21 September 2006

Xavi Alonso. From Distance.

Xavi Alonso scored a ridiculous long range goal to help Liverpool secure a 2-0 win over Newcastle yesterday. Admitedly, his effort benefited from the poor footwork of Steve Harper, who was deputising for the injured Shay Given.

It's not the first time Alonso's scored from distance either. Check out this previous goal against Luton Town from last season's FA Cup clash. It's a bit of an "empty netter", but it nevertheless takes some huevos to attempt a shot like this - with his weaker left foot no less.

Don't miss this one either. No luck involved here, just a quality strike.

18 September 2006

Once in a Lifetime

Maybe I enjoyed the distractions of summer too much, but I've only just caught wind of a new documentary that looks very intriguing - the rather verbosely and unimaginatively titled Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos.

The true story of the team that brought Brazilian star Pele to the U.S. It shows the Cosmos' ascent set against the decadent, crime-ridden backdrop of 1970s New York, as well as its decline along with the North American Soccer League in the early 1980s.

I can remember watching Pele's final game and lap of honor, but only the vaguest notion of what it was like to play in that era. The trailer looks interesing enough, heck, the disco tunes and polyester suits alone should make it worthwhile. It airs on ESPN2, Wed. Sep. 20, at 8:00 pm EDT. Set your Tivos.

14 September 2006


In case you missed it, there was an absurd incident in a Brazilian soccer match over the weekend in which a ball boy actually scored a goal. I have no idea how such a lapse of concentration can happen, but here's the footage to prove it. Let it also be noted and commended that the Brazilian Football Federation is one of the few to allow women referees to arbitrate men's matches.

Streaming Champions League Matches

On the eve of the first Champions League match day, UEFA announced a series of innovations for this season's competition. Foremost among these is the availabilty of live internet feeds. The feeds are available in both English and Spanish via ESPN at this site for the reasonable price of $9.95.

08 September 2006

Weekend EPL Action

Domestic league action cranks up again after the international break and there are some exciting match-ups in the Premiership. Here's a quick overview of the action ranked in order of most intrigue.

Everton - Liverpool
There's added excitement surrounding this installment of the classic Liverpool derby given that both teams are likely to contend for European places this season. Everton have shown good early form while Liverpool have yet to fully hit their stride and integrate all their new signings. It should be a lively, highly entertaining match. Expect goals and a draw.
Prediction: 2-2

Manchester Utd. - Tottenham
Man. U. are off to a flying start to the season having scored a league best ten goals in winning all three of their games. Tottenham have disappointed by contrast, losing at home to Everton in their last outing. Expect Spurs to make it difficult, but Man. U. should prevail.
Prediction: 2-0

West Ham - Aston Villa
The atmosphere should be phenomenal at Upton Park as Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano make their debut appearance for the Hammers. There's a lot of excitement at Villa as well with a new owner, Randy Lerner, and new coach, Matin O'Neill. As the home side, I might favor the Hammers a touch, but Villa could well earn a draw.
Prediction: 2-1

Portsmouth - Wigan
The rebirth of Kanu has inspired Portsmouth to its current second place standing in the table, but Wigan will prove a more difficult side to break down. Paul Jewell has made once again made some astute signings (Emile Heskey aside) and they should do enough to snatch a point.
Prediction: 1-1

Arsenal - Middlesborough

The additions of Jonathan Woodgate and Robert Huth should greatly improve Boro's porous back line, but the central defenders will take some time to achieve solidity. Besides, Arsenal has had some rather lopsided wins against Boro recently (7-0 in the last meeting). This is a great opportunity for the Gunners to find some form.
Prediction: 3-0

Sheffield Utd. - Blackburn
I'm not sure how much entertaining football this match will produce, but it will surely be physical. The Blades will depend on their results at home to keep them in the EPL. Even though Blackburn have looked awful so far this season, they should have enough to scrape a draw and point at Bramall Lane.
Prediction: 1-1

Chelsea - Charlton
It never ceases to amaze and annoy me that a team with the unmatched talent that Chelsea possess can produce such generally uninspiring on-field displays sprinkled with flashes of brilliance. Still, they should have no trouble disposing of a Charlton side still searching for an identity under new manager Iain Dowie. Poor Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink must surely ponder what might have been.
Prediction: 3-0

Reading - Manchester City
Reading have looked capable of both scoring goals at this level and of giving them up. They'll need to defend much better and avoid injuries, but I'm backing them to stay up this season. Man. City have stronger side on paper, but their away record is fairly dismal.
Prediction: 2-1

Newcastle - Fulham
It's going to be a long season of struggle for Fulham, I'm afraid. Newcastle, depleted though they may be, should have enough class (Nolberto Solano alone, should do it) to get past the Cottagers.
Prediction: 1-0

Bolton - Watford
Both teams employ a very "English" style of play- a very physical approach with lots of long balls. Bolton can be very disruptive to opponents' midfields and I don't believe Watford can cope with their pressure. It won't be pretty, but Bolton should win handily.
Prediction 2-0

UPDATE: I'm not quitting my day job. 5 correct results (but no correct scorelines), 5 incorrect results.

07 September 2006

How Long for the Hammers?

Norman Hubbard provides some good analysis of the machinations and impact of the arrival of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano to West Ham. The Argentinian duo have already sent ripples of anticipation through the entire EPL, but it's doubtful they will have anything but the briefest of tenures with the Hammers. Still, it should be a great show, how ever long it lasts.

01 September 2006

Deadline Day. Whew.

The transfer deadline has passed. And what a day!

I don't know why this year seems worse than previous years. Perhaps it's just because Arsenal had such a difficult transfer season. Or maybe everything was delayed because of the World Cup. In any event, it was a chaotic last day.

Arsenal of course had a very trying day. The team lost three players and gained two. It's rare to see trades in world soccer, but Arsenal had two. Jose Antonio Reyes went to Real Madrid in exchange for Julio Baptista, and Ashley Cole went to Chelsea in return for William Gallas and about £5m. Additionally we lost Pascal Cygan, to the secondhand Arsenal home of Villareal.

If you look at it in absolute terms, I think the Gunners didn't do terribly well in the deals. Cole is probably better than Gallas at left back, and Reyes is at the least a better fit than Baptista. But both players were severely damaged goods, and it's difficult to imagine that either one would play for Arsenal again. And frankly, they'd worn out their welcome. Gallas will prove to be very useful and flexible in defense, while Baptista has a lot of talent and may be a better player for Arsenal than he was for Real Madrid.

I'm actually more disappointed to lose Cygan. It's not that he was a great player -- far from it. But he was much better than fans gave him credit for. All he ever did was perform when he was called on, give his best, keep quiet, and do his job. Battleship Cygan: We will miss you.

Perhaps the biggest transfer news was with West Ham. They made the stunning -- dare I say unbelievable -- twin signings of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano from Argentine club Corinthians. Both players were big stars in the World Cup and it's no surprise that they would move to Europe. But it is a very huge surprise that they would end up at a relatively small club like West Ham, when multiple other clubs were interested in the duo. The players are both 'owned' by Media Sports Investments (MSI)... who had a failed bid to buy West Ham last year. MSI is owned by Kia Joorabchian, who also has a substantial ownership stake in Corinthians. And now there is a new takeover bid on the table. West Ham deny that the transfer deals are contractually tied to the takeover bid, but there's certainly a lot of reason to be suspicious. I don't know much about the business rules in the FA or the Premiership, but I suspect this might cause some problems for West Ham.

As much as I'd like to see Arsenal get Mascherano in particular, I'm not that disappointed that West Ham were the winners here. Certainly it's better that West Ham make a signing like this rather than Chelsea or Man United or Real Madrid or Inter Milan. The Premiership only gets better if more teams are competitive; frankly, it's boring when only three or four teams have a legitimate shot at winning the league.So I guess I hope that this is all kosher. But it's just very unusual, and I wouldn't be surprised if a controversy brews up over this.

So what about everybody else? Let's see:So what's odd about this list? The big clubs are mostly missing. Chelsea grabbed Ashley Cole but lost Gallas and Huth. Arsenal had movement but stayed pretty much even. Liverpool moved out Jan Kromkamp and Florent Sinama Pongolle (though they did make some decent moves earlier). And Manchester United didn't make any moves.

So things could get very interesting. Several mid-tier teams have done a lot to improve, while the top teams are more or less static. It's not trivial to integrate a lot of new players into a team, and there's nothing guaranteed for these teams. But all of a sudden, West Ham, Pompey, Middlesboro, and Wigan join Tottenham and Newcastle as teams that can really hope to compete with the big boys. And even if they can't stay good consistently, they'll have the capability to win on any given Saturday. There are a lot fewer sure-thing wins than there were a few days ago. And that can only be a good thing.

This could be a very, very interesting season in the Prem. Stay tuned.

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