Saturday, June 09, 2007

Since ETA hasn't killed anybody yet, the big news here is the football. Real Madrid and Barcelona are tied on points at the top, with Sevilla two points back. Madrid holds the advantage in case of a tie in the standings. Each team has two matches left; Barcelona plays Espanyol tonight at home, Madrid plays Zaragoza away, and Sevilla plays Mallorca away. The games are all scheduled at the same time, 9 PM.

Madrid can clinch the title tonight if they win and Barça and Sevilla lose; Barça fans, of course, are rooting for a Madrid loss or draw combined with a Barça victory. Even a Barça draw would be acceptable if both Madrid and Sevilla lose.

Realistically, the most likely team of the three to fail would be Real Madrid, since they are playing away, Zaragoza is a good team, and it also has something to play for; with a victory it can clinch a spot in the UEFA cup next year. So Zaragoza will be a hyper-motivated opponent. Barça is playing at home, so it has the advantage; Espanyol is not a bad team, but they're playing for nothing but pride, since they're set in the midtable. Agreed, pride is a pretty strong motivation to beat your crosstown rival. Sevilla is playing away but Mallorca has nothing to play for; they're also set in the midtable. So Sevilla is likely to pull out a win.

There are rumors of maletines flying every which way; a maletín is a briefcase, and it is assumed to be full of cash. Everyone in Spain believes that Barça has offered a huge bonus to the Zaragoza players if they beat Madrid, and that Madrid has done the same to the Espanyol players. This practice is strictly illegal but everyone assumes that it happens all the time. You get in big trouble in the States if you get caught making payments of any sort to opposing players, and we just assume it isn't done at all.

Earlier this season Torii Hunter of the Minnesota Twins tried to pay off a promise he made at the end of last season; if the Kansas City Royals swept Detroit, Minnesota's rival for a playoff spot, he'd spring for a couple of cases of champagne. The Royals swept them, against all odds, and Hunter (known as an all-around good guy) was going to pay off at the beginning of this season when the Twins made their first visit to KC. Now, this is obviously just a fun thing, not real money--what does that cost, a couple grand for the good stuff? That's pocket change to a ballplayer--and a sign of respect between guys on different teams, but the league told them no, Caesar's ballplayers must be above all suspicion.

So tonight Ronaldinho can't play because of that ridiculous foul he got red-carded for in the last game two weeks ago. Rijkaard's lineup is going to be Valdés; Zambrotta, Puyol, Thuram, Van Bronckhorst; Xavi, Motta, Deco; Iniesta, Eto'o, Messi. Looks pretty good except for that large hole right in the middle named Motta. Márquez will be on the bench; why not play him there?

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