So, Cristiano Ronaldo bagged back to back Ballon d’Or amidst a lot of speculation. This was not entirely out of the blue, but still gave rise to a lot of speculation and questions regarding the entire process. Just like last yearDebojyoti Chakraborty again dissects the voting pattern to understand the dynamics behind the final choice, here with Goalden Times.
Manuel Neuer must be feeling like a tragic hero. Long before the verdict was out, he had vented out his disappointment – or should we say, anger – for not being able to win the accolade. His prediction was as accurate as it can get. Not that Neuer will be any less appreciated for not having been crowned the best player in the last calendar year. Not that, Lionel Messi, another permanent contender for close to a decade, would be gutted for missing out on his fifth trophy. Cristiano Ronaldo might be statistically the best performer over 2014 with his record breaking year where he netted 52 times in 43 games (in the evaluation period between 30th November, 2013 and 21st November, 2014) and thus he rightfully deserves the Ballon d’Or. But were his goals and assists alone responsible for making him the winner? Have the saves by Neuer and the extra dimension to the goalkeeping he has brought in failed in comparison sheerly based on the performance on the field? Did Messi really not do enough to end up so far behind Ronaldo? The answer is an emphatic NO. The validity of the award – given to an individual in a team sport – has always been dubious. But the fact that Ballon d’Or winner is decided by votes alone, makes the legitimacy of this award even more questionable.
The winner is decided by coaches, captains and media personnel across the globe. Each can nominate three players who, according to them, have outperformed their counterparts. The first ranked player gets five points, second three and the last player gets one point from each vote. If we analyse the numbers from 2011 and 2012 – actually, there is no need for analysis –Lionel Messi won it hands down against Ronaldo.
As is evident from these tables, captains, coaches and media representatives across the world had unanimously chosen Messi as the best player in 2011 and 2012. Even though there was a slight shift towards the Portuguese star in 2012, that was not enough to cover the mammoth gap between the two.
But the focus shifted to a certain Franck Ribery in 2013 on the back of his treble winning season with Bayern Munich. So, the fight was much closer – as is seen from the graphic here – and Ronaldo won it after a gap of four years, but only just.
It is apparent that Ribery was the media favourite, however Ronaldo edged ahead with the aid of other two categories. But that is not all, let us dig a bit deeper.
The Year – 2014
Come 2014 and the fight for the top spot got an altogether new dimension as Manuel Neuer – number one shot stopper of modern era – was thrown into the mix. How can a goalkeeper be effectively and honestly judged against an outfield player? What will be the parameters? Goals scored vs clean sheets? Assists vs saves? And, what about their overall contribution to the match? FIFA was spared as they did not have to come up with an analytical model to fit in these variables and declare a clear cut winner. Instead, it was left to the people to rank the players and eventually choose the winner.
If we see how the Captains have voted, out of a total of 182, only close to one-third (34.07%) have considered Neuer worthy of even a top three. Ronaldo wins hands down with 99 captains going for him and only about 18% daring to keep him out of the podium places.
A similar pattern is found in the coaches’ voting also – Ronaldo again wins with heavy majority while Neuer struggles to feature in top three for more than half of the 181 coaches worldwide. Messi, in spite of winning FIFA World Cup 2014 Golden Ball, fails to impress most of the voters. Around 20 odd captains and coaches nominate him as their first choice. However, Messi manages to dominate the second choice – people still believe that he might have had a bad year by his own standards, but still LM10 is too good to be worse than two other active players. Some recognition, definitely.
But that recognition falls flat in the media. Only five journalists worldwide hold him in the highest regard as CR7 is hailed by a massive 115 of them. Neuer finally is able to get to the second spot in this category but still remains a fair distance away from the lucrative honor.
Ronaldo’s dominance was overwhelming. After a close 2013, this year’s Ballon d’Or verdict was as unanimous as in 2011 or 2012. Even if we filter out the top 20 FIFA ranked teams on the day results are declared, (12th January, 2015) in the hope to get a much more football-educated sample, the distributions do not change much. Ronaldo still wins with a landslide.
Ronaldo – Dominating amongst the Elites too
The Game Theory
Neuer had a fabulous year – both for the club as well as for the country. Not a very good thing too if you plan to win an individual honor in a team sport. It might be a Catch 22 situation, but having a very successful year in footballing terms, more often than not will result in more contenders for the same individual glory from your own team! Obviously, there would be a few others in the team who would have performed equally well. Things were even more complex for Neuer. While Ronaldo’s cosmopolitan Real Madrid friends suffered from having a weak team (Gareth Bale of Wales, Karim Benzema of France) and Messi’s Spanish compatriot bowed out from the World Cup with a shocking display, most of Neuer’s Bayern Munich teammates went on to win the World Cup for Germany. More awesome performance, more competition from own team, more chances of votes getting split within the team. Irony!
Number of nominees
Number of nominees
Compatriot or Rival?
Barcelona and Argentine teammates have robbed Messi off some vital points which might not have changed the outcome as the case is quite similar for Ronaldo with his Real Madrid compatriots. But just have a look at the magnitude of such loss for poor Neuer.
Club / Country
Differential from First Choice
Differential from Second Choice
Differential from Third Choice
Everyone was from Bayern Munich
Loss from Teammates
In a perfect world of game theory, any German or Bayern supporter would have voted for Neuer only (assumption here is that anyone voting for any German or Bayern player was also a supporter of the team). Or, if the players were allowed to donate their vote to other nominees, both German and Bayern players would have done so for their goalie as he was the strongest candidate for the award. That would have swung a massive 582 points in favour of the German. Not enough though as the Portuguese star has eventually won with a margin of little over 1000 points. But nevertheless, the fight would have been much closer; it could have reduced the margin to half and Neuer could have become the first player to finish in top two after Gianluigi Buffon achieved the same feat in 2006.
The Continental Mood
If we look closely, some really interesting patterns evolve out of each continent’s cumulative voting. For example – Europe was unanimous that Messi did not deserve the Ballon d’Or. Quite strange for a guy who captained his country to the finals of the World Cup, nearly won it for them, had an outstanding tournament creating chances more than anyone else and had the Golden Ball to show for his efforts. May be, Messi became a victim of his own high standards. Failure to score truckload of goals – his usual stuff in La Liga – in the mega event, failure to win the league or the cup as well as elimination in the quarter finals from the Champions League did not help his cause either. Still, only three first choice votes – Swedish Captain (yes, that’s ZLATAN) & Latvian and Lithuanian coaches – is as perplexing as it can get. Something to do with Messi’s tarnished image with the income tax fiasco?
Vote break-up: Europe
Ronaldo continued to dominate Asia as well. This is a sector which is hugely important for the football superstars owing to the godlike status they enjoy among their fans. The multimillion sponsorship deals, billions of eyeballs and a crazy fan following – Asia is probably the most sought after market for the new age superstars and CR7, no doubt, will be thrilled to have dominated this market as well.
Vote break-up: Asia
Africa, the second biggest vote bank behind Europe, showed a slightly different trend. Messi is still preferred here a notch above Neuer. Strangely enough, the adventurous German shot stopper failed to lure the Africans. Ronaldo was unaffected – in fact, he stormed through the dark forests and deserts.
Vote break-up: Africa
Middle American section, the CONCACAF, closely mirrored Africa. If anything, Neuer suffered more heavily here. His heroics as a sweeper keeper failed to impress the captains, coaches and journalists alike. Neuer managed to feature among only 27.47% of the voters.
Vote break-up: CONCACAF
Now comes the Latin American region. Messi’s continent, Messi should rule. But that becomes far from true as we unravel the voting secrets. Expect for Brazilian Neymar and Chilean Claudio Bravo – Messi’s club mates from Barcelona – none of the captains have voted for the little genius. Rivalry is so fierce among the immediate neighbours that excluding Messi – who anyway cannot vote for himself – as many as six out of nine national captains did not consider him to be worthy of a top three spot! Coaches are less severe on him in that aspect – only three of them leave Messi completely out of contention. But four national team coaches opted for CR7 as their first choice, double the number compared to LM10 – but as a silver lining, at least Alejandro Sabella voted for his team captain. If that had not happened, it would have been a massacre for the little magician. Media does not spare him either – five out of 10 of them again do not consider Messi worthy of a podium finish, only the Argentine media wants him to be crowned whereas five Latin American leading journalists vouched for Cristiano Ronaldo. They not only wanted to bring Messi down, but also did their every bit to ensure that his strongest opponent got as much head start as possible. Shocking, to say the least!
Vote break-up: CONMEBOL
The last region, Oceania (OFC), is too small to form any pattern or have any major say in the final outcome. Even then, Ronaldo manages to consolidate his position at the top and take a tiny lead.
Vote break-up: OFC
Let us now have a look at what some of the most famous players had opted for.
First (5 points)
Second (3 points)
Third (1 point)
Di Maria Angel
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Da Silva Santos Junior Neymar
Mbia Etoundi Stephane
Garcia Zarate Radamel Falcao
Di Maria Angel
Guardado Hernandez José Andrés
Di Maria Angel
Van Persie Robin
Santa Cruz Roque
Di Maria Angel
Republic of Ireland
Ballot Box: Who’s who
Most notable thing, apart from whatever we have discussed so far, is what the goalkeepers have voted for. None of the shot stoppers – Claudio Bravo, Hugo Lloris, Buffon, Vincent Enyeama, Iker Casillas – have gone for Manuel Neuer. Why is that so? Is it to support their club mate? Or acknowledgement of the fact that a goalie can never win it and so why waste their vote? Or is it sheer jealousy? May be a combination of all these factors, some of these apply for someone and something else is relevant for another. But whatever be the case, Neuer has enough reasons to be annoyed with his own goalkeepers’ community. And with Robert Lewandowski – the Bayern training ground might see spark when the Polish captain comes face to face with German number one. Lewandowski might argue he did it purposefully – had he voted for Neuer as his first choice, Neuer would have lost to Messi by a single point. More agony!!!
The Odd man Out
There were 21 instances where the entire vote set differed in the final outcome. This exclusive list comprises Messi and Ronaldo themselves – being captain of their national teams, could not vote for themselves and hence decided not to vote for any of their direct competitors also. It would have been interesting to see what Neuer would have done if he had the voting rights. Surprisingly quite a few notable players feature in this list besides CR7 and LM10 – Vincent Kompany (Belgium), Diego Godin (Uruguay) and Ashley Williams (Wales) – all having voted for either their club or countrymen. None of the coaches or media person in this list is from any eminent footballing nation. Trying to hog the limelight by being different? May be.
The Perfect MATCH
Out of a total of 544 voters, 36 persons could order their preference in the exact order of final winners – Ronaldo first, then Messi, and then Neuer. The distribution was quite even among the different strata of participants – 11 captains, 13 coaches and 12 media persons got it right. 13 of them were from Asia, 10 from Africa, eight from Europe, four from CONCACAF and a solitary one from Oceana. We saw two sets – Captain and Coach – of correct ranking from as many as five countries (Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Italy and Lebanon). But the little island Bermuda cracked the puzzle completely – all of their three entries had the correct order. Please raise a toast for the tiny nation in their little moment of joy.
In the end Ronaldo’s support was unquestionable. He received a bountiful 37.66% of the total votes, more than the combined total of his two closest competitors (Messi 15.76% and Neuer 15.72%). Neuer suffers the same fate as Franck Ribéry did last year when he lost out on the honor despite winning everything there was to be won for his team. We must accept, however unreal it might sound, Ballon d’Or lauds individual brilliance in a team sport. And nobody should mourn about it. Manuel Neuer has a FIFA winner medal. Will he swap it for the Ballon d’Or? Wouldn’t Messi want to give up his three crowns for that World Cup? Cristiano many never win the World Cup as he happens to play for a relatively mediocre team at the national level. So what is wrong if his unbelievable goal scoring prowesses are applauded and he gets to bask in its glory? Neuer can only argue how can anyone realistically compare his contribution – being a goalkeeper – to that of a striker? But sadly, at least for now, we do not have any methodology to do so. May be the future will evaluate his actual worth and Neuer will get his poetic justice one day. One day. Till then, congrats Cristiano, you deserve it.
Best XI : Transfer Deals
Best XI is a compilation of interesting events or snippets from the football world across different locations that we share with you. Best XI will seek to be about topics you are interested in and want explored. You may mail your requests to firstname.lastname@example.org. This month we showcase some memorable transfers in football market
Kaká: Sao Paulo to AC Milan (2003) for $12.2 Million
Kaká was creating quite a reputation for himself in Brazilian Football with São Paulo, scoring twenty-three goals in 59 appearances. A steady European interest culminated with him signing for the Rossoneri. He became quite a fan favourite in Milan and had a great spell with them. Kaká scored seventy goals in 193 appearances for AC Milan before moving to the Spanish giants Real Madrid in 2009. The charismatic owner of Milan, Silvio Berlusconi later referred to the amount he paid for Kaká as peanuts.
Alan Shearer: Southampton to Blackburn Rovers (1992) for $5.3 Million
In the summer of 1992, there was a transfer tussle between Blackburn Rovers and Manchester United for the then up-and-coming English striker Alan Shearer, who came through the ranks at Southampton and made quite a name for himself. Flushed with Jack Walker’s millions, Kenny Dalglish, the then Blackburn manager convinced Shearer to sign on the dotted lines. Even though he was hampered with injuries in his first season but he still managed to score 16 goals for his new club. In the 1993-94 season, his 31 goals helped Blackburn to finish second in the league table but it was his 34 goals in the 1994-95 season that clinched the one and only Premier League title for Blackburn.
P.S. After being snubbed by Shearer, Sir Alex Ferguson bought a certain Frenchman in 1992. We shall come to that later.
Patrick Viera: AC Milan to Arsenal (1996) for $5.7 Million
After an unproductive spell at Milan, Arsene Wenger bought the Frenchman to Arsenal. With his compatriot Emmanuel Petit, Viera formed a formidable midfield partnership that helped Arsenal do the double (Premier League and FA Cup) in 1998. He became the club captain in 2002 and was an important cog in the ‘Invincibles’ season.
He only scored 32 goals for the club but his contribution towards Arsenal goes beyond that. All that for just under $6 Million!
Gianfranco Zola: Parma to Chelsea (1996) for $7.3 Million
Signed in 1996 from Parma, Zola quickly adapted to English Football and helped Chelsea secure the FA Cup that season. He also became the first Chelsea player to win the Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year award. A year later, he scored the winner in Cup Winner’s Cup match. In his seven-year spell with Chelsea, Zola scored 80 goals and is still regarded as a hero in Stamford Bridge.
Roberto Baggio: Fiorentina to Juventus (1990) for $13.6 Million
Baggio was sold to Juventus in 1990,amid outcry from Fiorentina fans, for what was a world record transfer fee of that time for any player. Soon after, there were riots in the streets of Florence leavingaround 50 people injured. Baggio replied to his fans, saying: “I was compelled to accept the transfer“. In the match he played for Juventus against Fiorentina in 1990, he refused to take a penalty; and when substituted he picked up a Fiorentina scarf thrown onto the field by fans and kissed it. He claimed: “Deep in my heart I am always purple“, the colour of Fiorentina.
Although he suffered a number of injuries in his time with Juventus, Baggio still managed to score seventy-eight goals in 141 appearances, in his five-year spell with the Old Lady.
Luis Figo: Barcelona to Real Madrid (2000) for $56 Million
In 2000, Luis Figo was part of one of the most controversial and (in)famous transfer deals in Football history. He made a move from Barcelona to their hated rivals, Real Madrid. Despite being a success at Barça and a fan favourite for five years, in his return to Nou Camp in 2002 for a league match, Figo got one of the vilest receptions from Barcelona fans.
He was part of the Galácticos era of Real Madrid that included the likes of Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo and many more brilliant footballers and assembled a team that won almost everything that is there to be won.
Thierry Henry: Juventus to Arsenal (1999) for $17 Million
After an unhappy spell in Juventus, Arsene Wenger brought Thierry Henry to Arsenal in 1999 and thus started his love affair with Arsenal. He became one of the greatest players to grace English Football and broke Cliff Bastin’s record to become the highest ever goal-scorer for Arsenal. During Henry’s time, Arsenal won two Premier League titles and 3 FA Cups. He appeared two hundred and fifty four times for Arsenal and scored 174 goals. He came back for a short loan spell in 2012 and scored one goal in 4 appearances.
Robinho: Real Madrid to Manchester City (2008) for £32.5 Million
Robinho made it to the list, not because he had a great time with Manchester City but this transfer started the era that built a new power centre in English and World football. On summer transfer deadline day, Manchester City was bought by the Abu Dhabi United Group, and infused with the millions of the Abu Dhabi royal family, City splashed out the cash for Robinho, who was nailed down to go to Chelsea but came to Manchester.
His time at City was patchy at best. With occasional signs of brilliance, Robinho never really warmed up to the club or the fans or the city. He scored fourteen goals in 41 appearances before moving to AC Milan.
Peter Schmeichel: Brondby to Manchester United (1991) for £505,000
A UEFA Cup run with Brondby in 1991 which was ended by AS Roma in the semi-finals cemented Schmeichel’s standing as one of best in his position. Following his showings on the international scene, Manchester United bought him in 1991 for £505,000, a price which was described in 2000 by Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson as the “bargain of the century.” Schmeichel played the bulk of his career for United, eight years in total. With United, Schmeichel won five FA Premier League titles, 3 FA Cups, one League Cup, and finally played his last match with United in ‘that night in Barcelona’.
Cristiano Ronaldo: Manchester United to Real Madrid (2009) for £80 Million
After a successful five-year spell in English football, playing for Manchester United, winning everything possible for the team, the Portuguese moved to Real Madrid in a record transfer deal for any player, in 2009. Despite winning the La Liga, just last season, Ronaldo has already scored more than 100 goals in just over three seasons and has a healthy rivalry with Argentine Lionel Messi, who plays for Barcelona.
Eric Cantona: Leeds United to Manchester United (1992) for £1.2 Million
After missing out on Alan Shearer, Manchester United shocked the world of football when they signed Cantona from Leeds in 1992, and it has proven to be one of the defining moments of Sir Alex Ferguson’s extraordinary era at the club. Cantona became a legend at United, with a host of unforgettable performances and goals helping the club to 4 league titles in five seasons. He also fired a dramatic winner against Liverpool in 1996 to win the FA Cup final at Wembley, and a second double in three seasons. Even after his dramatic retirement in 1997, the Frenchman left behind some fantastic memories.
Europe’s Best XI for 2011-2012 Season
Best XI is a compilation of interesting events or snippets from the football world across different locations that we share with you. Best XI will seek to be about topics you are interested in and want explored. You may mail your requests to email@example.com
The Champions League Final on May 19 at the Allianz Arena marked an end to the latest European season. With its fair share of drama, controversies on and off the pitch and above all footballing brilliance, it has been quite an enthralling season. Let’s take this opportunity to look back at the season that is gone to decide upon a team of eleven players that can be put across as Europe’s Best XI.
Goalkeeper: Manuel Neuer
The Bavarian shot-stopper in his first season at the club has been in imperious form. He set the club record of maximum time without conceding a goal bettering the previous record of Oliver Kahn. Bayern Munich has been sort of unlucky as they ended the season trophy-less but they went on to play the final of Champions League, the DFB-Pokal Cup and finishing runners–up behind Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga. During the course of the season, Neuer was hugely influential for his team as Bayern conceded the least number of goals in the domestic league. In the Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid, he saved penalties from Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo to take his side through to the final. So probably there is no other candidate who could stake his claim as the keeper of the team more than Neuer.
Defender: Branislav Ivanovic
The Serbian defender was probably the most consistent performer of the Champions League winning Chelsea backline. He is not a traditional right-back but was preferred in the position ahead of the inconsistent Jose Boswingwa. Ivanovic always provided security at the back with his no-nonsense approach, at the same time he was never shy of going forward and helping out his strikers. Chipping in with a few goals added further dimension to Ivanovic’s repertoire (five goals, which includes the winning goal against Napoli, from a defender in a season is an asset to any team). Chelsea’s topsy turvy season took a complete U-turn under their care-taker manager Roberto Di Matteo and it was his defensive organisation that won plaudits. Ivanovic’s virtuoso performance in the way to the final, especially against Barcelona in two legs of semi-final, deserves special mention.
Defender: Mats Hummels
It can be safely said that Mats Hummels is the most talented upcoming defender in Europe. At such a tender age, the maturity shown by this lad is tremendous. His game-reading, positioning, tackling is top-notch and in spite of being a centre-back, his ability to bring the ball out of the defence to initiate attacks marks him special. His vision and eye for a pass is quite exceptional unlike other rugged German defenders of recent times. For the last two seasons, his partnership with Neven Subotic has been a hallmark of the brilliant Die Borussen side and when Subotic was absent for a period last season due to injury, Hummels single-handedly marshalled the defence to see his side through that difficult phase. Keep an eye out for Hummels as he will continue to develop as one of the finest modern defenders.
Defender: Vincent Kompany
It has been quite a fairy tale season for Vincent Kompany, the captain of the Manchester City side that reclaimed the League after a gap of 44 years. Kompany was a true leader of the side in every sense of the term. He led from the front with his solid displays right through the season. It is hard to remember a single match where he took a wrong step. With the experienced Kolo Toure absent at the start of the season, he took up the responsibility to settle City’s defence. Kompany was so important to Roberto Mancini’s plan that when he was absent in City’s line-up due to injury and suspension, his team’s performance clearly suffered and coincided with a slump in their form. Along with this, Kompany’s ability to chip in with important goals was crucial in City’s success. City fans will fondly remember his header against their archrival Manchester United in probably the championship deciding match.
Defender: Giorgio Chiellini
The Italian defender who is considered by many as a suitable successor to Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta and Paolo Maldini was a standout performer of the unbeaten Juventus side. In what has been a standout season for the bianconeri, the side only let in a staggering 20 goals throughout the season. Chiellini who is strong in the air and never hesitates to go in for tackles stood up for the challenge every time and together with his fellow defenders formed a defence which was nothing short of a rock wall. At the same time it is interesting to note that Chiellini had one of the highest conversion rates in terms of accurate passes which shows how he helped his team to build up attacks from the back, thus providing a solid foundation on which the team’s success was built.
Midfielder: Yaya Toure
What a buy this Ivorian midfielder has proven to be for the newly crowned English champions! For the last two seasons, he has justified every penny that has been spent after him. This season he has gone from strength to strength and has responded every time City has looked to him to get out of a crisis situation. There are opinions that bench strength of City is what that makes them stronger than their closest opponents, but Toure is probably one of the fewplayers who can’t be replaced in this brilliant City side. When he was away on duty for his national side in AFCON, City was visibly short of options to replace this midfield dynamo. What makes Toure special is his ability to adjust his game according to his team’s need and situation. Mancini has preferably used him as a deep-lying midfielder but whenever required pushed him up to create havoc in the opponent box. His consistency throughout the season was a treat to watch.
Midfielder: Xavi Hernandez
It’s sometimes very difficult to assess the level of impact of this midfield maestro’s contribution to the all-conquering Barcelona side. May be a few statistics will make clear the high level of standard that Xavi maintains week-in and week-out. He made an incredible average of more than 100 passes per game with an ability to find his teammate at 92.6% accuracy. In terms of creating goal-scoring opportunities, Xavi plays second highest number of key passes in the team behind the one and onlyLionel Messi. Make no mistake, he is the man who makes this genius Barcelona side tick. His contribution will only be felt properly once he decides to hang up his boots.
Midfielder: Andrea Pirlo (C)
The best masterstroke of Juve coach Antonio Conte was signing of this midfield general. The way Pirlo inspired the Turin giants to their dream season is quite exceptional. In the opening game of the season that saw Juve demolish Parma 4-1, Pirlo created two goals and completed 110 passes! Gigi Buffon later told La Repubblica: “It’s the bargain of the century for us. Seeing him play in front of my back line, it made me realize that God does exist.” Pirlo carried this form throughout the season and lived up to his nickname of l’architetto (the architect) . On the field, his poise, control and vision was remarkable to say the least, he played the second most number of passes after Xavi in the continent and conjured up the maximum number of assists (13) in Serie A. Along with these, his class, composure and leadership skills helped Juve to its record-breaking season.
Forward: Cristiano Ronaldo
Just look at Cristiano Ronaldo’s statistics for the season (60 goals in fifty-five games!); except the genius of Leo Messi, it is difficult to see which other present day footballer can scale those heights. He led Madrid to their 32ndLa Liga title last season thereby ending Barca’s reign for the last three seasons. Ronaldo scored the winning goal in the season’s last El Clasico derby at Nou Camp which literally ended Barca’s hopes of a consecutive fourth La Liga title. It was also a big response from Ronaldo who has been previously criticized for his lack of match-winning performances in the El Clasicos. It will be interesting to see whether Ronaldo manages to win his second Ballon D’Or this year.
Forward: Lionel Messi
The boy wonder has continued to amaze the football world with his exceptional talent this season too. He managed a staggering 73 goals this season, by far the highest ever scored by a player in a single season. In terms of assists, he is second highest behind Mesut Ozil. In terms of trophies, he and his Barcelona team may have ended the season on a disappointing note but on the personal front, he has pushed the level higher and higher – the highlight of his season being the scoring of five goals in a single match against Bayer Leverkusen. The Messi magic has continued to startle us for the last four seasons and words are no longer sufficient to describe his achievements.
Forward: Sergio Aguero
Last season was his first in English football and what a special one it turned out to be for Sergio ‘Kun’ Aguero. He scored quite a few crucial goals that helped Manchester City to their title after 44 years. Every City faithful will probably remember for years the goal Kun scored in the stoppage time against QPR that ultimately clinched their title from the grasp of their fiercest neighbour Manchester United. He became the talisman for City as the season progressed and scored goals when it mattered the most. His partnership with David Silva was quite exciting at times and besides scoring goals, Kun helped his team with some assists too.
So that’s the team selected as representative of Europe’s Best XI for the season 2011-2012. There is no denying the fact that some wonderful players had to be left out of this team in spite of their brilliant individual performances throughout the season. Special mention must be made of Robin Van Persie, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mesut Ozil, David Silva, Joe Hart, Mario Gomez, Franck Ribery and Antonio Valencia who were brilliant last season. However, it doesn’t matter whether these gifted players get into a team or not, they will continue to perform at top level for coming seasons and mesmerize every football fan.
Portugal – Bright Future Ahead
Goalden Times had classified Portugal as one of the dark horses of Euro 2012. Their performance in the tournament vindicates that. Debojyoti Chakraborty reports
Pitted against two star-studded sides in the group stages, not many in Portugal were that much optimistic of a good campaign at the Euro 2012. A few decent players and quite a few completely unknown to the vast majority of football fans worldwide; looking up to ‘The One’ aka Cristiano Ronaldo for inspiration – it was not a script that looked rosy before the tournament started. Moreover, Portugal had not fared well at the 2010 World Cup. More than their results, what disappointed fans the most was their pathetic football which lacked any sort of ambition and imagination under Carlos Queiroz.
The current manager Paulo Bento was not having a happy time either. Defender duo of Ricardo Carvalho and Jose Bosingwa refused to play for the Seleccao under him during the build-up of the tournament. Over-reliance on CR7 for goals was heavily criticised. But Bento had a vision and he stuck to it. He did not hesitate to start with Rui Patricio ahead of established shot stopper Eduardo and Patricio paid back his manager’s faith by having a brilliant tournament.
Things started pretty badly for Portugal. Not many eyebrows were raised to see Germany beating them 1-0 on matchday 1. But Denmark’s victory over the Dutch made life very difficult for the Seleccao in the Group of Death. In the second match, Portugal made life difficult for themselves against the Danes and had to rely on a last gasp winner from Silvestre Varela to clinch a 3-2 thriller. In the final group match against Netherlands, Portugal needed to at least match Denmark’s result against Germany to progress through. Things looked gloomy for them as Rafael van der Vaart put Netherlands ahead in a must-win-and-hope-for-other-results match for the Oranje. This is when Cristiano Ronaldo, who had been heavily criticized and mimicked for his performance so far in the tournament, came on to his own. His scintillating performance, cupped with a brace, put Portugal through to the knockout stages of Euro 2012.
The best footballer in the continent put up another brilliant display to seal a berth for the semis as his goal was the difference between Portugal and Czech Republic in the quarter-final match. They were unfortunate to bow out against Spain in the penalty shoot-out in the semi-final, but nevertheless they have left a lasting impression. Ronaldo may ponder over his whole life what might have been had he not held himself back for the last penalty kick (which was not required!). But he certainly had a very good tournament to be proud of, both as an individual and as the captain of a young and ambitious team.
The results were encouraging and Portugal impressed one and all. Ronaldo took the responsibility and besides his goals and hitting the framework numerous times, charmed football lovers with his play. Joao Moutinho emerged as the star performer for them and looks set to improve as time passes by. Among youngsters, Patricio and defender Fabio Coentrao stood out and they should be nurtured with care for future development.
The core of this team is expected to remain the same for the next few years. Captain charismatic Cristiano Ronaldo does not look like slowing down – why should he, he is only 27 after all – and he will be motivated to win a silverware for his country after winning all-there-is-to-be-won at the club level. Pepe at the back and the midfield trio of Moutinho, Miguel Veloso and Raul Meireles will also be around in full throttle for some more years to come. Few players may come in and go out as part of natural footballing cycle but the team seems to be on the right track.
One man looking certain to remain with the team is Paulo Bento. Amidst all the controversies before the start of the campaign, he has shown that he knows how to handle pressure. He has stuck to his principles – not selecting disinterested players – and decisions – starting with second choice goalkeeper – and has taken full responsibility for the outcome. He has galvanized the team well and has brought back an attacking flair to the team’s play. This is a commendable impact considering he only took over in the qualifying stages when things did not look all that bright.
He, though, has plenty of work to do. His work list ought to start with finding a decent central striker. Ronaldo seems more effective if given a free roaming role. He can start wide but would naturally drift in, drop back and can create havoc in the opponent camp more often than not. For that to happen, Portugal badly needs a world class target man up front but the options are not that great. One only hopes some youngsters would develop in the next couple of years to bolster the Samba party. Portugal team seems comfortable playing a traditional 4-3-3 formation. But as the modern trends unfold, this strategy may lose out to the midfield battle against a strong team playing 4-2-3-1 (as seen against the Germans). But Bento cannot try out this new look, at least for now, as he does not have a Number 10 to dictate the game (a la Rui Costa).
In back-to-back major tournaments, Spain has proved to be the nemesis for Portugal. But the similarity ends here. If World Cup 2010 was a horror show, Euro 2012 has been the complete opposite. Fans back home and across the globe should not be disheartened with the showings from a young team. They started and ended their campaign with defeats – not too bad considering they were playing against the two top ranked teams in the tournament – but they sandwiched some praiseworthy performances in between. It was good till it lasted; Portugal will certainly hope to make it better next time.
Unfinished Business Between Portugal and Spain
Semi-final: Portugal vs. Spain
Wednesday, 27 June 2012
20:45CET (21:45 local time)
Donbass Arena, Donetsk
Both teams last met in a competitive fixture at the 2010 World Cup, Spain knocking the Portuguese out with a 1-0 win. Portugal will be hoping to avenge that loss though the two teams met in a friendly in Lisbon in November 2010, the Portuguese trouncing La Roja by 4-0. Spain have met Portugal 34 times, winning 16 and losing just six. Interestingly, 14 of Spain’s 16 wins took place before 1960. A Selecção and La Furia Roja have met three times in major tournaments, winning one apiece.
Spain have a wonderful record under Vicente Del Bosque having won 31 out of 34 competitive games under the former Spanish footballer. The Spaniards have kept a clean sheet in each of their last eight knockout games in major finals, employing the “attack is the best form of defence” strategy. Spain have conceded just one goal so far at Euro 2012. With the attacking trio of Iniesta, Silva and Xavi in their arsenal, the Spaniards are a formidable team. Their tiki-taka style has seen them notch a total of 2623 passes so far, doubling Portugal’s tally of 1159. Five of Spain’s eight goals have come in the last 30 minutes of play.
In Portugal’s fourth semi-final appearance at the European Championship finals, they will be looking to harness the brilliance of star player Cristiano Ronaldo in their quest for a final berth. They have managed to reach the final once, on home soil in 2004 losing to Greece. The Portuguese have hit the woodwork six times in this year’s tourney and four of the six shots were via Cristiano Ronaldo’s boots. Since condemning Spain to their heaviest defeat in 47 years in their 4-0 victory, not much has changed in both teams since. Portugal had nine players that started in their win over Czech in that game. Spain on the other hand are expected to start with eight of the players that faced Portugal in that 4-0 defeat.
The Spanish will take fortress in frustrating the Portuguese with their passing style, breaking the defence open in the process. Portugal will most likely defend in large numbers, waiting for the perfect opportunity to hit on the break. Ronaldo will be vital to any chances of Portugal progressing and chances are that if he doesn’t show up, it’s goodbye Portugal. Ronaldo though will be largely motivated for this in the battle for supremacy with Argentina’s Lionel Messi, the FIFA Ballon d’Or at stake.
La Roja have started Fabregas as a ‘false 9’ twice in a 4-3-3 setup and it remains to be seen whether Del Bosque will go with that approach again. He’s likely to begin with a 4-2-3-1 formation with Torres as the lone striker with little or no changes to the starting lineup.
For the first time in the tournament, Paulo Bento will be forced to change his starting line-up due to Postiga’s injury. Postiga suffered a thigh injury in their 1-0 win over the Czech Republic. Besiktas’ Hugo Almeida is set to deputise in his place. Putting that aside, the starting lineup is expected to remain intact in a 4-3-3 formation.
Portugal’s efficiency in their flank play with Nani and Ronaldo will be influential. Expect Nani and Ronaldo to run riot down the flanks, trying to take advantage of a possible Spain high defensive line. Spain will most likely dominate possession, working their way to unravelling the Portuguese defence. While Spain will be looking to become the first team to win three consecutive major international tournaments, Portugal are aspiring to reach their first major final since their heartrending loss to Greece at the Euro 2004 finals. It promises to be an interesting encounter.
“We have ambition and courage. We know what we have to do. We have to put pressure on our opponents and our aim is not to defend all the time. We won’t do that against the world and European champions. I think they know we can cause them problems.” – Portugal manager, Paulo Bento
“We have to take notice of Ronaldo. He’s an excellent player and it’s logical that there’s so much talk about him.” – Spain manager, Del Bosque’s on Portugal’s star player.
The Best XI
The Best XI section is an attempt to connect similar football events across different locations and share them with you. Best XI will seek to be about topics you are interested about and want explored. Send in your topics for the month of September to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will incorporate that.
In this edition we bring to you snippets of goals scored by the highest goalscorers in some of the top leagues of Europe.
Barclays Premier League
Dimitar Berbatov (Manchester United) – 20
Berbatov shows great technique to control the ball before his back volley goes in of the woodwork to wrap up a wonderful Manchester move. Goalkeeper had no chance. This was his 5th goal of the season, one which ended in Berbatov turning out to be the top scorer.
Carlos Tévez (Manchester City) – 20
Tevez shoots a quick one and boy doesn’t he let it fly. It’s a goal resulting from great vision and perfect execution. The goalkeeper had chosen the right direction to dive but the three man wall smacked of complacency from Stoke who didn’t think Tevez would try that. And that is what he did.
Spanish Primera Liga
Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) – 40
Ronaldo’s wonderful season produced many great goals. The one we had chosen was against Bilbao. Ronaldo’s excellent first touch and pace had him one on one with the last defender. This was followed by sublime skill and cool finish past the keeper.
Mario Gómez (Bayern Munich) – 28
Super Mario is one of the old fashioned opportunists. Most of his 28 goals would be a close tap in or a header from the edge of the 6 yard box. This one was no exception. The Bundesliga top scorer capped this wonderful move with a great strike after dodging his marker off his shoulder inside out.
Antonio Di Natale (Udinese) – 28
Toto’ Di Natale’s long ranger was one of the super strikes which saw Di Natale ending up top of the Serie A chart second season running, scoring a mammoth 56 goals in rwo seasons.
Moussa Sow (Lille) – 25
Moussa Sow showed wonderful athleticism in front of goal and ended up scoring with a well timed back volley. The keeper had his work cut out.
Liga Zon Sagres Portugal
Hulk (Porto) – 23
Hulk is known for great ability with the ball and his skills. But he is no mug when it comes to long range shooting. We chose this one for his remarkable technique and vision – creating a goal out of nothing
Russian Premiere League
Welliton (Spartak Moscow) – 19
Welliton is a hardworking Brazilian and scoring goals is a natural ability. Welliton caps this well tuned move with a header on his way to end up the season with 19 goals.
Vyshcha Liha Ukraine
Yevhen Seleznyov (Shakhtar Donetsk) – 17
Seleznyov, they say is capable of doing wonders. The talented young player proved them when he scored this brilliant goal with a wonderful overhead kick.
Björn Vleminckx (N.E.C) – 23
Vleminckx is described as a very physical and determined striker, who although not highly technical, makes up for it with good heading ability and great shooting. For this one, he held the ball well, kept his balance and pulled off a great finish with a powerful shot – in off the woodwork.
Turkey Süper Lig
Alexsandro ‘Alex’ de Souza (Fenerbahce) – 28
Alex showed his Brazilian touch when he scored this perfect free kick – top corner, top draw.
Greece Super League
Djibril Cisse (Panathinaikos) – 20
Cisse has done wonders at Panathinaikos. His pace, power and accuracy combined for this amazing strike.