Monday, February 07, 2005

FC Barcelona got beat fair and square at home last night, 0-2, by Atlético de Madrid. It was a fairly rough game, since Atlético is notorious as another team that deals in "leña" and Barça is perfectly capable of passing it out as well as taking it (keep an eye on Puyol, Belletti, Márquez, and now Albertini). I am guessing, though, that teams are finding that the way to challenge the Barça is to play rough, since they don't have a lot of men on the bench to sub the regulars. The arrival of Albertini and López and the return of Gerard should do something to relieve this problem, but right now the Barça players are getting banged up every week by teams willing to play a physical game, and nobody gets much of a rest. Another thing is that teams are discovering that by putting relentless pressure on the midfield they can at least partially shut down Barça's passing game.

Atlético scored on a very nice goal in the very first minute. Somebody centered into the area and Ibagaza volleyed the ball off his heel (let's be frank, this was a bit lucky, but it was very pretty) to Fernando Torres, who knocked it in for 0-1. Atlético proceeded to retreat to its own half of the field and let Barça take the game to them, but they defended aggressively at the midfield stripe, not back around the area, and they shut down Barça's midfield and cut off Ronaldinho and Etoo from the ball. Both teams had several opportunities that they bungled. The ref was lousy; he didn't favor either team, his calls were equally bad for both sides. He failed to call a couple of real penalties, and he erred in calling one in favor of the Barça in the first half, which Ronaldinho muffed, and then calling another in favor of the Atlético in extra time (Valdés seemed to take down Torres in the area) that Torres sent home. Neither was a legitimate penalty. Barcelona had not lost at home for more than a year. They are still in first place, four points ahead of Real Madrid, who stomped Espanyol at home 4-0. Next week Barça plays at Zaragoza and Madrid plays at Osasuna; these are both midtable teams who do well when playing at home, and there might be more than one little surprise.

As everyone knows, New England beat Philadelphia in the Super Bowl. They were showing it at several of the local bars that cater largely to expats, but there was no way I was going out at midnight and stay up until 3 AM on Sunday night. That's three Super Bowls in four years for the no-longer Patsies, and this year in the playoffs they beat all three of the teams that were a legitimate challenge for them, Peyton Manning's Colts--Manning just had the best regular season a quarterback has ever had--, Big Ben's Steelers, and then Donovan McNabb's Eagles. They can start talking dynasty; I believe that the last team that was so dominant were the Cowboys of the early Nineties.

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