Friday, September 28, 2007

Nipita versus Mazua

In my realization that football may be my way into the communities in the north of Mozambique, I accepted the invitation to drive 80 kilometers to the very small and poor community of Nipita (40 kilometers off Alua, on the Pemba-Namialo road, towards Memba. But that probably means nothing to anyone reading this…), on a national holiday, when the local lads were facing their counterparts of Mazua.

On a very uneven pitch of blood-red dirt, under a burning hot sun, the teams stood facing each other, a bit later than anticipated… Nipita, the home team, in old Benfica shirts, and Mazua, in a variation of Brazilian national team shirts: on their starting lineup I counted three Robinho’s, three Ronaldinho’s and four Ronaldo’s.

No wonder that the whole thing was confusing for the home-side Nipita’s defense…

Many players wore no shoes, but that seemed to make no difference as the game started with Nipita feverishly attacking the visiting side, and disappointingly not getting ahead on some huge chances. The home-spectators were grabbing their heads!

But as football often is with (the real) Ronaldo & Co.: on one single counterattack the Nipita defense was open wide, and Ronaldo surely made a goal (I decided to call this guy long-panted Ronaldo, since he was the more prominent of only two guys in long pants in the heat – the other was also a Ronaldo… Long-panted Ronaldo was also the best player of the match). The home audience protested loudly to the referee, some saying the ball had gone behind the wooden post marking the goal. But the referee was adamant, and correctly gave the goal to the visitors.

Here I saw that in spite of the differences, the poverty, lack of education, etc., all people in the world can agree that the referee sucks. Someone shouted (in Portuguese, although most people speak Makua): “take that analphabet referee off the pitch!!!”, which I found very amusing considering that 80 percent of the population in the area cannot read or write.

At least people demand something of their referees.

I have no idea if it was the pressure from the spectators, but after mere 20 minutes into the first half, and the away team being up 1 to 0, the referee called for half-time (!?). Protests then took on huge effect, as numerous people ran on the pitch, and all were discussing with the referee, who after a somewhat confusing circumstances was substituted for a new referee.

I think FIFA should learn from this: “let us change the referee when he sucks”.

The new referee continued where the first had left off, and after only a few minutes gave a completely non-existant penalty for the home-team.

This was when I realized that the away-team also had some fans among the spectators; the pitch was invaded by dissatisfied fans. After a heated argument with a spectator in a Kaká shirt (there were no player’s in Kaká shirts on the Mazua team), the referee then changed his mind to the home-spectators huge disappointment, although they remained completely calm - probably because there had been no shadow of a penalty at all.

I think referees elsewhere, too proud to change their minds, should learn from this.

A few minutes after all this happened, Mazua went ahead with a second goal, after a deadly run down the right side by long-panted Ronaldo.

The bare-footed left-hand defender of Nipita (although he was never there), had a hard time with long-panted Ronaldo, and at one point he was viciously tackled by the bare-footed defender. That was when I learned that the referee had no red or yellow cards. In any case, Mazua’s long-panted Ronaldo was accused of dragging out time, so a Nipita player kicked the ball away (?), way into the bush behind the pitch, and a horde of children were unable to find the ball, for which reason the match stopped for a while (someone did eventually find the official ball).

Unfortunately, as I didn’t want to drive home on the lousy back-roads after dark, I had to leave midway through the second half. However, I am sure there were no more goals, as especially Nipita, who had started with headless feverish attacks in the burning sun, seemed completely run down and barely able to run.

I would however would like to thank the people of Nipita, who I may be doubtful may ever read this (there is no electricity or phone coverage in Nipita), for this great match.

The passion of football is alive here, in an area so poor and isolated, as much as in any international capital of football.

Who is David Beckham?

I think I had forgotten the international language of football. I have been working with subsistence farmers in some very isolated areas of Northern Mozambique for some six months now, and football had never really come up much; I had concentrated on doing my work, and trying to get to know these extremely poor subsistence farmers through the numerous silly sociological methods I have been pounded in with at university…

Then, someone asked me if I could bring a football to the community. The proposal amused me a bit, and I thought, “what the heck…”, and brought a cheap ball for my next visit. This made me suddenly a coveted person among the youngsters in the community, as well as suddenly gaining more trust with the rest of the farmers. After kicking the ball around after a short official meeting, young lads were asking me if I would come and play with them sometime; they asked me if I knew how to play.

I smartly told them I was a David Beckham without the haircuts.

They looked at me completely clueless, and I realized they had no idea who David Beckham was.

Maybe these people are not “underdeveloped” at all!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Messi: the best in the world

The Spanish football magazine Marca is posing exactly this question as the only 20-year old Argentinian has started overshadowing Ronaldinho as the main star of the Barecelona team, where he already ahs the record of being the youngest player to score a goal.
Already he has been top-scorer of youth world cup, best young player in the world, and now, only 20-years old, and still free of injuries, he seems bound for the complete stardom.
I have always found him amazing, and in my nostalgia for the great Maradona days, I have all my hope on young Messi!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Champions League 2007-08: First round tips

I have not been following the leagues, and have little knowledge of transfers and changes. However, I still feel I need to give my tips for the first round of the Champions League, however meager those tips may be due to my poor level of information…

The tips are in any case based on what happened after first matchday, so they may be a bit better and I may not look totally pathetic…

Group A:

Liverpool was not looking too strong against FC Porto, but still managed a tie, and under Benitez’ wise tutelage, they remain a strong cup side, so I predict that they will succeed in continuing from the group. Olympique Marseille is far from old times’ greatness, and may have confidence after starting with 3 points against Turkish Besiktas. Nevertheless, I think FC Porto will prevail: with a bit more luck they could have taken out Liverpool, and have a strong attacking force.

Group B:

Chelsea and Valencia are the obvious choices in this group where I think anyone will reduce Schalke 04 and Rosenborg to fight for the UEFA spot on third place. The two giants clashed in the quarterfinal last season, with Chelsea coming out victorious. This season, I think (and hope) Valencia will prevail to get the first spot: they started well with an away victory to Schalke 04, while a Chelsea team that has also looked shaky in the Premier League, only managed a tie in Trondheim. The Norwegians may be on their way into the UEFA Cup.

Group C:

The Spanish champions will win this group. After selling the galacticos, I think real football will prevail in the club instead of fashion and design. They started by defeating a Werder Bremen side that has before given them trouble, and should be ready to defeat the others. Lazio and Werder Bremen will be having a tense fight for second spot in the group, with the defensive Italians being upset by a fighting Bremen side.

Group D:

In this group AC Milan and Benfica are my obvious choices, and with AC Milan starting the whole thing with a victory against the Portuguese, I think they are in for a first spot. Shakhtar Donetsk started another good Champions League with a victory against the Glasgow Celtic, and it is likely these teams will be fighting for the third spot. Benfica, the Lisbon club with such great tradition and history, should get into the next round on second spot.

Group E:

Barcelona seems set for another good season, in spite of them not winning anything last season. They are still putting priority on entertaining attacking football, and young Lionel Messi is starting to shine brightly on the otherwise dark sky of great footballers today… They started with a sure 3-0 victory over Lyon and I think they will cruise through this group. The rest of the teams will be in a harsh fight for the second spot, which may be a true nail-biter. Lyon are still a strong team of talented youngsters and excellent foreigners, VFB Stuttgart are German champions, and Rangers should have confidence after defeating them. Hard to predict, but I go for Lyon, whom I have always felt sympathy for.

Group F:

Manchester United, defending English champions and with one of the most awesome young teams in Europe is likely in for the first spot, more so after starting with an away victory against Sporting in Lisbon. The only possible threat may be AS Roma: the often unpredictable Romans seems to be looking more stable, and started with a good 2-0 victory against Dynamo Kiev in Rome. They could upset Manchester, but I doubt they will, but should nevertheless take second spot.

Group G:

While many would have predicted Inter Milan, I think this group could be in for an upset. Fenerbahce, who apparently has bought some excellent new players, managed to defeat Inter in the first match, and PSV, full of young motivated players, also managed to defeat CSKA, and may also manage to upset the Italians. I only predict CSKA to be out of the race. Inter Milan should continue to next round, but I am not sure it will be on first spot. This will be one of the most interesting groups.

Group H:

Arsenal for sure. They started out destroying the twice UEFA cup champions from Sevilla, who seemed surprised to see the different level in the highest European competition. However, as they are now in, I predict they will prevail against the other two sides. Admittedly, I know little of either Steua or Slavia (more of the formers good historical results), but I feel they should not be a threat to Sevilla.

Let us see how I do!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Top-ten reasons for Mourinho leaving Chelsea

And just as I am starting to read football news again, a bomb-shell falls in the world of football news: José Mourinho, undoubtedly one of the best but also controversial coaches in the world, is leaving Chelsea, whom he made double Champions after almost 50 years, FA cup winners and League Cup winners. There has been talk of disagreements between José Mourinho and Chelsea-owner Abramovich, and disappointment at the late performance of the team. However, I have my top-10 reasons for Mourinho leaving Chelsea.

10. “Abramovich never lets me try out his cool mini-sub”

9. José Mourinho still refused to be re-dubbed Josef Mourinovitch…

8. His text-messaging bill was swallowing up his entire salary.

7. “I can always retire to a more quiet life of becoming coach of a national team like the Portuguese.”

6. “I want another striker or I will tell my Mommy…!!!!”

5. “Why does Princess Diana still get all the attention!?”

4. There are plenty of billionaires buying second-rate teams that Mourinho may make champions with just buying players and no coaching.

3. Portuguese haircuts just never caught on in London.

2. It was lonely for him to be the only super-star in the club.

1. God needed a coach for his team, and Mourinho was the most able candidate.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Champions League start

I was in a small village on the Northern coast of Mozambique, when a colleague told me that the Champions League was starting again. I felt a tickle of embarrassment, since as I have mentioned before, my football passion has gone, and I have not followed anything as of late. I wasn’t even aware that the Spanish league had started, or any of the groups in the Champions League. I haven’t even made a UEFA Fantasy team, and considering that I am a leading expert on football on the internet, it is all an embarrassment. I am indeed, that my football site has been gone for so long.

Anyway, as I got to my friend’s house to see the first match between FC Porto and Liverpool, I had the sudden feeling that I had been missing this a lot! That in spite of my reservations about the international capitalist football machinery having taken the magic out of the sport, I need the “fix”. I am addicted again I think, and greatly enjoyed the match: FC Porto was on to an amazing start against a really lame Liverpool side. However, Liverpool is known for getting back into matches, and completely underserved, managed to get an equalizer by Dirk Kuyt. After that Liverpool settled better into the match, and FC Porto was unable to be a major threat. It ended up a boring game…

On the more positive note, my old darling Valencia started with a good 0-1 away victory against Schalke 04 and Chelsea managed only a meager tie with Rosenborg in the same group.

Lionel Messi was magical in Barcelona’s 3-0 victory over Olympique Lyon, with Thierry Henry scoring for Barcelona as well. UEFA champions from Seville were shown how to play with the big boys, when Arsenal destroyed them 3-0, and Real Madrid defeated Werder Bremen.

Machester United’s Ronaldo scored the winning goal against his old Sporting Lisbon, and the defending champions of AC Milan started defeating the other Lisbon club Benfica. The other Milan team, Inter, defending Italian champions, were surprised by a good Fenerbahce side, who won a deserved victory.

All in all, Champions League is back, and I have a lot to learn about the new season!