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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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.

We are all going to Brazil (apart from you Scotland)

The English may have droned on about “Football coming home” in Euro 1996 but in reality the spiritual home of football and the World Cup is Brazil.

It is has been a long held belief that the Brazilians have an unmatched, style and grace to their game, in tempo with their Samba beats. Some call it “Jogo bonito”, most simply football as it should be.

Brazil have qualified for every World Cup since its inception in 1930 and made an indelible mark every time. The Brazilians are synonymous with the World Cup. A World Cup without them is unthinkable while a tournament in their back yard will not doubt be amazing.

Every football fan has their special, Brazilian World Cup moment stretching back decades.

The more aged love to recall Pele’s goal in Sweden 54’ or his saved header against Gordon Banks during Mexico 70’. Brazil’s 4rth goal in the World Cup final in 1970 is regarded by many as the best ever: the free-flowing dribble of Jairzinho, lay-off by Pele then daisy cutting screamer by Carlos Alberto encapsulating Brazil in one fluid passage of play.

While the seventies and eighties were lean in terms of success we still got to see Zico, Careca and Socrates waltz around hapless, defences and 86’ they were part of a wonderful game against France in the quarter finals.

In the nineties we had the Bebeto and Romario  baby-cradle celebration at USA 94’ and Ronaldinho’s cross come chip over the ponytailed David Seaman in 98.

This signaled Brazil’s return to form with tournament wins in 94 then 2002 and following. Both these wins were marked by the “original” Ronaldo, his apparent pre-final collapse in 94’ redeemed by his performance in Japan and Korea.

Personally, from a Tartan point of view I recall Jim Leighton’s needless parry into Muller’s path in 1990 and Tommy Boyd’s bundle into his own net in the opening game of France 1998.Both classic examples of Scottish football suicide against Brazil.

There will not be any Scotland/Brazil World Cup moments for some time.

32 teams will compete for the 20th World Cup in Brazil, firstly in 8 groups of 4 then breaking into 16, the quarters, the semi-finals then the final on Sunday the 13th of July.

This is a breakdown of the probable competitors in at Brazil 2014 (in my opinion).

Europe (UEFA): 13 places

Europe garners the most qualification spots and already the cream is rising to the top. Spain will not receive an automatic qualification spot as holders but their passage to Brazil is a certainty. Similarly Holland, England, Italy and Germany will breeze their way to Rio without much hassle.

Current form team Belgium will face stiff resistance from Croatia but should eventually take 1st place in Group A while Sweden and Portugal should overcome most of the 2nd placers to progress.

Belgium, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Russia, Greece, England and Spain

4 extra places:  France, Portugal, Croatia and Sweden are arguably the best of the runners-up but they may be pitched against each other in the play-off draw.

Africa (CAF): 5 places

The ten winners of the current groups will play in 5 fixtures: home and away to determine qualification. It is hard to predict the qualifiers at such an early stage but the completion of the  current African Cup Nations should give us a clue to the strongest teams on the continent. That being said powerhouses such as Egypt and Cameroon missed out on this year’s tournament but will probably claim a qualification spot.

Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Zambia and Egypt (providing the country does not slide into anarchy and they get their national league in order).

Asia (AFC): 4 or 5 places

Japan, South Korea, Australia and Uzbekistan

Japan, South Korea and Australia have been perennial qualifiers in recent tournaments. With a healthy amount of their players competing in some of Europe’s stronger leagues they should confirm their qualification with little problem. Uzbekistan has been the surprise team in the qualifiers so far.

A 5th place team will have to battle out a play-off with the COMNEBOL 5th place team. This will probably be a hard task to complete as the South American teams are of a far higher level.

South America (CONMEBOL) 4 or 5 places (+ Brazil qualified automatically as host nation for a total of 5 or 6 places)

Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela

Hosts Brazil takes an automatic spot and shall be joined by 4 teams automatically qualifying and the 5th place team who must play off against 5th place from the Asian Football Confederation. In reality this means an extra team for South America as any team from the COMNEBOL zone is more than capable of overturning the likes of Qatar, Iran or Iraq.

The surprise teams of this campaign have been Ecuador and Venezuela both of which have hurt the big guns home and away. Although Ecuador made 2002 and 2006, Venezuela have never graced the greatest tournament so far and will be eager to make history. Paraguay usually claims a spot but has had a hellish campaign thus far and already out of the reckoning.

North, Central American and Caribbean (CONCACAF): 3 or 4 places

Mexico, USA, Costa Rica and Honduras

Mexico and the USA will be fight it out with each other for top spot, leaving Costa Rica and Honduras to battle for the automatic 3rd place. 4th place will, in all likelihood, have to play-off against New Zealand which is a far better team than previous decades.

Oceania (OFC): 0 or 1 place

New Zealand will have to play-off with the 4th place CONCACF team for their berth in Brazil. They managed it last time round over a limited Bahrain but will have to step it up this time around. They left South Africa, 2010 undefeated after recording draws against Slovakia, Italy and Paraguay.

UEFA team of the year

Uefa have released their team of the year and yet again, disgracefully there are no SPL  nor Scottish stars.

More troubling for the English and the Premier League they do not even get a mention either.

In reality it is not surprising as although Chelsea won the Champions League season they did so in a dreadfully, defensive and unenterprising fashion. Especially against Bayern and Barca.   

 

 

 Iker Casillas (Real Madrid)

Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid),                                                 Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich),

                                 Gerard Pique (Barcelona),

                                           Thiago Silva (/PSG),

                                                                                            

Xavi Hernandez (Barcelona),        Andres Iniesta (Barcelona),

 

Andrea Pirlo (Juventus)          Mesut Ozil (Real Madrid)

Lionel Messi (Barcelona),              

Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid).

 

Luis Adriano: pantomime villian of the week

Brazilian Adriano has has attracted the ire the football world with his blatant disregard for “fair play” in last week’s Nordsjaelland vs Shaktar Donetsk Champions league match.

Despite the ball be played back to the opposition goalkeeper (after a dubious free-kick and awful play acting by a Nordsjaelland player) Adriano latched on to the pass back, rounded a confused keeper and slotted the ball into the net.

UEFA have opened a disciplinary case against Adriano for “violation of the principles of conduct”

Champions league draw

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The draw for the champions league draw has just been made with Group D looking like the “Group of Death”.

After an underwhelming maiden tournament last year Roberto Mancini will be hoping to qualify for the next stage. However with Real Madrid, Ajax and  Borussia Dortmund (all champions of their respective countries) in their group it will be a hard task to complete.

Celtic could of got it easier with Barcelona and Benfica but they can hold realistic ambitions of a 3rd place and Europa league spot along with Spartak Moscow. Their away form seems to be improving and they are a match for any at Celtic Park.

Holders Chelsea got Juventus,Shakhtar Donetsk and newcomers  FC Nordsjaelland.

Arsenal face trips to Schalke, Olympiakos, Montpellier and Man Utd will play Braga, Galatasaray, CFR Cluj in Group H.

FULL DRAW

Group A: Porto, Dynamo Kiev, Paris St Germain, Dinamo Zagreb.

Group B: Arsenal, Schalke, Olympiakos, Montpellier.

Group C: AC Milan, Zenit St Petersburg, Anderlecht, Malaga.

Group D: Real Madrid, Manchester City, Ajax, Borussia Dortmund.

Group E: Chelsea, Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus, FC Nordsjaelland.

Group F: Bayern Munich, Valencia, Lille, BATE Borisov.

Group G: Barcelona, Benfica, Spartak Moscow, Celtic.

Group H: Manchester United, Braga, Galatasaray, CFR Cluj.