October 7, 2009
Elsewhere, Valencia earned a very costly victory with David Villa leaving the game with what appeared to be a muscle tear. Coming amidst bankruptcy problems and David Silva transfer rumors, this was not the news Los Ches needed with league leaders Barcelona up next in two weeks. Said Catalonian club edged out Almeria this past Saturday (via a brilliant goal from Pedrito), the three points enough to establish themselves alone at the top of the table. The only team that remains perfect in league play to this point (and still undefeated in all competitions).
The big story of the weekend, as well as one of the best games of the season thus far, was played in the Andalucian capital of Sevilla Sunday night. The local side was hosting the newly assembled Blancos from Real Madrid with the game being labeled the first real test for the “New Galacticos.” Sevilla had been perfect since an opening weekend loss to Valencia in both the Champions League and Spain while Real was traveling with out their new star, Cristiano Ronaldo, who was nursing an injured ankle suffered this past Wednesday. Excuses were not made after the match, the Chilean manager acknowledging that the home side outplayed his boys, deserving all three of the points they earned. Spreading the Madrid defense wide, dominating the wings all while consistently threading dangerous balls into the area, Sevilla picked apart Real Madrid. The Sevillian wingers made boys out of Ramos and Marcelo. The backline stood flatfooted, statues watching the Sevillian goals unfold in front of them. Madrid was tested and failed while Sevilla made a very loud statement throughout Spain and Europe: there are more than two teams in the Iberian country that can compete on the highest level.
Consequently, this game was not just a victory for the Rojoblancos from Sevilla but for the rest of the Spanish league. While critics will be quick to dismiss La Liga as boring, a two horse race, but, as the game Sunday night reemphasized, there are other quality clubs capable of hoisting hardware throughout the continent in Spain. Yes, it may take a valiant effort to dethrone treble winning Barcelona but if the Sevilla that came to play Sunday night at the Sanchez Pizjuan stays consistent then trophies are not out of the question. Trite as it may be to say, it is true: on any given day, anyone can be defeat.
As for the rest of the league, Villarreal still remains winless. Less than two years removed from their exceptional second place league finish, the yellow submarine find themselves in the red on only three points through six fixtures after a nil-nil home draw against Espanyol. Deportivo continued their impressive start to the 09-10 campaign with an away victory that leaves them fourth in the table on twelve points. Mallorca was cooled off while Xerez recorded their first ever goal in the top flight in a 1-1 draw.
As for the prediction standings thus far….
Standings Through Six Rounds
EPM (.517): 31- 29 (7)
FFT (.500): 30 - 30
LLTO (.468): 22 – 25 (2)
*LLTO does not to pick some games which is why their total number of predictions is lower…the final number (in parenthesis) indicates the number of games with the exact score picked correctly to serve as a tie breaker.
September 30, 2009
As always, I appreciate any comments, critics, etc. from any readers in regards to either of the blogs. Only five matches into the season, the 2009-2010 La Liga campaign is shaping up to be a very exciting one.
Two teams many considered serious contenders are still without wins five games into the season. Atletico de Madrid has struggled defensively, conceding away their first victory of the season in stoppage time at home against Almeria midweek.; however, in a similar fashion, Maxi finished home a sloppy Valenica clearance two minutes from time to salvage a point at the Mestilla on Saturday. Valencia on the other hand has given away four points in the last five minutes of their last two games, mistakes that are unacceptable for a talented team with desires to compete for a top European spot next season. Athletic Club Bilbao has come down to earth, losing their last two after an impressive start with victories in their first three games. Xerez picked up their first ever point in the Spanish top flight after an impressive nil-nil draw at Espanyol. Malaga has lost four straight after an impressive opening day win against the aforementioned struggling Atletico while Mallorca continue to play nearly flawless football. Asides from a couple weakly conceded goals mid-week against Sevilla (a game in which they really held their own on the road), Mallorca has been impressive thus far.
This upcoming weekend will bring us many intriguing matches right before a two-week break as players report for international duty. The aforementioned Sevilla vs. Real Madrid will surely be the game to watch, and I am going to say that Madrid’s lackadaisical form in the back will finally prove deadly as they are upset in the Andalucian capital. I know it may sound like an echo at this point but I have both Aletico and Villarreal recording their first wins of the season. Elsewhere, look for Mallorca and Deportivo to continue on form while Xerez will follow-up their first La Liga points from last week with their first La Liga victory this Sunday.
Tenerife 1 – Deportivo 3
Atletico de Madird 2 – Real Zaragoza 0
Barcelona 3 – Almeria 0
Getafe 2 – Osasuna 1
Valladolid 1 – Athletic Bilbao 1
Villarreal 2 – Espanyol 1
Racing Santander 0 – Valencia 1
Xerez 1 – Malaga 0
Sevilla 2 – Real Madrid 1
Sporting Gijon 2 – Mallorca 3
As for the prediction standings… El Partido Maravilloso took a beating the last week while Tim Stannard from Four Four Two’s La Liga Loca blog had a phenomenal set of predictions. La Liga Tickets Online neglected to put up predictions for the midweek games so their picks for the weekend’s matches were just doubled. The number in the parenthesis is, of course, number of game scores picked exactly right to serve as an end of the season tiebreaker.
1. FFT 28 – 22
2. EPM 24 – 26 (4*)
3. LLTO: 24 – 26 (2*)
September 24, 2009
Athletic Bilbao 1 - Sevilla 1
Malaga 0 - Barcelona 3
Real Madrid 4 - Tenerife 1
Valencia 2 - Atletico Madrid 3
Mallorca 1 - Valladolid 0
Espanyol 2 - Xerez 1
Almeria 1 - Racing Santander 0
Zaragoza 0 - Getafe 0
Osasuna 2 - Sporting Gijon 1
Deportivo 1 - Villarreal 3
September 21, 2009
Three Clubs Remain Perfect (Barcelona, Real & Athletic Club Bilbao???): Week Three in Review & Jornada 4 Preview
As for the prediction standings after three weeks:
1. El Partido Maravilloso: 16-14 (4*)
2. La Liga Tickets Online: 16-14 (2*)
3. Four Four Two: 16-14**
*tie breaker is scores picked correctly throughout the season
**if you don’t pick the scores, then you can’t earn the points
A set of midweek games keeps the players of La Liga busy this week. The big match-up coming when perfect Real and Manuel Pellegrini visit El Madrigal. Pellegrini, who coached Villarreal for four seasons including a second place league finish, will lead Los Blancos against his former club. Villarreal, who are a perennial contender for the four Champions League spots, have stuttered out of the gate this campaign. Emotions will be high as Villarreal look to take revenge on their former manager while earning their first league win in the process.
Week 4 Predictions:
Sevilla 1 – Mallorca 0
Racing Santander 2 – Barcelona 2
Espanyol 2 – Malaga 0
Villarreal 0 – Real Madrid 1
Atletico Madrid 3 – Almeria 1
Tenerife 0 – Athletic Club Bilbao 3
Xerez 1 – Deportivo 2
Valladolid 1 – Osasuna 1
Getafe 1 – Valencia 2
Sporting Gijon 1 – Zaragoza 0
September 19, 2009
Prior to the start of week three, this author had been writing from the comfort of the New York City suburbs, far removed from the European game; however, now, after a move to Madrid, I find myself at the epicenter of Spanish football. With the new location should come a new improved level of stories, gossip and opinions of the game from both the local media and local supporters.
It is difficult to label a game a must win three matches into a thirty-eight match season; however, Atletico de Madrid find themselves in said scenario. On only one point through two games, a visit to Camp Nou tonight could potentially be the first defining cornerstone of this lengthy season. A loss at Barcelona would leave them eight points off the top early in the season, while a victory could reestablish the rojoblancos as the contender many, this blogger included, thought they would be. Madrid should stay on form with rookie club Xerez at the Bernabeu. Villarreal will earn their first win, on the road at San Mames, as will Espanyol against Deportivo.
As for Week Three Predictions:
Deportivo 0- Espanyol 1
Real Madrid 4- Xerez 0
Malaga 0- Racing Santander 0
Athletic Bilbao 1- Villarreal 2
Almeria 0- Getafe 1
Valencia 3- Sporting Gijon 1
Osasuna 0- Sevilla 2
Mallorca 1- Tenerife 1
Barcelona 2- Atletico Madrid 1
Real Zaragoza 2- Valladolid 3
They are known as the big four in England, the only teams (asides from a slip-up in 1995 when Blackburn was crowned champion) to have won the Premier League (mind you it started under that name in 1992). Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool, are, perennially, the top four in England and thus always win qualification for the following year’s Champions League. While Spain’s league may not follow such a predictable trend, Barcelona and Real Madrid have often been widely considered in a league of their own. Valencia, however, has the talent to raise them above the rest of the Spanish competition and into said category. Bankruptcy issues still remain and do pose a threat to the stability of the organization but the former back-to-back Champions League finalists now seem ready to solidify themselves as a perinea member of the Spanish elite. While the season is still very young (and I am still not ruling out my pick to finish second, Atletico) Valencia has come out of the gates on fire.
Home to a striker that has become know as the one that got away from the “big clubs” and a very young talented midfield, supporters at the Mestilla should be in for an exciting, competitive season. As for the “big two,” both won comfortably on the road this past week. Sevilla, after a week one defeat to Valencia, recorded their first win while Villarreal and Atletico, two teams considered competitors for Europe, disappointingly drew at home. Deportivo remained on form after a well-fought loss in week one at Real Madrid to win at home against Malaga. With still plenty of football to be played, teams wanting to compete for a chance at the league title will need to quickly pick up their play before Barcelona and Madrid separate themselves permanently.
After Week Two the prediction standings look like this….
1. FFT: 12-8
2. EPM: 11-9 (3*)
3. LLTO: 11-9 (2*)
*El Partido Maravilloso is in second because of picking 3 scores perfectly versus the 2 from LaLigaTicketsOnline.com
September 10, 2009
Joy in England, Disappointment in Argentina and Drama in Saudi Arabia: World Cup 2010 Qualifying Update
Now for a breakdown by qualification group....
The qualification of Spain and England means that now three of the nine automatic spots in South Africa are occupied. The winners of the six remaining groups will also automatically qualify after the final round of games in October. The top eight of nine second place teams from each group will then be randomly drawn into home and home ties to decide the final four spots allocated to Europe (because one group has one fewer team than the rest, the second place standings will not take into account the two games played by the second place nations against the last place teams in each group). Portugal has seemingly revived their hopes of sneaking into the aforementioned second place playoffs with a crucial point off an 87th minute strike in Denmark and a win in Hungary. The Czechs hit for seven against San Marino after a draw in Slovakia and have seemingly put themselves back into contention for qualification; however, Slovenia is up two points and will face the very feeble, above mentioned San Marino in their second fixture of the next round. Slovenia's result in Slovakia in the first leg will ultimately decide the fate for both the Czechs and the group. The Germans can clinch their group with a win in Russia next round but a Russian victory would allow them to leapfrog the group leaders and control their own destiny. Ukraine are two points off an injury plagued Croatian squad with a game in hand. With the Ukrainian's second fixture against a very anemic Andorran squad, playing hosts to Fabio Capello's England (who we know will not take any match lightly) will prove vital for the last qualification position. The French drew twice this past week but are still within striking distance of winning Group Seven. Although Serbia leads them by four points, home ties against the Faroe Islands and Austria should prove fruitful for the Blues and put some pressure on the Serbians. Norway's victory coupled with the Scottish loss Wednesday clinched second place for the Norwegians; nonetheless, a World Cup berth is a long shot for the Scandinavian nation. Being in the group with the fewest teams, Norway has concluded their qualifying matches and sit seventh (on 10 points) in the rankings of second place teams. Republic of Ireland (10 points) and Sweden (9 points) both have two games in hand so a Norwegian qualification into just the next round would require a massive collapse by at least one of the two nations.
The strength of the Spanish, Dutch and English would leave one to believe that all three nations could be considered favorites for the Cup next summer; however, it is important to note that no European nation has ever won a World Cup off 'The Continent.'
CONCACAF (North America, Central America & Caribbean)
Costa Rica has very quickly squandered their early lead on the CONCACAF table and now find themselves in trouble. While it is all but certain that they will finish no worse than fourth, fourth place requires a home and home match against the fifth place (currently Argentina) South American country to win qualification. Boasting a very impressive home record, the Costa Ricans were embarrassed on their own soil against Mexico and conceded a late winner to a weaker El Salvadorian squad to drop themselves from first to fourth. The United States played a hair above mediocrity this past week but, while their form lacked, were able to secure six points from their two matches. Now with the opportunity to reserve their place in South Africa with a win in Honduras, the United States have shown their resilience throughout this qualifying process by achieving results while not playing their best football. Mexico has turned around a poor start to the final CONCACAF stage and should qualify with matches against the group's weakest members, home to El Salvador and at Trinidad and Tobago, in the next round of games.
CONMEBOL (South America)
Perennial favorites Brazil have clinched yet again while Paraguay have booked their fourth straight World Cup ticket. Argentina, after losing at home to Brazil and on the road to Paraguay, find themselves of needing at least a playoff in order to be playing in South Africa next year. The Goal of the Week, however, was the only bright spot from Argentina's otherwise miserable week. Jesus Datolo's brilliant left-footed strike brought the Argentineans’ back into the game briefly, though a Luis Fabiano chip a minute later put the game back out of reach.
With Argentina's final qualifier coming on the road against rival and neighbor Uruguay, nothing is guaranteed to a nation that is often considered one of the most talented in the world. Chile's bid for qualification was put on hold after a hat trick from Nilmar lead the Brazilians to victory even after two strikes from Suazo put the Chileans back on terms. Colombia was brilliant in their first leg, defeating Ecuador and then equally disappointing as they folded in Uruguay. Ecuador put their Wednesday defeat at Colombia behind them as they rallied against both Bolivia and the altitude to launch themselves into fourth and the final automatic qualification position. The most intriguing storyline of the CONMEBOL comes from a traditionally baseball oriented nation. Venezuela, known for their flame throwing pitchers and completely insane presidents, are the only South American nations to never qualify for a World Cup. And while a few mistakes along the way will make qualification an uphill battle, it is still a possibility. Having earned 11 points on their last 5 matches, Venezuela now sit on 21 points, one point out of fifth and two out of fourth; however, they would need to jump at least two of the three nations above them: Ecuador, Argentina, and Uruguay. A poor goal differential (-5) and remaining matches against Brazil and in Paraguay may see the demise of this Cinderella story but with both teams already qualified (and concern about Brazil's participation in the Confederations Cup tiring out their squad ahead of next year’s tournament) Venezuela may see younger more experienced squads. It will be a long shot, yes, but impossible, no.
While Argentina's play of late has replaced the topic of debate from World Cup champion contender to World Cup participant, history is on their side. The last time the South American nation won the World Cup, 1986, there were questions if they would even be competing as well. Maradona and the 1986 Argentine squad required a home and home playoff (after finishing fifth in the CONMEBOL) against Australia to be eligible for the tournament. After a draw 1-1 in Australia, Argentina launched their championship run at home with a 1-0 victory (winning 2-1 on aggregate), months before any team took the field in Mexico.
CAF (Africa), OFC (Oceania) & AFC (Asia)
Asides from Ghana's qualification, the groups of the CAF were very uneventful with only seven matches played over the international break. Most of the groups will need the final round of qualification fixtures to decide who will and will not be playing next summer; however, the Ivory Coast has all but affirmed their position in South Africa. The OFC's half bid was awarded to New Zealand, who awaited the winner of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain this past week. The winner of the final Asian half spot would then play New Zealand in a home and home for a bid to the Cup. After a 0-0 draw in Bahrain, the second leg and Game of the Week (video below) was played in Saudi Arabia's King Fahd International Stadium. With the game tied at one, a brilliant hustle play to save the ball and serve it into the area led to the go ahead and seemingly game winning goal for Saudi Arabia. The Stadium erupted. Hamad Al Montashari, the goal scorer, ripped his shirt off and ran to the stands to celebrate with his countrymen. Words were not necessary to describe the meaning of that goal; enough was said on the faces of the Bahrain players. But the game was not over. Much like the Croatia, Turkey match at the Euro Cup last summer, the game is never over until the final whistle blows. A corner kick minutes after Montashari's presumed game winner found the head of Ismail Abdullahatif and then the back of the net sending through Bahrain to the next round on the away goal rule. The stadium was now silent. The Saudi Arabian players around the goal collapsed. The video below is a true testament to the emotions and excitement of the game and sport in general. From defeat to ecstasy or jubilation to horror, every spectrum of emotions was felt within three minutes at King Fahd International Stadium.
Week 2 predictions:
Getafe 0- Barcleona 2
Atletico Madrid 2- Racing Santander 0
Espanyol 1- Real Madrid 1
Sevilla FC 2- Real Zaragoza 0
Villarreal 3- Mallorca 0
Sporting Gijon 0- Almeria 1
Deportivo La Coruna 2- Malaga 1
Tenerife 0- Osasuna 0
Valladolid 1- Valencia 3
Xerez 0- Athletic Bilbao- 1
September 5, 2009
Elsewhere in Europe, France visits group leading Serbia on Wednesday in a fixture that could determine who wins group seven and who will fight via a playoff for a spot in the World Cup. France hosts Romania, who are without star striker Adrian Mutu, on Saturday and a victory would put them within 2 points of Serbia ahead of Wednesday’s match. Both England and Spain can cement their positions in South Africa during this qualification period. England hosts Croatia on Wednesday at Wembley while the Spanish will host the Belgians and Estonians on Saturday and Wednesday, respectively, at the Bernabeu.
The crowded CONCACAF standings will surely clear up after a couple days of key match-ups over the next week. Mexico must visit Costa Rica, a very tough place to play on the road, and will be hosts to Honduras the following Wednesday, while the United States will face the two teams at the bottom of the table: home against El Salvador and away at Trinidad. & Tobago. With four teams (USA, Honduras, Costa Rica, & Mexico) all within 3 points of each other and only three guaranteed World Cup positions, these upcoming matches will be very important for all nations involved.
The Game of the Week, however, comes from the South American qualifying group. Five time World Cup champion Brazil will face-off in Rosario against Argentina, who sit in a dangerous fourth position in the COMEBOL standings with Ecuador only 2 points behind. I believe, with Brazil more comfortably atop the group, Maradona and Los Albicelestes will prove victories at Rosario Central. Finals score: 2-1 Argentina.
September 4, 2009
After only one week of play in La Liga, plenty of story lines have already begun to develop. Real Madrid showed signs of both brilliance and concern while Barcelona demonstrated that they have not lost a step after their impressive triple last season. Atletico Madrid, my pick to finish second in the league, were embarrassed at Malaga, while Getafe came out of the gates hot with a 4-1 victory at Racing Santander. As for my predictions, I will, throughout the season, be comparing my picks to those of two other websites. “Four Four Two,” a British football magazine, and Laligaticketsonline.com are both predicting scores like myself. So throughout the duration of the year, I will keep a tally of who is right and who is wrong via these clever little standings.
Through Week 1:
1. Me 6-4 (1*)
2. Fourfourtwo 5-5
3. Laligaticketsonline.com 5-5 (1*)
*Scores picked perfectly
The other two blogs in question…
Player of the Week: Roberto Soldado (Getafe)
The twenty-four year old Spaniard started his 2009-2010 campaign off in fine fashion, scoring a hat trick in an away victory at Racing Santander. Soldado’s goal in the 28th minute put Los Azulones on top for good, while his tallies in the 33rd and 56th only emphasized Getafe’s dominance in the match. Scoring 13 goals last year and 11 the year before, while on loan at Osasuna, Soldado seems on form to improve upon those totals this year.
Game of the Week: Real Madrid 3- Deportivo 2
The game of the week was also the first game of the year as Deportivo came to the Bernabeu to face a newly renovated Real Madrid team. Brilliant play from two of Madrid’s newcomers, Kaka to Benzema, left a rebound on the foot of an old veteran, Raul, who knocked in effortlessly to start the scoring; however, Deportivo was not intimidated by their surroundings, scoring four minutes later from a cross into the area. Possibly demonstrating that Sergio Ramos’ injury may be affecting the defense more than expected. Kaka’s play again, a ball to Raul in the thirty-fifth minute, lead to a penalty, which Cristiano Ronaldo would execute exceptionally to reestablish Madrid’s lead. Moments into the second half however, a lapse in the Madrid defense again would put Deportivo back on terms. It was not until Lassana Diarra’s sixtieth minute goal that Madrid would perminantely regain the lead and hold on for an important home victory. Deportivo had a strong campaign last season and looks to be back on form this season; however, Madrid’s attack seemed to be just too much for the Galician side to handle.
Goal of the Week: Lassana Diarra
The aforementioned Lassana Diarra goal in the sixtieth minute of last weekend’s opener takes the prize as the goal of the week. Not only was it the game winner but also Diarra’s nifty moves and composed finish were quite impressive as well. Check it out for yourself….
Honorable Mention: Mata (Valencia)
August 29, 2009
Real Zaragoza 2- Tenerife 1
Mallorca 2- Xerez 0
Málaga 0- Atlético Madrid 1
Osasuna 1- Villarreal 3
Racing Santander 0- Getafe 0
Athletic Bilbao 0- Espanyol 1
Valencia 3- Sevilla 2
Almeria 1- Valladolid 1
Barcelona 2- Sporting Gijon 0
With the heavily anticipated start to the Spanish first division’s season around the corner, it is time for some incredibly premature predictions. Barcelona will look to retain a few titles as they come off their incredible run of winning the triple last season (La Liga, Champions, Copa del Rey); however, the heavily equipped squad of Real Madrid will be quite poised to intervene in any repeat plans. But I do not believe it will be the two-teamed race that many are predicting. Sevilla’s signing of Negredo adds a goal scorer to a team in need, while Valencia (amidst bankruptcy issues), Villarreal (attempting to repeat their successful second place finish during the 07-08 campaign), and Atletico de Madrid will all be competitive with the two Spanish powerhouses.
When the dust settles, who will be left standing at the top and who will be doomed for a season in the segunda? Real Madrid, whose summer spending spree made them not only quick favorites for La Liga but for Europe as well, will be sitting at the top of the table. Xabi Alonso (not Kaka, not Ronaldo) will prove to be the most important piece from this summer’s transfers. While there is more than one issue at Anfield right now, it is very clear early on that the loss of Alonso has greatly hurt Liverpool. Sevilla only scored fifty-four times last season while the rest of the top four in Spain scored at least eighty times, which is of concern for the Andalusian club. Can their offense keep them in contention for a title run? A Real Madrid, FC Barcelona one-two finish seems to be the popular public consensus after Barca’s season and Madrid’s summer spending; however, I envision a different scenario. And yes, there is some logic behind said verdict. Atletico Madrid, who have finished fourth the past two seasons, have one of the best young strikers, an Argentine who was the envy of many premier league clubs, in Kun Aguero. Barcelona did score an unconscious amount of goals (103) last season, but Eto’o was a crucial part of that and Ibrahimovic has yet to prove he can show up in big games. Therefore, it will be Atletico Madrid in the second position followed by Barcelona. Finishing fourth, I have Valenica making a return to the top four and the top flight of European football. Rounding out the top six and the final European spots will be Villareal and Espanyol (as the surprise of the year). Sevilla’s scoring issues from last season as well as more games against top European competition in the Champions league will pave the way for the Catalan club’s chance at a place in the Europa League (after last years flirt with relegation).
Sporting Gijon, whose -32 goal differential was the worst in La Liga last season, will be the only veteran club relegated while Xerez and Tenerife will have short tenure’s in the top flight of Spanish football.
August 26, 2009
The drama from today’s second round Carling Cup ties extended from the pitch to the fans, most notably with the riot that broke out at Upton Park. Who was involved? Well it was the fans from Millwall and West Ham of course. Proving exactly why the producers of Green Street Hooligans chose those teams instead of, say, Tottenham and Arsenal.
The Football Association has already launched an investigation into the rioting that lead to the suspension of play at one point during the match, the first meeting between these two rivals in over four years. Hundreds of fans were involved in the uprising while police removed fifty from the pitch before play was allowed to resume. A forty-four year old fan was also hospitalized with a stab wound. The Hammers game back from 1-0 to eventually prove victorious 3-1 after extra time. So while the FA sorts out the mess in East London, the fictive story behind Green Street Hooligans has become a little more real.
As the Spanish La Liga season prepares to get under way, other leagues around the world have begun their 2009-2010 campaigns. Albeit only two weeks into the premiership’s season, a copious amount of storylines have already arisen. Burnley, who shocked the footballing world when they were not only promoted to the premiership but made an astonishing run in the Carling Cup, are on six points through three games including wins against champions Manchester United and Everton. After flirting with relegation for the first half of last season, Spurs are off to a perfect start after convincing wins against Liverpool and at West Ham and at Hull City. Could they be challengers to the top 4? Maybe, but I envision a fate very similar to that of Aston Villa last season. Tottenham will stick around the top of the table but the deep rosters and the deep pockets of the perennial four powers will usher Tottenham into Europa contention instead of a place in the Champions league. Elsewhere, Pompey seem destined for the championship, Liverpool has already matched its loss total of last year (two) through the first three games, while Chelsea’s early season form should make them favorites to contend in both England and Europe.
The United States national team experienced a summer of ups (victory against Spain and a run to the finals of the Confederation Cup) and downs (an embarrassing, albeit a young squad, loss against Mexico in New Jersey in the finals of the Gold Cup); nevertheless, it is in the play of a young American, trying to make a name for himself in the most prestigious league in the world, that may bring a new respect to American soccer. While soccer may help define the identity of many nations, the United States national team lacks just that, uniqueness. Landon Donovan, one would probably argue, is the current face of the team; however, with a sport trying to gain popularity nationally and a team trying to gain respect internationally, there could not be a worse man for the job. Forget his verbal clash with David Beckham, one of the worlds most recognized and respected footballers, earlier this year, Donovan’s combined thirteen career international caps only serve to exemplify assumptions that Americans cannot play abroad. Even with his success on the national level, Landon Donovan cannot be internationally respected because he has never performed on the more esteemed club level. Think of baseball’s home run king, technically it is Sadaharu Oh of the Nippon Professional Baseball League. While still a professional league, the talent pool does not compare to its American counterpart of Major League Baseball, much like a comparison of statistics between the MLS and the EPL would be ludicrous.
With that all being said, there is one American that has the potential to become the face of American soccer, a face that could bring a newfound respect for American soccer on an international stage. His name, Jozy Altidore. In 2008, a year after finishing second in La Liga, Villarreal bought the American striker’s rights from the New York Red Bulls. The opportunity had finally arrived for an American to be playing not only in one of the most prestigious leagues in the world but in European competition as well via the UEFA Champions League. Despite the fact that he was only capped six times, Altidore made an immediate impression when he scored in his third game after coming on as a substitute in the ninetieth minute and scoring seconds later (also becoming the first American to score in La Liga).
Altidore began his campaign as the new American soccer icon by being the poster boy for the most monumental international soccer victory in U.S. history during this summer’s Confederation Cup. His twenty-seventh minute strike past Iker Casillas, arguably the worlds best keeper, after strong-arming defender Joan Capdevila proved to be the eventual game winner. Then this past weekend, two months after the Americans shocked the European Champions and the world, Alitdore made his debut for Premiership side Hull City, on loan from his Spanish club. Coming on in the fifty-ninth minute a quick chip, over the back line to the eventual foot of Kamel Ghilas within a minute of coming on, proved to be the game winning assist. Can Jozy Alitdore change the world’s perspective of American soccer? Probably not alone but let us not forget there are a respectable number of other Americans playing abroad as well. Tim Howard (Everton) and Brad Friedel (Aston Villa) are two premier keepers in the EPL while defender Oguchi Onyewu, recently signed with seven time European champion AC Milan. But it is the exposure that Altidore generates, not only in England but as a striker (who is more well-known Dani Alves or Fernando Torres? Fans love goals and Alitdore will score them) that could and will transform American soccer from an afterthought to a well-respected and feared contender.
August 24, 2009
The introduction of football to the natives of Argentina was one of many imperialistic changes brought about by the European colonists. While football may appear to be only a ninety-minute distraction from reality, the game, in fact, has deep cultural and socioeconomic implications. Since its presentation to the continent, upper-class elites and politicians used football as a means to control the masses. As the game has developed so have the players, the techniques, and the media coverage surrounding the game. Magazines such as El Gráfico, and La Nación were founded in the early parts of the twentieth century as a testament to this newfound national passion, publications dedicated solely to football. The media as well as the clubs of the country would continue to be political and socioeconomic tools throughout the rest of the century. By studying the cultural insinuations of football through media and politics, this paper will demonstrate how football has been a key factor in the development of the Argentine nation and the idea of Argentine nationalism.
In order to understand the connections between media, politics, football and national identity, one must first understand the myth formed around the idea of nationalism. Benedict Anderson, a scholar of international studies, argues that nations are fables humanity fictitiously construes in his novel, Imagined Communities. In the case of Argentina, Anderson would ask why residents of Buenos Aires and Jujuy, two states separated by hundreds of miles, would share a connection. Ernest Gellner, in his article “Nations and Nationalism,” echoes this sentiment of commonalities that create falsified connections between people. As Gellner points out, these unities can be religion or language; however, in the case of Argentina, as this paper will show, one of the strongest amalgamating bonds was football. Both scholars agree with the importance of communication and media throughout this process as well. Gellner arguing that familiar language and the ability to understand one another are essential in the formation of communities and consequently is where media begins to play a role. Modern states need a communication system to survive because the powers that be rely on communication as a medium for control. Anderson concurs with Gellner’s point by stating that media is therefore important for understanding this imagined connection. As Anderson articulates, the media is the medium that connects people, not just religion or language. The advent of print capitalism allows for growing numbers of people to connect with each other while realizing a shared national identity. The development of Argentina was no different. The media and communication played a significant role in the growth of the myth of nation; yet, it was not only the daily newspapers that contributed to this illusion, but also the media surrounding football that influenced said myth greatly.
Studying the history of mankind’s existence, the idea of nation is an exceptionally new thought. With that being said, we must also consider that not all nations were formed in the same way. The country in question, Argentina, was introduced to the idea of nation by their European colonizers. The reoccurring theme of commonalities in the development of nations reappears here again with the idea of anti-colonialism bringing together the natives of what would eventually become Argentina. Partha Chatterjee studies this correlation between imperialism, colonization and national identity. The mission of imperialistic ventures was to expand growing empires, part of which included imposing one’s culture and ideas on the newly found colonies. Mirroring the thoughts of Anderson in regard to sociological conditions not contributing to nations, she does point out that the imperialistic nature of colonies did bring a fictive yet familiar national identity along with its sociological values to these new regions of the world. With this another commonality arose throughout the colonies, an anti-colonial resistance felt amongst the indigenous people, which translated to a universal bond. The Spanish oppression upon the founding of Argentina followed by the large influx of English immigrants created a very anti-colonial and xenophobic feeling amongst the natives. In response, they created their own Creole identity that separated them from their European occupants. This Creole identity translated directly to football when, as will be explained in more detail later, a Creole style of football was created in response to the more traditional European technique of playing the game.
Understanding theories surrounding the formation of national identities as well as the specific anti-colonial feeling that was momentous in the configuration of Argentina’s identity are crucial in perceiving football’s role throughout this process. In 1870 half of the population of Argentina was first generation immigrants, the majority of who were from England (Goldblatt 135). While the English were not the first Europeans in Argentina, the English’s wealth and European roots allowed them to quickly rise to the top of the social hierarchy. Goldblatt conveys this factor by stating that “Argentina can seem like a former British colony, a Spanish-speaking version of Australia or India” (229). This is important because the colonial and imperialistic sentiments are still expressed by the Argentine natives in regard to the British, even though they were not the original colonizers. The British immigrants brought many aspects of English upper-class life to the new continent, including football. It is important to identify the history of Argentine football in the scheme of understanding Argentine nationalism because, as Gellner argues, history is contingent because the past determines the future, while the present carries their actions in such a way because of the past.
At first the game was reserved for the wealthy elites, the British immigrants; however, as time continued, the British saw the game as a way to convey their values, imperialistically, upon the Argentine natives through sport. This was not a unique phenomenon specific to the British occupation of Argentina. Arjun Appadurai, who studies the correlation between the British rule in India and cricket, makes very similar connections in other English colonies. Much like football in Argentina, cricket in India was used to convey a certain set of values subliminally through sport, “The values it represents are, at their heart, puritan ones, in which rigid adherence to external codes is part of the discipline of internal moral development…To some extent, all rule governed sport has some of this hard quality, but it is arguably more present in those competitive forms that come to encapsulate the core moral values of the society in which they are born” (Appadurai 90). The game was a condensation of Victorian elite values such as “sportsmanship, a sense of fair play, subordination of personal sentiments and interests to those of the group, unquestioned loyalty to the team” (Appadurai 92). It is important to understand that the rules governing the games, both cricket in India and football in Argentina, were used to set social norms and set social boundaries.
Cricket was seen as an ideal way to socialize natives into new modes of intergroup
conduct and new standards of public behavior…It evolved into an unofficial instrument of state cultural policy. This was largely due to the cultural commitments of those members of the Victorian elite who occupied key positions in Indian administration, education, and journalism, and who regarded cricket as the ideal way to transmit Victorian ideals of character and fitness to the colony (Appadurai 93).
The situation in Argentina was no different. Football, as the English played the game, was a very structured sport. The style was sophisticated, patient. One played as a unit and there were no individual stars. As Goldblatt argues, by introducing the game to the natives of Argentina the British hoped to create a norm of subordination and structure to control the social hierarchy in the country; however, the end result was drastically different from what the British intended.
As mentioned earlier, in response to the immigration of the British and the encroachment of tradition values by new English Victorian ideals, the natives of Argentina formed a new identity. This Creole identity extended to football as well. Instead of playing the structured, team style of English football, the Argentines developed Creole football. Based on the beliefs of individuality and creativity, this new style of football was created in rebellion to English imperialistic maneuvers to control the Argentine public (Foer 137). This Creole technique took hold as the flair and inventiveness that marked Argentine football during the introduction of the game are still trademarks of modern day Argentine and South American football. In 1893 the first professional fixture took place, and unbeknownst to the public of Argentina this new leisure activity would have deep rooted political and socioeconomic implications in the development of the country over the next century.
Two of Argentina’s main newspapers were formed during the onset of the twentieth century, both of which covered the sport of football extensively. La Nación and Clarin would continue to cover the sport as well as slowly take political sides. The former has always supported the more conservative positions while the latter would constantly support the more liberal, left side of the spectrum. Consequently, as local club teams began to form with political and socioeconomic ties themselves, the two newspapers began bias approaches to supporting certain teams (Foer 134). The two most popular clubs were River Plate and Boca Juniors. River derives its nickname, “Los Millionarios” (the millionaires), from the upper-class aristocrats who support them while Boca has traditionally been the team of the working class. As the political climate shifted throughout the century, the two newspapers did not shy away from using the teams as political propaganda (Foer 135).
Aside from the two main newspapers, there was another mainstream publication, El Gráfico. Created as a testament to the Creole style of football, El Gráfico was dedicated solely to football; however, at times the magazine would occasionally convey political or socioeconomic messages (Goldblatt 130). It was through this publication that the authors reemphasized a myth of national identity, “football’s organic intellectuals, who transformed the raw material of porteño (another Spanish term for Creole) football into an entire national mythology were primarily the staff of the magazine El Gráfico” (Goldblatt 203). Creole style was Argentina, and the media of Argentine football helped to convey that message. The term Creole itself was used to describe the indigenous people of South America, those that had no European roots. As mentioned before this style of football contradicted the European attempt to control the natives of what would one day become Argentina. While the Europeans preached structure, patience, team efforts, the Creole style rebelled by promoting an individual, fast paced game. Creole focused on the beauty of the game instead of the strategy their English occupants condoned. The game epitomized the Creole movement as an example of Argentine identity and it was “through the hands of the new popular press, like El Gráfico and the newspaper Clarin, a working mythology of a unique national playing style and identity had been articulated” (Goldblatt 267).
By understanding the history and implications of the colonization of Argentina, the introduction and significance of football in the country, as well as the new media that was formed in response to the sport, we can begin to study the specific events of the twentieth century that, through football, reinforced and bolstered what is today the myth of Argentine national identity. As David Goldblatt notes in “The Road to El Dorado: Latin American Football,” the cultural links between football and politics were forged from below in Argentina (265). Juan Peron was one of the most influential leaders of Argentina in the twentieth century. Elected President of the country on three separate occasions, his working class politics lead to the creation of the Peronist Party, which still thrives today over thirty years after his death (Turner 19). Peron wanted to appeal to the poor and his politics advocated modernization and nationality (Turner 23). As Goldblatt points out in his article “Demons and Angels: Latin American Football 1955-1974,” Peron was very vocal about his support of Boca, the working class team because his “supporters often demonstrated the ingrained cultural significance and popularity of football” (Goldblatt 384). After a successful first term, Peron was reelected in 1951 to a second stint in office; however, he was only three years into his second eight year term when controversial economic and religious changes forced Peron out of office (Turner 89). Yet there is still a connection to football. That same year, after years of success on the national level, the Argentine National Selection was embarrassed by a three to one loss in Halsingborg, Germany (Goldblatt 383). He continues to note that it is the “almost universal conclusion of political press and the football world was that Halsingborg was a failure of Modernization…shortly thereafter there was a subsequent defenestration of Peronista power” (383). As Argentina began to undergo drastic political and social changes, the football magazine El Gráfico continued to play an influential role in Argentine society.
Hidden in the texts of El Gráfico and the mainstream press is a metaphorical record of the deep social changes transforming Argentine youth. Old generational hierarchies, conservative forms of etiquette and cultural tastes had begun to dissolve the moment they encountered the egalitarian hedonism of the new pop cultures (Goldblatt 390-1).
Peron would be exiled from the country from 1955 until he returned to office for a brief term in 1973 (Turner 191). Conveniently coinciding with the downfall of the national football team, Peron’s loss of power and how Argentine identity was formed in the middle of the century cannot help but be explained by the football media.
The successors of Peron were not immune to the association between football and politics. A governor by the name of Carlos Menem, who in tried to oust Peron from his seat during his third term in a 1973 military coup, was a very conservative leader with visions of the presidency (Turner 218). In an attempt to gain a better grasp of the aristocratic vote he made his affiliation for the team nicknamed “the Millionaires” quite public. Unlike Peron, whose relationship with working class Boca was seen as a direct connection to the working class, Goldblatt argues that this move was actually political suicide. Shortly after magazines like El Gráfico denounced this tie as a forced falsification, Menem tried to save his own name and “to make up for his own folly, Menem ordered his daughter to be a Boca fan” (Goldblatt 229). Mistake aside, Menem maintained his seat in office until the military junta in 1976 and regained it with the termination of said junta in 1983 until his election to the Presidential office in 1989. Although not playing as significant a role as with Peron, football clearly still played a prevalent role within Menem’s discourse and therefore a ubiquitous role within Argentine politics.
The years following Peron’s exile were filled with political strife and turmoil. Over the course of those years, 1955-1982, five different presidents, none of whom served a full eight year term, as well as numerous military juntas ruled the country (Goldblatt 614). As the human rights violations and authoritarian power grew and began to dominate the political landscape of the country, the history and the records of events that occurred throughout the country became alarming. Between twenty and thirty thousand people suspected of subversive activities “disappeared” between 1964 and 1982(Goldblatt 617). Censorship within the country amongst journalists prevented the outside world from gaining a full understanding of the social and political events occurring daily throughout Argentina. It was in the midst of this disorder that Argentina was commissioned to host the 1978 World Cup, the most identifiable monumental international event outside of the Olympics. While there wasDespite censorship and every attempts was made by the ruling generals to keep prevent international knowledge of the localinternal travesties from reaching the outside world, news slowly began to leak. “A smashing Mundial (World Cup) won by Argentina, they reasoned, would make up for the occasional death at home. It was their chance to reunite the nation” (Goldblatt 610). Nationalism was fading as the country faced constant political stress and the harsh rule of the authoritarian military junta, who ich continued to violate human rights.
The World Cup was the generals’ chance to gain legitimacy in the world and reestablish their rule over the Argentine people. “The generals wanted to impress the world and quell any poor rumors via foreign journalists,”; they saw the sporting event as an opportunity the World Cup would be just the occasion to show their perception of Argentina , as they perceived it, to the world (Goldblatt 212). The juntaIt was made very clear to the Argentine journalists that they were not to criticize the Argentine team or the current socioeconomic or /political state of the country. One journalist remarked, “FFootball had become the center of everything. One couldn’t, because wasn’t allowed to, talk or write about anything else” (Signes 112). The generals had attained what they desired: ; the world’san international attention, focused on football audience, distracteding from the other atrocities occurring within the borders of the countryArgentina. The Argentine World Cup victory was not only a feat of athleticism, but also of nationalism
When Once the smoke had cleared and the world’s temporary occupation offascination with the country had ended, there were very dogmatic opinions of the event bothevent from both domestic and international standpointsdomestically and abroad. Argentina had accomplished their goal of winning the cup and national pride was at its highest since the days of Peron, states Goldblatt (624). So much soIn fact, sentiments were so strong that the Argentine generals almost attempted to parlayed the people’s feelings into action, specifically, an immediate war with England. With England still controlling the Malvinas (Falkland Islands) off the Ssouthern coast of Argentina, the generals planned to strike within months of their rousing World Cup victory, using the nationalistic fervorm created by said victory to gain public support. ; howeverHowever, extenuating circumstances arose and the invasion was delayed until 1982. Due to athletic victory accomplishments, Waning waning public opinions were overmatched by the new sense of national pride, and produced through the World Cup victory; enough that tthe dictators of the military junta dictators were able to stay in power for fivethe subsequent years. The public wholly embraced the fictive myth of national identity through a football team’s unanticipated triumph.by allowing the public to believe this fictive myth of national identity through a football team’s triumph (Kuper 224).
The results of the 1978 World Cup were not, however, all positive for the junta. The advent of foreign journalists as a portal to the outside world was not limited to the propaganda of the junta. As mentioned before, many of the details behind what exactly happened to the “disappeared” during those years had gone unexplained; when people went missing their families noticed and some decided to take action. One group was called the Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo. The Plaza de Mayo is the main square in Buenos Aires where the house of the president, the Casa Rosada, sits. Every week at the same time, mothers of the disappeared would gather and protest to no avail, but as Kuper points out, they were not seen as a prominent risk as the journalists, so the mothers were usually left to themselves. When the foreign press arrived for the World Cup they were shown only the best of Argentina. Walls were built to hide the slums and visitors were given pampered treatment, which led many to write rave reviews of the country and its preparation for the world’s tournament, dispelling any troublesome rumors notes Kuper in his interviews with New York Times journalists who covered the event. In the end it was not the foreign press nor the rouge Argentine journalists risking death to inform the world of the travesties occurring throughout the country, but in fact, it was the protesting mothers, who took advantage of the influx of media coverage to expose the world to the real Argentina. “Ruling generals were subverted, however, by the leaders of the women’s group Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo. The women turned the media presence during the World Cup to their advantage, walking in protest throughout the city” (Bonafin 195). It was not just media, but football media, that brought about such political and social economic change throughout the country. International embargos were imposed on Argentina following the world’s education on the horrific events going on inside the country, forcing the country to limit its business with nations under other dictatorships, like Chile, Peru and Cuba (Bonafin 198). However, internally, a new fictive national identity was created through the sport of football that allowed these same dictators to remain in power for years to come.
While the stabilization of the Argentine government, creation of Peronism and modernization under Peron as well as the political turmoil, military coups and juntas that followed were the two most significant political periods in Argentina in the twentieth century, it does not mean that the implications of football, the media and politics does not still exist. El Gráfico did a comprehensive study in 1995 that showed a direct correlation between the national football team and the economy; when the Argentine Selection (if this a national team, say so = we unsoccer moms aren’t sure) is thriving so too is the economy (Goldblatt 800). It is also true that the socioeconomic connotations of one’s fan affiliation still continue to be River Plate for the upper class, while the working class still supports Boca Juniors. This is epitomized by the rise in politics of Mauricio Macri, the former boss of Boca and now Mayor of Buenos Aires (Keyes 3). “In 2005, after his success at Boca, Macri made his political debut when he ran for Head of Government of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires with his neo-liberal party “Compromiso para el Cambio” (Commitment to Change)” (Ferrand 4). Playing the liberal side which appealed very much to the lower working class community, Marci was elected mayor in 2007 (Ferrand 4). Coincidentally, Ferrand argues though, that his politics did not change in 2005 when he lost the election to 2007; however, one key difference may have been the Boca victory in the South American Copa Libertadores, the most prestigious trophy a club team can win in the Americas. Ferrand points out that this theory was not his alone but shared amongst Argentine publications such as the newspaper press and El Gráfico. David Keyes’ article, “From Soccer to Politics,” which compares and contrasts other notable football figureheads now in prominent political office, that Marci has performed well and is actually favored to run for president. Arguing he may be the change that the country, now in its second recession in less than a decade, may need to right its proverbial ship. Even today, after over a hundred years after the game’s official beginning in Argentina, football continues to play a significant role in the socioeconomic and political cultures of the nation all while creating a national identity formed through the sport.
The idea of a national identity being a fictive entity constantly being created and developed through different mediums was established at the beginning of this paper. In the case of Argentina, the sport of football can begin to explain the formation of the Argentine national identity. As a colonized land, the implications and significance of said colonies plays a crucial role in understanding the basis of how imperialism plays into structuring this identity. And by studying the inference of sport as a means of imperialism in other parts of the world we were able to establish that this is not a rare phenomenon either. The Creole style of football developed as a rebellion to the imperialistic attempts of the European colonizers as a means to controlling the native population and instilling their values became a national identity. The idea to be Creole, to be different was to be Argentinean, was founded partially through football. Media was developed as a testament to it and throughout the twentieth century this mantra of Creole Argentine identity continued to define the fictive myth of Argentine nationalism. Football, media and politics began to entwine and become dependent on each other through both times of political stability and modernization, Peron, and political turmoil as was seen during the twenty years of military junta rule. Regardless of the time, football’s role and importance has remained constant. The belief of nationalism was used, through football, in tumultuous economic, political and social times as a pawn to unite and uplift the people. Even today, the founding principles behind Creole football and the Creole identity continue to exist in modern day Argentina through the current connections between football, politics, the media and the stories they tell. So when debating what created and continues to generate this myth of Argentine nationalism, one does not need to venture much farther than football to understand how this national identity was formed.