Friday, November 13, 2009

World Cup Qualifying preview; UEFA Playoffs

Four UEFA spots in the 2010 World Cup are up for grabs this week. Bosnia-Herzegovina, France, Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Russia, Slovenia and Ukraine will be duking it out for the right to spend next June (and possibly July) in South Africa.

Here are the UEFA Playoff matchups, starting on Saturday.

Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Portugal
Game 1 @ Portugal, Saturday.
Game 2 @ Bosnia-Herzegovina, November 18.

France vs. Ireland
Game 1 @ Ireland, Saturday
Game 2 @ France, November 18

Greece vs. Ukraine
Game 1 @ Greece, Saturday
Game 2@ Ukraine, November

Russa vs. Slovenia
Game 1 @ Slovenia, Saturday
Game 2 @ Russia, November 18

Portugal's chance of qualifying for South Africa 2010 have been shaken up with the absence of star midfielder Cirstiano Ronaldo (Ankle) and the fact that Bosnia will host the final leg of the playoff. Still, Portugal is favored to defeat offensive-minded Bosnia.

Despite Ronaldo's absence, look for Portugal to squeak out a tight victory over Bosnia. Also look for France, Russia and the Ukraine to book their spots in the World Cup by next Wednesday.

Monday, November 9, 2009

European Look-back

English Premier League

The match of the week occured at Stamford Bridge, as Chelsea (30 points) put some distance between them and Manchester United with a 1-0 win over ManU on Sunday. John Terry was the man responsible for the match's lone strike, as he guided a Frank Lampard free kick into the back net, even as United made a case for Chelsea striker Didier Drogba being offside during the play.

However, Manchester United (25 points) heads into the international break not only bemoaning the loss but also the fact that they are now equal to Arsenal for second in the Premiership standings. Arsenal saw to that by routing Wolverhampton Wanderes 4-1 at Molineux.

Liverpool's struggles continued, as they had to come from behind to draw with Birmingham City 2-2 at Anfield on Monday. The Reds broke the scoring ice thanks to a superb left foot volley by David Ngog in the 12th minute. Birmingham however rose to the occasion, as Christian Benitez equalized with a header following a scramble in the box and Cameron Jerome gave the visitors the lead with a strike from about 30-35 yards out. Liverpool however caught a break in the 71st minute when Birmingham keeper Joe Hart was caught handling a ball outside of the penalty box, thus awarding Liverpool a penalty shot, which Steven Gerrard buried for the equalizer.

La Liga
Barcelona remains at the top of the table while Real Madrid just hung on for the three points in the Madrid Derby.

Barcelona (26 points)kept themselves in first with a 4-2 win over Ream Mallorca. Pedro was the main man for the Catalan giants, as his brace was complemented with goals from Thierry Henry and Lionel Messi. Mallorca had the match tied at one, but Pedro's second goal in the 40th minute along with Henry's strike in the 44th minute put the match out of reach.

Real Madrid meanwhile jumped out to a 3-0 lead against In-city rival Athletico Madrid, but had to hold on for dear life, as Diego Forlan got Athletico on the score sheet in he 79th minute and Sergio Aguero brought Athletico to within a goal of Real in the 81st minute, but in the end, Real Madrid (25 points) held on and remained one point back of Barcelona.

Sevilla kept the third spot in the La Liga table with a 3-2 win over Villareal and Valencia made it four wins in its last six matches with a 3-1 win over Real Zaragoza.

Serie A
Inter Milan still holds a sizable advantage in the Serie A standings, though it did lose a bit of ground in the table.

Inter had to come from behind to salvage a point against Roma on Sunday. Mirko Vucinic gave Roma the lead thirteen minutes in, but Inter Milan (29 points) got the equalized just three minutes into the second half thanks to Samuel Eto'o.

Juventus (24 points) capitalized on the opportunity, routing Atalanta 5-2 to pull within five points of Inter Milan. AC Milan meanwhile continued its run of form with a 2-1 win over Lazio that pulled them into third place with 22 points. Sampdoria (21 points) meanwhile is slipping fast, as its 1-0 loss to Cagliari leaves them tied with Fiorentina for fourth in Serie A.

Bayer Leverkusen built a little bit of distance between them and Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga standings over the weekend.

Leverkusen (26 points) did it's part with a 4-0 rout of Eintracht Frankfurt at BayArena on Friday, but Werder Bremen saw the full three points slip away in the second half of its match against visiting Borussia Dortmund on Sunday. Mesut Ozil gave Werder Bremen the lead in the 36th minute, but Dortmund got the equalizer courtesy of Lucas Barrios in the 54th minute, thus preventing Bremen from staying tied for first with Leverkusen. Werder Bremen (23 points) is not only in second place, but they have to share with Hamburd SV for the next couple of weeks.

Bayern Munich is falling behind in the Bundesliga table, as its 1-1 draw against Schalke 04 left them tied with TSG Hoffenheim for seventh place. Schalke 04 is fourth in the table with 22 points and VfL Wolfsburg and Mainz are tied for fifth with 231 points apiece.

MLS Playoff weekend #2; a look back

One top seed is moving on to its conference final while another top team is heading home in shcoking fashion.

Playing the role of home team in the final leg of its playoff series against in-stadium rival Chivas USA, the Los Angeles Galaxy dominated possession for the majority of the match and Landon Donovan's penalty kick in the 73rd minute sent the Galaxy to a 1-0 win over Chivas USA (3-2 on goal aggregate) at the Home Depot Center on Sunday evening.

In addition to controlling possession, the Galaxy also had a majority of scoring chances, though it was unable to find the back of the net, but that changed in the 71st minute when Galaxy forward Mike Magee was fouled harshly in the midsection by Yamith Cuesta in the penalty box, awarding the Galaxy the penalty. Chivas keeper Zach Thornton guessed right, but Donovan instead shot the ball to the middle where Thornton first stood.

The Galaxy will host the Houston Dynamo at the Home Depot Center on Friday night at 11pm/8pm. THe Dynamo stamped its ticket to the Western final with an overtime victory, also by a score of 1-0, in its second leg of its playoff series against Seattle Sounders FC. After another 90 scoreless minutes, Houston finally found daylight five minutes into the first overtime, as Brian Ching's volley in the box beat Sounders keeper Kasey Keller to the left net and gave the Dynamo a lead they never relinquished.

In the Eastern Conference, the top-seeded Columbus Crew saw its bid for back-to-back MLS Cups come to a bitter end on Thursday night, as Real Salt Lake came back from two goals down in the second match of its series to elimnate the Crew 3-2 (4-2 on aggregate) at Crew Stadium. The Crew's Guillermo Barros Schelotto got Colubus going with goals in the 19th and 35th minute, but Javier Morales pulled one back for RSL, then just before halftime, the Crew's Frankie Hedjuk was called for a foul on Fabian Espindola in the box and Robbie Findley buried the penalty shot to restore RSL's aggregate lead. Andy Williams scored for Salt Lake in the 74th minute to put the series out of reach.

Unlike Columbus, the Chicago Fire were able to complete its comeback against the New England Revolution at Toyota Park on Saturday. John Thorrington scored the equalizer in the 25th minute with a shot in the box that beat Revolution keeper Matt Reis to the left net. The Fire officialy won the series in the 81st minute when Nyarko charged into the Revolution box and played a ball to Cuauhthemoc Blanco, who then beat Reis to the right side. The Fire will play Real Salt Lake for the Eastern Conference title on Saturday.

Monday, November 2, 2009

European Look-Back

English Premier League

Not much changed in the Premiership standings this past weekend. Chelsea still remains atop the table with 27 points folwing a 4-0 drilling of Bolton Wanderers. Manchester United though remained close to the blues by defeating Blackburn Rovers 2-0, allowing United to remain two points back of Chelsea.

One result that did stand out over the weekend was Fulham defeating Liverpool 3-1 at Craven Cottage on Saturday. Bobby Zamora got Fulham going with a 23rd minute strike, but Fernando Torres equalized for the reds in the 42nd minute. Fulham persisted, and Erik Nevland put the home side back in front in the 73rd minute and it went downhill for Liverpool from there on, as two players were red-carded and US midfielder Clint Dempsey sealed the match for Fulham with a 87th minute goal.

La Liga
Real Madrid gained some ground on FC Barcelona over the weekend. Real Madrid did its part by beating Getafe 2-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday. Madrid was lifted by Gonzalo Higuain's brace. Higuain scored his two goals in the second half in a three-minute span (53rd and 56th minute).

Meanwhile, Barcelona let three points slip away, as it played to a 1-1 draw with host Osasuna on Saturday. Seydou Keita scored for Barca in the 72nd minute and the visitors seemed headed for victory, but Barca shot itself in the foot, as a bad clearence attempt by Gerard Pique resulted in an own goal.

Barcelona's lead over Real Madrid (22 points) in the standings is just one point now. Sevilla remains close to the two Spanish giants with 19 points. One team that is climbing up the La Liga table is Valencia, who has only lost once this season. Valencia picked up its third win in its last five matches with a 1-0 win over Malaga. Valencia is currently fourth with 18 points.

Serie A
One Milan club is starting to take control of the Serie A standings while the other Milan club is climbing up the table.

Inter Milan increased its lead over Juventus and Sampdoria to seven points, though Palermo made them work for it, as Inter outlasted the hosts 5-3 on Thursday. Inter Milan scored four first half goals, but Palermo erupted with three second half goals to close the gap. Inter though weathered the storm, and Alberto Diego Milito's 83rd minute strike sealed the three points for Inter Milan (28 points).

AC Milan meanwhile is starting to regain its form after a 2-0 win over Parma. The Rossoneri were carried by Marco Borriello's brace. Borriello scored 12 minutes in, then sealed the win with a stoppage time goal that gave Milan its third win in its last four Serie A matches, leaving with 19 points, two behind Juve and Sampdoria.

Someone finally decided to seize first place in the Bundesliga table.

That someone was Bayer Leverkusen. Leverkusen (23 points) needed an 88th minute strike by Stefan Kiebling to salvage a 2-2 draw against Schalke 04 on Saturday, but Leverkusen got some help from Borussia Monchengladbach, as it defeated host Hamburg SV 3-2. Hamburg SV (22 points) led 2-1, but Dante equalized for Monchengladbach in the 76th minute and Rob Friend's 82nd minute strike gave the visitors a shocking win.

Hamburg's loss not only knocked them out of first place, but also enabled Werder Bremen to catch them for second place in the table. Werder Bremen did its part with a 2-2 draw against Nurnberg. Bayern Munich (19 points) lost ground in the Bundesliga table, as its 0-0 draw against VfB Stuttgart combined with TSG Hoffenheim's 1-0 win over SC Freiburg left Munich in sixth place, one point behind Hoffenheim.

MLS Playoff weekend #1: A look back

The West's top two seeds are in favorable position while the East's top two are backed into corners follwing the first weekend of MLS playoff action.

Halloween came a day late to the Home Depot Center, as strange mistakes on both sides played a major role in the 2-2 draw of the first ever Playoff Superclasico between the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA.

Chivas got in front just four minutes into the match, but two bad clearence attempts by Chivas resulted in two Galaxy goals. The first error came in the 14th minute, when defender Yamith Cuesta failed to clear a ball out of the penalty area and Mike Magee scooped up the loose ball and buried the equalizer. The second error came in the 41st minute when forward Maicon Santos tried to clear a ball away, only to see his punt attempt go back into the Chivas box and to the direction of Landon Donovan, who buried the point blank shot.

In the second half however, it was the Galaxy's turn to be bitten by the error bug. Defender Omar Gonzalez attempted a back pass to either Sean Franklin or keeper Donovan Ricketts, but the ball instead went to the feet of forward Mykael Galindo, who evaded Ricketts and buried the open net shot. Both clubs are hoping the mistakes are few and far between in next Sunday's final leg.

Meanwhile, defense and rough play was the sticking point in the 0-0 draw between the Houston Dynamo and Seattle Sounders FC at Qwest Field last Thursday. The defense came early in the first half when a shot attempt by Patrick Ianni was cleared at the goal line by Brian Mullan. The rough play however stood out more than anything else. Seattle forward Nate Jaqua was knocked in the head by Dynamo midfielder Ricardo Clark int he 27th minute. The hit was bad enough for Jaqua to require a jersey change and a bandage on his head the rest of the match. Houston was called for 18 fouls and six cards (three on each side) were issued out in the match.

In the Eastern Conference, the Columbus Crew and Chicago Fire head home needing to win by two goals or more after both sides came up short in their first legs of their respective playoff series. Columbus looked poised for a draw in its playoff opener against Real Salt Lake on Halloween night, but a strike in the 88th minute by Robbie Findley enabled Real Salt Lake to come out with a 1-0 win at Rio Tinto Stadium.

Chicago is also in a deep hole after the New England Revolution came from behind to record a 2-1 win over the Fire at Gillette Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Chris Rolfe gave Chicago the lead in the 17th minute, but Emmanuel Osei equalized for the Revolution just before halftime, and Shalrie Joseph won the match for New England in the 75th minute as Joseph pounced on a loose ball in the box and buried the point-blank shot. Chicago had a chance to grab the lead back in the 71st minute, but a shot attempt by Baggio Husidic went off the crossbar, hit the field, but didn't clear the goal line.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

MLS Playoff Preview

Western Conference
Los Angeles Galaxy (W1) vs. Chivas USA (W4)
The Superclasico get taken to a whole new level as the two occupants of the Home Depot Center gear up for two matches that promises to be just as intense as their three regular season meetings.

The Galaxy not only went undefeated against Chivas this season, b ut didn't allow Chivas to find the back of the net. The three matches however were grinders for Los Angeles. The two teams played to a scoreless tie in the first meeting back on April 11, but LA took the last two matches by scores of 1-0. A first-half goal by Edson Buddle was the difference in the second meetig two months later and Beckham's 80th minute strike vaulted Los Angeles to the Superclasico trophy.

Prediction: Chivas USA finally finds the back net against Los Angeles, but the Galaxy pushes more goals across and takes the series 3-1.

Houston Dynamo (W2) vs. Seattle Sounders (W3)
Two teams that appear to evenly match heading into their playoff series, starting on Thursday. Seattle has had Houston's number during the regular season, winning the first meeting 2-1 in Seattle on July 11 and playing to a 1-1 draw in the second match in Houston on August 23. The Sounders also defeated the Dynamo 2-1 win in the US Open Cup back on July 21.

Both teams appear to be warming up heading into their playoff series. Seattle won its last three regular season matches while Houston went 2-1-2, including a 3-2 in last Sunday to wrap up the second spot in the West.

Prediction: Should be a hard-fought two games, but look for Houston's playoff experience to be the difference as the Dynamo edge the Sounders 2-1.

Eastern Conference
Columbus Crew (E1) vs. Real Salt Lake (E4)
The Crew open defense of their MLS Cup title on Saturday, as they travel to Utah for the first leg of their series against Real Salt Lake.

For the second straight season, the Crew are the top seed for the MLS playoffs and feature pretty much the same team that won it all two years ago. The Crew coasted for most of the regular season to the top playoff spot in MLS while Real Salt Lake looked to be on the outside looking in a few weeks ago, but won two of its last three regular season matches to get into the playoffs.

Prediction: The Crew have the advantage in every part of the field. Columbus advances to the Eastern Conference final 3-0.

Chicago Fire (E2) vs. New England Revolution (E3)
Another playoff series that appears to be too close to call. The two teams played to a 1-1 draw in Chicago back on May 9 and a 0-0 draw in New England a few weeks ago.

Both teams needed wins in the final week of the season to qualify for the playoffs. Chicago edged out Chivas 1-0 last Thursday to wrap up the second seed in the East while New England defeated Columbus by the same score on Sunday to take the third seed. New England is in despite being hampered by injuries all season, missing forward Taylor Twellman (cocussion) for the whole season and midfielder Shalrie Joseph for a good part of the season due to a combination of injuries and national team callups.

Prediction: Look for Chicago to squeak out a tight series 2-1.

Monday, October 26, 2009

European Recap

English Premier League
The teams currently occupying the top two spots in the Premiership swited spots over the weekend, as Chelsea regained the top spot in the league.

Chelsea did its part on Saturday, as a brace by Frank Lampard helped the blues to a 5-0 rout of Blackburn Rovers at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea also got help from Liverpool, as they defeated Manchester United 2-0 at Anfield on Sunday.

The win not only stalled Manchester United, but brought a sigh of relief to Liverpool, whish was sliding down the standigs prior to Sunday'a match. Manchester United found itself behind the eight ball towards halftime, as Nemanja Vidic recieved two yellow cards in the first half, and Liverpool finally capitalized with a Fernando Torres goal in the 64th minute. David Ngog sealed the match with a stoppage time strike.

La Liga
FC Barcelona returned to form and in the process, put some distance between them and Real Madrid.

Barca routed Real Zaragoza 6-1 at Camp Nou on Sunday. Barcelona was carried by Seyduo Keita's hat trick and Zlatan Ibrahimovic's brace. Lionel Messi added an 80th minute strike to the tally. The win along with Real Madrid's 0-0 result against Sporting Gijon now puts Barcelona (22 points) three points ahead of Real Madrid (19 points).

Serie A
Inter Milan is still atop the Serie A standings, though shaking off Juventus and Sampdoria still remains a tough task.

The first half was the key for Inter Milan (22 points) in its 2-1 win over Catania on Saturday. Sulley Muntar scored in the 13th minute and Wesley Sneijder scored the eventual game winner in the 31st minute. Sampdoria (20 points) remained two points back of Inter thanks to Daniele Mannini's brace in Sampdoria's a 4-1 rout of Bologna. Juventus meanwhile got a 72nd minute strike from Carvalho De Oliveira Amauri and held on for a 1-0 win over Siena.

AC Milan is showing some life. Milan grabbed three points for a second straight week, as it came from behind to defeat host Chievo Verona 2-1. Chievo's Giampiero Pinzi scored seven minutes into the match and seemed headed for a big win, but Alessandro Nesta rescued the Rossoneri from another embarrasing defeat. Nesta equalized in the 81st minute, then won the match for Milan with a strike in stoppage time.

Milan (15 points) is now part of a three-way tie with Fiorentina and Palermo for fourth place in Serie A.

Bayer Leverkusen and Hamburg SV went into the just-concluded weekend tied for first in the Bundesliga table, and nothing has changed since.

Bayer Leverkusen (22 points) had to come from behind to salvage a 1-1 draw with Borussia Dortmund. Lucas Barrios struck in the eight minute to give Dortmund the lead, but Leverkusen got the equalizer from Manuel Friedrich in the 65th minute, and Leverkusen got out of BayArena with a point.

Hamburg SV however was the team that saw an opportunity lost, as it played to a 3-3 draw with Shcalke 04 (20 points). Hamburg lead 3-2 and seemed certain for victory, but Kevin Kuranyi scored for Schalke 04 in stoppage time to not only split the points, but also prevent Hamburg from seizing the top spot in Bundesliga.

Third-place Werder Bremen (21 points) kept its spot in the Bundesliga standings with a 4-1 rout of VfL Bochum, while Bayern Munich climbed up to 18 points and fifth place with a 2-1 win over Eintracht Frankfurt.