Category Archives: European Football

Euro 2012 Contenders: Germany

With the Euro 2012 fast approaching us, we look to previewing one of the strongest teams and one of the favourites for the tournament- Germany.
Introduction

Germany would arrive in Ukraine and Poland with the tag of being heavy favorites in a tournament in which they have historically been the most successful and dominant team. Their period of dominance spans decades which has seen ‘Die Mannschaft’ lifting the European Championship trophy on no less than three occasions and finishing runners-up a further three times.

As for the upcoming tournament, the German squad bears a rather settled look with a core that hasn’t been altered much since the last World Cup where they won hearts of the people worldwide with their slick, attacking football. At the helm of the affairs is Joachim Low, who has astutely built a tactical framework that allows the creative players like Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller, Lukas Podolski to express themselves going forward, while having the likes of Sami Khedira anchoring the midfield. It is a successful formula that saw the Germans win all 10 of their qualification matches scoring an incredible 34 goals along the way and conceding just seven.

History

There is not a football nation in Europe that can quite match up to the history and tradition that the wily Germans have had over the years. Germany not only holds the record for most appearances(10) in the European Championships, but have made it to the finals on no less than six occasion, winning and losing three times each. To go along with their heroics in the Euro, ‘Die Mannschaft’ have also been World Champions on 3 occasions, making them the most successful European nation in international football with 6 major trophies. The current crop of a rather young German team have proud history to defend while making a name for themselves on one of the biggest stages in world football.

The Manager

German gaffer Joachim Low enjoyed a rather unspectacular playing career that was played out predominantly in the 2.Bundesliga , except for a short spell with Southern Germany’s prominent club Vfb Stuttgart. Low has managed clubs such as Fenerbahce, Vfb Stuttgart and Austria Vienna before taking the plunge into management with Germany in 2008 replacing Jurgen Klinsmann. Under his reign, the Germans have continued their revival with a Euro final and World Cup semifinal with a rather young core of the team. A man for sound football tactics, Low’s Germany have played attacking football against all and sundry in recent years without compromising much in the defensive third, and have witnessed defeat just 11 times in 77 matches under Low.

Key Players

After years of redeveloping their football structure post their debacle in the Euro 2004, the country stands on the precipice of reward as their restructuring finally seems to be coming to a successful fruition. The entire squad is blessed with several world class players at the moment, each of whom have the potential of being a match winner on their day.

Bastian Schweinsteiger – The Bayern Munich midfield dynamo suffered the agony of missing the decisive penalty in the Champions League final that cost his side the title. But given his mentality over the years, that would only harden Schweini’s will to win and win big in a major tournament, and much would depend on him mastering the midfield battles if Germany are to lift the title.

Mesut Ozil The Gelsenkirchen native broke through the scene with some breath taking football in South Africa two years ago. Now much more experienced, Ozil would be at the centre of Germany’s attacking fulcrum with the responsibility of being the tormenter-in-chief for the opposition teams with his mazy runs, awe inspiring dribbles and defense shattering passes.

Philip Lahm– The captain and the leader of a young German brigade, much would rest on Lahm’s shoulders. Not just for being the best ambidextrous fullback in the world, his leadership skills to command his forces would be put to a stern test come June 8 and the German fans would sure hope that Lahm passes his test with flying colors.

Absentees

Former favourite and one of the most recognizable German players of the last decade, Michael Ballack has already had his swansong and would not feature in the tournament. Some other players to have missed out on the plane to Ukraine-Poland are Marko Marin, Simon Rolfes, Arne Friedrich and Rene Adler due to a variety of factors such as lack of form, injury concerns or them not fitting into the team’s structure.

Tactics and Formation

The Germans are most likely to continue with their 4-2-3-1 shape that they have kept for the best part of the last two years that has seen them win all 10 of their Euro qualification matches.

Between the sticks for them would be Manuel Neuer, who has had a few errors lately but is among the best in the world. Tim Wiese would serve as an able backup for him. In defence, Mats Hummels and Holger Badstuber would most likely be the center halves with Arsenal’s Per Mertesacker serving as backup for the young duo. At right back, the German’s have one of the best fullacks in the world in Philip Lahm but on the other flank at left back is where they have bit of a blind spot. Both Marcel Schmelzer and Jerome Boateng would fight it out for it, with Boateng seeming an early favourite.

Coming to the midfield, their shape and personnel are very settled. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira make a fearsome midfield combination meaning Toni Kroos would most likely serve as back up. With Mesut Ozil carrying the central attacking duties, on the flanks would be Lukas Podolski on the left and despite some great form all season by Marco Reus, he would most likely be behind Thomas Muller in the pecking order for a spot on the right wing.

In attack, Low has favored Miroslav Klose but with his recent injury troubles and Mario Gomez having an astonishing season scoring over 40 goals, the latter seems to be one to lead the frontline.

Formation(4-2-3-1): Neuer- Boateng, Badstuber, Hummels, Lahm- Khedira, Schweinsteiger- Podolski, Ozil, Muller- Gomez

Players such as Toni Kroos, Marco Reus and Mario Gotze would also play a heavy role for the Germans, coming off the bench or from the start depending on the opposition and their tactics.

Strengths and Weaknesses

One of Germany’s greatest strength at the Euro’12 would be the strength in depth of their squad. They have able deputies for most positions with players such as Kroos and Gundogan behind Khedira and Schweinsteiger in the pecking order. With the likes of Marco Reus and Mario Gotze on the bench, the Germans have heavy game changing artillery on the sidelines that could be handy as substitutes.

Just as much, their team has been fairly settled and the players understand their game and the tactics fairly well meaning they consistently play their trademark refreshing football.

However, there are concerns as well around the camp, none as much as their left back situation. Jerome Boateng is best as a center half and Marcel Schmelzer has failed to take his chances at LB with Germany. The position could serve as a weak spot for an overall well balanced unit.

The fans would also hope that Germany’s Bayern contingent get over the hangover of their defeat to Chelsea in the Champions League final completing a horrid treble of second-best finishes after also losing the German(DFB Pokal) Cup final to Dortmund and finishing 2nd in the league, because the likes of Neuer, Schweinsteiger,Lahm, Gomez, Kroos and Muller would be crucial to Germany’s hopes.

Expectations at EURO 2012

There is immense breadth in the spectrum of quality among the German players for the upcoming tournament. They have an able tactician as a coach at the helm. And, a lot of their key players such as Ozil, Khedira, Neuer, Schweinsteiger, Lahm et al have gained great and often vital big match experience in the last couple of years. Anything less than a victory at Euro-2012 wouldn’t suffice and be termed a failure by their fans who have not seen a major tournament win for Germany since 1996. If there was ever a time to end the drought, and a team capable of doing it, it is this one. It’s their time to shine, and football romantics would hope that their dream of winning comes to fruition this time.

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The story of ‘Il Capitano’ del Piero: 700 down and just 7 to go?

The final goodbye?

Zoom back in time. It’s summer of 1993 and  a dreamy eyed boy’s been signed up by the Turin giants Juventus from Serie B minnows Padova. That boy was Alessandro del Piero, right at the start of his great football journey with Italy’s most successful club through some incredible highs that  included a Champions League victory to some utterly infernal lows, none more so than the forced relegation of Juventus for the first time in their history as a direct consequence of the infamous Calciopoli. That boy has since progressed into a demi-god like existence for the fans having been the club’s greatest protagonist for the best part of two decades.

The legacy of Alessandro del Piero has already been defined at the Bianconeri, and his trademark runs drifting from the left and curling the ball past the hapless goalkeepers from the ‘del Piero Zone’ is sure to be a part of Juventus folklore for generations to come. Not that any of these seven remaining games- six in the Serie A and the Coppa Italia final would in any way affect Il Pinturicchio’s standing on the fans in the Curva Scirea or on the fans worldwide, but his recent form against direct rivals should warrant an extension if one deploys sane worldly logic, like the goal against Inter to seal the Derby d’Italia or the goal versus Milan to seal Coppa Italia progression and none more so than his performance against Lazio last gameweek. Each one of these contributions has been crucial in defining Juventus’ season this term.

The Legends: del Piero and Nedved.

It’s difficult to find words to describe Del Piero. He has been playing for Juve for about 20 years ‒ he is the history of this club.When anybody in the world says the word ‘Juve’, they have a picture of Del Piero in mind. I think that says it all.

-Pavel Nedved

Against Lazio, Juventus had earned a lion’s share of possession and had been the more dominant team on the pitch but the scoreline still read 1-1 as the Bianconeri seemed headed for another dreaded draw and that familiar sinking feeling. That, until Alessandro del Piero was brought in from the bench for his 700th appearance in the black-and-white of Juventus and in the cameo that he played, del Piero guided home a trademark freekick from just outside the area into the bottom left corner of the goal to break the stalemate and put the Bianconeri firmly in control of their own destiny of winning the Scudetto, what would be their first after the Calciopoli nightmare.

Il Capitano’s future has been in discussion among the Bianconeri faithful ever since Andrea Agnelli declared the news of this campaign being the last for del Piero, but never has there been a greater need of a contract extension for a Juventus player as there is now. Andrea Agnelli might bank on the ‘Agnelli’ in his surname or the presence of club favourite Antonio Conte as coach to evade the wrath of the fans if he does indeed gets rid of del Piero, but if performances were used as a retort, Agnelli is losing the battle and del Piero should be allowed to leave on his own terms in his own time and what is certain that that time is still a bit away as ADP continues to provide a fruitful contribution to Juventus.

That statement by Agnelli might have been a case of misplaced judgement and a too premature, and as the calls for the club to reconsider their decision regarding Alessandro del Piero grow louder, the very least the fans deserve is to know the reason as to why such a hasty announcement regarding del Piero was made in the first place. And even though, Beppe Marotta has refuted rumours about the signing of Milan duo of Clarence Seedorf and Alessandro Nesta in recent weeks but if at any point during the season these two were considered as potential signings despite being 36 years of age, why hasn’t del Piero figured in Agnelli and Marotta’s plans for next year?

I know him as a person and he is a great guy. He would still be very useful for Juventus, even if he doesn’t always play. The Juve directors have to understand that he still has plenty to offer.

-Luciano Moggi

It might be worth arguing that Alessandro del Piero might not be the same player that he was a decade ago, nor does he have the legs to play 90 minutes week in week out. But what he does have is the class that has helped him get at the very best defenders for the best part of two decades while playing for Juventus. Among a crop of profligate strikers, where none barring Matri are into double figures for the season, del Piero is that one impact player that can be effectively and efficiently used for making an impact by creating or scoring a goal late on in a game. His ability with the ball at his feet is what has still not been taken away from him despite his age, and that is exactly what Juve requires in the Scudetto run-in and would need in the Champions League next season, of which del Piero is a proven master.

 

As time passes by towards the start of next round of fixtures, the match between Juventus and Roma might be the last time that Francesco Totti and Alessandro del Piero, two galacticos of Italian football, are seen on the same pitch strutting their stuff, a shuddering thought for all concerned with the Calcio. As for Juventus and del Piero, come the end of the season they could well be lifting a famous double of the Scudetto and the Coppa Italia in seven games’ time, their first pieces of silverware since Calciopoli and should they look back, the man who turned the tide back in their favour was none other than their immortal hero Alessandro del Piero.

It would be del Piero who shall lift the trophies should they be won, and there would be no one who’d deserve to win it more than him for leading Juventus’ revival from the dark realms of the Calciopoli and the very least he deserves from the club’s hierarchy is to be allowed to retire on his own terms unlike other Calciopoli heroes- Cameronesi,Legrotagglie and Trezeguet who were all shunted out. Surely it’s time for Agnelli and the club to accept their mistake and let del Piero continue on his own terms for atleast another season.

Football Matters Part II: Beyond the pale, the money game and the mercenaries

Author’s Note: This is the second installment of the ‘Football Matters’ series, you can read the first part ‘Two colors inside and the divisions outside’ here.

Football and mercenaries, two terms that sound unrelated and should actually be unrelated, but aren’t. The ever increasing money revolution across various parts of Europe that has seen more and more clubs being taken over by business oligarchs has seen modern football take a new meaning, where money defines how it’s run, not as a sport but more as a business.

There are two iterations valid in most cases today: Footballers = mercenaries or mercenaries = footballers, in either case money is the common denominator, not loyalty or love for the game or the club you play for. There was a time, not too long ago, when loyal and one-club men used to dominate Football all around the world. Longevity used to be a factor and the players would love to play it out at the club they loved, to be called legends at the club which to them was be-all and end-all, for money wasn’t as important as staying true to your roots and staying with the club that you’ve loved all so much, for they were as much a part of a club’s legacy as the club was definitive in making their own identity.

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Football Matters Part I: Two colors inside and the divisions outside

Football matters, indeed it does, to you, to me and to millions of other fans around the world and to the players who play it day in day out. And what’s also certain is that there are football matters that continue to haunt the very basis of modern football, none more so than the one in question here.

Football, without doubt, is the most watched and followed around sport in the world in this day and age. There are kids around the world who would sacrifice their studies just to have a few extra hours of playing it and then there would be ‘adults’ who would refuse to get going with their normal lives should their favorite team lose a match. Yup, football is a common denominator that strings millions of distinct individuals from around the world. For some it’s passion to be following the sport, for some others it is a religion that they live by and for a distinct few it is a matter of even more- for whom football is a feeling that can’t be explained but they spend their lives explaining it.

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The Indian connection in Norway: Harmeet Singh

Far away from the ‘land of the five rivers’ that is Punjab, a 20 year old boy from ethnic Punjabi background born and bred in the freezy territories of Oslo, is rising to the very perch of Norwegian football in the picturesque lands of the Valerenga neighborhood of Oslo. Harmeet Singh is the name and being a central midfielder is his trade. While Rosenborg still exert their dominant reputation on Norwegian football and while Ole Solskjaer’s Molde has actually run away with the Tippeligaen, Norway’s premier club competition, this Norwegian footballer has been creating waves not just across his ‘homeland’ but is also on the scouting agendas of some of the ‘bigger’ clubs in Europe.

Singh, alongside fellow countryman Mohammed Fellah and Havard Nielsen, have established themselves as the shining light of a club that for so long has been consigned into the shadows of Rosenborg in Norway, but a club that has now started to challenge for greater honours, Valerenga with Harmeet Singh in full flow finished 2nd in 2010 and are currently sixth with a game in hand, winning which they’d rise to 2nd again in the incumbent Tippeligaen season of 2011.
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Campeones Ole Ole Ole: Solskjaer in a new footballing Molde

The baby faced assassin they call him, a poacher was what they saw in him as a player, loyalty and selflessness is what characterized him and a Man United legend is what he shall always be.  Solskjaer had a long and successful spell at United winning a plethora of trophies and giving the fans a horde of unforgettable moments. Ole Solskjaer undeniably would forever be a part of United folklore, for he was the man who scored the winner on that epic night at the Camp Nou as Man Utd scripted perhaps the most unlikely comeback ever seen in modern football.

That night has since defined how Solskjaer would remembered at United, perhaps unfairly, because that one goal has overshadowed pretty much all else he did in the United shirt. It was a long and romantic playing journey that he had with the club but one cold night it ended, Ole finally surrendered to his crocked knee and his time at United was up, the era of Ole super show had ended at the Theatre of Dreams. “I can’t play any more” he said to Sir Alex but the wily Scot wasn’t letting go of his pupil so easily,  “Don’t worry, you were fantastic, you had a great career, why don’t you join my coaching staff?” the Scot retorted. Ole had been appointed as a part of Sir Alex’s staff merely seconds after his intention to retire was made known to Fergie. A new era for Solskjaer was about to dawn…

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Football’s ‘Death Match’: Of pride and honour, of life and death

This August marked the 69th anniversary of probably the most despicable and dastardly moment in football history, a day that has haunted people, young and old, from Kiev for generations. Yet, this is a tale not widely known outside of the Soviet states apart from the movies made on the tragic events of Kiev. Its a story of footballers from Kiev(predominantly from Dynamo Kiev) who defeated Nazi Germany. Its about the tragedy that struck these footballers who were cruelly killed by the Nazi’s, all for what? For beating Nazi football teams and challenging the might and the sense of superiority of the Nazi’s.

A monument in honour of the players who played the ill-fated ‘Death Match’.

The Beginning

It all dates back to the summer of 1942 when the Nazi regime overthrew the Stalin regime in the city of Kiev. Stalin for long had supressed the Ukranians for his fear that Ukraine might seperate out of his huge communist empire, hence resorting to terrorising the nationalists but even Stalin hadn’t forseen what was going to happen. In June 1941, the Nazi forces invaded and took control of Kiev in attempt to decimate the Russian empire eventually resorting to malevolent attrocities on the people. The local football scene had been completely decimated by the new forces forcing most footballers to work in other industries.

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English Premier League: A look at the future stars

In a league as arduous and as tough to handle as the English Premier League and in an era of massive windfall of proven overseas talent being brought through at colossal prices to provide an immediate fix to match most premier league clubs’ ephemeral first team ambitions and targets, it isn’t really hard to see why the number of academy graduates at most Premier League clubs breaking into the first team picture have steadily dwindled in recent years, more so after the continued foreign investment in some of the now prominent clubs in this much publicised and talked about English Premier League .

Regardless to say, the path that a lot of these youngsters is blocked by more experienced ‘pros’ which has served as a deterrent to the budding careers of many a young footballers in recent years. It only takes a moment to remember the potential the likes of Michael Johnson, Fabio Borini, Jack Cork once displayed but have since moved on to other clubs permanently or on loan, for the longing of first team football. But on the flipsoide for every Johnson, Borini and co, there are young success stories who have broken through at their clubs having clutched at their oppurtunities that have arisen due to a multifarious set of reasons- from injury to lack of squad depth or even due to prolific performances for the reserves. The likes of Chris Smalling, Jack Wilshere, Seamus Coleman, Andy Carroll, Marc Albrighton, Phil Jones have all announced their arrival to the big time in the last twelve months. And there’s no reason why others would not emerge from the shadows this season, announcing their arrival. So here’s looking at some break through kids who could well breach the cuffs and make their way to their destiny of first team football.

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Michael Ballack- The agony and the Löw blow of damnation

For more than a decade, modern football’s ‘Nearly’ man Michael Ballack was synonymous with the Germany National Team, lovingly nicknamed the ‘Die Mannschaft’ in the German footballing circles. He was the inspirational figure that had guided the German renaissance post the debacle of Euro 2000 where the Germans had had a catastrophy, finishing bottom of the group stages.

Michael Ballack was the catalyst to the redemption of the German National team who faced an unexpected humiliation in Netherlands-Belgium during Euro 2000. He traversed a long journey from the rather anonymous Saxony based club Chemnitzer FC to going on to play for some of football’s biggest clubs in Europe- Leverkusen, Bayern Munich and Chelsea, touching glittering heights in his career.

Ballack & Frings and their tale of what might have been.
Ballack(L), Frings(R). Wondering what might have been?

Ballack alongside good friend Torsten Frings were going to hold fort for the Germans in the heart of midfield, a task the talented sanguine duo did with utmost humility. The two marshalled Germany from the disappointments of two years ago to the finals of the World Cup in Korea in 2002, but the disappointment refused to leave Ballack’s career, after having already experienced the rather infamous ‘Treble Horror’ with Leverkusen at club level the same year, he got himself booked in the semi-final against the hosts Korea Republic resulting in him missing the final and the tears that flowed are in the memory of every man that ever loved the ‘Mannschaft’. And the rest as they say is history. Germany got run over by Ronaldo and co 2-0 in the final, a scoreline that flatters to decieve the Germans, for Brazil had dominated and the score could have been worse.

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