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So this week’s Champions League quarter-final action is over and the semi-finals are set up. As expected Real Madrid strolled through their second-leg against Spurs and will now face Barcelona. The Spanish giants are set to clash four times in 18 days, including Saturday’s La Liga match at the Bernabeu and the King’s Cup final on April 20 in Valencia.
After their astonishing win at the San Siro, Schalke 04 finished off the job against Inter to set up a meeting with Manchester United.
So, who do you expect to see in the final at Wembley on May 28? Does the fact that the Spanish teams are playing each other in an NBA style series increase the chances of an upset? United fans will be feeling they have the easier half of the draw but Schalke showed in their impressive victories over the defending champion that they are not going to be anything like a pushover for the Manchester team. Could they pull off another surprise? What are the chances of Raul v Real?
In the rest of football, FIFA released their latest world rankings today. The calculations are complicated but are supposed to reflect the current balance of power in the international game. But do they? Are England really the sixth best team in the world? Are the United States really better than Mexico? Or, for that matter, are Australia really better than the USA? And would you put money on Jamaica beating Scotland? Lots to argue about there and feel free to leave your thoughts below or pop over to our Reuters Soccer facebook page and ‘Like’ it and discuss.
Now the international period is over we can focus on domestic issues again, or can we?
Tuesday’s matches provided plenty of drama, from the battles Spain and the Netherlands had to fight to get through tricky Euro 2012 qualifiers, to Ghana’s lighting up of London, to Australia’s World Cup revenge against Germany in a friendly.
Spring is here and love should be in the air, but instead all we’re left with is bickering managers.
Fabio Capello and Jose Mourinho are no strangers to controversy, so it’s no surprise to see them at it again, though the timing is odd. Mourinho still has it all to prove at Real Madrid over the next two months, while Capello has yet to truly inspire confidence in England fans.
For all the progress made by Major League Soccer since it began in 1996, there is not one team in the league that can match the old New York Cosmos for name recognition – not globally and not in the United States.
But when the new owners of the Cosmos name announced in August that they planned to bring the team back to life and take them into MLS, there was a good deal of scepticism in the American soccer community. Now they have named former Manchester United great Eric Cantona as director of soccer.
So it will be Qatar and not the United States who host the 2022 World Cup finals – a decision from FIFA’s executive committee that left many fans in the U.S. angry, dismayed and a little confused.
The machinations of FIFA decision making are far from transparent as U.S Soccer chief Sunil Gulati implicitly acknowledged when he said that the vote wasn’t just about the merits of the bid: “It’s politics, it’s friendships and relationships, it’s alliances, it’s tactics.”
Even though the results of the United States team in international competition indicate the country has become a respectable force in the game, in the past 12 months beating European champions Spain and drawing with presumed World Cup contenders England for example, there remain many who doubt whether soccer can ever capture the imagination of the sporting public in the United States.
The main problem Europeans, in particular English fans, appear to have with the status of soccer in the U.S. is that it is not the number one sport in the country. Not even number two or three in fact. And the fact is that there is no-one in the soccer business in the U.S. who would pretend they are in a position to overtake, on a day-to-day basis, the NFL, the NBA or Major League Baseball.
The standard of goalkeeping in the early stages of this World Cup has not been the best but blame cannot lie with the controversial Jabulani ball.
Keepers and even strikers have criticised the adidas ball for being too light but the makers have said it is the roundest and truest ball ever created.
After little more than four hours’ sleep, plenty of driving and the inevitable drop in adrenalin following a big game such as Saturday’s U.S. v England match, there were a few weary souls among the reporters following the United States when we headed to team HQ at Irene Farm on Sunday morning for a press conference with coach Bob Bradley and defender Steve Cherundolo.
There was no sign of jadedness from Bradley, though, who when touching upon Steven Gerrard’s fourth minute opener for England, described it in the following terms:
USA 2 Czech Republic 4 was hardly a morale boosting result for American fans as their team prepares for the World Cup finals, which begin for the U.S against England on June 12.
Of course, as the ESPN commentators were at pains to point out, perhaps worried about viewers turning off from the team before the tournament has even begun, the squad on the field last night was missing key starters such as Landon Donovan, Carlos Bocanegra (who instead was spotted chomping chicken wings in the stands) and Clint Dempsey. And as the ESPN crew also repeatedly reminded us, the result of games like these are “meaningless”.
One of the most appealing aspects of football is that, unlike with most sports, you can find the passion of the game in almost every corner of the world, often hidden away in the most unlikely places.
What separates football from, say Formula One or tennis, is that even at the lower levels of the game you can still get the buzz of being a fan even without the top stars or the fully-serviced facilities.