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Man Utd v Arsenal: Champions League Semifinal 2nd Leg – Pregame

I have a hard time believing Man United doesn’t go through.  It absolutely can happen, but hard to see.  It’s not that the Gunners can’t score a couple of goals nor that they can’t win.  They have done that this season.  However, no way does that defense keep Man United from scoring at least one goal.  It’s been a long time since Arsenal has kept United off the scoreboard.  And it’s hard to see it starting tomorrow.

So if United score one, Arsenal need three scores to win.  Hard to see that.  The only shot Arsenal has is if they score first and score the first one early.   The longer it goes, the more they will come forward and the easier it will be for them to be caught by United on the break.

Issues for United: Rooney played 90 minutes on Saturday and is on a yellow.  Will he melt down late in the game or if he gets a yellow which means he knows he will be out of the final.  I feel as if Sir Alex purposely played him 90 minutes on Saturday as he is not going to allow Rooney to play the full 90 on Tuesday in order to save him for the final assuming that United is up going into the last 25 minutes.  The other issue is that Evra may have an ankle knock and is also on a yellow.  I have to think that Walcott is going to get one of them on a yellow during the game.  Which means – Rooney needs to play in the middle and Park plays on the left with Berbatov and Tevez potentially on the bench.   Tough to see that happening but you never know.

Issues for Arsenal:  They are screwed if Silvestre is fit enought to play and screwed if he is unfit to play.  If they play to win from the start, they will play Robin Van Persie up front with Adebayor along with Fabregas, Walcott and Nasri in midfield.  Which means only one holding midfielder.  Bad news against the  United break.  If they play it conservative like the first leg, they will not be able to deal with the United midfield and defense.

Prediction: Man United 2 Arsenal 2

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Filed under arsenal, champions league, manchester united, Predictions on winner, Semi Finals, SOCCER

Spain v Russia – post game comments

While the scoreline was a bit harsh, much like it was in the first game they played, this time there was no doubt who the deserved winners were. Spain outplayed Russia in the second half. Yes, the first goal made a big difference because it made the Russians come forward more and so there were more gaps in midfield and at the back for Spain to capitalize on. However, Russia really didn’t create many opportunities themselves. The best chance they had was off a free kick near the end of the game.

The first goal was not lucky – it was fortunate. It was lucky that Iniesta’s shot was way off target. It was a good, instinctive, pre-meditated run into space by Xavi and it was fortunate that his side footed redirect went between Akinfeev’s legs. Xavi does this all the time for Barca, especially this season, where he makes a late run into space and finishes off crosses. So, I will give him all the credit for the goal. After that, it was tough to imagine that the Russians would get back into it given that Arshavin and the midfield never really got going. Maybe Hiddink should have brought in another left back and let Zhirkov get up the field more often as he seemed to be the only one to get any penetration against Spain. Ramos had his best game of the tournament but I think a lot of it was due to the fact that Zhirkov didn’t have anyone in front of him and so had to stay home too often. Russia should have made Ramos pay for coming forward so much. Guiza and Silva finished off good set ups by Cesc once the gaps had opened up with the Russians having to press upfield in search of an equalizer.

Man of the match – Cesc Fabregas.

Some other observations:

Aragones, why won’t you start Cesc? Especially against the Germans, Iniesta is too slight to play in the midfield with Xavi. He also is not as good at starting moves – he is better in the last third. You need Cesc there to provide an alternative to Xavi else the Germans will put someone on Xavi to stifle the ball getting forward. If Villa is out (as he is supposed to be at the timing of writing), I would prefer you drop Iniesta and start Xabi and Cesc alongside Senna, Silva and Torres.

Also, Aragones, stop substituting Torres. He had two chances at goal in five minutes and looked good all game. He needs a goal for confidence. Why put Guiza on? Torres could have scored in the last 15 minutes and felt good going into the final. Whatever.

Still don’t like Puyol and Marchena in the middle. I have to believe the combination of Klose and Ballack in the air along with Schweinsteiger and Podolski’s quickness is going to give them problems. Get ready Casillas.

Ramos and Lahm. Look out Sergio because if you thought Zhirkov was problematic, Lahm is going to be even tougher for you since he has carte blanche to go forward just as you do, is low to the ground and cuts quickly and is backed up by Frings so you can’t just bomb down his side. Don’t foul Lahm with your usual tackling. Free kicks on the wing are exactly what you don’t want to give up.

Pre-game prediction: Spain 2 Russia 1

Result: Spain 3 Russia 0

Scorers: Xavi Hernandez, Daniel Guiza, David Silva (Spain)

The Euro 2008 final should be great. I still think Spain will win but let’s see if Villa is going to play…

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Filed under euro 2008, match predictions, post match comments, SOCCER

Group D final day post match – Russia v Sweden, Spain v Greece

Let’s get Spain v Greece out the of way.  Spain came back and won 2-1 with Guiza setting up the equalizer from de la Red and scoring the winner in the dying minutes.  Spain started a brand new squad with only Iniesta starting from the first team.  They still won.  Xabi Alonso had a great game and almost scored from the middle of the pitch as he did against Newcastle.  As a reward for getting 9 points out of a possible 9, Spain gets to play Italy.  Sweet.  Before everyone goes on to talk about how this is just terrible for Spain, let me say this – sitting here today I think they got lucky by getting this Italian squad instead of the full French team.  Spain will beat Italy… but more on that later in the week.

Pre-game prediction: Spain 1 Greece 0

Result: Spain 2 Greece 1

Scorers: Ruben de la Red, Daniel Guiza (Spain), Angelos Charisteas (Greece)

Russia put on a master class display.  As CH12 had hoped, they moved the ball around brilliantly.  Arshavin was as good as advertised – he never seems hurried and he seems to put the ball wherever he wants to.  I can’t wait for the Russia/Holland quarter final – and Holland, you better watch out because this Russian team (especially with Hiddink in charge) could have CH12 referring to you as the Netherlands again by the time the match is over.

I said the Russians played pretty football.  They do.  I said they would win.  They did.  I said they play sort of total football.  They actually don’t.  What we saw was pretty football that looks like total football.  What they have are players who all seem very comfortable with playing one touch, on the ground, passes, moving off the ball, creating space and making the extra pass (Pavlyuchenko excluded).  It’s unbelievable how calmly they look for, and make, the extra pass in the opposing box.   Sweden is lucky they didn’t concede 4 or 5 goals – two came off the post and Russia missed a couple of breakaways as well.  Hiddink will be doubly pleased that other than a Henrik Larsson header off the crossbar, his defense kept Sweden well in check with Akinfeev looking confident as well.  Man of the match for Russia was Yuri Zhirkov (picture below).  He was brilliant down the left wing and looked like a rich man’s Fabio Grosso.  The one issue that I see is that the Russians seem to zone mark in their own box.  That will get them in trouble if teams avoid high crosses and instead play one twos on the ground against them.

Pre-game prediction: Russia 3 Sweden 2

Result: Russia 2 Sweden 0

Scorers: Roman Pavluchenko, Andrei Arshavin (Russia)

CH12’s crystal ball was working in Group D.  Look out world, because the Russians are coming.  On to the quarters – the predictions slate in now clean.   I still feel quite comfortable with my original prediction of Spain v Portugal in the finals…

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Filed under euro 2008, match comments, Predictions on winner, SOCCER