Something Great

Arsene Wenger cobbled together starting lineups with spit and duct tape and Denilson and somehow the team dragged its ass over the finish line in third or fourth.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

On the Grind for the Shine

And we gon' get paid.

That's Chelsea. Grind, grind, grind. Bully the bad teams. Stifle the good ones. Churning through the league like a diamond-headed drill. Just look at that team picture. Have you ever seen a more unlikable assembly of athletes? (Juan contributes below) Look at Ashley Cole's tiny head. He's ready to whine about anything and everything. Look at John Terry's half-smirk. Look at Didier Drogba's dead-eyed stare. Anelka isn't even in this picture, but just go ahead and imagine him making this face. I think the only players I would want on my team from a personal standpoint are Essien and MAYBE Joe Cole (Lampard I admire, and he seems to have matured a lot, but I can't get over the fact that he taunted American tourists on 9/11... pretty low). That being said, you can also look at that picture and see men hungry for trophies. They're selfish and unlikeable, yes, but they'll do anything to get their hands on something shiny. And they're wonderful footballers. Anelka looks lively, Drogba is deadly, Lampard and Ballack dominate midfields, Terry and Carvalho have reemerged as the top central pairing of Premier League defending. It's a team of grizzled mercenaries with a big job to do. And they're doing it quite well at the moment.

Here's Juan's take;
Is Chelsea the least likable team in the world? I think so, and it begins with their players:

Anelka - He needs no hyperbole; his nickname is Le Sulk. The Champions League miss makes him unlikable even to Chelsea fans. Just look at his body language, the man could not care less. His celebrations are trite and worse, lame. Really? A bird? Perhaps a butterfly? If I had to convince you that Anelka is boring and genuinely unpleasant then this post will fall on deaf ears and moreover, a crazy person's ears.

Ivanovic - Quite possibly the dirtiest player in the EPL. I would love to give him that title for all of Europe but there has to be some other miserable asshole worse than him in the Scottish Premier League.

Ashley Cole - Um, yeah; his nickname is Cuntly Cole and he has a more awful attitude than Rihanna pre-Chris Brown's attitude adjustment camp. He never stops complaining and is universally reviled. This is too easy.

Petr Cech - Why is he still wearing that absurd soft-helmet? His accident happened years and years ago. I don't know much about him but the helmet is annoying, that can't be denied.

Michael Ballack - Fans of Germany like Ballack but that sort of proves my point. Ballack has earned no fans from his time at Chelsea. Nobody watches the Premier League and says, hey that Michael Ballack, I like how he never smiles, doesn't seem all that committed and berates refs and teammates. He's uptight and if I wanted I could argue that he has horrendously underachieved in England.

John Obi Mikel - Find me a Mikel jersey outside of Nigeria. I'm not being facetious either, nobody owns a Mikel jersey that they didn't buy on clearance or wasn't a gift from UN peacekeepers.

Didier Drogba - Even though you must respect this ruthless and gifted footballer, it is nearly impossible to like him. The slap, his entire saga with Avram Grant and Scolari. He has to sleep in the bed he's made and when you pwn 80% the premier league and half of Europe you'll tend to be hated by opposing fans. He wants it this way though, make no mistake.

Jose Bosingwa - I actually don't mind him all that much but if Carlos Tevez can fix his horrible burn on the side of his face than surely Jose can shave the worst unibrow in football.

Deco - Eh. Undoubtedly boring is this man. I was excited for him at first but now he reminds me of interest rates or another season of Friends. Ricardo Carvalho goes here too.

Michael Essien- I like him. Since his DUI he's been MIA but hey, he's at least likable I suppose.

So if you've been keeping count then we're left with Frank Lampard and John Terry as the most exciting players on Chelsea. They're certainly the face of Chelsea but let's go ahead an eliminate Terry because I can't think of one single center-back that is authentically moving. Center-backs can't be exciting, sorry. So yeah, Frank Lampard, he's uh, thrilling, just breathtaking to watch... uh no.

[Back to you Jim]

For Arsenal, today was a big wake up call, but it's not the end of the world to lose away to Sunderland. That being said, if the Young Guns want any shot at the league this year, they need to win next Sunday. No excuses, no complaints. I also recognize that Chelsea are going to lose key players for the ACN, but they have a very deep squad (and Arsenal will be losing Alex Song, who is rapidly demonstrating that he might be the most irreplaceable player other than Cesc - who else on the team can play that position?). United are still legitimate, but Chelsea are the real threat. Thus, if we don't win, we better start eyeing the Carling, FA, or Champions League.

More on this later. Enjoy your weekend.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Beneath the Outrage

A defense of Henry's legacy, from unlikely sources.

Roy Keane (on Henry's left in the picture), the Ireland and Manchester United legend, on how Ireland need to get over it. (A hilarious interview, quite worth watching, especially the part where a reporter's cell phone goes off.) "Yeah, of course he handled it, but I'd focus on why didn't they clear it... Would I call [Henry] a cheat, no, I wouldn't think so."

Damien Duff, Ireland and Fulham winger (on Henry's right), on how he would have tried the stunt himself were he in that position. "I don't think you can blame Henry... if it was myself or Robbie [Keane] down at the other end, we would have tried it. You just expect the linesman or the referee to see it." (For the record, this is the position I've taken on the matter.) In fact, Robbie tried some trickery of his own during qualifying, and it worked quite well, thank you very much. Just ask Georgia about this little incident. Everyone seemed OK with it at the time...

Arseblogger (an Irishman himself) has been going nuts over the British press treatment of the issue, with defenses of Henry here and here.

Interesting to see how this will play out, especially now that the FAI's request has been denied. I can't lie, I would have loved to see a replay, just for the hell of it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The World Cup, Last Name Ever, First Name The Greatest

"Nobody will sleep tonight in Montevideo... They eat soccer, sleep soccer and they will wait no more."

That's a quote from the one-man crew and regular voice of Uruguayan soccer last night as the worst of all kinds of sporting droughts came to a cathartic end. This is Odysseus finding his way home, and make no mistake, it's been a long journey.

June 11, 2002
Uruguay's most recent world cup game. Ouch. That hurt to type. La Celeste entered the day needing a win over Senegal and a France loss (or win by less goals than our win). I was seventeen years old. Uruguay ended the first half against Senegal down 3-0. We had 45 minutes to get four. Four. Obviously it didn't happen. I hate Wikipedia with a passion but it does a nice job with the World Cups in case you're interested in re-living one of the strangest World Cups in modern history. In retrospect, this was the United State's best chance to make the finals but an even better chance for Uruguay had they emerged 2nd from their group. Sounds crazy but it's true, I could write for hours about that World Cup but I digress.

The bottom-line is that Uruguay choked when they got to the big stage. A 23 year-old Diego Forlan, a healthy Alvaro Recoba, an experienced back four, it all led to an abysmal showing and only until the last 45 minutes of the third game did Uruguay look like the squad everyone had anticipated. It's a shame really because if somehow we're forgiven for our pathetic 225 minutes prior, we would have been hot at the right time.

That's not how the World Cup works though. Heroes are carved into stone and goats sometimes shot when they come home. I can't think of an instance when the best team didn't win it. Sure there are upsets - Korea over Spain - but only seven countries have ever won, and five of them have repeated. That is to say, the great countries inevitably shine and the good countries eventually flame out. Here are the winners; Uruguay, Italy, Italy, Uruguay, Germany, Brasil, Brasil, England, Brasil, Germany, Argentina, Italy, Argentina, Germany, Brasil, France, Brasil, Italy.

The French team that won in '98 is arguably the best team ever assembled and the Brasil '02 team featured 5 players that are ranked in the top 50 players ever. The '86 Argentina squad had the best player ever to play the game who took the torch from the '70 Brasil team that had Pele. Uruguay won when it hosted in 1930, Italy when it hosted after that, England when it hosted after that, and Argentina when it hosted after that.

It's why Brasil will win the World Cup in 2014 (book it) and we'll never see the United States win one in our lifetime. And they are not the only ones on the list.

November 16, 2005

Uruguay loses to the Socceroos, coached by Guus Hiddink, by way of penalty shoot-out after splitting the home and home, 1-0 both games. I didn't watch the match, I watched only a few qualifying games. I, like just about every Uruguayan, assumed we'd be in.

Their absence didn't register with me until the World Cup had begun and my squad was nowhere to be seen. It felt like I had left the gate open and my dog had gotten out. You just assume you'll find the dog. Well, not this time. This time the dog is somewhere in Australia having been dismembered like a third trimester abortion.

I watched every game of the 2006 WC, every minute in fact except for 45 - the 2nd half of the Trinidad vs Sweden game when I actually fell asleep it was so boring. It changed my sports life. I started watching the English Premier League, then the Serie A, then La Liga. I even co-started a soccer blog*. I can tell you where Arsene Wenger was born, what David Trezeguet's mother looks like, and what Luca Toni's hand-rotation-near-side-of-head goal celebration means. The obsession had firmly cemented itself.

October 13, 2007
World Cup Qualfying for 2010, THREE years from now begins. What a terrible idea. Two and half, but still. Uruguay opens the campaign at home against Bolivia. I am watching the game, no joke, on a three inch by four inch online feed with a picture that looks something like this. Louis Suarez opens the onslaught and Carlos Bueno caps off a boisterous, fun, dick-shaking display of soccer, 5-0. Three days later we lose a horrendous and uninspiring game to Paraguay, 1-0. I probably should have gotten out then, while I still could.

November 21, 2007
It's gut-check time as Uruguay travels to Brasil. I wrote about it in a previous post. Here's the goal I'm referring to since youtube sucks now. If you don't feel like re-living all the hurt, in summary, we lost.

March 28, 2009
After the Brasil fiasco we earn 6 points in 6 games, including, The Point. We're at home against Paraguay, they're top of the table, and qualification is becoming a serious doubt. We win in dominating fashion, 2-0, but that match turns out to be just an up-draft in the free-fall we're in.

September 5, 2009
Three more games pass by and only 2 points come from them. If you're keeping track at home that's 14 points in 11 games. That's not gonna do it. It just isn't. The free-fall continues and the only positive spin available for the loss at Peru is that Uruguay finally hits the ground. To be fair the loss against last-place Peru was coming from fifty miles away. I intentionally didn't watch this game it was so obvious. I actually told my parents and family that I wasn't going to watch because I knew how angry it would make me. Best decision I ever made. 14 points in 12 games.

There are three games left and mathematically Uruguay cannot lose any of them.

September 9, 2009
Uruguay vs. Colombia. El Pais, Uruguay's CNN, writes a story essentially outlining how the Uruguayan players are so nervous they can't imagine performing well. Quotes from the players translate without ambiguity, "I'm so F*&^ING NERVOUS!" Emails fly back and forth between family members and the consensus is that we need a goal quick, because if it's 0-0 at halftime we'll crumble under the pressure. Sure enough, Luis Suarez scores 6 minutes in. It's one of those goals that's so important but gets lost in the box score and disappears. But don't be fooled, it's as important as any in the next 5 games. Uruguay 3, Colombia 1.

October 10, 2009
Uruguay at Ecuador. Mathematically we must win. You already know how this story ends but I am obligated to mention the through-ball that stopped time. Here it is, skip to the 3:45 mark. By the way, the other person screaming, "VAMOS! VAMOS! (4:02)" is not an announcer, it's just some guy in the booth.

Here's the translation, starting at 4:06, I would put it in all caps to emphasize but just assume it's all caps.

It's nowornever! Nowornever! Noworneverrrrrrrrrrrrr. Penalty!! Penalty!! Penalty at the death. Penalty at the death! It's red for the keeper! (shown yellow) To me it should be red for the keeper but that doesn't matter. I WANT TO KILL MYSELF! Penalty for Uruguay!! I need to calm down first!! 47th minute and 20 seconds! ... Here is the replay! (4:26)

Let's end on that.

*The 2006 WC didn't always lead to good things

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

South Africa to Make Room for Uruguay

Poor Ireland, Poor Me

Oh, Thierry. You are my favorite. So elegant, so fluid, so effortless. The game looks so easy when you play it. And you exude class. On the pitch, a leader and a player's player. And off the pitch, a spokesman for playing the game the right way, a figurehead in the fight against racism, clearly intelligent and thoughtful. So French, really, but in the good way: handsome, stylish, a cavalier attitude. Again, just plain classy. That is, of course, until now.

The scoreline says that Ireland lost this tie on aggregate, but I feel, quite selfishly, like the biggest loser here. My favorite soccer player of all time is the sports villain du jour, and Raymond Domenech remains gainfully employed (still, my God!). It's true that Ireland did themselves proud with that performance (they must be exhausted) and yet its impressiveness will be overstated and grow in memory thanks to Henry's Tony Parker imitation. That's how things work. The narrative is clear here, and soon all we remember are the headlines. The Irish were playing so well! (And yet they spurned their chances...) The French were folding! (But in extra time, they had what is 95% of the time called a penalty ignored...) AND THEN! Enter the villain. The ball was handled, the goal was scored, and the brave Irish wrongfully, horribly, sent home with nothing to show for their efforts. What's inside the parentheses will be long forgotten.

I am going to ramble now. Is it too much to ask that a player be completely honest in this situation? It may be. I don't know. Let's say that in the heat of the moment, Henry plays that ball with his hand and crosses it for Gallas to score. The French have been mostly outplayed throughout the game. They're going to be left out of THE WORLD F***ING CUP if they lose. How much flak from his countrymen does he take if he immediately runs over to the ref, holding his hand in the air, pointing to Gallas and says "disallow the goal, I handled the ball," and then France goes on to lose!? I honestly don't know. Of course, it's better if he never handles it at all, but as damning as the video evidence may be, nobody knows what's in his head. Is it better to be respected by the footballing community at large or loved, albeit secretly, by one's country? Because while the French fans and the French press can now play the role of the gracious, empathetic winner ("we always wanted to advance, but not like that - how shameful of Henry!"), you can bet they're much happier with this outcome than if the headlines were proclaiming one of the great soccer upsets in recent years. They're not the ones who will be waiting four more long years before a chance to compete at perhaps the world's greatest sporting event. I know that in a perfect world, Henry would have immediately run to the ref and told him to disallow the goal. And regardless of whether the ref listened, he would never have celebrated the way he did. We don't live in that world.

And now it's been admitted by the man himself. (Henry is far too smart to deny - he knows the camera sees everything.) But what does UEFA do about it? What does FIFA do? Hopefully, this gets video replay installed in these high-stakes matches and Platini's head out of his own glorious buttocks.

Oh, Thierry. All of this doesn't change the fact that for a number of years, you were the world's best pure goalscorer. And that you will be remembered as one of the all-time greats for both club and country. What it does mean, however, is that like Maradona, like Zidane, you get a big black stain on your record. Even Wenger couldn't bring himself to say it was you. He said "someone's hand" was responsible. If only it were just "someone." But now, when I say your name the listener (assuming he cares at all about soccer) will think two things: 1) what a player he is/was, and 2) what an cheat/fool/hothead (all three for Maradona, plus cokehead). That second part makes me sad. When I wear the jersey that has your name on it, will random people (some not even Arsenal supporters) still give me smiles and a thumbs up? I don't know if I even want them to. Alas, another hero lost...