Sunday, December 30, 2007

this one is really about soccer...

So, if you were paying attention or read apm on feeds or from various soccer sites, you probably saw the last thing I posted here which was actually intended for my personal blog and totally not soccer-related, because here at apm we are nothing if not 100% professional. I just wanted to come back with an embarrassing bang. I swear, I haven't even been hitting the holiday eggnog or anything, but having potentially subjected footie fans to my ramblings on everything but, I feel obligated to actually provide you with some content now.

One week, on, I am still reeling from Real Madrid's thrashing of Barcelona, and while the scoreline may have merely read 0-1, it was indeed a thrashing. Our boys looked awful and for the first time ever, I am ready to concede that it's probably time for Ronaldinho to move on. However, the first team debut of Serbo-Catalan new kid Bojan Krkic is easing a lot of that pain for me: he's hungry, intelligent, and gifted beyond his years. With the addition of both him and Mexican Giovani dos Santos--also wildly talented but more so than Krkic right now in need of focusing, better communication skills, and maybe a touch less arrogance--suddenly my wonder kid Leo Messi stops being the wonder kid and starts looking like the grand old man of Barca. Okay, I exaggerate, but their performance on December 23 left little doubt as to just how crucial Messi is to Barca's success. Meanwhile, I like Rijkaard's use of Eidur Gudjohnsen as a hardworking midfielder: he's a player I've never stopped rooting for despite his inability to really succeed for us as a striker (and I wish Rijkaard had used him last week).

Speaking of Rijkaard, what is with the absurd speculation that Jose Mourinho is going to replace him? Enough with this nonsense.

In other news: another player, Motherwell captain Phil O'Donnell, tragically collapses and dies on the pitch. There aren't really words for this one: we all imagine how we'd feel if the same happened to one of our beloved players. I don't understand why this happens--what players' physicals screen for, if there's any way to prevent this.

And in news of the bizarre, if Man City doesn't stop their meteoric rise (they're 5th place as of this writing and a mere point behind Liverpool), I am going to end up a fan of both the team and Sven-Goran Eriksson. And that will just be silly. I can't help pointing out that gosh, it turns out Sven-Goran really was a decent coach and that, well, maybe the England team just sucked. It would have been interesting to see whether Mourinho could have turned them around--and if he couldn't have, I don't think anyone could. Fabio Capello? I haven't made up my mind.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

FIFA Club World Cup Final and Third Place Match Tonight!

Just a quick note: FSC here in the States will be broadcasting the Club World Cup third place match between the Urawa Reds from Japan and Etoile du Sahel from Tunisia live at 10:30 pm. It should be a great match. Urawa played well against a slightly more fluid AC Milan earlier in the week and unfortunately lost. But the Japanese side had nothing to be ashamed about. Milan, who are more experienced at pulling off the big wins were nonetheless tested by Urawa's technical and attractive style. Don't let the 1-0 result fool you--the match was exciting throughout.

Later in the evening... or morning... AC Milan will face Boca Juniors in the final. The last time these two clubs met in the tournament (in 2003), they drew 1-1 and then went into penalty kicks in which Boca triumphed. Boca's semi-final win over Etoile last week left plenty to be worried about, and they are desperately missing the genius of Riquelme (who is in Japan but unable to play for his beloved club due to legalities) in the midfield. I'm figuring Milan to avenge their previous defeat, but you just never know. More later....

I've Seen Things You People Wouldn't Believe or: Valencia v Barcelona

It was a miserable result for Valencia CF (many of the team's supporters split from the agony at the half), as well as a humiliating public depantsing for their keeper extraordinaire, Santiago "Roy Batty" Canizares, who let three goals burn past him. But the entire team has been dreadful this season and since former Barca superstar Ronald Koeman took over in October, there's still no turnaround in sight for Valencia. Honestly, though, it's hard to imagine anyone stopping those first two strikes by Barca's Eto'o, who looks stronger and more healthy with each game. Canizares appeared... well, flaccid and seemed to be experiencing a full-blown existential crisis trying to stop the well-tuned Barca sans Ronaldinho (he shivered under the covers on the bench, no doubt being rested for next week's grand Christmas present/classico against Real Madrid). In short, the loss of form wasn't all due to Canizares. Valencia's defense simply looked pathetic and as the match went on, their players grew more and more frustrated and quick-tempered, relying on cheap shots to stave off the attacks by Eto'o, Gudjohnsen, and Dos Santos. The latter player, who must've been given a talking to about his frequent selfishness on the pitch (he has a tendency to keep the ball and take reckless shots when he should pass off to an open player, as was obvious in last week's Champions League match against Stuttgart; Eto'o and Gudjohnsen both displaying their displeasure with the otherwise wily youngster from Mexico), delivered a wonderful unselfish assist to Gudjohnsen for the final goal. All in all, Barca look fantastic and seem to finally have a trouble-free backline composed of Abidal, Milito, Marquez (who had a brilliant game today), and captain caveman, Puyol (who just keeps getting better and better). Barca look hungry and ready to deliver a Christmas present to their fans worth savoring.

The victory for Barca did come at a price, though--an injury to Leo Messi at the end of the first half. This is the worst possible news for Barca at this time (Messi is the team's leading scoring so far this season) and it's being reported that the young Argentine will be out for a month or so.

Here in the Portland area, the match next Sunday (the 23rd) between Barca and Real Madrid will be televised on GolTV at 9:55 am. For those of you who don't have GolTV, the Marathon Taverna Sports Bar, located at 1735 West Burnside (503-224-1341) does carry the station and if you feel inclined to fight off some of the tackleball fans who will, I'm sure, be crowded in there as well, one out of their many televisions should be free to watch what could be the match of the year... until they meet again later in the season. Best to call beforehand, though, just to be safe.

Monday, December 10, 2007

FIFA Club World Cup Quarter Final: Urawa Red Fever!

I've been dying to see the Japanese club Urawa Reds play for years, ever since I saw footage of their dedicated and crazed supporters in the stands madly chanting, doing the pogo, and brandishing those gigantic flags in unison for their beloved team. Like many of us, I love the spectacle and clamor of supporters benevolently unhinged; of fans shedding their collective skins of decorum and polite behavior and willingly surrendering to the gods of passion, emotional turmoil, and the frenzy and drama of the match at hand. There's nothing else like it. And when your team disconnects from the frivolity or grimness of the everyday world, playing football with all of the intelligence and furor their bodies and minds demand, it seems heretical not to succumb to the passion yourself. It seems like sin.

Watching the Urawa Reds (and their exuberant supporters) face off against the Iranian club Sepahan FC last night in the quarter finals of the FIFA Club World Cup definitely lived up to my expectations. The tournament, aired here in the States on FSC and held for the last four years in Japan, is not a favorite among European clubs--because it interrupts the schedule of whatever European/Champions League title holder is involved, not to mention is yet another tournament in an already crammed schedule--but I've always enjoyed watching it considering it pairs up teams (the six champions from the various global confederations) that you would never get to see play against one another otherwise. Last year, for example, we got a chance to see Barcelona and Brazil's Internacional vie for the title (Inter won 1-0).

This year, the six teams are Boca Juniors, AC Milan, Etolie du Sahel from Tunisia, Pachuca, Sepahan, New Zealand's Waitakere United (an underdog team if ever there was one, with most of its players working "real" jobs when they're not on the pitch), and Urawa Reds. Sepahan beat the daylights out of Waitakere on the first night (3-1, but it felt much worse), Etolie du Sahel shocked everyone by knocking Pachuca out 1-0 Saturday, and then last night the Reds and Sepahan met up. These two teams have a history with one another, as the Japanese club beat the Iranians 3-1 last season in the Asian Champions Cup (a win that landed the Reds in the Club World Cup).

Well, it seems that the Urawa Reds like them some Sepahan. Although both clubs played a fluid, well-paced and energetic game, the Reds' skill on the ball in the midfield and their methodical--though far from dull--pressure on goal (they won 3-1; the third goal was an own one, though) was impressive and could pose a problem for AC Milan on December 13. Milan are the favorites, no doubt, but I wouldn't be surprised if Reds striker Washington--a towering Brazilian who has played for Fenerbahce among other clubs--and midfielder Shinji Ono have something to say about that. We can only hope!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A History Lesson: AC Milan v Celtic (1-0)

Never again! It was like watching the Kombai tribe drain starch from sago palms for hours on end.

Yesterday, with no real strain on my part despite my past indiscretions with Berlusconi's team of dangerous looks and moves, I decided to root for Celtic in their vital Champions League Group D match against Milan. Barcelona is my team, of course, but I thought I'd root for the scruffy team from Glasgow since my attraction to Milan has been fleeting of late. It wasn't intended to mean anything in the first place. Just fill the hours when I wasn't watching Barcelona... or West Ham. It was always supposed to be superficial, thoughtless, and incorrigibly wicked. I could've simply remained neutral... but I never seem to remain neutral whenever I watch other teams play, however much I try. At some point, I always take a side, declare loyalty (albeit a temporary and non binding oath) to my "new" club, and rage against the opposing team. Maybe it's an American thing. Maybe it's just me. It is what it is.

Celtic are no strangers to me. But it's all secondary knowledge. Everything I know about them has come from books, articles, and highlight reels. I'm not aware of anyone (as far as I know) who actively supports them. Nevertheless, I always figured I'd see them sometime when I made it to Glasgow, as well as catching their Old Firm rivals Rangers in action. When in Glasgow....

Matched up against the sleek, current European champions Milan, I expected Celtic would really take it to 'em, especially since the Scottish club was fighting for a spot in the knockout phase of the tournament. Celtic only needed a draw to advance, but their fate was also predicated on whether Benfica managed to beat the Ukrainian underdogs Shakhtar, which was being played at the same time. At any rate, Celtic's fate wasn't entirely in their own control. To me, that means it was time to kick out the jams! Instead, Celtic played with the desultory finesse of a team best left for vulture gnoshing. Their display of "football", brilliantly slog-footed as it was, made me yearn for the Rangers v Barcelona match a few weeks earlier which resulted in a 0-0 draw. A game so depressing on Rangers' part, with their spineless dedication to the defensive anti-football grind, that their manager Walter Smith actually had the gall to gravely commend his lads for their "excellent result" afterward. Perhaps Mr. Smith has a crueler sense of humor than I originally thought.

At least Rangers had a methodology. As far as I could detect, Celtic's whole plan was to pantomime the game at its dullest, and keep things dreary in the midfield, creatively prevent any and all attempts at scoring against Milan's keeper Zeljko Kalac (Celtic had no more than three shots on goal the entire evening). Oh, where was Henrik Larsson when you need him?

My earnest sympathy for the Scottish underdogs betrayed me within twenty minutes. And so I crept back toward Milan, unable to resist their venal allure and wishing that they'd wallop Celtic just to teach 'em a lesson and hoping that the true underdog Ukrainian team could manage to equalize against Benfica. Shahktar, who seemed to be playing with far more courage and vitality in their own match (as well as with basic footballing skills) from what I could make out from the brief channel-switching I did, were sadly unable to pull through.

Supposedly, Scottish football is on the rise. But if the performances by Celtic and Rangers on the wider European stage are indicative of their newfound ambitions, I think I'll start learning where the nearest Sago palms are located.