Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Borussia Dortmund Unbeaten Run Ends at 31

Borussia Dortmund has dominated the Bundesliga in 2012 but their incredible run of 31 games unbeaten was ended by Hamburg this past weekend.  Hamburg, who had been without a single point through three matches on the season, did the unthinkable and beat Dortmund 3-2.
The hero on the day for Hamburg was young South Korean Son Heung-Min, who scored two goals, including the long distance strike that proved to be the winner.  Another fantastic player for Hamburg was Rafael van der Vaart, a recent acquisition from Tottenham who set up two of the goals on the day in his first home game since returning to the club. 
For the Champions it was a frustrating afternoon as they saw chance after chance foiled by the Hamburg goalkeeper, Rene Adler.  Dortmund hasn’t been as dominant this season following sale of Shinji Kagawa, the brilliant Japanese midfielder who signed with Manchester United this summer. 
However, the team is still set to have a powerful offense featuring a group of stars like striker Robert Lewandowski and young Germany internationals, Marco Reus and Mario Gotze.  Another exciting young forward for the team is Ivan Perisic, a winger from Croatia.  He scored both goals for Dortmund in the loss, one of which was an incredible lobbed effort over Adler to tie the game early in the second half.  Perisic also looks to be cementing his place in the Croatian national side and scored his first international goal earlier the month against Belgium in 2014 World Cup qualification. 
The team is remarkably young however, and that could be detrimental for them going forward.  The oldest member of the forwards is Lewandowski, only 24, but already an established striker for his national side, Poland.
Now Borussia Dortmund sit in 4th place in the table, already five points off of the leaders, Bayern Munich and Frankfurt. 
Bayern Munich is always the tough test in the Bundesliga, and has started the season right with 7 straight wins in all competitions.  They are clearly the more experienced side with veteran forwards like Arjen Robben, Frank Ribery, and Bastian Schweinsteiger.  Munich endured serious heartache last season, finishing second in the league, and losing both finals of the UEFA Champions League (to Chelsea) and the DFB-Pokal Cup (to Borussia Dortmund) to finish the season empty handed.
For all of Dortmund’s recent success and their triumphant 31-game unbeaten run, they will have to step it up in a hurry in order to get back into the title race.  They can look back to last year for inspiration, however, when they overtook Bayern Munich midway through the season and finished strong to win the title.  They have done it before and would love to do it again. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

UEFA Champions League Draw Group of Death

Every major tournament seems to always have a group of death. No matter how practical and logical the methods for creating a draw are, a couple great teams are always forced into each other’s paths at the earliest matches during the first round group stages.  Alas, this is the way of the world and we simply must move on.  This year’s UEFA Champions League group of death is right group D. “D” for death that is!
The group includes Real Madrid, Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund, and Ajax.  Now how in the world the champions of last year’s La Liga, Bundesliga, Eredevisie, and English Premier League all got grouped together like this is beyond me, but it will surely provide some high drama and entertaining group stage matches in the next few months. 
Real Madrid is naturally the favorite.  Manager Jose Mourinho has won the Champions League twice and is surely itching to complete the feat at Madrid.  With players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil, and new boy Luka Modric, this team is a major test for everyone and should at the very least emerge from the group. 
The predictions get tough after this point though.  Manchester City on paper looks to be the number two and has a crop of stars like Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli, and David Silva. But, the team is relatively young as far as Champions League experience goes.  Last year was their first year in the tournament, and they stumbled out of the group stage largely in thanks to being in last year’s group of death which featured Bayern Munich, Napoli, and Villareal.
They learned the hard way that winning in Europe is no easy feat, and will be terribly disappointed that they have to endure yet another rough campaign.  I feel, however that this is poetic justice for their methods of trying to buy their way to trophies.  This team represents all that is wrong with money in the world, but as much as I wish ill upon them, I feel they will scrape second in the group.
Borussia Dortmund will be eager to make a run at this group though.  They have won the German Bundesliga for two straight years now and have a solid group of young players like Robert Lewandowski and Germany internationals Mario Gotze, and new signing Marco Reus, who will help fill the void left by the departing playmaker, Shinji Kagawa.  Their home support is fantastic and could easily propel them to snatch points from the visiting big clubs.  They are the dark-horse team of the group and could very likely make a strong statement.
Ajax will struggle in this group.  The Dutch champions were not given a kind draw at all and will merely be playing for the 3rd place Europa League spot.  They did win the league but lost their defensive leader and captain Jan Vertonghen this summer.  They did just sign Ryan Babel though and he would love to re-invigorate this club with a stunning upset in the group stage. Will the team be able to create some magic in the Champions League?  In this group, I doubt it.
So there you have it, the grand group of death.  Although no one likes for their teams to be involved in such high stress encounters this early in the year, for the casual fan this group will draw some major interest in the Champions League and should be highly entertaining.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Remembering Colombia's 1994 World Cup Team

          It seems as if only yesterday Andres Escobar was representing Columbia in the 1994 World Cup, but that time is long forgotten, as it was 18 years ago. However, to die-hard fans Andres Escobar is a name that will never be forgotten. You see, Escobar represented everything that was magical about Columbian soccer at that particular time. Although, he was no more than a solid defender, he like other Columbian players played with a carefree, dazzling style that seemed to have been lost from the South American game. Led by Coach Hernan Gomez, and star players Valderrama, Rincon, and Asprilla, Columbia was on a serious terror heading into the 1994 World Cup; They went an impressive 5-0 during the qualifying campaign, including a 5-0 win over Argentina in Buenos Aires that had many, including Pele picking them to win. However, heading into the World Cup there were many allegations that Columbian soccer was heavily involved with the drug cartels, led by powerful leader Pablo Escobar, even though he was imprisoned at the time, and betting syndicates that were using their influence over the squad. Whatever was going on behind the scenes, many of the players, and coach Gomez reassured everyone that everything will be fine, and that Columbia was in it to win it all. However, this all must of been a disguise for the turmoil that going on behind the scenes. There were numerous reports that stated that some of the players and coach Gomez all received death threats. Columbia opened the World Cup with a dismal performance, losing 3-1 to Romania in group stages. However, their biggest defeat and the moment that will linger in people's memory forever was in their next game against the United States. Escobar known for rarely committing mistakes committed the biggest one in his career in this game. The game was tied at 1-1, when Escobar stretching to cut out a cross, accidentally deflected the ball into his own net. The U.S. went on to win 2-1 and Columbia was sent home early. After returning home, Andres Escobar against the wishes of his family and his many friends who advised him to stay home, because it was too dangerous, went out to a nightclub, and was later shot 12 times. Although we sometimes forget how big this moment is, because it essentially signaled the end of Columbian soccer at its best. Although, Columbia would qualify again for the 1998 World Cup, their hope and magic was not the same as before. It was also their last World Cup. Recently, an ESPN show titled 30 for 30 aired a film, The Two Escobars showing and uncovering the marriage between crime and sport in Columbia during this time, and explaining how truly big this moment was. We sometimes forget how quickly Columbian soccer stole our hearts, and also just quickly it all ended for them.