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This blog reflects on soccer qua football all over the world. The blog has a specific investment in attractive, attacking football and, as such, focuses on Brazil, the most emphatic historical exponent of the beautiful game.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Robinho, Pato and Ibrahimovic take AC Milan closer to the Scudetto

Robinho continues to make his mark on Italian football by scoring a crucial goal in the 58th minute against Catania to give AC Milan the lead minutes after Marc van Bommel received a red card. So far, Robinho has scored 7 goals in Serie A and has formed a crucial leg of a triumvirate Rossoneri attack featuring Alexandre Pato, who has scored 8 goals and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has 13. Much of Robinho's success should be attributed to the power of Ibrahimovic, who draws defenders in his wake in deep positions, thereby freeing up space for Robinho and Pato to demonstrate their speed and clinical finishing ability near the goal mouth. In the match against Catania, Robinho opportunistically dispatched a carom from an Ibrahimovic free kick. After a disappointing season against Manchester City last year and a mediocre World Cup in South Africa, Robinho is close to the best form of his career under coach Massimiliano Allegri.

Rivals Inter Milan came back from a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2 against Palermo thanks to 2 goals by the recent acquisition Pazzini and a penalty from Samuel Eto in the 76th minute. AC Milan are now closing in on the Scudetto but Leonardo, coach of defending champions Inter Milan, retains hopes for the title for the Nerazurri as articulated in a recent interview. Looking ahead to the remainder of the season, the Brazilian stressed of Inter remaining consistent and noted how other teams will invariably drop points as the season progresses:

"Consistency is the most difficult thing in sports. You can lose a game but the important thing is to control the situation after a defeat. Our loss in Udine (against Udinese) is not crucial for the league title. Our aim was to start well after the winter break in order to be in the group of teams that will fight for the scudetto and we are among those sides. In the long run, all the other teams will also lose games.''

Since taking over as coach of Inter Milan, Leonardo can claim 5 victories and 1 loss in what constitutes a dramatic turnaround for a championship team that lost its faith in coach Rafael Benitez in the first half of the season.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mano calls European based Brazil squad for France friendly

Brazil coach Mano Menezes named a 23 man squad for the upcoming February 9 friendly against France composed entirely of European players. Goalkeeper Julio Cesar was recalled to the team but experienced international players such as Kaka, Lucio and Maicon were overlooked, once again, by Mano in an apparent effort to continue building the international experience of his younger players. One of the obvious questions elicited by his squad selection concerns who will play the role of playmaker given the absence of Kaka, Ganso, Ronaldinho and Carlos Eduardo. Mano's attacking line-up features Robinho, Pato, Andre and the Hulk. Lucas and Ramires appear slotted to occupy a defensive role in midfield. Andre Santos, David Luiz, Thiago Silva and Dani Alves look set to start in defense.

Mano's decision not to select an experienced playmaker raises the first doubts over his squad selections and ability to lead the national team. France have historically been a difficult opponent for the Selecao and, based on his squad selection, February 9 should prove no exception.

Neymar and a number of other domestic players were omitted because the scheduling of the friendly conflicted with domestic Brazilian matches in tournaments such as the Copa Libertadores.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Julio Cesar (Inter Milan), Gomes (Tottenham), Neto (Fiorentina)
Defenders: Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Rafael (Manchester United), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Andre Santos (Fenerbahce), Breno (Bayern Munich), David Luiz (Benfica), Thiago Silva (AC Milan), Luizao (Benfica).
Midfielders: Lucas (Liverpool), Ramires (Chelsea), Sandro (Tottenham), Elias (Atletico Madrid), Hernanes (Lazio), Anderson (Manchester United), Renato Augusto (Bayern Leverkusen), Jadson (Shakhtar).
Forwards: Robinho (Milan), Alexandre Pato (Milan), Andre (Dynamo Kyiv), Hulk (Porto)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Player Profile: Rivaldo

When Brazil arrived in France for the 1998 World Cup, Mario Zagallo was faced with the choice of which player to award the mythical number 10 jersey. In the matches leading up to the World Cup, Denilson Oliveira had worn the number 10 shirt on a number of occasions, but questions lingered as to whether the 20 year old sensation could fit into the attacking line-up given the presence of Ronaldo and Bebeto on the national team. Much to the controversy of the Brazilian media, Zagallo chose Rivaldo, the Barcelona striker and playmaker whose golden left foot had terrorized Spanish defenses since 1997. Many in the Brazilian press felt that Rivaldo was incapable of bearing the weight of the number 10 jersey that had once belonged to Pele, Zico and Rai. As the tournament unfolded and Ronaldo failed to score quite as many goals as expected, critics singled out Rivaldo as the cause of Ronaldo's lack of goals by claiming that he dribbled too much and selfishly held onto the ball when he should have passed to the strikers in front of him.

Everything changed in the quarterfinal match against Denmark. Brazil went down to an early goal in the 2nd minute by Martin Jorgensen but equalized, ten minutes later, thanks to a magnificent through ball to Bebeto from Ronaldo. The 34 year old Bebeto demonstrated all of his experience by maintaining his composure as he clinically dispatched the ball past the right of the diving goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel. In the 27th minute, Ronaldo once again displayed terrific vision and positional awareness by creating yet another through pass, this time to Rivaldo, who promptly buried it in the back of the net from a narrow angle near the left touchline. Rivaldo had put Brazil ahead and scored his second goal of the tournament.

Just after halftime, Roberto Carlos tried to clear a loose ball in the area with a bicycle kick and missed, giving Danish striker Brian Laudrup the opportunity to rocket the ball into the roof of the net with his right foot past Claudio Taffarel. In the 50th minute, the match was tied 2-2 and Brazil were now in deep trouble. Another goal from Denmark or an ultra-defensive formation from them could spell trouble and pave the way for an early World Cup exit. But once again, Rivaldo rose to the occasion and took the match on his shoulders by living up to his number 10 shirt. In the 60th minute, Rivaldo turned on a pass from Dunga and converged on goal after having been given a pasture of space by the Danish defense. Taking sight of room to Schmeichel's left, the Barcelona striker unleashed a lawnmower shot into the bottom left corner of goal to score a dramatic goal that restored Brazil's lead. From that moment on, Rivaldo took over the Brazilian midfield by dribbling through Danish defenders, finding Ronaldo, Denilson, Leonardo, Roberto Carlos and Cafu and using the outside of his left foot to craft unexpected passes that troubled the Danish defense. Rivaldo answered the critics who said he was unworthy of the Brazil number 10 shirt and went on to create the killer pass that enabled Ronaldo to score against the Dutch in the semifinals in Marseille in the subsequent match.

In Word Cup 2002, Rivaldo--again in the number 10 shirt--took over the Brazilian attacking midfield yet again, and scored in five consecutive World Cup games against Turkey, China, Costa Rica, Belgium and England. As a club player, he is best known for his performances at Barcelona where he won the La Liga title in 1998 and 1999. In one of his more astonishing performances for Barcelona, Rivaldo scored a hat-trick in 2001 against Valencia featuring a curling strike from a free kick, a long range left footed shot and finally, a sublime bicycle kick goal that turned the score from 2-2 to 3-2 in Barcelona's favor with just minutes remaining on the clock. With his gangly legs and dribbling ability that recalled the Brazilian great Garrincha, Rivaldo represented the first truly creative Brazilian midfielder since Socrates. Nevertheless, his greatness was all too often eclipsed by his historical conjunction with legends such as Romario and Ronaldo who tended to steal the spotlight because of their raw goalscoring ability in contrast to Rivaldo's unique combination of playmaking ability and goalscoring power.

Now 38 years old, Rivaldo has just signed with the Brazilian club Sao Paulo after serving stints in Greece with Olympiacos and AEK Athens, Turkey with Bunyodkor and most recently, as President of the Brazilian club Mogi Mirim. In what appears to be evidence of reverse globalization, domestic Brazilian football now features Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos at Corinthians, Rivaldo at Sao Paulo and Ronaldinho at Flamengo.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Eto and Milito combine to give Inter a 3-2 win over Cesena and move into 4th place in Serie A

Samuel Eto and Diego Milito continued to demonstrate their ability to collaborate effectively as strike partners as Inter edged Cesena 3-2 at the San Siro to move up to 4th place in Serie A, six points behind AC Milan with a game in hand. Eto and Milito combined neatly with a one two for the first goal, with Eto racing up the left flank and taking the resulting pass from Milito before cutting right across the face of goal and then firing the ball home in the 14th minute. Minutes later, Eto found Goran Pandev, who in turn unselfishly passed across the face of goal to Milito, who slotted the ball into the back of the net. Cesena pulled back two goals from Bogdani and Emanuele Giaccherini, before Chivu restored Inter's lead just before halftime by heading in Maicon's cross from the right flank. Leonardo now has a 100% record in charge of Inter with 5 consecutive victories as the battle for the Scudetto becomes more complex given Ronaldinho's departure from AC Milan. Meanwhile, Inter's Samuel Eto continues to make a compelling case as the best striker in the world.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Roberto Carlos Scores from Corner Kick in "Olympic Goal" for Corinthians

Roberto Carlos scored direct from a corner kick in a 2-0 victory for Corinthians against Portuguesa in the opening week of the Sao Paolo, "Paulista" championship. In South America, goals scored direct from corner kicks are known as "Olympic Goals". The Corinthians left-back curled the ball in direct from the left flank corner flag in the 20th minute after Paulinho opened the scoring in the 12th minute. Captain Ronaldo played for most of the match in a highly encouraging start to the season where he appeared to have recovered from injuries sustained late last year. Roberto Carlos's "Olympic Goal" marks the second spectacular goal in his career after his famous banana free kick at the 1997 Tournoi de France.

Inter crush Bologna 4-1 as Leonardo's renaissance continues

Inter Milan cruised to their fourth successive victory with a 4-1 win over Bologna on Saturday as the club's revival under Brazilian coach Leonardo continues in dramatic fashion. Since taking over the helm from Rafa Benitez in late December, Leonardo can claim responsibility for the four victories that now leave Inter eight points behind AC Milan, with a game in hand. "We know what we are doing now and how we want to play,'' Leonardo said to Sky Italia in an interview. He later elaborated: "This is the Inter we saw for such a long time. It's a team with clear ideas and a clear vision of its football."

Inter beat Bologna thanks to goals by Dejan Stankovic, Diego Milito and a brace by Samuel Eto. The first goal witnessed Samuel Eto steaming up the left flank and picking out the open Dejan Stankovic, who calmly slotted the ball home. In the 30th minute, Milito latched onto a long through ball from midfield, turned and dispatched it into the back of the net with his left foot to make it 2-0. For the third goal, Eto again raced up the left flank and leveraged a one-two combination with Diego Milito that enabled him to fire into the bottom right corner of the net from his right foot. Finally, Eto scored Inter’s fourth goal from a free kick in the 72 minute when he curled the ball over the Bologna wall into the far right left corner of the net.

Speaking of the victory against Bologna, Leonardo remarked: "This was an important victory against a Bologna side in good form. It is wonderful to see Samuel Eto'o and Diego Milito seek each other out on the field. Harmony in a team is essential." Cameroon striker Samuel Eto has now scored 23 goals in 26 games this season for Inter Milan.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Flashback: Ronaldinho Sinks England in World Cup 2002

World Cup Quarterfinals. Brazil v. England.

June 31, 2002
Shizuoka, Shizuoka Stadium, Japan

At the quarterfinals stage of the 2002 World Cup, Brazil, England and Germany were the only remaining teams with that had hoisted the World Cup title before. Given how the World Cup trophy had then been claimed by an elite group of seven nations (Argentina, Brazil, England, France, Germany, Italy and Uruguay), every soccer pundit worth his grain of salt knew that the Brazil-England match-up promised to tell volumes about the likely winner of the 2002 World Cup trophy. France and Argentina had rolled into the tournament as strong favorites, crushing their opponents in the months preceding the tournament, whereas Brazil had struggled in qualifying, ultimately scraping their way to qualification after firing coaches Wanderlei Luxemburgo and Emerson Leao and replacing them with "Big Phil" Luiz Felipe Scolari.

But as the opening matches of World Cup 2002 unfolded, Brazil rediscovered their form and conjured up shades of 1970 as the Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho combination gradually proved virtually unstoppable. The group stages begun with a 2-1 victory over Turkey, 4-0 against China, and 5-2 against Costa Rica. But as in proverbial mythology, where the hero encounters a monster or demon he has to slay in order to access the treasure or love he seeks, Brazil had two such demons to slay in 2002: Belgium and England. Brazil struggled furiously against a highly disciplined Belgian side in the second round, winning thanks only to a magical goal from Allessandro Rivaldo in the 67th minute. Goalkeeper Marcos kept Brazil in the game against a relentless Belgian onslaught lead by Marc Wilmots, Mpenza and Wesley Sonck. Ronaldinho's assist to Rivaldo and a follow-up goal from Ronaldo ultimately enabled Brazil to secure victory in a game when they looked far from their best. Now Brazil found themselves facing David Beckham and coach Sven Goran Ericksson in the form of a team, that like themselves, had come to Japan and Korea to win.

One of the key match-ups in the Brazil v. England game was Lucio versus Michael Owen. Owen had faced Lucio on a number of occasions in the Champions League the season prior, and had succeeded in navigating his way around the skilled Brazilian defender. Within 21 minutes, the World Cup match-up proved no exception as Lucio mishandled a long through ball and allowed the opportunistic Owen to calmly dispatch the ball in the back of the net after having remained invisible for much of the match thus far. For the very first time in the tournament, Brazil were behind in what appeared like an ominous sign for the South Americans who, unlike their German and Italian counterparts, historically do not play well when down a goal or two.

Owen's goal had the converse effect of making Brazil, all of a sudden, begin to play like champions, as if their title were at stake now that France had been unexpectedly eliminated in the group stages. Clad in white and blue, the Selecao inched forward systematically through the left, right and center as Sven Goran Ericksson withdrew virtually all of his players into England's half of the pitch in an effort to barricade David Seaman's goal against any hope of a Brazilian equalizer. Brazil tried everything to get past the English defense. Roberto Carlos barrelled in balls from the left and Cafu rifled in shots from the right, all the while hoping that the ball would carom to Ronaldo and Rivaldo near the mouth of goal. But Brazil had no such luck given the way Ericksson had packed the eighteen yard box and so they opted to attack with central defenders such as Lucio and Edmilson. Once again, the English defense stood firm. But with just seconds left on the clock before the end of the first half, David Beckham hurdled to avoid injury from a possible collision on the left touchline in the Brazilian half. Ronaldinho picked up the ball near center circle and ran at the English defense, dummying Ashley Cole into going to ground before dishing off the ball to Rivaldo on the right side, who dispatched the ball into the far left corner of the net with his golden left foot. For the second game in succession, the Ronaldinho-Rivaldo combination produced a scintillating goal that, in this case, brought Brazil back into the dressing on level terms at half time.

Rivaldo's goal ever so slightly shifted the momentum in Brazil's favor. As in the Belgium game, Ronaldinho began cropping up on the right hand flank and then the left as the English defense struggled to mark the 3 Rs composed of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho. Brazil's offense was undergirded by an important tactical shift wherein the defensive midfielder Kleberson started the match instead of the offensive midfielder Juninho Paulista. Kleberson added more steel to Brazil's defense by supporting Gilberto Silva and allowing the skilled players to express themselves. Seemingly frustrated by Scolari's substitution, English midfielder Nicky Butt hacked down Kleberson in the 48th minute. The ever smiling Ronaldinho protested to the referee Felipe Ramos Rizo that Butt deserved a yellow card, but to no avail. Dinho then lined up to take a free kick from 35 meters. Almost everyone expected Dinho to aim for the head of Lucio, Edmilson or Rivaldo, but instead, the ball magically curled over David Seaman and into the back of the net. Anticipating a cross, Seaman had come off his line but Ronaldinho had the skill to beat him. The ensuing goal celebration saw Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Cafu celebrate in the far right corner of the touchline, with Ronaldinho clutching his jersey as he gestured to the crowd that he was more than worthy of wearing the number 11 shirt for Brazil. In the days prior to the Brazil-England match, many an English soccer commentator had claimed that Ronaldinho was not of the caliber of Rivaldo or Ronaldo, but Dinho effectively silenced his critics by setting up the critical equalizer and then scoring the game winning goal from a spectacular free kick.

But the Ronaldinho drama had yet to fully unfold. Dinho's free kick accelerated the intensity and fierceness of play on England's part, as the game suddenly witnessed rougher England tackles and sliding challenges galore. Brazil responded with tough play of their own. In the 56th minute, Ronaldinho stood on Danny Mill's boot and appeared to hit Mills's face with his right arm. The referee responded by displaying a red card without the slightest hesitation. Cafu, Ronaldo and Rivaldo talked to the referee at length in an apparent attempt to make him reverse his decision, and Dinho himself expressed disbelief and surprise at the red card. Forced to leave the pitch, the buck toothed man of the match was consoled by Cafu, who cradled Ronaldinho's head in his hand and whispered with classic Brazilian hubris, "Don't worry. We are going to win the game for you."

In the ensuing 34 minutes, Scolari brought Brazil back to his Gremio days from 1993-1996, during which time he advocated ball possession at the expense of attacking football, especially once Gremio had secured a lead. And Brazil went on to produce a magnificent display of one touch passing and possession football by taking seconds off the clock as they invited their tired English counterparts to chase the ball in all corners of the field. Big Phil substituted Edilson for Ronaldo in the 70th minute, withdrew Roberto Carlos to play more defense and gave Cafu the freedom to taunt English defenders into ball chasing, only to encounter a savvy pass to Gilberto or Rivaldo. And when the whistle blew at half time, everyone knew that, under Scolari, Brazil had gelled into a championship team that would be difficult to beat. Kleberson had proven to be the wild card, the ace, the joker in the pack that Scolari had used to unleash his 3 Rs and cement the Brazilian defensive midfield. With this victory against England, Brazil now needed only two more wins to become pentacampeão, five time World Cup champions. Brazil now faced Turkey in the semi-finals in a re-match of one of their group stage encounters.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Ronaldinho Set to Join Flamengo

AC Milan Vice President Adriano Galliani has confirmed that AC Milan and Flamengo have reached an agreement to allow the transfer of Ronaldinho to the Brazilian club. Galliani, who is on vacation in Rio de Janeiro, noted that "Ronaldinho's chances of playing with Flamengo are 99.9%." Flamengo club President Patricia Amorin elaborated further by saying: "Flamengo and Milan have reached an agreement over a transfer... we need two or three days to agree [to contractual details with Ronaldinho]." Ronaldinho was widely expected to return to Gremio, the club of his formative years, but he appears to have subjected a number of Brazilian clubs to an intense bidding process in a move that drew widespread criticism from Gremio fans, Gremio President Paul Odone and Pele. Flamengo, the apparent winners of the Ronaldinho auction, are badly in need of new talent after a disastrous season in which they started as defending champions and ended in 14th place, two spots above the four teams in Brazil's Serie A designated for relegation.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Leonardo notches win for Inter in debut match as coach; AC Milan hold off Cagliari

New Inter Milan coach Leonardo Nascimento de Araujo got off to a flying start with a 3-1 win for Inter over Napoli today, while league leaders AC Milan consolidated their place at the top of the Serie A table with a 1-0 win over Cagliari. Brazilian midfielder Thiago Motta opened the scoring for Inter in the third minute after some fine one touch passing between Goran Pandev, Dejan Stankovic and Motta, who finally volleyed the ball into the bottom right corner of the net, 18 yards from goal. Michele Pazienza equalized for Napoli with a header off a corner kick in the 25th minute, but Esteban Cambiasso put Inter back in front by heading home a Maicon cross in the 37th minute. Motta sealed Leonardo's first victory as coach with yet another header goal for the match, this time from an Inter corner in the 55th minute. Inter secured their victory without suspended striker Samuel Eto and the injured Wesley Sneijder and Julio Cesar. Leaders AC Milan now have 39 points from 18 games, whereas Inter occupy 6th place with 26 points from 16 games.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Jose Mourinho on Kaka's Return to Real Madrid After Knee Surgery

Jose Mourinho, the self-proclaimed "Special One," reflects on Kaka's return to Real Madrid in this press conference before Real Madrid's 3-2 victory over Getafe on January 3, 2011.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Kaka returns from injury in Real Madrid's derby against Getafe

2007 FIFA Player of the Year and Balloon d'Or Winner Kaka returned to competitive play for Real Madrid after a six month hiatus due to a knee injury in today's derby against Getafe. The Brazilian midfielder came on as a substitute in the 75th minute and enjoyed an uneventful 15 minutes of match play. Real Madrid won 3-2 thanks to two goals by Cristiano Ronaldo and a goal by Mesut Ozil, but Kaka's return from injury marked the highlight of the match. Speaking of his return, an ebullient Kaka remarked: 'I am very happy to finally be back and return to the pitch with my team-mates. I went through some very difficult moments during this period but at last I think it's over. I didn't know when I would return, if I would return, and I am very happy. I felt really good.' Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho commented that Kaka's return was "fantastic news for Real Madrid and for the Spanish League and soccer in general." An emotional Kaka went on to elaborate that he was deeply encouraged by his successful return to the pitch after enduring moments of darkness when he unsure about the viability of his career: “There were moments during my recovery when I didn’t know if I would every play again. Now that is over and I hope to get steady playing time so I can continue recovering my form.” Kaka dedicated his return to his family and wife, Caroline Celico because, 'above all...she knows what I went through.' Kaka's return to fitness is particularly timely for Real Madrid given the injury to Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain, who is expected to undergo surgery for a back injury sometime in the next few months. Jose Mourinho's Los Blancos are now two points behind La Liga leaders Barcelona, with 44 points and 46 points respectively from 17 games. Villareal trails in third place with 36 points.