Former Manchester United player Eric Djemba-Djemba has recently opened up about his time as a professional football player. Speaking to Cal Blankendal and Vernon Springer on their Football Insight Podcast, the now-retired midfielder reflected on 15 years as a pro footballer.
Thankful for everything
Djemba-Djemba has been dubbed by Red Devils fans as the player so good “they named him twice”. While he never managed to live up to that hype at Old Trafford, the Cameroonian international is thankful for the opportunity to play at the top level.
“I enjoyed every moment, every second, every day. It was a dream for me to play for Manchester United, because when I was a kid, I loved to watch them on TV.” Djemba-Djemba told VA Sports.
“After three years in Nantes, I joined United and it was a dream.”
The 40-year-old also explained how he achieved his dream and sealed a £3.5 million move from Nantes in France:
“Some scouts came from England to watch me play. After that, I remember [Sir Alex] Ferguson came to watch me play. I think the decision came from him (Sir Alex) to buy me.”
Djemba-Djemba went on to say that Ferguson was like a father figure to the younger players in the Manchester United dressing room.
Mentality is key
Djemba-Djemba was also asked what players nowadays have to do to succeed and how much things have changed in football since he burst onto the scene 20 years ago:
“If you have a strong education, you will learn very fast. Today’s it’s not like 20 years ago, you can play in the Premier League at 16 years old. At that age, it’s very difficult to move to another country, you have to be strong mentally. You have to train hard and have respect for your teammates.”
One pressure associated with modern football and sport is that related to social media. There has been no-end to the abuse that professional sportspeople face on the internet, so what’s Djemba-Djemba’s advice to them?
“It’s easy to deal with that [online abuse]. Like I said before, it depends how they and your parents educate you and it depends where you want to be in life. So, you can have these social medias, but if you don’t know where you want to get to in life, you can’t deal with that.”
“Sometimes you need to be out of social media, because it can get to be too much and you can lose your concentration.”
Eric also said that he had never personally experienced racism while playing football.
Be sure to check Sportlightpro.com for more excepts from this interview!
After another monotonous international break, and with another coming up, it’s time to look back at the last month of action for Chelsea.
For me, it was a very mixed month and one that has been very difficult to put into words. Under Tuchel, Chelsea fans have been able to enjoy very good football regardless of the opponent that they have come across.
This month feels very different, so, let’s get into it!
Unconvincing performances, but we’re still in the race.
Chelsea have been poor in almost every game I have seen over the last month. However, we have only dropped points in one Premier League game and lost one Champions League game.
How has this happened?
Against Aston Villa at the start of September, we were being comfortably outplayed for much of the game, but Chelsea won 3-0. Against Spurs, we had no control of the ball in the first half, but Chelsea won 3-0.
Two games that the scoreline did not reflect the story of the game, but despite that, six goals, six points; and Chelsea are still in the top four despite a loss to Man City.
This Chelsea are not playing at their best. Far from it. Lukaku struggles to get into games and Werner is not the player that you usually want to turn to for goals.
The game against Spurs was a perfect example of what Chelsea have been like over the last month. All three goals came from defensive players: Thiago Silva, N’golo Kante and Antonio Rudiger. Those three players were probably a better front three than Mount, Havertz and Lukaku in that game.
Lukaku is a game-changing and in games where he hasn’t been able to get involved, it’s been very difficult for Chelsea to get a good result. Despite not getting a goal against Southampton, he was still able to make an impact which saw Chelsea win comfortably.
We are still in the early days of Lukaku and Werner up front and it’s had it’s ups and downs, but Chelsea need to make it work better.
The week from hell
Not winning in three games is a tough pill for Chelsea fans to swallow, especially when it happens in three separate competitions.
It started with a Carabao Cup match against Aston Villa. Werner opened up the scoring, but it was cancelled out in a matter of minutes as Archer’s goal sent the game to a penalty shoot-out. Fortune favoured Chelsea as they won 4-3. Lucky escape.
Tuchel tried to play two up top with Werner and Lukaku, but behind was very defensive. Chelsea failed to register a single shot on target. When Tuchel finally reverted to the old system, it was too late as City were already a goal up. Pep was not going to give up this lead and he didn’t.
It was now time to end the way of misery with an away trip to Juventus in the Champions League.
This was going to be a tough test. After the disappointment against City, this game provided the perfect scenario for a bounce back. It never came as Chelsea suffered another 1-0 defeat.
Juventus had experience against Lukaku and kept him quiet. From there they resisted everything Chelsea tried to throw at them and struck hard when the opportunity came about.
That opportunity came 11 seconds into the second half. A long ball and a header was enough to break Chelsea’s defence and Chiesa thundered the ball past Mendy.
Questions were rightfully raised, and some were answered a few days later.
A Werner renaissance? Or a Loftus-Cheek masterclass?
Against Southampton, we started to see more of the Werner of old. He scored twice and I am very firm on the view that his first should have counted.
It was the softest of touches by Azpilicueta as Walker-Peters threw himself to the ground in a performance that was Oscar-worthy. But Timo did not give up. He had another chance, but it was excellently saved by McCarthy.
Southampton had levelled the game when James Ward-Prowse equalised through a penalty. But with six minutes to go the mighty German stepped up and scored the winner. This was further cemented through a third goal, this one scored by Ben Chilwell.
Werner played further up top than Lukaku in this game as Lukaku was paired up with Hudson-Odoi in attacking midfield.
Lukaku used his strength and speed to create great opportunities for Werner and we finally to got to see Werner play some great football.
But other than Werner, we saw the return of Ruben Loftus-Cheek to the Chelsea starting XI. What an impact he made.
Loftus-Cheek has been a forgotten man at Chelsea since his injury a few seasons ago. He went on loan to Palace and Fulham and never made much of an impact.
In this game, he was quick. His work rate in both halves of the pitch was like his was a much taller N’golo Kante. He looked phenomenal and it was great to see.
I have often worried about his career and wondered if he needed to leave Chelsea permanently to forge a meaningful career. The fact that Tuchel has been willing to give him a chance in this team, must be a great showing of faith in what he can do, especially with Kante out with Covid.
Does anything need to change?
At the moment, I think that Tuchel is just trying new things, because performances haven’t been the best lately and something did need to change.
I think it was down to some players not being at their best yet rather than the system. Mason Mount is a player that I could point to and say that he has not been at his best. The same could be said for Havertz or Ziyech.
By introducing Loftus-Cheek, Hudson-Odoi and Barkley back into the team, we are seeing almost new life being put into the squad. These are players who are looking to make an impact to secure a place in the squad and the team.
The players have another international break to stop and go again in two weeks. October should be a very straight forward month for Chelsea with games against Brentford, Norwich and Newcastle in the Premier League.
If Chelsea hope to continue their title push, these games have to be wins. We shall see.
Last night, a few thousand supporters at the Estádio Algarve witnessed a miracle, possibly the greatest thing to ever happen to the beautiful country of Portugal.
The enigma called Cristiano Ronaldo, the G.O.A.T of world football surpassed Iran’s Ali Daei to become the highest goal scorer in the international game with his 110th strike against the Republic of Ireland
You read that right 110 goals, a figure which most international footballers don’t reach in appearances let alone goals.
Well, if this wasn’t reason enough to cheer, in a matter of moments as the clock struck the last minute of injury time, CR7 netted in a second to reach 111 and hand Portugal a well deserved 2-1 victory in this European Qualifier for Qatar 2022.
Surely, the Portuguese captain is like the best wine going around, getting better and hotter albeit in looks and performance with each passing year.
At 36, he gives a run for their money to every young footballer with his sheer brilliance in dribbling, mounting those magnificent runs and to top it all, putting the ball in the back of the opposition net with much ease.
World’s Envy, Portugal’s Pride.
A five-time Ballon d’Or award winner and four-time European Golden Shoes conqueror, the most for any European player, this enigma par excellence was instrumental for Portugal winning the 2016 Euros in France.
While he sustained an injury in the 25th minute of the historic Euro 2016 final against hosts France, his sheer determination to get Portugal to the finals and his team winning the tournament to honour this bastion of the game was worthy of every praise.
Well if this wasn’t reason enough to celebrate this icon, one need not look further than the inaugural UEFA Nations League, which too was conquered by Portugal beating Netherlands in the final under his captaincy.
Add to this, his thirty title victories in Club Football including five Champions League hurrahs, does it get better for any footballer. Ever?
For me the greatest strength that this legend exuberates is despite being a number 7 in football which essentially is a winger and second striker role, he can put most number 9s, the main strikers to shame with his sheer ability to mount goal after goal.
The number 7 jersey in football received cult status when this man of God like ability put a new sheen on it, after legends of the past in Robert Pires, Luis Figo and Sir Kenny Dalglish had done their bit to honour this jersey.
Throughout his historic 18-year international career he has been the king pin of Portuguese football around whom multiple stars have revolved.
To be relevant for 18 long years is testament to the fitness of this man who till date can put models with the best chiseled physiques to shame.
Well, The Rock of Gibraltar in footballing terms would seem tiny in front of the Rock of Portugal.
A boon for Manchester United
Life comes a full circle, doesn’t it?
It was at Manchester United that Cristiano Ronaldo first wore the number 7 jersey under possibly the greatest manager that club football has ever seen in Sir Alex Ferguson.
Wearing the number 7 jersey became an extra source of motivation for Ronaldo to honour legends like David Beckham, George Best and Eric Cantona who had previously donned this number for the Red Devils.
And now the great man is back, having signed a new contract at Old Trafford and will again don the number 7 for Manchester United. Certainly, a boon if you’re a United supporter and more misery for fans like me who worship their fiercest rival, Liverpool.
The Premier League will surely be ready to get Ronaldoed again as goals will flow like wine from this legend.
And why not, to make the impossible possible is to be Cristiano Ronaldo!
After going down to 10 men and conceding a penalty away to Liverpool, it did look as though Liverpool would run away with the game in the second half. However, Chelsea dug deep and held on.
Liverpool threw everything they had at Chelsea and a defiant defence stopped Liverpool getting a winner. Despite being a man down, it didn’t stop Chelsea getting forward and almost winning it themselves.
That result shows how far Tuchel has brought this Chelsea in the 8 months that he has been in charge. The Chelsea of old would have failed to keep Liverpool at bay, but the discipline in the defence is going to make it incredibly difficult for any team to score against Chelsea.
This goes to show that the result against Liverpool could be the result that defines them as Championship contenders this season, more so than the cruising victory over Arsenal.
Lukaku showed in that Arsenal game just how much of a difference he is going to make. Watching Werner linger offside and miss sitters was very painful last season. Lukaku kept himself onside and bullied the defence.
He did the same against Liverpool and if it wasn’t for some poor decisions in the final third, he could have scored a couple.
Chelsea have all the ingredients to do it, but there are still 35 games remaining and anything could happen.
Another fortunate Champions League draw
Next month, Chelsea will start their defence of their Champions League title. Considering the last time they failed to get out of the group stages, I’ll be hoping for better this time around.
Chelsea have been drawn against Juventus, just like in 2012, as well as Malmo FF and Zenit St. Petersburg. On paper, this should be a pretty simple group, and one that Chelsea will be expected to win.
Of course, PSG will be the favourite for the Champions League, but I wouldn’t rule out Chelsea going far in the competition again. Chelsea still have a very strong side and they are capable of beating each team in the competition.
I’m not expecting Chelsea to win the Champions League, far from it. I’ll be happy with the Quarterfinals and anything beyond that will be a bonus.
My expectation of Chelsea is just to compete in cup competitions and as long as we can do ourselves proud then I’ll be happy.
I am really looing forward to playing Juventus. It has been a long time since Chelsea have played Juve in a competitive game. With the Old Lady no longer having Ronaldo, I do believe that Chelsea have a better chance of topping the group.
I expect a big step up from English teams in the Champions League this season and I think it’s going to be very competitive, so if Chelsea can get into the quarterfinals then that will be an achievement.
What should be Chelsea’s goals for this season?
In terms of the Premier League, Chelsea have to compete for the title. People seem to think that Chelsea have to win it after the Champions League victory, but I don’t think that is the case.
City, United and Liverpool are all going to be very competitive this season. The battle for the league could be one of the closest amongst the top four that we have seen in a long time.
Chelsea are going to have to work hard if they want to come out on top spot, but whether or not it’s possible is still yet to be seen.
September is going to be a very tough test for Chelsea and their title hopes. First up after the international break is Aston Villa, followed by Manchester City and then Spurs. If Chelsea can go through that undefeated then their stamp on the title race will have been made.
As for domestic trophies, Tuchel will want to make up for the loss against Leicester in the FA Cup final last season. It feels like it’s been forever since Chelsea won a domestic trophy, despite being in a domestic final for the last seven seasons running.
It’s about time that someone ended City’s dominance in the EFL Cup, so that would be nice for Tuchel to get another one up on Pep.
With how good the top four in England are at the moment, it’s going to be very difficult to get any kind of double, so getting a domestic trophy will be a good season. However, I do expect Chelsea to go on a good cup run in both domestic competitions.
For Chelsea, competing for trophies has been the minimum requirement. Now that Tuchel has won the Champions League in his first season, though, winning trophies now have to become the minimum requirement
As a new season entered the red walls of Anfield, more than 50,000 Kopites made the Mecca of Reds football their own after 528 days of gloom to witness Liverpool record their second successive hurrah.
The team at the receiving end was a spirited Burnley who more than put up a fight to give The Merseyside Maulers a run for their money in a score line which finally skewed towards The Reds by a margin of two goals.
Make no mistake, such was the determination, The Clarets demonstrated when they almost had one back had the referee not adjudged Ashley Barnes offside in the beginning of the second half.
Speaking about offside decisions, Liverpool themselves were at the receiving end of one when Salah thought he had got Liverpool a second in the first-half albeit VAR ruled otherwise.
Surely a game that would have seen a score line of 3-1 in Liverpool’s favour had offside decisions not ruled out two goals. Well such is football and rules are rules!
On a brighter side this was the seventh consecutive victory for Liverpool in the Premier League including the last season. To put things into perspective before these seven successive wins, in their 20 previous games, The Reds only managed to win 7, draw 5 and lose 8.
These seven successive hurrahs also served as their longest winning run since February 2020, when they won 18 in a row.
Certainly, The Reds are on the rise. Again!
So, without further ado lets dissect this intriguing fixture that saw Liverpool come on top though not as convincingly as their first outing:
Diogo Jota shows his value on a second successive occasion
Burnley started the contest as the more assertive of the two teams with almost going into the lead in the 4th minute courtesy McNeil whose effort was barely kept out by Trent Alexander Arnold on the goal line as keeper Alisson had already committed himself to keep striker Wood at bay.
Post the move, the referee raised the flag to adjudge Wood offside, the first in the game that would see two more goals denied courtesy the flag.
Liverpool were lucky to survive the initial scare!
As they say it’s the survival of the fittest and The Reds more than showed why with a fitting header by Diogo Jota that put the home side in front in the 18th minute after the Portuguese did well to latch on to a Tsimikas cross much to the delight of a lively Kop and an energetic Anfield.
Minutes later Burnley managed another strike on goal only to be denied by Alisson. The Clarets were certainly up for the contest despite Liverpool drawing first blood.
Well, the home team in a matter of moments had a second albeit this would be the first goal to be denied by the flag. The perpetrator was Mohamed Salah by just barely having a foot over the line after he was brilliantly served by young Reds midfielder, Harvey Elliot.
With no further drama the first half came to a finish as the score read Liverpool 1 – 0 Burnley.
Sadio Mane comes to the party
The second half much like the first saw Burnley assert their dominance as Ashley Barnes scored in the first minute to put the visitors’ level or at least he thought he did before the flag went up again. The second insistence where the flag was raised and the goal was denied.
The Clarets surely felt unlucky and Liverpool relieved!
A second was the need of the hour for the home team to put the game beyond the visitors as the eleven players in Red and the 50,000 + supporters all but seemed to tilt towards a certain sense of edginess.
The person to calm the nerves had to be one from Liverpool’s Big 3 and thankfully this time it was the Senegalese superstar, Sadio Mane who got his first of the season to join his compatriots Salah and Firmino on the goal scoring list.
The Senegalese after being kept out by the Pope of Burnley on two previous attempts finally beat the keeper with a hammer of a shot as he capitalized on an opportunity created through a brilliant interplay between Elliot and Alexander-Arnold.
Liverpool had sealed the deal with this strike.
The final score read Liverpool 2 – 0 Burnley as the home team recorded a perfect 6 points from their first two outings much to the delight of an ecstatic Anfield.
An enthralling contest with Chelsea awaits
While wins over Norwich City and Burnley are as important as they come to open the season on a high, truth be told the game of gigantic proportions which surely will test the metal of the team in red is the one next.
Chelsea, the champions of Europe under Thomas Tuchel seem a much-rejuvenated side and will be more than eager to bring the mother of all fights to Anfield.
Having said this, make no mistake, Liverpool will be ready as The Blues will not only face the eleven men on the field but also the 50,000 strong army cheering from the stands. And yes the millions supporting from all corners of the globe too.
A clash of two German geniuses in the offering. I surely hope the one with The Reds prevails!
‘Unity is strength – Let’s Go Reds – You’ll Never Walk Alone!’
Despite both Spain and Croatia being lacklustre in their respective groups, both sides advanced to the knockouts of Euro 2020. Spain in particular will have been buoyed by their 5-0 thumping of Slovakia in their final match, while Croatia showed their class to beat Scotland 3-1 in Glasgow.
However, the Blazers won’t have been helped by Ivan Perisic’s recent positive test for COVID-19. The Inter Milan forward is one of Croatia’s most experienced and talented players. With this match taking place at Denmark’s Parken Stadium, this was a truly neutral venue.
What followed was one of the best games in European championship history. But who would book their place to face either France or Switzerland in the quarterfinals? Here are all the highlights!
Spain score at both ends
The opening exchanges were largely cagey, but Spain were the side that had the lion’s share of possession. As has so often been the case for La Roja though, fashioning clear-cut chances was proving difficult.
In the thirteenth minute, Pablo Sarabia had Spain’s first shot in anger. The PSG midfielder’s effort though, only troubled the side netting and not Dominik Livakovic.
The first key chance was a few minutes later, and it came down the left again. A perfectly weighted through ball from Pedri found Koke in the centre of the penalty area, but the Atletico Madrid midfielder couldn’t best Livakovic with his shot.
An even better chance came in the nineteenth minute. Ferran Torres found the time and space on the right to float a perfect cross to Alvaro Morata’s head. However, the Juventus striker failed to get proper contact on the ball and headed it firmly into the ground before Livakovic caught with ease.
If that was bad, what followed next was unbelievable. Spain were producing all of the chances, but found themselves behind in the most bizarre circumstances. Pedri had no pressure on him and passed back to his goalkeeper Unai Simon. The Barcelona midfielder overdid it though, and Simon failed to control the ball, he could only watch it fly into the back of his net. Croatia led 1-0 and had hardly ventured out of their own half.
Croatia were spurred on by their unexpected lead, Nikola Vlasic powering through on the right wing, but couldn’t find the net with his effort. Mateo Kovacic too, had a good effort just go over the net in the 26th minute.
Spain were growing back into the game, and with eight minutes to go before half-time, they deservedly equalised. Another fine move down the left resulted in a scramble in the box. Jose Gaya got a shot off, and despite Livakovic parrying the powerful effort, Sarabia followed up to level the game 1-1.
Both sides would’ve been happy to head into the break level, but for different reasons. The final chance of note was a long shot by Koke, which flew a yard or two wide of Livakovic’s left-hand post.
Croatia capitalise on Spain sitting back
The first substitution of the game was carried out by Croatia at half-time. Bruno Petkovic, who was anonymous in the first 45, was replaced by Andrej Kramaric.
Spain were again the side on top, but were again largely failing to create clear chances. That changed in the 27th minute though, as an overload on the left side of the pitch resulted in Torres crossing to Cesar Azpilicueta, of all people to powerfully head into the goal.
Livakovic was powerless to stop the full-back’s purposeful header as the Spaniard rose above the defender to see Spain lead 2-1.
Simon preserved this lead in the 67th minute thanks to a superb strong save low to his right. Vlasic cut the ball back for Josko Gvardiol and the latter shot at goal from a few yards out, but Simon redeemed himself for the OG earlier on. Kramaric would go through on goal a couple of minutes later, but the offside flag was raised, although Simon didn’t know that and produced another good save.
In the 72nd minute, the ball was in the back of the Croatia net again. A free-kick resulted in chaos in the Croatian box and Torres once more perfectly found Morata. Morata tapped in from little more than a yard out, but it was always going to be called back for offside.
Straight after this, Croatia went down the other end and were calling for a penalty. The referee said no, despite Azpilicueta kicking the ball into Koke’s hands and waved away the protests with a yellow card for Marcelo Brozovic.
After a brief stoppage for an injury, Spain doubled their lead. Ferran Torres latched onto a brilliant pass from the restart from Pau Torres. F. Torres cut inside onto his left foot and slotted calmly into the net, 3-1, a fine goal. Croatia were kicking themselves though, that was schoolboy stuff to switch off like that.
Spain consolidated their position with substitutions, while Croatia were making changes to attempt to inject energy and zest into their eleven. In the 84th minute, it was almost deja vu for Croatia as they again switched off from a free-kick. Dani Olmo attempted to float the ball into the net, but Livakovic was there to save.
Croatia then got themselves back into the game in the 85th minute. No sooner had Spain almost gone 4-1 up, they found themselves only 3-2 ahead. Luka Mordric’s skill finally came in use, as Captain Croatia cut back the ball for Ante Budimir to strike at goal. The shot was saved, but another scramble in the box ensued before Mislav Orsic slammed the ball past the line.
Goal-line technology confirmed the goal and despite a VAR check for a potential handball, the goal stood and Croatia were only 2-3 down with five minutes remaining. A nervy five minutes followed, which only got worse for Spain when six minutes of added time was confirmed.
Croatia were rolling the dice and they came up with sixes. Croatia moved down the left with Orsic firing a perfect and dangerous cross into the middle. Mario Pasalic met it perfectly and the ball was in the net, 3-3 and we were heading for extra-time. This surely must be one of the games of the tournament!
The thirty minutes of extra time got underway as the sun began to set in the Danish capital.
The momentum and mentality of the sides had completely flipped. Croatia were now in the ascendancy and Spain were terrified of the counterattack. Not without reason after, as in the sixth minute of ET, Croatia should’ve been ahead again.
Orsic down the left once more and crossed to Kramaric, who let fly from six yards out. Simon again bailed his team out, a combination of hand and knee prevented Croatia from taking the lead. Spain would have a chance of their own straight after, Dani Olmo only being stopped by Duje Caleta-Car.
Spain would go ahead as the clock struck 100 minutes. Olmo was in acres of space on the right and he floated a perfect ball into Morata, who fired an unstoppable shot into the top-right of the goal, Spain lead 4-3!
Kramaric had a half-chance at the other end, but Spain finally, surely, put the tie to bed in the 104th minute. Another defence-splitting ball from Olmo saw Mikel Oyarzabal free and the Real Sociedad slotted in via a deflection from Livakovic to make it 5-3.
Morata would have another chance before half-time, but Spain looked like they had an insurmountable lead at last.
ET: Second half
Croatia didn’t get the memo again though, as Ante Budimir was inches wide following a move from the kick-off.
Spain then slowed the game down as Croatia began to really physically struggle. Modric departed the pitch with seven minutes remaining in what will likely be his last appearance in a Euro game.
Morata almost doubled his tally for the day with five minutes remaining. The Juve striker was through on goal, but a good save from Livakovic prevented Croatia from being hit for six. Olmo also almost made it 6-3, but the post denied him.
The Croats had given their all, but the 2018 World Cup runners-up fell at the first knockout hurdle again, 5-3 the final score.
Croatia’s dismal run of never winning a Euros knockout game continues, while Spain will face either Switzerland or France in the quarterfinals.
For many last night’s fixture between Belgium and Portugal, the two powerhouses of World Football let alone Europe was the match to look out for in the pre-quarters.
Some would debate this, with the Germany-England showdown yet to come albeit when the number one team in the world battles another team in the top 5, eyeballs in abundance definitely merits the occasion.
And eyeballs are what we got as The Red Devils Fans and The Maroon Brigade stormed the Estadio La Cartuja in Sevilla, Spain amid millions more glued to their television sets as we witnessed Belgium get the better of Portugal albeit only by a solitary goal.
The solitary goal which put Portugal in complete ‘hazard’ as their Euro campaign came to an unexpected end courtesy the younger Hazard, Thorgan.
The 1-0 win also gave Belgium their first hurrah over Portugal since September 1989 when they beat the Southern European Nation 3-0. More than three decades of misery finally ending for The Red Devils amid five matches contested with three losses and two draws.
So, as the tournament for the megastar of Portugal and World Football in CR7, came to a rather disconsolate conclusion last night, lets dissect this small but decisive win for Belgium:
Thorgan Hazard the difference maker in the first 45
Portugal started this contest with much intent as only in the 6th minute, their Liverpool forward Diogo Jotta had a chance albeit dragging it wide as he was fed with a sumptuous offload from Sanches.
About 20 minutes later, Cristiano Ronaldo created their second opportunity through a free kicking drilling the ball into the bottom left corner as keeper Courtois made a crucial intervention to keep the megastar at bay.
Belgium slowly started gaining confidence as Munier had a strike albeit off-target in the 37th minute only for Thorgan Hazard minutes later to capitalize on this confidence with a devastating right foot strike giving keeper Rui Patricio absolutely no chance as the ball swirled in the bottom right corner of the net.
As the Red Devils went 1-0 up, at that point I believed Portugal with their might would definitely mount a comeback and this surely wasn’t the only goal we would see in the full 90.
Well, I was so wrong!
Portugal desperately try for the equaliser albeit no luck
The European Champions began the second half creating opportunities galore as Jotta again fired a shot off-target.
In the 61st minute, Portugal would find their range with a João Félix header from a Sanches corner which was comfortably grasped by Courtois.
As time went on, so did the desperation for the Champions of Europe. An equaliser surely had to come from somewhere.
Well, an opportunity presented itself in the 82nd minute as Rúben Dias swung in a header from a Fernandes cross which was again averted by Courtois as he hit the ball away.
Portugal were denied yet again as The Belgian keeper was doing all he could to keep their lead intact.
A minute later Portugal mounted yet another attack as Guerreiro hit the post. It seemed, luck had befriended Belgium!
Minutes later Courtois again showed his class as he smothered the ball just outside his goal to deny the looming André Silva.
As the referee called time, Belgium amid some luck and much of Courtois’ brilliance had done fantastically well to keep Portugal at bay.
In truth seeing Ronaldo after the match with disappointment all over his face made me shed a tear as the fan in me was rather more animated with one of his favourite footballers coming up second best.
The Azzurri challenge will be as tough as they come
Up next Belgium would be pitted against a confident and rather devastating Italian side who are yet to lose a single contest in this tournament.
They have scored goals aplenty and their attacking threat in Immobile, Insigne and others is surely second to none. In truth haven’t seen an Azzurri side with so much flair in a long time.
This contest will again be one for the ages much like Belgium’s last excursion against Portugal albeit The Red Devils would have to be more decisive and lethal with their performance to get the better of the Azzurris’ enroute to sealing a semi-final berth.
After all, only luck can’t win you all battles, dear numero uno team!
After an unprecedented 15 months of the pandemic running or should I say ruining our lives, a four-letter word has brought the much-needed ointment on our long-hurting wound.
This four-letter word is Euro.
Yes, the first international football tournament amid the pandemic has finally set sail, albeit delayed by a year.
On Friday night, The Euro 2020 or should I say 2021, got underway in Rome with Italy hammering Turkey, 3-0 amid a sea of ecstatic Azzurri supporters.
Contrasting emotions of relief and excitement engulfed me to finally see the top nations in Europe battle it out to become the undisputed kings of this continent. This was a delight for every fan who loves international football.
When we talk about international football, we all have our favourites and a second nation too that we support despite being located in any corner of the globe. That’s precisely the reason they say football has the power to bring people together, regardless of their age, race, gender, culture, or nationality.
Well for me being an Indian, I am a die-hard fan of England, followed by a strong sense of liking for their neighbours, Wales.
Yes, Wales is my second favourite team as I tuned in yesterday with much expectation to see The Dragons lock horns with Switzerland in their opening contest amid 10,000 fans at the Baku Olympic Stadium.
In truth, I was much relieved with the final 1-1 result as despite the Swiss domination, The Welsh had managed to secure the vital point. Needless to say, I would have expected nothing less than a Wales victory with a team boasting the likes of Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Ben Davies and others. After all, they were the semi-finalists in 2016.
So, without further ado, lets dissect this contest, as the two West European nations battled it out in the second game of Group A:
Swiss dominate the first 45
The Dragons, under caretaker Manager Rob Page in the absence of the regular coach Ryan Giggs, started the contest brightly. In just the 15th minute, Kieffer Moore’s header was punched merely inches above the post by the Swiss goalkeeper, Yan Sommer who leaped at the right time to make the crucial save.
That was the only chance of any prominence the Welsh would conjure in the first half, as Switzerland took control of the game. This Swiss created eighteen chances, with four being clear opportunities to score.
Fabian Schar almost put the Swiss in front in the 20th minute with a terrific backheel that was saved in the nick of time by keeper, Danny Ward. Switzerland’s second opportunity came just before halftime, as their number 9, Seferovic, hit the ball marginally high.
As the referee called time on the first 45, Wales were lucky not to be a goal down.
Moore more than saves the day for Wales
Luck would finally run out for Wales as the second half got underway, when in just the 49th minute, Swiss number 7, Breel Embolo made no mistake slotting a header into the left corner of the Welsh goal from a Xherdan Shaqiri corner.
Switzerland all but deserved this lead for the relentless attacking brand of football they displayed.
The equaliser for The Dragons would come in the 74th minute, as Kieffer Moore guided a Joe Morell shot towards the Swiss goal with an adept header. The Cardiff City striker did well to overpower the Swiss defence to convert this opportunity.
Switzerland continued their offensive onslaught for the rest of the half, managing a second goal albeit VAR ruled it otherwise as Gavranovic was adjudged offside.
As the 90 ended, I like many Welsh supporters was more than relieved as The Dragons salvaged a point in a game that was all of Switzerland’s to win.
Wales have to feast on Turkey in their next game
If Wales harbour any ambitions of proceeding to the next round, draws surely are not the need of the hour.
The Dragons need to put wins under their belt to showcase the steel that got them to the semi-finals of the 2016 edition. Inspirational leader Gareth Bale surely needs to do more to have a nice Turkish feast in their next game as the Welsh lock horns with this East European nation.
Nothing less than a victory will suffice for The Men in Red against Turkey as their last group game against Italy in their own backyard would be a big mountain to climb.
So, go on Men in Red, show us an inspirational performance in your next outing. Soar to heights unparalleled as has another Reds outfit in achieving a Champions League spot despite being in the pits of adversity in the last edition of The Premier League.
Yes Wales, you need to do a Liverpool!
Everybody at Sportlight would like to wish Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen all the best with his recovery following his collapse on the pitch against Finland yesterday.
It’s been a season of highs and lows, but now that it is all over, it’s time to reflect on the final month of this incredible season.
We’re still the only team in London to win a European Cup!
There can be no shadow of a doubt that Chelsea are the unrivalled biggest team in London now. Chelsea now have two Champions Leagues trophies and have won four European trophies in the last 10 years.
Arsenal may have the history and have gone a Premier League season unbeaten, but that was 17 years ago now, and no amount of FA Cups can keep them at that top position.
We need to remember that this Chelsea team is still so young, and they are at the start of their footballing careers. There is still so much to see from these players and winning a champions League so early is great signs of things to come.
Under Thomas Tuchel, Chelsea have the potential to dominate English football, and there is no doubt that Chelsea have to be seen as title contenders for next season.
While I do have my own reservations about Chelsea’s ability to win the league, we have seen a shift under Tuchel that could see Chelsea have a much easier time in the league compared to the last couple of seasons.
But for now, it’s time to let this feeling sink in that we are European Champions. I was only 11 when Chelsea won the Champions League against Bayern Munich and while it was an amazing, I was a bit too young to fully understand the significance.
If Chelsea can beat City, why not Leicester?
Two weeks before European glory, Chelsea put in a woeful performance against Leicester City in the FA Cup final.
You could tell from minute one that Leicester wanted it more, and for Chelsea it looked like an inconvenience.
It wasn’t until Leicester went a goal ahead that Chelsea finally decide to go for it. Kasper Schmeichel made some glorious saves, before Chelsea were cruelly denied an equaliser as Ben Chilwell was only inches offside.
It was Leicester’s day and I imagine Tuchel took a lot away from that game which did help Chelsea’s preparations for the Champions League final. It was disappointing that Chelsea didn’t win the FA Cup as well, as shown a few days later, Chelsea had the ability to beat Leicester fair and square.
I had hoped that this season would be the repeat of the 2011/12 season with Chelsea getting a new manager during the season and then going on to win the FA Cup and Champions League double, but it just wasn’t to be.
However, I have to say fair play to Leicester in that game. Youri Tielemans’ goal was sensational and one that was deserving to be the match winning goal.
Chelsea have to thanks Spurs for top four
While Spurs may have not been able to finish in the top 4 this season, Chelsea fans owe them a debt of gratitude.
While it may not have mattered in the end, it did look like Chelsea would not get into the top four on the final day when Leicester went 2-1 up against Spurs.
Chelsea were playing Aston Villa and were losing 2-1, meaning that Chelsea would miss out by a single point and Leicester would get Champions League football.
After a Schmeichel own-goal and then two goals by Gareth Bale, Chelsea would retain their spot in the top 4 and Leicester drop down into 5th.
This season felt like a long fight to get 4th place. When Tuchel took charge, Chelsea were in 10th place. It would have been made clear to Tuchel that getting top 4 would be the highest priority.
After Lampard managed to get top four with a transfer ban, it would seem like getting top four would be easy given Chelsea spent over £200 million in the summer transfer window.
Tuchel started on the back foot and needed to turn things quickly and that’s exactly what he did. Straight away, Chelsea started to climb the table and were able to take full advantage when West Ham and Leicester started to drop off at the end of the season.
In football, you need a bit of luck and Chelsea got that in the league, but you can’t say that Chelsea didn’t deserve it.
Is Tuchel already one of the Chelsea’s best managers?
Despite the fact Di Matteo was sacked months after winning the Champions League with Chelsea, his achievements will live on in Chelsea history forever.
Tuchel has been in charge for only four months and yet his record as Chelsea manager is better than most that we have seen come through the revolving door at Stamford Bridge.
The impact that Tuchel has had since coming to Chelsea is up there with Jose Mourinho, yet Tuchel has managed to actually win a European trophy.
Tuchel does have a poor record with falling out with clubs and Chelsea have a poor record of falling out with managers, so it doesn’t look like a match made in heaven.
But after the game Tuchel looked so happy and it was great to see when Tuchel and Abramovich met for the very first time. Hopefully Tuchel will sign a long-term contract at Chelsea and keep building on this success.
It really is about time that Chelsea got a long-term manager and Tuchel is one of the best managers in the world. If the club can make this work then this could be the start of something great at Chelsea.
Let’s not forget about Frank Lampard
While Lampard was sacked by Chelsea four months ago, the club and the fans still need to thank him for the success that Chelsea have seen this season.
I think it goes without saying that if we had carried on with Frank this season then we would not have got top four, or got to the FA Cup final, or have won the Champions League.
But at the end of the day, Frank guided Chelsea through the Group stages in great fashion and put us in a good spot for the knock-outs.
Frank was also responsible for Chelsea’s amazing summer transfer window. The new additions to the Chelsea’s squad this season have made it easier for Tuchel to hit the ground running.
The likes of Ben Chilwell, Kai Havertz and Thiago Silva have shone under Thomas Tuchel. Werner has been getting better, but his failing are his own and nothing Tuchel can really do anything about it.
It was Frank who was able to bring in those players and also we must not forget the young talent that Frank brought in the fold which have also been a huge part of Tuchel’s success.
I was annoyed when Lampard was sacked, and I did think that he should have been given more time and it’s easy for me to say now that I am thankful that I was wrong.
I was forced to eat my words and hopefully Tuchel will continue to make those comments look foolish. This night was Tuchel’s night, and I was happy to witness his brilliance beat one of the greatest managers of all time on the biggest stage in world football.
Love the idea or hate it, the European Super League will happen.
Twelve extremely rich franchises (I’ll be calling them franchises, they’re no longer clubs) want it to happen. These franchises understand their business model inside out, and they know that the ‘salt of the earth’ supporters are a tiny part of their equations.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand this is about one thing: money.
Sugar-coated comments like “We have come together at this critical moment, enabling European competition to be transformed, putting the game we love on a sustainable footing for the long-term future” are simply PR speak, as even these out of touch franchises know they can’t say the ESL is being put together to make them richer.
Football is an emotional game, and people across the world have worn their emotions on their sleeves. None more so than the likes of Garry Neville, who is rightfully ashamed of his club.
Some 33 years ago, I was introduced to Manchester United when a family friend moved from Glossop in the UK to Australia, and showed me some match-day programmes and club pins. It was love at first sight.
Since then, I’ve invested my time and energy through sitting up at 3 in the morning watching games against Barnsley and Stoke. I’ve invested my money in buying merchandise, travelling to matches in Manchester, and now as a middle-aged man, shares in Manchester United PLC.
I’m invested in more ways than one, and I hate what is happening to the franchise I love (loved?).
Investments, not clubs
Here is one reason the European Super League will happen:
Playing in the Premier League is lucrative, for the 2019/20 season Manchester United received £166.2m, made up as follows:
For the Champions League, if a franchise wins it, they can expect around £80m in prize money and revenue share.
For Manchester United, they would need to win the Champions League to then earn around £260m total from the two competitions, and let’s make no mistake, they’re a million miles away from winning it at the moment.
So, participation in the ESL nets them £300m just for showing up, putting an extra £40m in the Glazer’s pockets – sorry, to ‘put the game they love on a sustainable footing…’
Ed Woodward has often said that Manchester United’s profitability isn’t reliant on results on the pitch, and now that is true.
United could lose every match in the ESL and still bank more than they would for winning the Champions League, before coming back and doing it again the next year, since they can’t be relegated.
Club owners don’t care about fans, they’re actually a thorn in their sides, preventing them from realising their visions and dreams of directing more money into their pockets.
What club owners do care about is their shareholders, and for the majority of United shareholders, transitioning from the cut and thrust of earning qualification, and therefore money, on merit represents a much more volatile investment than a guaranteed purse for participation.
Investors don’t like volatility, so this proposal will receive support from them.
There is precedent
Reason number two the European Super League will happen is precedent.
Remember Kerry Packer and World Series Cricket?
At the time, it was said to be the death of cricket, and nobody would watch grown men playing cricket in their pyjamas.
That was almost 45 years ago, and today, the shorter formats of the game are thriving, and have spawned other formats such as T20. The money is flowing, fans are watching, happy days.
When the ESL happens, thousands of people will say they’re not going to watch, and that they no longer support their franchise.
Franchise owners will actually see that as a good thing. Those fans who live a short walk from the stadium, who buy a ticket, stand up, sing, then head to the pub are not their target market.
The target market for the owners is a fan who flies in from Norway, the US, or China, spends thousands of dollars on an ‘experience’, drops another thousand in the Megastore, sits in their seat taking selfies to publish on Instagram, then flies home again and tells their friends (who then do the same).
Remember when the Glazer’s bought Manchester United and fans said they would boycott the club?
A breakaway club F.C United of Manchester was formed, and are currently irrelevant, languishing in the seventh tier of English football.
Sure, a handful of people will stop watching, but the owners know that football is a global commodity and fans from China, the US, India, and all over Asia will gladly step in and fill the void.
The biggest threat the ESL poses
There has been a lot of talk of earning the right and destroying the history of the game, which is of little concern to owners whose roots are based in the American system of having conferences and moving franchises to bigger, more profitable ‘markets’.
Make no mistake, there will be no plan to limit the clubs to 20.
The addition of ‘expansion franchises’ will see the ESL grow to 30, even 40 clubs, all divided into ‘conferences’ leading into a play-off system.
The biggest threat the ESL poses to us, the fans, is that one day our franchise will no longer play in our city.
A franchise is something that can be bought and sold, and if an owner wants to move their new toy to where they live, they can.
And let’s face it, the weather in Manchester isn’t a drawcard for any player or fan looking for an ‘experience’, and not many people outside the UK know where Tottenham is.
One day you’re meeting up with mates at the pub before walking down to take the seats that have been in your family for generations.
The next, you’re watching Dubai Spurs play the Shanghai Gunners in a Sunday Night Football pay-per-view special.
So while I won’t be in any rush to follow the LA Red Devils, I will however hold onto my shares as a prudent, and stable, investment.