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Amazing Goal or Poor Goalkeeping?

So Chelsea thumped Arsenal 3-0 yesterday. One of the goals was an own goal and Arsenal is playing without Van Persie. Still, I expected a better showing from Arsenal. I thought they actually had a chance to beat Chelsea and I considered them one of the stronger teams in the EPL this year. Regardless, I still can't decide if the goal by Drogba at the end of the game was a brilliant shot or poor goalkeeping by Manuel Almunia.

The shot is impressive. Drogba perfectly places it into the side netting. But he also clearly fools the goalie which makes me wonder if the goalie should have blocked it. You can see the goalie try and cheat to his right as he expects Drogba to try and bend it over the wall. As a goalie, if someone bends it over the wall, you aren't expected to block it. If you do, your team is happy and you probably increased your paycheck. However, it's not expected. What is expected is for you to cover your half of the goal, which he doesn't do here. Then again, maybe it doesn't matter if he got caught cheating because maybe no keeper could have saved it anyways. But Drogba does also hit it with the inside of his foot. I know it's still a hard shot, but I feel like he could have saved it since it wasn't a rocket that Drogba hit with his laces.

Anyways, you can tell I can't figure it out. You be the judge. What do you think? Is Drogba amazing, or is the goalie a goat?

El Clasico: Barcelona 1 - Real Madrid 0.

El Clasico was, well, a classic. Brilliant in my opinion. I'm not quite sure how to recap the game, so here are my observations/impressions after watching the game:

1. I'm not a soccer guru by any means, but Real Madrid and Barcelona along with Chelsea have to be considered the best clubs in the world right now, at least if they are playing like they did on Sunday. If it's any other team, besides maybe Chelsea, Real Madrid wins that game on Sunday. At the same time, if it's any other opponent, Barcelona wins 4-0. I haven't watched every game this year with these two clubs, but I've watched enough to know that both teams were playing some of their best football.

2. Goal(s). If there was a downside to the game, it was that there was only one goal scored. For soccer fans, one goal is sufficient, especially in Sunday's game where the quality of play and the stakes were so high. However, a common complaint from casual and non-soccer fans is that there is a lack of scoring in soccer. Because Sunday's game had everything else: two storied teams, two rivals, Barcelona celebrating their 110 year anniversary, first place on the line, the current reigning club champion trying to repeat and the other team using all of it's massive spending power to dethrone the club, brilliant play, world class players, etc. the only thing that could have helped the game would have been a couple more goals.

With that said, the goal from "the Nose" was superb. One of those goals where you don't realize right away that it's a world class goal because the player makes it look easy. But to volley that ball into the side of the net from a cross over your head 25 yards away, is not easy. Casillas was shifting over so Ibrahimovic had only about a 3 foot window on the near post for the shot. Not every player makes that shot, few make it look so easy.

3. The Barcelona midfield. I know it's a broken record at this point to praise the Barcelona midfield, but it's just so hard not to do after watching a Barcelona game. The manner in which they control the tempo of the game and create opportunities is just amazing. Midway through the second half Barcelona lost a man because of a red card. You would have never noticed they finished the game with only 10 men, and that isn't because Real played poorly. It's because Barcelona's midfield was still able to control the ball and keep possession as if they had 11 men. If Barcelona wins La Liga again this year and wins the Champions League again and Spain goes on to win the World Cup Iniesta and Xavi will go down with Magic/Kareem, Lennon/McCartney, Mario/Luigi, and Lindsey Lohan/alcohol as one of the greatest duos of all time.

4. Real Madrid is much improved. They can't expect to have team chemistry overnight, at least not like Xavi and Iniesta seem to have- look at them frolicking together, giving piggy-back rides to each other. They're tight. But it takes time to really have a rhythm and know the other players on the field. Although they didn't win, Real can actually compete with Barcelona this year. Last year they lost 2-0 at Barcelona and then were embarrassed and lost 6-2 at home. In both games it was evident that they were playing against a team that was flat out on another level. It will still take a brilliant effort to beat Barcelona when Barcelona is playing at the top of their game, but Real could actually do it. Kaka is finally showing flashes of brilliance and showing why he is considered one of the best midfielders and set up men in the game (The first set up in the clip below is a beauty. Ronaldo can't be missing those types of chances with the paycheck he gets. Messi also uncharacteristically misses later on as well - not set up by Kaka though. Kaka's set up around the 1:30 mark in the clip below is also incredible. I still don't know how he keeps the ball). You also can't undervalue the importance and addition of Xabi Alonso and Lass Diarra. They did wonders for wreaking havoc on Barcelona's midfield. They made it very difficult to Barcelona to establish their rhythm and wouldn't let Barcelona control the ball for too long. A lot of clean, hard fouls, forcing Barcelona to make bad passes and keeping possession when they won the ball. Despite losing, Real proved that they can actually play with and even beat Barcelona, something they couldn't do last year.

5. The next Clasico. I know it's early and the next Clasico isn't until April. But at the end of the game, I couldn't help but think about how much will be on the line in April. Barcelona has yet to lose in La Liga. At most they might lose one or two between now and then. Sevilla, Valencia and Deportivo de la Coruna are playing well this year and are within striking distance of Real and Barcelona; but if Real continues to play like they did on Sunday, there is no reason to believe that they won't be in second come April. I don't see any other teams being able to overtake Real and Barcelona. During the game they mentioned that in the past ten years, Barcelona has had 1 coaching change. Real has had 9. Barcelona develops their players, Real broke two world transfer fees to buy two players this summer. I don't think anyone favors Real's business model over Barcelona's. But can Real Madrid buy a championship? Barring any sort of catastrophes or team blow ups (which is very possible with Real's history and all the egos) we should find out in April. It will all be on the line. Hasta entonces.

Barcelona 2 - Inter Milan 0: And It Wasn't Even Close

Barcelona completely dominated Inter Milan in their Champions League game yesterday. The stats for the game don’t really do justice in demonstrating that Inter Milan really wasn’t ever in the game and never really threatened. Unfortunately I didn't do an in depth break-down like Brig to really portray how much Barcelona dominated. It’s also hard with a game like this because the teams have two completely different styles. Barcelona plays for possession. They have such a strong midfield and they will pass the ball back in forth for 10 minutes without moving forward in order to wait for the perfect opportunity to attack. The highlights below fail to show some of the brilliant passing and opportunities that Iniesta and Xavi were creating throughout the night. Although the second goal is pure Barcelona and soccer brilliance. The worst part about the goal is actually the finish. It’s not a bad finish by any means, but the set up is pure gold.

Inter Milan on the other hand plays more of the Italian style where they are defensive minded and play for the counter attack or fastbreak. I’m not positive that is their style, I haven’t watched many of their games, but I’m basing that on what I know of the team and what I saw yesterday. Of course, yesterday it’s hard to say if they had any style. They couldn’t control the ball. They couldn’t create passes. They had almost no offensive opportunities throughout the entire game.

Even though it wasn’t necessarily a “do or die” game for either team, I expected a better showing or more urgency or inspiration from Inter Milan. They looked dead on the field. They would have greatly benefited from a tie or even a win. Barcelona is a world class team, but they have been struggling lately and have not been playing at the level they were last year. Either they found their groove just in time for "El Clasico", or Inter is just not very good. Regardless, they handled Inter last night and created a true "do or die" game on December 9 between Inter Milan and the enigma that is FK Rubin Kazan. Not sure where they came from or what they have up their sleeve, but they seem like the perfect candidate to be the spoil the potential party in Milan.

Quick Champions League Preview

The Champions League is back underway today and tomorrow. With only two games left to play in the group stage, the games this week could decide the fate for some teams. Here is a quick preview of some of the more interesting games:

Group C

Marseille v. AC Milan: This game is really only a big deal if Marseille wins. If they do, and Real Madrid beats Zurich as well (which is expected), then Marseille and Real Madrid will be at the top of the table. However, they play in the final game of the group stage and the winner of that game will move on while the loser will likely be out; because AC Milan will likely leapfrog the loser if they beat Zurich in the final game. I made that more complicated and wordy than necessary. Just check the scores after tomorrow's games. If Real and Marseille have both won, then there will be a great showdown with the two teams, in Marseille, to decide who moves on. If any of those teams tie this week, then I have no idea what will happen.

Group E

Liverpool v. Debrecen and Lyon v. Fiorentina: This one is slightly less complicated, but much more compelling at this point. For Liverpool to advance they must win and Lyon must win. If Fiorentina wins, then Liverpool is done. Both games are important, but between the two games, the Lyon/Fiorentina should be a better game since the two teams are evenly matched. Debrecen have yet to win this season, so Liverpool should win. However, nothing is a guarantee with Liverpool this year, especially since they are playing without some key players.

Finally, my favorite group, Group F

I posted this table before, but it's worth posting again:

UEFA Champions League Group F

Internazionale 4 1 3 0 5 4 1 6
Barcelona 4 1 2 1 3 2 1 5
FK Rubin Kazan 4 1 2 1 4 5 -1 5
Dynamo Kiev 4 1 1 2 6 7 -1 4

The bottom two teams play each other today, while Inter and Barca play in Barcelona.

Why Tyler Should Care: My friend Tyler follows this site but mentioned the other day that sometimes it's hard to read the posts because he's not a huge soccer fan and doesn't quite understand the importance of some games or not sure why he should even care about what we are talking about. He's not only a hockey fan, but a Los Angeles Kings fan, so he can relate and understand following a non-mainstream sport and one that people may not always understand.

So, for his benefit, here is why I think Tyler should care: The Champions League is the "best of the best" league. All of the clubs that finished at the top of their league the previous season, play in the Champions League the next year. As mentioned, this isn't the final game of the group stage, so neither Barcelona or Inter will be eliminated after this week's games. But besides one game to Chelsea last season, Barcelona completely dominated the Champions League and the Spanish League. They were practically untouchable. Inter Milan dominated the Italian League last year. Coming into the Champions League, it was expected that both Barcelona and Inter would advance from this group to the knock out rounds. However, neither team has performed like it did last year and for one of these teams to not make it out of the group stage would be a huge upset and disappointment for that club, especially if it was the reigning champions Barcelona. Neither team can afford to lose this game. Plus, if Barcelona loses, then you won't get to see any more of Messi (pictured). At 5'6", he's arguably the best player in the game right now.

In hockey terms, this game would be like if the Mighty Ducks (after they were good) entered a tournament and in the round robin portion, they were grouped with The Hawks and then another team that played with their tennis shoes instead of skates and another that was full of a bunch of girls (Rubin Kazan and Dynamo aren't that bad). Naturally, you would expect that the Ducks and the Hawks would advance. Not because the other two aren't good, but just not as good as the Ducks and Hawks. Well, imagine if the Ducks and Hawks had some bad games here and there to the point that they were playing, and although it wasn't for the championship, the loser would not be guaranteed to move on. The game just went from interesting because of the skill of all the players involved, to thrilling because so much is on the line. Plus, last night, Inter found out that Barcelona's best player was actually owned by Inter and now has to play with Inter today. It's amazing no one noticed it before, but it adds to the drama (that was probably one too many Mighty Duck references).

So there you have it. The (not so) quick preview of the Champions League games this week. Surely an analysis of some of the games will come in later posts, unless Liverpool loses in which case Brig may lose all desire to watch or talk about soccer.

The "Hard Men of Football"

Looks like the spin doctors are already out in force for our favorite Lobo, Elizabeth Lambert. Newsweek's got an op-piece, "In Defense of Elizabeth Lambert," framing the media frenzy around her as an offshoot of sexism in sports, while using her story to argue that companies shouldn't promote women based on the notion that "they will help make organizations more ethical, transparent, and family friendly." The New York Times' recent piece on the aftermath of the beatdown Lambert administered at BYU even featured a soft-focus, almost glam photo of Lambert in a "thoughtful" pose and a mammoth pink scarf. Lambert apologizes, but implausibly shrugs off much of her conduct as part of the competitiveness and physicality of the game (e.g., claiming that the punch she threw to Carlee Payne's face was incidental--watch the clip again, there's just no way her right fist comes swinging all the way across her body into Payne's chin on accident).

But, lest we get carried away by all the hubub (and even politicization) of Lambert's story, let's remember that her's is only the latest in a long line of dirty deeds done by the "enforcers" of the game. And, no, despite what you hear in the press, Lambert's roughhousing does not go so far beyond the pale. For instance, I'm not totally sure that I'd maybe rather have my pony-tail yanked than have my curly mullet twice spit upon.

And then, of course, you have that noble tradition of torch-bearers for whom putting in a drubbing like Lambert's is just putting in another day at the office. Yes, I'm talking about the "Hard Men of Football." No true fan of the game can go for long without hearing of them. After all, they have their own book (dubiously titled "Top Boys"), their own Top 50 List, their own documentary (apparently only available in VHS).

So, for the uninitiated, here's a look at some of the game's most (in)famous enforcers:

Vinnie Jones. You might have seen him on "Snatch," "X-Men: The Last Stand," or (fittingly) "Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties." You may not have known that he also played similar roles for Chelsea, Wimbledon, and Leeds United. And, really, no video could convey what this picture does half as well:

I don't know about you, but as far as I'm concerned, a pony-tail yank's got nothing on that.

Roy Keane. If you're a Man U. fan, you probably love him forever. If you're Alf-Inge Haaland (who's career was basically ended by the tackle in the clip below), not so much...

Marco Materazzi. Famously the recipient of Zinedine Zidane's headbutt at World Cup '06. But he's had his part in conduct far worse (one of the first YouTube videos you get if you search his name is entitled: "Materazzi Monster").

Ron "Chopper" Harris. No great vids I could find of this guy, but he's one where the name says it all. Not so surprisingly, he played for Chelsea, where it seems the "Top Boys" love to flock. His Wikipedia page says he "is widely regarded as one of the toughest defenders of his era" and calls him an "uncompromising tackler." For example, of the 1970 FA Cup Final we read: "Not long into the match, [Chopper] caught Eddie Gray with a kick to the back of the knee, an action which virtually immobilised" him.

Dave Mackay. Mackay played for Tottenham and was good enough to have been labeled the Spurs' greatest ever player by English managerial legend Brian Clough. It is said that he "tackled like a granite avalanche . . . . consumed by a devilish, ruthless relish for his work." But I think this Spurs fan sums it up best: "Away to Leeds on a cold November afternoon and on a near frozen pitch. The fancy footwork and pretty passing of the Lillywhites promised little against steely northern Yorkshire grit. Forget points, all you were assured of were bruises and pain. But then, one look at Dave Mackay striding onto the pitch with sleeves rolled up, nostrils flaring looking for a home shirt to eat for lunch and suddenly anything seemed possible. A colossus!"

Diego Maradona. "What? Who? How?" you say. And then you view the next clip. 18 seconds of El Pibe de Oro just going buckwild. Looks like the "Golden Boy" is really a closet "Top Boy." I'm pretty sure the guy he clocks at 0:01 is dead. And you gotta love the flying dropkick by his teammate at 0:12. (But what is it about footballing that renders players of the sport utterly incapable of fighting with their hands?)

And there you have it, some of the most famous "Hard Men" of the game. So, Elizabeth Lambert, you're not alone. You're in company with the "Top Boys." (And, hey, you've got a nice soft photo and a great big pink scarf to boot.)

Landon Donovan Loses the Cup

Penalties always end up as a mind game. Landon Donovan lost the mind game in the MLS Cup this past weekend. There are a few rules to follow in penalties. First, never rush the kick. When the ref blows the whistle, take a few seconds to breathe and focus or you'll rush the shot and blow it. Second, the safest shot is to the lower left or right corner. If you aim high, you risk hitting it over the bar and when the kick means a Championship, you go with the safe shot. Finally, ignore the goalkeeper. He is there to intimidate. Donovan misses on all three counts:

I can't help but compare his miss to Roberto Baggio's in the 1994 World Cup Final. It was way over the bar and gave Brazil the match.

There are some serious questions to ask about his ability to cope under pressure next year during the World Cup in South Africa. Do we want him taking penalties for the US next year? Donovan has generally been very good at penalties so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Over the bar is a shot borne of arrogance.

The Beckham Hair

David Beckham is on a short list with other athletes (Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan) that have managed to turn themselves into world icons. Which is interesting because he's good at soccer and has great skills. No man could last in the game as long as he has if they didn't. But he has never been on par with a Zidane, Messi, Ronaldo or any of the other current or past elite players. Jordan and Tiger dominate(d) their sports which helped with their global recognition. Beckham deserves credit because he went global without having the same domination in his sport. How did he do it? The Hair. Oh that hair. If you ever want to know how people in England, Europe or anywhere else in the world style their hair, all you have to do is check out Beckham. In an earlier post Brad brought up the fact that Beckham's current haircut is pretty nasty. I can't argue with that. But as ridiculous as it may look, you know that tons of people will copy it. Why? Because they always have in the past, no matter how nasty.

So, in honor of the upcoming MLS Championship on Sunday, here is a look at 10 of the great Beckham hairstyles:

1. A youthful, classic look from the early years before he became a superstar. The middle/side part. Every male in the late 90s experimented with this at one point or another. Before moving onto:

2. The messy hair with the frosted tips. You probably felt so sexy and cool that you too walked around with your shirt off.

3. Proof that their is an inner gangsta in everyone. Who said white people can't pull off cornrows? I think it was society actually, after realizing Beckham couldn't even pull it off.

4. Oh the faux-hawk. You know you had or are currently sporting one of these. If you aren't or felt that you were too old, then you styled your 3 year-olds hair with a faux-hawk so that you could live vicariously through him and his hair. Either way, you were probably never bold enough to go all the way:

5. To the mohawk. Which is why you have to give Sir Beckham credit. He was never afraid to take it to the next level. Most people followed him with the faux-hawk, but jumped off the bandwagon when he busted out the full fledged mohawk.

6. Not sure what is going on here. Like when Michael Jordan left basketball to try baseball, this must have been in the experimental cycling years.

7. For all of the looks he's had over the years, I'm surprised he went with this one for his wedding. Maybe he just wanted to be the prettiest one at the wedding.

8. When money isn't an issue in marriage, what do you fight about? Who is the prettiest and who has the better hair.

9. No, your eyes are not deceiving you. He is sporting the two layered man-tail. Few tried before him, few have tried after. None have been successful.

10. And finally, the current sensation. The great David Beckham hair. Not quite sure what to make of it. I'd mock it except that he's the one taking it to the bank.


So even if you don't follow soccer, you still probably heard about the controversial hand ball in yesterday's France v. Ireland World Cup qualifying match. For those that might not have seen it, in the second overtime, the 104th minute of the game, French striker Thierry Henry (is it a coincidence that his last name pronounced "Ornery"?) basically trapped a ball inside the box with his hand, and then passed the ball to his teammate William Gallas, who then scored the winning goal.

Why is this such a big deal? France and Ireland failed to automatically qualify for the World Cup, but they did well enough to advance to a playoff for one of the final spots for the World Cup. In order to make things fair, they do a home and away match and take the aggregate score of the two games. The teams played last week in Ireland and France won 1-0. Yesterday Ireland took a 1-0 lead in the 33rd minute which meant the teams were tied on aggregate and after 90 minutes game was sent into overtime. So it wasn't just that the controversial goal won the game for France in overtime, that one goal is the difference between France now going to the World Cup this next summer and Ireland missing out on soccer's biggest tournament that only happens once every four years. Ireland is done until 2014.

It's a sad situation. The World Cup is a HUGE deal for countries and to not qualify is devastating for the entire country. Everyone knows it was a handball. The French players and papers feel bad for the Irish team. Henry even acknowledges it was a handball:

''It was a handball, but I'm not the ref,'' [Henry] said on BBC Radio Five Live. ''The ball hit my arm, fell in front of me and I played it. The ref allowed it. That's a question you should ask him.''

He's got a valid point. From the time you start soccer or any sport you are told, "play until you hear the whistle." Players aren't asked to police themselves. You could never ask players to call their own fouls, it's the refs' job to call fouls, but they are clearly imperfect. So the issue arises: Should they institute instant replay? This is always a big issue. Ireland is requesting a rematch. They have a valid argument, but that will never happen. But why not instant replay? It sure would have been useful when Maradona scored the infamous goal against England in the 1986 World Cup Quarterfinals.

There are always a few arguments against replay:

1. It will destroy the integrity of the game. As though a game decided by an illegal play has much integrity.

2. The human element/error of the game/refs is "part of the game." That's a lame reason brought up by people that probably don't know how to use a computer because the refuse to evolve. The best team should win the game, not the team that received favorable calls from the refs.

3. It's impossible to institute because where do you draw the line with replay? This one is valid and it is tough. I don't know if you institute it on every play, just plays in the box, just plays that result in goals or what. But a line has to be drawn somewhere. Crucial games like France v. Ireland shouldn't be determined by an obvious call that could have easily been overruled and reversed. If you feel otherwise, go to a pub in Ireland this summer and try and argue your point. I'm sure someone will convince you otherwise.

MLS CUP 2009

Can you believe it? Real Salt Lake are the Eastern Conference Champs.Yes, I said Eastern. How does that work? It's one of the fun quirks of MLS. It makes sense though, they don't want to have crappy teams from a weaker Conference make the playoffs, so instead, they take the top two from each side, and then let points determine the rest. Sure would make it easier if they just went to single table...maybe in a few years.

Does RSL have one more victory in them? After having upset Columbus, and now Chicago, RSL head to Seattle for the final against the LA Circus. Speaking of Seattle...they sure know how to host a party. They have had to open up additional seats. Fans are flocking to Qwest field for the big showdown. I think capacity has been raised to 42,000. RSL has conquered the Space Needle.
So, can RSL beat David and Landon? During the season they tied, and RSL won. I would say it's anyone's game, and hopefully it will be an offensive night, with a handful of goals. If the Gals play anything like Beckham's new haircut....RSL will roll them. (sorry Becks...that thing is nasty)
When: Sunday 8:30 p.m . ET (ESPN)
Where: Qwest field, Seattle
Who: LA Galaxy vs Real Salt Lake

Victory: A Veterans Day review

Today is Veteran's Day here in the U.S. Naturally, a fitting way to celebrate the U.S.'s Veterans Day was to provide a review of Victory: a movie about French prisoners in World War II playing soccer against Nazis. Seems very fitting, especially since the movie stars Michael Caine (born in London), Pele (born in Brazil) and a slew of European soccer players. Well, maybe the movie doesn't perfectly fit Veteran's Day, but the options are limited when it comes to movies about soccer that also involve wars or American veterans. The list is rather slim, if such a list exists at all. At least this movie does star Sly Stallone. Nothing says American quite like a man who can barely speak English and has the nickname Itallian Stallion. He did help end the Cold War though. "If I can change...and you can change..." Anyways, onto the movie.

The premise of Victory is rather simple. French prisoners of war (POW's) are being held by the Nazis. An exhibition match is set up between Nazi players and the French prisoners. The match is basically a propaganda move for the Nazis since they are going to send in their best players against the lowly prisoners and crush the French prisoners. Through this exhibition match the Nazis will be able to send the message to the other POWs that Germany is the superior country. Apparently the logic is that if your soccer team can beat a bunch of prisoners, then your country is the greatest in all other walks of life. I would say this is faulty logic except that there is actually some truth to it. Outside the US, soccer is king. And if a national team performs well, the entire country has a sense of pride and confidence. I have no doubt that after Spain won the EuroCup in 2008, the entire country believed they were the greatest country in Europe, if not the world. But not just on the soccer field, but the greatest in all areas: cost of living, quality of life, crime rates, infant mortality rates, country size, best place to vacation, etc. However you measure a country, in the summer 2008, according to a Spaniard Spain was the greatest and at the top of every list, because their national team was the best. How else can you explain Brazil and Argentina being recognized by other countries in Europe or North America? If they didn't have dominate soccer players and national teams, there is no way any other country would think twice about them or engage in trade with those countries. Look at Chavez in Venezuela. He's doing all he can to be noticed by the international community. If he wants to be noticed so bad, he should just have his country win the World Cup.

Back to the movie. So what the Nazis don't know is that they aren't playing against French prisoners, but actually the greatest soccer player ever (Pele) and a slew of other professional players. That actually never comes out in the movie, but it does help for the quality of soccer in the movie. It's always difficult to portray sports in movies. The greatest way to see a sporting match is from start to finish where you can see how each play is influenced by the ones before an after. You can't really show every play in a movie, so you have to rely on quality film making and quality play. Victory is good because you can tell that the actors are really the ones on the field. For whatever reason you connect more with the actors and players when you see them throughout the movie and on the field. Victory doesn't do any of the ambiguous camera shots where the players head is missing so you don't know if the actor is the one kicking or catching the ball or if it is some stand in. For instance, with the famous bicycle kick by Pele in the movie, you can tell that he is the one doing the bicycle. He clearly doesn't hit the bicycle on the actual cross, but he's still the one that hits it. If you are doing a movie that focuses on sports, the film is better when the game scenes are top quality. Sometimes you have to sacrifice quality acting for the quality play, but the casting of Stallone shows that acting wasn't a top priority anyways.

The only place where the quality of play lacks is with Stallone (can't act or play) in the climatic final scene where the game is tied and the Nazis have just been awarded a penalty kick with no time left. The penalty kick taken by the Nazi player has about as much power as a kick by a 10 year old girl. Stallone is the French goalie and he actually makes a believable save. He makes you think that there was some power behind the shot even though it was just a chip shot. The only part where Stallone lacks is when he kicks the ball after getting up and celebrating. He doesn't exactly kick the ball 80 feet triumphantly into the air. Rather, it looks more like a line drive shank that hits some player standing nearby in the face.

For what it is, a sports movie made in the 80's, Victory is actually worth seeing. I realize this has been more of a rambling than a review. But I was inspired to write about it when I read that it was loosely based on a true story called The Death Match. Many people may know about this match, but for those not wanting to read the Wikipedia page, here is a brief summary: Because of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the 1941 Soviet soccer season was never completed (invasions tend to really put a hamper on a soccer season). Kiev happened to be a city that was actually taken over by the Germans. Some of the players from Dynamo Kiev, the professional team in that city, had gone on to fight for the Soviets, while other stayed behind to help fortify the city. Once the city was captured, those that stayed behind became prisoners of war to the Germans. In brief, a former player rounded up a bunch of other players still in the city, including some of the players from Dynamo, and they started a team called FC Start. They played other teams that were comprised of players from various garrisons. Anyways, they end up thumping the German team and the German team eventually wants a rematch. The picture is of the poster which advertised the rematch. However, the second time around an SS officer is the referee and he basically lets the Germans beat up the FC Start players. It doesn't matter though as Start still outplay the Germans and go on to victory. Sadly, the victory is short lived as the following week some of the players are rounded up by the Gestapo for being part of the NKVD - the Russian police organization. Dynamo Kiev was a police funded club so that is the connection and the justification for the arrest-interesting it doesn't come out before the game/German loss. One of the players died under torture and others were sent to labor camps where some of them eventually died. A pretty sad story.

So there are some similarities between the movie and what actually happened. I think the movie does a great job of demonstrating the power of soccer and portraying how it can bring people together. It is amazing how soccer can help us escape reality and give masses of people and entire countries a feeling of pride no matter their situation. You get that in the movie when the POWs are singing the French anthem before the final shot. A great moment. Similarly, the Germans had to realize and be legitimately worried that a makeshift group of players from Kiev were crushing other teams and giving their city a reason to be happy and have pride in an otherwise extremely gloomy time. In the movie, the Nazis end up cheering for the French players after the game. Also, somehow in the melee of the post-match celebration, the French players are able to escape. This would lead one to believe that the prisoner of war camps weren't that tight on security. Apparently, history tells us that wasn't the case. It's just unfortunate that the real life ending isn't as glorious as the movie ending.

Well, at Least They Didn't Give Up: Real Madrid 3 - Atletico Madrid 2

Atletico Madrid lost to Real Madrid in the Madrid derby over the weekend. You always hope for exciting derbies, and this one delivered, mainly because Atletico played until the 90th minute. From just watching the game, you would never know that one team (Real) is in second place and the other is third to last (Atletico) and would be relegated if the season ended today. Real jumped out to an early lead with a screamer from Kaka and a goal from Marcelo at an extremely tough angle. Real played better than they have in any game since the loss of Christiano Ronaldo. They finally showed that they have loads of talent even without C. Ronaldo. Derbies seem to bring out the best in players and Real came out strong. In the second half, Real took a 3-0 lead on a terrible defensive play from Atletico's Luis Perea. Players lose their starting jobs on blunders like that. Just poor play. Higuain just ran up and took the ball away and scored. However, only a minute later Sergio Ramos was red carded and Atletico came back to life. Granted, Real was only playing with 10 men, but Atletico went on to score 2 goals in the 79th and 81st minutes. They went on a tear and almost made it a match for the storybooks. Atletico made a valiant effort, but in the end they did fall short.

So while Atletico deserves a lot of credit for their effort on Saturday, they needed more than a moral victory. They needed some sort of silver lining on the extremely dark cloud that is the start of their season. A win against Real could have been that lining and the start of their climb out of the cellar. As mentioned, to their credit, they never gave up and they played the entire 90 minutes. They had as many shots and controlled the ball as much as Real. They are as good of a team as Real and most every other team they have faced this season. They have all the players, but haven't been able to piece it together. It almost came together in Madrid on Saturday night, they just needed a Manchester United stoppage time to get another goal. Another goal to tie the game would have been huge for Atletico. To crawl back from a 3-0 deficit against their rivals could have saved the season from an emotional standpoint. Unfortunately it didn't happen and their season is over. I know it's only November, but they only have 7 total points, while the league leaders already have over 20. Atletico won't be relegated, but they aren't catching the leaders this season. Much like the photo, the loss on Saturday was probably the knock-out blow. Hopefully Atletico doesn't give up entirely because they have loads of talent and can easily disrupt other teams down the stretch. Still, it's a sad consolation and role for a team with so much talent and that had such high expectations at the start of the season.

Real Madrid 3 - Atletico Madrid 2

More Whining from Ferguson After Chelsea Defeat Manchester United

A big win for Chelsea over Manchester United this weekend, if somewhat less impressive than it might have been. And although there's plenty that might be said about the game itself, what's piqued my interest (or, rather, ire) is the (increasingly predictable) conduct of Sir Alex Ferguson in the aftermath. Can anyone think of a game in recent memory that ManU didn't get the result they wanted and SAF didn't try to blame it all on the referee afterward? Chelsea, Sunderland, CSKA Moscow, Liverpool, the list goes on and on. In my mind, it's gone beyond poor sportsmanship to downright whining, if not certified paranoia. And the shocking thing about Ferguson's issues with referees is that there's a legitimate argument that, if anything, ManU is the team that gets the real breaks--like the extra-extended injury time in the Manchester Derby this year.

There was some hope that SAF's apology to Alan Wiley (ref of the Sunderland game) would signal a change in tune from him and other EPL managers, but that hope clearly seems to have been a pipe dream. SAF has learned nothing. Ferguson apparently cannot accept the fact that his team does not deserve to win every game. Instead--whaddya know--those refs keep ruining the games for him. It's getting old. Real old. It's time for SAF to cowboy up and take his losses like a man. No matter how bad a single decision may have been, it only ever matters if his team is not good enough to put the game out of reach anyway.

EPL Report: Tottenham Hotspur 2 - 1 Sunderland: Did Darren Bent Dive?

When Robbie Keane put Tottenham Hotspur up over Sunderland in the 12th minute it was against the run of play and a very fortunate goal. A flick on from Crouch went right to Robbie Keane who hit it right at Sunderland's goalkeeper, Craig Gordon. Gordon blocked it but the ball came right back to Keane who quickly bundled it into the net. For the next 50 minutes, Sunderland controlled the game and had 4 shots on target to Spurs 1 but could not break through. Andy Reid was outstanding, controlling the midfield and smacking the crossbar on a 25 yarder shot.

Then everything changed in the 50th minute when Darren Bent touched the ball just past the outstretched arms of Tottenham Hotspur's keeper, Huerelho Gomes and then fell to the ground. The ESPN announcer said that he drew the foul. Did Darren Bent dive? In basketball we call it a flop and it seems that something similar happened here. It was probably a foul and the official had to call it. Darren Bent was touched by the keeper but Bent really had no chance of scoring because his touch was too hard. The official produced a yellow card for Gomes, which means that there was not a clear scoring opportunity or he would have produced a red card.

Bent, relishing the chance to score against his former team, where he was left to rot on the bench, stepped up to take the penalty. Like a quarterback telegraphing a throw to his receiver, Bent stared down the keeper's left side. Gomes read it like a linebacker watching the QBs eyes and blocked the shot. Gomes raised his arms in triumph, feeling entirely vindicated and Spurs took over the game, eventually scoring again and shutting down Sunderland. It was a game changing moment but the question remains. Did Darren Bent dive? Well, the ball never lies.

Tottenham Hotspur 2 - Sunderland 1


Ever had a ref a little card happy? Dishing out cards left and right?

What about a ref that was afraid to show a Red? Are girls tougher than boys? Do they just not retaliate? How does this gal get away with this stuff? I would have clocked her.

Maybe BYU should stop preaching the whole "turn the other cheek thing".

MLS Playoffs!

Sick of Champions League? Bored with the EPL? La Liga not interesting enough? Great news, the MLS Playoffs are going on. What's more American than soccer, and playoffs.

Who makes the playoffs? The top 8 teams, out of 15. (Next year team #16 Philly joins, and in 2011, teams #17 Portland, and #18 Vancouver will join the League).

The format? 1st round, home and away series. Away goals don't count for more, just final aggregate score.

So, who is your pick?
RSL vs Columbus
New England vs Chicago
Seattle vs Houston
Chivas vs LA

Last night we watched RSL upset #1 ranked Columbus 3-2. After having beaten the Crew at home 1-0, RSL showed that they are more than just an eigth place team, stomping the Supporter Shield (the team that finishes on top of the table) Champion 4-2 Aggregate.
By Sunday, we'll know who'll join RSL in advancing to the Semi's.

Those of you "Eurosnob" Americans that don't know, don't care, or don't want to let "unpure" soccer into your lives....this thing isn't going away, and eventually, you'll have to accept it. Or will you fight it forever?

The Magician's Second Act

In a previous post I briefly talked about the last meeting between Barcelona and FK Rubin Kazan. I thought that Barcelona controlled the first game and was sure that despite losing, they would come back and dominate Rubin Kazan in their second meeting. While they didn't lose again on Wednesday, they were unable to come away with a victory. It was the same story as the first game: Barcelona dominated possession and had many more shots, but in the end, they couldn't score and walk away with a victory - which is all that really matters.

So who is this Rubin Kazan? Not sure anyone knows. But maybe it's not so much that Barcelona is playing poorly, but rather that Rubin Kazan is a legit team. Either way, with the Inter victory vs. Dynamo Kiev (highlights in the post below), Group F has turned into the most exciting group in the Champions League. Just check out those standings. Awesome. I thought for sure Barcelona would run away with the group with Inter following in second. With two games remaining, no one, including the champs, is guaranteed to make it to the next round. No team can afford to lose and every team has to be taken seriously. I laughed a few weeks ago at the Russian magician's "lucky" victory, but look who's smiling now? The Russian magician. Never laugh at a Russian magician. He can and will break you.

UEFA Champions League Group F

Internazionale 4 1 3 0 5 4 1 6
Barcelona 4 1 2 1 3 2 1 5
FK Rubin Kazan 4 1 2 1 4 5 -1 5
Dynamo Kiev 4 1 1 2 6 7 -1 4

Inter 2 - Dynamo Kiev 1, or Revenge Is a Dish Best Served Cold, Unless You Lose In the End

In bitter cold temperatures in Ukraine today, Dynamo Kiev gave Inter Milan a real run for its money in the Champions League. And it all started with a bit of sweet revenge from Andriy Schevchenko on an incredible looping half-volley from the edge of the box. It was a brilliant goal and had to feel good for Scheva, who's time under the Special One in Chelsea basically ruined his career. Jose Mourinho certainly didn't look too pleased about it...

Of course, the Special One had the last laugh, as Inter scored two goals in the last five minutes of the game to steal victory from the ice-cold jaws of defeat. (And Diego Milito proved again that he is one of the best and most underrated strikers in the world.) All-in-all, a fairly rollicking game in Kiev. Highlights in the clip below.

Atletico Madrid: The Ten Year Curse and their Free Fall

To say that this year has been a disappointment for Atletico Madrid would be a huge understatement. It has been downright abysmal and they are in an all out free fall. Other teams, like Liverpool for example, have been up and down. They win one week against Manchester United and make you think they are coming together, but then they lose the next week to Fulham (how about that Clint Dempsey by the way? Why isn't he the captain of our National Team again?). But Atletico Madrid is falling fast and it's hard and sad to watch.

Ten years ago in the 1999/2000 season, Atletico had a terrible season and they were relegated to the Segunda Division. They spent a couple years in the Segunda division and finally pulled themselves out of it in 2002. The following years were the coming of age years for Fernando Torres where he started to make his mark on the world stage. He really left a mark and a blow for the team when he left for Liverpool in 2006. However the team continued to progress. In the 2007/2008 campaign they finished 4th in La Liga and qualified for Champions League. Last year they finished 4th again and again qualified for the Champions League. For a team that constantly plays second fiddle in their own town to Real Madrid, they finally seemed as though they had established a solid foundation and were going to be constant legit league contenders.

Then they hit the ten year mark. This year is the 10th anniversary from their last relegation season and given their recent success it's hard to comprehend that Atletico could be off to such a terrible start. Yesterday they tied Chelsea in their Champions League match. Normally a tie against Chelsea is somewhat of a victory. However, having lost two of their first three group games and tying the other one, the tie yesterday to Cheslea eliminated Atletico from any possibility of advancing to the knock out stages. Atletico has only two points in their group while Chelsea and Porto sit at the top with ten and nine points respectively. Even with wins in their next two matches, Atletico cannot overtake the top two teams. Their Champions League season is done.

At least there is always next year, except that "next year" probably won't happen because they can't even compete in La Liga at the moment. They have 1 win in 9 matches, and 4 ties and 4 loses. They have a -9 goal differential and only 7 points in La Liga. Currently they are 18th in La Liga and if the season were to end today, they would be relegated again. It is still somewhat early in the season and it's doubtful they will be relegated, but it's also extremely unlikely they will be competing on the European stage next season. They are already a distant 11 points behind 4th place Valencia. Granted, eleven points isn't an impossible task to overcome, but it seems doubtful with the way the team is playing.

It's the team play which has been most difficult to figure out about Atletico this year. Besides their goalie, the team is essentially the same. Yet for whatever reason, they cannot find the chemistry and piece things together like they did in the past two years. You can see from the highlights against Chelsea that they have flashes of brilliance and enough talent to put together quality attacks, but they continue to fall short and cannot play for a full 90 minutes. Last season Diego Forlan was incredible and scored 32 goals in La Liga which earned him the Golden Boot or Pichichi. This year he has only 3 goals in 8 La Liga matches. If that pace continues, he will finish with only 12 goals, a massive drop off from last year. Not that Forlan is entirely to blame (he does sport a lucky mullet -who wouldn't with those golden locks?). The entire team has only scored 10 goals in the 8 matches. Not the worst in La Liga, it's far better than a team like Xerez which has only has 3 total goals. But they are far off the league leaders who have roughly 24 goals already, and also far off their pace of last season when they finished with 80 goals.

On Saturday Atletico will host Real Madrid for the Madrid derby. A win would be a huge boost for Atletico. They need some sort of spark to get the team going. They are in an all out free fall at the moment. It doesn't make sense that they should even be in their current position, so who knows when the free fall will end. A win against Real might stop the fall, but a loss at home to their city rivals, could accelerate the fall and only make things worse. It already looks as though the ten year curse has a hold on Atletico Madrid and has destroyed their season. Hopefully the team can stop the free fall before history repeats itself and the season is completely destroyed and the curse relegates them all the way down to the Segunda division again.

Neven Subotic: The One That Got Away

You may or may not recognize Serbian Neven Subotic by name. If you do, it's likely because he's currently sought-after by most of the top clubs in Europe: Chelsea, Manchester United, AC Milan, Arsenal and Barcelona, to name a few. You might also recognize him if you're a follower of the Bundesliga, where the 6'4" footballer stars at center back for Borussia Dortmund, with a remarkable 7 goals in 43 games and tremendous aerial ability. What you probably don't know him for are his stints playing for the University of Southern Florida, and the U.S. Mens U-17 and U-20 teams. Which begs the question: Why does he play for the Serbian national team now? The unfortunate answer to that question sheds light on some of the larger problems plaguing U.S. soccer.

The U.S. Mens' National Team could certainly use a center back like Subotic. We have no one near his quality in the back today--either on the current team or among our rising defensive stars. But he slipped through the USMNT's fingers. Subotic played for the U-17 team and trained with the U.S. U-20s, but was not selected for the U-20 side for the 2007 U-20 World Cup. U.S. coach Thomas Rongen received a lot of criticism for the snub, but supported his decision with the claim that Subotic had "not accelerated over there [for FSV Mainz 05 in the Bundesliga] to the point where we feel he belongs on the U.S. team." Subotic naturally didn't take that news too well. His reaction? "Well, Rongen certainly said some discouraging and false things about me. . . . I still don't know what he saw in the other players, and what he didn't see in me." Well, Neven, that makes two of us.

Rongen selected players like Nathan Sturgis, Anthony Wallace, Julian Valentin, and Amaechi Igwe over Subotic. None of those four are pushovers--all but Valentin play for solid MLS teams--but none begins to rise to the level of quality of Subotic's game. Certainly none of them are being sought by Chelsea, Barcelona, and AC Milan. So who's driving the selection process among our cadre of national teams? Perhaps, more importantly, who's scouting the younger talent? Who missed Subotic's quality in deciding to overlook him for four decent MLS-quality guys that likely will never attract the attention of the squads Subotic commands today? There's a lot of talk going on about expectations for the U.S. team following the attention they garnered in the Confederations Cup, but in order to rise to those expectations over the long-term and avoid the "one-time wonder" label, the U.S. is going to have to do a better job not only at spotting, but also at securing long-term talent for its squad.

So we chalk up Neven Subotic as another unfortunate loss and toss him in the same bin of might-have-beens as Giuseppe Rossi (whom we honestly never had much chance of getting in any event). In the meantime, there remain a few rays of hope among potential future USMNT players, players with proven quality like Edgar Castillo (UANL Tigres in the Mexican Primera Division) and Jermaine Jones (FC Schalke in the Bundesliga). Let's hope we can close on those players and see them performing well for the U.S. Mens' National Team in the near future.
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