First off, wonderful post by my colleague bzimzim. I could have done without the link to the Liverpool thrashing of Madrid, but great final answer. The question of parity in European football is a valid one, and one that will hopefully be addressed in this space shortly. But I might add that the logical conclusion from a finding that Real Madrid is not destroying football is, of course, that Real Madrid is saving football.
Well, maybe that's not the logical conclusion, but it's my conclusion. So there.
So up until now this space has covered almost nothing from South America. For better or worse, events demand that we shift attention to the continent may not have invented the game, but certainly perfected it.
It's always unfortunate when a referee decides a game. It's tragic for the game and fans when a referee decides a championship. For all intents and purposes that's exactly what happened in Argentina last Sunday. Velez and Huracan disputed the final game of the "Clausura" (the Argentine championship is divided into two seasons). Huracan, who by all accounts have played the best football in Argentina this season, needed only a draw to seal the title. They scored, but it was incorrectly called offsides. An unfortunate, but somewhat routine, mistake. Then, seven minutes from the final, a Velez striker committed an egregious penalty on the keeper and on the rebound Velez managed to score. No call, Velez 1-0. Velez takes the title home. A full write up of the game (in Spanish) here.
You know it was a poorly officiated game when the referee admits to making several mistakes and missing the offside call (but brushes it off), the foul on the championship-winning goal, and throws in for good measure a botched penalty call.
A clip of the penalty on the keeper here. Hilariously, the British announcers maintain a ridiculous level of deference for the referee and don't really comment on the terrible no-call. I assure you the Argentine announcers were not as compassionate. In a useless but expected reaction, Huracan fans marched in protest to the AFA, and requested sanctions for the referee.
Cruzeiro and Estudiantes tied in the first leg of the Copa Libertadores yesterday (think South American Champions League) in a rather thrilling scoreless draw. It had the typical staples of a top flight match in South America, including a 15 minute delay because the smoke from fans' flares (or introductory smoke) obscured everything, toilet paper rolling about the field, and a busted water main behind one goal in the middle of the game. Notably missing was a dog being let loose on the field at some point. We can only hope for the away leg!
Seriously though, what was on display was incisive, beautiful, and quick-hitting attacking football by Cruzeiro that in many ways defines jogo bonito. Heel flicks and on-the-ball skill galore from the Brazilians who looked the better side. Estudiantes, however, played well, created their chances, and set some beautiful plays of their own up. Dangerous from dead balls and with good creation on the wings, the final match in Belo Horizonte next Wednesday should be one worth watching. Coverage here.
Also, let me note that watching South American football after a season of European football is like watching 1980s NBA basketball versus today's version. The fouls are tougher, arms and elbows "accidentally" flail out when someone is fouled, and no one ever stops talking trash. Throw in some very exciting football, and its a nice change of gear once in a while. I still can't watch the Brazilian league (defense anyone?) but I encourage everyone to watch next week's final game, it is South America's best club offering and any serious fan should tune in.
Will the South Africa 2010 actually happen? Who knows? Forget about snobbery or elitism - there are legitimate reasons countries with insufficient infrastructure and poor stability shouldn't be awarded world events. Call me what you will, and my apologies to South Africa or Brazil, but third world/developing (or whatever politically correct version of these terms is in vogue now) countries pose significant problems for these type of events. I hope next summer goes off without a hitch, but I harbor serious doubts.
Some quick transfer news, or in other words, back to Europe:
Spain has produced numerous world-class keepers in recent years (Casillas, Reina, Palop, Valdes), and Atletico Madrid have signed the pearl of the Spanish youth system - Sergio Asenjo.
The influx of quality from England to Spain continues - potent Ivory Coast and Tottenham midfielder Didier Zokora joins Sevilla. A nice addition for a team that is overloaded with class and skill in the midfield but lacked some bite in that area last season.
Villa is worried about Valencia's instability. Barcelona looks pretty stable, no?
Both Spanish bigs look to Cesc. He used to be a Barcelona youth player though....
Benzema's in Madrid for his presentation.
Still betting youth, Sir Alex poached Bordeaux and France U-21 winger Gabriel Obertan.