UEFA Champions League Roundup: Atlético, Arsenal shine; Chelsea rebound; Dortmund romps (Video)

Leave a comment

Freed from the pomp of round one, four teams that could make a huge impact in UEFA Champions League’s knockout round posted convincing results on Tuesday, the first day of group stage’s second round:

  • In North London, Arsenal gave one of the most convincing performances of the young tournament, their passing game and pressure smothering their Neopolitan guests.
  • In Bucharest, Chelsea resoundingly recovered from opening round failure, setting themselves up to re-claim their group’s lead next round.
  • In Dortmund, a Jurgen Klopp-less BVB saw no trouble from visiting Marseille, …
  • while Atlético continued their demonstrative start with another inspired road win, this time in Portugal.

Those were the big ones, but not every game was so definitive. In Glasglow, Barcelona got the result they couldn’t take last year, though they needed a Celtic player’s dismissal to get it. And in Switzerland, a subdued game saw a Schalke moment of magic keep the club top in Group E.

Then comes the big picture. While Group F — the tournament’s Group of Death — continues to be about holding serve at home and taking points from Marseille, the rest of Tuesday’s quartets have established clear leaders. As they are in Spain, Barcelona and Atlético remain perfect, while Schalke are defying league inconsistencies to take six points through two rounds.

Here’s what else happened as Tuesday’s action kicked off the second round of UEFA Champions League action.

Group E: Steaua Bucharest (Romania) 0-4 Chelsea (England)

Chelsea’s quest to make amends for their opening round loss got off to a resounding start, their thrashing of Romanian champions Steaua leaving their hosts with a 0-2-0 record and -7 goal difference after two rounds. Dominant play from Andre Schurrle, Ashley Cole, and Oscar attacking Steaua’s right side led to two goals from Ramires and a clean-up tally from Frank Lampard. Claiming their first points of group stage, Chelsea also furthered the idea that full points against the Romanians could prove important in an increasingly convoluted group.

Group E: Basel (Switzerland) 0-1 Schalke (Germany)

This may have been the way Jens Keller would have orchestrated it before Schalke left for Switzerland: keep things tight; limit Basel’s chances; look for a set piece goal. And in the 54th minute, Schalke’s opportunity came off the most dangerous player in soccer – the second ball in off a corner kick. This time, that second ball was a shot from Julian Draxler, settling after a Basel clearance to blast the game’s only goal past Yann Sommer. Holding the Swiss champions to one shot on goal, Schalke stayed top of their group, now on six points through two rounds.

Group F: Borussia Dortmund (Germany) 3-0 Marseille (France)

When Marseille hosted BVB two years ago, they hung a 3-0 on their young visitors. This time, the Klopp-less hosts returned the favor, getting two goals from Robert Lewandowski and a free kick score from Marco Reus en rout to a lopsided win.

Though Dortmund were without four starters, Marseille’s style played into their hands, allowed last year’s finalists to play off the counter and try to pick off their possession-needy guests. The first instance came in the 19th minute, a counterattack that left Lewandowski with an easy tap-in.  In the second half, Reus was helped by Steve Mandanda on his free kick goal, while Lewandowski’s second goal came from the spot after a foul by Nicolas N’Koulou.

Group F: Arsenal (England) 2-0 Napoli (Italy)

In a game that played more lopsided than the score, Arsenal gave their most impressive performance of the season, riding early goals from Mesut Özil and Olivier Giroud to an easy victory. A quick transition down Napoli’s left led to Özil’s eighth minute opener, the German international surgically finishing a ball from Aaron Ramsey, while a turnover in their over third from Napoli led to Olivier Giroud’s 15th minute score.

It was a disappointing performance from Napoli, but as long as that form can be left in London, the implications of the day’s result could be limited. The Emirates are not a place where the Partenopei would have expected to get a win before group play started, and while it would have wonders toward getting Napoli through a tough group, Rafa Benítez’s team is still in control of their knockout round fate.

[MORE: Dominance then control give Arsenal 2-1 win over Napoli.]

[MORE: Mesut Ozil signing just keeps getting sweeter for Arsenal.]

Group G: FC Porto (Portugal) 1-2 Atlético Madrid (Spain)

In today’s preview we talked about the difficulty of Porto’s task, mentioning the Dragons couldn’t count on an early goal that would allow them to tighten up their formation. But Porto did get an early goal, Jackson Martínez putting his team up in the 16th minute. Instead of recoiling, though, Porto persisted with newly-justified confidence, something that served them throughout Tuesday’s first half. In the second half, however, Atlético quickly pulled even through Diego Godín, with the Colchonero comeback completed in the 86th minute through Arda Turan.

[MORE: Atlético conquer the Dragão, take 2-1 win from Porto.]

Group G: Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia) 0-0 Austria Wien (Austria)

Zenit came into this match having scored 12 goals in their last three games, but although they controlled most of the ball in the first half, the favorites were unable to convert before going down a man. Just before halftime, midfielder Axel Whitsel was given a harsh, straight red card, reducing Zenits to 10 for the last 45 minutes. Austria Wien, content to play for a draw, got the point they would have wanted, leaving Zenit on a disappointing one point after the easiest match of their group stage schedule.

Group H: Celtic (Scotland) 0-1 Barcelona (Spain)

The first half for a Lionel Messi-less Barcelona was defined by close calls, 82 percent possession, and no goals. But just before the hour mark, Celtic captain Scott Brown saw straight red after a challenge on Neymar. Barcelona’s payoff came in the 76th minute, with substitute Alexis Sanchez creating the game’s only goal. When Cesc Fabregas headed the Chilean’s cross home, Barcelona had muted redemptions for last year’s loss in Glasgow.

Group H: Ajax (Netherlands) 1-1 AC Milan (Italy)

It was a game of two halves, each ending on even footing. Ajax dominated the first but were held to a scoreless going into half time. Though Milan were much better in the second, nil-nil looked like it would hold until a 90th minute corner was put home by Stefano Denswil, apparently giving the home team the win. But four minutes later, in what’s becoming typical Milan fashion, the Rossoneri salvaged a result, a late penalty conceded by Mike van der Hoorn setting up a 94th minute equalizer from Mario Balotelli.

New Zealand women footballers rebel against national coach

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news

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.

Rodriguez out of Colombia starting XI

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Taking a page out of Egypt’s book, Colombia will be without its talismanic playmaker for its first match, Tuesday morning against Japan.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Juan Fernando Quintero replaced James Rodriguez in Colombia’s starting Xi to take on Japan in Saransk as Colombia coach Jose Pekerman clearly hopes a few extra days of recovery for the injured Rodriguez will help him return to 100 percent fitness. Rodriguez is battling a reported calf injury.

Rodriguez scored six goals and had two assists in five games at the last World Cup in Brazil, helping guide Los Cafeteros to their first World Cup quarterfinals appearance.

World Cup’s only black coach says there should be more

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MOSCOW (AP) — The only black coach at this year’s World Cup says there is a need for more in soccer.

“In European countries, in major clubs, you see lots of African players. Now we need African coaches for our continent to go ahead,” Senegal’s Aliou Cisse said through a translator on Monday, a day ahead of his nation’s World Cup opener against Poland.

[ MORE: Where to watch Tuesday’s games, feat. Colombia and Egypt ]

The percentage of black players at this year’s tournament and with clubs in the world’s top leagues is far higher.

Cisse was captain of Senegal when it reached the 2002 quarterfinals in the nation’s only previous World Cup appearance.

“I am the only black coach in this World Cup. That is true,” Cisse said. “But really these are debates that disturb me. I think that football is a universal sport and that the color of your skin is of very little importance.”

[ MORE: Harry Kane “buzzing” after two goals | Southgate encouraged ]

FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cisse cited Florent Ibenge, the coach of Congo’s national team, as a sign of progress.

“I think we have a new generation that is working, that is doing its utmost, and beyond being good players with a past of professional footballers,” Cisse said. “We are very good in our tactics, and we have the right to be part of the top international coaches.”

Africa’s best performance at the World Cup has been to reach the quarterfinals, accomplished by Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“I have the certainty that one day an African team, an African country, will win the World Cup,” Cisse said. “It’s a bit more complicated in our countries. We have realities that are not there in other continents, but I think that the African continent is full of qualities. We are on the way, and I’m sure that Senegal, Nigeria or other African countries will be able win, just like Brazil, Germany or other European countries.”

A lack of minority managers also has been documented at the club level. The Sports People’s Think Tank said in November there were just three minority managers among the 92 English professional clubs as of Sept. 1.