Archive for the ‘Barcelona’ Category
Reason To Believe: Rod Stewart’s tears of joy were fitting tribute to Celtic’s epic win over world’s No.1 team Barcelona
Rod Steward’s tears of joy at watching his beloved Celtic beat the mighty Barcelona in the Champions League at Parkhead last night has sparked almost as much reaction as the match itself. It was a human response that anyone who adores sport and the passion of following a football team will understand entirely, whatever the critics say who ridicule a grown man being overcome by emotion.
As for the jealous fans who called radio phone in today to insist media and supporters have gone overboard in their praise for Celtic, my response is quite the opposite. It is 45 years since Celtic’s Lisbon Lions became the first British club to win the European Cup, and this without question is their greatest triumph since that famous day.
Back in 1967 Jock Stein’s men (pictured below) were giants in a world game played on a level playing field compared to the modern day version distorted by television rights and billionaire owners. For Neil Lennon’s lionhearted team to follow up their magificent losing effort in the Nou Camp a fortnight ago with their heroic 2-1 win at Parkhead is the stuff of legend.
To conquer a Spanish super team that dominated over 80 pecent of possession and included the world’s greatest player Lionel Messi at the top of his game was an epic triumph of David and Goliath proportions.
Revenge? Roberto Di Matteo has restored lost pride – but Barcelona too good for Chelsea . . . and so are Real Madrid & Bayern Munich!
Winning the Champions League has become an obsession for Roman Abramovich and Roberto Di Matteo has kept the Russian’s dream alive against all the odds by guiding Chelsea into a semi-final showdown with defending champions Barcelona. But the harsh reality is that the Blues are unlikely to feature in next season’s competition unless they go on to win the tournament – and in the final four they are the rank outsiders.
Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich all have a touch of class a cut above the men from Stamford Bridge. Barca, in the semi-finals for the fifth successive season, are bidding to become the first side to successfully defend the European Cup since AC Milan in 1990 – and if they achieve that goal it will add weight to the argument that this is the greatest club side the beautiful game has ever seen.
But the beauty of the world’s most popular sport is you can never take anything for granted. And that is what makes Chelsea’s semi-final with the favourites so fascinating. It is a scenario that suits interim manager Di Matteo because the experts all agree they are the weakest team left in the competition, despite beating Benfica in both legs of their quarter-final.
No one expects Chelsea to go any further and that is what gives them a fighter’s chance of pulling off a shock because they have nothing to lose. The Blues will also remember how they took Barca to the brink the last time they met at this stage in 2009 and the Catalans were rescued by a last gasp winner after surviving a remarkable number of strong penalty appeals.
I still expect Lionel Messi and his team-mates to progress to the final. But do not be surprised if Di Matteo’s men push Barcelona all the way in their two-legged contest for the right to play Real or Bayern in the Final in Munich’s Allianz Arena on 19 May.
FLASHBACK: Arguably Chelsea’s greatest European triumph came against Barcelona in 2005 when John Terry’s header sealed a 5-4 aggregate win and sent the Blues into the last eight of the Champions League. It was the night. Chelsea raced into a three-goal lead in 19 minutes, with Eidur Gudjohnsen, Frank Lampard and Damien Duff on target for Jose Mourinho’s side. Barca pulled two goals back before half-time, Ronaldinho scoring from the spot after Paolo Ferreira handled. Then Ronaldinho scored a stunning second. But Terry’s 75th minutes strike made it a decisive 4-2 win on the night.
You’ve got to admire Di Matteo – but success for Abramovich’s sack the manager policy would be bad for football
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Lionel Messi and Barcelona are re-defining the beautiful game with their own breathtaking version of fantasy football
Watching Barcelona at the top of their game is always a special treat to savour – and when the world’s best player Lionel Messi is in the groove we are talking fantasy football.
Still only 24, Catalonia’s adopted Argentinian is not only the undisputed No.1 player on the planet, he is strengthening his claim to be the greatest of all time with each passing year.
The way Barca destroyed Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League tonight with a breathtaking 7-1 demolition that completed a 10-2 aggregate win was an awesome display, crowned by Messi at his mesmeric best. The maestro’s five goals were a record for the competition and took his tally to 14 in his last five outings for club and country.
Last May, when we saw the Catalans raise the bar with an imperious victory over Manchester United in the Final, a virtuoso performance by the pint-sized magician inspired me to write “still only 23, Messi is the already arguably the greatest player the world has ever seen.” The truth is he is still several years shot of the age when footballers are traditionally considered to be at their peak.
No wonder Franz Beckenbauer predicts Messi can reinforce Barca’s status as the best team arguably of any generation by becoming the first side to retain the trophy since the introduction of the Champions League format.
Germany’s World Cup winning skipper, who lifted the European Cup three times with Bayern Munich in the mid-1970s, said: “Messi is a genius. He has everything. When I watch him, I see a player who is very, very, skilful, very clever – and his left foot is like Diego Maradona’s.
“The difference is Messi is also like Bobby Charlton. He is a nice man, he’s a gentleman. You will never hear from him telling you bad things about this or that.”
‘Der Kaiser” – whose beloved Bayern Munich side hope to join Barca in the quarter-finals – concedes: “Barcelona are the best team in the world. Almost perfect.
“If you see them play, they are fantastic. Of course they are not unbeatable, we have seen that, but in general they are not only the best team but one of the most spectacular teams in the world. I believe they are right up there with the great teams of the past, Real Madrid, Johan Cruyff’s Ajax and my Bayern.”
Why on earth coach Pep Guardiola would even consider leaving Barcelona, who have the opportunity to dominate the game for years to come, is beyond me.
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When I met Cristiano Ronaldo in Portugal a few weeks ago it was clear that his love for Manchester United still burns brightly - so, take it from me, a dramatic return to Old Trafford will be no surprise if Real Madrid fans drive him away from the Bernabeu.
While filming his Portuguese team-mate Nani for a documentary I was producing for the Manchester United TV Channel, there were two key moments during our 12 day filming schedule when Ronaldo’s feelings for the Reds shone like a beacon.
The Portugal captain dismissed his national media as ‘freaks’ when they criticised his team for conceding three goals in a 5-3 win over minnows Iceland during their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign. But his first sight of me holding up the MUTV flag on my microphone brought an immediate smile and thumbs up that was genuinely affectionate.
A couple of days later when I snatched a couple of questions during a press conference before his country’s showdown with Denmark, Ronaldo made it absolutely clear that Manchester United will always have a special place in his heart. It was not what he said but the unmistakable sparkle in his eyes when he spoke about United.
It was so clear that Helder Conduto, the match commentator for state broadcaster RTP Portugal turned to me and said: ” United are in his heart, there’s no question” the moment Ronaldo departed. ” One day he’d love to return to Manchester.”
A couple of weeks later, to mark Sir Alex Ferguson’s 25th anniversary as Manchester United manager, Ronaldo’s passionate tribute to the manager who turned him into a world star left no one in any doubt that he will jump at the chance to return to Old Trafford when the time is right.
The fact that Ronaldo was booed by Real fans despite scoring 108 goals in his first 111 games for Madrid has raised questions about whether or not his time at the club is drawing to an end. It will be a wrench to leave the club he supported as a boy, but no more than it was when he left United in an £80 million pound move in the summer of 2009.
It is a long time since United made a dramatic signing that took the world of football’s breath away. And the obstacles in the way of such a momentous transfer would make Ronaldo’s return one of the biggest transfer stories ever. So let’s be honest it really is a long shot – but if you ask me what I want for Christmas . . .
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BIG MONEY TRANSFERS WILL NOT SOLVE THE PROBLEM OF WHY ENGLAND ARE FALLING BEHIND REST OF THE FOOTBALL WORLD
The English Premier League may be the most exciting domestic football competition in the world. TV viewing figures certainly suggest that it is. And the global reach of the world’s biggest and most popular club Manchester United is second to none. But do not let this confuse you. English football needs a root and branch revolution because it is just not good enough.
Not only is England’s national team a poor relation on the world stage, with a zero chance of winning the next World Cup in Brazil in three years time. But we will always be no hopers unless drastic changes are made to the way we coach the game. Ironically, the upcoming regulations that are forcing our top clubs to develop home grown talent could be the best thing that has happened to the game in this country since 1966 so long as the elite do not fall into the trap of thinking money alone is the answer.
For Manchester United and Liverpool to lead the way recruiting England’s most promising youngsters is the inevitable reaction to UEFA’s upcoming requirement for nine homegrown players in a squad of 18. But forking out huge wads of cash – Phil Jones £20M, Ashley Young £20M, Jordan Henderson £20M, Andy Carrol £35M – does not tackle the underlying flaw in our national game.
When England miraculously escaped with a draw against Spain in their European Under-21 Championship opener on Sunday, it only served to confuse the issue. Just as Barcelona played football from a different planet in their Champions League Final triumph over Manchester United last month, the Spanish youngsters demonstrated how their skill and technique is light years ahead of the game in England.
It is not that our players lack the ability to match the Spaniards. It is a fundamental flaw in the way the game is being taught from grass roots upwards. We are blinded by the rigidity of out-dated formations and the fear of losing or making a mistake. We must go back to basics and teach our young players the fundamental skills of pass and move, keeping possession, dribbling, shooting and passing with both feet.
In essence it is time to learn how to play total football. The enduring success of Barcelona – Champions League winners twice in three years – and the Spanish national team, champions of both Europe and the World is not something that money can buy. It takes a sound footballing philosophy and a commitment to mastering the skills of The Beautiful Game.
At Barca Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Zavi have grown up together learning their skills and understanding. OK Catalonia’s adopted son Messi was born in Argentina and we are talking about a club side not a nation. But the point is that the Catalans have developed a purist style of football that can be taught. Take any of the Barca players and they are at home playing in just about any position on the pitch because they are comfortable on the ball. Until English footballers can express themselves with the same confidence they will forever be making up the numbers.
BRILLIANT BARCELONA HAVE RAISED THE BAR AND MAGICAL MESSI IS ALREADY ARGUABLY THE GREATEST PLAYER OF ALL TIME
If there was any doubt before Barcelona’s intoxicating Champions League Final triumph over Manchester United, surely there is no argument now. Barcelona boast the best football team in the world – and their talisman Lionel Messi is the best player on the planet.
Still only 23, Messi is the already arguably the greatest player the world has ever seen.
Before the Argentinian adopted son of Catalonia came on the scene Pele and Maradona were the undisputed masters of The Beautiful Game. Now the pint-sized genius – around whom Barcelona have built probably the greatest football team ever assembled – is staking his claim to be the No.1
It is frightening to think just how great the magical Messi can become when you consider that footballers rarely hit their peak before they reach their 27th birthday. In a world increasingly dominated by giants it is reassuring and refreshing to see that small can be beautiful. At 5 ft 61⁄2 in Messi is dwarfed by Cristiano Ronaldo at 6ft 1. But Messi stands tall as the undisputed king of football.
Manchester United entered the record books and became English football’s most successful side by winning their 19th League title, finishing a runaway nine points clear of Chelsea and Manchester City at the top of the Premier League. In the Champions League Sir Alex Ferguson’s men hadn’t even conceded a goal away from Old Trafford until Barca’s crushing 3-1 win in the Final.
But Barca were simply too good for United at Wembley – repeating their win two years earlier in the 2009 Final – and showed the rest of the world why they are simply the best. There is absolutely no disgrace, only pride for the cream of Manchester, who can rightly calm to be the second best team on the planet after reaching their third Champions League Final in four years. And yet the gulf between the top two has never been bigger. Wayne Rooney gave United short-lived hope with an outstanding strike that levelled Pedero’s equally brilliant opener. But Messi with a long-range effort and David Villa with an exquisite finish blew the English champions away in the second half with football from another planet.
United’s beaten boss Ferguson honestly summed it up when he said: “In my time as a manager it is the best team we have faced. I think everyone acknowledges that. I accept that. It’s not easy when you have been well beaten like that to think any other way.
“No one has given us a hiding like that. It’s a great moment for them. They deserve it because they play the right way and they enjoy their football.
“They mesmerise you with their passing and we never really controlled Messi. When we got the lifeline of Wayne Rooney I expected us to do better in the second half but it wasn’t to be.”
Barcelona have set the bar at a new level of excellence and it will take much more than money for any club to match their brilliance because the Catalans have mastered a new way of playing the game and they have created a team, the nucleus of which has grown up together playing their own brand of carousel football.
Barca embarked on a long term plan that has taken a nearly a decade to evolve when they persuaded Messi to commit his career to their dream for fantasy football. Andres Iniesta and Xavi are the other mini maestros who complete the most devastating trio that is the heartbeat of this majestic side. But this is a team where every player has an important role and they are all 100 per cent comfortable with playing their stylish brand of total football.
Whether or not Barcelona have hit their peak remains to be seen. This was not a heavyweight showdown that hung in the balance beyond the first half because Pep Guardiola’s men were untouchable in the final 45 minutes. All their star men hit the top of their form in a breathtaking display that was as close to perfection as you will ever see.
Maybe this was the best Barca will ever play. God help us all if they are to raise the bar any higher.
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CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL: WHY BARCA AGAINST MAN UNITED IS DESTINED TO BE ULTIMATE SHOWPIECE FOR BEAUTIFUL GAME
Forget the FIFA World Cup Final. This is the big one. The Champions League Final. The biggest game on the planet bar none. And never has a game been more eagerly anticipated. The 2011 Final at Wembley on Saturday (May 28) could be the ultimate showpiece for The Beautiful Game. It will certainly draw one of the biggest TV audiences of all time – and my prediction is that this time we will be treated to a contest to match the hype and delight the purists.
There is no doubt it is absolutely the dream final. Between the two most exciting teams in world football, whose history and fans demand entertainment as well as glory. Fortune favours the bold and with both sides committed to goals and glamour the recipe for a classic is surely guaranteed.
Two years ago Barca triumphed when Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi scored the goals in a 2-0 win against a Manchester United side weighed down by a shocking contribution by Cristiano Ronaldo – playing his final game in a red shirt before his £80 million move to Real Madrid.
But this time the Catalans know they face a much tougher challenge to their status as the World’s top ranked club. United have got better and better all season making the critics – who keep telling us this is not an outstanding team – look more and more ridiculous.
At times this season United have hit extraordinary heights to match any in the epic 25 year resign of the world’s greatest football manager Sir Alex Ferguson. The twin threat of a Wayne Rooney back to his glorious best and Mexican sensation Javier Hernandez is as good as it gets. Edwin Van Der Sar will be retiring as the world’s best goalkeeper and skipper Nemanja Vidic is an absolute rock alongside the elegance of Rio Ferdinand.
Ryan Giggs has never played better and his reinvention as a central midfield playmaker gives United an extra creative dimension that at times this season has mirrored the famous Barca carousel orchestrated by Andres Iniesta, Xavi and the incomparable Lionel Messi.
As David Beckham said earlier this week: “If anyone can beat Barcelona at their peak Man United can.” With the width offered by any combination of Antonio Valencia, Ji Sung Park, Nani, Patrice Evra and the Da Silva twins this United team has the ammunition to hit Barca where it hurts.
Barca are certainly not underestimating the Red Devils. “This Manchester United team is much more unpredictable without Cristiano Ronaldo,” says wing-back Davi Alves “They have formed a more balanced group and they are stronger than they were two years ago.” Striker David Villa added: “Ronaldo’s departure has liberated them. Many great players come and go and that has allowed them to remain at the top for so long.” Andres Iniesta belives United have “grown as a team”.
And coach Pep Guardiola – who watched in awe as United’s second string completed a staggering 6-1 aggregate win over Schalke in the semi-final – admits: “We have been looking at the 2009 game and they were better than us in the first half.
“The level is equal, they are strong, competitive and they can play with four or five different formations and they stay competitive. They are one of the best teams in the world, and not just this year. We are proud to be playing them.”
As Steve Bruce, a European Cup Winners’ Cup winner with the Red Devils against Barcelona 20 years ago, says, Sir Alex will “want to win the trophy the Manchester United way.” And Bruce predicts the Boss has a master plan that will confirm why he is the greatest: “If anyone can get it right on the night the great man can.”
Whoever lifts the trophy The Beautiful Game will be the winner if both sides come out without inhibition and a determination to show the world just how good they really are.
1999 – THE GREATEST FINISH EVER TO A CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL
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IF ANYONE CAN BEAT BARCELONA AT THEIR PEAK IT IS MAN UTD SAYS 1999 CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNER DAVID BECKHAM
It was good to hear David Beckham pay tribute to Manchester United’s record-breaking feat of winning their 19th League title and hit back at the critics who have questioned the quality of Sir Alex Ferguson’s latest trophy winning side.
“People have criticised the team this season but you can’t ask much more than winning the Premier League and getting to the Champions League final. They are up there with the best United teams of all time,” says United’s former hero.
And Becks has no doubt that Sir Alex has the team to beat Barcelona in Saturday’s Champions League final at Wembley and is clearly 100 per cent behind his former boss. “As a manager he can’t get any better than he already is. But I’m sure it will be an unbelievable moment if he picks up that cup by beating Barcelona who have been talked about as one of the greatest teams ever. If any team can beat Barcelona at their peak it is Man United.
“It’s going to be a great atmosphere, especially being at Wembley. And I just hope United can do it.”
Meanwhile, Beckham is back at Old Trafford on Tuesday night to play in the testimonial for his old pal Gary Neville and clearly relishes the chance to pull on the famous red shirt again. “It’s always amazing wearing a Manchester United shirt. Just talking about it gives me goose bumps. Man Utd have always been my team. It’s going to be emotional and an amazing night for Gary.”
The Testimonial against Juventus will reunite members of the famous Class of 92 including Beckham, Neville Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt. And Fergie urges United fans to support the occasion declaring: “When a player like Neville gives you 20 years of his life I think we should show our appreciation.”
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Watching Sir Alex Ferguson celebrate Manchester United’s imperious Champions League semi-final demolition of Schalke was the defining moment of yet another masterclass from the greatest football manager the world has ever seen.
Forget the over-hyped, sometimes hysterical, mental jousting of Fergie’s good friend Jose Mourinho. The no-nonsense Glaswegian is the real deal. Not just because he is a tactical genius who knows how to win football matches. But his unquenchable desire to succeed burns as brightly as ever.
As his former midfield general Gordon Strachan concluded after a crushing 6-1 aggregate win over the German outfit that brushed aside defending champions Inter Milan in the previous round: “Sir Alex is the best sports psychologist I’ve ever met in my life.’”
Fergie made an unprecedented nine changes from the semi-final first leg in Schalke eight days ago because he knows his squad is the strongest in Europe. But he is honest enough to admit: “I didn’t sleep last night thinking about it. And I’m glad we’re vindicated.”
Barca boss Pep Guardiola watched in awe from the South Stand as United wrapped up what turned out to be the most one-sided semi-final in Champions League history with a comfortable 4-1 margin on the night to add to last week’s devastating 2-0 win in Germany.
In the year that ends with Fergie celebrating his 70th birthday, it was rejuvenating for the Old Trafford faithful to hear their leader to declare: “I’ve said many times we should have done better in Europe and now we’re getting closer to where we should be.”
There was no mistaking the genuine glee at taking United to their their third final in four seasons. And the Boss clearly relishes the challenge of beating the team many are upholding as the game’s greatest ever club side with arguably the greatest player in Lionel Messi. “It’s a pleasure to watch them play. Their semi-final was unfortunate.”
Intriguingly both United and Barcelona became Champions of Europe for the first time at Wembley – the Catalans in 1992 and the Busby Babes in 1968. “This club has created destiny many times and we can do it again,” says Fergie. But first the ultimate professional is planning Sunday Premier League crunch contest against defending champions Chelsea at Old Trafford. And we all know that will be a much tougher contest than tonight’s demolition of Schalke.
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Barcelona deservedly made it to the final of the Champions League by seeing off Real Madrid – but let’s be honest Pep Guardiola’s team are certainly not unbeatable.
Barring a disaster in their semi-final second leg against Schalke, it’s going to be a repeat of the 2009 Final. And Manchester United are the one team with the strength of character to conquer the Catalans if they get their tactics right.
Two years ago in Rome, United were outclassed largely due to the fact Cristiano Ronaldo went missing and the Reds were effectively playing with 10 men.
But let’s wait and see what happens at Old Trafford against Schalke – a match that will be influenced by Sunday’s all important Premier League showdown with Chelsea because key players will be rested against the Germans in advance of the weekend crunch contest United can not afford to lose.
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