Barca! Barca! Barca!

Barca! Barca! Barca!  What a game, what a day, and what a performance.  On a day that the whole world was watching, Barcelona returned to the top of the European mountain.  Barcelona and Juventus both came into the match with a great plan, and both for the most part executed their plans for 60 minutes.  Barcelona opened the scoring early with an amazing move, in which all 10 outfield players touched the ball during a 16 pass move that ended with Neymar feeding Andres Iniesta who slide the ball to Ivan Rakitic and he place the ball into the back of the net.  3 minutes into the game and the third fastest goal scored in a final.  Barcelona kept the pressure on and if it weren’t for some amazing saves from Gigi Buffon, it would have been over by halftime.  However it was just 1-0 at half and Juventus had hope.  Then Marchisio won the ball back and played a magnificent backheel to Lichtsteiner.  Lichtsteiner then passed the ball to Tevez who turned and shot on goal.  Ter Stegen made the save, but the rebound fell to Morata and he smashed it into the net.  The score was 1-1 and it was really game on.  The tie did not last long, as just 13 minutes after Morata scored, Rakitic won the ball and found Messi in some pace.  He was able to drive the ball towards the goal and get off a great shot that was beaten back by Buffon but fell perfectly for Suarez to hit back into the net.  2-1 to Barcelona.  Neymar would add a stoppage time goal and finish the game off.  3-1 to Barcelona.  The Champions League trophy would be going to Barcelona for the 4th time in the last 10 years.  This was Barcelona’s third trophy of the year, and they became only the second team ever to win the treble.  This is their 5th European title, which ties them with Liverpool and Bayern Munich for third most all time.  Juventus in the process are now the team that has lost the final the most after losing their 6th final.

What an amazing end to what was a great season.  I have really enjoyed writing about it all season and can’t wait for next season to start.

Lastly, a look at some summer soccer events.

The Women’s World Cup has already begun in Canada and will take place from now until the final on July 5th.  This should be a really competitive tournament, as it has expanded to 24 teams and allowed for more nations to enter the tournament.  The tournament consists of a group stage and then a knockout stage.   There are six groups.  The winners and runners-up from each group advance as do the top 4 third place teams.  The favorites for the tournament are the United States, France and Germany.  Many people expect Canada to do well at home also.  Japan is the dark horse for the tournament, or as much as a defending champion can be.  Other teams to watch would be Australia, Brazil, England, and Sweden.  The following nations are making their first ever appearance in the final; Thailand, Switzerland, Spain, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Ivory Coast, Netherlands, and Ecuador.  It should be a great tournament and will be interesting to see what happens.

Predictions:

Group Winners: Canada, Germany, Japan, USA, Brazil, and France

Semifinalist: USA vs Germany and Japan vs. Australia

Final: Germany vs. Japan – Winner Germany

The Copa America is set to start this week in Chile.  The tournament is the national tournament for nations in South America.  The tournament starts on June 11 and ends on the 4th of July.  The tournament consists of 10 members from CONMEBOL and two members of CONCACAF.  CONMEBOL is the governing body of all the South American nations and CONCACAF is the governing body of all the Caribbean, Central, and North American Nations.  The defending champions are Uruguay.  The winner of the tournament of best placed CONMEBOL team will play in the Confederations Cup in 2017 in Russia.  The tournament consists of a group stage and then a knockout stage.  There are three groups of four teams.  The winners and runners-up in each group advance to the knockout stage, as do the two best third place teams.  Group A consists of Chile, Mexico, Ecuador, and Bolivia.  Group B is Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Jamaica.  Lastly, Group C has Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela.  This tournament will host some of the best players in the world.

Predictions:

Group Winners: Chile, Argentina, and Brazil;

Group Runners-up: Mexico, Uruguay, Colombia;

Best Third Place finishers: Ecuador and Paraguay

Semi-finals: Chile vs Mexico and Argentina vs. Brazil

Finals: Chile vs Argentina – Winner: Argentina

Lastly, if you are interested in watching some soccer over here in the states, the 2015 International Champions Cup is being held all over the summer. The games start on July 11th and run until July 29th .  The games start with what should be Steven Gerrard’s first match for the LA Galaxy, as they host America from Mexico.  The teams involved are America (Mexico), LA Galaxy, San Jose Earthquakes and New York Red Bulls (USA), Manchester United and Chelsea (England), Benfica (Portugal), Fiorentina (Italy), Barcelona (Spain) and Paris Saint-Germain (France).

Here is a list of all the games:

July 11, 2015 – LA Galaxy vs. America – Carson, CA

July 14, 2015 – San Jose Earthquakes vs. America – Carson, CA

July 17, 2015 – America vs. Manchester United – Seattle, WA

18 July 2015 – Paris Saint-Germain vs. Benfica – Toronto, Canada

21 July 2015 – Fiorentina vs. Paris Saint-Germain – Harrison, NJ

21 July 2015 – LA Galaxy vs. Barcelona – Pasadena, CA

21 July 2015 – Manchester United vs. San Jose Earthquakes – Berkeley, CA

22 July 2015 – Chelsea vs. New York Red Bulls – Harrison, NJ

24 July 2015 – Fiorentina vs. Benfica –  East Hartford, CT

25 July 2015 – Manchester United vs. Barcelona – Santa Clara, CA

25 July 2015 – Chelsea vs. Paris Saint-Germain –  Charlotte, NC

26 July 2015 – Benfica vs. New York Red Bulls – Harrison, NJ

28 July 2015 – Barcelona vs. Chelsea –  Landover, MD

28 July 2015 – América vs. Benfica – Mexico City

29 July 2015 – Manchester United vs. Paris Saint-Germain –  Chicago, IL

I will be taking a bit of a break but will chime in from time to time.  Make sure you check out the twitter handle as I see transfer news that can change the face of the game.  Have a great summer!

@SoccerPond

The wait is almost over

The road is almost over.  Well at least it is for one fan.  A Juventus fan pledged to walk all the way from Turin to Berlin if his team makes it to the final.  Well, Nicolo De Marchi is making this walk.  He just finished his walk this morning.  Check out pictures from his walk on the Juventus twitter handle.  The club will give him a ticket if he makes it.  For the rest of us, we just have to wait one more day for the biggest game of the season.  The Champions League final is set and the teams have arrived.  Now we just need to find out which team makes history.  Juventus have reached their eighth final and won the competition twice before.  Barcelona is also playing in their eighth final and has won it 4 times.  This is the most anticipated match of the season and the winner will not only get the Trophy with the big ears, they will be part of history as they will be a treble winning side.

Juventus comes into this match having won 7, drawn 3, and lost 2 games in this competition this year.  They played in a group with Malmo, Atletico Madrid, and Olympiakos.  During the group stage, they won 3 games (Malmo, Olympiakos, and at Malmo), they drew at home to Atletico Madrid and lost on the road at Atletico Madrid and Olympiakos.  In the round of 16, they defeated Dortmund 2-1 at home and then 3-0 on the road.  In the quarterfinals, they beat Monaco 1-0 at home and then drew 0-0 in Monaco.  In the semifinals, they drew with defending champions Real Madrid.  Juve were successful in the home leg winning 2-1 and then drew 1-1 in Madrid to advance to the final.  The average 1.33 goals per match and conceded on average 0.58 goals.  They have kept a clean sheet 50% of the time.

The team news for Juventus is where there is some concern.  Veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini will miss the game due to a calf injury.  Many of you may remember his name from the Luis Suarez biting incident in the World Cup.  Well I guess that is one storyline the world will miss out on.  His replacement is believed to be Andrea Barzagli.  However, Barzagli has not played since May 23 when he suffered a thigh strain against Napoli.  If he cannot go, then it would likely be Angelo Ogbonna.  The team shape will most likely be a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield consisting of Marchisio, Pirlo, Pogba, and Vidal.  This has to be one of the best midfields of all time.  The strikers will be Tevez and Morata.  Morata will be playing in his second straight Champions League final.  The back four will be Lichtsteiner, Bonucci, Barzagli, and Evra.  In goal will be the club legend and generational defining goalkeeper, Gigi Buffon.  It will be up to him to keep Barcelona off the score sheet.  The 37 year old is looking to add one of the few trophies that have evaded him.

Barcelona comes into this match having won 10, drawn 0 and lost 2 games.  The group stage consisted of PSG, APOEL, and Ajax.  In the group stage Barcelona suffered their first defeat when they lost 3 to 2 Paris Saint Germain.  They won the rest of their games and the group.  In the Round of 16, they face Manchester City and defeated them 2-1 on the road and 1-0 at home.  Then they faced they only team to beat them at that point in the time, PSG.  They would go on to win the first leg in Paris 3-1 and then the second 2-0.  In the semifinals, Barcelona faced former coach Pep Guaridola and his new club Bayern Munich.  The first leg ended 3-0 in Barcelona.  The second leg was essentially meaningless, but was Barcelona’s second defeat in the competition as they lost 3-2.  They advanced to the final winning 5-3 on aggregate.  They averaged 2.33 goals per match while they conceded 0.83 goals per match. They also kept a clean sheet 50% of the time.

The team news for Barcelona is pretty straight forward.  There is some concern over Iniesta, but all reports out of Spain say that he will play.  Iniesta is looking to become the first player to play in and win the UEFA Champions League four times.  Luis Suarez also missed some time recently but returned for the Copa Del Rey final and provided an assist to Neymar.  Xavi hopes to play in what will be his final game for the club.  The lineup should be Ter Stegen in goal.  He has been the goalkeeper for the whole competition. Alves, Pique, Mascherano, and Alba in the back 4.  The midfield three will be Iniesta, Busquets, and Rakitic.  Rakitic is the first Croatian to play in the UEFA Champions League final.  The front three will be MSN or Messi, Suarez, and Neymar.  Messi is looking to become the first player to score in three finals.

This should be a fantastic match and I am really looking forward to tomorrow for a great 90 minutes of football.

The game is set to kick off at 2:45 EST and is going to be on FOX.  Enjoy!!

My manifesto is the work I have done in the last years in FIFA…

Sepp Blatter is gone.  He announced his resignation yesterday from his position as FIFA president.  But the question is now what does this mean?  Will the corruption end?  What will be the next steps?  Sepp Blatter has been in charge of FIFA for 17 years and worked for FIFA for a total of 40 years.

His reign started when his mentor Joao Havelange retired and Blatter won the election in June of 1998, beating then UEFA president Lennart Johansson.  The reign of corruption started then with bribery claims being made all around the world.  Nothing came of these reports.

Then in 2002, a challenge came from within as General Secretary Michel Zen-Ruffinen filed a report about the financial mismanagement that was taking place in FIFA, and how there were conflicts of interest and abuse of power.  Zen-Ruffinen went to the Swiss authorities with this information, but Blatter wanted to keep it in-house.  Blatter then ended the investigation stating, “the executive committee will deal with our Mr. Clean”.  Zen-Ruffinen ended up leaving FIFA following the re-election of Blatter.   Later in 2002, Blatter won re-election despite losing many of his top lieutenants and more bribery accusations.  This time he defeated Issa Hayatou from Africa.

In 2004, FIFA released their first ever Code of Ethics.  Sepp Blatter then made some comments about women’s soccer that showed his true arrogance.  He called for Women’s Soccer to wear “tighter shorts”.

In 2006, Jack Warner was accused of fraud involving the resale of tickets to the World Cup in Germany.  Jack Warner was the FIFA Vice President at the time and the president of Trinidad and Tobago.  FIFA cleared Warner of any wrong doing and expressed some disapproval at his actions.

In 2007, Blatter was re-elected as FIFA president.  He ran unopposed and won easily, as he had fortified his block of support in the smaller countries.  The way the elections work is that every country in FIFA gets one vote.  This means that Germany, Spain, and England have the same power as Guyana, Djibouti, and Sudan.

In 2010, Mohammed bin Hammam stated that he would be running against Blatter in the 2011 FIFA presidential election.  Mohammed bin Hammam was the president of the Asian Football Confederation from Qatar.  However, in August of 2010, he backed out of the race and then backed Sepp Blatter to remain in office.

Then it all really started to get bad for Blatter on December 2, 2010.  This was the day in which he awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, respectively.   Before the vote, two members of the executive committee, Amos Adamu of Nigeria and Reynald Temmarii of Tahiti, were suspended for being caught on tape trying to sell their votes.  This investigation, which was conducted by The Sunday Times, also later revealed that four other members of the Executive Committee tried to solicit bribes.  Apparently one of them asked for $2.5 million and another wanted to be a knight.

In 2010, Blatter makes some interesting comments about homosexuals, since it is illegal in Qatar.  Blatter joked that they should just refrain from sexual activity.  He also made some interesting comments about racism and football saying that players should just shake hands and move on.

In June of 2011, Bin Hammam was found guilty of bribery and banned for life from all football activities.  This stemmed from a meeting with Jack Warner and led to him resigning from his posts.  The two were involved in bribing members of CONCACAF.

When FIFA investigated the voting procedure in 2012, they brought in former United States attorney Michael Garcia.  Garcia reportedly submitted a 430 page report on the corruption on September of 2014.  In November, Hans-Joachim Eckert, chairman of the adjudicatory chamber of FIFA’s independent ethics committee, published a 42 page summary of his report that confirmed the bids of Russia and Qatar. Garcia calls the summary incomplete and erroneous. The findings of this investigation found that there were some violations of the code of ethics, but they did not impact the integrity of the vote.  After his failed appeal, Michael Garcia promptly quit in protest.

Then the first cracks in the wall really became evident as 14 soccer officials were arrested on corruption charges from the United States on May 27th.  Swiss authorities raid a hotel in Zurich that lead to the arrest of 7 executives.  7 more were arrested in Florida at the CONCACAF headquarters.

This happened just days before Blatter would get re-elected for his fifth term, beating Prince Ali bin al-Hussein.  Blatter almost won by two-thirds majority, receiving 133 votes.

Then yesterday, it was revealed that 10 million dollars was paid to Jack Warner for the bribes he paid during the voting for the 2010 World Cup.  This was the straw that broke the camel’s back and lead to Blatter resigning.  Just days after he said that he was “the president of everybody,” he is now no longer the president.  While Sepp will remain as president until a new one is found, these are positive steps towards change in FIFA.

Let me finish by saying that this is by no means the end of the corruption that exists in FIFA.  Many more changes need to be made.  I think changes need to be made to the executive committee and how the votes are counted.  Should Africa have the most power?  They currently have the most votes in FIFA, and I think this will just lead to more corruption.  This will be a pivotal time in FIFA and the next president has a lot of work to do.

A quick side note, if you want a good laugh, there is a video of Jack Warner ranting about the chargers…check it out @ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iaQHkXvXaPQ

After 9 years with 0 trophies it is now 2 in 2 years…

Following a 9 year drought without a title, Arsenal now has won 2 in 2 years.  Arsenal defended their FA Cup title in fantastic style with goals from Walcott, Sanchez, Mertesaker, and Giroud.  They defeated Aston Villa 4-0.  This gave Arsenal their 12th title, which is more than any other club.  This was Arsene Wenger’s 6th FA Cup title. How should we now view Arsene Wenger?  During his long drought without a title, fans were calling for his head.  Some of the fans were behind him, but others said he needed a change and the team needed a new voice.  Arsene had the club treating fourth place like a trophy.  It was his goal and something that his team needed to accomplish.  Arsene has not won the Premier League title since 2004.  It has been 11 years, but is that about to come to an end as well?  This year, Arsenal was one of the most beautiful teams to watch and played some great soccer.  His team finished in third place.  It might not be time for him to go right now, but that day is coming soon.  His days in the Premier League are getting numbered and he must make some changes if he wants to win that elusive fourth premier league title.  Looking ahead to next season, I am excited to see if they can finally take the next step and really challenge for the title.  Some changes need to be made, but I think they are about 3 players away from mounting a serious title run.  They need a world class striker, centre back, and goalkeeper.  If they can add these three players then they can challenge Chelsea next season.  Will Arsene be able to do this?  Even if he does, he will need to figure out how to get some points away from Jose Mourinho.  While I know he can’t stay forever, Arsene has really turned it around at Arsenal and has his team poised to be a title challenger next season.   Congrats to Arsene and Arsenal on their record setting FA Cup title.  I am excited to see what they can do this summer.

Congrats to Paris Saint-Germain on their historic domestic treble. Edinson Cavani scored a fantastic header to give PSG their first ever domestic treble winning the big 3 competitions in the country in the Ligue 1 title, the Coupe de France, and the Coupe de la Ligue .  They are also the first team to ever win all four trophies in France in one season.  They won the preseason tournament in France called the Trophee des Champions.  It is a great achievement and congrats to them.  They only remaining question now is can they win in Europe?

We have a new winner of the DB Pokal Cup as Wolsfurg came from behind to win the Cup 3-1 over Dortmund.  Dortmund took the early lead from Aubameyang.  While Dortmund had chances and could have extended their lead, they didn’t and were made to pay for it.  Luiz Gustavo leveled the score and then Wolfsburg started to really attack and scored 2 goals within five minutes from Kevin De Bruyne and Bas Dost.  The final whistle came and it was the end of an era in Dortmund, and maybe the beginning of a new one in Wolfsburg.

The Serie A season has come to a close and the main story of the weekend has to be was Rafa’s mind elsewhere?  Rafa Bentiz’s current team, Napoli, face Lazio at home in a winner take all game for the final Champions League place.  They were beaten 4-2. They fell behind 2-0 before pegging their way back to 2-2, but then with Lazio already at 10 men when Parolo was sent off, Ghoulam picked up his second yellow in the 70th minute and Lazio’s two substitutes Onazi and Klose scored in the last 5 minutes of the game to give Lazio a spot in the Champions League.  Lastly, congrats to Juventus on officially winning the Scudetto.

Lastly this weekend saw one of the most unbelievable goals ever, and no one would be surprised to learn that it was from Leo Messi.  If you have not seen this goal, please check out the twitter feed or YouTube it.  He beats three defenders on the wing and then another one before curling in a shot from a ridiculous angle.  It was as good a goal as I can remember and reminded us all of how lucky we are to be alive and watching this fantastic player.  The scenes at the Camp Nou were fantastic as both sets of supporters were in full voice.  Neymar scored the second goal in what the kids would call a FIFA goal on a lovely square pass from Suarez.  Messi made it 3-0 when he scored off a great series of passes.  Bilbao got one as a great ball in and Inaki Willimas headed the ball into the net.  No matter who wins next weekend, we will see a treble winner.  I cannot wait!!!!