Sunday, November 24, 2002

Well, we went down to the bar to watch the soccer game last night. We wandered around at game time, 9:00, looking for a bar that wasn't packed, and finally found one down on Calle Providencia. Remei ate a hot dog and a whole ración of patatas bravas, which in their nasty form, which these were, are frozen fried potatoes with mayonnaise, and in their delicious form are fresh double-fried potatoes--they put them in the deep-fryer for a couple of minutes till they're golden-brown and then let them cool, then put them back in for a couple of minutes, which makes them super-crispy--with a spicy sauce, sort of like KC-style vinegary, hot barbecue sauce. The best in Barcelona are at the Bar Tomás on Mayor de Sarrià below the Plaza de Sarrià. So, they ran out of bottled beer and we had to drink some pretty foul stuff out of the tap. Avoid tap beer if possible in Barcelona. This isn't true in Madrid or the País Vasco or Old Castile. I have no idea why. Perhaps it's just that Estrella, the dominant beer in the Barcelona market, is gross out of the keg, and that the brands in Madrid and the North are simply better keg beers. Estrella is fine out of the bottle; it's a standard, fairly strong Pilsener.

Anyway, we had to stand up at the back but at least it wasn't crowded and we could see the TV pretty well. I keep thinking somebody ought to introduce the sports-bar concept into this country; they could at least put in several TVs, invest a thousand bucks, so everyone could see better. But no bar has more than one, and that one is often no bigger than 21 inches. The game itself wasn't very exciting. The first half was quite dull; both teams were playing scared and couldn't put anything together on the attack because they were both playing on the defensive so much. Barça coach Louis Van Gaal changed his standard 3 defensemen-4 midfielders-3 forwards formation, an attacking setup, for a more balanced 4 defensemen-2 defensive midfielders-3 attacking midfielders-1 forward formation. The guys who were supposed to be attacking midfielders played defensively during the whole first half. Mendieta, who is not having a great year--he may be too old at 29--was especially static and Kluivert, the forward (Van Gaal benched the small and rather one-dimensional forward Saviola for the bigger and more multifaceted midfielder Motta) was all by himself in the middle of about eight Madrid guys. Ronaldo didn't play for Madrid, he's sick or something. Figo played and he stood up to the pressure very well, with all 108,000 fans yelling for his scalp. The very first thing Cocu, who was marking him, did was to foul him. By minute two Cocu had fouled him twice. And the next forty-three minutes went more or less like that, with the sole exception of a very nice bicycle kick (what they call a chilena here) by Cambiasso that Barça's goalie Roberto Bonano stopped with no problem. Raúl was never a factor. Neither were any of the other Madrid players for the rest of the game. The closest they got to the Barça goal for the rest of the match was a corner kick, a very eventful corner kick, for sure.

Barça came out for the second half fired up and in a 3-4-3 formation, and after three minutes Mendieta, from the point, made a very nice first-touch pass with his heel for Gabri, who had burned his man Iván Helguera and who was onside on the inside of the box, and who just as quickly fed it to Kluivert charging into the small box, who was wide open and blasted the ball into the lower-right corner of the goal well outside the reach of a diving Casillas. The ref annulled the goal, incorrectly, saying that Gabri had been offside. In the ref's defense, the play was very fast and I'm sure his error was unintentional. On the other hand, I'd like to strangle the son-of-a-bitch. The Barça players then began bombarding Casillas, Madrid's goalie, with long shots that he stopped without much trouble. Then Cocu muffed one when he was wide open in front of the goal, and then Motta injured Makelele with a vicious tackle for which he should have been red-carded. Then, with twenty minutes left, Figo went to take a Madrid corner kick and the fans began throwing shit at him, including an empty J&B whiskey bottle which might, with a little bad luck, have killed somebody. A couple of people threw mobile phones, which is pretty stupid when you figure that if you throw your own phone, the cops can probably figure out who it belongs to. On the other hand, the kind of guy who throws a mobile phone at an defenseless opposing soccer player's head is quite likely to have stolen said mobile phone.

So the ref, quite rightly, suspended the game for ten minutes while the crowd got calmed down. Nothing much happened during the last twenty minutes except that Riquelme bounced a free kick off the crossbar that had Casillas beaten. It ended up 0-0 and with only one fairly serious bit of rioting. Let me make something clear about European soccer hooligans. The Spanish hooligans are considered soft by the Brits and perhaps by the Dutch, maybe even the Italians, but they're plenty violent by American standards. These Spanish guys, Barça's Boixos Nois, Madrid's gang of openly Fascist wealthy skinhead toughs Ultra Sur, the Frente Atlético, Español's wealthy and Fascist Brigadas Blanquiazules, that mob of squatter thugs that roots for Seville, Bilbao's pro-ETA Abertzale Sur, would all eat the Oakland Raiders' fans for lunch. That bunch of fat middle-aged drunken idiots wouldn't last a minute against these young guys who know how to fight and who carry weapons, often knives. Remember, the Frente Atlético murdered a Real Sociedad fan, stabbed him to death, only three years ago, and the Boixos Nois stabbed a French supporter of Español to death not so long ago, either. Earlier this year a lynch mob of Seville fans had a security guard at their mercy and beat him bloody before the TV cameras. Not even American hockey fans would stand a chance in a square-go with these thugs. Not even Detroit Red Wings fans. Not even those animals in Philadelphia.

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