Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Ah, the woozy, heavy-skulled feeling induced by two Guinness pints at lunch...the prospect of a mostly wasted work day as H1500 looms...a film of beer-sweat brought on by glaring mid-day heat...

Truly, the season has begun.

Only an ever-so-slightly out-of-touch American football fan such as your Humble Correspondent could view the UEFA Champions League final as something of a campaign kick-off. But given that I live in a home unencumbered by ESPN or any fancy satellite package, and was rendered unable to perform by weekend over-indulgence for the recent FA Cup Final, today's clash between FC Barcelona and Arsenal marked my first opportunity to find my form for the imminent World Cup.

So come 11.15, I fast-pedaled it from my North Portland estate to the cheery (if a little cheesy) confines of Costello's Travel Caffe. The Northeast Broadway boite comes complete with kitschy Euro-decor (Paris Metro maps in the men's convenience, etc.) and a couple hi-def flat screens. A small bipartisan crowd gathered around the two portals, surrounded by wi-fi'ing cafe-goers who really couldn't have cared less. A decent pint or two and a vaguely Neapolitan sanna-wich saw me through.

Unlike some—ahem—I pretend no particularly strong allegiance to any European club, including the two august names who stepped out at the Stade de France ce soir. Maybe some day I'll live in London or Barcelona for awhile and develop a legitimate full-time interest in one of these clubs (or maybe it'll be Lokomotiv Moskva—who can tell?). Meanwhile, I came in rooting for good-to-spectacular football, just like the rest of Planet Calcio. I respect Arsenal's tradition and their slick globalist flair of recent years; you can't help but love Barcelona's fans-first ethic and the amazing, often ravishing squad they field. For my part, though, I just wanted these two titans of the post-modern game to put on a beautiful show.

Well, not quite. It was a gripping encounter, with Arsenal imposing itself early and Barca looking a little lost as it flung long balls down the field. The red-card to Lehmann, Arsenal's keeper, in the 17th minute skewed the game-play considerably, as Arsenal reverted to its primordial identity as a blue-collar defensive team. Cole turned in a fiery performance, reversing innumerable Barcelona thrusts, and the Londoners' reserve goalkeeper managed to look like a man of destiny for awhile. (That mustache, though? There's a man who didn't expect to be on international television today.) Age and guile trumped youth and beauty when Sol Campbell rose to convert a free-kick, a nice moment for a player who's figured prominently in the world game for several Presidential administrations.

Inevitably, though, Barca's endless attacking play snapped the 10-man English club. Larsson, an inmate of Barcelona's bench who always seems to end up on the score sheet when he plays, assisted on two lickety-split goals. Soon it was time to drain the glass and head back out into the sun.

Matches hyped to the sky, as this one was, almost always disappoint. Billed as a balletic freestyle battle between Ronaldhino and Henry, this game turned into a gritty, touch-and-go test of wills between a battering offense and a desperate defense. It wasn't art—but it was damned entertaining. And, for yours truly, it made a fine summer debut.

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