Category Archives: Portugal

Three up front: 03/05/12

In a week where Sotheby’s in New York sold Edvard Munch’s 1895 work “The Scream” for $119.9 million, setting a record for the most expensive piece of art sold at auction, football supporters all over Europe have been doing a fairly good impression of the Norwegian painter’s mysterious squawker over the past few weeks, as league championship, relegation and promotion issues come to a head.  In a rather fortunate coincidence, one that we’ll pretend was a conscious choice, all three aspects are addressed in today’s three to watch:

1) Turkish Super Lig, play-off stage: Besiktas vs. Fenerbahce, 19.00 CET/13.00 EST

If Fenerbahce overcome their Istanbul rivals tonight, it’s fans of another Istanbul rival that’ll be crying into their chilled glasses of Tekel Birası. Galatasaray have stumbled badly in recent weeks, and will be hoping for a favour from The Black Eagles, who, like Newt Gingrich, can now finish no higher than third. Three points for Sarı Kanaryalar (The Yellow Canaries) will see them flutter to the top of the table with two games to play.

2) Ligue 1: Dijon vs. Auxerre, 19.00 CET/13.00 EST

In a league where proud, once-mighty football institutions (Lens, Nantes, Monaco, Metz and poor old fifth-divsion Strasbourg, to name but five) drop down to the lower leagues with surprisingly regularity, this year it’s Auxerre’s turn to stick their fans into the game’s equivalent of the dentist’s waiting room. The 1996 league champions are the only French club never to have been relegated, although they appear intent on pushing that stat to the max this year. Tonight’s game in Dijon is of the must-win variety, but if AJA are  to cut the mustard (oh yes, we did), they’ll need top performances from underperforming stars like Olivier Kapo and Édouard Cissé.

3) English Championship play-off semi-final, first leg: Cardiff vs. West Ham, 20.45 CET/14.45 EST

It’s the business end of the season, or so they tell us. Cue endless tedious references to how much a place in the Premier League is worth, forgetting (if you’ll excuse our naivety for a second) that some neutral observers just like to see a good, old fashioned football match. Malky Mackay’s Cardiff side are generally, well, crap in these pesky play-offs, and West Ham have won a club-record 13 matches away from home this campaign. Which probably means the Welsh team’ll win 3-0.

Football: the universal anxiety of modern man

Three up front: 27/04/12

Cometh the hour, cometh the man, they say. When the going gets tough, the tough get going, they say (although Pep Guardiola appears to have misread that one…it is a tad ambiguous, to be fair). Or they may badly misquote Mel Gibson’s William Wallace or Al Pacino’s Tony D’Amato. Unusually for a Friday, there is a lot at stake in all of today’s chosen games, which should please that mysterious ‘they’. If you prefer your football desperate, intense and gut-wrenching, now’s the time to put your feet up with a six-pack, and act in exactly the opposite way as those preceding adjectives.

1) Ligue 1: Toulouse vs. Montpellier, 19.00 CET/13.00 EST

There are five matchdays left in France. Montpellier, surprise leaders, are on a quest for their first-ever French league title, but their fans are feeling the heat as moneybags PSG mercilessly hunt them down. Toulouse are having a great season, are on cracking form (as demonstrated by their thwacking of Lyon last week) and can still qualify for the Europa League. A couple of days after Chelsea somehow knocked out Barcelona, and Bayern and Real showed the world how not to take penalties, could this game prove to be the outstanding fixture of the week?

2) Belgian Pro League, play-offs: Racing Genk vs. Anderlecht, 20.30 CET/14.30 EST

It’s officially squeaky bum time in Belgium. Anderlecht hold a  four-point lead over Club Brugge as the much-maligned play-off system draws to a close, but a loss to a rejunenated Genk side would give their closest challengers the chance to cut it to one on Saturday, and invite today’s opponents back into the race. The supposedly all-important psychological advantage goes to Thomas Buffel and Co., who have already spanked their Brussels-based adversaries 3-1 away from home. A repeat of that result would see cats leaping unannounced into gatherings of  unsuspecting pigeons all over Belgium.

3) Portuguese Primeira Liga: Sporting Braga vs. Olhanense, 21.15 CET/15.15 EST

Braga have never won the league. And let’s face it, it’s not an easy task, what with Benfica, Sporting and Porto peskily snapping up 97.4% of the available titles since the formation of the Portuguese championship (sadly, that’s a real stat). In the last few years, they have attempted to gatecrash this private three-team party, finishing 2nd in the table and notably reaching the Europa League final last year. Recent slip-ups have probably ruined their chances of lifting the trophy this year, so they must concentrate on the next best thing, second place and the Champions League spot that comes with it. Defeating a useful Olhanense outfit is about as must-win as they come for Braga this season, especially if they want to be known for something other than having quite simply the coolest stadium on the planet.

Belgian pigeons are traditionally a bit slow

Three up front: 26/04/12

“The Europa League is coming,” goes the murmur on the streets of Bucharest, the city that will have the pleasure of laying on a lavish banquet for an Iberian love-in on 9th May. Or it could be that Romanians are all massive Game of Thones fans, and have a flair for the dramatic? With that in mind, we thought it would be an uproarius jape if, in a twist on Celebrity Death Match, we assigned one of George R. R. Martin’s morally ambiguous characters to each team below, based on how long they have left in the Europa League/Brazilian Cup and in the TV/book series. So not only can we not be bothered doing any proper work today, but we’re going to blithely toss around cryptic spoilers at the same time. Here’s today’s three to watch:

1) UEFA Europa League semi-final, second leg: Valencia vs. Atletico Bilbao, 21.05 CET/15.05 EST

Robb Stark vs. Jamie Lannister

2) UEFA Europa League semi-final, second leg: Athletic Bilbao vs. Sporting Lisbon, 21.05 CET/15.05 EST

Tyrion Lannister vs. Jon Stark

3) Brazilian Cup: Coritiba vs. Paysandu, 00.30 CET/17.30 EST

Littlefinger vs. Catelyn Stark

Ghost: distraught at Wolves' relegation

Three up front: 19/04/12

The Europa League has reached the last four, but if Pouty Platini has his way, it won’t be around for much longer for people to slag it off (behaviour they indulge in mainly because their club has failed to qualify, you’ll generally find). Get it while it’s hot in today’s three to watch:

1) UEFA Europa League semi-final, first leg: Atlético Madrid vs. Valencia, 21.05 CET/15.05 EST

Atlético have won nine in a row in the EL, while Valencia are coming into the game off the back of what can only be described as a 4-0 rogering by Espanyol. The presence of quality performers like Diego and Radamel Falcao on one side, and Roberto Soldado and Sofiane Feghouli on the other, should at least ensure an entertaining encounter at the Vicente Calderon. Fans of Los Che still moan about how Madrid “conned and cheated” them out of the 2010 quarter-final, so a win here would doubtless cut down on the carping a little. Until the next media-created controversy.

2) UEFA Europa League semi-final, first leg: Sporting Lisbon vs. Athletic Bilbao, 21.05 CET/15.05 EST

Athletic Bilbao have become the second favourite side of anyone who claims to know anything about football this season, and at 3/1 to win in Lisbon tonight, there will be more than one punter currently sticking his hard-earned spondoolicks on the Basques putting on another masterclass. Sporting struggled against Metallist in the last round, and will be hard-pressed to contain the charging hordes if Iker Muniain and Fernando Llorente are in el moodo.

3) Copa Libertadores, Group 1: Santos vs. The Strongest, 00.45 CET/18.45 EST

Twelve teams have already reached the knockout stage of the Copa Libertadores, but reigning champions Santos have a wee bit of work to do to join them. Neymar, Ganso and Co. need a point at home to the team with the coolest name in football, The Strongest of Bolivia. If The Strongest happened to prove that they were, erm, the strongest, and Internacional won at the same time, Pele’s old team would be out on their 100-year-old ears.

Truly The Strongest

Three up front: 04/04/12

Thought the Champions League was a European animal? Well, it is, but there’s one across the water too. Today’s three to watch come from the UEFA species, and its lesser-spotted CONCACAF cousin.

1) UEFA Champions League quarter-final, second leg: Chelsea vs Benfica, 20.45 CET/14.45 EST

With a 1-0 lead, an away goal and some so-so form under Roberto Di Matteo, Chelsea are obviously favourites. But they’re up against two-time European Champions Benfica, who’ve lost just once away from home in the Portuguese league this season. A team containing Aimar, Gaitán and Cardozo that needs to pull off a win against the odds should, generally, do just that. But this is the quarter-final of the Big Cup, and Stamford Bridge is a tough place to go blah-blah-blah. For the neutral or semi-neutral, the best thing that could happen to this match is for big Cardozo to hit a Crouch-style screamer in the opening five minutes. That would give us a game that might make us look up from our Game of Thrones DVD boxset, as it would mean that Benfica were coming, my lord.

2) UEFA Champions League quarter-final, second leg: Real Madrid vs APOEL Nicosia, 20.45 CET/14.45 EST

APOEL’s run to the quarter-finals will probably never be matched by another Cypriot team or by a side from a similar-sized nation. No-one’s holding their breath for Maltese champions Valletta or Luxembourg title-holders Dudelange to take next year’s Champions League by storm. So, Brazilian mercenaries or not, it’s hats off to the Lyon-tamers (see what we did there?), but with the news coming in that Real plan on fielding a reasonably strong team, it’s also time to say ‘Kalinihta’ (‘good night’; our thanks go to the delightfully unreliable Google Translate) to our islander friends.

3) CONCACAF Champions League semi-final, second leg: Santos Laguna vs Toronto, 03.00 CET/20.00 EST

Toronto surprised many self-appointed experts (excuse us while we look the other way) by holding Santos Laguna to a 1-1 draw in the first leg at BMO Field. The Canadians have been making confident noises, but Seattle did that too, and they got gubbed 6-1 in Torreon in the previous round. The Mexicans are top of the league and unbeaten this year. Toronto are not. But, as Jimmy Greaves was fond of mumbling, it really is a funny ol’ game. If TFC somehow reach the final, it would probably rank as their biggest-ever achievement, akin to a team from, say, Cyprus reaching the last eight of the competition’s European equivalent. Which would just never happ…oh.

The Iron Throne: Westeros' equivalent of the Champions League

Three up front: 27/03/12

With the kick-offs to today’s three games just a hop and a skip away, we’ll limit this preview to one adverb and one adjective. Lazily sparse, in other words.

1) UEFA Champions League quarter-final, first leg: APOEL Nicosia vs Real Madrid, 20.45 CET/14.45 EST

Giant-killingly gorgeous.

2) UEFA Champions League quarter-final, first leg: Benfica vs Chelsea, 20.45 CET/14.45 EST

Powerfully Portuguese.

3) English FA Cup: Tottenham v Bolton, 20.30 CET/14.30 EST

Insanely irrelevant?