of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 so far.

The games continue next week. Will there be more beautiful goals, large scoreline margins or even more surprising wins or defeats? Fingers are crossed.
About Author

Rotimi Daramola is a freelance football writer, football analyst and football content creator that is in love with the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and also engage him on Twitter @rotdav

Barcelona vs Manchester City: How Will What Has Happened Affect What Will Happen?

image

'Em good old days

In all of the games to be played on the third Matchday of the 2016/2017 UEFA Champions League, I can’t see any other bigger than the Barcelona vs Manchester City clash. And it’s not hard to see the so many reasons why.

Pep Guardiola is returning to his roots, the one place it all started. Where the trophies piled up and records after records tumbled over each other. He’s paying the beast he created a visit. Camp Nou is the destination. And he’s taking his new (latest) project along with him.

Of course, it’s easy to call the bluff of this one game (not easy for a fan like me though). Afterall it’ll be tiki-taka vs tiki-taka, gengen pressing vs the same, high backline vs high backline. So why all the hype? It’ll just be a classic case of who can perform the routine better. Pffftt!

But that’s exactly what makes this Champions League game the one to watch, The One That Must Not Be Missed!

Barcelona, on the one hand, have had their own fair share of ups and downs in the La Liga this season. Some stunning results. Some amazing displays. And some surprising scorelines (Hello Celta!). But in all, they have consistently proved one thing: how deadly they are. How deadly they can be.

I experienced, first hand this season, some of the raw power that this Catalan beast possesses. It was an away game at Leganes, a Saturday mid-day kick off. Leganes flew off the blocks and threw it all at Barcelona! For the first quarter or so, Suarez, Neymar and co. were on the back foot. They seemed rattled, but they coped.

The first half ended with three goals, all scored by Barcelona. I was shocked. “That escalated quickly,” I said to myself. Yes I expected a beating. But with the way the newly-promoted side played early in the game, I didn’t expect it to come so quickly! The game ended 1-5 in favour of You-Know-Who.

I can almost hear you say, “It was only Leganes.” And I quickly agree. But this Leganes is a side with very fast players, all lacking just one thing: goal scoring techniques. It’s the kind of team that’ll make others drop points after 90 minutes. So, how did they end up losing by such a wide margin?

* The MSN Connect.
* A certain Lionel Messi.
* A show-boating Neymar.
* A be-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time Luis Suarez.
* A different kind of back four.

And with every game, the above-stated reasons grow stronger as seen in their display against Deportivo La Coruna over the weekend. So much to think about for Pep and his Citizens who have been described to be in some sort of crisis.

Judging by Guardiola’s standards, going three games without a win is crisis. A DLD form is not good news. And now, the dreaded visit to Spain. But it’s not all gloom for Man. City is it?

Actually, no. It’s hard to answer that question in the negative with that kind of form staring you in the face. But it’s the truth. And, like I did with Barca, I’ll use one of Man. City’s recent games to point out some of their strengths. Their game against Everton seems to be the perfect pick simply because they were the better team on the day, but still didn’t win.

It was Manchester City from beginning to the end (well, except for the part where Lukaku scored for Everton via a counterattack). It was a rampant Man. City against a well-organized, compact Everton. While De Bruyne and Sane and Sterling and Silva were doing all the playing, Everton was doing all the defending.

City needed Nolito who came off the bech to score for them, after missing two penalties. It was the tale of a team that was ‘Dominant, But Unlucky.’  What then is there to learn from a draw?

* Kevin De Bruyne is a secret weapon.
* Guardiola has an arsenal of weapons at his disposal.
* John Stones is a BETA version of Gerard Pique.
* A Silver Silva.
* Number of chances created.

The Philosopher has started a project in Manchester. So far so good, things are looking up. First on the log ain’t bad, at all.

I’ve discussed Barcelona and I’ve discussed Manchester City, albeit separately. Time to pitch them against each other. Move over boring Liverpool vs Manchester United game! Here’s what you can expect to see in the Barcelona vs Manchester City game:

– Neymar Will Definitely Showboat: It’s becoming a norm in his games these days. And it won’t be a surprise to see him nutmeg a certain Sagna/Zabaleta or give Otamendi a handful of headaches.

P.S: Note to Pep
A recipe for disaster will be to ask Otamendi to take care of Neymar. We both know how clumsy Nico can be. John Stones (that cool-headed lad) will be a more preferable option. That’s if you don’t mind of course.

– The Kevin de Bruyne-X Factor: Pep must have done something to the kid. He seems to have new tricks up his sleeves. He tends to work extra hard too. Players like Pique and Matthieu better be wary.

– Barcelona’s Fragile Backline: I know I’ve made a strong case for the Catalans’ defense. Attack is still the best form of defense. But the way they imploded against Celta Vigo should be a huge boost for Man. City. Then there’s the goalkeeper ish. We dunno which goalkeeper will show up: the really good one or the awkward one?

– The Pep Guardiola Factor: Let’s take a moment to reflect on the words of Everton manager, Ronald Koeman. “They (Manchester City) are the best team in my managerial career that I’ve played against.” With the kind of squad at his disposal, Guardiola can pull more than one rabbit from his hat. He’s that flexible. Hard to predict. That’s something in City’s favour, right?

– Messi the Mesmerizer and Suarez the Biter Fighter: It’s increasingly becoming hard to come up with anything to say about this 8th (or/and 9th) wonder of the world. The word MESSi, in all its literal sense, should be on display. Suarez will most definitely trouble the waters. May be a hat trick. May be a red card. May be a dive in the box. Another racial stunt? Who knows?

– Aguero and ‘Kompany’: After so many words, word play is allowed right? It’s not sure who will get the nod to play and who won’t. Of course e sure for some names. Players who have been STERLING will definitely get the nod over others. Why not? Pep will want to field his best.

So who will win?

Not sure. It all smells Barcelona from here. But with football, everything is crazy. But I can sense there’ll be goals. A handful of ’em. City aren’t the most disciplined side at the back. They seem to love conceding goals. And MSN will be happy to rattle their onion bag once or twice.

It’s not far-fetched to say Manchester City can score too. The only game they’ve failed to score in under Pep Guardiola, is the one against Tottenham.

Papi’s Predictions:
* Both Teams To Score
* Over 2.5 Goals

What do you think? What? You think it’ll end in a bore draw? A Barca win? City win? Let me know what you think. Please leave a comment in the comments section. I’d like to hear from you.

Like a famous man once said, please join me in saying this short prayer:

“Dear god of football, we thank thee, for this sumptuous meal of football we’re about to be served.”

About Author
Rotimi Daramola is a freelance football writer, football analyst and football content creator that is in love with the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and also engage with him on Twitter @rotdav

Euro 2016: So Far, So Good… (After the Group Stage)

Portugal-v-Austria-Euro-2016

Guns have been holstered in the Euro 2016. Swords have been sheathed… temporarily. The men are taking a well-deserved break, before moving on, after being seperated from the boys.

A break before moving on to the next round of battles for glory.

The group stages of any football competition is usually the most boring part of that competition. Have you noticed?

This is so true that, if you think it’s not, just cast your mind back to the UEFA Champions League group games you’ve seen.

You see?

Even the Copa America (Centenary edition), on-going in the U.S.A, has lived up to this expectation. Several boring games up until… erm, the final? (Chile thrashing Mexico 7-0 in the quarter-final and Argentina whooping USA by four unreplied goals in the semis don’t exactly count as exciting).

The dilemna of the group stages of football competitions.

But the case has been an entirely different one in this year’s European Championship.

As a matter of fact, it’s been so exciting in France that there’s been a whole lot to talk (write, gossip, tweet, facebook, instagram, whatsapp) about here, there, and everywhere.

It’s been breath-taking! Catching up with the fanciest of goals and the most-surprising of results has been quite the job.

And as far as I can remember, the games have just begun. Imagine what will happen in the Knockout round… (let your imagination run wild for a minute…)

So you see… the party in France hasn’t even started. There will be more last-minute, heart-breaking goals. There’ll be even more surprises, heart-aches and games tighter than before.

I know you can’t wait. I can’t too!

But, while we’re waiting, let’s look back at what happened in the Third Round of the Euro 2016, shall we?

So far, so good:

Stamping Your Authority While Having Fun: Payet celebrates after scoring against Albania. Image credit: www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/

Stamping Your Authority While Having Fun: Payet celebrates after scoring against Albania. Image credit: http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/

– The “Extra Four” Made This Euro Even More Exciting!
The Euro 2016 had a twist to it: The “Extra Four.” You can also call them the “Best Losers” or the “Lucky Ones.” (ironic right?)

Four countries, from the six groups, “survived” and qualified for the knockout stages along with the 12 that got automatic qualification.

Teams like Slovakia, Northern Ireland and even Ronaldo’s Portugal could only manage to qualify as best losers.

But before, during and after the third round, calculations and permutations were going on all over the place. Who would qualify?

For teams like Italy and Spain, it was more of the case of topping the group as they had already qualified. But C. Ronaldo and the gang were calculating. “What if’s” became the order of the day.

Of course this made the third round of group games a delight to watch as players like Cristiano Ronaldo finally came alive, one team stepped up to beat Spain and Iceland pulled a rabbit of their hat in the last-minute.

Lol.. too much to handle Ronnie?

Lol.. too much to handle Ronnie?

– That Awkward Moment When…
… teams like Hungary, Croatia, Wales top their respective groups after the three rounds of games. Who would have thought?

Of course it wasn’t strange to see England finish second in their group. That’s just English football’s way. With the way Portugal played, it was more awkward than surprising to see Hungary finish as the group leaders.

Though the Russians failed to qualify and, expectedly, with their fans gone back to Moscow or St. Petersburg, there were still more fan troubles. Some fans even got arrested.

Of course the fan troubles part wasn’t awkward. I mean, fan troubles has been part of the tournament before it even began right?

So much for being Portugese. Phot credit: www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/

So much for being Portugese. Phot credit: http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/

– Ronaldo ALONE Cannot Save Portugal
Some might argue that this is me trying to beef up my short article with another story of CR7’s performance at the Euros so far.

But since everyone’s talking about him (and criticizing too), I’d rather talk about how Ronaldo ‘s teammates are more of a burden than a blessing to the legend.

Portugal, as a team, could only manage three draws in the group stages. It wasn’t because C. Ronaldo did not step up to the plate. It was because players like Quaresma were busy scattering while Ronaldo and Moutinho were gathering.

Even when they needed to win against Hungary and they finally scored three goals… they still MANAGED TO CONCEDE THREE!

Jeez!

It’s more than obvious that Ronaldo is NOT the only solution to the problems of the Portugese national team. What more can a player do for a team if, after scoring two, his team-mates go on to successfully concede not two, but three goals?

With the way they’ve played, the Portugese team are not expected to go far in this tournament. But if their going far is one of the surprises the Euro 2016 has in store for us the fans, we obviously don’t mind right?

The Portugese national team had better stop overly relying on Ronaldo and start supporting him by being better team players before it’s too late.

– Amazing Knockout Matches: A Fan’s Delight!
Like I said earlier, the men have been seperated from the boys. Now it’s go big or go home!

For a tournament that has already amazed fans well enough, the football gods have put some icing on the Euro 2016 cake: even more mouth-watering fixtures!

Hard-running, counter-attacking Croatia will take on Portugal while host-nation France will be more-than-ready to take on Ireland. I’m half-heartedly expecting a battle when Germany take on Slovakia and I literally can’t wait for the Italy vs Spain game (Forza Azzurri!)

England faces Iceland (easy one there mate?) while there’s a tasty clash in the works between Hungary and Belgium (both teams to score maybe?) Bale(s) and Wales take on Northern Ireland (some more UK drama. Leave or Remain? In or Out?) while Switzerland and Poland will slug it out.

Worthy Mentions
It’s interesting to note that no team won all of its group games. The closest any team got to nine points was two wins and a draw. That’s how competitive Euro 2016 has been so far.

Denmark-v-Sweden

It’s also note-worthy (nose-worthy?) to pay tribute to Swedish legend, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who played his last international match for Sweden against Ireland. Much much love Ibra… I won’t forget that in-the-air, over-head goal against England in a hurry (you remember it?).

Of course don’t forget to share your thoughts with me and other readers in the comments section.

So far, so good, who do you think will win Euro 2016? What have you noticed in the tournament so far? Which team will fail to make it past the second round?

Iceland? But did you really mean Iceland or England?

Let me know what you think.

Sharing is caring! Don’t forget to share this article with your friends. They’ll thank you! 😉

Images credit: Mirror

About Author
Rotimi Daramola is a freelance football writer, football analyst and football content creator that is in love with the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and also engage with him on Twitter @rotdav and on LinkedIn

The UEFA Champions League Final: From the Eyes of a Real Madrid Fan

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CAMPEONS!: Real Madrid teammates pose with the UEFA Champions League trophy. Photo credits: @GarethBale11

The REAL Madrid

On a night when naivety, end to end action and tears was a common recurrence, the sight of Sergio Ramos lifting his second Champions League trophy in two years was a joy to behold.

The calls of offside for Sergio Ramos’ goal in the 15th minute seemed uncalled for. It was a tough decision, one that birthed debate in every pub and bar due to the technicality and nature of the finish.

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First blood drawn!: Sergio Ramos celebrates goal in the UCL final. Photo credits: http://facebook.com/realmadrid

Il Generale became the first defender to score in two Champions League finals, a record no one else have. A record thoroughly deserved. 

The performance of the team epitomized he himself; often reckless, passionate and akin to a warrior. Perfect examples were the last ditch tackles from himself and Danilo while Gareth Bale’s wastefulness thankfully didn’t match up to Antoinne Griezmann’s (the man who missed boat loads of opportunities including a penalty).

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European Champions. Photo Credits: Instagram.com/realmadrid

REAL Madrid rode their luck, a factor which many have said aided them to the title. But it should be noted that luck itself is the most important variant a champion needs, no matter how great the team is.

Just ask Pep Guardiola’s Bayern, who have taken football to another level but were deprived of Europe’s big crown or Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool who could have being 4-nil up at half time in the Europa League final but had three calls go against them before crumbling like a pack of cards.

Or better still, how lucky could Man United get than their FA Cup success against Crystal Palace?

Attributing the win to luck would be undermining the fantastic job of Zinedine Zidane, who has transformed a team in shambles to Champions League winners.

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Champion: Zidane posed with the Champions League trophy

The Frenchman was seen as a gamble by most but not by Florentino Perez, who saw him as their own version of Pep Guardiola… epitomizing all that the club means.

It was evident in the penalty shootout as the players tucked everyone away Zizou-style: calm, cool and in a classy way. It was a reflection of his persona, the proof that he had helped them all develop as a group.

The decision to award a penalty against Kepler Lima Pepe, a player who had put in a flawless performance (and some acting too) seemed totally wrong. Not because of the challenge, but because he had done everything so right, you could hardly find him wrong.

This was a reflection of Madrid’s defensive performance. They did everything so right with Marcelo patrolling the left flank like it was his property… practically making the team not feel the lack of fitness by the insured thigh of Cristiano Ronaldo.

The build up to the game was littered with news of CR7’s thigh injury sustained on Tuesday in a collision with Kiko Casilla, He silenced all of them with that winning spot kick at a time when some could have crumbled; a situation he had found himself in before… and failed.

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One. Two. Three: Cristiano Ronaldo and son pose with UCL trophy. Photo credits: http://twitter.com/rmadridgirl

The talk of him rising to the occasion and deciding a final was quashed with critics pointing out that he was missing for long periods in the game. However, you can only ask yourself what you mean when Cristiano put in a selfless performance.

His absence in attack was compensated with his occupation of defensive spaces. Besides, his presence alone was enough to unsettle the defence. Many would forget he played a part in the two chances his team had against the run of play, passing the ball when the Old Cristiano would have gone for goal.

It was the night on which the REAL Madrid stood up and showed their class. It was perhaps only befitting that Real’s only victory this season against their rivals would come on the biggest stage.

A trend that begun in 2014 is continuing and it can only signal that even though Zinedine Zidane is still a young manager, he has the markings of a great one.

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Celebration time!: Real Madrid players toss Zidane in the air. Photo credits: http://www.twitter.com/rmadridgirl

P.S: It would be inappropriate to not mention the metitorious services rendered by Toni Kross and Luka Modric. They were TOO MUCH for A. Madrid to handle. Luka was so fluid, he rarely misplaced his pass while Toni Kross and Casemiro kept the balance.

Luckily, the trophy is now in it’s rightful place: the REAL trophy room in Madrid (not the other one). Looking back, I’m thankful Karim Benzema’s terrible display did not overshadow Gareth Bale’s amazing work ethic and, more importantly, DID NOT cost us our #UnLaDecima.

Hala Madrid!

Follow Tosin on twitter @teetunez

The UEFA Champions League Final: From the Eyes Of An Atletico Madrid Fan

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Diego Simeone arriving at the San Siro for the UEFA Champions League final. Photo credits @championsleague

The REAL team won by a hair strand!

If there was anything Atletico could have done, should have done Saturday night, it was to be real. To be as real as possible. Despite bossing the middle after going a goal down, getting a penalty (and wasting it) and beig worthy opponents the whole time, they just weren’t real enough.

History doesn’t talk about second bests especially in the Champions League. Only the winners get the trophy. This means all the hard work of Diego Simeones’ men will now be forgotten.

After beating Barcelona and Bayern Munich over two legs to get to the final, fans would have expected they’d be able to finish the job against a team that put them to sword 2 years ago. One would have expected that they revenge and win this time!

The game began at a frantic pace! In the 6th minute the game had the referee sweating like he was one of the players. The characteristics of a final!

Atletico were undeniably jittery in the opening stages with Oblak being forced into a huge save in the 5th minute. Diego Simeone’s men came to play their normal game: being feisty and holding no prisoners in the tackles.

They made a couple of mistakes and allowed players like Modric and Casemiro to enjoy plenty of freedom in the middle of the park while they held on “too tightly” to Ronaldo and Benzema.

Madrid, on the other hand, were slowly trying to get quicker off the mark with Bale and Toni Kroos causing all kinds of problems with their pace and skill.

Then Madrid scored and the psyche of the Atleti boys had to be tested. And they responded well… well enough to boss the other team from Madrid.

Half time was spent thinking about how Real Madrid could turn their possession into goals, who and what will help dominate the most important statistic in football. El Cholo must have been thinking too, the attack needed additional bite.

Carrasco came on and immediately made his presence felt with some slick moves. Torres was felled in the box by Pepe during a slick turn and Griezmann who has been brilliant thus far was just unlucky to hit the cross bar.

Still Atletico dug in and Carrasco provided a good finish after a one-time low cross from Juafran. The game ended in a draw. Atletico couldn’t be separated from Real despite dominating. And you know the rest of the story. One thing led to another thing and there was a heartbreak.

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Real Champs?: Real Madrid pose with the UEFA Champions League trophy. Photo credits @GarethBale11

In terms of decision the referee did well, especially foiling Real’s acting tendencies. It wasn’t a good night for star actor Pepe as the referee refused to buy his movie tickets on the night. He should have seen red for acting though.

From my Atletico perspective, one can’t help but wonder: what if that Griezmann penalty had gone in? What if?

You can follow Kolawole on twitter @kopainzy

Iheanacho and Diego Simeone and Enyimba and 7 Talking Points From Football This Week

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Better than them all!

Whoever gets compared to Leo Messi and C. Ronaldo automatically makes the news. You must be a big deal to be compared to the gods of football right?

What if, as a player, you’re described as better than these gods? I guessed right. That’s how Iheanacho made the news this week.

A whole lot of other things happened in the football world this week. Incomplete games, surprising results (toothless Real Madrid?), fireworks in Sweden and more.

I’ve tried to single out a handful of them – some that you know and some that you probably missed – and try to have a conversation with you about them. That’s okay right?

Good.

Let’s talk football then.

First on the list,

1. Tottenham Couldn’t Keep Up. Now, They Can’t Win the League Again.
For a while now, only two teams were in contention for the English Premier League title. But after Monday, two got reduced to one – technically speaking of course. Tottenham drew in the game – at home for that matter – against West Brom. One would have expected Spurs to run the Tony Pulis’ men over but they settled for a draw instead. With Leicester leading with 7 points and 3 games to go, Spurs blew their EPL title chances away on Monday. This might just be the closest they’ll ever get to winning the EPL title… or maybe not?

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Nigerian Football: From Amodu to Redknapp?

2. Harry Redknapp and the Super Eagles?
You know how people’ll tell you they weren’t expecting a thing to happen? Well, I wasn’t expecting this kind of “thing” to happen. It wasn’t even on the list. But like football, anything can happen in Nigerian Football. The former Portsmouth coach has been contacted as regards becoming the coach of the Super Eagles of Nigeria. As much as this is supposed to be good news (no more Yusuf and especially Amodu), a question comes to mind:
– But of all people, why Harry? Is he the cheapest available option or what? Or was it because he coached Jordan for two games?
Whatever it is, my fingers are crossed.

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3. Continental Action Is Affecting Enyimba Badly!
When Enyimba won that match against Etoile du Sahel, it was a relief for Nigerians to see a Nigerian club finally qualify for the group stages of the African Champions League. Their fans must have been happy too. Happy that their team was performing in Africa. But back home, the story is totally different. Enyimba, current champions of the Nigerian Professional Football League, are currently 19th on the table after 13 rounds of games in the league. The Elephants have only been able to play 9 out of those 13, winning just 4. With more continental action, they may have to postpone more of their league games. With more games postponed, they may lose more ground in the league and will find it hard to retain their league title. So much for qualifying for Africa!

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4. UEFA & Europa Leagues: So far, so good…
UEFA has not disappointed by putting the very best against each other. Villarreal beat Liverpool by a goal and Sevilla played a 2 – 2 draw in Donestsk. Interesting results for the second legs. At this stage, only the best could have made it thus far. But Real Madrid (without their best) failed to score in England against Man. City. This makes the return leg one to anticipate. Will Real run riot at the Bernabeu? Will Man. City shock the world and qualify for the final? Atletico Madrid, on the other hand, have continued to keep a clean sheet at home in this season’s European competition. They kept Bayern Munich out on Wednesday when they won by a lone goal. With the return leg in Germany and with Pep desperate to win the Champions League for Bayern before leaving, will the Bavarians be able to break down Simeone’s tough defense system and win? Speaking of Simeone…

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5. Diego Simeone and his Iron Men.
After knocking Suarez and co. out of Europe (keeping a clean sheet in that second leg in the process), some stats began to surface about Atletico Madrid. And when they shut out a certain Bayern side, the stats went viral. Check some of them out:

5 – Last five CL home games of @atletienglish:
4-0 vs FC Astana
2-0 vs Galatasaray
0-0 vs PSV
2-0 vs Barcelona
1-0 vs FC Bayern.
Fortress.  – via Twitter

Atletico Madrid’s defensive record under Diego Simeone: 256 games 135
clean sheets Absolutely bonkers!  – via Twitter

Obviously, it’s safe to say some very dogged defending has brought A. Madrid thus far. They seem to be redefining football. Simeone seems to be onto something totally different from what Pep Guardiola discovered. It’s like Diego created the kryptonite for “Total Football’s” Superman. And it is a system working perfectly well. Just maybe attack is no longer the best form of defense. Just maybe.

6. Iheanacho Has the Best Strike Rate in Europe.
I totally disbelieved this at first (sure you did too). But surprisingly, I found stats good enough to prove this point. With 5 goals from just 7 shots on target, Kelechi is the most prolific striker in Europe. He averages a goal every 81.3 minutes he has played. Of all players that have scored 10 or more goals in Europe’s top 5 leagues this season, this is the best rate you will ever find. For a player that starts most games on the bench, this is remarkable. Well done son!

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7. Why Can’t Man. City Shift Their Game?
The English FA during the week declined Man. City their request to shift their game against Southampton scheduled for Sunday. This was because the game was already listed to be shown live on TV. Man. City coach complained about how this would affect his team’s preparations for the second leg of the UEFA Champions League clash with Real Madrid. He said, “I don’t understand why we cannot play one day before. Why can’t we at least be in the same situation as Real Madrid? We are representing Manchester City but we are also representing England in the Champions League. You don’t want to give advantage to the other team.” In other leagues, they’d even allow the team play on a Friday! But I guess things work differently in England. Little wonder they haven’t been able to do well in Europe in recent times.

Before I forget, feels good to know that Enyeama is showing them in France what Nigerians are capable of.

The legend has scored yet another accolade as the best goalkeeper in France. He also ranked amongst the best 10 goalkeepers in the world! Great stuff.

Please feel free to share your own talking points with me in the comments section. Would be happy to hear from you.

Cheers to a great weekend ahead!

Follow me on twitter @rotdav and let’s talk even more football.

PSG vs Man. City? Money, Pride & Entertainment. It’s the EL CASHICO!

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Most would usually say, the Champions League “starts” at the quarter final stage -you probably think so too. Imagine: These remaining eight clubs have gotten this far, and the game is just about to begin? Well, that’s why this league belittles the rest. And UEFA, when it comes to making the draws, VERY RARELY disappoint.

PSG vs Man. City, very easily, could be the most underrated of all the quarter-final clashes of the UCL but then again, do not be fooled. If there’s nothing to fight for here, there’d be a lot of pride at stake – at least a lot of cash is involved).

The draw in itself was expected, and apart from Benfica, this two teams are the most underrated at this stage of the competition. However, this tie has a lot of promise plus entertainment too and here are 5 reasons why:

Hello again England. #DareToBeZlatan

Hello again England. #DareToBeZlatan


1. El Pinochio is Coming to England… Again!
As regards speculations about Zlatan’s future, one thing seems certain: “the nosed one” is on his way to England. Even though Zlatan claims to not do auditions, this is his English audition. The only difference? No one is in doubt of what Zlatan can add to a team despite his age. He has been in simmering form for PSG all season scoring 36 goals and making 14 assist for club and country this season. Arsene Wenger’s failed targets have a way of rubbing salt on his injuries and Zlatan will make a point to be no different especially at the Etihad.

2. It’s the “El Cashico”!
From the el classico to the Madrid Derby to the derb berceloni to the riverderbies to the Bavarian derby to Der Klassiker to the North West Derby, the London Derby or the inter regional derbies, Europe’s biggest games find a way naming themselves. And I’ve found a name for this one game which will be played over two legs and might end up being the most expensive football game of all time – in terms of players on the pitch of course – with billions ($) of spending between them.

They’ve attracted some of the world’s best footballers and could do more than that if they wanted. Afterall, they’ve proved money can buy league titles. Why not the Champions League title?

Mar 15th 2016 - Manchester, UK - MAN CITY KIEV DYNAMO - Kompany injured Photo credit: Ian Hodgson/Daily Mail

Mar 15th 2016 – Manchester, UK – MAN CITY KIEV DYNAMO –
Kompany injured
Photo credit: Ian Hodgson/Daily Mail


3. Man City are in New Waters
This is the first time they’ve qualified to this stage of the Champions League. City must be proud of themselves and rightly so. However there’s no margin for error at this stage and every timidity will be punished. This is no English Premier League and as thus, City will have to come dressed as men to this party. They’ll need to step up and do this Champions League business like champions would do it. It’s not that hard to dream and the Citizens can do it if they play up to the levels that they are capable of. A good game in Paris and they might have a leg in the semis which would be an amazing achievement considering they are the only English team left in the competition.

Football Soccer - Paris St Germain v Troyes- French Ligue 1 - Stade de l'Aube stadium, 13/03/16. Paris St Germain players celebrate their French Ligue 1 title after winning against Troyes. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Football Soccer – Paris St Germain v Troyes- French Ligue 1 – Stade de l’Aube stadium, 13/03/16. Paris St Germain players celebrate their French Ligue 1 title after winning against Troyes. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer


4. Absence of Competitive Games: A Blessing or a Curse?
This season, PSG have proved that they deserve to be in a different league. They just told everybody, “We feel insulted playing in this league, there are no worthy teams!”. They had 20 points more than the second team in December and recently wrapped up the league with 8 games to spare meaning even if they lose 8 games on the bounce (24 points), they’d still have the league! And somewhere in Europe, other leagues are set for a photo finish or needing at least two or three games to the end of season before there can be a crowned winner. Bloody hell!

They’ve been amazing BUT this might mean a lack of competitive games before the big one and hence a diluted competitive spirit against a City team still fighting for the league title which can in turn be dangerous as no team can afford to be complacent at this stage. Winning a league in such ruthless style can mean either PSG is really good or the league is really bad. If it’s the latter, that would mean they aren’t as good as we make them out to be and they’ll find out by crashing out. If it’s the former,  City should be very afraid. On the other hand, low-intensity games mean fresher legs, no complaints of tiredness or accumulated injuries which will be a big plus against the Citizens that play in a league with tightly scheduled fixtures.

The Ones that made it through

The Ones that made it through


5. It’s the Champions League
Every coach (not sure about Wenger though), player and even fan – for the bragging rights – wants to win the highly coveted UEFA Champions League trophy. It is why the best teams splash the cash. It is why the big players are big players. It is why the young footballers dream. It is what we look forward to on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. And here, these two teams have a unique opportunity to progress to the semis and in these kind of competition, you can never tell. They might be underdogs but once in a while the under dogs go all the way and win big in Europe.

One thing is certain, there’s everything to play for and it will be explosive!

Predictions
PSG to edge it over two legs no thanks to fresher legs, the quality in midfield and their attack which will be a bit difficult for Man City to contain especially as they have struggled at times this season to play like real champions.

Don’t forget to share this good read with your friends. They’d be thankful to you for helping them learn a new phrase: El Cashico and you’ll be the Smart One 😉

You can catch up with Kolawole on twitter @Kopainzy

The Chinese Invasion, Sevilla Will Win the Europa League Again and more from #FootballThisPastWeek

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It’s been a football-full week. Every day had one game or the other, one name or the other that made headlines. Bologna surprisingly holding Juventus to a goalless draw, Valencia and Gary Neville tearing their opponents apart, Barcelona and Messi. It was the week Mikel – of all people – scored a Champions League goal for Chelsea and CR7 stormed out of the press conference room.

Dramatic right? But there’s more:

The Chinese Football Invasion!
No one knows exactly what’s going on – I’m at least sure I don’t – but China is the new go-to country for all things football. Forget England and Spain. Forget Man. City and PSG, the Chinese league and its clubs are splashing the cash effortlessly. It’s like they’re poaching European football. They’re literally buying any player in sight!

The weird part? The players are responding! They’re moving effortlessly. Some years back, it would have been weird for any player plying their trade in England or Germany to talk about finishing off in the Chinese league. It was either America’s MLS or Australia’s A-League (the Indian I league joined the fray too). All of a sudden, some players and their move to the home of the ‘Great Wall’ is now a “dream come true.” Well, money does play an important role in making dreams come true right?

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The UEFA Champions League is Back!
Good times are here again! Erm, I should have said instead, “Real football just started in Europe.” It’s the business-end of the UEFA Champions League. It’s “go big or go home” time. Here the boys are seperated from the men and a goal is counted as two goals.

Weird right? But awesome too! And the stand-out clash – and obviously the stand-out game – was PSG vs Chelsea. It was a show of total domination by the Parisiens as they won 2 – 1. Why not? They were playing at home and had a certain Di Maria and Veratti in their arsenal which they utilized effectively. Di Maria especially. And then talk about Thiago Silva and David Luiz snuffing life out of Diego Costa but letting Mikel score. I’m sure Luiź wasn’t expecting it. Before I forget, Cristiano Ronaldo must love to do his talking with his legs more than with his mouth. Why else do you storm out of a conference room and go on to score?

Sevilla WILL Win the Europa league, again!
Like the Champions League, the Europa League resumed action too. Yeah, that “very stressful” league. And guess who was back competiting for the trophy? You’re right. They played against Molde and in all honesty, it felt like a mis-match in every sense of the word. Okay. Maybe it wasn’t that bad. Maybe that was me exaggerating. Then again, maybe not.

The ‘Moldeans’ – what else do you call Molde players? – seemed to move fast. They seemed to be up to the task until Sevilla started knocking them around and doing what they do best in this league: press, press and press. To be more elaborate, they dictated the pace at which their opponents chased the game. If they wanted the Molde players to run faster, they passed the ball around faster. If they wanted their opponents to catch their breaths, the boys from Spain kicked the ball around less faster. From start to finish, Unai Emery’s Sevilla had that competitive, always-fighting-for-the-ball-possession edge. By the 72nd minute, they were already 3 up. So much for being in your comfort zone. The Europa League is back and Sevilla will win it, again! No disrespect to the remaining 31 teams.

Worthy mentions
Can we give Barcelona the La Liga title now?

Cheers to a great weekend of football!!

About author:
Rotimi is a football lover whose love for the game translates into writing about the beautiful game, talking about the game and some times getting into ‘profitable’ arguments. You can engage him on Twitter @rotdav