All Balls Don’t Bounce

Completely Random Sports Non Sequiturs From A Completely Random Hip Hop Head

Aaaand We’re Back

Posted by hiphopmama on October 27, 2009

Ringzzz
LA Clippers 92, LA Lakers 99
(1-0)

It always feels a little weird to me when the NBA season doesn’t start on Halloween, but my daughter’s third birthday is as good a day as any to inaugurate another year of basketball.  With this being “Championship Ring Night,” which is apparently the newest addition to the commentator vernacular, emotions were high at Staples Center as the Lakers kicked off their season against their in-house rivals, the Clippers.

Now before I really get into it, I have a caveat. This year’s updates are going to be much shorter. At least that’s my intention. I’m back at work, braving daycare with my baby girl, and frankly too damn tired to pump out 800+ words for every Laker game. That said, I often have a hard time shutting my mouth (or my laptop), so brevity is more of a tentative goal than an absolute promise. And now on with the show.

The Lakers turned in a mostly convincing performance against a Clippers team that was without its number one draft pick Blake Griffin, who picked up a knee injury in the last game of an impressive preseason. He is expected to be sidelined for 6-8 weeks, which is a big blow to Dunleavy and the Clips. That wasn’t the biggest of their problems tonight, though, as they were generally dismantled by a far superior Lakers team that looked loose and ready to get back to work. We were without Pau Gasol due to a nagging but minor injury, so Odom was inserted into the starting line-up along with old faithfuls Kobe and Fish, the hopefully healthy Bynum, and newcomer Ron Artest.

The team fared well in the early going, moving the ball well and defending with good energy. Phil treated it like a preseason game with his rotation, playing the likes of Mbenga and Powell significant minutes in the first quarter somewhat surprisingly. When the Clippers made the expected run, the starters were re-inserted to steady the game and stretch the lead back to a comfortable margin. The same basic pattern followed in the second half, with the team taking a little cruise in the third quarter to let the Clips back to within one before slamming the door shut on them with an early fourth quarter burst.

It’s the first game of a long season, so I don’t think too much can be read into this one, but it’s worth analyzing things a bit I suppose. Kobe turned in a routine 33 in 38 minutes and filled out the rest of the stat sheet with 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 4 steals. He looked like a fish in water, thoroughly in his element and happy to be back on the court. He linked up well with his teammates all night long. Odom looked like the good Odom that makes us all but unbeatable, going for a cool 16 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. Dayyyumm. Phil showed us a little somethin’ somethin’ with a three-guard set of Kobe, Farmar, and Brown on a couple occasions. We’ll have to see how that one plays out as the season goes on.

The biggest story of the night was easily Ron Artest’s debut in the purple and gold. He wasn’t spectacular, but he played the kind of game I’d like to see more of from him in the future. He was quiet for large stretches, defended staunchly, hustled for loose balls, and picked his spots offensively. The main question fans had going into the season was how Ron-Ron would fit into the triangle offense and whether or not he would be able to defer to the great offensive beings on his team. At least for tonight, he did all that and quite well. He missed a few open threes, but that will come with time, and the extra threat on the post and toughness in defense is well worth the transition time. And Ariza’s agent looks worse and worse….

So here I am, 650 words in and still talking. I’m gonna shut up now and leave it at that until Friday night, when we host the Mavericks. 20-1 may be a little lofty (but thanks for the nod, Reggie), but something similarly remarkable does seem achievable, at least for this early season stretch, which is pretty straightforward for the second straight year. 70 games? Probably not, but the goal is much more than that anyway. Here’s to all that and more.

Posted in nba | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

La Liga Talk: Modest Improvement For Madrid

Posted by hiphopmama on September 25, 2009

Game summary and analysis of the 2-0 victory away to Villarreal. Highlights below:

Posted in soccer | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

La Liga Talk: Another Impressive Scoreline Conceals Real’s Frailties

Posted by hiphopmama on September 21, 2009

Recap and analysis of Real Madrid’s 5-0 win over Xerez at the Bernabeu. Read and comment, pretty pretty pleeease. =)

Another Impressive Scoreline Conceals Real’s Frailties

Highlights and goals below:

Posted in soccer | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

La Liga Talk: Que Mal Que Marca El Madrid

Posted by hiphopmama on September 13, 2009

Okay, new post format here. I just started writing for La Liga Talk and posted this over there about Real Madrid’s 3-0 win against Espanyol this weekend. Go read. Now.

Que Mal Que Marca El Madrid

And here are the match highlights:

Posted in soccer | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Serena Breaks the Fuck Down

Posted by hiphopmama on September 12, 2009

serena foot fault
Wow. I can honestly say I’ve never seen this one before. After getting broken in the final game to lose the first set to Kim Clijsters – and picking up a warning for breaking her racket – Serena found herself down 15-30 on her own serve at 4-5 in the second. She was then called for a foot fault on her second serve, giving Clijsters two match points. Serena stepped back momentarily in disbelief at the call, asked for the balls for her next serve, and then approached the linesperson with her typical on-court venom. She pointed at the woman, showed the ball to her, and appeared to tell her, “You’re lucky I don’t take this ball and shove it down your fucking throat.” She had some more words for her, which she uttered while shaking her racket at her, before she finally retreated to the court to prepare to serve. The linesperson then, either on her own or after being prompted by the chair umpire, approached the chair, reported what had been said, and watched things unfold from there.

US Open officialdom came out onto the court and consulted with the chair to decide Serena’s fate. Her previous warning really did her in, because it meant the second violation resulted in a point penalty, which just happened to come on match point. Game, set, match Clijsters and the bizarrest ending to a match I’ve ever seen.

Watch for yourself:

I don’t think I’m alone in asking, WTF??

Posted in tennis | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Wheat, Here; Chaff, There

Posted by hiphopmama on September 12, 2009

van persie man city
As much as I don’t want to say it, I feel like this may have been the week where the contenders separated themselves from the pretenders, or where the wheat finally separated itself from the chaff, if you will. It pains me, mostly because I’m an Arsenal fan but also because I’m desperate to see someone (ANYONE) other than ManU hoist that trophy, with as many changes in that top four oligarchy as possible – other than Arsenal’s place in it, of course.

Tottenham 1-3 Manchester United
1-0 Defoe, 1′
1-1 Giggs, 25′
1-2 Anderson, 41′
1-3 Rooney, 78′

So Tottenham playing well was a good thing for me, because, despite their heated rivalry with Arsenal, it was another team putting pressure on the biggies and they had the chance today to knock off the reigning champs. They failed, and big time. They opened the game in brilliant fashion with a laser of a bicycle kick from Jermain Defoe inside of the first 50 seconds putting the North London side up 1-0. But then United did what they always do – slow and steady to the finish line. In the 25th minute, Ryan Giggs curled in a free kick to knot the scoreline, and Anderson blasted one past Cudicini just before halftime to give ManU the lead for good. Paul Scholes had a typical Paul Scholes day, sliding into two dangerous tackles and earning himself a red card in the 59th minute. Being reduced to ten men didn’t hamper United much, though, as Rooney tiptoed right down the lane to slot home Manchester’s third and final goal of the game.

And just like that, Tottenham’s supposed coming-out party was put on ice, if not abandoned altogether, and their 100% record went out the window as well in favor of a clear statement of intent from the defending league champions. Spurs just seemed short of answers today, scoring early but then never really finding anything else to punish ManU with. Perhaps the loss of Modric had a role to play in this, but whatever the case, it doesn’t bode well for the longevity of their stay at the top of the table.

Manchester City 4-1 Arsenal
1-0 Almunia (og), 20′
1-1 Van Persie, 62′
2-1 Bellamy, 74′
3-1 Adebayor, 80′
4-1 Wright-Phillips, 84′
4-2 Rosicky, 88′

I don’t even want to talk about this one. Maybe I’m officially a soccer nut if a loss like this can screw up my whole day, because that’s what it did. I watched the rest of the matches I recorded today after this, but only grudgingly and with the bitter hope that the other big teams would fail too. I’m not going to bother describing each goal, because it will just depress me further. The first was tragically comical in everything from the ball’s lofted trajectory off Micah Richards’ bulbous head to Almunia’s hapless expression as the ball ricocheted off his own melon and into the Arsenal goal. 1-0 City despite Arsenal looking the better side in the opening minutes. Things were pretty even for a while after that, until Arsenal started piling on the pressure in the second half, eventually resulting in a goal by Robin Van Persie to tie things up. For a good ten minutes after that, it seemed inevitable that we would get another and take the lead, but there was some kind of lapse in the aftermath of Adebayor’s very intentional kick to Van Persie’s face and Alex Song’s foul of revenge on his former teammate. City parlayed the resulting confusion into a lightning quick counterattack and a strike from Craig Bellamy to restore their lead. And then Adebayor scored (that’s all the description I’m going to give) before jetting to the other end of the field to celebrate in front of the Arsenal fans. Cunt. It might have been the fastest I’ve ever seen him run. If he had hustled like that last season, Arsenal might have competed better down the stretch. But no matter. He got his ticket (check?) out of London and over to the trendy new Manchester side, where it must be said he is playing quite well. He reminds me of my separated parents, only NOW doing all the things he should have been doing all along to salvage his former relationship. Do I sound bitter?

There was one silver lining in this match, and it was the return of Tomas Rosicky, including a sweet goal in his first game back. It came on some gorgeous link-up play between he and Fabregas, who lofted the ball to the little Mozart, who in turn needed just one touch to send it on its way. The whole Arsenal side looked better after he was introduced, so everyone just pray he can miraculously avoid anymore injuries for a while and we may have a winning combination on our hands.

Liverpool 4-0 Burnley
1-0 Benayoun, 27′
2-0 Kuyt, 41′
3-0 Benayoun, 61′
4-0 Benayoun, 82′

Stoke City 1-2 Chelsea
1-0 Faye, 32′
1-1 Drogba, 45′
1-2 Malouda, 90′

Two very different victories here, but with very familiar overtones. Liverpool absolutely ran rampant over Burnley, with Yossi Benayoun netting a hat trick and effectively setting up Dirk Kuyt for the fourth by blazing the shot that Brian Jensen parried into Kuyt’s path. Chelsea, on the other hand, needed another late-game winner to beat a bottom half side, but they, like Manchester United, proved that it doesn’t matter how you earn those points, as long as you get ‘em. They secured all three today and kept their perfect start going, now having won five games in five tries. Only they and Manchester City can claim a 100% record going forward, with Chelsea having played one more game at this point.

Which brings me to a question I have for my own theory: if the true title contenders are separating themselves from the pack this week, what does this say about Man City? Because I don’t really consider them contenders for anything other than a Europa League, or at least I didn’t before the season started. I’m hoping I’ve just come up with a faulty explanation for the weekend’s turn of events, but I’m beginning to worry. They can’t be the real deal, can they?

Posted in soccer | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Not My Day…Kinda

Posted by hiphopmama on August 29, 2009

As good as the early weeks of the season have been to me, today was not my day. All the well-intentioned advice keeps telling me to fastidiously separate my subject matter, but fuck it – I watch multiple leagues, so I’m going to write about all of them at once. If you only keep up with one and are offended by my mixing, a thousand apologies. But this is how the day played out for me.

Act I

Manchester United 2-1 Arsenal
0-1 Arshavin, 40′
1-1 Rooney (pen), 59′
2-1 Diaby (0g), 64′

Inter 4-0 AC Milan
1-0 Thiago Motta, 29′
2-0 Milito (pen), 36′
3-0 Maicon, 45′
4-0 Stankovic, 67′

First off, fuck your bitch and the click you claim. Wait, that’s Tupac, but it could just as well have been my intro to Manchester United and their showdown with my Gunners, as much as I hate those Red Devil bastards and their gum-smacking manager. Things started out promisingly enough, with an AMAZING strike from Arshavin on 40 minutes putting Arsenal ahead. It really was unbelievable, a good 20+ yards out, and he lasered it into the upper corner of the net while a hapless Ben Foster barely got a hand to it. As sublime as that strike was, the second half went completely in the other direction very quickly. Arsenal had a chance right out the gate to go up two goals when Arshavin slipped past his defender on the left-hand side, sent in a low cross with some pace, and then watched in agony as Ben Foster stuck out a leg to keep out Robin Van Persie’s point blank effort. Not long after that, ManU turned the tables and finally made good on their pressure when Almunia dove in front of Rooney and the Shrek look-alike went down. I know, I know, it was a penalty. The keeper didn’t get so much as a fingernail on the ball, and he made more contact with Rooney than Boruc did with Eduardo. ManU weren’t foolish enough to send Michael Carrick to the spot a second time, and Rooney converted the penalty easily. From there, you sensed it was going to be a matter of holding on for Arsenal, and they just couldn’t do it. Giggs, who had set up the penalty with a nice pass, put a decent free kick into the box, and Diaby inexplicably headed it into his own goal to gift United the lead and the win. I’m still not sure what he was doing – he didn’t get enough on it to be trying to put it over the bar, so I can only assume he either, a) was stupidly trying to head it back to Almunia, or b) had absolutely no idea where he was on the pitch. The second of those seems more likely, but the reason doesn’t matter because the outcome was determined. Arsenal put in some last-ditch efforts to even the scoreline, and they came as close as they possibly could without actually scoring. At the dead end of stoppage time, Van Persie actually put the ball in the back of the net, but the goal was ruled out for offside, disappointingly the correct call. There was at least a little comic relief at the end when Arsene Wenger got sent off and then got into an entertaining back-and-forth over how far was far enough away from the action. Not satisfied with his initial departure, the ref ordered him into the stands. From there, he was instructed to put some more distance between himself and his bench, so he walked out to the front of the stands amidst the screaming United fans and smiled and shrugged his shoulders, asking, “Where do you want me to go?” It would have been hilarious had the game scenario not been so painful at the moment.

I couldn’t bear to watch any of the postgame wrap-up or listen to any of the talking heads give their two cents, so I immediately muted it and went looking for something else on my DVR to watch. It’s early, I told myself, and I have plenty of football available to watch to lift my spirits. The Milan derby was today too, right? Against all logic, I still thought AC Milan could pull off a surprise result, and I was bolstered in this belief by the teams’ week one performances. Inter draws 1-1 with Bari, Milan joga’s bonito over Siena to the tune of 2-1, and Ronaldinho was sure to be resurgent again in the pairing with Pato. Right? RIGHT?? Wrong. This one was a drubbing. I’m not sure there’s any point in going through the goals. Suffice it to say that, after a brief flourish of possession and attack in the opening minutes, AC Milan absolutely folded and Inter administered an embarrassing 4-0 defeat. Gattuso was sent off in the 40th minute, which didn’t help matters, but that was only after Inter had scored twice, including one off a penalty Rino himself conceded. After that, two great strikes by Maicon and Stankovic put the game on ice, if it wasn’t already, and left me hanging my head.

I then tried to move on to Real Madrid’s opener, but FUCKING GOLTV screwed up their guide listings AGAIN, causing me to miss the opening 40 minutes of their game against Deportivo La Coruña. Strike three.

At this point, all my hopes rested with Chelsea, who became my number two team in England when I realized a few years ago Manchester United losing was more important than anything else and Chelsea were the only ones with a hope of catching them. They’ve had a great start to the season, and I didn’t foresee them letting me down against Burnley. But then laundry, and cooking, and sweeping, and mopping got in the way and prevented me from getting in a decent result during the sunlit hours of the day.

Act II

Chelsea 3-0 Burnley
1-0 Anelka, 45′
2-0 Ballack, 47′
3-0 Cole, 52′

Real Madrid 3-2 Deportivo La Coruña
1-0 Raul, 26′
1-1 Riki, 30′
2-1 Ronaldo (pen), 35′
2-2 Valeron, 46′
3-2 Lass Diarra, 60′

Finally, with the family returned home, the daughter and husband in bed, and a kitchenful of dishes to do, I flipped on the TV and cued up Chelsea. It took them the better part of the first half to really find their groove (that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?), but once they did, they didn’t disappoint. Right at the end of the first half, Drogba broke out down the right and fired low across the face of the goal, setting the table perfectly for Anelka to tap it home from inches out. The second half continued in the same vein, with Ballack scoring on a diving header off a Lampard cross two minutes out of the break. The third goal was the real peach, though, and came off still more lovely passing in the set-up. Ashley Cole, who played wonderfully all game, played a little one-two with Lampard around the left corner of the box. Lampard’s lofted ball found Cole impeccably, and the left back volleyed home a stinger into the top of the net to cap the scoring.

With at least one victory under my belt, I scavenged through all the mislabeled GolTV programming I had recorded to find the Real Madrid replay and sat down to watch my most anticipated match of the new season. Despite all my best intentions, the Blancos have my undying devotion, and even my detesting (to put it mildly) of Cristiano Ronaldo couldn’t put the damper on my support. An unrequited love for Raul, Casillas, and Kaka helps in that regard, though, so I was more than ready to get the La Liga season underway.

The first goal showed all the promise of what this Real Madrid might achieve, combining the old guard with the new. Kaka delivered a gorgeous ball, nutmegging TWO defenders to find a streaking Benzema (who may or may not have been offside). The keeper appeared to get a fingertip to his strike to deflect it onto the post, and the rebound fell to Raul to poke it home. It wouldn’t have been so easy had the Depor defense not stopped playing looking for the offside flag, but no matter, Real had a 1-0 lead, and it was beautifully engineered by one of the summer’s big signings. Within five minutes, though, Deportivo equalized over some iffy defending off a set piece and header by Riki. Everything just looked a little loosey-goosey back there, which is to be expected, I suppose, with all the new players in there figuring out the system. After just five more minutes, Madrid reclaimed the lead when Aranzubia brought Raul down in the box and Ronaldo coolly converted the penalty. My hatred dissipated just a tad, momentarily at least, upon witnessing his celebration, which seemed entirely earnest in the emotion he showed at scoring his first official goal for the Merengues. Despite all his pomp and hair gel, he does seem to have a legitimate love for the club and appears to want nothing more than to succeed there, which is enough to make him palatable to me. Barely.

Deportivo wasted no time coming out of halftime, equalizing a second time on a nice strike by Juan Carlos Valeron from just outside the box. Once again, some lax defending left him in too much space and he snapped it past an onlooking Casillas after receiving a nice pass from Guardado. Last season’s stand-out Lassana Diarra finally settled matters in the 60th with a surprisingly crisp hit from the top of the box. He dribbled a bit, created some space for himself, and then fired it past Aranzubia for the third time. It came a bit out of nowhere, with all the millions of Euros standing around watching him, but it secured the three points nonetheless.

Epilogue

So in the end, I finished 2-2 on the day, although that last win was a little uncertain. Still, I’ll take it, especially after how horribly it all started for me, going from awful to horrendous in the Arsenal and AC Milan losses. A big thank you to Chelsea and Real Madrid for helping me finish the 24 on a good note. We’ll see how I fare on Sunday.

Posted in soccer, tv | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Umm…

Posted by hiphopmama on August 27, 2009

I’m not going into any detail on this, but what the hell is going on at Real Madrid right now? I celebrated when they paid top dollar for Kaka. I didn’t blink when they spent untold millions on the Coiffed One. And nary an eye was batted when supplies were further exhausted to bring in Xabi Alonso. All good players, mind you, but not too subtle or nuanced a transfer policy, don’t you think? Understandably, they were always going to have to trim some fat from a squad that was already overlarge, and credit where it’s due, they axed the first and foremost on my list, Gabriel Heinze, early on. Michel Salgado was – rather unceremoniously, in my opinion – let go despite his years of service. Makes sense, they’re both aging defenders with little role to play in the new-look squad. Huntelaar eventually made his exit as well, making his way to Milan after some good finagling. Fine, they do have a glut of strikers at this point, so someone was going to be on the outs.

Things had appeared to slow down for a while, and then BOOM – Alvaro Negredo is gone, sold to Sevilla. Yes, they have a good buy-back clause on him, but why sell him in the first place? He did brilliantly with Almeria and looked poised to help spearhead Real’s front line, for a long while into the future, yet they let him go. Ushered him out the door, more like it. Ta-ta to another canterano. Transfer speculation appeared to slow after that, with Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder looking likely to stay put. And now, what do we hear? Robben will find himself at Bayern Munich for the upcoming season, and Sneijder is to land at Inter Milan. This after I had convinced myself of their importance to the squad for this transitional year, while the new players find their way into the fold. They added the kind of depth crucial to any team hoping to contend in multiple competitions over the course of a long season. And besides that, Robben was the team’s most dangerous creative player in the games played so far with the new group, changing the landscape of the game when substituted for CRon and clicking with teammates far better than Pretty Boy did. I just don’t understand it. These are the kind of moves that will derail Real’s title hopes, especially when you consider Barça are returning essentially their whole team after winning the triplete with another year of chemistry under their belts. Until this, I thought they had a decent (if outside) chance to unseat the champions. But now, I must agree that Barcelona look all but assured to win it again. And all so Real can sign another unnecessary and overpriced superstar A YEAR FROM NOW. Ribery may be an excellent player, but he is far from an essential ingredient, and I don’t believe he is worth weakening the current squad for. Oh well, I guess. Who knows better – Florentino or me? Let’s just hope that quarter of a billion proves its worth, and soon. There will be no grace period, at least not anymore.

Posted in soccer | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Champions League Group Stage Draw

Posted by hiphopmama on August 27, 2009

Once you recover from the cleverness of the title of this post, continue on to find out the eight groups set up by today’s draw for the next phase of the UEFA Champions League, followed by my thoughts on them. Go on, treat yourself.

Group A
Bayern Munich
Juventus
Bordeaux
Maccabi Haifa

I can’t see Juventus having too many problems making their way through to the knock-out rounds in this group. No offense to either Bayern or Bordeaux, who will present tricky match-ups at the very least, but none of these teams has the same quality as Juve. Munich is the likely favorite to go through in the second spot, but look out for current Ligue 1 champions Bordeaux to challenge all parties.

Group B
Manchester United
CSKA Moscow
Besiktas
Wolfsburg

Sir Alex is sitting pretty after drawing this group, as Manchester United won’t face a single team from either Italy, Spain, or France, although they do have to contend with Bundesliga champs VFL Wolfsburg and Russian Premier League runners-up CSKA Moscow. Still, the Mancs should have little difficulty navigating this group, although I would love to see a shock results from the German upstart club.

Group C
AC Milan
Real Madrid
Marseille
Zurich

Humdinger of a match-up in this one, as Kaka makes his first return to the San Siro since moving to Real Madrid. Marseille are a very high-quality third team as well, so this one should be interesting till the end. It’s a tough group to predict in some ways, because we have little indication as to how the retooled teams of AC Milan and Real Madrid will perform this season. Milan’s opening day win over Siena was convincing enough, and Real Madrid’s preseason form was fairly encouraging, but real competitive play is another story altogether so we’ll have to see. Group C will definitely have some of the best storylines, though, no matter the outcome.

Group D
Chelsea
Porto
Atletico Madrid
APOEL Nicosia

This is one of just two groups that has three teams I could legitimately see getting through. You have to feel Chelsea are a lock, but both Porto and Atletico have equal claim on that second spot in my mind, at least for now. If Atletico’s strikers maintain the level of form they had last year, and if their back line can achieve some semblance of solidity, they should sneak through. But Porto are always tough at home and will be looking to secure their own place.

Group E
Liverpool
Lyon
Fiorentina
Debrecen

This is the other group with a three-way traffic jam at the top. Once again, the English team is the clear favorite, but Lyon and Fiorentina will really duke it out as well. Lyon will be playing to prove something after being knocked off the top spot in Ligue 1 by Bordeaux after seven straight years at number one, and finally breaking through in European play would help in that regard. I still expect the Viola to top them, though, and bolster the Italian presence in the quarterfinals.

Group F
Barcelona
Inter Milan
Rubin Kazan
Dynamo Kyiv

In case you needed any more Spain-Italy drama, you’ll get to see Eto’o and Ibrahimovic face each other after swapping teams as Barcelona and Inter face off in this easiest of groups to pick. Inter are the favorites to defend their Serie A crown, and Barça are favorites to win just about everything else, so unless they somehow cancel each other out, both will be waiting for the next draw for the knock-out stage.

Group G
Sevilla
Stuttgart
Rangers
Unirea Urziceni

This is the bland kind of grouping that convinces me that UEFA isn’t fixing these things, at least not at this early stage in the tournament. The lack of star power doesn’t mean a lack in quality, though, as Sevilla have a very solid team and Stuttgart have some big name players as well. Granted, most of them are cast-offs from bigger teams (Jens Lehman, Alexander Hleb), but the Germans will still have something to say about the outcome of this one. I’m happy to see Sevilla with a relatively clear path to the quarters here. They deserve it after all their workmanlike effort in La Liga, and more people need to see Jesus Navas. Wow.

Group H
Arsenal
AZ Alkmaar
Olympiacos
Standard Liege

As an Arsenal fan, I am more than pleased with the draw they got. As with ManU, they won’t have any competition from the biggest leagues (in Arsenal’s case, no Spain, Italy, France, or Germany). AZ Alkmaar and Standard Liege are the champs of their respective leagues, and Athens is always a tough place to play against Olympiacos, but with no Real Madrid, Inter, Juve, etc., you’ve got to think they got off easier. Hopefully they can lock up their spot relatively early and not have to bank on getting a result in Athens in that final game.

So that’s that. Barcelona-Inter and Real Madrid-AC Milan are the headliners of this group stage, which should mean some good head-to-head match-ups but with each team still making it through to the quarterfinals. I never completely understood how they set up the qualifying rounds, but it has indeed opened the way for some teams we wouldn’t normally see, a number of whom have a real shot to make it out of the group stage. Aside from pulling for Arsenal, I’m hoping for a good showing from the Spanish sides, because it’s about time La Liga started making a stronger showing outside of just the big two. Sevilla look poised to move on, and Atletico will like their chances as well, so we shall see. I don’t know how I’m going to wait till September 15th-16th to get this thing rolling.

Posted in soccer | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Gunners Go Through

Posted by hiphopmama on August 26, 2009

eduardo pen
Arsenal 3-1 Celtic
(5-1 aggregate)
1-0 Eduardo (pen), 28′
2-0 Eboue, 53′
3-0 Arshavin, 74′
3-1 Donati, 90′

There was never really any doubt as to what the result of this one would be, but with Fabregas nursing a gimpy hammy and considerations for the Manchester United clash this weekend, Celtic got to take their best shot. Or at least they did until my favorite name in officialdom – Manuel Enrique Mejuto Gonzalez – saw fit to award a penalty to when Eduardo went down in the face of zero contact from Celtic keeper Artur Boruc. In live action, I thought it was an iffy decision, and the replay showed the keeper pulled away from the challenge at the last minute and probably failed to even touch the Arsenal player. But, as always, these things are hard to call, and from his angle Gonzalez thought he brought him down. So Eduardo stepped up, stroked the penalty home, and the outcome was all but guaranteed.

The final two goals were icing, and both were scored in fine team fashion. Eboue was the beneficiary of the first, when a Bendtner backheel found Diaby on the left wing to set up a lovely cross and finish. Twenty minutes later, substitute Andrei Arshavin got his first Champions League goal for Arsenal when he cleverly shepherded a ball in from Jack Wilshere, turned around the defender, and slotted it past the goalkeeper. Massimo Donati eventually netted Celtic’s consolation goal on a well-taken volley, but the failure to keep a clean sheet won’t trouble the Gunners much as they progress to the group stage of the UCL.

I can honestly say I feel slightly bad for Celtic fans, whose team was robbed of any real chance in this one by the early, and clearly inaccurate, penalty call. But the tie wasn’t lost on this one call alone, and if Arsenal hadn’t scored on the penalty in the 28th minute, they would certainly have done so at some later point because they were pouring on the pressure and Celtic rarely looked likely to score. Even Tony Mowbray admitted as much, stating, “You cannot deny that over two legs, Arsenal had more quality and deserved to go through.” As for Donati’s recommendation that UEFA hand down a two-match ban to Eduardo for diving, I think his hopes for that one are about as low as Celtic’s always were for getting past Arsenal in this one. Did he go down easily? Yep. Way too easily? Probably. But for all the egregious flopping that goes on all the time, I just don’t see it happening. Wenger made a good point here as well, noting that lingering psychological damage after his horrific injury last year may have contributed to his diving (in the innocent way) to avoid contact with Boruc. “I never asked in my life any guy to dive to win a penalty, but sometimes the players go down because there is no other way to escape the tackling of the keeper, sometimes they dive. I do not want a penalty which is not a penalty, but I do not go as far as to say Eduardo dived.” Even with all that, I’ll admit it was probably a dive, but whichever way it was called, the result was always going to be the same. And besides, it’s Eduardo, about whom I’ve never heard any grumblings of cheating before.

So that’s that, Arsenal are through, and the draw for the group stage is tomorrow. What are the chances the English teams are kept on such separate paths again this year?

Posted in soccer | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.