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.


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.


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


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...


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.


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.


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!