my most intense sport moments of 2010

notice that this is a personal list of how i perceived this year’s sport events. the most intense sport moments of 2010, in chronological order.

february 16, whistler (canada)

anastasiya kuzmina from slovakia had won the first gold medal of the olympic games in female biathlon, just two seconds ahead of german star magdalena neuner in her first olympic games. but right in the beginning of the pursuit race, neuner passes her rival and increases her advantage after two error-free shootings to an incredible advantage. in the fourth and last shooting, neuner makes her second mistake and kuzmina has a perfect shooting, but it is not enough -12 seconds advantage at the end give the young bavarian her first ever olympic gold medal.

february 21, whistler (canada)

in the 12.5 km mass start, only 13 of the 30 starters make a mistake in the first shooting – and neuner is one of them. after her perfect second shooting, she was now in 8th place, still dreaming of a medal, but another mistake in her third shooting made it look tough. thanks to a perfect fourth shooting and her incredible pace on the slopes, magdalena neuner manages the incredible and wins her second gold medal – an even more exciting race than the one five days earlier.

march 9, fiore (italy)

in a cold, windy day, the people from fiore were all there, seemingly. it was the greatest day in football for this italian town, that had had european glory, but never in the main competition, the champions league. to eliminate bayern would be their biggest success ever, and the players knew it; bayern couldn’t control the wind or the opponent, and early in the second half, fiorentina were up by 2×0. mark van bommel managed to score a lucky goal at the mark of 60 minutes, but the dream of extra time vanished only minutes later with jovetic’s second strike against a desolate defense, 3×1. the italians looked like the certain winners now, but just a minute later, arjen robben silenced the crowd with an incredible masterpiece of a shot. with luck and robben, bayern were through to the quarterfinals.

march 24, gelsenkirchen (germany)

what a semifinal match between schalke and bayern for the german cup. the kind of 0x0 that lifts the soul, good football and very nerve breaking. but even with the stress in the weeks before, and with only a few minutes to play in extra-time, arjen robben takes the ball, dribbles passed five people and concludes with a perfect shot – the goal of the year, and once again such a decisive one!

march 30, munich (germany)

it didn’t look good at all for the home team. rooney had scored an early goal, and bayern were trying to get the best possible result since then; they dominated the match, but weren’t able to convert their advantage into goals; only ribéry was able to score a goal against the favorites and 2008 champs, and that goal only came in the 77th minute. in stoppage time, the 3-minute mark was coming close as mario gomez won a ball against rooney in midfield and somehow got it to the united box, where evra lost orientation for a second and olic scored the most exctiting goal of this life. incredible! 2×1 and munich now had a chance!

april 3, gelsenkirchen (germany)

schalke against bayern – the decisive match for the title race in the bundesliga, where felix magath’s team could’ve made a great leap towards the title with a simple victory over their pursuers. bayern, though, scored twice in the first half, conceded a goal and got a red card very early in the game. but they were able to play the match so well and united that schalke did not have one goal scoring chance in the second half, running away with the victory and, finally, with the leadership in the table.

april 6, barcelona (spain)

lionel messi wrote his name in golden letters that evening. historians might call this the greatest performance ever by a football player, in history. against arsenal fc in the quarterfinals of the uefa champions league, messi’s game was near perfection even without scoring a single goal; but he scored four, after arsenal had scored the first goal of the match. 4×1 final score, four messi goals in a perfect night for the argentinian, who marked his name as the best of the world – and applied for the “best of all time” category, although he’ll need a world cup victory to state that claim.

april 7, manchester (england)

what a day. manchester seemed to show that olic’s last-second goal wouldn’t matter at all. they demonstrated modern, fast and agressive football in the first 45 minutes, scoring three goals even without a good rooney (but with a great nani), and even olic’s goal right before the break didn’t seem to change that fact. in the second half, bayern were more present, but still found it difficult to score what would be a decisive 2×3. but they did: corner kick ribéry, volley from 20 meters by robben – perfect goal, a third all-decisive goal of the year for the incredible dutch! after that, bayern controlled the game and manchester had no answers. olic’s goal from the first leg was worth gold, after all.

april 28, barcelona (spain)

the last ten minutes of fc barcelona’s semifinal second leg match against internazionale milan were some of the best sporting minutes of the year. inter had held  0x0 for a long time, and they could lose 0x1 and still advance to the final; but after piqué scored a beautiful goal, the nou camp became an inferno for the italian team (playing without a single italian player); attack after attack rolled onto julio cesar’s goal, and some luck was involved, mixed with a lot of talent. in stoppage time, barcelona scored for the second time, which would see the holders of the title advancing to the final. but the goal was disallowed, and inter advanced. what a match!

may 15, berlin (germany)

what a match. bayern played almost perfect football in the german cup final against holders werder bremen. beautiful, efficient, dominating, fast. 4×0 was the final score, and the second title was in the sack for bayern; trully a great moment for louis van gaal and his football philosophy.

may 22, madrid (spain)

the uefa champions league final was too important to really be a fantastic game. bayern had the ball possession, inter the wit and experience; diego milito and wesley sneijder made the difference on the positive side, daniel van buyten and martin demichelis on the negative one. 2×0 to inter, in a game that seemed more like a 0x0.

may 30, istanbul (turkey)

in the most exciting championship race in history, race 7 had everything to be spectacular. mark webber and sebastian vettel led the pack with equal points but more wins for the australian, who had just won monaco. alonso had 75 points, only 3 points behind the duo, and button had 70, with felipe massa at 61. lewis hamilton, the most spectacular driver of the year thus far, wasn’t even in the top five. and it was a battle between red bull and mclaren, between webber (pole man) and vettel, between hamilton and button. and between all four, who were racing on similar pace through the circuit during most of the race. vettel an edge faster than the leading team mate, and with hamilton pressing him. so he attemped a pass, encouraged by his mechanic – but webber didn’t know of it, closed the door, and the two drivers crashed. vettel was out, webber still managed third, but the race was not over; in sight of the red bull drama, mclaren advised their drivers to “save fuel”, in other words, hold positions. hamilton thought he was okay, but button still attacked him and passed with an incredible move. hamilton was determined not to let that happened and answered in specatular fashion. incredible! great race, and hamilton now emerged in third place in the standings – two places ahead of vettel, with mark webber still leading the pack.

june 11, johannesburg (south africa)

a pretty good opening match, but what  a goal by tchabalala, to erupt the stadium and the hearts of all african people. a singular moment in this sport year.

june 13, durban (south africa)

finally the world cup gets started in terms of quality. germany plays a perfect match and impresses the whole world with its incredible speed and light way of playing, a new kind of “beautiful game”. 4×0 against australia, who didn’t lose after that and had a good world cup in 2006. mesut özil, now at real madrid, appears to the world for the first time, even without scoring a goal – that’s how well he played.

june 23, london (england)

john isner against nicolas mahut. no one could have guessed that this might have been one of the most exciting moments in tennis history, but it was. round 1 in wimbledon, court 18. the match had started one day earlier, with four sets completed and a fifth set in need; darkness was the reason for the ending of the playing that day. basically what happened is that the american and the frenchman played the whole day and still didn’t find a winner between them, due to the rule that you have to outscore your opponent by two games in a grand slam fifth set match, no tie breaks allowed. 59-59 was the astonishing score after that day, and for the second time, darkness impeded that match to be concluded. the match was concluded a day later, with an incredible 70-68 scoreline.

june 23, pretoria (south africa)

another american victory on the same day, and what a victory: landon donovan’s deciding goal in stoppage time was one of the most deserving lucky strikes in this sports year and in any fifa world cup. the us had been denied a couple of decisive goals and would face elimination without the life-saving strike by the american soccer star.

june 24, johannesburg (south africa)

the reigning champions are eliminated in last place of their group, after a gripping second half in the match against slovakia, who qualified for the knockout stage with an incredible 3×2 victory – many beautiful goals, lots of drama and an italian team playing like it should have during the world cup only in the last 10-15 minutes. the typical too litte too late.

june 26, rustenburg (south africa)

asamoah gyan is a world cup star. he had a great group phase, but his decisive and beautiful goal against the us team kept african dreams alive, and it was in extra time after a 1×1 tie during the match. one could feel the whole continent united supporting the black stars.

june 27, bloemfontein (south africa)

arguably the best soccer match of the year. the first half was the best half of football i can remember watching, mostly because of the incredible performance of the german team in the first 35 minutes (and their 2×0 lead, more than deserving) and the great english performance after the 1×2, including the disallowed goal by frank lampard, the answer the the wembley-goal from 1966. germany shook, but didn’t fall. england’s pressure was on in the beginning of the second half, but after one of those incredible and fast moves, germany scored with müller. 3×1, and shortly thereafter, 4×1, again müller. a pitty that i watched that game by myself.

july 2, port elizabeth (south africa)

brazil had impressed me and the whole world with their focussed performances in the group phase. it was a different brazil, a more intelligent brazil, but a much less beautiful one. against chile, one could only come to the conclusion that this team could only beat itself, and that it wouldn’t. so brazil were favorites against holland, not only by tradition. and the first half was a demonstration of the new brazilian way of playing: very firm in the defensive midfield, combative, efficient and cool. the 1×0 advantage could have easily been a 2×0, holland had not even seen julio cesar in the match. but the brazilians beat themselves; a goalkeeping error by julio cesar, very rare indeed, enabled an own goal by felipe melo later credited to free kicker wesley sneijder. melo saw the red card after the whole team had become nervous, and the game was now gone. the netherlands dominated the second half and won the game, 2×1. brazil was out, and the country didn’t even care too much about it. a sign of how the public viewed the “new brazilian football”.

july 2, johannesburg (south africa)

what a match between ghana and uruguay, and what dramatic moments at the end. muntari had scored a beautiful goal right before the half time break, but forlan equaliezed in the beginning of the second half. ghana were stronger in he first half, uruguay had a better second half. but ghana was the team pressuring the south americans in extra time, and then it happened. after quite a lot of confusion in the uruguaian box, a defender saves from an shot, and a header is fished out of the goal by uruguay star attacker luiz suarez. red card, penalty, but no decisive 2×1 right before the penalty shootout. asamoah gyan could score it from the spot – but the ball hit the aluminium and went out. drama was not over, more penalties were one the program now. this time gyan scored, but two of his team mates didn’t – africa cried, uruguay celebrated – mostly bad-boy suarez.

july 3, cape town (south africa)

i’d watched argentina’s 3×1 win over mexico and was not impressed. no tactics, only talent. a lot of talent, sure. but enough to beat germany’s beautiful and efficient fast-paced way of playing the game? after 2 minutes, shooting-star and world cup golden boot winner thomas müller answered with the first goal. bastian schweinsteiger played the match of his life, eliminating lionel messi from the game and even organizing all attacking moves. he played it like a true quarter-back, and the runners scored another 3 goals. 4×0, and title favorites maradona were out. germany had convinced the world that they can actually play the most attractive football on the planet, not only the most efficient one.

july 7, durban (south africa)

germany couldn’t play. spain didn’t let them. it was as simple as that. and when germany finally started to have a little chance after after almost 70 minutes, the spaniards found their goal – after a corner, with a header. the deserving winner with perfect timing and somewhat boring, but extremely exact and perfect passing style. efficient enough for he germans not to get into the game at almost any time.

july 11, johannesburg (south africa)

there were only two good things about the final: it was thrilling and the right team won. the football was pretty poor, the netherlands weren’t even try to play football most of the time, which is totally contrary to the country’s football history and philosophy. they played more german than the germans, and they could’ve won – robben missed the decisive goal twice. but spain was strong in the beginning and in extra-time, in the rest of the match they were only able o control the game. the goal by iniesta was deserving, the title as well; the best team won!

august 29, spa-francorchamps (belgium)

this has always been my favorite race (and i plan to watch it live next year), and it didn’t disappoint; at least not in the spectacle, which had vettel trying to win the race. he was the fastest on the track, once again, and as it was getting dry, he tried to pass jenson button; but he crashed into him, provoking widespread criticism. lewis hamilton won the race and took over the lead of the championship after 13 races, ahead of mark webber. at this point, it seemed that the two of them would decide the title race, but things changed quite a lot after that.

october 4, newport (wales)

a ryder cup final day on a monday was uncharacteristic, and it is not every time that the decision goes to the last hole. the young american zach johnson kept the us-hopes alive, and their great final day seemed to be able to produce a historical comeback after trailing by three points on sunday. at the end, greame mcdowell kept his cool under enormous pressure: the us open champ of 2010 beat hunter mahan and gave europe another title in this, the arguably greatest competition in golf.

october 10, suzuka (japan)

fernando alonso had won the last two races and was back in the title race after a great end-of-summer run. japan was the last chance for sebastian vettel to still run for the title, with hamilton also in front of him and webber leading the standings. and he had a simply superb weekend (just like a year earlier) to claim a fantastic victory in the land of the rising sun. kubai kobayashi gave his home crowd an incredible show and made five passing moves, making it his own personal show and finishing in 7th. vettel had now passed hamilton, but alonso was still ahead of him – and so was leader and team mate webber.

october 24, yeongam (south korea)

the championship leader had held on to his lead without winning any of the previous four races, but this time, his nerves cost him the top spot. after a mistake, he crashed out and tried to take then-second placed fernando alonso with him, but actually hit nico rosberg. vettel now was the virtual leader, since he completely dominated the race; it would have been his first championship lead of the season, the sixth man to do so. but it was not to be, since his motor failed and alonso went on to win the race and become the runaway championship favorite. with only two races to go, vettel was a race victory (25 points) behind, webber only 11 points – a team order seemed the logical strategy for brazil and abu dhabi. but that also was not to be!

november 7, são paulo (brazil)

the podium was vettel, webber, alonso. which was curious in this order, since alonso remained on the top of the standings, only needing a second place in the emirates to win his 3rd title. but webber was denied the team order privilege, since his team mate still had slim chances himself. so vettel won an exciting brazil race, and went into the final race having to leave team mate webber and alonso behind him – and not only that!

november 14, abu dhabi (emirates)

vettel cries. he’s done he impossible, and thanks the team for the opportunity to do so. he wins the race, webber finishes back in 8th (worst race of the year for him), alonso in 7th. schumacher has a frightening accident right at the beginning, ferrari ignores rosberg and petrov going to the box (i’d seen it all along!) during that safety-car phase, and their second mistake is to “mark” webber, who goes early into the pits after hitting one of his wheels. alonso goes to, worried to lose his spot in front of that red bull, and gets stuck behind petrov. vettel wins with luck and superb driving, after a year of some mistakes and lots of bad luck. and he cries. the youngest f1 champions ever, what a career so far!

november 28, london (england)

what a year it had been for rafael nadal. although there was no nadal x federer final in a grand slam, in 2010 (the first time this had happened for quite a few years), nadal had won the last three slams and is going for a “false” grand slam in australia, to make it four in a row, but not in the same year. nadal finally met federer in the atp world tour finals, the inofficial world championships of tennis. and federer taught the spaniard a lesson of who still hasn’t given up on the dream of coming back to become number one – and maybe even winning the grand slam itself. after this superb match, 2011 can come in the tennis world!

here some high class tennis, maybe the best there has ever been:

my personal top five moments:

5- ivica olic scores the winning goal for bayern munich against manchester united in the first leg, seconds from stoppage time.

4- arjen robben scores a spectacular volley to eliminate manchester united in old trafford, making olic’s goal count.

3- lukas podolski’s 2×0 against england, a fantastic goal as an example of the new german game (great work by thomas müller) and virtually eliminating the until then astonished englishmen, traditional rivals.

2- sebastian vettel passing the finish line in abu dhabi and, half a minute later, realizing he’s the world champion, breaking into tears.

1- arne friedrich’s goal against argentina, eliminating the gauchos with the 3×0; bastian schweinsteiger’s brilliant assist was the reason, and of course the tension breaking after another incredible performance of the best german team that ever played.

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after group stages: best 50 european clubs!

the group stages are over, and a few interesting things become evident: out of the twenty best clubs in european football history, 19 qualified for europe ate the beginning of the season – and three of them are now out! juventus turin even had to let ac milan pass them in the all time ranking, loosing their spot as best italian team in the 56 year history of european football. atletico madrid won’t defend their title in the europa league, after failing to progress through the group phase, and celtic glasgow even failed to reach the group stage phase in that competition. in february, we’ll have a look at the clashes in champions league and europa league. here, just a quick top 50 ranking, based on the seasons 2006/07 until the current one; teams with a * are still in the run for a european title this year.

50. standard liege (bel)

49. az alkmaar (ned)

48. spartak moscow (rus)*

47. osc lille (fra)*

46. sporting braga (por)*

45. ajax amsterdam (ned)*

44. juventus turin (ita)

43. ca osasuna (spa)

42. fc paris saint-germain (fra)*

41. vfb stuttgart (ger)*

40. rsc anderlecht (bel)*

39. fulham fc (eng)

38. fc copenhagen (den)*

37. bayer leverkusen (ger)*

36. espanyol barcelona (spa)

35. celtic glasgow (sco)

34. olympiakos piräus (gre)

33. panathinaikos athens (gre)

32. villarreal fc (spa)*

31. fc schalke 04 (ger)*

30. fenerbahce istanbul (tur)

29. dynamo kiev (ukr)*

28. tottenham hotspur (eng)*

27. ac fiorentina (ita)

26. girondins bordeaux (fra)

25. glasgow rangers (sco)*

24. cska moscow (rus)*

23. olympique marseille (fra)*

22. sporting lisbon (por)*

21. benfica lisbon (por)*

now the top twenty, with a few comments:

20. zenit st. petersburg (rus)*

were present in 4 out of 5 seasons, won the uefa cup in 2008.

19. psv eindhoven (ned)*

played every season in europe, best result in 2007 (quarterfinals champions league).

18. atletico madrid (spa)

played the last four season in europe, and for the second time they don’t play after the winter; reigning europa league champions.

17. valencia fc (spa)*

last five seasons in europe, best result in 2007, a quarterfinal in the champions league.

16. hamburger sv (ger)

not in europe this year, but two years in a row in the uefa cup / europa league semifinal right before this season.

15. real madrid (spa)*

5 seasons, 5 times eliminated in the round of 16, last year against lyon (who they will play again in february).

14. fc porto (por)*

every season in europe, a quarter final appearence in the uefa champions league in 2009.

13. sevilla fc (spa)*

second best spanish team, but since their two uefa cup wins in 2006 and 2007, not too much productivity.

12. shakhtar donetsk (ukr)*

have completely taken national control from dynamo kiev, won the uefa cup in 2009.

11. as roma (ita)*

number three in italy, but best results in the last five seasons are four and five seasons ago (quaterfinals in the champions league).

10. olympique lyon (fra)*

in france, their domination ended, but in europe, they reached the semifinal of the champions league for the first time earlier this year.

9. werder bremen (ger)

a final and a semifinal in the uefa cup in the last five years, and always in europe; but the current season was by far the worst one.

8. ac milan (ita)*

since their champions league title in 2007 they’ve never reached the quarterfinals again – maybe this season?

7. arsenal fc (eng)*

a semifinal, two quarterfinals in the last four tries… not too bad, but arsenal wants the champions league title at some point.

6. internazionale milan (ita)*

reigning european champions, but in the three seasons before that, round of 16 eliminations.

5. bayern münchen (ger)*

finalist last year, quarterfinal before that, semifinal uefa cup before that – pretty good, but bayern wants more.

4. liverpool fc (eng)*

europe’s number four, england’s number three;  champions league final in 2007, a semifinal in 2008, a quarterfinal in 2009 and 2010… and this time in the europa league. doesn’t seem like progress.

3. chelsea fc (eng)*

when will they finally win the champions league? two semifinals and one final in the four seasons before the current one.

2. fc barcelona (spa)*

people think they are the best in europe, but in the last five seasons, they’re just number two. one title and two semifinals in the last three seasons give a positive tendency.

1. manchester united (eng)*

2007 semifinal, 2008 champions, 2009 finalist, 2010 quarterfinal; the record of the best team of the last seasons.

thomas müller – what a career!

 

thomas müller has had quite the career so far...

the day is friday, august 15, 2008. jürgen klinsmann is bayern munich’s new coach, but the team is having some injury problems right in the beginning of the season, after a pretty successful euro 2008 for the germans. bayern had played the uefa cup in the previous season, for the first time since the 1998/99 season – and they’d lost in the semifinal against tymoshchuk and his zenit st petersburg. klinsmann was supposed to give the team some new inspiration after the end of the second ottmar hitzfeld era. that era ended with tears for the old “general”, tears of emotion at his and oliver kahn’s departure. klinsmann came to make all things new.

but on said friday, the first matchday of the brand new bundesliga season, some players were still not fit, and others are injured. klinsmann invites 18-year old thomas müller to sit on the bench. lucio still plays for bayern, so does zé roberto. toni kroos is younger than müller and hasn’t moved to leverkusen yet, and lukas podolski is still at bayern. all of them start in the season opener, at home against hamburg. schweinsteiger and podolski, germany’s best known friends at the time, score for bayern, but hamburg ties the game before an hour is over. 2×2 seemed like a pretty unsatisfying result. klinsmann reacts – after 79 minutes, miroslav klose goes out, and thomas müller comes in.

thomas who? another young talent to fail at bayern, or one oif the few who make it? he didn’t really make an impression in his first bundesliga match, and he didn’t play for the the first team again until his much more memorable appearance almost seven months later; bayern thrashed sporting lisbon 7×1 at home in the champions league round of 16, and müller came in at the end, assisting to a van bommel goal a minute after he entered, and scoring the last goal of the evening. this time, fans and media had noticed him somewhat.

 

louis van gaal and his protegee thomas müller, early in the 2009/10 season.

klinsmann was soon sacked, and former bayern and real madrid coach jupp heynckes took over for the remaining matches. he too gave thomas müller some playtime, in the two final matches, decisive for bayern’s ambitions to clinch a champions league spot and even rally wolfsburg for an unlikely title. thomas müller was made a pro (he was a regular and a goal scorer in the amateur team) and began the new season under louis van gaal as the number five striker.

van gaal was not the first one to see the talent – klinsmann and heynckes had played müller in some big matches, despite his young age. but he was the first one to bet on it, and after just a couple of weeks, müller was the favorite to play the “10” position schweinsteiger wanted – and so did ribéry and josé ernesto sosa. it became clear that van gaal was totally convinced of müllers exceptional talent: he played him as a “10”, as a right winger, as a left winger, as an attacker – müller was put in every position but the bench. he started every single game under van gaal, in cup, champions league or bundesliga matches. and he trully showed his value, even at such a young age (19 to 20). his momentum was so incredible that müller only played once for the national team before the world cup, in a friendly against argentina. maradona, the gaucho coach, even thought that the guy next to him in the press conference was some ball boy. how ironic, since it was müllers 2nd minute strike against argentina which defined the coach’s destiny.

 

müller scores for germany in the world cup 2010, where he became the golden boot winner.

müller played and played. he won the german cup, scored 13 goals in his first real bundesliga season from the right midfield position (and inumerous assists added to that), and after the quarterfinal against argentina, one of the main discussing points in the brazilian media (!) was thomas müller missing the semifinal due to a yellow card, and germany’s lesser chances against spain because of it. that’s what i call a career on the fast lane!

thomas müller came back for the 3rd place match and scored the first german goal, winning himself a trophy last won by gerd müller, his name-buddy and former coach in the amateur team: the golden boot of best striker of the world cup was his.

he got it today. congratulations, a physical evidence of his fast rise to the top.

 

müller with his golden boot, alongside forlan and casillas, who also won prizes from fifa.

by the way, everyone was curious to watch him play in his first match for bayern after the whole world cup and incredible first career season, where the lad got to play a champions league final! if you haven’t gotten the chance to see his goal against wolfsburg in the first matchday of this bundesliga season, check this out. two years after his appearance in he bundesliga opener, he produces this after only 8 minutes of new season football.

 

Published in: on December 15, 2010 at 15:32  Leave a Comment  
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manuel neuer – a legend in the making

young manuel neuer, in 2006.

march 27, 1986, manuel neuer was born. in germany. in the city of gelsenkirchen. that’s where a special football club comes from, fc schalke 04, one of the two best supported teams in germany. at the age of four, neuer already started playing for his home town club; up to his teens, who would defend all the youth teams of the club, and watch the bundesliga matches from the stands. at the age of 20, already as a professional player, he finally made his debut for the first team, substituting the injured frank rost. when the experienced goalkeeper returned from injury right in time for the home match against bayern munich, neuer retained his position and was allowed to play. his brilliant performance guaranteed a 2×2 tie in that match, and neuer had just become the starting keeper. frank rost, widely considered one of the top five keepers in germany for many years, would leave the club, and neuer was already seen as a future number one for the german national team, since jens lehmann wasn’t getting any younger.

 

neuer in action, 2009

since then, manuel neuer has had a few weeks of bad form, but mostly memorable performances and important matches. it seems that when the pressure is the highest, neuer gives his best performances. in the champions league against fc porto, in a season when schalke reached the quarter finals (2008); for the sub-21 german national team during the euro 2009 won by germany and having neuer as their mvp; or, more recently, for schalke against bayern, holding the gelsenkirchen club in the match in a fantastic first half by bayern munich, and even assisting in the first goal. even in the recent world cup, manuel neuer, who inherited his deserved number one position from a rene adler injury and a tragic robert enke suicide, did a pretty good job; a little bit of a mistake against serbia, but some great performances against ghana, england (where he assisted to klose’s first goal), argentina and spain.

neuer is on the way to becoming the world’s best keeper – a title currently belonging to iker cassillas, but still somewhat up for grabs. the brazilian julio cesar has been outstanding for internazionale, another brazilian (gomes) was considered the best goalie in england, and the young lloris, goalkeeping for lyon and france, are in the running. but the now 24 year old manuel neuer has a great future. and he deserves to spend some time of his career outside of his hometown. in england, maybe? or in munich? the decision should be announced in the next few months.

but right now my advise is for you to watch the round of 16 match involving schalke, in february. it doesn’t matter against whom, but you’ll probably understand what i’m talking about when you see neuer at work. his great qualities, besides the obvious one-to-one situations and great reflexes, are his “footballer qualities”, his precise long passes and long throws, his calm personality and his increasingly good antecipation. he’ll be the german number one for at least another decade, and he will be the world’s best goalkeeper by the time the next world cup is played.

mainz 05 – what’s going on in germany?

hannover's ya konan is the bundesliga's top scorer this season, and a symbol for hannover's current success.

a quick look at the bundesliga table will surprise the most curious football fans. hannover 96, almost relegated to second division last season, are currently sitting in third place and are a huge surprise in the still young season. after almost one fifth of the season, borussia dortmund was expected to do okay; but five victories in a row and the second position is more than they could’ve hoped for, and they’ve played some brilliant football. the fans (with a bundesliga leading average attendence of 80,000 every match) are dreaming of the 90s, where borussia was one of europe’s leading clubs and even beat zinedine zidane’s juventus in the 1997 champions league final. young stars kagawa, from japan, and götze, the newest german promise and a probable world cup starter for 2014, are playing in a team capable of brilliant performances, besides the wins.

but what about bayer leverkusen, who beat dortmund away in their first match? or werder bremen? schalke 04, with raul and huntelaar? vfl wolfsburg, who still have edin dzeko, and now have diego? and, even worse: where is bayern munich?

bayern's choach van gaal would love to have 10 points more - mainz's coach tuchel has them!

bayern is in a mini-crisis. they had a slow start due to the players not being quite fit yet. after all, eleven bayern players were in action until the last weekend of the world cup, and after their vacations, there as not enough time to be at 100%. some good performances (against wolfsburg, werder and roma) had been there, and the last-minute 2×1 victory at a strong hoffenheim team seemed to give bayern the momentum they needed. and it seemed ideal – their next match was against mainz 05, a small club who had won all of their matches and were leading the table. at home and during the oktoberfest, bayern would beat the league leaders and start their own attack towards the top.

szalai (left), schürrle (middle, claimed to be the new thomas müller) and holtby (right, the new özil?) are a trio of very young and successful players for mainz.

but they didn’t win. mainz deserved a 2×1 victory in the allianz arena and are now, even more than before, the team of the moment. they’ve done well over the last years anyway, but to lead the bundesliga after a win in munich is a special moment for the club.

after a crisis almost ten years ago, club manager heidel decided to sack the coach, but he couldn’t find a replacement. so he decided to make one of the players the new coach, to see how that went. and it worked beautifully; jürgen klopp is now considered to be one of the top coaches in german football, having had a lot of success at mainz. the offensive defender system, very dynamic and physical, was idealized by him and inspired by english football. with his ability to lead and motivate a group, and his great rapport with the press, it was only a matter of time for him to go to a “big” club – and one that would fit him like a glove, current 2nd placed borussia dortmund.

mainz tried out another coach, who managed to lead them back to the bundesliga after a couple of years in the second division. but things were not going well between jörn anderson and his team, and even before the first matchday of last season, he was sacked and thomas tuchel was installed. and it seemed like jürgen klopp all over again: a nobody, this time coming from the sucessful youth team. same football philosophy, same fire and emotion during a match, same courage and leading abilities. and a big surprise for the bundesliga! mainz beat bayern at home in the 3rd match of the season, and they never had to fear relegation during the entire run until may. they even managed to be unbeaten in their last five matches, and have now won six in a row. with young players, a great and team-intensive tactic and very attractive football – just like dortmund, with klopp.

thomas tuchel took over the team 4 days before last year's season started - and has had success ever since!

mainz 05 are leading the bundesliga table, and it is not a coincidence. they have played as well as their points show, and if there are no major injuries in their future, this run might even last a while.

bayern munich won’t want to let that happen. 10 points behind mainz, they have to start to score some goals and make some points. sunday, against borussia dortmund and jürgen klopp, would be a nice time to start. but currenlty, even another loss wouldn’t be too big of a surprise any more.

klopp is a legend at mainz, where he played and coached for over two decades. he is now currently right behind mainz in he standings, and will play with dortmund against bayern next sunday.

truth be said: these top teams, pre-season favorites, are not fully fit yet (since quite a few players were involved in the final stages of the world cup) and have some injury worries.

bayern’s best two players, robben and ribéry, are out of action; robben won’t play again this year, ribéry will be back in november.

werder bremen has been without their best defender naldo since the beginning of the season, and barely survived a few weeks without mertesacker and pizarro; özil is gone, new signing wesley is still finding his place.

schalke let 15 players go and got 14 new ones, also for financial reasons. the team, with raul and huntelaar, hasn’t found a rythm yet, but it has won the last two matches.

wolfsburg had problems adapting to their new coach, but now dzeko and grafite are working, and new signing diego is being integrated into the team – 3 wins in their last 3 matches.

bayer leverkusen lost michael ballack early in the season, still are without a fully fit simon rolfes – and recently had both top attackers stefan kiessling and patrick helmes missing.

hamburg started well into the season, but has gone 4 matches without winning (3 losses); due to lack of fitness, but also lack of team spirit.

so the door is still wide open for hannover, dortmund and mainz. let’s see how long they can stay up there!

Published in: on September 28, 2010 at 10:15  Comments (1)  
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michael ballack’s final downfall

it is a saturday, may 15 2010. one of the most despised players in german football, kevin-prince boateng, has left the bundesliga for good. and more, he has put his talent to work and reached the fa cup final with his already relegated team, portsmouth. boateng, who was born in berlin, where he grew up and turned pro, had recently decided to play for ghana, his father’s homeland, instead of germany, where his chances seemed very slim after various ugly fouls in and outside of the pitches. it was certainly not his luckiest day, in retrospect, when ghana and germany were drawn into the same group for the fifa 2010 world cup in south africa. at least not on may 15.

that day, he felt provoced by opponent michael ballack, a starter for chelsea fc in that final, at wembley. the next chance he got, boateng attacked ballack quite brutally. little did he know that he had just kicked the german captain out of he world cup. and maybe even out of his international career, as it turns out.

 

schweinsteiger seems to have replaced ballack as main german player in the world.

german midia went bezerk. special reports even in all channels and newspapers, ballack’s drama became the main subject for quite a few days. and boateng was the perfect bad boy, since he had that image even before the incident. germany had lost there one world class player, and to a player who would play against germany at the world cup, and who was even born in germany. no one could have imagined what would happen not even two months later.

“prince” boateng became at least a little world star due to his good play for the best african team at the first african world cup. he will now play for milan, with the likes of ibrahimovic, pato, robinho and, of course, ronaldinho. on the other hand, ballack lost his job at chelsea, moved back to bayer leverkusen, and saw himself questioned not only by a good part of the public opinion, but also by his own national head coach. philipp lahm, questioned in a press conference if he would like to remain the captain after the world cup, used the timing right after the 4×0 victory over argentina to answer with a “i’m having fun and i like it, why should i not want to continue to be the captain?”. of course, that had sounded quite differently right before the tournament, where lahm had made clear that he was the world cup captain, but ballack was the national team captain. löw had said the same thing.

so when löw was questioned by journalists about what lahm had said, they were surprised to find out that he would not give a definite answer to that question, and that he would think about some general things after the world cup.

what a set back for ballack. and how unfair it seemed, after all he was injured and couldn’t defend himself. and he trully didn’t think he needed to, anyway.

 

as a young player: successful at kaiserslautern.

this last fact might seem misterious to many football fans who are not german. after all, what had ballack ever really achieved, as an individual and as a team player?

his career began at kaiserslautern, where he moved to from his native chemnitz. in his first bundesliga season with the recently promoted 1.fc kaiserslautern, he became german champion in 1998, at age 22. one year later, bayer leverkusen acquired his services, and he young offensive midfielder started a little bit of a bad luck streak.

 

at leverkusen, he had his best moments playing for clubs... but lost the champions league final to real madrid.

in the year 2000, leverkusen needed only a point to seal their first german national title at unteraching, one of the worst teams of the season, but they lost 0x2 – with an own goal by Ballack showing the way. in 2002, leverkusen lost a 5 point lead in the last three rounds of the bundesliga, lost the final of the german cup – and where defeated by real madrid in the champions league final. ballack, though, had an outstanding season, with great matches against liverpool and manchester united, and bayern signed him for the next season. at the world cup, he became germany’s darling by either scoring or assisting to all the important goals in the runners-up campaign of japan/korea 2002. in the semis, he became a national hero after seeing his second yellow card which would see him absent from the final, and still score the decisive goal for germany after the fact. it is because of that yellow card that the rules were changed, and a player has no yellow threat in a semi final, currenlty.

this had not been the true beginning of ballack’s legendary career playing for germany. that legend was born in dortmund, november 2001, when germany was facing elimination in the qualifying phase for the first time ever. in the play-offs, germany had tied 1×1 in the ukraine, with a ballack goal. and in the convincing 4×1 home win that night, ballack was the saviour of german football, already hurt badly after the shame of the euro 2000, where a lackluster squad left the tournament without even scoring a single goal.

 

always a leader for germany, on the pitch and in merchandising... the "handsome" michael.

ballack mantained his status for the german national team over the years, and became its captain after the disappointing euro 2004 campaign. he was successful nationally with bayern, but never really loved by the munich fans. he scored quite a bunch of goals, some of them even important ones, but he was never the boss at bayern. in the german team, though, this was different. he had some great performances at the confed cup in 2005, and he was the emotional leader of a really good world cup 2006 squad. this international renomée led him to a chelsea contract, where mourinho offered him 9 million euros a year – and michael ballack seemed at the top, at least his salary was in he top 3 of the world. but he had never really played exceptionally well for his club since his leverkusen season in 2001/02, which ended with four runner-up places.

 

he has won five national titles, four of them in the bundesliga, three of them with bayern.

effective, but not loved: ballack at bayern.

ballack played four years for chelsea. he wasn’t allowed to play as offensively as in germany, and defensively, he was outshined by the likes of lampard and essien, which is no shame; but it really shows that you are not superstar material. in the german national team, though, he was never questioned, and he was considered to be the one mega-star of german football. he did pay back all the confidence in usually convincing performances – and lots of goals! 42 in 98 matches is impressive for a defensive midfielder, it would be quite impressive for any striker, actually. and most of these were decisive goals.

 

not always a starter in chelsea's star ensemble: ballack played four years for the london side.

and then it was time for africa. no ballack. but what a great football from germany. the 4×0 win over australia had the whole world putting germany back into he title race after the first match, because of the way it was achieved, and not because of the result itself. even the 8×0 win germany scored in its opening match 2002 against saudi-arabia was a shadow compared to their brilliant performance, with fast and highly technical football, still with he typical german disciplin and team effort. and the 4×1 win over england, who had arrived at the world cup as favorites second only to the spaniards, was maybe the best football a german team had ever played in any world cup match – or any football match. who could’ve imagined that even more was to come, an incredible and deserved 4×0 against the argentinians, up to then the best team of the competition alongside the germans.

who would have though that germany could play like that? and without ballack! all at once, he didn’t seem that important any more… even his replacement khedira got a contract at real madrid after south africa, a contract that would’ve pleased the aging ex-hero of german football. mourinho did say that ballack was always an interesting option, but he opted for sami khedira.

and so did jogi löw, before the first euro qualifiers in belgium and against azerbaijan. ballack is not yet in form; in the past, that wouldn’t have been enough o keep him away from his national duties, as a captain and the only real star. but now, lahm (who is at least a little world star since 2006), schweinsteiger, müller and özil, even podolski and klose are quite well known themselves, and have quite a lot of merit in the recent developments. the change in perception of german football does not have the name ballack in it, an at the next euro, the “capitano” will be close to his 36th birthday.

 

back in leverkusen: ballack still dreams of the international title as captain, the euro 2002. it doesn't seem to likely, right now...

löw has chosen to give ballack the choice. if michael, back at bayer leverkusen, can reach world-class level for his club again (this was last achieved at the same club, eight years ago), then he might get back his place in the national team, and his captany. if not, his international career will be over, caused by kevin-prince boateng’s kick. good for germany, since only a ballack at top-level would help, but he would always be welcome. good for löw, who has the public opinion behind him, should ballack come back or not. actually, it’s quite good for everyone, even for leverkusen, who will have a motivated ballack, trying to show it to everyone.

good for everyone, but ballack. he has lost his prestige, that he had earned mostly through his national team performances. he must get back to the top, and he has it all to loose. to me, it looks like he won’t make it anymore, and that philipp lahm is actually the captain of he german team, not only tomorrow against azerbaijan. but i would wish ballack that he makes his comeback, it would be definetly exciting to watch!