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.