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Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil and Euro 2012 distractions

Whilst Euro 2012 is on the Ninety Minutes Online team have outsourced their considerable resources to cover the tournament for other leading media outlets. As such posts for the next while may well be sparse.

However just quickly, after watching the Germany vs Portugal game last night a few things came to the fore. Firstly, Mesut Ozil steadied a rocky Germany ship that was in no way sure to beat Paulo Bento’s men. The Real Madrid playmaker showed poise and confidence on the ball and it is easy to see why he is so highly regarded at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Another Real Madrid man, Fabio Coentrao, had an enterprising game for Portugal at left-back, showing solidity in defence but a real attacking threat when he ventured forward.

However, Los Blancos’ main man Cristiano Ronaldo was decidedly muted and did not look like the player that scored against every Primera Division team in 2011-12. Playing predominantly in a wide position CR7 struggled to make any impact on the game; Nani looked more dangerous on the other flank. Ronaldo’s claim to be amongst the best players to have ever played the game hinges on whether he can replicate club form on the international set-up, and last night’s showing did little to inspire confidence that he can be talked about in the same light as Pele, Maradona, Cruyff etc.

Whilst Ronaldo toiled, Messi starred. The current Ballon d’Or holder scored a meticulous hat-trick in Argentina’s 4-3 win over Brazil to show why he is the world’s best; check out this wonderful winner.

Enjoy the remainder of Euro 2012

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Bayern’s attack proved its worth in the first leg; their defence is key in the return against Real Madrid

Bayern Munich are 90 minutes away from a home Champions League final, with a massive Bavarian fanbase praying that this year will end an eleven-year wait to be crowned European champions once more. Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu is as daunting a fixture as any in world football, and the German visitors will be up against it from the first whistle. The side’s attack has given them and advantage; it is now down to the at-times criticised backline to secure progression.

Jupp Heynckes’ men showed their worth in the first leg of the crunch tie, with a no-fear and attacking outlook resulting in a slight but deserved victory. Goals from Franck Ribery and Mario Gomez, who secured victory in the dying moments, mean that the Bundesliga giants take the smallest of advantages to the Spanish capital.

Die Roten’s ability on the offence has never been in doubt; with the likes of Gomez, Ribery, Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller at their disposal, Bayern’s prowess on the front foot is rightly respected by all in the game in Europe. However, despite the team’s defensive efforts improving from last term, there are still question marks over the back four and the organisation of the Bavarian rearguard.

Traditionally Bayern’s approach was based around a solid backline, with the Allianz Arena outfit recording countless 1-0 victories on the back of a hard-fought early goal and a dogged defensive effort. However, the class of 2012 do not give the club’s followers the same confidence as teams of the past. Jerome Boateng has been brought in to solidify the centre of the German defence and although the side has leaked less goals than previous campaigns, the reformed full back and Holger Badstuber have come in for criticism, specifically aimed at their concentration and positioning. They will be severely tested on Wednesday, but given an opportunity to prove the doubters wrong on the biggest stage.

In Cristiano Ronaldo the hosts have arguably the form player in world football, and with the likes of Karim Benzema, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria in support, Los Blancos have set records and all but won the Primera Division title back this term. A 2-1 win at Camp Nou on Saturday, no mean feat, will mean that the Santiago Bernabeu crowd will be baying for German blood in midweek.

To successfully negotiate this tricky task, Heynckes must get his tactics right and the starting XI must show discipline and play to their strengths. As the game progresses, if Bayern can stave off Madrid’s attacks, the crowd could get edgy and the home players slightly desperate. The likelihood is that the Bundesliga outfit may well need an away goal (or two) to get through, and to achieve this the likes of Ribery and Robben must take advantage of the positional mediocrity of Madrid full backs Fabio Coentrao and Marcelo or Alvaro Arbeloa.

Finally, rumours that Robben and Ribery had a falling out and came to blows at half time of the first leg must be firmly banished; a monumental team effort is needed for the German club’s dream of participating in a Champions League final at the Allianz Arena to come to fruition.

Real Madrid vs Bayern Munich: Six tactical factors that could decide the Champions League tie

Perennial European heavyweights Real Madrid and Bayern Munich have been coupled together in the semifinals of the Champions League, in what should be a captivating and close tie.

The first leg will be played at the Allianz Arena on 17 April, with the deciding fixture in Spain a week later on 25 April. With world-class players on both sides, here are six tactical situations that could well decide which team progresses to the final.

Can Real Madrid Be exposed in wide areas?

One of the areas that Bayern will look to get joy from, especially in the first leg at home, will be out wide. In former Santiago Bernabeu wideman Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, Jupp Heynckes’ side have two of the most potent wingers in the game, who play a major part in orchestrating the Bavarian outfit’s attack.

With attacking-minded full-backs such as Marcelo and Fabio Coentrao in Los Blancos’ side, and Philipp Lahm looking to get forward for the German team, Bayern may well find joy down the flanks. Although Madrid will most likely play two holding central midfielders in front of their defence in the away leg, out wide the likes of Angel Di Maria will be reluctant to track back—Bayern can use this to their advantage.

The predatory instinct of Mario Gomez

In Mario Gomez, Bayern have one of Europe’s form strikers, whose predatory instinct, finishing and movement off the ball is pivotal for club and country. The Bundesliga’s current top scorer showed his calibre in front of goal in the last round, hitting the back of the net four times against a hapless Basel side in the quarterfinals.

Jose Mourinho’s team selection at centre half will be interesting given that Gomez will need to be paid close attention. With Sergio Ramos currently on the sidelines through injury, the Portuguese trainer will pray that the Spain international returns in time to go head-to-head with Bayern’s main forward. If not, the less-assured Raul Albiol, hotheaded Pepe and ageing Ricardo Carvalho may well have their hands full.

Sami Khedira vs Thomas Muller

Real Madrid have recently looked to the Bundesliga for new signings, with Nuri Sahin, Mesut Ozil, Hamit Altintop and Sami Khedira all moving from Germany to the Spanish capital. Khedira may well have an important role to play in limiting the impact of Bayern playmaker, and international colleague, Thomas Muller.

At times petulant and inconsistent, Muller has the ability to be anonymous or a match-winner; at his best the attacking midfielder’s supply to hitman Gomez is a key feature of Die Roten’s play going forward. Muller will look to play in the hole between Madrid’s defence and midfield, and as such Khedira looks like the most likely option to shackle the talented playmaker.

The goalscoring threat of Cristiano Ronaldo

Despite it being widely acknowledged that Lionel Messi is the world’s best player, Cristiano Ronaldo has inspired Madrid to the top of La Liga and is having a record-breaking season. The Portugal international has matured from a tricky winger at Manchester United to a powerful and at times almost unplayable attacker in his time in Spain.

Ronaldo’s threat is two-fold. Given a free reign to wreak havoc by the Spanish giants, CR7’s mobility, constant movement and lethal eye for goal make him a devastating attacker, and a major goal threat.

To be shackled or even partially stopped, Bayern will have to instruct the likes of Anatoliy Tymoschuk and Luiz Gustavo to be very disciplined in their positioning, and combative in their tackling. However, over-exerting resources to stop the world’s second-best player may well leave room for the likes of Di Maria, Ozil and Kaka to dominate possession.

The creativity of Mesut Ozil

An unsung hero in a star-studded Madrid attack, Mesut Ozil will be an all-too-familiar face for the German side. Where the likes of Ronaldo pose a direct threat through pace and power, Ozil’s main strength is passing and precision.

The playmaker is the fulcrum of Madrid’s possession play, and arguably has the most ability to supply the likes of Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain, and create goalscoring opportunities.

With the Germany international’s guile, ability to slip a marker and superb eye for a pass, Bayern’s aforementioned defensive midfielders will need to get through a lot of work if the Allianz Arena outfit are to stand a chance.

Bastian Schweinsteiger vs Xabi Alonso

Two of the most accomplished midfielders in the European game, the battle between Xabi Alonso and Bastian Schweinsteiger will be key in the outcome of the two-legged tie. Although not always in direct competition due to Alonso’s deep-lying position, the pair are the heartbeat of their respective midfields and teams.

Alonso has the passing ability and regimented positional sense to allow those more gifted teammates in attack to prosper, whilst Schweinsteiger’s energy and influence on Bayern’s other players makes him a vastly important man for the Germans. With the pair potentially locking heads for their countries at Euro 2012 in June, these influential midfielders will be key men in deciding this tie over 180 minutes.

Published – Bleacher Report

Can Cristiano Ronaldo lead Portugal out of the Euro 2012 Group of Death?

It has been quite the season so far for Cristiano Ronaldo, who is setting records at Real Madrid and has fired the Santiago Bernabeu side to the top of La Liga. The attacker has been caught in a personal battle with Barcelona’s Lionel Messi over the last four to five years in the debate of who the best player in the world is. The Argentine superstar has a slight edge over CR7 and has won the Ballon d’Or three years running, however with neither player replicating stellar club form on the international stage, Ronaldo has a chance to claw back some ground on his nemesis by leading Portugal to glory this summer.

The Portuguese forward’s performances for Los Blancos have been nothing short of phenomenal this season, with the 27-year-old setting history as he goes. Ronaldo has reached 100 La Liga goals for the Spanish capital-city side in 92 matches, which is less games than anyone else in the club’s illustrious history. If he scores against Mallorca and Barcelona in two of Madrid’s remaining fixtures he will have hit the net against every other team in the division in the space of one season. He has also powered into the outfit’s top 10 all-time goalscorers, and is the driving force behind Madrid’s quest for success this season.

With the level of his personal performances alone, Portugal may well be a dark horse for Euro 2012 this summer. That said, the Iberian nation have failed to deliver on the international stage since the days of Eusebio, and the generation of world-beaters in the 1990’s and 2000’s comprising the likes of Rui Costa, Luis Figo and Joao Pinto have long-retired.

Despite have a gifted squad at his disposal, Portugal coach Paulo Bento will do very well to satisfy the country’s supporters in Ukraine and Poland. With Ronaldo at the heart of their attack, the nation will have to overcome a devastatingly difficult group comprising Germany, Netherlands and Denmark to even get to the knockout rounds. The likes of Fabio Coentrao, Nani, Joao Moutinho, etc will help Ronaldo in his mission to drive the nation to success, but, on paper, Portugal will struggle to get out of Group B.

However, this may well be the perfect opportunity for Ronaldo to take the next step in his career, to achieve greatness and be rightfully spoken of in the same regard as Pele, Diego Maradona and his arch-enemy Lionel Messi. Both of the retired South American stars led their nations to World Cup glories, something that the current Camp Nou star has not achieved; by surpassing expectations this summer and leading Portugal to Euro 2012 glory, Ronaldo could achieve the international recognition that Messi has not yet received.

Published – MIUsoccer

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