Thursday, February 23, 2006

And While We're Discussing European Football, a Subject Critical to all Atlanta Fans...

A few words on the Barca-Chelsea game yesterday:

1. Originally, I was quite annoyed by Jose Mourinho's predictable whining that his team lost because of a bad red card decision. The decision to give Del Horno a straight red was a little harsh, but he did fly at Leo Messi with his studs up after the ball had already passed him, so he put himself in danger of being sent off by doing that. He had also already stuck his studs into Messi without getting a call, so there might have been a "I should have given him a yellow for that, so I'll make up for that sin by issuing a straight red" rationale going on in the head of Terje Hauge. (That rationale was clearly going on after the red card, when he disregarded two clear penalties in the box by Chelsea, one when Geremi blocked a goal-bound shot with his extended arm and one when John Terry trampled Messi in the box going for a free ball and then landed on the ball with his hands for good measure. Somehow, I think that two penalties are a fair trade for a questionable red card, especially since Barca created the pressure that led to the red and the penalty claims by keeping the ball in the Chelsea half for most of the game.) Mourinho's complaint that Messi was acting is a real laugh, since Messi was only doing what players all over the world do, as evidenced by the fact that the offender Del Horno was doing the exact same thing not three meters away, as well as the fact that Messi's Argentinian compatriot Hernan Crespo had spent an extended period of time rolling on the ground earlier in the game, desperately trying for a BAFTA. Likewise, his claim that the game was even at that stage is also a joke, since Barca had 64% possession at that point, they had the only shots on goal, and the aforementioned Crespo had only seen the ball when being flagged for offside. I have no patience for whining from a coach whose club watered their quagmire of a pitch after a rain storm to get an advantage.

All that said, I've come around this morning to the realization that you can't take anything that Mourinho says seriously. Most coaches make calculated statements (or wild tangents) to affect the refereeing in the future (or to motivate their teams,) regardless of the sport. Mourinho can't possibly think that his argument is grounded in fact and Platonic logic, but he's trying to work the ref for the return leg. As I tell my wife when she comes home and tells me of all the insults that were spewed at her by the delusional patients she evaluates, you can't take the ravings of a crazy man seriously.

2. One unique aspect of international football is the divided loyalties that are created. Last night, I was cheering on Leo Messi and cursing Arjen Robben. This summer, when Holland and Argentina meet, I'll be doing the reverse. Last night, I was applauding Rafa Marquez and marveling at the fact that he has more offensive skill than I had previously thought. (His pressure created the first goal, he assisted on the second, and his shot that hit Geremi's arm should have bought Barca a penalty.) This summer, when he plays for Mexico, I'll be jeering him and his faux Banderas ponytail. American sports don't really have an analog to this dimension since we don't really care about international competition. It's nice when our teams win, but no one's going to plan a parade for the Dream Team when they win the gold medal. The closest comparison I can come up with is when a college player that I liked is drafted by a pro team that I hate, or vice versa, but even in that case, there isn't the element of "I'm going to have to go back to liking Messi after this summer."

3. The stream of attacks that Barca launched after they fell behind 1-0 on Motta's dreadful own goal were a thing of beauty. The 20-minute stretch between that goal and Eto'o's winner will go down in my memory as one of my favorite stretches of a sporting event, although I reserve the right to completely disregard that statement if Barca blows their home leg and the insane Mourinho gets to gloat again in a post-game press conference.

4. Phil Ball, in addition to taking a more sympathetic view to the red-card decision, makes the point that last night's game really drove home for those of us who don't get to watch Spanish Primera games on a regular basis: Leo Messi is really, really good. He didn't score last night, nor did he assist on either of Barca's goals, both of which came from the left, Ronaldinho's side, but he ran Asier Del Horno ragged and his pressure created Barca's one-man advantage. He repeatedly got into the box and created chances, similar to Arjen Robben's performance at Euro '04 for Holland back when he wasn't coached by a gaffer who sits his entire midfield behind the ball and then waits for the opposition to commit too many players forward before attacking. (One caveat: Portugal owned Robben in the semifinal.)

5. If Barca and Chelsea can work up so much Morbo in three games over two seasons, imagine what they could do with a seven-game series.


LD said...

In re #2: I'm kind of hopeful that the World Baseball Classic will be a big hit, so the sorts of feelings you mention will become an issue. For example, Red Sox fans who cheer more for David Ortiz than anyone else - will they feel mixed emotions if he knocks the USA out? But then again, I cannot see anyone in the Red Sox nation rooting for the left side of the American infield.

Basketball should have that sort of tension, but I believe the Dream Team was the worst possible thing to have happened in terms of fan interest in international basketball.

It might be an American thing though, kind of a chauvinistic situation. I'd like to think that there are Spurs fans who would root against Manu Ginobili in the Olympics or the World Basketball Championships, but I doubt there are many. I figure there are plenty of Chinese people who are huge Houston Rockets fans but feel no qualms about rooting against Tracy McGrady in international play, but few Houstonians (Houstonites?) who care enough to actively root against Yao Ming, even when playing against the USA.

Michael said...

The WBC is such a fraud that there's no way it'll have an effect on fans in this country. A good chunk of the big-time players have declined to play and the pitchers being on 40-pitch limits is going to make it seem like a meaningless exhibition.

We Americans tend to think of ourselves as exceptional, which is both good and bad. The off-shoot is that we play mostly different sports from the rest of the world. There are occasional spurts of patriotism (the '92 Dream Team and '80 Olympic hockey team come to mind,) but for the most part, we just don't care about international competition and therefore don't really have the divided loyalties. I guess I felt this a little when MJ, whom I hated in the NBA, led the Dream Team or when Mike Richter led the US to victory in the '96 World Cup of hockey, but nothing inspires the intensity of international soccer competitions and thus the intense conflict that a fan of a multi-national club team will feel.

Tim said...

Good points all. I'd get into more detail, but I'm still happy as hell at the Arsenal result! (Maybe Henry fits your split loyalty example a bit though).

Michael said...

He sure will when he's playing for Barca next year. :)