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Euro 2012 QF 1: Portugal vs Czech Republic pre-match predictions

Portugal is favored.  They have to be.  While I shouldn’t insult teams at this stage by suggesting stone cold locks, of all the games in this tournament – even more than Germany vs Greece, this one is a lock.  The Czechs will not take Portugal by surprise.  To be clear, they got crushed by Russia, had 15 good minutes against the Greeks and won the second half against Poland.  Not an awe inspiring performance.

Why Czech Republic will win

  1. Gebre Selassie will frustrate Ronaldo and Pilar’s quick movement and offense down the left side will put pressure on Nani to backtrack.  With their wings blunted, Portugal will struggle to score up front and Ronaldo will drift inside where the Czechs can pack it in and eliminate space and time.
  2. Baros had a good game against Poland and harried the Polish defense all night.  If he has a good game, anything can happen.  He set up Jiracek’s winning goal against the Poles and the Czechs are hoping he can do the same tonight.
  3. Petr Cech has had a below average tournament with a couple of glaring errors.  However, this is the man who saved three penalties in the Champions League final and one against Messi in the semifinals.  Who would you bet on if this got to penalty kicks?  Ronaldo has missed penalties in the semifinals of the Champions League twice (vs Barcelona and Bayern Munich) and in the finals once (vs Barcelona).  He is not going to fancy the situation if it gets to that stage.

Why Portugal will win

  1. Nani and Ronaldo cannot be contained in the form they are in.  Also, the effort to do so is going to blunt much of the wing back play from Pilar and Gebre Selasssie.  Nani should have scored from Ronaldo’s set up against Netherlands and Ronaldo did score from Nani’s pass.  When Ronaldo starts drifting inside every so often, he is incredibly dangerous as a playmaker and in drawing fouls that lead to free kicks.  I expect Ronaldo to score on a free kick in the next two matches.
  2. Pepe and Bruno Alves.  Yes, they have given up goals in every match, including three off headers.  However, Baros is going to struggle against the two of them – he isn’t Gomez or Bendtner.  Jiracek will also struggle against Veloso, Moutinho and Meireles who are the unsung heroes of this Portugese run – they have been solid in midfield.
  3. They are peaking.  They can see the path to winning this tournament.  Ronaldo is off his duck, they have had a late game winning goal and are playing to their offensive talents.
  4. Tomas Rosicky is not going to play.  This is the stage when every team needs their best player to make it happen.  Pilar and Jiracek are not going to be able to fill the void.

Pre-game prediction: Portugal 2 Czech Republic 0

Ronaldo scores again and Nani finally slots one in as well.  Only way the Czechs can win is if this goes to penalty kicks.

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Filed under Euro 2012, match predictions, Predictions, Quarter finals

World Cup 2010: Pre-Cup prediction on who will win

No time to really sort this out.  There are less than 8 hours to go to kickoff.  And the crystal ball is looking murky.  So, lets do the whys and why nots for the favorites IMO.  I will update this after the first round, but let me not shy away from it right now.

Brazil:  They win because they are solid in the defensive half of the field and have depth.  Julio Cesar, 2 great right backs (they should play Dani Alves at left back just to get him on the field as he will be behind Maicon at right back),  Lucio, Juan and Luisao to play the middle, Melo at holding and Kaka, Robinho and Fabiano up front.  Also, they are the only ones who have won outside of their continent (apart from Argentina in Mexico which sort of doesn’t count as a really different continent) – in fact, they have won in North America (1994), Europe (1958) and Asia (2002).  Seems to make sense that they should win in Africa.  They won’t win because there is magic missing up front.  Efficiency is great, but you need some magic.  Kaka has not been fit all season.  Hard to get there at the World Cup.  Plus, its a hard road through Portugal, Ivory Coast and North Korea to start the tournament.  They should win the group but that’s a work out unlike for Spain and England.

Spain:  They win because they have the most talented passers and total football team.  Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc, Xabi – what a foursome of passers in midfield.  Then you have Silva, Pedro and Jesus Navas (the biggest key for Spain after Torres IMO because the Achilles heel for Spain is a lack of real speed) on the wings (though Iniesta could play down the left as well).  Finally, Iker in goal and Torres and Villa up front.  That’s a squad.  Why they don’t win – I don’t think their defense is good enough.  I know I identified it as an issue in the Euros and they made me eat my words (though I did pick them to win pre tournament), but I just don’t get comfort in Capdevilla at left back and Ramos goes AWOL every so often at right back.  Also, Cesc, Iniesta and Torres are coming off injuries that caused them to miss the end of the season and Xavi is carrying a calf injury according to Pep Guardiola.  Also, the USA showed how you beat Spain.  Send them to the wings and overpower the strikers when they are forced to cross the ball – press Xavi at the same time.  Navas’ speed on the wing helps and Torres seems to be coming along.  They also have a relatively easy group to work Cesc, Torres and Iniesta back into playing shape before the knockout round.  However, I am still uneasy.  A big miss is going to be Marcos Senna at holding mid.  So, I want to say Spain but I just hesitate.

Argentina:  They win because they probably have one of the best forward pools in the history of the World Cup.  Messi and Higuain led La Liga in scoring, Tevez was near the top in the EPL as was Milito.  And then there is Aguero and Di Maria.  Did I mention Messi?!  Decent first round group to warm up with.  Mascherano at holding is solid.  And I’ve always liked Veron’s touch though he is a bit slow.  Wish Diego had brought Zanetti and Cambiasso.  That’s a big mistake.  They don’t win because their defense is too slow and old.  Heinze, DiMichelis and Samuel are just not up to snuff.  And Brazil and Inter showed you how to stop Messi.  And then you have the craziness of Maradona.

Holland: The win because Robben and Sneijder are two of the five most in form players in the world (I’d put Messi, Ronaldo and Milito in that bracket as well) at the end of the club season.  Then there’s Robin van Persie who is fresh after missing most of the season.  Rafael vdv is in decent form as well.  Kuyt provides work rate and balance up front.  They don’t win because their defense and keeping is not up to snuff.  And they tend to run out of steam as tournaments progress.

England: They win because they are the second best team from top to bottom in terms of depth (after Brazil).  They have Rooney and great veterans in the spine of the team – James, Terry (too bad Rio’s out, but King and Upson are good), Gerrard, Lampard.  They have speed on the wings (Fabio should have included Walcott instead of SWP).  Great coach.  They haven’t lost a World Cup game in a while if you exclude penalty kick knockouts.  They don’t win because too much depends on Rooney, Glen Johnson is a terrible defensive right back and the holding midfielder position isn’t settled.  Also, the weight of expectations will become very heavy the further we get in the tournament.

These are the only real favorites in my opinion.  A dark horse is Portugal, but with Nani out, their chances dropped significantly.  Never count out Germany (but Ballack is a big miss and they seem a big young) or Italy (this is one of the worst teams they have fielded though) or one of the African countries.  I would have put Ivory Coast as the top African team, but even if Drogba plays (as it seems to indicate in the latest news), its hard to have a brand new coach and expect to win the World Cup.

Two big factors and then I’ll make my pre Cup prediction.

The ball: with the movement in the ball, free kicks and corners are going to be very important.  That makes Ronaldo, Dani Alves, Sneijder, Lampard and Xavi very dangerous.  It could be the difference between winning and losing the Cup.

History: No European team has won the World Cup outside of Europe.  Argentina and Brazil have won outside of their  continent.  Yes, it is winter in South Africa so the heat is not going to be as big a factor as it has been for tournaments outside of Europe in the past.

My pick: Brazil if they win their group.  Holland if Brazil doesn’t win their group.

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Barca v Arsenal – CL 2nd Leg

Barca wins.  That’s the easy part.  Except, I have a feeling this is not a foregone conclusion.  Here’s why its obvious:

1.  Arsenal’s personnel issues: No Cesc or Arshavin to attack and no Song or Gallas to defend.  That leaves Campbell at the center of defense playing his second game in three days.

2. Barca is playing at the Nou Camp

3. Barca has better depth to deal with its missing personnel:  Assume Messi starts.  Barca then has to pick two from Henry, Krkic, Iniesta (if he’s fit) and Pedro.  No problems really there.  Yes, Pique and Puyol are missing.  But they beat United with Puyol at right back and Yaya in the center with Pique and Sylvinho playing left back!  So,in the center and Abidal or Maxwell at left back.  You could also move Abidal to the middle and use Maxwell at left.  Shouldn’t be an issue.  Then you can play Sergio, Keita and maybe even Rafa Marquez as the defensive midfielders around Xavi.

That said, Arsenal have nothing to lose, are used to playing on a big field and have skillful players to make it happen.  The key is to keep it close.  If they can get to the half only 2-1 down, they have a great shot.  Rosicky, Denilson, Eboue, Walcott, Nasri behind Bendtner is pretty decent.  Eduardo off the bench if they need another goal late.  They have a shot.  However, lots have to go their way.  Absolutely can happen.  If Messi is kept quiet again, Barca will lose – you heard that here.

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Chelsea v Barcelona – Post Game

Well Chelsea played it exactly as they should have and they should have won this game 2-0.  But, that’s what happens when you don’t score the second goal and have to worry about the away goal.  It happened to Man U against Porto to launch Mourinho’s career and it happened again today.

Messi and company were choked just as I said they would be.  One real shot on goal and they scored in injury time.  Doesn’t get closer than that.  Chelsea deserved this win.  They should have had two penalties.  But it was a questionable red card for Abidal.  What’s with these referees?  They don’t seem to talk things over with their linesmen for very long before handing out red cards.  It’s ridiculous.

Anyway, now it’s Man U vs Barca in the final.  Messi and Henry.  Rooney and Ronaldo.  Barca without both wing backs and Marquez, but with Henry probably back.  Man U without Fletcher.  Should be awesome.  More awesome – I will be at  the final!

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Chelsea vs Barcelona: Semi final 2nd Leg Pre game prediction

I know what Barca did to Real Madrid on the weekend.  I know Messi is supposed to be the player of this generation.  I know Iniesta and Xavi are incredibly talented midfielders and Eto’o is one of the best strikers in the world.  But the only things that are matter are these:

Barca has the away goals shut out of Chelsea in its favor.  If Barca scores at least one goal, Chelsea needs to win the game.

Messi is going to be determined to show he is the best in the world after the performance Ronaldo put on today.

The game is being played at Stamford Bridge where the pitch feels smaller than the Nou Camp which means less room for Messi and company to play their football.

No Marquez and no Puyol in the middle.  That means Pique, who for all his game is a relative rookie, and Caceres in the middle with the mercurial Valdes behind them.

Eric Abidal got skinned by first Robben and then Ramos for the first goal.  Hiddink, if I were you, I’d start Kalou on the right.  Dani Alves on the right is at best an average defender.

Henry might not play due to a knee injury.

Hiddink is a scarily successful coach no matter the squad he has – and he has a tough, experienced, motivated squad playing at home.

Based on these factors, while I still think its going to be tight, I think Chelsea goes through.

Guus, this is what you need to do to win.  As I said in the prior post, (1) water the pitch well to slow Messi down.  (2) Start Kalou on the right and Malouda on the left.  Lampard in the middle.  Drogba up front.  Essien and Mikel holding midfielders.  If you go one down, then bring on Anelka up front in the second half for Mikel.  For now, Ballack needs to start on the bench.  (3) Make sure Cole doesn’t give Messi the sideline – funnel him inside and then have Essien pick him up.  Not Mikel who gives away too many fouls on the edge of the box.  If Messi tries to go to the middle as he did against Real Madrid, even better for you.  That’s when you have Essien man mark him with Mikel sitting in a holding position behind him.  (4) If Henry doesn’t start, I believe Keita or Busquets will play in holding midfield along with Yaya Toure to help out the two kids at the center of defense.  Resist the temptation to play Ballack even with the reduced Barca team speed if Henry is out.  Yes, he may be good for headers off set pieces, but that’s a luxury you can’t afford in this game.  (5) Make sure Chelsea pumps more diagonal balls into the box.  See how Barca was all at sea during the Real game with crossed balls – they scored both goals on balls like that.  Cech was wasteful with his long clearances straight to Valdes.  (6) Keep possession better than you did at Barca.  Don’t be so nervous.  Barca isn’t that strong at pressing.  You play in the EPL.  You can hang with Liverpool and Man U.  Why be so concerned about Barca’s pressure up the pitch.  Pass your way out.  You always have Drogba to hold the ball up.

Pep, this is what you need to do.  (1) If Henry is out, then play Iniesta down the left and start Keita and Yaya at holding mid behind Xavi, Eto’o and Messi.  Hold Chelsea first, give cover and confidence to Pique and Caceres and wait for Messi to deliver.  If it’s tough going, then bring on Bojan for Keita and push Eto’o wide.  (2) Score a goal.  In fact, score two.  Because I think that’s what you are going to need to win with the defense you have for this game. (3) Shave and get a decent tie.  (4) Start Messi going up the middle to confuse the crap out of Chelsea’s backline and then move him back to the right.

Prediction:  Chelsea 2 Barcelona 1

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Filed under champions league, How to stop Messi, Lionel Messi, match predictions, Semi Finals, SOCCER

How to stop Lionel Messi

Relatively straightforward in concept, but hard to do in reality unless you have the personnel.

First, water the pitch as much as you can.  That’s why Messi didn’t really get going against Chelsea at the Nou Camp in the first leg.  He couldn’t plant and cut with the pitch so wet.  Also, he couldn’t get the ball rolling naturally to use his usual feints to get the defender off balance.

Second, get a quick left back.  Messi didn’t get much change out of Patrice Evra against Manchester United last year.  He didn’t get much out of Bosingwa in the first leg either.  Quick defenders take away Messi’s main advantage of burning the left back one on one down the wing before turning for goal with the defender on his back and too many options for the center backs to deal with.  That’s when he either cuts in and blasts past the keeper or sets up late arriving Xavi and Iniesta or goes to the far post for Henry.  I bet he struggles against Ashley Cole though Ashley has lost a step since leaving Arsenal.  I’d even consider playing Bosingwa as a shadow for Messi.  He’d be more productive than Ballack was in the first leg.

Third, get him moving right to left parallel to the goal line.  Do not give him the wing and do not let him play a one two to get behind the left back on the wing.  That’s death.  As he cuts across, the defensive midfield player has to pick him up, the center half has to stay goalside of Eto’o for the diagonal run to receive the Messi reverse ball and the left back has to stay goalside and to the outside of Messi so that he cuts off the one two reverse to Messi.

Fourth, have disciplined center backs to mark Eto’o’s diagonal runs.  Let Messi have to take you on with a longer run.

Five, make him use his right foot.  He isn’t entirely left footed, but he doesn’t have long distance power in his left foot and is below average with his right foot.

If people think this is theoretical, pull out the tapes of Man U vs Barcelona from last year (yes, he was just returning from injury) and Argentina vs Brazil from the South American Cup.  That’s what happens when you put a fast marker on him and back that up with physical play on him and his teammates.  Messi doesn’t like it when he can’t blow by you.  Frustrate him and he’s easier to control.  Kicking him is not going to work.

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Man Utd vs Arsenal – Post Game

Well can’t say that I was surprised.  Arsenal backline was not good and Ronaldo did exploit their lack of understanding and ability.  United were great on the counter attack and the pitch was heavier so Arsenal didn’t really get going with their slick passing.  I predicted 2-2 and it should have been 4-0.  Either way, United is through and its a shame that Fletcher got a red card that wasn’t for a  penalty that wasn’t.  I don’t know that he would start against Chelsea and probably wouldn’t have done so against Barca either as I believe Giggs and Berbatov would be on for Fletcher and Park from this lineup.  Key question is whether Scholes or Anderson starts in the final.  However, Fletcher would have been first sub should United have a lead going into the last 25 minutes for either Giggs or Scholes.  But that’s for another time.

The things that jumped out to me:

Arsenal managed one real shot on goal in the first leg and had a weak Fabregas header the first half and a straightforward van Persie blast in the second half to show for offense (apart from the non penalty).  That is unbelievable.  Adebayor didn’t have a real shot on goal!  United’s defense is good but that’s not down to the defense.

It was a waste to start van Persie.  He was obviously not fit enough.  I would have started Bendtner and pounded United with high balls to get an early goal.  It’s tough to guard Adebayor when Bendtner is in there.  It’s hindsight, but Arsene should have started Eboue instead of Nasri initially to give more cover for Song and Gibbs down the left.

That was about as dominant a two legged semifinal performance over a quality team that I have seen.

Arsene has a problem next season trying to accommodate Fabregas, Nasri and Arshavin.  This might be the time to cash in on Cesc.  Let Arshavin play his spot.  Wilshere will be ready to take over in three years anyway, just when Arshavin is done.  If you keep all three, Wilshere’s opportunities to progress faster diminish.  Use the money to buy a couple of center backs and a holding midfielder.  They will have Eduardo back next season and then the four strikers they have are good enough.

Ronaldo is easily the best player in the world for all the hype about Messi being a genius and the player of a generation.  Ronaldo showed that he can be an incredibly effective striker today.  The man is two footed, has a rocket of a right foot, takes penalties and free kicks, is lightning quick with great feet, scores in the big games, rarely misses games from injury (the operation this season notwithstanding) and is great in the air.  Till Messi shows me he can smoke a left back who is quick and experienced, he’s not the best in the world for me (more on that in my next post).

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Filed under arsenal, champions league, Cristiano Ronaldo, manchester united, post match comments, Semi Finals, SOCCER