Marquinhos, Lavezzi goals see PSG cruise into Champions League quarterfinals

Leave a comment

A mostly perfunctory match at the the Parc de Princes played out with the intensity of an early round cup match, something that didn’t prevent a Paris Saint-Germain team in cruise control producing its expected result. Entering today’s match with a 4-0 lead earned three weeks ago, Laurent Blanc’s team saw goals from Marquinhos and Ezequiel Lavezzi earn a 2-1 win, capping the French champions’ 6-1 aggregate victory over a hapless Bayer Leverkusen.

Six minutes into Wednesday’s second leg, Bayer looked anything but hapless, with Sidney Sam pulling back a goal early. It wasn’t long, though, until a corner kick was hammered home by Marquinhos, with the Brazilian defender restoring the Parisians’ four-goal advantage. In the second half, a ball from left back Lucas Digne allowed Lavezzi to score his first goal of the tie, giving PSG its final margin of victory.

The lopsided result moves Blanc’s team into their second straight quarterfinal, with the team setting its sites on avoiding last year’s narrow disappointment. Last spring, PSG was eliminated by Barcelona, who needed the away goals tiebreaker to reach the semifinals.

Despite hints he would rest many of this best players, Blanc started star forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic in what was expected to be a relatively meaningless game. Midfielder Blaise Matuidi, holder Marco Verratti and right back Gregory van der Weil were not in the team, however, with fitness concerns vaulting Yohan Cabaye, Adrien Rabiot and Christophe Jallet into the starting lineup.

In the sixth minute, those changes looked capable of bringing Bayer back into the match, with a cross from right back Giolio Donati setting up Sam for the Germans’ first goal of the tie. Blasting his shot into the lower left hand corner, Sam pulled Bayer within three, giving the visitors to quick goal they needed to spark faint hopes.

Those hopes were dashed in the 13th minute thanks to Marquinhos. Off a corner from Cabaye,  the PSG defender headed into the right of goal, quickly restoring the hosts’ lead.

In the 28th minute, however, Bayer were on the cusp of a second score, with a shirt-pull from Jallet on Eren Derdiyok giving Simon Rolfes a chance from the spot. A poor attempt left the ball waist-high from Salvatore Sirigu, who needed only to jump slightly to his left to keep it 1-1.

Eight minutes into the second half, PSG claimed their first lead of the day, with Digne finding Lavezzi in the center of the area before the Argentine beat Bernd Leno to make is 2-1. Midway through the half, a second yellow card to midfielder Emre Can saw Bayer reduced to 10, allowing both sides to cruise through the match’s final 22 minutes.

For Bayer, the result represented progress on three weeks ago, though it continues a slide that’s put next year’s Champions League in doubt. Ahead of a visit to Bayern Munich on Saturday, Leverkusen’s slump leaves them only five points ahead of fifth place Wolfsburg. Though their trip to Paris could have build momentum for a league revival, the lack of intensity at the Parc de Princes renders Wednesday’s performance irrelevant.

If Laurent Blanc wishes to ascribe some meaning to the match — if he wants to make his team care about a game that saw him withdraw Ibrahimovic shortly after Can’s red card — he can point to a lackluster effort and admonish his team ahead of the quarterfinal round. Realistically, though, today’s 2-1 win was just as meaningless for the victors as it was for the vanquished.

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

AP Photo/Felipe Dana
Leave a comment

A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
Leave a comment

This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

AP Photo/Frank Augstein
1 Comment

Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.