Left field

The Reuters global sports blog

Barca tired? Not on this evidence

Photo

Men tuning in for lots of action in Tuesday’s Champions League last 16 first leg ties would have rued the decision to stay in front of the TV on Valentines’ Night when Barcelona v Bayer Leverkusen and Olympique Lyon against APOEL Nicosia reached the 40-minute mark.

Both were 0-0. APOEL had not registered a shot on goal. Barcelona had dominated their German opposition with 78 per cent of possession, yet no opening score.

There have been reports of a tired Barcelona recently, justifiably. The La Liga and Champions League holders have slipped to 10 points behind arch rivals Real Madrid, who are about the strongest outfit left in Europe’s premier competition on current form.

Perhaps this woke Barcelona up as Alexis Sanchez netted a 41st-minute opener.  Coach Pep Guardiola said afterwards: “I think for the spectators the second half was more fun to watch than the first.”

from Reuters Soccer Blog:

Soccer Break Thursday – Champions League recap

Photo

SOCCER-CHAMPIONS/Where to start after four brilliant Champions League quarter-finals, even if the intrigue for next week's second legs has all but gone from three of the ties with Barcelona leading Shakhtar Donetsk 5-1, Real Madrid 4-0 up against Tottenham Hotspur and Schalke 04 in total charge against holders Inter Milan after the 5-2 triumph at the San Siro.

However, the appetite has most certainly been whet for the very probable 'Clasico' semi-final between Real and Barcelona, a meeting of the world's two best players Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. April 26 or 27 and May 3 or 4. Do not miss these dates. Not that Spain's two leading clubs are thinking that far ahead.

from Reuters Soccer Blog:

Relief in Barcelona as Guardiola extends contract

Photo

SOCCER-FIFA/During Barcelona’s 3-0 win over Atletico Madrid at the Nou Camp last Saturday, which set a Spanish record of 16 straight La Liga victories, there was one thrilling passage of play which perfectly illustrated the work ethic Pep Guardiola has instilled among his squad of wonderfully gifted players.

The ball was played into space for Atletico forward Sergio Aguero. Lionel Messi suddenly appeared, sprinting back into defence. The World Player of the Year ran shoulder to shoulder with his Argentina team mate, stole the ball, beat Felipe Luis with an audacious piece of skill and started yet another assault on the visitors’ goal.

from Reuters Soccer Blog:

Messi’s FIFA Ballon d’Or award is still a victory for team football

Photo

SOCCER-SPAIN/

It's strange that when 2009 winner Lionel Messi was awarded the combined FIFA Ballon d'Or award on Monday there was shock in the Zurich auditorium and around the globe.

He is clearly the best player in the world but most fans and pundits had expected one of Barcelona team mates and Spain World Cup winners Andres Iniesta or Xavi to take the prize.    

from Reuters Soccer Blog:

Ballon d’Or shortlist should give Premier League pause for thought

Photo

SOCCER-SPAIN/England performed well below expectation at the World Cup in South Africa and judging by the FIFA Ballon d'Or list announced on Tuesday the stock of the Premier League is not at its highest either.

Just three players from the league that likes to call itself the best in the world are on the list and it would be a huge surprise if any of them made it into the top three:

Messi, Maradona and Batista

Photo

SOCCER-WORLD/With Sergio Batista at the Argentina helm, Lionel Messi has the chance to develop into the truly great footballer his talent has promised since last year’s exploits with Barcelona.

It could be that when the Argentine Football Association make their choice of coach for the 2014 Brazil World Cup cycle, they opt for a different candidate from Batista – Alex Sabella of Estudiantes for instance.

from Reuters Soccer Blog:

Champions League quarter-finals: Messi v Arsenal

We're following the Champions League quarter-final second legs live. Join us to see if Barcelona can see off Arsenal to make the last four.

from Reuters Soccer Blog:

The all-star XI in World Cup trouble

Photo

Some of football's biggest names, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, are in danger of missing out on next year's World Cup, as countries such as Argentina, Portugal and France struggle in qualification.

Most, if not quite all of them, may make it in the end, of course, but for a bit of pre-weekend qualifier fun, here's my stab at a world XI wtill fretting over their places at South Africa 2010.

from Reuters Soccer Blog:

I won’t forgot my first ‘Clasico’ for a while

Photo

Pep Guardiola’s superb Barca side four clear at the top with five games left to play. Champions Real in second on a run of 17 wins and a draw in 18 matches since a 2-0 loss at the Nou Camp in December and refusing to capitulate. The nation’s arch soccer rivals locking horns. Spain versus Catalunya.The stage was set for my first “Clasico” at the Bernabeu.I had read about the great matches of the past and seen the headlines: “The match of the century!”, “The greatest show on earth!”.It was time to experience it for myself.I hopped off the bus near the stadium and fought my way through the throng of Real faithful, already in good voice and enjoying the evening sunshine more than an hour-and-a-half before kickoff.A policeman waved me through the barriers holding back the crowds and I collected my accreditation and took the lift up to the press tribune on the fifth floor.It was oddly quiet inside the mammoth arena, a few photographers and officials milling about by the pitch, and the muted sound of the boisterous supporters outside punctuated by the occasional firecracker and police siren.Fabio Cannavaro, Arjen Robben and a few other Real players strolled out on to the pitch for a few minutes and Royston Drenthe posed for some photographs as I leafed through the media notes.Biggest home defeat for Real in “El Clasico” 5-0 way back in February 1974, four days before I was born. Probably won’t be needing that particular stat.When the spectators were finally allowed in, the atmosphere quickly warmed up and any attempt at singing by the small knot of Barca fans high to my right was met with a chorus of whistles and hoots.The volume of noise was rising all the time and reached a crescendo as the two teams marched on to the pitch and the spectators held up pieces of card that turned the stands white. Game on.“You don’t want to do that,” I thought as Sergio Ramos gave the ball away to Lionel Messi in a dangerous position in the first minute, perhaps a sign of things to come.The Real faithful went nuts when Gonzalo Higuain grabbed the lead but it wasn’t long before Barca asserted themselves and Real’s chances of defending their league title were fast receding.As the goals rolled in, a colleague in the press box, a lifelong Real fan, was growing increasingly despondent and the invective issuing from the mouth of the Spanish journalist behind us, mostly directed at the referee, was increasingly extreme.When Messi scored to make it 5-2 with around 15 minutes left, waves of shell-shocked Real fans started heading for the exits.The referee did not prolong the agony, ending the match on 90 minutes, and I quickly filed my first take and a rapid update before dashing down to the press conferences with a beaming Guardiola and a glum Juande Ramos.Eight goals scored by some of the most exciting players around, tons of chances, plenty of controversy, passionate fans in a stunning soccer arena and a famous result in one of the most intensely contested fixtures in world sport.The kind of match you don’t forget in a hurry.PHOTO: Barcelona's Lionel Messi (L) celebrates his goal against Real Madrid during their match at the Bernabeu, May 2, 2009. REUTERS/Juan Medina

  •