Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Sevilla Triumph in UEFA Cup Two Years in a Row!

If the Champions League final next week between those longball Liverpudlians and Berlusconi's infernal hybrid-Total Football Milan squad is half as good as what Sevilla and Espanyol offered up to the football mad world today... it's going to be a damn memorable night. There were no doubt a few of you out there grumbling that the cup final was going to be a letdown considering it was between two Spanish clubs, but hopefully the actual play on display won you over, 'cause it was a blistering entertaining match from beginning to oh so painful end for supporters of Barcelona's other club.

I'm not a fan of Espanyol, though I've been impressed with their vigor and hunger to finally win the UEFA Cup after years of disappointment--the closest they'd come was in 1988 when they lost to Bayer Leverkusen in the final--and I'm fond of their central midfielder, Ivan de la Pena (aka Little Buddha), who came up through Barca's fabled youth academy and played for the senior team under both Johan Cruyff and Bobby Robson back in the 1990s before he was traded off to Lazio, Marseille, and ultimately to Espanyol, where his career has taken an upswing in recent years. I'm a late-comer to de la Penya, but his brilliant passing, precision longballs (I hate 'em, but if you've got to serve 'em up....), and vision have been a joy to behold. Raul Tamudo, Espanyol's captain, is also an exciting player to watch and both he and de la Penya played well until they were unfortunately benched in the second half, leaving their ten comrades (Hurtado Perez Moises was given a ridiculous red card in the 68th minute) to battle it out against a simmering Sevilla side.

And all looked lost for Barcelona's Parakeets as both weary teams stretched things out into extra time after neither team were able to break the 1-1 draw. Sevilla's Freddie Kanoute, a lithe killer with the ball who has been seductively vicious all season, earned his bonus by stealthily slipping one past the Espanyol keeper from a beautiful cross from the right by Jesus Navas. It was a devastating blow to Espanyol and the images of old men weeping in the stands was enough to make our household bow our heads with remorse and compassion (I guess I should state that although I was religiously supporting Sevilla in this match, Lynda, on the other hand, was devoting her energies and sympathy toward Espanyol, due mostly to their underdog status despite my vociferous protestations, rants, and libelous pleadings that she couldn't support "those f***ing Fascist bastards," and other hysterical, uninformed, and nonsensical accusations. I mean, Espanyol were a Fascist club and are notorious in Barcelona for their neo-Nazi/Fascist lovin' hooligans*....).

De la Penya's replacement, a Brazilian by the name of Jonatas, remarkably turned things around for his club in the 25th minute of extra time, and for a moment there I really thought that Espanyol might just make their own history, albeit a less momentous occasion than Seville's two-year domination of the crown. But that Jonatas goal was thrilling to experience, though unfortunately the team wasn't able to carry that momentum into the dreaded penalty kick round.

Sevilla wins 3-1 on penalties.

Sevilla has been a wonderful new addition to the European scene the last few seasons and is still in realistic competition to strip Barca from taking La Liga three years in a row (Sevilla is in third place just three points behind Barca and first place Real Madrid). Next year, this classy, skillful, and exciting team will be playing in the Champions League where they belong, vying with the old guard to hoist the trophy a year from now in Moscow, no doubt impressing the uninitiated with their pretty moves and confirming that the Spanish Primera is arguably the best, healthy, and most balanced league in the world talent wise. EPL, I'm looking at you!

*see page 105 of Simon Kuper's Soccer Against the Enemy

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