Look out for smaller teams in the UCL!

Small vs Big

I always enjoyed supporting smaller teams against giants, and this season of the UEFA Champions League is really offering me this opportunity. I will focus on three teams in this article: Malaga CF, Borussia Dortmund and Shakhtar Donetsk.


Malaga CF - was bought by a Quatari business man and billionaire in 2010 and I think we can see the results now. The team qualified from first place to the next phase of the competition, in a group with AC Milan, without losing. Although they did not have the same expensive transfers as Manchester City, they have a strong team with names like Julio Baptista, Saviola, Roque Santa Cruz, Toulalan and Demichelis.

Although they showed excellent football they will have a hard time getting close to the reputation Real Madrid and Barcelona have in Spain but according to many sports betting sites they are on a good road and Pellegrini will continue to move the team forward.

My prediction for the Champions League: they will knock-out at least another giant team.


Borussia Dortmund - this teams plays one of the most beautiful football I have seen in recent years, and they managed that under Jurgen Klopp, the man that single handedly managed to raise the quality of German football by creating a team that forced Bayern Munchen to invest more than they were used to.

With a young and creative team, they look like Arsenal from a few years back, but with a little more pragmatism. They won a group with Real Madrid and Manchester City, without loosing!!

My prediction for them: if the young and talented players that Borussia has can keep their calm in the later stages of the competition I think they can reach the semifinals quite easily.


Shakthtar Donetsk - are another team that plays beautiful football and that is the result of years of investing in young players, keeping them and having a manager that knows how to mold them into stars.

Coming second in a group won by Juventus, and with Chealsea in third place, they seem like a team that can beat anyone if they have a good day. One of the best things they have is the manager, Mircea Lucescu having so much experience in so many different leagues that I'm sure he still has some aces in his sleeve.

My prediction for them: knocking out another team.


Photo by becaro.

Arsene Wenger. Best manager of the last decade?

Arsene Wenger. Best manager of the last decade?

Well, according to the International Federation of Football History & Statistics he is, just ahead of Ferguson and Mourinho. I'm sure that the fluid attacking style he has defined at Arsenal are great for the entertainment of the crowd and of the persons watching football on the TV, but I find it a little strange that he is the winner without any important European success.

Molding so many talented young players into real world class players is one of his qualities, but is that enough? In my opinion, it is not in the pure sense of football, maybe just in the sense of achieving financial success but with glory still missing from the Emirates Stadium.


Arsene Wenger picture by Ronnie Macdonald.

Exciting Build-up to the new Premier League Season

The Premier League Trophy


With Euro 2012 cluttering up the brain matter reserved for the not-so-fond-memories of most of us, and the Olympics just around the corner, things are slowly heating up in the build-up to the 2012/13 English Premier League.

Champions and this season’s Premier League betting favourites Manchester City have had the purse-strings drawn tightly thus far, with Roberto Mancini maintaining he will not disrupt the team in any major way during this transfer window, but expect late action in the form of moves for RVP and at least two other big-name signings. He must clear some deadweight first, however.

Chelsea lead the way in the summer spending stakes so far, showing serious intent to build upon their epic Champions League success with some shrewd business in luring Eden Hazard, Marko Marin and Oscar to Stamford Bridge.

Last season’s narrowly-defeated big-guns, Manchester United aim to bolster their ageing midfield and have made some positive inroads with the signings of Shinji Kagawa and Nick Powell. A reliable defensive midfielder and perhaps another centre-half should see them mount another strong challenge this time ‘round.

Arsenal, with the imminent departure of RVP should have some spare cash in the kitty to strengthen their squad and have already signed a couple of impressive attacking replacements in the form of Podolski and Giroud.

Expect reformed challenges from Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool and Andres Vila Boas’ Spurs as both new gaffers attempt to introduce a new style of football to their respective clubs. It’ll be interesting to see how this particular head-to-head unfolds and it’ll be fascinating to see who prevails when it comes to challenging for the coveted Champions League spots come next May.

There’s still plenty of time remaining in this transfer window, with late drama sure to unfold, as always. If you’re having a flutter, online bookies Paddy Power are offering some great odds on a wide range of football markets.

Why not let us know your thoughts on how you think the world’s most exciting league will pan out over the next eight months? There’s bound to be highs, there’s bound to be lows and one other constant remains – The Big Football will be following every punt, kick and tackle along the way!



Photo Courtesy of edwin.11

One of the Best of all Time! Pierluigi Collina


I'm sure we can all remember him

I was watching the opening game from Euro 2012 between Poland and Greece and I couldn't help but notice the determination every player had for their national team. Everybody has his own reasons for winning: patriotism, team spirit, recognition, fame, money and so on. But along the 22 men fighting for their team’s victory there is a single guy who’s stuck in between sides: the referee. This guy is running the entire football field having the biggest responsibility ever: making sure no one commits any mistake in order to assure a fair play. What can determine a referee in order to make him want to be the best in his field, to be a winner? Without any doubt, I thought of Pierluigi Collina as the best referee of his time and I tried to come up with an answer.

According to Collina’s statements, the referee’s role in the game is of maximum importance because he has to guarantee that everybody is playing by the rules. If someone should happen to break them, it is the referee who makes decisions to punish the outlaw and sometimes compensate the other team. Collina strongly believes that ‘The best referee is not the one who hides, but one who makes a decision when is needed.’ So we can agree that in order for this to happen, the referee must be fully prepared for the job. He has to be aware of how the teams usually play, the type of personality their football players have, how fast they run, the techniques the coaches apply and so on. Knowing the rules of the game and being physically fit for the job obviously isn’t enough. Collina also claims that a good referee should be able to control his emotions, to move on if he has made a mistake and always find his concentration and self-confidence in his own experience. He also underlines the importance of a critical post-match review in order to improve one’s performance.

A reporter asked Collina if he had fun during a game, Collina answered that most of the time his concentration was so strong that he could barely enjoy what he saw. Moreover, at the end of several matches he couldn’t remember who scored the goals, because he didn’t care. He claims that the most important thing for him was that everything turned out well and that he didn’t make any mistakes.

So, according to Collina, we can assume that a good referee makes sure that the game is played by the rules, no matter what. I do believe that this is the biggest motivation ever, knowing that every decision you make on the field turns out to be the right one. In fact, this has nothing to do with fame or recognition, it is all about the game and knowing that the referee has an important part of making it right for the fans, although we all know that this doesn't happen very often...

Random Match of the Week, Feyenoord Rotterdam – PSV Eindhoven [4 December 2011]

After watching this match I can see why dutch football is not where it was in the past. Although both teams tried to play and open game most of the time the ball was played around in the midfield and only on a few occasions, mostly on the counter, the ball reached a penalty box. Surely betting on such a match is not as easy as it seems.

Feyenoord won the game with two goals to zero, both scored in counterattack situations and one of them with a lot of help from a naive and very young PSV central defender.

It seemed that the whole match lacked in maturity and that is understandable if you know that both teams had a lot of 18-20 year old players on the pitch. It's not a bad thing to encourage very young players in the first eleven, but I think the dutch are pushing it to an extreme and that might be one of the reasons they don't get consistent results in Europe anymore.

The goals where scored by Cissé (41st minute) and Schaken (50th minute).

Random Match of the Week, Preview Feyenoord Rotterdam – PSV Eindhoven [4 December 2011]

One to watch - Georginio Wijnaldum (now playing for PSV after coming from Feyenoord)

I always thought of the Eredivisie as a league with very attractive football, always straightforward and with lots and lots of goals. Today I'm going to watch the match between Feyenoord and PSV, two of the giants in dutch football.

Although these teams have lost some of their former glory (both having won the Champions League once) they keep producing a lot of quality players, and I'm sure some are going to shine today.

Random Match of the Week, CFR Cluj – Dinamo Bucuresti [5 November 2011]



I saw a very nice match last night, a match that had almost everything in it, penalties, a very late goal and great comebacks.

CFR seemed the team that had the better players and controlled the first half, but in spite of their dominance the first goal was scored by Dinamo. 0-1 but nothing was even close to being decided.

After a penalty in the 38th minute for Cluj, everything was back to square one at half time. Continuing to dominate they also scored in the beginning of the second half and now it seemed that they could not lose this game as they held the possession for most of the remaining time.

In the final ten minutes everything changed again. A penalty that came out of nowhere brought an equalizer for Dinamo and they seemed pleased with getting a point and staying in the first place of the League, but that changed again in extra time when Marius Niculae scored another great goal and brought all the 3 point back to Bucharest.

This is one of the reasons I love football, a team that wants the points more can win against a team that has slightly better players.

Random Match of the Week, Preview CFR Cluj – Dinamo Bucuresti [5 November 2011]

Today I'm going to watch the match between the teams in second and first place in the Romanian League.

CFR Cluj is a team that has enjoyed a good spell in the last four years with two qualifications in the UEFA Champions League which is pretty big for Romanian standards. They had a new approach for a Romanian team which was to heavily import foreign players and so far it seems to work for them with seven trophies won in the last 4 years. That is pretty impressive for a team that came to the first league in 2004. After a modest year they try to push for another title this season and a win today will lead them in first place with a good chance of winning the title.

Dinamo Bucuresti on the other hand are a team with a long history of trophies but with a dry spell from 2007 onward. Having a good start with a new and young manager (Liviu Ciobotariu), they are currently ahead of CFR by only one point and if they want to regain past glory they should push for a win on the ground of their main competitors this year.

Random Match of the Week, Hamburger SV – VfL Wolfsburg [22 October 2011]


Although the game ended 1-1 it was a very disputed match. After a quickfire goal by Wolfsburg in the 65th second through Mandzukic, the wolves retreated and Hamburg pushed forward in a good fashion and the goal could not be very far. Petric equalized in the 56 minute and Hamburg seemed ready to push even harder and get the win, but that didn't happen as they seemed out of fuel.

The last 20 minutes saw an equilibrium and the game ended in a draw.

I usually don't follow the Bundesliga but this game was more than I expected for two teams from the second half of the table. Actually it was a lot more entartaining than last week's Liverpool - Manchester United, and in the future I might be holding a closer eye on German football.

Volksparkstadion stadium photographed by sandro.s

Random Match of the Week, Preview Hamburger SV – VfL Wolfsburg [22 October 2011]

Heiko Westermann - Hamburgs captain

Today I'm going to see a match from the Bundesliga between Hamburger SV and Wolfsburg.

Hamburg is the only team that always played in the Bundesliga from its foundation in 1963, thus earning the nickname "The Dinosaurs". Unfortunately for them, they currently are in the last place. A team that is usually in the first half of the league, now, after 9 fixtures Hamburg managed to bring home only 7 points, but they seem to have gained some momentum with 2 wins in the last 3 matches and I'm sure they will try to continue this good run.

The wolves on the other hand, stand a little better in the league in 12th place, but they still have to win points if they want to be at a comfortable distance from the following pack, and what better chance to do that than to beat the team in last place.

Photo from soccer.ru

Random Match of the Week, Liverpool – Manchester United [15 October 2011]


Liverpool 1-1 Manchester United

I just saw a good match, maybe not as good as I was hoping, but all in all a good watch. United started with a team that was almost unrecognizable, with Phil Jones and Danny Welbeck. It seems that after last year's Champions League final, Ferguson is trying to bring some fresh blood to his first eleven, and today was a perfect example for that if you look at the substitutes bench where he left Rooney, Nani, Anderson and Hernandez between others.

Liverpool was the team that seemed to want the win more, but that didn't help with anything until the second half when Gerrard scored from a free kick. Soon after, Sir Alex Ferguson moved and brought Rooney and Nani on, and also Hernandez a few minutes later. Although after these three changes United equalized from a corner through Hernandez, Liverpool was still the team having the good chances but not the second goal.

The plus: Luis Suarez is an incredible player. In a match with two managers focused on tactics and strong players, his technique and speed in controlling the ball recommend him as one of the best players in the world at the moment.

The minus: I have to say that I'm a little disappointed with the fans, from what I can remember, Liverpool supporters used to be incredible. Today they were nothing special.

Anfield photographed by El Ronzo.

Random Match of the Week, Preview Liverpool – Manchester United [15 October 2011]



There will be a new category of posts here. Every week we will write about a random match, and I will start today with Liverpool - Manchester United (which starts in less then an hour), but as the weeks go by, you might find all kinds of unheard teams being commented, from Argentina to Moldova.

A lot of opportunities arise from such an experiment: discovering talented young players from all over the world, learning about the football in different countries (especially in leagues that are not really talked about at international level), and overall expanding our football culture.


Random Match of the Week: Liverpool - Manchester United

Playing at Anfield, Liverpool has to win if they want to have a title bid this year, while Manchester United seems concerned of staying in the top place of the Premier League.

See you at the final whistle.

Dice photographed by matsuyuki.

Another FC Barcelona – Real Madrid?



After a 2-2 on Sunday, we will have another El Clasico on Wednesday, at Nou Camp. The season has barely started and we are offered a double portion of the most expected game in the world. Some might say that the SuperCopa is not a really sought after trophy, and I agree with that, but the rivalry will surely make it another disputed match. Let's not forget that the density of super players these teams have bought or grown in recent years and the competition between them, on and off the pitch, has added to the passion.

Another factor that will make this match a lot more disputed than the average Super Cup, a competition often seen as just a friendly, is the sheer presence of Jose Mourinho, a man that knows how to add pressure to any fixture.

Barcelona - Real Madrid
Wednesday 17-08-2011
Camp Nou

Photo by peacecup.

The Best Romanian Football Player of All Time!


It's time for a little history as we talk about the best Romanian football player of all time.

The Romanian national football team had the most success in the '90, when they only missed one final tournament, the Euro 92. One more notable period for the team is the participation in the first 3 World Cups (1930, 1934 and 1938), although without much to brag about. Other than that they had sporadic appearances in the euro tournament and the world cup, despite having talented players. Here is the top 3:


3. Ilie Balaci  - born in 1956, "the Blonde Wonder" or "the Prince", played most of his career for Universitatea Craiova and is to this day the youngest player to have played for the national team at 17 years 6 months and 10 days. Known for his creativity behind the strikers his style on the pitch was changed in 1984 when a horrible injury almost ended his playing days at just 27 years. After that he was never the same.

2 times Romanian player of the year - 1981 and 1982
2 times Romanian League champion - 1974, 1980 and 1981
4 times Romanian Cup winner - 1977, 1978, 1981 and 1983

Ilie Balaci


2. Nicolae Dobrin - born in 1947, known as "the Gander" for his walking style and his elegance in the grass , he was perhaps the most talented Romanian football player of all time. He was a midfielder that had the ability to win matches by himself. FC Arges, one of the smaller teams in the league, managed to win 2 titles with Dobrin as the leader. An offer of 2 million dollars from Real Madrid (double the price of the most expensive player of that time) was refused by the Romanian communist authorities and has thus denied him the chance to become one of the best players not only in Romania but in the world. He died in 2007 after a long battle with lung cancer.

3 times Romanian player of the year - 1966, 1967 and 1971
2 times Romanian League champion - 1972 and 1979


Nicolae Dobrin


1. Gheorghe Hagi - born in 1965, "the Maradona of the Carpathians" or "the King" is the best Romanian football player of all time and is regarded as a national hero in his home country. The playmaker had the chance of playing in the best team Romania had, at the 1994 World Cup, an opportunity that helped him outshine Ilie Balaci or Nicolae Dobrin. He is one of the few notable players that was part of the giants Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. Later in his career Hagi signed for Galatasaray and is regarded as one of the most important persons in developing the football quality in Turkey. In 2000, at the age of 35, he won the UEFA Cup (in a final against Arsenal) and the European SuperCup against Real Madrid, an unmatched performance for a Turkish club.

6 times Romanian player of the year - 1985, 1987, 1993, 1994, 1997, 1999 and 2000
3 times Romanian League champion - 1987, 1988 and 1989
4 times Turkish League champion - 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000
3 times Romanian Cup winner - 1987, 1988 and 1989
2 times Turkish Cup winner - 1999 and 2000
1 time UEFA Cup winner - 2000
1 time European SuperCup - 1986
1994 FIFA World Cup All Star Team

Gheorghe Hagi

Champions League



The European Cup is the most prestigious club tournament in world football and in the last few years, since its expansion into its current Champions League format, the tournament has become even more honoured (if that's even possible!) with teams battling away every season to become part of the rich history of the European Cup.

It is this history which makes the tournament so alluring to players and fans alike, with some of the world's greatest ever teams and players taking part over the years with certain clubs, through shear consistency, becoming synonymous with the tournament. Here are the most successful teams in the history of this great tournament...

Real Madrid

Madrid have won more European Cups than any other club and, with 9 trophies, will forever be inextricably linked to “the cup with the big ears”. The Spanish Giants won the first five European Cup titles with a team that included such giants as Alferdo di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas, and their win over Eintracht Frankfurt in the 1960 final, a match that finished 7-3, is thought of as one off the greatest finals in history. Real's history in the last 20 years isn't so bad also, with the side winning the 1998, 2000 and 2002 tournaments as well, led by the mercurial talents of Pedrag Mijatovic, Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane respectively.

Milan

AC Milan are truly giants of the European game and with seven European Cups, they have a trophy cabinet to back this assertion up. Milan, with players such as Gianni Rivera in their side and legendary manager Nereo Rocco in control, won two trophies in the 1960s and Legendary skipper Paolo Maldini guided the Rossoneri to 5 more titles between 1989 and 2007.

Liverpool

England's most successful club are next on the list having won 5 titles. Bob Paisley wrapped up the first three of these titles in the late 1970s and early 80s in a period of English dominance in the competition, before Joe Fagan defeated Roma in the 1984 final. Their most famous victory probably came against Milan in the 2005 final when they came back from 3-0 down at half time to win on penalties.

Although there are many new faces in the Champions League this season, the same old faces are favourites for the title with teams like Madrid, Barcelona, Milan and Inter highly fancied to win the tournament. If you need to find out all the latest news and football betting tips once the Champions League kicks off again this season, try be win football betting, a one-stop football portal for all your footballing needs!

Picture by El Ronzo.

Doping in Football



This article is based on a talk I had with my girlfriend the other day about the routine of her job. Being a pharmacist, she always feels the need to inform me on the lastest medical products that appear on the pharmaceutical market, although my lack of interest regarding this subject is more than obvious. But this time she actually made me think about the use of performance enhancers among the football players. She asked me if I knew some cases in which the players used drugs in order to improve their physical condition and whether I could tell her some exemples of these doping substances.

Surely, the first player that popped in my mind was Diego Maradona. It is well known that during the 1994 World Cup, after Argentina’s second match against Nigeria, Diego had tested positive for the banned substance: ephedrine. Ephedrine is a sympathomimetic amine commonly used as a stimulant, appetite suppressant, recommended to treat hypotension associated with anaesthesia. No wonder Maradona shoked the world with his fantastic shape at the begging of the World Cup. As a result, he was banned for 18 months and never played international football again.

Jaap Stam is another football player involved in a doping scandal while he was playing for Lazio in Serie A (2001). Apparently, he had been taking nandrolone, a steroid also known as Deca-Durabolin, although he never admitted it was a self-concious act. Nandrolone decanoate is indicated for the management of the anemia of renal insufficiency and has been shown to increase hemoglobin and red cell mass.

Abel Xavier was the first Premiership player to test positive for dianabol, a steroid known for building muscle mass (Middlesbrough, 2005). He was banned for 18 months, which later reduced to 12 months. Xavier claims he was innocent and has never taken this performance enhancer.

Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United, 2003) forgot to go to a drug test, although most institutions refer to this as a failed test. Apparently, the player was too busy moving out and offered to take the test later in the day. Well, his excuse turned out to be totally useless, knowing the fact that these tests are taken by surprise in order to prevent players from ingesting antidotes or other substances that might alter the results. He was banned for 8 months and fined 50.000 £, but made a huge comeback.

Now, after reading all these facts about doping among players, I’ve come across some more interesting facts. Apparently, English football players are tested mostly after matches. But while athletics, weightlifting, swimming, rugby allow out-of-competition testing, football does not. This implies the fact that football players aren’t tested when they’re away from their clubs. So a player might just as well take some cocaine during the weekend and be tested on Monday morning without a trace of his action (it is known that cocaine leaves the body within 24 hours). Now I wonder how Romanian Adrian Mutu was caught using cocaine while he was playing for Chelsea. Maybe he had the feeling time was dilating.

Moreover, some Sport's Independent Sampling Officers sustain that the clubs know in advance when they are coming and thus keep the suspect players off training so their names don’t appear on the list they are given. I can't help but wonder if this is the reason why football is considered one of the cleanest sport and whether it has something to do with this anti-doping policy.

Picture by epsos.

The new FHM is out now!


FHM Nicole

I am not only a football fan but I also enjoy reading a good magazine and looking at beautiful women. You can do that also in this month's edition of FHM, featuring Nicole Scherzinger. Yeah, I'm sure you know her, but you can also find a lot of other great articles. Find out more about that here: http://www.fhm.com/nicole

Bonus! If you buy it online from www.greatmagazines.co.uk/fhmsingleissue you get £1 off, meaning that you can get it for £2.90.

And that's not all! With this month's copy you will also get another magazine FREE, and that is FHM Bionic with a lot of advice from professionals in the sports world about the easy way to get in shape. One of these stars is of particular interest to me and to the football followers around the world. His name is Lionel Messi. Here is the cover:

FHM Bionis

Messi talks in an exclusive interview with FHM about the training it takes to be one of the best attackers in the world, not only in present times but in the history of football. The winner of FIFA's Ballon d'Or (twice in a row, 2009 and 2010) will tell us what a typical FC Barcelona training looks like and how it keeps him in top notch form.

I don't know about you but I am always interested in getting to know what the players think about the training routine they do at the big clubs in Europe, especially Leo Messi, who has been with FC Barcelona since 2000. He surely has to know all about the training school of Barca, and the way they constantly grow young and talented players to the height of international success.

In conclusion, if you want to know all the tricks of Lionel Messi and his trainer, Pep Guardiola make sure you get this month's FHM.

Sponsored Post

Can Manchester United be Stopped?


In one of the best starts in history Manchester United is leading the pack in the English Premier League in a stylish manner. 

What brought them there? Probably the efficiency of the team. Eleven wins and eight draws brought them 41 points. They showed consistent strength for a long period of time, as opposed to Chelsea who only managed to bring home 7 point in the last 8 fixtures. Liverpool isn't doing very good either, with 25 points they are far from the top spots in the league.

At the time the only real contenders for the Red Devils seem to be Manchester City and Arsenal, but the season still has a lot to go and everything is possible. Let's hope they can produce some good quality football to make the Premier League a little more interesting.

Messi’s Magic Overcome Brazil

International friendly matches have been played throughout this Wednesday but the one every football fan from all over the globe was expecting to see was the Classic Brazil Vs Argentina. It’s an eternal rivalry between these 2 giants and after 7 encounters Argentina was finally able to defeat the Brazilians with a last minute goal from the Superstar Lionel Messi.

From the start of the match it was Brazil going upfront and making dangerous plays inside the Argentineans side, but despite having the talent of Ronaldino, Robinho and Neymar they weren’t able to score. Over and over again in the first half the Brazilians insisted and played with their Joga Bonito style and Ronaldinho almost managed to score with a back heel but Sergio Romero luckily was in the right place at the right time to deny the scoring. While the Argentineans’ were mostly defending they had some glimpses of light with Messi striking here and there but it was noticeable that Brazil was overcoming them and the first half ended goalless for both sides.

The second half started off much slower than the start of the match with less magic from Brazil and Argentina was slowly gaining momentum on the field, but as this half was going by so was the tension. Some players started off tackling harder and harder. It didn’t look like a friendly at all. Minutes later Higuain was benched and replaced by Ezequiel Lavezzi who made a impact almost instant with his fast pace dribbling and was able to get past Brazil’s defense every time he went upfront but still no goal was scored and the final minutes of the match were nearing.

With the last few minutes of the match it was Lionel Messi that stepped it up and scored after playing a one-two with Lavezzi and later rushing past Brazil’s backline and placing a ball that Victor couldn’t reach. Argentina finally defeated Brazil after 7 matches thanks to the magic of Lionel Messi.