The stadium issue in Sydney

Back in December 2014, I wrote an article on The Roar about the stadium issue in Sydney, and talked about the various options for sports stadia developments in Sydney.

I talked about ANZ Stadium, and the options for redeveloping the Olympic Stadium that has delivered Australia so many wonderful sporting memories. I talked about the options for Western Sydney, for which they have now decided to go with demolishing and building a new stadium on the land of the old Parramatta Stadium, as well as the options for Allianz Stadium, and for Brookvale Oval, a ground clearly in need of rejuvenation!

However, it has only been in recent times that all the stakeholders have moved to decide which stadiums should be redeveloped or built in Sydney.

As I briefly mentioned before, work on building the new Western Sydney Stadium on the site of the old Parramatta Stadium is well and truly underway with the 30,000-seat stadium set for completion in 2019, but news on the futures of ANZ Stadium, also known as Stadium Australia, and Allianz Stadium, also known as the Sydney Football Stadium, have been recently announced.

ANZ Stadium is set to be demolished and rebuilt into a 75,000-seat stadium, and reconfigured into a rectangular field, meaning that only sports played on a rectangular field, like rugby league, rugby union, and football can be played at the stadium. The stadium is set to feature a retractable roof, meaning that matches can be played in perfect conditions all year round. Construction works will begin in late 2019.

This is a slightly different plan from the one I talked about the stadium back in 2014, which planned on catering for all sports, including Australian rules football, and cricket, as well as having the possibility of hosting major athletics championships, such as the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championship, due to the ability of being able to reconfigure the stadium from a rectangle to an oval, and vice-versa!

I would prefer that a redeveloped ANZ Stadium was able to cater for all sports (both rectangular and oval), and even if the cost of redevelopment is slightly more than to demolish and rebuild, would it matter if you had more sports and more teams using the venue on a regular basis?

I am not sure if I agree with the New South Wales (NSW) Government’s decision to demolish and rebuild ANZ Stadium, but I certainly agree that Allianz Stadium needs to be demolished and rebuilt, with construction works for Allianz Stadium beginning at the end of 2018.

The stadium is riddled with so many violations of safety standards, including violations Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) Standards, and is not compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act in terms of offering the amount of seats/spots for people in wheelchairs to watch their favourite sports from a great vantage point.

In addition, I have heard that the standards of media facilities at Allianz Stadium is poor, as referenced by Phil Gould back in September, and with so many issues with the stadium, it is time for Allianz Stadium to be rebuilt!

However, the issue I have about the rebuild of Allianz Stadium is not that it is going to be rebuilt, but the eventual seating capacity of the new stadium is going to be around 45,000, which is roughly the same amount as it is right now, where in logical reality, it should be at least 5,000 to 10,000 more than that!

Overall, I fully agree to Allianz Stadium being demolished and rebuilt, but I think it is a massive call to demolish and rebuild ANZ Stadium, and I still believe that it should be a unique stadium that has the ability to cater for a multitude of sports, in all shapes and sizes, and that this could be down by a major redevelopment of the stadium, rather than a total demolition and rebuild job.

Don’t be surprised, perhaps in the near future, that if Sydney wants to host an IAAF World Championships, a Commonwealth Games, or even an Olympic Games that people will start complaining that Sydney doesn’t have an adequate, as in modern, stadium to host these kind of events, and that a brand-new stadium would have to be built, one that is extremely expensive, to cater for these kind of events, even though those same people complaining supported the decision of the NSW Government back in 2017 to demolish and rebuild ANZ Stadium into a national stadium catering for just rectangular sports!

 

 

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The destiny of Australian football

Tonight, the destiny of Australian football, and of the Australian national football team goes on the line tonight in the second leg of the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Fourth Round playoff in the qualification process for the 2018 FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) World Cup against Syria after a one-all draw in the first leg in Melaka in Malaysia, and there are a number of questions that have to be answered.

Will this be the last match for Ange Postecoglou as coach of the Australian national football team?

Will this be the last time Tim Cahill plays for Australia?

Will this be the last match that Mark Milligan plays for Australia?

Will Mile Jedinak ever play for Australia again? Jedinak is not a part of this squad due to his ongoing struggles getting over a groin injury.

Looking at the situation around Postecoglou, he has publicly admitted that he will quit his post at the end of the 2018 FIFA World Cup cycle, but whether that would change if Australia qualifies for Russia, or does well in Russia next year remains to be seen.

However, there are a few key questions that Postecoglou must answer, and address tonight.

Will he stick with his 3-2-4-1 formation?

Will he continue with his ongoing emphasis on having his team play a possession-based, high intensity style of game?

Will he be tempted to make some “out of the box” positional selections with his team?

As far as the formation is concerned, Postecoglou seems adamant that the 3-2-4-1 formation is the right way to go, given the players that he has, and the skill-sets that they have, particularly in the middle of the park.

However, this is not the formation I would use, especially in a national team set-up, where players have to come in, and perform straight away. You have got to use the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) approach, but also give each player what they need to perform well at the same time.

Postecoglou, in my opinion, has made his tactics far too hard and difficult for his players to understand within a short space of time.

The most common formation used in the game of football today is the 4-3-3, and that is the formation I would use if I was coaching Australia.

However, as far as his team’s philosophy playing a possession-based, high intensity style of game, Ange Postecoglou has always got this spot on! And, in addition to this, he has the types of players in the national team who want to play this way, and love playing this way.

Postecoglou has gifted players, especially in attack, and in midfield who are good, potentially even great, with the ball at their feet, like Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic in particular. The best way, and perhaps the only way, to use these skills to their fullest benefit is to play a possession-based, high intensity style of game.

However, are certain players playing in the right positions to allow the formation (3-2-4-1 or 4-3-3) and game style to work? Will he be tempted to make some “out of the box” positional selections with his team?

Judging by Postecoglou’s attitude throughout his coaching tenure with the Australian national football team, he is very stubborn and not willing to adjust his plans to much, especially in regards to where his players are best-suited, yet is willing to change his formation just because it has worked for someone else, even though it hasn’t been successful for too many teams at international level.

As I said before, I would use a 4-3-3 formation with the Australian national football team, but I think the most critical factor is the positions certain players play within the team.

While many people are talking about the prospect of Tim Cahill starting, the most important player within the team for this match, and going forward is Tom Rogic, and I feel that he has been under-used, and been placed into positions where he can’t use his full array of skills.

While he has been termed as an attacking midfielder, I feel the best position to use Rogic is as a false nine in a front three in a 4-3-3 formation, and barely anyone has realised that this may be the best way to utilise his skills.

Then you can use players who are speedy, such as Mathew Leckie and Robbie Kruse, up front to their best benefit. Then this snowballs into the midfield with Aaron Mooy and Massimo Luongo playing similar roles to what Xavi and Andrés Iniesta played in the glory days for Spain and FC Barcelona, and then through the rest of the team.

Then you have created yourself a team that has every chance of being success just by making a couple of adjustments, lifting the players within the squad to a whole new level.

In terms of answering the questions about the futures of Tim Cahill, Mark Milligan, and Mile Jedinak, if Australia were to not qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, their international careers are probably over, and if this is the case, the new coach who comes into replace Ange Postecoglou has got to make clear his playing and selection philosophy straight away, so that players understand what is required (and beyond) to be able to realistically expect to be playing for Australia.

The new coach must also address the issues within the youth pathways to ensure that Australia produces great young players who have the ability, and inspire to play on the world stage on a consistent basis, both at club and national team level.

However, Australia must first worry about tonight, and getting the result that they need to move through to play the fourth-place CONCACAF (The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) team in the CONCACAF-AFC playoff.

A scoreless draw, or a win would ensure Australia’s spot in that playoff, but a loss or a score draw greater than a one-all draw (e.g. 2-2, 3-3, etc.) would see Syria through to the CONCACAF-AFC playoff. A one-all draw after 90 minutes (regulation) would mean that we would go to 30 minutes of extra-time (15 minutes each way), and then possibly a penalty shootout should scores still be level at the same score that it was after 90 minutes, which means the away goals rules still applies in extra-time, should we get to that point, so if someone scores in extra-time, the result of the tie will be decided by the end of extra-time.

The destiny of Australian football is in their hands tonight!

 

My thoughts on the Australian Football Team

Before I start, I want to make it clear that the Australian Football Team still has an opportunity to make the 2018 Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup in Russia by firstly winning a two-legged playoff against Syria, the third-placed team from Group A from the third round of qualification in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), and then a two-legged playoff against the fourth-placed team from the fifth round of qualification in the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), likely to be against either Panama, United States, or Honduras.

However, there are many issues within the Australian Football Team after failing to qualify automatically for the 2018 FIFA World Cup despite defeating Thailand a week ago in Melbourne, and despite losing just one match in the third round of qualification, but with five wins, four draws, and a single loss from the 10 matches they played in the third round of qualification, Australia didn’t quite maximise their opportunities that they had to qualify for Russia 2018, and in a couple of those draws, they were quite lucky not to lose.

So, what are the issues the Australian Football Team need to rectify to give themselves the best chance of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup?

Well, the playing style of the national team is definitely not an issue! Ange Postecoglou and his team are taking the right approach with their fast-paced possession/passing-based pressing game, but I think he is starting with the wrong formation.

I believe Postecoglou should start with a 4-3-3 formation, at least in the earlier stages of a match, and if his team needs to chase goals, then he can change to a 3-4-2-1 formation, a variation of the 3-4-3 formation, which are both formations that are more offensive-minded in approach, but are both more unstable defensively compared with the more traditional 4-3-3 formation.

However, I believe Postecoglou is missing a trick or two in regards to the selection and starting position or roles of certain players, particular one crucial player, one game-breaker, and no one has picked this up. No one from Fox Sports, no one from Nine’s Wide World Of Sport, no one from SBS The World Game, no one from anywhere and of any supposed expertise has picked this up, and with a 4-3-3 formation, it would be the perfect way to use this potential superstar to his fullest ability.

That player is Tom Rogic!

Rogic, in my opinion, should be used as a false nine, and I have believed this for quite a while!

Rogic is the best player within the Australian Football Team set-up with his feet, and has the speed, trickery, and tactical ability to be playing as a false nine. Rogic is a similar style of player in my opinion to a Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, and must be used in that way.

Rogic must be the focal point of an attacking raid, and must be able to receive the ball early, and with some space to allow him to run at defenders, who are often back-tracking, fearing about what he could do, beat and get past them, and aim to have a shot on goal at the end of the play, or to suck in defenders to give opportunities for his two teammates joining him in the front three, who would all be allowed to float around into different areas on the pitch to create opportunities for each other.

Why both Ange Postecoglou for Australia, and Brendan Rodgers for Celtic F.C. haven’t cottoned on to the idea of using Rogic as a false nine in their teams I have absolutely no idea, given their knowledge and thirst to play and coach possession-based, attacking football, and especially in regards to Rodgers at Celtic F.C. considering that Scottish football has been in the doldrums for a very long time, and something must drastically change within Scottish football if they are ever going to regain any sort of credibility on the world stage again.

Back to the Australian Football Team, and the type of players that could joining Rogic in that front three are the likes of Mathew Leckie, Robbie Kruse, and Tomi Juric just to name a few, the players who have high work-rates, plenty of speed, and have the ability to latch onto passes from either the midfield, or from Rogic to have goal-scoring opportunities of their own, or create opportunities for Rogic to score.

Someone like Tim Cahill would be used off the bench to change the game as an impact player, especially when Postecoglou wants to change his tactics in search of more goals.

When looking at the midfield three, one of the midfielders would be used in a defensive role, while two would be used in a more attacking-minded role. The two midfielders I would use in the more attacking roles would be Aaron Mooy and Massimo Luongo. They would play similar roles to the likes of Xavi and Andrés Iniesta, with Mooy playing more of the Xavi role, who like Mooy, his strongest asset was his passing game, while Luongo would play more of the Iniesta role, who like Luongo, has had the ability to run, pass, and often at the most crucial times, especially in the big matches, score a match-winning goal, or a goal to put his team in-front.

In terms of the defensive midfielder, I have got two schools of thought on this.

The first school of thought would be to use Mile Jedinak as that defensive, holding midfielder, and I believe Jedinak has a similar skill-set to a Yaya Touré, who actually started out as a central defender, before moving forward to a defensive, and then an attacking midfield role. Yaya Touré is versatile in that regard, and like Jedinak, is brilliant at taking set-pieces and penalties.

The second school of thought would be to use Mark Milligan in that role, similar to a Sergio Busquets or Philipp Lahm type of player. The height of Milligan sits in-between the height of Busquets and Lahm, and has probably had a similar career progression to a Lahm, starting out as a right back before moving into the middle of the park as a defensive midfielder, but Milligan, like Busquets, spent time early on in his career as a central defender before moving into the midfield.

Milligan has a similar skill-set to Busquets and Lahm, great positional sense, defensive ability, tactical sense and verstality, and has a wonderful ability to read the game so well.

I have no outright preference for who gets the role, although when you break it down, Milligan is probably better on the ball that Jedinak, and Jedinak probably has the skills and the height that would fit more typically into a centre-back role, but Milligan has had more experience in a central defensive role, and despite his short height, would have a greater understanding on what it takes to play in the position.

However, whoever misses out on the defensive midfield role I would select as one of the centre-backs, and beside him I would have someone who has always played in that central defensive role, probably Trent Sainsbury.

As for the right back and left back positions, I want players who are quick, and can assist regularly in attack, as well as be strong in their defensive responsibilities. Milos Degenek appears to be the clear choice at right back, but at left back, there is plenty of competition, but at this stage, I would go with Alex Gersbach as Brad Smith is out of form and not playing regularly for his club, while Gersbach is playing regularly and is in great form.

As for the goalkeeper, I would keep the status quo in Mathew Ryan.

While many of you may not agree with my suggestions, particularly in regards to Tom Rogic, you can definitely see that I have a vision, and a vision that could see Australia qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and possibly do well if they get there!

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Before I finish this post, I want to mention that I am looking forward to the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League group stage getting underway tomorrow morning Australian time (Tuesday night European time) with a number of big matches on Matchday One, most notably Barcelona and Juventus tomorrow morning, and Liverpool up against Sevilla on Thursday morning Australian time (Wednesday night European time), which are just a couple of the big matches coming up this week in the best club competition in the world. I cannot wait!

Looking at Australia’s final two FIFA World Cup qualifiers

For Australia, their hopes of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) World Cup come down to these final two matches in the third round of qualification in Asia, Japan (away) on Thursday night in Saitama, and Thailand (home) in Melbourne next Tuesday.

Australia, are currently in third position in Group B in the third round of FIFA World Cup qualification for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), equal with second-place Saudi Arabia on 16 points, but behind on goal difference, and one point behind group leaders Japan.

Ange Postecoglou has put together a strong squad for these two critical qualifying matches, including midfield stars Tom Rogic and Aaron Mooy, as well as the one and only Tim Cahill, that could well determine whether Australia qualifies for just their fifth FIFA World Cup automatically or not.

Australia haven’t played since June, where they put in an encouraging performance with their 3-2-4-1 formation, playing their normal possession-based game, at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, achieving two draws against Cameroon (1-1) and Chile (1-1) after a narrow loss against world champions and eventual winners Germany (3-2).

However, like at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, they will be without regular captain Mile Jedinak for the final two matches of the qualification campaign due to a groin injury.

Australia will come against a Japan team that is under serious pressure, with talk surrounding the future of their coach Vahid Halilhodžić, with some reports suggesting that he could be sacked if they were to lose against Australia.

Japan have plenty of quality players, led by the likes of Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa, Makoto Hasebe, Shinji Okazaki, Yūto Nagatomo, and Maya Yoshida, who have combined for 560 international caps like most of the players in the Japan squad, are playing at the top clubs in Europe, and will pose a significant danger for Australia in Saitama, especially Honda, Kagawa, and Okazaki, who have combined for 114 goals in 286 appearances for Japan.

It should be noted though that Japan are guaranteed to finish in third at least in Group B, which would mean they would face the third-place team from Group A in a two-leg playoff, with the winner going onto play the fourth-ranked team from CONCACAF qualification section in a two-leg playoff to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

However, they would not want to go through that kind of torture, and would want a win against Australia in front of their home crowd in Saitama on Thursday night to qualify for just their sixth FIFA World Cup.

However, Australia won’t want that to happen, and will be wanting at least a draw against Japan before coming home to play Thailand in Melbourne next Tuesday night for what will likely be a must win clash to gain automatic qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

However, Thailand won’t be an easy match for Australia, as Australia found out for themselves in Bangkok in November last year, when they had a two-all draw, the third match in a run of four draws for Australia.

After 57 minutes of that match, Australia were trailing by two goals to one after a double from Teerasil Dangda, but a goal from Mile Jedinak eight minutes later completed his own brace, and salvaged a much needed draw for Australia at that stage of the campaign, the fifth match of the campaign.

In fact, Australia are undefeated throughout the third round of FIFA World Cup qualifying in Asia with four wins and four draws, but face the potentially real possibility of not qualifying automatically for Russia 2018, even if they were to remain undefeated.

However, you would think that four points for Australia in the final two matches against Japan on Thursday night and Thailand next Tuesday night should be enough for Australia to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, should results go their way, but winning both of their last two matches will qualify them for Russia 2018.

I think Australia will qualify automatically for their fifth FIFA World Cup, but it will not be easy.

2017 FIFA Confederations Cup – Preview

The 2017 FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) Confederations Cup, known as the prelude to the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which will also be hosted in Russia, will begin on Saturday Russian time (Sunday morning Australia time), and although there will be limited coverage of the event on SBS (Special Broadcasting Service), while all of the matches will be shown live on Optus Sport, it should a great tournament to see how each of the eight participating nations are progressing as we head towards next year’s FIFA World Cup.

The format of the FIFA Confederations Cup is pretty simple. Two groups of four teams, with the top two teams from each group progressing through to the semi-finals, with the winners of both semi-finals progressing through to the final, which will be held at the Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg, which has a seating capacity of 68,134. The losers of both semi-finals will play each other in the third-place playoff at the Otkrytiye Arena in Moscow.

The matches will be played at four cities and four stadiums. The Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg, the Otkrytiye Arena in Moscow, the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi, and the Kazan Arena in Kazan.

Group A contains hosts Russia, 2016 UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) European Championship winners Portugal, 2015 CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football) Cup winners Mexico, and 2016 OFC (Oceania Football Confederation) Nations Cup winners New Zealand.

Group B contains 2014 FIFA World Cup champions Germany, 2015 and 2016 COMNEBOL Copa América winners Chile, 2017 CAF (Confederation of African Football) African Cup of Nations winners Cameroon, and 2015 AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Asian Cup winners Australia.

Let’s have a look at both groups to try to determine who will win the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia.

Group A

Group A features Russia, Portugal, Mexico and New Zealand, and it is a weak group on paper, with two teams clearly better than the others. Portugal, ranked eighth in the world, according to the FIFA World Rankings, and Mexico, ranked 17th, are my two favourites to go through to the semi-finals from Group A.

Portugal coach Fernando Santos has put together a great squad, led by Cristiano Ronaldo, fresh off helping Real Madrid become the first team in the UEFA Champions League era to win back-to-back titles. Ronaldo has scored 73 goals in 139 appearances for the national team, and is set to be supported by André Silva, as well as João Moutinho.

Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osario has also selected a strong squad, led by the experienced defender Rafael Márquez, who formerly played for the likes of AS Monaco FC and FC Barcelona, and should be well-supported by the likes of Javier Hernández and Jonathan dos Santos.

Russia and New Zealand have also put together good squads, but overall, Portugal and Mexico are clearly the two best teams.

Group B

Group B features Germany, Chile, Cameroon and Australia looks like a closer group on paper, but one where you would expect Germany and Chile to prevail, and qualify for the semi-finals.

Germany, under their coach Joachim Löw have selected a weakened team, captained by Julian Draxler, who is the most experienced player in the German squad with 30 international caps. Germany will be relying on the likes of Draxler, Emre Can and Timo Werner in the absence of many key and experienced players.

Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi has put together a strong squad, but they once again will be relying on their three key attacking threats in midfielder Arturo Vidal, and their forwards in Alexis Sánchez, and Eduardo Vargas, who have scored 16 out of Chile’s 24 goals in their qualification campaign so far for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Australia and Cameroon have also put together good squads, but in my opinion, Germany and Chile are a class above, and I have Chile to top the group.

Final predictions

I think Portugal, under the leadership and individual brilliance of Cristiano Ronaldo, are the favourites to win the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, and I think they will win it.

However, I don’t think you can completely rule out any of the eight teams who will be competing in the event, but I believe the winner will come out of Portugal, Mexico, Chile and Germany.

2017 UEFA Champions League Final – Preview

On Saturday night local time (Sunday morning Australian time), the 2017 Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League final will take place between Italian champions Juventus F.C. and defending champions Real Madrid C.F. from the Millennium Stadium (also known for sponsorship reasons as the Principality Stadium) in Cardiff in Wales.

Juventus F.C. will be looking to win their third European crown, but their first since 1996.

Coming into their ninth European Cup/Champions League final, Juventus F.C. have won 22 out of their last 29 matches in all competitions, including their last three matches in all competitions, which included the last two matches of the 2016-17 Serie A season on-route to winning the Serie A title, the 2016-17 Coppa Italia.

Juventus will be looking to claim the Serie A-Coppa Italia-UEFA Champions League treble for the first time in the club’s history that has stretched almost 120 years.

Their opponents Real Madrid C.F. head into the final looking for their 12th European crown, and are looking to become the first team in the Champions League era (since the start of 1992-93) to win back-to-back UEFA Champions League crowns.

Real Madrid C.F. head into their 15th European Cup/Champions League final, which is a record, having won 22 out of their last 28 matches in all competitions, including 17 of their last 21 matches, as well as their last six matches of the 2016-17 La Liga season on-route to the title.

They will be looking to claim the La Liga-European Cup/UEFA Champions League double for the first time since the 1957-58 season.

Looking at both teams path to the 2017 UEFA Champions League final, Juventus F.C. started their 2016-17 UEFA Champions League campaign in group stage, and while they got off to a slow start at home on Match-Day One with a scoreless draw against Sevilla FC, they won their next two matches away from home against GNK Dinamo Zagreb (4-0) and Olympique Lyonnais (1-0) to place themselves joint-top of Group H with Sevilla FC at the halfway stage.

And while they had another draw at home on Match-Day Four against Olympique Lyonnais (1-1), Juventus F.C. marched their way to the Round of 16 with victories against Sevilla FC (3-1) away from home and GNK Dinamo Zagreb (2-0) at home to top Group H.

In the knockout stages, Juventus F.C. took on FC Porto in the Round of 16, winning by three goals to nil on aggregate after winning both legs, before defeating FC Barcelona in the quarter-finals on aggregate, and by the same score to reach the semi-finals, where they would take AS Monaco FC.

After winning the first leg away from home (2-0), they got out to a two goals to nil lead at home (4-0 on aggregate), and despite conceding their first goal of the knockout stages, they managed to win the second leg (2-1), and move through to the final with an undefeated record in the UEFA Champions League season.

Likewise, Real Madrid C.F. started their 2016-17 UEFA Champions League campaign in the group stage, and while they didn’t lose a match in Group F, draws against Borussia Dortmund in Match-Day Two (2-2) away from home, and at home in Match-Day Six (2-2), as well as a draw away from home against Legia Warsaw (3-3) meant that finished second in the group behind Borussia Dortmund, and faced a potentially tough match-up in the Round of 16 against S.S.C. Napoli.

However, Real Madrid C.F. defeated S.S.C. Napoli on aggregate (6-2) to face German champions FC Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals.

It went to extra-time after Bayern Munich led the second leg by two goals to one after regulation at the Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid, after Real Madrid won the first leg by two goals to one at the Allianz Arena in Munich.

In extra-time, it was the one and only Cristiano Ronaldo who stepped-up to the plate once again for Real Madrid C.F., scoring two goals in five minutes to complete his hat-trick, plus a goal from Marco Asensio two minutes later sealed the passage of the home team through to the semi-finals to meet cross-city rivals Atlético Madrid.

In the first leg, Real Madrid C.F. dominated Atlético Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu to take a three goal lead into the second leg at the Vicente Calderón.

In the final-ever European match at the Vicente Calderón (as they move to the rebuilt Estadio La Peineta next season), Atlético Madrid got off to great start, with goals from Saúl Ñíguez and Antoine Griezmann giving the home side hope that they could overturn the first leg deficit.

However, a goal from Isco three minutes from half-time stopped any chance of a comeback for Atlético Madrid, and sealed Real Madrid its spot in the 2017 UEFA Champions League final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

As far as team news is concerned, Juventus F.C., coached by Massimiliano Allegri, and Real Madrid C.F., coached by Zinédine Zidane, both appear to be at full-strength at this stage.

Heading into the final, the key player for Real Madrid is obviously the four-time Best FIFA Men’s Player/FIFA Ballon d’Or/FIFA World Player Of The Year Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored 40 goals from 45 appearances in all competitions this season, which is twice as many as any other Real Madrid C.F. player has scored, and he will be looking to win his fourth UEFA Champions League crown, after scoring the winning penalty to win Real Madrid C.F.’s 11th European crown at the San Siro last season.

The other major story-line heading into the final is Gianluigi Buffon’s quest to win his first UEFA Champions League crown, after winning the FIFA World Cup back in 2006.

The Juventus F.C. captain has kept 21 clean sheets in 41 appearances this season across all competitions, and will be looking to enhance his legend as one of the greatest goal-keepers of all-time by claiming his first European crown.

As far as a prediction is concerned, as much as I would like to see Buffon and Juventus F.C. win the UEFA Champions League, my gut feeling tells me that Real Madrid C.F. are primed to become the first team in the UEFA Champions League era to win back-to-back European crowns!

 

The 2017 UEFA Champions League Final kicks off at 7:45pm local time on Saturday night (4:45pm AEST on Sunday morning). The retractable roof at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff will be closed.

 

 

 

 

 

2017 FA Cup Final – Preview

On Saturday afternoon (Sunday morning Australian time), the 136th The Football Association (FA) Cup final will take place between Arsenal F.C. and Chelsea F.C. at Wembley Stadium in London.

Arsenal F.C. come into their 20th FA Cup final in improved form, having won nine out of their last 11 matches in all competitions, including their last five matches in the 2016-17 Premier League season to qualify for next season’s Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Europa League.

However, by finishing in fifth position (missing fourth position by a single point) means that Arsenal F.C. won’t be playing in the UEFA Champions League next season for the first time since the 1997-98 season, when they played in the UEFA Cup, which is now known as the UEFA Europa League.

However, Arsenal F.C. will be looking to atone for failing to qualify for next season’s UEFA Champions League by winning their 13th FA Cup, which would be the most won by a single club in the history of the competition.

In addition to this, if Arsenal F.C. win on Saturday, their manager Arsène Wenger will become the most successful manager in the history of the FA Cup by winning his seventh.

Chelsea F.C. come into their 12th FA Cup final in marvellous form, winning 32 of their last 38 matches in all competitions, including 19 of their last 23, 15 of their last 18, 14 of their last 16, nine of their last 10, and their last seven matches, including winning their last six matches of the 2016-17 Premier League season on-route to reclaiming the title after finishing 10th in the 2015-16 Premier League season, thus claiming a spot in next season’s UEFA Champions League.

Chelsea F.C. will be looking to complete the domestic Premier League-FA Cup double by winning their eighth FA Cup crown. If they do that, they will complete the Premier League-FA Cup double for the first time since the 2009-10 season.

Antonio Conte, the manager of Chelsea F.C., will be seeking to win a major cup (knockout) competition for the first time in his managerial career, after not winning the Coppa Italia with U.S. Arezzo, F.C. Bari 1908, Atalanta B.C., S.S. Robur Siena, and Juventus F.C. during his time in Italy.

Looking at the path of Arsenal F.C. to reach the 136th FA Cup final, The Gunners started their campaign in the third round, and defeated Preston North End F.C. (2-1), Southampton F.C. (5-0), and Sutton United F.C. (2-0) away from home in the third, fourth, and fifth rounds to reach the quarter-finals.

In the quarter-finals, they played at home at the Emirates Stadium against Lincoln City F.C., where they enjoyed a 5-0 victory to reach a semi-final up against Manchester City F.C. at Wembley Stadium.

In the semi-finals, the match went to extra-time after finishing one-all after 90 minutes after Nacho Monreal scored a 72nd minute equaliser to cancel out a 62nd minute goal by Manchester City F.C. striker Sergio Agüero.

Then, in the 101st minute (in extra-time), Alexis Sánchez scored the decisive, match-winning goal to send The Gunners through to their 20th FA Cup final, as they look to win their third FA Cup in four seasons.

Looking at the path of Chelsea F.C. to reach the 2017 FA Cup final, The Blues started in the third round, and defeated Peterborough United F.C. (4-1), and Brentford F.C. (4-0) in the third and fourth rounds (both at home) to reach a fifth round meeting away to Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C., which they defeated 2-0 to reach a quarter-final meeting against Manchester United F.C. at home.

In the quarter-final, The Blues defeated The Red Devils, who were reduced to 10 men, by a goal to nil thanks to a 51st minute goal by N’Golo Kanté to send Chelsea F.C. through to a Wembley Stadium semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur F.C., where they defeated them 4-2 to reach their 12th FA Cup final, looking to win the competition for the first time since the 2011-12 season.

In terms of team news coming into the final, vice-captain Laurent Koscielny (after receiving a red card against Everton F.C. for a tackle on Enner Valencia), and fellow defender Gabriel (due to a knee injury) will both miss the final, and Shkodran Mustafi has been in-doubt due to suffering a concussion against Sunderland A.F.C. over a week ago.

Meanwhile, Chelsea F.C. will be pretty much at full-strength.

The referee for the 136th FA Cup final will be Anthony Taylor.

He was the fourth official in the 2013 FA Cup final, and has also been the referee in the 2015 League Cup final, and 2015 FA Community Shield. Taylor was also an additional assistant referee (goal-line referee) in the 2014 UEFA Super Cup, 2015 UEFA Europa League final, 2016 UEFA Champions League final, and the 2016 UEFA European Championship final.

It should be a wonderful occasion, and with two teams in great form, I am expecting a tight contest, one that could well go to extra-time, but an final that I see Chelsea F.C. winning by a single goal.

 

Kick Off on Saturday 27th May, 2017 at 5:30pm local time (Sunday 28th May, 2017 at 2:30am AEST).