Tuesday, April 22, 2003

From Sports Illustrated, here's the geniusy sports story of the week:

During a tour of Fort Buchanan in Puerto Rico, a military policeman asked if any of the Expos wanted to know what it felt like to get shot. Reliever T.J. Tucker volunteered, and the MP shot him in the rear with a simulated 9-millimeter pistol used for training. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing," said Tucker. We hope so.

Speaking of sports, tyrant-loving FC Barcelona, the team that protested in favor of Saddam and against the United States and then took money from Qadafi's son in exchange for an exhibition game, tied Real Madrid in the Bernabeu on Saturday 1-1. It was a sloppy but exciting game, with neither team able to put together a sustained offensive attack. Barcelona slapped young midfielder Thiago Motta on Madrid's Zinedane Zidane and took him out of the game, but they were playing on the defensive and looking for the counterattack during most of the match. This strategy, which is the opposite of playing your game and taking it to the other team, is the equivalent of a dink-and-doink passing attack in pro football, the approach you use if your players just aren't as good as the other team's. Johan Cruyff is disgusted with the current Barcelona squad and their approach to the game, of course.

Barcelona is currently in twelfth place in the twenty-team Spanish league, with Real Madrid, Real Sociedad, and Deportivo de La Coruña in nearly a dead heat for first place with eight games left to play; Valencia and Celta de Vigo will fight over fourth place and the last Champions League berth, and Betis is likely to take sixth place and the last UEFA berth. (One UEFA spot automatically goes to the winner of the Spanish Cup, either Mallorca or Recreativo de Huelva.) Looks to me like next season Barcelona will stay home from European competitions for the first time since they were instituted. Their only hope is to win the Champions League to qualify next year, and realistically, they're the seventh-best team of the Elite Eight, so it ain't bloody likely.

Barcelona plays Real Sociedad next weekend at Anoeta in a league game that la Real has to win to keep up with Madrid and Depor. Barcelona has nothing riding on it, so they're probably going to blow it. Tonight Juventus of Turin comes to the Camp Nou for the return leg of the Champions League quarterfinals; Barcelona and la Juve tied 1-1 at Delle Alpi in the first leg. This is, of course, a must-win game for both teams; Barcelona advances to the Final Four on a win or a 0-0 tie, while Juve advances on a 2-2 tie (or more) or a win. In case of a 1-1 tie they go to overtime and then to penalties. The other team is eliminated. The game is on TV1 tonight.

Also, this evening, Inter Milan plays Valencia (1-0 in the first leg); tomorrow, Real Madrid plays Manchester United (3-1 in the first leg), and Ajax Amsterdam plays AC Milan (0-0 in the first leg). The Final Four is most likely to be Juventus, Inter, Madrid, and Milan. I'm rooting for Ajax but I have few illusions. They're a good team, well-coached by Ronald Koeman (a true sports hero, a widely respected gentleman), but they're just not a superstar squad.

How 'bout them Kansas City Royals? What the hell are they doing winning games? They're supposed to suck! They sure did last year, anyway. Keep an eye on their young pitcher, Runelvys Hernandez. He's the real deal. They have four established, competent players, Mike Sweeney at first base / DH, Carlos Beltran in centerfield, Raul Ibañez in leftfield, and Joe Randa at third. The rest of the young pitching staff looks pretty good but they'll come down to earth. If they come anywhere near .500, though, we can call the season a great success.

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