Saturday, June 9, 2012

Euro 2012 Poland - Ukraine: Early Observations 
It seems in every tournament, something spectacular happens in the kickoff match (think Senegal over France in 2002; Greece over Portugal in 2004; Lahm's golaso in 2006; etc). This year was no different as we saw Poland draw against Greece, with no less than two players red carded and a phenomenal penalty save by a replacement keeper. 

The second match was no less captivating, with both Russia and the Czech Republic trying to demonstrate their worthiness for the title. Props to Russia for coming to play and succeeding when it counted though the final score flattered them a bit). Arshavin again looked the part (why doesn't he play this well with Arsenal?), and the whole Russian team must now be considered a threat. 

This afternoon, Denmark (!) upset Holland in a big way, nipping a goal when it mattered and defending like lions for the rest of the match. Good for them.

Finally, though not unexpectedly, Germany beat Portugal. You have got to give the Germans credit - they know how to tactically nullify opposition, even when the attacking waves keep coming. 

Tomorrow we get to see defending champs Spain play, and you can bet this country is exited for it. This fan, too.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Where We Stand: FC Barcelona vs. Malaga from the Camp Nou

My vantage point

The first game for Pep at home since announcing his retirement.  When I bought the ticket to this game in March, Barca were six points adrift of Madrid, and may of us thought for sure the league was gone. A roller coaster ride from then to now, and it is officially true, the league is gone. Now, so too is Pep Guardiola. 
So be it. No turning back now. Tito will be the new boss, but there is the small matter of the remaining games this season, including one Cup Final, to consider.

Pep's first Post Announcement game away to Rayo Vallencano (a 0-7 thumping) was a serious statement by coach and players that this is not a team to bury their head in the sand despite some tough results. This game, at home, was sure to be remarkable as well.

Malaga are a powerhouse team in the making largely due to the backing of newish club president Sheik Al Thani. His billions brought Santi Cazorla to the team, as well as Ruud Van Nistelroy, Martin Dimichelis, Julio Baptista and Joaquin.  All stars in their own right. This season, Malaga have been good enough to qualify for Europe.  

Pep fielded an interesting bunch, giving Pinto a chance to warm up for the Cup Final. He did alright, making a couple of clutch saves towards the end. Mascherano played another spectacular game, as did Cesc. Messi, not in the best form for most of April, looked quite a bit sharper in this game.
Highlights of the game for me:

  1. Pregame keepy uppy between Messi and Dani Alves separated by about 40 yards --- quina control!!!
  2. At 6 minutes in, an innocuous ball drifted out if touch near Pep and co. Pep noticed a lack of concentration from his squad and left the bench to issue some instructions -- chants of GUARDIOOOOLA rang throughout. An awkward but notable moment for the coach and crowd.
  3. Malaga's goal on 26 minutes was well earned -- Barca had lost focus for a stretch, Malaga via Rondon netted their goal right in front of me. 
  4. Messi's second penalty award was also right in front of me. It looked clear in the stadium, but I'm not so sure after seeing this one replay. Regardless, his chip over Kameni for his hat-trick was sublime.
  5. Diego Buonanotte is a tiny but very clever footballer. At 5'2" and 125 pounds, I couldn't see him cutting it in any professional sport in the US.   
  6. I got to see Ruud Van Nistelroy play. Legend. Roundly booed in the Camp Nou for his time at the Bernabeu.  He nearly scored with his first touch of the game.  
  7. Leo broke Muller's record -- nice one
  8. At 87 minutes in, the boixois nois unveiled a big GRACIES banner dedicated to Pep. Loads of Guardiola chants throughout from then to the end. He will be missed.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Clasico 2012 Post-mortem

Alright, so the blau-grana had a rough day at the office. From my seats just barely under la tribuna in the south-west corner of the Camp Nou, Barca just seemed to have an off night. The Madrid players were more up for this one, and their tactics proved effective enough for the win. The Barca players never got out of second gear.

This resurgent Madrid squad came to out fight Barca for every ball, to close the space down quickly, and to not let Barca get into any sort of attacking rhythm. They played out this strategy to near perfection. Like Chelsea at mid-week, when it mattered, they made their chances count.

So what now? So life goes on. We focus on the next game, at home to Chelsea, and we try forget about all of the misplaced and intercepted passes tonight.

Perhaps Pep played the cast he did with one eye on the CL tie in just a few days. No Pique, no Cesc, no Alexis, at least until later on. I hope that's the case; he's been saying for the past several weeks now that Barca will not win the league. Let's say Pep played a weakened side tonight so that he could deliver us he Big Eared trophy come May. Ya. That's my story and I'm stickin to it.

Everyone is entitled to have the occasional off night.  Barca's off nights in the league this year have sadly come a bit too often. Congrats to Madrid to have surely taken the title now. Hope the boys can pull it together in the Champions League.

Khedira scored the first goal on this play

El Clasico 2012 Preview

So here we are again, the Clasico. These games, and those of the Champions League, sort out who the best team, using the purest definition of the word, is. 

It is true that both Barca and Madrid lost their games in mid week ties, and it is entirely possible that one or both of these teams will not make it through to the Champions League final. Credit must go to both Chelsea and Bayern Munich for humbling the two Spanish juggernauts. Well done. Let's see if you can do that consistently now for a few years, as have done both FC Barcelona and, to a lesser extent, Real Madrid.

Those CL games are essential pretext for the Clasico tonight. Madrid arrive at the Camp Nou thinking primarily about winning the league, which they are in a position of strength to do, and rubbing it in the Catalans' faces regardless of the result. Of course they desperately want to win the Clasico and put an end to Barca's supremacy over the past three years, but a draw would suffice. A draw would keep them 4 points in the clear. This Madrid side however, might be a bit tired. Virtually an A-team played in Munich, and they were made to work hard by a Bayern team who was really more motivated than Madrid to win this one.

Barca, too, come into this one tired (loosing in the pouring London rain after complexly dominating Chelsea must have been exhausting). Problem is, they absolutely have to win this one to maintain any hope of winning the title. They would like to win this one also to keep their legend alive - a legend that puts this particular Barca incarnation among the best soccer teams in all time history.

Both sets of players will no doubt shake off their fatigue or play through it tonight. Both squads look to be at or virtually at (David Villa is still out) full strength. Pep is bound to surprise us with his starting selection (Cuenca or Alexis?); Mourinho is bound to park the bus, and instruct his players to rough it up.

This is my second Clasico and I feel supremely lucky to witness it, regardless of the outcome. I'll be watching this one from just outside the Tribuna on the south western corner of the stadium. Photos to follow tomorrow. C'mon you Barca!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Champions League Semifinal Preview

Expect some minor surprises, but the Big Two in Spain should make it through.

Bayern Munich and Real Madrid square off first at the Allianz Arena, a stadium all four semi-finalists will want to be at in just over month. Madrid looks stronger to me based from their form in both La Liga and in the Champions League. Bayern seem to have conceded the Bundesliga title to Borussia Dortmund, and for me run hot and cold in the Champions League. They lost 0-1 against Basel in the Round of Sixteen, before destroying them 7-0 at home. That the final is in Munich in late May is a red herring. Pros are pros, and Madrid's are just better than Bayern's.

In the other semifinal, Barcelona look stronger than Chelsea, but there is good reason for Barcelona to be very weary of the Blues. To me Chelsea appear as a wounded dog, possibly with rabies, that may or may not lash out at you and dish you a fatal blow. The Blues' upcoming fixtures look really exhausting to me (at Wembley against Spurs in an FA Cup Semifinal, home v. Barcelona; away to Arsenal; away to Barcelona). Expect at least one loss from those four fixtures, hopefully one big one against Barcelona.

See you at the Camp Nou!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Why Barca Should Cash in on Pedro (and keep Alexis)

Why Barca Should Cash in on Pedro (and keep Alexis) At 1-3 up against Zaragoza, Pedro dribbled two Zaragoza players, dished a sweet pass to Messi (who returned the favor with a sweet pass of his own), the finished the move in tremendous style. That goal was an incredible confidence booster for the cantera lad, and one the many Barca fans relish with pride. He is, after all, on of our own.

That said, I think Barca should sell him.

If you haven't noticed,  Barca, like other top clubs, bring in new striking talent every year or so, to keep partnership with the regulars fresh, interesting and challenging. Before Alexis, they bought Villa; before Villa, Ibrahimovic; before Ibra, Henry, and on and on.  Pedro is not a unique player (though his odd running style sets him a bit apart). He is akin to David Villa in my opinion, on that he is a very good player, but not a technically enhanced player.  He lacks the skills and some of the natural abilities of, for example, a player like Alexis Sanchez, his teammate and competitor for games at FC Barcelona. 

The reason I am lobbying Barca to sell Pedro is that the time is right - he is twenty-four, recognized world wide as a top player, and has loads of potential that would be realized by a club who could give him regular starting roles.  Barca still have Villa (who should be ready before season's end), plus they have a soon to be fit Ibrahim Afellay, they have fellow cantera lad Tello, Isaac Cuenca - in other words, they have plenty of backup for that role.  Let Pedro go while he is in his prime - keep Alexis as the starter for now; motivate the forwards be revolving Alexis with Tello and/or Cuenca to keep things fresh.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

FC Barcelona vs. AC Milan, Part 2

 As it happened: Twenty minutes before kickoff.  No trouble getting to the stadium from near the arc de trionf on bicicleta. Up the passeig de San Joan fins del diagonal i, zip - to the stadium. Wow. After so many years watching these games on tv, I am finally in the stadium for one. I am pretty fn happy.  This is my first time watching the game from the north end. I have been near the southwest corner for the other two games here. The Milan fans are making a ruckus way up in the third tier.  Nice! Did not hear that at either the Madrid game or the Valencia game.

Rumor has it that Cuenca is playing and not Alexis. A curious decision from Pep I think. Loads of potential but not yet proven. Hope he does not freeze up like Tello at the weekend.  Visca el barca!
 Halftime and it's 2-1 to Barca, two penalty kicks the difference. Bout time they started calling penalties for us. Seriously, believe they were just calls. The second looked a deliberate pull down, the first was a hard challenge by the goalkeeper on Messi who was clear through on goal.  Now to the since half. Cmon u barca!
It's over. The Milan fans have to wait for the rest of us to leave. 3-1 to Barca. It was tense right up to about minute 77, then it seemed Milan lost heart. The end included the ritual frustration fouls and bad energy, but this fan is leaving very happy. Bona nit.
Poco despres, my thoughts are that I am highly impressed with they way Cuenca played.  Also, Dani Alves ran his socks off and was involved in practically every attack of significance. It is a true pleasure to watch this team play. Oh, and messi scored two more goals. That means I've seen him net 6.

Monday, April 2, 2012

FC Barcelona vs. AC Milan, Part 1

Just a quick update.  It took much hemming and hawing, but I´ve decided to make this game my CL initiation. It´s a big one, and the result could easily go either way.  Barça is playing at home, which helps, but there are no guarantees. Last time Milan came to the Camp Nou, they pinched a goal in about a minute.

I hope to get the iPad into the game, and will live blog it as done with Valencia.

C´mon you Barça!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Life in BCN: Early Days

So we are coming up on our two month anniversary of the big move to Barcelona. It's early days still, but indicators are positive for our new life here. My wife has managed to not only get pretty much all of her documents together (she became a Spanish citizen in the United States, but needed to get her national identity card, her health card, her social security card etc.), but she's also managed to get part time work, with a high likelihood of a full time position starting in the fall. That is no small feat here, as Spain is in the midst of a national economic crisis; unemployment is at record levels.

For my part, I've been a one man-one client daddy-day-care, my one client being our two year old son. Fortunately or unfortunately, that job has now ended- we've put the little tyke in a citizenship training course (aka proper daycare) where he is doing all sorts of fun stuff including painting, sculpting, constructing and loads of playing.

That has freed my time up to focus on my passion - football - and the maintenance of this blog.

I've posted on my first foray to the Camp Nou already, and I've got tickets to a game in May. Hopefully I will get to see more than just those two this season, but we will see.

Monday, February 20, 2012

FC Barcelona 5 - 1 Valencia

I moved to Barcelona with my missus and the toddler on February 7 of 2012. We hope to stay for a while.

This was my first game at the Camp Nou since moving (I went to the Classic in 2010 previously), and I was excited beyond measure. Here is what i wrote along the way - sorry if it's a bit rough around the edges.

It is 55 minutes before the start of the game but I have already entered the stadium. I took the 54 bus from near the Arc de Trionf to get here  - it was so slow, I'll be glad when my bike gets here.

I had two beers, one in Bar Jaguar where I struck up a conversation with a Morrocan. I left there pretty quickly. Too many gringos. Walked down the street to the Staff Bar - much better - Catalan bartender and folks speaking Catalan outside that I could chat with. Ok, I chatted with only one older guy, a soci. Asked him if we had any chance to win the league. He shook his head and said no. But maybe the Champions League and the Copa del Rey. I like his optimism.

40 mins before kickoff. The Camp Nou is starting to fill out, but it is still pretty empty. I'm off for a walk around the stadium.

5 mins before the start - Manel on the PA system.

Kickoff - turning off the iPad.

Half time 2 - 1 to Barca., it just started to sprinkle. Busquets' mistake led to the first goal - he's not been playing well. He did do better after that error at least.  Alexis has been stupendous. Messi's first goal had a touch of luck to it. So did the second.

Final result - FCB 5 - 1 Valencia.  Messi's chip on the keeper though was pure class. Iniesta has also been great. His little chip to set up a near spectacular effort from Fabregas was really amazing.

It was a great game for this Barca fan, a great welcome to Spain.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Liga is dead. Long live the Champions League! Barca and Arsenal

Molt be, al final, but we passed through some really rough moments in that game. This was a really important game for the confidence of the Barca players. Having just lost the league, and I am certain that they have just lost the league, the only competition of any great importance is the Champions League. Bueno, this is not to slight the great tradition of the Copa del Rey, but frankly, it's just not as important. Teams are judged by direct competition with their contemporaries in other leagues.

To reinstate player confidence, the ideal opponent would have to be credible, but not too strong. Bayern Leverkusen fit the bill perfectly. They have a solid reputation as a European club.  Though not in the top tier, they regularly make it into European competition. It is a good thing that we face them now.

Barca showed some frailty in this first leg. Sergio Busquets gave the ball away with far too great frequency; Abidal again was strangely out of character. Against Osasuna, Abidal had a crapper. Granted, so did the entire barca defense. Messi payed a poor first half, but made up for it in spades in the second. Credit should go to Adriano, playing left in the attacking three for the first time I have seen him the, ever. He played reasonably well. Alexis was stupendous.
And l thought the Barca performance was sub-par. Wow. Arsenal played a real stinker tonight against Milan. I am and have been a skeptic for some time of Arsene Wenger, but this performance was truly awful. Risicky should be sold, Arteta just isn't good enough. Henry? Past his prime and out of shape.

I understand that it is difficult to play so far away from home, and that everything is complicated by the opposition. Milan were much better prepared for this game. It looked like the payers had done their homework, and they stymied almost every single Arsenal attack. Good for them. It will be nearly impossible for Arsenal to turn this tie around. See you in the next round, Milan.

**In the near future, I will be heading to games at the Nou Camp. Pictures to be included.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Osasuna 3 - 2 Barcelona? Hem Perdut la Lliga

We were late. I knew we were going to be late, but didn’t know exactly how late we were going to be. It was too late, apparently. By the time I made it back from the Maquinista Mall, somewhere north of downtown, about 9 Metro stops north of the Arc de Triomf, after a marginally productive trip to the Genius Bar, Osasuna was up two to nil. What the fuck? I couldn’t believe what I was reading on the tiny screen in the bar we passed. I asked the guy outside the pub “Es veritat? Dos a cero?!” “Si, si, es veritat.” Madre mia.

We ran the last block and half to the entrada, zipped up the elevator shaft and stormed into the living room.  “Es veritat?! Dos a cero a Osasuna?!”

Thirty minutes had gone by, and so had the Liga.  There was no way Barca was coming back from two down, at Osasuna playing on their potato field of a pitch, in sub-zero temperatures. On top of this, they were playing with a makeshift midfield, saving the premier engine for the Champions League game this coming Tuesday.

Argh. I’m not sure I like this strategy.