Three thoughts after Greece's 1-0 win over Russia ...
Three thoughts from the 1-1 draw between Italy and Croatia in Poznan, Poland.
Here are three thoughts from Ukraine's 2-1 victory over Sweden:
Cesare Prandelli's pledge when he took over for Marcello Lippi following the 2010 World Cup was to make the Azzurri attractive, attacking and likable. He's certainly done his best, introducing an "ethical code" (players under suspension for disciplinary reasons would not be called up) and insisting on a midfield of technically gifted playmakers. The idea is for Italy to play its own version of tiki-taka, a style perfected recently by Spain.
Look around and note who's playing in central defense for the Champions League semifinalists.
When Sir Alex Ferguson reviews how and why Manchester United crashed out of the Champions League he'll find a number of reasons. But ultimately he may well find he has to bear a lot of the responsibility.
Twelve Champions League thoughts from Round 5 of the Group Stage:
You may have heard the recent scaremongering from Richard Bevan, head of England's League Managers' Association. He said this week that a number of "overaeas-owned" clubs are "already talking about the avoidance of promotion and relegation in the Barclays Premier League. If we have four or five more new owners, that could happen."
Ten Champions League thoughts from Round 1 of the Group Stage:
We've got plenty of time to go until the transfer window shuts, and plenty of big names have been circulating in the rumor mill. Expect a fair number of the following to pitch up elsewhere next season.
Maybe there's a new dimension to Jose Mourinho's specialness, one we've so far overlooked. In fact, perhaps it's the single biggest feat of his managerial career. In the two seasons he was at Inter, the club was, well, "normal."
There are many things that set this Barcelona team apart from its predecessors. But one which hasn't often been highlighted -- and which is truly striking -- is that this is a more settled side than any other Champions League finalist in recent years. Not just by a little: by a lot.
We are what formed us. Some of it is nature: height, athleticism, race, intelligence, agility, etc. Some of it is nurture: where you grew up, what your family was like, how you were raised and so on.
You don't win 21 Bundesliga titles in 41 years without a certain a degree of bloody-mindedness. At Bayern Munich, it used to manifest itself in an unapologetic transfer policy that could best be described as BIMBY -- best in my backyard. The Bavarians would routinely buy up the domestic competition's outstanding talent to kill two birds with one stone: while their own status as Germany's best (and wealthiest) team was strengthened, their league rivals would be instantly weakened, sometimes fatally so.
Even just 10 years ago, a game like the Bayern vs. Inter clash on Tuesday night would have been, generally, unthinkable. Why? Because it was a German team versus an Italian team. In other words, discipline versus defensive nous. Lazy stereotyping was probably off the mark even back at the turn of the millennium, but at least it was grounded in some kind of reality, some kind of expression of national characteristics. Today they're simply way off base. Bayern and Inter provided plenty of evidence of this.
There's a team in Europe that is still in the hunt to win every competition this season. A club which is dominating its league, ahead of its perennial archrival, which itself is having, statistically at least, a great season. Its numbers, across all competitions, are frighteningly good: Played 40, Won 33, Drawn 4, Lost 3.
Jose Mourinho stories in the SI Vault
Last June, in South Africa, there was one Italian club with rather split loyalties. It had sent no fewer than eight players to the World Cup, representing six different nations. Had this been a perennial Champions' League powerhouse, you might not be surprised. But it was little Udinese, hailing from a town of around 100,000, tucked away in the foggy (half the year anyway), northeast of the country.
If you're a Liverpool fan, you're probably pretty angry right now. You've won one game since September (albeit a pretty important one, against Manchester United), qualification to the knockout stage of the Champions League seems extremely improbable right now and you're sixth in the English Premier League, after finishing second last year.
Rafael Benitez's reign as coach of Inter Milan has lasted only six months after the European champions terminated the Spaniard's contract on Thursday.
Angry about the World Cup host vote? Can't understand how Russia and Qatar -- despite generally substandard technical reports filed by FIFA itself -- are getting to host the biggest sporting event in the universe in 2018 and 2022, respectively?
Sometimes, it's about attitude and confidence. You either have them, or you don't. And it really doesn't matter that much if they have any bearing on reality. Mind can trump matter.
When Wayne Rooney announced he wanted to leave Manchester United it seemed his days at Old Trafford were numbered, but CNN pundit Gabriele Marcotti had other ideas and his predictions have proved spot on.
Gazzetta dello Sport's Giancarlo Galavotti on Alex Ferguson's press conference and Wayne Rooney's desire to leave Man United.
Three years ago, World Soccer magazine published a list of the 50 most exciting teenagers in the world. With the benefit of hindsight, of those named, you could say there are 13 who either achieved stardom or are on their way to it: Pato, Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, Fabio Coentrao, Marouane Fellaini, Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Ivan Rakitic, Gregory van der Wiel and Theo Walcott.
When it comes to change, FIFA likes to move in baby steps. (Which might actually help explain why those who want to see instant replay introduced will probably have to wait a few hundred years, but that's an argument for another time.) Sometimes though, those steps -- "baby" as they may be -- are in the right direction. Count the new Transfer Matching System (TMS) as one of those times when FIFA gets it right.
The Champions League is back and, for all its foibles, this is still as good a tournament as there is in the game. And, yes, that includes the World Cup, which is obviously special but in a different way. Here's an early report card on what we saw in Matchday One:
As most economists will tell you, the more times are uncertain, the more folks hunker down and count every penny. Judging by transfer activity (or lack thereof) this summer, most clubs feel the same way.
First, a disclaimer. Yes, after three consecutive seasons of having three English league clubs in the Champions League semifinals, this year there aren't any. Not since 2003-04 has Europe's Final Four included no Premiership teams.
Enough is enough. For years AC Milan has followed the same mantra: We're very close, we just need a couple of tweaks and we'll be in with a shot.
Here's a little game you can play at home. Type the words "Mourinho" and "referee" in your search engine. When I do it, I get more than 3 million hits. Here are some random headlines:
This one's easy. Thierry Henry is a cheat. He helped France cheat its way to the 2010 World Cup by intentionally handling the ball to control it before crossing it for William Gallas to score les Bleus' equalizer in extra time against Ireland on Wednesday (RECAP).
We're halfway through the Champions League group stage, which means it's midterm report-card time for Europe's elite. In this evaluation, though, you don't get a straight grade -- you're on a curve based on how you've performed relative to expectations.
With World Cup qualifying wrapping up very soon, a potential nightmare scenario lies ahead for FIFA:
Picture the scene: your star striker is bearing down on goal, seconds before the end of a crucial, season-defining match. A heavy touch takes him away from the danger area but, thanks to the attentions of a nearby defender, a tenuous fall to the turf procures a dubious penalty.
We knew it was coming sooner or later. Michel Platini, president of UEFA, had said as much. And now we're one step closer, after UEFA approved what it calls the "concept" of "financial fair play."
Jump on the England bandwagon too soon -- as often happens -- and you're bound to be disappointed. But the numbers are hard to argue with: eight games in World Cup qualifying, eight wins; 31 goals scored, five conceded.
Welcome to rock bottom. It couldn't possibly get worse, could it?
Real Madrid's incredible summer spending spree will go past $300 million this week as Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema sign on the dotted line at the Bernabeu.
There are some people who, I guess, are just not meant to be liked. Maybe they don't fit with what we expect, or perhaps there's something about them that prompts us to judge them more harshly than others. Or maybe they just don't look right.
Nine years ago, Florentino Pérez walked into the game and ushered in a new era. Call it "the Galáctico Age," call it "the Zidanes y Pavones experiment," call it the destruction of conventional wisdom, call it what you like.
SI.com's Gabriele Marcotti breaks down Wednesday's Champions League final matchup between Manchester United and FC Barcelona (ESPN, 2:30 p.m. ET).
Shakhtar Donetsk became the third former Soviet club to win the UEFA Cup in the past five years, following CSKA Moscow in 2004-05 and Zenit St. Petersburg last season.
Halfway through the Champions League quarterfinals and the neutral fans can only be pleased. We've seen far better games than in the first legs of the Round of 16, we yet could have a major upset and, along the way, we've learned at least 10 things:
Deep into injury time in one of Manchester United's most important games of the English Premier League season a 17-year-old Italian on debut hit a stunning winner and lifted himself to instant stardom.
FIFA and UEFA did something this week that not only was right and just but also took a fair amount of guts. They stood up to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and rejected its out-of-competition drug-testing rules.
It was Real Madrid's most humiliating European night in a long, long time. And in some ways, the 4-0 loss to Liverpool on Tuesday hurt more than the 5-0 defeat to Arrigo Sacchi's AC Milan team 20 years ago.
Half an hour after going down to a 1-0 defeat by Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in the Champions League, Roma's Philippe Mexes stopped on his way to the team bus to chat with the media.
A little more than a week ago, I was invited to a roundtable chat with UEFA president Michel Platini. One phrase stood out: "We need to reintroduce the concept of morality in football. We have to permit everybody to have a chance to win."
When even the FA Cup is drawing criticism, you know domestic cup competitions are in trouble.
It's the classic "offer you can't refuse" -- the tipping point at which anything becomes possible. Manchester City's $145 million bid for Kaká is a shot into unknown territory. It roughly doubles the previous world-record transfer of $65 million, set 7½ years ago when Zinedine Zidane left Juventus for Real Madrid.
It's that time. So why not make a list of things I hope to see in 2009?
With the European seasons just about at the halfway mark, there seems to be one overriding theme. Every one of the big boys (except Barcelona) is generally stinking it up. Some more so, some less so, admittedly.
In case you hadn't noticed, this week was a "FIFA date," which is when players leave their clubs, meet up with their national teams and face other nations. Sometimes, when qualification for World Cups is at stake, these can be thrilling dates. Most times, it's about as fulfilling as receiving one of those Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes winner's notifications in the mail.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Pep Guardiola. At 33, he had chosen to end his career in Qatar largely because, as he saw it, the modern game had no room for a guy like him.
Perhaps it was always going to take the meltdown of the financial markets to get the folks who run the game to take an interest in things like ownership and debt. Whatever the case may be, it's better late than never.
Earlier this week, UEFA President Michel Platini and Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger got involved in a somewhat petty dispute over video replay and what Platini reportedly described as Wenger being a man "of business," whereas Platini is a man "of football."
It exists in almost every organized sport in almost every country. You can call it whatever you like: Director of Football, Sporting Director, General Manager -- it really doesn't matter.
VIENNA, Austria -- Dr. Monkey-Be-Gone. Or How Spain Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Its Own Distinct Brand of Soccer.
VIENNA, Austria -- OK, so I've tried my best. I've held my tongue throughout this tournament. But, the fact is, I've had it. I've had enough of people telling me that Miroslav Klose and Karim Benzema are overrated donkeys because they haven't had a good Euro 2008. Or that David Villa is now the best striker in Europe (heck, he's not even the best striker on his national team). Or that Andrei Arshavin is the second coming of Zinedine Zidane.
ZURICH, Switzerland -- From top to bottom, here is an A to Z of the best and worst of the European Championship through two weeks of action.
BASEL, Switzerland -- Remember 4-4-2? That basic formation you most likely played when you were kids? Four defenders in a line (maybe one of them might drop off to sweep), four midfielders in a line (the wide guys acting, effectively as wingers) and two forwards, also pretty much playing alongside each other.
BASEL, Switzerland -- Eight days in and there's plenty of interesting stuff to admire at this European Championship. What struck me most was the tactical diversity on display. In fact, while the quality of the play has been roughly on par with expectations, the coaching has, in my opinion, surpassed them. There really are managers doing new and interesting things.
ZURICH, Switzerland -- A friend of mine, one who made the curious decision of going into politics, once told me: "Figuring out what to do isn't that hard. The tricky part is knowing how to get it done and actually getting it done."
BERN, Switzerland -- OK, I could have made this point before the tournament, but it's worth making again, because something isn't quite right here. Arrigo Sacchi, who led AC Milan to two European Cups said he'd love to see "Marco and Roberto meet in the final."
SI.com's Gabriele Marcotti is in Switzerland and Austria for the 2008 European Championship. Here's his primer for the tournament.
MOSCOW -- "Football is the true winner tonight!"
SI.com's Gabriele Marcotti breaks down Wednesday's Champions League final matchup between Manchester United and Chelsea (ESPN2, 2:30 p.m. ET).
We're halfway through the Champions League semifinals, and we've seen some bizarre behavior from the three participating English clubs.
Out of sight, out of mind? Hardly. José Mourinho may have retired to his Portuguese hideaway last September, but his presence still hovers over the game.
And then, just like that, he went down again. A sprint into space, his left foot seemingly crazy-glued to the San Siro pitch, his left knee buckling and his body collapsing in a heap.
Greatness may not be as random an occurrence as we think. Great players tend to be born in certain parts of the world. And great players tend to evolve thanks to a certain type of coaching.
Playing sports is good for your health. Playing professional sport often isn't.
OK, Champions League fans -- this is when things get tasty. This is when those who complain that "things were better in the old European Cup, when it was only champions who were admitted" ought to be taken out back and ...
You probably didn't notice, but my column didn't run two weeks ago. It was Thanksgiving and my boss gave me the day off. Good thing he did, otherwise you would have had to read through my postmortem on England's failure to qualify for Euro 2008.
Also in this column: • McClaren wastes time in L.A. • Hats off to surprising Rosenborg
Also in this column: • Lunacy of FIFA's award list
How about a quick straw poll? How many of you have seen Kaká play in the flesh? How about Ronaldinho? Alexandre Pato? Wayne Rooney?
A wise man once said the difference between the rich and everyone else is that the rich get second chances. When they suffer setbacks, they know they can always dust themselves off, reopen the wallet and take another shot at it.
Did I miss something? What's going on? It's the third week in June and the transfer market is lifeless. Take away Manchester United (which moved swiftly and effectively to lock up Owen Hargreaves, Anderson and Nani before the end of May) and things look positively dead.
Writing this column is a privilege. And among the perks is the opportunity to answer readers' questions in an occasional mailbag. This may be an American Web site, but readers are from all over the world, reflecting the global nature of the game.
Last year, Michael Schumacher's numbers were positively Chamberlain-esque, a function of his longevity, ability and name recognition.
I finally have something in common with hundreds of thousands of Chelsea fans: I'm terribly disappointed in Andriy Shevchenko.
Who's looking out for No. 1? A better question is who wants to be No. 1. After this week's Champions League action, the Rankings have been thrown into disarray.
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