You know a team is very good when its lost matches make the headlines and Barcelona, following an unbeaten streak in the Spanish Primera Division from April 2012… 10 months, finally succumbed to defeat.
The manner of the Catalan cruise control footballers’ loss however was the surprising bit, letting go of a two-goal lead earned through goals from Zeus incarnate and Pedro in the opening 25 minutes and losing 3-2 at Real Sociedad.
Indeed Sociedad’s remarkable comeback, completed with an injury time winner, was much aided by Gerard Pique’s sending off just before the hour mark and Javier Mascherano’s ‘zzzz’ moment soon after but even a man down, Barça usually wouldn’t crumble as it did on Saturday night.
But like I said, the very good teams have their losses making headlines hence, with Barcelona now without a win in two successive matches – having been held by 10-man Malaga to a 2-2 draw in the quarterfinal first leg of the Copa Del Rey – it is only natural that ‘something is wrong’.
At least Atletico Madrid would hope so, taking advantage of Sociedad’s unlikely win with a 2-0 win at home to Levante. Unfortunately, leading scorer Radamel Falcao limped off ‘hamstrung’ to leave the task of cutting Barça’s eight-point lead at the top to Adrian and co.
As for Barça, I honestly hope Malaga actually get the required result in the return leg, just so sanity can be within the reach of Real Madrid that, in the event of Malaga not getting the required result, would have to play three El-Clasicos along with the two legs against Manchester United in the Champions League at a stretch.
Besides, it is too early in the year for more recycled reasons, arguments and analysis of who’s ultra-better between Zeus incarnate and Cristiano Ronaldo… Achilles if you may… right? WRONG! Who am I kidding? I hope Malaga get thrashed out of the Copa so Barça sets up that fortnight of godly football to look forward to, something Madrid would likely prefer to avoid!
AFCON 2013 Begins
Before then we may have endured an insufferable African Cup of Nations. Hopefully we wouldn’t but following the opening matches on Saturday, it did seem like it would be an absolutely dull Nations Cup as both Group A matches between hosts South Africa & debutantes Cape Verde and Morocco against Angola later on ended in goalless draws.
It flooded us with dark memories of Mali 2002 where goalless draws were the full time scores in about 33% of group stage matches, with a further 30% ending in dire lone goal wins; that’s seven goals scored in 15 out of 24 group stage matches! Never again oh Jesus, please!
And matchday Two on Sunday livened matters a bit, with DR Congo coming from two goals down to earn a 2-2 draw against Ghana in Group B’s curtain raiser, while Mali left it rather late before edging Niger Republic by… a lone goal. Typical ’02 behaviour.
Underdogs Nigeria meanwhile get their campaign underway with a clash with Burkina Faso in a Group C match, preceded by Ethiopia squaring up to defending champions Zambia. Hopefully, the goals will come in these matches to further light up this Nations Cup.
Otherwise it would be just as the Premier Soccer League of the host nation is, good looking playing surfaces at the stadia along with cool ads for the competition, which itself is far below the standard it is packaged as.
Sharapova, Djoker Stay Unstoppable in Australia
On another continent down under, in another sport, the billings are being lived up to with some stunning displays coming from the players vying for the first grand slam of the year at the Australian Open.
Maria Sharapova at this moment looks the sure bet to get the slam in the female section, easing into the quarterfinals with a 6-1 6-0 stroll past Kirsten Flipkens.
That result meant the pretty Russian has won all four of her matches so far in straight sets, winning five of eight sets contested to love and losing just five games in those eight sets played so far.
Such beastly form from a beauty who will next face compatriot Ekaterina Makarova, after the 19th seed defeated fifth seed Angelique Kerber 7-5 6-4 in her last 16 encounter.
Over in the men’s draw, defending champion Novak Djokovic needed five hours to overcome talented Swiss player Stanislas Wawrinka in five sets, winning the deciding fifth set 12-10 and setting up a last eight match with Tomas Berdych.
The epic win was the Djoker’s 18th consecutive win at the Australian Open and keeps him on course to become the first player in the Open era to win three successive Australian Open titles. Just three more matches DjokerNole!
Before then, two French men went at each other for almost five hours before Gilles Simon overcame Gael Monfils and set up what likely will be the end of his time down under in the hands of world number three Andy Murray.
Roger Federer continues to be a maestro on the court but world number four Rafael Nadal watches on, probably with a tight fist as he edges closer to his return from injury.
Bavarians March On, Red Devils Freeze Up
The Bundesliga resumed from its winter break with Bayern Munich maintaining its charge towards an umpteenth league title in a routine 2-0 win over bottom side Greuther Fürth while Bayer Leverkusen kept pace, albeit nine points adrift, with a 3-1 win over fourth placed Eintracht Frankfurt.
Champions Borussia Dortmund remain in third place, a dozen points off the top, but back in good form after demolishing Werder Bremen with five unreplied goals away from home.
In Spain, Real Madrid posted the same result from their trip to Valencia with Achilles and Mary’s Angel getting a brace each after Gonzalo Higuain opened the scoring… and all five goals came in the first half.
With Barcelona losing, that display left the Merengues 15 points behind their bitter rivals still while still trailing their neighbours Atletico by seven points. Jose Mourinho’s getting the boot at this rate.
In Italy, Juventus got a 4-0 win with Paul Pogba scoring a spectacular brace to help Lega Calcio’s Old Lady open a five point gap on Napoli that drew 1-1 at Fiorentina and Lazio that could only manage a 2-2 draw at lowly Palermo.
Thankfully for those two (Napoli and Lazio), Inter Milan played a 1-1 draw at Roma in Sunday’s late kick-off, leaving Nerazzurri on 39 points, four points behind the sky blue duo and thus, allowing city rivals AC Milan come within five points of them after a 2-1 win at home to Bologna.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 19th league goal helped PSG return to the top of France’s Ligue Un with a lone goal win at Bordeaux, with Lyon dropping to second on goal difference after a goalless draw with Evian while Marseille is now a point behind in third place.
Finally from the Premier League, Robin van Persie’s 18th league goal proved not enough as fourth placed Tottenham Hotspur stole a point with a stoppage time equaliser at home to the Red Devils on Sunday.
That saw United’s lead at the top cut to five points as a David Silva brace had given champions Manchester City a 2-0 win at home to Fulham on Saturday.
Chelsea came out 2-1 victors over misfiring and misguided neighbours Arsenal, Loic Remy scored on his debut but had to settle for a point in QPR’s 1-1 draw at West Ham United and Osaze Odemwingie rescued a point for West Brom in a thrilling 2-2 draw at Midlands rival Aston Villa, before becoming a father on Sunday.
On that cheery note, it’s a wrap. Nigeria plays Burkina Faso later today, the first time I’ll see the Super Eagles play in months while the Australian Open enters its home run this week.
Hopefully, the DjokerNole gets the male title while Radwanska is also looking in championship form in the female section, which looks set for a competitive semi-final as defending champion Victoria Azarenka is also through to the last eight.
Have a productive week ahead. Till Saturday.