Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

Manchester United – European Classics

Posted: September 11, 2009 in Football

I’ve been busy with quite a bit of work over the past month. Still got lots on my plate till the end of September. Meanwhile, the football season has already started. The Iceman’s review of the season to date will be out in the first week of October.

Until then, I am sharing a few videos featured in the Man U official website as part of their Old Trafford European Classics feature. Happy Viewing!!

1) Champions League quarter final second leg (10 April 2007) : Man U vs. AS Roma 7-1

United had slipped to defeat in Rome but claimed a crucial away goal. With a semi-final place at stake, the Giallorossi travelled to OT hoping to defend their lead and extend the Reds five-year wait for a last four berth. Sir Alex’s men had other ideas…

“It was a fantastic performance, the scoring tells you that. You would have never expected anything like that; it’s got to be the best European performance in my time at United.” – Sir Alex Ferguson

“One of those magical nights when it seems every United touch turned to gold, when every move brought a goal, a remarkable hour and a half of relentless attacking. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but Roma’s defence was destroyed in 90 minutes.” – Henry Winter, Daily Telegraph

2) Champions League Group Stage (1 October 1997) : Man U vs. Juventus 3-2

United come of age in perhaps the defining European game under Sir Alex, overcoming early setbacks to beat a team regarded as the finest in Europe…

“I am delighted at the result and the performance. We played some excellent football and deserved our victory. My players were ready for this, it was a challenge for them. This showed their capability. It was a measure of how far we’ve come.” – Sir Alex Ferguson

“What style, what passion, what a wonderful performance. There is still a long, long way to go but Manchester United last night earned the right to dream of the European glory they crave. In front of a rapturous Old Trafford they gained a victory to cherish, one forged out of adversity and steeped in character.” – Glenn Moore, The Independent

3) Champions League Group Stage (19 October 1994) : Man U vs. Barcelona 2-2

Old Trafford buzzed with anticipation at the return of a true European giant – and the first-ever Champions League game between these two sides didn’t disappoint…

“We gave away two bad goals and we can’t be happy with that, because we started the game tremendously well and created several chances. But I was pleased with the way we fought back. In the end we went for the throat and it paid off. And at one point after we’d equalised I thought we could have won the match.” – Sir Alex Ferguson

“The 2-2 draw with Barcelona was just about everything we had been told it would be and it ended with a goal of the very highest quality scored by an Englishman.” – Daily Mail

4) Champions League semi-final first leg (24 April 2007) : Man U vs. AC Milan 3-2

A late, late strike from Wayne Rooney gave United a memorable win in this semi-final first-leg. Let’s not mention the second…

“I told the players at half-time to persevere with their football and to keep playing with speed because that would be the difference. Once we got the equaliser there was only going to be one winner.” – Sir Alex

“That famous never-say-die attitude has got Manchester United a famous victory.” – Mark Lawrenson, BBC

5) Champions League semi final second leg (29 April 2008) : Man U vs. Barcelona 1-0

United have had a fair share of Champions League semi final disappointments; but 2008 was our year. And the fact Paul Scholes, who missed out in 1999’s final, settled this tie in such stunning fashion made it all the sweeter…

“The atmosphere was absolutely incredible, I have never seen or heard anything like it ever before. The fans were brilliant and gave us extra power.” – Ji-sung Park

“For Sir Alex Ferguson the wait is at long last over. A second Champions League final for the finest manager of a generation awaits.” – Daily Mail

Disclaimer: These videos are courtesy of the Man U Official Website. The Iceman does not claim any copyrights on them. Lets hope that the guys at Man U don’t take these videos down!!

As the dust settles in Rome a day after the UCL finals, the Catalan country is still celebrating a remarkable treble-winning season while Manchester contemplates on just what went wrong. The world eagerly looked forward to the contest between two of Europe’s very best in the lead up to the finals. I was also keyed up to witness my two favorite team’s battle it out for the biggest prize in Europe. Although I wanted Man U to win, I had tipped Barca to win on the night. However, what was billed by the pundits to be a potential master class turned out to be terribly anti-climatic. Barca gave United a real football lesson as Messi & Co ran riot after starting tentatively.

United stared brightly as Ronaldo looked very sharp, testing a nervy Valdes a couple of times. However, against the run of play, Samuel Eto’ latched on to a through ball from Iniesta and scored the 1st goal completely out-foxing Vidic. This un-expected setback started the slide for Man U as they looked strangely disoriented making several mistakes and loosing the ball in the midfield at crucial times. The magnificent Barca duo of Xavi and Iniesta bossed the midfield area as Barca passed the ball to death around the Olympic stadium. Every time United lost the ball, it took ages for them to get it back again.

United’s midfield trio were woeful to say the least. Anderson was no where to be seen in the 1st half before being replaced. I don’t remember him getting more than 5 decent touches. Giggs in a make-shift central midfield role struggled to impose himself, though he did have his moments. Carrick was left alone to tackle the menace of Xavi and Iniesta by himself and he failed miserably. He was also profligate in attack miss-hitting several passes. Carrick always goes for the breath-taking through ball to the forward line which rarely comes off when retention of the ball through simple passes would have been enough. Consequently, United kept loosing the ball in crucial areas and there was no rhythm in the attack.

Barca’s tremendous passing game frustrated the united team which was desperate to get the ball back. Ferguson went for broke as he brought on both Tevez and Berbatov in the 2nd half in search of the elusive goal. This was always going to be a gamble as Man U left gaps at the back which could be exposed.

Right on cue, Messi beautifully headed in a Xavi cross in the 70th minute and it was all over. In the remainder of time, Barca came close to scoring 2 more goals while all Man U could manage were hopeful long balls which were easily handled by a 2nd string Barca defense ably marshaled by Gerad Pique an old united hand. Despite pre-match talk about a weakened Barca defense, the 2nd string easily snuffed out whatever little attack that United could muster on the night.

The final whistle was a relief for many Man U players who had suffered one of their worst hidings of their careers. There have been worse defeats in terms of the score line. But this was a match in which several superstars of Man U were made to feel inadequate by a classy Barca team led by their impressive manager Pep Guardiola. It was like slow death. The likes of Rooney and Ronaldo were helpless as the rest of their team was strangely flat in such a big game. Critics have questioned Alex Ferguson’s team selection and tactics. But, the same team and tactics had brought Man U till the final. It was just that the team was collectively poor on the night in Rome.

Alex Ferguson was magnanimous in defeat, admitting that his team was thoroughly out-classed on the night. He offered no excuses for the defeat and claimed that Barca were simply the better team by a mile. It is not often that Fergie’s team is humiliated like this and he must surely be smarting from this defeat. He later remarked that he missed Fletcher. He could have probably made the difference, breaking up the rhythm of the smooth Barca midfield. Probably a fully fit Owen Hargreaves could have also been the difference. But, there is no point in reflecting on those things. Alex Ferguson has a long summer ahead of him to ponder over this defeat. Right now, it is time to celebrate a magnificent Barcelona team which has conquered Spain and Europe playing a delightful, free-flowing brand of football which is truly a joy to watch. They have shown that despite playing in a simple uncomplicated style one can still reap rewards in football.

The newspapers have gone gaga over Messi showering him with all sorts of praises after the triumph. Many claim that he has now upstaged Ronaldo as the world’s best player. While the jury is still out on that claim, I personally feel that Andres Iniesta was the best player on display yesterday. Along with Xavi, he took United out of the game by winning the crucial midfield battle. True, Messi’s bewitching runs with the ball are a treat to watch. But, Iniesta is the engine of this Barca team. It’s heart and soul. He sets the tone for the rest of the team to follow.

After the match, Wayne Rooney hailed the Albacete-born midfielder, as the “best in the world.” Until, the arrival of Pep Guardiola, Iniesta has always burned brightly with unfulfilled promise, struggling on the fringes of one of the world’s greatest teams. The story goes that when Guardiola first saw Iniesta train for Barcelona’s youth team, he commented to Xavi, his own nominated heir: “You’re going to retire me, but this kid’s going to retire us all.” He presented Iniesta, wide-eyed and shy, with a signed picture dedicated “to the best player I ever saw.” No doubt Guardiola must have watched mortified as Frank Rijkaard continually overlooked the youngster’s claims, shunting him left and right, but rarely giving him the centre stage. When his idol took over his club immediately afterwards, Iniesta was finally presented with the responsibility and trust he needed. He is, surely, the first name on Guardiola’s team-sheet.

After last night, he would be the first name on almost any team-sheet, and is a shoo-in to appear on stage in Zurich when FIFA holds its world player of the year gala. Let’s hope he finally gets the plaudits that he deserves.

Little Superstar Simbu is apparently a huge Man U fan. He is even planning to fly to Rome for the Champions League finals against Barca!!

What Crap!! I am now considering ditching United for some other club!

After the 1st leg, both of the CL semis were finely in the balance, with Man U & Chelsea holding slight a slight edge as the action moved to London this week. But what followed in both the matches was totally contrasting. Man U demolished the Gunners at the Emirates stadium, while Barca struck a last-gasp equalizer at Stamford Bridge to edge a tie mired by controversy over the abject refereeing of Tom Henning Ovrebo from Norway who refused as many as 4 clear-cut penalty appeals from furious Chelsea players. The end result after all the madness was a CL final line-up which is a football aficionado’s dream.

Going into its tie with Arsenal, Alex Ferguson must have been quietly confident that his side could get a positive result from its visit to Emirates on Tuesday. But, history was against Fergie’s team. Arsenal had not lost at Emirates in CL before, and Man U had not managed to win at the emirates in 4 previous visits, managing 1 draw and 3 losses. However with probably his best team at this disposal and injuries to the gunners back four, this presented Man U’s best chance to correct history, and boy did they do in emphatic style!!

Two goals within the 1st 15 minutes knocked out Arsenal cold and silenced a boisterous crowd. It was a bit like Manny Pacquiao’s fight against Ricky Hatton on Sunday at the MGM Grand. Bang – Bang and it was all over too quickly!!

Ronaldo’s brilliant 3rd from a counter attack was an icing on the cake. It took just 13 seconds from the time Vidic won a header inside his penalty area to score a brilliant goal. Ronaldo did a nice back heel to start the attack and was at the right place to put the ball from Rooney into the back of the net. The United team looked really sharp and Ronaldo put in one of his performances of the season. It is all gradually falling into place for United after a huge wobble in late March and April. The old swagger in attack is back and the defense is looking really solid with Rio and Vida back together.

United’s only sour note of the match was the needless dismissal of Fletcher which could mean that he misses the final at Rome.

Enough has already been said about the referee’s harsh decision and I feel that it would be a gross injustice if the young man is robbed of his dream appearance in a CL final. He may probably never get another chance in his career, in which case it will be plainly cruel! UEFA’s ridiculous response about not opening a Pandora’s Box by reviewing Fletcher’s case is just rubbish. Well, you cannot expect any sanity from an organization headed by the bumbling Platini, can you?

Moving on to next Semi, Chelsea got a lead through a stunning volley from Michael Essien. This guy just exemplifies the heart and soul of Chelsea football club, more than anyone else.

But, Chelsea sat back and parked a bus in its penalty area, preferring to hit Barca on the counter attack. Even though Barca launched waves of attack, it was always vulnerable at the back. However, Dorgba missed several gilt edged to put Barca away through his poor finishing. In the end his lack of composure in front of the goal came back to haunt him in big way.

The Norwegian referee too seemed intent on making the tie interesting by waving aside several Chelsea claims for clear-cut penalties. To be fair to the bloke, he just had an awful match. Chelsea’s claims of partiality and conspiracy deserve nothing but the sternest condemnation. They just didn’t get the rub of the green on the night. Barca too had several decisions going against them. Abidal should have been sent off earlier, but ended up being sent off for a non-existent foul in the 2nd half. In fact, I feel that Chelsea’s incessant moaning as well as Drogba’s frequent diving was chief reason for Mr. Ovrebo to distrust Chelsea’s claims.

Drogba, a self-professed diver tried putting on an Oscar winning performance, going to the ground as if lighting had struck him whenever a Barca player breathes near him! With every rejected claim, Chelsea players got more and more agitated, putting further pressure on the referee. In the end, as luck would have it, Inniesta scored a brilliant goal deep into injury-time leaving Stamford Bridge stunned.

Astonishingly, there was enough time for one more rejected penalty claim before the final whistle before the gripping tie came to an end.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not even for a second trying to justify the referee’s actions. Chelsea should have been the deserved winners. But, what I am trying to say is that Chelsea players have only themselves to blame for their defeat. They paid the price for not killing off Barca earlier. One can’t expect to defend a 1 – 0 lead against the team of the quality of Barca for so long in a match.

However, the behavior of a few Chelsea players after the final whistle should not be tolerated and must be sternly dealt with. Drogba should be banned from all European Competition for a long, long time after his petulant display last night at the end of the game. I think a minimum of 10 games will set the tone and show everyone that this kind of behavior from high profile players is not allowed or accepted. It was nothing short of embarrassing and I feel sorry for the image that this now gives to the world about Chelsea and the way their players behave. It is unacceptable and shocking behavior, and does not show youngsters wanting to break into the game how to behave.

The referee made a few high profile mistakes and should be punished according by UEFA, not manhandled by immature, overpaid prima-donna’s. The latest talk going rounds is that this is all an UEFA conspiracy against another all English final. What a load of crap!! I think it is time that that UEFA makes an example out of Drogba, Ballack, Terry and the rest of their tribe. Drogba should be made to think twice before he jumps even in a swimming pool in the future. Ballack should be made to realize that come what may, laying his hands on a referee again is a big mistake!!

Come on UEFA and FIFA, are you listening for a change. Please take stern action in this matter and show everyone that it is not a conspiracy!!!

I was planning to write my review of the champions’ league semis, but decided to put it off till the end of the 2nd leg next week. Both ties are finely in the balance, but my picks to go through are Barca and Man U. If my predictions come true, the finals at Rome, will be one cracker-jacker of a match!!

Man U and Arsenal were separated by a solitary goal from John O’Shea, the widely-derided odd-job man who never gets any credit for his loyal service to the club over the last few years. So, I decided to write this post in honor of the man who has put in the hard yards over the years, while the other superstars in the team like Ronnie and Rooney walk away with all the plaudits of the pundits and the adulation of the fans. O’Shea also turned 28 yesterday, after spending his entire career at the same club.

O’Shea has always been an unsung hero for Man U, walking straight into the team to fill an injured superstar and doing more than a commendable job of the same. His versatility and experience have often in the past been the cutting edge to Man U, especially towards the end of a grinding season. He has played as left back, right back, centre back, holding midfielder, and an auxiliary striker when Man U bomb the ball forward in desperation, whenever they are behind. He has even played goalie briefly in one match after the regular goalie was red carded.

Every victorious season of Man U has had an O’Shea touch to it, none more so than the crucial last grasp goal he scored against Liverpool in the 2006-07 season when Man U put a end to the brief domination of Chelsea in the Jose Mourinho era. This season, when Man U’s defense put together 14 consecutive clean-sheets, Vidic and Van de Sar were getting all the plaudits. But O’Shea was quietly doing his work, featuring in 13 of those games. Like the say about defenders, you know they are doing a sterling job if you don’t notice them during a match. This season, with injuries to the first-choice full backs, O’Shea has stepped in and has been a more than able replacement.

Alex Ferguson recognizes the worth of people like O’Shea to his team. In his glowing tribute to this unsung hero after the CL Semis, Fergie said “He is a great professional. The boy never complains. He is happy to play anywhere. He has not always been a number one choice but he produces 30 performances a season and it is a contribution we are grateful for. He has played in both full-back positions, central defense and in midfield. He is so versatile and offers such great value for us. He has played in most games this season. At the present moment in time, he would be in the team if we got to the final.

Players like O’Shea are extremely rare in today’s game. He doesn’t rant about the lack of first team chances and is more than happy to be a squad player in a great team. And he is getting rewarded for his patience, loyalty and professionalism with several championships at the club he loves. It would have been easy for O’Shea to walk away in search of a regular 1st team football at a smaller club, but he has resisted the temptation so far. His team management understands his worth and has been able to keep him happy in the squad.

I wish John the very best for the remainder of his career. His sterling services to the club will not be forgotten and he is sure to be recognized as a legend when he retires. I would take a smiling O’Shea over a sulking Anelka or a “Cashly’ Cole, any day!!!

Every team needs an unlikely / unsung hero. We surely have one in John!!!