Football Weekend….in the UK

It’s more often than not I wish we lived in the U.K. where the nation’s sport was football. No, not the American kind you find owners locking out players over their collective bargaining agreement and not being able to agree on $9 billion. That’s the NFL for you. This weekend kicked of the action in the English Premier League. Unfortunately being stuck at work on opening weekend I was only able to catch parts of about 4 games, along with highlights from the day.

For me the match of the day was Liverpool v. Sunderland. After the frustrating 2010-2011 season for L’pool it started off on the wrong foot with a draw against the Black Cats. After missing a penalty shot, Luis Suárez redeemed himself with a 12′ goal. That lead would last until 57′ minute when a beautiful volley found the far side of the goal from Sebastian Larsson. An early season goal that could end up being the goal of the year.

Not too surprising to see four games end in draws on Saturday, including the Gunners v. Newcastle and Joey Barton. Barton was deliberately stepped on by Alex Song, the officials missed it and that incident led to a later disagreement that involved Barton and Gervinho, who was red carded.

Today we will see how Manchester United starts against West Brom and Chelsea against Stoke City. Monday we will see other big off-season spenders, Manchester City v. Swansea City. It looks to be another great season in top flight football in the EPL. I plan to be very involved watching this season, as well as Serie A and the battle at the top in La Liga! Also great to know the Mexican League is very early to watch on Saturday afternoons. Viva Cruz Azul!

Futbol Kicks Off

While the Community Shield match usually kicks off the start of the new English Premier League, today started with big names, big teams and big money headlining the weekend matches. While my horse in this race is actually in the Championship League, I have been a supporter of Liverpool over the last 5-7 years.

Today was a enjoyable start to the EPL with Villa putting the smack down on West Ham, 3-0 as Robert Green (England National Team member) looked terrible. On the other hand at least he got a start, unlike Shay Given was was upstaged by youngster Joe Hart. Way to go Roberto Mancini, not quite sure what spurred that move. I guess you can make a few million selling Shay to Arsenal now, since they have no good keepers, but need one in order to compete.

It was a great day for Blackpool supporters, who made their debut in the Prem and came off a highly impressive spanking of Wigan, 4-0. Roberto Martinez must have talked tactics too much during the 2010 World Cup because his squad was downright terrible today. Another loser was Everton, not sure why David Moyes can’t get his boys to start quick, since they finished last season so strong.

It was Spurs and Man City that got things started with a 1-1 draw, but it should have been a match that Spurs took all 3 points, if it were not for the play of Joe Hart. Even though Hart saw no time on the pitch during the World Cup, he played like a veteran today. I still think Given should have started. Hart spent all of last year at Birmingham on loan from Man City, where he played very well.

How about Chelsea, 6-0 over WBA! Welcome back to the Premiership, not quite the return West Brom had in mind. Oh yeah, Drogba netted a hat trick. Chelsea looked good, but West Brom looked bad.

I am participating in only one fantasy football pool this season, sponsored by www.premierleague.com where I finished strong last year, but have gained some more experience and think I am ready for a better year. As for my game predictions, I did not do very well. But it is early and I know I will fair much better in that department this season.

Finally The Super Cup is next weekend between scudetto winners, InterMilan and runner-up, AS Roma. The following week starts the actual Italian Serie A. The beautiful game is back.

What Does it Say?

I am sure the sportswriters all across the globe all have similar topics regarding the state of Italian football. What does it say, when three of the top Italian teams, in Inter, Juve and Roma all go down in defeat over the course of two days in UEFA Champions League play? Does this mean English football is that much superior to the game the Italians play?

I watch plenty of footie from the UK and Man U, Chelsea and Arsenal are much like their Italian counterparts in terms of quality of football on the pitch and their positions in the table every year. Of the three Italy v England matches, two of them were scoreless draws in the first leg. Only Arsenal managed a lone gone, courtesy of a penalty kick, after dominating Roma for much of the match. Arguments can be made for the other matches, as Mourinho defends his team’s play against the Reds, while Juve came close numerous times versus Chelsea, but came up short in the end.

Of the three Italian team, Inter’s exit is probably the most shocking, come up short in a 2-0 loss to SAF and the Red Devils. Seems only fitting though, that in his years at Chelsea he was at the top of his game, only to lose another match to Man U. This was the real title that Jose was after, not the scudetto in Serie A. Mourinho last won the CL in 2004 with Porto and exited in the semifinals twice while at Chelsea, so while his track record is proven, his team just did not have enough to finish off SAF’s Red Devils.

The Roma match was a roller coaster of emotions, being down 1-0 AGG heading back to the Olimpico for the second leg. After a dominating performance by the Gunners, it was talked about pregame to be much of the same. Yet Roma is always resilient and a tougher team to play in Rome and they proved it yesterday. It only took 9 minutes when Juan found the back the net, after a pass came through the box and was slotted past Almunia.

This was a big goal goal for Roma and their fans, as it allowed them to draw even on aggregate goals. Roma proved to be the stronger side much of the match and produce quality chances in front of Almunia, but could never finish. As with most matches, there was a controversial no-call by the Spanish referee on Matto, as he appeared to have his jersey pulled from behind by Clichy, causing him to go to the ground. Yet nothing was rewarded and game play continues.

Baptista had a horrible showing much of the match. He came on late in first period as Juan exited due to injury and seemed to be a step behind and a pass off. He did have a chance to seal a victory for Roma on a beautiful cross which was flicked on my Totti, but Baptista tried for the one-timer and it was for not.

Arsenal showed some prowess late in the second half and much of two, 15 minute overtime periods, but the score remained 1-1 as the match went to spot kicks. Dona was riding high after he saved the first attempt, as Roma converted. Unfortunately, Roma’s season would come crashing down after 7 penalty kicks when Max Tonetto stepped up and put the ball over the crossbar. While I don’t lay the blame on him, I do put some of the responsibility on the shoulders of Mirko Vucinic, who half assed an attempt right at Almunia, evening up the PKs after the second round.

So where does that leave Italy football? Sure, Inter will go on with win their third scudetto in Serie A, while Juve and Roma will both finish in the top five and be back in the Champions League next year. What does this say about the World Cup, upcoming in 2010? I don’t believe England has a better squad than Italy and now with many players imported to play in countries like England and Italy it’s more difficult to judge the on field talent when its brought together. The 2008 Italy squad was unique, in that all the players played in country. Not the case any longer. I do think Italian football will need to look within, in order to have better showing next year. Here is to Man U winning the Champions League, as well as the Premiership, the FA and the League Cup, which they have already completed.

Beckham the Primadonna

LOL! It has only been the better part of three games in Serie A with Italian powerhouse, AC Milan and Beckham is already talking about his desire to stay in Italy. Wow, guess that comes as a real surprise *sarcasm*. This guy is a beauty, going where the money is. I compare him to record setting players in the NFL who are trying to hand on to the glory and stardom they once had. Beckham, while not the same player he was when at Man U has started all three games for the Rossoneri, but I for one am shocked he is in the starting eleven.

With names like Kaka, Pirlo, Gattuso, Seedorf, Emerson, Ambrosini and Flamini its obvious team management is playing to Beckham and his once famed skills. I will grant him this, he is still a good player, but not the same caliber as some of the aforementioned midfielders already playing full time with AC Milan.

Of course come March 9, the Los Angeles Galaxy will let Beckham walk from his contract, as he has never lived up to the reputation that preceded upon his arrival to Hollywood (or is that Carson?) His “little experiment” in the MLS (formerly known as the NASL) has failed, just like many other big name players before him; Giorgio Chinaglia, Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, to name a few.

So Beckham bow out to North America, take your big bucks and bitchy wife and move to Italy. There is only one reason you want to hang on to football…actually two. First to be noticed by Fabio Capello in order to be selected (God forbid, captain) England’s national team in World Cup 2010. Second the selfish bastard wants to break Bobby Moore’s record of 108 appearances for the national team. So go on being the “team player” you are. I hope Capello keeps you off the national team, you are no longer one of England’s best.

We Go As Roma Goes!

Okay, so the adult soccer…err…football league I am involved is not Serie A. Not even college caliber. I am sure 15-20 years ago some of these players were good college players. I have noticed a few standout midfielders and strikers the past three weeks. This week it was great to see AS Roma notch their first Serie A victory of the new campaign. Sure, they are still trailing the likes of Juve and Inter, but they will move up the table after this week.

Our outdoor team moved up this week with our first win after drawing the first week and loosing a tough game last week. Hurts when you let in only one goal, but the offense cannot muster quality shots on goal. Thankfully this is NOT the indoor team I am on and our midfielders and strikers have good touch and control and know how to find the back of the net. That was the case on Sunday, where a late second half goal was enough for us to pull out a victory.

Nine weeks remaining in the season and we are not doing too bad. From what I was told we are doing much better than the last time we were in the top flight. I guess they had no dedicated goalkeeper, which made things difficult and there was no such thing as a close loss.

What makes this league enjoyable, aside from winning, is the group of individuals involved. Many are married with kids and it turns into a family affair each Sunday for a few hours. After the game, there is beer and soft drinks, as well as food. We have a BBQ one time during the season as well.

Another two games this week, indoor action on Wednesday, which I assume will be a lose unless our field players can actually find the net and not the one that surrounds the boards of the pitch, but the one hanging in the back of the goal. I am looking more forward to the early outdoor game. Should be a great time.

Sunday’s Beautiful Game

Sunday is set up to be the biggest day in Serie A (Italian football for all you Yanks) in a long time. Inter Milan and AS Roma are only separated by 1 point, after Inter has choked away an 11 point lead that seemed insurmountable back in February. Since that time a string of losses and injuries have dealt Inter a tough hand.

AS Roma has been one of the hotter teams in Serie A, but at times have lose games against clubs they should have defeated. February Juventus beat Roma 1-0, a 1-1 draw versus Cagilari and another versus Livorno has not helped the Giallorossi.

Thankfully the last two weekends Inter has not been at their best, a 2-1 lose to city rivals AC Milan at the San Siro followed by a 2-2 draw versus Siena, a game Inter should have won but World Cup winner Marco Materazzi could not convert on a penalty kick.

Both games will be televised on Fox Soccer Channel, Inter Milan will play Parma, who is fighting to stay in the Serie A, while AS Roma will travel to Catania. Parma definitely has something to play for in hopes they won’t be relegated, but need help from Roma, who should defeat Catania.

This is why Serie A and football is “the beautiful game.”

Giallorossi Live!

Looking back on this football season, it has been a season of missed opportunities for AS Roma in Serie A. Unlike last season which saw Inter run away with the scudetto title, this year has been a banner year!

Roma  has seen some excellent play while on the pitch from the starting  eleven, lead by their captain, Francesco Totti. But it has  also been the brilliant managing of Luciano Spalletti. His timely substitutions and  tactics have seen Roma sore in the club ranking, as  the best team in  Italy and arguably one of the best in Europe.

While a Serie A  title is not out of the question, Roma must get the “monkey off their  back” in Champions League play against Manchester United, the best club based on Fox Soccer’s World Club Rankings. And who is number two? AS Roma!

Last season in Champions League play, Roma was embarrassed, 7-1 during the  second leg versus Manchester United and as luck would have it, these two giants face off again this season in CL play. Roma is  definitely in form currently, albeit a slip up last week in a loss to  city rival,  Lazio, 3-2 on a last minute goal.

As it goes now a strong showing  in league play has set Roma up with an excellent chance in Champions League play and an even stronger  finish to Serie A, as their remaining  fixtures are not all that challenging. Matches against Genoa, Sampdoria  and Udinese are all top  half of of the table, but all more then  winnable, regardless of how CL  play finishes up.

Another Sunday

So Week #2 of the NFL is here and it will be another weekend I don’t watch football and turn my television to Premiership and Serie A footie [soccer]. Northern California has to be the worst place in the country for NFL football at the moment. Two terrible teams in the Raiders and 49’ers, who I believe will have a combined 8 wins between them when the season come to an end. Even with all 16 home teams selling out this weekend, there are no second games on FOX in the morning and CBS in the afternoon. Then again the match ups of Raiders v Ravens and 49’ers v Rams are just not that enticing. It’s no wonder I play fantasy football and pull for individual players and not teams.

The footie schedule is much stronger on Fox Soccer Channel and GOLTV today as my favorite Italian Serie A club, AS Roma go up against Siena. I already have my DVR set to record this match since I will miss about half the game as I am driving home. But this is quickly becoming my regular Saturday and Sunday schedule, watching footie and forgetting football. The big game of the day is Manchester United v Arsenal at Old Trafford beginning at 8:00PDT. Other Serie A matches from Italy include Lazio v Palermo and Atalanta v Catania.

It’s not that I am loosing interest in the NFL, as much as I am gaining more of an interest at getting back into footie. Guess I have the World Cup to thank for that. Forza Italia! Of course if the San Diego Chargers are playing or another game of interest I will watch, but until that time, the TV schedule for the NFL has truly been ass! I would gladly pay $9.95, hell $19.95 to watch the Chargers play each Sunday. I know Comcast offers an MLB and NBA package, but I don’t believe there is one for the NFL, like Direct TV has. Even watching football streaming on the Internet, give me that option.

I bought the MLB package this year for $89.95. Now the price might sound steep at first, but when you consider you get every out of market baseball game, it is a small price to pay for nearly unlimited games! I get to watch the San Diego Padres at my leisure (except when they play SF). Not sure this would work for the NFL, but it would be a great option to have. I can even buy individual UEFA Champions League match for $9.95. Hopefully the trend in the future will be offer more events on streaming media. Guess time will tell.

Fútbol or Football

Okay, so the US is a bit backwards when it comes to football, the American version and the international version. Those in the states usually refer to it as soccer and not football, fútbol or “footie.”

This past weekend was the opening weekend for the NFL and while I am a big fan of the NFL and fantasy football, I could just not get into the swing of the games on Sunday. Then again, there were some horrible games on television, maybe that is why. So instead of flipping channels during the early games and settling in for the afternoon affair I tuned the NFL out and the Premiership in!

The what you ask? The EPL. The Premiership, the top league over in England, along with catching two Italian matches. Now I can see many rolling their eyes and saying boring, but it was much more exciting that any of the three NFL games I had to choose from. Sure the scores were rather low scoring, 1-0, 1-1, 2-1, but it was a much more enjoyable product on the field, or in footie terms, the pitch, than was watching the NFL.

Maybe this is where fantasy football as gone, as I don’t care so much about watching the games any longer than I do about my fantasy players performing well enough to score big points. Of course I will also root and cheer for my San Diego Chargers, who in fact, kicked the shit out of “Raidernation!” One nation, my ass! And you Bay Area myopics thought Aaron Brooks was the answer to all your prayers. LOL!

I guess I have the recent FIFA World Cup to thank for the sudden infusion of footie in my life and the fact that Italy, my favorite football nation won the cup. As a kid I played the game, through high school and two years in college. But once out of college, I did not play again, but the love for the game is still there and stronger than ever. So while the NFL is in my blood, the love of the game lies watching footie.

The Ugly Side of Germany 2006

With all great events, such as the 2006 World Cup, there is always a downside. I am still trying to decide what has taken away from the matches more, the commentary on ESPN or the officiating. Don’t get me wrong, I am excited I can lay claim to watch every match so far. For those not into footie, I guess it could be about as exciting as watching paint dry or grass grow. Nonetheless, it has been a very entertaining World Cup so far.

Let’s start with the commentary on ESPN. Let me preface this by saying, soccer [here in the US] is something we are not good at. When I say we, I mean Americans. There is very little coverage of the so-called “professional” league, which continues to loose money and does not draw fans like other, international leagues, like Serie A in Italy, Bundesliga in Germany or the Premiership in England. So with that said, the commentary has been horrible outside of Adrian Healey and Tommy Smyth. Unfortunately, we don’t get to hear their commentary much.

Let’s single out the studio “expert” Eric Wynalda. This guy comes off as a real arrogant, all knowing asshole! Sure he played for the US team and is still the leading goal scorer [which isn’t saying much], but in studio he has some weak takes and never seems to stray far from mentioning something about US Soccer. Julie Foudy is another one, while not arrogant does not add a damn thing to any of the coverage. She isn’t attractive, doesn’t have any valid points, expect for being the Captain of the Woman’s US Soccer Team. I told you how weak the professional league is in the US? Well women’s soccer is even lower than men’s. Sorry Julie but get off my television!

Game coverage has been good, if you want to watch it, but again, tossing an ex-professional player in the booth with some unknown commentator does not provide for average coverage at best. And they are always bringing US soccer into the mix! Unlike Healey and Smyth, who bring a great knowledge and experience to the commentary, the other commentators seem to try too hard to “Americanize” this international game. You can hear this in the terminology used.

Not to be outdone, the officiating has been downright terrible. Although today’s France v Spain match was probably one of the better matches. The 2006 World Cup has set records for the number of yellow and red cards handed out. Remember no official is supposed to decide the outcome of the game. Hell, as I wrote a few weeks ago, we should not know the name of ANY official on the pitch!

I understand the officials needing to keep the match moving and maintaining control of the players on the pitch. But that does not mean dropping yellow cards for every infraction. You can tell the good officials from the bad. Those officials who whistle a player for committing a foul, quickly administering a verbal warning and then play continues. You can keep control of the game without handing out a record number of cards.

Even with those two areas receiving criticism in my book, I have been very pleased with the 2006 World Cup. The games have been entertaining and great to watch. I look forward to 2010 when FIFA goes to South Africa. This gives me time to draw up plans to attend. I have connections in South Africa, believe it or not.

Oh and before I forget FORZA ITALY!