Okay, so the title is a stretch. I felt it fitting, however, on a beautiful spring feels like summer day as I take in the action from the Camp Nou stateside. The soccer pub here has a tremendous feel; the televised crowd noise matched by clapping and shouting from the pub’s patrons. After Monday night’s national championship basketball game, a lingering desire for a consummated upset lingers in the sports fan part of my belly. That said, the sportswriter in me sees in Barca a far steadier favorite than the future hedge fund managers from Duke who captured the championship last evening. Plus, despite the 50/50 fan split in this pub, these favorites is at home @ the Camp Nou, where they rarely are challenged, much less defeated. Throw in Arsenal’s “we don’t mean to be ironic” Tottenham kits, and the absence of starlets Cesc Fabregas, Andrey Arshavin and William Gallas, and I’m tempted to dub last night’s perceived David and Goliath title tilt as a preview to this true Hickory vs. South Bend Central match-up. Injuries aren’t the only storyline either, as moments before kickoff Barca central defender Gabriel Milito’s brother, of Inter Milan fame, assured we could have brother on brother in the semifinals. That’s what I expect to happen, but what will follow are general first-half observations, not necessarily a running live-blog, but rather a peek inside the brain of a football writer as he watches in real-time—something you will see early and throughout the World Cup @ Yanks Are Coming.
GOAL !!! Arsenal 1, Barcelona 0 !!!! Clever pass in the midfield to Theo Walcott, who used his remarkable pace to separate from the less fleet Barca defense. Bendtner finished on the second try after a cheeky stop by Valdes, and had he not—Arsenal fans would have rued the rather poor pass by Walcott after his tremendous run-up.
GOAL!!!! Barcelona 1, Arsenal 1!!!! Before I can even lament Diaby’s poor decision to play a ball to Bendtner and not Walcott immediately after the Arsenal goal—Barca equalizes. Disastrous result for Arsenal who needed to maintain that lead longer to quiet the crowd and allow doubt to creep into the minds of the European Champions. Instead, Leo Messi, the world’s greatest footballer, reminds us why there should be no debate on that question, creating a goal with a master strike from the edge of the box out of essentially nothing. I almost feel sorry for Mikael Silvestre, who had the Flea relatively well-marked and gave him about as much space as Chris DiMarco gave Tiger Woods before Woods made the Nike Advertisement of a chip in 2005 to seal the Masters.
Thirty minutes through—- and a bit of a breather. Barca has essentially dominated possession since the Messi goal, and the game is getting a bit chippy. Walcott causing problems for Barca on the right flank, which is a good thing because Diaby looks dreadful on the left. Foul called on Denilson at the thirty on Messi, who again had pierced the center of the Arsenal midfield, results in a yellow and dangerous free kick. Denilson got all ball but that was more fortune than intent as the challenge itself was cynical. In other news, the beer is cold and the waitress is lovely. Silvestre turned around in knots by the incomparable Messi only moments after typing that—you truly feel bad for him—even as Messi pounds his shot into the side netting. Barca’s calmness in the midfield despite Arsenal’s insistence on working the ball to the flanks is impressive—and I think at this point any debate about Busquets being as lousy as Lucas has been answered in full and with laughter, or, in full laughter.
TURN OUT THE LIGHTS, IN MY OPINION. MESSI!!!! Barcelona 2, Arsenal 1 !!! A decent but opportunistic cross by Pedro deflects off an Arsenal defender. Football is so often a game of bounces and this one finds Messi, who takes a deft touch and slots it past EuroTrash (Almunia) for a 2-1 Barca lead. Almunia had no chance. Somewhere in a rented home in Augusta, Georgia, the PGA’s best-dressed man and enormous Arsenal supporter Ian Poulter tweets: “That was offside. 2-1 now not good news.”
GOAL !!!! MESSI HAT TRICK HAS THEM BOWING AT THE CAMP NOU !!! 3-1 Barcelona. Surely, Arsenal are finished now. That one hurts even more, obviously, because it assures that we are removed from a “Arsenal need only one” situation. Abidal’s header should earn full respect for putting the Flea through, but his finish, against a well-positioned Almunia, was simply stunning. The Arsenal supporters in the pub are resigned to the final half now, which, as The Yanks Are Coming senior writer Guy Bailey pointed out, will be the culmination of a Zorro-esque stylish execution. There could have been a guillotine-esque fourth from Messi but for once he takes a bad touch and the much-maligned Almunia, who’s been of little fault today, covers up. Halftime, 3-1 Barca. I smell Messi in a LA Galaxy shirt in 2020. It will be glorious.
There you have it. Quite frankly, the most spectacular half of football I’ve seen from a single star in the Champions League this year. Barring a miracle, we will see a clash of footballing civilizations in the semifinals, with the cynical and defensive-minded Inter dueling the “Joga Bonito” football of the Catalonians. Barca had its way in the midfield, and Diaby was poor, so it is a bit short-sighted to say that Cesc wouldn’t have made a difference. However, I’m not sure it would have been two goals worth of a difference. Messi was that brilliant. And his brilliance begs two immediate questions. First, will if Manchester United be good enough to weather the storm tomorrow at Old Trafford without Wayne Rooney, who was quite obviously and visibly missed this weekend as the Red Devils fell to the Russian Mafia? Second, even forgetting home crowds, is professional, high-level championship football, like professional, high-level basketball, a game that is often simply contingent on which team/side has the most brilliant player? While Real Madrid’s exit answers that in the negative—some of Rooney’s performances this year, and certainly Messi’s first 45 this afternoon, offer a resounding yes to this writer’s sneaking suspicion. Hope you enjoyed this, and we at The Yanks Are Coming look forward to several full 90 minute live looks this summer in South Africa.
Neil W. Blackmon is a senior writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @nwb_USMNT.