I saw the second half of the Barcelona-Chelsea Champions League semifinal this afternoon. As games go, it was interesting enough even though it ended in a scoreless draw – Chelsea basically put all eleven men in their own half and played defense, hoping to get a tie out of it. And in the end, that’s what happened. Though it was one-way traffic all night – I don’t think that there was a single chance for Chelsea in the half – Barcelona couldn’t finish them off and Chelsea now have to be the favorites going into next week’s match in London.
A couple of more general notes about soccer, which I didn’t really start following until a couple of years ago: The players certainly don’t do much to dispel the American stereotype that soccer is a sport for pussies. Standard Operating Procedure seems to be that if you’re touched, or about to be touched, or it looks like you might be touched, that you collapse as if you’ve been shot and writhe in pain for a solid five minutes while trainers come out onto the field, spray you with some substance that looks like WD-40, and cart you off on a stretcher. Then after a thirty-second water break, you come sprinting back on to the field as if nothing ever happened (which it didn’t). I always find it impressive how committed players are to following through on their dives. No matter what happens, they stay down and really pretend to be hurt. Now that’s dedication. My theory is that about half of the time, players take a dive simply because they’re tired and need a rest. After all, there are no timeouts in soccer, and it is a lot of running. That would explain why diving is tacitly accepted, since everyone gets tired at some point, and why not just pretend to be hurt?
While soccer players may be pussies, the fans tilt toward the other extreme. We Americans like to talk about our “fierce rivalries,” like Yankees-Red Sox, etc. But no one ever dies. On the other hand, European soccer matches often features gangs of drunk fascist hooligans stabbing each other. This would probably be more entertaining than the actual game; unfortunately, Drunk Hooligan Fighting has not yet made it to ESPN. Maybe next year. Interestingly enough, quite a few hooligans actually are fascists. It’s not just hyperbole. Racist, too! Soccer is perhaps the only sport where you’re more likely to get hurt while watching the game than you are while playing in it. Unless you happened to be playing in this game . . .