why football is a special game (valencia 1×1 schalke)


messi might show some of his magic this evening, in london...

after a couple of months, finally the uefa champions league is back – the decisive phase is upon us, and great matchups promise great matches, like the one this evening between barcelona light (arsenal fc) and fc barcelona. be sure to catch that one, and hope for a messi and/or van persie show – or some great action from iniesta, villa, xavi, arshavin,  cesc fabregas chamakh and so many more. fabregas, who wanted to move to barcelona last summer, will be especially motivated!

yesterday, i watched a fascinating match between 500 million euro debt against 250 million euro debt. valencia c.f. played schalke 04 at home, raul played on spanish soil again. it was fascinating not because it was a great game (which it was not, although it wasn’t a bad game either), but it just shows who how this very specific sport is. after around 10 minutes of cautious play, valencia started playing with the confidence of five wins in six matches, this year. high velocity football with technical quality, extremely well organized as a team, not leaving any breathing time for the schalke defenders and midfielders. schalke seemed almost always late, and when the got a ball, it would be a matter of seconds for valencia to get it back. agressive pressing, concentrated passing and positioning – but only one goal by roberto soldado, who sat on real madrid’s bench for a long time because of raul (and, more towards the end, besides raul). 1×0 was not enough for valencia, and they deserved to be two up at least, even if  schalke striker klaas jan huntelaar did miss an incredible opportunity, showing off his horrible form of the past months.


raul was the hero in spain, yesterday.

the second half was even more frightening for the german fans in valencia, around 2000. schalke lost the ball even faster, metzelder in central defense and matip in central midfield were having a horrible game, and it seemed a question of time until valencia scored their second goal. and you already felt it in the air, after that it could be a catastrophe for schalke, and glory for valencia, just like their matches against bursaspor earlier this champions league season.

but after 65 minutes, lukas schmitz (young, inexperienced but talented left back who has having a terrible day) succeeded in a fast forward pass to the spaniard jurado (talented but sloppy, also having a bad day), who passed the ball to raul. perfect goal from an experienced attacker, literally beating the keeper and defender navarro at the same time and scoring the incredibly unfair equalizer.

the whole match changed.

in any other sport, a team like schalke would be down so far that this lucky, but still brillant punch could start a momentum leading to a change in the game, but it wouldn’t necessarily. but in football, it was as if the game restarted, with now less than half an hour to go.

valencia had invested a lot, and the 1×1 scoreline didn’t seem to compensate that effort. the legs became heavy and tired. they would not be able o produce any dangerous chances until the end of the match, even with chances being created. the physical force just left them, and the mental went with it. schalke was not strong enough a team to take advantage and actually win the game, which they would have, had they played a football even similar to valencia’s display in the first hour. at the end, 1×1 wasn’t even an unfair result, although no one would dare dispute the fact that valencia played much better than schalke.

that’s this strange game. now, 79,000 people will watch the second leg in gelsenkirchen, and schalke will be the favorite to advance to the quarterfinal – just because of one genius moment in the match.

that’s football, as they say.

time for european football – part two

here are the next four groups of the european football action which will start on tuesday.

cl = champions league, el = europa league, (historical rank/current rank)

cl – group b

enyeama was one of this year's world cup stars - and he'll play some serious champions league for hapoel tel aviv.

olympique lyon (37/10), benfica lisbon (8/21), fc schalke 04 (57/39), hapoel tel aviv (201/64)

quite an unpredictable group we have here, and more attractive than in first sight. french goal keeping future hugo lloris will at some point play hapoel, who has no one less than vincent enyeaman, goalie hero from nigeria at this year’s world cup. benfica can count with midfielder javier garcia, young real madrid talent who dreams of a national team career. the brazilian luisão, central defender, was part of he 2010 world cup squad. maxi pereira had a very successful world cup for uruguay, and who doesn’t know argentinian striker saviola, left back fabio coentrão and their captain, nuno gomes. not a bad team from benfica, who had a great season in 2009/10, but lost brazilian midfielder ramires to chelsea.

raul hopes to continue to lead all scoring statistics in the champions league...

it should be quite a battle with the other two favorites. schalke 04 has just bought atletico madrid midfielder jurado, ex-milan and ex-real madrid striker huntelaar (who just scored 5 goals in the first two euro qualifiers for the netherlands) – and, of course, real madrid legend raul. none of these were actually starters for their respective teams, but maybe they will find their football luck in germany. metzelder, 3 years at real madrid, is another one of those. peruvian farfan, future german full back höwedes, and american national jones are not well known in europe, but this might change. lyon’s captain is the brazilian cris, who didn’t make it in germany (leverkusen); the brazilians michel bastos and ederson, and the argentinians delgado and mostly lisandro lópez. the newest star is courcuff, who just ame from girondins bordeaux and is france’s rising star. striker gomis has a great future, toulalan is already very successful.

cl – group e

bayern munich (3/5), as roma (23/12), fc basel (96/57), cfr cluj (374/89)

ribery wants to finally become a world star this season...

bayern are the german powerhouse, roma is only second to inter in italy; at least has been for the last four or five years, where milan has been passing through a crsis. it seems like a run for first position in this group. bayern has world stars like robben (who will not play the group stage, since he player the world cup with an incredible injury), ribéry, lahm, schweinsteiger, müller and klose, and future stars like badstuber, contento and kroos. to put people like turkish star hamit altintop, ukraine captain tymoschuk, german national striker mario gomez and argentinian full back martin demichelis on the bench is a sign of quality. roma has quite a lot of quality, too: eight brazilians are there, the most famous being striker adriano, who is still looking for his physical form. juan is a world class defender, doni is a good goalkeeper, and julio baptista hopes to play more often this year. but it is totti’s team, and he is the star. de rossi is also very important for the team, which has played together for quite some years now. it seems that fc basel (most famous player is the swiss striker alex frei) and cfr cluj (captain cadu played for his native boavista porto) will be playing for the europa league, which is the third place.

cl – group d

fc barcelona (2/2), panathinaikos athens (26/32), fc copenhagen (103/50), rubin kazan (323/73)

carlos eduardo dreams of being brazil's next midfield star in the national team - and hopes to show his from for russian champs rubin kazan.

ok, i guess we agree that barcelona is through; the question will be if xavi, iniesta, messi, villa, puyol & co. will manage 18 points out of six matches. the run is for the second position, and my bet is on rubin kazan, even if the russians have much less experience than panathinaikos. rubin has been great in their home league, as current champions they have a chance to defend the title. adding to an already good team, the russians bought obefami martins (nigeria) and carlos eduardo (brazil), both from the bundesliga and both currently in their national squads. panathinaikos has some international stars, too: cissé, french striker, and gilberto silva, brazilian central midfielder, were both in south africa. but both of them are older, just like gouvou, who just joined the team after a decade of success at olympique lyon (and also played the world cup). other international veterans include spaniard luis garcia (ex-barcelona, atletico madrid and liverpool) and the greek european champion karagounis. a veteran team with the bigger names – will they reach the second round for the third time in a row? copenhagen would love to continue in european football after december and would be happy about a third place. veteran jesper gronkjaer will try to help his team get there.

el – group l

fc porto (12/13), besiktas istanbul (81/62), cska sofia (43/116), rapid vienna (39/111)

after playing for real madrid since teenager years, guti will now defend besiktas in the europa league.

this is by far the most interesting froup in the europa league, even more interesting than a champions league group. this is quite obvious, since porto has played champions league almost every year since the beginning of the tournament, and besiktas saw themselves in the cl, too. rapid vienna and cska sofica are both very traditional clubs, both are well within the best 50 in european history. and quite a few stars will play in this group. porto counts on uruguain internationals álvaro pereira and jorge fucile, who had a great world cup. otamendi played for argentina, and joão moutinho is a veteran for portugal; brazilian goalie helton is their captain. besiktas has famous goalkeeper rüstü (world cup 2002 star), the portuguese defensive winger quaresma, brazilians bobô and tabata, germans ernst and hilbert (both ex-national players) – and their newest star, real madrid’s guti. nihat is the most famous turkish player. cska sofia has michel platini – but don’t worry, he’s just an unknown brazilian player! at rapid, at least a known name: jan vennegoor of hesselink has had quite a successful career at psv eindhoven and celtic (including 17 matches for holland).