Celtic Players triumph in China. Part Two – Mowbray a better judge than Lennon?

Zeng Zhi - Mowbray rated him, Lennon didn't

Maybe it is something in the Glasgow air, but after Du Wei’s total failure to adapt to Scottish football, the second Chinese internationalist signed by Celtic did not fare much better and only stayed a year. Zeng Zhi was another signing which at the time was hailed as a very good piece of work by Celtic. An established internationalist in China he had been signed for £2 million pounds in August 2007 by Charlton Athletic after a successful loan spell. He started very well and was soon being rated as a very talented player, gaining recognition by professionals and fans alike. Tony Mowbray tried to sign him for West Brom in a multi-million pound swoop in August 2008 but the deal collapsed at the last moment. However Mowbray, by then Celtic manager, finally got his man in September 2009, on a free transfer, his contract at Charlton having expired. “He will significantly add to the squad with his quality” Mowbray promised. Mowbray backed this faith by allowing Zeng Zhi to make his debut in the October Old Firm game. Zeng Zhi went on to play for Celtic another 15 times, scoring once, a spectacular effort against Hearts. He got a mixed response from Celtic fans but the general consensus was that while he had class, he lacked application. It became obvious that Mowbray’s replacement Neil Lennon did not share the same high opinion of him, indeed did not rate him at all, and there was no surprise when he was released in June 2010.

Like Du Wei before him he returned to China to lick his wounds and restore his reputation. To general surprise he signed for a Second Division club, Guangzhou Evergrande, despite many offers from top flight clubs in several countries. Guangzhou had been forcibly relegated at the end of the 2009 season for their involvement in the 2006 match fixing scandal that nearly destroyed completely the creditability of Chinese football.

Dario Conca 10 million euros worth of proof that Guangzhou are serious

However the club under the control of wealthy new owners Evergrande, determined to rebuild and return quickly. They invested money in experienced international players and were already well on course for promotion when they made Zeng Zhi a financial offer that compensated for the lack of first division football. With Zeng Zhi making a very positive contribution, Guangzhou easily won the Chinese Second Division in 2010 to regain their place in the elite. Zeng Zhi was made captain as Guangzhou reinforced heavily for their return to the top flight. Two top class Brazilian forwards were signed Muriqui and Cleo, bought from Partizan Belgrade for 5million euros, to add to Chinese internationalists Gao Lin and Sun Xiang. But the most sensational transfer of all was the 10 million euros they paid for Dario Conca a massively talented Argentinian playmaker who in 2010 was the outstanding player as Fluminense won the Brazilian League. For the first time, a world class player at the peak of his form was attracted to play in the Chinese League. Under Zeng Zhi’s captaincy the team played well and quickly established themselves as by far the best team in China.

One of 50,000 Guangzhou supporters celebrating the title

Crowds grew to record levels of 50,000 and Guangzhou rewarded them by clinching the Chinese League last weekend with 4 games to go. It was the first time a promoted team had won the Chinese League. In some ways, Guangzhou are the Manchester City of China and will push other Chinese clubs down the same road in order to compete with them.

Zeng Zhi’s major contribution to this title success was recognised when he was restored to the Chinese national team where he was reunited with Celtic’s other Chinese player, Du Wei. Zeng Zhi and Du Wei had encountered each other before in the Chinese national team, with Du Wei taking over the captaincy from Zeng Zhi. New Chinese national team manager Jose Antonio Camacho made it clear both ex-Celts were going to be key members of his World Cup squad but he decided that of the two he preferred Zeng Zhi as his captain leading from midfield, while leaving Du Wei in charge of defensive organisation.

On 11th October the Chinese bid for World Cup qualification hit an early rock, when the team were shocked at home in Shenzen by a 1-0 defeat by Iraq. This shock defeat left China in third place at the halfway stage of the Group, with 3 points from 3 games, 3 points behind Iraq and 6 behind unbeaten surprise leaders Jordan. China may well need to win all three of their remaining games to guarantee finishing in the top two qualification spots. Otherwise the world’s biggest country, with its increasingly football mad population, could face elimination from the 2014 World Cup more than two years before it is due to start. It will take all Camacho’s considerable powers of motivation and organisation to ensure China advance from their first stage Group. But Camacho remains clear that Du Wei and Zeng Zhi are international class players who will be key components in his efforts to achieve this qualification.


Celtic players triumph in China. Part One – Du Wei No longer “Worse than Scheidt”

Du Wei No longer worse than Scheidt

Foreign centre halfs do not have a high affection rating among Celtic supporters. Daniel Majstorovic has few if any admirers and Glen Loovens little more. Bobo Balde’s time ended in tears. And Rafael Scheidt has a secure place in Celtic legend as the club’s worst signing ever.  But there is one ex-Celtic centre back whose recent international form might make some Celtic supporters wonder what might have been if the club tried a little harder to help him adapt.

Very few Celtic supporters ever saw Du Wei in first team action and those that did will not have happy memories of his one appearance. If he has any place in Celtic anecdotes, it will be as the one foreign centre back “Worse than Scheidt”, not the happiest accolade.

Yet there is good reason to believe that Du Wei is a much better defender than that title would indicate, and that maybe if Celtic had tried harder and been more supportive they might have ended up with centre half better than many of those who have failed to convince since he left five years ago.

Du Wei never survived his disastrous first team debut against Clyde

Du Wei had built a good reputation in China in the early part of the 21st Century, starring for China in the 2002 World Cup and appeared to be a class defender of top international status. Several European clubs were interested in signing him but in what was at the time seen as a coup for Celtic, he opted to come to Glasgow, in July 2005, on an initial short-term loan basis with the assumption that a big money transfer would soon follow. For a variety of reasons he never settled in this strange new environment. His one official game for the Celtic first team was the disastrous 2-1 defeat in the Scottish Cup to Clyde in January 2006. He had  a fairly disastrous first half, where his slip cost the first goal and then he later gave away a penalty. At half-time Manager Strachan pulled him off, and he never played for Celtic again, soon returning emotionally bruised and demoralised back to China. (continue reading…)


St Pauli back in business

One of Celtic Supporters' favourite clubs

The special nature of St Pauli football club and their particular attraction for Celtic supporters was fully explored in the GGW post of  4th April 2010 “St Pauli Celtic guests of honour and principle”. If you didn’t read it at the time read it now, to make most sense of this article. That season 2010-11 ended with St Pauli celebrating their centenary and promotion to the Bundesliga with a match against Celtic (see GGW post 4th May 2010). The season 2010-11 saw a fascinating struggle within St Pauli between purists and pragmatists as the club struggled to adapt to the demands of top class football while remaining true to its basic principles of equality and respect. Could a socialist club survive in a highly competitive capitalist context like the modern day Bundesliga without compromising some of its principles? Long time charismatic President Corny Littman was one of the casualties of this spiritual conflict as the pragmatists gained a temporary ascendancy but the compromise eventually arrived at proved inadequate to the task of ensuring consolidation in the third richest league in Europe. The club rightly refused to mortgage its future by paying transfer fees it could not afford and wages it could not sustain, so basically the season was approached with the basis of the side that had earned them promotion, supplemented by a couple of stars, Asamoah and Zambrano  bought cheaply from Schalke04 where they had never completely impressed despite their international status

Proud to be "hooligans", ashamed to actually do it

Yet for the first half of the season it looked as if this team would be able to scrape their way to safety and survival.  At the midwinter halfway break St Pauli  were 15th, 5 points off the automatic relegation places. The club resisted the temptation to attempt to buy safety in the Winter Transfer Window. On February 16th St Pauli made all their faithful supporters, in Germany and around the world, blissfully happy by going to the Volkspark Stadium in Hamburg and beating the despised HamburgSV, 1-0,  in front of their own ultra right wing supporters. That win left St Pauli in midtable and seemingly safe. But alas it seemed that beating their deadly rivals exhausted their competitive spirit because incredibly that was to prove St  Pauli’s last win of the season. They lost 11 of their remaining 12 games to end up bottom of the league. Their relegation was confirmed on the second last day with a 8-1 home defeat to the plutocrats Bayern Munich. That Bayern game had almost been played behind closed doors after one St Pauli fan let down the spirit and tradition of the club by hitting  a linesman with  a full plastic cup of beer towards the end of a game against Schalke. The German FA ordered that St Pauli’s last two home games should be played behind closed doors. While all at St Pauli fully accepted they deserved punishment for an offence contrary to all their traditions, they appealed against the sentence and were allowed to play what turned out to be their last two Bundesliga games before their own subdued support. Many of those present at the Bayern humiliation probably wished the club had accepted the original sentence.

The St Pauli manager Stanislawski, who had served the club well for many years as a  player as well as  a manager announced he was leaving, exhausted. The regard in which he was held despite his team being relegated was confirmed when he was quickly appointed coach of super rich minnows Hoffenheim, the ultimate contrast to St Pauli with their status bought solely with the multimillion pound investment of sole owner Dieter Hopp.

The new St Pauli squad

Andre Schubert, a man in the Stanislawski mould, was appointed new coach and President Stefan Orth and his Board promised the fans that St Pauli would remain true to their traditions rather than attempt to buy their way back to the Bundesliga. The club sold only one player, talented midfielder Lehmann, for half a million euros and brought in 7 new players for a total outlay of only 350,000 euros, three coming on loan, two on a free transfer and two forwards Schindler and Saglik being bought for small fees.  Work is still planned to modernise, upgrade and extend the Milentor Stadium whose limited capacity was one factor in their non-survival.  By 2014 it should hold 30,000, allowing 6,000 a game more than the regular 24,000 who attended every Bundesliga game.

Max Kruse midfield star in scoring form

Season 2011-2012 has gone well so far as Schubert has blended his squad into an effective team. Saturday saw them achieve an impressive 4-1 victory away to Energie Cottbus with midfield star Max Kruse hitting his 6th goal of the season. So after 10 games St Pauli are in joint second place, one point behind leaders Furth and sharing second place with Eintracht Frankfurt and Fortuna Dusseldorf two of the traditional German big clubs. Proof that St Pauli are still St Pauli and different from other clubs has been provided by the fact that their attendances have remained at almost constant full capacity, the fans are still behind their unique club, in their own unique way. Two of St Pauli’s next three home games are against Fortiuna Dusseldorf and Furth, and victory in them should see St Pauli head for Christmas in the top two promotion places. GGW will provide regular reports on how St Pauli  succeed in this difficult post-relegation time.


A Hood for Samaras, please

Harry Hood needed now

Last week provided strong evidence of two interconnected realities. Harry Hood is still a class act; and Celtic could do with him now in preference to the Languid Greek.

Last Saturday Harry Hood was the star turn at the Launch by Ringwood Publishing of its two books “Yellow Submarine – the Miracle of Villarreal” and “Celtic Submari – A new Model of Football relationships based on Respect and Affection not Hatred and Bitterness”. Last Sunday the poor display by a toothless flat Celtic team showed the crying need for a front player with the combination of skill and finishing calmness and precision that was the Harry Hood trademark.

The affection still felt by Celtic supporters for Harry Hood was demonstrated in full measure at the Ringwood Launch, held, thanks to the generous co-operation of Eddie Toner, in the Celtic Supporters Association Club in London Road. The predominantly Celtic audience were delighted as Harry Hood drifted through them with the casual ease with which he used to penetrate opposition defences. Harry talked to the other star guest, Ernesto Boixader the leading inspiration of the Villarreal Celtic Submari and an ex-professional player for Villarreal CF in the 1980s, as one professional footballer to another. Harry confirmed that Billy McNeill had got it dead right when he talked of Atletico Madrid in 1974 as being the dirtiest, most cynical team they had ever encountered. (See the GGW post of 16th September).  Harry explained that on a recent trip to Spain he had been surprised to learn from Spaniards that that the Spanish public had never seen film of that horrendous evening at Celtic Park and had somehow been given the impression that Celtic were the “villains” not Atletico, hence the hostility shown to Celtic in their trip to Madrid for the second leg.

Harry Hood Star attraction at the Book Launch

After the very successful launch, both Dave Webster, the Managing Director of Ringwood Publishing, and Sandy Jamieson the author of both the books, paid tribute to Harry Hood’s generosity in giving up some of his Saturday night to assist the launch. “We are very grateful to Harry, his presence was much appreciated by all the attendees” said Sandy Jamieson, whose pleasure in Harry’s attendance was enhanced by the fact that Harry Hood was one of his own idols as one of the all-time Clyde greats.

The Old Firm game the day after the launch provided strong evidence of how much Celtic could benefit from a forward with the talent and ability of Harry Hood. He was a hard player to categorise. He was not a classic centre forward, despite a goals to games ratio of almost 1 in 2. Nor was he just a midfield player although his passing skills were immense. He was that rare kind of player who exuded class all over the top end of the park, defying easy categorisation. In some ways his main point of comparison was to players like Platini, Cruyff and Zidane, not out and out forwards yet who still scored far more goals than most forwards and all other midfielders. Such comparisons are not ludicrous. Okay Harry Hood was not quite as good as Platini, Cruyff and Zidane, but at his best he was a similar combination of skill, elegance and danger. Like all great players Harry made the difficult art of scoring goals look simple.

A better number 9 than the languid Greek

Celtic supporters were in no doubt about his class, and his commitment to their cause. “Harry, Harry: Harry Harry: Harry Hood”   that Hare Krishna derivation and the other song, “Feared by the bad, loved by the good, Harry Hood, Harry Hood, Harry Hood” based on the Robin Hood classic, were two of the favourite Celtic Park anthems of the early 1970s, proof of the high degree of affection the Celtic support felt for one of the most skilful forwards ever the wear the green and white hoops.

In his spell with Celtic from 1969-1976 Harry won 5 League titles, 3 Scottish Cups and 2 League Cups scoring 123 goals in just over 300 games. He convinced most Celtic supporters, if not always the gruff management, that he was a truly skilful player of the highest class. He remains the last Celtic player to score a hat trick against Rangers.

Watching the woeful efforts of a lost and indolent Samaras last Sunday it was hard not to imagine how much more effective Celtic would have been if the Harry Hood of his prime had been on the park. Like many great Scottish players Harry Hood was born at the wrong time. In the modern game, with its obsession with one man forward lines, he would have been a sensation as a highly skilled yet always calm finisher, providing danger in the spaces just behind the lone front man.

So thank you Harry Hood. Thank you for all the happy memories of you as one of Clyde’s greatest ever players. Thank you for all the great performances for Celtic, making goalscoring look easy, over 100 times, oozing class all over the front areas. Harry Harry, Harry Hood, you really were that good. We all could do with you now.

Thank you for helping launch my books. You are a gentleman.


The Scum fight back and describe Celtic as “No Saints”

Harmless old men. The 1974 scum age gracefully

Billy McNeill’s description of the 1974 Atletico Madrid side that kicked Celtic out of the European Cup semi-finals as “Scum” has provoked a mixed reaction in Madrid. The official response of the Spanish club has been injured innocence and comments like “We do not understand why they are harping on about a match played 37 years ago. We would rather concentrate on the present.”

Panadero Diaz and a defensive colleague from 1974

But one of the players from that towsy first leg match in Glasgow in the 10th April 1974 has come out with a more spirited direct response. Panadero Diaz, the giant Argentinean centre half was one of the three Atletico defenders sent off during the game, after a particularly atrocious tackle on Jimmy Johnstone, who as Panadero honestly admits “was leading me a merry dance and driving me mad”. Panadero describes his offence as kicking Jinky in the ribs and accepts he deserved to be sent off. But he defends the overall conduct of his team. “In that era teams played much harder and more physically than they do nowadays” He accepts Atletico were a hard team but emphasised that Celtic were no saints. And as one tough centre half to another he said “McNeil might not have forgotten what we did to them, but we have not forgotten what he did to us.”

Panadero made it clear he resented the title of ‘scum’ and claimed that Atletico Madrid of that era were one of the finest teams in the world, on a par with Barcelona and Real Madrid. And in one sense what he says is correct. In the European Cup Final against a Bayern Munich side, containing world class stars like Beckenbauer, Brietner, Hoeness, Maier and Muller, Atletico were one minute away from winning the European Cup. And in Bayern’s absence they represented Europe in the Intercontinental Trophy beating Copa Libertadores champions Independiente over two legs to be crowned as “World Club Champions”

So how justified is Billy McNeil’s use of the strong phrase “scum”.

Panadero Diaz now. Ready to admit his errors and call Lorenzo a monster

I am aware that few if any Celtic supporters under the age of 50 will have any direct memory of that torrid encounter from 37 years ago but there must be still many of the 70,000 plus spectators other than myself who have vivid memories of an unforgettable evening. 2 years previously Celtic had lost at the same semi-final stage to Inter Milan, on penalty kicks and most of the enormous crowd were confident that this time, against Atletico they would go a stage further and reach their third European Cup Final. As I took my place in the jungle, I knew Atletico would be no push-overs. I also knew that the Atletico Manager Juan Carlos Lorenzo, El Toto, was a ferociously competitive Argentinean, the manager from the 1966 World Cup team that had been called ‘animals’ by Alf Ramsey, and that he was famous for using psychological pressures on his players to ensure they stayed winners, at any cost.

37 years on Panadero Diaz  describes Lorenzo as  “a monster” and remembers Lorenzo telling him well before the game to let his beard grow long  and to show his teeth, the better to frighten the Celtic players

Even so, along with the rest of the capacity Celtic Park crowd I was amazed at the degree of ferocity unleashed by Atletico throughout the 90 minutes. I have never before or since seen such sustained brutality practised by a whole team for a whole game. The Turkish referee booked 7 of the Atletico players and sent 3 of them off, including Panadero Diaz. All for tackles that would have been criminal assault in any other context. The Celtic players were not physically intimidated and while they responded physically they did not lose the place. But incredibly it was their rhythm and concentration rather than Atletico’s that suffered most from the constant stoppages, and even the ever increasing numerical superriority could not be turned to their advantage. The game ended goal-less, the restrained Celtic crowd booed the Atletico team off the pitch, and mayhem broke out in the tunnel as a score or two was settled, reputedly with the help of the Glasgow police.

Juan Carlos Lorenzo The manager that created scum out of good Atletico players

Thanks to the wonders of You Tube the worst highlights can be seen by googling Celtic v Atletico Madrid 1974 so if you weren’t there, take a look and marvel. Three of the tackles on Jimmy Johnstone will horrify any sensitive soul, and remind everyone that the wee man was not only highly skilled but extremely brave, to carry on taking such abuse without ceasing to run at them. While universal outrage at the degree of cynical violence practiced by Atletico swept the whole continent, UEFA took no other action bar banning the three players sent off from the second leg and fining Atletico a derisory amount. Some people urged Celtic to pull out of the second leg but I think the decision to play was the right one, even if the outcome was a tame defeat.

Atletico will not approach Thursday’s game with anything like the same ferocity. Current Manager Manzano is a gentleman, the squad contain no notable hatchet men like Diaz, Heredia and Eusebio, and the atmosphere is likely to be relatively friendly. The Atletico team that won the Europa League in 2010 has been dismantled with Simao, Forlan and Aguero all gone. While replacements like Falcao from Porto and Miranda and Diego the Brazilians are top class, the team have not yet blended together and Celtic should not be too overawed. Nor should they be bothered by being there only as a result of a successful off-field  appeal. Last season  Celtic’s favourite Spanish club, Villarreal reached the semi-finals after not originally qualifying for the tournament at all. So Celtic just need to concentrate on the football, forget the recent past, forget the distant past, and focus on getting a good result


Yellow Submarine splits in two, Celtic Submari emerges in own right

Apologies to all regular Greengreenworld readers for the lack of normal service over the past few months. Chief Editor Sandy Jamieson has had to concentrate exclusively on implementing the decision of Ringwood Publishing to split the book Yellow Submarine. At the end of April Ringwood Publishing took the massive decision that the story of the Celtic Submari was too major and too important to subsume within the Yellow Submarine story of the miracle of Villarreal CF. They decided it was a separate enough and important enough story to be a book in its own right. Since then he has been working very hard to separate out what was one of the three strands of the original book and ensure that he produced two books, each of which stands separately, although they are companion volumes.

As a result there are now two books to show for the last 3 years of his life.

Yellow Submarine The Miracle of Villarreal CF

One  is the “Yellow Submarine – the Miracle of Villarreal CF” At £11.99 it will remain excellent value, offering two stories for the price of one. Part One provides an explanation for the miracle of Villarreal CF including identifying the 10 Key Ingredients that best explain how a wee club from a small town of under 50,000 population has become one of the top teams not just in Spain but in Europe.

Part Two is the account of a three year voyage on the Yellow Submarine as they set sail in search of further glory in the Champions League, the Europa League and La Liga. It explores how the key ingredients identified in Part One are applied in practice and whether the lessons from Villarreal are replicable for small and medium sized clubs throughout Europe.

The other book is “Celtic Submaria new model of football relationships, based on affection and respect, not hatred, bitterness or sectarianism.” In publishing this Ringwood Publishing has recognised that the story of how an invasion of Vila-real by 10,000 Celtic supporters in 2004 led to the amazing and unique friendship between supporters of Villarreal and Celtic deserves to be told in its own right, separate from the story of the Miracle of Villarreal CF.

Celtic supporters everywhere can take pride in the story of how their example of camaraderie and good behaviour inspired the formation of the Villarreal Celtic Submari which has proved to be an extraordinary example of the way in which decent people can help others through football and friendship.

Celtic Submari will also explore why the subsequent visit of Glasgow Rangers to Vila-real did not result in a similar outburst of mutual friendship but continued the pattern of significantly different behaviour abroad of the two Old Firm sets of supporters. The book will offer an explanation of the cultural and other differences that lie behind these different behaviours.

It will show why both Celtic and Rangers supporters need to learn some of the lessons from the model practised by the Villarreal Submari if Scottish football is ever to eradicate the sectarian sickness that currently erodes its soul.

This book will retail at £9.99. For every book sold £2 will be donated to the Villarreal Celtic Submari charity.

I can at last provide a definite date for the launch of both books. It will take place on Saturday 17th September 2011  from 7pm to 10pm in the Celtic Supporters Association Social Club at 1524 London Road, by Celtic Park.  Please put the date and time and venue in your diary now. Please also feel free to invite anyone you think might be interested in these books. The programme for the launch has not been completely determined yet but it will be around the content of the books and several current and former Celtic legends hopefully will be in attendance. Celtic do not have a game that day but they play Rangers at Ibrox the next day so the themes of “Celtic Submari” should be quite topical.

The very good news is that Ernesto and Maria Dolores Boixader have agreed to attend the launch. Saul Ramos is coming too and others of the Celtic Submari may come over as well.

Further details of both books, including how to pre-order them, and of the launch can be found on the Publisher’s web site at www.ringwoodpublishing.com

Now that the writing and editing of the two books is finished, normal service will resume tomorrow with an update on Tommy Gemmell clone Joan Capdevila


Santos and Velez, the Libertadores favourites, head for a classic Final clash of Brazil versus Argentina

Velez head for Copa Libertadores semi-finals

After the shocks of the previous round all 4 Copa Libertadores Quarter finals went as predicted in the last Letter from South America. The two favourites Santos and Velez Sarsfield are still on course to make it a classic Argentina versus Brazil clash in the Final. Velez Sarsfield had the easier victory in the Quarter Finals seeing off Libertad of Paraguay 3-0 in the home leg before travelling to Paraguay to administer a 4-2 thrashing for a convincing 7-2 aggregate victory. The current team are more offensive than previous Velez sides, who have tended to be dour and defensive. Coach Ricardo Gareca has Velez set up very offensively with striking double act of recent Argentina cap Menendez and the prolific Uruguayan Santiago Silva well supported from midfield by small but tricky Maxi Morales, the skilful and mature Zapata and new signing Ramirez. Interestingly, Gareca has decided to depart from the usual Libertadores pattern of fielding weakened sides in the weekend league games in a determined effort to land  a league and Libertadores double. Just 3 days after the second Libertad game, a full strength Velez side won comfortably in the League to put themselves 3 points clear.

Scotland's favourite Brazilian, Neymar, puts Santos in Libertadores semi-final after helping them retain the Sao Paulo State League

Santos too under the pragmatic but always successful leadership of new coach Muricy Ramalho have also defied conventional wisdom by fielding full strength teams in both legs of the Sao Paulo State Championship final that coincided with their Quarter Final ties with recent holders Once Caldas from Colombia. Regular readers of Letters from South America will remember that last year Santos with a team dedicated to attacking football won both the Sao Paulo State League and the Copa Brazil. They lost two of their attacking stars Robinho to AC Milan and Andre to Dynamo Kiev but retained the brightest star of all Neymar along with the enormously talented young playmaker Paulo Henrique Ganso. Bolstered by the return of Elano the current Santos team are not so explosively dynamic offensively as last year’s team but probably have a better balance. In the Sao Paulo State final, by far the most prestigious of the 20 or so Brazilian State league that occupy the first 4 months of the year Santos found themselves pitted against old rivals Corinthians who were able to concentrate on the State League after their disastrous early Copa Libertadores exit in the preliminary round. Minus the two icons Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos that were supposed to carry them to Libertadores glory, but boosted by the compensatory transfers of Leidson and Adriano Corinthians were favourites to offer their millions of supporters some consolation by winning the State League. But over the two legs Santos proved the better team, even with half their mind on the Copa Libertadores, and retained their State title with Scotland’s favourite son Neymar proving himself a true star. Either side of the State Final second leg Santos took on Once Caldas, winning the first leg 1-0 in Colombia to set themselves up nicely for the second leg a week later. The home leg proved more fraught. Neymar put them further in front with a smart goal in the 12th minute but then Renteria who flopped in Europe with Porto equalised after 30 minutes, which meant one more Once goal would put them through on the away goals rule. Santos controlled the game for the most part and when Santos were awarded a penalty with 5 minutes to go it seemed as if qualification would be secured. Neymar confidently approached the ball but then shot tamely at the keeper and it was a nervous final 5 minutes for Santos before the game ended with them 2-1 winners on aggregate. After the game Muricy was careful to praise rather than criticise Neymar, stressing he had played very well, scored one goal and come close several times. Muricy confirmed that Neymar would remain the Santos penalty taker. “He is a player with a great deal of confidence”.

Cerro Porteno make the semi-finals andend Mexican interest in the 2011 Copa Libertadores

In the semi-finals Santos will face Cerro Porteno of Paraguay. Cerro eliminated the Mexican side Jaguares in the Quarter Finals drawing 1-1 away in the first leg then using that away goal advantage to approach the second leg in a very careful and cautious manner, eventually winning 1-0.  So another year has gone by without a Mexican side achieving that elusive first triumph in the Copa Libertadores. Given the growing strength and importance of the World Club Cup championship with its guaranteed placed for the CONCACAF champions who are almost always Mexican(7 winners in the last 9 editions), then maybe it is time for the South American Federation to withdraw the two places awarded annually to Mexican clubs and restrict the Copa Libertadores to clubs from their own Conmebol Federation.

Penarol star Estayanoff puts his club in the semi-finals with late goal

The final semi-place went to one of the traditional great South American club sides, Penarol of Uruguay, World Club Cup winners in 1961, 1966 and 1982. However in the 30 years since that alst triumph, over Aston Villa, Penarol have fallen on hard times and it was all of 24 years ago since they last made even the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores. This year they qualified by beating Universidad Catolica of Chile over 2 tightly fought legs. Penarol, having put out holders Internacional PA in the previous round. won the first leg 2-0 in Montevideo. But they struggled in the second leg and with 5 minutes to go, at 2-0 down it looked as if the game was heading to a penalty shoot out. Then the current Penarol star Estayanoff, who never really impressed in his spell in Europe, scored the vital goal to put  a relieved Penarol through 3-2 on aggregate. Despite their history as 5 times Libertadores champions, this Penarol side are likely to start significant underdogs against a Velez Sarsfield club that won the title in 1994.

The other semi final will see Santos, twice winners with Pele in 1962 and 1963 and runners up in 2003, take on a Cerro Porteno club which has never made the Final.

On current form the Final is likely to be contested between Velez and Santos.


Braga make Celtic look good, or at least a little better

Even a good Huddle not even to help Braga triumph

In the real world most GreenGreenWorld readers inhabit rather than the Parallel Universe of the last post, the Europa League Final of 18th May 2011 was a source of  a little rather than a lot of comfort for Celtic supporters. The final was contested by the two teams, Braga and Porto, that had ended the European dreams of both Celtic and their favourite Spanish club Villarreal. When Celtic were drawn against Braga in the penultimate Playoff Round for the 2010-11 Champions league most Celtic  supporters had assumed their club would qualify easily enough for the Final Playoff Round and began immediately to worry more about the better class of opponent they might face there. In the event Celtic were outplayed quite easily by Braga over the two legs of the tie. Braga, a team without stars, were the more coherent, better organised side and deserved their unexpected victory. Even so, when they were drawn against Spanish neighbours Sevilla  in the Final Playoff Round most Braga supporters assumed they would have to settle for the automatic place in the Europa League Group stages that defeat would bring them. With Celtic drawn against weak Dutch opponents Utrecht in the Europa League Final Playoff Round some Braga and Celtic fans indeed wondered if  a rematch might be possible.

In one of the major shocks in Champions League qualification history, Braga outplayed Sevilla comprehensively to qualify for the Group Stages while at the same time in one of the more shocking mishaps  in Europa League qualification history,  Celtic caved ignominiously before an astonished Utrecht side. Braga, using some of the guaranteed Champions League receipts to sign players like Hugo Vianna (recommended by GGW to Celtic  as the class midfield general they lacked), acquitted themselves well in the Group Stage managing to achieve third place and a spot in the last 32 Knockout Stages of the Europa League. (Utrecht failed to make the last 32). There the Braga fairy tale continued with successive wins against Lech, Liverpool, Dynamo Kiev and Benfica, all of whom had been favoured to finally put the Braga minnows in their place. But as it turned out their place was to prove to be Dublin, scene of the Europa League Final. (continue reading…)


Celtic and Villarreal show the world a better way – Camaraderie not Enmity

 

Villarreal Celtic's friends

Last night, in Parallel Universe 483, the 2011 Europa League Final was played to a conclusion between Villarreal and Glasgow Celtic, with the favourites, the classy Spanish side, emerging victors by 3 goals in 1 in a highly entertaining game full of positive attacking football from both teams. In the end class told, with Villarreal’s world class forward pairing of Rossi and Nilmar proving far superior to the Celtic firepower of Hooper and Samaras. The skilful Borja Valero and Cazorla, the other two members of Villarreal ‘s Cuatro Fantastico of Hollywood fame, laid on far more chances than did Celtic’s midfield, and by the middle of the second half Rossi with two well taken goals and Nilmar with a classic solo effort had put Villarreal into a commanding lead that was never going to be surrendered. Kris Common’s late effort put a more competitive gloss on the final score without threatening the inevitability of the outcome. Celtic fans were left to speculate on what might have happened if Samaras had converted a stonewall opportunity when Villarreal were caught cold in the 4th minute.

Capdevila Izaguirre's equal

The one area of the game where Celtic competed on equal terms throughout was in defensive midfield where the combative Celtic duo of Kayal and Scott Brown proved a match for Villarreal’s more vaunted pair of dual Spanish internationalists Marcos Senna and Bruno. And Izaguirre with yet  another  fine display showed himself to belong in the same league as Villarreal’s Tommy Gemmell clone Joan Capdevila, world cup medal and all.

The last time Celtic played in this Final, in 2003,  they had felt aggrieved at the outcome, feeling that they had been denied a deserved victory by the over physicality of Jose Mourinho’s Porto. Barcelona sympathisers may take a little satisfaction from remembering that negatively attempting to kick more skilled opponents out of their stride is not a new Mourinho ploy, but one that has been present throughout his career as a manager. However on this occasion, in Dublin’s fine new stadium, there was no such sense of aggravation. With their well known generosity of spirit and sense of fair play, Celtic fans were able to acknowledge that justice was done, class told and the better team won, fairly and on merit. (continue reading…)


Copa Libertadores 1st Knockout Round – the Slaughter of the complacent Brazilians

 

Complacent Holders Inter PA lose to Penarol

Wednesday 4th May 2011 will enter Brazilian football history as one of the nation’s blackest nights ever. All 4 of their representatives in the Copa Libertadores in action that night lost, 3 from situations that had seemed eminently winnable after the first leg ties. Never before in the history of premier Club Cup competition, either in South America or Europe, has a country lost 4 representatives in the one night.

The most prominent casualty, the greatest shock, was the defeat of the competition favourites Cruzeiro in their own stadium. Cruzeiro had done the hard part, in the first leg, going to Colombia and beating previous holders Once Caldas 2-1 in their own stadium. For the return leg in Belo Horizonte they were without their 3 star forwards, Wallyson, Thiago Ribeiro and Brandao recently repatriated from Marseille in the wake of a sex scandal. Imagine Manchester United without Rooney, Hernandez and Berbatov. Or Barcelona without Messi, Villa and Pedro. Or Real Madrid without Adebayor, Benzema and Higuian. Oh woops, Mourinho chose to be without those three for his home game against Barcelona, and lost.

(continue reading…)


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    GreenGreenWorld is a football blog produced by SISIF, (the Sherbrooke Institute for the Study of International Football). The SISIF Director, Sandy Jamieson, has been an active student of world football for over 40 years and has an extensive network of information, knowledge and contacts in Europe, South America and the rest of the football world. Although SISIF is based in Glasgow, Sandy currently spends most time at his home in Spain where he is finishing a book about Villarreal, “The Yellow Submarine”. He is a writer/consultant and his previously published novels “Own Goal” and “The Great Escape?” are available from Ringwood Publishing or Amazon. Mainstream published his previous book on Scottish football.
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