Loyalty in football was killed again yesterday as Andres Villas-Boas, in the mold of Harry Redknapp and Mo Johnston, left Porto for Chelsea, likely taking a few of his star players with him, after repeatedly declaring he wouldn’t leave the club. He’ll have a lot of work to do at the aging club in London, most importantly deciding who will start at striker, and who will leave this summer. Chelsea are too late for Sanchez, but will make a few transfer headlines before the summer is out, if only to satisfy owner Roman Abramovich.
The transfer headline right now, of course, is Manchester United ‘s signing of Ashley Young. Finally, they start to make some moves. The Red Devils have had heavy going is this transfer season, after declaring they would spend 100 million pounds. Although, if they can spend 20 million on Phil Jones, they might be able to reach 100.
Back to Chelsea. Outside of Porto players, the targets are Modric and Neymar.
Tottenham Hotspur isn’t planning on selling Modric, and Neymar, after a great performance in the Libertadores final, continues to be linked to Real Madrid. Chelsea will have to make a huge offer to get either.
The Libertadores final was only one of several important games being played out at the same time.
The days significant action started several hours early, as Belarus U-21, outplayed throughout, had a 1-0 lead against Spain in the dying minutes. Spain sent on wingers and an extra forward, but, to vast criticism by most English commentators, refused to go long-ball. Intricate passing movements continued to come close, and in the final minute, Spain’s style was vindicated, with a beautiful goal. Calmly probing, the rest was a breeze, as they scored twice in extra time to advance to the final and the London Olympics.
The other U-21 game also went to extra-time, Switzerland outlasting the Czech Republic, with the game’s only goal, as penalties seemed certain. One more place in the London Olympics is at stake in the third place game, and the big prize later in the day.
Meanwhile, the U.S., with Altidore out of the tournament and Donovan on the bench once more had endless trouble with Panama, who were unwilling to give either team any chances. Bob Bradley desperately threw on Donovan at halftime, and Freddy Adu shortly after.
In South America, the demons of River Plate’s former success were haunting the team now, in a battle against relegation, which they really should have won. The team can’t score goals, but all they needed to do in two fixtures was score once, and defend. Any draw across two legs would keep River Plate up.
But then there were the memories. There was Bernabe Ferreyra, Argentine football’s first star. The beautiful years of the 1940’s, with five incredible forwards. They only managed to win four titles that decade, constant underachieving for such a great team. 33 championships that this team had to live up to. They quickly fell behind 1-0.
Freddy Adu’s travails have been well-chronicled, and they surely must have been in his mind as he bumbled through his first ten minutes back with team, showing flashes of talent and terrible decision-making. But something clicked, he fell into rhythm with the game, stopped showing off, and was at the heart of his team’s two best chances of the game: A perfectly weighted long ball to Landon Donovan, who crossed to Dempsey, who knocked it home, and a dribble into the box and pul back for Michael Bradley, whose indecisiveness cost the team the chance to put the game away. A deadly mistake against Panama, who had hit late equalizers in their last two games…
The game was in Belgrano, but a vast contingent of River Plate fans had come to watch River rouse themselves after Belgrano’s goal. But suddenly, 2-0, and River were down again. They stumbled into halftime, playing worse and worse…
… And the U.S. showed good tactical savvy, keeping possession, and defending in numbers. Panama, like Jamaica earlier in the week, were broken after conceding, and the scarcely believable truth was that it was the introduction of Freddy Adu which had tipped the game in the U.S.’ favor.
With all due respect to the Gold Cup, two far more important games were taking place in South America: Santos patchwork of young, middle-aged, and old Brazilian stars against a defensive Penarol side, and the aforementioned relegation clash in Argentina.
It was here that the next event of note took place, as River fans finally found a hole in the security fence and burst onto the pitch, angry at the players. Neither the refs nor the police panicked, the fans went back to pounding at the fence and twenty minutes later the game was back underway.
In Santos, Neymar had scored early in the second half. It was amazing no goals had been scored before this, in both legs of the final. Santos’ defense looked very shaky and Penarol couldn’t handle both Neymar and Ganso. There would be two more before the night was up, Penarol scoring out of nothing in the 79th minute after Santos had doubled their lead. The Uruguayans, only needed a draw, setting up an exciting last ten minutes. Santos’ forwards were given more and more space, and when a glorious opportunity to go back up by two went of the post, the defensive strategy of Penarol was perhaps justified.
Nineteen minutes, plus twenty of injury time, but there was no such excitement in Argentina, where River improved but the highlight was Lamela throwing a punch at an opponent.
There would still be drama elsewhere though, with a mass brawl on the pitch after Santos’ victory. The game also managed to provoke another round of attacks between Pele and Maradona.
Pele said “I would advise him(Neymar) to move to Real Madrid” and “Messi better than Pele? To get there he needs to score more than 1283 goals.” He preferred the question of “Will Neymar be better than Pele?” and again attacked Messi when he said “Neymar has great talent. I hope Neymar doesn’t end up like Messi, who plays so well for his club but doesn’t do anything for his country.”
Unsurprisingly, Maradona was quick to respond with Neymar is “bad mannered, just like Pele, ” and “Messi is an exceptional player and I doubt any one can separate him (from being the best).”
As they day wound down, another match went into extra time, Mexico beating Honduras, to earn a date with the U.S.
Next time, will it be the refs, Argentina Football Association, opposing team or someone else who help River Plate stay up?