Sunday, June 14, 2015

Spain picks on Pique

BARÇA STAR GETS THE BIRD, SPAIN DEBUTS IN THE WOMEN'S WORLD CUP

The Spanish Week in Review

With the domestic saga of La Primera finally done and dusted, attention switched to the international game as the Spanish selecciones were in action in Euro 2016 qualifying and the Women's World Cup.

It also meant the press had less cud to chew on so they homed in on a silly quip Gerard Pique had made at Barcelona's post Champions League party and regurgitated the old Real v Barca rivalry all week.

Pique's probably inebriated joke about Cristiano Ronaldo's birthday party being the start of Barça's season was hardly offensive, and par for the course among celebrating Barcelona fans.

The largely Real-supporting media's faux outrage not only betrayed their childishly partisan approach to football reporting but also revealed a stark hypocrisy:

If it had not been for them making such a fuss over the party incident - when the Colombian DJ broke the house rules and tweeted perfectly innocent party photos, that night would not have become an issue so big it may have unsettled Carlo Ancelotti's team psychologically.

They cannot on one had attack their favourite team for being unprofessional and at the same time get angry when Barcelona thank them for handing them an advantage.

SPAIN 2:1 COSTA RICA, Leon 13,000

The witchhunt of Pique continued into Thursday, when he was booed arriving in Leon for Spain's friendly with Costa Rica, and whistled relentlessly throughout the game every time he touched the ball.

There were voices chanting his name in support, but Castilla y Leon is largely madridista, as the jeers and whistles drowned out the opposition and the Football Federation's regional representative Marcelino Mate failed to condemn the jeers, calling them "understandable."

Again, not a little hypocrisy was in evidence as many of those disrepecting La Roja via Pique had probably moaned about the Barcelona and Bilbao regionalists who drowned out the Spanish national anthem at the Copa del Rey final.

It certainly tarnished Leon's big night, as the province is a bit of a football wasteland - its best team Ponferradina finished seventh in the second division, while Leonesa are stuck in the third, and the city had not hosted a Spain match for twelve years.

The media's inflation of the domestic division of loyalties between blaugrana and merengue was not welcome on the international stage.

At least Pique stood up for himself, playing with calm assurance and refreshingly refusing to apologise to all those Real fans whose feelings had been so hurt.

"Not at all," he said when asked if he regretted the joke. "I would say it again. There was a celebration and it was a simple joke. What has happened is that the repercussions they wanted to give it which I can't control anymore."

Spain won the match 2-1 against Costa Rica, who despite scoring first were disappointing after their remarkable run in the World Cup last summer.

La Roja looked a little rudderless too as their experimental lineup was sliced open after only five minutes when Joel Campbell set up Johan Venegas to slot home.

Vicente del Bosque had picked only two of the familiar faces of the Spanish Edad de Oro (golden age) - Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Ramos to start. 

Actually, the masked Fabregas was anything but a familiar face, but his 83 minutes means the manager must see the 28 year-old as a key player for the next few years now Xabi Alonso and Xavi has gone and the 31 year-old Andres Iniesta is no longer an automatic choice at club level.

David de Gea was selected ahead of Iker Casillas, while another Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas was between the sticks at the other end. This was De Gea's chance to affirm he is the future but the only shot on target in the first half beat him.

The Spanish defence had Real's Daniel Carvajal and Bayern Munich's Juan Bernat as full-backs with Ramos and Barcelona's Marc Bartra in the middle. 

While Ramos played a captain's game at the back, Athletic Bilbao's Mikel San Jose wandered around to little effect in front of the defence.

The forward line was inexperienced indeed: Valencia's Paco Alcacer up front with Celta Vigo's Nolito on the left and Sevilla debutant Aleix Vidal on the right.

Alcacer repaid the manager's faith by equalizing in the eighth minute and Fabregas made it 2-1 on the half hour but Spain failed to shine in the first 45, battling Costa Rica constantly but not dominating.

It was only in the second half when Del Bosque made six changes that Spain started to motor however, particularly when the dribblers David Silva and Santi Cazorla replaced Nolito and Koke.

Silva was the real star of the show, cutting through the Costa Ricans with ease and bringing his teammates fast into the last third to create some real 'verticality' in Spain's game.

There were no more goals but the second half saw a rejuvenated Spain create plenty of chances, kept at bay by an alert Navas, who vied with Silva for the man of the match.

The general verdict was that Spain played positively after the break and showed much energy of old, a refreshing improvement from the misery of Brazil. The old magic has not disappeared completely yet. Fabregas scored one and set up another, while Pique and Ramos ruled the roost at the back.

That said, the second string or next generation are yet to really show they can take on their mantle, although Cazorla and Silva seem cut from the same cloth as the golden generation. Alcacer too, is slowly making waves. He took his goal neatly from a one-on-one with Navas and has netted four in six now for la seleccion.

Sevilla's Aleix Vidal twisted his ankle and will miss the Sunday night clash with Belarus.

Spain : De Gea, Ramos (Pique 58), San Jose (Busquets 75), Bartra, Carvajal, Fabregas (Isco 83), Vidal (Vitolo 46) Koke (Cazorla 60), Bernat, Nolito (Silva 59), Alcacer. 
Unused Subs: Morata, Alba, JuanFran, Pedro, Casillas, Rico
Coach: Vicente Del Bosque

IN OTHER NEWS...

* Las Palmas took a step closer to La Primera by edging past Real Valladolid in their Liga Adelante playoff semi-final. The Canary Islands side drew 0-0 at home after tying 1-1 away, advancing on away goals to the final.Valladolid had a night to forget in the second leg, missing a penalty and having two men sent off.

In the other semi, Girona looked odds-on after winning 3-0 at Real Zaragoza in the first leg. 

But Zaragoza made a miraculous comeback by winning 4-1 at Girona to go through to the final on away goals.

Girona must be feeling cursed. They missed out on automatic promotion after Lugo scored an injury time equaliser in their final league match, then must have felt they had made the final comfortably with a 3-0 away win against the team which had finished sixth.

With an apparent mountain to climb, Zaragoza however were 3-0 up at half-time in the second leg and went ahead in the 68th minute, leaving Girona needing two goals. They got one but no more and finished shellshocked, eliminated after such an emphatic first leg victory.

2,000 Zaragoza fans greeted their returning heroes at the railway station.

Crestfallen coach Pablo Machin of Girona told the press,

"This is incredibly hard to take. I don't know what we have done to football for such a magnificent season have such a macabre ending."

The overall winners of the two-legged final will join Real Betis and Sporting Gijon in the top flight next season.

* La Liga President Javier Tebas does not mince his words. Asked about the FIFA scandal, he replied, "What the Americans did was like the Normandy landings." Speaking of the importance of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to the league's TV rights, he added, "With those two we have a bomb."

* Dutch veteran Rafael Van der Vaart, has penned a three-year deal with newly promoted Real Betis. The midfielder, who has 109 caps for the Netherlands and a Spanish mother from Cadiz, returns to La Liga five years after leaving Real Madrid, where he played 58 times over two seasons.

* €500 million is the debt Real Madrid have, according to AS newspaper. Just fancy that.

* 119 was the decibel level of the jeering of the Spanish national anthem at the Copa del Rey final. AS published a photo of two middle-aged well-dressed men using tin whistles in the Camp Nou.

* Cristiano Ronaldo bagged a hat-trick for Portugal against Armenia on Saturday playing as a centre-forward, the position he is set to play in next season for Rafael Benitez's new Real Madrid.

* Sevilla have sold Cameroonian midfielder Stephane M'Bia to Trabzonspor of Turkey for an undisclosed fee.

* Valencia have signed Brazilian U-23 midfielder Rodrigo Caio from Sao Paolo for €13 million.


WOMEN'S WORLD CUP...

Spain have made their debut in the Women's World Cup but have yet to make their mark. La seleccion feminil qualified ahead of Italy with nine wins out of ten but drew their first match 1-1 with Costa Rica before losing 1-0 to Brazil. 

Vicky Losada scored their first and so far only World Cup finals goal. Their do or die match is on Wednesday against South Korea in Ottawa. If Spain win and Costa Rica lose to Brazil, they will reach the Round of 16.

Group E after two matches:

1. Brazil 6 pts GD +3
2. Costa Rica 2pts GD level
3. Spain 1pt GD -1
4. South Korea 1pt GD -2


TRANSFER RUMOURS...

Talk of Gareth Bale leaving Real Madrid has rumbled on all summer. While it might have seemed unthinkable the club could part with its most expensive player after only two seasons, world-class footballers have left the Bernabeu before (e.g. Mesut Ozil and Arjen Robben) quite suddenly and gone to achieve great things elsewhere.

However, transfer talk surrounding Bale has cooled after Rafael Benitez was pictured all smiles with the Welshman in Cardiff on Friday. A friendly meeting apparently followed in which the new Real coach explained his plans for the season and how Bale will adapt to a new role on the left behind Cristiano Ronaldo. A departure seems most unlikely now. Bale's match-winning goal for Wales later that day can only have deepened the manager's faith in him.

Real Madrid's hunt for Sergio Aguero has made Manchester City offer him a renewed deal to put his salary on a par with Yaya Toure (€22 million p.a.). Argentine media speculated that Florentino Perez has offered €90 million for Kun's signature.

David de Gea to Real has been a story for some time. Rafael Benitez would apparently want him by the 12th of July, the start of the club's pre-season. United are still hunting his replacement however, with Atletico Madrid's Slovenian goalie Jan Oblak the latest suspect.

Benitez wants Jese to stay at the Bernabeu rather than be loaned out. The 22 year-old has had limited opportunities so far but like Isco offers varied attacking options. He has also told club owners he needs a central midfielder and right-sided midfielder.

Take your pick from the possible central acquisitions named in the press this week:Marco Verratti from PSG, Marco Reus from Borussia Dortmund, Geoffrey Kondogbia from Monaco, Raheem Sterling from Liverpool, Arturo Vidal from Juventus and Radja Nianggolan from Roma.

Bayern Munich are interested in Real's No.2 goalkeeper Keylor Navas as are Valencia, who have offered to sign him on loan.

Juventus would like to buy Isco to add to their Spanish foreign legion.

Carlos Tevez is still on Atletico's radar with a €15 million price tag mentioned.

Inter are interested in Colchonero centre-back Joao Miranda, linked a while ago with Chelsea.

Real's Norwegian spruce Martin Odegaard could be loaned out to Celtic.

Megabucks PSG have offered £87 million for Cristiano Ronaldo and are still after Pedro, despite his contract renewal at Barcelona.

Manchester United will offer £20 million to Real for Sergio Ramos, as contract renegotiations stall.

United are also sniffing around central defender Nicolas Otamendi, whom Valencia value at £35 million. Old Trafford is still being linked with a Madrid striker, either Karim Benzema from Real or Mario Mandzukic from Atletico.

Zenit St Petersburg have held out a €27 million carrot for Atletico's Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic.

Bayern Munich could take Spanish international Marc Bartra from Barcelona for only €12 million.

Sevilla are close to signing Chelsea winger Gael Kakuta, who spent last season on loan at Rayo Vallecano. The club are also very keen on Dnipro winger Yevhen Konoplyanka.

Real Sociedad are trying to recruit Costa Rican marksman Joel Campbell, on loan at Villareal from Arsenal.

Southampton will pay €7 million for Malaga forward Juanmi, but face a last-minute challenge from Newcastle. The Saints have had a €12 million offer for Gzegorz Krychowiak rejected by Sevilla, with Arsenal apparently willing to bid higher for the Polish defensive midfielder.

The Andalucian club are looking to offload Samuel and Samu Castillejo but want to buy Celta's Brazilian marksman Charles.

Villareal have offered €2.5 million to Valencia to make defender Victor Ruiz's loan permanent.

Valencia have enquired about Man Utd's Victor Valdes but were told he was not available.

Rayo Vallecano are trying to sign Spanish U-19 striker Jose Angel Pozo from Manchester City.

Barcelona B central midfielder Alen Halilovic could link up with fellow Croatian Slaven Bilic, newly appointed by West Ham.

THIS WEEK'S BIG GAMES
all kick-off times GMT

Sun 14th June 
EURO 2016 qualifying
Belarus v Spain  19:45

Weds 17th June
Liga Adelante playoff Final 1st leg
Las Palmas v Real Zaragoza 19:00

Thurs 18th June
Women's World Cup
Spain v South Korea   Midnight

Sun 21st June
Liga Adelante playoff Final 2nd leg
Real Zaragoza v Las Palmas 18:00

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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