Thursday, November 28, 2002

In soccer news, last night Barcelona beat Bayer Leverkusen away, 1-2. Van Gaal started a rough, defensive team with only one forward, Kluivert, in what looked like a slightly confused 4-5-1. (Four defensemen, five midfielders, one forward.)Near the end of the first half Bayer scored on a header off a corner kick. At halftime Van Gaal pulled out Mendieta, who needs a benching, and defensive midfielder Gabri, and put in Riquelme and Saviola, changing to a 4-3-3 with Riquelme playing behind Saviola and Kluivert and feeding them passes. Saviola almost immediately stole the ball and ran a give-and-go with Riquelme; Savi blasted the ball into the goal from close range. One-one. Then they fouled Kluivert in the area and Riquelme blew the penalty kick. Barça kept attacking and they put in Overmars for Motta, making the alignment even more offensive, really a 4-2-4. This was very exciting football, with two chances for Savi, one for Riquelme, and a header by Kluivert off a corner, with Bayer defending all-out but one step behind the Barça players. Then, with only a couple of minutes left, Riquelme fed Kluivert in the area, who unselfishly fed Overmars, who crossed up the goalie and drove the ball to the far post. One-two. Barça has won its last seven European games, in contrast with their extrememly mediocre performance in the Spanish League.

In Barça's Group A, it's Inter Milan and Barça with three points each and Bayer and Newcastle zero. In Group B, Valencia tied Ajax last night, 1-1; the standings are Arsenal 3, Ajax and Valencia 1, AS Roma 0. Group C: Borussia Dortmund and AC Milan 3, Real Madrid and Lokomotiv Moscow 0. Group D: Manchester U 3, Deportivo and Juventus 1, Basel 0.

The fallout from the fans throwing crap on the field last Saturday in FC Barcelona's Camp Nou is hitting the fan. Some joker threw a (roasted) piglet's head at Madrid player Luis Figo. Other possibly dangerous stuff, like mobile phones and a whiskey bottle, was also thrown. You need to remember, as the National Geographic survey proved, not all Europeans know too much about geography. The most that most people in Europe know about Barcelona is the soccer team, which, until now, was highly respected in the rest of Europe. (OK, people remember the Olympics, too. Gaudí is known among those who can read.) This episode has not made either the team or the city look too good. The German papers headlined, "Achtung! The pig throwers are coming!" over their stories about Barça's visit to Leverkusen. That is not precisely the image the city fathers wish to promote. Get this, one of the Barça executives commented regarding the piglet's head, "It's a setup by the Madrid papers. Here in Catalonia we don't eat roast piglet." (It wasn't a setup. It really happened; the TV footage shows it.) Van Gaal also had a good quote when some German reporter asked him how his team was reacting to the vilification of everything regarding the Barça by the German press: "I don't think my players read the Bild am Sonntag."

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