Thursday, March 29, 2012

Despite failing to capitalize on early chances and allegations from Barcelona that their pitch was not in suitable condition, AC Milan held out for a 0-0 draw yesterday at the San Siro.  This marked the first occasion in 2 ½ years that Barcelona was held without a goal during a UEFA Champion’s League match.  The Serie A league leaders displayed disciplined and sometimes lucky defense, while Barcelona piled on the pressure throughout the match. 

Robinho squandered an early opportunity, just two minutes from the start when he lifted a volley well over the goal off of a Zlatan Ibrahimovic headed pass. After some early disorganization from the Barcelona defense, they managed to recover and turn the pressure onto the home side, earning several opportunities and one cry for a penalty.  Alexis Sanchez moved the ball around Milan keeper Christian Abbiati and seemed to do an awful lot to draw contact before falling to the ground.  The referee did not award the penalty and instead chose to reward Sanchez’ efforts with a yellow card for simulation. 

Barcelona had another opportunity just a minute later when Dani Alves’ shot across goal was easily tapped in by Lionel Messi, however the whistle had blown because Messi was offside and the goal did not stand.  The game bounced back to Milan when Ibrahimovic found space in front of goal, but a weak left footed effort was easily stopped by Victor Valdes.  Timely defensive challenges were the saving grace for Milan throughout the match and Luca Antonini and the San Siro turf combined to stop Alexis Sanchez’ 35th minute opportunity.

After halftime both teams settled into possession, while Barcelona enjoyed the majority of the opportunities, Milan’s defense seemed to be in the right positions to snuff out their repeated attacks.  When Barcelona was fortunate enough to have scoring opportunities, their accuracy failed them, with a Tello strike finding sidenetting and a Carles Puyol flying header running wide of goal.  Pep Guardiola’s frustration was visible on the sideline as the match drew closer to its conclusion. 

Lionel Messi had a prime opportunity to give Barcelona a crucial away goal on their final opportunity, but his effort was parried well by Abbiati and the ensuing shot from Tello was blocked and cleared by Antonini.  This marked the first game that Lionel Messi has failed to score since February 11 against Osasuna. 

The 0-0 result likely means that we will see more of the same from Milan in their away leg at the Camp Nou next week, but a 1-1 draw would be enough to see the defending Serie A champions through the Champions League semi-final.  AC Milan continued their tradition of never losing the home leg of a Champions League quarter final.  Barcelona will look to rebound from having their goal scoring streak snapped, and it will take place where they have not lost in the Champions League since October 2009.

Milan fans get the background today for their pre-match Pacman banner.

Posted on Thursday, March 29, 2012 by Lex

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Two conflicting story lines surrounded the Champions League Quarterfinal ties between APOEL Nicosia vs Real Madrid and Chelsea vs Benfica on Tuesday.  APOEL was hoping to extend their Cinderella run through the Champions League, but were facing their most difficult opponent to date.  On the other side of the fixture list, Chelsea faced off against Benfica and their rabid fans during their away leg.

APOEL Nicosia vs. Real Madrid

APOEL faced the monstrous task of taking on the current best club in La Liga and likely the world.  Their home fans were in full force to see the La Liga leaders take on their beloved Cypriot side.  The task did not begin well for APOEL when one of their key defenders, Marcelo Oliveira, went down in the first ten minutes after twisting his knee during a challenge. After exiting the pitch on a stretcher, he was replaced by “the other” Kaka.  Real Madrid’s ferocious attack continued throughout the first half, one Cristiano Ronaldo cry for a penalty went unheeded after he was impeded by Savvas Poursaitidis. 

The Madrid attack continued as Mouinho’s side began to rack up shots, forcing several saves from round of 16 hero Dionisis Chiotis.  Madrid’s best opportunity of the first half was squandered by Karim Benzema whose first time attempt off a beautiful Nuri Sahin cross was lifted well over the net. In the closing moment of the first half Ronaldo had another attempt run just wide of the goal and the sides would go into the locker room even at 0-0. 

The second half kicked off with a Real Madrid attack right from the first whistle with Karim Benzema putting another shot over the bar.  A few minutes later Ronaldo’s best effort was also off target and the frustration from Jose Mourinho’s squad was beginning to show.  APOEL’s best attack of the match came a few minutes later thanks to some fancy dribbling by Brazilian attacker Ailton, who was taken down just outside the Madrid penalty area.  The ensuing free kick was squandered and APOEL still had not recorded a shot. 

In the 64th minute, Mourinho introduced Kaka and Marcelo for Gonzalo Higuain and Fabio Coentrao, and Kaka’s introduction yielded near immediate results with him winning a free kick in dangerous position for Madrid.  Ronaldo’s free kick deflected off the wall and bounced to Sergio Ramos whose attempt was blocked by APOEL defenders who scrambled to clear the ball away.  APOEL introduced Esteban Solari for the exhausted Helio Pinto, and APOEL continued to dig in hoping to escape with a 0-0 draw. 

The onslaught from Real Madrid was finally rewarded when substitutes Marcelo and Kaka linked up, with Kaka supplying a precise cross onto the forehead of Karim Benzema for the opening goal.  In the ensuing minutes Madrid continued to pile up the chances, with Ronaldo’s strike forcing another save from Chiotis, who has been impressive throughout APOEL’s Cinderella run.  Chiotis however was helpless to stop the combination of Marcelo and Kaka, who combined a magnificent run and diving pass from Marcelo and a clinical finish from Kaka to give Madrid a 2-0 lead.

The most beautiful part of the match was yet to come from Madrid, who did not let their foot off the gas after earning their 2-0 lead.  After receiving a pass in space from Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil played a silky smooth ball with the outside of his left foot across the goal to Karim Benzema who easily finished making the final score line 3-0 in favor of Madrid.  APOEL fought hard throughout the match, but were unable to record a shot despite their best efforts.  With the tie all but over, Madrid will head back to the Santiago Bernabeu with a healthy advantage and a clear path to the semi-final.

Chelsea vs. S.L. Benfica

Following consecutive unimpressive performances against Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur over the past week, Chelsea was hoping to rebound during their Champions League away leg against Benfica.  The Portuguese side had other ideas in mind after falling to 3rd in the Portuguese Liga after their weekend draw against Olhanense, and the home crowd was in full effect as the Eagles took the field to face the final English team in the Champions League.

Roberto di Matteo’s squad choice caused some uproar among Chelsea supporters, with the inclusion of Paulo Ferreira at right back and Salomon Kalou joining Fernando Torres and Juan Mata in the attack.  The squad had a bit more Portuguese flavor than usual with the inclusion of Ferreira, Raul Meireles, and Brazilian David Luiz returned to face off against his former club.  The crowd expressed their appreciation for the service of David Luiz with the same enthusiasm they jeered former Porto star Meireles and the match began to the whistles and songs of the Benfica faithful.

The match began, with Chelsea on the back foot and Benfica taking the initiative forcing an early clearance from Ferreira before a second opportunity almost worked in Benfica’s favor thanks to Ferreira’s missed clearance, but nobody was in the area to take advantage.  Solid defensive work from Ramires, gave Chelsea an attacking opportunity in the early going, but Fernando Torres’ crosses were cleared by the Benfica defense. 

Despite the early opportunities from both sides, neither shied away from the match, David Luiz and John Terry both lead charges up the pitch, while remaining solid defensively at the back, while Ramires was causing major problems for the Benfica defense.   Raul Meireles was booked for a cynical trip on Nicolas Gaitan in the midfield, and the jeers for Meirles and Ferreira continued thanks to their Porto roots.  Just a minute later Benfica almost struck when Oscar Cardozo skillfully chested an aerial ball, but his left footed volley attempt ran wide of the post and Peter Cech and Chelsea breathed a sigh of relief. 

Benfica continued their attack, forcing several clearances from David Luiz before Bruno Cesar curled a long range effort straight into the waiting arms of Peter Cech.  Chelsea responded with an attack of their own, Fernando Torres created space just inside the penalty area, but his left footed shot soared over the goal.  Raul Meireles gave Chelsea their best opportunity of the half on a long range right footed attempt that forced a diving save from Benfica keeper Artur.  When the half time whistle blew, both sides had amassed opportunities, but neither was able to break the 0-0 deadlock.

Benfica began the second half with more attacking vigor from their midfield, but their repeated attacks were repelled by the Chelsea defense and a goal line clearance from David Luiz denied the Eagles a certain goal.  A few minutes later, Bruno Cesar’s long range effort was sent into the waiting hands of Cech, and another opportunity from Benfica was wasted.  Chelsea responded with an attack that ended with Fernando Torres’ cross being headed over the bar by Kalou and the deadlock continued.  A few minutes later Benfica was denied a penalty after a cross struck John Terry in the arm, but a penalty was not given and the ensuing shot was blocked by Ashley Cole.

Chelsea earned a surprise opportunity after a Peter Cech goal kick was controlled by Juan Mata in attacking position, and despite finding himself with time and space after successfully rounding Artur his narrow angle shot struck the post and went out of play.  Benfica came roaring back up the field and Axel Witsel’s long range effort took a deflection off John Terry and ended up on the roof of the net, giving Benfica a corner that amounted to nothing.  Benfica was not discouraged and their attack continued with a Nicolas Gaitan cross that Jardel headed towards goal, only to have it parried away by Peter Cech.

In the 68th minute Chelsea made their first substitution, introducing Frank Lampard for the oft-jeered Meireles just following Luisao’s booking for his 3rd foul of the match.  Two mintues later Benfica introduced a pair of substitutes, Rodrigo and, former Chelsea player, Nemanja Matic for Bruno Cesar and Pablo Aimar respectively. 

Ramires had a storming game and after failing to place a cross on a 72nd minute attack he changed the game three minutes later after a great dribbling run and pass to Fernando Torres who continued the run down the right flank before cutting inside and playing a perfect ball across two defenders to the foot of the waiting Salomon Kalou who gave Chelsea the away goal they so desperately desired.  Di Matteo was rewarded for Kalou’s controversial inclusion with the goal and Fernando Torres increased his impressive assist tally for the season. 

In the following ten minutes Chelsea used both of their remaining substitutions to bring on Jose Bosingwa for Paolo Ferreira and Daniel Sturridge for the goalscorer Kalou.  Sturridge made his impact immediately felt leading a counter attack that ended with Juan Mata’s chip just over the bar.  For the last ten minutes of the match, Benfica attempted various attacks that were thwarted by the disciplined Chelsea defense or collected calmly by Peter Cech.  After the final whistle blast, it was Roberto di Matteo’s squad that earned the much needed away goal and victory giving them the edge heading into the tie at Stamford Bridge.

Enjoy more Champions League action this afternoon with Barcelona taking on AC Milan and Bayern Munich face Marseille. 

Marcelo gets the background today because he played superbly and this photo is awesome.

Posted on Wednesday, March 28, 2012 by Lex

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

This past weekend the football world was tragically reminded of how fragile life can be.  When Fabrice Muamba collapsed onto the ground at White Hart Lane, the crowd was stunned as medical crews rushed to assist him.  Crew worked for nearly two hours before Muamba’s heart was able to beat on its own again. After being sedated for over 24 hours, Muamba has regained his ability to speak, asking to see his son.   He spent last night in the intensive care unit of London Chest Hospital which was described as “comfortable”.  

Sometimes it takes an event like this to jolt football fans out of our collective frenzy and focus on the beautiful game to more important matters.  When we watch our favorite players take the pitch each week, most of us, players included, assume an air of invulnerability. Injuries can be incurred through the run of play, but life threatening injuries are a rarity that most football fans never see.  This is why the image of Muamba collapsing face first onto the pitch at White Hart Lane will be one that is forever ingrained in our memories. 

While trainers and the ambulance crew administered treatment to Fabrice Muamba, White Hart Lane fell silent, and players from both teams gathered to console each other.  Rafael Van der Vaart fell to his knees in prayer, and thousands around the world joined him.  From all over the world, the support and well wishes for Fabrice Muamba have poured in.  On Sunday, his former teammate Gary Cahill celebrated his goal by unveiling an undershirt that read “Pray 4 Muamba”.  Players in La Liga, Serie A, MLS, and other leagues around the world showed their support for Fabrice Muamba. 

Every weekend, millions gather in the cathedrals of football to pay homage to our heroes that have become more than just men playing a game.  To some, they represent the hope of an entire nation, to others they represent the joy of youth and vigor, and yet others can view the same man as the enemy that stands in the way of victory, the oppressor seeking to crush his opposition.  This juxtaposition is what makes the game so special.  This artificial meaning keeps fans involved in the game, crafting the ongoing narratives that make up our passion. 

At its heart, football is a celebration of life.  They both share the same roller coaster of emotions, the celebration of victory, the anguish of defeat, the nagging uneasiness that encompasses the area in between.  With these emotions hanging in the balance and millions of pounds at stake it becomes easy to forget that underneath each kit is a man.  Each of these men wants what we all want, to improve oneself, to attain glory, to recapture glory lost, and to be remembered by those who have witnessed these great deeds.  These ongoing struggles are visible to us on a daily basis at center stage, while ours get lost in the shuffle of life among the crowd. 

By collapsing, Fabrice Muamba reminded us all of our mortality and how in an instant, all that we hold dear can feel irrelevant in the face of true adversity. However, thanks to the quick actions of emergency responders and doctors, Fabrice is still with us and I look forward to seeing him hopefully set foot on the pitch once again.

Posted on Tuesday, March 20, 2012 by Lex

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

It has been a tumultuous couple of weeks for Chelsea and their supporters, but yesterday finally gave them an occasion to celebrate, when they advanced to the Quarterfinal of the UEFA Champions League by defeating Napoli 4-1 at Stamford Bridge.   The win improves manager Roberto Di Matteo’s record to 3-0 as the head of Chelsea.  The win came in large part thanks to the contribution of the “Old Guard”, with goals coming from Didier Drogba, John Terry, Frank Lampard, and the winner from Branislav Ivanovic.

Chelsea came into the match looking for a 2-0 victory to recover from their 3-1 away defeat two weeks prior in Napoli.  The desired scoreline looked achievable for Chelsea who came out to raucous support from the Stamford Bridge crowd.  Despite the support from the crowd, Napoli looked more likely to score early in the game, but were unable to take advantage of these early opportunities.  The Bridge was rewarded for their early support when in the 28th minute Didier Drogba headed a Ramires cross past De Sanctis and into the goal for the opener.  It was a magnificent ball and finish, giving Chelsea a much needed early goal. 

Despite suffering the early goal and having to substitute midfielder Christian Maggio due to injury, Napoli did not shy away from the game counterattacking when given an opportunity and going into halftime it looked as if Napoli could snatch a goal.  Chelsea enjoyed several more opportunities in the closing moments of the first half, but timely defense contributed to good goalkeeping and Chelsea were forced to go into halftime still needing a goal to advance.

Chelsea fans did not have to wait long to see the goal they so desperately desired because after Campagnaro conceded and unnecessary corner, Chelsea was able to capitalize.  John Terry put his head to the Frank Lampard corner that found the net and sent the Chelsea fans into raptures.  All of Stamford Bridge was singing the praises of their recently maligned captain as he celebrated this all important Champions League goal, but the job was not done for Chelsea with 40 minutes remaining in the second half.

Napoli’s pace and fervor really picked up after the second goal, because they responded by attacking with a fury.  Several attempts were blocked by the Chelsea defense and the Blues were forced to defend the waves of Napoli attackers.  Napoli was awarded a corner and free kick, but Ezequiel Lavezzi was largely wasteful during his set piece attempts.  Their attack continued when substitute Dossena sent a cross that was headed out of the box by John Terry, but the ball fell to Gokhan Inler who expertly chested the ball down and struck a volley that swerved through the legs of Frank Lampard and into the back of the net.

Napoli’s goal meant that the Italian club would advance if Chelsea was unable to score, so while goal celebrations took place, Di Matteo and Chelsea were busy plotting their way back.  Nine minutes after Napoli’s “go-ahead” goal, Di Matteo brought on Fernando Torres for Daniel Sturridge.  Torres had not scored in his previous 25 matches for club and country and nearly all of Stamford Bridge was hoping that would change tonight.

Ten minutes after Torres’ entrance, Chelsea earned a series of corners that concluded in a Branislav Ivanovic header that met the arm of Andrea Dossena, the referee pointed to the spot and awarded the penalty.  Frank Lampard confidently strode to the penalty spot and crushed a penalty down the left side and gave Chelsea the equalizing goal they needed to send the game to extra time. 

Rather than play for extra time, both sides decided the final fifteen minutes of the match would be played at a feverish pace.  Chelsea was led by some skillful movement and trickery from Fernando Torres, while Didier Drogba was a nightmare for the Napoli defense, earning a free kick and having a couple shouts for a penalty turned away by the referee.  Despite both teams efforts the game was headed to extra time.

After taking the ball to begin the first extra time period, Napoli pressed in on goal, having their attempts fall just short thanks to perfectly timed defending and inaccurate shooting.  During these Napoli attacks  Chelsea responded by making two substitutions to account for tired legs, bringing on Florent Malouda and Jose Bosingwa for Juan Mata and John Terry respectively.  Ivanovic was moved to the center back spot to relieve the departing Terry, while Torres continued to lead the charge for the Blues.

Didier Drogba earned a free kick just outside the penalty area in the 104th minute, which set the stage for Frank Lampards free kick that was headed clear by Marek Hamsik.  The clearance fell to Drogba who squared the ball across the box to the waiting Ivanovic who lifted the ball into the back of the net.  The goal eased all the tension felt in Stamford Bridge and sent it into celebration as the first half extra time whistle blew.

As the second half of extra time started the Bridge settled back in for the final fifteen minutes that would decide their team’s fate.  Napoli made their second substitution of the day when Goran Pandev entered the match for Marek Hamsik.  Chelsea continued to play aggressively, challenging Napoli who was forced to gamble when they took off one of just three defenders Salvatore Aronica for another forward Eduardo Vargas. 

As the seconds ticked closer to the final whistle, Chelsea began to use time wasting tactics and some particularly distasteful gamesmanship came from Didier Drogba.  Drogba did his best Sergio Busquets impression when he pretended to be hit in the face by Paolo Cannavarro, who was booked for the “offense.”  Chelsea’s time wasting continued and despite the best efforts of Ramires and Torres, Chelsea was unable to find another goal.  David Luiz was particularly heroic down the stretch over coming leg cramps to head clear Napoli’s final attacking threat. 

At the final whistle, interim manager Roberto Di Matteo ran onto the field to celebrate with his team, enthusiastically embracing Drogba and Torres who were both crucial parts of their team’s win.  The post-match comments centered around Chelsea’s belief in the team and their ability to put on a great performance in the face of adversity. 

The game marked a rare occasion in which Chelsea was able to rally from behind to achieve the result they needed, and it has many pundits questioning the conventional wisdom surrounding the departure of Andres Villas-Boas.  Was AVB wrong to challenge the “Old Guard?” Where were these performances during AVB’s tenure? Can this current squad continue winning under Di Matteo? Does this victory mean Terry, Lampard, and Drogba will stay at Chelsea? Will Di Matteo permanently take over the role as manager?  Chelsea moves on to the quarterfinals, who they will face is still a mystery, but one that will be solved after Friday’s draw, the rest of the questions will have to wait a little longer for answers.

The beautiful robot Branislav Ivanovic gets the background today.

One last note for today: Terrible news from Barcelona who have announced that Eric Abidal will undergo a liver transplant as part of his ongoing treatment. Last year Abidal underwent surgery to remove a tumor from his liver and a transplant was always seen as a treatment option. I wish him all the best and a speedy recovery.

Posted on Thursday, March 15, 2012 by Lex

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Monday, March 5, 2012

At the beginning of the season, Andre Villas-Boas was handed the impossible task of achieving big success with an aging squad, while retooling that squad to continue their success over the coming years.  Even success in the form of trophies has not protected Chelsea managers in the past, so it was no surprise that the struggling 
Villas-Boas was sacked on the heels of a 1-0 Chelsea defeat to West Brom.  With the sacking of AVB, owner Roman Abramovich is now looking to find his eighth manager since taking over the club in 2003.

Throughout his time at Chelsea, AVB was given perhaps the toughest test of all when compared to his predecessors.  In just his second full season of top-flight management, Villas-Boas was expected to win meaningful games with a squad full of players close to his own age.  Ten squad members had their beginnings with the squad come during their most successful stretch under Jose Mourinho, and as the squad grew old together they reverted to the tactics preferred by their former manager, rather than those AVB was attempting to implement.

AVB’s preferred style of a high defensive line along with pace and a trickery did not bode well for the Chelsea squad who had their greatest success coming from Mourinho’s style of a deep compact unit of defense.  Lack of effort was also not the reason for AVB’s lack of success, with AVB even rumored to be spending nights at Chelsea’s Cobham training facility attempting to find ways to unlock opposition defenses.  The tactical discipline instilled under Mourinho was just one obstacle for AVB to overcome, because not only was he competing with the former manager’s players, but he was also hindered from buying his own. 

In his eight months on the job, Villas-Boas was only allowed to bring in a handful of new players to the squad, with five of his signings breaking into the Chelsea first team.  His signings have also largely been successful with Juan Mata quickly becoming one of the fan favorites at the club and Oriol Romeu turning in performances impressive enough to capture the attention of his former owners Barcelona.  With the signings of Romelu Lukaku, Thibault Courtois, Lucas Piazon, and Kevin de Bruyne, seen largely as deals for the future, it appeared that AVB’s plan of developing a younger squad was in progress. 

In the end, AVB was let go for £9 million in compensation and a squad largely responsible for his exit  is now left to fight for next season’s Champion’s League spot.  While the short term success of the club has been sacrificed, it is hard to imagine that Abramovich has a comprehensive idea of where the club goes from this point.  Uncle Roman’s most influential purchases with the club have been largely regarded as two of the club’s worst, Andriy Shevchenko and Fernando Torres have combined for 12 goals in 84 matches. 

Uncle Roman has also failed to address the failure of the youth system which has failed to produce a consistent first team player since John Terry’s debut in 1998.  This has to be seen as the biggest failure of Abramovich’s tenure.  Despite investing heavily in the new Cobham training facility, a similar investment was not made in creating an academy system that has been successful at clubs like Barcelona.  Abramovich has also failed to spend money at crucial times, notably during Carlos Tevez’ transfer saga with West Ham and a reported done deal with Sergio Aguero that fell through at the last minute.  For an owner that has made an impact through his spendthrift ways, it was surprising to see resistance in the face of these relatively small investments for the club.

In order to succeed going forward Chelsea need to improve in several areas.  First of all, Chelsea cannot be afraid to continue spending money on big name players.  While their most recent big signing Fernando Torres has continued to befuddle managers and pundits alike, this trend will not continue as long as future purchases are panned and supported by both management and ownership.  Secondly, Chelsea must hire a manager for the long term and stick with him.  This trend of extreme managerial turnover has not brought the highest level of success desired by the club and this trend will continue under the guidance of managers with limited time to succeed. 

Thirdly, an investment in young talent must be made across the board.  The most immediate way to revitalize the team would be by signing a big name young player along the lines of Neymar or Ganso.  Investment must also be made in the academy system and Chelsea must use their considerable resources to attract the most talented young players around the world.  Considerable investments in youth coaching and talent could go a long way towards making Chelsea successful in the long run. 

Finally, Chelsea must now begin to phase out their “Golden Generation.”  Despite the high levels of success achieved by the likes of Terry, Lampard, Drogba, and others, they have become far too comfortable in their positions.  Their permanent status in the squad has become a distraction for all incoming managers, who are forced to compete with their dominating locker room presence while installing new tactics that may take time for a new team to adapt to.  Their past contributions to the club cannot be denied, but their continued contribution has to come into question now that the club is in danger of finishing the season without a trophy and out of Champion’s League qualifying. 

Overall, Chelsea is at a crossroads where a decision is necessary.  They can continue to hold their managers to impossible standards and possibly achieve limited success with their current aging squad, or they can make a full re-investment in the club while giving an incoming manager their full support.  Ultimately, Uncle Roman cannot expect the same level of success experienced under Jose Mourinho, unless he is ready to make a similar investment in the club.  Regardless of what short-term moves are made, Chelsea must invest heavily in their academy system if they want to build the type of club that enjoys long term success. 

Posted on Monday, March 05, 2012 by Lex

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Yesterday was a historic day for American soccer, for the first time in 78 years the United States was victorious over Italy, conquering the Italian side on their home turf in Genoa.  Leap Day 2012 marked the end of their ten match winless streak against Italy, previously the most games winless against any country.  The performance turned in by the United States was not a dominant one, but through desperation defending, solid goalkeeping, and an opportunistic goal they were able to come away with the victory.

Clint Dempsey was the game’s lone goalscorer, notching his 25th career goal for the United States.   The goal came in the 55th minute after Jozy Altidore successfully held the ball up and moved it to Dempsey who found himself space and fired it past Gigi Buffon from 19 yards out.  With that goal Dempsey passed Joe-Max Moore to become 4th in career goals for the United States. 

For most of the game the United States was content to concede possession to Italy, but Italy was unable to make the most of their early opportunities against the USA.  While the defense looked shaky during the opening minutes of the game, Italy’s best opportunity came from a Thiago Motta blast that was stopped by Tim Howard.  Once the center back pairing for the United States became better organized, they were better able to absorb the Italian attack thanks to some quality aerial defending from Goodson and timely clearances from captain Carlos Bocanegra.  Full backs Fabian Johnson and Steve Cherundolo were crucial in creating attacking opportunities for the United States and Johnson was involved in the buildup play that led to Demspey’s goal.

The most dominant performance of the day came from Michael Bradley.  Bradley was crucial in keeping the midfield together, supplying Dempsey and Altidore while skillfully moving into attacking channels.  Bradley’s performance improved in the later stages of the match with accurate passing, timely challenges, and a relentless work rate.  Despite being left out by Klinsmann in his early matches, the Chievo midfielder is now making it difficult for Klinsmann to ignore his considerable contributions.

Jonathan Spector was crucial in his appearance down the stretch, entering the game in the 77th minute for Fabian Johnson.  Spector’s impact was felt through solid defensive work, getting his body in front of at least 3 shot attempts from Italy under considerable defensive pressure.  Spector’s contribution to the team was crucial, playing with the poise and experience of a veteran defender. 

The match also marked the international debut for Terrence Boyd, the German-American made his entrance in the 29th minute for striker Jozy Altidore and immediately made his impact felt through some imposing physical play.  Despite not yet featuring for the senior Borussia Dortmund squad, Klinsmann showed confidence in the 21 year old and he repaid that confidence with competent holdup play in the closing stages of the match. 

While it may have taken longer than initially hoped for, Jurgen Klinsmann’s first signature win as American manager comes over four time World Cup Champions Italy.  It was a performance that the squad can be proud of as they continue to improve.  

Posted on Thursday, March 01, 2012 by Lex

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