Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Wait for the Euros

I can see no one else has bothered to write up anything on the Champions League final. I will take this as evidence that no one was too impressed. I definitely wasn't.

I was really indifferent to both teams, but by the end of the game I did want Chelsea to win. Mostly for historical purposes. It's nice to have a new team lift the trophy and show that it is possible for new teams to enter the competition an win. Albeit, with billions and billions of dollars of investment. It would have also saved Avram Grant's career. Grant was fired earlier today having failed to win anything this year after taking over from Jose Murinho. This is harsh in my opinion as he did take the Premiership race right to the very end and made it to the champions league final for the first time in the club's history. And in all honestly, Chelsea were playing quality football.

I really dislike Cristiano Ronaldo; but I can't deny his ability. I am enjoying the public bid for C. Ronaldo by Real Madrid for a ridiculous 100 million pounds. United fans thought he was so loyal. Funny how things change when a vast sum of money is thrown at you. United fans shouldn't be upset, it should have been expected. They are a victim of their own success with regards to finding talent and helping them develop. In the end, Ferguson completed the 'double' and all is well in England. Except of course of having to miss out on Euro 2008.

The countdown is on for the kickoff in Austria-Switzerland. Looking at some of the favorites I still say Italy has a lot of potential to make a serious dent in the tournament. If of course they make it out of the 'Group of Death'. I am confident they will. I do not feel France will. The loss of Zidane is was huge for soccer as a whole. But for France, let's just say, it's crippling. I am expecting for Portugal to flop out due to not having England to beat up on this time around. Spain could win it all, or they could under-perform (as per usual). Germany looks solid again following suit for the World Cup.

As for underdogs, I won't say. I'm never good at those. I do hope there are some surprises this year. Maybe Romania will do some shocking. Either way, I will be watching a lot of soccer this coming June and that makes me smile.

Here's a video to remember to Euro 2004.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Inter Shame

It has been a thrill to watch Inter's disastrous fall from grace this season. The team I had originally touted as the strongest in Europe with Champions League title well within their grasps, they have spectacularly self-combusted after the January break.

Failure against Liverpool, Roberto Mancini's mind games with the club, fans, and players, injury after injury, and above all else, an obvious drop in form and determination from it's players. This was all highlighted last week when Inter were awarded a penalty within the late stages of the match. Cruz was the designated kick taker, but Marco Materazzi emerged from the back and hell followed with him. He wanted the spot kick. He wanted to score the goal that would hand Inter the title. (What is really important to note, is that Materazzi also scored a penalty in the same fixture last season to award Inter the title; he had ALREADY received the glory!) But that wasn't enough to 'The Matrix'. He wanted to do it...twice. This could be a testament to how little the players actually thought of winning the scudetto with a point docked Milan and a Juve-less Serie A. Moreover, how arrogant that gesture was and how perfectly it fit in with Inter's collapse.

Of course, Materazzi's penalty was saved. With teammates furious, the coach furious, and the owner furious, how many friends does Materazzi have left? If Inter lose the scudetto on the final day of the campaign I feel Materazzi will have to move on. He will probably have to leave the country to avoid the harsh ridicule and criticism which will likely follow him to his grave. That is only supposing Inter fail to clinch the championship. If they do win this Sunday, most Inter fans (like usual) will try and block out the bad moments of the season and relish the fact that they are champions.

Yet, I will always look back on the the second meeting between Roma and Inter when Roma were up by a goal, only to see Mexes controversially sent off and Inter to equalize through Captain Amazing, Javier Zanetti. With Inter only ahead by one point, those moments become season deciding moments.

My biggest dilemma is deciding which game to watch on Sunday...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

What soccer players should do after they take a hard tackle

Get the fuck up.

Why I don't watch the Premiership

The short answer: I’m Italian.

The long(er) answer: Here in Canada, basic cable subscribers like me get two Premiership games a week. The first is shown on Saturday morning on Rogers Sportsnet. The second game is shown Sunday morning on The Score.

Us basic cable types rarely get a chance to see any of the big teams. Last week, for example, neither network aired the Manchester United vs. Chelsea showdown. And I really am not interested in watching Fulham every week. Who gives a shit about Fulham? Fulham fans, probably, which only hammers my point home further. (Not that I have any idea what Fulham fans are all about, mind you. I already told you: I DON'T WATCH THE PREMIERSHIP.)

On the other hand, I get three quality Serie A matches a week from TLN, a shoestring Toronto-based network that, based on the commercials aired at half-time, shows nothing but soccer, The Sopranos and The Godfather Parts I, II & III. (Did you know the third one sucks? It really, really does. The part when Sophia Coppola dies is hilarious.) All three TLN games are shown Sunday. Only one of them is live (usually the 2:30 p.m. “prime time” match). The first match, typically aired at 9 a.m., is usually a replay of a Saturday game and the 11 a.m. match is usually a replay of something that was played at 9. Confused yet? If you are, you're stupid.

On TLN, I get to see the big clubs—Juve, Inter, Roma, Milan—week in and week out. (Some fans of lesser sides might complain that the Regginas and Livornos don’t get enough air time, but really, who the fuck likes Reggina or Livorno anyway? They're like the Fulhams of Italian soccer, but with more attractive female supporters.)

I wonder how long this whole TLN thing will last. It seems only a matter of time before some specialty channel buys all the rights to Serie A games and guys like me are left in the dark. I guess I’ll just have to shill out more cash if I want to keep following this game. And I suppose that if I do end up paying for the specialty channels, I may give English soccer a try. But, as a matter of principal, I won't enjoy it.

This year's Champions League semi-final five-point plan for success, UAE edition

This nearly worked to perfection.

1) Get out of work at decent time
2) Shovel chicken biryani down throat
3) Wrap scarf round neck. Move possessions from hotel to apartment in half an hour
4) Get taxi astonishingly easy
5) See Liverpool advance to the finals for a second time.

... Should be an entertaining, stress-free final at least.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Why I haven’t seen one Champions League semi-final game this year

I work 9-5. The games air in Canada live at 2:30 p.m. TSN, the Canadian network that shows the games, hasn’t replayed them at midnight, like they did for other rounds. (Last year, some of the games were replayed at 8 p.m. Not this year though. Not once.) Also, I can’t figure out how to program my VCR. Not for lack of trying. This is bullshit.

(Also, there are too many English teams.)

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Liverpool v Chelsea: Champions League dreams

Liverpool meet Chelsea tonight in the Reds' most important match of the year. It all feels so familiar to me. Last year, while visiting London, I made a stop in Liverpool for the second leg match against Chelsea and watched in a pub, as Liverpool won on kicks.

Here's what I wrote following that match. Tonight, I will watch at a pub in the United Arab Emirates and hope for similar results, though I doubt we'll be marching through the streets afterwards.

Ohhhhh, Campione, the one and only, we're Liverpool

They say our days are numbered we're not famous anymore
But Scousers rule the country like we've always done before

"That's a new one," Steve tells me as all around us in this First National pub, this converted bank in downtown Liverpool, the chants grow louder.
"Don't worry, by the end of the night, you'll know them all."


I'd arrived in Liverpool just after noon with my knapsack and a desire to get that Liverpool gameday atmosphere.
I had a three-point plan to a successful stay:
1. Get a Liverpool FC jersey and scarf
2. Get on the Magical Mystery Tour.
3. Make some friends to watch the match with.

I stepped off the train and stopped the first guy in a red jersey I saw.
What was the fastest way to Anfield? There was a bus but a cab would cost me about five pounds.
I hopped in a cab and the friendly driver (everyone in Liverpool was extremely friendly), while he delivered me to Anfield, told me I had better find a room and fast.

"You better make that your next priority, mate," he said. "On a match day, people come from Norway to go to games."

Norway, right. I really should have booked a room, shouldn't I? Well, I'll get that jersey first.

I had a four-point plan to a successful stay.
1. Get a Liverpool FC jersey and scarf
2. Find a room. Any room.
3. Get on the Magical Mystery Tour.
4. Make some friends to watch the match with.

A quick pic, a quick inquiry into buying a scalped ticket ("we hear they're going for 400 pounds") and a Liverpool bag and I was back in a cab being driven to the Marriott. The Marriott! Where they had just one room and that had just come available. You don't hesitate, even when it'll cost you $164 pounds. No, you pay for your room with twin beds and be thankful for the choice of left or right. You drop your bag, pull on a Liverpool jersey and start walking toward Albert Dock and the mystery tour because the last bus is leaving in 20 minutes and the Dock is supposed to be a 10-minute walk away.

20-minutes later, you start to lose hope. Guess you'll just visit the Beatle's Story Museum. But then there's the bus pulling up to a stop. Sprint man.

"Hi," I said. "I haven't paid but can I pay you now for this trip?"
"Sure mate, we've got room," said the tall blond guy.
"Great," I said. "It must be a good day. I just got in to watch the match and I just managed to get the last room at the Marriott."
"You got a room today? You're lucky," he said. "If it was a weekend there's no way you'd get a room."
"Well, you fell on your feet today mate," said the tour bus driver. I liked that phrase.

This was my four-point plan to a successful stay, carefully planned the night before.
1. Get a Liverpool FC jersey and scarf.
2. Find a room.
3. Get on the Magical Mystery Tour.
4. Make some friends to watch the match with.

Strawberry Field, Penny Lane and the Cavern Club and now we'd reached the crucial point. In the square downtown there were hordes of red-clad fans. To be honest they'd been there since I arrived but there were more now and you could hear the chants down the street. My tour guide, who says he played John Lennon's mate in an NBC movie, looked like he would cry with pride and I needed some food and a place to watch.

I walked into the square with my camera set to video and captured the moment. Shot video of men and women chanting and clapping. I sized people up. I lost my nerve. I walked back down the street to near the Cavern Club and ate at Subway.

My four-point plan to a successful stay, was really make some friends to watch the match with times four.

Back to the square, inside a pub. I'd buy a beer and chat with some people. What about these two guys. They look decent. They're queing up for a beer. I'll ask them what to order here.

"Scuse me guys, I'm visiting from Toronto and wonder what's a good beer to get at this pub?"
"If you want a good draft beer, get Sam Miguel," one said.
"From Toronto, did you say?" said the other.
"Ya, I'm a Liverpool fan from Toronto and thought I'd come here today for the atmosphere."
"Ha, Mark, now that's commitment, he came all the way from Toronto just for the atmosphere."
"Well, I'm staying with family in London."
"We took a 20-minute train ride to come here."
"How much is the beer?"
"Oh, don't worry, that's on me mate."

We chatted about the NFL and other things Toronto. They told me where they'd watch. I was welcome to join. We moved there, bought two beers each because the lineups were going to be murder later and you don't even want to see this place if it's an away game.

Then the chanting started. And the boos when they showed Jose Mourinho. And wild cheers when they showed Steven Gerrard.

"Don't worry, by the end of the night, you'll know them all," Steve tells me. They're school teachers who'll be teaching with sore throats tomorrow.

They're mates Mike and Matt arrive and the game is on and we're on beers five and six and you can line up for the bathroom, if you can get through the crowd but it'll take you at least 20 minutes and who wants to move when all around you they're chanting:

oh when the Reds, go marching in, oh when the Reds go marching in. I want to be in that number, when the Reds go marching in.
Then shouting:
Oh when the reds (oh when the reds) go marching in (go marching in).

Sometime in the first half Liverpool scores on the set piece and the place explodes. Beer is everywhere and I'm in a bear hug. Steve plants a kiss on my forehead. This might have been awkward in any other setting.

We're going to win now, I can feel it. I never doubted it though did I? They couldn't lose with me here. And with the other four points of my five-point plan to a successful stay working out beautifully, how could I be denied a Liverpool victory.

In the second half a Chelsea striker with an empty net in front of him and the ball at his feet knocks it clear over the cross bar.

Mark gives me a look. That was close.

"Come on lads!" Mike shouts.

In extra time Liverpool scores. We win. This time I leap up and grab my friends in a bear hug.
"Wait, they've disallowed it."
An offside call when clearly Liverpool's Dirk Kuyt is onside. I sag in my seat and put my head in my hands. This is more than I can bear. I don't think I can finish that sixth John Adams.

"Have you ever cared about anything so much in your life?" Mike asks me. The answer is no. They simply must win. But they'll have to do it in kicks.

My mind flits, no it stumbles, back to when we first entered the pub and I'd said, I hope it doesn't come down to kicks and Mark had said, if it does Liverpool will win for sure.

Now we're standing in a row, arms around each other and the place erupts on every goal, every save. It was over before the first man placed the ball on the spot. Liverpool's keeper, Reina, is simply unbelievable on spot kicks. And when I thought it couldn't get any louder, it reaches fever pitch in here. I take pictures. I get hugged by a lot of sweaty men. I hug a woman when it starts feeling weird. Mark takes off his shirt and text messages a friend.

We all sing:

And you'll never! walk! alone! You'll never, walk, alone.

We spill to the streets. I climb up the steps in the square. People take pictures of me chanting and clapping. We march down the street. I don't know where we are or where we're going but I realize I probably didn't need that hotel room because my new mates would gladly have put me up.

I take pictures of them carrying Mark's banner, with lyrics from a time when the club made a hip hop video. They tell me it's my turn to carry the banner. I wrap myself in it and know that if I don't do another thing on this trip, I'll go back to Canada a happy man.