Friday, December 10, 2010

Waiting to Vanquish the Ghosts of Champions Leagues-Past


'Forget about Dzeko: I'm here.' That's what Karim Benzema told Madridismo last Wednesday with his performance
So it was supposed to be a meaningless dead rubber between guaranteed group leaders Real Madrid and group bottom-feeders Auxerre last Wednesday… regardless of that, I still got up at 3:45am Singapore time to see the match (Damn Singtel’s Mio TV for not showing it! You guys wasted my money last Wednesday – thank God for streaming), nevermind that I had to lumber about like a zombie during the morning till I managed to scurry over to a Starbucks to get a Venti. I’m happy to say that the performance was worth the interrupted sleep.
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Real Madrid played pretty much an entire Second Team last Wednesday, complete with 2nd-in-command Aitor Karanka in the dugout. The selection was probably still done by Mourinho: which was disappointing for me given Ronaldo’s place in the starting XI. Being one yellow card away from suspension, it was also not worth risking injury to our 96m man in a dead rubber match in my opinion: giving an opportunity to the likes of Morata and Sarabia (who thankfully managed to get his debut) would have been the better option. Carvalho and Marcelo’s inclusion in the starting XI was a letdown for me too: I’d have liked to see our ageing CB alonng with our only real Left Back given a rest in favor of Garay and Mateos (with Albiol or Lass at RB).
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Sarabia made his debut. Despite his clear technical ability, I thought his first touch was a tad lacking in finesse. Maybe it was just the nerves.
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The star of the show last Wednesday of course would have to be Hat-Trick hero Karim Benzema. 10,160 meters run (according to AS) , 3 goals – one from each foot, and another from the head. Granted that it was against a weaker opponent, the hat trick will nevertheless give him a much needed boost to his confidence. Perhaps the game could also serve as a great example for him that more effort out there on the pitch usually yields good results for him.
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The unsung heroes of the Auxerre game would have to be the 2 Diarras. Diarra v1.0 controlled the game well and his presence in covering ground as well as keeping play simple and clear was a huge help for the team. Lass on the other hand, turned in a vintage display with his physical brand of ball-winning and pressure to keep the midfield in check. The icing on the cake for him of course had to have been his long looping assist for Benzema’s 2nd goal.
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For the other second string starters, while Arbeloa turned in his typical solid display, I did feel that Albiol and Carvalho looked a bit shaky in the few times that Auxerre managed to create something (including what looked to me like a legitimate penalty claim for Auxerre that was denied by the referee). Pedro Leon started brightly but faded late on: I do think that he’d be a far more effective player if only we managed to bring in a real ‘9’ striker for him to send those crosses to. Granero on the other hand had some tidy touches, but was largely unspectacular.
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At 37 years old, he's won a Champions League title (as a hero of the final) and a La Liga title. It's time I think for Dudek to hang up his gloves and let a Canterano take his place as Iker's backup.
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Perhaps the last subplot for the match would be poor Jerzy Dudek’s injury. The 37-year old played only his 11th game for Real Madrid in 4 years (his participation in our disastrous Copa Del Rey campaigns in recent past are of course to blame for this). The Pole, despite his numerous shaky moments in the past did out on an Iker-like performance in the first half, only to smash and fracture his jaw late in the first half. It was great to see his performance get a reward from the Bernabeu though: with the fans chanting his name upon his substitution for Antonio Adan, who managed to get his Champions League debut.
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Boss(que) of the Year?
The Italian Press are reporting that World-Cup winning coach Vicente Del Bosque is going to be awarded the inaugural FIFA coach of the year award: besting the likes of Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho.
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I’m pretty sure that Mourinho, the self-proclaimed favorite for the trophy will be let down because of this. I’m pretty comfortable about Pep not getting the award this year given that his Barcelona went down in both the Champions League and the Copa Del Rey last season. He would have deserved it the year before when Barca won its treble - he'll likely spend the next couple of years dogfighting Mourinho for this anyway. 
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The Mourinho-Del Bosque debate is a tough one given the fact that Mourinho won everything there was for him to win last season: a Scudetto, the Copa Italia and the Champions League: reviving the careers of the likes of poor Balon D’ Or snubees Wesley Sneijder and Diego Milito – turning them from ‘good players’ into world class ones. Del Bosque on the other hand managed to win the world’s most hard-to-win trophy: the World Cup, following a massively successful qualification campaign. Del Bosque’s accomplishment is no joke given that the World Cup is a tournament where the smallest of mistakes usually means an early plane ticket home. Unless Del Bosque can carry on to win Euro 2012, winning this might be his last chance.
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As for Mourinho, deserving of the award this season or not, I’m pretty sure that he will win it at some point in time in his still-young career. In fact, deserving as he may be, I’d rather see Mourinho win it for his accomplishments as Real Madrid manager rather than for what he has accomplished with the Nerrazuri.
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And Now on to our Annual Deathtrap


AS' Probability Study of the possible Last 16 Champions League Matchups

Now that match day 6 of the Champions League group stage has finally concluded, we can now look forward to our potential Champions League executioner in our annual European stumbling block. The potential rivals for the next round are: Inter, Arsenal (supposedly the biggest possibility), Roma, Lyon, Marseille and Copenhagen. Italian romanticists would probably prefer to see a Real Madrid-Inter matchup, and Real Madrid pragmatists would prefer Copenhagen.
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I on the other hand would prefer Arsenal, Roma or Lyon. I wish to revisit the ghosts of Champions Leagues past to be given the opportunity to vanquish them. I can still remember the dagger Thierry Henry stuck into Madridisimo’s heart many years back in the Bernabeu… Roma’s poor but winning display at the Stadio Olimpico that gave us hope to recover the tie only to be further humiliated at the Bernabeu… and the anguish caused by Lyon’s Miralem Pjanic last season. My heart yearns for revenge. And though my mind urges caution at the cost of a second humiliation, I have reason to believe that the work of the Dark Wizard Jose Mourinho can get us through and purge these demons once and for all. It'd be nice if Schalke07 can draw one of them and Raul to destroy them with goals to take his tally as European Club Football's greatest goalscorer - that would make for some beautiful poetic justice. If it is at all possible, I’d like Bayern after that so I can finally have the opportunity to gloat at Marc Van Bommel and his ilk (after all, we no longer have Roberto Carlos to lose the ball and concede a goal in a matter of minutes).
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Let Barca take care of the likes of Man U, Chelsea and Spurs. Let them show those stupid English pundits how delusional they really are about the ‘power’ of their English playerless-English Football. A few 5-0s should do the job. I'm sure we'd be perfectly capable of repeating the feat next season anyway.

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