29 September 2006

Busy week in calcio: red cards, hat tricks, and shootouts

A belated roundup of all that's gone on in the past few days, including Matchday 2 of Champions League group play. Here we go!

Champions group standings

Now that two matches have been played, the groups have started to separate themselves out. There are now clear first and second place teams in most of the groups (only a couple are separated by goal difference only). If you want to examine the results, I recommend the official UEFA site for scores listed by matchday, and Wikipedia for nicely formatted group tables. Following are the teams that are in the top half of their groups:

Chelsea, Barca, Bayern, Sporting, Liverpool, Eindhoven, Valencia, Roma Merda, Lyon, Real Madrid, Man U, Celtic, Arsenal, CSKA Moscow, Milan, Anderlecht

vs. my predictions

Barca, Bremen, Bayern, Inter, Liverpool, Eindhoven, Valencia, Olimpiakos, Real Madrid, Lyon, Man U, Benfica, Arsenal, Porto, Milan, Lille

As before, differences between the two groups are noted with italics.

Gli Italiani

How are the three Italian squads faring in Champions? As you can see, only two of them are currently in the top two of their groups. Roma Merda came out firing in their first match, but have been calmed by a 2-1 loss to Valencia on Matchday 2. Milan are hardly cruising, but are two points ahead of their group after a scoreless encounter with Lille.

And that leaves...Inter. The nerazzurri are in big trouble, pointless after two matches. The future isn't looking bright either, after their 2-0 travesty against Bayern. Inter was playing with only nine men at the end of this match after red cards were shown to Ibrahimovic (two yellows) and Grosso (elbowing). As if that weren't enough for Inter, they'll be missing these two stars as they fight for their first points on Matchday 3.

Infortuna di Eto'o

Barcelona managed a 1-1 draw with Werder Bremen. With 4 points, they are not in trouble in their group, but they suffered a huge loss when Samuel Eto'o was carried off the pitch in the 65th minute. After medical examination it was determined that he tore the cartilage in his right knee and had to undergo surgery. Worst for the club, he will not be able to play for five months. Barca is certainly still strong without him, but Eto'o is truly world-class and will be missed both in Champions and the La Liga season.

Tripletta di Drogba

I am not a Didier Drogba fan. I in fact love to point out just how frequently he is able to screw up and not score (anyone remember this past spring's Africa Cup?). And knowing Chelsea's luck in Champions League play, I expected that this inability to convert would apply to the whole team. I thought it was going to, especially when Drogba's first open shot of the match rocketed off the crossbar. Then he decided to prove me wrong, spreading out a hat trick of goals through the remainder of the match. Granted, these were scored against Levski Sofia, who I think would be much happier had they just lost to Chievo and played UEFA Cup (although their fans did burst into uproarious applause when they scored their first ever Champions League goal in the last minutes of the match). Regardless, Drogba showed some skill, at least with his outside shots. Doesn't mean I have to like him now, though.

Basta con i rigori?

Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, made an interesting announcement as Matchday 2 was drawing to a close. He wants to eliminate the penalty kick shootout, such as the one that decided the World Cup final, in certain international competitions. The top options he has proposed are to go to the old school way of replaying the match, or to return to the "golden goal" format. Not that I am a huge fan of the PK showdown, but it has its practical advantages. Replaying a match, especially something as huge as the World Cup final, is a huge logistical problem in the modern era. How can a host city coordinate for the second time on short notice situations such as tickets, security, and TV broadcasting rights and schedules? Also, this format could only apply to the finals of the tournament, since if it were employed earlier on it would not only destroy the regularity of the schedule but give a huge disadvantage to teams that had to play not just 30 minutes of extra time but a full 90. And how about golden goal? If I recall correctly, golden goal formats worked similarly to the current extra time format: there was a time cap after which the match went to PKs. To set up an NHL-style overtime (play until someone scores, we'll be here all night) is impractical as well. It is rare that a hockey match goes three full periods of overtime, but I can easily see two tired football teams drag out 90 minutes of scoreless golden goal time. The truth is that there's no perfect solution, and it will be interesting to see what FIFA comes up with as a proposal.

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