Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Oh Captain, My Captain


O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;


Rise up--for you the flag is flung for you the bugle trills,


For you bouquets and ribboned wreaths for you the shores a-crowding,


For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;


from 'O Captain, My Captain' by Walt Whitman




Thus it was Raul who emerged the hero from last night’s encounter with Werder Bremen. The legendary white captain, scored his 57th goal in the Champions League (a record) in 111 games (a Real Madrid record) and provided the final pass that led to Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s game winning (and 50th Champions League Goal, I think he’s either 2nd or 3rd to Raul… Shevchenko is either 2nd / 3rd ) goal. He ran his socks off too: 9,402 meters of ground covered in his 83+ minutes on the pitch: Clearly a Man-of-the-Match performance. He was all over; harassing defenders, running at them (with a few nifty ball tricks too), helping out distribute the ball and keep the ebb and flow of Real’s Game. I said in my last entry that I was hoping he’d be in-form: 3 goals in 4 matches…he is!

It’s an odd thing actually, I remember my first encounter of his name as a player: during the 2002 World Cup, when a younger cousin of mine who happens to be an avid fan of football (and a player himself) told me about a young Spaniard named Raul. At the time, he was still considered about to break into his peak but already having broken countless records: the future of Spanish football. It was a future I never got to see as his goal scoring numbers took a nose-dive as Florentino Perez’s ‘Galaticos’ era went along. I suspect that it’s a combination of a real drop in form as well as the fact that he was moved out of his best position: Second Striker. Thus, for the most part of my time as a Real Madrid fan, Raul was the falling symbol: the man they insisted to be the club’s talisman, but no longer for his ability on the pitch, but for what he symbolized: the local boy turned hero. I scratched my head at the thought of it… but I never questioned the effort he put on the pitch. This season, he seems to be yelling out to the world ‘I’m back!’…. after 4 games, it’s hard to tell, but the signs are promising.


Other Reflections on the match:
Real Madrid may have only won by a goal…. But they clearly played pretty well. Their passing game was fluid and seamless at times, ball movement and buildup play was good too. They attacked through the wings, created danger and were able to drill holes into the Bremen defense (though it took a while to tear them down). They were however a bit shaky on defense at times (though Cannavaro had some good moments too)… but that happens when you play against a team is run by a player with the quality of Diego.


On the players:

Ruud Van Nistelrooy
He is clearly not yet 100%. Given the chances he got last night, last year’s RVN would’ve nailed a Hat Trick and instead of the world hailing Werder Bremen’s gallant stand against the whites, they’d all be talking about rout. If he regains his sharpness, and Raul’s form proves to be consistent, defenses will crumble and titles will come again!

Gonzalo Higuain
Robinho had better watch out, because it’s very likely that he can lose his place in the starting XI to this guy. The kid is only 19, but plays with a kind of maturity and awareness rarely found in players his age. Last night, he was tireless on the pitch… but once again, forgot to lace up his shooting boots before the match. Then again, Robinho was only firing goalkeeping-practice-type shots during his stint last night.

Fernando Gago
The Spanish Press weren’t very kind to him in their post-game analyses today, giving him stick for failing to stop Diego… but that’s like asking someone to stop Kaka or Ronaldinho, it’s not exactly something everyone can do (Diarra would have sent him to the ground with a couple of clattering tackles, but I’m doubtful that would’ve been enough to stop Diego). But I thought that Gago played pretty well: the midfield engine was far more well-oiled with him on as opposed to Diarra (then again that was never really Diarra’s role). I really felt that the ball movement and ‘verticality’ of team was much more slick with him around. I think Real has great options in this position with Gago as a great midfield facilitator or Diarra as a destroyer for the other side’s buildup play.

Marcelo
I felt bad for him upon hearing that he was going to lose his spot to Drenthe and Heinze. He was after all, hailed as the ‘next Roberto Carlos.’ While Drenthe clearly isn’t a Left Back (at this point I’ve no idea what he is), Heinze sure as hell ain’t a left back in the Roberto Carlos-mould. Last night, Marcelo’s forays along the flanks, darting forward to cross balls and create danger delightfully reminded me of the short, bald, Brazilian who wore RM’s ‘3’ last year. When he lost the ball on the attack and left an ocean of space for an opposition counter attack, he reminded me of Roberto Carlos too…. But not the delightful side of course. Once again, Real find 2 quality options here: a hard tackling, combative, defensive-minded left back (Heinze) and a left footed speed demon along the left flank. I’m happy he didn’t end up loaned to some border-line 1st division team and even happier that he made a strong case for a spot on the team last night.

Iker Casillas
He might’ve been able to do better when the Bremen goal was conceded, but he made some critical saves that in the end, gave RM the victory…. While people are all talking an toasting to RM’s re-birth as an attack-minded team, I refuse to forget the man who has saved Real’s skin in more than many occasions.


We visit Real Valladolid on Sunday… I’m keeping my fingers crossed in hopes of another 3 points, and god-willing another shower of goals against the opponent.


2007-09-18: Real Madrid 2 - Werder Bremen 1

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Short End of the Stick

Here I am again, left to with the short end of the stick…. Left to imagine how it is exactly that Real Madrid had been able to beat Almeria 3-1. Those greedy bastards working in Spanish TV haven’t settled their dispute yet so people like me have to settle for progressive live web updates as the match went on (I went with 3 simultenously: those of Marca, AS, and Goal.com)… and of course, I’ve had to spend the morning today hunting for clips of the match highlights in You Tube.
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So do enjoy the posting of the match’s goals by scrolling below.
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I was also able to find another site where they show other happenings in the match (aside from the goals)… it’s here.
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From what I’ve read and seen, here are a few thoughts:
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Refereeing
1.) Uche’s goal that was ruled offside could’ve gone either ay… it’s the sort of goal that gets annulled though it could’ve been allowed… but it wasn’t onside by miles… which I feel it the reason why it should not be seen as ‘ridiculous’ or ‘controversial’ in the way certain people like to view.
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2.) The Red Card for the take down on Saviola was justified… El Conejo would’ve scored had he not been taken down… it was gonna be sort of goal we all used to see him score.
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3.) The no-call for the penalty claim involving Metzelder was spot on… Metz was going to track back to another direction already…
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Thoughts on Almeria
1.) Almeria didn’t dominate Real Madrid like how the live commentaries last night portrayed… yes indeed they had quite a few shots on goal, but most of them turned out to be only like catching practice for Iker.
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2.) Uche’s goal was really nice though.
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Thoughts on Real Madrid
1.) Commentary from the Spanish press seemed to indicate that Guti was Real’s Best Player last night…. Good to see him gain plaudits for 3 consecutive performances played well. Is this the year we can finally see a consistent Guti? (I hope so)
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2.) It was nice to see Raul take the kind of shot he fired off which led to Saviola’s goal. He usually ends up hitting a spectator when he shoots from that far… last night, he forced a save out of the keeper (the shot was clearly on-target) which eventually led to a goal. Does this mean that Raul is REALLY in-form? (I hope so too)
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3.) I guess Schuster feels happy for his decision to rest RVN and gave Saviola a run out with Saviola paying him back with a goal… But come on dude… you scored on a tap-in, why all the blowing-kisses-to-the-sky-and-kneeling-to-the-heavens goal celebrations… too much. Over the top!
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4.) I am officially in awe of Wesley Sneijder. 3 matches, 4 goals… for a MIDFIELDER no one rated to be among the world’s best. (Sneijder’s name was never manetioned in the same sentence as Ronaldinho, Kaka, C. Ronaldo, Gerrard, Lampard or even Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas). I think his performances are slowly making a case for him to be considered among the world’s best. Is this Real Madrid’s equivalent to the San Antonio Spurs drafting Tony Parker with the 28th pick in the NBA Draft?
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5.) I’m SO HAPPY that Higuain was able to score. Despite only finishing with 2 goals last year, it was clear that this 19-year old was special. He worked hard on the pitch too and was always a danger. Signing him was a brilliant move for RM. I HATED how people were all over him for not scoring goals… If he scores a pile of goals this year… The silence from people who have been criticizing him would be music to my ears. His goal was a peach too! A ‘Petroleum Jelly’
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6.) I do hope, that former RM Youth Players Roberto Soldado and Miguel Torres eventually get some playing time and prove their worth to the team. For some reason, in Soldado, I get the feeling that by having him, Real are sitting on a gold mine.
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7.) It was interesting to see Schuster tinker with an RVN-less lineup… his 2nd half substitutions seemed to indicate that he was playing something like a 4-3-3:
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Start of the Game (4-4-2):
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Casillas
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Ramos, Cannavaro, Metzelder, Heinze
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Robinho, Guti, Diarra, Sneijder
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Raul, Saviola
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***
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End of Game (4-3-3):
Casillas

Ramos, Cannavaro, Metzelder, Drenthe

Sneijder / Gago, Guti, Diarra

Higuain, Raul, Saviola

2007-09-15 Real Madrid 3 - Almeria 1

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Uh-Oh

Wesley Sneijder is injured!
Apparently, he was tackled by Mario Melchiot in training and injured his ankle in the process... making him likely unavailable for the Dutch National Team's match vs. Albania... he'll also be doubtful for the match vs. Almeria this weekend.
Almeria is a newly promoted side and I would like to believe that Real can beat them handily, but you never know, they've won their first match and put up a good fight against Valencia before eventually losing.
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A positive however is that it can mean that Sneijder can be rested for the Champions League match vs. Werder Bremen, a difficult team (they gave Barca a lot of problems last year in the CL too...). This can also mean that Drenthe might get a start on the left wing with Heinze on Left Back (and Robben possibly getting in a few minutes off the bench).
The fingers are crossed nevertheless.
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Thoughts on other things:
Former Real Madrid youth teamer Alvaro Negredo (on loan to Almeria this season) has now scored 2 goals in 2 matches! Though he won't be playing against Real this weekend (his contract has a clause that prevents it), it'll be interesting to see if he can build himself a reputation that can earn him a recall to RM.
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Jurado didn't have a standout year for athletico last season... I do hope a few of the youth team gems out on loan can blossom this year though... it'd be nice if we can find another Raul / Guti / Casillas.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Ballack???? Again!?!??!

Shit, shit shit…

Talk out of England again is that Michael Ballack might join Real Madrid over the winder break after getting his ass bounced out of Chelsea’s Champions League roster, in their bid to keep him fro getting ‘cup tied’… which consequently would make him more attractive enough for another team to buy him… and of course if there’s an expensive player on the market, RM is also inevitably mentioned.

Seriously… do we need this guy? I honestly don’t think so. We have 2 top playmakers already (Sneijder + Guti) and a pretty good attacking midfielder parked on the bench (Baptista)… and with our young wingers (Drenthe, Robben, even Higuain and Robinho) coming in, space in the roster is tight enough.

Why would we need to buy a 30 year old midfielder who has a scumbag agent demanding a 1-million euros in commissions for his purchase, had a bum year in a top club, has a bum ankle who asks to be paid 140,000 GBP a week?

Even if they hadn’t won anything yet, I think that Real did well for themselves so far with their clever free pickups (Saviola, Metzelder, Dudek) as well as their decision to go after young players (Sneijder age: 23; Drenthe age: 20, Robben Age: 23 + last season’s winter signings: Higuain age: 19, Marcelo age: 19 and Gago age: 20) in the transfer market. Getting an overpaid player who is likely past his prime is damn sure as hell the equivalent of stumbling more than several steps backwards after RM’s few baby steps forward.

Wise up Calderon, Mijatovic & Co.!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Villarreal 0 - 5 Real Madrid

Last Week

Bastards!

As if the offseason wasn’t long enough, The TV Networks in Spain are in some kind of a legal dogfight about broadcasting rights… and here I am, left to make do with you tube highlights of the opening weekend match… (the Madrid Derby at that!).

One can only imagine the shock and horror I went through when I started seeing players wearing the Dutch and Swiss National teams’ uniforms come out of a tunnel that’s not the Bernabeu’s. Even the Cable TV operator here in Singapore seemed blindsided by the whole thing as their website’s Programme Guide had already included the match in its programme schedule. The Cable TV operator instead found itself haplessly having to settle with broadcasting a replay of the friendly match between the Netherlands (were they thinking: ‘Maybe RM fans can feel a bit better if they saw a match with Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Wesley Sneijder in it’???) and Switzerland with a message that streaked below the screen apologizing about the ‘sudden unavailability of the match.’

I found my mind racing on a flashback to that morning when I read Alfredo Relano lamenting in AS.com about something that had to do with TV rights (I don’t know how to read Spanish, so I am left having to make do with trying to understand what Spanish websites are trying to say through Google / Yahoo’s Translate features… and in many cases, it’s takes a lot of effort to even get a sense of what is being said).

“This was what he was talking about! Shit! Shit! Shit!” I said to myself.



The Result

The only great news about it is that Real Madrid actually won! And based on what I’ve read, they also played darn well and showed the ballsy character they had late last season (where they repeatedly kept making comebacks on their way to win their 30th La Liga Title) after going down 0-1 via Kun Aguero’s header 57 seconds into the match. It was also nice to see Raul getting on the scoresheet… there he was again: El Kapitan scoring a goal when it matters, when everyone is second-guessing and speculating on who was the best man to replace him in the starting lineup. Good to see him kiss the ring finger again to celebrate that goal (That lifelessly-executed gesture of pointing to the name on his jersey is kinda lame though).

It was also very nice to see Guti’s clever on-field antics again: fooling the Athletico defense with his pass to Sneijder which led to the 2nd goal.

Overall, it was nice to see my beloved Real Madrid start the season on a winning note after such a pathetic pre-season (over their city rivals at that!). I was able to see other highlights of the game aside from the goals via the Real Madrid Website, it did seem like they played well... lots of attacking and glimpses of one-touch football.... it did look like they were on the right direction.




Other thoughts on the game:

Jose Antonio Reyes
Though I’ve always thought that it was a bummer how Jose Antonio Reyes didn’t make it to the Real Squad this season, I’ve always enjoyed watching him on the pitch even in his days back in Arsenal. He’s got a good shot, and his great pace is fun to watch, and I really appreciate his unapologetic public display of wanting to wear the white shirt back then. And of course, let’s not forget that he scored a pile of important goals for Real Madrid last year too… including those 2 HUGE ones vs. Mallorca that finally clinched the title.

What pissed me off however was how his shameless prediction of a 2-0 win by Athletico via goals from him! Cheeky Fucker! Whatta Punk!

Karma was spot on that night: the bugger didn't even get a start. BUT the Bernabeu gave him a well-deserved ovation (class act gesture from the fans) even as a RojiBlanco Player as he entered the game. That night, he was a benchwarmer of the losing team despite the applause...

Kun Aguero

Before the match, this punk actually proclaimed that he'd pull another 'petroleum jelly' (A Chip Shot, somehow, it translates as 'Petroleum Jelly' on Google / Yahoo Translate) on Iker Casillas. Another Punk! A Teenager trying to be cheeky with Spain's No. 1. The night ended with him trying his Petroleum Jelly: Super Iker just snatched it out of the air. In your face punk!

Real Madrid 2 - Athletico Madrid 1

Hello

I haven’t blogged in ages…

The most obvious reason for this has of course been the ridiculous schedule I’ve had ever since I changed jobs last November. I’ve hardly had even the time to sleep, much less to ponder thoughts, and figure out how to properly verbalize them.

I have however been able to continue sustaining the passion I’ve discovered in this tiny Southeast Asian island of 4+ million people: football … futbol… or soccer (I hate it when the minority who call it that, insist on calling it that). My love for the game is documented in passing as I once upon a time wrote some thoughts during the World Cup in my other blog…. The one I still can’t manage to sustain (I still hold ambitions of bringing it back to life someday though…).

So while I struggle to put into words the thoughts that stream through my head when I do find myself waxing lyrical / philosophical about the other million and one things I tend to let my mind fester about…. Here are two things (for the moment at least) I know I can talk / write about… Things I’ve grown to love and be desperately passionate about… Football and my beloved Real Madrid.