Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund: Nit-pick if you want, they’re perfect through two rounds

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We’ve never stopped to consider the standard of soccer Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund left us with in last year’s UEFA Champions League final. We need to talk about this. Not only was that one of the most well-played Champions League finals in the tournament’s (admittedly short) history, but it gave us two-and-a-half months to dwell. And with each side going out and adding to their squad this summer, we’ve been left to imagine their potential heights.

Bayern not only added Mario Götze and Thiago Alcantera, they also lured Pep Guardiola out of his New York hiatus. Yet we seem to be over it. If the Miami Heat replaced Eric Spoelstra with Phil Jackson, we’d stop talking about that … ever?

And while BVB lost Götze and Felipe Santana, they added Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (hat trick, opening day), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (tons of goals for Shakhtar Donetsk), and will have a full year from recent Bundesliga Player of the Year Nuri Sahin. Seriously, why aren’t we still talking about this? It wasn’t unreasonable to think either (or both) of these teams could improve on last year’s quality, even if regression makes that unlikely.

Allow me to answer my own question. Why aren’t we talking about how good Bayern and Dortmund are? Because seeing them actually play is kind of important, and through two rounds of the German season, amazing hasn’t happened,

Even though both are perfect through two rounds, we’ve yet to see either team fire on all cylinders. Yes, from a certain perspective, Bayern Munich’s 1-0, Saturday win at Eintracht Frankfurt was convincing, controlling 70 percent of possession and more than doubling their hosts’ shots on goal (7-3). But there was also a feeling that they could find the second goal they (ultimately never) needed to kill off the game. Fortunately for them, Mario Mandzukic’s 13th minute opener held up, but the 2012-13 Bayern Munich is not impressed.

Borussia Dortmund played a similar game — a dominating performance that sent Braunschweig home with a 2-1 loss — but held without a goal for 75 minutes, they hardly overwhelmed a team that spent last year in the second division. Without Ilkay Gundogan, one of the league’s best players who was injured mid-week while on duty with German, BVB often lacked an element of decisiveness in possession. Keeping dynamo Marco Reus out for an hour didn’t help. After he came on for Jakub Blaszczykowski and Jonas Hofmann was brought on for Aubamenyang (15 minutes later), BVB scored twice in the final half hour.

It says something for the heights these clubs have attained that even winning performances can elicit curiosity. It’s not enough that they win. It’s not enough that they do so convincingly. As is the case when Real Madrid aren’t in high gear or Chelsea’s performance is merely controlling, not dominant, Bayern and BVB’s imperfections give us pause. Even though we know every match can’t end 7-0, but we’re left wondering why these engines aren’t purring.

Step back, look a the bigger picture, and you see Borussia Dortmund’s at the top of the league. Imperfections and all. Bayern, also 2-0-0, is only two spots behind them. Bayer Leverkusen, who used a Daniel Schwaab own goal to post a 1-0 win at Stuttgart, sits in between, while Mainz (2-1 win at Freiburg) and Werder Bremen (1-0 win vs. Augsburg) are the Bundesliga’s other perfect teams.

So they’ll be fine. In all likelihood, one of Dortmund and Bayern will win the league, and we’ll again be wondering the extent to which these two clubs have distanced themselves from the pack (save us, Sami Hyypia!). For now, however, we nit-pick.

Of particular note: Hamburg’s off to another bad start, with one point and a -4 goal difference through two games. This week, however, the implications of their 5-1 home loss will be overshadowed by Firmino, a 21-year-old attacker who played a part of Hoffenheim’s five goals.

Here is the Brazilian scoring Hoffenheim’s first and last while setting up the middle three, with only Rafael van der Vaart’s early conversion from the spot breaking up his (and Hoffenheim’s) perfect day:

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Fekir negotiations back on; Chelsea waiting on transfer targets; and more

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Could Liverpool get its star attacking midfield target after all?

That’s what seems to be the case, as the agent for Lyon and France midfielder Nabil Fekir told French TV channel LCI Monday evening that negotiations aren’t over between Liverpool and Lyon.

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“He didn’t sign because um… it is not over! This is not the end of the story,” Fekir’s agent, Jean-Pierre Bernes reportedly said.

It was just two weeks ago when Lyon president Jean-Michael Aulas stated that Fekir, Lyon’s captain, would remain with the club for the upcoming season, after negotiations with Liverpool fell through. According to the Liverpool Echo, the Reds wanted a second opinion on a previous knee injury, and had balked at the $70 million price tag.

But now it appears Liverpool and Aulas could still be in conversations to try and find a mutually accepted fee.

At the same time, stirring up transfer drama is in Bernes interest, as it could drive other teams into the race to sign Fekir and raise his transfer fee, meaning more money to him, Fekir (if he gets a cut) and Lyon. Watch this space for more to come during and after the World Cup.

Here’s some more transfer rumors from across the Premier League and Europe:

(more…)

Japan upsets ten-man Colombia in Group H opener

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On paper, the 61st-ranked team in the world beating the 16th-ranked team in the world is a massive upset. But considering the circumstances within the game, perhaps this wasn’t an upset after all.

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Two set pieces were the difference as Japan defeated ten-man Colombia, 2-1 on Tuesday morning in Saransk. Colombia played with ten men for nearly the entire match, after Carlos Sanchez was sent off for a handball in the box and a denial of a goal scoring opportunity.

The game took a massive turn in the third minute, as Colombia centerback Davinson Sanchez failed to control a pass and Yuya Osako found himself free on goal. His shot was parried away by Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina but Kagawa’s rebound shot was clearly blocked by Sanchez’s right arm. The referee, Damir Skomina immediately pointed to the penalty spot and went to the back pocket, sending Sanchez to the showers.

Kagawa stepped up and cooly sent Ospina the wrong way to put Japan on top.

Late in the first half, after both teams had chances on target, Colombia came back and evened the scoreline.

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Juan Fernando Quintero, starting in place of the recovering James Rodriguez, smartly took a free kick and fired it low, under the wall as it jumped. Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima reacted late and although he arrived as the ball was crossing the line, he couldn’t keep it from going over, tying the game in the 39th minute.

Ultimately, despite its efforts, Colombia began to tire and on a corner kick, the Blue Samurai took back the lead and control of their destiny in Group H. A corner kick from Keisuke Honda was re-directed past Ospina by Osako, who jumped well over Santiago Arias, to give Japan a 2-1 lead in the 75th minute.

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Rodriguez was introduced in the 57th minute but try as he did, Colombia was unable to find the final pass in the box, and Japan held on for the unexpected victory.

With the win, Japan top Group H ahead of a meeting with Senegal, while Colombia will have to regroup to face Poland.

In a World Cup full of unexpected results, Tuesday brought yet another memorable win for an underdog.

New Zealand women footballers rebel against national coach

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Wellington, New Zealand (AP) Only weeks after New Zealand Football made headlines by signing a revolutionary equal pay deal with its female players, the organization is facing a mutiny by members of its women’s team against the national coach.

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New Zealand Football confirmed on Tuesday it had received a letter signed by a number of New Zealand players complaining about the methods and tactics employed by Austria-born coach Andreas Heraf.

The complaints follow the New Zealand team’s recent 3-1 loss at home to Japan. Heraf angered his players, and fans of the Football Ferns national team, by taking an entirely defensive game plan into the rare home international.

Heraf then further angered his players with comments defending his approach.

He said there was “a big difference in quality” between the New Zealand and Japanese players and that New Zealand “will never have that quality” to compete with top teams like Japan. He said the scoreline might have been 8-0 if New Zealand had not adopted a defensive approach.

One of New Zealand’s leading players, United States-based Abby Erceg, retired after playing 132 matches for New Zealand, citing Heraf’s approach in previous international matches.

She later told New Zealand media: “I couldn’t stand to wear that (national symbol) on my chest any more when his vision was to cower in a corner and not get beat by too much.”

New Zealand Football defended Heraf against the media and public criticism but admitted his comments were “strange” and “wrong” and did not accurately reflect his views. Heraf later apologized and said he had not expressed himself clearly.

But efforts to dampen the controversy have failed. New Zealand Football said in a statement it had “received a letter from the NZ Professional Footballers Association (NZPFA) last night with a number of complaints from the players of the Football Ferns.”

The mutiny comes only weeks after New Zealand gained international headlines for a deal which gives female pay parity with their male counterparts.

New Zealand Football signed the deal which provided female players with equal match payments, travel arrangements and prize money.

At the time, New Zealand women’s captain Ali Riley said the deal meant New Zealand would “be able to compete against the top teams, to be able to do well at a World Cup and the Olympics – this is what we needed.”

VIDEO: Colombia sees red, Japan takes early lead

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The first red card of the World Cup came just moments after fans took their seats in Saransk.

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After David Ospina blocked a breakaway opportunity from Yuya Osako in the third minute of the match, Japan star and former Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa fired the rebound on goal. But his shot was blocked by the arm of Colombia midfielder Carlos Sanchez, which earned him a straight red card from referee Damir Skomina and an early trip to the locker room.

Kagawa then stepped up to the spot and calmly sent Ospina the wrong way to give Japan the shock early lead.

Colombia will play the rest of the match with ten men and no James Rodriguez, who was named to the bench for this match as he recovers from a reported calf injury.