Archive for April, 2018

(Semi-)final thoughts

April 23, 2018

The upcoming UEFA Champions League semi-finals will be the first since 2010 in which all four teams are from different leagues. The time before that was in 2004. In that year Porto was one of the semi-finalists. The following year Eindhoven was one. Since then, only teams from the Big Five (England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain) have made it to the semis, and out of the 52 teams in the last 13 semi-finals (including this week’s) only two have been French  (as against six Italian, nine German, 15 English and 20 Spanish), so maybe it’s really the Big Four.

The second leg of the quarter-finals was exciting, except for Liverpool’s repeated sweep of Manchester City. Both Roma and Juventus managed to overcome their three-goal deficits, with Roma beating Barcelona on away goals and Juventus losing  to Real on a second-half stoppage-time penalty that saw none other than Gigi Buffon, in what was probably his last appearance on a global stage, given a red card.

The other semi-finals, those of the FA Cup, were less dramatic. My Spurs disappointed once again; after a first-half goal by Eriksen they let themselves be dominated by Manchester United in the second half, and Harry Kane was as useless has he has generally been since coming back from his injury. He was nowhere to be seen in midfield action, and in his semi-fixed position near the opposing goal he flubbed several chances on good crosses. I was hoping that I might cheer the Spurs on against Chelsea (who won easily as expected) when I am on a stopover in England on finals day (which also happens to be the day of the “royal wedding”), but I’m afraid I’ll have to root for Chelsea — any team against one coached by the execrable José Mourinho.

Spurs have been disappointing in league play as well, since Kane’s return. Their winning streak was snapped when they lost to Manchester City 3-1 (their only goal being also by Eriksen) and they only managed a 1-1 draw with 13th-place Brighton (their one goal was, to be fair, by Kane).

But in general soccer has been fun to watch, with mostly close games, since I first wrote about it.

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Good Friday

April 10, 2018

Today is not Good Friday — or any Friday — but it’s the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.  And none other than Hillary Clinton published an article about it in The Guardian.

While she mentions her and Bill’s attendance at a Christmas tree lighting in 1995, and the participation of a number of women in the preparations leading to the agreement, she does not mention the man without whose negotiating skills the agreement would probably not have happened: George Mitchell.

When Mitchell,, from Maine, retired from the Senate — where he had been majority leader — in 1995, President Bill Clinton named him the United States Special Envoy for Northern Ireland, and it was under his leadership that the agreement took place.

But Mitchell’s tenure as majority leader included the period during which Clinton tried to introduce a national healthcare system, and it’s very likely that someone with the skill to overcome decades of bloody hostility in Northern Ireland might have had some success. Mitchell even declined an appointment to the Supreme Court in order to take on this challenge.

But it was not to be. Bill Clinton made his wife the point person in the healthcare fight. And we know the sad result.

No wonder Hillary Clinton doesn’t care to mention George Mitchell.

 

Close encounters

April 9, 2018

Over the past several weeks, almost all the soccer games that I had been looking forward to, both in the EPL and in the Champions League, turned out to be uninteresting one-sided romps. Even might Manchester City didn’t just lose to Liverpool in the Champions League quarter-final, but lost by 3-0.

It all changed this past weekend. Of the ten EPL matches played, five were draws and the other five were won by one goal, including some dramatic comebacks like the Manchester derby, in which City were coasting 2-0 at half-time only to be overcome by United’s three goals in the second half. And these results happened even in such disparate encounters as Chelsea (5th place) vs. West Ham (14th), 1-1; Arsenal (6th) vs. Southampton (18th), 3-2; and Stoke (19th) vs. Spurs (4th), 1-2. It was hard to get away from the TV.

I hope that this trend continues in the Premier League. In the Champions League, on the other hand, the only thing that will make this week’s second-leg matches interesting is one-sided romps by the losing sides of the first leg (Man City, Roma and Juventus, all behind by three goals; I’m not expecting much from Sevilla against Bayern in Munich, though they trail by only one goal).

And I’m looking forward to the FA Cup semi-final between my Spurs and the team managed by a man whom I once compared to Donald Trump.

 

My Spurs

April 8, 2018

The other day, as I was filling out an online form that required a security question, the first suggested question was, “Of what sports team are you a fan?” Almost without thinking I put down “Spurs”.

Why? Well, I have been following the English Premier League religiously since its telecasts became available in the USA. And, in talking with other such followers, I discovered that one is expected to be a supporter of some specific team, and something instinctively drew me to Tottenham Hotspur. One reason was that it’s the only major London team (and I couldn’t see myself supporting one outside London) not owned by some foreign billionaire or other, whether American (Arsenal) or Russian (Chelsea). Besides, Tottenham’s owners are Jews like me, and there is an old tradition of the team being supported by the Jews of London, to the extent that the fans have taken on the slur “Yids” as a badge of pride.

There is also the fact that Tottenham Hotspur has a presence in the place where I live: the El Cerrito Futbol Club (ECFC) calls itself Tottenham Hotspur East Bay, and banners bearing the iconic rooster can be seen all along San Pablo Avenue. (I don’t know what the connection is between ECFC and the actual Tottenham club. When I asked if they had any Harry Kane jerseys at their stand at last year’s El Cerrito’s Fourth of July celebration, they didn’t know what I was talking about.)

It happens that my self-identification as a Spurs fan began in 2014, around the time Harry Kane became a full-time member of the team, and became quite enthusiastic about him as his spectacular goal-scoring career took off. Some of his shots seemed worthy of a Messi or a Ronaldo.

(Speaking of Ronaldo, the TV commentators of last week’s quarter-final match between Juventus and Real Madrid were nonplussed by the fans in Turin applauding Ronaldo’s acrobatic goal, saying that it was highly unusual. But maybe not so unusual in Italy. In 1970 I happened to be in a bar in Venice watching the “match of the century”  in which Italy held a 1-0 lead from the 8th minute until the 90th, when Schnellinger scored a goal for Germany to tie the game. The Italians in the bar, to my great surprise, did not groan in disappointment but applauded, saying è ben meritato (it’s well deserved), since Germany really did outplay Italy in the second half.)

Back to Kane: over the past year I have become rather disenchanted with him. He is an opportunistic striker, like Jamie Vardy. He does not participate much in attacks. His record in assists is dismal: only two so far this season (alongside 24 goals), while other top scorers like Salah (29 goals) and Agüero (21 goals) have 9 and 6, respectively, and as far as I recall the two assists were accidental, not the beautiful crosses that Kane’s teammate Christian Eriksen provides. While Kane did provide the winning goals in Spurs’ two 1-0 EPL victories in February (against Arsenal and Crystal Palace), he was quite unproductive in the home loss of the second leg of the Champions’ League match against Juventus, and since his injury in the Bournemouth match (in which he also failed to score) the team has won every much, with Dele Alli and especially Eriksen providing the scoring.

Eriksen is, in fact, a first-rate striker (particularly when playing for Denmark) as well as a brilliant midfielder. I didn’t get to see yesterday’s game at Stoke in which he scored two goals to win the match 2-1, but in the video replays they seem beautifully done, the first from a fine assist by Dele, the second from a free kick, in which Kane appears to have tried to help with his shoulder but the ball seems to have gone in without touching him. In what seems to me a case of poor sportsmanship, Kane has demanded credit for the goal, yet another contribution to my disenchantment with Kane.

For me, henceforth, the face of my Spurs is that of Christian Eriksen.