Three things we learned from Barcelona’s huge win vs. Bayern Munich

5 Comments

Barcelona has one foot in the UEFA Champions League final after they dispatched Bayern Munich 3-0 at the Nou Camp on Wednesday.

[ RELATED: Spanish FA suspend league ]

Lionel Messi grabbed two of Barca’s goals, plus Neymar added another in the final 13 minutes, as the Catalan giants won the first leg of the UCL semifinal and take a three-goal advantage with them to Bavaria next Tuesday.

[ RELATED: Real named most valuable club ]

Bayern tried to withstand heavy pressure from the hosts but were hit with two moments of magic from Messi in three minutes as it was an unhappy return to Barcelona for Pep Guaridola.

[ VIDEO: Messi’s sublime second goal vs. Bayern ]

Here’s three things we learned from a scintillating Champions League clash.

MESSI’S MAGIC IS MESMERIZING

Bayern’s defender Jerome Boateng knew what was going to happen as Lionel Messi surged into the box in the 80th minute. And even though the Bayern Munich defender knew Messi was about to jinx past him, there was nothing he could do to stop the Argentine delivering a devastating body swerve before flicking the ball past Boateng with his left and then dinking it over Manuel Neuer with his right to make it 2-0. Three minutes earlier Messi had beaten Neuer at his near post from the edge of the box, after a mistake from Bernat handed Dani Alves the ball, to open the scoring. The Argentine ace is now the highest scoring player in UCL history with 77 goals, as his personal duel with Cristiano Ronaldo continues. We are running out of superlatives for Messi’s greatness. Before the game Bayern’s boss Pep Guardiola summed up Messi’s genius perfectly, and was then watched on as his side was battered by his brilliance.

“There is not a system or coach to stop talent of Messi’s magnitude,” Guardiola said. “The way he has been playing over the past four or five months, you cannot stop him. He is too good.”

He had six attempts on Wednesday, four were on goal and two went in. When his team needs him most, Messi always delivers. Messi set up Neymar in stoppage time for the final nail in Bayern’s coffin and along with his two partners in crime, Messi, Suarez and Neymar now have 111 goals between them this season. Sensational and as Bayern found out, simply unstoppable.

WITHOUT NEUER, IT WOULD’VE BEEN WORSE…

Messi’s greatness aside, if it wasn’t for Manuel Neuer on Wednesday then Bayern Munich’s defeat could have been a lot heavier. The German international goalkeeper saved two one-on-one’s in the first half as he saved with his foot from Luis Suarez in the 12th minute and then denied Alves just before the break as he surged off his line. In the 60th minute Neuer lived up to his “sweeper keeper” label to deny Neymar and at times it was like shooting practice for Barca but they couldn’t find a way past Neuer, until Messi struck late on. The only blot on his copybook was being beaten at his near post on the opening goal. Also, was there any need to play a quick goal kick in the build up to that opener? Neuer rushed out of his area to shout and scream at Bayern’s left back Bernat in the aftermath but he had put Bernat under pressure with a needless pass. That mistake aside, Neuer once again proved he is the best goalkeeper on the planet and after his nomination for Ballon D’Or in 2014 alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, could he kick on and win the crown in 2015 and beyond?

PEP SURPRISES ON RETURN; BARCA’S REVENGE

When Bayern lined up with a three-man central defense in the opening stages, nobody could believe it. Former Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola was fighting fire with fire on his first trip back to the club he coached to every major title on the planet from 2008-12, plus he won the UCL as a player and was a midfield general for the Catalan club. Few know Barca’s current crop of players better than Guardiola and his decision to match three defenders man for man vs. Neymar, Messi and Suarez backfired massively early on as Barcelona poured forward time and time again. Guardiola saw the error of his ways and switched to a flat back four after an early onslaught but why did he put Bayern on the backfoot from the offset? He tried to go for it from the start with high pressure all over the pitch to catch Barcelona out, but he had star attackers such as Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Mueller and many others at his disposal to play their natural game. It was a mistake to switch things up.

The stat above suggests that Guardiola has struggled to curb his teams attacking instincts, both with Barca and Bayern, away from home in Europe. His tactical acumen should not be questioned given all he has achieved in the game but there will be plenty of scrutiny aimed at him from the German media as his growing pains continue in Europe with the Bavarian giants. Yes, Bayern were missing Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and David Alaba plus others through injury but Guardiola’s initial tactics will come in to question during the postmortem of this match. On the other side of the coin, Barcelona’s players would not have forgotten about the 7-0 humbling they suffered over two legs to Bayern back in 2013 in the UCL semifinal. This time, it could well be Barca beating Bayern by the same aggregate scoreline after a stunning finish to the first leg in Spain. Surely Bayern is dead and buried due to a combination of Messi’s magic and Guardiola’s timid tactics.

Sweden players, coaches left fuming after last-minute loss

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
2 Comments

SOCHI, Russia (AP) — A last-minute goal. A non-called penalty. A disrespectful celebration.

Sweden had a lot to be upset about when the final whistle blew on Saturday.

[ MORE: Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion” ]

The Swedes were within seconds of holding defending champion Germany to a draw, and moving into good position to advance to the round of 16 at the World Cup, when Toni Kroos scored deep into stoppage time to give Germany a 2-1 come-from-behind victory.

“I’m sorry that we didn’t get at least one point,” Sweden coach Janne Andersson said. “But I’m not blaming anyone tactically or analyzing too much right now, there are so many emotions going around. This is probably the heaviest conclusion that I’ve experienced in my career.”

Kroos’ goal from a set piece came in the fifth and final minute of injury time. The draw would have kept Sweden ahead of Germany in Group F and needing only a draw against Mexico in the last match.

[ MORE: Germany snatches late win over Sweden to avoid elimination ]

“It was just bad luck,” Sweden forward John Guidetti said. “Now we need to try to find a way to win the last match. In a few days we play again and we have to win it. It’s simple.”

Germany, which is tied with Sweden on points and goal difference, will play against South Korea in the final round.

“We still have an excellent opportunity to qualify,” Andersson said. “Now we have to clean up, tidy up after this game. We’re going to do that.”

The Swedes were leading Germany at halftime thanks to Ola Toivonen’s goal in the 32nd minute at Fisht Stadium. They felt they could have been ahead even earlier if the referee had called a penalty when Marcus Berg appeared to be fouled inside the area with a clear chance to score. There was no formal video review called for.

“If we have the (VAR) system, it’s very unfortunate that he (the referee) can feel so secure in the moment that he doesn’t go and have a look at the situation,” Andersson said.

He and the Swedish players said they also couldn’t understand why Germany decided to celebrate near their bench.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“You shouldn’t celebrate in front of our bench the way they did, that’s disrespectful,” Guidetti said. “You can celebrate with your own fans. Don’t celebrate in front of our bench like that. That’s why they apologized, because they knew they did something wrong.”

Andersson said he was “very annoyed” by seeing the Germany team “running in our direction and rubbing it in our faces by making gestures.”

“We fought hard for 95 minutes,” he said. “And when the final whistle blows, you shake hands.”

WATCH: World Cup, Day 11 — England, Colombia back in action

Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
1 Comment

Day 11 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Sunday, with England back in action and in need of three points — and a resounding win — to keep pace with Belgium in Group G.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Following Belgium’s 5-2 thrashing of Tunisia — the same side that England beat in stoppage time earlier in the week — on Saturday, the Red Devils have positioned themselves perfectly to win the group with a draw against the Three Lions on Thursday. England need a five-goal victory at 6-1 or higher to the finish top of the group following a draw on the final day.

Then, it’s a pair of Group H fixtures, kicked off with Japan (1st) versus Senegal (2nd) — both of whom won their first game — followed by Poland (3rd) versus Colombia (4th).

Below is Sunday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Sunday, June 24

Group G
England vs. Panama: Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group H
Japan vs. Senegal: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Poland vs. Colombia: Kazan, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

FIFA opens case against Xhaka, Shaqiri for celebrations

Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP
2 Comments

FIFA’s disciplinary committee opened disciplinary proceedings against Swiss players Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri for politically charged goal celebrations during their 2-1 World Cup win over Serbia in Kaliningrad.

[ MORE: The meaning behind Xhaka, Shaqiri’s eagle celebration ]

FIFA also said Saturday it has opened disciplinary proceedings against the Serbian Football Association for crowd disturbance and the display of political and offensive messages by Serbian fans. FIFA also is reviewing statements that Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic made after the match.

Xhaka and Shaqiri celebrated their goals by making a nationalist symbol of their ethnic Albanian heritage. Both of their families come from Kosovo, the former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s independence and relations between the two countries remain tense.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The Polish Football Association was fined $10,100 and given a warning by FIFA’s disciplinary committee for a banner that the governing body deemed political and offensive. The banner was displayed during Senegal’s 2-1 win over Poland on Tuesday in Moscow.

The committee also opened disciplinary proceedings against the federations of Argentina and Croatia for crowd disturbances during Croatia’s 3-0 win Thursday at Nizhny Novgorod.

Low: Germany survived “a thriller full of emotion”

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Leave a comment

At 1-0 down, they were headed for elimination in the group stage (with a game still to play); once level at 1-1, they faced yet a steep hill to climb on the final day of the group stage; after Toni Kroos scored his stunning 94th-minute winner, Joachim Low could finally exhale and imagine himself managing the German national team for another day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Sweden at the 2018 World Cup was, for most intents and purposes, a worrying performance for the defending world champions. Fortunately for Low and Co., the one place in which their comeback dramatic victory was a raging success is the only one that matters: the Group F table, where Die Mannschaft currently (somehow) sit second and control their own destiny — quotes from the BBC:

“This was a thriller, full of emotion, right up until the final whistle. Brandt hit the goal post just three minutes before the end too. We took out a defensive player and brought on an attacking player because we knew had to bring on everything we had to turn it round.

“We had a couple of great chances — Mario Gomez’s header being one of them. The last couple of minutes were full of drama but those matches exist in football. We’ve had these situations in other tournaments as well. For the viewers that’s part of the attractiveness of football.”

“Something I did appreciate today was that we didn’t lose our nerve, we didn’t panic after going a goal down. We kept a level head and said we needed to make quick passes and tire the Swedes out to open up spaces.

“We didn’t score a couple of good chances but we never lost hope we could win the match and I think the goal scored in stoppage time had a bit of luck involved but it did show the belief we had in ourselves.”

There’s still plenty of work to do for one of the most popular pre-tournament favorites — there’s a little matter of needing to beat, or at the very least, match Sweden’s result against Mexico — but that can wait until tomorrow, because Saturday unexpectedly became all about survival.