Thursday, October 19, 2006

UEFA: A Big Game!!

Chelsea hosts Barcelona in the Champions league and Abu Shreek is actually watching.

The UEFA Champions League was always special. Back since it was still called the "European Cup of Champion Clubs" (or a variation of that) and precisely when Belgrad’s Red Star shocked the world, it was obvious that this competition features the unrivaled highest level of soccer. Another hard to neglect factor was that these games were the last significant thing that the Jordanian TV had the broadcasting rights to show. So on Wednesday nights we will gather in the attic at (my friend) Ghassan’s house and watch the games over a few rounds. (of Trix of course).

A few weeks back I was flipping through the channels when I found a game between PSV Eindhoven and Liverpool. I always had some respect for the Dutch club since they always manage to find hidden gems and then trade them to bigger clubs. And since it was the Champions league against another legendary team I was watching. UNWATCHABLE CRAP FOR MORE THAN 60 Minutes. Of course the game ended in a splendid 0-0 tie, and what else did one expect given the fact that Liverpool’s starting center forward was that bolding blond Dutch loser who did not touch the ball in four full matches in the world cup.

Nevertheless, given the big names and the history of today’s teams, and in order to refute the constant (Jameedish) accusations of selling out and detachment from all the things that really matter, I will be watching.

(Five minutes until kick off): A quick check of the starting line-ups on the UEFA website in case our local provider continues with the habit of neglecting that “unnecessary” feature. Since the creation of the EU and the Boseman Case these meetings between the big teams are just ALL-STAR matches, except that they are not exhibitions. Of course tonight’s line-ups are loaded. Every starting player is a star on his national team, and don’t get me started on the reserves. I am actually excited about the game. This should be good.

00: Kickoff. And the first thing we notice is the all orange uniforms Barcelona is wearing. I understand that the team has had strong Dutch connections for the past few years (just check their roster during the Luis Van Gal years), but that is just borderline stealing. Maybe they should have played with the cornea-burning florescent yellow away jerseys from last year.

04: I just realized that I have no idea what stage of the cup is this? I think it is group play. Who is in the groups? What is the standings? Which round? Whatever it is still Barcelona vs. Chelsea.

10: Frank Rijkaard gets some face time screaming and waving fron the bench. It really hurts to realize that most of your childhood heroes are working on their second and third coaching gigs.

13: First time Ronaldinho touches the ball tonight. THIRTEEN MINUTES into the game. We are informed that Khalid Boulahrouz (Moroccan origin) is going to be marking him like his shadow, and he will be assisted by another player when Ronaldinho gets the ball. Practically, another way of saying Ronaldinho is working on his 50th straight crappy game where he will not be doing anything significant.

14: First semi chance by anybody. A smart pass by Ronaldinho to the middle and a one touch lob leaves Zambrotta behind his man with a volley, but he completely whiffs on it. “A swing and a miss” shouts our commentator in recurring baseball terminology. On the bright side, it is good to see an Italian at his prime in Spain (the highest profile Italian to ever play for Barcelona, and probably the second that comes to memory after Panucci played for Real Madrid.). We later realize that, thanks to the Juventus garage sale, Fabio Cannavaro is also playing for Madrid.

16: Essien gets past his man on the right side of the midfield and pushes the ball towards Drogba who surprises his marker and accidently passes him after bouncing the ball of his foot (it sure looked like it was by mistake, or maybe he is that good), and he tries to tip the ball in, but the keeper gets out on time. Shevchenko fumbles with the rebound for a second before Marquez tackles him instantly and clears the ball. Shevchenko is making sad faces and whining to the referee while our commentator declares: “You just get the feeling the Shevchenko is past his prime”.

20: Chelsea has a slight control advantage right now, as we hear our announcer declares: “The game is not as open as I though it would be. The game is caged right now”. Of course it is. What did you expect?! The best players in the world to go all out, exchanging shots, and showing off their offensive skills in a game that does not even have that much pressure. Get with the time. This is not 1956. This is the times whenGreece can kill an entire tournament and end up with the cup.

23: A close-range ball exchange by Chelsea players on their left side at midfield concludes with the ball hitting Xavi in the package, which triggers a Barcelona counterstrike. Messi controls the ball inside of the area, but he is trapped at an impossible angle. He fires what could pass as a cross or a shot on goal, cleared by Chelsea third-string keeper to the middle, where Ronaldinho instantly loses it to his shadow Boulahrouz.

30: One of the few plays that reminds you why you watch this game. Five quick one- touch fluid passes (started by Messi and including a heel-pass by Ronaldinho) leaves Xavi inside the area. Xavi fakes out the charging defender (my favourite move in soccer) and chooses to go near side with the left foot. Good idea, closed angle and a save (the shot actually could have been off target to begin with). If only soccer would feature 4-5 such plays per game.

34: Chelsea comes with their own heel-pass play. Lampard sets up Shevchenko who fires way up in the stands.

36: We can vaguely notice that Barcelons’s center forward is a very blonde Iceland dude who has not touched the ball yet. Deco would rather take a long-range weak dribbling shot than pass him the ball. Not a good sign.

39: The scoring updates of the other games indicate that there is a team called Shakhtar currently invlolved and competing for this cup. (A wiki search claims that this team is from Ukraine and plays in the city of Donetsk (is the human tongue capable of pronouncing three consonants in a row?!). I guess we are still at the early stages of this year Champions League.

40: Messi is a very exciting player. He takes a shot, and follows it up with a nice dribble but takes too long and loses it before he could fire.

44: Michael Ballack header of a corner kick is high. Good to hear the name of Germany’s captain and (allegedly) the middle dynamo, even if it is one minute before the end of the half.

45 +: Giovanni van Bronckhorst (who is now going with Gio on the back of his jersey for obvious reasons) gets a seemingly harsh yellow card. He collides with Essien, both players act like they were shot, Essien holding his shoulder, Gio covering his face. Seconds later they are both jogging casually nad setting up for the free kick.

First half report. One nice play. One chance for Chelsea. Two half chances for Barcelona. Best players: Messi and Essien, who were both very active, but nothing extraordinary.

47: Chelsea, off to a quick start, scores the first goal of the game. Drogba, who was in “obvious” pain at the end of the half to the point that his substitute was warming up, scores on a nice play. Practically he makes the best of a fumbled ball that he could not control initially, brilliantly heels it to himself between his legs, away from Marquez and Puyol and rips it in the corner. 1-0 Chelsea.

52: The game pace has significantly picked up, and there is that post-goal sense of urgency in the field. the crowd is cheering, the ball is moving quickly, and you get the impression that there is a chance of a good game happening.

53: A Ronaldinho free kick bounces off the wall towards midfield, where Essien takes it and run the whole length of the field. He is flanked with two charging players: Shevchenko on the right and Carvalho on the left. Three-on-two situation. He fakes a defender, and decides to take the shot himself. It bounces of the other defender into the keepers hands. Shevchenko and Carvalho are just furious.

55: Another big Chelsea chance. Drogba near the sideline, passes the ball between Gio’s legs to Lampard who steps in and instantly sets up Shevechenko behing his defender. A terrible first touch followed by another rip in the stands.

56: Barcelona First sub. Gio out. Iniesta in. One of the nice developments here is the fact that we have one less thing that to hear about from the delusional bragging Barcelona fans. Barcelona has finally added a sponsor to their jerseys. Congratulations. Now you are just like everybody else. On the bright side it is written in golden letters so nobody can read it anyway.

56+: Ooops. The Barcelona jerseys read “Unicef” and they are donating 0.7% of their total revenue to the organization. My bad.

60: The Iceland dude is out. Giuly who was just that close to being on the national French team is in. Barcelona obviously misses Eto’o at the forward position. It is not that important, they just do not have anyone to score goals and divert the defenders' attention away from Ronaldinho. No big deal.

65: Is there a more stupid and irrelevant stat in all of sports than “time of possession” in soccer? Right now we are standing at Barca 56 %: Chelsea 44%. Whatever.

67: An impossible (maybe game changing) save that denies Chelsea the second goal. A high long ball from the deep end of the Chelsea backfield towards Drogba on top of the area, he heads it back to the vacant midfield where Lampard instantly pushed it back to him, where he is now positioned deep in the box. Drogba turns away from Marquez and fires. Brilliant save, and Essien cannot get to the rebound. The mobster-looking Chelsea coach violently kicks air, causing his short un-matching tie look even more ridiculous. (To quote the commentator’s early comments: You would think for someone who is making 10 million euros a year, he can afford to dress a little better”)

71: Barcelona looks outnumbered when they are on the attack. Chelsea is playing with a minimum of seven defenders, and just relting on dangerous counter-attacks. Barcelona look lost right now, and their best player Messi has disappeared this haf.

73: Puyol who had a below average and is partially responsible for the goal is out. Presas is in. A brilliant, game changing substitution that could not have come at a abetter time. Ahhmm, I mean whatever.

76: Shevchenko is out. Robben is in. Are You serious? Robben who was easily one of the five best players of WC’06 is healthy and he is riding the bench?? Are you kidding me? These big clubs are destroying young talent by piling them up and stocking them on the benches at the prime of their careers. There has to be a spending limit or some form of a salary cap in international club soccer.

78: Inside the 15 minutes mark, the game has turned into the ever-exciting, always appreciated format of a slow-moving offense against a just-kick-it-away defense. ZZzzz.

83: Ronaldinho, the master of set kicks, is getting ready to take another close range free kick. (and no he will not be crowded by two defenders when he is kicking). The ball is hit off the wall into the stands. He follows up by taking the resulting corner kick, and it is a high curving kick, that heads straight out of bounds from the other side, without being touched. You have to appreciate such world-class skill levels.

85: Guili is working on the right side close to Chelsea's corner flag and he manages to get a cross to the middle. Messi heads it over the bar. Barcelona’s closest and most dangerous chance in the second half. Honestly pathetic.

88: A surprising shot by Deco between two defenders. Slow roller to the dead middle. Those are the dribblers, with absolutely no chance, that appears on the stat sheets as "shot on targets".

89: Another semi-chance for Chelsea. This time it is a Robben cross after another counter attack. This save may prove the difference for the return match in Barcelona (Oct 31st). Oops, not really. This is not elimination on aggregate scoring, this is another round in 2,000 rounds of group play. On the bright side, it means a lot more games for everybody to enjoy (sleeping through).

91+: Drogba is out. Kalou is in. (Come on kid, it is your chance to show what you can do). Why do they do this? Does it really help waste time? Does Kalou have to take a shower now? Can he add this to his resume as a UEFA Champions league appearance?

92: Final Whistle.

The final result. Two-three nice plays. Four chances for Chelsea. Two half chances for Barcelona. Official stats show that each team has 5 shots on goal, which is definitely generous . Player of the game : Drogba.

After another antagonizing afternoon with the “beautiful game”, here are a few positives that we can take out from the experience:

-The game ended quickly. Anything that takes less than two hours is worth checking out, keeping in mind that staring at a blank wall for two hours could have been as entertaining as this game.

-Lionel Messi is one of the most exciting young stars in the game right now.

-A good check on the status of some of the world stars after the world cup. The conclusion: They all suck. I really do not want to go over the lineups again, but seriously Michael Ballack, John Terry, Ronaldinho, Deco, Zambrotta, where were these guys?

-Give me Reason number 413 to lay off this snooze fest for a while.


jameedish said...

Yes the match was not the best but "I just realized that I have no idea what stage of the cup is this"?...This alone is enough reason not to take a word you typed seriously.

You should be grateful I don't have time to call you and give you a piece of my mind.

Batir said...

What a wonderful description of a match that I did not watch. It is now interesting to see how vital was Messi's last gasp equaliser at Bremen because I am sure than had Barca lost in Bremen they would be in a 75% potential of getting out of the group but they still need to balance that Chelsea defeat and then beat Bremen. For me and as a loyal Liverpool fan since 1977 I completely agree with what you said about Kuyt and the fact that Liverpool never had a decent striker since Owen. They now need to waste 10 chances to score one goal. Crap.

Abu Shreek said...

The fact that I am not aware of which stage of the endless group stages this is, does not affect my ability to recognize a crappy match when I see one. (And really what’s up with completely changing the competition format every single year?).
As I said, I thought a game in early group play without the pressure of facing elimination will at least meet some expectations. Also, notice that I started watching with a positive attitude, was FORCED into the conclusion and was as objective as possible.

I really do not see Barcelona’s qualifying chances much affected by the potential loss to Bremen. The group play is only half way done, and even if they had couple of 1-0 losses on the road, they should be able to beat Bremen at home and qualify if they deserved qualifying.

jameed said...

You apparently felt so strongly about your opinion that you had to post it twice.

That, or you were ecsatic The Cardinals, the best team in the MLB made it to the World Series.

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