Reuters Soccer Blog

World Soccer views and news

Real Madrid battle French demons and knockout round jinx

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SOCCER-SPAIN/Olympique Lyon’s Stade de Gerland has proved to be something of a graveyard for Real Madrid’s European ambitions over the last decade.

The nine-time European Cup winners travel there for a Champions League last-16, first leg on Tuesday with an abysmal record to look back on from previous visits – three defeats, no goals scored and six conceded.

Their first trip to the French city came in the 2005-2006 season group stages when they slumped to a 3-0 defeat, and the following year they met again at the same stage to fall 2-0.

Last season, a spectacular strike from Jean Makoun gave Lyon a 1-0 win in a last-16 first leg, and Claude Puel’s men went on to progress to the quarter-finals with a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu.

Forget the “purists” – Barcelona’s passing has an end game

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SOCCER-CHAMPIONS/Having previously confessed to the heresy of being largely bored by the style of Spain’s “beautifully crafted” triumphs in the European championship and World Cup I went along to the Emirates on Wednesday fully primed to observe another dose of “football for the purist” guaranteed to keep me safely in my seat.

However, even with six of the World Cup-winning side in their side, Barcelona are not Spain and, to my delight, I saw a display of passing with purpose rather than the all-too-familiar passing to go nowhere and there were plenty of “on your feet” moments as they ripped holes in Arsenal’s defence.

Will Arsenal get past Barca at the Nou Camp?

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SOCCER-CHAMPIONS/Arsenal did a lot of things right in Wednesday’s fine 2-1 comeback win over Barcelona, not least finishing more clinically than their La Liga visitors, but it would be a big surprise if Barca were as generous in the return leg on March 8.

World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, who netted all four goals in a 4-1 demolition at the Nou Camp last season to give Barca a 6-3 aggregate victory, missed at least two golden chances at The Emirates and Spain forward Pedro was also guilty of profligacy.

Can Shakhtar Donetsk gatecrash western Europe’s party?

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SOCCER-CHAMPIONS/Shakhtar Donetsk’s impressive 3-2 win at AS Roma in their Champions League last 16, first leg match was perhaps overshadowed by Arsenal’s unlikely comeback against Barcelona on the same night, but it will have nonetheless reverberated around Europe.

It would be audacious to expect Shakhtar to appear in the final at Wembley in May, but the Ukrainian champions appear to have one foot in the last eight after a textbook display of counter-attacking football at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

Should the cup-tied rule be abolished in the Champions League?

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SOCCER-CHAMPIONS/How AC Milan were crying out for the guile of Antonio Cassano or the tough tackling of Mark Van Bommel (who could have replaced Gennaro Gattuso before he lost his head) in Tuesday’s 1-0 home defeat by Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League last 16 first leg.

Both were ineligible having played in the competition for Sampdoria and Bayern Munich earlier in the season.

Champions League returns — can anyone stop Barcelona?

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SOCCER-CHAMPIONS/BUSQUETSHow we’ve missed the Champions League. It’s nine weeks since the line-up for the last 16 was completed and a couple of months since the draw offered up a handful of belting ties, including Inter Milan v Bayern Munich in a repeat of last season’s final.

We’ll have to wait a week for that one, with the more leisurely format these days meaning we see just two matches a night. This week, we can look forward to AC Milan v Tottenham and Valencia v Schalke on Tuesday, with Roma v Shakhtar Donetsk and Arsenal v Barcelona on Wednesday.

Farewell Ronaldo, one of the game’s greats

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SPORT SOCCER WORLDRonaldo has just made the official announcement that he is to retire with immediate effect, bringing to an end one of the great soccer stories.

The 34-year-old Brazilian announced his decision at a news conference in Sao Paulo a few moments ago, after concluding that the battle for fitness — always a bruising struggle — was one he could no longer win.

Rooney strike — wonder goal or shinpad special?

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SOCCER-ENGLAND/Wayne Rooney’s overhead scissors kick goal to win the Manchester derby at Old Trafford on Saturday has sparked a tidal wave of hyperbole in the British media, with “wonder goal” the most popular tag used to describe it.

The general consensus was not that it was just the nailed-on winner for “goal of the season” but was also the best of Rooney’s career and even the best ever seen at Old Trafford.

Rooney wonder strike could make United’s season

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SOCCER-ENGLAND/Wayne Rooney said it was his greatest goal and Alex Ferguson said he had never seen anything like it. Even opposition manager Roberto Mancini had to applaud.

So many times you see players fall flat on their faces as they attempt an overhead wonder goal but any smirks that might have been rising as Rooney embarked on what looked like mission impossible were quickly replaced by utter disbelief at Old Trafford on Sunday.

from Left field:

West Ham given Olympic stadium nod but can soccer co-exist with track and field?

OLYMPICS-LONDON/STADIUMSo now we know: Premier League soccer club West Ham United will take over the Olympic Stadium in London following the 2012 Games, assuming there are no late objections from the British government or the city's mayor.

The decision will be greeted with relief by many fans of the rival bidders Tottenham Hotspur for one simple reason -- soccer does not generally co-exist very well with athletics.

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