Real Madrid vs Manchester United: The game where anything can happen

According to Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho, this is ‘the match the world is waiting for’.  When you consider the talent on display, the numerous subplots and their history, it is hard to disagree. In short, when Manchester United face Real Madrid, anything can happen.

Just look at the sides’ eight previous meetings in Europe’s premier competition; 31 goals have been scored between them, 11 of which came in the epic quarter-final of 2003. Many are predicting a similar total this time round, but the tie could just as easily be a tense affair where goals are at a premium.

Much depends on how United cope with their former player Cristiano Ronaldo.  If they manage to shackle him, they will nullify Madrid’s most potent threat. But if they don’t, they may be torn apart by the Spanish side’s incisive counter-attack. Sir Alex Ferguson will hope his instructions are carried out to perfection, whilst being blessed with a little luck on the side.

Sir Alex Ferguson and José Mourinho

Phil Jones has found fitness and form at precisely the right time and he, along with Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley, will bring the regimented energy the Red Devils need to keep the likes of Angel Di Maria, Mesut Ozil and Ronaldo at bay.

In defence, Rafael will hope his man-of-the-match performance against Everton can be replicated in a competition where his rashness has proved most costly. While the rarely-spotted partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic will have to be at their very best.

At the other end, the likely attacking trio of Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa will have chances they must take. It is games like this that Kagawa was bought for, and that van Persie has the ability to win with one movement.

Aside from Ronaldo, Madrid’s strike-force is out of form of late, but both Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema possess such natural ability that they can punish the smallest misjudgement. Meanwhile, even Kaka was hailed by Spanish newspaper Marca as being back to his best after a rare start in Saturday’s 4-1 win against Sevilla.

First legs of knockout competitions are too-often cagey affairs.  And don’t bet against the pressure on Madrid to perform – from a home crowd desperate for success in a season that is fast becoming a write-off – to have a bearing on the game. Already 16 points behind Barcelona in La Liga, and with a fight to stay in the Copa del Rey, the Champions League may be Mourinho’s only chance of a trophy this season; a trophy that would go down in history as the fabled Décima – their tenth European title.

Too often, pre-game hype is unjustified; but not this time. It may be the second leg that ultimately proves to be the one the world is waiting for, because it is then that a winner will be decided.  But this week’s match will be both clubs’ biggest challenge so far this season – for United to raise their game in a year when they have hardly needed to, and for Madrid to prevent theirs from ending three months too soon.

Brazil’s strength in depth – the players that didn’t make the Copa America cut

The 2011 Copa America in Argentina kicks off in early July, with the hosts the favourites amongst most bookmakers. Despite this, eight time tournament winners and current holders Brazil, as always, have a star studded squad capable of beating anyone on their day. Coach Mano Menezes has named a mightily impressive squad, that includes the mercurial attacking talents of Neymar, Robinho and Alexandre Pato, and the Selecao fans must be confident of their sides chances in the competition. The nation’s true football calibre can be showcased not by the 28 players the former Corinthians boss has selected however, but by the names missing. The following is a potential Brazil international side that will be watching their countrymen compete from the comfort of their armchairs.

GK : Heurelho Gomes, Tottenham Hotspur (11 caps) – Brazil’s number one is Inter’s Julio Cesar, who has made the starting spot his own, and rightfully so as he is the best goalkeeper at Menezes’ deposal. Tottenham’s Heurelho Gomes missed out after one blunder too many may have blotted the copybook beyond salvation. The former PSV stopper’s club future is unclear also, with mistakes in high profile matches, such as against Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter finals still fresh in the memory. Undoubtedly has the potential to pull off a match winning save at a second’s notice, but Brazil won’t miss Gomes in Argentina.

LB : Marcelo, Real Madrid (6 caps)– The national coach chose to omit the 23-year-old from his 28 largely due to indiscipline, with the former Fluminense full-back reportedly feigning injury to avoid an international friendly against Scotland and stay in Spain to focus on pressing affairs at the Santiago Bernabeu. Despite his small number of caps, Marcelo has progressed this season with excellent performances for Jose Mourinho’s side both domestically and in Europe and is a player of quality despite his off the field problems.

CB : Alex, Chelsea (17 caps) – The former Santos defender has been replaced both at club and international level by the emerging talents of David Luiz, and has not made the final cut. A solid centre half with a venomous left foot, he will be missed more for the thunderbolt free-kicks than his defensive prowess, with Brazil most likely electing Thiago Silva and Lucio in the starting XI in his absence

CB : Juan, Roma (79 caps) – The 32 year old is maybe past his best but brings a wealth of experience to his current club employers Roma. He formed an effective club and country partnership with Lucio whilst the pair were at Bayer Leverkusen, but a potential move back to the Brasiliero will be the Rio born veteran’s only reason to return to South America this summer.

RB : Fabio and/or Rafael, Manchester United (0 caps) – English football fans will have recognised the progression of the 20 year old brothers this season, who competed with each other for a starting spot in Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. Both have flair going forward but need to work on their positioning at the back, and were understandably overlooked in favour of Dani Alves and Maicon. New Bayern Munich signing Rafinha is another right back who will not feature in the tournament.

MF: Anderson, Manchester United (8 caps) – Another Manchester United first-teamer not to make the cut, Anderson has become an increasingly important player at Old Trafford. The former Porto player has an energy and work-rate that would be beneficial to Menezes, but has been overlooked in favour of Premier League compatriots Lucas Leiva and Sandro. A lack of goalscoring has blighted the 23-year-old.

MF : Douglas Costa, Shakhtar Donetsk (0 caps) – The 20-year-old was a key figure in the Shakhtar Donetsk side that made it to the Champions League quarter finals, with two riveting displays to eliminate Roma stuck in the memory. The ex-Gremio man is being linked with a move to a bigger club, and unfortunately for him, despite his talents and a good season, the tournament has come too early for the future international.

MF : Hernanes, Lazio (3 caps) – Has had a very impressive first season in Europe with Lazio, becoming their go-to man in the centre of the park. The 26-year-old former Sao Paulo midfielder has a good range of passing, is excellent in possession, and proved his eye for goal by hitting the back of the net 11 times in 2010/11 for the Biancocelesti. A very good player, unlucky to miss out.

AM : Kaka, Real Madrid (82 caps) – The former Ballon d’Or and World Player of the Year winner has struggled to emulate his scintillating Milan form in Spain, and has had an injury-prone and frustrating two years at the Bernabeu. Recovering from injury in time was one thing; the 29-year-old simply didn’t get enough game-time in 2010/11, finding himself in Cristiano Ronaldo’s shadow. There is no doubt the talismanic playmaker will don the yellow of his country again in the future, but he needs to get back to his best to oust the likes of Sao Paulo wonderkid Lucas and Santos’ Ganso.

FW : Hulk, Porto (3 caps) – The fact that Hulk is not in the 28 is a testament to the strength of Menezes’ squad, given the excellent season the 24-year-old has just had. Strong on the ball, wonderfully talented and a ruthless finisher, the former Tokyo Verdy frontman was one of the standout performers in Porto’s vast domestic and European success in 2010/11, scoring 31 goals in the process.

FW : Ronaldinho, Flamengo (88 caps) – Another Ballon d’Or past winner to miss out, at 31 the now Flamengo attacker still has gas left in the tank. An unmatchable talent on his day, the former Barcelona hero never settled at AC Milan but still has a lot to offer. 32 international goals to his name and a mesmeric career behind him, Ronny’s bucktooth smile will be missed in Argentina

Other unlucky players to have missed the cut are Internacional’s Leandro Damaio, who is a £15 million target for Arsenal and Spurs, and Villarreal’s Nilmar who continues to impress at El Madrigal.

An unwanted team capable of potentially winning the tournament shows the Selecao’s strength in depth and continual production of top class, world beating players. Mano Menezes’ side start their campaign on July 3rd against Venezuela, and will no doubt prove to be real contenders to retain their crown come the final on July 25th.

Published – http://afootballreport.com/post/6716295666/brazils-strength-in-depth-the-players-that-didnt

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