Former Bayern Munich striker Claudio Pizarro is no stranger to the Bundesliga. And yet, on Saturday, he continued a streak nobody else in the history of the German top flight has come close to matching.
The Peruvian international scored a 96th minute equalizer for Werder Bremen in their 1-1 draw against Hertha Berlin, taking them to 10th in the table, and while that’s a significant goal for the club as it netted points, it’s not what makes this goal so special.
Pizarro’s goal – his third of the league season – made him the oldest goalscorer in Bundesliga history at 40 years and 136 days, passing Mirko Votava who also scored his notable goal with Werder Bremen. Even more special on the age front, the goal was scored off a free-kick which was won by 18-year-old American Josh Sargent, who entered the game in the 75th minute for Milot Rashica, earning his sixth straight substitute appearance for Bremen.
The strike, a low line drive under the wall, got some help from a pair of deflections, but Pizarro gets credit for the goal as his initial shot was on target. It’s his 194th career Bundesliga goal, with 106 of those coming for Werder Bremen. He has scored a Bundesliga goal in every single calendar year since 1999. He has won six Bundesliga titles in his career along with six DFB-Pokal cups.
Pizarro is starting to heat up, with an important cup goal scored against Borussia Dortmund earlier in February, bagging one in the 108th minute to tie the game at 2-2 in a wild finish, and also scoring a goal in the ensuing penalty shootout which Bremen won.
Group C — the group that no one wants to win at the 2015 Copa America in Chile. Following Thursday’s lone game on the schedule, which ended with Peru defeating Venezuela, 1-0, we find ourselves pretty much right where we started, with all four teams level on points.
Salomon Rondon nearly put Venezuela in the lead in this one with just six minutes on the clock, but Peruvian goalkeeper Pedro Gallese was quick in diving to his right and made a difficult, reactionary save on Rondon’s redirected shot from point-blank range.
Just before the half-hour mark, Venezuela were reduced to 10 men when Fernando Amorebieta was deemed to have intentionally jumping and landing on the leg of a Peruvian player, earning himself a straight red card.
36-year-old Claudio Pizarro scored the game’s only goal in the 72nd minute, when he raced onto a deflected through ball inside Venezuela’s penalty area. After Christian Cueva’s pass into the box was initially cleared out of danger and into the path of Pizarro, the Bayern Munich striker hammered the ball over the head of Alain Baroja and off the underside of the crossbar. 1-0, Peru.
Piazrro’s goal launches Peru into second place in Group C, level on three points with every other team in the group. Meanwhile, Venezuela find themselves in third place in the group and ahead of Uruguay (based on goal differential) and Mexico as the top third-placed team at the moment.
With just a few days to go until the 2015 Copa America kicks off in Chile, we will be looking at all three groups as 12 teams do battle on the west coast of South America to be crowned Champions of CONMEBOL.
Will defending champs Uruguay defend their trophy, or can Argentina, Brazil or Colombia wrestle the crown away from Luis Suarez and Co.?
Next up, here’s a look at Group C, where the nation of Brazil looks to put back together the pieces of a broken national team when they face off against Colombia, Peru and Venezuela.
Remember the last two times the entire world watched the Selecao walk off the field? They’d just been beaten 7-1 (7-1) and 3-0 by Germany and the Netherlands, respectively, in back to back games. Not only was the national team embarrassed, but so was the nation itself. Fast forward 11 months, and Luiz Felipe Scolari is no longer in charge, as Dunga is back for his second stint as national team boss. The manager is different this summer, just as the players are, for the most part. Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho is set to make his major tournament debut, while fellow youngsters Felipe Anderson (22, Lazio), Roberto Firmino (23, Hoffenheim), Fred (22, Shakhtar Donetsk), Casemiro (23, Porto) and Douglas Costa (24, Shakhtar Donetsk) have been brought in to replace the likes of Oscar, Ramires, Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo.
Best Copa America finish: Champions – 1919, 1922, 1949, 1989, 1997, 1999, 2004, 2007 Manager: Dunga Star man: Neymar — The 23-year-old has been named Brazil captain for the summer, and it’s in no way a surprise as he’s simultaneously the side’s most reliable player (43 goals in 62 caps at the age of 23) and ever-present mainstay (of Robinho’s 96 caps, 16 have been won since the 2010 World Cup). If you thought the pressure was on Neymar last summer, just wait until you see the team he’ll be expected to carry this time around.
No side won over more neutral fans during last summer’s World Cup than did Colombia. Was it the immediately recognizable yellow jerseys? The free-flowing, attacking soccer? The outrageous fan support? The wondergoals and breakout nature of James Rodriguez’s tournament? In truth, it was probably all of the above. This summer, Los Cafeteros head into major international competition not as a dark horse, but as something of a favorite to win Copa America. With much of the same squad as last year, Colombia should once again be one of the most entertaining teams to watch, with two notable additions up front: Radamel Falcao and Carlos Bacca. Falcao’s struggles while on loan at Manchester United were well-documented, but Bacca bagged 28 goals for Sevilla en route to a fifth-place finish and a second Europa League title in a row.
Best Copa America finish: Champions – 2001 Manager: Jose Pekerman Star man: James Rodriguez — Like Neymar, Rodriguez is still only 23. Only this time around, it won’t be his first crack at a major tournament. Throw in the last year spent competing for a place day in and day out at Real Madrid, and Rodriguez might yet top last summer’s stunning performances, if we’re all lucky. After finishing third in 2011, it’ll be tough for Peru to improve upon their most recent Copa America outing, and being drawn into a group with Colombia and Brazil never does anyone any favors, but it’d be a pretty big shock if La Blanquirroja didn’t qualify for the knockout stage.
One of the most veteran-laden sides of this year’s non-favorites, with Juan Manuel Vargas, Jefferson Farfan, Claudio Pizarro, Carlos Zambrano, Luis Advincula, Christian Ramos and Yoshimar Youtin all possessing either Copa America or World Cup qualifying experience. Being drawn into a group with Brazil and Colombia never does anyone any favors, but this is a Peru team with plenty of talent and know-how in major tournaments to get out of the group stage. Improving upon their third-place finish in 2011, though? That’ll be a tough ask.
Best Copa America finish: Champions – 1939, 1975 Manager: Ricardo Gareca Star man: Paolo Guerrero — If Peru are to upset the Group C apple cart, it’ll almost certainly be thanks to the goalscoring of Guerrero. The 31-year-old is enjoying the most fruitful patch of his club career these days, at Corinthians, and pushing the likes of Farfan and Pizarro out of the side.
The pace at which the Venezuelan national team has improved and closed the gap between themselves and the continent’s middling sides is pretty remarkable. 11 of the 23 players on Venezuela’s Copa America roster currently play their club soccer in Europe, which is two more than their competition for a third-place finish, Peru. The two sides faced one another in a friendly back in March, with La Vinotinto prevailing 1-0 victors. Home-and-away victories over Honduras in February (3-2 and 2-1) see Venezuela enter the 2015 Copa America with lots of confidence and good form with which to back it up.
Best Copa America finish: 4th place – 2011 Manager: Noel Sanvicente Star man: Salomon Rondon — The 25-year-old bagged 20 goals in his first full season at Zenit St. Petersburg, so he comes into this summer’s tournament full of confidence and the taste for goal fresh in his mind.
June 14: Colombia vs. Venezuela – Estadio El Teniente, Rancagua
June 14: Brazil vs. Peru – Estadio Municipal German Becker, Temuco
June 17: Brazil vs. Colombia – Estadio Monumental David Arellano, Santiago
June 18: Peru vs. Venezuela – Estadio Elias Figueroa, Valparaiso
June 21: Colombia vs. Peru – Estadio Municipal German Becker, Temuco
June 21: Brazil vs. Venezuela – Estadio Monumental David Arellano, Santiago
1st – Colombia
2nd – Brazil
3rd – Peru
4th – Venezuela
Last season, La Liga closed up shop with its first champion not named Barcelona or Real Madrid since 2004. Manager Diego Simeone led Atletico Madrid to the mountain top, their 90 points enough to outlast the usual names.
But Simeone has lost Diego Costa, Filipe Luis and Thibaut Courtois amongst others in his search to repeat, while both Real and Barca have loaded up in the transfer market (a task especially important to the latter, who won’t be able to make another transfer between the end of this window and January 2016).
La Liga would seem as unbalanced as ever, with 10 teams within 10 points of relegation and no one within 17 points of the ‘Big Three’, but is that an illusion? Who will win the league, who can make a charge and who will go down? Glad you asked…
Relegation battlers: Eibar and Cordoba are both making their first trips through La Liga in a long, long time. In Eibar’s case, it’s the first ever trip to the top flight, while Cordoba last played 42 years ago. Deportivo La Coruna is back after one year in the Segunda Division.
All three will struggle to stay up, but Almeria and Getafe both barely escaped with their safety last season. Can Rayo Vallecano replicated its second half of the 2013/14, and avoid the garbage dump that was the first half? Throw in Elche and Granada, and almost half the teams in the league could go down without qualifying as a major surprise.
The challengers: Athletic Bilbao finished in fourth place, 20 back of the title and 17 back of the third slot, and have not done much to replace the loss of Ander Herrera to Manchester United. Sevilla finished fifth and won the UEFA Europa League, though you get the feeling their place in La Liga would’ve been higher without the focus on winning Europa.
Real Sociedad faces major challenges to replicating its success, as Claudio Bravo, Antoine Griezmann and Haris Seferovic all skipped town, while Valencia made enough intriguing additions to move forward.
If you’re looking for a dark horse, try Malaga. They lost Wily Caballero but ably replaced the Man City-bound keeper with Mexican World Cup star Guillermo Ochoa, while also adding Arthur Boka from Stuttgart, Roberto Rosales from Twente and Luis Alberto on loan from Liverpool. Another dark horse is the aforementioned Rayo Vallecano, which has added Gael Kakuta and Alejandro Pozuelo.
The title tilters: Real Madrid’s Carlo Ancelotti faces the challenge of dealing with an embarrassment of riches after his club picked up James Rodriguez, Toni Kroos and Keylor Navas to its already jacked lineup (and what if Angel Di Maria doesn’t leave?).
Atletico added Griezmann, Mario Mandzukic and Raul Jimenez, but may end up struggling to stay with Barcelona and Real thanks to the adjustment period. Barcelona will be very strong once Luis Suarez returns from his four-month ban, but also faces a bit of uncertainty as names like Ivan Rakitic, Jeremy Mathieu and Thomas Vermaelen acclimate to the Camp Nou and their teammates learn to live life without Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez.
Predicted order of finish (2013/14 finish) 1. Real Madrid (3)
2. Barcelona (2)
3. Sevilla (5)
4. Atletico Madrid (1)
5. Villarreal (6)
6. Valencia (8)
7. Malaga (11)
8. Rayo Vallecano (12)
9. Athletic Bilbao (4)
10. Celta de Vigo (9)
11. Espanyol (14)
12. Levante (10)
13. Real Sociedad (7)
14. Granada (15)
15. Getafe (13)
16. Almeria (17)
17. Cordoba (N/A)
18. Deportivo La Coruna (N/A)
19. Elche (16)
20. Eibar (N/A)
You can just see Claudio Pizarro’s thoughts as the rebound rises into the air and then begins to drop. With his back to goal and not a single Hamburg defender interested in bodying up on the 35-year-old Bayern Munich striker, they go something like this.
“Well, if you guys are just gonna watch, I might as well bike it.”
So he did.
Defending like this is why Hamburg is on the brink of relegation.