Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Kids Are Alright... (for now)

With one project more or less out of the way... today seemed like as good as any to get this apm blogger back to his football scribbling groove, what with all of the Champions League games being played today and tomorrow and the FC Barcelona v Olympique Lyonnais match in particular. Barca only needed a point to go through to the last 16, but Lyon had a lot more at stake as they were vying for the crucial second place spot.

It was only three minutes in and the Barca kids were definitely alright when the dazzling Bojan Krkic (still only 17!) delivered a fantastic cross from the right off of a blistering counter attack, finding Andreas Iniesta near goal eager to unleash an intelligent finishing move. But four minutes later, Lyon answered back with a spectacular 40 yard free kick (that I'm not so sure was actually intended as a goal) from the always dangerous Brazilian Juninho (who looks more and more like Oleguer's twin), effectively declaring "game on." Thankfully, Barca never lost their cool, although Juninho and our own hulking Toure Yaya (who has been a smart and splendid addition to the squad this season) did have a little moment near the end of the first half--which got Rijkaard booted off the touchline and into the stands. I must've blinked, since I missed what that was all about.

Early in the second half, Barca took the lead again after Lionel Messi was taken down in the penalty area by Lyon's S├ębastien Squillaci. The frantic Lyon side pestered on, although they failed to ever control the game. But their persistence paid off when Juninho evened things up again from a penalty kick in the 80th minute.

Can't say I was disappointed with the result. But we really could've won the game since we had more than a few opportunities to win the game outright--namely via two golden chances by Eidur Gudjohnsen. Poor Eidur. It's good to see him starting for the team again, though he looks a bit desultory. He's always been a second or two behind the rest of the squad, but we really needed him to shine these last two matches and quite frankly he's disappointed.

Regardless, Barca is through to the next stage. Also, I saw that the battered and bruised Sevilla side went through as well after their 3-1 defeat of Arsenal (who had already qualified). Good job, lads!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

random questions

1. How can I overcome my heartbreaking attraction to the underdog?

Yeovil Town and Torquay battled fiercely this weekend in the first round of the FA Cup. I knew absolutely nothing about either team, yet within minutes I'd thrown my full weight behind Yeovil. I suspect it was because the Torquay boys looked bulkier and more ornery. The match was a hard one and Yeovil managed a first sweet ball into the net then a tantalising near-beauty off the bar before losing heart completely and becoming sort of puzzled obstacles around which their opponents gleefully ran on the way to an ever-mounting score. Full-time: 4-1.

2. Why am I more excited about the FA Cup than Euro 2008?

My blood is up. I'm counting the days until Staines Town takes on Stockport County. But can I be bothered to tune in to see my beloved 3 Lions on the pitch? or to watch Israel play Russia? I cannot. Perhaps my reluctance is a result of remembered pain from the World Cup, still creaking in my joints and bones, and my subconscious is guiding me sensibly away from national teams in general and the agony which follows in their wakes.

3. Anybody see "Eastern Promises"?

Cronenberg's ongoing study of bodily apertures and modifications of the flesh continues with this inspired ode to tattoos and throat-cutting via the Russian mob in London. In it, a luckless young Arsenal fan is walking home from Stamford Bridge. Chelsea has just wiped up the pitch with his loved Gunners. He's putting on a brave face. He pauses in a graveyard to pee against a tombstone and gets his throat cut right through his faux-Arsenal scarf. When challenged about the scarf, Cronenberg told the GUARDIAN, "I wish I could have had the scarves more accurate. But my lawyers and producers said the club would never agree to have their merchandise used in this way..."

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

it's a hat-trick for Benayoun; an embarrassment of riches for Rafa

And there it is! Just as the world loses faith in the Merseyside lads, they strike back by breaking a Champions League record! Just yesterday Derek sent me his condolences (prematurely, I'm happy to say) and I replied that I'm so tired of watching Liverpudlian draws, I could spit. And now this! 8-nil over Besiktas!

It looks like Arbeloa is the running partner I've always wanted for Benayoun. There was some fine interplay in the first half, both of them playing like gangbusters, and the post-Hammer Israeli was on fire in the second. The Turks were so intent on marking Voronin and Crouch (everyone seemed obsessively freaked out by Crouch's height) that Yossi was able to run with a fair amount of freedom.

But all the Reds played well. Voronin gave lovely assists (how about that Brazilian backheel, eh?); Gerrard showed a piece or two of his mastery; the young Ryan Babel was exciting with his own backheeled goal. Even Harry Kewell seemed fit and ready, and before this week I'd forgotten he was still on the side.

All that said, a win like this is a little mortifying for everyone. I genuinely grieve for that brave and beleaguered keeper, so often seeming like the only Besiktas man on a pitch filled with men in red. And I take my hat off to Rafa Benitez: he is a true gentleman, obviously uncomfortable with a point-margin this extreme. Tommy Smyth can rail against him as he pleases, but Rafa is a favorite human of mine in the footballing world. He carries with him an enviable air of grace in both defeat and victory.

Go, you Reds!