This recap comes a little late but there are still a few points I wanted to make.
First off, I was glad to see the Zenit – Juventus game proceed without incident. After the horrible incident earlier in the week, it would have been understandable had the game been postponed but the game did go on and the result did not go as Zenit might have hoped. Zenit will have to be content to defend their UEFA Cup crown as they cannot advance from Group H after a goalless home draw against already-qualified Juventus. Real Madrid’s success at FC BATE Borisov, thanks to a lone Raul goal, on Tuesday confirmed that Zenit will finish third. Dick Advocaat will be left looking for answers as his side once again dominated possession, but could not find the back of the net.
I was going to go through the groups in order but I have to get a few things off my chest first. I had the unfortunate ‘pleasure’ of watching the Villarreal – Manchester United fixture. Defending champs Manchester United are through, as are their Matchday 5 opponents Villarreal, after a stalemate at El Madrigal.
It was a fourth 0-0 draw in four games between these sides and it was not a very entertaining game. Neither team played with much energy and looked to be content with a draw from the onset. Further making this an unwatchable mess, was the constant simulation (diving) and harassing of the officials to book opposing players. Both sides were guilty of this poor sportsmanship and should feel ashamed of their behaviour. One player I’d like to single out for scorn is Joan Capdevlla.
His challenge on Ronaldo in the late stages of the match was rash and dangerous. From the multiple replays I watched, he looked to be aiming the studs of his boot at the inside of Ronaldo’s knee. ESPN’s Tommy Smyth comments summed it up nicely — it was stupid and there’s no place for it in the game. Ronaldo ended up with a visible bruise/laceration on the thigh area around the knee. The fact that Capdevila was motioning that if Ronaldo was so injured he should be substituted was another dose of poor sportsmanship on top of his already thuggish challenge. I was surprised by this as Capdevila is not normally this type of player and in a game with little on the line, I had to wonder what got him so riled. Ronaldo certainly was at his worst, diving and embellishing a number of fouls — not to mention getting himself booked for petulance over a call made by the assistant referee, but Capdevila has now gotten himself suspended for the next couple of matches and that does not help his club.
The prevailing logic is that opponents are trying to kick Ronaldo off the park. Villarreal’s tactics are being cited as merely the latest example of how opponents are trying to get under the skin of the talented United forward. Alex Ferguson has been calling for him to be more protected, which is all fine and well, but Ronaldo does not help himself out. Instead of staying upright and playing, he dives and play-acts, which casts doubt into the referee’s mind, even when he is being well and truly fouled. In the Villarreal game, he went down heavily and death-rolled his way across the pitch after only the faintest of touches. The referee bought into it and gave the foul rather than carding him for simulation.
I am not excusing Capdevila’s challenge, not by a long shot. Merely pointing out that Ronaldo is not a poor, innocent victim. He is also guilty of an offense to football. Cheating. I know in many cultures, diving to win a call is considered ‘smart’ play but I cannot bring myself to agree with that mindset. It’s plain and simply dishonest. Ian Herbert of The Independent looks back at some of the other talented players throughout the history of the game that have become the target of abuse.
OK now that the ranting is over, I will climb down off the soapbox and recap some of the other action. Group G is also decided as Arsenal defeated Dynamo Kyiv at home by a 1-0 scoreline. A Nicklas Bendtner strik in the 87th minute was just enough to see the Gunners through and give some relief to a side that’s been in a tumultuous state the last couple of weeks. The Gunners have lost three Premier League games this month and William Gallas was stripped of the captaincy after publicly criticising his team-mates. “It was what we need, reassurance, and will give us that,” Wenger told the BBC in a post-match interview. Add to that a recent win over Chelsea in domestic action and Arsenal should almost be over this whole mess, at least for the time being. Speculation has ramped up that Gallas will leave in the January transfer window but with Arsenal thin on experience it would be a risky move for Wenger.
Arsenal will be joined in the next round by FC Porto who held off a determined Fenerbahce side and picked up an impressive 2-1 win in Turkey. Lisandro scored a brace for Porto within a 10 minute span in the middle of the first half. The visitors then had to work hard to see off the match and book their place in the next round. As for Fenerbahce, they need to win at Dynamo Kyiv on Matchday 6 in order to finish third and go into the UEFA Cup.
In Group F, Bayern Munich were powered into the final 16 by two second-half goals from Miroslav Klose and another from Luca Toni as they recorded a 3-0 victory against FC Steaua Bucuresti. Bayern were stymied in the first half but made the most of their chances in the second to leave the Romanian side rooted to the bottom of the group. Bayern have been looking stronger and stronger as the season go on and most clubs will want to avoid facing them in the next round of the competition. Fiorentina’s loss to Lyon means that the UEFA Cup slot is still up for grabs as the two bottom clubs face-off in what should be an exciting Matchday 6 encounter.
I’ll have more info in the Matchday 6 preview I will be posting over the weekend.