Before last night’s semifinal match between Manchester City and Real Madrid even started, the absence of Real Madrid’s Christiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema gave City the upper hand. City had a chance to more easily contain their opponents’ attack and get forward more freely themselves, hopefully grabbing a major lead against Spain. Yet that never happened. Instead of aggressively playing, Manchester City played an uninspired midfield press and a conservative deployment of their defense. Instead of trying to take advantage of an off-balance Madrid side, City’s attack played an opportunistic, counter-attacking game more focused on not getting buried under their opponents’ quality, a tremendous waste of opportunity.
Madrid reacted poorly to the blows to their attack and played a conservative, mostly unimpressive game. They played a much more constrained style unlike their typical aggressive selves, perfectly happy to take a draw and let the tie be decided in their home stadium. The problem for City fans was that Madrid’s defense wasn’t even that impressive yesterday, with City causing a major threat every time they got forward. It didn’t help that half attacker David Silva left injured in the first half, allowing Madrid’s midfield to key on Kevin De Bruyne and effectively starve Sergio Agüero of quality service.
It’s possible that Manchester City can make something of the tie in the second leg and steal an early away goal to put the pressure on. However, it’s difficult to look at how the first leg played out and not feel that City had wasted a major opportunity. Real Madrid weren’t at their best, yet City wasn’t able to take advantage of that. It wasn’t an opportunity that City can rely on in the second leg, meaning that they need to up their game if they hope to emerge victorious against Madrid.
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There was a noted contrast on a night of European soccer matches between national teams in London and Istanbul. While the British and French fans at London’s Wembley Stadium sang the French National anthem in solidarity in the aftermath of the attacks, hundreds of Turkish fans in Istanbul booed the Greek national anthem and disrupted a moment of silence for those killed in Paris. This reveals the highly ambivalent Turkish reaction to the recent attacks in France.
Soccer fans are hardly representative of society as a whole, although these scenes show that the Paris attacks didn’t draw the same sentiment of solidarity as elsewhere in Turkey, which is majority Muslim and where a recent study revealed that 8 percent of the country were sympathetic to Daesh. Turkey has accused Europe of insensitivity towards attacks by Kurdish rebels and other groups. During the outburst at Istanbul’s Basaksehir Fatih Terim Stadium on Tuesday night, team captain and Barcelona midfielder Arda tried in vain to silence the crowd. Turkey’s national team manager was furious that the fans couldn’t show patience or respect the dead.
This incident unfolded as the prime ministers of Turkey and Greece watched together from the stands as part of efforts to overcome a relationship between the countries that has been historically difficult. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the incident “unacceptable”, although that was only in regards to the disruption of the national anthem, and he said nothing on the moment of silence being interrupted. Due to the embarrassing incident, officials have scrambled to avoid such an incident at future games.
During the moment of silence, the loudest call came from a nationalist chant: “Martyrs don’t die. The homeland will never be divided”. This is a slogan chanted to denounce the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which waged a 30-year war for Kurdish independence that led to tens of thousands of deaths. Considered a terrorist organization by the Turkish, fighting with the PKK flared up again this past July. Many Turks believe that European countries, France included, have supported the PFF out of sympathy for Kurds.
Last month, another moment of silence for the 102 victims of a bomb attack in Ankara was disrupted by fans during an international game against Iceland. The attack, which targeted Kurdish and leftist activists protesting the government, who are believed by some conservative Turks to have been PKK supporters. If you’d like to learn more, feel free to click here!
With the recent scandal in FIFA that forced Sepp Blatter to step down, it would seem that FIFA was on the way to recovering its image. However, problems seem to continue to abound. The man charged with leading FIFA’s reform task force is a 77 year-old Swiss lawyer named Francois Carrard, whose off-color comments in a recent interview seem to be doing little to help repair how people view FIFA. In 2015, he spoke in a public interview where he dismissed soccer in the US as “just an ethnic sport” for “girls to play in schools”.
In the same interview, Carrard draws a comparison between the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics scandal, which occurred on his watch, and current FIFA corruption scandal. He then concludes that the IOC scandal was worse from an American perspective because it happened on US soil “amongst the Mormons”. Regardless of the truth in what he’s saying, the fact that Carrard, tasked with reforming the reputation of FIFA, is using such loose language you can’t help but question his judgement. While soccer isn’t as popular in the US as baseball, basketball or football, it’s been slowly gaining popularity, with some 24.4 million Americans counted as regular soccer players in 2007. Only China has more. If you limit the number to registered players, then only Germany has more.
It feels somewhat upsetting to hear a Swiss businessman decide what a “real American sport” is. Telling 24.4 million soccer players that they aren’t enough and dismissing the fact that Major League Soccer’s average attendance in 2014 was the seventh highest in the world, the record-breaking TV audiences for the US national teams and that the US World Cup TV rights are by far the most valuable in the world is a bad publicity move. The fact that he would say something like that is troubling; if FIFA wants their reforms to work, they need somebody in charge that can’t be attacked for any of their biases.
In addition, when talking about FIFA, Carrard has been known to sound a bit melodramatic at times; claiming that soccer would “fall completely in the hands of organized crime” without FIFA, or that “football [soccer] is dead” without FIFA. Despite his loose tongue, Carrard has an impressive track record in dealing with the IOC Salt Lake City scandal, which won him rightful praise. Although if he wants to maintain that track record, then he needs to watch what he says about one of FIFA’s fastest-growing markets.
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Earlier today, FIFA President Sepp Blatter was elected to his fifth term, just a couple days after 14 former or current executives and associates were indicted by the US Justice Department in sweeping charges of racketeering due to deep traditions of kickbacks and bribery. However, this hardly mattered in the end. After blocking Blatter from getting a two-thirds majority on the first vote, Jordanian Prince Ali bin al-Hussein withdrew from the race before the conclusion the second majority vote, allowing Blatter to hold onto his position.
This victory has served as a testament to the power that Blatter has gained over 40 years with FIFA, including 17 as President, mainly through gaining unshakable support in many small, poorer nations. Many have likened the incident to America’s big-city mayoral party machines, rife with corruption for the benefit of bosses. FIFA has 209 federation, and each has an equal vote, in a system where Comoros counts for as much as China. Over the course of his tenure, Blatter has courted favor with poorer countries, some of it well-intended and above the board, such as using FIFA’s resources to fund grassroots efforts. At the same time, however, Blatter gained infamy for looking the other way while nefarious business was going down.
Blatter had near-unanimous support from Africa, Asia and many Central American and island nations. His opponent, Prince Ali, ran on a campaign based on transparency, since he said that a soccer federation has no reason to not be. For many national federations, however, transparency isn’t the same as money coming in. Blatter unapologetically campaigned on being who he was, claiming that he was the right man above all others to clean up the current mess. While he emerged from the election victorious, it was no easy victory for Blatter; he still needs to face the reality that many of the fans and countries most important to FIFA’s bottom line are suspicious of him. How the next four years will fare for him is yet to be seen.
The debate is fierce for who should win the Ballon d’Or this year and the experts have shortlisted three potential candidates: Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Franck Ribery.
Lionel Messi, who might be up to win the Ballon D’Or
The award has been dominated for years with Messi winning it in 2010, 2011, and 2012. Messi also won the award in 2009 before it was affiliated with FIFA. There is a massive buzz around the award this year however as Messi can no longer be considered the frontrunner with his injury keeping him out until 2014.
That brings it down to Ronaldo and Ribery. So here is an argument for both.
Ronaldo wins because…
He has scored 66 goals in 55 matches for his club, Real Madrid, and national team. Ronaldo has recorded multiple hat tricks and has shined when his club has needed him most. He has also captained a Portugal team the would not have made World Cup Qualifying without him. He singlehandedly took over in the second leg qualifier against a Ibrahimovic led Sweden team. Ronaldo scored a hat trick in the match.
Ribery wins because…
The 30 year old has been phenomenal for his club Bayern Munich and has already won the UEFA’s Best Player award which is given to the best player in Europe. He played an instrumental role in Bayern Munich’s run to come out victorious in the Champions League, DFB Pokal Treble and Bundesliga. He has also played a key role as an international scoring twice in France’s last matchup with Werder Bremen.
Ronaldo has over twice as many goals as Ribery. Ribery was a fundamental instrument on Bayern Munich. We could argue that based on output Ronaldo wins because he has more goals and plays his best in pressure situations. It could also be argued that Ronaldo is a likely winner because Portugal would not be nearly as competitive without him.
What has hurt Ribery’s chances in the last weeks is the extended deadline for voting on the Ballon d’Or. The deadline which was posted to end before Portugal’s match with Sweden was pushed back to after the match. Ribery has mentioned that Ronaldo’s hat trick in the match may hurt him in the final voting.
Recently a poll was held on ESPN to decide who fans thought should win the Ballon d’Or. The results stood at…