24
May

Trecker’s Travels: Spanish football takes spotlight in Lisbon

LISBON —

The winds have been blowing hard into Lisbon this week, whipping off the river Tagus and through the winding alleys of Chiado. It’s added a wrinkle to Saturday’s big match as the memories of the last big blow through here remains fresh.

This February, big hunks of the roof of the Estadio da Luz plummeted to the turf before the Lisbon derby, glass and padding shattering on the surface below. Portugal was lucky: the incident happened in advance of the game, so no one was hurt, but the debris continued to cascade down, causing some angst among UEFA officials. Happily, the damage was repaired, the game went on, and here we are.

No one expects a repeat of that here on Saturday, but it’s a bit apt considering that the winds of change are sweeping through the game.

This is Spain’s time. Regardless of who wins on Saturday night, Spain will hold four of the five major trophies in the world sport. (The final one, the Copa America, they not eligible for). Sevilla upset Benfica ten days ago in the Europa League; Spain are also the defending European and World Cup champions. A Madrid team will hold the European Cup on Saturday. The only blemish on this recent run, if you can call it that, is the national team’s second-place finish at the distinctly second-tier Confederations Cup. This moment, right here, could stand as a capstone for a remarkable era in world football, a period of dominance not seen since West Germany’s reign over world football in 1975 (Only one trophy in 1975, the now-defunct Cup Winner’s Cup, was outside of German hands).

The Spanish fans who packed the Metro this afternoon to overflowing are rightfully giddy, even if their presence has been met with some chagrin. There is no statue of Neptune here, but the fans have been clambering up anything stone in Rossio Square, with scarves and flags since the sun came up, and Real fans have simply taken over two whole plazas in a sort of Occupy Lisbon movement. You cannot walk on the platform at Marques de Pombal without tripping over a red and white flag. And good luck getting a seat at any café in Chiado as they’re all taken by guys in orange, purple or white. Benfica’s treble? Forgot by all but A Bola, the local sports paper that somewhat grudgingly gave space to the final on their cover on Saturday (Yesterday’s cover? A take-out on Jan Oblak, Benfica’s goalkeeper).

It’s a friendly crowd as well, with packs passing each other on the streets or the trams, trading cheers and tuneless songs — but without a shred of menace. Some of that is due to the historic achievement gap between these two, but some of it has to be the fact that this is Spain’s time in the sun.

How long this lasts is open to debate. Atletico have been overachievers in the extreme, low-cost Davids who have ejected a series of clubs backed by sugar daddies and petrodollars. Real Madrid and Barcelona have money to burn, but the latter is on the slide and seems to be entering a rebuilding period. And Spain, while a favorite in Brazil, are not the favorites to win the whole thing.

Fans of Spanish football should enjoy it while it lasts.

18
May

Spanish brothel promised free prostitutes if Atletico won La Liga?

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Promises are promises. Then there’s this.

Atletico Madrid capped off one of the most memorable La Liga title races in recent memory after rallying to win their first Spanish Primera Division crown in 18 years. Los Colchoneros, 100/1 underdogs before the start of the 2013-14 season, needed only a draw against defending champion Barcelona at the Camp Nou to make history.

And that’s exactly what Atletico accomplished on Saturday, and that’s where the story gets interesting.

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16
May

Gamesmanship? Barca allocate 447 tickets to Atletico fans for La Liga decider

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Atletico Madrid fans are known to be a noisy bunch, but they’ll have a tough time getting heard on Saturday.

According to the Daily Mail, Barcelona have only issued Atletico 447 tickets for their winner-takes-all La Liga showdown at the Camp Nou, a stadium that can accommodate 99,787 fans. The paltry away ticket allocation accounts for just 0.4% of the Camp Nou’s total capacity!

Now, we’re not saying it’s out of Barcelona’s right to do this, but giving out that few seats to away fans is practically unheard of, some might even say a little cheap. But when the stakes are this high, anything goes apparently.

Makes you wonder how many tickets Barca would have given out if it was Real Madrid they’d need to play for the title. 100? 10? Good grief!

Image provided by Reuters.

21
Aug

Spanish Super Cup: David Villa, Neymar steal first leg spotlight

Heading into the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, the appeal and hype for the contest was mostly regarding whether or not Brazilian superstar Neymar would make his first start for the Blaugrana.

He didn’t. Instead, the man who Neymar replaced at Barca ironically stole the spotlight early on — David Villa. It took Villa less than 12 minutes to exact a measure of revenge on the club that sold him for a paltry fee of $6.7M — compare that to the $53.5M fee Barcelona paid Valencia to get him just three years ago, and that figure is almost criminal — with this stunning volley:

Think Barcelona fans felt a little bitter about letting Villa go?

Nope.

Neymar did get on as a second-half substitute, and promptly equalized with his first official goal for the club:

Despite the 1-1 draw in the first leg, both clubs will feel like winners, at least in the summer transfer window.

11
Aug

David Villa, Mario Gotze score on their debuts

 (Video: 101GG)

Two of the most high-profile names to switch clubs this summer were Dortmund shooting star Mario Gotze and Spain’s all-time leading scorer David Villa. It didn’t take long for either of them to make their marks at their new clubs.

Villa scored this wonderful goal on his Atletico Madrid debut in a friendly against Las Palmas. While he was no longer wanted at Barcelona just three years after a €40m transfer from Valencia, it sure looks like Atletico — who got Villa at an eighth of that price — will find some use for him.

Meanwhile, Mario Gotze finally gave his Bayern Munich debut after a long injury spell that saw him miss last season’s Champions League final and all of the preseason. How long did it take for him to open his goals account for the Bavarians? A solid two minutes:

Gotze wasn’t done, later adding a second goal as Bayern beat Hungarian champions FC Györ 4-1.

Looks like both clubs will find plenty of joy in their new stars.