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Weekend Guide 28.5.15

One weekend, three games, all the information.

For the last time this season, the weekend guide is here. After 19 editions, over 50 countries, and hundred of teams, it's time to say: It was fun, it was exciting, but.. see you later!

Don't worry, when we finish a phase, we always take a deep look for the future. This is the reason we took the long flight to New Zealand, in order to visit the U-20 World Cup. We will watch some of the biggest stars of the future and some of the greatest stories of the present.

Saturday, 0600, Argentina – Panama
One of the biggest titles a team can hold while arriving this competition, is the South American champions. With this title, Argentina will try to win the U-20 title for the 7th time, a hard mission by accounts. Their first match will be against Panama, the COCACAF Championship runner-ups.
Argentina made a great run to win the South American championship. Seven wins in nine matches, 24 goals for and just seven goals against, are few of the numbers that led Argentina the victory, and now they are the obvious favorites in this World Cup. After they failed to qualify to the last tournament, Humberto Grondona, the son of the former Argentine Football Association, Julio, was appointed as the new manager. Few players in the squad already played for Grondona in the U-17 team who also conquered the continental trophy. One of the biggest names of the team is Giovanni Simeone, son of Diego Simeone, was the leading scorer of the South American tournament with nine goals. Watch also for Ángel Correa, the captain who scored the decisive goal at the final, and Augusto Batalla, one of the most promising goalkeepers in the world.

The football in Panama is in a process of improvement. The country qualified to four out of the previous six tournaments, and now they made it once again. Their CONCACAF Championship campaign was sensational when they finished the first round with five wins in five games, including 1:0 against United States. They almost won the title, but lost by penalty shootouts gave the title to Mexico. Except from two players, all the squad is based in the domestic league and its stars are Luis Pereira and Jaime de Garcia, who won the Golden Ball and the Golden Glove titles in the CONCACAF U-20 Championship, and Chin Hormechea, one of the dominant players of the local team Arabe Unido.

Argentina, one of the best football nations in the world, will try to win the U-20 World Cup once again. Will they go through their first match in a positive way?

Sunday, 0300, Qatar – Colombia
Unless there will be any surprising change, Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup. The Middle Eastern country was never qualified for the tournament, but is now cultivating its players for the occasion. From the other side, Colombia wants their next generation will join Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez, in becoming a new worldwide power. It is the 3rd appearance for Qatar in the competition. Their AFC U-19 Championship campaign was finished with their first ever title, winning 1:0 against North Korea. In order to improve the young Qatari prospects, the football association have appointed Félix Sánchez Bas, former Barcelona academy coach, and now part of ASPIRE Academy's staff. Not only that the academy supply the best coaches they can, but also the best players are traveling to foreign academies like the Austrian LASK Linz and the Belgian Eupen, which co-operates with ASPIRE. The leading players of the team are Ahmed Moein Doozandeh, the AFC U-19 tournament’s MVP, Ahmed Al Saadi, the tournament’s top scorer, and Akram Afif, who scored the winning goal in the final.
Colombia sees the qualification for this competition as a tool to improve their growing national players’ pool. The 80's generation was the basis for the Colombian golden generation in the 90's, and as the players of the last decade were the basis for the current Colombian squad, this team is tipped to be the future of the Colombian football. Colombia finished second at the South American Championship, making great results in the final stage like draws against Argentina and Uruguay and a victory over Brazil. The stars of the team are Andrés Tello and Alexis Zapata, who both plays abroad in Italy, Jeison Lucumí, one of the dominant players of América de Cali last season, and Joao Rodríguez, who’s a Chelsea player that getting experience in loans around Europe.

Two teams with big hopes for the future, this is a chance to see the future of the football in two of the emerging nations of the game.

Monday, 0300, Nigeria – Brazil
Nigeria and Brazil are two teams which always have the biggest prospects in the U-20 World Cups. Scouts from all over the world will watch this game, knowing that some of them will be the future stars of the biggest clubs in football. It will be the 4th meeting of the teams in the U-20 World Cups, and the record is in favor for Brazil: three wins and single draw.

Nigeria, the reigning African champions, wants to make history and finally win the U-20 World Cup. They qualified twice for the final, and in both of them they lost to two legendary teams – Portugal in 1989 (with players like Fernando Couto and Paulo Sousa) and Argentina in 2005 (with Lionel Messi and Pablo Zabaleta). This time, Nigeria is coming after winning the Continental title against Senegal. The coach, Manu Garba, led the U-17 team to winning the World Cup two years ago, and now he wishes to do it once again. You can find in the Nigerian squad one player that already made two caps for the senior team, Moses Simon, who won the Belgian championship with Gent. Other key players that were part from the African title winning squad are Musa Muhammed from Beşiktaş and of course, 18 years old Kelechi Iheanacho, the exciting talent of Manchester City, who was the star of the Super Eagles U-17.
After their absence from the last World Cup, Brazil will try to win the title for the 6th time. Their qualification was difficult, as the team failed to win against Argentina, Uruguay and Colombia, and eventually finished 4th, the last qualifying spot. That's not their only problem. Alexandre Gallo was the coach who decided the squad, but in the beginning of May, the CBF decided that Gallo will be fired and replaced by Rogério Micale. Anyways, Brazil has lots of quality.
Danilo, who played his debut season abroad in Braga, Marcos Guilherme, who was the leading scorer of Brazil in the South American U-20 Championship, and Boschilia, who won the Bronze Boot in the U-17 World Cup two years ago, are the main figures in the squad.

Brazil and Nigeria are always supplying many of the biggest promises of the worldwide football, and this is the chance to see some of them.

Bonus Match – Monday, 0300, Germany – Fiji
In this match, we will focus the interesting story of the team from Fiji.
As New Zealand is the host of the competition, the Oceanian teams have a great chance to make a historic appearance in the tournament. A great OFC Oceanian Championship led Fiji for the sensational title and a qualification to the World Cup. The staff of Fiji is led by a local coach, Ravinesh Kumar. The team also guided by the senior team coach, Frank Farina, who recently was appointed for the job. Some of the interesting names are Saula Waqa, who scored five goals in the OFC Champions League in this season for Ba, Nickel Chand, who was dominant in Suva's Champions League campaign, and Praneel Naidu, one of the experienced players in the squad with 19 caps for the U-20 team.

Weekend Guide 22.5.15

One weekend, three games, all the information.

We are almost at the end of the season. Most players have started to plan their vacations, but that's not what we are going to do. Yet! 

We will make another visit to China to check the derby of Guangzhou, we’ll ride our camels to Baghdad for another derby that keeps Iraq’s football spirit alive, and flight to Minsk, for a real a glory match, the Belorussian cup final.

(All the hours are in CET local time)

Saturday, 1335, Guangzhou R&F – Guangzhou Evergrande (Chinese Super League)
This is our second visit to the developing league of China. After our last fixture from China has been great, our return will be even better – the derby of Guangzhou. The city is one of the largest in China, a metropolitan of 25 million people, so you can imagine the atmosphere of the two crowds. Guangzhou R&F are making a slow progress, and the patience is definitely worth it. After years in the bottom places of the top tier, the club finished in the 3rd place and this season they played for the first time in the continental competitions, as their debut season in the AFC Champions League ended with group stage elimination. This season they ranked in 5th place, but are looking towards another ticket for the Asian Champions League. Their manager is the Romanian, Cosmin Contra, who replaced someone we already met in China, Sven-Göran Eriksson. The main players of the squad are Abderrazak Hamdallah, who scored 25 goals in 29 games since his arrival, Zhang Yaokun, a veteran Chinese player that was part from Dalian Shide dynasty in the beginning of the millennium, and Park Jong-woo, who won the bronze medal with South Korea in 2012 Olympic Games.

Guangzhou Evergrande knows a thing or two about being successful. The 2013 AFC Champions League title holders are trying to keep their great run, wishing for a fifth consecutive title. They are now in the 2nd place, one point behind Shanghai SIPG, but everything can happen in the next 20 league games. After Marcelo Lippi left, Guangzhou Evergrande tried to find another Italian manager, and surprisingly chose Fabio Cannavaro, an Italian legend as a player, at the time with almost no experience as a coach. The team is based on Brazilian superstars, Ricardo Goulart, who arrived this season and already scored eight goals, and Elkeson, the Chinese Super League Golden Boot winner in the past two seasons. Besides of them, the team have also Gao Lin, the team's all-time top scorer, Feng Xiaoting, who made 45 caps for the Chinese national team, and Wang Shangyuan, a great local talent who played for Club Brugge.

It's derby time in Guangzhou, and for sure it will be hot and spicy!

Friday, 1400, Al Shorta – FC Baghdad (Iraqi Premier League)
Even when the fights in Iraq are still ongoing and ISIS is destroying major parts of the country, the football is still the main part of the Iraqi national spirit. The local league just started its final stage last week and the format is simple – the best eight teams are divided to two groups, each will play a double round-robin, and afterwards each of the group winners will play the league final.

Al Shorta, the reigning champions, have a great chance to win the title for the third consecutive time. The domination of Al Shorta in the 60's seemed so far, until 2013, when they won the silverware for the first time in 15 years. In the first stage they made a great run without losing, and last week they won 4:1 against Al Zawraa. Even in the problematic situation of Iraq, Al Shorta have foreign players like the Cameroonian Innocent Awoa, who was part of the club's last titles. In addition there are a lot of great players from the Arab world like the Syrian Hamdi Al-Masri, who was the club's MVP last year, Dhurgham Ismail, an Iraqi youngster who was one of the best players in the last AFC Asian Cup, and Salem Shaker, 33 years old defender who made 84 caps for Iraq national team.

It's not the ‘official’ derby of Baghdad, as FC Baghdad are not a serious rivals for Al Shorta, but will definitely try to leave an impression. The club was never a stable one, and even their name changed several time. In the 60's and 70's, the Iraqi teams were usually assigned to national departments, and while Al Shorta kept their name and the police’ support (shorta in Arabic is police شرطة), FC Baghdad changed its ownership between the Baghdad Municipality, the Transportation Department and the Water Department. In the past few years it became an independent team, free from any government symbols. Watch out for Haidar Obeid, who previously played in Cyprus, Iran and Bahrain, Qusay Habib, Syrian national team’s midfielder, and Mustafa Ahmad, who won the Military World Cup two years ago with the Iraqi Army team.

In the divided and bleeding country of Iraq, football is a symbol of hope for normal life. Let's hope together that this match will be enjoyable and entertaining for the fans to watch.

Sunday, 1600, BATE Borisov - Shakhtyor Soligorsk (Belarussian Cup)
While the league in Belarus is in its beginning, the cup final is already here. BATE Borisov, the current champions, will face Shakhtyor Soligorsk, the current cup holders. In March, both of the teams played in the Belarussian Super Cup, when BATE won 3:0 after penalty shootouts.

There is no doubt that BATE Borisov is the best club in Belarus today. Their impressive performances in the European competitions and their 9 consecutive championships show it clearly. They opened the season with a great record of five wins and a two draws, leading the table easily. They also didn't lose in their last 39 league matches, which is the current worldwide longest sequence for an undefeated team. Despite they won the championship several times, they won the cup only twice. Their key players are Vitali Rodionov, the team's top scorer, Dzmitry Likhtarovich, the veteran goalkeeper who plays for the team since 2001, and Ihar Stasevich, who scored the decisive penalty in the Super Cup.

From the other hand, Shakhtyor Soligorsk knows that this is their chance to win a title. Shakhtyor won the cup last season, and in order to win the title once again they need to face against the history – in every season since 1996, the defending Belarusian cup holders failed to defend it. Shakhtyor Soligorsk didn't lose yet in the league, but their performance is less impressive than BATE's – three wins and four draws. The dominant players are Saulius Mikoliūnas, a Lithuanian who played for Hearts from Scotland, Alyaksandr Yurevich, who played over than 200 matches for the club, and Mikalay Yanush, last season's league top scorer. Soligorsk´s coach is Sergei Borovsky, Dynamo Minsk greatest players of all time, and a key player in its sole Soviet championship in 1982.

The champions and the cup holders in a match for a title – It doesn’t get any better than that for Belarusian football.

Weekend Guide 14.5.15

One Weekend, three games, all the information.

Another weekend is here, and I think I know what we all going to do. First read this recap. Second, watch a lot of football!

On this weekend recap we will visit one of the BabaGol's favorites rivalries, the derby of Sarajevo, we will have another decisive match in the psychotic league of Algeria and finally, prepare yourself to one the best matches in South America, El Clásico of Uruguay.

Grab your coffee, maté and vodka and join the trip!

(All the hours are in CET local time)

Saturday, 1600, FK Sarajevo – Željezničar (Bosnia and Herzegovina Premijer Liga
First, let´s check one of BabaGol clásico games, the Sarajevo derby. On Saturday, FK Sarajevo and Željezničar will play a crucial match in their chase for the title. They both ranked in the first places, and as the perfect city rivals, they are divided by class of fans and parts of the city.
FK Sarajevo dreams about a first title since 2007. For years they count as a big club in Bosnian football, but not big enough for winning titles. Everything changed two years ago, when Vincent Tan, the Malaysian owner of Cardiff, successfully bought the team, and they are just getting better and better. This season they are in 1st place with 59 points. Don't miss Leon Benko, who played in Germany and Belgium, Krste Velkoski, the team's top scorer with eight goals, and Dejan Bandović, who leads one of the best defenses in the league.
Željezničar wants to win the title once again. They have the most championships in Bosnia with five titles, and now they wish to win also title no. 6. They are on 2nd place, just one point behind FK Sarajevo, knowing that winning this match would be also revenge for their defeat in the previous derby. The key players are Riad Bajić, 21 years old youngster who scored 14 league goals, Juan Manuel Varea, Argentine who came back to Bosnia after two years in Azerbaijan, and Srđan Stanić who played for the team in the past eight seasons.

A clash of classes, a hot derby, and a direct title battle – Don’t look for action anywhere else.

Saturday, 1800, USM Bel-Abbès – ASO Chlef (Algerian Ligue Professionnelle 1)
Let’s have another visit to Algeria, where the tightest league in the world is running. This time will observe the bottom of the league. Three teams will relegate in the end of the season, and the difference now is just six points between the 2nd place and the 14th place.
In one word: a mess.
USM Bel-Abbès promoted last season from Ligue 2.  The team is one of the best teams in second division’s history, as they won it 5 times. Despite eight wins and 32 points, due to this crazy season at Ligue 1, they are on the last place. The team's top guns are Jessy Mayelea, a Dutch-Congolese player who left the Netherlands after five years, Jonathan Matijas, who played previously in Romania and Thailand, and Merouane Abdelbasset Guerriche, who was one of the dominant players last season's promotion.
ASO Chlef is much more experienced team than Bel-Abbès. They still remember their championship in 2011, when they finished first with 13 points gap from the runner-ups. Now they are in the 14th place, fighting for their survival, but as we know – every win can change the ranking dramatically. Keep your eyes on Noureddine Daham, who previously played in Germany for three years, Saad Tedjar, the team's top scorer, and Mohamed Zaouche, who plays for the club since 2004.

Algeria gives us another great match, In the most unpredictable finish line for the season. Any bets for the relegation battle?

Sunday, 2100, Peñarol – Nacional (Uruguayan Primera División)
One of the best games you can catch in South America is the Clásico of Uruguay. Some would say, it is the real Superclásico, more than Boca Juniors and River Plate, that being played tonight, in the Libertadores 1/8 final.
There is no doubt that Peñarol is one of the biggest clubs of the South American football. The team won five Copa Libertadores titles and 49 domestic league silverwares. The last Apertura season went quite bad for them, even though they finished 3rd, and now they wish to qualify to the championship playoffs as they ranked on 1st place of the Clausura. Their manager, Pablo Bengoechea, won seven championships as a Peñarol player, and now he want to win his first title as a manager. Pay attention to Marcelo Zalayeta, former Juventus and Napoli player, Antonio Pacheco, 39 years old player who won the league eight times with Peñarol (the first one was in 1994), and Pablo Migliore, one of the best goalkeepers in the league.
On the other hand, Nacional, are hoping to continue their great season. In the Apertura they finished with an impressive record of 14 wins out of 15 matches, ranked 1st with a gap of 10 points from the 2nd place and 17 from Peñarol. They didn't manage to repeat this record, but even from the 4th place they still have a chance to finish 1st also in the Clausura. The major names of Nacional are Iván Alonso, who scored 40 league goals in 53 games since he arrived, 20 of them in this season, Gustavo Munúa, who played for a decade in Spain, Jorge Fucile, who came back after seven magnificent years in Porto. Above all it is Álvaro Recoba, that even in the age of 39 keeps on scoring and impressing.

So don't waste your time, just sit back, relax and enjoy the concert.

Weekend Guide 7.5.15

One weekend, three games, all the information.

The weekend is here and you all know what our deal is. Our weekly tour is taking us to Algeria, Armenia and Sudan for the final moments of those exciting football scenarios.

Saturday, 1700, MO Béjaïa – MC Oran (Algerian Ligue Professionnelle 1)
Imagine a tight league table, which by the end of the season, every team can either win the title or face relegation. This is exactly the reality in the Algerian league. Four matches left and there is a gap of just 11 points between the first and the last place. Béjaïa and Oran are two teams which are still closer to the top, but in this crazy situation, they cannot know which place they will be after the match.
MO Béjaïa is a tiny club who spent most of its history in the second division. Last season they made their debut season, and this year continued their improvement and won the Algerian Cup. They are ranked in 4th place, especially due to their bad form against the 2nd and the 3rd place, but they are two points behind the leaders, ES Sétif. Their biggest names are Zahir Zerdab, who scored the winning goal in the cup final, Ismaïl Mansouri, who won last season's title with USM Alger, and Nassim Dehouche, who played for the club in youth level, made a great career at the country’s big teams, and came back to his home club when it was promoted.
MC Oran is much more experienced team in the top levels of Algerian football. They won the domestic league four times, but their last title was in 1993. They aim to win it again this season, as they are also part from the league equal top three, and ranked 3rd. The manager, Jean-Michel Cavalli, is an experienced coach who is also the manager of Corsica representative team. Among the players you can find Khaled Kharroubi, who played 4 years for Valenciennes, Yacine Bezzaz, another Algerian who made long journey in French football, and Lyès Saïdi, who lately won an interesting title – the 2011 World Military Cup with the Algerian Army team.

It is a cliché, but it is literally a game of ‘anything is possible’. It will be interesting one to follow.

Sunday, 1240, Shirak – Pyunik (Armenian Premier League)
The pressure is on in the last moments of the season, as the race for the championship is about to conclude. The match of Shirak and Pyunik on Sunday will be a ‘Jackpot’ game – if Pyunik will win, they will be crowned as the champions; If Shirak will win, the competition will be open until the last minute.

Shirak are currently in the 2nd place, six points behind Pyunik, with three matches left. The team, who won the first Armenian title in 1992, wants to win it for the fifth time. It seems to be impossible unless they will win this match. The club’s chairman is Arman Sahakyan, an elected parliament member and a member of the Republican Party of Armenia, which is a nationalist right-wing party. Watch out for Karen Aleksanyan, who won three domestic titles during his long career, Jean-Jacques Bougouhi, the league's topscorer with 19 goals, and Tigran Davtyan, a home-grown player who played for six years in the team, left, and came back six years ago and he is a real club legend.

Pyunik is the most dominant club in Armenian football. After 10 consecutive championships, they failed to win the title on the last 3 seasons, but now they are getting closer to their 14th title. It's no surprise that as the strongest team in the country, they have also a famous coach, Sargis Hovsepyan, the most capped player in the Armenian national team (131 caps) and one of the heroes in Pyunik's dynasty. Pay attention to Cesar Romero, that alongside with Shirak's Bougouhi is the league's co-topscorer, David Manoyan, which is on-loan from the Russian team Kuban Krasnodar, and Taron Voskanyan, who is a hot prospect of the Armenian football.

Only one team could grab the title, this match will decide whether it will be a surprise or a continuation of Pyunik’s reign.

Sunday, 1900, Al-Hilal Omdurman – Al-Merrikh (Sudan Premier League)
Last weekend Al-Hilal Omdurman and Al-Merreikh played in the CAF Champions League qualifiers. They both qualified to the group stage, which will be the first time since 2009 that two teams from Sudan will play in that stage. On Sunday, the teams will play each other in the domestic league.
Al-Hilal Omdurman is the dominant club in Sudan, who won 14 championships in the last 21 seasons. As reigning champions, Al-Hilal aspires to win the title again, as they lead the table confidently. In the squad you can find many players with a rich experience in Sudan national team like the midfielder Mohamed Ahmed Bashir, known as Bisha, and the striker Mudather El Tahir. Other names that should be noticed are Athir Thomas, South Sudanese player that plays in Sudan despite the ongoing conflict, and David Simbo, Sierra Leonean player who spent the recent season in Norway and Sweden. While Al-Hilal keeps dominating the local scene, Al-Merrikh is trying to steal the title, whenever it's possible. After they finished in 2nd place last season and missed the title by a single point. Now, once again they’re 2nd, two points less from the leaders. Al-Merrikh's coach is the veteran German Otto Pfister, who already led the team in 2007 to the Sudanese Cup and to the CAF Confederation Cup's final. In the squad You can find some valuable players like Allan Wanga, Kenyan player who played in Angola, Azerbaijan and Vietnam, and the local players Ahmed El-Basha, Balla Jabir, and Mosaab Omer, all playing in the club for years.

Is it the time for another Al-Hilal title? Or should Al-Merrikh be the one to celebrate? BabaGol and Yosport are usually with the underdogs and always down for surprises. We will be following closely.