Pride

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (December 10th 2014)

Dangerous

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History does not bode well for Sporting Clube de Portugal. No Portuguese team has succeeded at Stamford Bridge. And Chelsea are smarting from their first loss of the season at the weekend. And the rejuvenated on-loan Nani is injured. Defenders Cédric and the Brasilian Jefferson are also out injured. “If we talk about my team Nani is out. Jefferson, Cédric is also out”, the 37-year-old coach Marco Silva said. “I believe in my players. We will fight. Chelsea is always difficult, especially here”.

José Mourinho likes to win, but he knows that Chelsea have not only already qualified, but will top the group anyway. Chelsea have nothing to prove. Their first loss of the season means they are dangerous, but Mourinho has already said that youngsters will feature in his squad tonight. It doesnʼt faze Silva.

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The young players of Chelsea are good for sure”, he said. “They are playing for Chelsea. We are prepared. They are not second choices. They are not just playing. We know they are good and important”.

Focused

But Silva is focused. He knows that a draw guarantees progress to the lucrative knock-out stage of the Championʼs League. “Iʼm very pleased with my teamʼs performance”, he said. “Itʼs just one more match. It will be crucial. Itʼs important for us, especially for Sporting. We have just been to the second stage once and it would be fantastic for everybody, especially the club. We will fight”.

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Slovenians Maribor could do the Portuguese a favour by beating former Blues manager Roberto di Matteoʼs Schalke04, but Silva is not bothered by that match. “Football is too complicated to pay attention to the other match”, Silva said. “One point is our target. If we fail we will wait for the other result, but that would be making trouble. I will not tell the players about the other match. Letʼs see. We want to achieve our objective. I think we [Portuguese teams] havenʼt won any points, but we will fight for our target, one point”.

Mourinhoʼs Wish

Mourinho cut his teeth in management as the late Bobby Robsonʼs interpreter and local coach at Sporting Clube in 1992. Robson was sacked in 1993. Mourinho went with him to Porto and later Barçelona, where he also worked with Louis van Gaal. Mourinho later became phenomenally successful in his own right, winning the Championʼs League with both Porto and Inter. He won trophies in his first spell at Chelsea and at Real Madrid too before returning to Chelsea.

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He has made no secret that he wanted both Chelsea and Sporting Clube to reach the knock-out stage. Chelsea has already achieved their part. “Mourinho said the same thing in Lisbon for the first match between the teams”, Silva said. “He said his desire was to qualify in first place and Sporting in second place, but we want to win regardless of what Mourinho said”.

Aims

A draw is enough, but Silva doesnʼt intend playing for one. “[Playing for] the draw is dangerous” he said. “We know that Chelsea will be very hard, but we have to play within our limits. One point is enough, but we want three points. All my players are important, but nobody was believing in us. Tomorrow we can show everybody. If we qualify there is justice in this group, because we are playing very well and we want to win to qualify. We are guaranteed Europa League [at least]”.

Despite the success of Algerian striker Islam Slimani (2 Championʼs League goals in five matches) who will depart in January for the African Cup of Nations, Fredy Montero will play tonight.

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Montero ruled out excuses, such as Chelseaʼs first defeat and the weather. “The defeat of Chelsea last weekend doesnʼt change anything”, he said. “On the pitch it is eleven against eleven. We respect Chelsea, but we want to play our game. The weather doesnʼt change anything. It is the same for both teams. They are used to playing in this temperature but itʼs okay, we are ready”.

Ambitions

The Colombian striker has played in four of the five matches so far. He has yet to score. “ I am here to help the team when it needs me”, Montero said. “I havenʼt scored in the Championʼs League but it is my dream. I am confident that I can score. I always believe that I can score. I am here to help Sporting and I hope that the manager believes in me. I donʼt think I am the best Montero ever, but I will try to do my best”.

Montero knows that his country has an embarrassment of riches up front. Los Cafeteros shone at the recent World Cup despite the absence of their then talisman Radamel Falcao. James Rodríguez Rubio won the Golden Boot and Juan Guillermo Cuadrado wowed too. Europa League winner Carlos Bacca was an option too as was Portoʼs Jackson Martínez. And thatʼs without Falcao, who despite his loan move to Manchester United, may never return to his lethal best.

Still Montero refuses to give up on forcing his way into José Pékerman Krimenʼs plans. “Every game is an opportunity for me with my national team”, Montero said. “I am happy to play for Colombia. I want to show my worth and be in the national team after the World Cup and for the next year”.

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Colombia top Group in Style

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 24th 2014)

Style

With qualification secure Colombiaʼs first foreign coach for 30 years José Pékerman Krimen rested players, including Monacoʼs star in the making James Rodríguez Rubio, but fortunately Radamel Falcao García Zárateʼs heir apparent did not remain watching. His goal Colombiaʼs last in an emphatic 4-1 win over Alberto Zaccheroniʼs Japan was easily the pick of the bunch.

Jackson Martínez, one of the replacements certainly didnʼt short-change the fans. His through pass to striker Adrián Ramos Vásquez led to a penalty when the Hertha BSC striker was brought down by Gamba Osakaʼs Yasuyuki Konno. The defender was booked and Fiorentinaʼs influential winger Juan Guillermo Cuadrado Bello scored the spot-kick.

Sandwiched between Cuadradoʼs penalty and Rodríguezʼ magnificent finale was a Martínez brace and Japanʼs solitary strike. On the stroke of half time Keisuke Hondaʼs cross was headed past OGC Niceʼs David Ospina Ramírez by Shinji Okazaki. Colombia upped the ante in the second and deservedly took control as Japan became more and more resigned to defeat.

History

Colombia is the only team so far to go through, having won all of their group matches. They did so in considerable style too. Having made their own history – they had never won two matces in a row prior to this World Cup, they have now won three, but Pékerman showed that there is room for sentiment in football too.

With the match won Pékerman decided that a Colombian legend deserved to make new World Cup history. Camerounʼs Roger Milla set his record in 1990, embarrassing the eccentric, but always entertaining Colombian goal-keeper René Higuita Zapata in the process. Milla made Higuita look foolish when he caught the keeper in possession to leave the goal exposed. Milla and Cameroun reached the quarter-final becoming the oldest player to play in the World Cup Finals aged 42 years and 39 days.

With less than 8 minutes remaining Ospina led the applause when his number came up, but not for himself. He was paying tribute to his predecessor whom he warmly embraced as Cuiabáʼs Arena Pantanal rose to acclaim a small piece of World Cup history. Faryd Mondragón Ali broke Millaʼs record. Aged 43 years and 3 days old he saw out the remaining time.

Potential

Even without Falcao, Colombia look impressive. Rodríguez came on at half time It wasnʼt hard to see why Rodríguez featured highly – third – in the vote for French Player of the Year. His goal was magnificent, but that was far from all he did. He made this exciting team tick almost immediately winning a corner after a mazy run into the area. He rushed over to take the corner and then curl in a teasing cross.

With less than ten minutes of the second half played Rodríguez whipped in an enticing free-kick from the left-wing. Carlos Carbonero Mancilla should have done better at the back post, but failed to deliver the finish that the 22-year-old Rodríguezʼ cross deserved. A minute later Éder Álavarez Balanta began the move deep in his own half that culminated in Martínez ending his five year wait for another goal for his country. PSV Eindhovenʼs Santiago Arias Naranjo cut in from the right and passed to Rodríguez, who controlled and laid off to Martínez in one elegant motion.

Japan continued to press and Ospina made a rare hash of Yūto Nagatomoʼs cross, but nothing came of it. Their first half efforts had not been convincing before the equaliser. Shinji Kagawaʼs first half effort was weak, but at least demanded a save from Ospina, whereas Hondaʼs free-kick went marginally wide. With 25 minutes left a lovely move was almost capped off with a goal, but Yoshito Ōkuboʼs shot from Atsuto Uchidaʼs cross just missed.

With less than ten minutes of normal time remaining a wonderful counter-attack made it safe. Rodríguezʼ telling pass into the area reached Martínez, who turned inside Uchida. Martínez wasnʼt about to miss that kind of opportunity to double his tally. Kagawa had a quick opportunity to pull one back, but pulled his shot wide. History was made shortly afterwards with Mondragón having his moment in the spotlight. The crowd sang his name as football paid tribute to the much travelled Deportivo Cali goal-keeper.

Rodríguez received the ball on the left of the area from Ramos before turning Maya Yoshida inside out to score a sublime goal, chipping over a diving Eiji Kawashima. Heʼs set to be a star if he isnʼt already. Yoichiro Kaitani had the distinction of demanding a save from Mondragón.

Controversy

Portuguese referee Pedro Proença appeared to err twice both times in favour of Colombia. A theatrical fall – it was a dive – by Portoʼs Juan Fernando Quintero Paniagua after 28 minutes should have had greater consequences. Proença rightly ignored the appeals for a penalty, but he failed to book the player. As controversies go that was a minor one, but such ridiculous diving must be controlled and that wonʼt happen unless referees crack down on it. Young players like Quintero need to learn that it wonʼt be tolerated.

However, Proença made an excellent decision when Martínez went down after 24 minutes near the penalty area. It proved to be an excellent tackle by Konno who got the ball before colliding with Martínez too. But he missed an important decision after an hour as did his assistant. Balanta clearly swung an elbow that caught and bloodied Okazakiʼs nose. It should have been a straight red card without argument. It may yet be reviewed as there is no place for that in football.

Colombia will face Uruguay in the last 16. It remains to be seen if Luis Suárez Díaz will be allowed to play, but on this form the Colombians will take some stopping.