Soccerstoriesbook's Blog


THE UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE’S SAME GAME

Atletico Madrid, behind goals by Adrian Lopez, Diego Costa and Arda Turan, recovered from a scoreless draw at home in the first leg to pound Chelsea, 3-1, at Stamford Bridge to win its UEFA Champions League semifinal series, setting up an all-Spanish final May 24 in Lisbon.

The victory comes a day after Real Madrid humbled defending champ Bayern Munich, 4-0, on a pair of goals each by Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo and won its home-and-home set by a 5-0 aggregate.

The final, at Benfica’s massive Estadio de Luz, will mark the first time that teams from the same city have met for Europe’s biggest club prize.  Since the European Champions’ Cup became the UEFA Champions League in 1992, four finals have pitted clubs from the same country:  2000, Real Madrid 3, Valencia 0, at the Stade de France outside Paris; 2003, AC Milan 0, Juventus 0 (Milan on PKs), at Old Trafford in Manchester; 2008, Manchester United 1, Chelsea 1 (United on PKs) at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium; and 2013, Bayern Munich 2, Borussia Dortmund 1, at Wembley Stadium in London.

Real Madrid, a finalist for the 13th time, will be seeking an unprecedented 11th European champions title.  Atletico, which last appeared in a final 40 years ago–losing to Bayern Munich–will be playing in its second final.  [April 30]

Comment:  Like Spanish soccer?  You’d better.

(Full disclosure:  This writer likes Spanish soccer.)

This derby showdown–to be played more than 300 miles from Madrid–will be the fifth this season for the two teams, and the sixth since Atletico defeated Real in last May’s Copa del Rey final, ending a 14-year, 25-match winless streak against its rival.  In La Liga, Atletico, the current frontrunner, won at Real, 1-0, in September and tied at home, 1-1, last month; Real swept their Copa matches in February by an overall 5-0.

It raises the question, what will this grand finale prove?

Sometimes, these things work.  Last year’s UEFA Champions League final was an entertaining advertisement for German soccer.  But for those who want to see a real contrast in styles, a meeting of sides that don’t know one another too well, it often does not.

There’s no going back to the days when the European Champions’ Cup was true to its name and involved only defending league champions.  This year’s competition was open to a whopping 76 clubs, including a handful from the more powerful nations who dazzled the soccer world the previous season by finishing fourth in their league.  Of course, this is about money–lots of it.  Clubs that qualified for the group stage automatically pocketed $11.9 million; maximum points in the group would bring in another $8.3 million.  The payout for an appearance in the knockout rounds began at $4.8 million.  As for the final, one of the Madrids will walk home with an additional $14.5 million.  And the public doesn’t seem put off by a same-country final:  Bayern Munich-Borussia Dortmund last year attracted a global television audience of 360 million–better than three Super Bowls.

But from a sporting perspective, the UEFA has both turned its prime club championship into the impossible dream for dozens of its member associations and reduced its secondary competition–once known as the UEFA Cup and now known as the Europa League–into an afterthought for all but the most ardent fans.

As for the “champion” credentials of this year’s two finalists, Real Madrid qualified for the 2013-14 Champions League by finishing second to FC Barcelona a year ago, a whopping 15 points off the pace; Atletico was third, a dot in the rear-view mirror at 24 points back.

 

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SOCCER STORIES–THIS TIME IT’S ’30 FOR ’30’

ESPN Films has announced that in April it will premiere “30 for 30: Soccer Stories,” a series of documentaries as part of the lead-in to its coverage of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil in June.

“Soccer Stories” will “include a mix of stand-alone feature-length and 30-minutes-long documentary films from an award-winning group of filmmakers telling compelling narratives from around the international soccer landscape.  In addition, a collection of 10 vignettes about Brazil’s rich culture will be featured throughout ESPN’s FIFA World Cup programming,” according to ESPN Films, creators of the critically acclaimed “30 for 30” film series.  Among its works in that series was “The Two Escobars,” which explored the murder of 1994 World Cup goat Andres Escobar of Colombia and drug king Pablo Escobar’s involvement in soccer in that country.

Said Connor Schell, vice president of ESPN Films and Original Content, “With ESPN being the home of the 2014 World Cup, we know that sports fans will be looking forward to high-quality content focused on what is perhaps the world’s most revered sport.  We feel this is the perfect time to expand upon the success of our “30 for 30″ series by focusing this collection on some of the incredible stories of soccer’s legendary past.”  [January 11]

Comment:  “Soccer Stories: Anecdotes, Oddities, Lore and Amazing Feats” hereby grants ESPN permission to use the title “Soccer Stories” for its series of pre-Brasil ’14 documentaries.

Indeed, soccer is a treasure trove of compelling, ironic, tragic and humorous tales.  Some are even true, others apocryphal.  Many beg to be told.  The Hillsborough Stadium disaster is part of the ESPN series–one of its two feature-length films–and it’s part of “Soccer Stories: Anecdotes, Oddities. Lore and Amazing Feats” the book, as well.  So is a profile of the tragic life of Brazilian great Garrincha, entitled “Garrincha, Crippled Angel” in the ESPN series.  And “Barbosa–The Man Who Made All of Brazil Cry.”  And “The Opposition” (about the 1973 military coup that led to Chile’s national stadium being turned into a concentration camp/execution ground).  And “Mysteries of The Jules Rimet Trophy.”  And “Maradona ’86.”

The ESPN series is rounded out by “White, Blue and White,” a feature-length exploration of Osvaldo Ardiles’ and Ricardo Villa’s stardom in England with Tottenham Hotspur on the eve of the Falkland Islands War, and “Ceasefire Massacre,” about the terrorist murder of six men at a small pub outside Belfast who were watching Ireland play in the ’94 World Cup.  Neither made the “Soccer Stories: Anecdotes, Oddities, Lore and Amazing Feats” cut.

Perhaps ESPN’s “Soccer Stories” will prove to be an effective scene-setter for its World Cup coverage.  Not that a World Cup needs much in the way of an hors d’oeuvre, but soccer people in this country are a funny lot.  Many play but will not watch televised soccer on a regular basis or follow it through the press or Internet.  Some will watch only their kid or a favorite club.  Some are ex-patriates who’ll wake up and make like a fan only if the homeland is playing in a World Cup; some are Americans who, Olympic-like, pay attention only in World Cup years.   They’re all missing the soul of their sport, the incredible worldwide kaleidoscope that is soccer.

Look for ESPN’s “30 for 30: Soccer Stories.”  Soccer is alluring, exciting, exhilarating; by turns, it makes dreams come true and crushes hopes.  But you have to take the trouble to meet it halfway.  If you’re only playing, if you’re only coaching, if you’re only officiating, if you’re only watching, you’re missing out.