Who knew the last two days would answer the question…

What do Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Kaka and Sergio Ramos have in common? (Answer below)


Ronaldo Rubbish: Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo reacts after missing a penalty against Bayern Munich in the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League (AP Photo).

All of these undoubtedly brilliant players capable of changing a game did just that in the last two days — by missing a penalty apiece. Ramos in particular deserves a special mention for his stupendously abysmal attempt (kids, please do not try that at home).

And now neither Barcelona nor Real Madrid will play for the UEFA Champions League title next month.


So does this kill Jose Mourinho’s chances of managing Chelsea again then, huh?

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Weekly Column: UEFA Champions League Preview


Two days, two of the biggest club games this year: Bayern Munich-Real Madrid today, Chelsea-Barcelona Wednesday on Fox Soccer and FX respectively.

Wherever you’re going to watch — and a list of soccer friendly Los Angeles-area bars, pubs and restauarants origtinally compiled for the World Cup are at top right on this blog — enjoy the games.

And before you go get primed for all the action in today’s column.

Who do you like? Is an all-Spanish final likely? Or will Bayern Munich or Chelsea (or both) crash the Messi-Ronaldo party?

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Tuesday’s column: To see Messi play is to see greatness

i-6ed99765b417bfe7dfbfa4465e192983-magicmessi.jpgAll that jazz: Lionel Messi blows past Real Madrid’s Marcelo last month in the Spanish Cup final (AP Photo).

Well, OK this was as much a homage to Lionel Messi as it is a column, but, well, I make no apologies for it: He’s that good.

It might seem incredible to soccer fans, but there are plenty of Americans who don’t know who Messi is or why they should care.

The newsroom’s resident Lakers fanatic was heading out the door to get home in plenty of time for their playoff game last night when I asked him if he knew who Lionel Messi was.

“Jazz singer?” he said only half-joking.

I wrote today’s column for the likes of him.


* Barcelona are through to the UEFA Champions League final.

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Tuesday Kicks: Today’s column & more

i-869a73a9d50999011215c7a2e54d9d6b-rooneybicycle.jpgBiker boy: Wayne Rooney scored Saturday what he described as the best goal of his career. Let’s hope the highlight reels shift into OT when the round of 16 begins today in the UEFA Champions League (AP Photo).

*Dema Kovalenko, who finished a 13-year career with just over 20 appearances for the Galaxy in the last couple of seasons, has confirmed what most of us had already assumed – his retirement.

One of those polarizing players who always had a reckless – some might say downright dangerous – streak, Kovalenko was also a genuine, down to earth locker room presence who was always quick with a joke and a smile with reporters he knew.

*David Beckham’s libel lawsuit against a tabloid gossip sheet who alleged he scored with a $10,000 a night hooker was thrown out by a Los Angeles judge.

*Finally, I think you can make a case that the best soccer tournament on the face of the planet is not the World Cup, but the UEFA Champions League. I certainly remember more great moments and great games from that tournament in recent years than the World Cup.

So will you be planted in front of a TV set at 11:30 a.m. today when Tottenham and AC Milan open the knockout round of the UEFA Champions League on Fox Soccer Channel? Me too. Read more here.

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Tuesday’s Column: American TV viewers’ choice for soccer is overseas

Read the column here.

UEFA Champions League games this week include:


BSC Young Boys (SUI) vs. Tottenham Hotspur FC (ENG) FSN
FC Dynamo Kyiv (UKR) vs. AFC Ajax (NED) Fox Soccer Channel
Rosenborg BK (NOR) vs. FC Kbenhavn (DEN) Fox Soccer Plus


Werder Bremen (GER) vs. Sampdoria (ITA) Fox Soccer Channel
FK Partizan (SRB) vs. RSC Anderlecht (BE Fox Soccer Plus

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Galaxy host UEFA Champions League winners Inter Milan in August

i-741619117228f1a1b64c7b74081b7a72-diegocarson.jpgTwo-goal Diego Milito & Co.: coming to Carson (AP Photo).

Saturday, Aug. 7, to be precise, at Home Depot Center.

Tickets are $50 and “will go on sale to the general public at a future date.”

“We have always said that it is our ambition to give our fans exciting games that further enhance the experience of being an LA Galaxy fan and bringing the champions of Europe to The Home Depot Center certainly fits that vision,” Galaxy President of Business Operations Tom Payne said. “This is the second consecutive season in which we have brought the (UEFA) Champions League winners to Southern California and just like last year, we are anticipating another unbelievable evening for our team and our fans.”

The Galaxy lost to Barcelona last August at the Rose Bowl before a crowd of 93,137.

The five-time Serie A champions beat Bayern Munich 2-0 Saturday to claim the treble.

From the Galaxy press release:

Inter Milan will travel to Los Angeles with their complete squad of stars, which currently includes many World Cup-bound superstars such as Argentina’s Diego Milito, who scored both Inter goals in Saturday’s Champions League Final, and Walter Samuel, Brazil’s Julio Cesar, Lucio and Maicon, Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o, Ghana’s Sulley Muntari, Holland’s Wesley Sneijder, David Suazo of Honduras and Serbia’s Dejan Stankovic. They also feature 2006 FIFA World Cup winner Marco Materazzi, former Italian international goalkeeper Francesco Toldo, Argentina internationals Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti, the current Inter captain, as well as a host of additional international stars.

But not Jose Mourinho, I suppose, who conventional wisdom says is Real Madrid-bound.

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Special One Sunday Soccer, Chivas USA & more

Considering I spent Saturday watching no fewer than four soccer games, it feels odd to say I was taking a break from the game, but that’s what it felt like.

i-fc4665b829c3cf0444f3789188e20103-specialvictory.jpg Saturday’s UEFA Champions League title was a special one for Inter Milan and Jose Mourinho (AP Photos).

After watching another exceptional coaching job by Inter Milan’s Jose Mourinho in the UEFA Champions League final with a Bayern Munich-dominant set of fans at Alpine Village near Torrance (there’s nothing like a middle-aged frauline handing you a beer while saying in heavily-accented German “Arrogant Bastard” – I think she was referring to the microbrew I was drinking – as she does so), and watching the U.S. women score their biggest win over the Germans in 14 years I thought I’d play hooky from the Home Depot Center.

I’m glad I did after Chivas USA (3-6-1) went down to a third consecutive loss in a mostly forgettable game against defending MLS champion Real Salt Lake with the main highlight for the home team being Justin Braun’s well-taken third goal of the season.

i-6c9584056ee55c006f057b49d67205da-brauntackled.jpgReal Salt Lake successfully tackled Justin Braun and Chivas USA Saturday in Carson.

Quotable: Chivas USA Coach Martin Vasquez succinctly summed up the game –

“We came back in the second half and we were able to get a nice goal and play better, but we lost our focus in the 89th minute – and we lost the game.”

Notable: Chivas USA defender and Anaheim native Carlos Borja made the first start of his MLS career.


Chivas USA lineup: Zach Thornton, Mariano Trujillo, Daro Delgado, Michael Umaa, Carlos Borja, Jess Padilla (Chukwudi Chijindu 77), Ben Zemanski, Marcelo Saragosa, Michael Lahoud (Jos Macotelo 54), Blair Gavin, Maicon Santos (Justin Braun 63).

Next for Chivas USA: at D.C. United Saturday.

There’s more soccer locally today, in what is likely to be a collection of Galaxy reserve players taking on Argentina’s Boca Juniors (missing their two biggest stars) at 5 p.m. in an exhibition at Home Depot Center.

The game is also on FSN – and that’s where I’ll be watching it.

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SoCal style UEFA Champions League final preview

The soccer high point of the weekend is the UEFA Champions League final between Germany’s Bayern Munich and Italy’s Inter Milan.

And the best place to watch it in Southern California might well be German-themed Alpine Village near Torrance.

Not only is it conveniently located smack dab next to the Torrance Boulevard off-ramp from the Harbor (110) Freeway, but the new management there is trying to reclaim its long-lost crown as the preeminent spot to watch soccer in the South Bay.

How? In part, by emphasizing the only thing soccer fans universally love more than the game itself – beer.

Alpine Village (which, by the way, is adding comfortable booths and generally trying to update its dingy, out-dated appearance) now has 15 German-style beers on taps – considerably more than it previously boasted – most of them imports, but others from such Southern California’s microbreweries as Stone and Redlands’ Hanger 24.

And the price is right, too; beer specials will run $2 for a 12 oz glass (regularly $4.25), $4 for a 22 oz glass (regularly $7.50), while 32 oz pitchers are $6 (regularly $10).

Kickoff, by the way, is at 11:30 a.m. on Fox, the first time the game has ever been played on a Saturday AND on network TV in the U.S. Oh, and Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena is an analyst on the broadcast; I’m told he’ll return from Madrid in time for Sunday’s Boca Juniors friendly in Carson.


Here’s a preview to, um, wet your appetite:

MADRID (AP) — The Champions League final is so evenly matched that the title could come down to a coaching decision by Bayern Munich’s Louis van Gaal or his one-time assistant, Inter Milan’s Jose Mourhino.

Two of the most successful coaches of recent years, they both were at Barcelona more than a decade ago when van Gaal was the head coach and Mourinho part of his backup team. Each team won its domestic league and cup titles and is striving to end the season with triple successes.

i-b2e3006f665df9fc3bf0680123760e65-Bayern's Louis van Gaal.jpg“We worked together for three years,” van Gaal, right, said Friday. “He was an excellent coach and trainer and carried out all analyses for Barcelona and studied our opponents and did an excellent job.

“Little did I know that he would turn out such a great coach. He’s one of the best in the

The cool, more-experienced van Gaal has won 15 major titles to 13 for the feisty Mourinho, the self-proclaimed “Special One.” Van Gaal will aim to show why he’s still the master on Saturday in the first Champions League final broadcast by a U.S. over-the-air network.

Mourinho has refused to say he will remain at Inter for next season, leading to speculation the former Porto and Chelsea manager will move on to Real Madrid.

While Mourinho, below, has a hugely experienced defense at Inter with the likes of Argentines Javier Zanetti and Walter Samuel, and Brazilians Maicon and Lucio, van Gaal looks to Arjen Robben to attack them with his bursts of speed and powerful, long-range shooting with his left foot.

i-28378ebac9a8ad92bf494e7125503f30-joseuefa.jpgAlthough Franck Ribery is suspended, Bayern has the talent to unlock Inter’s defense with Croatian striker Ivica Olic aiming to follow up his hat-trick against Lyon, which put the team into its eighth final.

Bastian Schweinsteiger has switched from a right-sided attacking midfielder and is supporting the forwards from behind and, with 20-year-old Thomas Mueller playing just behind Olic, van Gaal has the luxury of putting German national team forwards Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez on the bench.

“My philosophy is always to attack an opponent on the pitch,” van Gaal said. “Mourinho is more defensive, that’s his tactic, but he has good players who can decide the match.”

Diego Milito will be Inter’s main attacking force, with Samuel Eto’o close by and Wesley
Sneijder supporting as the playmaker.

But Inter’s real strength is how it copes when the other team has possession. With Thiago Motta suspended, a lot will depend on Esteban Cambiaso to protect his defenders in the same way he helped to keep Barcelona’s Lionel Messi so quiet in the semifinal.

Trying to become the first coach since Helenio Herrera in 1965 to take the title back to Inter Milan, Mourinho may well move Zanetti out of defense and alongside Cambiasso to nullify the threat of Robben. But such negative thinking might well be his undoing.

If Inter concentrates too much on the Dutch star, Schweinsteiger may well get more room to attack through the center and support the two front men, opening up space for Olic and Mueller to score.

Van Gaal, who won the title in charge of Ajax in 1995, believes his Bayern team is catching up with the very best in Europe.

“Chelsea, Manchester United and Barcelona are the best teams in Europe. Nevertheless we can win the title. Of course, we have had a little bit of luck but I think it was deserved,” he said in reference to a controversial goal against Fiorentina and the harsh red card given to Manchester United defender Rafael in the quarterfinal.

“It’s also possible that a lower level club wins,” he said. “That’s sport.”

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Wednesday Kicks: Messi, Reyna, Mathis, Backe & Ching

If, like me, you are still getting over Lionel Messi’s incomparable four-goal blitz Tuesday for Barcelona over a hapless Arsenal (who play some pretty football themselves under Arsene Wenger) in the UEFA Champions League, you’ll want to circle this game on your calendar this weekend if you haven’t already – the 1 p.m. Saturday SuperClasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid that will air on GolTV.

I don’t often link to non-So. Cal related videos, but if you haven’t seen Messi’s one-man show, check it out below. This is mandatory viewing:

One thought: the 2010 World Cup could be Messi’s similar to the way Maradona dominated in 1986. Bring it on.

In other soccer news:

*Claudio Reyna will be formally introduced today by U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati as youth national teams technical director.

*Houston’s Brian Ching will miss Saturday’s game against the Galaxy in Texas and be out four to six weeks after injuring his hamstring in last week’s opener against Real Salt Lake. More here. Incidentally, I haven’t had a chance to mention this but the Galaxy’s Clint Mathis looked sharp Monday at practice, cracking home a volley that rolled the clock back about 10 years. I wonder if we’ll get a glimpse of him this weekend?

*Red Bulls Coach Hans Backe, who missed Saturday’s win over Seattle and subsequently underwent surgery Monday is likely to miss the 1 p.m. Saturday game against Chivas USA at Home Depot Center:

“The medical team is confident that he will make a full recovery over the coming weeks,” Red Bull New York said in a statement released Tuesday. “He will spend the next few days resting at home. In his absence, the squad will be managed by our experienced coaching staff.”

More details here.

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No New Order for Beckham in Manchester

i-526d66e2f153d400c813d6166e0eb731-beckssalute.jpgOn-loan Galaxy midfielder David Beckham salutes the crowd at Old Trafford today after the final whistle (AP Photo).

Apologies up front for the semi-obscure Mancunian music reference.

But it seemed semi-appropriate as David Beckham and AC Milan were comprehensively beaten 4-0 on the night and 7-2 on aggregate by Manchester United and exited the UEFA Champions League today on his first return to the club.

Becks received a standing ovation when he entered the game with slightly less than 30 minutes to play as a second half sub. By then the score was 3-0 and the game was already out of the Italian club’s reach.

Beckham gave a good account of himself, connecting with a ferocious volley that was saved by United keeper Edwin van der Sar and also putting in a tantalizing cross that needed just a final touch for Milan to get a consolation goal in second half stoppage time.

But he also made a bad back pass to a defender that could easily have led to yet another United goal.

All in all a Blue Monday wednesday for Beckham.

More here.

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