Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s debut couldn’t have gone much better for the LA Galaxy, as he bagged a brace, including the match winner, against LA FC on Saturday. Thanks to his production, Ibrahimovic saw a $400K price increase in the league’s official fantasy game, nearly a max increase despite taking only two shots in 19 minutes.
DraftKings opened their Copa America and European Championships contests Wednesday and at the same time released new scoring and roster rules for their soccer games. After using 11-man rosters, the site is now back to an eight-man group, made up of one goalkeeper, two defenders, two midfielders, two forwards and one utility.
Across the pond, the UEFA Champions League is perhaps one of the biggest annual sporting competitions. However, here in the US, the competition is widely unknown due to the complicated nature of qualification, the duration of the tournament, and the fact that there’s really nothing comparable in the four major American sports.
As we approach the second leg of the Round of 16, here are five headers about the upcoming March matches:
- All told, 78 teams participate in the Champions League spanning 53 different countries with the clubs entering at different stages based on their method of qualification. As the name suggestions, those 78 clubs have been whittled down to just 16; three each from Spain and England, two from Germany and Italy, as well as one from Belgium, France, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, and Ukraine. During earlier stages of the competition, teams from the same country can’t be drawn against one another, but once you reach what is referred to as the knockout stage, all bets are off.
- At this point in the competition, often the small clubs have been eliminated, although occasionally a smaller club such as Basel (Switzerland) in 2014-15 or Olympiacos (Greece) in 2013-14 can make it this far due to a favorable group in the prior stage. This season, the closest thing to a small club would be either PSV Eindhoven (Netherlands) or Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine). In the knockout stage, the teams play each other in home-and-away series with an aggregate score between the two matches determining the outcome. While Kyiv faces a tough challenge after falling behind to powerhouse Manchester City (England) 1-3, Eindhoven’s cinderella story continues after a nil-to-nil draw against Atlético Madrid (Spain).
- Unfortunately, the Champions League can tend to be repetitive. Real Madrid (Spain) has made it to the final four in each of the last five competitions along with Barcelona (Spain) and Bayern Munich (Germany) who have each reached the semifinals four times. Additionally, those three squads combined to win four of the five of those competitions and are all still alive in the 2015-16 Champions League with Bayern being the only team not to come out of the first leg with a lead after a 2-2 draw against Juventus (Italy).
- Generally considered a footballing powerhouse, England has put together some surprisingly poor performances in European competitions. Since Chelsea won their first ever Champions League title in 2011-12, only one English side has made it past the quarterfinals. The disappointing run of form looks like it will continue this year as both Arsenal and Chelsea are trailing after the first leg.
- There should be some exciting matches around the corner for any type of game you’d like to watch. If you are looking for a one-sided goal fest, Manchester City is already up 3-1 over Dynamo Kyiv and should be able to score goals at will when they meet Mar. 15. On that same day, you can find a defensive affair as PSV Eindhoven and Atlético Madrid failed to score in their first leg, a 0-0 draw, with both teams playing a ball-control style that plays out as more of a chess match. For the match of the round, look no further than Juventus against Bayern Munich as the German giants face off Mar. 16 against the Italian side who lost in the 2014-15 Champions League final to Barcelona. The teams drew 2-2 in the first leg and will highlight everything fans enjoy watching in a soccer match during their deciding tilt.
No matter if you are a lifelong soccer fan or just a newbie looking to get into the sport, the Champions League showcases the best players and clubs in the world. Matchdays for the Round of 16 span the weekend of Mar. 8-9 and 15-16 and are well worth 90 minutes of your time.
Here are some things I think you should know before the USA/Belgium game.
– I’m already tired of hearing that the USA “backed in” to the round of 16. It’s as if those first two games against Ghana and Portugal didn’t count. Plain and simple, USA didn’t let Germany blow them out, Portugal did. Case closed.
– Omar Gonzalez played good enough last game to keep Geoff Cameron on the bench, especially after his performance against Portugal. I would entertain the idea of bringing Cameron in around the 75th minute if the USA has a lead.
– The referee for the game is from Algeria. As in, Algeria, the team that the USA elimated from the 2010 World Cup. Don’t be surprised if a few calls go against the USA. FIFA remains one of the most corrupt organizations in the sporting world.
– What’s going on with Michael Bradley? I’ve read pieces that suggest he should be benched but I wouldn’t go that far. He’s always been the glue on this team and at best he’s been mediocre so far in this World Cup. Let’s hope he’s been saving everything for this game.
– If Tim Howard wants to play in the next four World Cups, let him. I still haven’t seen a better save than the one-handed save he put over the bar on the rebound shot in the Portugal game.
He made his debut with the USMNT in 2002 and has rarely disappointed. Howard also suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome, a condition he’s overcome to be one of the best goal keepers in the world.
– Eden Hazard is a name you should know. He’s arguably/likely the best Belgium player and plays for Chelsea in the English Premier League. Hazard is an amazing, creative playmaker who can make an impact, likely on an assist or the pass leading to the assist. He’s also capable of scoring but hopefully that won’t happen.
– The USA are underdogs according to the odds at Bovada. With soccer betting (you can find different wagers) you typically bet on one team or the other or a tie. Right now the website has USA+260, a tie +250 and Belgium +105. Those are based on the results of regulation, not the end result.
– Jozy Altidore returning to the lineup could be more bad than good. Should he start, it’s pretty clear he won’t be close to 100 percent. He may not start but could be brought in for a sub. Should that happen there’s the chance that he gets subbed in, aggravates the injury and has to leave, there’s two wasted subs. The USA does need to have another striker up front with Clint Dempsey and play a more attacking style of soccer than they did against Germany.
– The Brad Davis experiment was cute but it didn’t work. Julian Green and Mikkel (Mix) Diskerud are the only two field players to not see any game action. Don’t be surprised if Mix gets his chance.
– Qatar, where the 2022 World Cup will be, has a high temperature of 111-117 degrees Fahrenheit this week. Players better hope global warming doesn’t really exist. Also, smart decision, FIFA.
– Unfortunately, this game could be the last for some of the players on this 23-man roster. DaMarcus Beasley, Kyle Beckerman, Brad Davis, Clint Dempsey and Jermaine Jones will all be at least 35-years-old for the next World Cup. Field players typically don’t play for their national team at that age.
– And here is another cool hype video:
– Prediction: the heart says USA 2 – Belgium 1. The head says Belgium 2 – USA 1. What say you?