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Soccer as Art - "Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait", by Douglas Gordon

Zinedine Zidane is one of the greatest soccer players ever. Now his work is art. Yesterday I went to the Museum of Art on Campus at Brigham Young University and found perhaps the greatest portrait ever created by an artist: Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. In fact, I'd have to say that Douglas Gordon, the artist, is a genius.

Gordon, in collaboration with Phillipe Parreno, used 17 cameras to film only Zidane during a match against Real Zaragoza. It is a haunting 90 minute movie that completely mesmerizes the viewer. There is a that comes out every so often. This portrait presents a darker Zidane who roams the field as a lonely hunter. He doesn't lash out but his creativity and focus have an intensity and brooding that both inspire and cause fear for the viewer. I can only imagine what it would be like to play against him. We see some interaction with other players in the film but the focus is entirely Zidane.

It is odd to contrast this film with what we normally see during a match because normally we follow the ball and see the entire field at a distance. The focus on one player, who probably touches the ball for only a few minutes, makes the game seem very personal and private. He is surrounded by 20 other players and thousands of fans but marks a solitary figure on the pitch. As you watch, you start to wonder if the artist is the one who created the portrait or the one on the pitch. Soccer as art. Excellence at the Brigham Young University's Museum of Art in Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait.

A five minute preview:

Go see the 90 minutes if you get a chance.

Another review.

Available: El Guaje

Available: World Class Striker David Villa a.k.a El Guaje ("the kid"). Comes equipped with diamond earrings, fashionable hair, skinny sideburns and a sweet flavor savor. Currently playing for cash strapped Valencia F.C. and has interest in playing for a top club in the Premier League. He had 28 goals in 33 league matches last year and has 12 in 14 games this year.


Where he should go: Liverpool. They need the help. A player like Villa would do wonders for their offensive attack. Defenses would no longer be able to mainly focus on Fernando Torres. Also, every Spanish National Team fan outside of Valencia would love this move as it would give El Nino ("the child" - Torres) and El Guaje ("the kid" - Villa) 6 months to play together and perfect their chemistry prior to the start of the World Cup. This move would be fantastic on many levels. Sadly, Liverpool is broke and can't really afford anyone right now.

Where he could go: Arsenal, Manchester United. Arsenal lost Robin Van Persie to injury and could use some help at forward. Manchester United brought on Michael Owen and Berbatov in the off-season to compliment Rooney at forward. Both Owen and Berbatov have been as helpful as a t-shirt in a blizzard. Unfortunately, both clubs are also cash strapped and probably won't make the move. Plus, both are currently 2nd and 3rd in the standing and can thus justify that they don't need to make the move. Of the two teams, Manchester United has more of a history of going out and spending the money to get players, so there is an outside chance he could end up with United, but they too are struggling financially so it's doubtful.

Where he would probably go: Where else? The boys with the deep pockets: Chelsea and Manchester City. Both teams have owners with an endless amount of money and both are more than willing to open their checkbooks.

Chelsea is currently sitting with a comfortable lead at the top of the Premier League and don't really need another player at the moment. They might just buy him just to show other teams that they have money when everyone else is struggling. They don't need him, so it wouldn't make too much sense, but anything is possible with their owner.

On the other hand, Manchester City does make sense. The owner is always willing to upgrade and mix things up. Just last week they replaced their manager despite having one of the better starts in club history. The owner is spending a ton of money and determined to finish within the top 4 of the Premier League. A couple years ago they spent a lot of money on Robinho, but he has greatly underperformed. Villa would be the perfect replacement and would likely be interested in the move because Man City has a legitimate chance at finishing at the top of the standings. They are currently sixth in the Premier League but only 3 points back from third place. If you have endless money like Man City, the move is almost a no brainer. Valencia needs to dump him because they need the money. They don't want to send him to another team in La Liga. Man City has a solid lineup, but adding David Villa up top with Adebayor easily makes them one of the favorites in the Premier League.

So make the move Man City. You have the money and could use him. He won't disappoint. Trust me, "the kid" is amazing.

FIFA World Cup 2010: Group A - South Africa

The 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa starts June 11. For those who don't know, there are eight groups of four teams at the start of the World Cup Finals. In the group stage, the teams in the group play every other team once. The two teams with the most points advance to the knock out rounds where if you lose you go home.

Since it will probably take 6 months to preview all eight groups, I'm starting today with the host nation and Group A.

Group A

South Africa

What a boring group! If I had my way, all four of these teams would be sent home after the first round. On to South Africa.

South Africa's nickname is Bafana Bafana ("The Boys" in South African). They automatically qualified because they are the host nation. They played well in the Confederations Cup and have a chance to advance with their homefield advantage, however they are a very young football nation and lack the organization and experience to succeed in this competition.

Best Player: Steven Pienaar
Player most likely to end up as part of the Sesame Street game where you try to guess which one of these things is not like the others: Matthew Booth (a fan favorite of the Rainbow Nation).

Final Outcome: Eliminated in group stages. The vuvuzela will provide no advantage and the South Africans will place third in their group, just missing the cut.

Check out more on South Africa on "Football is Coming Home."

Big Fish in a Small Pond going across the Pond

A few days ago it was confirmed that Landon Donovan will be loaned to Everton for the rest of the Premier League season. This would be a bigger deal if Donovan hadn't just agreed to a 4 year contract extension with the LA Galaxy. This isn't some sort of attempt to try and show that he, an American field player and the best player in the MLS, can compete with the best in the Premier League. All this is, is Donovan wanting to stay in shape before the World Cup. Don't get me wrong, that's a good thing, just disappointing in the typical Donovan fashion.

An article on Soccernet discusses some of the advantages and disadvantages of MLS players heading off to England or other leagues prior to the World Cup, or in general. The main disadvantage is that some of these players might just sit the bench and never get a chance to prove themselves and bolster their resume prior to the World Cup. It might just be better for them to stay in the US and train constantly with the National Team. The article fails to mention that just practicing with some of those teams is probably better training than staying at home with the national team. However, gambling on Europe means you can't play the politics game and work your way onto the national team by seeing the coach every day and being his best friend.

Regardless of what these other players choose to do, this scenario doesn't apply to Donovan (the article acknowledges that and is basically focusing on other players that are thinking about heading overseas). Donovan has a guaranteed spot on the national team-he may even be captain. He just doesn't want to make the permanent move to the Premier League-which I'll never quite understand. I understand that Liverpool, England (home of Everton) isn't quite the same as living in Manhattan Beach, CA (current home of Donovan). However, Donovan can permanently play for a top club in the Premier League, but instead chooses to miss penalty shots for the Galaxy in the MLS. Which I suppose is fine; to each their own. People don't always want to be at the top. They would rather just stay in their comfort zone. There are plenty of people working in Tulsa, OK at the local Community Credit Union that have the resume and brains to succeed at an investment banking firm in New York, but they never make the move.

Anyways, I don't mean to be too harsh on Donovan. He is from Redlands, CA and an outstanding soccer player. He just isn't the guy that is going to step up and carry American soccer, even though he could. Well, he actually might, so long as no one tells him it's his responsibility to carry the team. In the Confederations Cup last summer Donovan played extremely well when he played outside midfield/forward and all of the scoring pressure wasn't on his shoulders. I 'm glad he is "interning" in England for a few months as I think it will help him prepare for the World Cup. In the end though, Landon Donovan is just happier staying in Tulsa. Which is fine, you can be elite in Tulsa, but never the greatest.

Player of the Decade

As mentioned in a previous post, World Soccer named Ronaldinho the player of the decade. I argued that he is definitely the ugliest player of the decade, but not sure if he is the best footballer of the decade. So, for what it's worth, here is my list of the best players of the decade. It was hard making this list because I wanted to be somewhat objective, but these lists are ultimately subjective. In the end, the edge just goes to the player I like more, but I still tried to come up with some sort of criteria.

1. The player must have played for at least 7 seasons between 2000 and 2009. This alone eliminates a lot of players. For instance, Zidane only played professionally up until 2006, therefore he doesn't qualify for this list. named Zidane as their player of the decade. In my opinion, he is the greatest player to have played IN the decade, but not the greatest player OF just this decade.

(Speaking of Zidane, I watched this video again the other day. Just a fantastic video, except for the crappy music. Zidane was so fun to watch. If you are a soccer fan, you'll enjoy this video. If you aren't you should watch it to familiarize yourself with one of the greatest players ever, who is also pretty protective of his mother.)

2. They have to "play" during the year. Being on a team but only making 4 appearances on the field during the season doesn't really count.

3. I'm only dealing with the European leagues. This is mainly because I don't really know the leagues outside of Europe. However, it's pretty much a consensus that Europe has the best leagues and thus the best players in the world so it's unlikely anyways that there would be another player from other leagues that are better than the ones on this list. But it is possible.

4. I'm only dealing with forwards and midfielders. I'm not saying that these are the most important players on each team. Fabio Cannavaro was easily the backbone of Italy's World Cup win in 2006. It's just harder to quantify their impact and then compare it to other players. I know Iker Casillas is extremely valuable to Real Madrid, but I don't really know how to compare him to Steven Gerrard or Wayne Rooney. A true soccer guru could really break it down, but I'm no guru, so I'm sticking to attacking players because they have stats that are easier to compare against each other.

On with the List:

10. Luis Figo - Figo looks like he is from Jersey and walks around all day in a work out suit with a wife beater and gold chain. Unlike Zidane, Figo did last this entire decade playing at the top level. He retired last season at the age of 36. Granted, the last couple of years of his career he didn't do much. He basically makes the list because at the turn of the decade, he was easily one of the best midfielders and playmakers in the game. He just hit his prime at the wrong time and was fading for most of the decade.

9. Michael Owen - Poor Michael Owen. Few will forget his 1998 World Cup goal for England against Argentina. He was completely dominating at the end of the 90s and the start of this decade. So much potential. Unfortunately he's about as fragile as a lady bug. The man just couldn't stay healthy. Despite all that, he has scored 111 League Goals this decade, including 23 Champions League goals; however only 28 of those league goals and 5 of the Champions League goals came after 05/06. It's a shame will never know what could have been.

8. Raul - The godfather of the Galacticos. Raul has never been one to wow you with his skills, but he finishes. Here is a classic Raul goal. It comes in the first 8 seconds of the video. Raul is the guy that bothers to follow up after the keeper picks up the ball. 499 times out of 500 the goalie handles the ball cleanly in that situation, but the 1 time the goalie mishandles it, Raul is the type of forward that is there to capitalize on the mistake. He's also an anomaly in Madrid these days. He came up through the Real Madrid youth system and actually made it into the starting 11. Real has discarded their youth system to pursue superstars. He's been around for the two waves of Galacticos. He doesn't get much playing time these days, but he's been the backbone and leader of the team for the entire decade.

7. Wayne Rooney - 92 total goals for Everton and Man U. Won the Premier League with Man U three years in a row between 2006-2009. Won the Champions League in 07/08. This season is why Rooney is on this list. It's hard to value the importance of a player on Man U because they almost always have a line-up full of all stars. So one could easily undervalue a player like Rooney because his supporting cast is so great. But Man U is old this year. They aren't nearly as good as years past and I think they only reason they are still in the title hunt is because of Rooney. The fact that they haven't dipped much this year with the loss of C. Ronaldo is a credit to Rooney and in my opinion shows how valuable he has been to this team throughout the decade.

6. Ronaldinho - There were a couple of years during the decade where Ronaldinho was king. Few disputed that he was the best player in the world. Then the 2006 World Cup happened and Ronaldinho shrunk away during the biggest tournament in the world. He also gained about 20 pounds and couldn't crack the starting 11 for AC Milan. He is finally starting to resemble the player he was earlier in the decade. Still, because he was practically worthless for a couple of years, I couldn't put him at the top of this list, even if he completely dominated for a few years.

5a. and 5b - Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo - These two miss out because of my criteria. Both are so amazing. If the decade was from 2005-2015, then I'm sure they would be 1a and 1b on this list. As it is, they both didn't play too much at the beginning of the decade so I couldn't put them at the top of this list, even though they are arguably the best players in the world right now. Ronaldo won player of the year 2 years ago and Messi won it last year. Not winning it last year seems to have upset Ronaldo and he appears to be on a mission to reclaim the title. Not that Messi is making it easy, because he's just as brilliant as ever. There are already numerous videos comparing the two. I think this summer will show what both are made of. Players can become legends during the World Cup.

4. Michael Ballack - 97 League goals between Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Bayern Leverkusen. Leverkusen finished 2nd, 4th and 2nd in the seasons when Ballack was there. They were also Champions League runners up in 01/02. The year after he left they finished 15th. They finished 3rd in 03/04 but otherwise never better than 5th. At Bayern Munich they finished 1st, 2nd, 1st and 1st with Ballack on the team. The year after he left they finished 4th. I know you can't attribute those drop offs to just Ballack, but I think Ballack and his impact are somewhat underrated. I'm not sure if he is always in the conversation for world's best midfielders, but after doing my 10 minutes of research, it made sense to put him on this list.

3. Frank Lampard - 93 League goals, 70 assists; 21 Champions League goals, 10 assists; 17 goals in FA Cup. On Chelsea team that won 04/05, and 05/06 Premier League. Also Premier League runners up 03/04; 06/07; 07-08; Champions League runner up 07/08. See below.

2. Steven Gerrard - 75 league goals, 64 assists. 32 goals in Champions League, 9 assists. Won Champions League with Liverpool in 04/05 and they were runner up 06/07. Liverpool hasn't won the Premier League with Gerrard; only runner up in 01/02 and 08/09.

I had a hard time with Lampard and Gerrard. This is where the soccer guru would come in handy to really compare the two. Lampard has better stats, but I gave the nod to Gerrard because I think his supporting cast hasn't been as great as Lampard's, and I think that Gerrard has had more clutch moments for his team. Plus, I just like Gerrard and Liverpool better than Lampard and Chelsea. That removes all credibility from my list, but I don't think too many people were considering this list much of an authoritative list anyways. I mean, Figo made the list.

1. Thierry Henry - 190 league goals, 94 assists. Premier league top scorer 01/02, 03/04, 04/05, 05/06. 43 Champions League goals, 14 assists. Arsenal hasn't won the league title since he was on the team. He was part of the 03/04 Arsenal team that never lost a game. He scored 30 goals that season. He's like a gazelle. Just glides along the field and has an impressive finish. For a few years there was no better striker in the Premier League. He had a couple down years and most people thought his career was over, but then he resurrected everything in Barcelona. Granted, at Barcelona he has Xavi and Iniesta feeding him the ball and Messi up top with him to help create opportunities, but he is still scoring and proving himself a valuable asset on a stacked team. There have been many great players to play throughout this decade, but when it came down to it, I couldn't think of anyone to put above Henry.

Anyways, that's my list. I'm already realizing how flawed it is and that I'm missing a few players (Eto'o and David Villa) so I should just quit now and call it finished. I realize the list might be off and I'd understand if you want to mock some of my selections, but I still stand by Henry as No. 1. You could talk me out of some of the other players, but in my opinion, there is a legitimate argument for Henry at the top. Who else did I miss?

He scored from how far, again? Maynor Figueroa's 70 Yard Golazo

The soccer pitch is 120 Yards long and 70 yards wide, putting the half way line at 60yards. The goal is 24 feet wide and 8 feet high, giving the outfield players a small window in which to score. A goal scored from anywhere outside 25 yards has to be under consideration for "golazo" status. If you hit one from 40 yards you are a one of the best in the world. So what happens if you play for a team in the lower half of the English Premier League and hit one from 60+ yards? Well, for Maynor Figueroa of Wigan Athletic, you start to appear on the Christmas Wishlist of managers of larger teams and join the elite company of David Beckham and Xabi Alonso. Here's Figueroa's incredible shot:

The great part about his goal is that he nails it. It doesn't bounce in and they haven't pulled the goalie for help on a corner kick. He smashes the ball and sends a line drive into the back of the net from 60+ yards out. A true golazo. Tony Pulis, the manager of Stoke City, the opposing team said after the game that he couldn't wait to go home and watch the replay on TV.

Here are a few other notables:

David Beckham in his Manchester United days hitting one from right on the half way line:

Xabi Alonso hits an incredible shot from 70 yards out against Newcastle. Another golazo:

And one more featuring Paul Robinson, a goalkeeper, when he played at Tottenham Hotspur. A free kick and a some poor judgement by a young Ben Foster, the opposing keeper, gave Robinson the rare goal from 90 yards by a goalie.

Ronaldinho - Ugliest Player of the Decade

World Soccer has named Ronaldinho the best soccer player of the decade. I'm not quite sure I agree with their selection. They just based it off the total points each player received each year throughout the decade. Although Ronaldinho was dominant and brilliant for the first half of the decade, he was completely useless and couldn't even make the starting 11 for the past couple of years. In another post, I'll provide my player of the decade. In the meantime, I think that World Soccer, myself and the entire world of soccer can agree on one thing: that Ronaldinho is the ugliest player of the decade. Here are the other finalists:

(Quick note: Frank Ribery was intentionally left off this list. Although he has teeth that would make any dentist and orthodontist pry their own eyes out, the scarring on his face is from a car accident when he was two. I'm already a bad dude for making this list, but hopefully leaving off Ribery will show some compassion on my part and not entirely punch my ticket to hell.)

Peter Crouch: Here is why you shouldn't feel bad for any of the people on this list: Peter Crouch is dating this woman. I'm not saying she's God's gift to men, but Crouch definitely isn't God's gift to women. The fact remains, that despite the fact that Crouch is like 6'10", weighs about 120 pounds and isn't that good looking, by the sheer fact that he is a professional soccer player in Europe, he can score models. So before you feel bad about any of these people, remember that their soccer skills allow them to score ladies way out of their league.

Didier Drogba: Sorry Drogba. Blowing us kisses won't get you off this list. Not with that hair. So nappy. Braid it or shave it. It's a steel wool mess.

Dirk Kuyt: I wish I could take credit for saying he looks like Sloth from the movie Goonies, but I read it somewhere else. Not that anyone reading this would have known I was stealing material from another site, but that's no reason to steal from someone else. Have to maintain some integrity, right? Right. Now, on with the ugly people list.

Ronaldo: Remember when Ronaldo was sporting this hair? Combine that with that amazing gap in his teeth and it will guarantee you a spot on this list.

Wayne Rooney: I like Rooney. He plays hard and you can tell he works his tail off. Plus, he's almost singlehandedly keeping Manchester United in the title race this year. Unfortunately, he also looks like a troll.

Carlos Tevez: Before moving to Manchester City last off-season, Tevez played at Manchester United along side Rooney. The two of them were unquestionably the least desirable forward combination in the history of the English Premier League.

Carlos Puyol: Again with the hair. I realize you are a professional soccer player and not a movie star or model, but your hair looks like a horse mane. For how much you are seen in public and treated like a celebrity in your home country, there is no excuse for hair like this.

And finally, Ronaldinho: In his prime he was one of the greatest soccer players ever. Best player of the decade? Potentially. Ugliest? Definitely.

Anyone I missed?

Poor Glen Johnson

It wasn't exactly the best day at the office this weekend for Liverpool defender Glen Johnson. Granted, scoring an own goal happens to the best of defenders from time to time. And, even though he was the player marking Andrei Arshavin for Arsenal's second goal, I don't know that any defender could have done much better in that situation. That goal is a beauty (2:15 in the video). Still though, it makes for a long day when you are somehow responsible for, or involved in both of the goals scored against your team. Not that the rest of his team was doing much throughout the game. After their first goal, I'm not sure Liverpool had any other legit scoring opportunities. The ones where afterwords all of the fans behind the goal raise their hands because they think it's a goal and then collectively collapse after the miss while the player slowly lifts his head up and stares blankly into the stadium lights and while running his hands through his hair as he thinks, "I can't believe I just botched that shot. That was my meal ticket...for the next 5 years." Sorry about your day Glen. If it's any consolation, I don't think that any of your teammates can say they played much better.

Watch Liverpool vs Arsenal (1-2) All Goals & Highlights Premier League (13.12.2009) in Sports  |  View More Free Videos Online at

10 Christmas Gifts for the Soccer Fan

10) PUGG Training Goal
These little goals are great for indoor or outdoor use and ideal for pick up games. If you coach a team they are essential. Kids would much rather put the ball in the back of the net than try to put it between two cones.

9) Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey--and Even Iraq--Are Destined to Become the Kings of the Worlds Most Popular Sport
- I already posted about this book soccer book and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a deeper insight to the game. Simon Kuper is a great writer and he has teamed up with Stefan Szymanksi, an economics professor, give new insights into the greatest game.

8) Adidas Gazelle - These are classics.
You can't go wrong with these shoes and while some may prefer the Samba
, everyone still likes the Gazelles

7) Lionel Messi Fathead Wall Graphic - These are normally giant-sized posters that watch over you night and day. In this case, the 5'3" Messi grows to become a fairly normal 6' man.

6) Fernando Torres Home Jersey - Fernando Torres is the best striker in the world. He's also a great guy. Now if you hate Liverpool, that's understandable. If you hate El Nino, what's the matter with you? Maybe you think buying the jersey of someone who is 10 years younger than you is juvenile, in which case you should get this one for your kid.

5) Jabulani FIFA World Cup 2010 Official Match Ball - Every World Cup, Adidas comes out with a new ball and every World Cup no one seems to bother trying it out until the week before when they realize that it moves a little bit different. If you want to make the ball swerve like Mario Balotelli or Cristiano, practice for 8 hours a day and get the best ball money can buy. (Or get this one that looks the same but costs $100 less).

4) FIFA Soccer 10 They took soccer video games to the next level with this one. It is awesome. Video game Messi jukes like the real Messi. Steven Gerrard smashes the ball like the real Steven Gerrard. I'm assuming Robinho does step overs like the real Robinho too, but don't recommend finding out. Too annoying. Great commercials too.

3) UEFA Champions of Europe: Champions League History 1955-2005 I'm a Champion's League junky. It's the greatest competition in the world and this DVD gives you it's history. It will take you back to Real Madrid's glory days, remind that Red Star Belgrade were once Champion's of Europe, and finish off with Liverpool's incredible comeback victory in 2005.

2) 2010 World Cup Tickets - South Africa might be a bit dangerous but this is the first African country to host the World Cup so they will want to impress. Plus, the U.S. has a favorable draw and open's the competition against England. Just don't forget to bring a jacket because it will be winter due to the whole Earth moving around the sun at a slight tilt.

1) Tickets to the Champion's League Final in Madrid Spain at the Bernebeu home of Real Madrid. Once in a lifetime opportunity for only $3,525. Once in a lifetime! No excuses.

Stay away from:

Vuvuzela - This is a great gift for you worst enemy's children. It's a big hit with the South Africans. The rest of the world is going to want to hit the South Africans with their Vuvuzela by the end of World Cup.

David Beckham Calendar - Please don't encourage him.

Goal! - The Dream Begins Shame on you for considering it and shame on me for linking to it.

Why Do You Make It So Hard to Love You?

Meet Cristiano Ronaldo. He's so hard to love. In some circles he's considered the greatest soccer player in the world right now. He's also a punk. In the offseason Real Madrid bought C. Ronaldo from Manchester United for roughly $160 million. He's the Alex Rodriguez of soccer, except without the steroids (of course, I wouldn't put cheating past C. Ronaldo if he had the opportunity). As much as he may rub you the wrong way, the man is so talented that deep down you know you would want him on your team. You despise him, but can't turn your head when he has the soccer ball, which makes you hate him even more. He's arrogant. But he can back up his arrogance with his talent. He's a terrible drug or addictive substance. As much as you hate everything about it, you can't help yourself and you cave and submit and confess that you need it/him. As a Real Madrid fan, I was so upset when we signed him. We have plenty of other talent. He's not a team player, yet he makes the team better. We play better when he's on the field, which is so upsetting because he's clearly a "me first" player. Do I overlook his arrogance and terrible personality because he helps the team? Do I have to remain committed to the team despite a player who is clearly more concerned about himself and what the team does for him? I can't stand him. Look at him in those tiny shorts with a pink hat and a flower. You can tell he thinks he's the cat's meow. What a tool. He's so sexy. Pompous prick. I love him.

Sunday was a perfect example of why I struggle with Ronaldo. Real Madrid is playing lowly Almeria. Real Madrid jumps out to an early lead from a goal by Sergio Ramos, assisted by Ronaldo (see, he contributes and makes players better). In typical Real Madrid fashion, they don't play defense and soon find themselves down 2-1 to one of the worst teams in the league. Higuain gets the equalizer in the 73rd minute and ties the game 2-2. Then, in the 82nd minute, Ronaldo is rewarded a penalty because he is tripped in the box by the goalie. I have issues with this call in general because I think the goalie has no other options in this situation, it's a guaranteed call for players and all players, not just Ronaldo take advantage. Anyways, Ronaldo takes the penalty and his shot is actually blocked by the goalie. Fortunately, Benzema is there to clean up the mess and he, not Ronaldo, scores the go ahead goal. Everyone is happy because the team is back on top and probably going to win. Well, everyone but Ronaldo. As shown in the video below, he doesn't join in on the celebration, he's too busy mourning his miss. Granted, it's frustrating to miss that shot. He should have scored, but the bottom line is, the TEAM scored and has now taken the lead. Be bummed all you want, but at least congratulate the player on scoring the goal. He's on your team remember? Apparently, team success is only great if it accompanies individual accolades.

Two minutes later, when the game doesn't matter as much, Ronaldo scores off of a perfect set up from Higuain. Ronaldo doesn't do anything for the goal. He just taps it in. I could have made that goal. Well, I actually missed an even easier one in my game last week so I guess I can't say that, but I'd like to think I could have made it and surely any other professional player could have made it. Regardless, it's not the winning goal since Real already has the lead, it's just a meaningless goal to ice the cake. Yet Ronaldo celebrates like he just won the World Cup and runs over to the side of the field and takes off his shirt so he can show off his abs for the entire stadium. This is stupid for a few reasons:

1. As shown in the video below, he has a really hard time getting his shirt off. It takes him about 30 seconds. There's a good chance he trips and falls while trying to get it off and injures himself;

2. The ladies already want him. There's no need to show off his abs and body. We get it. We already know are ripped and can pull chicks like Tiger Woods; and

3. Taking off your shirt is a guaranteed yellow card. There is no debate or discussion. It's the easiest rule for a ref to enforce. If shirt comes off, give yellow card. Not much room for interpretation or argument.

Despite the rule, many players, not just Ronaldo will take their shirts off. Usually it's not that big of a deal because it's just a yellow and a warning and as long as the player keeps his cool for the rest of the game, he's fine. It especially shouldn't be a big deal if there are only 6 minutes left in the game. Unfortunately, this is Ronaldo, not your average level-headed player. So, 4 minutes later, 2 minutes before the end of the game, an Almeria player hits the back of Ronaldo's head with his arm. Not quite sure if it was intentional, you can see it in the video. Intentional or not, Ronaldo flips out and retaliates by brilliantly kicking the player right in front of the ref. This of course gives him his second yellow card, which translates into a red, making him ineligible for the next league game.

So lets recap: He scores a meaningless goal against a bad team, gets carded for his celebration, two minutes before the game ends, when Real has practically won, he kicks another player and gets red carded, Kaka is already out because of injury and now Ronaldo is out for the next game because he's an idiot, and the next game happens to be at Valencia-the team in third place right now.

How do you honestly expect me to love you?

Maybe by coming back two nights later and scoring two goals (including a brilliant goal off a free-kick) in the Champions League to help Real Madrid qualify for the knock out stages. Curse you Cristiano Ronaldo. Curse you. You make it so hard to love you.


Weekly Salute to Americans Serving (playing) Overseas

This week's salute (as though there have been previous salutes) was rather easy. Even if other Americans playing in the Premier League or anywhere else in Europe had done anything impressive, it would still have been tough to beat out this week's winner. So maybe it's good they didn't have any impact since they wouldn't want to have an impressive performance yet still not win this illustrious prize/recognition. Here are the three finalists, all happen to be goalies:

3rd place: Marcus Hahnemann - Wolverhampton Wanderers. I didn't see this game so I'm not entirely sure of his overall impact. The Wolves won, but they beat Bolton. Not much of an accomplishment since Bolton is in second to last. But hey, a win's a win. Plus, he did play the entire 90 minutes and also received a yellow card late in the game. So at least he made the score sheet. A nice consolation.

2nd place: Brad Friedel - Aston Villa. Shutout victory is always commendable for a goalie. However it did come against Hull City, not exactly a tough foe.

The Winner: Tim Howard - Everton. Tim Howard was brilliant this weekend. Everton has had a disappointing season. They were hosting third place Tottenham Hotspurs who nursed a 2-0 lead late into the game. Everton clawed it's way back and scored in the 78th minute and then scored the equalizer eight minutes later in the 86th minute. The fans were going crazy. They had been greatly rewarded for coming out in the pouring rain and supporting their team. Then, in stoppage time, the referee rewards Tottenham with a penalty when an Everton player body checked a Spurs player in the box. Everton fans have had little to cheer about this year and finally when they seem to get a break, the ref gives Tottenham the late penalty. Talk about a heart breaker...good thing they had an American in goal. An no, it wasn't Stallone. Granted, the penalty by Defoe isn't the best I've ever seen. He clearly tries to go down the middle and if he gets the ball off the ground he probably scores. But he doesn't and Howard makes a brilliant save. It really is an impressive block. The fans go wild. Howard goes wild and practically breaks his hands punching the pole. Everton goes on to seal the tie and the dramatic comeback. The American saved the day. Doesn't always happen in the Premier League, so when it does, it's a no-brainer that Tim Howard gets our salute this week. Thanks for serving and making us proud.

Battle for Oil Supremacy: Beating Them at Their Own Game(s)

Russian Oil: In 2003 a Russian billionaire by the name of Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea F.C. for a record 140 million pounds. Abramovich by the way is a bad and scary dude. Most businessmen with his wealth are shady people as it is, but add to the shadiness the fact that he is in Russia, where I don't even think murder is considered a crime. Anyways, prior to his purchase of the club, Chelsea had had recent small success in the Premier League. In the 2002/2003 season Chelsea finished 4th and qualified for the Champions League. So they weren't a terrible team before the purchase, but they also hadn't won a league title since the 1954/1955 season. Abramovich pretty much followed the Yankees, Real Madrid and many other professional sporting clubs and came up with a pretty simple and straightforward business plan for success: outspend everyone. Sadly for the fan, most players aren't terribly loyal to their club and most players will follow the almighty dollar (or pound). For every 1 player that might take less money to play with his desired club, there are at least 12 of equal skill that will follow the money anywhere, especially to a team like Chelsea that was already pretty good. So Abramovich started buying up players like crazy. Chelsea won back to back league titles in the first two years of Abramovich's reign. Since then, they haven't won any titles, but they have finished in the top 4 each season and played in the Champions League each season. Two years ago they lost in the Champions League finals to Manchester United, and last year they were literally seconds away to going back to the finals until Iniesta and Barcelona shoved a dagger in their heart with a winning goal in extra time (the announcer in that clip is awesome. Still gives me chills hearing/watching it).

This year is starting off as well as the others under Abramovich's control. Chelsea are currently in first place in the Premier League and have already qualified for the knock-out rounds of the Champions League. They have a team full of players that all play for their country's national team and are literally the best of the best. The players that ride the bench for Chelsea could all start at other clubs only they choose to stay at Chelsea because Chelsea is so good and because, well, as mentioned, they sold their soul and part of their career for the money. That dollar is powerful.

Arab Oil: In 2008 Abu Dhabi United Group Investment and Development Limited took over Manchester City. Fortunately for them, they swim in oil and money isn't an issue in their lives because unlike Chelsea, prior to the recent acquisition of Manchester City, the club was not really close to competing for the league title. Between 2002 and this season, Manchester City finished as low as 16th and as high as 8th. Never a bad team, but always second fiddle in their own city to the powerhouse that is Manchester United. City has been decent, but never close to competing for the league title or qualifying for the Champions League.

Arab Oil also noted that men, soccer players included, want money and figured they could follow Chelsea and buy the best players and championships. The only problem is that while players do want money, they also want to play for a contender, which is something Manchester City was not. Fortunately there was a young Brazilian superstar (shown in photo) who was crying in Madrid because he got his feelings hurt and he was ripe for being bought. Manchester City swooped in, and the process had begun. Other players took note that City had acquired a legit player and within a year they have stockpiled a team full of great players. Ironically, the team got so good that the Brazilian once again got upset that he wasn't playing and said he wanted to leave. Someone gave him his bottle though and it appears he will likely be sticking around.

So on Saturday the Russian Oil (Chelsea) met the newly improved Arab Oil (Man City) for the first time this season and for the first time since Man City made all the player acquisitions. As mentioned, Chelsea has been dominant this season. Man City hasn't been bad, but not quite meeting expectations either. They are currently in 6th place, which is an improvement, but prior to Saturday's game, they had tied 7 games in a row. After all the many player purchases, 6th place just isn't good enough.

But on Saturday they proved that $200 million sure can buy you a lot these days, including a pretty good football team. Chelsea played well, but Man City proved that they can compete with the big boys. Everyone knew that Man City had the pieces to be a true contender this season, but they had yet to prove anything. Saturday they did so in exciting fashion. The game wasn't without controversy of course (what's a good soccer game without some drama?). Adebayor scored for Man City after the ball hit a teammate's hand and play probably should have been stopped. But Chelsea's first goal came from an own goal from Adebayor, so I'm fine with the missed call since Chelsea didn't really deserve their goal in the first place. Plus, Chelsea had the opportunity to later tie the game after Chelsea's forward Didier Drogba was fouled inside the box. The penalty kick however was skillfully blocked by Man City's goalie. The block was so good in fact that he received a kiss from his teammate - as shown in the video below. Chelsea had their opportunities, but didn't capitalize and Man City did.

So hats off to Manchester City. Whether or not you agree with how they got here, they are here and are commanding respect. They took a page out of Chelsea's book and beat them by using their strategy. The real test of course will be when the two teams collide later in the season at Chelsea. Chelsea has yet to lose at home and the season will be in the final stages and every game will be that much more important. Both teams will be competing for the league championship and/or to qualify for the Champions League. At that point we will for sure know if Arab oil is better than Russian oil and good enough to buy a championship.

World Cup Draw Reveals Some Interesting Matchups

The draw for the group stages of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa was completed this morning, giving us some fascinating matchups to look forward to. Remember that after the round robin group stage (one game each with the other group members) the top two teams from each group advance to the knockout round.

Here are the group draws:

Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France.
Group B: Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, Greece.
Group C: England, United States, Algeria, Slovenia.
Group D: Germany, Australia, Serbia, Ghana.
Group E: Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Cameroon.
Group F: Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia.
Group G: Brazil, North Korea, Ivory Coast, Portugal.
Group H: Spain, Switzerland, Honduras, Chile.

My initial reaction is that, despite what other commentators may say, there isn't really a "group of death" in this draw, by which I mean that there's no group containing three teams that clearly would be knockout rounders if they didn't have to play each other. Some are calling group G the toughest, based on FIFA rankings (Brazil, Portugal, and Ivory Coast are all in the top 16), but Portugal's form of late hasn't been what it once was, and Brazil should be able to defeat both opponents relatively easily. Group E could be just as close (where Netherlands should make it through, but Denmark, Japan, and Cameroon will likely have to slug it out). Group A is also interesting, as on paper France and Mexico should go through, but Uruguay can be a tough opponent and it's hard to count the hosts out in any Cup. Group D could also be tough, although Germany should win the group, as the contest between Ghana, Serbia, and Australia for second place will be fun to watch.

It looks like Spain and Italy lucked out with the two easiest groups in the Cup. I still believe that Italy's 2006 Cup victory was just as much the result of an easy knockout round draw as it was the result of good play. This time, assuming they win the group, they'll likely face one of the tougher initial knockout round games, as anyone coming out of Group E can make a game of it against them. Spain could also have their hands full with whomever comes out of Group G in second place.

My last observation is that this is a great draw for the USMNT to make the knockout round. England will be tough, but the U.S. should be able to beat Algeria and Slovenia to make it through (where they would likely face a tough opponent in Germany if we don't win the group). The England-U.S. tie could be one of the most interesting matchups of the group stage--a rematch of the 1950 upset victory by the Americans (highlights commentary in German, sorry!) the only other time the two teams have met in the World Cup.
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