Thursday, March 7, 2013

Mourinho said we'd stop and watch...and at least I did

At approximately 2:45PM Eastern time on Tuesday, March 5, Real Madrid and Manchester United squared off in the second leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie.  If you didn't understand half of that first sentence, I don't blame you. What follows is my diary of how the match unfolded.

First Half

0:00 - So it turns out Gus Johnson is the play-by-play announcer for this game. How better to drum up American interest in football than by having the most excitable announcer alive do the broadcast? (I know it's soccer and not football...just know that because it is a European game I feel compelled to call it football.)

2:15 - Just as a bit of background, the first "leg" was a 1-1 draw. Each team hosts one game, and the aggregate winner advances to the next round.  However, if the "aggregate" score is tied, the team that scores the most "away goals" advances.  Manchester United ('ManU' from here on out) scored once in their match at Real Madrid ('Real' from here on out), so if this match ends 0-0, ManU's one away goal will have them advance. If both the aggregate score and number of away goals are tied, the match goes into overtime and eventually penalty kicks if needed.
4:00 - Ronaldo has his first free kick, though not in his favorite part of the pitch (which means field in British).  He drills the wall.  Standing in a wall with someone about to boot it at you as hard as they can is #12 on the list of 47 reasons I stopped playing soccer.
8:45 - Based on the amount of gray hair Robin Van Persie has, I assume he is 44.  Turns out he is 29. But he's definitely on the "footballers who look like we're way older than really we are" team, captained by Arjen Robben.
10:50 - Higauin gets some space in the box and sprays an attempt wide right. It was him against 3, but he definitely had space, and you've got to put that on goal just to see what happens.  As a casual soccer fan, I absolutely love critiquing professionals who know what they're doing.
12:45 - Rooney is shown on the sidelines warming up. Talk about a ringer waiting to come off the bench.
14:00 - This is what is so great about European soccer: the crowd applauds the ManU offense for winning a corner. They know the game so well and appreciate all the intricacies of the game. The attack went well, they got a corner, and the crowd appreciates the effort going for goal.
17:30 - As Nani sends in a poor corner, I have this text exchange with a friend: "Are they winning?" "Who?" "Whoever you're watching...that should be winning" "It's tied. And it's soccer. So it may be that way for a while." "That's why Americans hate soccer."
18:50 - I love the way Gus Johnson says, "Beautiful tackle!" He announces history in a great manner as well.
20:00 - Wow. ManU corner leads to a blistering header off the post. Welbeck taps it back towards goal and Real's goalie (Diego Lopez) saves it halfway over the goal line by catching it between his legs. Welbeck was offsides so it wouldn't have counted, but it was still incredibly athletic. Gus Johnson's announcing of the chance: "Swung in -- oh!!!! -- oh!!!! -- and, oh!! It's in! No! It's not! Ohh!!!...Offsides!!"
27:00 - I go get a snack. I hear Gus Johnson yelling so I run back in the room to see Ronaldo fire a shot from 35 yards straight into a defender.  It does, however, turn into about a minute of threatening Real possession in the box, the first real possession they've had up there so far today.
30:00 - One of our writers, Paul Britton, admits to not having seen "Shaqtin a fool" until just now.  It could be the greatest NBA TV segment out there. Having said that, I now realize that NBA TV doesn't have very many notable segments.
32:30 - Sergio Ramos gets called for a foul on a header just before Higuain punches the ball into the net, disallowing Real's goal.
33:24 - Lopez (Real's goalie) makes one horrible save that he should have caught, but redeems himself by making a fantastic save...and then further redeems himself by punching ManU's Vidic in the face as he goes for a header off the ensuing corner.
37:45 - They show a couple replays of ManU's Rafael taking a dive in the box trying to get a foul called. Gus's counterpart spends all 30 seconds of these clips ruthlessly hating on him for this move, and finishes with, "I guess he's from Brazil?"
42:00 - Di Maria walks off, soon to be replaced by Kaka, a player who was once considered the best player in the world.  Sergio Ramos lovingly caressed the back of Di Maria's head when he was on the ground, gave him a pat on the butt when he got up, and later told reporters: "You share a bunk bed with a guy for enough nights and you learn how to comfort him, help him relax, and how to relieve his night terrors."
43:45 - In a surprise move, it took this long for Gus's first basketball reference. He relates the ManU defense to "a great match-up zone," which is something that has never actually existed (ask the Knicks).
45:00 - After one minute of extra time, the first half comes to a close. "Disciplined" is the word of choice from the broadcasters. In American that means "boring".

Second Half

45:00 - My prediction: Real has topped Barcelona twice in the last week, and Ronaldo is on a mission to at least force a conversation this year about who wins the Ballon d'Or (given to the best footballer in the world...Messi has won the last four).  He scores once. ManU scores once. And we have extra time. ManU scores in extra time to move on.
48:20 - Sergio Ramos deflects the ball into his own goal. Gus Johnson goes nuts. The stadium erupts. Real looks absolutely dejected.  The aggregate score is 2-1, and Real has had to score the entire time anyway thanks to the away goal count, so they really aren't that far out of it. But they're going to have to be better than this. Ronaldo simply hasn't gotten any touches in positive spaces.
52:41 - Since that goal, Real has had nearly all of the possession, though they've lacked a particularly threatening chance.  Still, I don't think ManU wants to try and defend Helm's Deep for the final 40 minutes.  Yeah that's right, I worked in a JRR Tolkien reference for the second straight piece.
56:00 - "WOOOOOW!" - Gus Johnson as the referee produces a red card for Nani's high kick. The best part is Sir Alex Ferguson pushing everyone out of the way in his box to get to the field as fast as possible to yell at the ref.  Not only does this give Real an 11 to 10 man advantage, but if it goes into extra time that becomes a huge disadvantage from a stamina stand point.  The second best part is two minutes later when Sir Alex gives up berating the refs and turns to the stands to pump up his supporters.
59:15 - Real now wins every clearance, swarms every loose ball, and clearly dominates the "which team can use more hair gel" battle.
62:30 - Suddenly the ball is skipping in front of goal more often.  We still haven't seen Ronaldo in a particularly threatening position, but believe that it's coming.
64:40 - Giggs (ManU) holds off an attack from Modric. Giggs also has grey hair, but it turns out he is 39 years old. So he probably actually has grey hair (unlike Van Persie who, as I noted earlier, probably uses Just for Men - Touch of Grey).
65:55 - I am so disappointed. Luca Modric just blasted a ball from 27 yards off the post and into the net. De Gea (ManU's goal keeper) really had no chance at that. But it was so unexpected (there wasn't really a build up, and it wasn't particularly clear right away that it went in) that Johnson didn't say a word until a few seconds after it was in.  I expected my speakers to break. And all I got was, "Oh that's a goal for Modric." Lame.
68:45 - Higuain swings a ball across the front of the box and Ronaldo slides in at the far post to touch it in. In a show of un-Ronaldo-like grace, he doesn't celebrate. Although he lets everyone know he isn't celebrating by putting his hands up in the air. Which is sort of like taking cans of food to the nearest food pantry while announcing on a megaphone, "Look how selfless and caring I am! I'm donating food! Respect and love me for it!"
71:00 - ManU now needs 2 goals, since even if they tie the aggregate they will now be behind on away goals.
72:00 - The cannon himself, Wayne Rooney, comes trotting on. Gus's counterpart says he will "grab this game by the scruff of its neck and give it some life," which I did not know is what happens when you grab something by the scruff of its neck.
75:25 - The announcers are going on and on about the intent of Nani's high kick. So while the two teams trade clearances I figured I'd take the time to say that, from the replays, it looks like Nani's foot makes contact with Arbeloa's side, and as that is happening he extends his leg (a motion that he had not started before contact). While that could certainly be intent, I also understand that there's almost no way the ref can determine that at full speed, and obviously there's no replay in European football.
79:45 - Welbeck gets a shot off (as Johnson screams his name) that may or may not have been a handball.  At this point, it seems like a long shot for ManU, though one goal would certainly make it interesting.
82:10 - Lopez with a brilliant reflex save off a header from a corner. May have just preserved the win for Real.
83:20 - Rooney fires high after a few chances. Real is really keeping this one interesting for being a man up.
88:30 - ManU is desperate, especially after Kaka hits one off the near post that almost goes in off De Gea's back - something I've only ever seen happen in a video game when the computer just decides to score on you in the final two minutes and you end up losing. I'm not bitter.
89:15 - Real's goalie is down. "I mean are you really that injured?" says one announcer. Which is funny because this has been the knock on football in America for a long time. And it is also funny because when you watch the replay, he's clearly faking it in a major way. "Every call has gone Real Madrid's way," is how he ends his rant. Which is a little whiney, but also probably true.
91:27 - Lopez with another punch save on a header from a corner. He's my man of the match. ManU's only goal was on an own goal, and he's had at least 5 or 6 great saves.
95:16 - Jose Mourinho walks off as time ends. Johnson declares, "Elvis has left the building," even though Sir Alex Ferguson is probably Elvis in this scenario.  The game ends, a 2-1 victory for Real and they advance 3-2.

Obviously the red card is all the broadcasters want to talk about, mostly because everyone agrees Real Madrid could have found a way to score a goal or two without help from the ref.  Still, ManU should've taken a page out of Wilt's book - maybe if they had done that they'd have found a way to score. Cheers!

1 comment:

  1. WTF! This is awesome. I'm going to read this blog regularly now.

    - Athan