Wednesday, February 28, 2007
You can read more about the incident here.
Luckily the second leg Copa match between Barcelona and Zaragoza went off a lot better. Barca, who are still redeeming themselves after last week's dreadful (though historically consistent when facing Liverpool) Champions League match against The Reds, returned to their united fleet-footed witchery and knocked Zaragoza out of the cup with a 2-1 win. There were a few ridiculous moments (Hey, Messi, I'm looking at you! D'Alessandro! Where the $@!% are you going?!) but Barca dazzled with some nifty passing courtesy of Iniesta, Xavi, and Marquez. Iniesta and Xavi also supplied both goals. Good match, good form, and no one got hurt, although there was plenty of rambunctious flailing about. Messi, get back over here! Okay, okay, I saw the footage. You did get head-butted. But. . . .
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
What happened today? In the opening six minutes Manchester United, with their silky yet suspiciously robotic killer instincts on full display, managed to score three goals and arguably seal the deal. But Reading player Dave Kitson scored a committed header in the 23rd minute, and though I wasn't convinced that Reading could pull off an upset, I was happy that at least they weren't going to crawl under the porch without a snap of the jaws or two.
But in the second half, the Reading team did a whole lot more. With the inclusion of Glen Little and Leroy Lita, the squad consistently outplayed the big red machine and threatened to even up the score after Lita helped make the seemingly impossible possible in the 84th. Sir Alex, who had been confident enough not to play either Rooney or Christiano Ronaldo for most of the match, capitulated and put both players into the fray in the 76th and 89th minutes respectively to sustain the lead. And though Reading threatened, they unfortunately couldn't pull off an upset. But it was nevertheless exhilarating and I almost flipped over our couch while still seated in it.
Manchester United now face Middlesbrough in the quarter-finals.
Friday, February 09, 2007
Only this season have I begun to nurture an appreciation for il calcio, for the quintessentially Italian take on the game, complete with all of the theatre and much of the corruption one might expect. I hoped that the bad old days might be left behind, despite the fact that most of the punishments meted out amounted to wrist slaps. But the news that has trickled out of Italy this past week has gone from bad to worse, from a story about an official murdered at an amateur match to the death of policeman Filippo Raciti in the rioting outside the stadium during a game between the Sicilian cities of Catania and Palermo, reported first as though it occurred in the course of the melee and only later describing him as specifically targeted by a group of Ultras for having testified against them.
Italy's immediate cancellation of all matches must have been devastating for the fans, but it also seemed a sign that the country might finally be taking its problems with soccer violence seriously. This weekend teams throughout the country will play again, but with only six stadiums meeting newly announced standards, most--including Ronaldo on his AC Milan debut--will play before silent, empty seats. I am a novice when it comes to matters of Italian football, but I'm not convinced this and other measures will put an end to the violence. Part of the problem, of course, is age-old hatreds, grudges that long predate the arrival of il calcio, but there is also the problem of the Ultras. Not all of the Ultras, of course--as always, the peaceful supporters end up tarred with the same brush as the troublemakers. But can the measures put in place succeed as long as the Ultras continue to command the power they do over the clubs? This Guardian writer thinks it's a step in the right direction; I am somewhat less optimistic, because I'm simply not convinced that the powers-that-be mean it this time.
My other concern is the fact that empty stadiums, or stadiums packed with only home crowds, will not prevent "fans" from battling it out in the streets, which was the problem at the match in Sicily.
During the World Cup we swiped a bit of shorthand from both the football anthology My Favorite Year--in which Tim Parks describes his Italian father-in-law's needs for long, solitary walks when his team lost--and from the opening pages of Joe McGinniss's The Miracle of Castel di Sangro, in which the Major he meets at a train station goes out for a walk following a match and . . . well, you'll just have to read the book yourself to find out what happens. But these walks, they became our shorthand for moments when the pain of a defeat was too great, when we no longer felt like knocking back another pint and arguing about formations and bad calls but simply needed to be alone for a while to contemplate the existential pain of being a football fan. I am thinking of football fans across Italy who will not be allowed in their stadiums this weekend, the tumultous times that doubtless still lay ahead, and I am imagining that, win or lose, there might be more than the usual number of long, contemplative walks ahead for the lovers of the game.
Thursday, February 08, 2007
You can read more about the insanity here via The Guardian.
The ongoing rivalry between the Mexican national team and the
And earlier today in