Thursday, May 31, 2007

Finally a Fun Friendly?

Just a reminder that that England and Brazil play in a friendly tomorrow at the New Wembly stadium in London. There’s a lot of hype surrounding the game, what with Beckham’s return, Hargreaves’s first appearance since becoming a Red Devil, and the Samba boys at the new home of football. Hopefully, regardless of the hype, it will be a fun game, despite the fact that it is a friendly, and thus it could potentially be ninety minutes of guys kicking the ball around the field. There is hope, however, as England really should be playing to win in spite of the essential meaninglessness of the game. If England goes down early to Brazil, expect the boo-birds to come out in force calling for Steve McClaren’s head.

I also wanted to add to the American readers that the game will be shown on Fox Soccer Channel, and not Sentana, so more soccer viewers will be able to see it. The game will be shown live at 3PM, EST. Enjoy.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Fun in Foxboro

This weekend my buddy and I exercised our season tickets to catch a double-header at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. First we saw a friendly between Ireland and Bolivia and chased it with the Kansas City Wizards vs. New England Revolution.

We had high hopes for the first match but, as with many friendlies, we were left disappointed. We saw a few minutes of good football and about eighty minutes of 22 guys kicking it around. We saw Kevin Doyle, a guy we’ve been watching with Reading all season, so that was fun; but otherwise it was poor game.

The nightcap was fantastic. A classic. Kansas City won 4-3 because Eddie Johnson was the best player (by far) on the field and had a sweet hat-trick. The Revs played with real guts, however, and kept coming back for more. We believed they were close to tying the match when time ran out. They are a fun team and their success this season has been no fluke.

However, the game will also be memorable for other reasons. During the match we saw Khano Smith (who has been fun to watch this season) launch what is already being called by some on the internet the “worst free kick of all time.” In all honesty, it was pretty bad. In the clip from youtube attached below, you can see the kick along with the nutty coach Steve Nicol appropriately took when he saw what his winger produced. If you look closely you can also see my buddy and I watching things from the second row, or at least two colored blobs that are located approximately where we were during the match.

Two to Read

Here are two fun columns on the genial wackiness happening in Spain. Unfortunately, we are taking a little break from la Liga this weekend for some internationals, but this should whet your appetites until things start again in a few weeks. The first article is a nice piece on Real and Beckham by SI’s Grant Whal, while the second is Phil Ball’s Spanish weekend round-up which I provide every week. (A little late this week, due to the US holiday Memorial Day.) I’ll be back with more later.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Not a Bad Day for David Beckham…

…although, honestly, he probably doesn’t have all that many to begin with, what with the millions of dollars and the playing football for a living and all. Still, this one was pretty good. First, he was the central part of his club, Real Madrid, winning today, keeping them in first place in la Liga. He did it by setting up two goals and generally commanding things from midfield. If you watched the match carefully you would note that he missed a hat-trick by about two feet, although he actually didn’t score at all; he banged a free kick off the post and rolled two other shots that passes within a foot of the outside post. So, all-in-all, it was a good game. Barca won as well today to keep pace, although Ronaldinho was given first dibs on the soap because of a red card and thus will not be playing next week. Just like this week (and the last few weeks) next weekend looks to be another great one in la Liga.

David Beckham was also called back up to the English national team today, a band of merry men he used to captain. Since Steve McClaren’s men presently could not beat the England U-13 girls squad, the coach thought it might be a good idea to bring back a guy who can do crazy things like complete short passes and, you know, cross the ball once in a while. Becks will get a shot during next week’s friendly against Brazil (meaningless but hopefully two tons of fun) and also their Euro 2008 qualifier versus Estonia. Better win that one, boys, or the crazy English press will REALLY get mad. And let’s all admit that it’s good to see Beckham back in the fold. I’m looking forward to getting him here in the states this summer.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Weekend Matches: May 26-27

Ugh. The end of the European Leagues is sad: no more Premiership, no more (meaningful) Series A, no more Cup runs and especially no more Champions League. I’m getting a little chocked up. Thank God for la Liga. Everything is still tight and still going strong. Real Madrid and Barca play on Saturday; Sevilla tries to keep up on Sunday.

Stateside, I have a fun slate of games to go to Saturday afternoon. The Irish national team takes on Bolivia at Foxboro, Massachusetts’ Gillette Stadium, followed by the New England Revolution taking on the Kansas City Wizards. I will report back. In the meantime, keep an eye on your local listings for MLS games televised near you.


10:00am Celtic vs Dunfermline Athletic Setanta

12:00pm Valencia vs Villarreal GolTv

2:00pm Real Madrid vs Dep. La Coruna GolTv

4:00pm Barcelona vs Getafe GolTv


9:00am Reggina vs Milan GolTv

3:00pm Sevilla vs Zaragoza GolTv

American Ownership of Prem Clubs

Below find a link to an article in the Boston Globe (?!?) about Americans buying English football teams, and whether it is good for the English game. It is rare that an American paper has a serious article about football (never mind that it is my hometown rag) so I wanted to link to it. Nothing ground-breaking here for the serious fan, but it could serve as a good primer for someone wondering why the same guy who owns the Tampa Bay Buccaneers also owns Manchester United.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Champions Thoughts

President Bill Clinton (the man who will be remembered as the guy who served as President right before the Worst President in U.S. History took over) once said "Even a pig finds shit sometimes." He said it after scoring a rare birdie on the golf course and was suggesting that even the meek get their day in the sun once in a while.

The same thought could apply to me: after humiliating myself most of the year with God-awful predictions, I correctly called the Champions League final yesterday being a 2-1 victory for Milan. It's nice to be right once in a while. I will now go back to being consistently wrong.

One could ALMOST apply the phrase to Milan as well; they played like pigs in the first half but came into the break leading 1-0. They probably were the superior team in the second, and deserved the win. Liverpool played well (except for their two wingers) but they played very defensively, even after going down 1-0. Its hard not to think the better team won.

It has been, as many have observed, a funny season for Milan and for Italy in general; I have covered many of the ups-and-downs in this space and won't start rehashing things yet again, but it is instructive how much a football season in Italy can reflect the vicissitudes of real life. Anyway, congrats to Milan, and kudos to UEFA for putting on a tournament that I, at least, really enjoyed this year.

On another note, with the end of UEFA Champion's League, it means the silly season of rumors and transfers can get underway. Much more on this as the summer progresses, but here is a fun column by ESPN's Jon Carter on potential transfers in the premiership.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Champions Final

I’m a bit busier that I expected today, so I am just throwing out a quick prediction for tomorrow’s big, big game.

Milan 2, Liverpool 1.

Really just a guess. First, I don’t think the 2005 final is going to have much to do with it; in spite of the media hype it was two years ago and there is tons of turnover every year at the big clubs. Essentially I like Milan because I think they are a little stronger on attack and do a better job of holding onto the ball. I also think that Kaka will be the best player on the pitch and in this year’s Champions League is playing as well as he ever has in his life. I like the Liverpool team but think their magical run is coming to an end, in spite of the wonderful work done by Rafa and the coaching staff.

All bets are off, however, if Dida has one of his stinkers. There isn’t a world-class goalie around who can look worse (on his off days) than Dida. If that’s the case than 3-2 Liverpool. Bold predictions, isn’t it?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Weekend in Spain before Vacationing in Athens

Sunday was a fun day to plunk in front of the television and watch Spanish football. Eleven AM (EST) had Sevilla’s come-from-behind victory, followed by Real Madrid’s strange (but phenomenal) win and finally Barcelona’s destruction of Athletico Madrid in the late game. Real Madrid stays in front but level with Barca on points with Sevilla (and others) only a hairsbreadth behind.

Readers know I am a Real fan, so that is the game I watched the closest. The turnaround the team has produced in the last two months has been quite remarkable; it got to the point in yesterday’s game when, after Recreativo tied the match with less than four minutes to play, I honestly believed Real would come back to win it. This is from a team that, when I watched them mid-winter, would genuinely surprise me when they scored a goal.

I’ve been though a lot with Real in their up-and-down year. At one point, after a particularly embarrassing loss, I tried a new gimmick of giving each of the players a “grade” as a way of expressing my frustration with the team. (See the January 7 entry of the blog.) I remember that game clearly but it seems a long time ago now. The feelings of rage and frustration while watching Real play have been replaced by a very hopeful optimism.

Regardless, we are essentially where were last week. Real, Barca, and Sevilla all still have a perfectly good shot at the title. After looking poor for weeks, Barca manhandled Athletico, just a few days after Xavi essentially told the media that the Barca players have stopped trying. What we are left with, then, is another fun weekend coming up and a wide-open race.

Below please find the link to Phil Ball’s latest column, where he discusses conspiracy theories and the sordid underbelly of la Liga. Yikes.

Finally, I will be posting predictions tomorrow for the Champions League final. Mostly I am hoping for a good game. There have been a few “big games” this year that haven’t really lived up to the hype, and I’m hoping we have a classic.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

FA Cup Reaction

Yesterday’s FA Cup final held at the new Wembly Stadium in London was hardly a classic, but it was a good example of why Chelsea has been such a successful team these past three years and also why Jose Mourinho is such a good coach.

I would argue that for the past year Manchester United has looked liked the stronger team. They attacked more, and when healthy had a very convincing defense. Emotionally, (and personally) they won me over during their second leg 7-1 thrashing of Roma in the Champions League, when they attacked and attacked with unrelenting flair and pace. I found myself rooting hard for them the rest of the season, almost as hard as I rooted against Chelsea, a team that seemed to win every match in a negative fashion, usually 1-0.

Does that score sound familiar? They ground another one out yesterday, thanks to a fine Didier Drogba goal in the 116th minute of tense extra-time. The game was not particularly exciting, and many of the stars (Christiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs, Frank Lampard, etc.) did not play very well. In what was probably the least impressive piece of prognostication ever uttered, I commented to my friend that Drogba would be dangerous if he got in the box with the ball, which is about as sharp as commenting that Diego Maradona was a pretty good footballer. Anyway, Drogba proved me right, and Chelsea came away with an uninspiring win.

The point is, I guess, that Chelsea did win. It’s their second trophy of the season in a year that has been labeled a “down” season and one in which the manager’s job is apparently in jeopardy. Look: if football was judged solely on aesthetics, Mourinho should be fired, and the team should be broken up. But Chelsea wins, even when they are going through a tough time, and you have to admire that, no matter how big the payroll and not matter how negative the football. Congrats to them.

All the same, I will be avoiding their games like the plague until they start playing a little bit more pleasurable soccer. But I will admire them from a distance.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Weekend Matches: May 19-20

I would like to begin today with a quick note about an invention called the “DVR” or Digital Video Recorder. I have commented to friends that said device has literally “changed my life” since it allows me to watch anything I want, when I want to watch it, without commercial interruption. This is a great thing especially for football fans, since many of the best matches come on the weekends when we should be mowing the lawn or taking our wives shopping or some such thing. (I presume, nay hope, that I might have one or two female readers; please excuse the sexism of the previous sentence.) Anyway, a DVR is great, since I can tape the games of a Saturday afternoon and watch them at my leisure, which is usually midnight on Sunday since I pretty much don’t have leisure time. However, there is a flaw in the DVR system. When you record a show, you essentially record a block of airtime on a channel; this is a system that works well for regularly scheduled programs that run at set schedules. It actually also works well for soccer, which rarely has “overtime” as American sports fans understand it. The exception, of course, are cup finals.

Which is what we had Wednesday with the UEFA Cup final held in Glasgow. Sevilla and Espanyol kicked off at 2:30 (EST) but I turned on my recording around 4. I saw an exciting game and the recording ran all to way to Kanute’s extra-time goal 105 minutes in. My recording then ended (ARRGGGHHH!) but I presumed Sevilla won. Of course I missed Espanyol’s classic equalizer and Sevilla’s eventually win in the shootout. The lesson: live by the DVR, but die by it as well.

This weekend has a great slate of games. If you are a fan of Spanish football, you get to see three in a row on Sunday that could determine the fate of the league. Either block off five hours mid-Sunday, or set your DVRs, and hope for no extra time.

I have also heard rumors that there is to be some sort of important football match in England this weekend. I shall look into and report back to my readers if I discover something significant.


10:00am FA Cup Final - Chelsea vs Manchester United PPV

4:00pm Milan vs Udinese GolTv

8:30pm Huston Dynamo vs New England Revolution FSC


9:00am Atalanta vs Inter GolTv

9:00am Cagliari vs Roma FSC

11:00am Deportivo La coruna vs Sevilla GolTv

1:00pm Recreativo vs Real Madrid GolTv

3:00pm Atletico Madrid vs Barcelona GolTv

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The End is Coming!!!

With a little distance I am becoming calmer and more rational about Sheffield United going down. This too shall pass. But now some of the news agencies are starting to come up with stories suggesting just how serious this legal challenge might be to West Ham not having points deducted for their fling with their Argentines. And on top of all that, it looks as if Sepp Blatter and his cronies at FIFA also want to get involved; so maybe we haven’t seen the last of crazy ole’ Neil Warnock quite yet. See related article below.

Also, in my attempt to look on the bright side of life, I’ve had time to reflect on the awesomeness of Real Madrid over the past few weeks. Thank goodness we have a few weeks left of la Liga so I can continue to be entertained. It will be a great race. The always excellent Phil Ball’s weekly column, by the way, can be found here.

The only sad part of all this is my slowly dawning realization that the European season is coming to an end. Take a look at the weekend schedule for soccer on the great website you will see that some channels, like FSC, are already switching over to re-runs. It’s like waking up as a kid on December 26 and realizing there are 364 days ‘till Christmas…

Monday, May 14, 2007

On a Sad Note…

It was a tough weekend for the Football Fan-atic. While I was pleased that Real Madrid won in a thriller to take over a piece of first place in la Liga (something I never would have dreamed of three months ago) my heart was mostly with Sheffield United, who finished their season in 18th place and thus will be relegated out of the Premiership next season.

Sheffield’s problems were fairly obvious to anyone who watched their games, or even to those who just read the box scores: the Blades could not score enough goals. Yesterday, when their lives depended on it, at home, they could only score one against a poor Wigan team. (Who, as a result, are staying up.) They went through key stretches of the season where they didn’t score for games on end.

Some conspiracy theorists (I’m looking at you, Neil Warnock) will claim that Sheffield often got the short end of the stick, and they are probably right. Their first game of the season was marked by a sketchy penalty given to Stephen Gerrard and they ended their campaign wondering aloud if West Ham should have been docked points for irregularities regarding the signing of their Argentine wonder-boys. The later controversy will perhaps lead to court battles, and it is within the realm of possibility that Sheff may yet stay in the Premiership if West Ham ends up relegated (as a result of points being docked) sometime over the summer.

However, I doubt it. Warnock himself has said this will all probably be swept under the rug, largely because the big clubs have “better lawyers.” At the end of the day, however, Sheffield still had a chance to stay up, and they couldn’t get the job done. Shame.

I will miss those guys. I will miss Warnock and Rob Hulse and Paddy Kenney and especially Phil Jagielka, my favorite player on the squad. Some of them will wind up on premier teams next season, and some will stay with the club and try to come back up. Regardless, guys, thanks for the fun this season. I enjoyed it. Since I live in the states, I won’t be seeing much of you next year (we don’t get much Championship football here in the U.S.A.) but I’ll be checking the scores closely every week.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

I'm sure it's double today...

Here is a tidbit from the website of the cool british magazine FourFourTwo:

Always on my mind?A recent poll of 2,000 people by Virgin money has shown that the average football fan thinks about the beautiful game a staggering 80 times a day. The research which some might call pointless has suggested fans think about their club once every 12 minutes, while Premiership strugglers Sheffield United play on their fans minds the most, the average Blade thinks about their team 110 times a day.

I have no idea if this is true, but I'm sure it is today as the Blades fight for their lives in the Premiership tommorow. Good luck, boys. We're all thinking of you 110 times a day...

Friday, May 11, 2007

Weekend Matches: May 12-13

It really doesn’t matter what games they show on television this weekend: nothing televised will match the intensity and drama of yesterday’s Getafe-Barcelona match, where Getafe came back from being down 5-2 in the first leg to win the second leg at home 4-0. Getafe absolutely DISMANTLED Barca. GolTV announcer Lindsey Dean (he’s the non-crazy one on GolTV, if you are confused) kept saying Getafe could have won 7 or 8 to nil, and unlike when most people say that, he was right. It was almost as bad (but not quite) as the 7-1 drubbing Manchester United put on Roma a few weeks ago, but more dramatic because of the deficit from the first leg.

There are, however, some good game on this weekend. Things should get a little clearer in Germany and Spain, and while the Premiership is wrapped up, there are some interesting dogfights at the bottom of the table. If you enjoy reading this column then throw me a bone and say a prayer for Sheffield United this weekend, who are in a relegation battle with Wigan. Also, check your local listings for MLS games in your neck of the woods. Have a good weekend!


9:30am Borussia Dortmund vs Schalke 04 GolTv

2:00pm Real Madrid vs Espanyol GolTv

3:30pm Toronto FC vs Chicago FSC

4:00pm Sevilla vs Recreativo GolTv


9:00am Inter vs Lazio GolTv

10:00am Manchester United vs West Ham United FSC

10:00am Sheffield United vs Wigan Athletic Setanta Xtra

4:30pm Catania vs AC Milan FSC

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Back in the Footballing World

After a little bit of a break from the football Fan-atic page (but not from football) I’m back and hope to return to the old days of two months ago of posting two or three times a week about the world of football and the experience of being an American fan. Once again, I apologize for the break I took; I was swamped with “real life” work and followed that with a very pleasant vacation to the Caribbean and a hotel which (thankfully) had ESPN2, which allowed me to see both Champions League semi-finals last week. Today I just wanted to do a few quick hits on what’s been going on while I’ve been on my little break.

  • First the Champions League. I’m looking forward to the final, and enjoy watching both teams. I don’t have much of a rooting interest (Yoann Gourcuff is probably my favorite current player, but he won’t play in the final [along with the roly-poly but beloved Ronaldo, who is cup-tied] and otherwise I am fairly neutral about Milan. I feel the same way about Liverpool, although I do have a soft spot in my heart for that “gangly bastard” Peter Crouch). So anyway, I’m just hoping for a good game.
  • I actually have strong feelings about the semi-final losers. Over the past few weeks I have become more and more disgusted by the boring football Chelsea plays, which culminated in my wasting two hours watching them lose to Liverpool in that dreadful semi-final while I could have been sitting on the beach with my wife. They play the most dreadful, negative, boring football I have ever seen. I have totally turned on them. It’s no fun to watch a team go up by one then defend for 70 minutes. Curiously, I like a lot of guys on the Chelsea team (including Michael Essien and Michael Ballack) but I just hate the club. I’m glad they’re losing the pot this year.
  • Alternatively, I have sort of fallen in love with Manchester United over the past few weeks, in spite of the loss to Milan. Their two headed match against Roma was a joy to watch; the second game (in England) was particularly fun, a 7-1 romp in which the Red Devils attacked straight on for 90 minutes. I know what a lot of people think about Manchester, that they are the New York Yankees of football and all that. But if they keep playing this attacking football next year, they may have won me over. And good for them to have won the Premiership; they were the best club this year and deserved it.
  • Staying on the Premiership, Sunday will be a big day, as I will discover if my club, Sheffield United, is staying up. I hope they will and think they will, but we shall see. I would like to have crazy ole’ Neil Warnock up with the big boys for another year; just imagine who he could be threaten to sue at this time next year? Anyway, I will be sweating as I have breakfast with Mom, celebrating Mother’s Day.
  • In Spain, where they have the best race of the season, my boys in white (who I wrote off three months ago, in one column saying they wouldn’t even get a Champions spot) are now threatening Barca for the league title. They’ve played great and the whole team seems to have come together at once, and no small part of it has been the re-emergence of David Beckham, who we all get to see in the states in a few months. I do hope David and the boys get a Liga title, as they deserve it after everything that has gone on this year. It should be a hell of a last month.
  • Even my hometown team, the New England Revolution, are playing really well. My seats at the home end corner (which I share with a good buddy) are sweet, and we have been able to watch a fun team so far this season. I am looking for the Revs to sustain me until Europe gets started again in August, so they need to keep the wins coming.
  • I have read lots more football books recently and hope to have some more reviews up soon.

Okay, that’s all for now. I should be back tomorrow with a weekend football preview.