The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
Manchester United and Barcelona are in Rome, their supporters are having Champions League Final toga parties in the street outside their hotels, and the waters of the Fontana del Nettuno are running purple with the leaky ink of self-applied Wayne Rooney neck tattoos. (Barça fans, meanwhile, are just expertly drinking flawless wines and meeting a special someone with an intriguing look in her eye.) One way or another, this thing is going down, and I, quite possibly flanked by terrifying men, will be bringing you all the action from my not-great, not-impossible seat at the Stadio Olimpico. Feel your sense of significance ripen as you follow along with my live account of the Iconic Soccer Clash of Our Times. It’s diaphanous beauty v. ruthless cunning, Barcelona v. Man Utd…after the jump.
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Basically I Guess Because of the Struggle to Know Oneself in a World Without Fixed Moorings: I woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, suddenly aware that the “struggle” I’ve been going through was really an inner conflict over whether I’m John Locke or Sawyer. Do I listen to my feelings and follow them to a higher sense of meaning and truth, or do I ruthlessly game the system and have cage sex with Evangeline Lilly? Feverishly, I fumbled for my iPod and watched the season finale for clues as to what I should do. THAT EPISODE CLARIFIED NOTHING.
Well, Here I Am: And I cannot believe that my wifi is working in this weird crater of a stadium. I didn’t even have to use the Global Access Link dongle that the sponsors sent me before I left. I’m just piggybacking on someone’s unsecured connection. New York Magazine says it’s not unethical! And let me tell you, it is a fine thing to find oneself with wifi in a country where the existence of regular postal mail has yet to be confirmed by science.
Flapping My Wings Feebly Against the Tides of Extinction: First off, I guess I should reveal that there are some things I can’t say at the outset, due to certain people in certain important situations who I’ve been told will likely be reading this. So if you’ve been, like, keeping abreast of certain happenings and occasions in my life, you’re going to have to read between the lines. That said, if you are a member of the Italian constabulary working to keep the number of things stolen and people stabbed down to a manageable number during this tournament, I want you to know I appreciate your efforts and nothing I may have to do from here on in is meant to go against that.
Your Iconic Evening Lineups:
Representing sex, innocence, and the power of song: Valdes; Sylvinho, Pique, Toure, Puyol; Iniesta, Busquets, Xavi; Henry, Messi; Eto’o
Subs: Pinto, Martin Caceres, Gudjohnsen, Krkic, Keita, Petro Rodriguez, Muniesa
Representing the bulldozers coming for the playground because the playground is making too much noise: Van der Sar; Evra, Vidic, Ferdinand, O’Shea; Giggs, Carrick, Anderson; Park, Rooney; Cristiano Ronaldo
Subs: Kuszczak, Berbatov, Nani, Scholes, Rafael, Evans, Tevez
Just pretty much what we were expecting, I guess. Ferdinand is back for Manchester United after missing the last 384 matches with acute speculation of the hopes. Henry and Iniesta are in the thing for Barca. Barcelona are still a thin sheet of cracking ice that a fat guy just stepped on in defense, especially with Dani Alves missing. (He enraged the fat guy and got red carded at Chelsea.) They’re playing Toure at centerback, just like they did in the second leg against Chelsea.
Tonight’s Leni Riefenstahl Poetry Encounter Brought to You by the Spirit of Unrestrained Triumphalism: Time for the runup to the Champions League anthem/obligatory Heineken joke-a-thon. Andrea Bocelli is singing, and there are women dressed like the European Cup walking around on the pitch. The lyrics to the Champions League anthem are in an inspiring and diplomatic mixture of several languages native to European countries that have won wars in the last 200 years, but if you translated all the lines into English, it would go like this, according to Wikipedia:
Those are the best teams
Those are the best teams
The main event
The biggest teams
A big gathering
A big sports event
The main event
They are the best
They are the best
These are the champions
1 min And we’re away…
2 min Toure fouls Anderson 30 yards out on the left side of the area, leading to a dangerous free kick for Ronaldo. It pongs right at Valdes, who narrowly saves it after it takes an awkward bounce. Chancy times for F.C. Barcelona. It was Pique who knocked the rebound away from Park.
4 min Rooney, on the left, plays a long, loopy cross for Park on the right, but it’s just beyond the reach of the dashing Korean spitfire. That was dangerous-ish. Not great signs for the Barcelona defense.
6 min Goal kick to Barcelona after Puyol stifles another Rooney attack. It’s been so completely all United to this point that I’m like 30% tempted to believe the pundits knew what they were talking about. Except that that’s obviously impossible.
9 min Evra drives ManU forward down the left side of the field. The ball finds its way to Ronaldo, who whizzily lets fly…only to miss wide by a tiny amount. So, so close.
10 min GOAL!! 1-0 Barcelona! Eto’o scores immediately on the other end! And it comes out of nowhere. Anderson lost Iniesta, who got the ball to Eto’o on the right, who went through Vidic like Vidic was playing for Barcelona and the English pundits knew what they were talking about. Van der Sar got a hand on the shot, but was powerless to stop it in the end.
12 min Barca nearly get another chance from a corner, but Messi seems to slip and narrowly misses the ball. Now it’s United who look completely out of sorts. They’re crumpled in the middle, like a man realizing he’s only 23 minutes away from a crippling moral choice.
15 min Barca try to put together another slow-building attack, but Messi loses the ball to Vidic. United push it up the park, and Ronaldo nearly slips through everyone, but Pique sort of turns himself into a stone wall right outside the area, and Ronaldo runs into it. This leads to a really dangerous free kick for United. 25 yards out, dead center of the park.
16 min Giggs takes it, and it flotzes over the top, even though he’s a heroic 35-year-old to whom the laws of physics are supposed to defer (kidding).
19 min Eto’o wafts into the right channel to take a throw-in. He slides the ball to Messi in the center of the park. Hovering like an extraordinarily beautiful but somehow vulnerable butterfly, Messi waits for his moment and then lashes the ball at goal. It goes over, but not by all that much.
20 min Ronaldo flounces past Toure and takes his 24th shot of the night. It takes a Florida State slice before anyone had time to get nervous.
22 min United aim another attack through Rooney, who cunningly cuts inside and wins a corner. The ball is sent in from the left and finds Ronaldo’s unmarked forehead, into which it does a trampoline indent and off of which it springs over the goal.
24 min Ronaldo is missing lots of shots, but he’s getting lots of shots, too. Isn’t one of those bound to go in? Can you fight city hall, ultimately? Or are you basically a fool if you don’t take the cynical angle the second it shows up?
25 min Messi plays a sugary through ball to Henry, who battles for the ball on the left, but finally loses out. Immediately thereafter, Anderson fouls Iniesta, setting up a 30 yard free kick for Xavi on the left side of the area. It bends like it has ideas but ducks out on the wrong side of the post.
28 min You would have to say that the run of play is still pretty much with United. Barca are winning a lot of free kicks, but the pressure seems to be flowing in the opposite direction. How long can they swim against the current, I wonder.
30 min (also 31 min, 32 min) The ball is whopping about in the middle of the pitch as if it’s being knocked around in one of those self-fulfilling loops you sometimes get in a pinball machine.
33 min Puffing like a warrior, Evra goes shredding down the left side, then with a look of pure purpose and determination on his face flutters the ball gently directly to Victor Valdes.
34 min Puyol wins a corner off Vidic. Barcelona are sending two defenders forward, as if the concept of a crisis of conscience is utterly foreign to them.
35 min Xavi sends in a wicked ball from the corner, which Pique is just slightly too short to reach.
35 min HOLY MENTAL ASTEROIDS! Out of nowhere, Rooney goes maniacally charging down the center of the pitch, all kinds of dirt chunks and grass clippings spraying into the air behind his boots. He takes the pass from Carrick and DRIVES THE BALL INTO THE BACK OF THE NET…but the third official is flagging for offside. Man, that’s too bad, because that was almost a completely nonfictional goal. A COMPLETELY NONFICTIONAL GOAL that almost was.
37 min Barcelona’s small-city-sized population of midfielders work the ball forward at the rate of one inch per pass, eventually weaving it into the area of Messi…only for Ferdinand to balletically flick it away with his back heel. Ferdinand looks around like a man who isn’t sure what he’s just done.
41 min Messi puts on a brief display of ball control to mesmerize John O’Shea, but no sooner has he passed it to Henry than every single Man Utd defender kicks it away at once.
43 min Rooney is getting killed tonight. Just murdered.
44 min It’s amazing Barcelona aren’t overwhelmed by guilt.
45 min OH MY GOD Messi goes slip-sliding through 17 United defenders, literally becoming invisible at several points, before poising himself on Van der Sar’s left and taking a sly shot at goal. Falling, Van der Sar bobbles it, but somebody does something with it, I don’t know, that was exceptional.
HALFTIME: Woah. Not sure what this is about. About five or six rows ahead of me there are a couple of Italian guys in Roma shirts, and they’re having a pretty good argument—just angrily thrusting their fingers in each other’s faces and like vibrating their fingers under their own chins. Hold on, I’m trying to hear what they’re yelling about…okay…I’m getting this. It’s Vespas. This is culture, people. They’re arguing about who can park a Vespa closer to a stone wall. The taller one (we’ll call him Cesare) is insisting that “he can park it so close that the whisker of a cat could not pass between the stone and the handlebars,” and the fatter one (we’ll call him Remus) is countering that “he can park it so close that the Vespa and the stone merge as one.” Clearly there are some issues of honor and pride at stake that I…
HALFTIME II: Hold on! They’re on their feet! Cesare just drew a knife! Now Remus has one, too! Oh, no! I don’t think they mean to attack each other—this feels like a rhetorical escalation—but the circumstances are out of their control. Their Italian knives will be magnetically drawn to the surrounding English flesh! Help, help! THIS IS KNIFE CRIME! WE HAVE AN INSTANCE OF KNIFE CRIME! Oh, why are the police not coming!
HALFTIME III: If only there were a nearby contingent of off-duty carbinieri who could rush over here and save us!
HALFTIME IV: It’s been a fun, if at the same time spiritually agonizing, match so far. Man Utd have been really like trident-sharp and tentacle-spearing at times, but their claims on godhood are being effaced by the fact that Rooney’s playing like Hephaestus and Ronaldo’s playing like he’s coated with a thin layer of rubber. Barcelona are using their 300 midfield cherubs to excellent effect by dominating possession and just like building the strike through Athena before Eto’o or Messi javelins in the thunderbolt. If I weren’t feeling an armless torso over the conviction that every force of the good or the beautiful in the world was making huge, judgmental Sistine glowers at me, I would probably be really enjoying this.
HALFTIME V: Know who’s overrated? Anderson, that’s who.
45 min And we’re off again. Cesare and Remus are just abusing each other on the subject of their Vespa-parking skills, but still no sign of the police…
46 min Anderson is off, and Tevez is on, which just makes basic sense.
47 min Barcelona stroke the ball in fantastic Etch-a-Sketch patterns around the park.
47 min Finally, about twenty carabinieri come pouring through the opening and into the stands near me. They have a very militaristic sort of hop-trop walk which is in full effect as they bustle down the stadium steps. They’re in single-file, and the whole column bounces gently, like a Chinese New Year dragon.
48 min Henry does some absolutely gorgeous things to unman Rio Ferdinand in the penalty area, but can’t quite find a path through Van der Sar with the shot.
49 min The carbinieri can’t find Remus and Cesare! But they’re right there, waving their knives! Just try going 20 rows lower!
49 min The leader of the carbinieri presses his hand to his ear, as if he’s receiving instructions through a concealed earpiece. He points, and the column goes dragon-bustling down the steps at maximum festival tempo.
50 min OH! Eto’o comes within a micrometer of diving on the end of an annihilating ball from Sylvinho. Van der Sar just gets there first.
50 min Immediately thereafer, Messi has a penalty shout turned down in the area. It probably wasn’t a penalty, but it’s indicative of the abjectness Man Utd are afflicted with right now. Even as I’m typing this, Iniesta wins a free kick on the bleeding edge of the area.
53 min Xavi takes the free kick…and hits the post! Van der Sar had no chance of stopping that. We’re one inch away from 2-0.
53 min A hundred feet to your left, carbinieri!
54 min Remus and Cesare are grappling!
54 min The carbinieri would see them if they would all just spin around in a circle!
55 min Okay, they’re spinning. This is getting ridiculous.
56 min Yaya Toure does herniating things with the concept of torsion as he twists his back along three separate pivots to knock the ball away from Park with some medically unnamable part of his upper shin. I don’t know how he gets up from that. The man is just not a natural centerback.
57 min You know, if Barca can play like this, I mean, maybe it’s not crazy to hold out for something good or beautiful. Maybe you can fight city hall? I don’t know. I don’t feel good about this.
58 min You know what? It’s like Victoria Beckham says, you’ve got to have soul. Ahem. If you are Constable Vitt Piccoletta, please be advised that some guys are trying to steal Dr. Stone’s Yucatan Gladii.
59 min The carbinieri could probably catch them if they hurried.
60 min I’m just saying, is all.
60 min Carbiniere #1 presses his earpiece. The carbinieri are hop-rushing out of the stadium!
60 min If anything happens to me, please tell Natasha’s “fiance” that I completely hate everything about his character and self.
62 min United are having more of the ball over the last few minutes, but apart from one moment when Rooney was actually on the verge of touching it in the area, it hasn’t come to much. United’s midfield has been thoroughly nowhere tonight.
63 min Rooney wins a corner as I type that. He moved over to the right at halftime, and he’s looked a lot more comfortable ever since. The corner goes nowhere, though.
65 min Henry weaves hypnotic patterns in front of O’Shea, who stands ogreishly still and refuses to be dazzled. He slightly blocks Henry’s shot, enabling Van der Sar to handle it easily.
66 min Park, one of about five United players who could have been substituted without qualms, is taken off for Berbatov. In the meantime, Ronaldo elbows Puyol and gets mildly chastised by the referee.
67 min You know who else has been totally anonymous for Man Utd tonight? Michael Carrick. Essentially, I don’t know if the Barcelona midfielders are just playing the Man Utd midfielders into the ground, or if the Man Utd midfielders just showed up weakly and cleared the pitch for their counterparts. I’m going to say it’s both.
69 min I wonder what’s happening at Dr. Stone’s apartment. I hope the carbinieri save the butterflies.
70 min GOAL!!! (Messi, 2-0 Barca) Messi scores his first-ever goal against English opposition! Terrible defending from Man Utd as Xavi plays a diagonal cross at the perfect height. Messi had ducked away from everyone and met the ball in midair, with the side of his head, flighting it into the far corner of the net where Van der Sar had no chance. I was just about to ask who was winning the media battle between Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but I think this just about wraps up that debate.
71 min Oh, shit, shit, shit. Dancer just came in through the tunnel. Mr. Postillion and Mr. Porphiry are with him. No sign of Truffles Lardimore, probably because, as the “computer guy,” he was working off-site.
73 min They just came up to my seat! “We’re busted, sunshine,” Dancer said. “The polizia are half a toss behind us. You hold onto the loot while the rest of us fade away.” He handed me a large, extremely well-padded briefcase.
73 min I HAVE THE YUCATAN GLADII. I HAVE TUCKED THEM UNDER MY SEAT.
74 min Xavi sends in another pristine corner and Puyol heads it at goal. Van der Sar takes it like a cannonball to the chest. My God, I love watching Xavi play soccer.
75 min Dancer and the blanked-out-eye twins blend into the crowd just as the carbinieri pour into the stadium! The carbinieri are back! Vitt Piccoletta is leading them this time! Heh. He trundles like a walrus.
75 min Wait…I see Dancer up ahead in the crowd! He’s sitting next to…next to Truffles! And they have THIS SITE open on Truffles’s laptop!
76 min Shit. Oh, SHIT.
76 min Wise to the fact that I exposed him, Dancer is doing a steamed Cockney death charge up the steps in my direction. He’s fumbling around in his jacket…but there’s Grigoriy! Grigoriy’s intercepting him! I have no idea where he came from, but I’m guessing Remus and Cesare are completely bewildered at this point. Scholes is replacing Giggs, for what that’s worth.
77 min Dancer’s brandishing a knife at Grigoriy! He’s trying to stab him!
77 min Constable Piccoletta! Arrest the guy with the ponytail! Arrest me, too! We stole the butterflies! I have them right here! Arrest us! (I also said those words out loud, while waving the briefcase of the Yucatan Gladii in the direction of the carbinieri.)
78 min In the confusion, Grigoriy’s slipped past Dancer, and the Constable’s grabbing his arm…
78 min I have to go. I’m getting arrested. I’ll do this right next year, I swear I will. For now, I have to protect these butterflies. THE LAST THING I WANT TO SAY IS THAT PUYOL HAS COMPLETELY DESTROYED CRISTIANO RONALDO TONIGHT…
80 min Hello, loves. My name’s Dancer. Before I fucking decapitate your match correspondent, I am going to finish his live blog so as I look like a respectable human being in the event of any authorities wandering past. I will say this, however, and all things being true. If that little cough thinks Vitt Piccoletta can protect him or his Russian friend from the long arm of me, he’s got a hard fucking lesson to learn, doesn’t he?
81 min Now let me see. Before we proceed, I’ll give you my backgrounds and bona fides. I only have one philosophy of football, me, and that’s kill the other fellow. It’s kill the other fellow, and everything beyond that is liberalism.
81 min I grew up a West Ham fan, but after the Hillsborough disaster, like so many people, my allegiances shifted to Sheffield Wednesday.
82 min Now granted I have not been following this match because of my involvement in an attempt to steal the only known breeding pair of the prized Yucatan Gladius, but it looks like a merry old dogfight, this. If I weren’t fresh off a rather personally disappointing betrayal, I think I could enjoy this one. Manchester United look like a pit bull I once saw get hold of a fallen power cable. Galloped about like a fucking mail coach and ate a tub of Woolite. Which is about as much sense as the Mancs look like making tonight.
82 min For example. Not one moment ago Paul Scholes was booked for a rash challenge on Busquets. You might say a rash challenge. I say he was killing the other fellow. Busquets tossed around like a seasick rabbit: goal met. One thing I have always enjoyed is watching Paul Scholes make a tackle.
84 min Now Carles Puyol takes a good pop at Edwin Van der Sara and almost bags goal number three. He digs, does Carles Puyol. He digs down. Now there is a player I would not mind seeing suited up for Wednesday.
86 min Little Wayne Rooney goes up to take a corner. He’s too angry, I think. It clouds his senses. You’ve got stay clear in your mind if you want to kill the other fellow. Berbatov keeps his mind clear. He has a chance at a header, but he heads it too bloody high.
88 min You say what you like about Barcelona, my duck, but they will kill you as soon as look at you, in my book. The fucking Mancs look like a seventeen-year-old who somebody tapped on the nose.
90 min It’s stoppage time, sunrise. This match is fucking extinct.
91 min You kill the other fellow. If it’s pretty when you kill him, so much the better. If it’s ugly when you kill him, well, he’s fucking dead, then, isn’t he?
92 min And there it is, my lambs. F.C. Barcelona are the World Bloody Champions of Europe.
The. Bloody. End. And what can a fellow say about a match like that? I missed the majority of it on account of I was being betrayed by one of my trusted colleagues in thievery, but from what I saw plus this nice little account of it he wrote you can’t say the worse team won. I doubt Wednesday would have stood a patch on either of these organisations, but if I had to take my pick and say one team to play for the future of the whole bloody club, I would take my choice of Manchester United. They have not been that good this year, and that’s the fucking gospel.
Shiny Bits. F.C. Barcelona form an honour guard for the Mancs as they go up to get their losers’ medals. Makes me a bit sick to my stomach, this.
And Now, As Puyol Lifts the Cup. If you will excuse me, I have got to go rally my troops and make my way out of this fucking stadium. Ten thousand bloody police around. I hate to break this news to you, my pets, but I hope you did not like that match correspondent of yours. Because you are never going to read his prose again.
by Vandal-prone · May 26, 2009