Friday, October 03, 2008

Zoinks!

This is just too hilarious to even try to describe. Simply read it... and weep with uncomfortable laughter. Man, it must suck to be a Magpie supporter right now:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2008/oct/03/newcastleunited.premierleague

Friday, September 05, 2008

Zidane Comes to Portland!

I've been dreaming for the great one to journey to my hometown of Portland, Oregon, for many... well, two years now. Not as a member of my club the Timbers, not in the flesh, but in 24-frames per second. Moving pictures... in the hyper-reality of cinema... in the celluloid guise of the brilliant film Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. I've written about this film a couple of times before (here and here), and was frustrated that it had never received a proper theatrical release in the States.

Thankfully, mad soccer fan and p.r. man for the Portland Institute of Contemporary Arts Brian Costello felt the same way and has managed to get a print of the film for several screenings at this year's 2008 Time Based Arts Festival. Sadly, I'm not currently living in Portland... so I'll have to wait some more before I can finally see it on the big screen. But lucky Portlanders with a taste for the Beautiful Game and/or great cinema are in for a treat.

The film will play as part of the festival's On the Screen program. Don't miss it!

The details:
Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait

2008 Time-Based Art Festival
screenings at Northwest Film Center Whitsell Auditorium at Portland Art Museum
1219 SW Park, Portland, OR
$6 PICA Members / $7 General

Sat . Sept 6 . 9-10:30 pm
Thurs . Sept 11 . 7-8:30 pm
Fri . Sept 12 . 6:30-8 pm
Fri . Sept 12 . 8:30-10 pm
Sun . Sept 14 . 7:30-9 pm

Thursday, July 31, 2008

a farewell to Oleguer

I know some people find the political stances taken by Barca and/or its players particularly irritating, because, I don't know, it's so much cooler to, you know, act like you don't care about anything* (or, alternately, that anyone who claims they do give a shit about anything past their own nose must surely be lying). But it's one of the things about Barcelona that makes my little commie heart just swell with pride and joy. I've written before about my affection for the principled Oleguer, and I know he's made mistakes and not been Barca's best defender, but I'm still sorry to see him go. But his farewell letter is written with all the class and humility I've come to expect. Goodbye, Oleguer. I'll be checking out Ajax when I'm able, just to get a look at you on the pitch again.

*I can't help hearing Rik from The Young Ones: "I don't care what I do! I don't care if I live or die!"

Monday, June 30, 2008

Euro 2008 Celebrations in Madrid

Here in our little village in rural Ireland... no one seemed to care about the Euro final but Lynda and me. And certainly no one cared about Spain. Looks like we planned our exit from Spain all wrong. Oh, how I wish I'd been in Madrid yesterday. Well... there's always 2010.

Xavi

Those of us who regularly watch and follow Barcelona are well aware of the craft and alchemical transcendence that Xavi and Iniesta can conjure up on a weekly basis. They work as a team within a team--quick thinking, fleet of foot, unselfish, and daring enough to slip passes through a clomp of defenders when it seems most unstable, almost ruinous to do so.

Both players had an outstanding Euro 2008, and obviously UEFA thought so as well, as Xavi was named best Player of the Tournament. Brilliant. Nine Spanish players in all were named to the 2008 team of the tournament as well: Casillas, Marchena, Puyol, Senna, Iniesta, Xavi, Fabregas, Torres, and Villa.

What a great, great tournament. I need some space and time to think, to soak it all in before writing about it more....

In the meantime, you can read more about the player of the games here.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Euro 2008 Final: Spain Victorious At Long Last!

Spain 1, Germany 0

Football romantics of the world rejoice!

Euro 2008 Half Time: Spain v Germany 1-0

Euro 2008 Final: Spain v Germany

And so... here we are. It's all come to this. It's sundown and good luck to you both. Keep it clean and keep it pretty. Or else....

See you at half time.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Villa Out of Euro Final

For fans of Spain, the horrible news has been confirmed... forward David Villa is out of the final against Germany (to be played on Sunday) after suffering a thigh injury early on in last night's semi-final match against Russia.

So Villa is out... and lone striker Torres will probably remain damp and uninspired. He really has had an awful tournament. But better he than the whole team. Regardless, there is still plenty of fire power and crafty goal scoring options from the midfield (Iniesta, Xavi, Fabregas, Silva), as well as from reserve striker Dani Guiza. He still looks nervous on the ball at times, but his goal last night is perhaps what he needed to loosen up.

You can read more here.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Spain v Italy: Negativity Will Always Get You Killed

Italy played for penalties (anti-football) and... well, you saw how it ended.

Bravo!



Halftime: Spain v Italy 0-0

So... how much has the ref been paid off by the Italians?

Now, back to the match....

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Spain v Italy

Not even thinking of football, both Spain and Italy have long held dominion over my imagination to varying degrees. It has something to do with cinema. Has there ever been a more potent combination than the seductive synthesis, the cross pollination of aesthetics, than the so-called Spaghetti Westerns? I don't think so. It's a subjective argument, of course. But for me... I know what films would be bursting out of my desert island suitcase. The great Sergio Leone, the Italian master of the European Western and one of the great pop stylists of all time, was probably never better than with The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, his 1966 classic with Eastwood, Van Cleef, and Wallach filmed in Almeria, Spain, and set in some weird mythical America that never existed. Brilliant. Leone's fellow countryman and artistic collaborator, composer Ennio Morricone, I don't think ever composed a piece of music as beautiful as the "Ecstasy of Gold" sequence.

This is cinema. This is the Spain and Italy of my dreams....

Let's hope the match, which should beginning in just a few minutes, is something wonderful to behold as well.


waiting for Spain

It's a truly blustery day here in Ireland (summer*? what's that you say?) and from the moment I woke up this morning all I've been able to think about is Spain's quarterfinal match against Italy tonight. Earlier this week Sid Lowe examined Spain's angst around the match and today Paul Wilson takes a look at just what each squad is up against. Let's hope Aragones' boys don't leave it as late as they did in the match against Sweden, which we suffered through at the pub up the street in the company of two English tourists and an Irish family who turned up for a meal and randomly ended up sitting by the TV but were drawn in and cheered for Spain along with us. No one around here appears to be much interested in the tournament (save for some betting losses), perhaps because neither the Republic of Ireland nor any UK squads made it in this year, perhaps because they'd rather be watching Gaelic football.

Russia's lads, meanwhile, don't play pretty but their passion on the pitch is a beautiful thing indeed. They'd be my second team now if not for the fact that my Spanish boys will have to knock them out of the semifinals.

A little more than nine hours till match time and yes, I am counting. As Paul Wilson predicts, I'll be watching most of it peeking through my fingers.

*Summer. That's a thing they have down in Spain, you know. Ah, Spain.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Brilliant Orange Peels

Unbelievable.

I was so anxiously awaiting tonight's Euro 2008 match because I hadn't watched the Dutch team yet the entire tournament. Why? Don't ask. So tonight, Lynda and I went over to the neighbor's cottage to watch some television while she's out of town for a couple of days. We don't have a television at the moment, and yes, our neighbor knows we're in her place. It's not like we break into other people's homes just to watch television while they're away! Anyway...

Unbelievable.

But the "brilliant orange" Dutch squad, the neo-Total Football team of lucid dreams... flopped. They've done it before, of course. History is littered with them peels.

But Russia? Yes, Russia! They were anything but pretty and half-way through the game I was completely won over by Hiddink's tenacious lads.

The Dutch Sorceror takes out the Apprentice Van Basten.

Unbelievable.

And now Spain (my pick to win it all and break that stupid curse once and for all) and Italy. I'll be there... right in front of that television and happy that my wonderful, lovely neighbor is still gone for another night.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

a beautiful effort by xabi alonso and the sheer awfulness of watching italy v france

Anyone who remembers Spain v Saudi Arabia in the last World Cup will recall how positively laissez-faire the boys from the Spanish bench can be in throwaway games. Maybe it was the heat on that particular day, or maybe they had something more to prove in a seemingly no-stakes match against the already-ousted Greeks today, but it was a good game. I wouldn't say it was enjoyable, since the Greek side was broken-hearted but dignified, its silver-haired keeper retiring from International play after this final match, but both sides fought well and truly to a respectable result. Yesterday during France v Italy (brr. I shudder just to speak it), ubercommentator Andy Grey said that "a biscuit ending" is the term for a lopsided match outcome resulting from a team already assured of its place in the next round relaxing and letting a still-struggling team win. Although I think because Greece had no hopes this could not have been an honest-to-pete Biscuit Ending, I was half expecting... who am I kidding? I was COMPLETELY expecting some lackadaisical playing from the men in red. I'm pleased to say I was dead wrong.

Luis Aragones, the Man with the Perpetual Scowl, rested ten of his starting eleven, with only Andres Iniesta carrying over. Still, any B-team that has Cesc Fabregas and Xabi Alonso in its midfield is what my Uncle Roy would call a bench so good it feels like cheatin'. And it looked like the Xabi-and-Cesc show for a long time in. There were many rushed shots flying wide and high from strikers eager to prove themselves to the boss, but at the heart of it were Cesc and Xabi, calm and confident, delivering perfect passes right to the feet of their forward men, setting up dangerous plays which eventually paid off. Xabi himself very nearly got in one of those fantastic thunderstrikes he likes to deliver from his own end of the pitch (against Luton Town in the 2006 FA Cup third-round tie from 65 yards, and again in a Newcastle match in September of that year). This one flew just barely wide, and it was so fast, hard and unexpected that Antonios Nikopolidis wrapped himself around the post trying to reach it, nearly knocking himself out.

The final score was 2-1 Spain, with goals by Angelos Charisteas, an unstoppable header for the Greeks in the 42nd minute, equalised by Ruben de la Red of Real Madrid (he does one of those Luis Garcia thumbsucking celebrations, alas) in the second half, then won with a header in by Dani Guiza of Mallorca in the 88th.

The bad news is that Xabi Alonso seems Juventus-bound. Nice for him. Bad for me. I always loved the pairing of Gerrard and Alonso in the Liverpudlian midfield.

As for France v. Italy, let's say as little as possible, shall we? I've now seen these two sides meet exactly twice. In the first, Thierry Henry got an inauspicious thump to the head within the first twenty minutes, and that lovely Zidane fellow came to a rather bad end before the day was out with a different sort of head-thump. Yesterday was hardly better. Riberry was out on a stretcher before ten minutes was gone, there was a flurry of bookings for both sides (Pirlo and Gattuso will both be sidelined in the match against Spain. Feels like cheatin' if we win that way, but I can't say I'll mind) including a dreaded red card for Eric Abidal who made a terrible tackle on Toni in the box. Much as I dislike Luca Toni, he'd stretched out with a grace nothing short of balletic to get a lovely touch on a pass in the area and Abidal saw no recourse but to barge into him from behind. It was one of those red cards that was so inevitable that even if the ref had been on the French payroll, he'd still have had to give it.

Anyway, it got worse from there, with Henry and his Gauls limping across the finish line with few or no good moments to show for it. Pirlo got the initial penalty with one sweet, short stroke and I don't even remember who got the second goal. It's possible I'd turned it off before then. Les Bleus are not a team I care about, not since Zidane is retired, and it was STILL like having a tooth out to watch it. Brrr. I'm shuddering again.

So on to the Quarterfinals: Germany v Portugal on Thursday (I'm hoping for some of the hellish good Schadenfreude fun I had during Italy v Germany during the World Cup), Croatia v Turkey on Friday, Russia takes on the Brilliant Orange on Saturday, and then the big one: Spain v Italy on Sunday.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

duende! carisma! and don't forget the hat-trick

I asked my co-worker from Madrid what the Spanish term for hat-trick is and he said there isn't one. Thinking maybe he just doesn't care enough about football (when I asked him his favorite team, he said he didn't have one... although he was perhaps being gracious, as he already knew my Catalan proclivities), I searched online and found the word SOMBRERITO. Possibly this is an invention by Englishers who cannot, like me, imagine a culture in which there is no common word for a hat-trick.

In any case, how about that "el Guaje" and his "little hat" against the Russians?

I watched the Spain v US friendly last week as a warm-up to these very Euro 2008 festivities, jumping in around the interval. I had expected a fair-to-middling football match, and I got that, just barely, but I had forgotten about La Furia and how it affects me. Not having seen the list of the starting eleven, the players came clear to me slowly, and I started to feel that familiar passion from the old World Cup days: a heartfelt pasticcio of warm affection, excitement, and awe. From Iker Casillas at the back all the way up, this pitch is full of men of playful genius.

In my pre-World Cup days of heady optimism (naive, so I was told on this very blog by some world-weary soul who'd seen it all before... "they'll crap out by quarterfinals," he intoned like Eeyore, and, indeed, he called it spot-on), I saw all that brilliance packed into all those kids and worried that the granddads, the Puyols and Rauls, would have to shoulder too much of the burden from their rambunctious charges. Now I look out across that pitch at all those ultra-promising kids... Torres, Ramos, Iniesta, little Cesc... and they're all, without exception, becoming magnificent in adulthood.

And, with ominous familiarity, I say to myself, "How can they possibly NOT win?"

Dangerous words to speak, always, in the hearing of the capricious Football Gods. So I'll try and sit as quietly as possible through the rest of the tournament, except for those times when La Roja play with such joy and elan that I can't help but laugh and holler.

Against the US, they weren't fusing properly. Probably the Spaniards were giving it all the weight of a practice session. Ramos was having a hard time getting his crosses in to Torres, and the sheer height of the Americans was proving a difficulty, which doesn't bode well for a match against Joachim Low's towering huns. Xavi's goal, off one of Cesc's perfect passes, was stubborn and utilitarian, no frills, but it did the job. Yesterday was a different matter: Aragones tucked a second striker up front alongside el Nino (these fellows need new nicknames. What happens when you're forty and stuck with "The Kid" as a moniker?) and the two went to work. Villa's finishes came off lovely set-ups from Torres, Iniesta and Fabregas, and Cesc's late and sweet diving header came off Villa's foot by way of Xavi's then the Russian keeper's punch-out.

Oh, to be in the Alps right now. Weather conditions are bad: even as we speak, Turkey struggles against the formidable Yakin and the Swiss in a sort of grassy swimming pool. But nothing in the world is shining more beautifully than the Spaniards in the Alps right now, and oh, to be there to see it.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Euro 2008 Hocus Pocus

With tomorrow being the first match day of Euro 2008, apm will do its best to cover as many of the games as we can, though our internet connection for the next couple of weeks will be spotty. Luckily, there is a pub down the street that will be showing all of the games and we’ll do our best.

Spain is my fave to win it all. Of course, they’ll probably burn out in the quarter finals… just like they always do. Regardless, I’m following my heart, though my intellect isn’t betraying me on this one either.

But you can’t count out Germany or France. Italy, I’m not so sure about this time around, what with Cannavaro being sidelined. Are they ravenous to prove that they can take the cup? I’m not convinced. The home countries, Switzerland and Austria, who normally should do well… won’t. Austria weren't even in FIFA’s 100 world ranking as of April (they were 102) and Switzerland, despite having some good players, will probably only make trouble for Germany if they make it out of the group stage. But don't count on it.

Of course, this is football and anything could happen. Off the top of my head, my picks for the teams who'll make it out of their respective groups are as follows:

Group A: Portugal and Turkey

Group B: Germany and Croatia

Group C: France and Italy

Group D: Spain and Russia

I'd love to see Romania make it out of their group instead of Italy, but I honestly haven't watched them enough to feel confident about that. I'd also love to see the Czech Republic storm out of Group A, though I'm not sure they'll be able to hold it together without the presence of Tomas Rosicky, who is injured.

Anyway... tomorrow all of this conjuring and hocus pocus guessing will start to become flesh. And the tears, cheers, and jeers will no doubt follow.

Onward!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

in which Team USA embarrasses us in public

We had planned our return from beautiful Espana to the Anglo-Saxon world specifically to coincide with the US v. England friendly on May 28, but that was before the tickets actually went on sale. Thanks to the appalling exchange rate, the cheapest seats were going for a cool $60 apiece. That's far more than we paid to see Barcelona (and not even in the cheapest seats), and we really do not like either of these teams nearly enough to shell out that kind of cash. Why, what with current inflation and the weak US dollar against the pound, that's like five or six pints down the pub!

So it was off to the pub we went indeed, a fine establishment located literally steps from our London B&B, which was a bonus--in case things turned ugly, we didn't have far to run. Had we only known--the only running we'd need to do would be fleeing from the humiliation of seeing the Euro-dropouts run roughshod over Team USA, all to the accompaniment of sneering announcers making smug comments like "England showed America up for what they really are--a very very poor side!" They chortled over footage of Becks' recent 70-yard shot right into goal in the LA Galaxy vs Kansas City Wizards game a few days earlier ("Does America even have goalkeepers?") and following John Terry's (admittedly fine) header thirty minutes in announced that "it's taken England a little over half an hour to assert their superiority!"

Speaking of John Terry...did he look a bit teary-eyed after making that goal? John, you've got to watch out or you're going to get a reputation as a crybaby. He didn't do himself any favors afterwards by announcing that "I'm a man for the big games and I've shown that"--Jaysus, John, so the Champion's League final was just an insignificant blip and this was the match you've been preparing for all season? Perhaps the next time he opens his mouth someone ought to stuff a Jaffa cake in it. Might help with any future sobbing fits, too.

Anyway, as anyone who watched the match already knows, things went from bad to worse as Gerrard scored a second goal and the US were shut out all night. Worse, both goals were fine ones, so we can't take any satisfaction there either. English football announcers are just as annoyingly hyperbolic as American ones as they all but anointed the England team champions of the world based on the result. (You can't have it both ways, lads: either they defeated a poor side and therefore the result was meaningless or the US team is actually a bit better than you claim they are.) The patrons and staff of the bar were kind enough not to point and laugh at us like Nelson Muntz but perhaps only because, as is always the case with us when we travel, no one suspects we are American. We aren't really Team USA fans (as many of our readers know), but man, talk about letting down the side! It's embarrassing sitting in a pub in another country listening to announcers and patrons snicker and mock your national football team! Like being stuck in a room enduring an endless live reading of those tiresome "Yanks can't do football" articles from the Guardian! We drowned our sorrows in another round and slunk back to our room. Thanks for nothing, Team USA!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Three Lions Support Espana!

It's almost Euro 2008 time and apm is gonna try its best to cover most of it. We can't wait, especially since we haven't been able to watch a lot of football while abroad. But hey, no complaints. We're abroad for crying out loud!

Anyway... although I have found myself tearing my hair out over the sometimes dire exploits of England's grand inflated superstars, and have wished them ill-will many a time just to... well, I guess to prove some kind of point... it does feel weird not having them around to beat up--I mean, to watch self-implode.

But supporters of the Three Lions wake up! There's another national squad that you can watch loom large for those early matches and then burn out in spectacular fashion.

The Guardian, in leading up to the tournament, has been running a series of columns with accompanying video informing England's shut-out supporters that there are options for their allegiance... at least for a month. In today's post, Colombian writer Juan Gabriel Vasquez, author of The Informers, talks about why Spain should garner the favor of England fans.

This morning, while scarfing down a plate of egg, rashers of bacon, beans, toast, and tea (ah, Spain, I dearly miss you already, but I do love me my English breakfast), the morning DJ on the radio said that a majority of English fans will be following Italy for the title. That's too easy, I think. That kind of certainty is too simple, too alien for an English fan. What will the average English fan do if Italy win? How do you expect them to celebrate? A Three Lions supporter only knows hope then blistering defeat! An English fan has only seen mass celebrations, like the ones in Italy after the last World Cup, from television. They won't know what to do if Italy wins.

But they'll know how to act when Spain sputters out. That alcohol-fueled self-hate and misery will be all too familiar to a Three Lions supporter.

Support Spain, fans of England. Support another world class bunch of over-achievers who will under-achieve when their country needs them the most.

I know who I'm rooting for.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Comares CF

Here in Comares, a tiny village high in the Axarquia region of Andalucia (where I'm fortunate to be staying for the month), there is no official football team as far as I know. The closest professional team is Malaga CF, who currently play in the Segunda Division.

But don't tell these lads there's no team in Comares. I caught them playing a fast and ruthless game upon the hot stones a few days ago.

Salut!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait... Redux

Why is this brilliant film still not available on DVD in the U.S.? If we can take down Uwe Boll, we can surely get this released in Region 1!



Friday, April 18, 2008

so far away

As we vagabond around Europe, I have been homesick exactly one time, and it started sometime after midnight last night, knowing you all back in P-Town were gearing up for the season opener and the retirement of Timber Jim. I told myself I wouldn't--couldn't--stay up till game time, 4 AM for us, but as the hand on the clock crawled past 3 AM I was trawling the official site and the Timber Mill until it all became too much for me to bear and I went to sleep, with dreams of the Greek chant dancing in my head. Now it's late morning here in Granada, Spain, blue sky and fast-moving clouds after heavy rainshowers and it's not yet 3 AM where all of you are, fast asleep most of you, my beloved Timbers, all the TA and supporters, and Timber Jim. I just read over this thread at Soccer City USA and looked at the pictures and now I'm crying at my keyboard.

The new turf (thank you again Merritt Paulson!--and oh, yeah, I think I love you, too) in the Timber Jim memories video over at the official site looks gorgeous and it sounds like we taught those Islanders a lesson, despite the ref's best efforts. 1-0 Timbers! You cannot stop us! We are the Rose City! I can't wait to see more of your pictures and read your accounts. We sent a man in ourselves to get some pics and video, so we should have a guest post up here soon. Timbers fans, y'all are the best anywhere. I miss the hell out of you.

Check out Allison Andrews' Timbers Jim memories, a four-part series beginning here.

Edited to add: Great pics and match report from The Offside here. Look at the size of the North End!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

AC Milan Ready To Purchase Unknown Kid from Barcelona

The writing has been on the wall all season: will Ronaldinho leave Barca at the end of the season? Should he leave? When will he leave? Isn't he gone yet?

It's not official, but supposedly the player's agent/brother Roberto de Assis is blabbing that the carioca/footballer is on to AC Milan.

You can read tidbits here and here. More later when FC Barcelona and AC Milan make official announcements.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Shaka Hislop blogs MLS

Dear to me for his service with the Trinidad & Tobago squad in 2006 (and to some readers and my fellow apm contributors for his West Ham goalkeeping), Shaka Hislop will blog weekly on the Guardian throughout the upcoming MLS season. I'm happy to report the vast majority of comments so far are of the pleasantly-surprised-and-anticipating variety as opposed to the tiresome "blah blah blah Americans can't play footba..." God, I got so bored thinking about it I couldn't even finish the sentence.

You know the drill: I can and will trash talk MLS, American soccer players, and Team USA till the cows come home, but as I once heard the great Texas author Joe Lansdale say*, "It may be junk, but it's our junk."

At any rate, I'm excited that US soccer is getting some decent, knowledgeable coverage in the Guardian. It's long overdue.

*Mr. Lansdale was in fact referring not to American soccer, but to crap horror movies. Which is not to say that either horror movies (another of my favorite indulgences) or American soccer are really crap. Have I equivocated enough here? Good. Moving right along...

Friday, March 21, 2008

mala noche

The little girl, maybe nine years old, at the tapas joint/restaurant/cerveseria yesterday was going to have a good night, like the rest of us gathering for Barca's Copa del Rey match against Valencia. She wore her blue Barca away kit and sat up front next to her dad, or on the lap of her mother, who stopped in briefly. She knew everyone in the restaurant, including the staff, who doted on her, kissing her and supplying her with bottles of Fanta with the straw sticking out the top. When Valencia scored the first of what would be three goals, she tore off the jersey and shouted at her squad. The two old women next to us flung their napkins down in disgust and stormed out. Valencia's second goal, in the final moments of the first half, had the slow-mo, I-can't-believe-this-is-happening quality of a nightmare. Anger and commiseration at watching your team go down like this has a common language of its own and we all cried out and shook our heads at one another. It was too much for the youngest fan present, who leapt up, lip trembling and eyes brimming with tears, and raced into the square outside. Her dad went out to try comforting her and bringing her back, but to no avail. We last saw them trudging up the narrow Barcoleneta street towards home.

I'm normally idiotically optimistic during soccer games but given Barca's performances of late I wasn't holding out a lot of hope for them to come roaring back in the second half. Our goal celebration for Henry was short-lived as Valencia's devastating response came only seconds later. We exchanged wordless sympathies with the old man behind us who got up and began pacing around the bar, unable to sit still for the remainder of the match. Hope surged back with the late Eto'o goal in the 80th minute, and Valencia began to show signs of wear. Yet it was all to no avail, and in the end Barca went down with scarcely a whimper.

Barca's won only a single match--the Champions League leg against Celtic--since we arrived in the city, and that at the expense of Leo Messi for the rest of the season. Now, it seems, they're on track to lose the season along with the Copa del Rey loss, and what will become of them in the Champion's League is anyone's guess. It seemed the night couldn't get any worse, but then Derek reached for his wallet and discovered that Barca wasn't the only thing around getting its pocket picked. Down one Copa del Rey championship, one fifty-euro note, and one debit card: the costliest football loss we've endured. Mala noche, indeed.

Nic's been writing some good stuff lately about the team's struggles of late and here's his match report from this game.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

US Team Will Play England in Exhibition Match

It's been rumored for awhile, but it's been confirmed by the bigwigs at US Soccer that the US Men's National Team will travel to Wembley to play England (for the first time since 1994) on May 28. The US team had already been lined up to play Poland on March 26 and Spain in June. The match up between the Three Lions and the Uncle Sam is great news for fans of the US team and should be a fantastic prelude to World Cup 2010 qualifying which begins later in June.

You can read more about it here.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Maradona

Bad Guy. Icon. Hero to the Downtrodden. Bum. There’s always been a little of Tony “Scarface” Montana in Maradona. Beloved by millions… loathed, mocked, and just plain hated by everyone else the world over… Diego Maradona is a football superstar no one can be passive about. Sure, it’s easy to laugh at his eccentric on and off the field buffoonery, drug and alcohol excesses—but it’s impossible to deny the man’s talent or the importance of his legacy. It’s been a little over ten years since the rotund and fierce juggernaut of the pitch retired amidst scandal due to his drug addiction and the notorious 1994 World Cup incident in which Maradona was accused of taking the drug ephedrine and was subsequently booted from the tournament after playing only two matches, and so it is perhaps a bit convenient to forget the marvels the young boy from the slums of Buenos Aires graced the world with.

For anyone who still has their doubts, Maradona: The Autobiography of Soccer’s Greatest and Most Controversial Star should help jar the memory. It’s all here: the rags to riches story of the precocious young Maradona’s rise to stardom in Argentina playing for a number of clubs, including his beloved Boca Juniors, the inevitable big money tease and lure from the fat cat European clubs, his short and less than glorious time with FC Barcelona in the early 1980s (where he also picked up his cocaine habit), his stellar and controversial time playing for Napoli in the Serie A, where he took the club to heights undreamt of before his arrival (two domestic league championships, a Coppa Italia championship, a UEFA Cup championship, and a Supercup championship), and Maradona’s World Cup appearances. This, of course, is what most fans will want to read about and Maradona doesn’t skimp on the details or excitement of the tournaments. The 1986 World Cup quarter final against England is classic stuff and has been written about ad nauseum. But here, as told by Maradona to his two ghostwriters, El Diego’s idiosyncratic syntax snaps us to attention in all its coarseness and exuberance. The audaciousness of the “Hand of God” goal and the pure brilliance of the second, more entrancing goal are appropriately lavished upon, as is the complete burnout of the 1994 World Cup games held in the United States.

All of that is worth picking up the book in and of itself, but I found the rise and fall of Maradona’s time playing for Napoli to be the most interesting. The team, which had always performed respectfully though permanently in the shadows of the bigger, more lucrative Serie A teams, snatched Maradona up from Barcelona for a then unheard of 6.9 million pounds and transformed the squad into a spectacular new era. For bringing glory, revenue, and championships to the team and the city, Maradona was heralded as a living god of the pitch. Of course, the downfall came like a bullet—rumors of friendship with the local Camorra (the Neapolitan mafia), cocaine abuse and fathering an illegitimate son. Regardless, El Diego’s appetite for self-destruction knew no bounds….

For some… including myself as a child… Pele was the perfect embodiment of football—he had the grace, charisma, good humor, and the style to fuel a million adolescent daydreams. But Maradona appeals to the adult in ways Pele unfortunately never can. Maradona certainly proved on the pitch—the only thing that matters in the end—why he was Pele’s equal and nemesis. Certainly, his life off of the pitch fascinates as well. For all his prowess as a football superstar… he seems so desperate to impress, oblivious to his frailties yet such a willing victim to his own inflated ego. He seems so utterly human and sadly recognizable. His fleet-footed gifts were so spectacular and he had a prodigious personality to match. But underneath the showbiz gregariousness resides something so painfully weak and essentially identifiable to us lowly mortals. Locked in the perpetual cycle of ascension, ruin, and suffering that seems to be his lot, one day it will all cease. And then… everyone will speak of him as if he were the brightest star that ever burned.

Maradona: The Autobiography of Soccer’s Greatest and Most Controversial Star is available from Skyhorse Publishing for the first time in English and should be obtainable from the usual suspects.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times


The air was thick with smoke and Catalan curses. Unlike the night of the Champion's League match against Celtic a couple of weeks ago, half the neighborhood hadn't stopped in beforehand to reserve seats in front of the giant projection screen, so by arriving unfashionably early by Spanish standards--a whole ten minutes before match time--and, luckily, showing up hungry and promising to order food along with our cervesa, we were granted seats in the VIP section of the bar. Said seats appeared to be parceled out in a strict hierarchical fashion, which allowed old men who'd been coming there for years to sit wherever they liked, order nothing, and smoke profusely for the duration of the match; the handful of outsiders who trickled in were largely turned away or sent to the other half of the bar with the regular-sized television. Only one table of nonregulars besides ourselves passed the mysterious test and were allowed to stay. Once you were in, though, you were treated as well as anyone, and the pub grub enough to make you weep when you thought back to what you'd uncomplainingly consumed in similar situations in America. How can we ever go back to frozen fries and indifferently assembled sandwiches when a neighborhood dive in Barceloneta delivers to us--as a series of well-orchestrated courses, even--little dishes of anchovies and olives, pa amb tomaquet (that's bread rubbed with olive oil and garlic and tomatoes), and pinxtos--succulent little skewers of still-pink beef accompanied by still more olive-and-garlic drizzled bread? The old men around us shouted and cursed the referee and Almeria and debated the lineup with passion; behind the bar a bell pealed to celebrate each Barca goal. Soon we were standing room only. Outside children boosted themselves up on the sills and pressed their faces against the windows, while a lanky youth followed the radio broadcast with his headphones while watching the action on the screen and smoking a languid joint. The place erupted with young Bojan's goal, and again when Eto'o scored, and cried out in anguish each time Almeria leveled the scoreline, as Milito was sent off, as things went from good to bad to worse for the Catalan side. It might have been a dream come true of a night if not for the final score, the impotent 2-2, Barca's inability yet again to capitalize on a Real Madrid loss pushing a victory for the season still further out of reach. The place finally fell silent after Almeria's second goal, though we all hung on till the bitter end, hoping for a miracle. Afterwards, though, the place cleared out in seconds, and we tumbled into the street, torn between infatuation with this city and, yet again, frustration with our team. We said, "We've still got Champion's League." But a lot of disappointed old men made their way home along our neighborhood streets last night.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Follow the Timbers at The Offside

It's just all The Offside, all the time around here, and if you follow the Portland Timbers you probably know this already, but: via Dave Knows, the news that Bob is back and blogging about the Timbers at the Offside has us long-distance Timbers fans jumping for joy. If we can't be there at PGE Park this season to watch our boys win the season (right, lads?), following them via daily updates from Bob is the next best thing.

Monday, March 10, 2008

erratum

We here at apm spent many months basically living under a rock, so we've been a little slow to figure out Bob doesn't appear to be running The Offside any longer. Still, he nurtured that baby into what it is today, and the crew in there now is keeping up the good work. So, to cover all our bases, we're offering our congratulations to all involved, past and present!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

It rained... it poured.... Barca v Villarreal

It was a terrible night for FC Barcelona despite hosting Villarreal at the Camp Nou. What happened? Ah, the proverbial question whenever Barca need the big league win of late. Oh well. We still have the Champions League, right? We'll have a full write-up within the next couple of days... 'cause apm actually attended the match live. It was a big deal for us--our first time ever attending a Barcelona match.

Anyway, here are two video clips. More later!

video

The Cant del Barca!


video

Ronaldinho free kick attempt on goal.

local boy does good

We here at apm are delighted to see the indispensable football blog The Offside by P-Town's* very own Bob/Roberto named as one of the world's 50 most powerful blogs by the Guardian (even if they did call it "UK-based" and yes, we already emailed them to let them know they made a mistake, because we are nothing if not hometown boosters, as well as fans of Bob). Is it just that the Guardian can't bring itself to admit that Americans can actually write about football, and well?

(We kid because we love. We read the Guardian every single day.)

Check it out. The Offside is #35. Congratulations, Bob! World domination can't be far away!


*The Offside is, in fact, a part of the also invaluable Portland-based BootsNAll travel network. Don't leave home without checking them out!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Messi: Six Weeks

It was enough to make any Barca supporter toss their cava. The blaugrana may have beaten Celtic 1-0 and moved on through to the quarter finals of the Champions League, but it came at a huge price. 38 minutes into the first half, kid fantastico Leo Messi inexplicably (at first) broke his sprint, hopped a few steps, then laid down on the pitch clutching his thigh... wracked in pain. And when the tears streamed down the young Argentine's face, us here at apm (2/3 of us nestled in a small tapas bar in Barcelona that strangely enough had reserved seats for patrons wanting to watch the match on the big screen; all others, i.e. us and a few other lowly fans who didn't know the secret handshake, were relegated to the other side of the joint to watch it on a much smaller TV) had to breathe deeply and pray to the football gods that this wasn't yet another injury setback for the brilliant player. Not now; not again.

But in the morning, with various images of the player splashed across the front pages of the football newspapers, it was impossible to deny the reality of the situation. Messi would in all probability be out for the rest of the season. Six weeks are what the doctors are saying. There's a slight chance that Messi will be back before the end of the league season (I wouldn't bet on it, though, especially considering the flak Riijkaard is receiving for rushing Messi to play last night, which he did because he received criticism for not playing the kid last weekend in the league match against Atletico Madrid), but the semi-final of the Copa del Rey against Valencia is out of the question as is the final if Barca indeed get there. Still... we can hope for the best.

The win was tainted, but Barcelona are through. But does the squad, who are playing well at the moment, have the momentum and focus to do what they accomplished in 2006? Do they have the resiliency to be champions once again?

On a much happier note... cheers to all of the Celtic fans that flooded the city (supposedly some 20,000!) over the last few days. Due to circumstances purely of my own making, I was unable to get downtown yesterday to snap more pictures of the Scottish supporters. I did see plenty of them still hanging out today sightseeing around the Barri Gotic and quietly nursing their hangovers with more drink at various watering holes. From all accounts, these were traveling supporters that any club should be proud to have.

You can read more about the invasion of the Celts here.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

It's a world of laughter, a world of tears, it's a world of hopes, and a world of fears...

Yesterday, on the eve of the big second leg match between Barcelona and Celtic, I spent the day wandering around the Ramblas hoping to find some obvious Celtic fans. I didn't have far to look. These aren't great pics, by any means. I had to snap fast! But I hope to get some more (better) ones today in the hours leading to the game... and while it all unfolds.

I think the most refreshing thing I noticed was the genuine camaraderie I witnessed between "rival" supporters. And though I couldn't snap a picture, last night I heard the drunken, jovial singing of Celtic fans echo through the streets of Barceloneta more than a few times. There was also a nice moment along the Ramblas when a group of teenage Celtic supporters and Italian ones were sharing their knowledge of the sport and Italian clubs. Very cool. Supporting a club is not exactly a pastime for the meek, but it sure doesn't have to be mayhem either.

Cheers! And may the best team proceed! More later.....







Thursday, February 28, 2008

Riijkaard Maybe... Possibly... Thinking of Making Big Move!

"Although Rijkaard remains acutely aware that there is currently no position at Chelsea to discuss"... we here at The Guardian refuse to allow that reality to stop us from pursuing the hypothetical situation that the 45-year-old Dutch manager may, possibly, be interested in a job that is so far not available to him. Word on the street from our reliable gobshites is that the ridiculously handsome and cool as a cucumber Dutch cat may also be favoring a move to AC Milan, Aston Villa, Valencia CF, New York Red Bulls, or the most likely spot commandeering the Portland Timbers to USL championship glory. More news as we dream it up!

Monday, February 18, 2008

A Night With Galway United

Not one minute inside the grounds of Terryland Park, the home of Galway United FC, and we take a wrong turn. We were late getting to the game, thanks to the extra pint of Galway Hooker Derek ordered in the pub beforehand. And despite the precise directions to the park given to us by our host Jim at the Dun Aoibhinn Guesthouse, it was a bit more of a hike than we anticipated--not so much far away as it was, as Jim described it, "awkward," including navigating a stretch of dark road with no lights or shoulder to walk on. And if you've ever been to Ireland, you know that drivers here are not what you'd call cautious.

But late is late and we were tardy at the wrong time. The home team scored as we bought our tickets. We raced in and tried to get our bearings. The stands were nearly empty, so we headed toward the rowdiest group, only realizing our mistake when I spotted the banner "Limerick Ultras" on the wall behind them. Good thing we're starting our football pilgrimage in Ireland and not, say, Italy. This ground of ultras numbered about thirty, all lanky young man, and they terrorized the Galwegian side by standing throughout the match and smoking the occasional banned cigarette. They even managed to start the game's only chant--"You'll ever be a wanker," we think, directed at the opposing keeper during a penalty kick. At any rate, we managed to hightail it to the other side of the pitch before someone forced us to stand or smoke as well!

Once settled in the bare stands, with only a couple hundred home side fans scattered throughout, we were able to focus on the match. Galway United FC is not a bad team. They seemed to have better ball control than the Timbers (though who could control the ball with that crap turf of old?), and a couple of pretty fast players. The Timbers could definitely give them a run for their money though, and would provide a pretty fair match-up. Galway was also better about attacking the goal (particularly in the first half) than the Timbers of late. They did seem somewhat predictable and lacking in creativity; however, a late-night perusal of the fan board revealed that some, at least, found the match a bit dull due in part to some key missing players. Apparently, Galway United FC does have some prettier moves. The keeper--we think it was their first string guy Alvin Rouse--made a couple of great saves, while defender Wesley Charles packs a powerful header. (We hope we are identifying players correctly here; Galway supporters please correct us if we're wrong.)

The final score was 3-2 with the tie broken in the 89th minute by a Galway penalty kick. A few moments earlier, unrelated to the penalty, a melee erupted on the pitch when a tussle in the midfield led to a Galway United player grabbing a Limerick player in a headlock. Much shouting and shoving ensued. Something to keep the blood up in the bitter cold--and speaking of the bitter cold, that's why we don't have a picture. Fingers too frozen to retrieve camera in time. It had been a long time since that halftime cuppa.

The crowd consisted mostly of men, either with friends or kids, and some teenagers, including a few teenaged girls. We spotted exactly two grown women. Galway seems to have an enthusiastic fan base online, but at this friendly there were no chants, no instruments, no singing, no tifo. No TA atmosphere in other words. The lack of women did mean that for once the line for the women's toilet was shorter than for the men's. In fact, I walked into a deserted toilet--deserted, that is, save for the one man in there pissing with the door wide open, as my mother would say, in front of God and everybody. I beat a hasty retreat so as to avoid embarrassing us both and tried to look nonchalant when he emerged sheepishly.


All in all, an interesting night, and we'd certainly attend games regularly if we lived there. One can't help wondering what it would be like to go to a match on a warm summer night, as opposed to a cold February one. But the lack of a vocal and visible fan base for this friendly, at least, made us long to stand shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of crazed Timbers supporters.

this was written by both Derek and me, even though my name is the only one on the post

Friday, February 15, 2008

questionable attempt at being hans van der meer

I snapped these in Galway a couple of days ago... before the weather turned soggy again.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

An Afternoon in Galway....

Walking along the beach in Galway yesterday, we noticed a pick-up game of football going on with a group of mostly African gents. A joyous sight indeed. Score was 2-0 when we left.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Captain Caveman

There are numerous reasons why Barcelona captain Carles Puyol is my favorite player--the heavy metal locks and constitution to match, his relentless drive to try and play all positions at all times while still being a team player, and most importantly, his loyalty.

Read more about why he's so damn cool here.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Fever Pitch

Okay, not "better than ever" but back all the same.

My first full day in Dublin wasn’t supposed to be like this. But here I am, sick in bed at the bed & breakfast, watching the Sunderland v Wigan match secluded in our little room. No big deal, though. I’m happily out in the world again, where watching or attending a match is routine… just like catching a tackleball, basketball or baseball game is back home in the States. While seated in a shitty, overpriced bar at the Newark International Airport just before closing, there was a table crowded with a bunch of American soccer fans heading overseas as well. Exclamations of “Fulham” and “fuckin’ Dempsey” boomed across the room. I quietly shared in their excitement and thought to myself that yes, we (as in American soccer supporters) are slowly and furtively winning the battle of hearts and mind in our country. Many of the reactionaries in the mainstream American sports press would love for you to think that the battle was lost or better yet, that there isn’t one even being waged. But when I look and hear dudes like that (and they were truly “dudes”), I know that the roots of soccer in the US are strengthening.

Speaking of how the culture of soccer is slowly gaining hold in America, last weekend I spent Saturday afternoon watching Barcelona v Osasuna in rural Georgia (smack down in Bulldog country) with my mother-in-law, a rabid college football fan (Auburn in particular). She loved it, and though I don’t think she’ll be relinquishing her allegiance to tackleball anytime soon (not that she has to or anything), I think the sport gained yet another convert.

Anyway, I digress. And frankly, now’s the time to simply indulge in the ordinariness of having football culture surrounding me.

We arrived in Dublin from Atlanta on Friday. Once I found out that Keane’s lads were playing on television, I made prospective plans to venture to some Irish local and catch the game with like-minded souls, Sunderland being Ireland’s unofficial fave Premiership club.

Alas, it was not to be. Sure, I would’ve loved to have been standing, sitting or slouched in some pub watching the gritty and intermittently entertaining on-field play instead of lying in bed clammy, phlegmy, and doozy from my cold and that full Irish breakfast I managed to wolf down. But there will be other matches down the line to suffer through via television or in the flesh.

Okay, enough of my ramblings. My thoughts will… hopefully… get more focused as my cold abates and we start catching some matches in person.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

In Transit

Adaptation is a profound process. Means you figure out how to thrive in the world.
-- John LaRoche (Chris Cooper) in the film Adaptation

Although things have been quiet online... 2/3 of apm have decided to uproot from their rainy Pacific Northwest enclave and head back out on the road... and search for football life beyond the walls of fortress America. We figure it won't be that difficult to find.

So for those of you out there who enjoy our weird, idiosyncratic little blog... we promise we'll be back soon and hopefully better than ever. We're going to dearly miss watching our hometown club the Portland Timbers live in the North End. But perhaps some talented, cavalier, opinionated and like-minded soul will come forward to help
apm out and keep the spirit of the green & white vibrant on this site. We can hope.... If not, I guess we'll have to do the best we can and figure something else out. If there's one thing we know how to do, it's how to adapt.

In the meantime, cheers to anyone who's visited and liked our site. Stay tuned, as
they
say!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

PGE Park Update: Timbers Secret Weapon, I Mean, Crap Turf, Replaced

Owner Merritt Paulson promised, and the happy day has come to pass. Replacement has begun on the godawful turf that has been threatening to maim players for years. There is, I suppose, a downside to this, which is that "home field advantage," for the Portland Timbers, has not only meant enduring 90 minutes of screaming and singing by hundreds of beer/soda/adrenaline-fueled fans, but that however bad the turf was on our players' legs, at least our boys were used to it. Visiting teams from Europe, MLS, and the like have regularly blamed draws or losses during friendlies on the appalling concrete-like playing surface. It will be delightful to see how the big visiting teams explain away their losses to a little backwater USL squad now....

For spectators, the crap turf was frustrating because players, ours as well as others, tended to slip around on it and controlling the ball was difficult. Sometimes it bounced wildly. New turf means better football, fewer injuries, and greater possibilities for exhibitions from major international teams played right here in the Rose City. And it also means Merritt Paulson really is willing to invest in this team, which is one of the best things to happen to soccer in P-Town in a long, long time.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

playing the field in the Prem

I haven't had nearly enough time to watch much soccer over the last few months, much less write about it, but after only half-joking in my last post about a growing affection for Man City over the past half-season, I realized it was time to go ahead and admit what I am when it comes to the Premiership: a promiscuous tart. I cannot settle on any one team. Over in La Liga, Barcelona demands, and has, my absolute loyalty and undying love, despite my roving eye. How can you not have a roving eye in La Liga, what with all the short passes and complicated plays and pretty flicks? From my two Davids (Villa and Silva) at Valencia to Robinho deep in the belly of the Real Madrid beast, any time my Barca boys are not on the pitch I'll happily gad about with the rest of the league.

When you are a soccer fan living in the United States, choosing a Prem side to support can seem almost de rigeur. It's certainly the easiest league to follow in the US since the games are televised on the readily-available Fox Soccer Channel. So I kept thinking, you know, that one day I'd look at a club and I'd just know. But it's not going to happen. Year after year, I'm affectionate about a number of teams and faithful to none. My affection waxes and wanes for a many reasons, often fairly inexplicable ones: a handful of players I love from various national teams play with this club, I like the keeper at another, the manager at a third, the fans at this one and the brave struggle against relegation from that one. None of these affections are particularly deep or meaningful. I like Sir Alex but not Man U, most of all because I can't bear Cristiano Ronaldo's smirk; I like Arsene Wenger and keep thinking his flash squad ought to win me over, but it never does. Some Senegalese players lured me to Bolton for a spell, while my attraction to Fulham was only partly explicated by its roster of American players. Sunderland, of course, have already become legends in the annals of Portland Timbers supporters, all on account of their fantastic fan base, traveling here in the hundreds to drink and sing with us. Plus, Roy Keane! Of course, I support the Hammers by a sort of osmosis, and there was a point at the start of the season when I thought Liverpool might settle me down--despite the presence of the loathsome Crouch--but then my eye went wandering again almost immediately and I couldn't remember what I'd seen in them in the first place.

Maybe this is part of why I enjoy watching the FA Cup so much. I always swear loyalty to one side or another, early on. It helps if one side is the underdog--twenty levels down? that's my boys!--and/or has a heartfelt fan base shouting them to victory. It's always so giddy and exhilarating, that first meeting with some club I've never heard of. For ninety minutes I remain entranced; there never has been and never will be another English club for me. Then the whistle blows, the match ends, and slowly I come to my senses. I swear that the next time I'm in town I'll look them up but of course I never will get around to it; within days I'll have forgotten their name. There's always another struggling and charismatic club to win my fancy.