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Germany and Argentina look to end respective World Cup droughts in Rio de Janeiro

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

Tonight sees the culmination of a month’s worth of hard work, drama and sheer excitement as the 2014 World Cup final takes place in Rio de Janeiro, however host nation Brazil are the notable absentees from their own showpiece event following their 10 minute capitulation against Germany in the 7-1 semi-final defeat. Instead, Brazil’s fiercest rivals Argentina will step into the cauldron of footballing history that is the Maracana and look to end a 28-year wait for World Cup success by overcoming Germany in a repeat of the 1986 final.Maracana-World-Cup-Schedule

Germany too have a World Cup drought of their own with the European giants having not lifted the famous trophy since 1990 despite reaching the 2002 final but coming up short against Brazil in Yokohama. Joachim Lowe’s side have looked irresistibly brilliant at times this tournament, but have also flattered to deceive, particularly in the Group Stage matches against Ghana and the United States.

The semi-final victory against Brazil, whilst a monumental surprise, looked a real turning point for Lowe’s team. Whilst the belief of success had always been there this was a true return to the nature of German teams from days gone by, the more successful teams.

In 2006 and 2010 respectively we have seen Germany try to play with rather more flamboyancy in order to make best use of the current crop of exciting attacking talent that have come through courtesy of the post-millennium restructuring of German football, however this has come at a cost. Gone was the admittedly stereotypical steel and organisation from the German team, mistakes were creeping into performances and players weren’t performing in the important matches.

Lowe has somehow managed to reintroduce these characteristics to the class of 2014 with the attacking flair still evident, there is the perfect balance. The way Germany simply relaxed, remained professional and managed to score seven goals in their semi-final against Brazil proved this and has the European side heading into tonight’s match with fantastic belief.

Argentina on the other hand have had a less than smooth run to the final with the Argentine media absolutely hammering coach Alejandro Sabella for what the perceived to be ‘poor tactics’ in the opening matches whilst others groups criticises the influence Lionel Messi appeared to have not just on his teammates but also his coach.

What cannot be ignored however is how Lionel Messi has dragged his side to the latter stages of the tournament. A lot is made of the mark Diego Maradona left on the 1986 World Cup winning side and many suggest Messi will never be able to have that impact however the Barcelona forward has been outstanding in Brazil.

His last minute winning goal against Iran, his influential second-half performance in the tournament opener against Bosnia and Herzegovina which changed the tide of the match and a orchestrating display against Switzerland in the second round where he provided an inch perfect assist for Angel di Maria’s extra-time winning goal are all moments where Messi has led Argentina from the front.

These are the moments that are remembered for years to come, especially if Messi lifts the trophy in Rio this evening.

There have however been concerns about Messi’s overall fitness heading into tonight’s match with his father being particularly vocal in his concern for his son who he claims is ‘exhausted’. This showed in the semi-final against the Netherlands with the 27-year-old failing to register a touch inside the Dutch penalty area throughout the entire match.

From a tactical perspective this match is so difficult to predict due to the similarities in playing style between the two teams, particularly when not in possession. Both Germany and Argentina love to press an opposing team high up the pitch with Sabella and Lowe both encouraging their forwards to put real pressure on defenders, particularly when a team tries to play out from the back.

In this respect the Dutch played right into Argentina’s hands in the semi-final with the South American’s putting the Dutch defence under pressure early and cutting out the easy build-up pass to one of Nigel de Jong or Georginio Wijnaldum. Even without the epitome of Argentinean energy in Angel di Maria’s absence the team still managed to press effectively.

Germany look to press in a similar manner and tonight’s match may see players having less time on the ball than in previous rounds. This could make for a rather ‘harem scarem’ match with both teams being rushed into making decisions on the ball which makes mistakes more likely or, and we certainly hope this isn’t the case from the view of neutral, we see a rather timid affair with both teams aware of the other’s strengths and on guard against making a mistake.

Argentina will be without Di Maria, which is a big blow, but the return of Sergio Aguero gives Sabella options up front. With Gonzalo Higuain’s shall we say, relaxed playing style, there have been times where Messi has had to kick the team into action. With Messi fatigue issues it wouldn’t be a massive surprise if Aguero is played through the middle as a centre-forward who can bring energy to that area, support Messi and put pressure on Mats Hummels who is still playing through the pain barrier having suffered a knee injury earlier in the tournament.

From a German perspective Toni Kroos has been one of the best players in the tournament. He has played in his naturally unassuming manner and influenced the outcome of every match he has played in. With a move to Real Madrid expected to go through following the World Cup, Kroos has done his worldwide stock no harm this summer and Argentina have to get to grips with him early on. He is almost at an Andrea Pirlo level of being able to dictate matches but rather more crucially he is mobile and can move further up the pitch and orchestrate attacks.

After a heroic performance from Javier Mascherano in the semi-final, with Kroos in full flow you would say the Barcelona midfielder has to put in a similar man marking job on Kroos to limit his effectiveness.

There is little left to do other than await tonight’s match. The World Cup final only comes around once every four years however there will be an iconic image. Be that Philipp Lahm lifting the trophy to signal the German approach to remodelling their footballing structure in 2000 was all worthwhile or Lionel Messi, launching himself into the pantheon of footballing gods alongside Diego Maradona, by lifting the famed trophy in Brazil.

World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi strike saves Argentina’s blushes

Lionel Messi celebrates his injury time winning goal. (Photograph courtesy of Getty Images.)

Lionel Messi celebrates his injury time winning goal. (Photograph courtesy of Getty Images.)

Written by Chris Winterburn

Argentina survived a scare this evening with Lionel Messi’s 91st minute winning goal the difference between Alejandro Sabella’s side and Iran in a 1-0 victory for the South American giants.

The Iranians were once again well organised defensively as well as posing an efficient threat on the counter-attack and it wouldn’t have been too farfetched to suggest the underdogs deserved a victory, let alone the draw they so nearly earned.

The similarities between Italy’s performance against Costa Rica yesterday afternoon and Argentina’s against Iran were striking. Argentina had very little tempo when in possession of the ball however still squandered a number of chances in the first-half from set pieces with Ezequiel Garay and Federico Fernandez both heading over the bar from close range.

Iran, as they were against Nigeria in the week, were defensively strong. Javad Nekounam performed well as a holding midfielder, often dropping in at centre-half whilst Alireza Haghighi looked confident when dealing with balls delivered into the penalty area.

Alejandro Sabella after staunch criticism for his use of a 5-3-2 formation at the beginning of the opening fixture against Bosnia and Herzegovina selected Gonzalo Higuain from the beginning however the Napoli forward was almost passenger throughout aside from one chance in the first-half, leaving Messi isolated when withdrawing into a deep midfield position to receive the ball.

Argentina in fairness did have the better of the opening 45 minutes with Iran looking to consolidate a strong defensive display. The aforementioned Higuain chance came just before the half hour with the Napoli forward firing straight into Haghighi’s midriff from close range. Iran’s confidence grew from there with the half closing with Carlos Queiroz’s side going close from a corner through central defender Jalal Hosseini.

The half-time break appeared to have refocused Argentina with Pablo Zabaleta, Marcos Rojo and Sergio Aguero all looking to create a chance in the opening five minutes. From this moment however Iran looked to take control.

Argentina in search of an opening goal left far too many gaps in defence and midfield and should have been punished in the 55th minute when Ashkan Dejagah was denied a penalty. Replays showed a mistimed Zabaleta challenge was in actual fact, a foul. Dejagah had Iran’s next big chance ten minutes later when the Fulham midfielder forced an excellent save out of Sergio Romero following a diving header.

Panic set in to the Argentine team with attacks becoming frenzied and first touches slack. Alejandro Sabella looked to respond by introducing Rodrigo Palacio and Ezequiel Lavezzi but both struggled.

Charlton’s Reza Ghoochannejhad had put in a lot in terms of closing the Argentinean defence down however luck deserted the frontman in the final third with Romero pulling off yet another fantastic stop four minutes from time after another counter attack.

Whilst not the most aesthetically pleasing of playing styles it was difficult not to admire the focus and determination of an Iranian side plagued by off the pitch troubles prior to the tournament. A side, who were reportedly told not to swap shirts at the end of matches due to a financial inability to replace them, looked set to secure their second point of the tournament until a largely quiet Lionel Messi weaved his wand of a left foot.

With just three minutes of added time remaining Messi produced the trademark cut inside onto his strong left foot from the right hand side of the penalty area, taking two Iranians out of the game before curling a shot into the top corner in just the manner he has done so many times before.

Initially the crowd in Belo Horizonte, made up mostly by Argentineans, erupted in a wave of audible delight however the full-time whistle was accompanied by a small amount of discontent from supporters who felt Iran deserved better.

The victory spares Argentina’s blushed on an evening when they really didn’t deserve one point, let alone all three however the passage to the knockout stage has been forged by Lionel Messi who looks to be in the goalscoring form to carry his team to the latter stages.

Domino’s Pizza are offering football fans a chance to change goals into prizes this summer courtesy of the brand new, free to download ‘Domigoals’ app.  To stand a chance of receiving great prizes such as:

·        1 goal = £5 off a £15 spend
·        2 goals (brace) = £10 off £20 spend
·        3 goals (hat-trick) = £20 off £30 spend
·        Consolation prize = 25% off £20

Then all you need to do is be ready to tap the app every time a goal is scored during a match and, if you’re one of the first 1000 off the mark each time, you’ll get one of these aforementioned prizes.

Try the app out for yourself, you can download on Android or iOS here: http://www.dominos.co.uk/blog/domigoals-app/

Juan Sebastian Veron talks Lionel Messi and Argentina at the World Cup

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4

Argentina’s opening victory of their World Cup campaign was not the straightforward result many were expecting from Alejandro Sabella’s side in their home continent. The first-half was a very difficult affair with Sabella’s tactical setup not benefitting Lionel Messi in the slightest, as I discuss here.

This opened up much half-time discussion on just why Messi couldn’t perform at the World Cup, however his second-half display put a kibosh on such talk.

Argentine veteran Juan Sebastian Veron has since spoken to adidas about Lionel Messi and Argentina’s chances in Brazil.

Veron talks to adidas as part of the #allin campaign.

Veron talks to adidas as part of the #allin campaign.

One of the main talking points surrounding Messi’s legacy is his ability to lead his country to glory in a World Cup. People who use Pele and Diego Maradona as measuring sticks suggest that a true mark of greatness is being able to lift the famous trophy and with Argentina disappointing in 2010, it was muted that Messi might not be able to repeat the feat of Maradona.

Veron disagrees, pointing out that the FC Barcelona forward has already achieved more than enough to cement his status as one of, if not the, greatest player ever.

Messi is already one of the best players in history and that will never change.

He holds the key. He doesn’t have to win a World Cup to be regarded as the best ever.

He’s already proven so, and there are many great players who are great players and never won a World Cup. But, it will be incredible to see him win it for Argentina and his team, as well as for his own story.

An encouraging sign for Messi and Argentina is just how well he slotted into Sabella’s 4-2-3-1 system in the second-half. Gonzalo Higuain’s introduction gave him a player to play off and this saw the tempo of Argentina’s attacks increase. It is unlikely Sabella will deviate from this system for the upcoming match against Iran with Messi appearing so confident following his strike against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Juan Sebastian Veron was a key part of the Argentinean footballing setup since 1997. Although he missed the 2006 World Cup in Germany due to difficulties within his club career at the time causing a lengthy dip in form, the man himself says it feels strange not to be involved this time around, “Although I miss playing in a World Cup, for the first time I’m able to see it from a different perspective and really enjoying my time here in Brazil. I’ve been able to watch many great games.”

Argentina were one of the pre-tournament favourites and although the defensive line is lacking in individual quality, a Lionel Messi hitting form at the right time is enough to drive most teams to the latter stages. In the interview Veron suggests that the importance of gaining a victory in the opening group match is invaluable in terms of providing ‘tranquillity’ to a group with the pressure in the remaining two fixtures significantly lowered,

We’ve won our first game which is great, it’s important to start the World Cup winning and it will bring a lot of tranquillity to the next match.

The team also know that a lot more hard work is needed and some improvements are needed.

It’s very important for there to be a balance between our defence and attack and the team needs to stay together as they’re a collective of many components, with many solutions.

I’m confident we’ll do well, but remember, in football anything can happen.

Argentina next take to the field against Iran on Saturday before their final group game against a lacklustre Nigeria side on Wednesday June 25th.

Juan Sebastian Veron was talking as part of the adidas #allin or nothing campaign

Manchester City gain valuable European experience despite falling short: Champions League Diary 13.03.14

Manchester City’s first venture into the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League came to an end in Barcelona last night with the Blues going down 2-1 to the Catalan giants in a 4-1 aggregate defeat. Manchester City were without the touchline presence of manager Manuel Pellegrini who was suspended courtesy of his comments regarding referee Jonas Eriksson just after the first leg where the Chilean coach called into question the Swedish official’s impartiality after he felt there was a string of wrong decisions which went against his team.

Joleon Lescott struggled to contain Messi all evening long and it seemed only a matter of time before the Argentine got the better of the English centre-half.

Joleon Lescott struggled to contain Messi all evening long and it seemed only a matter of time before the Argentine got the better of the English centre-half.

With the much maligned Martin Demichelis suspended as a result of his red-card in the first meeting between the two sides, Joleon Lescott was brought into the starting eleven to partner Vincent Kompany whilst James Milner was positioned on the left hand side of midfield to track the forward runs of Dani Alves just as Kolarov had done three weeks’ previously. The first half was a fairly even affair with perhaps Barcelona having the better of the opening exchanges with there being shouts for a Barcelona penalty turned down when Joleon Lescott was far too late to a challenge on Lionel Messi however referee Stephane Lannoy rather inexplicably waved play on.

Whilst Barcelona looked much more comfortable on the ball than their English counterparts in the first half, Manchester City were still more than in the game, Yaya Toure was a real threat in the centre of midfield with the Ivorian looking to push back the duo of Xavi and Fabregas through his marauding forward runs and as the half wore on it became more apparent that there was a sense of panic within the Barcelona backline whenever Toure set off on a forward drive such was the rather uncharacteristic tendency to try and bring Toure down once he got past one player to limit any damage he could possibly cause.

The inclusion of James Milner was a clever one, whenever Toure ran forward Milner would drift into a central position and provide light cover for the now exposed Manchester City midfield and this was possibly something which Pellegrini could have done with in the first leg.

Prior to kick-off Sergio Aguero had been heralded as the great hope for Manchester City to turn the tie around however the Argentine was very much on the periphery of the match with statistics showing the former Atletico Madrid forward had only six touches of the ball throughout his entire evening’s work. Aguero was withdrawn at half-time with a hamstring injury and looking back his first-half display was very similar to Mesut Ozil’s against Bayern the previous evening with the German international too suffering a hamstring complaint.

Manchester City started the second forty five minutes much the better team with captain Vincent Kompany leading from the back. The Belgian’s reading of the game was perfectly displayed last night however Barcelona’s lack of running options in behind allowed the City back four to step out and try and intercept a pass before it had reached its destination as there was no danger of a Pedro or an Alexis Sanchez running in behind and having a one on one with Joe Hart.

Barcelona looked to be on the ropes for the first ten minutes of the second-half with substitute Edin Dzeko looking to be a catalyst for a highly unlikely comeback. There is a feeling amongst Manchester City supporters that you can usually tell whether or not the Bosnian forward is in the mood based on his first few involvements in a match. Going by that charter you could see Dzeko was set to impress and his first touch was a shot which tested Victor Valdes.

In the ten minute period that followed Manchester City may well look back and reflect that they may well have not been adventurous enough to really make the most of their dominance. James Milner, whilst having a good evening doing the task he was entrusted with before kick-off, is not a real creative force. Whenever the ball went to the left hand side for a Manchester City attack it was slowed down by Milner and allowed the Barcelona back four to get back into some form of shape. Had Jesus Navas been introduced on the left hand side at half-time or even if Samir Nasri had just swapped sides there was a real chance for City to turn the screw.

As it happened Barcelona came out of a difficult period unscathed after Edin Dzeko forced a fine save out of Valdes whilst Pablo Zabaleta went close with a half volley from inside the penalty area. City’s valiant defensive efforts were in vain as Lionel Messi put the hosts in front with little over twenty minutes to go following a calamitous first touch from a not fully sharp Lescott allowed the Argentine in behind with only Joe Hart to beat.

City with now an even bigger task continued to fight on but it appeared too little too late and Stephane Lannoy’s decision not to award the Sky Blues a penalty when Gerard Pique clumsily brought Edin Dzeko down from behind only worsened the French referee’s shocking evening. The following complaints from Fernandinho and Pablo Zabaleta earned the Argentinean full-back a second yellow card and he will be out of City’s first Champions League fixture of next season.

Manchester City did pull a goal back in injury time through Vincent Kompany following a poorly defended corner from a Barcelona perspective however with only a surprisingly short two minutes of added time there was no hope for the visitors to mount a historic comeback.

Bayer Leverkusen travelled to Paris already knowing they were all but out of the competition however Sami Hyypia’s team began the match with a sense of freedom and took the lead early on from a smart Sidney Sam header at the back post. If there was even the slightest hint of belief from the German side it was quashed not long after when Marquinhos levelled the match for the Parisians with a powerful header from a corner.

Paris Saint-Germain celebrate progression to the quarter-final stage knowing they could pose a real threat to any opponent with the attacking talents at their disposal.

Paris Saint-Germain celebrate progression to the quarter-final stage knowing they could pose a real threat to any opponent with the attacking talents at their disposal.

Leverkusen then missed a penalty through captain Simon Rolfes and this killed any momentum Leverkusen had and the game lessened as a contest, it became at times like a practice match and PSG sealed their passage through to the quarter-final stage for the second season running when Ezequiel Lavezzi fired the hosts in front with a powerful shot from the edge of the area which beat Bernd Leno at his near post.

As many will tell you the Champions League is very much a steep learning experience. Manchester City have now had three seasons in the competition and this year was a real sign of improvement. The experience gained from the two ties against one of Europe’s elite in FC Barcelona will only serve as positives for the majority of the squad. At no point over the two matches when it was eleven vs eleven did City look completely out of their depth and with a central defender added in the summer to partner Vincent Kompany there is a very real chance City could improve on their performance in this year’s Champions League next season.

Written by Chris Winterburn

Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4