AFR Voice Ep.6 - The Champions League Returns

It’s that time of year again – the nights are drawing in, you’re wrestling with the decision of whether to turn the heating on or not, and it’s once again acceptable to have a piping-hot soup for lunch. This can only mean one thing – the Champions League is back.

In this week’s AFR Voice we’ll be taking a look at the runners and riders, potential dark horses, and favourites for this year’s instalment of Europe’s premier club competition, and why it could be the best Champions League EVER (you heard it here first).

We’ll then be discussing the Rainbow Laces Movement, which aims to change attitudes and make football more gay-friendly, as it looks to tackle what is still a huge taboo in the game and gain traction at clubs around the UK this weekend.

Then it’s onto World Cup qualification heartbreak for Cape Verde, before speaking to ESPN FC and AFR writer Dermot Corrigan in Madrid about Gareth Bale’s debut, Cristiano Ronaldo’s new deal, and what we can expect from Real Sociedad in Europe this season.

As per usual our cover art is made up of our favourite #whereisfootball photo of the week, and this week the honour goes to this sublime snap by Instagram user @aveba in Marseille, France.

Don’t forget to get in touch – tweet us at @AFRvoice or fire some electronic mail our way at afrvoice@gmail.com. You can also find us on iTunes here.

Imagining the Iberian Championship: Castilla conquers Group B

By Dermot Corrigan, writing from Madrid.

The tournament: Introduction and Group Draw. Group A.

Group B began with Castilla, Euskadi, Cantabria y Asturias Las Islas Unidas all confident they were in with a chance of making the final four, although the bookies had Míchel’s centralistas and Unai Emery’s Basques as clear favourites to claim the two qualifying places on offer.

As the Bernabéu was unavailable due to repairs to its non-alcoholic beer taps, and a Keane concert at the Calderón, the footballing aristocrats of Castilla were forced to begin their campaign at home to Las Islas Unidas at the less majestic surroundings of Estadio Vallecas.

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Imagining the Iberian Championship: Catalunya claims Group A

By Dermot Corrigan, imagining in Madrid

When the Iberian Championships was first mooted (last month, here on A Football Report), there was some skepticism in Spain as to the concept’s viability, given the tightness of the club schedule, rivalries between different footballing authorities with competing jurisdictions, the logistical challenges involved, fraught political atmosphere etc. But due to the diligence and far-sightedness of those involved in the project, and the generosity of a certain gulf-oil-money fuelled TV broadcaster looking to break into vital European markets, the first round of games is now taking place during this week’s international break.

As is customary in Iberia, the draw was organised to give the better supported teams the best possible chance of progressing, with the top four ranked sides - Castilla, Catalunya, Euskadi and Valéncia - securing home advantage for two of their three group games. Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque did the honours at the neutral territory of the Andorran FA HQ, with the coaches and captains of all eight teams showing up for the event, along with a healthy smattering of regional political dignitaries and cultural figures. There was a surprisingly positive mood of friendship and fraternity among all involved, especially with the first tranches of TV money being delivered up front.

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Imagining the Iberian Championship

By Dermot Corrigan, writing imagining in Madrid

While the recently growing calls for Catalan independence have led to a number of very tricky questions for politicians at local, national and European levels to ponder, they have - more importantly of course - also caused football fans to scratch their heads and wonder about the possibles issues that would arise. Along with the proposal of no more Barca-Real Madrid clásicos in La Liga, there was the idea of a Catalan national side taking part in the World Cup or European Championships and (quite likely) meeting the rump Spain team in the latter stages.

For many football watchers, this might actually be a good thing, given Spain’s dominance of international football (at senior and underage levels) over the past six years. La Roja’s ability to easily beat everyone else has become so predictable that some have grown to see current international football as boring and not worth watching. That viewpoint is a bit extreme, but even those who like watching Spain play can see the problems their untouchable excellence is causing. Coach Vicente del Bosque lamented recently that he could not find a place for Chelsea attacker Juan Mata, maybe the most in-form player in the Premier League, in his 23 man squad. “We have a problem of quantity not quality,” he said. This got us to thinking…

It does seem that the time is now ripe to establish a new competition, making use of the great wealth of talent being produced within Spain’s (current) borders, by forming new representative teams along more regional lines. While seeing Barcelona icon Xavi Hernández and Real Madrid captain Iker Casillas overcome their club rivalries to pull together in the same national team has become a common sight, the idea of Xavi lining up for Catalonia against Andrés Iniesta in a Spain shirt needs a bit of time to get your head around. But it is then actually pretty exciting. Go a bit further along the same line, by giving all Spain’s other regions / nations their own teams, and you soon get Catalonia’s Gerard Piqué marking Asturias’s David Villa and Andalucia’s Sergio Ramos clattering into the Basque Country’s Xabi Alonso.

The strength and widespread interest in such a potential new competition can be taken for granted. Remembering Jonathan Wilson’s SI.com made-up tournament to determine the best club side ever, A Football Report decided to hold an eight team tournament, with two groups of four, and the top two teams in each then progressing to the semi-finals. Players could only be born within today’s Spanish national border and must represent the team of their birthplace (as decided by Marca’s excellently encylopaedic Guía de La Liga 2013).

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