Thursday, May 8, 2014

Dramatic Climax in Europe

THE last couple of weeks have witnessed some very dramatic and breathtaking games of football as the European season reaches a climax. The matches have been coming so thick and fast that it has been virtually impossible for a weekly column like mine to catch up with the pace.

But I can assure you that I have not missed any of the Key games especially in England and Spain where there are suffocating three-way tussles for the domestic titles.

The latest of the drama played out on Monday night when Liverpool inexplicably threw away a 3-0 lead with 11 minutes remaining to draw 3-3 at Crystal Palace, thus finally surrendering the title initiative fully to Manchester City. Before then, City and Chelsea had also stumbled when least expected against the likes of Sunderland and Norwich as the pendulum swung back and forth amongst the top trio.

At the start of the season, I had tipped Manchester City as my favourite for the title because I felt they had the strongest squad. A couple of weeks back, I switched to Chelsea when City started imploding and Jose Mourinho seized the initiative. But City soon regained the advantage and now look set to prove my original prediction right.

As for Liverpool, I am not too disappointed that we are not going to win the title. During our 11-game winning streak which kept us at the top for several weeks, I received lots of congratulatory messages from readers but decided not to celebrate too soon. I would have loved us to win the title to reward Steven Gerrad for his loyalty, but then Chelsea parked “two buses” at Anfield and spoilt the party. Last Monday’s 3-3 draw at Palace was herd to take but Liverpool must celebrate a Champions League ticket which was our target at the start of the season.

In Spain, Atletico Madrid continues to defy Real Madrid and Barcelona at the top of La Liga, although last Sunday’s 2-0 defeat at Levante finally cut a chink in Atleti’s armour. But with Real and Barca also dropping points when least expected, the drama is sure to extend to the last day of the season.

In the European Champions League, I feel rather vindicated that the days of tiki-taka are numbered by the way both Barcelona and Bayern Munich were dumped out in the quarter-final and semi-final respectively.

Atletico Madrid not only “defended like mad men” which I recommended here on how to neutralize tiki-taka, they also counter-attacked like mad men to blow Barcelona to pieces, hitting the woodwork several times en route to a well-deserved 2-1 aggregate win. Real Madrid then took the “mad men” strategy to another level in the semis, screening off Bayern’s one million passes in midfield and punishing them with some vintage counter-attacking in a 5-0 aggregate rout!

The clearest evidence that tiki-taka is not working any more at the highest level is that, just 12 months ago, Jupp Heycken’s Bayern Munich demolished Barcelona’s tiki-taka 7-0 on aggregate with some fast and direct attacking football en route to being crowned European champions.

Now that Pep Guardiola has carried his tiki-taka to Munich, Bayern complete with the same set of players including Arjen Robben, Frank Ribery, Thomas Muller  and Philip Lahm find themselves being pulverized 5-0 by another team playing fast, direct attacking football. While Bayern were tiki-taka-ing with 1,000 passes in midfield, Real used only FOUR PASSES to move the ball from their own 18-yard box into the opponent’s net at the other end!

I stand by my prediction last year that tiki-taka will not win any major trophy again. Spain will soon find out at the World Cup finals in Brazil.

At Last, Keshi's Boys For Brazil

AFTER several weeks of speculation the Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi finally released his 30 man squad for the 2014 World Cup late Tuesday.

I waited all day for an early publication of the list so I could do a critique as the lead article for today’s column. But I had to give up when time ran out on me.

Nurudeen Obalola graciously accepted to take up the task to analyse the squad. His views on the subject I assure you are not too different from mine. Unless, of course, he disagrees with me on the shocking inclusion of goalkeeper Chigozie Agbim!


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