South American World Cup Qualifying

South American qualifiers has now passed the half way stage and there were some fascinating games in the last round of fixtures.

The first game I watched was Uruguay and Paraguay and it was very good with both teams evenly matched for a lot of the game and both teams knew they needed a victory. Uruguay’s team is really impressive and they should qualify for the World Cup and could be outsiders for the trophy, with an attacking trio of Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani they will cause problems for any defence. With the game at 0-0 all three of these were on the pitch and they were creating chances with Cavani missing a volley that he should have done a lot better with but even though he was in a lot of space he didn’t even hit the target.

Uruguay took the lead from a great volley from Luis Suarez and they thought that would have been enough to finish the game as it was in the 81st minute but Paraguay who were not creating clear cut chances but looked threatening equalised just four minutes later. They also have decent forward players in Oscar Cardozo and Nelson Valdez but neither of them had many chances and Cardozo eventually had to go off injured which could be good news for Newcastle as he is Benfica’s main man and it looked like a hamstring injury which could keep him out for a little while. Edgar Benitez scored the equaliser and he really impressed me when he came on because he had a lot of pace and his movement was causing Uruguay problems.
A draw was probably a fair result but it left Paraguay bottom of the qualifying group and Uruguay in fourth place so they will need to improve results to qualify for the tournament in Brazil.

Argentina also played Venezuela and they stretched their lead at the top of the group to four points, however they have played one more game than second placed Colombia. Yet again, Argentina have a very impressive front three with Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Ezequiel Lavezzi so they probably were expected to beat Venezuela easily. The game didn’t quite turn out that way but a 3-0 win was deserved. Higuain opened the scoring after some wonderful one touch football involving Messi. The second goal came from the penalty spot with Messi smashing it home, then Higuain added a third in the second half.

The interesting thing from this game from me was how deep Messi played, behind him at Barcelona he has Xavi and Andres Iniesta so he knows the creativity is there and doesn’t have to drop deep to get the ball. But for his national side there isn’t as much creativity in Javier Mascherano and Fernando Gago, who are both good holding midfielders but they may not see the passes as quickly. Messi was popping up all over the pitch and it did slightly take something away from his game but he still proved he is the best player in the world.

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Have Chelsea moved on since Jose Mourinho left?

Chelsea have secured their place in the Champions League semi final after a hard fought victory against Benfica.

This victory sets up a game against the best team in the world and their players know that they will have to perform better than they did over these two legs. The away performance was very good for a European game, nicking an away goal and keeping a clean sheet, you cannot ask for anymore than that but the worrying thing was the home game. Chelsea took the lead after Ashley Cole was brought down in the box to win a penalty which Frank Lampard scored and this should have really allowed the English team to push on and win the game comfortably but somehow they let Benfica back into the game and maybe this was down to complacency as they may have felt, like most did, that the y were in the semi final. Even when Benfica were reduced to ten men they still didn’t really dominate the game like they should have done and allowed the Portuguese team back in the game as they conceded an equaliser on the night and possibly a crucial away goal.

The most worrying thing for Chelsea is that they were outplayed and outclassed for much of the game and no offence to Benfica but if they can do that then Barcelona will destroy them. Yes people will say the older more experienced players got them through but I also believe that they are part of the problem, most of these players played under Jose Mourinho where one goal was usually enough and they never tried to force the game after they took a lead. I think that the likes of Lampard and Terry are still in this mould of thinking and that’s why they sat deep and tried to soak up the pressure, but the team isn’t good enough to do that anymore and these players need to wake up as it has cost them multiple times this season especially at home. Stamford Bridge isn’t the fortress it used to be and teams have proven that if you attack Chelsea they will fold a lot easier than they did in the past.

Mourinho still in the heads of the Chelsea players

Looking forward to the semi final and I believe that everyone will expect Barcelona to win and this could play into Chelsea’s hands as they will be underdogs and AC Milan proved that if you remain solid and break quickly on the counter, you can cause the Barca defence problems. It took two penalties from Lionel Messi to effectively the end the contest at the Nou Camp and if Chelsea remain resilient and disciplined they do actually have a chance of beating them.

Didier Drogba has to be a starter for me as he could dominate the backline and will hold up the ball effectively which alleviate the pressure that will be on the defence for most of the game. However, Fernando Torres may start and this could be the opportunity he needs to live up to his price tag and make him a Chelsea hero.

Chelsea will face Benfica in the quarter final of the Champions League

After overcoming Napoli, Chelsea will face Benfica in the next round of the Champions League as they look to progress to the semi final.

Roberto Di Matteo will not be too disappointed with this draw as they know Benfica are a good side therefore they will not underestimate them and make sure his team prepare for the game properly but on the other hand he will also know that it could have been worse for his side. They came back fantastically against Napoli after a 3-1 defeat in the first leg but they managed to win 4-1 in extra time at Stamford Bridge and by doing this they have let everyone in Europe know that they are not finished yet and they still have enough quality left to win the whole competition.

Would they have progressed if Andre Villas Boas was still in charge? In my opinion no because the players looked happier and looked like they wanted to play for the man in charge. John Terry scored and had an all round fantastic game before going off injured, he wanted to get his head on every ball possible which he may not have done a few weeks ago. Frank Lampard scored a crucial penalty and he was also more influential in this game than I have seen him for quite a while and when he is on form you know he can get a goal or provide an assist. Didier Drogba opened the scoring and looked like a man possessed and someone that wanted to get Chelsea through all by himself and his performance reminded me of when Jose Mourinho was in charge and he destroyed opposition defences.

Lampard, Terry and Drogba celebrate a goal

These players may be a few years older now but they have proven when they want to, they can still put in match winning performances and on the night they all had to. The players showed a lot of togetherness and as soon as the first goal went in there was no doubt in my mind who would go through.

If Chelsea do progress, and they will be favourites to do so, they will face either Milan or Barcelona. Which will not be easy as Barcelona are clearly the best team in Europe right now and Milan showed everyone against Arsenal that if they are on form they can give a team a good beating, so it will not be easy for Chelsea but if they can get through the Benfica tie, they will grow more in confidence and they could spring a shock in the semi final.

The other quarter finals drew together APOEL from Cyprus and the European giants Real Madrid and in the other semi final they will face either Marseille or Bayern Munich. In my opinion even though APOEL  have done amazingly well Real Madrid will be the happiest of all the teams in the draw while Marseille and Bayern could be really close as they both possess real quality in their side.

It could be a fantastic quarter final this year with a lot of goals rather than the usual tactical battle so I for one cannot wait for the games to get underway.