|photo by FaceMePLS||via PhotoRee|
* European nights are great, absolutely my favorite soccer nights of the year. The atmosphere at the various stadiums involved absolutely crackles with electricity. The songs and chants coming from the crowd last the entire game, and the flags fly before, during and afterward. Champions League provides a much different type of atmosphere than that seen in a typical domestic contest, even one between two top teams. As amped up and loud as Stamford Bridge may be when the Gunners cross town to visit Chelsea, or when United pays a visit from Manchester, the passion exhibited in a domestic encounter is more team-oriented than nationalistic in nature. In Champions League, however, it's not just a team's standing that's at risk; it's the standing of an entire nation that is being decided. Think Davis Cup more than US Open. The crowds are loud, passionate and fully committed, and the emotion carries all the way through to televisions here in the US -- one of the few foreign concepts that crosses boundaries with no translation necessary.
* The soccer played in the Champions League matches, especially as the tournament enters its final stages, is the best in the world. Better than the World Cup, hands down. To see Barcelona confront Internazionale, as in the semi-finals last year, is to see soccer in its purest form. In contrast to World Cup teams, which play together a dozen times a year or so, the teams in Champions League play together 50 or more games a season. These are teams with players who not only are at the top of their game (i.e, their team has finished top or near the top of their domestic league), but also know what their teammates will be doing without bothering to look, because they've done it together so many times that it has become second nature. In fact, that the Spanish won the World Cup this year I'll take as proof of my thesis: the core of the team right up the middle -- Xavi, Iniesta, Pujols, Pique, and now even Villa -- all play for Barca. Proof once again that familiarity among top footballer breeds excellence. And there's plenty of that to go around in the Champions League.
* Weird stat of the day: Marseille outpossessed Chelsea 51% - 49%, despite playing the game on the road at Stamford Bridge. Also outshot Chelsea 19-15. Also lost, 2-nil, which could have just as easily been 4-nil if not for the goal posts.... Once again goes to show you how important statistics are in footie.
*Arsenal 3 - Partizan 1. Battle of the penalties, with Partizan taking two and scoring one, and Arsenal taking one and scoring none. Bendtner-lite (aka Chamakh) with the 10.0 from the Russian judges for the perfect dive on the edge of the area, just edging out the Chinese women's team.
* What's up with Real Madrid? Sure they won, 1-nil, but they beat Auxerre, not exactly a world beater, at least according to my rudimentary knowledge of Ligue 1. Real aren't scoring goals this year despite a strike force containg Higuain, Ronaldo, DiMaria and more. Luckily for them they're not conceding goals, either (I think they've given up something like two all year). So one way of looking at it (the optimist's) is that Jose's got half his magic working. Watch out when he gets the other half in gear....
* I love games in Russia, as it appears that most of them are played on astroturf in front of empty seats overseen by men in military uniforms holding Kalashnikovs. Looks to me alot like the major indoor soccer league over here in the US..... Spartak Moskva 3 - Zilina (who?) 0.
* I'm in need of an Italian correspondent. I think I've pretty much figured out the EPL and even La Liga, but the Serie A, other than AC Milan and Inter, remains a mystery. I've seen Roma play several times but can't really judge how strong they are. Qualcuno leggendo questo parlano italiano e vuole scrivere una colonna per una pagina web di calcio?? In any event, Roma rolls 1-nil over Cluj (speaking of which, the Romanian league is something I SERIOUSLY don't have a handle on, but I think my friend Ed might. Will have to remember to ask him the next time I see him)......
* Ajax 1 - Milan 1. Robinho is still terrible despite changing teams and countries, Ibra is on fire after his move from Barca to AC.
* Schweinsteiger 2 - FC Basel 1. Nothing pithy to say here.
* FC Braga va. Shakhtar Donetsk. Did anyone watch this match? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? 3-nil Shakhtar. They're rolling. And so am I. That's farlieonfootie for September 29th.