Tag Archives: rafa marquez

The New Gentlemen of Verona

img-en-9-mois-de-serie-a-cette-saison-on-a-vu-1400713649_y500_articles-184062One of European football’s most pleasant surprises last season was the performance of Italy’s forgotten side, Hellas Verona.  The team had its heyday in the 80’s, with the Nicklas Bendtner-esque Preben Elkjær leading them to their only Scudetto in 1985.  Last season, they were promoted after a decade in calcio purgatory, and proceeded to remain in the running for a European spot until the final weeks of the season.

The main reason for that improbable run was the improbable resurgence of evergreen Luca Toni.  The Gialloblu rescued the then-36-year-old from the five-year nomadic existence he endured after Bayern Munich cast him aside.  He rewarded his saviours by scoring 20 goals for Verona, good enough for second in the league (behind young Ciro Immobile, who Torino sorely misses).  Toni’s rediscovered form — along with the efforts of winger Juan Iturbe and playmaker Rômulo — helped Verona’s offence tie Inter Milan for fifth in the league.

But as good as the Venetian club were at scoring goals, they were equally awful at the back.  So when Iturbe left for Roma, and Juventus picked up Rômulo on loan, long-time coach Andrea Mandorlini knew he had to take a different approach.

Enter Verona’s shock signing: MLS reject and Mexican bad boy, Rafael Márquez.  The former Monaco and Barcelona defender left New York under a cloud, returning to the Mexican Liga with León.  But his 11th-hour move to Serie A in August sent gasps through North America’s soccer media.  Surely the surly defender would be bad for the dressing room.

Well, so far so good.  Márquez’ partnership with Greek international Vangelis Moras seems to be working.  Mandorlini also brought in Moras’ compatriot, Panagiotis Tachtsidis, on loan from Catania to play in front of the back four.   Pair these moves with the solid play of Rafael (the Brazilian keeper, the second of three Rafas on the books; the other two are named Rafa Marques and Rafa Márquez… but I digress) and you have a club that has only conceded a single goal in three matches.

Of course it’s still early… and Verona have yet to find the scoring touch from last season.  Toni has a single goal and that was a penalty.  Meanwhile Mandorlini has been playing with the four positions between Toni and Tachtsidis, rotating new boys Lazaros and Boško Janković with long-time players Juanito and Emil Hallfredsson.  The correct combination is still forthcoming: substitute Artur Ioniță’s goal against Torino on Sunday was their first from open play.  But their defensive work has left Hellas Verona in third place in this infant season.

Mandorlini’s side face Genoa at home tomorrow, before facing Iturbe’s Roma on the weekend, who sit top of table.  By then, we should have some idea if the new look Verona is ready to stay in the top-flight.

Brent P. Lanthier

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MLSE’s ticking time bomb

If Saturday’s away defeat to Seattle proves one thing, it’s that Toronto FC has an awful long way to go before the club can justify the support it gets.

At one stage during the 3-2 defeat at Qwest Field, it felt scarily like the men against the boys, providing clear evidence on the differences between the operation of the two clubs. Seattle, resplendent in their attacking, free-flowing style, looked light years ahead of their Canadian counterparts. Toronto struggled to match the hosts for pace, passing and persistence.

Arguably, you cannot blame the players. TFC has something of a reputation for not being aesthetically pleasing but robust, solid and unwilling to surrender. As their form earlier this season suggested, they don’t go down without a fight. But try as they might, they simply don’t possess the quality to compete. So, who is to blame?

Let’s have a look at Toronto’s other teams. The Maple Leafs, bursting with proud hockey history but without silverware in 43 years, frequently fill their arena and subsequently annoy their fans with sub-par performances. The Blue Jays, World Series Champions in 1992 and 1993, produce fine displays in infrequent bursts, and even finished with a winning record against the New York Yankees this season. However, regardless of their fine start, they yet again failed to make the playoffs. As for the Raptors, now without Chris Bosh, they’re really pretty rubbish, aren’t they?

Sensing a pattern yet? All four of Toronto’s sports teams offer so much, yet always fail to deliver. With finance readily available, the sensible application of it is distinctly missing. Money is thrown around and season tickets prices are hiked.

But the biggest connection is ownership. Three of these four teams are run by the Maple Leas Sports and Entertainment. In fact, the one that isn’t is the most recent champion, the Rogers Communications-owned Blue Jays.

MLSE take it for granted that their huge fan base will always come out, regardless of price. Toronto FC charges an extortionate amount for its top tickets. Even more, in fact, than Manchester United charge. Next season, fans will have to fork out even more.

Mark my words, if Toronto FC doesn’t invest in three top acquisitions during the off-season, and I mean top signings, next season will see a mass exodus of support. Already, red seats seem to outnumber real fans at home games. If things keep going like this, TFC will sink without a trace. A revolving door of playerd and management simply doesn’t work.

Do yourselves a favour, MLSE, give Tomas Rosicky and Deco a call and agree a contract. It may seem ludicrous, but who’d have thought three years ago that Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez would be playing for a team named after an energy drink?

Sam Saunders

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Cruz-ing TFC gored by Red Bulls

Toronto finally stumbles at home

Toronto F.C. started a grueling schedule on Tuesday — three games in seven days — with a CONCACAF Champions League game versus five-time winnners, Cruz Azul.  The Mexicans arrived in Toronto after a 4-1 win over league rivals, Pachuca. Cruz Azul made six changes to their squad for the Champions League game, including starting national team member Gerardo Torrado on the bench.

TFC celebrate Mista goal vs. Cruz Azul

But La Maquina Celeste didn’t seem divinely inspired as Toronto forced the play from the start. The Mexicans found themselves down 1-0 in the fourth minute of play, after TFC midfielder Martin Saric took advantage of some poor clearing to head home his first of the year.  Perhaps Cruz Azul looked out of sync because of the shock of finding out BMO field had natural grass (they had practiced on artificial turf in Mexico to prepare for the match).  Toronto ended the half with newly-signed designated player Mista scoring his first from just outside the 18-yard box to complete TFC’s best half of soccer this year.

In the second half, Torrado came in, and clearly had an impact, controlling the midfield and creating chances as soon as he stepped on the pitch.  His play resulted in a goal — but too little too late.  The win gave  TFC three points in the group stage, which is rounded out by Panamanian side Arabe Unido and MLS champion Real Salt Lake.

Three days later, Toronto welcomed the New York Red Bulls in a battle for second place in the Eastern Division.  New York came into the game five points ahead of the Reds after a 1-0 win at home two weeks ago.  They were looking to extend their lead by bringing a star studded team to BMO, including designated players Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez and Juan Pablo Angel.

Red Bulls' stars all over TFC

Surprisingly Toronto took it the stars — who seemed to be on a stroll — but couldn’t convert on three great chances from close. Nick LaBrocca hit the crossbar and Dwayne DeRosario’s shot from inside the 18-yard box was stopped by defender Tim Ream.  But on the Red Bulls’ next possession, Marquez found himself unmarked from about 25 yards out. He half-volleyed a bullet with the outside of his right foot into the top right corner, leaving TFC keeper Stefan Frei with no chance.

Toronto defenders did a pretty nice job defending against French international Henry, allowing him only one chance that he put over the bar. After the game, Henry said he wasn’t match-fit because of a nagging hamstring injury.  But he did say he liked BMO’s atmosphere — where he was loudly booed every time he touched the ball.

After an own goal by Joseph Nane made it 2-0 for the Red Bulls, Toronto came out of the second half with purpose. Their aggressiveness paid off as DeRosario scored from in close to cut the lead in half.

A straight red to TFC’s Nana Attakora for a hand ball in the box resulted in an Angel penalty that essentially sealed Toronto’s fate.  Adding insult to injury, former Toronto midfielder Carl Robinson made it 4-1 after Frei couldn’t control a cross. Robinson was let go earlier this year after failing to see eye-to-eye with coach Preki.  Afterwards, the classy Robinson said he didn’t celebrate the goal because he had too much respect for the fans and organization after spending three years here.

Toronto will now continue its Champions League run on Tuesday night in Panama before returning home next Saturday to host Real Salt Lake in MLS play.

Len Grammenopoulos

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