FOR anyone who might be surprised that, in the qualification play for the next European Championships the small football nations can greatly annoy the larger ones, I recommend looking at past history.
Of course it comes as a huge surprise when the Dutch are beaten 2-0 by Iceland and the Russians are held to a 1-1 draw by Moldavia.
But I can remember in 1974, for example, how we West Germans, the newly-crowned World Cup champions, had to play away at Malta on a red clay pitch, and unfortunately without the services of striker Gerd Mueller, who had stepped down from the national team.
We did win 1-0, but with a great deal of luck. Or then, five years later in 1979, against the same opponent, the German team was held to a scoreless draw, a side that had such greats as keeper Sepp Maier and striker Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
Besides the fact that there will be some of the usual slip-ups that always happen, it can also be argued that the so-called small nations have caught up.
And it naturally might also be the case that the large nations may be helping them a bit by being too casual.
Since for the first time there will be 24 teams in the championship finals, it means that even just a third place in the eight qualification groups is sufficient to qualify.
And so the it might be that subconsciously some players are telling themselves: No big deal, in the end we will likely have the normal hierarchy back again.
It has not come as unexpected to me that Germany, the new world champion, has collapsed in its first two qualification matches, losing 2-0 away at Poland and then held to a 1-1 draw at home against Ireland.
Even though there was also a lot of bad luck involved, the German team simply has too many key players sidelined by injury. This is the high price that a World Cup extracts from a team.
I had been expecting this to be the case at Bayern Munich, considering that 15 of our Bayern players had been at the World Cup playing for several teams.
Thank goodness, things are going better there. Coach Pep Guardiola has successfully managed to finesse the training in such a way as to give players a break when needed, to substitute them here and there and so keep them fresh.
When you see how many injured players there are in all at the various clubs before the third match of the Champions League, then you have to conclude that the top clubs really do need a large roster of players to be able to compensate for the numerous injuries.
You need 30 players, if possible all of them of the same calibre, or otherwise you can quickly run into problems.
This on the other hand means that you need to have a lot of money available in order to keep up with the big teams in the league.
In the Champions League today, teams run up against high-calibre opponents right from the start, in contrast to the way it was in the past when, in UEFA’s previous European Cup competition, the first round was already a knock-out round with the stronger teams usually being paired against weaker ones.
Even though up to four clubs from each league can compete in the Champions league, by and large the level is of high quality.
Just look at Group E where Bayern Munich play, with each match almost a mini-final: Manchester City, AS Rome, ZSKA Moscow. At no point can you let up even for a second.
What is surprising about this, the most difficult group, is that Man City so far has garnered only a single point.
I really liked what I saw of the English when they played in Munich, where only thanks to a last-minute goal on a deflected shot by Jerome Boateng did they lose.
Man City was a lot better than a year ago, and they should win now in Moscow, even though AS Rome took a point away from them in their home match.
The Rome club has been underestimated by many. And especially Rome’s striker Francesco Totti, whose goal to make it 1-1 in Manchester was much more than a tricky shot taken with outside part of his foot.
Anyone who at 38 years and 3 days can put on such a performance and become the oldest goal-scorer in the Champions League, I hope will keep on playing until he’s 40. Totti has apparently conserved his energy well over the course of the years.
The top match of the third day of Champions League play is unquestionably Liverpool against Real Madrid, even though the former giants Liverpool, just like Arsenal, has lost a great deal of ground to Chelsea in the Premier League.
Real, on the other hand, appears to be on solid footing in the Champions League. Their only worry is more in their own Primera Division, against local rivals and champions Atletic Madrid.
So in Liverpool, I see Real Madrid as the slight favourite. The same applies to Paris St. Germain playing in Nicosia. Of course, everything hinges on Zlatan Ibrahimovic. But now that Paris managed to down FC Barcelona 3-2 even without the injured Swede, the rest should almost take care of itself. – (GMS)