Thursday, September 28, 2006

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.


linda said...

Strangely enough, I loved Drogba in the World Cup and only started becoming less enthusiastic when I heard about his EPL reputation as a diver. But you're right, he's started this season brilliantly. Personally, though, I'll never like Chelsea as long as Mourinho is manager.

Barca nearly gave me a heart attack. Thank God for Leo Messi. Now there's a way to shut his ever present critics up. Now if only Eto'o would get miraculously cured...

Derek said...

I really warmed up to Drogba during the World Cup as well. The only other player on Chelsea that I'm a fan of is Joe Cole. It's a difficult team, for me, to warm up to. But I've slowly learned to respect and admire the talent on display, 'cause they've certainly got it. But I'm a Hammers fan all the way when it comes to the Premiership, so any further admiration is pretty much cancelled.

Messi is brilliant. I accidentally saw the score during the Chelsea match when it was 1-0, so I figured it was going to be painful. But Barca never lost their cool, never fell apart--the obvious hallmark of a truly great team.

linda said...

Joe Cole may be my favourite player on the current England squad, because he seems to actually enjoy and want to make a spectacle out of football.

Speaking of the Hammers...OUCH. I fear for my Argies. Mascherano's form is really worrying me, since he's Argentina's first choice holding midfielder. Has he really been as bad as reports suggest?

That pair of matches against Chelsea last year will live long in the memory, I think. The football gods blessed Messi in the first match. That's the best game he's ever had, on par with the Gamper Trophy match against Juventus.

Zach Dundas said...

The only thing I can think of re: Drogba is KC Wizards defender Jimmy Conrad's conscious decision to commit a bookable offense against him in the MLS All-Star Game, which was both sort of reprehensible and totally awesome.

Derek said...

The Hammers loss today against Palermo was really, really hard to get through. The team looked okay for the first half, including Mascherano for the most part, but for the majority of the second half the team looked confused and tired. The squad is brilliant on paper and its parts (forwards, midfielders, defenders) are impressive. So I don't understand why it's not working. Yeah, Mascherano is definitely having problems, though I thought Tevez was engaged throughout and delivered some nice balls into the box . . . only to be served up more frustration.

That's the road to ruin, Mr Dundas. But I've had my moments thinking similar thoughts.