Strange days as real life intrudes a little on this writer. I apologize in advance for the brevity and structure of this post. Here are some things that I seen, thought and read over the past few days:
1. Barcelona and Real Madrid will face each other in the Copa del Rey finals, as both triumphed with relative ease in their semifinal ties. Barca won 8-0 on aggregate against Almeria and Madrid defeated Sevilla 3-0 on aggregate. The final will be played at the Bernabeu on April 20th. This collision seemed as inevitable as the sunset. I’m a little surprised by Madrid’s lackluster form in league play, over the past few weeks, but this is the first meeting between the two Spanish giants in the Copa del Rey finals since 1990 and I’m sure it will be a worthy addition to their legendary El Clasico rivalry.
2. Last Sunday’s Inter v. Palermo match was so interesting and exciting I watched it twice. Inter attacked with a level of pace, creativity and ferocity I hadn’t seen from them all year and Palermo, in my view, is the second most exciting side in Serie A (behind Napoli). Giampaolo Pazzini scored twice in his Inter debut and looks to be an excellent signing as Inter tries to get back in the race for the Scudetto. After yesterday’s victory at home against Juventus, Palermo sits at 6th in the Serie A table, occupying the final qualifying spot for European football. I hope they can advance up the table and actually snag a Champions League position.
3. Fulham’s 4-0 asskicking of Tottenham in their 4th round FA Cup match was so thorough and monumental that it even made headlines in the United States on a day when the Australian Open was winding down and the NFL and NHL were having their respective all-star games. Part of this is, no doubt, due to the presence of U.S. Men’s National Team stalwart Clint Dempsey on FFC. NBC’s headline read “Dempsey sparks Fulham’s thrashing of Tottenham” I’m a big Dempsey fan and I’m very stoked to see Fulham’s recent run of good form and decent results. People that complain (I didn’t really know they existed until this past summer) about Dempsey’s performances in a Team USA jersey are ridiculous. He’s a force in the EPL and it’s hard not to have at least a little bit (in my case a lot) of national pride in how well he’s done in one of the world’s best leagues. Keep it up Cottagers!
4. The best moments in matches I was lucky enough to see last Saturday morning happened simultaneously in an exciting whirl and blur of Bayern, Bremen, Birmingham, Coventry in clouds of caffeine as simultaneous goals and counterattacks blasted by in bunches while “Lady Luck was spitting” on poor Per Mertesacker’s sad own goals and Birmingham equalized with great interplay and a gorgeous pass by Alexander Hleb on their second goal of the match.
5. Arsenal v. Everton was an exciting match (Fabregas’s little dink that bounced to Arshavin’s foot on the initial goal was insane!), but I have to give it up to Birmingham City, again, as their clash with Manchester City was the most exciting EPL mid-week fixture I got to view until the power went out inexplicably on my block in the 85th minute. Great pace and monumental momentum shifts in this match. To quote Birmingham native, and Metal God, Rob Halford: Birmingham City are grinders. This side fought back, impressively, to get positive results in 2 straight matches in 4 days. The Premiere League relegation battle is going to be hellacious and in some ways more interesting than the title chase.
6. Dave Zirin has an interesting column about the positive (thus far) role Egyptian soccer clubs and their “ultras” have played in the events taking place in that country. Much like Barca, Sociedad and Athletic were under Franco, football sides in Egypt have consistently provided an outlet and conduit to voice frustrations and sentiments not able to be voiced anywhere else under the Mubarak regime. Zirin writes:
“The critical role of Egypt’s soccer clubs may surprise us, but only if we don’t know the history that soccer clubs have played in the country. For more than a century, the clubs have been a place where cheering and anti-government organizing have walked together in comfort. Egypt’s most prominent team, Al Ahly, started its club in 1907 as a place to organize national resistance against British colonial rule. The word Al Ahly translated into English means “the national,” to mark their unapologetically political stance against colonialism.”
What’s even more interesting about this column and these events is that supporters of squads like Al Ahly have made the short leap from being organized, militant collections of football fans to becoming organized, militant instruments of political action and protest. Franklin Foer wrote about a similar but more insidious and virulent strain of this phenomenon, (and Zirin mentions it briefly as well) in How Soccer Explains the World, when he discussed the short, frightening transformation from hooliganism to paramilitary political violence made by some Red Star Belgrade firms during the dissolution of Yugoslavia. One last thing on this subject, I’ve just been made aware of an amazing sounding book called When Friday Comes: Football in the War Zone which examines soccer in Egypt, Israel, Lebanon and other places in the Middle East. I can’t wait to get my hands on this.