FOX Soccer Exclusive
Euro heavyweights dominate world stage
Welcome back to Five-A-Side – the spot to get caught up with all the chatter about the beautiful game.
Miss any of the action from the weekend? Need to get up to speed on what everybody is talking about? Don’t get left behind. Strap on your boots and get on the pitch to find out the five topics that have the biggest buzz this week.
Champions League returns
Two huge matchups this weekend in the semifinals, and let's start at the Bridge. My heart is telling me that Chelsea is on such a roll that it is hard to see it end. Then, my head comes in and puts my heart in its place. Yes, Barcelona has hit a bit of a rough spell -- for them. They are not playing 90 minutes of incredible, inspirational soccer that spoiled us in the past. So, I guess if there is EVER a good time to catch them, this is as good as it gets. The home field advantage for Chelsea will be paramount in this first leg; if the Blues can keep the crowd in it, they can maybe sneak away with a 1-0, 2-1 win. Realistically speaking, I think Barcelona has a tie, at worst, in them for leg one.
I love what Didier Drogba has done lately, as it’s reminiscent of his dominant, younger days. That wonderful goal he scored in the FA Cup, will be viewed ad nauseum in Barcelona’s film room. Frank Lampard has been rejuvenated the last month or so, and now that he has his free kicks back on target, he’s a guy Barcelona are going to have to watch out for. And Juan Mata, if we’re honest, is the sole reason Chelsea's not a mid-table team.
The tendency when we discuss Barcelona is to naturally talk about Lionel Messi and no one else. But the key player for them is Andres Iniesta. He gets overlooked a lot, and it’s hard to overstate how much he does and how good he helps both Messi and Barcelona look. Though Carles Puyol continues to inspire with his leadership, Barcelona’s true weakness lies in defense. If Chelsea win more than their fair share of set-pieces, they can sneak one or two goals.
True European heavyweights
Everyone is saying that it is destiny for Real Madrid and Jose Mourinho to win the Champions League this season. I like how they have somehow, quietly flown under the radar because of all the noise and amazement that Barcelona seem to generate. They are like that beautiful girl down the street who sits alone on the bus, because everyone is enamored with the chatty, make-up heavy girl in the back seat. Cristiano Ronaldo’s season is really being lost and overlooked because the media and the fans are so drawn to Messi.
Bayern were a team that we all thought had the sleeper tag to them. All of a sudden, some blemishes have shown up and they don’t look all that attractive. That said, I have a ton of faith in Mario Gomez, Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben – it’s hard to find a more dangerous threesome in international soccer right now. And, as with Chelsea, it goes back to home field advantage. If Bayern’s fans at the Allianz can play that proverbial 12th man role, and the Germans can frustrate Real with typical German defending, they have a shot. But over the two legs, I still feel this is Real’s series to lose.
Comedy of errors
Where to start? This week, and not for the first time, we have seen some egregious and controversial calls. I don’t like to jump on refs because they have a difficult job and human error must be factored to this discussion. Yet, there is a simple solution to these problems waiting at your local Radio Shack or Best Buy! You're telling me I couldn't jimmy up a couple video baby monitors to the posts, and not come up with stronger results than we've seen as of late?
Why are people being so stubborn and arrogant in rejecting goal line technology? Seriously, I want names. I have yet to see any reason that makes sense to me, for people to say it will detract from the game. These are major matches with millions of eyeballs and dollars on the line that are being determined by errors that don't have to happen.
Who should lead the front for an immediate change? Officials. Yup, the same folks that are screwing up and getting chewed out need to speak up and say, “Hey, we have the technology, let’s use it, and quit making us look so bad!”
Empire State of Mind
I’m really proud of the Red Bulls and how they stayed the course after a slow start. A lot of folks have not been in my corner on this one, but I think they are starting to see the light about Kenny Cooper. I like him off the field, I love him in MLS, and the dynamic he is creating with Thierry Henry has become the best one-two punch the league has right now. It’s not even close.
More Piermario Morosini
- Livorno midfielder Morosini dies
- Fans, players pay tribute
- Policeman suspended over delay
- Balotelli upset by death
- Thousands gather to pay tribute
- Sports minister wants more tests
- Morosini: In life images
- Italian matches postponed
- Trecker: Untimely death raises serious questions
- Autopsy proves inconclusive
- Di Natale considering retirement
Chris Wondolowski got another great goal this weekend, and I don’t know why more folks don’t associate him to the US national team. He consistently scores goals and these are not penalties or simple tap-ins. He does some serious, clutch finishing. If there is one guy who knows about that, it’s Brian McBride — he and I were massively impressed by the header he scored against New York over the weekend. With no time and little momentum, Wondolowski rifled his entire body and scored a powerful header that would have skimmed harmlessly off a lesser person's scalp.
On a special note, the Rafael Marquez foul that wasn’t called — and led to a broken collarbone for Shea Salinas — really annoys me. It was an absolute back alley mugging. Why are officials not calling this more often? It doesn’t do much for Marquez’s image, which has been less than sterling since he joined MLS. Some folks say that in the course of the foul, he also gave Salinas a premeditated kick. You’ll have to be the judge of that, but regardless, the whole incident is a real black mark on our referees and on Marquez’s tenure in MLS.
The first thing I did was shake my head and ask why. Why are we seeing so many incidents of cardiac arrest in international soccer? You’re looking at arguably the fittest athletes in the world and yet these athletes are suffering horrific health issues in their mid-20s or 30s. One time, you say it’s a fluke. Twice, you start getting curious, and as it progresses, you have to start saying something is clearly amiss.
Is it something the players are taking – for injuries, rehab or strength? Are they flukes of genetics? Is there enough medical testing being done on these players by their clubs? I don’t know, but I don’t think it’s dumb luck that horrific things like this are happening in our game. We need to find out what’s going on before we are forced to question things again.
A 15-year broadcast veteran, Rob Stone is the lead studio host for FOX Soccer Match Day, Goals on Sunday, and UEFA Champions League coverage. Follow him on Twitter @RobStoneONFOX.