Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Soccer Miscellany

Local writer Zach Dundas has fired up his own football blog, Eleven Devils. Should be a good read, so check it out.

MLS chief gives thumbs up to a proposed "Beckham rule," wherein each MLS team would be permitted to bypass the salary cap and sign one renowned international player. While I kind of like the idea of salary caps, because I am just a dirty commie that way, I like good soccer even more, and hoo-boy, could we use a boost like this in the MLS. Becks isn't a player I'm going to be writing any paeans to around here, but I have long thought his coming to America might be good for the overall popularity of the sport.

And I'm already reading and hearing some nasty rumblings in the wake of the Champions Cup final about the quality of the refereeing, and I've been turning it all over in my head. Here's the bottom line: Barca scored three goals--one of them disallowed--while Arsenal scored one. Let's say Lehmann doesn't get sent off but gets a yellow instead, which means the one goal is presumably allowed, and he manages to block Barca's other two shots where Almunia could not. You're still looking at 1-1 and a game that goes into overtime. Sure, what if Arsenal had played with eleven men? Similarly, what if Barca--what if the whole game--had not lost steam for some time following the Lehmann red card? But if we're going to theorize about bad refereeing and imagine the Lehmann call going differently, we're also going to have to rule out Eboue's blatant dive, which led to Arsenal's only goal for the match. I guess what I'm saying is that I wasn't happy with the refereeing toward either side, but I don't think that's ultimately why Arsenal lost the final. I think they lost because once they had a goal they defaulted to the defensive play that got them past Villarreal and into the final, and when their defensive line was clearly tiring toward the end, Barca was able to exploit that vulnerability. Meanwhile, along the same lines of strategy, Wenger refused to sub in a second striker or any support for Henry, which I think made all the difference.

I don't believe either team was a clear favorite going in, and neither played their very best, but I do not think it was even close to a clear-cut case of Arsenal being robbed by the ref, as Henry basically claimed as he left the pitch earlier today. I was sorry to hear these words from Henry because he is a player I like an awful lot and I normally consider him to be an all-around class act, and he ought to have been more gracious than he was. (While the ref missed fouls on both sides, the one call I thought Henry would have been fair in disputing--the Lehmann red card--he seems to be okay with.) The problem wasn't that the ref was a Barca agent in disguise--he just made many lousy decisions, and both teams suffered for it.

And then Lehmann turns around and is more gracious than I expect him to be--although he, Wenger, and Henry all claim in that piece that the disallowed goal was probably offsides. And...I gotta admit, they could be right about that--I'd have to replay it and see for myself.

This is why I hate dodgy refereeing (as opposed to generally unfounded contempt for and distrust of the referee who called the game that your side lost, which is a time-honored and important tradition I intend to participate in throughout the season as needed) no matter whose favor it goes in: it always taints the result. I mentioned the what-might-have-been game the other day in my post about the Timbers loss against FC Miami--I understand why Gunners fans are indulging in it and I'd be doing the same thing in their place. But in the end, I think Arsenal was undone by trying to play too much defense against a team that took a long time to loosen up but played with all their attacking strength in the end.

And what I wouldn't give to be in Paris or Barcelona tonight!


Ghost Dog said...

The disallowed goal was hard to tell, but of course as an Arsenal fan, I'll say it was offsides. :)

No way do Arsenal get so tired with 11 men on the pitch. Your "what-if" about Barca "not losing steam" is a stretch compared to a "what-if" about Arsenal not being down a man. They did do a pretty good job for as long as they did, though.

Bad officiating aside (it was crap, all 'round - at least from this rookie fan's perspective, with some help from the missus, who's played the game), Arsenal lost because Wenger did what so many of us Steelers fans had seen from Coach Cowher for so long - get a lead, and rely on the defense to hold off the opponent. Pretty much as you said, they reverted to that 'prevent' style of play. Like they say in the NFL - All the 'prevent' does is prevent you from winning.

Also, some of Wenger's subbing was simply puzzling. However, I'm not so sure he makes some of the same choices if he has all 11 out there. I would rather have seen Barca take the goal and have Lehmann get the yellow, so we could have seen a full 11-on-11 match for the CL final.

Henry's probably peeved 'cause that yellow card they gave him was complete BS. Maybe also because Barca seemed to be 'getting away' with more out there. Again, probably my bias and ignorace showing a little bit there.

Eboue's dive was only blatant and obvious when you saw it in slow-mo. I re-watched that play a couple times last night, and at full speed and the angle the ref seemed to have (just me eyeballing it, obviously I can't know for sure what he saw), I can see where he'd call that. Slowed down, and from the TV angles, it was pretty clearly a dive.

Oh well, there's always next year.

Ghost Dog said...

Oh, and I have to give props to Henrik Larsson. If he doesn't come in and play the way he did, I think we're looking at a different outcome. Nice job.

Lynda said...

And you know, I actually misread that article anyway; I went back and looked again and realized they were saying the first allowed goal, scored by Eto'o, was offsides--which I just can't see (and the disallowed one didn't look to be either when I caught that part on the replay last night).

I actually am not really miffed at the ref's call on Eboue's dive--you're right, it was only blatant in the replay (but boy was it)--more at Arsenal players and fans seeming to ignore it as they insist that all the bad calls went to Barca's favor. That was a big one that went Arsenal's way and had a significant impact on the match.

Anyway, yeah, we're pretty much in agreement here about Wenger's strategy. (Despite this, I don't actually dislike Wenger as a coach, I just find him frustrating.) I just got a sinking feeling the moment I saw that red card come out, because I knew from that moment that whoever won, it was going to be hotly disputed. I too would much rather have seen an 11-on-11 match.

I do think Arsenal's performance is reflective of their inconsistency in the Prem this year, and they really failed to live up to their potential. I hope they do better next season.

And I hope we have better officiating in next year's Champion's League. If the Gunners make it this far again, I may very well be supporting them next time around, depending on who they're up against.