Sunday, December 17, 2006

Barcelona v Internacional

Congratulations to SC Internacional.

Here at a pretty move . . . we're proud American Barcelona supporters. Our team played with honor and they played well. But Brazil's Internacional played even better and they are now the FIFA Club World Cup champions.

Till another day . . . . But now sleep awaits.

FC Barcelona 0-SC Internacional 1

Friday, December 15, 2006

When the Hurlyburly's Done . . .

The sinister UEFA Champions League last 16 draw has materialized:

FC Porto v Chelsea
Celtic v AC Milan
PSV Eindhoven v Arsenal
Lille v Manchester United
Roma v Lyon
Barcelona v Liverpool
Real Madrid v Bayern Munich
Internazionale v Valencia

Let the laughter and sobs commence!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Mlada Boleslav Booted

This time of year, in Mlada Boleslav, it's so cold that when you step outside your eyelashes and nosehairs freeze in under a minute. It's snowed and turned to slush and snowed again and frozen over so that the entire town is a treacherous ice rink, and the snow is dirty and grey and not at all picturesque. And the hometown team returns there, defeated following its bid for European glory, having snagged only three points to finish at the bottom of the UEFA Cup's Group G. Seems they never quite recovered the dazzle they called up for their surprise defeat of Marseilles in the qualifiers, but I'd hoped they'd hold on long enough and play a team significant enough to get televised in this country. I read somewhere that they actually played with a pretty move or two. Still, they remain near the top of Czech's Gambrinus Liga. Better luck next year, lads.

Barthez Reborn

When I first began watching footie, knowing nothing really about the sport, I was instinctively drawn to the keepers. The position seemed to me a lonesome and existentially absurd one, in which long stretches of boredom are punctuated by moments of sheer panic. That says more about the kind of lousy keeper I'd make (my sporting philosophy, born of a black eye inflicted by a poorly passed American football when I was in the fifth grade, is to run away from, not toward, the ball) than it does about the actual job itself. Still, my initial affection for the keepers of the world was only reinforced when I discovered no shortage of eccentrics and ne'er-do-wells who'd held the line against the final onslaught of the opposing squad, like Colombia's Rene Higuita. Of these keeper-eccentrics, one of my favorites is the erratic and unreliable French national Fabien Barthez. I was terribly disappointed when he went into a forced retirement following the World Cup, when, following his resignation from Marseilles, basically no team wanted him (imagine!), and I'm delighted to report Fabien's about to be out of retirement and prowling the pitch once again: he's due to sign a contract with struggling Nantes and could be between the sticks again before the end of the month. Look out, Nantes--er, I mean, all you other Ligue 1 contenders!

Club America v Barcelona

Gudjohnsen (11")
Marquez (30")
Ronaldinho (65")
Deco (85")

It was a beautiful thing.

Club America is a great team and I guess the jet lag was just too much for them. This was hardly the same furious club that severely tested the Catalans back in August in that 4-4 draw in Houston. But last night, Barca was hardly the same club either. Although jet lag seemed to be a factor for them as well, Ronaldinho and the lads dominated the match and cruised to a 0-4 victory that puts them in the FIFA Club World Cup final against Brazil's Internacional on Sunday. Unlike the Club America match, though, Internacional is sure to give Barca plenty of problems.

FIFA Club World Cup 2006

Just when I was about to write off the 2006 FIFA Club World Cup as irrelevant and lacking in quality, which is strange considering that the six clubs involved--FC Barcelona, SC Internacional, Club America, Jeonbuk Hundai Motors, Al-Ahly, and Auckland City FC--are all champions of their respective confederations, last night’s semi final game between Egyptian team Al-Ahly and Brazilian side Internacional was out of sight. I’d never seen Al-Ahly play before this tournament and knew little to nothing about them, but Internacional was a team I’d become fond of after watching them battle it out and eventually beat the reigning champs Sao Paulo in this year’s Copa Libertadores. Unlike the first two games that opened the tournament—Auckland City v Al-Ahly; Jeonbuk v Club America—the quality of last night’s match was what you’d expect from two such prestigious clubs and it was always deliriously enjoyable.

I should clarify, though, that the Auckland City v Al-Ahly wasn’t bad exactly, but it didn’t exactly reward me for staying up till four in the morning to watch the blasted thing, either! Auckland City, a true underdog team as well as an amateur one, easily won me over with their foolhardy courage and ability to give the Egyptians the occasional problem. But the next match between Korean club Jeonbuk and Mexico’s Club America was woeful and embarrassing in moments. It was still fun to watch, though, if only because I couldn’t believe some of the gaffes being inflicted upon the viewing public—namely a disturbingly bad deflection of the ball by Jeonbuk keeper Kwon Sun-Tae into the path of America’s Argentinean bull Claudio Lopez, who then subsequently screwed up the shot by shooting it wide of the net with no one to hinder him. There were other cringe worthy moments—thankfully, I’ve already forgotten most of the specifics—and after the match, as I dragged my sleep-starved body to bed, I had to rethink my ambition to watch all the games live. No doubt the brutal jet lag has taken a toll on many of the players, and the seemingly non-stop schedule has flogged plenty of punishment upon their bones and muscles as well, degrading their skills and my mind along with it.

But after last night’s match, I’m sticking with it. Internacional, who are now missing a few major players (including Rafael Sobis, who now plays for Spanish club Real Betis, and Tinga, who plays for German club Dortmund) since the Copa Libertadores win, still has plenty of old veterans and youngsters to make trouble for their opponents. And the new super-hyped kid on the pitch, seventeen year-old Alexandre Pato—who is already being compared to that Ronaldinho fella—didn’t disappoint. Pato, aka Alexander the Duck, scored early in the first half, only to have it disqualified for being offside, and then a struck again in the 23rd minute with a controversial strike that counted (despite its being slightly offside). He was impressive throughout and he’s definitely someone to watch. No doubt the sporting Mabuses, I mean agents, are already devising black magic spells to lure him to their respective clubs. The Egyptians scored themselves in the early stages of the second half evening things up and valiantly controlled the game for large portions, never losing their composure throughout. But Internacional scored again, breaking the tie, and managing to hold on for the well-deserved win.

Tonight, European champions Barcelona take on Club America in the semi finals and it should turn out to be a brilliant good time. Both clubs met this past summer in Houston for an exhibition match and Club America did not make things easy for the boys from Catalonia. So tonight’s meeting should be a tasty treat for supporters of either club as well as for neutrals.

For more information about the tournament, which has been in existence since 2000 and is held annually in Japan, click here and here.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Pardew Sacked

I shouldn't have been surprised by this looming inevitability . . . but I was. The team is in shambles and facing relegation, Saturday's 4-0 loss to Bolton was embarrassing and heartbreaking--though that image of some Hammers away supporters snaking through the stands in a conga line, accepting such a brutal ass-kicking with a two-fingered salute and a laugh, was splendid--and Pardew's exit (after a sometimes tumultuous and blissful three years) only adds to the ongoing perplexing drama.

But I don't think Magnusson should have fired Pardew just yet, especially as the newly appointed chairman had just promised the Hammers faithful that management would stick with Pardew and that he would be allotted plenty of cash for January transfers. Not true, I guess. And I can't help but wonder what other surprises the new Icelandic consortium have in store for the team and supporters. And though Pardew should carry his fair share of the blame, I can think of a few players--Harewood, Zamora, Reo-Coker, Ferdinand, et al--who haven't been holding up their part as well. And then there are the two lads from Argentina. I still hold out hope for Tevez to make a big contribution to the squad this season, but Mascherano is sure to be back in South America next year or perhaps in Spain.

First team coach Kevin Keen will take over management duties until the West Ham board hire a new one. Former Hammer Alan Curbishley seems to be the front-runner, though current Wigan manager Paul Jewell has also been mentioned, among others. Thank the gods, though, that Sven-Goran Eriksson (whose name was bandied about earlier today) has denied the reports.

You can read more about Pardew's firing here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Matchmaker, Matchmaker . . .

There was plenty of great football played this weekend, including the Bolton vs Arsenal match, West Ham vs Sheffield United, Barcelona vs Villarreal, and AC Milan vs Messina. Not all of it was pretty, but a lot of it was exquisite (the Barca match) and/or oddly beguiling, which equaled plenty of excitement around these parts.

Sam Allardyce’s grubby yet thoroughly underrated squad from Bolton must perplex the hell out of Arsene Wenger and his North London team of silky-footed mirror dancers. Long criticized and mocked for their supposed reliance on the dreaded long ball—most notably by some of the Premiership’s most outspoken and fiery managers, Benitez, Mourinho, and Wenger—the Bolton Wanderers have continually confounded those that can’t quite see the appeal of their strange brand of dynamic and infuriating English hodgepodge football. I don’t always understand the appeal myself, but I’ve been watching them off and on since the 2005-2006 season when the troublesome El-Hadji Diouf started playing for The Trotters after an unfruitful stint with Liverpool. Despite his reputation as a scalawag—which is an extremely nice way of putting it—Lynda and I hold a soft spot for the little giant-killing hellion due to his unforgettable performance with the equally unforgettable Senegal national team in the 2002 World Cup. So from Liverpool to Bolton I went, always waiting to see that Senegalese spark flare up again, though sadly rarely getting a chance to. Then one of my favorite Mexican players, Jared Borgetti, joined up with Big Sam’s club of misfit toys with plenty of hype, and for reasons that will simply perplex me to my dying days, he floundered there. No—he was mistreated there. Borgetti, who is Mexico’s top goal scorer for the national team and was the first Mexican, I think, to play for a Premiership club, was lured to Bolton with all the tantalizing lucre and publicity that a player of his caliber is due. Unfortunately, the bobble-headed striker failed to make an impact, rarely starting (though Allardyce rarely played him at all) and he simply kept the bench warm game after game after game. Whatever the reasons why Allardyce decided to keep Borgetti from playing, it was a painful experience for fans of this engaging star since one of the major reasons Borgetti went to Bolton in the first place was that he wanted to play in European competition (Bolton had earned a spot in the UEFA Cup tournament that season) as a sort of warm-up to the looming World Cup in Germany. Instead, he atrophied on the bench, though he did score in Bolton’s opening UEFA Cup match and subsequently in the FA Cup and, I believe, the Carling Cup.

Anyway, I digress. Bolton’s match on Saturday against Arsenal was as exciting as I’d hoped for, and even without the presence of either Thierry Henry or William Gallas due to injuries, the Gunners weren’t exactly pushovers even though their finishing was as consistently ghastly as it’s been all season despite their command of the second half. But despite Bolton’s own defensive problems, Allardyce’s lads managed to keep on exploiting Arsenal’s own defensive weak spots without giving up goals (c’mon, the Silva one was a fluke!) and maintain the antagonizing of the easily irritated Jens Lehmann time and time again--just watch the replay of that wonderfully precise Diouf corner to Faye in the 9th minute resulting in Bolton’s first goal of the match. Lehmann’s tidal wave of anger after the fact, directed at his teammate Toure’s incompetence more than anything, had me shivering and cackling simultaneously. Brilliant. But it was the overdue emergence of Bolton forward (and ex-Arsenal player) Nicholas Anelka that really shined. A costly acquisition (Anelka is the most expensive player to join the Wanderers) to say the least, the graceful Frenchman scored two decisive goals against Arsenal—the first one being a stupefying blast from 30 yards out and the second one coming off a crazily good long ball pass from Ivan Campo, another favorite player of mine, resulting in a solid counter-attack exclamation point. All in all, it was a superbly entertaining 3-1 Bolton win.

Didn’t get a chance to watch much of the West Ham vs Sheffield United match (it was on opposite the live Barca vs Villarreal game) but I caught it later Saturday night and I’m, of course, happy with the result. Tevez didn’t score, but he played well and with that gritty conviction that Hammers’ supporters love. Unfortunately, the fleet-footed Argentinean stalked out of Upton Park and went home before the end of the match when manager Alan Pardew replaced him in the second half. Bad move on Tevez’s part, though it seems as if the whole affair has been forgiven and we can now move on.

AC Milan, who have been having a few problems of late (they can’t score!) and seem far from their stealthy best, did manage to pull out a victory—from a nice goal by Methuselah Paolo Maldini in the 13th minute—against Messina. Always hoping for the formidable Milan striker Kaka to rediscover his faith in scoring goals, I watched with increasing disinterest and eventually fell asleep and dreamed an entirely different gorgeously insidious result.

But the game of the weekend for me—sorry Dr. Gogol—was indeed the Barcelona match against the Riquelme-absent Yellow Submarine. I’m fond of Villarreal and if I could have changed the result . . . well, I wouldn’t have. But I would have loved it if Barca’s triumphant and blistering 4-0 performance had come against another squad (Real anyone?) instead. Alas, Barca deserved their spectacular win and despite Gudjohnsen’s horrible manipulation—i.e. dive--in the box when Villarreal’s Cygan grabbed him ever so lightly, subsequently climaxing in a typically brutal penalty kick by Ronaldinho, they played with their characteristic imagination and elegance. I’m biased, of course, but anyone who witnessed this match knows what I’m talking about. And what about Ronaldinho’s cosmic shot at the end of the game? A gorgeous miracle worthy of legend, and one that regrettably eclipsed Iniesta’s own 70th minute goal that was effulgent and dream worthy itself. After a slow start this season, Barcelona finally seem to be stretching boundaries and shape-shifting football into sacrament once again. I only hope the Catalans can continue this blossoming against the confident Werder Bremen in the Champions League next Tuesday.

And I guess I’d be remiss in not mentioning the mucho hyped clash between Manchester United and Chelsea yesterday. Had a great time watching it, and unlike the West Ham or Barcelona matches (or Portland Timbers for that matter), I was able to loosen up and just witness the action as a passive, neutral observer. I rarely actually enjoy watching my own teams play and only on replay or in retrospect within the stadium in my head, do I actually relish being a supporter. It’s so much easier to watch other people’s teams battle it out. For the sake of my fantasy football team, though, I did silently hope that Drogba would score for the Blues. But Carvalho’s header (or was that Saha’s?) was excellent, as was Saha’s legit stuttering strike—a nice moment of redemption for a player who desperately needed it after his ridiculous gaffes against Celtic in the Champions League earlier in the week. I’m still not convinced that the newfound rivalry between Man U and Chelsea is that earth shattering, but it sure did bring a much needed jolt to the Premiership’s so far intermittently dramatic season.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Boleslav's Barely Breathing

In the latest gripping installment from the little-team-from-where-the-hell-is-that? that could, Mlada Boleslav grabbed a lifeline of a draw in yesterday's UEFA Cup match against Rapid Bucuresti. They needed three points, but one keeps them alive, if tied with PSG for the last place slot. Panathinaikos looks poised to take this group pretty easily; the only real hope any of the other teams has is a second place advance. Will any of the bottom three rise up to challenge H. Tel-Aviv? Will the lads from Skoda country grab their first group win against PSG on November 30? Will they repeat their qualifying upset against Olympic Marseilles and go on to stamp the name of King Boleslav II on the world map of football? Will one of their matches ever be televised in the US so I can actually watch them play? (cue hollow laughter)

I love the internet: Mlada Boleslav has its own wikipedia entry.
More on the match itself at

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

ESPN Hates The People

There's been plenty of excitement in the Champions League the last two days. Yesterday saw that splendid game winning free-kick by Celtic's Shunsuke Nakamura in the match against Manchester United--a bruising yet gratifying defeat that put the Celts top of their grouping and now forces Man U into another problematic situation that mirrors last year's ragged-ass fall from the group stage for Fergie's goal-impotent glory seekers--and then there were today's games in Group A between Werder Bremen vs Chelsea and Levski Sofia vs Barcelona. The Group A situation has been especially dicey for Barcelona, who've had a rather disappointing go of it in the tournament so far, and didn't especially play brilliant, pretty football this afternoon either. But they got the win with a nice early goal from the aging French gnome Giuly and another in the 65th minute from the young midfielder Iniesta, a player I'm increasingly becoming fond of (he scored a fine goal this past weekend in Barca's game against Mallorca). Barca's precarious situation in Group A was also predicated on how Chelsea fared against Bremen--a Blues victory would've helped Barca squeak into second-place. Unfortunately, Bremen won their match 1-0 and now Barcelona has to win their next match against the Germans . . . or else.

I would've loved to have watched some of the other matches today, but what with us being held hostage in the States, there was only one televised match all day (the Barca game, and that wasn't even live!). I know, I know, ESPN2 had much better things to broadcast--more poker, old college tackleball games, and the always mesmerizing possum relays--than another boring ninety of the people's game (our advertising revenue will plummet!). Anyway, the Liverpool game looked exciting (though the Reds ended up sustaining three injuries to their team) as did the Inter game, though I'm sure that wasn't as entrancing as I imagine it being, despite the Fabulous Crespo's magical slight-of-foot.

Matchday Six--December 5th and 6th. I'm ready. Hopefully ESPN will be as well.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Longboats Have Been Sighted . . .

Although the team is only a point above the Premiership relegation zone, West Ham United have finally been taken over by Icelandic businessman and head of the Icelandic FA, Eggert Magnusson, and his consortium of billionaire Northmen. The details will be trickling out over the next couple of days, I imagine, but the East London team can now finally get back to figuring out how to salvage their so far deplorable season and cease from worrying about this long, dragged out affair. No doubt the Argentine dynamic duo of Tevez and Mascherano, who were scuttled into the club back in August by prospective buyer Kia Joorabchian (who also made a play to buy out West Ham) under shady though oh so spectacular fashion, will find themselves separated (which is sad since I've always imagined that they must always room together, much like The Beatles in the film . . . is it Help!?) and sold off to other clubs during the January transfer window. Perchance back to Brazil? I have no idea. I'd love to see them in Spain. Wherever they end up, whether together or not, I hope they prosper. Despite the excitement the Hammers' supporters (Lisa and I included) initially showered upon the two, it really hasn't worked out. Oh, man, how it hasn't worked out! But at least Magnusson will be keeping battle-hardened manager Alan Pardew aboard.

You can read more about the West Ham takeover here, here, here, and here.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Ferenc Puskas RIP

One of the all-time great football players the world has ever seen has died. The mighty Hungarian forward Ferenc Puskas, who led the fabled Hungarian "Golden Team" to a shocking 6-3 victory over England at Wembley in 1953 and then beat up the Three Lions a little more the following year 7-1, passed away in Budapest after a long slow struggle with Alzheimer's disease and most recently, pneumonia. Later in his career Puskas was also an integral member of the phenomenal Real Madrid squad of the late 1950s and early 1960s, that also included the great Alfredo Di Stefano, and conjured up magic there as well. Being a Barca supporter, I acknowledge the greatness but don't celebrate it. Yeah, I realize I wasn't even born yet, but still. Seriously, though, how I would've loved to have seen Puskas in his prime. I know Puskas only through the same black & white footage that everyone else has seen over the years, and through books, articles, what have you. Even so, his extraordinary skills came alive and were mind-blowing to behold within my imagination.

You can read a lot more in-depth and knowledgeable writing about The Galloping Major at the following sites:,,1950878,00.html,,1950418,00.html

Monday, November 06, 2006

take that! and that! and one of those

Hammers were full of piss and vinegar yesterday, matching the Gunners move for move and grabbing an unpretty and well-deserved victory at Upton Park. It was a match nowhere near approaching the level of ugly rancor attained in Chelsea v Barca, but scrappy nonetheless and flesh-thumpingly physical.

Few came away unbruised. Blood spilled on yellow kit (I'm looking at you, Zamora). Jonathan Spector had his plate full trying to mark Robin van Persie--nobody's favorite player on the pitch today, I think--and never backed down, proving himself no physical coward and giving as good as (better than?) he got. To prove the point that van Persie was winning no popularity contests, an ill-tempered coin flew from the crowd and nailed him on the touchline. In my favorite bit of reportage for the day, Matt Scott wrote in the GUARDIAN: "He fell to the floor clutching his head, further enraging the crowd." My boy, do not muck around with West Ham fans. (I make fun of it, but it made my skin crawl. One craven fellow with a bad mood and a pocket full of pound coins and the Irons could find themselves back in the relegation zone.)

My personal guilty pleasure of the day: Teddy Sheringham shamelessly bodychecking Jens Lehmann. (Oh, what? He's twice Sheringham's size. It was raffish and picaresque,--if I may borrow Mourinho's word,--and Ted's a lovable scamp.)

The game remained scoreless until literally the last minute, but it's a credit to both teams that there wasn't a moment in it that I didn't expect a goal on the far end of every next pass. Harewood broke his long dry spell in the 89th minute when he blasted Etherington's hard-won cross past Lehmann and celebrated by getting a yellow card. (I don't understand goal celebration yellow cards. Celebrate, by all means. Just keep your clothes on. It's two minutes until the game is over, Marlon. You can run around shirtless then. In fact, that's a good idea, as it'll give you something to do besides trying to pick a fight with little Cesc.)

It was after the game was ended that the real machismo fun began, and we at home missed the bulk of it. Cesc Fabregas apparently had words with the ref, which somehow culminated in a squabble with Harewood. Lehmann retaliated against the scalawag Sheringham by squirting him with his water-bottle, which led to the Arsenal physio wrestling the keeper to the ground (I'm not making this up, I swear), which led to Wenger himself tackling the physio. What I would give to have watched that live and uncensored. It's like an SNL skit, only better, because the strange and spidery Arsene is involved in a sort of dogpile. Then there's the whole Pardew v Wenger tangle ("This is MY personal space. This is YOUR personal space.")

It was an exciting day. My muscles ache just from watching. Everyone, Hammers and Gunners alike, will sleep soundly for several days, I think.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Barcelona Hold On

We all knew it was going to be a tough match anyway considering that Deportivo haven't been beaten at home all season. And then there's the fetid residue of Tuesday's draw with the Blue Bastards from London that still lingers in the memory. But with the tragic and sudden death of Barca captain Carles Puyol's father yesterday, which understandably forced Puyol out of the match and back to Barcelona to deal with more important matters, the team had an even bigger test of will to contend with. Barca looked edgy and lacking in the exquisite finishing that we expect from them--that we hunger for--but they managed to grab a point out of the hectic affair with the determined and aggressive Deportivo squad, ultimately keeping things level at 1-1.

All of us here at a pretty move are sad by Puyol's loss and wish him and his family the best.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Gunners Shoot Blanks

It was an incredibly entertaining match, but someone must've sprinkled heaps of bad mojo on Arsenal because none of their attempts on goal (what, like a hundred or so?) amounted to anything but frustration. Plenty of shots were supplied with horrible finishing (like that can't-miss Rosicky shot in the early moments of the second half, though Fabregas also had a horrible gaffe in the first, I think) but others were subservient to something weirder than human error. Superstitious? How could you not be when so much beautiful, attractive football via the Gunners came to naught on a cold, endless Russian night.

You can read more about match here.

News Flash: Keano Seethes

Two of a pretty move's favorite managers, Mick McCarthy and Roy Keane, kiss and make up (sort of), but their (sort of) reconciliation is overshadowed by Sunderland's 1-2 loss to Cardiff City. As Lisa points out, it's got to be chilling to be around Roy when he gets so terse he stops using pronouns.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Sheringham and the Spastics

There's still a lot of work to be done before the club transforms back into the gritty yet dynamic West Ham squad that we love, but today's gloriously ramshackle and much needed win against Blackburn (minus the ghastly Robbie Savage, who was supposedly blow drying his hair in the loo or something) was a great start toward good form. I could barely take most of it--I was too nervous, too aware that at any moment Sheringham and the lads would blow it and we'd have to start all over again next week, against Arsenal of all teams.

But the Hammers didn't blow it, and their performance today was heroic, inspiring, and entertaining to watch (on second viewing, of course), despite the uneven performance. But I don't care about that right now. I tried to really analyze the game on that second viewing (I was half-asleep and terrified during the live broadcast in the morning), but my emotions swept me away when I heard the faithful at Upton Park sing, chant, roar, and do whatever it took to conjure up the Twelfth Man. It was damn emotional, and what with me being inclined toward sweeping dramatic narratives, I was easily sucked into the team's desperate attempt for a little salvation.

It's hard to believe that the team hasn't won a match since opening day back in August, but it's true. Even harder to believe that they didn't score a goal for seven straight! Zamora (who was scoring before that but is now struggling like everyone else on the team) looked a lot better today, though Harewood is still confounding with his lack of putting . . . the . . . ball . . . into . . . the . . . back . . . of . . . the . . . net. He'll regain his predatory ways eventually, so I'm not really worried.

At times I felt the game was ugly and spastic. But when Sheringham scored in the 21st minute with that confident blast of a header, I could've cared less about the aesthetics of how the Hammers were going to win. I wanted melodrama and redemption, not subtlety and grace. As the game went on, the Hammers did start playing with that peculiar snap and working-class conviction that appeals to the faithful--me included--though they almost blew it at the end when Blackburn scored in stoppage time and then immediately attempted to even it up when Jeffers took that uncomfortably close shot. The Hammers didn't break, though, and they managed to claw their way out of the relegation zone into 16th place. Still a precarious position to be in, but I can live with it. I'm just glad for a glimpse of salvation.

You can read more about the match here and about the hero of the day here.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Cruel Fascination: AC Milan 3-Inter 4

I have to admit that my enthusiasm for a lot of the matches I've been watching of late has been very low. My teams, Barcelona, West Ham, and my dear local club the Timbers--who ended their poor season in September--have all left me feeling exasperated and a bit bewildered. Barcelona are still top of their league and they are far from lousy or anything like that. But when it comes to the big matches, like their Champions League game against Chelsea a couple of weeks ago or last week's disappointing loss in the El Clasico against Real Madrid, the superstar Catalans have looked anxious, indecisive, and more than a bit lost without their star striker, Mr Eto'o. And I won't even get into talking about West Ham--at least until tomorrow--because I can't even grasp the melodramatic turmoil fermenting across the pond at Upton Park. I've tried, I've tried to write about it, and everytime I start a post about the Hammers' dilemma I reach for a book instead--or a last cigarette and a blindfold.

But today, the Italians brought me back. And my peculiar (for me) interest in the Serie A continued to deepen and fascinate. The rivalry between Inter Milan and AC Milan is always a contentious affair (what derby isn't?) and today's match was no big surprise in that respect. But what was a surprise was the amount of goals (seven in all) and the absolute euphoric atmosphere and, more importantly, the courage and unbridled passion from both teams that was on full display down on that glorious pitch.

I've never watched a Milan derby before, so I don't know how it compares to previous matches between these two squads. But I'll go ahead and take at face value what the GolTV commentators exclaimed over and over again by the end of all the drama: this was an absolute classic to be remembered for a long, long time. It sure seemed that way.

I missed the first half due to my very late waking time (it's a long story), but the beginning of the second half was enough to pull me into the storyline and keep me seduced throughout its forty-five minute (and then some) feverdream of a game. At first, I wasn't so sure. Inter was up 2-0 (goals from the fabulous Crespo and Stankovic) and I almost switched off the television, even though I like the lads in blue and black, because I figured it was just going to be a good yet slightly depressing pummelling of Berlusconi's Rossoneri. And when Inter's Ibrahimovic scored a brilliantly brutal and wild goal against Milan's Brazilian keeper Dida within a few minutes into the second half, I was convinced. Fun for a team's supporters, but boring for the relatively neutral spectator like myself (I lean toward Inter, though I have to admit that I have a perverse sort of infatuation with Milan, and I feel dirty, sleazy, and used because of it, but I keep watching nevertheless).

How could a team, even with the deep talent of the Rossoneri, come back now? It seemed impossible and stupid even to contemplate. Milan's fans were stunned and silent. Creepy capitalist-cryptofascist-godfather-devil (redundant, I know) Berlusconi glowered in the stands and I imagine was mentally making a list of what players to torture after the match (Ah, Maldini always looks so pretty with tears in his eyes!) But before the steely-eyed bureaucrat could figure out a way to slip out of the stadium with some dignity intact, Milan's Seedorf restored some honor to the club by scoring in the 50th. Then Inter answered back when everyone's favorite wise-ass and self-proclaimed idiot Materazzi (I don't even know what a terrorist is!) delivered a vicious header and sealed up the game, one could safely assume. Oh, and then Materazzi got red carded for his celebration. How come I wasn't surprised?

At this point I really wouldn't have blamed the Rossoneri for giving up. That they didn't, though, is a testament to the quality and passion of the team. Fired up even more, Milan attacked, attacked, attacked and earned a well-deserved second goal when Gilardino scored again (his first goal was ruled a no-go for offside a few minutes earlier) and then Kaka shot one in during stoppage time. The Rossoneri may not have won the match, but their crusade to regain some respect after such a dispiriting first half was inspiring, entertaining, and memorable to say the least. The Devil may have ultimately betrayed the team's devotion to the dark side, but they were dragged down to Hell with style, flair, and determination--cementing my cruel fascination with this attractive gang of lost souls.

Monday, October 23, 2006

el clasico, 2006 edicion: or, the evil Earps at the OK corral

Was it really just Wednesday when 2/3 of a pretty move met with Zach from 11 Devils and got the life-force sucked out of us watching a weirdly vacant Barca well and truly pummelled by the overpaid boys in blue? (See Zach's inimitable description here. Not only does he write with vigor and style, he even secretly paid for the french fries. Thanks, man.) It didn't bode well for this year's battle in the ongoing war between Real Madrid and Barca, AKA the Fascists v the Catalans. Last year's showdown was a sparkling triumph for Ronaldinho and the boys, in which they garnered a round of applause from hardened Real fans at the Bernabeu just for playing so damn well.

This year falls into the realm of different gods entirely. Darker gods, the kind that hunker and lurk.

Two minutes into the action, Sergio Ramos (he works for the devil, but he may be my favorite of all the young Spaniards) sent a perfect ball forward and center to Raul who headed it past Valdes so smoothly that we collectively got the wind knocked out of us and nobody spoke for a full minute. Then Lynda muttered something about NOW is the moment Raul decides to make his long-delayed and much-despaired-of comeback? I said he's like the gunfighter who spends the whole movie drunk in the gutter then cleans up and busts into the saloon just in time for the final shoot-out.

In retrospect, it's an apt metaphor for the whole team. All season long, the word about Real has been nothing but negative. Bloated, ego-heavy, unmanagably expensive, the team has emitted the warning creaks and groans of a sinking ship all year. And yet, here we are, the smoke clearing in the saloon with the wrong cowboys still standing. Evil cowboys, yes, but today they do look shiny. Robinho's yellow boots owned the pitch from one end to the other. Raul exuded youth and vitality the whole 90 minutes, as did Reyes when he came in during the second half. Ruud and Guti indulged in some bullying Schadenfreude and I wish I could say they played badly, but that would be disingenuous.

As for the Catalans, Ronaldinho remained unmanned (or, as Zach aptly put it, "decoded"), as he had been against Chelsea. He delivered some lovely crosses and one splendid free kick but the finish was fumbled by Gudjohnsen. The mighty Viking was invisible at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday and worse today, missing every opportunity that came his way. Messi had some shining moments, setting up what ought to have been the equaliser more than once. Puyol did some brave defending but we all sorely missed Marquez.

The man of the match for me was announcer Ray Hudson, with his musings on "manly machismo" and "donkey work", and his whimsical metaphors, one in particular about "a snowball plunging out of a snowy sky." I swear he even referred to one of the Real players (for God's sake, WHO?) as "my little lollipop."

In then end it felt like the STAR TREK episode in which Kirk and the landing party found themselves cast in the roles of the Clanton gang and facing a dashingly evil and seemingly invincible line of Earps. Today, the Bad Earps won, but even I have to admit they looked rather magnificent doing it.

some questions about irons and wisdom from Ray Winstone

OK. How do you get BITTEN by some wanker on the pitch and still come out looking like the bad guy in the scenario? Explain that to me. There has to be a particular talent involved.

Second question: How does a Hammers' fan stay sane in trying times? My immediate instinct is to distance myself. I no longer watch the matches. Instead, I make Derek and Lynda watch them then describe them in excruciating detail ("OK. Tell it again, the thing about Benayoun. So, he just...what? Freaked out?") .

In search of answers, I did the obvious thing and went to sit at the virtual feet of veteran Hammer follower Ray Winstone. I leave you with his (paraphrased) words: "Being a West Ham fan, one must be an optimist." Read the casual interview here from this summer, with its genuinely touching moment of naivete (much like ours here at a pretty move. Was that really just a few months ago?) on the day England was slated to cross swords with Portugal, and another here about watching West Ham in '66 when the fellows who won the World Cup mostly sported the claret and blue. While you're at it, go see THE DEPARTED, in which he gives another in a series of perfectly-focused performances, like a string of flawless gems. Do not, however, under any circumstances, go to see it with your grey-haired mum on one side and a Catholic priest on the other (come on, I said. Let's go see the new Scorcese, I said. It'll be FUN, I said).

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Barthez to Chelsea? Mais, non!

This flew completely under my radar, but according to Czech Football Daily, apparently in the aftermath of the Petr Cech injury, rumors circulated that eccentric (to say the least) former French national keeper Fabian Barthez might be joining the Blues (not Les Bleus) as a replacement. Mourinho has put a stop to those wild imaginings, citing the need for a keeper who will "give us security." Yeah, when I think about a stable, secure keeper, Barthez is pretty much the last guy who springs to my mind. I'm relieved it was only a rumor; adding Barthez to the squad might have actually tempted me to support Chelsea now and again. Horrors!

In other good news, for what it's worth, the same Czech Football Daily link includes remarks from the doctor for the Czech national team speculating that Cech's injury is not as serious as it sounds to us laymen, as head injuries go, and that he might be making a return to form within months rather than an entire year. Despite our antipathy for Chelsea, we here at a pretty move count Cech among our favorite keepers, and our fingers are crossed for just such a speedy recovery.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Barca Miscellany

The current Champions League and La Liga champs, Barcelona, beat the current UEFA Cup and European Super Cup champs, Sevilla, today 3-1 at Camp Nou; a much needed win to start a tough week for Frank Rijkaard's lads. From the reports (the game wasn't televised because none of Sevilla's games are being shown this season due to a television rights issue) the game sounded like a great vindication for the Catalans who brutally lost to Sevilla in August during the European Super Cup, and who have managed to stay unbeaten atop the La Liga standings despite a rather lackluster beginning of the season from the trickster/phenom, Ronaldinho. But whatever post-World Cup blues have been seriously impeding Ronaldinho, the drought seems to have abated at just the right time (he scored twice against Sevilla: a penalty kick and off a free kick) considering the Catalans' schedule over the next week--they face a bruised and battered Chelsea this Wednesday for a Champions League match in London, and then next Sunday the rivalry of all rivalries commences when Barca play out the Spanish Civil War for yet another year against Real Madrid. Two tough matches, though I'm looking forward to basking in some much needed beautiful football and camaraderie by this time next week.

Barca's remarkable renaissance the last few years has flourished under the guidance of former player (Ajax, AC Milan, Dutch national team) Frank Rijkaard. The Dutchman was brought to Barcelona in 2003 after a disastrous stint coaching Sparta Rotterdam, and although it took a while for this enigmatic, supercool and collected coach to find his bearings with the Catalans, his worth to the club is obvious now and I can't imagine what the team would be like without him. You can read more about Rijkaard and his "weird" ways here from the Guardian site.

Also on the Guardian web site is a rather hilarious yet uncomfortable "interview" with Barca's tempestuous yet incredible and indispensable striker, Samuel Eto'o. You can read more here.

And lastly, here's an update on Chelsea's injured first keeper, Petr Cech, who underwent skull surgery last night and who will unfortunately be missing out on Wednesday's match against Barcelona. I like Cech a lot due to his service with the Czech national team and we here at a pretty move wish him all the best despite our desire to see the Blues go down in flames against the Catalans.

Mes Que Un Club!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Bizarro Chelsea

It was only thirty seconds into the game against Reading when Chelsea keeper Petr Cech slid in the box to make a save and ended up taking a knee to the face from Reading’s Stephen Hunt. Immobile, Cech was eventually stretchered off and taken to the hospital for a precautionary measure. Then near the end of the match, Chelsea’s replacement keeper, Carlo Cudicini, was taken down in a gruesome collision with Reading player Ibrahima Sonko, and he too was eventually carted off and taken to hospital to join his comrade. With only a few minutes left, as the stoppage time neared the 100th minute mark, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho had to think fast to keep their 0-1 lead: designate center-back defender John Terry the keeper. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen anything like that before. Crazy man, crazy. Moving striker Didier Drogba into Terry’s usual role, the London club held on for the few remaining minutes against the peculiar odds and a lackluster Reading squad who just couldn’t capitalize on their strange advantage. And I didn’t even mention the two red cards handed out against both clubs or the return of Joe Cole. Oh, how I love this sport.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


A new round of UEFA Euro 2008 qualifying matches today . . . and most of them--at least by looking over the scores--seem to be relatively predictable, including the England loss. But more about that later.

The Iceland vs Sweden match broadcast live on FSC was intermittently enjoyable despite long passages of boredom. Why in the hell did I watch it? Well, if you figure it was basically a battle of Vikings vs Vikings, who wouldn't want to experience watching such a raging tumult of football prowess? Unfortunately, the blessings of Odin upon the pitch seemed scarce, though the game did open up with a bang in the sixth minute when Icelandic midfielder Arnar Vidarsson delivered a wonderful volley past Swedish keeper Rami Shaaban. Sweden immediately answered back in the eighth when Kim Kallstrom scored off a blistering Raganarok of a free kick. Sweden cemented their fourth straight win of the tournament when Christian Wilhelmsson scored in the second half near the hour mark. Not a thunderously brilliant game, and I do wish Iceland's number one player, Eidur Gudjohnson, could have really turned things around, but . . . . And despite the hearty bravery of the Iceland team, it should be noted that the Swedish side were missing quite a few of their best, including key-Gunner Fredrik Ljungberg, Anders Svensson, Tobias Linderoth, and striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the latter who is still on the outs with Swedish coach Lars Lagerback. I fear the loss could've been a whole lot worse.

It's easy to make fun of teams like the Faroe Islands. We've all done it at some point. But I still love the idea of these so-called lesser teams competing in big tournaments like this. Yeah, I know they don't have a chance in hell, but every once in awhile a little team does rise up and challenge the status quo, reminding us that against all the odds . . . . Okay, you've seen the movie. It still doesn't mean it can't happen in the real world. The Faroe Islands, unfortunately, are not one of those teams. They looked awful. Rubbish, really. No defense, certainly no offense, and their speed (or lack of it) and ball control were appalling. Still, it really could've been a whole lot worse than the 5-0 pummeling they endured (three of the five goals against them happened in the later part of the second half) at the feet of France. I made no excuses: I watched the match to indulge my growing French national team infatuation. But I still wanted the boys (and many of them did look like mere scruffy-faced boys) from the Faroe Islands to at least put up a good fight, look defeat in the face with courage and conviction and go down knowing they'd given it their all as darkness blessedly obscured their eyes. Sadly, the team from the North Atlantic looked terrified and disorganized for most of the match (wouldn't you?). They took only two shots, I believe, on goal the entire game and their defense was abysmal. No surprise, I guess. But I still held out hope for them despite my glee at watching Saha (2"), Henry (22"), Anelka (77"), and Trezeguet (78", 84") work wonders on the net.

And then there's the case of England. Didn't see the match (England lost 2-0), but I did just see highlights on Sky News and that was enough for me. Truly dreadful. You can read more about the strange Croatia vs England match here. And while you're at it, you can read about the exciting looking Republic of Ireland vs Czech Republic 1-1 game here.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Other People's Words

I'm cheating today in providing content by linking to other people, but this stuff is too good to miss!

First, check out Bob's To-Do List for new Timbers coach/GM Gavin Wilkinson over at the Oregonian Timbers blog. I'd love to actually link to the piece itself, but not only does the Oregonian site have the dumbest interface around, but the permalink doesn't work at the moment. So scroll on down to his Wednesday September 27 entry. As is always the case with Bob's writing on the Timbers, I couldn't have said it better myself. Gavin, are you listening?

And while we are talking about soccer bloggers with whom I am uncannily in agreement, Linda over at the new soccer blog The Beautiful Game not only shares my name but the same football obsessions as a pretty move, namely such things of beauty as Barcelona, the Argentinian national team, and Juan Roman Riquelme and the Yellow Submarine (although she writes about plenty of other football stuff: check out this comprehensive appraisal of recent Champions League matches). She has an astute eye for analyzing and breaking down a match or the strength of a team or a player, revealing apm in comparision to be the squad of slackers that we are.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Five Months Will Feel Like Five Years

Looks like the injury Barcelona striker Samuel Eto'o received yesterday to his knee during the Champions League match against Werder Bremen is a lot worse than previously thought. You can read more about Eto'o and his torn meniscus here. Sigh.

We Interrupt For These Brief Messages

I am both surprised and thrilled to report the decisive victory of dark horse UEFA Cup contenders Mlada Boleslav over Marseille today, 4-2. Haven't been able to locate any match reports just yet (I know, hard to believe that journalists aren't rushing to record the success of these titans of football, but there you are). Edit: UEFA Cup page has a brief write up. This was the second leg and Mlada Boleslav advances with a 4-3 aggregate. Next up for the determined Czechs is the group stage, which begins October 19. Go you Mlada Boleslavians!

And in other quickie news, FOX Soccer News reported last night that Reading was taking an interest in DC United youngster Freddy Adu, but according to a story on the BBC today, DC United is saying hold your horses, Adu's not going anywhere. I hope this isn't true, because at present MLS lacks the proper structure for developing a young player like Adu, and if he's as great as they keep telling us he is--and, naysayers aside, I hope he is--then he needs to be training among the very best. I trash talk MLS a lot but the truth is they are a league which is improving each year; however, it's still not the place for a player with world class ambitions.

DC United, don't make me start printing up "Free Freddy Adu" t-shirts.

A Fistful of Matches

It was a great day for games Wednesday, what with the second day of the Champions League group stage going on in Europe and then the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup final here in the States. Lots of excitement, plenty of games, and simply not enough time or access to wallow in all of the footie madness. But what I did see—three games—was more than bountiful for this lowly soccer blogger.

First up, Chelsea vs. Levski Sofia. I used to be a rabid anti-Chelski hater. I still don’t exactly like them, though the anger and moral indignation that used to fester inside me has mellowed considerably, flickering deep within me more like a low-grade indifference than the riot that used to overtake my thoughts every time I’d see “The Special One” on the sidelines, shrugging, moaning, or offering up one of his petulant facial expressions. Why the change of heart?


Chelsea’s ruthless striker may have had a disappointing World Cup playing with his national team Cote d’Ivoire, but he’s having an exceptional start to the Premiership season, already scoring four goals in six games and then netting a hat-trick Wednesday for his club in the Champions League. The second and third goals he struck may not have been the prettiest (the last one had me howling as it slowly rolled into the net past the Bulgarian keeper, Georgi Petkov), but Drogba’s smooth feral skill has slowly made me an admirer. Levski Sofia are the reigning Bulgarian 2005-2006 champs, and they looked focused and determined (and rather foully I don’t mind adding) for a large portion of the first half. But by the time Drogba delivered that punishing second goal that squeezed through Petkov’s reach, the second half for Levski Sofia was nothing more than a painful reminder* that the road to glory in the Champions League is long, arduous, and sometimes embarrassing when your club just doesn’t have the quality. I should add, though, that the late goal by Levski Sofia midfielder Marian Ognyanov, a forceful strike in the last minute, was arguably the finest of the match.

So after feeling a bit smutty after rooting for Chelsea, I watched the Barcelona vs. Werder Bremen match, and slowly, ever so slowly started to feel sane again as my team tried to take down a resourceful and vengeful German machine**. Barca moved the ball with their characteristic dexterity and flashes of artistry, but Werder Bremen controlled the tempo of the game for the most part, and kept the Catalans from unleashing any realistic onslaught. Werder Bremen, on the other hand, did attack several times though nothing substantial materialized. That is until the 56th minute of the second half when forward Aaron Hunt burned down the left side of the pitch and aimed toward Valdes and the Barca goal. Barcelona captain Carles “the Armored Saint” Puyol stretched and attempted to kick the ball out of bounds, but the ball instead screamed into the back of the net. Brutal stuff. Luckily, it takes a lot to discourage the boys from Catalonia, and Barcelona continued to hunt for goals and predominately control the rhythm of the match whether playing at full-speed ahead or at a more meandering pace. Kid Fantastic Lionel Messi and former Chelsea-man Eidur Gudjohnsen (a splendid addition to the squad this season) were subbed into the game in the later part of the second half (the former replacing Ludovic Giuly and the latter replacing an injured Samuel Eto’o, who will now be out for at least two to three months for sustaining an injury to this knee) were brought in to level the score. It took awhile, despite repeated attempts, but the Argentinean wunderkind Messi evened things up in the 89th minute, much to the relief of the a pretty move headquarters. Next stop for Barcelona on the long road to the Champions League final . . . Chelsea on October 18th.

And lastly, I just want to light a big flare in salute to the Chicago Fire after their incredibly exciting and entertaining match against Landon Donovan and the Los Angeles Galaxy in the final of the U.S. Open Cup. Lots of frenetic action, lots of decisive goals, and even a few moments of flair that literally made me rub my television-jaundiced eyes and remark to Lynda, “Are we still in America?” A great game and a great performance by the lads from Chicago. You can read more about the Fire’s 3-1 victory here.

* Levski were crushed by Barca 5-0 on the first day of the group stage.

** Bremen lost to Chelsea 2-0 on the first day of the group stage.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Agnello Gone; Wilkinson in Charge!

It ended up being a horrible season for the Portland Timbers, especially after so much hope at the start when new general manager/coach Chris Agnello was recruited to make the team more streamlined, aggressive, make the playoffs in style and hell . . . win the division. Was that too much to ask?

Oh yeah, it was. The season was a disaster, though there were brilliant moments and I ended up always having fun even when I was crying inside. Though when the cigarette smoke cleared and my thoughts resumed normal functioning once the beer-soaked logic no longer did, I was depressed that my hometown club looked ready to fade away once again.

But there's hope:

Chris Agnello has resigned and former player for the Timbers and assistant coach Gavin Wilkinson will now take over the general manager/coach duties. Wilkinson is well liked by many of the team's loyal supporters, so this may well be a good fit for a change. Anyway, I'll worry about the negative aspects (if there are any) down the line. Until then, I'll just bask in the sudden warmth and feeling of goodwill that has mysteriously overtaken me.

You can read more about the Timbers' bright future here.

Monday, September 25, 2006

apm goes to the movies

On the heels of our recent thwarted attempt to view Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos in the theatre, a pretty move convened at not-so-secret-headquarters last Wednesday night to watch its broadcast on ESPN2. This is a solid, entertaining look at the rise and fall--and implicitly, the rise again, because these are the times that laid the popularity for the rise of US soccer today--of the Cosmos and the NASL. The film opens with narrator Matt Dillon (?) reminding us that in the 1960s no one in the US played soccer, or even knew what it was save for recent immigrants. Cue a collective gasp of horror from all three of us. And then the NASL, and the New York Cosmos, were born.

Imagine such a superstar lineup playing in the US today: Pele, Beckenbauer, Cruyff. Giorgio Chanaglia comes off as a complete wanker and Shep Messing like a guy you really want to throw back a few drinks with while you talk about the old days.

Something else I liked: at the beginning, a journalist whose name I've forgotten was discussing why it's difficult for American sports fans to make the switch to watching soccer. We are raised on American sports, with their endless delays and timeouts, and she likens soccer to a play. You watch for 45 minutes, you have an intermission during which you discuss what's happened so far, and then you watch the second part.

Last night I finally saw Goal! The Dream Begins, already reviewed by Lisa on its theatrical release back in May. I'll just add that I am torn between establishing my film street cred* by pointing out that heartwarming is generally not the kind of adjective I'm looking for in my moviegoing experiences--I am more of a Wild Bunch than, say, a James L. Brooks kind of girl (although I actually do find The Wild Bunch heartwarming in a twisted way, but that's a subject for a nonexistent blog)--and feeling that establishing one's film credentials around Goal! is kind of like pushing a twelve-year-old down the stairs to show what a badass you are. I mean, of course it's a fairy tale: kid goes from illegal immigrant kicking a ball around the barrios of LA to starting for Newcastle United in a matter of months. So sit down, smartypants. We all know this isn't Raging Bull.

Anyway, this film is everything Lisa said it was, but, as she pointed out, it's still engaging. It's chock full of footie cameos, and really, who doesn't want to be Santiago, racing out onto the pitch while thousands of fans scream your name?

*note: I haven't got any

Friday, September 15, 2006

In which the Czechs fare only moderately well and Serie A surprises me

I had hoped to write about yesterday's first round UEFA Cup match between Marseilles and Mlada Boleslav, but alas, of the four Czech teams playing yesterday, only Slavia Praha v. Tottenham Hotspurs was televised. So we headed on down to soccer standby the Marathon ($3.75 chicken gyros!) to check out the Czechs (sorry for that).

I did have some residual sympathy for the Spurs owing to their unfortunate gastoenteritis incident at the end of last season. I can't say the match was all that exciting; as I pointed out to Derek and Lisa, I somehow persist in believing that one of these unknown little teams will rise up to truly challenge the Goliaths despite their persistent demonstrations of mediocrity. But it does happen just often enough to keep the hope alive, and I'll never be one of those proponents of shrinking the pool of eligible teams with the idea that it will save us all the trouble of less-than-spectacular matches (because, as we all know, big teams always provide excellent football, right? Riiight.) The announcers mentioned that Slavia Praha had three teenagers on their team and I gotta say some of those boys didn't quite look old enough to drive; were they pressganging youngsters from local schoolyards?

In a moment reminiscent of England substitute keeper Robert Green's pre-World Cup injury during the Belarus friendly, Slavia Praha goalkeeper Michal Vorel collapsed following a goal kick about 25 minutes in. It seems it's rarely anything but a team's death knell when the keeper has to be replaced, and SP fared no better. They seemed to fall apart after a nice goal by Tottenham's Jermaine Jenas at 37 minutes, and though they pulled themselves together at the half, played considerably better, and tried hard for an equalizer, they just didn't have the skill and the final whistle blew with the score at 0-1. Oh, some stuff happened around the 60th minute which resulted in a free kick for SP but we missed that because once it started to rain really hard, the satellite went out for a while. As the waitress remarked dryly, you'd think that if you sold a service in Portland, you'd make sure it actually worked in the rain, but there it is.

Poor little Mlada Boleslav didn't even rate a mention in the post-match reports on Setanta, but their fate was the same as Slavia Praha's, while Sparta Praha and Slovan Liberec won their games. Lineups and links to match reports can be found at the always-informative Czech Football Daily.

Later on yesterday, I caught a thrilling Serie A match between Inter and Fiorentina. Now that was some football! I was so taken with the sight of Argentina's Cambiasso and Crespo on the pitch again, plus Figo to boot, that I fell instantly for Inter, though I found myself rooting for a Luca Toni hat trick to tie things up. Is anyone in Italian football more entertaining to watch? He's not just a great footballer; he plays up the theatrics for the guy at the very top of the stadium. He doesn't just suffer more! plead more! get more surprised! than anyone else on the pitch, he even sweats more than the other players. I swear he does that on purpose. This one ended 2-3; on the heels of the World Cup and yesterday's match I officially repudiate anything I ever said about il calcio being dull. Now I just gotta find a channel where I can watch Juve storming their way back into Serie A, with del Piero at the helm, Buffon holding things down, and my beloved Pavel Nedved as the hero of the day!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

What, Me Worry?

The plot thickens as more information trickles out in regards to the supposed West Ham United takeover by the mysterious company MSI (Media Sport Investment), which is itself a "subsidiary of a secretive investment firm registered in the British Virgin Islands" as reported over at The Guardian. As a West Ham fan I'm excited by the two Argentinians, Tevez and Mascherano, being snatched up by the club. But the fine print is so much more worrying and should fill any fan with trepidation about the future of the club and the Premiership as a whole. Or should it? Isn't this the way of the football world now, at least in regards to the top tier teams? If you don't have the cash, you don't win championships. West Ham are now at a position to challenge the top clubs in the Premiership--Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal--and has a good chance to wind up in sixth place by the end of the season come spring . . . or perhaps even higher. The scruffy working class yet oddly sleek and modern East London club is vying for something bigger and greater for their treasure chest and their supporters. But at what cost? Am I being naive about this? Or am I being naive in not being more worried about the whole thing?

You can read more about Tevez, Mascherano, and the West Ham affair here.

And speaking of great Argentinian players, Juan Roman Riquelme--the fabulous, intelligent tactician of the national team this past World Cup--is hanging up his boots on the international front and will now devote his attention to his ailing mother and his day job at Villarreal. I'm absolutely floored and saddened by this announcement and hope that he'll return to the national team sometime down the line. Riquelme's smooth slowing down of a game's tempo and his expertise at delivering the right pass at a crucial moment or delivering a brutal finish when an opponent is vulnerable, is a joy to behold. But if Riquelme is off, not engaged in the creative build-up of a match, the whole thing can come undone resulting in lethargic passing with nowhere to go. Sad, sad news. You can read more about Argentina's Dr. Mabuse here and here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Hell of a Result Indeed

Roy Keane's newly inspired Black Cats triumphed over a desultory Leeds side today, dishing out three superb goals by Liam Miller, Graham Kavanagh, and Stephen Elliott respectively. I only caught footage of the match on the Sky News wrap-up on FSC, but Sunderland's emphatic win shined through even in the short clips, especially Kavanagh's impressive shot in the 44th minute. Good job, lads! This win, their third straight, now lifts the squad into 14th place in the Championship and I've no doubt it's only the beginning of a more promising season than they had originally appeared to be doomed for.

You can read more about the match on the official Sunderland AFC site here.

Champions League: Lyon v Real Madrid

We’ve been here before. A year ago at this time, France’s five-years-in-a-row Ligue 1 champs Olympique Lyonnais beat Real Madrid 3-0 in the opening match of the Champions League group stage. Today, in their opening Group E match, the two European titans met up again and it was all a bit familiar yet, depending on your inclination, thrilling.

I was completely neutral for this match, though my dislike of Real Madrid certainly had me swaying a little toward Lyon. In all honesty, I couldn’t have cared less about them either since my soft allegiance has always leaned more toward Marseille. But the combination of watching Juninho, Malouda, Cris, Govou, Tiago, and Fred (the latter two responsible for the two first-half goals) play with the type of determination and zealousness that propels a team to decisive victory, and also wins over neutrals in the process, had me glued to the screen when I was supposed to be doing some much-needed work. They looked hungry, as the cliché goes, and appeared ready to hoist up that monstrously huge cup come May. Well, okay, they weren’t that good—but they still looked strong enough to make it to the quarter-finals before flaming out.

Lyon has dominated Ligue 1 like no French team before them, rivaling the great Marseille team of the late-1980s and early-1990s that won four Ligue 1 titles and went on to win the Champions League cup in 1993 or the Saint-Etienne team of the mid-to-late 1960s that then led the pack. But despite Lyon’s ascendancy to the top of their home table, they have still yet to get any farther than the quarter-finals in the European competition. Will that change this year? I wouldn’t dare make a prediction like that (I don’t even know if my beloved Barca can repeat; it’s simply way too early to tell). I will make one prediction, though, and it’s a pretty obvious one at that—Real Madrid doesn’t have a chance in hell. Sluggish, hesitant, and despite controlling the ball more than Lyon, Madrid was incapable of controlling the rhythm and their shots on goal rarely tested the French keeper, Gregory Coupet. And when Lyon consistently broke through Madrid’s defense, the enraged victims lashed out with a grinding cleat in the ankle here and a petulant elbow or shove there. The end result may’ve been only 2-0, but Lyon could’ve easily slotted in a few more, sending the bloated Galacticos back to the Bernabeu to prepare for their second-leg defeat which will occur on September 26th.

Up until the last World Cup, I never paid much attention to Juninho (but I’ve never paid much attention to Lyon either for that matter). And now I’m sorry for my mistake. This serious-minded Brazilian midfielder with a gift for the blistering free kick was a joy to watch, as was the man whose name will one day grace the lips of every citizen of the world, Fred. Oh yes, Fred. One day, people will name their children after . . . wait, strike that. Well, I’m sure you’ll get a statue erected after you or perhaps an airport or a bridge. You may not have the snappiest or the coolest moniker to emblazon the back of a kit, but you certainly give Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink a run for his money for the most memorable.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

hammers v villans: a rollicking good time

The most exciting matches balance the sublime and the absurd, and both camps were well represented today at Upton Park. The upshot of the morning was a 1-1 draw, but the ride there was fast and furious. You want beauty? Villa brought the smooth-like-cream set-pieces, and West Ham contributed two brilliant saves (by Tyrone Mears in the 54th, clearing Petrov's unstoppable lob dropped right down over Carroll's head, then another masterful clearance by Ferdinand just moments later). Villa's dynamic attacking duo of Barry and Angel fell firmly into the sublime column as well, and with a readier smile from the soccer gods they might easily have taken the day.

Chalk these up in the absurd column: Sorensen's groan-inducing miskick straight to the feet of Harewood, standing a mere yard or two outside the penalty box in a stretch of pitch completely barren of defenders, was topped only by Harewood's inexplicable choice (surely it must have been a choice?) to strike it wide, perhaps from gentlemanly ethics. Then there was the Keystone Kops minute: the 22nd, to be exact, when a Villa corner was cleared but only after the ball was bobbled and futzed down a line of five or six Hammers. Seriously, if you took performers of physical brilliance--members of Cirque du Soleil, say,--and choreographed this defensive near-catastrophe, it would take the fellows weeks of hard work to reach this level of awe-inspiring absurdity.

There was some business as usual: Zamora picked up his customary yellow after screaming at the ref like a slavering yard-dog in a Ralph Steadman cartoon. Baros subbed on in the 81st minute and within seconds missed the finish on the most gorgeous, here-it-is-mate-on-a-platter free kick you'll ever see.

But most of the game was a delight. Those of us anxious to see the new boys at play suffered some little disappointment, as Mascherano was bench-warming and Tevez only took to the pitch for the last half hour. He felt off-kilter at first, but his quickness, fanciness of foot, and smart instincts were already apparent. There was one very impressive run in particular, circumventing a tough marker and delivering a smooth cross; unfortunately, my boy Benayoun was too late to take advantage. My optimism, however, knows no bounds. It's a matter of synching up with the other kids. As soon as their rhythms become mutually attuned, the world will be painted in claret and blue.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Rose City Til I Die!

The Timbers played their final match against the Atlanta Silverbacks last night. Technically, this was a meaningless game for the Timbers, who fulfilled Zach's predictions in the comments the other day by falling to the very bottom of the table, even below Toronto Lynx levels. I like to think of this as a bit of altruism on our part, saving the Lynx from another season of humiliation. We're generous that way.

At any rate, it turns out that a meaningless game is never meaningless when your pride is on the line. The Timbers fought hard, at least in the first half, and nobody could fault Byron Alvarez or Guti! for the spirit displayed as the clock ticked down the final minutes of a bad season. We lost 2-0 but you'd never have known it from watching and listening to the Timbers Army, from the sea of streamers at the start to the bravura line of flares that lit up the night at the 90th minute.

After raising questions about Josh Saunders' goalkeeping the other day, I gotta say I was disappointed to see he wasn't starting last night and relieved when he was subbed in at the 75th minute; ditto for Scot Thompson, who was injured in his Coventry City tryouts and has been sitting out ever since, until coming in after the half. The future of everyone with a team that has performed so poorly is uncertain: Scot and Josh have been stalwarts of the squad and this may be the last time we see them play for the Green and White.

For the disappointing end of a horrible season, it was actually a beautiful night. A hint of autumn in the cooling night air, and the Timbers Army went on singing and singing long after the whistle blew and the team made their final pass before us, as they moved on toward the tunnel, as they stopped on the far side of the pitch to sign autographs. Somehow I ended up standing on the seat in front of us--emptied when its occupant rushed further down to see the finish--and when I turned around Derek had somehow acquired a flag on a pole, which he was swinging with all his might, and Lisa held someone's soccer boot. Unlike Cinderella's prince, we never learned whose foot it came from.

So, good things this season: we saw some fine new players, although whether any of them would (or should, for their own sakes) play for the Timbers again is anyone guess. We got a trumpet player! And he leads the Boca Juniors (replace "Boca" with "Timbers") chant really well! The "Seven Nation Army" that we ripped off from the Italians is a nice one as well, and green and white army and we are mental and we are green, we are the greatest football supporters the world has ever seen. And who can resist everybody pogo? (I am not so in love with the TA that I am forgetting about the football; there's just not much good to say about the football this year.) There was the magical night that we beat Seattle.

I hate the offseason. I gotta move to a country where they play football most of the year, not the other way around. I hate walking past PGE Park in the thick of January's damp winter gloom and pressing my face against the fence and imagining the players on the pitch, the ball slamming into the net, the songs rising up from the north end of the park (because I really do this, you know). Last night Derek and I walked home from the Bullpen, and park employees were out on the pitch, working under floodlights to do whatever it is they do to that godawful playing surface at the end of a game. And somehow--by accident or design, I don't know which--down toward the south end, in the middle of the pitch, one lone soccer ball waited in the dark.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

This is the End . . . .

It's been a bewildering season for supporters of the Portland Timbers. And to think that there'd been so much promise and good will at the beginning of it in April despite the usual negatives like lack of money, lack of consistency, lack of scoring goals. The team this year found a new coach and general manager in Chris Agnello, plenty of new faces (the Bullens, Kreamalmeyer, Randolph, Elfvin, Guti! to name a few notables) to mix it up with the usual suspects (Byron, Hugo, Josh, Tommy, and Scot), and a speedier pace and dexterity that had been lacking in the last couple of seasons. But for a myriad of reasons (lack of speed, lack of dexterity), the team imploded and now finds itself at the bottom of the USL table, forcing players to think about their next job when they should be preparing for the playoffs. Oh well, it happens. In the next few days I'll try to gather my thoughts about the season as a whole--perhaps my comrades on this blog will do the same--and post something a little more substantial, but until then . . . .

Tonight is the last match of the season. It's gonna be a beautiful night, the Timbers are facing Atlanta, and the beer is cheap. What more could you possibly want? So come out and support the team, drink some beers, soak up the atmosphere in PGE Park, and root for the only team that matters here in the Rose City.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Euro 2008 Qualifiers: Czech Republic v Slovakia

On the heels of the World Cup and the beginning of the various European seasons that have just started their long schedules, the UEFA Euro 2008 qualifying matches have bullied their way into football fans' lives yet again, simultaneously robbing supporters and their respective teams of their time with seemingly meaningless matches and delighting others with flashes of brilliance, dominance, and for a few . . . retribution. I'm aware of the criticism concerning this drawn out stage of the tournament--that it's tiresome, pointless, and distracting from the start of the various club leagues--but I can't deny my hunger for even more games in an already overcrowded calendar. Yeah, I'll admit it's hard to get excited to watch the blitzkrieg bop of Germany dismantle San Marino (the third smallest nation in Europe behind Monaco and Vatican City) 0-13, but I also can't help loving the possibilities of the David and Goliath early rounds of the tournament. Wish fulfillment? Probably. But the upsets are bound to happen, right? Right? Stay tuned.

The a pretty move bunch gathered at headquarters for a brief time to watch the Czechs play their second round match against Group D rivals Slovakia, and unlike the punishing Germany/San Marino game that was televised right before it, there were no brutal ass-kickings or embarrassments, though Karol Bruckner's newly enhanced, relatively youthful squad (minus key players Milan Baros, Vladimir Smicer, David Jarolim, and Zdenek Grygera, due to injuries) dominated the game throughout. Midfielder Libor Sionko led the Czechs to victory with two impressive first half goals (10', 21') and in the second half the towering forward Jan Koller solidified the win with a swift goal in the 51st minute. It may not have been earth-shattering stuff, but the newly revamped Czechs played consistently well and have put their disappointing World Cup demise behind them with their two assured qualifying wins. Now if only the Czech players can manage to stay fit and focused for another two years as they meet up with the fierce gauntlet of teams awaiting them. Next up, San Marino on October 7th and then the Republic of Ireland on the 11th.

In other games today, there were two notable results--one upset and one with the taint of bloody revenge. Northern Ireland felled the mighty underachievers Spain 3-2, with green man David Healy scoring an impressive hat-trick against the Spaniards. Xavi and David Villa scored for Spain. And France exacted a sweet revenge against World Cup champions Italy 3-1, with two goals by Sidney Govou and one from Thierry Henry. The Azzuri's Alberto Gilardino scored the Italians' sole goal in the 20th minute.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

To win you have to score one more goal than your opponent

Any remaining illusions the Timbers or their fans held about squeaking into the playoffs were dashed Thursday night as the Montreal Impact were able to do what the Timbers were not: score a goal, and in the 88th minute.

Sure, there were calls by the ref that didn't go our way, but in the end I kept hearing the Scottish brogue of Bobby McMahon on the Fox Soccer Channel saying "They just haven't got the quality," and he'd be right. Whether the players or the coaching or some combination thereof was to blame, the Timbers were unable to maintain any consistency this season. Often, individuals on the pitch played very well but simply did not come together as a team.

We gave up too many goals this year. One wonders--and it pains me to say this, because I was a big fan of Josh Saunders' goalkeeping--if the season might have turned out differently if we'd gotten late-season revelation Bayard Elfvin in the net earlier. Of course, you can't hold a keeper responsible without taking a hard look at the defensive line first, but really, let's not ignore what truly did us in this season: a little-known phobia called Fear of Shooting. Johann Cruijff had it right, of course, and you can't score if you don't shoot, and we seemed strangely reluctant to do that over the last few months. What was it? Some weird attempt at catenaccio, Rose City style? Did we really get so beaten down this season that nil-nil began to seem "a decent result"?

As I mentioned above, one particularly frustrating aspect was seeing some real talent on the pitch that somehow never translated into a cohesive team. The handful of games in which we were on were very good indeed. I wonder how many of this year's players we can expect to see coming back? Most of these guys are better than the scoreline and standings reflect; it's hard to imagine they won't seek better offers.

It's been a weird, unsatisfying season. And in less than a week we settle into seven long months of rumor, innuendo, conspiracy theories, dark mutterings about inside dealings, fraught and baseless predictions, and occasional bouts of hysteria. Pity us. (Wait, there's no pity in the Rose City! We're screwed.)

In the meantime, there are still two games to go, and I intend to enjoy every one of the 180 minutes left to us. Sunday at 6 pm the Timbers play the Charleston Battery, and next Thursday at 7 pm (that's Thirsty Thursday for all you alcoholic types out there) we close the curtain on the season with a match against the Atlanta Silverbacks.

Match report, pictures, and video from Thursday's game here.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

West Ham Kidnap Tevez and Mascherano

I feel like I’ve woken up in bizarro football world. West Ham United, the one English Premiership club that I actively follow, has ended up sneaking away with the highly coveted Argentinean striker phenom Carlos Tevez and wily midfielder Javier Mascherano. Who would’ve thought it possible? Tevez, who has been AWOL from his Brazilian team Corinthians, has long been linked with a number of big European clubs such as Manchester United, Arsenal, Bayern Munich, and AC Milan among others, has now thrown in his lot with the scrappy meat and potatoes lager-fuelled East London Hammers. It was originally reported that Tevez and Masherano—the latter player also played for Corinthians and was a vital component in Argentina’s failed bid for World Cup glory—were going to West Ham on loan. But word has trickled out that the two Argentineans have signed permanent contracts with the club for undisclosed, no doubt big, big deals.

Why would these two uber-talented dynamos hitch up with West Ham, you’re probably asking, and not a more prominent team in the Premiership who could viably knock Chelsea (West Ham’s arch-rival) down a peg? I don’t know. But West Ham, if any of you doubters will care to remember, placed ninth in the Premiership last season (after being relegated to the Championship league the season before) and were runners-up in that spectacular FA Cup final against Liverpool where they subsequently lost on penalties. Do I actually think that the Hammers have a chance in beating down Chelsea off the top perch? Honestly, not really. But I do think they’ll have a realistic go at reaching fourth place and also winning the UEFA Cup, especially when striker Dean Ashton hopefully returns from his broken ankle injury in November.

Also today, Hammers’ manager Alan Pardew signed the highly touted 16 year-old Czech goalkeeper, Marek Stech from Sparta Praha. I know nothing about him, but I’m eager to learn more.

Oh, don’t think I can’t hear the snickers out there. But even you doubters will have to concede that West Ham’s new signings give them an even more daunting strike force (Harewood, Zamora, old man Sheringham, Cole) and a creative, strong, flexible midfield (Etherington, Benayoun, Reo-Coker). They may not be the prettiest football juggernaut out there, but the Hammers are determined to change minds this season, if not loyalties.

Tevez not angry no more.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

It's the hope I can't stand

That was the name of a Sunderland fanzine (more on them in a minute), but it perfectly describes the state of mind of any rabid Timbers fan right now. Apparently, if you do a perfectly arcane series of mathematical contortions and call on enough Elder Gods, there is, in fact, the slimmest margin of the slightest chance that the Timbers could go on to the playoffs--if they win their final three games, all at home, all played over an 8-day period beginning this Thursday.

This Thursday's game is against Montreal. Montreal is, as usual, number one in the standings and have almost twice as many points as the Timbers. It doesn't look good for us. And you know, if there wasn't even a possibility for those playoffs, I'd be okay with a loss at this stage--hey, we're still going out in our final games of the season playing pretty well.

It's the hope I can't stand.

Oh, yes, let's talk about Sunderland. You think you've had a bad year? Not like the Black Cats, who broke their own record for worst team ever in the Premiership and kicked off their new season in the Coca-Cola Championship by promptly losing their first four games and plummeting to the bottom of that table. But now. Here I was worried that the Jose Mourinho sideshow might not be as entertaining this season (although it seems he's off to a decent start), and now who needs Mourinho? We've got Roy Keane! I've stocked up on popcorn, taken a comfy seat, and settled in to watch the fun. Oh, I actually think this is a good thing for Sunderland and if anybody can turn the team around, it's Keane, that is if he doesn't tear their heads from their bodies first.

And then there's the Roy Keane/Mick McCarthy thing. What unassailable Fate keeps bringing these two enemies together? (See Derek's previous post for more links about Keane's antics and the Keane/McCarthy falling out.) Okay, they're both Irish footballers, so they were once on a squad together, and it's not so far-fetched that one would eventually end up managing the other on the national team as McCarthy did Keane. But now we have Keane more or less stepping into McCarthy's shoes at Sunderland (albeit a bit belatedly, as McCarthy was sacked in the spring), and the two will meet in November when the Black Cats take on the Wolves in a conflagration the likes of which we have perhaps never seen. Believers in reincarnation claim that we encounter the same people over and over for one purpose or another. Could this be the case with Keane and McCarthy, ancient enemies battling it out across and time, space, and the footie pitches? It's just like Highlander! Okay, scratch that. It's not a bit like Highlander. Anyway, Keane's presence at yesterday's match against West Brom, after he'd agreed to the position but not yet signed the contracts, seems to have inspired the Sunderland lads at last. Let's hope he keeps inspiring them without actually, you know, crushing their spirits utterly by opening up a big can of Roy Keane whupass on them all, because the Mackems deserve a break and a half-decent season.

Regal Cinemas Hates Footie, Too

Or, not a review of Once in a Lifetime.

It's never been a better time to be a soccer fan in the US, but one is still often made to feel as though one is pursuing some vaguely illegal, unwholesome, definitely frowned-upon course of action by following a sport perceived to trample beneath its cleats good old American values like passing a ball with your hands. It can be tough to see that ESPN is broadcasting yet another round of paintball battles or jumprope championships (true story) while important matches go untelevised in this country. But then you get 8000 or so people turning up in Portland's Pioneer Square to watch the final of the World Cup and you start to fool yourself that soccer is making bigger inroads around here than it really is.

Now I know lots of people who hate Regal Cinemas, some for its being a big meanie corporate conglomerate that basically controls film distribution through the Portland metro area (but let's face it, if it wasn't them, it would be somebody else), others, less ideologically, merely for the existence of The Twenty, which is certainly enough to earn you a place in one of Dante's hells if you ask me. But, my friends, I give you a new reason to hate Regal Cinemas. Last Wednesday, a pretty move rearranged various plans and commitments and gathered downtown for a viewing of the New York Cosmos movie, Once in a Lifetime. Two-thirds of a pretty move may even have found themselves bolting their dim sum and leaving before sampling the beloved shrimp noodles in order to make it to the cinema on time. The film had only arrived in Portland on the previous Friday, and was showing on exactly one screen in the entire city. So we arrived there only to find--no listing for the afternoon matinee! Apparently, another film needed to be screened at that time and some braniac at Fox Tower made the decision to pull the only film which was showing on only one screen in the entire city. Yes, Once in a Lifetime. Meanwhile, Little Miss Sunshine was doing whatever the hell it is she does on no less than three screens--that's every half hour--as well as everywhere damn else in town, too.

a pretty move then made a dreadful tactical decision: we checked the listings to ensure the film would play again this week, and planned to try again this Wednesday. And the listings were wrong. Here it is next week and Once in a Lifetime has vanished back into the void from whence it came.

Watch us all fall to our knees to summon the spirit of Chuck Heston. Damn you, Regal Cinemas! Damn you all to hell!*

*We did get some free passes for our trouble, but it's cold comfort. I'd have much preferred to have the film--or the shrimp noodles.