Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Thoughts on the Champions League

The Champions League Round of 16 draw
NOTE: Due to a technical snafu, this post wasn't published yesterday morning (despite my scheduling it).  The post below was written on Sunday, prior to any of the Champions League games.  I must say, I hope I predict the outcomes of today's (Wednesday's) games as well as I did Tuesday's.

Embarrassing.  It has to be the first word that comes to the mind of any Arsenal fan or player after the Gunners' poor showing against Milan.

Impressive.  The only word that can describe Barcelona's run of dominance in Europe's most prestigious club competition.  Winning 3-1 on the road against an opponent (Bayer Leverkusen) from one of the top 5 leagues proves the Catalans' pedigree.

Hope. APOEL and Benfica have it despite narrow losses away from home.  The Cypriot side is down just 1-0 to perennial French powerhouse, Lyon, heading back to Nicosia. The Portuguese leaders may be in the driver's seat despite a narrow 3-2 loss to Zenit in St. Petersburg.  With two away goals in their pocket, much will be expected of the Eagles when the teams face off in Lisbon on March 6.

Looking ahead, there are 4 games on tap this week: CSKA Moscow hosting Real Madrid and Chelsea at Napoli on Tuesday; Basel at home against Bayern Munich and Inter travelling to Marseille on Wednesday.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The FA Cup Explained

The FA Cup trophy

A near constant in my conversations with casual soccer fans and non-fans alike is the confusion cup competitions cause when trying to understand international soccer.  To most American sports fans, a cup competition is an alien concept.  Most sports (baseball, football, basketball and ice hockey) in America compete against teams in their league for the league title and that's it.  Other than during the preseason, when was the last time the Red Sox played the Yankees with anything other than a trip to the World Series on the line?  Matches like the recent clash between Manchester United and Liverpool (check out the highlights here), or Arsenal'sstunning comeback against Aston Villa just wouldn't happen outside of the league in US sports.

In an effort to help the uninitiated begin to understand the craziness that is the soccer fixture list in other parts of the world (and America's domestic soccer scene for that matter), here's a brief history/explanation of the FA Cup: