Thursday, September 15, 2005

Champions League Round-Up

Abboud and Grabia will surely mock me for writing about the game which actually deserves the name "football," which I will heretofore refer to as soccer out of deference to North American convention. Once our quarter hemisphere gets over its collective attention deficit disorder and attraction to blurry frenzies of stop and start running amok, we can join the rest of the world in appreciating the beautiful game. In the meantime I will make the case for an obsession with soccer not by denegrating other sports but by articling the loony goings on over the other side of the pond.

Our first stop is the first group round of Champions League play. For the unitiated the Champions League is UEFA's superleague in which the top finishing teams from each nation's league play each other in mid-week throughout the year, enriching themselves with money from worldwide TV rights. Last week two of Englands top managers, Jose Mourinio of Chelsea and Sir Alex Ferguson of Man United, argued that the level of play in the Champions League is of a higher quality than the World Cup. I disagree - nothing rivals the passion motivating national squads and the grind of regular league play can leave top players pretty much exhausted by the time they reach later rounds. Last year's Champions League winners - Liverpool - put all their eggs in the CL basket and failed to make the top four in the Premiership, getting into this year's CL only with the mercy of UEFA, who forced them to compete in the very first round of unseeded play with the minnow champions of federations in Ukraine and Luxembourg. For me the best thing about the CL are the rare match-ups pitting teams with radically different styles against each other, and top players who rarely meet going head to head.

Case in point was Real Madrid's drubbing at the hands of Olympique Lyonnais, 3-0 on Wednesday. God bless TSN for their coverage which gives us 4 CL matches on the weeks when they play. Real Madrid is soccer's answer to the New York Rangers, and proof positive that assembling a squad of superstars - or Galacticos as they call themselves - does not a winning team make. Lyon hammered three goals in the first 31 minutes and Madrid was continually unable to produce as Lyon packed the defense and kept up fast-break offensive pressure. Clearly missing Zinedine Zidane (injured last week in France's hardwon victory against the struggling Irish), David Beckham couldn't produce a throughball for the life of him. Their new Brazillian striker Robhinio looked his young age despite flashes of brilliance. Madrid clearly lacks cohesion and grit and is crisis mode early in the season on the heels of a loss to newly promoted La Liga side Celta Vigo.

A match which I didn't see was the nil-nil draw between another Spanish side, Villareal, and Man United. This match is noteworthy as Man U had been in control until Wayne Rooney showed that his old temper is still intact despite anger management sessions in the off-season. The Rooney that in early Premiership matches could be observed counting backwards from ten to calm himself down apparently decided that mockingly applauding the referee after being yellow-carded would be a similar tonic, but lo and behold it only serves to turn yellow cards into red. Man U hung on for the draw.

Finally I caught the second half of Barcelona and Bundesliga's Werder Bremen. The krauts peppered Barca keeper Victor Valdez but to no avail thanks to goals by Deco and a blistering penalty by Ronaldinho. The buck-toothed wonder is amazing to watch on the ball, and teamed up with Samuel Eto'o makes for the best one-two punch in soccer. Based on last night's play they have to be favored to take it all.


Post a Comment

<< Home