In the dead of night, tired of news braying all day, if you look at football hoping to avoid hearing the word ‘election’, avoid FC Barcelona games at all cost. That club is after all more than what it is. They may have beaten Dynamo Kiev 2-1 at the Camp Nou yesterday, but even the result is more than what it is.
The last time they played a Champions league fixture, their hated president was on his way out. Yesterday they took to the field under the shadow of news that suggested they needed to cut a €200 million wage bill — or face bankruptcy. And that was just their problems off field.
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Dynamo Kiev’s manager Mircea Lucescu had used his pre-match press conference to highlight Barcelona’s problems in detail. They were not at a level to win the Champions League, he’d said. It seemed like a taunt (even if it was just a synopsis of everything Ronald Koeman has already said), and Barca treated it as one. For the first five minutes they were irresistible, choking Dynamo’s defence with an energetic press, pulling the game wide when in possession and doing it all at high speed.
They won a penalty in the fifth —tucked away by you-know-who — and should’ve been up by three a hundred seconds after. First, a glorious high speed move involving Lionel Messi, Sergino Dest and Pedri saw the latter’s shot bounce off the inside of the crossbar. Minutes later came another opportunity, this time Ansu Fati, cutting in from the left, forcing a save from Dynamo’s 18-year-old keeper Ruslan Neshcheret. The stray ball fell to Antoine Griezmann, who dragged his first time shot wide from five yards out and the goal gaping wide.
Griezmann is the poster boy of Koeman’s reign. Based on yesterday’s display he did little to justify this role. After that opening blitzkrieg — one which lasted half an hour — Barca slowed (or perhaps Dynamo settled) and the game took on a more evenly matched feel. The visitors started chipping away and in the 35th minute had their first big chance of the game, Marc Ander Ter Stegen forced into a superb save from a Vitaliy Buyalskyi header. Gerard Pique’s goal arrived in the 65th minute, by which time Barca’s energy and verve had all but disappeared. It was insurance more than anything else. Soon after Dynamo — who were missing six players and five staff members due to Covid positives — made things nervous, scoring in the 75th minute, Viktor Tsygankov sliding home after Ter Stegen’s initial save.
Barca endured the nervy moments — if anything it was Nescheret and Ter Stegen who were the real heroes of the game — and the result provokes more questions than answers. And questions are Barcelona’s kryptonite. A lot of questions surround them right now. There is a lot to sort outside the field and on it. Elections aren’t supposed to change the present, only make for an informed future, something this club has not considered for a while now. Now, they have to.
In other results, Manchester United suffered an embarrassing 2-1 loss to Istanbul Basaksehir in Turkey. Nine-man PSG lost to RB Leipzig 2-1, leaving them with three points from three games and throwing the race to qualify from the group wide open.
AFC Champions League Scheduling Concerns
With football just about unshackling itself from lockdown in Asia, and most countries -- including India -- barely managing to get all things in place to run the domestic show, invariably just the top divisions, everyone is suddenly wary of the spanner thrown in by the continental competitions. The story is the same for the yet-to-be-finished 2020 AFC Champions League (ACL) as well as the next season’s competition slated (pending official confirmation) to begin by end of January next year.
The 2020-21 Indian Super League (ISL) is set to begin in the latter half of this month -- the much and long awaited nervous restart of big sport in the country. The fixtures for the month of November -- 11 rounds to be exact -- has been announced for matches to be staged in a biosecure bubble in Goa. It could be that the stakeholders -- the FSDL and All India Football Federation (AIFF) -- are taking it one month at a time. Uncertainties are aplenty. Add to that, there is a small problem three ISL face thanks to their continental commitments.
FC Goa is set to become the first Indian team to play in the ACL main draw for the 2021 season. ATK-Mohun Bagan will figure in the AFC Cup main draw while Bengaluru FC will play the preliminaries/qualifiers of the competition. All matches, as per schedule, are to take place in February and March next year — in the second half of the ISL season.
That would create quite a logistical nightmare for the ecobubble-bound league as breaking quarantine to travel to wherever their Asian matches take them to and then get back into the bubble is quite an exercise.
A predicament currently being faced by the sides playing in the pandemic-delayed Eastern Zone leg of the 2020 ACL knockouts.
Sixteen teams from Japan, South Korea, China, Malaysia, Thailand, and Australia are scheduled to resume their campaigns in a biosecure hub in Qatar from November 15. The Eastern Zone winners will take on western conference champion, Persepolis of Iran, in the final in Doha on December 18.
Australian clubs have an issue with the revised schedule since the A-League season is set to start just nine days after the ACL final.
Australia requires people arriving in the country to enter quarantine for 14 days which means players from Sydney FC, Melbourne Victory, and Perth Glory could be locked out when the new season kicks off on December 27.
Sydney FC CEO Danny Townsend was quoted by the AP as saying that he hopes an arrangement could be made with the Australian authorities. “Sydney FC are committed to completing the AFC Asian Champions League as long as we can secure travel exemptions from the Australian Government and can be assured a safe environment to play football,” he said.
There is also a worry whether non-Australians in the A-League squads would be allowed back into the country.
Quarantine and related uncertainties is a worry for teams regardless of the nationality. “What happens when we return home? Will there be a quarantine?,” Alistair Edwards, technical director of Malaysian champion Johor Darul Ta’zim, said.
“There were plans to start the next (Malaysian league) season in January, which is impossible if we are still involved in Asia.”
The continental championships -- featuring in which is usually taken as a sign of the coming of age of the football clubs and even the countries they represent -- is now posing existential dilemmas for all the sides, thanks to the pandemic with scheduling unlikely to be resolved in a way that satisfies everyone.
Young Footballer Reaches 7.1 million keepy-uppies for Charity
Over six months back Imogen Papworth-Heidel, 11, inspired by Captain Sir Tom Moore, who completed 100 laps of his garden during lockdown, decided to do 7.1 million keepy-uppies — one for every UK key worker — to raise money for a number of charities. Yesterday she reached her target and raised £10,800 for nine charities.
Papworth-Heidel completed a total of 1,123,586 keepy-uppies in her unbroken 195-day run. The remaining 5,976,414 were donated by around 2,000 people who took videos of themselves joining in the challenge — among them the England and Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford — and emailed them to her parents.
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An Arsenal fan who took up football at the age of six, she trains with Cambridge United’s youth academy and Essex County FA Girls Regional Talent Club. In the initial days of lockdown she was doing 200 keepy-uppies per day but her parents calculated it would take her 97 years to complete, so she started to do more and got help from others.
She said she did not think she would reach the mark so quickly, adding: “I’m just absolutely speechless at how much money we’ve raised, how many keepy-uppies have been donated and how many kind messages of support have come in.” Her parents, Sarah, 37, and Karl, 50, who both work for the NHS in patient safety, helped keep track of the tally.
Juventus TV to be Streamed on Amazon Prime
Serie A champions Juventus said their official TV channel will be available on Amazon’s streaming platform Prime Video. This is part of the strategy of Amazon to expand its sports content offering in Europe.
The Turin side, with star brand value added by Cristiano Ronaldo, would become the first European club to launch its own TV channel on Amazon Prime, available to customers at a monthly fee of 3.99 euros. The subscription model is unlikely to face the ire of fans like how things have transpired in England, and the Premier League’s pay-per-view push.
Sources had revealed last week that Amazon is eyeing a big splash into the sports broadcasting pool in Italy. They are apparently on the verge of securing rights for UEFA Champions League matches for four years (2021-2024 seasons), as per reports. It remains to be seen whether Prime would stick to the same subscription idea for live matches too. PPV money is too big to ignore. Though Amazon might be willing to part ways with that income for the larger picture on offer, a foothold in sports broadcasting in mainland Europe.
UEFA Denies Planning Euro 2020 in Russia
UEFA has denied planning to hold Euro 2020 in Russia because of the ongoing restrictions caused by the pandemic.
The European Championship was pushed back a year in March following the Covid-19 outbreak. The 24-team tournament was originally due to be held across 12 different countries. Bilbao, Amsterdam, Baku, Bucharest, Budapest, Copenhagen, Dublin, Glasgow, London, Munich, Rome and St. Petersburg were set to host matches.
Continent-wide travel restrictions and quarantine rules meant there was a push to reconsider the format, and UEFA was reported to have been considering shifting the tournament to Russia who successfully hosted the World Cup in 2018.
UEFA however have insisted that a deviation from the pre-ordained format for Euro 2020 is not being considered, and that plans for the tournament to go ahead include welcoming supporters back into stadiums.
"UEFA's efforts are currently focused on planning a tournament with fans in all 12 venues," a UEFA spokesperson said in a statement. It is unsure if the European body has a direct line to scientists developing the vaccine.
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