Friday, August 31, 2007

Soccer Season

Every year when soccer starts up again I can't help but make loads of predictions. Nobody ever listens to them, but last year I got them all right. This has prompted me to start recording my predictions so I can prove it to people who don't believe me 6 months down the line. Today I'm going to start with the Champions League group stage, since the draw was just the other day. I'm going to list the teams from each group in the order I expect them to place, and then explain why. Ok, here it is.

Group A: Liverpool, Porto, Marseille, Besiktas. Liverpool clearly dominates this group. Their European form is impeccable, and their team is even stronger this year than it was last year. I wouldn't be surprised to see them in the final four again. Portuguese teams are always difficult, so I feel Porto will finish second. As for the other two, it's really up in the air, though I think Marseille's greater experience at this level will see them into the UEFA cup over the Turks.

Group B: Chelsea, Valencia, Schalke, Rosenborg. Despite my hatred, I must admit that Chelsea are a great team. Aside from their skill, they have the psychological edge over Valencia after defeating them in last year's competition. Schalke's recent troubles will see them overcome Rosenborg, but Valencia will be too big a team to beat this time around.

Group C: Real Madrid, Lazio, Werder Bremen, Olympiacos. Real Madrid, despite winning more Champions League titles than any other team, are a bit of a wild-card lately. Sometimes they are untouchable, and sometimes they play like me and my friends in the backyard. I think they will progress out of the group phase, but no further. Lazio (my most hated team in soccer) have found a squad and a style that works very well for them...unfortunately. Bremen are decent, but not world beating, and Olympiacos will suffer from both the aftermath of the wildfires in Greece, and the recent scandals that have hit Greek soccer.

Group D: AC Milan, Benfica, Celtic, Shaktar Donetsk. This group is very hard for me to predict, so I want to say that apart from Milan in first, the other three spots are up in the air. As reigning champions, Milan are still that favourites to take the title again. Benfica and Celtic are both strong in different aspects of the game, and so either one could go through. As for Shaktar, with the current quality of Ukrainian soccer, and the addition of Christiano Lucarrelli, I think they may surprise people. Like I said, after Milan, I'm not too sure.

Group E: Barcelona, Stuttgart, Lyon, Rangers. Barca are always favourites, and now is no exception. Stuttgart will be riding high after their Bundesliga victory last season, and should overcome struggling Lyon who never fare well in this competition anyways. Rangers may be getting better, but just cannot compete in a group as ludicrously tough as this one.

Group F: Manchester United, Roma, Sporting Lisbon, Dynamo Kiev. United just may get out of this group undefeated...unless Roma have something to say about it, that is. After last year's violence, and the 7-1 debacle, I think Roma-Manchester will be the rivalry of the entire group phase. Though good, Sporting and Dynamo are up against two of the best teams in the world, and so will battle amongst themselves for third place and the UEFA Cup spot.

Group G: Inter Milan, PSV Eindhoven, Fenerbahce, CSKA Moskow. Inter will take this group, and then crash like they always do. All three of the other teams could take second place, but the Dutch have far more experience at this level than the Turks or the Russians. Fenerbahce are playing well, and so may defeat CSKA...though the Moskow side is my personal favourite in this group, and I want to see them pull off a major upset and advance to the round of 16.

Group H: Arsenal, *Sevilla, Steaua Bucharest, *AEK Athens, Slavia Prague. Ok, this is weird because the Sevilla/Athens game has not yet taken place, so we don't know who will be in the group yet. Arsenal should win comfortably, though Sevilla is the best team in this group. Steaua can surprise some of the bigger teams if given a chance. AEK will likely suffer if they qualify, though Slavia Prague have been out of the Champions League for a while, and will likely come in last.

Ok, there you have it. I really hope some of these results don't turn out the way I predicted them, since most of the teams I like in these groups are the smaller sides. Oh well, in soccer anything can happen. Forza Juventus per sempre! Ciao.

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