All Balls Don’t Bounce

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

Posts Tagged ‘thierry henry’

That’s the Season, Folks

Posted by hiphopmama on May 2, 2009

Real Madrid 2-6 Barcelona
     1-0 Higuain, 14′
     1-1 Henry, 18′
     1-2 Puyol, 20′
     1-3 Messi, 36′
     2-3 Ramos, 56′
     2-4 Henry, 58′
     2-5 Messi, 75′
     2-6 Pique, 83′

Another clasico, another great game, but not another title for Real Madrid. That this game had any significance whatsoever speaks volumes of how the whites have turned their season around under Juande Ramos, because Barça’s early season lead should have been enough to put them definitively away long ago. Instead, the champions surged while Barça stuttered, however briefly, and suddenly the gap was four points heading into Spain’s biggest match-up.

But just as quickly, the title race was over. Higuain energized the crowd and his team’s title dreams with the game’s first strike on 14 minutes, with a header off a Sergio Ramos cross. Barça didn’t hang their heads, though, as they struck back two times in the next six minutes on goals from Henry and Puyol. Messi completed the first half romp with a third goal for Barça when Lass Diarra lost the ball to Xavi in dangerous territory and the spiky-haired Spaniard slotted Messi through. 

Real made it interesting again early in the second half, pulling within a single goal with a blazing header by Sergio Ramos after he earned the free kick that Robben sent into the box. Two minutes later, though, the margin was back to two when some more lax defending, and a failed off-side trap, saw Henry through to an on-rushing Casillas, who missed the Frenchman and watched as he lofted the ball into the back of the empty net. The last two were mere icing – Messi’s beautiful diversionary tactics at the near post and Pique’s bizarre run to the far post – and that was that. 

I won’t go into much detail, but Barcelona were by far the superior team, not just in this game but over the course of the whole season, so it was only right that they seal (just about) their La Liga title with a goal-fest against their arch rivals. Xavi facilitated absolutely everything; Henry sparked the front line; Iniesta made miracles out of nothing; and Messi was his typical brilliant self, and still the best player in the world, Ballon d’Or or no. They’re not my team, but I can recognize greatness when I see it, and they deserve all the accolades they’re getting. 

The only bone I’ll throw my Real Madrid team is their savior in net: Iker Casillas. San Iker. Saint Iker. How can you not love this man? Before Barça blew the game open, he made one incredible save after another to keep his team in the thick of things. There is no doubt in my mind that he is the best goalkeeper in the world. Not only does he make every sense he is physically capable of making – in addition to a good many he has no right to claim – he has the quickest restart and is remarkably accurate in getting the ball to the feet of his offensive players. Only Buffon comes close, but I gotta give the edge to Iker. Pure brilliance. Kinda like the Barcelona team as a whole.

p.s. Go Chelsea.

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Cuatro Puntos

Posted by hiphopmama on April 28, 2009

barca-valencia
Valencia 2-2 Barcelona
     0-1 Messi, 24′
     1-1 Maduro, 43′
     2-1 Pablo, 45′
     2-2 Henry, 85′ 

raul-metzelder-sevilla
Sevilla 2-4 Real Madrid
     1-0 Renato, 16′
     1-1 Raul, 45′
     1-2 Raul, 63′
     1-3 Raul, 66′
     2-3 Capel, 80′
     2-4 Marcelo, 90′ 

And they just keep on coming. I’ve all but written off their comeback effort multiple times this season, going on record predicting Barça’s league title and lauding Pep Guardiola’s team rehaul, but every time I check the standings the champs are still hanging uncomfortably around. They picked up two more precious points this weekend when Barça were fortunate to leave Valencia with a draw after a late equalizer from Henry while Real overcame a slow start to run rampant over a Sevilla team that was alternately breathtaking and head-shaking. 

Barcelona started in promising fashion, pouring it on Los Che and eventually breaking through with a typical Barça goal from a streaking Messi played in by a defense-drawing Iniesta. The Catalans continued their dominance right up to the end of the first half, when Valencia suddenly turned things around with two quick goals to send Barça reeling into halftime. Rather than coming out rejuvenated, as I admittedly expected, they were lackluster again and needed the full second 45 to build up the momentum to finally even the scoreline, as Henry did on 85 minutes off a corner kick spilled by Cesar. So while Guardiola got some intangible bonus points for bringing on Henry as a sub, he lost two very tangible ones in the race for the title.

Real Madrid opened their game in an entirely different manner, letting Sevilla run all over them and doing little more than look stunned for most of the first half. Then, just like Barça in the second half of their game, they started picking up steam and were able to tie the game off a Metzelder cross that Raul poked home under a charging Palop. Rejuvenated by the leveled scoreline, Real came out of halftime looking for more, which they got in the 63rd and 66th, both from Raul, who benefited greatly from Higuain’s set-up for his second and Palop’s mistake for his third. His hat trick should have been enough, but when Capel scored in the 80th Merengue fans got to nail-biting again. That is, until Marcelo sealed it with an injury time solo effort that he took his time to get just right. 

And just like that, Real were within four of the leaders going into the Clasico match-up at the Bernabeu this weekend. The first game between the two Spanish giants was Juande Ramos’ first La Liga game with Madrid, and even on such short notice he had his side performing admirably, holding onto a 0-0 draw until the very end before Barça poured two quick ones on them. Those were the only two goals Real Madrid gave up for quite a while after that as Ramos instilled a stouter defensive mindset before unleashing the full weight of his team’s offensive attack. Once the floodgates were opened, though, Real came streaming through and haven’t looked back, scoring in bunches (except in the Champions League, of course) and still managing to hold most opponents to limited opportunities. With Barcelona losing some of their luster in the weeks following their last match-up, you have to figure that this one is going to be an incredible, powder-keg of a game with both teams looking to prove a point while improving their standing in La Liga. Barça will be keen to prove that they are without a doubt the best team in Spain, if not the world, as well as to redeem themselves after a frustrating 0-0 draw against Chelsea in midweek Champions League play. Real will be hoping to shave three more points off that gap and close within one while proving that they are still a force to contend with now that they have closer to their full complement of players. Well, sort of. Van Nistelrooy is still gone for the season, Robben and Sneijder are out, and Pepe has gotten his stupid ass suspended 10 games. But none of them would argue against the fact that they are better equipped from a squad standpoint than they were in the last go-round. Should be a good one, don’t you think?

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Political Fandom And El Clásico

Posted by hiphopmama on December 14, 2008

Barcelona 2-0 Real Madrid

  • 1-0 Eto’o, 83′
  • 2-0 Messi, 90′

After watching this game, I have decided to never again give any grief to Yankees fans. Sports are not nearly as politicized in the U.S. as they are in Europe – I can’t imagine ANY game in the States having the same tension or potential meaning as this one did – but people often like or dislike teams for reasons other than anything having to do with their geography or personnel. I root against most teams from Texas because I believe the state should, indeed, be messed with, while my dad hates all things Boston because of the city’s history of racist treatment of its players (and, I suspect, because he’s a Lakers fan with a natural beef with the Celtics). The Yankees are the easiest to hate because of how incredibly high their payroll is, especially compared to smaller market teams, and it seems vastly unfair.

European football has a similar wealth disparity between teams, but the leagues don’t even pretend to regulate it so it’s less of an issue. What often matters more is what the teams stand for socially, politically, economically, perhaps none more so than in the match-up between Barça and Real Madrid. And while every bit of my conscience and political judgment compels me to root for Barcelona – or anyone besides Real Madrid, really – I still end up rooting for Los Blancos. I’ve given up trying to explain it. After watching the organization eat itself from the inside out, I’ve been somewhat turned off and have started to shift allegiances, willing myself to convert to the Blaugrana. But after this game, I realized I just can’t do it. I am stuck liking this team and will try to quit beating myself up about it. Because sometimes you just like a team with no good explanation, and that’s all there is to it. Yankees fans are no better or worse than me for rooting for an obnoxiously stacked roster and royally cocky management. Those things are just accidents and not the basis for moral judgment. I still choose to hate the team, but I will refrain from dissing its fans. And here ends my mea culpa.

The game itself was an embattled one rife with intensity from beginning to end. From the opening touch to Canna’s last-ditch attempt to prevent the second goal, both teams gave everything they had and it was refreshing to see. In an age of jaded, overpaid players, here was a contest that really mattered to all involved, and it showed in their committed play. 

Real Madrid played their hearts out, as was evident in their mud-caked uniforms, and they came painfully close to a 0-0 draw, which would have been as good as a win for a struggling Madrid team. Instead, it was a case of too much water eventually breaking through the dam. Real played better defense than I have seen them play all season long, holding a surging Barça side scoreless for upwards of 80 minutes, a moral victory in and of itself. Casillas saved their butts on numerous occasions, none bigger than the save on Eto’o’s penalty, and Madrid went into the locker room knowing they had had the best chance of the first half on a brilliant volley by Sneijder. Drenthe should have scored in a one-on-one encounter with Valdes, and there were a couple other chances left hanging. Barcelona utterly dominated possession in both halves, but Madrid defended with a fury, attempting to kick Messi into submission and playing wonderfully as a team. Sergio Ramos was started at left back in what turned out to be a great tactical move. He did his best, with lots of help, to keep track of Messi, and the team took turns chopping him down. The ref eventually started pulling the yellow card on it and it slowed down, but it had the desired effect early on. Yaya stormed forward a few times in the first half, as did Abidal, with Alves, surprisingly enough, being quite defensive-minded and making a number of key tackles. While it was a good half for Real, holding Barça scoreless, it felt more like they had survived than anything else.

Like the well-coached team they are, Barcelona remained patient and effective all game long, knowing it would pay off in the end. Real continued the good defensive effort, but it just wasn’t enough. When Busquets was brought on for Gudjohnsen, Barça immediately increased their upper hand as the sub was awarded a penalty after being brought down by Salgado in the box. When Eto’o stepped up to take it, you could feel hearts sink across the capital. And then the amazing happened. Iker saved it. Not just saved it – he blocked it out of bounds so there was no chance for a put-back. It was in-fucking-credible, and it was then that I knew I could not convert my allegiances so easily. I raised my hands in triumph and got set for what was sure to be a slog the rest of the way. From there it only got better as Iker made an insane double save against Eto’o and then Messi to keep the clean sheet. And for a while it seemed like we might have a chance at getting something from this game. 

It was not to be, though, as shortly thereafter Barça broke the deadlock on a corner that Puyol won in the air and headed to Eto’o, who calmly slotted it home. It was pandemonium in the Camp Nou. I was 100% in Real’s corner by this point, but I couldn’t help feeling good for all of Barça’s players, for whom it was clearly the most important goal of the season. After that, the resistance was broken and Barça got their second a few minutes later on a lightning quick counterattack that saw Henry set up Messi for the chip over Casillas. Iker could not have prevented either goal and was visibly devastated in the aftermath.

Despite the result, the Real players should be proud of their effort. They played possibly their best game as a TEAM this year, something that speaks highly of Juande Ramos in his early days with the club. I can’t imagine Schuster eliciting this kind of performance from the team, so Ramos should be applauded for his team’s preparation. Literally everyone gave all they had in the defensive stand: Ramos played valiantly against Messi; Salgado did his utmost tactically to stay with Henry and protect the box; the midfield and forwards tracked back with abandon to help out; Cannavaro stuck his nose out there every time, sustaining a knock against the goalpost trying to prevent the final goal; and Metzelder had his most impressive game since joining the side. It was a well orchestrated effort that showed what they were made of, which was much more than I previously suspected. Even with all the injuries, they gritted their teeth and made a game of it till the final whistle. As a newly minted bandwagoner, I couldn’t ask for more.

Highlights:

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Barça Alone At The Top

Posted by hiphopmama on December 7, 2008

Barcelona 4-0 Valencia

  • 1-0 Thierry Henry, 20′
  • 2-0 Thierry Henry, 28′
  • 3-0 Dani Alves, 46′
  • 4-0 Thierry Henry, 79′

The title of this post doesn’t just refer to their place in La Liga, which is nothing new; it’s about Barcelona’s utter superiority to every other team in Europe at the moment. I suppose there is a case to be made for Inter and even Chelsea until a few weeks ago, but I don’t think either of those teams or any other can hold a candle to what Barcelona is doing. They haven’t lost a game since August, and since then they have 17 wins and just 3 draws, including some mind-blowingly good showings against a range of opposition. There was the 6-1 pounding of Sporting Gijon, 6-1 over Atletico Madrid, 5-0 over Almeria, 4-1 over Malaga, and 6-0 over Valladolid. Their most impressive victories, however, have been the last two, when they absolutely dismantled a pair of top five teams in Primera Liga play. Last week, they demoralized a surging Sevilla side 4-0 on the road, and just this weekend they spanked Valencia 4-0 at home. While the goal totals have been impressive, even more notable is the number of clean sheets the team has kept. Sevilla isn’t exactly an offensive powerhouse but they do have some serious attacking threats, including Kanoute and Luis Fabiano, who had just netted a hat trick for Brazil in international play. They got under Fabiano’s skin so much – not a difficult task – that he earned himself a red card and an early exit. The Valencia scoreline was even more surprising for the way they kept one of the hottest strikers on the planet, David Villa, off the score sheet. Villa undoubtedly misses his attacking partner David Silva who has been out injured for a while, but that hadn’t prevented him from scoring 12 goals in 13 league games coming into the Barcelona match-up. Yet the Barcelona defense held firm and stubbornly denied Villa and his teammates so much as a consolation goal.

The element that makes Barça stand out from the pack the most is their complete play as a team. In top flight European football, everyone has a stacked line-up. Barcelona’s is no different, with Eto’o, Henry, Messi, and Bojan up front; Xavi, Iniesta (currently injured), Hleb, Yaya, and Keita fortifying the midfield; and Puyol, Marquez, Alves, Abidal, Pique, and Milito (also injured) manning the back line; plus Valdes between the sticks, just to name a few. The all-star squad doesn’t capture or explain their dominance, though. The complete cohesion does, and new coach Pep Guardiola has to be credited for that. With such an array of talent at his disposal, it’s quite a feat to successfully manage the egos involved and know how and when to shuffle the deck to get the best performance out of your team. Guardiola has done that almost to perfection this year, involving everyone to an extent and picking the right squads to get the job done week in and week out. His substitutions have been equally flawless, although the number of blowouts Barça has inflicted has made it unnecessary for him to perform much magic from the sidelines. 

For all their attacking prowess, the strength of the midfield and back line has been their anchor this year, allowing the wing players to storm forward and facilitate the offense. Xavi has once again been masterful in his role as the team’s ultimate orchestrator, pulling every string at precisely the right moment. And I would be remiss if I didn’t give a nod to Yaya, who has been a rock in midfield, winning a gazillion tackles and completing damn near every pass he attempts. His immaculate play has been absolutely central to the team’s success, and they would be foolish to leave him out of their plans, either by allowing him to languish on the bench amidst so much talent or by letting him make his way out of Barcelona. He has been repeatedly linked to his brother’s team of Arsenal – a scenario I thoroughly endorse as a Gunners fan – but I don’t see that coming to fruition. He fits with the Blaugrana and deserves to have his place with them cemented, at least for the rest of this season.

If it sounds like I’m gushing, I am. When I first started paying attention to the Primera Liga, I was a Real Madrid fan, largely because Barcelona’s performances were generally uninspiring with an uncommitted Ronaldinho leading the way and a failure to achieve what they could have. With all the typical strong-arm wrangling going on in Madrid and the ever obnoxious Ramon Calderon making his team difficult to like (to put it mildly), I have seen my allegiances shift somewhat. I’m not an out and out Barcelona fan – in fact, I’m not a committed ANYBODY fan really, since I have only been seriously watching for a few years. Instead, I just enjoy watching great football and I appreciate the teams whose style and ethic fit in with my own. Arsenal has emerged as my favorite side in English football, but I have been more equivocal in rooting for teams from Spain and Italy. This season has made my allegiances even more tenuous, and Barcelona’s team mentality and outstanding play make it difficult not to pull for them. If they keep up with this pace, I might be the latest in what is assuredly a large group of converts.

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