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While numerous soccer pundits believed that Barcelona and their beautiful brand of soccer would prevail yesterday evening, I believe most were picking with their heart and not their head. If Mourinho decided (as he did) that Inter’s two goal lead was enough and all they were going to do was pack the back and defend with discipline, it was going to be asking a lot of Barcelona to score twice.

Pack it in

You can say many things about Mourinho’s tactical choice; it’s ugly, it’s boring, it prevents progress of the game, it’s “anti-football.” However, the purpose of the the Champions League semi-final is not to play soccer beautifully or attack at all times or maintain as much possession as possible but rather to win.  Mourinho has never owned a “style”, he has always focused on the task at hand…winning, and he will not allow anybody to influence how he will do it.  It must also be stated that he is fortunate enough to have squads at his disposal which have a litany of talent, as many La Liga sides will tell you that just “packing the back” isn’t enough to stop Barcelona.  But his ability to orchestrate his side with such exacting standards time after time puts them in position to win, a lot.

His self proclaimed “specialness” is a little tired at this point; his Porto CL triumph still fueling much of his greatness, he did a good job with a Chelsea team loaded with talent and money but his inability to win the Champions League questions whether or not he got maximum value out of them, additionally, he inherited the only top level Italian side which wasn’t (possibly incorrectly) implicated in the Calciopoli scandal of 2006, it would have been embarrassing if he hadn’t won Serie A with every chance he got.

The reason he was brought to Milan has always been to win the Champions League though. Now he has the chance to prove that his Porto victory wasn’t an aberration but the coming out party of manager with very few equals.

The Final

The final is probably not quite what Fox was hoping for when they moved the game from FX to Fox proper, but it should be a fascinating match-up. Inter has been excellent throughout the knockout stages, beating both Chelsea and Barcelona en route while Bayern had a little more trouble, leaving it until late against both Fiorentina and Man Utd. Their performance against Lyon was excellent though and they only seem to have improved throughout the competition.

Ribery will likely spend the final in the stands, unless UEFA breaks with tradition and lessens his suspension, but this shouldn’t be too much of a concern as his off the field issues had obviously begun to mess with his head.

FCB

Barcelona’s showing yesterday was admirable, they gave it their all and came only within an incorrectly called handball of another late winner. However, if I had to nitpick i would say there wasn’t enough urgency in the first half; the possession was there, the position was there, but besides a few close calls, they didn’t test Julio Cesar enough. It wasn’t until the final 30 minutes when they decided they had to shoot and shoot often. Full credit goes to Inter though who completely won this tie.

If I was going to call out one player it must be Zlatan Ibrahimovic, for he was the player Barca valued at Samuel Eto’o + 50 Million Euros. He probably deserves another season but he was held in check aerially by Lucio/Walter Samuel and when he drifted out wide he was not finding any space for himself. I understand that he often occupies two defenders and opens up space just outside the box for players like Messi, and yes he can score in an instant but with Inter being so dominant in the air, maybe Pep should have tried to go small and make an attempt at winning with speed. That is absurd for me to question Guardiola though, my knowledge pales in comparison.

The early sending off of Thiago Motta sent the crowd into a frenzy but as Gerard Pique (one of FCB’s bright spots) contends, “the red card was counterproductive.” It made Barcelona push a little too hard while also making Inter’s task very clear, defend defend defend because we can no longer afford to push men into attack. (Click on that link for some further reaction from Barcelona players).

A more complete look at “tops and flops” from Goal.com…

In his weekly ESPN Soccernet column, the excellent Phil Ball takes a look at the current environment in Spain post Champions League; most appropriately whether Inter’s win means that Mourinho will be at the Bernabeu next fall and

Onto some World Cup news and the mass of press surrounding the US’s imminent 30 man announcement…

Daily World Cup Dosage

From Goal.com a debate over whether or not Charlie Davies will make the flight to South Africa

From ESPN.com a look a position by position breakdown of who is going and who is still hoping

Again from the WWL, Bob Bradley’s current ambiguous views on Mr. Davies chances

EPL Talk takes a look at two additions ESPN’s roster for this summer…one and two

A good breakdown from the No Short Corners blog on the USMNT’s current injurty situation;

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This was originally going to be a post about the lack of an EPL team in the Champions League final since 2003; however, being a Barcelona fan, I must give due credit to today’s 2-0 result at the Bernabeu. Rather than talk, here are some ghetto highlights…

If anyone had a doubt about the level at which Lionel Messi is playing, there is no longer an argument about him being the best player in the world right now. You could argue that I am just making a statement for the self important reasons of making a statement like that, but it is so easy to say, there should be no illusions about my motive. It’s true, thats it.

Due credit must be given to the team around him with out which this wouldn’t be possible. If I had the resources, I would love to know the % of Messi’s goals which have been assisted by Xavi Hernandez. He served the first one today on a platter and played an inch perfect pass on Pedro’s 2nd half effort to put Barca up 2-0. With out some excellent goal keeping from Iker Casillas, there is no doubt that Lionel could have had an additional 2 goals, both supplied by Xavi.

The game itself was everything it was billed to be, probably only because in my opinion there are fewer things greater than watching Barcelona completely outclass Real Madrid. Carlos Puyol brought his usual ‘reserved only for El Classico’ performance, Pedro continued his breakout season, and it was evident that Real Madrid were frustrated after Messi’s opener.

Credit should also be given to Pique and Milito for anchoring the defense, Keita for being relentlessly active in the midfield, and Dani Alves for providing a right sided attack when Guardiola moves Leo into the middle.

The fact that Real Madrid attempted to spend their way to Barcelona’s level and are already out of Champions League only made it sweeter. Barcelona is now in prime position to win their 2nd La Liga title in a row; 7 games remain and they are up 3 points, leading on the first tiebreaker (head to head record).

Coming less than a week after Messi’s incandescent personal defeat of Arsenal (an obvious overstatement, but more than one website has listed that performance as a perfect 10…video just below) is what has actually put an end to any debate about his current form. His control is immaculate, his time to top speed unmatched, and the overall rythym of his game set him apart from absolutely everyone else out there.  In fact, that statement alone trivializes his game right now.  Enough Slurp?  Ladies and gentlemen, the hilites…

Ever??

The British announcer calls him “the most talented footballer of his generation,” others will make similar statements for various reasons, and there is an argument to be made there.  Personally, I would say that to be considered among the truly great footballers of all time, that  rare tier of 3 or maybe 4 players, he must succeed on the world stage.

He is currently turning himself and Argentina’s success into the main story line during the lead up t0 the upcoming World Cup.  It is a different game though and single elimination can be a doozy for any team.  While failure doesn’t rule him out, it will mean another 4 years until he is afforded the opportunity again.

Others…

A good collection of world reaction to Tuesday’s win from the NYTimes.

A good look at Messi’s status around the World from one of America’s most connected soccer writers.

Champion’s League Final Four

If Barcelona are able to repeat Champions League glory in the May 22nd final in Madrid, it will be the ultimate proverbial icing on the cake of 2 years of beautiful soccer, or cherry on top, or any other food related superlative. They will also be the first ever back to back champions in the “Champions League Era.”

Of course getting there will be very difficult. The upcoming semi-final is against an Inter Milan team which has the class, experience, and determination to stop Barcelona from playing their style. Of course, no one has really been able to effectively do that in a long time.

Eto’o coming back to send Barcelona packing almost seems true before it happens.  He is one of those athletes who elevates his game when he’s convinced he has been slighted or disrespected and the trade of him +43.25 Million Euros is, in my opinion, slightly disrespectful (this is the nature of running a successful professional sports team).

Additionally, Jose Mourinho has provided problems for the Catalans in the past, it should be noted that Barcelona got the better of the group stage battles (0 0 tie in Milan, and a 1 0 victory in the Nou Camp).

Mark it on your Calendar, April 20/28, 2:45 PM EST; second leg in Catalunya.

Donde Esta El Brits?

As stated earlier, up until today the headline from Europe must have been that this is the first time in 7 years that there is no English team in the final four of the Champions League.  While there was the obvious overreaction on the part of the British, this does not a represent a decline in the EPL but rather just the end of a great run of continental football.

In elimination style competitions, even two-leg versions, there are bound to be surprising trends (witness the Big East’s variation from the 2009 NCAA basketball tournament to this year’s version).

It was a brilliant goal from Arjen Robben (one of the deftest signings of last summer) which sent Bayern through to a semi final date with Lyon.  If you haven’t seen it….

While the Inter/Barca semi-final is the marquee matchup, neither of these teams should be counted out in the final. They have both beaten teams which many believe to be better them; Lyon over Madrid in the round of 16 and Bayern outplaying Man Utd in the Quarterfinals.

Lyon has experience in this competition and the confidence that comes with getting to this point. They are willing to sit back and take the goals when the opportunities present themselves. You must be finishing effectively for this to work and Lisandro has spear headed some excellent counter attacking football.

Munich’s attack pairing of Ribery and Robben is as fast and lethal as anything out there. With a goal in each leg vs United, Ivica Olic’s European performances have added that in form striker who can change the game on his own accord.

That is all for now…I continue to want to provide some updates on the USMNT but right now your soccer focus should be on the culmination of the European season over the next 6 weeks.

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The first two Champions League quarterfinals this afternoon kick off a blistering 3+ months of soccer across the globe. In short…

Real Madrid leads Spains’s La Liga based solely on goal differential.  They welcome Barcelona to the Bernabeu the weekend of April 10th for what should be the most entertaining domestic league match of the season.

4 time defending Serie A champions Inter Milan saw their lead dwindle to only 1 pt after Luca Toni grabbed a late winner for Roma at the stadio olimpico on Saturday.  AC Milan lurks 2 pts beyond Roma with only 7 matches left for each squad.

Chelsea seem to be dialed into the Premier League race after crashing out of Europe but still cannot seem to shake a Man Utd side leading the league by a single point.  The two sides face off at Old Trafford this Saturday morning at 7:45 AM here in the states (ESPN2).  Arsenal sits 3 pts back of Chelsea as well and have continued to find a way back into the mix after being counted out numerous times this season.

Even the recently Lyon dominated French Ligue 1 (despite last years Bordeaux victory) is incredibly tight at the top this year.  An astounding 6 clubs are within the 3 pts of each other although the Bordeaux must be given the advantage at this point as they are tied at the top but hold 2 games in hand.

All these battles will however have crowned their champions by the time the final two Champions League survivors meet on Saturday, May 22nd at the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid.  While Real Madrid spent preposterous amounts of money this past summer to ensure they were one of those teams, we all know that didn’t work as hoped.  With the final 8 kicking off in just under 1 hour, lets get into the meat of it (First team listed gets to play the second leg at home…

Bordeaux v Lyon – March 30/April 7

While the French were understandably enthused about being 1 of 2 leagues with 2 teams in the final 8 and were liking their chances of having both in semi finals on the strength of their round of 16 victories, they got drawn together which instead guarantees there will be a French team in the final 4 for the first time in, um, a long time.

Lyon’s victory over Real Madrid is more impressive than Bordeaux’s expected triumph over Olympiacos but Bordeaux does have the confidence that comes with their 1-0 victory in Lyon in mid-December.  Due to the lack of any US coverage of Ligue 1, I am not terribly familiar with either team.  Both have quality throughout the ranks though and a level of familiarity that should result in a very entertaining draw over the course of the two legs.

Manchester United v Bayern Munich – March 30/April 7

In a repeat of the classic 1999 Champions League Final (highlights here and well worth the 5+ min) these two European powerhouses should produce a bruising 180 minutes of soccer.  Manchester United has been in great CL form for over 2 years now and last year saw Bayern get absolutely outclassed by FC Barcelona at this stage.

Mario Gomez’s injury is probably going to make scoring goals more difficult for Bayern but with Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben both healthy and playing well, this is a team that can cause issues for anyone going forward.  Robben on the right should produce an excellent battle with Patrice Evra but Bayern are going to be in trouble if Thomas Muller or Miroslav Klose cannot cause some trouble in the middle.

United comes in with a level of experience in this competition that is unrivaled except in the Camp Nou.  Alex Ferguson will be unafraid to play a defensive style and leave Wayne Rooney upfront all by his lonesome to create and finish chances.  Is there another striker in the world right now who could be counted on to supply all the offense needed at this stage in this competition? Definitely not and thats why United has to be favorites.

CSKA Moscow v Inter Milan – March 31/April 6

As Inter’s multi-year stranglehold on Serie A is slowly weakened they were rewarded with probably the easiest Quarter Final matchup.  They face a CSKA Moscow side which did go to Sevilla and get a win in order secure passage but that could be attributed more to a crumbling Sevilla side than a performance worthy of advancing; it was by all accounts a proper smash and grab job.

Mourinho brought hopes of European success to Inter and he is only now delivering.  They have the class and discipline to advance here and should do so with no problem.  The main obstacle is that the second leg will be played in Moscow and therefore it is very important for Milan to stay tight tomorrow night while also trying to grab at least 1 goal.

FC Barcelona v Arsenal – March 31/April 6

The other premier matchup of this Quarterfinal round pits the two clubs which are probably playing the most attractive soccer in the world right now.  FC Barcelona comes in with the experience but Arsene Wenger will surely have Arsenal believing that they can play with and beat Barcelona over the two legs.  This is so interesting b/c of the striking similarity between these two sides.

I counted Arsenal as ripe for an upset at the hands of Porto after the round of 16 draw as they were having trouble scoring and didn’t seem up for this competition.  After a first leg defeat however and with Nicklas Bendtner coming into form, they soundly smoked Porto and showed the level of class necessary to win this competition.

If Fabregas is healthy and they can use some of their speed on the counter attack, they could cause issues for Barcelona.  However it remains to be seen if they can keep their composure while not maintaining possession for long stretches as they are used to.  Barcelona should be able to win the possession game and Arsenal cannot let this unnerve them, they must take their chances when they come and remain tight in the back.

The concern for Arsenal has to be their lack of results against top quality opponents throughout this season, they must hope not to concede at home and play an opportunistic style which they are not familiar with.  Barcelona has drawn an intriguing opponent here but they should be able to give the Gunners a first hand lesson in beautiful football.

Some various US updates from around the world coming later this week….thanks for reading…

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Bright and early here today in the US they drew the pairings for the final 16 of the 09/10 Champions League.  Here are the pairings with a brief bit of my feelings on each one….

AC Milan v Man Utd: Feb 16/March 10

One of the two marquee draws in this round takes David Beckham back to Old Trafford for what should be a fascinating second leg.  Last year MU totally outclassed Inter in this same round and surely Alex Ferguson will have some similar tricks up his sleeve.  AC Milan has turned it around after a rough patch to start the season and will surely hope that Beckham adds to their depth as they seek a return to European glory; I think they have the better chance of the two Italian sides although its so hard to bet against anyone with the title of Sir.

Olympique Lyon v Real Madrid: Feb 16/March 10

The pressure is on Real Madrid to show that they have the class to make a European run along with an actual La Liga title challenge.  OL lost at this same stage to eventual champions Barcelona last year but put together a strong run this year despite losing Karim Benzema/Juninho/Fabio Grosso.  Always a talented and well managed side, they will be looking for the upset but face an uphill challenge as the second leg is at the Bernabeu.

Bayern Munich v Fiorentina: Feb 17/March 9

BM has begun to get rolling in both Europe and at home as was clear in their 4-1 smoking of Juve in Torino needed to push them through to the knockout stage.  Fiorentina was one of the more impressive sides in group play, 2nd among all teams with 15 points from 6 games.  They also enjoy the home field advantage and have to like their chances of advancing to the final 8.  Should be one of the more enjoyable fixtures.

Porto v Arsenal:  Feb 17/March 9

Despite Porto’s impressive 12 pts from 6 matches, they came in 2nd and therefore drew one of the always tough EPL sides in the round of 16.  All is not lost though as Arsenal has been nothing if not inconsistent this year and w/o Robin Van Persie have had some trouble finding the net recently.  A January signing could be on the books for Arsene Wenger but either way, this could be a upset in the making.

Olympiakos v Bordeaux: Feb 23/March 17

After impressively leading all teams with 16 points from the 6 group stage matches Bordeaux looks to continue their form against the Greek side.  If Bordeaux can hold onto Marouane Chamakh in the January window, I like the French side to make a run into the final four this year.  Greece is quite a trip to make but GdB has shown nothing but class throughout the tournament thus far, beating Bayern 2x and Juve once.

Stuttgart v Barcelona: Feb 23/March 17

The defending champions have to like the fact that they avoided Milan in this round and should advance with out too much trouble.  I see Stuttgart trying to defend w/the house in the first leg but over 180 minutes Barcelona’s class should see them through w/o much of a problem.

Inter Milan v Chelsea: Feb 24/March 16

The other marquee fixture from the group stage is another Italian/English matchup.  As mentioned Mourinho had trouble with Man Utd last year in this stage but I am sure he will find inspiration in his return to Stamford Bridge.  Inter is also blessed with a little more depth up front this year as Mario Balotelli has shown an extremely keen eye for the net.  Chelsea however are playing as well as any team in Europe right now and after two years of heartbreak in a row, definitely have the final in Madrid as a goal of theirs.  I think maybe Milan can go through but Chelsea are too good and if they escape the African Cup of Nations with no major injuries, I think they will move on.

CSKA Moscow v Sevilla: Feb 24/March 16

Sevilla started out the group stage in fine form but have faded on both the domestic and European front as of late.  They do have the quality up front to keep up with a talented Moscow side and the 2nd leg advantage though and will definitely be favorites to advance.  One of these Eastern European sides will make a run eventually but the battle of free flowing football should play to Spainards advantage.

Americans

In other news…Landon Donovan followed up his MLS contract extension with a brief loan spell at Everton.  He will only be there until March and this could be a great experience for him.  Everton could use some depth and David Moyes has said he will make a few more signings in January.  Hopefully he is able to find the field though and put this time to use rather than spending a dreary British winter on the bench.  Everton will still be in the FA Cup, Europa League, and the EPL so the minutes are there for the taking, it is now up to Landon to seize them.

Probably no more updates for the next 10 days or so….so Happy Holidays to everyone!

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Coming Back -> etc

After a prolonged absence from posting, here is an attempt at a return post.

If you weren’t able to tell, September of the year before a World Cup is a crazy time in the world of soccer. From all the continental leagues starting, to World Cup qualifying breaks, to CL Group stages kicking off, to the U20 World Cup beginning; it’s a monster month for the sport and impossible to keep up with unless you have the luxury of doing this for a living. It is with that in mind that I am making a bit of a change to this blog.
The focus of I Fischi from here on out will be the US Men’s National Team; it is the team that I am most passionate about/which I feel I am most knowledgeable about and can therefore contribute the most. As they do not play that often, there will be bits and pieces about any other Soccer I feel like writing about. That’s it.
US WCQ Update
Moving on, the US resumes qualifying a week from tomorrow in San Pedro Sula, Honduras against…naturally…Honduras. The full 22 man roster was released yesterday and can be found here, this also applies to the final qualifying match against Costa Rica on 10/14 in DC.
It seems that Stuart Holden has taken over Freddy Adu’s bench spot. An interesting turn of events for one of America’s all time overhyped athletes, although the kid does a great job of keeping his head on straight and working hard….at least his Twitter makes it seem like that. Ha.
No major surprise inclusions although it should be noted that Jay Demerit was left out due to a recent eye injury which has developed into an infection. He has been replaced by the 6’4” Clarence Goodson.
There is still no sign of Frankie Hejduk since his 87′ game saving goal in El Salvador. A little unfortunate considering the energy and veteran leadership he brings to this team. Not to mention the shaky situation in the back.
I am also dissapointed that BB didn’t choose this opportunity to at least bring the recently defected Edgar Castillo into camp.
A quick note….Edgar Castillo is a 22 y/o Mexican left back who has taken advantage of a recently changed FIFA ruling that loosens the restrictions on switching Nat’l Team affiliations. Since he never been capped for the Mexican Sr side, he was allowed to file paper work and become a member of the American squad regardless of his age. Previously the cutoff to declare was 21 y/o. Having been born in Las Cruces, NM to Mexican parental units, he is a natural American. Jermaine Jones is in a similar situation but in the midst of an extended injury absence.

Castillo provides another possible solution at Left Back for the US and you can naturally see why BB wouldn’t at least include him in camp to see how he would mesh with the rest of the squad. Come on BB, Edgar could be the best LB on the roster by next summer and with meaningful competition nearing its end, he should have at least been brought to camp.

Now that most of the American’s are well into their European campaigns, it will be interesting to see how they all come together for this key matchup. As we have seen, these Central American countries are very difficult places to play on the road. Adding to that, Honduras is currently in the 3rd and final guaranteed spot in CONCACAF having 13 pts from 8 matches, only 1 ahead of Costa Rica. Being the 4th place team means a home and home with the 5th place team from South America, a spot which could very well be an Argentinian squad which no one wants to face, no matter how badly they are struggling. Of the top 4 teams, in order, US, Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica….none are in danger of missing out entirely but one of them will be forced to play for that final spot. With a W, the US rule that out…with an L, they are very much in the mix going into the final game against Costa Rica.
Every road trip the US has taken in this qualifying campaign has seen them put forth a poor performance. Whether it was a 1 goal victory against lowly T&T, a terrible performance at that Saprissa in CR, or a luckily salvaged tie in El Salvador this team has consistently failed to be at their best on the road. Whether its a lack of a vocal veteran presence or the pack the back and kick it forward coaching tactics which BB and co seem to resort to on the road, they need to put in a better performance next week. A tie would be acceptable, albeit not ideal, but a loss would put way too much pressure on themselves.
Some more commentary on the match itself coming later next week.
On another note, apparently this match will only be on closed circuit TV in the US. SeriouslY?! WTF? SUM? ESPN? GOLTV? FSC? Whoever dropped the ball clearly shit the bed here. Are we in 1983? this is absurd. For a list of locations (read: bars) showing the US v Honduras World Cup Qualifier on 10/10/09, click here. Apparently there is also a viewing party at the Play by Play bar inside MSG here in NYC, tickets are $20 (prior to stupid TicketMaster surchage) and are currently onsale. Details.
US U20
A few brief notes on the US Men’s U20 World Cup campaign in Egypt. I didn’t watch much besides the South Korea match today but the results are very schizo. Apparently they were totally outclassed by the Germans in the opener which was followed up by an excellent 4-1 win against Cameron and then today’s 3-0 defeat to S Korea. All is not lost as apparently a few of the top 3rd place group teams make the knockout round but they will have to wait till group play wraps up tomorrow to find out for sure.
In years past, players like Freddy Adu and Jozy Altidore have impressed the world and shown that at this level at least the US can compete with the world. No one in this class seems to have stepped up yet, although you never know what might happen. + I hear some good things about this kid Dilly Duka out of Montville, NJ.
Overall I think there are some issues with the talent development model in this country but that can be saved for another post.
This Weekend & Randoms
Not a great weekend in the EPL but Sunday morning brings us a delicious Liverpool v Chelsea matchup at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea started on fire but lost at Wigan last week while Liverpool took some time to get on track but have been firing away in the EPL the last few weeks. Both are coming off subpar midweek CL results, a L/absolute drubbing in Florence for the Reds and a measley 1-0 win in Romania (i think) for the Blues. Liverpool is the team which ended Chelsea’s 80-something home match unbeaten streak last season and has the confidence to know they can win. Can the recover from their poor midweek showing against a Chelsea team eager to get back to winning league games? 11 AM, Sunday AM, FSC. Watch.
A sickkkkkkk goal scored by a HS kid from Westport, CT. Credit to his coach, my friend and burgeoning mentor, Dan Woog.

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This weekend set up very well for me to watch a lot of excellent soccer and in an attempt to make up for my lack of recent blogging, I figured I would share some thoughts.

BARCA
Most importantly; Tomorrow aka Monday 8/31 at 2:55 EST on ESPN here in the States, FC Barcelona begins their La Liga title defense against the Asturian side Sporting Gijon.

Gijon, whose narrow escape of relegation was considered a success, should not present much of a challenge. The onus, however, is on Barcelona to not overlook them and recover from their Friday, extra time 1-0 UEFA Supercup victory over Shaktar Donetsk. 2 quick trophies down….the fight for the next 4 is going to be a lot longer.

The defending champions will be with out Messi as he has received special exemption to join the Argentinian National team early in advance of their massive Sept 5th qualifier against Brazil. He will probably be replaced by Friday’s supersub, Pedro.

Iniesta continues to recover from last season’s muscle tear as well and will be out. The pressure on the big money man, Ibrahimovic, is growing as he looks to get on the chart with his new club after a relatively dissapointing (read: goalless) pre-season.

Anyway, if you aren’t working 9-5 at a desk set an alarm…if you’re in a cube, DVR that shit!

Also, Monday AM saw the return of my favorite English language La Liga columnist, Phil Ball.
US National Squad
Last Thursday BB and co released the 24 man roster for the upcoming WCQ; Saturday 9/5 vs El Salvador in Salt Lake City (8PM EST on ESPN Classic) and Wednesday 9/9 vs Trinidad & Tobago in Port of Spain (7PM EST on ESPN Classic).

I’ll take a further look at the games and the implications as it all approaches.

U-20 coach, Thomas Rongen, has named the 21 players he will take to Egypt in late September for the U-20 World Cup. Apparently, continuing on this summer’s theme, ESPN will broadcast all the games in some capacity so I will make an effort to give it some coverage here.

Man Utd/Arsenal
Arsenal continues to look impressive as Arsene Wenger’s faith in this oft-criticized squad seems to be paying off. On the attacking front, Andrei Arshavin seems to be as dangerous as any attacker in the league right now and has a brilliant sense of the goal.

Alas, ManU pulled out a win in a way that only they can, while Wayne Rooney continued his goal a game pace this campaign. For attacking purposes, he must stay healthy for England going into next summer.

Abou Diaby’s awful own goal will surely haunt him for many a night but this is a long season and an early season encounter at Old Trafford isn’t the worst place to give away 3 goals. His overall performance was quite positive and he must put the gaffe behind him.

Even with out Fabregas out there, Wenger’s men seem to be playing the type of football he wants and continue to be the most entertaining EPL team to watch.

In what will probably be Fabregas’s last season at the Emirates, a title challenge would be a joy to watch. The return of Theo Walcott and, eventually, Samir Nasri will make their attacking options almost alarmingly broad and exciting. Also, it’s only a matter of time before Jack Wilshire goes all Federico Macheda on us and instantly endears himself to the Gunner faithful.

After paying vague attention to the first half of the Derby della Madonnina (Inter v AC Milan) but not being at all surprised by the 4-0 final, I took off till this morning’s Everton v Wigan matchup on FSC which was followed by my first chance to catch Juventus this season.

It was good to see Everton get some deserved points this season against a Wigan side that seemed more interested in fouls than anything else (defending, attacking, maintaining possession). I am in favor of defensive soccer but when it takes on the form of constant fouling is when it becomes anti-football. Wigan paid dearly when a well called penalty was won by Jo in the 93′ and finished by Leighton Baines. Gotta shout out Timmy Howard as well, who came up with a massive kick save early in injury time to keep the game 1-1.

Juve/Roma
The final game of the weekend turned out to be the best one. Juve’s highly anticipated summer signing, the Brazilian Diego, formerly of Werder Bremen, scored his first 2 goals of the season. Both were very well created by himself, finished superbly and showed first hand why the Torino squad wasted no time in signing him after last season. He provides the creativity, playmaking, and finishing that they were missing last season.

Felipe Melo also impressed in his defensive midfield role along with the central defensive pairing of a seemingly reinvigorated Fabio Cannavaro and a much improvied Giorgio Chiellini. No doubt they are both benefiting from Ciro Ferrara’s installment at the helm last June.

Amauri and Vincenzo Iaquinta are playing with a lot of energy up front and are probably inspired by the lack of any sort of structure in the Italian National Team’s forward situation and the subsequent opportunity to win a spot with the Azzuri for next summer’s African trip.

Real Madrid Fire Sale
In an attempt to make some money before the transfer period closes, Real Madrid’s sold multiple players at a loss late last week, both who impressed immediately.

Real sold Wesley Sneijder to Inter Milan late last week for 12 Million Euros less than they bought him for only 2 years prior. He was immediately given the no. 10 shirt and slotted into the starting lineup for this weekend’s Derby. Seijder is what Mourinho was looking for this summer and should be what Inter needed to move beyond Italian dominance and make a European run. If he stays healthy, his creativity and strength in the attacking midfield role will be appreciated by the new strike force; Diego Milito and Eto’o.

Real also went and sold Arjen Robben to Bayern Munich late last week for 2 Million Euros less than they paid for him. The addition of Robben probably gives Bayern the most explosive attacking winger pair in all of Europe and it paid more immediate returns than Seijder, as the half-time substitute scored twice en route to a 3-0 victory. Both have had a history of injury issues but as their “understanding” contributed to both those goals, this signing is huge for a Bayern team who has had trouble finding their way lately.

A dissapointing Bundesliga finish last year and a Barcelona smoking could have resulted in more summer movement but they seem to have faith in their youth products (not always a bad thing). They started roughly this season as well and had trouble finding the net with Ribery not taking part till this weekend. I hope this convinces him to stay in Munich rather than join the Whites in Madrid, because this should make Munich as difficult to defend as anyone in Germany and possibly Europe (and extremely fun to watch…www.goltv.tv).
American – VIDEOS!!!

Can’t forget…the Americans.

Jozy Altidore’s first Hull City goal in the Carling Cup midweek clash against Southend United:

Charlie Davies draws the penalty which results in the only goal of Sochaux’s 1-0 win against Monaco on Saturday:

If you want the full rundown, the “official USMNT blog” has a good one.

Cup of the World Video Special
Someone’s excellent compilation of the top 50 WC goals of all time video as well…courtesy of Sacha Klejstan’s Twitter page:

Interesting choice for number 1 but I guess this compilator values the team work of the Brazilians over the individual brilliance of Maradona.

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For the few of you out there who read this on any sort of a regular basis…I apologize but the kind of work they pay me for has been taking priority. A few noteworthy soccer events involving American’s happened this weekend and I had to share.

First and foremost…congrats to Jozy Altidore on making his EPL debut for Hull City and, impressively, contributing directly to the winner. Here’s the video w/his debut at 3:15:
It’s a great, creative thought/ball from Jozy to set up the winning goal, a side of his game which is there but which Jozy can only benefit from improving further; the thought is only half the battle, the skill to execute is just as vital and more impressive.
Check out 4:50 for a near miss from Altidore as well and 5:55 for another great chance.
A great debut, all the credit in the world to Jozy and most importantly congratulations.
Looking forward to the Aston Villa v Liverpool game this afternoon on ESPN2 in the states, 3PM EST. Liverpool has had two very different showings so far while Villa lost to an impressive Wigan side to start this season after an impressive 08/09 campaign. Anfield will be a tough place for them to get points but they have the offensive firepower to find the net once or twice. Word is that Yossi Benayoun is relishing his starting role and the energy he brings for 90′ is unrivaled, ‘Pool is at their best with him on the field.

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