Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Nil-Nil and Counting

There are times when soccer's main purpose appears to be the creation of hilarious briefs for the American news industry. It's always reassuring to learn the rest of the world is at least as unhinged as we are.

I don't mean the riots and mass disasters that blight the game. Those tragedies result from serious social ills ranging from racism to primitive facilities to police incompetence, none of which are unknown in this nation. What fascinates me are the occasions when lunacy rules the world's most popular sport harming nothing but rationality. This is especially amusing when it involves those sober welfare states of the European Union.

The runup to this afternoon's Champions Cup final in Paris between Barcelona and Arsenal is setting a zaniness bar that'll be difficult for the runup to next month's World Cup to clear. All the non-soccer fans out there need only think what Sportscenter would l0ok like if either of the following two events occured in connection with the Super Bowl.

1. Last night, two masked gunmen broke into a city council meeting in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis, held a weapon to a hostage's head, and demanded tickets to the game. They ran away without either harming anyone or getting the ducats. One wonders if these two Napoleons of crime gave any consideration to what would've happened if they'd gotten away with tickets and then used them.

2. The New York Times reported that Ole Borgan, a Norwegian linesman assigned to the Cup final, had to be replaced after allowing himself to be photographed in a Barcelona replica jersey.

"It was from the sheer joy of being picked," said his countryman, head ref Terje Hauge. All the world knows how overemotional Norwegians are.

Great stuff, that. Placed on its mettle, the World Cup is limbering up for its month in the sun with some hi-jinks of its own. For openers, there's the Budweiser scandal. FIFA, soccer's ruling body, sold Anheuser-Busch the rights to be the Cup's official beer. Only one problem. Germans HATE Bud. They don't even allow it to be sold under that name. World Cup venues will have two sets of beer stands. One will push something called "A-B Bud". The other will feature home-bred German beers brewed under regulations dating back to the Black Death.

Hint to thirsty Americans: Lines at the A-B Bud stands will be short.

More significantly, Italian soccer, like every other element of life in that country, is now in the midst of a major scandal. It's an alleged conspiracy between the officials of major teams, referees, and players infinitely more complex, and as far as Italians are concerned, more important, than the plot outlined in the DaVinci Code.

The leading player involved just happens to be the goalie of the Italian national team. But don't worry fans. According to his coach, he's a "serious person."

I've read everything I can find on this scandal, and although I can't remember any names, I have learned one fact I'll never forget. Italy has sports talk radio! That must be supreme entertainment, whether you speak the language or not.

So Arsenal-Barcelona will be must-sort of watch TV in this house in a few hours. If it weren't for the need to look at the damn games, soccer would SO sweep this country.

Update: Barcelona won 2-1, and there was more action than is common in important soccer matches. This might have been due to referee Hauge's decision to red card the Arsenal goalie early in the contest, forcing the Gunners a man down the rest of the way. Calls like that bring out the inner conspiracy buff in fans of any sport.

Update 2: Italian TV sportscaster Aldo Bascadi has resigned following accusations he was paid off to say nice things about Juventus of Turin.
Maybe that's how Brett Favre is doing it.


At 11:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"One wonders if these two Napoleons of crime gave any consideration to what would've happened if they'd gotten away with tickets and then used them."

They were almost certainly planning on selling them onto fans on the street.
Going rate for a ticket is around 2000 pounds (3500 dollars).


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