The day after a tremendous Champions League Final seems like a good day to do a soccer post, reviewing the match, reviewing the State of the Hammers, and previewing the upcoming Euro 08 Championships.
The Champions League Final
It didn’t really seem like a Champions League Final at first, with two familiar English Premier League rivals facing eachother (as they have so many times over the last two years), rather than two mega-teams from two different mega-leagues. Nevertheless, there was little doubt in my mind that these were the two best teams in Europe and deserving of this one game shot at the Cup. And they didn’t disappoint. I’m no Chelsea fan by any stretch, but my well documented hatred of Manchester United and Cristiano Ronaldo (and a beer bet with my dad) set me to rooting for the Blues. The match started off as a grind-it-out English match on a wet pitch, with Man U looking the slightly stronger team over the first 25 minutes. Then they cracked it open with some nice one-two touch passing from Scholes and Wes Brown, who then crossed beautifully to the lethal Red Devil Ronaldo whose big head perfectly redirected the ball into the back of the net. The better team had taken the lead. It looked as if 1-0 would be the score going into the 2nd half, but Chelsea’s Frank Lampard poked one in just before halftime to reset the drama. Chelsea stepped up their game in the second half but both teams were stymied by the keepers and their best friends, the goalposts, which left us at 1-1 at the end of regulation time. Both teams started the first extra period explosively, but no goals bulged the old onion bag, as Tommy Smythe would say. The second period brought more exciting play and a confusing shoving match, which Didier Drogba idiotically took as an invitation to swipe a bitch slap at Vidic. A soccer finger wag and a red card for you DD. Man U was unable to capitalize on their man advantage in the last 3 minutes and the game went to penalty kicks to decide the champion. It’s cliché to say and no, I don’t have a better suggestion on how to end final matches, but it sucks to have it decided by PKs. At least that’s what I thought until the 5th PK taken, which was missed by a certain arrogant punk. Now let the record show that I am officially admitting that Ronaldo is the greatest player in the world right now, so he’s getting his due. But good god almighty do I love it when he fucks up. And once Chelsea put in their 3rd and 4th PKs, it looked as if he was going to go down in history as an epic goat, losing Man U a deserved double on his cocky little hitch move penalty kick. At that point, you could not have convinced me that ending a match in this fashion was a bad idea. But, not to be outdone, John Terry slipped and missed Chelsea’s 5th PK and they went to sudden death PKs, which Man U eventually won on a fine Van Der Saar save. So, I’m right back to thinking that it sucks. But they are the best team in the world in my estimation so it’s fair enough I guess. Plus I’m happy my boy Carlos Tevez got to hoist the Cup. Not his best game, though not for lack of effort, but you know what, Ronaldo? He made his PK.
West Ham United Football Club
As some of you might remember, it was Tevez who led me to the Hammers, only to quickly leave for the big stage that he found in yesterday’s Final, leaving me with an affection for a team from East London that I really didn’t know anything about. Fair play to everyone's favorite scalded Argentian bat, though. It was enough that he saved West Ham from relegation so that I could follow them this year in the best league in the world (giving me an organically selected favorite team, free of any bandwagon accusations). This year was definitely the closest I’ve followed the Premier League in my life, as close as one can follow it without having Fox Soccer Channel in their home anyway. Despite this handicap, I was able to watch a handful of West Ham games and follow them online. The pre-season made me very optimistic about their prospects after their acquisitions of Parker, Faubert, Bellamy, Ljungberg, and Dyer. Unfortunately all of them were injured for large stretches of the season, so the Irons never had their full first roster on the field at the same time. Still, they managed to play an impressive first 2/3 of the season, highlighted by a win over the aforementioned Red Devils, which put them in the top half of the table. Everything was coming up aces for me. I had legitimately chosen a favorite Premier League team with a cool nickname (the Hammers) and a cool secondary nickname (the Irons) to follow, just as they were beginning their rise to prominence. No bandwagon here. I wore my recently acquired WHUFC scarf, hat, and polo shirt proudly. They were even well ahead of city rivals, the hated Hotspurs of Tottenham (they're who I'm supposed to hate, right? Or was it Arsenal? Or Chelsea? Not Fulham, surely. I can't be dissing Team America). Shortly thereafter, the wheels came off the Iron Bus (or sedan, as it were). Back to back to back 4-0 losses destroyed their goal differential and put to rest any dreams of qualifying for UEFA Cup. A couple more unexpected losses to relegation candidates and all of a sudden, the Hammers were in danger of slipping back into the bottom half of the table, and being replaced by the hated Hotspurs (yes, hated). But England international striker Dean Ashton scored late in their last match to earn a draw against the Villains (very cool nickname) of Aston Villa and secure their 10th place top half of the table finish. Not too shabby. The owner has made it clear that he expects them to cut payroll, so they may lose a player or two to transfers, but if the rest of them come back healthy, this should be a formidable team next year, with youngsters Freddie Sears and James Tomkins contributing. Up the Irons!
European Championships 2008
Arguably the second best soccer tournament in the game, the Euros bring all the great play of the World Cup, without the mediocre teams like Saudi Arabia and Trinidad & Tobago. Even the crappy teams are good and have a chance (see Euro 04 when Greece pulled one of the biggest upsets in my memory by winning the whole thing over the perennial superpowers). This year should be even more enjoyable to watch as we'll be spared all the unbearably biased pro-England coverage. I don't care if they have the best league in the world right now (not always the case) and they speak the same language as us; those aren't reasons for them to be the default national team of the American sports fan. Maybe that's the Irish in me popping off, but ha-ha, England. Have a nice vacation. Right. Got that out of the way. So, the action gets underway at noon on Saturday, June 7th with co-host Switzerland taking on Czech Republic, followed by the likely more exciting match-up of Portugal vs. Turkey. (please note that I am not taking any shots at Portugal here and am going into the tournament with an open mind just like I did last World Cup.) See the full Euro 08 schedule here. And here are the groups. Take special note of the group of Death, group C. All 4 teams are ranked in the FIFA World Rankings top 12 teams. Romania, the worst team in the group, is ranked the 12th best team in the world. Wow. The Group C games are on June 9, 13, and 17 and then the runner up in that group will likely face #4 in the world (#2 in Europe) Spain in the quarterfinals on Sunday, June 22. You'd have to think that if a team can make it out of that group and then beat Spain, they'd be looking like a strong contender to win it all. My predictions are as follows:
1A - Portugal
2A - Czech Repub
1B - Germany
2B - Poland (upset. world meet Artur Boruc)
1C - France
2C - Italy
1D - Spain
2D - Sweden (upset. world meet Zlatan Ibrahimovic)
Quarters - Portugal beats Poland, Germany beats Czech Republic (Joba Chamberlain gives his OK), Italy beats Spain, France beats Sweden.
Semis - I'm not sure who's facing who, but I see Portugal and France advancing (or Portugal and Italy if Portugal faces France)
Youro Champo - I guess I gave it away. It's Portugal. Congratulations dewy24, CJ, N-Lo, Somerville, and Westport. You've finally dove it! Er, that's "done it". Sorry about that. The tournament hasn't even started and I'm taking shots already.