9
Oct

Special Inside Look: Spain’s Ciudad del Futbol

image

Image provided by Dermot Corrigan / FOX Soccer

MADRID, SPAIN

Wednesday evening in Madrid — and hundreds of kids are training at the Spanish football federation’s Ciudad del Futbol campus. Their sessions over, they grab a quick drink of water, then quickly gather in the small stand beside the suburban facility’s biggest pitch, to watch national coach Vicente del Bosque run his World Cup holders through their paces ahead of their crucial upcoming qualifiers for the 2014 finals.

The young spectators cheered and squealed as their heroes completed a light warm-up, then a series of ‘rondos’ — piggy-in-the-middle-style exercises where good technique is key and a sense of humor helps. Being a public session, no tactical secrets were displayed, but Gerard Pique and Andres Iniesta had recovered from minor knocks to take part. Spain looks ready for the clashes with Belarus in Mallorca on Friday, and then Georgia in Albacete next Tuesday, when four points will seal qualification for Brazil next summer.

 If, as expected, Spain win on Friday, del Bosque may use the Georgia game for experimentation and give Swansea city attacker Michu a first cap. The Swansea attacker told reporters at the Cuidad de Futbol on Wednesday morning that he’d been a little awestruck at first when training alongside so many world champions — but was now ready to stake his claim for a regular squad spot.

Image provided by Getty

“When you step out on the grass, with the [World Cup winner] star on your chest, the sensation is indescribable,” Michu said. “I was a little nervous to be playing with the best players in the world, but you settle down quickly. I am here to make the most of the opportunity — and to help Spain qualify for the World Cup.”

The gap between Michu’s press conference and training left time to visit the impressive campus’ excellent museum — which shows visitors just what soccer means in Spain. The exhibits begin with a search for the sport’s origins in ancient China, Egypt, Greece, Mexico and Scotland, then fast forward to the early 20th century as young king Alfonso XIII oversees its introduction here.

Xavi Hernandez, Iker Casillas and Fernando Torres — dressed in period gear — guide you through a time tunnel to a 1930s pre-Civil War dressing room. Among the other life-sized dioramas is a 1950s film-set from when General Franco’s regime “persuaded” Real Madrid’s Alfredo Di Stefano and Barcelona’s Ladislao Kubala to star in feature length propaganda pictures.

Big sections cover the 1964 European Championships, which Spain won; and the 1982 World Cup, which Spain hosted but flopped at. The tour ends on a high — with the Henri Delaunay [European Championship] and Jules Rimet [World Cup] trophies on display, alongside jerseys and footballs from their victories in the last three major international tournaments. There’s also the actual 2010 final locker-room flipchart, with del Bosque’s detailed handwritten instructions for defending Holland’s set pieces.

image

Image provided by Dermot Corrigan / FOX Soccer

Once qualification is assured for next year’s tournament, del Bosque can ponder how to best retain the trophy. Selection decisions must be made on players including Michu, Casillas, Torres, David Villa, Carles Puyol, Juan Mata, Koke, Isco and – most controversially – Brazilian-born Diego Costa.

But all that can wait for now. Wednesday’s session ended with a friendly mini-game, before the sun set behind the nearby Sierra de Guadarrama mountains, and the players, children and journalists headed home for their suppers.

Another day at one of world soccer’s most important nerve centers — with Brazil 2014 on the horizon.

27
Aug

The Land of FC Barcelona

Who wouldn’t want to go hang out on an island with Lionel Messi, Neymar, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol? Well, except for Real Madrid fans.

This fantastical world only exists in the dreams of Barcelona fans, but that’s exactly what Barca and Qatar Airways created in their latest advertisement: The Land of FC Barcelona. It seems like a pretty wonderful place to go take a vacation, especially with Pique as the customs officer, Neymar making sure you don’t lose your luggage, Messi giving lessons in the performing arts and Iniesta creating beautiful wall paintings with a soccer ball. Also, who could turn down tickets to a showing of Das Golden Boot? Not us!

Better start saving up that vacation time now just in case this dreamland ever becomes a reality.

28
Feb

By now, you’ve all probably seen Angel Di Maria’s dribble dummy that made Carles Puyol do the splits to help Real Madrid advance to the Copa del Rey finals past rival Barcelona.

The Spanish defender has rarely been embarrassed in such an open and public manner. In fact, the last time Puyol suffered a silly spill took place during Denilson’s time with Real Betis.

With that in mind, we gotta ask, how skinned Puyol better: Denilson or Di Maria? Check out this video and cast your vote here.

2
Oct

Arms shouldn’t bend that way.

Barcelona’s Carles Puyol suffered a gruesome injury after falling very awkwardly on his arm during the Spanish giant’s Champions League win against Benfica on Tuesday. If you’re squeamish, I’d suggest skipping this one.

A huge blow for Barcelona, who got the win but will have to be without their captain until he recovers from what appears to be a pretty serious arm injury.

Fans across the globe tweeted about the sickening fall, and even US women’s national team star Alex Morgan chimed in.

We agree, Alex. That made us a little sick too.