Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Eto'o returns

Barcelona rounded off the Champions League group stage with a comfortable 3 -1 win over German team Stuttgart in Camp Nou, as Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o scored his first goal of the season.

Barça's coach Frank Rijkaard was watching from the stands as he was suspended and he will not have been happy with the start his team made as Antonio da Silva netted after just three minutes for the visitors.

And just as they had to against Deportivo at the weekend, Barça had to battle back and they did so as mexican Giovani Dos Santos levelled in the first half, before Eto'o and Ronaldinho scored after the break.

It's important to mention that Xavi was set to be rested, but after Deco was unfit to play the Barça midfielder was named in the starting line-up alongside Eidur Gudjohnsen with Andrés Iniesta on the bench.

Rookie star Bojan Krkic was also expected to start, but Ronaldinho was given more time to rediscover his level up front with Giovani and Eto'o, while Albert Jorquera replaced Víctor Valdés in goal.

Despite those changes, Barcelona will not have been expecting to start like they did as they were hit with a sucker punch before having time to settle.

Gaby Milito tripped Ewerthon on the edge of the are in the third minute and Da Silva lifted a superb free-kick over the wall the clipped the underside of the crossbar and flew into the net.

Moments later Samuel Eto'o had the chance to draw Barça level when he received a weak pass in front of goal, but his first touch allowed the keeper time to approach and block his shot.

What's more, Ronaldinho Gaucho and Rafael Márquez then went close before Gudjohnsen first supplied Xavi, whose shot was kept out by Raphael Schäfer and the Icelandic international then clipped the rebound to Giovani, whose drive was tipped wide for a corner.

And with nine minutes remaining the pressure from Barça finally told as Ronaldinho won possession off Boka in the left corner and his cross was met by Giovani in front of goal.

The Mexican revelation wheeled away to celebrate and while replays were inconclusive, Schäfer was adamant that the ball had clipped the scorer's arm.

After 12 minutes of the second part, Barcelona took the lead for the first time when Xavi set off from the halfway line before feeding Eto'o and the Cameroonian took one touch before rifling his shot into the far corner of the net.

The frontman's delight was obvious and he raced to the bench to hug the coach that had helped him throughout his recuperation from his long-term knee injury.

Veteran Yildiray Bastürk then created space for himself, but his shot did not match the run as the ball flew wide and with Barcelona's next meaningful attack they wrapped up the points.

Iniesta had been on five minutes when he laid the ball down the left for Sylvinho and the Brazilian slid a low cross into the area where Ronaldinho Gaucho met it on the run and steered in number three from six yards out.

And shortly before Ewerthon had seen his fizzing shot from 25 yards cannon back off Jorquera's crossbar.

Liverpool had a fest at Marsella

Football is ironic, just like life. Some months ago, when Liverpool was at a bad moment, it was shocked by Marseille's cheek in sneaking an historic 1-0 triumph at Anfield. Tuesday was pay-back, big time. Wearing black instead of its familiar red, running hot in the chilly Mistral wind, Liverpool crushed Marseille, 4-0, in the French team's own pitch.

And it might have been twice that score had Gerrard, Torres and company not had it in mind that the weekend brings another definitive encounter, at home to Manchester United.

"I must admit that it was almost the perfect night," said Rafael Benítez, Liverpool's coach. "Everybody knows Gerrard and Torres are good, but tonight everyone showed character and commitment. As I say, almost perfect because always you can improve something."

In fact, the coach didn't seem surprised, he didn't seem concerned that the weekend brings a rare visit to Anfield of his American bosses, who are supposedly gunning for a showdown after the boss had insinuated that they were absentee landlords who have failed to grasp the need to buy when Europe's transfer window opens in midseason.

"I'm just not thinking about money to buy fresh footballers", Benítez answered his questioners in Marseille. "I'm thinking, job done here, now I'm looking to play Manchester United. Nothing else."

We can say thtLiverpool's resurgence in Europe this season has been as remarkable as the great escape in Istanbul in 2005 when, three goals down at halftime in the final against AC Milan, the Reds recovered to draw 3-3 and win the Champions League trophy on a penalty shootout.

Captain Steven Gerrard had led that comeback, as he led Liverpool's turnaround this season. After three games against Besiktas, Porto and Marseille, Liverpool floundered with but a single point and stared eviction from the tournament in the face.

The next three, against the same opponents, yielded 16 goals to Liverpool, just one in reprisal, and in the nick of time qualification for the knockout phase.

It's important to mention that four other clubs progressed to the last 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday. Real Madrid and Porto did so easily; Schalke squeezed out Rosenborg to become the only German club still standing in the tournament; and Olympiakos qualified for the first time in nine years.

"In fact, the most rewarding feeling is that our fans are on the streets celebrating our qualification," Panagiotis Lemonis, the Olympiakos coach, said after his team's comprehensive 3-0 home victory over Werder Bremen. "This is one of the most important nights in the history of Olympiakos, not because of the result, but because of the way my players went for the triumph when a draw was enough."