How will the English teams perform in the Champions League group stages?

The Champions League group stage has been drawn and even though English teams are usually very good at qualifying through their group it may not be as easy this team.

No doubt, Manchester City have the hardest group with Spanish giants Real Madrid, Ajax and Borussia Dortmund. Madrid may pose the biggest threat with Jose Mourinho as their manager and he will be desperate to win the trophy again. Cristiano Ronaldo is obviously one of their biggest threats but they have quality all through their side and if City want to prove they are one of the best teams in Europe they will have to top the group and show up the former Chelsea manager. But, City may not even get in the top two because Ajax have a lot of quality themselves with players like Christian Eriksen in their side and you cannot discount Dortmund as they should never have been in the bottom pot anyway and have won the German league twice in a row.

Now, neighbours Manchester United have a much easier task as they should top the group if they play to their potential and I can’t see Braga, Galatasaray or Cluj topping this group. The current Galatasaray squad contains a few former Premier League players in Milan Baros, Emmanuel Eboue and Johan Elmander so they will want to show their quality and show everyone they are good enough against English opposition. Braga are an interesting side but unfortunately for them they can never seem to take that extra step and compete right at the very top and are seen as the customary third place team in Portugal. Cluj will probably be the whipping boys of the group however it is worth noting that they have beaten Roma and drawn with Chelsea in the past so they may be dark horses.

Arsenal will face Schalke, Olympiakos and Montpellier in their group matches and they will also be hoping that they don’t have too many problems. Arsenal new boy Olivier Giroud will travel to the club he signed from a lot sooner than he probably expected and the French champions will want to show Giroud that he was wrong for leaving and should have stayed but I can’t see them posing too much of a threat. What separates Schalke from the rest in this group is they have a goal scorer that is feared all over Europe and can score all different types of goals and that man is Klaas Jan Huntelaar, he will try and show Arsene Wenger that maybe he should have tried to sign him instead of Lukas Podolski and Giroud. Olympiakos will always cause problems at home for any team so they will be relying on that and goalkeeper Roy Carroll may have a lot of work to do in the group stages.

Finally, reigning champions Chelsea will be hoping to start their campaign comfortably and they will surely progress but may not get things their own way with Shaktar Donetsk, Juventus and Nordsjaelland in their group. The standout team is Juventus but they are not the team they once were even though they were very impressive in Serie A last season. But, if Chelsea can stop Andrea Pirlo pulling the strings in midfield they will have a great chance of winning the group. Shaktar are also a decent side and have won the Ukrainian title for the last two seasons so they may put more of an effort into trying to topple some of the bigger teams in Europe this year and it is always difficult to play away in Eastern Europe so that could be difficult for Chelsea. Nordsjaelland are the current Danish champions but not a lot is known about them so everyone is expecting them to lose all of their games but this could work in their advantage and they could pull off a few shocks

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My Team of Euro2012

Euro 2012 has been one of the better international tournaments in recent years

Goalkeeper- Gianluigi Buffon- The Italian has been in fantastic form and has produced a number of wonderful saves throughout the tournament. But the main reason I have chosen him as my number 1 is the fact that he has marshalled the defence in front of him superbly even though there have been a number of changes at the back for them.

Right Back- Joao Pereira- For me he did a very good job and was consistent in every game, although he didn’t stand out because of other players in the team, he did not let them down and was very good defensively with little support from Nani on the right hand side. He clearly has a very good footballing brain as he knew that when Coentrao went forward he had to stay back. He has possibly been the most underrated player in the tournament.

Left Back- Jordi Alba- The new Barcelona man wasn’t even a left back until recently but now he looks like he was born to play in that position. He was rarely beaten by a winger and stopped a lot of crosses coming in. But his main strength is going forward and his movement was sublime at times and he gave Spain a bit more width which they lack at times.  You have to be a special player if you add something to the World and European Champions.

Centre Back- Sergio Ramos- Another player that has changed position recently and has done very well there. The Real Madrid defender has carried on his club form for Spain and hasn’t given their opponents a sniff and that is why they have only conceded one goal this tournament. He still adds a threat going forward and he has shown when the pressure is on he remains calm with a wonderful penalty against Portugal.

Centre Back- Mats Hummels- He may not have been very well known outside of Germany but the 23 year old will have caught the eye of a lot of clubs during the tournament. He has everything a centre back should, he is quite quick, good positioning and his marking was on a whole superb.

Centre Midfield- Steven Gerrard- The England captain for me was their best player and seemed to be lifted by getting the armband for the tournament and he didn’t let anyone down. His free kicks were always dangerous and his defending was top class, he blocked a lot of shots and covered a lot of ground. If only England had got him into more attacking positions they may have gone further in the competition.

Centre Midfield- Andrea Pirlo- My player of the tournament by a long way. This has been competition, by himself basically he has dominated teams like England and Germany and even in the opening group game against Spain he looked like the best player on the pitch. His passing accuracy must be one of the best in the tournament but it’s not just his accuracy, it seems like very pass he makes has been well thought out and will create something.

Centre Midfield- Xabi Alonso- You have to have a Spain midfielder in your team and Alonso has been the best in the competition in my opinion. He is the most important to the team as he plays a very unique role, basically he sits alongside Busquets who gives him the ball at every opportunity and looks for a playmaker. Without him in the side I think a lot of their attacks would break down a lot earlier and is irreplaceable in the side.

Right Winger- Alan Dzagoev- Remember him from the group stages? Russia in their opening game and it was largely down to this man as he scored twice and ripped the Czech Republic defence to shreds. Then in the second game he scored against Poland with a header which just showed another attribute that he has. The most disappointing thing about Russia going out was that I couldn’t get to see more of him but he did enough to be in my team of the tournament.

Left Winger- Cristiano Ronaldo- Ronaldo started off the tournament pretty slowly and missed guilt edge chances against Denmark but after the Holland game, I’m sure a lot of people were asking whether this would be Ronaldo’s tournament and when he scored against Czech Republic it seemed even more likely however it wasn’t to be and his decision not to take a penalty against Spain cost the team.

Striker- Mario Balotelli- If he didn’t produce against Germany in the semi final he wouldn’t have got near this team however he did and could now win the Euros and the golden boot. He had been performing quite well, and causing problems for defenders but he wasn’t putting away his chances which meant he was criticised. However, the England defence couldn’t get to grips with him and the Germans had no answer to him.

Player of the day- Sergio Ramos and why I’m glad I watch the Premier League

Spain are through to the final of the European Championships but in all honesty it was a very poor game.

Portugal looked threatening in the first half but then Spain took control and created the better chances in the second half and extra time. Andres Iniesta should have done better when the ball was pulled back to him in the box but the Portuguese keeper pulled off a good save. So the game went to penalties and what did we learn from it, well Spain can hold their nerve and Portuguese footballers clearly aren’t the cleverest first with Bruno Alves being fourth on the list trying to take his third. So who was more stupid Alves for stepping up too early or Nani for letting him walk all the way to the edge of the box before realising he was supposed to be first? In my opinion Crisitiano Ronaldo’s ego cost them the game as he is surely their penalty taker, why didn’t he step up and take it first? Instead it seemed like he would want the glory. However, I may be wrong and he may not have took one but that is very unlikely.

So all in all what did I learn from this game? That even though England aren’t great, the Premier League is the best in the world. There is very little chance of a game being like this and only one shot on target in the first 90 minutes from both teams is a disgrace, even when bottom of the league play top they do still usually get a chance or at least a shot on target. I am already counting down the days till the football season starts again in England as I think there would be more passion, heart, determination and drive in a League 2 game than there was in this game. Some people may argue that it was because their quality cancelled each other out but I don’t believe that as the better players should be able to create at least something in 90 minutes instead we got them overreacting to challenges, surrounding the referee and trying to get their opponents booked.

Man of the match- Sergio Ramos- It was so difficult to choose a man of the match as I was hardly watching the game as I was so bored at times, but the Real Madrid man was very good at the back and showed his strength as well as his composure on the ball. He stopped Ronald from producing his best and was always across to cover his fullback when needed. The penalty that he put away was also very confident and similar to Andrea Pirlo’s against England. Spain will have to up their game in the final but it wouldn’t surprise me if they performed exactly the same and won the tournament as teams seem to now be scared of them and not believe in themselves and try to attack.

Ramos won the European Championships in Euro 2008 playing at right back

Player of the day- Fabio Coentrao

The first quarter final saw Portugal beat Czech Republic 1-0 and dominate from start to finish and the result never looked in doubt.

Czech Republic didn’t offer much in the game and never really threatened scoring apart from when their winger Vaclav Pilar raced down the left wing, beating a few players however his cross was awful and this summed up their performance. They were hardworking but not at any point did it look like they actually wanted to win the game. Their best player was Petr Cech and that just tells you everything about their performance, he produced some fantastic saves, particularly one which he tipped over the bar from long range as it was moving in the air. Portugal created numerous chances and also had a goal disallowed when substitute Hugo Almeida headed past Cech but he was rightly judged offside. The Portuguese needed a goal so up stepped their main man in Cristiano Ronaldo who made a good run from the left wing to head home a cross. It was a really good performance from the Real Madrid man and he always looked the most likely to break the deadlock or create something. There isn’t much more to say about this game, Portugal won the game comfortably and it would have been a better game had Russia got through instead.

Man of the match- Fabio Coentrao- For me the left back was the best player on the pitch, even though Ronaldo will get all the headlines, I think Coentrao does a lot of the work down that side of the pitch. When Ronaldo goes inside which he will inevitably do to try and get involved, the Real Madrid left back pushes on and stays out wide to give his team another option. I think he could be the most important player in the Portugal squad because if he wasn’t on the pitch, Ronaldo would be restricted to the wing a lot more. He defended well against Czech Republic and was a threat going forward, there was hardly ever an attack when he wasn’t involved. Plus he kept the dangerous Petr Jiracek quiet for the whole game.

Coentrao played 33 times for Real Madrid last season

Player of the day- Cristiano Ronaldo

Germany are looking like the team to beat as they came through the group of death with nine points and in each game looked very good.

Portugal will be joining them in the knockout stages and their game was the one I decided to watch as I personally felt that Germany would win their game and ultimately eliminate Denmark which did happen. Denmark actually surprised me a lot this tournament and maybe deserved to go through as they were very consistent and if only they had performed better in the first half against Portugal they would have finished second.

So onto the game I watched, Holland started the brighter and looked like they would cause Portugal some problems and they took the lead through a wonderful finish from Rafael Van Der Vaart and at that point I thought they would go onto win the game by at least the two goals needed to qualify but a lack of passion and drive has been evident all tournament and some of the players looked like they would have rather been on their holidays. Poor defending allowed Cristiano Ronaldo to break through the offside trap and finish off a one on one. The second half the Dutch were even worse and their attacking players were not performing and didn’t create much and yet again Ronaldo was able to grab a goal from a counter attack.

Man of the match- Cristiano Ronaldo- The man has the burden of being the best player on his shoulders and it isn’t like being at club level where Real Madrid can look towards Mesut Ozil or Karim Benzema to step up. He seems to have to do it all, as his support in Helder Postiga and Nani is nowhere near the quality of his teammates. His two goals were at crucial times and he held his nerve and confidently put them both in the corner. His all round game in the tournament has been fantastic in my opinion and he should have had more goals but he has frightened defences and could lead his country to the final.

Ronaldo cost Real Madrid £80 million in 2009

Portugal will take on Czech Republic and Germany will take on Greece and I fully expect these two from group B to go through however football is a funny game and anything could happen so maybe one of these will fall.

Players of the day- Cristiano Ronaldo and Bastian Schweinsteiger

The first round of Group B games only produced two goals but the second games had much more action and goalmouth action.

Denmark kicked off their second game against Portugal feeling very good about themselves after beating Holland while the Portuguese needed to win to have a realistic chance of staying in the competition. The moment that changed the game in my opinion was the injury to Niki Zimling who had been playing very well and was outstanding in the first game against Holland, when he went off the team seemed to lose a little bit of their shape and the Portuguese capitalised on it. Pepe scored with a bullet header from a corner and then Helder Postiga scored from a Nani cross and it seemed as though Denmark were sinking without a trace. But Nicklas Bendtner pulled a goal back just before halftime after one of the best build-ups I have seen all tournament. The second half turned into a very tactical affair and Cristiano Ronaldo missed two one on ones, then Bendtner scored from a powerful header and the scores were level. However, Silvestre Varela had the last laugh and scored with his second attempt to break Danish hearts.

Man of the match- Cristiano Ronaldo- He may be remembered from this game for missing two one on ones but he shouldn’t be as his movement was sensational and every time he had the ball he created panic in the Denmark defence. He even put in a shift defensively and constantly tracked back against Lars Jacobsen, if he had took his chances it would have been a 10 out of 10 performance and everyone would have been saying he is the best player in the world.

Ronaldo scored 60 goals for Real Madrid last season

The second game was one of the most anticipated in the group stages with Holland taking on Germany. The Dutch really need to avoid defeat after the result from the earlier game and decided to start Robin Van Persie once more instead of Klaas Jan Huntelaar. They missed a few early half chances and Mario Gomez made them pay with a fantastic turn and finish from a Bastian Schweinsteiger pass. Gomez followed that up with his second of the game and his third in the tournament but goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg should have done better and not been beaten from that angle. In the second half the Germans were just strolling to victory until Robin Van Persie scored with a powerful finish and should have set up a tense last 15 minutes however the Germans didn’t allow it to happen and comfortably saw the game out.

Man of the match- Bastian Schweinsteiger- Mario Gomez may have got both the goals but the Bayern Munich midfielder set up both the goals with precise passes and ran the central area of the pitch from start to finish. When the game got scrappy he was in their battling and when it needed composure, he put his foot on the ball and dictated the play, sometimes picking up the pace and then other times, particularly towards the end, slowed it down.

Schweinsteiger has been at Bayern Munich his whole career

Players of the day- Simon Kjaer and Mario Gomez

Group B took centre stage in the European Championships with Holland taking on Denmark and Germany playing Portugal.

The first game of the day provided the first real shock in the tournament with Denmark playing superbly and beating Holland after a terrific goal from Michael Krohn-Dehli. The Dutch side had a lot of attempts but were unable to score with Robin Van Persie in particular being very wasteful. The Arsenal man had a few chances but his finishing wasn’t up to the standards we now expect and his control was also off at times. A big question for the manager is, does he start Klaas-Jan Huntelaar in the next game which has now became a must win? Arjen Robben hit the post and Denmark rode their luck and on another day they could have conceded two penalties however the luck was on their side and maybe they deserved it.

Man of the match- Simon Kjaer- This was a really difficult one to choose because anyone of their players could have won it. Simon Poulson at left back was fantastic going forward and for the most part he kept Robben quiet. Daniel Agger, showed everyone how good he is and the Liverpool player was always there with a crucial tackle or block. Niki Zimling and William Kvist combined well and stopped the Dutch team playing through the middle of the pitch forcing them out wide. Michael Krohn-Dehli obviously scored the goal but it was his all round performance that was particularly impressive, he was confident on the ball and every opportunity tried to take on his fullback and succeeded regularly. But I went for Kjaer, because he marshalled Robin Van Persie and then Huntelaar very well and when he had the ball he never gave it away and was quick to start counter attacks for his side. Dominant in the air and showed enough pace to deal with any threat as well as having almost perfect positioning for most of the game.

Simon Kjaer is only 23 and will have a good career ahead of him

The next game was one of the most anticipated games of the tournament but it didn’t live up to its billing with Portugal deciding to play for a draw and rarely threatened going forward. Despite that, they almost took the lead just before halftime when Pepe hit the underside of the bar. Germany couldn’t find much space and their better players were unable to get into the game much. Lukas Podolski on the left wing hardly had a touch, Thomas Muller sent in a few crosses but most of them were poor and didn’t reach one of his own players. Mesut Ozil was always trying things but he couldn’t find a killer pass. In the end the goal from Mario Gomez who managed to power home a header from a deflected cross.

Man of the match- Mario Gomez- Like in the first game it was difficult to choose but for a completely different reason. There were no stand out players and nobody really looked on form. Cristiano Ronaldo could have been in with a shout because every time he had the ball at least he tried to make something happen. But I gave it to Gomez as he did what nobody else could do and that was put the ball in the back of the net. He hardly had a touch, but he did his job better than anyone else and to me he has won the game for Germany, he was probably the only player on the pitch that could have scored that header so the match winner gets the vote for me.

Mario Gomez scored 41 goals for Bayern Munich this season

Who will Jose Bosingwa sign for?

Jose Bosingwa has been told he can leave Chelsea after four seasons with the club and may be looking to stay in the Premier League.

Jose Bosingwa has won the Champions League twice in his career

Since moving to Chelsea in 2008 he has had an indifferent time sometimes being a very good full back as he looked good going forward and was also solid defensively, but at other times he has looked very poor when defending and was often dropped. Nevertheless he picked up three FA Cups, a Premier League winners medal and to top it off a Champions League winners medal so he can count his time in England as very successful. In his first season at the club he looked quite impressive and barely missed a game, playing 48 times, he also added two goals and six assists. But, after that he struggled with injuries and form and couldn’t really put a string of performances together. In the season just finished he played 34 times which was the most since his first season in England and he may have done enough to stay at the club, unfortunately for him, it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

So what does the future hold for Jose Bosingwa? Will he go back to Portugal and finish his playing career over there or will he remain in England? In my opinion there are a few teams that would be interested in him and could use his services. I don’t think he is good enough for a top four team but the 29 year old could make a massive difference to one of those that are challenging for Europe. Firstly, I think Newcastle United could be interested in him, although he doesn’t quite fit into the way they are conducting themselves in the transfer market, I think he would be worth a look at. With Danny Simpson not yet signing a new contract the club will be in need of an experienced right back, plus he has played a lot of games in Europe which would also benefit the team. However, they do have Ryan Taylor and James Perch who can play in there but I think that Newcastle will be looking elsewhere this summer so a move for Bosingwa is possible but unlikely.

Everton could be looking for a new right back this summer with Phil Neville getting older and may struggle to play every week. They do have Tony Hibbert as back up but for some reason he never seems to be able to keep his place in the side. A problem with signing Bosingwa could be his lack of consistency and his wages but if they can get him to lower his wage demands he should be interested in joining a club like Everton because every year they do fantastically well and have some of the best supporters in the country. Plus, David Moyes has a good record of getting the best out of players that didn’t quite cut it at teams like Chelsea and Manchester United.

Finally, I believe Fulham could maybe look at Bosingwa because they may look to improve that position this summer. With Aaron Hughes playing some of this season at right back it just shows that Martin Jol maybe doesn’t fancy Chris Baird or Stephen Kelly in that position. Jol likes his teams to attack and Bosingwa would certainly add a lot going forward so he could be a very good option. Fulham are a good attacking side under Jol and I think they would be a good team for Bosingwa to join.

With the Portuguese international being a free transfer it would be silly for teams not to look at him, I have enjoyed him in the Premier League when he has been on form but too often he has had off days. However, maybe it was the pressure of playing for a team like Chelsea that stopped him from playing his best football and every mistake he made was criticised heavily by the media and pundits alike.

The worst way to win… Penalties

Penalties is the most heartbreaking way to lose a game of football especially if you went down to ten men during the game like Crystal Palace did away to Cardiff. After Patrick McCarthy got sent off for two bookings, the Palace team defended brilliantly and did everything they could to keep Cardiff from scoring.

Cardiff missed opportunities and over the two legs they probably deserved to win the tie but Crystal Palace must feel hard done as they put in a very committed display and a draw would have been fair but the rules state that the tie had to be decided that night and when it came to it their players failed to keep their cool missing three of their penalties. With Jonathan Parr missing the target completely and both Jermaine Easter and Sean Scannell seeing their spot kicks saved by Tom Heaton they must be travelling back to London deflated and absolutely devastated to have missed their best opportunity of getting to a cup final in a long time.

Tom Heaton will be seen as the hero and will grab all the headlines in the morning papers whereas Kenny Miller who actually missed for Cardiff will hardly be mentioned unlike the Palace players that missed will be portrayed as villains.

Although this isn’t directly the same it is yet another time when England have failed to win a game because of penalties. England have been knocked out by Portugal and Germany which was heartbraking both in 1990 and 1996.

So what goes into taking a penalty? The most important thing a player needs is confidence and players that put their names forward deserve great credit as they are basically putting themselves forward to be shot down as they have put all the pressure on themselves to succeed as their opposite number, the goalkeeper, can only be a hero because nobody expects him to save the penalty.

The longest walk a player must take in his career is when he knows it is his turn next and has to walk from the centre circle to the penalty spot and look at the fans behind the girl which will either be his own who will be trying to encourage him or towards the opposition fans who will be doing all they can to put off the player. That walk must be so nervous and basically takes away the majority of a players footballing ability because it is one kick and one opportunity and although people say practice makes perfect, it doesn’t matter how often you practice taking penalties, you may choke on the big stage or the keeper could pull off a great save.

Another thing that would make anyone feel nervous is when a player places the ball and is all set to take it and then the referee tells them to replace the ball, it must ruin all momentum and cause panic as the player will be focused then all of a sudden they are taken out of the zone because the referee has spoke to them as the best penalty takers block out all the noise around them and just hit the ball.

Another thing that is important to remember though and the best advice to give to someone taking a penalty is that the goalposts do not move, they are in the same place every time and you are only 12 yards away. If you are a striker and you have a chance from 12 yards unmarked you are expected to score and most good strikers do put them away and therefore every penalty should go in.

However as I have said pressure can get to everyone and if a chance falls to you in a game it is a split second moment whereas you have so much time to think about it when taking a penalty especially in a shootout.

So is a penalty shootout the best way to end a game? In my opinion, yes because games have to come to a conclusion in some way and even though it is slightly unfair, every single player is under the same pressure and therefore it just comes down to whoever can hold their nerve the most.