Honours even in La Paz

The Albicelestes would have been mindful of their last visit to La Paz during World Cup qualification. 4 years ago they were hammered 6 – 1 in the thin air of the Bolivian capital. It wasn’t quite as bad this time around but they did struggle.

The home team dominated the first half and deservedly went ahead in the 25th minute. A long ball by Chumacero drifted into the penalty area and met the head of Marcelo Martins, then the net. The defending was fairly dreadful but the ex-Wigan striker did well to direct the ball past Sergio Romero.

The goal stung Argentina into action and they equalised just before half time through Ever Banega. Again the defending was poor when Clemente Rodriguez crossed to the penalty spot. With 3 defenders around him, Banega managed to direct his header low into the Bolivian net.

Argentina pushed for the winner during the 2nd half but they were unable to beat the impressive Sergio Galarza. Banega and Messi were both thwarted by the Bolivian veteran late on.

 

Match goals

 

The point keeps Argentina at the summit of the qualification table 4 points ahead of Ecuador, Bolivia lie 2nd bottom and struggling to make the qualifying positions.

 

 

P            W           D            L              Pts

Argentina            11           7              3          1              24                          

Ecuador              10           6              2           2             20                            

Colombia             10           6              1           3            19                         

Chile                    11           5             0            6            15   

Venezuela            11           4              3           4            15 

Uruguay               11           3              4           4           13

Peru                     10            3              2          5           11

Bolivia                  11            2              3          6            9

Paraguay              11           2              2            7            8

CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers

USA 1  0 Costa Rica

The USA picked up their first win of the campaign in snowy Denver on Friday night. Clint Dempsey latched on to a loose ball and then grabbed the eventual match winner on 16 minutes. The Americans held out to secure a hard fought win.

Honduras 2  2  Mexico

Mexico tumbled to a poor away draw after going 2 up through a double by Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. The Mexicans needed only to see the game out, after the Manchester United strikers brace but preceded to self destruct in the last 15 minutes. Carlo Costly and Jerry Bengtson restored parity condeming “El Tri” to second draw in the two opening games. Honduras move to first position in the table.

Jamaica 1  1  Panama

Marvin Elliot headed Jamaica into the lead but it took a Luis Henriquez’s screamer in the 65th minute to claim the away point for Panama.

1 Honduras 2 1 1 0 4 3 1 4
2 United States 2 1 0 1 2 2 0 3
3 Panama 2 0 2 0 3 3 0 2
4 Mexico 2 0 2 0 2 2 0 2
5 Jamaica 2 0 2 0 1 1 0 2
6 Costa Rica 2 0 1 1 2 3 -1 1

The big, grudge match comes on Tuesday with Mexico vs USA in the Azteca Stadium.

CONMEBOL Qualifier results.

Colombia 5 Bolivia 0

“El Cafeteros” were the first to start on Friday afternoon and they wasted no time in slapping aside Bolivia in Barranquilla. Torres, Valdes, Gutierrez, Falcoa and Armero each grabbed a goal to bolster their 2nd place position and condemn Bolivia to 2nd bottom.

Paraguay 1 Uruguay 1

In Montevideo, Luis Suarez had looked to have sealed a win with a late volley in 82 minutes. However, Benitez struck 4 minutes late to steal a valuable and unlikely point.

Argentina 3 Venezuela 0

In Buenos Aires it was business as usual as Gonzalo Higuain claimed a brace and a Messi penalty in between. The Argentinians consolidated the pole position, 4 points above Colombia.

Peru 1 Chile 0

Jefferson Farfan was the hero in Lima as he struck in the 87 minute against Chile. The Peruvians have had a rotten campaign but this rare win sees them rise above the bottom dwellers and reintroduce them to the 5th place battle.

POS TEAM P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Argentina 10 7 2 1 23 7 16 23
2 Colombia 9 6 1 2 19 6 13 19
3 Ecuador 9 5 2 2 12 9 3 17
4 Uruguay 10 3 4 3 17 19 -2 13
5 Chile 10 4 0 6 14 19 -5 12
6 Venezuela 10 3 3 4 8 12 -4 12
7 Peru 10 3 2 5 11 15 -4 11
8 Bolivia 10 2 2 6 12 19 -7 8
9 Paraguay 10 2 2 6 7 17 -10 8

Champions League last 8.

The elimination of Manchester United and Arsenal may have provoked much introspection and wailing from the English media but the lack of English (or British) involvement does not lessen it’s quality or appeal.

Malaga v Borussia Dortmund

Real Madrid v Galatasaray

PSG v Barcelona

Bayern Munich v Juventus

The Spanish big guns are still involved and brimming with confidence following their last 16 performances.

They are joined by their countrymen, Malaga who have progressed in spite of their financial problems.

Chilean coach, Manuel Pellegrini is the club’s main source of strength, working miracles like he did at Villarreal. It’s no surprise that both Manchester City and Chelsea seem eager to secure his services for next season.

The next tie however may be a bridge to far.

Dortmund have floundered badly in the Bundesliga this term but flourished in the Champions League. They topped the Group of Death : Manchester City, Real Madrid and Ajax and went on to beat Shakhtar Donetsk in the last round. For many they are the form team of the competition and outside, favourites.

Real Madrid progressed via a dodgy red card decision.Of course this is not true as Real had more than been a match for Manchester United prior to Nani’s expulsion but the decision did change the game.

With Ronaldo at his peak, Mourinho’s expertise and a gaggle of Galacticos they should dispatch Galatasaray and move into the semis.

Then again, this is probably what Manchester United and Schalke thought and both suffered at the feet of the Turkish giants.

PSG have finally come good after huge investment. The recruitment of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Lucas Moura, Javier Pastore and talisman, Ibrahimovich is finally paying dividends but It remains to be seen if they can overcome a resurgent Barcelona.

Many predicated that Barca would tumble out of the CL at the hands of Milan. Those same people heralded Barca’s 4-0 turnaround has the greatest ever quarter final club performance. Regardless, the Spanish champs have found their mojo after their mini-slump and 2 El Classico defeats. Could be the tie of the round.

Last up we have Bayern against Juve. Two giants of European football.

Munich stumbled against Arsenal, more due to overconfidence than anything. They are currently waltzing to the Bundesliga title and arguably have the most complete first team squad.

Juve soundly beat Celtic over 2 legs and will be hoping-like in last year’s Euros-German opposition brings out the best in Andrea Pirlo. The “Old Lady” are quickly becoming are Euro-powerhouse again but I think it is a year too early for the Italians.

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Bees halt Brazilian match

I’m not sure what is more surprising the bees or the fact that Rivaldo is still on the go (35 seconds).

I saw this once before in Mexican friendly match. That time the stadium officials chose to douse the bees with water, only enraging them further. The bees then moved on to a pitch-side microphone ,which the officials also doused despite being electrically charged.

5 best games of this International double-header.

Croatia vs Serbia (Friday 5pm)

Away supporters have been banned from this Group A grudge match but it shouldn’t lessen the atmosphere.This will be the first Balkan derby since the bitter conflict from 1991-1995 and the tie goes well beyond just football.

Croatia share the lead with the top of Group A with the fashionable Belgians and will enter the match as heavy favourites. A defeat more or less confines Serbia to the realms of Group dunces along with Scotland and Wales.

It remains to been seen if it “kicks off” at kick off.

Czech Republic vs Denmark (Friday 7.30pm)

Both teams need to get their act together if they are to catch up with Italy at the summit of the group. A draw does neither team any good, while a win re-energizes their faltering campaigns.

Poland vs Ukraine (Friday 7.45pm)

Both teams failed to set the heather alight as hosts of Euro 2012 and have to step up to claim a play off spot. Montenegro top Group H with England 2 points behind.

Montenegro vs England (Tuesday 8pm)

The Baltic minnows will relish the chance to bloody the nose of the English and cement top spot of the group.

France vs Spain (Tuesday 8pm)

The battle of the giants in group I is surely the tie of this months International dates. Both teams are tied with 7 points after 3 games but should have 10 points after their respective home  games against Finland and Georgia. Spain have to slip up at some point, hopefully in the Stade de France.

Lost in Translation

Luis Suarez has become the latest player to be caught out with loose chat to journalists.

I’m not sure why players constantly make this same mistake. Especially in these days of 24 hour news dissemination and social media. All to often foreign players let their guard and blab to their fellow countrymen seemingly unaware of the consequences.

The Uruguayan and Liverpool centre forward was asked by a Uruguayan newspaper if he desired to leave Liverpool.

He answered :

“If another team comes around with more prospects of competing in international club competition games, which is willing to have [me], they are welcome.

“We would talk to the club, and we would see if I want to go or if I don’t want to go.”

Although it is wasn’t a stinging rebuke of the Merseyside team nor a definite answer, it could be seen as criticism of Liverpool’s faltering campaign under Brendan Rodgers and a statement of intent.

Suarez is a top class player and needs to playing in the top class club competition : the Champions League. He would probably be awarded the Player of the Season the is year (if he benefited from a better public persona and as little less condemnation by the media).

It’s hardly surprising that he has his eyes on greater prizes than the FA and League Cup.

Although Liverpool are historically a big club they have fallen away in recent years, failing to break into the top 4 Champion League places. A failure to match the huge spending of Manchester City and Chelsea along with managerial chopping and changing has contributed to their demise.

If Liverpool lose Suarez he will be very difficult to replace. Much like Fernando Torres before him, Suarez has become the focal point of the Liverpool team. To the point that players are bought, sold and picked to complement him eg. Andy Carroll.

 

Unless Rodgers brings a top quality attacker with either a huge price tag – Falcoa,Cavani-or  a young prospect with huge skill, he will have to start his “long term project ” from scratch.

It is unlikely that Liverpool will finish in the top 4. It would take a complete collapse by Spurs, Arsenal or Chelsea combined with an impossible winning run by Liverpool. As a result Suarez will be a target for almost all of the big continental teams. Bayern are supposed to be interested along with Barca and Real Madrid.

All hail, Bale

Unconfirmed reports have suggested that a sniper on the roof of Hampden Park will do what the Scottish -and EPL and Europa League- defences have failed to do this season: stop Gareth Bale. (Disclaimer :This is not true of course).

The Welsh Wizard (sorry) has come a long way from the jinxed Spurs defender of old.

Legend has it he was to be farmed out to a Championship club a few years back as his albatross like affect was getting to much to bare, down White Hart Lane.

 

Hot now however. The horse faced youngster is impressing every super-club from Bayern to Barca, It seems he will have the pick of clubs come summer but not before he has ripped apart Scotland.

It’s difficult to predict what Strachan will do come Friday. The marauding Bale will likely have free reign and Scotland may have to double, or treble up on the galloping winger/defender if they wish to stifle him.

But even then, when Wales no doubt get a set piece outside the box Bale will step up and unleash one of his fabled “knuckleballs”, bamboozling the wall and Alan MacGregor.

 

Without Bale, Wales are ordinary even inferior to Scotland. Ramsay, Allen and Bellamy are over-rated and our midfield are more than a match for this trio.

 

Our only hope is the man on the grassy knoll (not true).

 

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