Image provided by Dermot Corrigan / FOX Soccer
Wednesday evening in Madrid — and hundreds of kids are training at the Spanish football federation’s Ciudad del Futbol campus. Their sessions over, they grab a quick drink of water, then quickly gather in the small stand beside the suburban facility’s biggest pitch, to watch national coach Vicente del Bosque run his World Cup holders through their paces ahead of their crucial upcoming qualifiers for the 2014 finals.
The young spectators cheered and squealed as their heroes completed a light warm-up, then a series of ‘rondos’ — piggy-in-the-middle-style exercises where good technique is key and a sense of humor helps. Being a public session, no tactical secrets were displayed, but Gerard Pique and Andres Iniesta had recovered from minor knocks to take part. Spain looks ready for the clashes with Belarus in Mallorca on Friday, and then Georgia in Albacete next Tuesday, when four points will seal qualification for Brazil next summer.
If, as expected, Spain win on Friday, del Bosque may use the Georgia game for experimentation and give Swansea city attacker Michu a first cap. The Swansea attacker told reporters at the Cuidad de Futbol on Wednesday morning that he’d been a little awestruck at first when training alongside so many world champions — but was now ready to stake his claim for a regular squad spot.
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“When you step out on the grass, with the [World Cup winner] star on your chest, the sensation is indescribable,” Michu said. “I was a little nervous to be playing with the best players in the world, but you settle down quickly. I am here to make the most of the opportunity — and to help Spain qualify for the World Cup.”
The gap between Michu’s press conference and training left time to visit the impressive campus’ excellent museum — which shows visitors just what soccer means in Spain. The exhibits begin with a search for the sport’s origins in ancient China, Egypt, Greece, Mexico and Scotland, then fast forward to the early 20th century as young king Alfonso XIII oversees its introduction here.
Xavi Hernandez, Iker Casillas and Fernando Torres — dressed in period gear — guide you through a time tunnel to a 1930s pre-Civil War dressing room. Among the other life-sized dioramas is a 1950s film-set from when General Franco’s regime “persuaded” Real Madrid’s Alfredo Di Stefano and Barcelona’s Ladislao Kubala to star in feature length propaganda pictures.
Big sections cover the 1964 European Championships, which Spain won; and the 1982 World Cup, which Spain hosted but flopped at. The tour ends on a high — with the Henri Delaunay [European Championship] and Jules Rimet [World Cup] trophies on display, alongside jerseys and footballs from their victories in the last three major international tournaments. There’s also the actual 2010 final locker-room flipchart, with del Bosque’s detailed handwritten instructions for defending Holland’s set pieces.
Image provided by Dermot Corrigan / FOX Soccer
Once qualification is assured for next year’s tournament, del Bosque can ponder how to best retain the trophy. Selection decisions must be made on players including Michu, Casillas, Torres, David Villa, Carles Puyol, Juan Mata, Koke, Isco and – most controversially – Brazilian-born Diego Costa.
But all that can wait for now. Wednesday’s session ended with a friendly mini-game, before the sun set behind the nearby Sierra de Guadarrama mountains, and the players, children and journalists headed home for their suppers.
Another day at one of world soccer’s most important nerve centers — with Brazil 2014 on the horizon.
Heading into the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, the appeal and hype for the contest was mostly regarding whether or not Brazilian superstar Neymar would make his first start for the Blaugrana.
He didn’t. Instead, the man who Neymar replaced at Barca ironically stole the spotlight early on — David Villa. It took Villa less than 12 minutes to exact a measure of revenge on the club that sold him for a paltry fee of $6.7M — compare that to the $53.5M fee Barcelona paid Valencia to get him just three years ago, and that figure is almost criminal — with this stunning volley:
Think Barcelona fans felt a little bitter about letting Villa go?
Neymar did get on as a second-half substitute, and promptly equalized with his first official goal for the club:
Despite the 1-1 draw in the first leg, both clubs will feel like winners, at least in the summer transfer window.
Two of the most high-profile names to switch clubs this summer were Dortmund shooting star Mario Gotze and Spain’s all-time leading scorer David Villa. It didn’t take long for either of them to make their marks at their new clubs.
Villa scored this wonderful goal on his Atletico Madrid debut in a friendly against Las Palmas. While he was no longer wanted at Barcelona just three years after a €40m transfer from Valencia, it sure looks like Atletico — who got Villa at an eighth of that price — will find some use for him.
Meanwhile, Mario Gotze finally gave his Bayern Munich debut after a long injury spell that saw him miss last season’s Champions League final and all of the preseason. How long did it take for him to open his goals account for the Bavarians? A solid two minutes:
Gotze wasn’t done, later adding a second goal as Bayern beat Hungarian champions FC Györ 4-1.
Looks like both clubs will find plenty of joy in their new stars.
The mystery surrounding Luis Suarez’s next destination is deepening after Liverpool reportedly turned down Arsenal’s massive bid for the Uruguay international. Suarez has said that he wants to leave England because of the press intrusion he experienced with the Merseysiders so the chances of the Gunners landing their man seem slim. We’ve also got the latest on David Villa, so click here for the best rumors.
With David Moyes making the move from Everton to Manchester United at the start of the summer one of the first questions was whether or not he would be looking to bring any of the current Toffees squad with him to Old Trafford - it looks like our questions have been answered.
Baines has been an impressive servant under Moyes and his consistent performances have given him plenty of admirers. But with Baines linked to join United, Evra has made it clear that he doesn’t want to be behind Baines in the pecking order.
The race to sign David Villa has also started hotting up, and Manchester City looks set to bring in some new faces.
For all these rumors and more check out today’s edition of Paper Chase.
Paris Saint-Germain aren’t giving up on their pursuit of Wayne Rooney and have told the Manchester United forward to name his terms. We’ve also got the latest rumors on Gareth Bale and David Villa, so click here for the best of the gossip from the UK press.
Tottenham just missed out on one of the four Champions League spots and Andre Villas-Boas wants to make sure it doesn’t happen again. With that in mind Spurs have opened talks with Barcelona striker David Villa who looks surplus to requirements now that Neymar has signed a five-year deal from Santos. But AVB doesn’t want to stop there. The long-running saga of Leandro Damiao is showing no sign of abating according to one of the UK papers. Click here for the best of the gossip from the British media.
Ever wonder how a team prepares for a club photo shoot? Here’s your chance.
Watch as players from Barcelona put the final touches on their well-fitted garments before the club’s team picture at Camp Nou.
We have to say, we dig the teamwork.
You gotta love the internet.
Back in 2010, Barcelona star David Villa destroyed a Los Angeles police car as the Spanish forward helped promote the “Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit” video game.
Sadly, Villa’s commercial was never aired as the Catalan club axed the promo thinking it would paint him in a negative light.
What do you think? Was it a good or bad move?