European Season: Week One

Norway v. Czech Republic: The Czechs have a lot to learn from this match. They especially need to fix marking problems at the back, and keep in mind that Cech is no longer the world’s best goalkeeper. In the few minutes they did get the ball, they showed no signs of creativity. It wasn’t the best performance by Norway either, but one that proved they belong among Europe’s top international teams.

Germany v. Brazil: A fantastic second half featured five goals, as two of the world’s best teams came to play. Unsurprisingly, Germany was better, but either team could easily have won it. In the end Germany did, but not until Gotze and Neymar both showed themselves to be up to the hype. Germany are the world’s best international team on current form, dispatching good and bad teams mercilessly as they continue to build for the future. Could they be Euro 2010 favorites? For Brazil, the result does nothing to extinguish any pressure on Menezes. They have a long way to go until 2014, and no qualifiers to prepare themselves with.

Fulham v. Aston Villa: This match summed up a cagey week one of Premier League action, even while Arsenal and Liverpool predictably stole the headlines. The away team defended, and found a niche on the counterattack, while the home team (Fulham) refused to put too many players into attack, just trying to get the season started by getting a point.

That said, it was great to have the Premier League back, with it’s unique style that makes for constant action. Expect a better week two.

U-20: Portugal v. Argentina and Brazil v. Spain: More Under-20 action, more penalty shootouts. Argentina really should have won: 3-1 up after three rounds of penalties, and shooting. They lost their cool, and with it their long winning streak in the competition.

I expected Spain to win with ease. They looked just like the senior team, in terms of style, talent, and mentality, scoring five goals in thirty-one minutes against Australia. But just like Argentina, they got a draw against less talented opposition, admittedly against the second-favorites, and had to trust their nerves to hold. They didn’t, and Brazil’s road to glory looked fairly easy, with Argentina and hosts Colombia also eliminated. Dudu was the hero, getting the second goal and the winning penalty.

U-20: Colombia v. Mexico: After 45 minutes, Colombia had played breathtaking football, in the typical South American style involving plenty of dribbling and attacking flair. But Mexico were ahead, with only one shot, a 50-50 penalty call. In the second 45, knowing they had to score, Colombia fell apart, even after a terrible goalkeeping howler gifted them an equalizer. The new scoreline didn’t last long, with Mexico adding a towering header, and fluke late goal, to win 3-1.

In the semifinals, Brazil and Portugal won.

Real Madrid v. Barcelona, Leg One: When the pressure is off, a clasico can really be an amazing game. The two teams proved it, and Real Madrid has a lot to be proud of after this performance. The late introduction of Xavi was enough for Barcelona to edge possession, and their ability to score whenever they need to was very impressive.

Arsenal v. Udinese, Leg One: So much negativity surrounded the Arsenal camp this summer, but now the world finally had a chance to see them on the field, and judge for themselves. It turns out the criticism was justified. Arsenal labored but got the win. It won’t help. Their next three games are against Liverpool, Manchester United, and Udinese. The key stretch in their season, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Barcelona v. Real Madrid, Leg Two: What to say about a brilliant game?

The key stats to take out of the series: Messi assisted or scored in all five of Barcelona’s goals- he’s not even at full fitness!- and Real Madrid had 26 shots to 13 for Barcelona. Both teams will take it.

Barcelona used a formation other than 4-3-3 for the first time in a long time, to get Fabregas a debut, and keep Xavi and Iniesta on. It created a brilliant creative midfield trio, but with Barcelona’s wealth of attacking options, a 4-2-3-1 seems too defensive for the regular. 4-1-2-1-2 is another option, created plenty of passing options, and giving Dani Alves plenty of space to roam. They basically play this formation anyway, with Busquets a deep-lying playmaker and Messi a deep-lying center forward. The only difference would be having two center-forwards, instead of zero.

Nine amazing goals, and the brawl at the end, which reminded everyone that these are not only the world’s two best teams, they are the world’s two biggest rivals.

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