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.