Essays from 116th Street

Self-therapy, since 2004...

Location: New York, New York

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Round of 16

The Champions League returned from a two-month hiatus on Tuesday, and its hype was much well-deserved. Two fantastic games were televised by ESPN2, who, if they were anything resembling intelligent, would scrap all of those ads for Quite Frankly with Stephen A. Smith in favor of promoting this wonderful event. The Champions League, for those of you who don't know, is an in-season tournament pitting the best of Europe's soccer clubs against each other to determine the continental champion. It is the pinnacle of the yearly soccer calendar, and Tuesday and Wednesday featured the first games in the round of 16 (the "sweet sixteen?").
On Tuesday, I got to view the under-manned former English powerhouse Arsenal take on the over-priced former Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid. "Los Galacticos" came out looking fairly uninspired, with the exception of the always-hard-working David Beckham and new kid Cicinho, who took turns overlapping and getting forward on the right side of the field. Robinho and Guti also showed some signs of life, but Real ultimately played disjointed in attack, and Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane couldn't get much going. Arsenal, meanwhile, had to be happy, considering that their injury-depleted defense was able to keep the Real superstars in check, and Thierry Henry, Frederick Ljungberg, Alexander Hleb and Jose Antonio Reyes were able to keep consistent pressure on the Spaniards. In the 47th minute, Henry scored a spectacular goal, racing through what looked like 17 Real defenders before finishing low and to the far side of net, and Arsenal's band of substitutes and teenagers held on to secure the 1-0 victory on enemy soil. Real should be ashamed of itself.
The main event was Wednesday, however, when assured English powerhouse Chelsea took on the certified Spanish powerhouse Barcelona at Stamford Bridge in London. Following a week of steady trash talk, the two sides played a hotly contested match, filled with fouls and profanities. One could argue that the match turned on Asier Del Horno's first-half red card, but that is simply not the case, as Chelsea came out attacking to begin the second half and took a one-goal lead. The real key to the match was the play of Lionel Messi, who dominated the Chelsea defense and eventually wore them down with his darting runs and world-class ball control. Messi is the 18-year-old Barca phenom, whom Ronaldinho has already declared the best player in the squad, even ahead of the Gaucho himself. The Champions League spotlight can turn a good player into a superstar, and last night, Messi looked like the best player on the planet, playing against A-list opposition on the world's biggest stage. Chelsea would have had their hands full with him with 11 men, which could be the reason why Del Horno tried to take him out. Barcelona's attacking prowress eventually won out, and they took the match 2-1 on the road. The return leg trash talk has already started, and March 7th can't come fast enough for me.


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