September 30, 2009

Stepping up to the Big Leagues

When I created this blog over the summer one of my intentions was to provide a level of football insight that is hard to come by in the states. Living in the Spanish (footballing) capital has provided me to local fan insight as well as daily newspapers such as Marca that are dedicated to the sport. With that being said, I still was researching news, rumors, etc, from go-to sources. While perusing ESPN’s Soccernet website, I came across a vacancy for a Real Madrid Correspondent. I applied using this blog to demonstrate my writing examples and football knowledge as well as pitching that my location would be vital for local, passionate opinions hard to find elsewhere. After week of hearing nothing, all hope gone out the window, the email came inviting me to join Soccernet’s prestigious soccer blogging staff. I obliged. Thus, you can now follow my work on Soccernet (http://blogs.soccernet.com/realmadrid/); however, I do not intend on stopping with El Partido Maravilloso. Postings may become more scarce, but I have every intention of continuing with my opinions on the whole of Spanish football not just those surrounding Los Blancos.

As always, I appreciate any comments, critics, etc. from any readers in regards to either of the blogs. Only five matches into the season, the 2009-2010 La Liga campaign is shaping up to be a very exciting one.

Barca, Madrid Look Human; Sevilla not far behind

Through the first five games of the young Spanish league season, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona have quieted critics and find themselves tied, on a perfect 15 points apiece, at the top of the table. With that being said, Sevilla, who have rebounded from their first week loss, have won their last four and will play host to the aforementioned Madrid this Sunday. The biggest test of the year for Los Blancos while a chance for us to see if Sevilla can establish themselves as league contenders.

Two teams many considered serious contenders are still without wins five games into the season. Atletico de Madrid has struggled defensively, conceding away their first victory of the season in stoppage time at home against Almeria midweek.; however, in a similar fashion, Maxi finished home a sloppy Valenica clearance two minutes from time to salvage a point at the Mestilla on Saturday. Valencia on the other hand has given away four points in the last five minutes of their last two games, mistakes that are unacceptable for a talented team with desires to compete for a top European spot next season. Athletic Club Bilbao has come down to earth, losing their last two after an impressive start with victories in their first three games. Xerez picked up their first ever point in the Spanish top flight after an impressive nil-nil draw at Espanyol. Malaga has lost four straight after an impressive opening day win against the aforementioned struggling Atletico while Mallorca continue to play nearly flawless football. Asides from a couple weakly conceded goals mid-week against Sevilla (a game in which they really held their own on the road), Mallorca has been impressive thus far.

This upcoming weekend will bring us many intriguing matches right before a two-week break as players report for international duty. The aforementioned Sevilla vs. Real Madrid will surely be the game to watch, and I am going to say that Madrid’s lackadaisical form in the back will finally prove deadly as they are upset in the Andalucian capital. I know it may sound like an echo at this point but I have both Aletico and Villarreal recording their first wins of the season. Elsewhere, look for Mallorca and Deportivo to continue on form while Xerez will follow-up their first La Liga points from last week with their first La Liga victory this Sunday.

Tenerife 1 – Deportivo 3
Atletico de Madird 2 – Real Zaragoza 0
Barcelona 3 – Almeria 0
Getafe 2 – Osasuna 1
Valladolid 1 – Athletic Bilbao 1
Villarreal 2 – Espanyol 1
Racing Santander 0 – Valencia 1
Xerez 1 – Malaga 0
Sevilla 2 – Real Madrid 1
Sporting Gijon 2 – Mallorca 3


As for the prediction standings… El Partido Maravilloso took a beating the last week while Tim Stannard from Four Four Two’s La Liga Loca blog had a phenomenal set of predictions. La Liga Tickets Online neglected to put up predictions for the midweek games so their picks for the weekend’s matches were just doubled. The number in the parenthesis is, of course, number of game scores picked exactly right to serve as an end of the season tiebreaker.

1. FFT 28 – 22
2. EPM 24 – 26 (4*)
3. LLTO: 24 – 26 (2*)

September 24, 2009

Jornada 5 Predictions

With the quick turn around from the midweek fixtures, I will present only my predictions for this upcoming weekend of play with full analysis of the last two sets of games coming Sunday. And yes, I still am pulling for Atleti in the upset, regardless of them letting me down the last 4 weeks.

Athletic Bilbao 1 - Sevilla 1
Malaga 0 - Barcelona 3
Real Madrid 4 - Tenerife 1
Valencia 2 - Atletico Madrid 3
Mallorca 1 - Valladolid 0
Espanyol 2 - Xerez 1
Almeria 1 - Racing Santander 0
Zaragoza 0 - Getafe 0
Osasuna 2 - Sporting Gijon 1
Deportivo 1 - Villarreal 3

September 21, 2009

Who Invited that Guy?

Who is to say that just because you are drunk and overweight that you cannot score a goal in a top-flight football league? Well nobody told this Russian fan. A supporter invaded the pitch and kicked home a penalty during the 51st minute of the Moscow derby between Saturn and Spartak this past Saturday. It brings one to ask, who invited that guy?

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Three Clubs Remain Perfect (Barcelona, Real & Athletic Club Bilbao???): Week Three in Review & Jornada 4 Preview

While a seventy-four minute gap between Ronaldo goals allowed Xerez to ponder the notion of stealing a point from the home side, a six-minute period that saw Real Madrid quadruple their lead put an end to any fairytales at the Bernabeu. Atletico de Madrid continued their disappointing season, getting embarrassed at the Camp Nou. After a slow start and on only two points, Atleti needed a strong showing against the Catalan club to reestablish themselves as a title contender. Athletic Club Bilbao continued their perfect start to the season by defeating Villarreal. The “yellow submarine” have been another top flight club yet to notch their first victory of this early season. A late equalizer at the Mestilla put Sporting Gijon on terms with Valencia while Mallorca looked strong at home against La Liga newcomer Tenerife.

As for the prediction standings after three weeks:

1. El Partido Maravilloso: 16-14 (4*)
2. La Liga Tickets Online: 16-14 (2*)
3. Four Four Two: 16-14**

*tie breaker is scores picked correctly throughout the season
**if you don’t pick the scores, then you can’t earn the points

A set of midweek games keeps the players of La Liga busy this week. The big match-up coming when perfect Real and Manuel Pellegrini visit El Madrigal. Pellegrini, who coached Villarreal for four seasons including a second place league finish, will lead Los Blancos against his former club. Villarreal, who are a perennial contender for the four Champions League spots, have stuttered out of the gate this campaign. Emotions will be high as Villarreal look to take revenge on their former manager while earning their first league win in the process.

Week 4 Predictions:
Sevilla 1 – Mallorca 0
Racing Santander 2 – Barcelona 2
Espanyol 2 – Malaga 0
Villarreal 0 – Real Madrid 1
Atletico Madrid 3 – Almeria 1
Tenerife 0 – Athletic Club Bilbao 3
Xerez 1 – Deportivo 2
Valladolid 1 – Osasuna 1
Getafe 1 – Valencia 2
Sporting Gijon 1 – Zaragoza 0

September 19, 2009

Week Three: Finally a Local Perspective


Prior to the start of week three, this author had been writing from the comfort of the New York City suburbs, far removed from the European game; however, now, after a move to Madrid, I find myself at the epicenter of Spanish football. With the new location should come a new improved level of stories, gossip and opinions of the game from both the local media and local supporters.
It is difficult to label a game a must win three matches into a thirty-eight match season; however, Atletico de Madrid find themselves in said scenario. On only one point through two games, a visit to Camp Nou tonight could potentially be the first defining cornerstone of this lengthy season. A loss at Barcelona would leave them eight points off the top early in the season, while a victory could reestablish the rojoblancos as the contender many, this blogger included, thought they would be. Madrid should stay on form with rookie club Xerez at the Bernabeu. Villarreal will earn their first win, on the road at San Mames, as will Espanyol against Deportivo.

As for Week Three Predictions:
Deportivo 0- Espanyol 1
Real Madrid 4- Xerez 0
Malaga 0- Racing Santander 0
Athletic Bilbao 1- Villarreal 2
Almeria 0- Getafe 1
Valencia 3- Sporting Gijon 1
Osasuna 0- Sevilla 2
Mallorca 1- Tenerife 1
Barcelona 2- Atletico Madrid 1
Real Zaragoza 2- Valladolid 3

Week Two Roundup


They are known as the big four in England, the only teams (asides from a slip-up in 1995 when Blackburn was crowned champion) to have won the Premier League (mind you it started under that name in 1992). Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool, are, perennially, the top four in England and thus always win qualification for the following year’s Champions League. While Spain’s league may not follow such a predictable trend, Barcelona and Real Madrid have often been widely considered in a league of their own. Valencia, however, has the talent to raise them above the rest of the Spanish competition and into said category. Bankruptcy issues still remain and do pose a threat to the stability of the organization but the former back-to-back Champions League finalists now seem ready to solidify themselves as a perinea member of the Spanish elite. While the season is still very young (and I am still not ruling out my pick to finish second, Atletico) Valencia has come out of the gates on fire.
Home to a striker that has become know as the one that got away from the “big clubs” and a very young talented midfield, supporters at the Mestilla should be in for an exciting, competitive season. As for the “big two,” both won comfortably on the road this past week. Sevilla, after a week one defeat to Valencia, recorded their first win while Villarreal and Atletico, two teams considered competitors for Europe, disappointingly drew at home. Deportivo remained on form after a well-fought loss in week one at Real Madrid to win at home against Malaga. With still plenty of football to be played, teams wanting to compete for a chance at the league title will need to quickly pick up their play before Barcelona and Madrid separate themselves permanently.

After Week Two the prediction standings look like this….

1. FFT: 12-8
2. EPM: 11-9 (3*)
3. LLTO: 11-9 (2*)

*El Partido Maravilloso is in second because of picking 3 scores perfectly versus the 2 from LaLigaTicketsOnline.com

September 10, 2009

Joy in England, Disappointment in Argentina and Drama in Saudi Arabia: World Cup 2010 Qualifying Update

After the penultimate round of World Cup qualifiers, the smoke seems to be clearing as the World Cup picture comes into focus for many nations while other races have become even tighter. England, Spain, Brazil, Ghana and Paraguay all booked their tickets, joining Japan, Australia, North Korea, Netherlands, South Korea and host nation South Africa as the first eleven to have cemented their positions in next year's competition.


Now for a breakdown by qualification group....


UEFA (Europe)


The qualification of Spain and England means that now three of the nine automatic spots in South Africa are occupied. The winners of the six remaining groups will also automatically qualify after the final round of games in October. The top eight of nine second place teams from each group will then be randomly drawn into home and home ties to decide the final four spots allocated to Europe (because one group has one fewer team than the rest, the second place standings will not take into account the two games played by the second place nations against the last place teams in each group). Portugal has seemingly revived their hopes of sneaking into the aforementioned second place playoffs with a crucial point off an 87th minute strike in Denmark and a win in Hungary. The Czechs hit for seven against San Marino after a draw in Slovakia and have seemingly put themselves back into contention for qualification; however, Slovenia is up two points and will face the very feeble, above mentioned San Marino in their second fixture of the next round. Slovenia's result in Slovakia in the first leg will ultimately decide the fate for both the Czechs and the group. The Germans can clinch their group with a win in Russia next round but a Russian victory would allow them to leapfrog the group leaders and control their own destiny. Ukraine are two points off an injury plagued Croatian squad with a game in hand. With the Ukrainian's second fixture against a very anemic Andorran squad, playing hosts to Fabio Capello's England (who we know will not take any match lightly) will prove vital for the last qualification position. The French drew twice this past week but are still within striking distance of winning Group Seven. Although Serbia leads them by four points, home ties against the Faroe Islands and Austria should prove fruitful for the Blues and put some pressure on the Serbians. Norway's victory coupled with the Scottish loss Wednesday clinched second place for the Norwegians; nonetheless, a World Cup berth is a long shot for the Scandinavian nation. Being in the group with the fewest teams, Norway has concluded their qualifying matches and sit seventh (on 10 points) in the rankings of second place teams. Republic of Ireland (10 points) and Sweden (9 points) both have two games in hand so a Norwegian qualification into just the next round would require a massive collapse by at least one of the two nations.

The strength of the Spanish, Dutch and English would leave one to believe that all three nations could be considered favorites for the Cup next summer; however, it is important to note that no European nation has ever won a World Cup off 'The Continent.'


CONCACAF (North America, Central America & Caribbean)


Costa Rica has very quickly squandered their early lead on the CONCACAF table and now find themselves in trouble. While it is all but certain that they will finish no worse than fourth, fourth place requires a home and home match against the fifth place (currently Argentina) South American country to win qualification. Boasting a very impressive home record, the Costa Ricans were embarrassed on their own soil against Mexico and conceded a late winner to a weaker El Salvadorian squad to drop themselves from first to fourth. The United States played a hair above mediocrity this past week but, while their form lacked, were able to secure six points from their two matches. Now with the opportunity to reserve their place in South Africa with a win in Honduras, the United States have shown their resilience throughout this qualifying process by achieving results while not playing their best football. Mexico has turned around a poor start to the final CONCACAF stage and should qualify with matches against the group's weakest members, home to El Salvador and at Trinidad and Tobago, in the next round of games.


CONMEBOL (South America)


Perennial favorites Brazil have clinched yet again while Paraguay have booked their fourth straight World Cup ticket. Argentina, after losing at home to Brazil and on the road to Paraguay, find themselves of needing at least a playoff in order to be playing in South Africa next year. The Goal of the Week, however, was the only bright spot from Argentina's otherwise miserable week. Jesus Datolo's brilliant left-footed strike brought the Argentineans’ back into the game briefly, though a Luis Fabiano chip a minute later put the game back out of reach.

video

With Argentina's final qualifier coming on the road against rival and neighbor Uruguay, nothing is guaranteed to a nation that is often considered one of the most talented in the world. Chile's bid for qualification was put on hold after a hat trick from Nilmar lead the Brazilians to victory even after two strikes from Suazo put the Chileans back on terms. Colombia was brilliant in their first leg, defeating Ecuador and then equally disappointing as they folded in Uruguay. Ecuador put their Wednesday defeat at Colombia behind them as they rallied against both Bolivia and the altitude to launch themselves into fourth and the final automatic qualification position. The most intriguing storyline of the CONMEBOL comes from a traditionally baseball oriented nation. Venezuela, known for their flame throwing pitchers and completely insane presidents, are the only South American nations to never qualify for a World Cup. And while a few mistakes along the way will make qualification an uphill battle, it is still a possibility. Having earned 11 points on their last 5 matches, Venezuela now sit on 21 points, one point out of fifth and two out of fourth; however, they would need to jump at least two of the three nations above them: Ecuador, Argentina, and Uruguay. A poor goal differential (-5) and remaining matches against Brazil and in Paraguay may see the demise of this Cinderella story but with both teams already qualified (and concern about Brazil's participation in the Confederations Cup tiring out their squad ahead of next year’s tournament) Venezuela may see younger more experienced squads. It will be a long shot, yes, but impossible, no.


While Argentina's play of late has replaced the topic of debate from World Cup champion contender to World Cup participant, history is on their side. The last time the South American nation won the World Cup, 1986, there were questions if they would even be competing as well. Maradona and the 1986 Argentine squad required a home and home playoff (after finishing fifth in the CONMEBOL) against Australia to be eligible for the tournament. After a draw 1-1 in Australia, Argentina launched their championship run at home with a 1-0 victory (winning 2-1 on aggregate), months before any team took the field in Mexico.



CAF (Africa), OFC (Oceania) & AFC (Asia)


Asides from Ghana's qualification, the groups of the CAF were very uneventful with only seven matches played over the international break. Most of the groups will need the final round of qualification fixtures to decide who will and will not be playing next summer; however, the Ivory Coast has all but affirmed their position in South Africa. The OFC's half bid was awarded to New Zealand, who awaited the winner of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain this past week. The winner of the final Asian half spot would then play New Zealand in a home and home for a bid to the Cup. After a 0-0 draw in Bahrain, the second leg and Game of the Week (video below) was played in Saudi Arabia's King Fahd International Stadium. With the game tied at one, a brilliant hustle play to save the ball and serve it into the area led to the go ahead and seemingly game winning goal for Saudi Arabia. The Stadium erupted. Hamad Al Montashari, the goal scorer, ripped his shirt off and ran to the stands to celebrate with his countrymen. Words were not necessary to describe the meaning of that goal; enough was said on the faces of the Bahrain players. But the game was not over. Much like the Croatia, Turkey match at the Euro Cup last summer, the game is never over until the final whistle blows. A corner kick minutes after Montashari's presumed game winner found the head of Ismail Abdullahatif and then the back of the net sending through Bahrain to the next round on the away goal rule. The stadium was now silent. The Saudi Arabian players around the goal collapsed. The video below is a true testament to the emotions and excitement of the game and sport in general. From defeat to ecstasy or jubilation to horror, every spectrum of emotions was felt within three minutes at King Fahd International Stadium.

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A Look Ahead to Week Two

After a brief break in the action, La Liga resumes Saturday with a few intriguing fixtures. Getafe will look for a statement win versus FC Barcelona if they care to establish themselves as a contender for the top 6 after an impressive win on the road at Racing Santander. The aforementioned Racing will travel to Madrid to face Atletico, who try to rebound after an embarrassing loss on the road at Malaga. Villarreal and Sevilla, two teams who will without question be competing for the top four come May, will both look to record their first wins of this young season on home turf. The city of Barcelona will play host to this weeks most fascinating contest, however, where Espanyol will play host to Real Madrid. Have Madrid hammered out their lapses from the week before? How will the emotions from Espanyol, in their first league match since the untimely death of captain Jarque, affect the crowd and the team? I foresee an early lead for the Catalonian club but Madrid's power will, inevitably, earn Los Blancos a valuable away point.

Week 2 predictions:

Getafe 0- Barcleona 2
Atletico Madrid 2- Racing Santander 0

Espanyol 1- Real Madrid 1

Sevilla FC 2- Real Zaragoza 0

Villarreal 3- Mallorca 0

Sporting Gijon 0- Almeria 1

Deportivo La Coruna 2- Malaga 1

Tenerife 0- Osasuna 0

Valladolid 1- Valencia 3

Xerez 0- Athletic Bilbao- 1

September 5, 2009

A World Cup without Portugal? Argentina?

With La Liga taking an early hiatus as players report home for international duty, El Partido Maravilloso will preview a few of the important World Cup qualifying matches taking place over the next week. Two perennial European powerhouses face must win fixtures on the road this Saturday. Portugal and the Czech Republic, the 17th and 18th ranked teams in the world, respectively, are both in danger to miss the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Portugal travels to Denmark to face the group leaders who are on 16 points. With only four games remaining in the group, Portugal, who are on 9 points and sit 4 points from reaching the playoff round of qualifications, find themselves in a situation where a winning outcome has become necessary. The Czechs also find themselves in a tough scenario coming into the weekend. Sitting fifth on only 8 points, the eastern European nation desperately needs a win at group leader Slovakia to stay in contention. While catching Slovakia may be a tall order, the Czechs are 5 points off second place Northern Ireland and have a game in hand. Facing as close to a sure win as there is in sports on Wednesday as hosts to San Marino, this two game stretch becomes incredibly important as Northern Ireland plays away in Poland and then play hosts to Slovakia on Wednesday.
Elsewhere in Europe, France visits group leading Serbia on Wednesday in a fixture that could determine who wins group seven and who will fight via a playoff for a spot in the World Cup. France hosts Romania, who are without star striker Adrian Mutu, on Saturday and a victory would put them within 2 points of Serbia ahead of Wednesday’s match. Both England and Spain can cement their positions in South Africa during this qualification period. England hosts Croatia on Wednesday at Wembley while the Spanish will host the Belgians and Estonians on Saturday and Wednesday, respectively, at the Bernabeu.
The crowded CONCACAF standings will surely clear up after a couple days of key match-ups over the next week. Mexico must visit Costa Rica, a very tough place to play on the road, and will be hosts to Honduras the following Wednesday, while the United States will face the two teams at the bottom of the table: home against El Salvador and away at Trinidad. & Tobago. With four teams (USA, Honduras, Costa Rica, & Mexico) all within 3 points of each other and only three guaranteed World Cup positions, these upcoming matches will be very important for all nations involved.
The Game of the Week, however, comes from the South American qualifying group. Five time World Cup champion Brazil will face-off in Rosario against Argentina, who sit in a dangerous fourth position in the COMEBOL standings with Ecuador only 2 points behind. I believe, with Brazil more comfortably atop the group, Maradona and Los Albicelestes will prove victories at Rosario Central. Finals score: 2-1 Argentina.

September 4, 2009

Week One in Review


After only one week of play in La Liga, plenty of story lines have already begun to develop. Real Madrid showed signs of both brilliance and concern while Barcelona demonstrated that they have not lost a step after their impressive triple last season. Atletico Madrid, my pick to finish second in the league, were embarrassed at Malaga, while Getafe came out of the gates hot with a 4-1 victory at Racing Santander. As for my predictions, I will, throughout the season, be comparing my picks to those of two other websites. “Four Four Two,” a British football magazine, and Laligaticketsonline.com are both predicting scores like myself. So throughout the duration of the year, I will keep a tally of who is right and who is wrong via these clever little standings.

Through Week 1:
1. Me 6-4 (1*)
2. Fourfourtwo 5-5
3. Laligaticketsonline.com 5-5 (1*)

*Scores picked perfectly

The other two blogs in question…
http://fourfourtwo.com/blogs/laligaloca/archive/2009/08/28/the-sun-creamed-weekend-predictions-round-1.aspx
http://www.laligaticketsonline.com/la-liga-picks-of-the-week-week-one/


Player of the Week: Roberto Soldado (Getafe)
The twenty-four year old Spaniard started his 2009-2010 campaign off in fine fashion, scoring a hat trick in an away victory at Racing Santander. Soldado’s goal in the 28th minute put Los Azulones on top for good, while his tallies in the 33rd and 56th only emphasized Getafe’s dominance in the match. Scoring 13 goals last year and 11 the year before, while on loan at Osasuna, Soldado seems on form to improve upon those totals this year.

Game of the Week: Real Madrid 3- Deportivo 2
The game of the week was also the first game of the year as Deportivo came to the Bernabeu to face a newly renovated Real Madrid team. Brilliant play from two of Madrid’s newcomers, Kaka to Benzema, left a rebound on the foot of an old veteran, Raul, who knocked in effortlessly to start the scoring; however, Deportivo was not intimidated by their surroundings, scoring four minutes later from a cross into the area. Possibly demonstrating that Sergio Ramos’ injury may be affecting the defense more than expected. Kaka’s play again, a ball to Raul in the thirty-fifth minute, lead to a penalty, which Cristiano Ronaldo would execute exceptionally to reestablish Madrid’s lead. Moments into the second half however, a lapse in the Madrid defense again would put Deportivo back on terms. It was not until Lassana Diarra’s sixtieth minute goal that Madrid would perminantely regain the lead and hold on for an important home victory. Deportivo had a strong campaign last season and looks to be back on form this season; however, Madrid’s attack seemed to be just too much for the Galician side to handle.

Goal of the Week: Lassana Diarra

The aforementioned Lassana Diarra goal in the sixtieth minute of last weekend’s opener takes the prize as the goal of the week. Not only was it the game winner but also Diarra’s nifty moves and composed finish were quite impressive as well. Check it out for yourself….

video

Honorable Mention: Mata (Valencia)