About Last Sunday…

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Fernando Torres captioned this photo as “Liverpool family”. I can’t even muster any eloquence to describe what the All-Star Charity Match (a.k.a. everyone’s chance to say goodbye) means to the fans. This club is making me weepy again (apart from the huge blows against Arsenal and that club made of manure).

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Ending the year right.

2012 has been quite a turbulent year for all my sports teams. Sure, there have been ups and downs adequately chronicled in this blog, currently, Liverpool, Real Madrid, and even the LA Lakers are having less than stellar seasons.

Still, we never lose hope—and that’s what being a supporter is.

My year has been quite a blur, and I take the good with the bad, the ones to cherish with the ones to learn from, the ones to take delight in with the ones to forget.

Of course, let’s make it a point to end the year right. Thank you, Liverpool. A 3-0 win over QPR is just about the right way to cap the year—a Suarez brace and an Agger header marked the last day of the year (3 goals in less than 30 minutes—this was a training session!). Never mind if QPR were crap and a half, the most important thing is Liverpool got into its passing game and played well. Props must also be given to Steven Gerrard, Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, and Jose Enrique for having a good game.

Here’s to more adventures and staying onside in 2013. As always, you never walk alone.

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Queens Park Rangers v Liverpool - Premier League

First home match of the season, and boy—that was a cracker.

An hour before Liverpool’s first home game of the season against Manchester City, I started feeling the nerves. The visitors seemed to be the better team on paper (apart from being the current league champions), so I thought to myself that I’d be happy with a draw.

Yet, Liverpool came out firing in the first half, containing Manchester City’s attackers for the most part. We finally see how Brendan Rodgers’ take on “pass and move” should work well. Youngster Raheem Sterling impressed with his quickness and composure (a huge ask for a 17-year-old, defending Milner and attacking Yaya Touré), linking up well with Luis Suarez in front.

The first half was capped by a header from Martin Skrtel off a corner kick—now that is sheer football orgasm. Meanwhile, Joe Allen was impressive—100% pass completion rate, anyone? You can’t make that up.

The effort that Liverpool showed in the first half continued well into the second, and Luis Suarez was able to score the second goal on a free kick, with the ball curling past a wall of Manchester City field players and goalkeeper Joe Hart. Suarez doesn’t get much love from anyone else apart from The Kop, but the guy has been a workhorse, attacking and tracking back on defense and trying to win the ball in the midfield.

Still, that did not come without a few points for improvement. Yaya Touré struck Manchester City’s first goal following the failure to clear out the area in front of Liverpool’s goal, while a huge, huge, huge defensive lapse from Martin Skrtel allowed Carlos Tevez to score one-on-one against Pepe Reina.

With how Liverpool played, we surely didn’t deserve just a draw, but our errors proved to be too costly. Also, there were too many dangerous back passes, which Manchester City could have easily capitalized on, if they were in their A-game.

That said, I remain optimistic with what Brendan Rodger could do for this team, and with Nuri Sahin onboard for a one-year loan deal, we just might be able to make it to top-flight European football once again. Come on, you mighty Reds!

Also, Nuri Sahin has a fabulous first interview as a Liverpool player. In here, he talks about witnessing the Miracle of Istanbul firsthand and just how much Xabi Alonso loves Liverpool.

Post-match apologetics and in defense of Luis Suarez.

In the lead-up to this particular Manchester United-Liverpool match, much has been said in view of the return of Luis Suarez following a long spell of a match ban stemming from racist allegations by Patrice Evra.

Of course, these two characters had to set the tone of the match, with Suarez refusing to shake Evra’s hand—naturally, Evra and practically the entire Manchester population had to make a big deal out of it and further vilify Suarez. If any of these maggots were thinking, why should Suarez be coerced into doing something that’s for show? I mean, if someone accused you of being a racist and helped effect an extended ban, why should you shake his hand when there are obviously no feelings of reconciliation?

On the flipside, if Evra were sincere with his gesture, he should have just accepted the cold shoulder and composed himself with grace—which clearly was missing when he yanked Suarez’s arm as he shook David de Gea’s hand.

(Of course, if you ask me for a PR perspective, it would probably have done Suarez better to just shake the cunt’s hand and let his performance on the pitch do the talking.)

Now let’s move onto the match. The first half was rather tentative, with the most entertaining moment being Evra and Rio Ferdinand bumping each other, resulting to Ferdinand going all upside-down. Liverpool’s defense kept up with a couple of shots on goal by Manchester United. The second half, however, was a different story. It was marked by two easy goals from Wayne Rooney (who looks like he had the hair plugs fixed to resemble a faux-hawk). Liverpool did not show up for a good portion of the second half, with Manchester United gaining more possession and more shots on goal.

Liverpool only began to fight in the last 10 minutes of the match, with Luis Suarez scoring at the 81st minute, to make the final score 2-1. Honestly, it didn’t feel like Liverpool was hungry enough for the match. No one else was there to make an impact.

What was more infuriating was how Evra was celebrating after the match. I wouldn’t say anything further about it, but just that he displayed sheer lack of class. At the end of the day, Suarez is still the bigger man than Evra.

Despite all the crap, you’ll never walk alone, Luis.

ETA: Suarez issues an apology.

Geez, Luis. Or more appropriately: FA, you wankers!

The FA has slapped Luis Suarez with an eight-match ban and £40,000 in fines for his alleged racial abuse of Manchester United defender Patrice Evra.

What’s sickening about this decision is that it was solely based on Evra’s statement, which was not even corroborated by anyone else on the pitch at that time. Moreover, Evra himself stated that he has made abusive remarks toward Suarez.

Now it begs the question, did the FA go beyond actually punishing Suarez for whatever he may have uttered (which also now takes into consideration cultural contexts—the said word does not have the same gravity as an insult in, say, Uruguay than it does in the UK) and actually made an example of Suarez (or more appropriately used him as a scapegoat to make it appear as though the FA are doing something about racism in the sport)? Is it really about appropriate punishments or more toward flexing political muscles?

Eight matches?! This is quite a double whammy. Suarez and Liverpool would potentially have the “racist” tag next to their names (a horror!), and the FA have effectively neutralized Liverpool’s top attacking option. What fucking wankers.

Yes, Luis. We also find the FA’s decision to be absolutely unbe-fucking-lievable.

Who said weekends were for rest?

Who said weekends were for rest? Not if you’re a football player and a football supporter. I managed to catch three games this weekend (well, it doesn’t even feel like Sunday has already started), so let’s start breaking them down.

Loyola Meralco Sparks – Philippine Air Force
It’s the UFL Cup Finals, and I hauled my ass to Rizal Memorial Stadium to see it live. If the action in the quarterfinals and semifinals were an indication, the final match between these two teams proved to be high on entertainment value.

Ian Araneta scored a goal toward the tail end of the first half to give Air Force the lead 1-0, and boy, there were fireworks already at the Stadium (someone’s upped the production value, I suppose?). One thing to note about the Air Force team—their defense was solid. Goalkeeper Tats Mercado played a stellar game and had solid support from his teammates to deny the Sparks (still can’t get over the girliness of the team name—but it’s so appropriate for Phil Younghusband) a goal.

The second half saw early on a corner awarded to the Sparks—and what could have been the equalizing goal had it not been disallowed. Mark Hartmann was asked to retake the corner kick, and the moment his boot hit the ball, there are two realization (albeit the latter in hindsight): 1) the Sparks were not going to get this one in; and 2) from this moment on, the game was Air Force’s to win. To give credit to the Sparks, they probably had more chances on goal in the second half, but were denied for various reasons, including: Tats Mercado’s hands; the help defense of Air Force; and the crossbar.

And then you got the Air Force captain, bending it in like Bersales to seal the match in favor of the Air Force 2-0. There’s only one Yanti Bersales in Philippine football. And from then on, you can see defeat in the Sparks’ body language.

To see the semi-professional local league culminate the year with this much festivities is quite extraordinary (but I reckon a separate entry is needed for that).

As for me, I crossed the pitch in a state of semi-darkness—stadium lights mostly shut off (because the Meralco team lost, haha), a damp pitch (it was raining early on), and underneath some awesome fireworks.

I thought to myself, this would have been perfect if someone like Xabi Alonso were next to me. (Yeah, I can dream.)

Liverpool – Queens Park Rangers
Let me point out the outrage. ESPN/Star listed Liverpool-QPR on its programme schedules, only to air Manchester United-Wolverhampton Wanderers on TV. Two words: high treason.

In any case, the highlight of the match was Luis Suarez, who made the breakthrough against QPR goalkeeper Radek Cerny early in the second half. Despite the charges files against him before the FA, Suarez continues to put on superb performances for the Red Men. (And really, he can only be more explosive.) This man has the potential to be a Liverpool legend—we can only hope he won’t be lured by the big money anywhere else.

Here’s a video reel of the highlight from Empire of the Kop—essentially, Luis Suarez.

Real Madrid – Barcelona
Ah, El Clasico. Nobody escapes without experiencing a couple of heart attacks. Real Madrid were heavily favored coming into this game—a ten-match winning streak and top of the tables in La Liga, which was stamped by the earlier goal in El Clasico history: a Karim Benzema goal 23 seconds into a match.

The Men in White pressed for the first third of the match, until Marcelo deflected Xavi’s attempt to turn it 1-1 before the halftime. Interestingly enough, we’ve got a couple of monkey wrenches on Real Madrid’s starting XI: Lassana Diarra starting and Fabio Coentrao playing right back.

Credit Barcelona for making tactical changes, which Real Madrid were not quite able to adapt to. Cesc Fabregas dropped back from being the front line of attack, while Alexis (who now holds the Drama Queen title in this Barcelona squad) is not just attacking from the left, but making runs on both sides. Sergio Busquets dropped to the back four, while Dani Alves (barf) is given a more attacking role. And where did that leave Messi? Let’s just say nobody wearing white was able to contain him to tonight—I miss Ricardo Carvalho.

Sure, Karim Benzema scored the opening goal, but there was little impact from the rest of Real Madrid’s attackers. Di Maria obviously was working hard, but could not finish, Ozil—well, I thought he eventually faded, and as for Cristiano, he was invisible tonight. There was hardly an attack on the left wing in the first half—and his second half performance is pretty much reminiscent to what I feel and see when Phil Younghusband is playing for the Philippine National Team. Frustrating all around.

Even more frustrating? Real Madrid’s defense. Of the back four, I’d rate Fabio Coentrao’s performance the highest, despite being played out-of-position. Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, and Pepe—que pasa??? Kaka came on for Ozil (and had a good few touches), Sami Khedira came on for Lass, and Pipita came on for Di Maria (still think he should have come on for Cristiano instead). Uninspiring substitutions—and I feel especially bad for Pipita, who should have a happier birthday. Barcelona had two unanswered goals in the second half, making the final scoreline 3-1.

That said, there should be a long post-mortem between Mourinho and his cold-blooded enforcers. On the bright side, the outcome of this match doesn’t decide La Liga. As for me, all I want is togive Xabi Alonso a tight hug after the match—he looked so defeated. And Iker—oh boy, oh boy, I wouldn’t want to face his wrath.

But wait, Kaka was a bit of an inspiration tonight:

En los buenas y malas, Hala Madrid!

ETA: You all know that Don Andres Iniesta is quite the legend, right? Well, here’s one more feather to add to his cap. (Sure gives Beckham a run for his money over the Golden Balls title. Haha.)

A Winning Weekend, Finally!

I’ve got a lot on my plate this weekend, such as an article to transcribe and some interviews to do content analysis on. However, nothing can and will take away my weekend basketball, rugby, and of course, football.

Basketball
Let me just out myself and say that I do (not-so-secretly) root for the Blue Eagles—and they pretty much demolished the Tamaraws in the first game of the UAAP Finals. One more game, and the defending champions are bringing home the UAAP men’s basketball crown to Loyola Heights once more.

Rugby
I’ve been making a point to catch the All Blacks’ games, and yes, they made me follow rugby (shame I’ve yet to see the Volcanoes in action—and I don’t mean the action of the billboard type). They did great versus France, 37-17. Snaps:

Football
Liverpool beat the Wolverhampton Wanderers at Anfield, 2-1, and the Reds came out firing. The goals were courtesy of a Johnson deflection of Charlie Adam’s shot, and a brilliant goal from Luis Suarez, who was on fire the entire time he was on the pitch. Relentless, I’d say—-to the point where he had a bit of a hissy fit when substituted out for Steven Gerrard. Andy Carroll, I thought, in the first half, looked more like the player equivalent to what Liverpool paid for him. In the second half, he wasn’t much of a factor—but as it is, he better play and play and play until he stamps his class (at least for the time that’s given to him).

Now let’s talk about Steven Gerrard. He came on during the Carling Cup match versus Brighton, which I missed. This is pretty much the first time I’ve seen him since… lord knows when. The last game he started was back in March. As for class, it was a very inspired 10-minute appearance from Captain Fantastic, with some brilliant runs with Dirk Kuyt and a shot that just went wide over the net. Overall, a good game for the lads, and I’m still waiting for Andy Carroll to blow me away.

 

Over in Spain, I was beginning to wonder if there was something brewing internally that made Real Madrid lose five points in two matches. Then again, the whole La Liga table was been pretty interesting after jornada 4. In any case, if I ever had doubts, these were erased as the men in white powered over Rayo Vallecano, 6-2. It was a slow start for Real Madrid, however, with Michu beating the defense to follow up a shot that was earlier parried by Iker Casillas—all within the first minute of play. Madrid got their scoring going with a Ronaldo hat-trick (the first goal with an assist from Kaka; the second a penalty kick, because Kaka was brought down; the third another penalty kick because he was brought down), Higuain (off a Xabi Alonso free kick, headed by Ramos for Higuain to easily net), Varane (with a nifty backheel kick in front of the goal to softly lob it over the keeper), and Benzema (off an Özil assist).

Midway through this jornada, it’s Real Betis at the top of the table, followed by Barcelona (ugh), Sevilla,  Real Madrid, and Valencia. And for those wondering, Athletic Bilbao are in 17th.

Some Somber Notes
The Philippine National Basketball Team lost to Jordan. The medal hopes are still live, as they’ve got to battle it out for 3rd. Go Gilas!

In Chelsea’s match versus Manchester United last Sunday, Fernando Torres scored a goal and then missed a golden opportunity in front of a wide open net to score another. Torres decides to bite karma in the ass by scoring a goal against Swansea. Karma decides to bite his pretty ass once more when, after scoring a goal, he is shown a red card for a two-footed (swan-like) tackle. Oh freckles.