Great goals. Thrilling matches. Controversial decisions. Six destinations. It’s time to hop back on the Soccer Nation plane, as we go “Around the World with a Six-Pack”.
First Stop: Nice, France
“Why Always Me?”
It’s a question that has been asked with an infinite question mark by one Mario Balotelli. Super Mario scored his sixth goal in five games in all competitions for Nice on Sunday, a spectacular, curling strike in the 86th minute that gave his first place Ligue 1 side a thrilling 2-1 win over Lorient.
Unfortunately for Balotelli, he did not make it to the final whistle. After scoring what would prove to be the winning goal, Balotelli was booked for removing his shirt in celebration, whipping it in a full circle at least a half dozen times before coming to terms with the fact that he’d perhaps made a rather silly decision. But it was just a yellow, and the match was near its end.
Then in stoppage time, Balotelli was holding the ball near the opposing corner, as Lorient’s Steven Moreira was attempting to knock it away. As the ball rolled into touch, the two players had a brief stare down, never making any face to face contact. The interaction lasted no more than a few seconds, with the two men actually smiling at the end of it all, a sort of “get out of my face, but I don’t hate you” kind of chuckle coming from both players. The match referee saw it as no laughing matter, and for some bizarre reason found it his duty to immediately halt play and book both players. It was a yellow for Moreira, who looked as if he was protesting for himself and on his opponent’s behalf. The second caution meant red for Balotelli.
Though he was at fault for being on a yellow in the first place, the card which saw him sent to the dressing room was inexplicable, and there are talks in France that Nice could appeal the decision. The French Riviera side has been the surprise package of Ligue 1 thus far, and the scoring exploits of their most precious import have been vital in that success. Barring an unlikely overturn of the red card, Nice will be without the services of Balotelli in their next match, which is at home on October 14th against perennial power Lyon. Though it was unjust, and while the end result was certainly unfortunate for Nice, the whole story of Balotelli scoring a sensational winning goal and being sent off moments later is just, well, so beautifully Balotelli.
Match highlights from the Balotelli Late Show, Nice’s 2-1 win over Lorient
Second Stop: Tijuana, Mexico
The Xolos of Club Tijuana continued their incredible run of form with a gritty 1-0 home win against Atlas at Estadio Caliente on Friday night. Combine the win with Tigres’ loss at Leon, and Xolos are now four points clear at the top of the Liga MX table. The much maligned, 27 year-old target forward Milton Caraglio (a man who some critics have called the Argentine Tree Trunk) hammered home a thunderous header just before the half-time break for the only goal of the game, his fellow countryman Gabriel Hauche assisting him with a tantalizing cross. Following the international break, Xolos will head to Estadio Azteca to take on Club America on October 15th. In addition to being a fierce test for his first place team, it will be a homecoming of sorts for Tijuana Manager Miguel Herrera, and a reunion with one of his main coaching mentors, recently appointed America boss Ricardo La Volpe.
Third Stop: London, England
It looks like faux invincibility deceived the football viewing public yet again. They are beatable! Manchester City’s perfect start under Pep Guardiola came to a crashing close with a 2-0 loss to Tottenham at White Hart Lane. A lovely finish from Dele Alli followed an own goal from Aleksandar Kolarov, Spurs two goals to the good at the half-time break. Hugo Lloris was in fine form, thwarting the City attack with a handful of fabulous saves. His opposite number, Claudio Bravo, saved a penalty from Erik Lamela late on that would have made the score 3-0. Mauricio Pochettino’s home side was more than grateful with the final score. (Last season, just a few days over a year ago, Spurs routed City 4-1 in the same fixture.) With the result, there are no more unbeaten teams in the Premier League this season. (Let the champagne bottles pop again, you delightful Gooners of 03/04.) Man City still hold the top spot in the table, but Spurs are now just one point behind in second place after the emphatic win.
Fourth Stop: Vigo, Spain
Barcelona were stunned by Celta Vigo at the Estadio Balaidos for the second consecutive season, losing a 4-3 scoreline after getting beaten handily, 4-1, at the same ground in 2015.
Despite a brace from Gerard Pique and a converted penalty from Neymar, the Catalan giants could never fully recover from an early onslaught that saw Celta take a 3-0 lead into the half-time break.
It was a missed opportunity for Barca, who are now fourth in La Liga, behind both Madrid sides and third place Sevilla.
We head now to the Spanish Capital.
Fifth Stop: Madrid, Spain
Zinedine Zidane is making history as Real Madrid Manager this season. Unfortunately for the Galactico legend, it’s not good history. The Basque Cinderella tale that never wants to end saw Eibar go into the Santiago Bernebeau on Sunday and leave with a hard fought 1-1 draw.
The result means that Real have drawn four consecutive matches in all competitions. While that would not necessarily be cause for alarm at most clubs around the world, that streak is raising eyebrows in Madrid. It is the first time in seven years that Real have gone four matches without a win.
The club still sits in second place in La Liga, even on points with league leaders and crosstown rivals Atletico. Zidane’s men will return from the international break and face a road test against Real Betis.
Sixth Stop: Leverkusen, Germany
It wasn’t USA vs. Mexico, but it was quite the CONCACAF storyline. Saturday’s Bundesliga schedule saw a mouthwatering clash between Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Dortmund, pitting Mexico’s Chicharito Hernandez against American teenage sensation Christian Pulisic. It was Chicharito who got the best of the affair, scoring his fifth goal in three games (four in the Bundesliga and one in the Champions League) to help his side win 2-0 and climb to seventh place in a crunched and crowded league table. Pulisic (who was coming off a fantastic performance off the bench against Real Madrid in the midweek) did not have his best game, starting only to be removed at half-time. It won’t be too long before Hernandez and Pulisic cross paths again. The United States will do battle with Mexico in Columbus, Ohio on November 11th in the opening match of the final round of World Cup Qualifying.