Friday, August 20, 2010

Travels abroad: The opening of Chivas' new stadium

I am a diehard Chivas fan. Those who know me can attest to this fact seeing as I rarely go a week without donning the 'rojiblanca' jersey. The reasons behind my fandom are intricate and longwinded and deserve a post of their very own. For the purposes of this post, however, just know that my family in Mexico is red and white through and through. This benefitted me supremely this summer when I took my annual pilgrimage to Guadalajara. For you see, for the first time in 60 years, Chivas would not be calling the historic Estadio Jalisco home any more. A new stadium, one that had been promised for over a decade, was built and Chivas was to move in. My family, namely my grandma, my grandpa, and my uncle Tony, had the foresight to buy into the promise of a new stadium and had bought seats in the new stadium before any concrete had been poured. They bought three seats at midfield in the 200's section and consequently now own them for five years.

Well, a little known team named Manchester United was invited to come play and to christen the new stadium with their prestige and elegant play and guess who had the good fortunate to witness it firsthand. As you can tell by the picture above, this guy. My grandma gave me her ticket and allowed me to experience probably the greatest sporting game/experience I have ever seen in person. This is a little taste of what I got to experience. (Click on the pictures to see them at full size)

6 men in one cutlass is a tight fit. Being the youngest and smallest, I squeezed in to the front seat with my grandpa.

Traffic was beyond terrible. It took 10 minutes to get to within a mile of the stadium. It took 50 to get into the parking lot. Let's just say, having one entrance for 45,000 is not the smartest thing in the world.

Nearing the stadium now. Such a thrilling experience. The structure is supposed to represent a volcano with clouds above it. I'm not sure it does, but I am sure I fell in love with it.

Parking was 60 pesos. Only about $5.50. Not bad for a world class exhibition.

"The boys" From left to right: my uncle Oscar, uncle Luis, Uncle Tony, me, grandpa, uncle Hector.

Just take in this picture. The colors, the people, the stadium itself. There was so much electricity in the crowd.

We had to wait in line for about 25 minutes because they were patting down every single person before entering. It would have taken a lot longer but they opened a pat-down station real close to us while we were in line and we jumped into the newly formed line.

My breathtaking first look at the field. Wow doesn't even begin to describe it.

The crowded, yet spacious concourses at the new stadium.

The view from our seats. Not shabby eh?

Stadium shots with over 4 hours left until game time.

A very elaborate opening ceremony. Not my thing though. I just wanted to watch the game already.

By far the coolest sight of the night. They gave us little plastic cards the size of a small poster board and told us when to put them up, creating the first ever mega-mosaic in Mexican history.


They also gave us a t-shirt to give the stadium the whole red and white striped look. This is my beloved Chivas taking the field against Manchester United, with Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez playing his last half as a member of Guadalajara.

Chivas played a phenomenal first half and took a 2-1 lead to the intermission. Ee saw a lot of this in the half, the Red Devils pinned in their own end. Fittingly, Chicharito scored the first goal of the stadium and the place was deafeningly loud. No pictures of the celebrating crowd though because I was too busy screaming and hugging everyone.

Blurry, I know but still worth seeing. The building played host to a fantastic soiree worthy of the best club in Mexico. Chivas won 3-2 and even though a few substitutions were made in the second half, 11 by Chivas and 6 by Man U, it was still an exciting affair.

I will never forget this night. Tremendous on all accounts.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Mere memories remain

(From the Reporter newspaper website)
By Andrei Greska

Emptiness. That's the only way to describe the feelings North American soccer fans held after last weekend's sad performances by Mexico and the United States at the World Cup. After four years of excitement and anticipation, the curtains have closed for the neighboring nations.

The U.S. was bounced out by Ghana for the second consecutive World Cup, again losing by a score of 2-1. The game this year though was much more contested than that of four years ago. Landon Donovan tied the game on a penalty kick in the second half and sent the game into extra time. However, Ghana scored two minutes into the first overtime. America's achilles heel had shown itself once again. The U.S. allowed goals in the first 15 minutes in three of its four games in South Africa. Down a goal and looking physically spent, the U.S. could not mount a comeback and missed a once in lifetime opportunity to reach the semifinals.

Mexico crashed out in the Round of 16 of the World Cup for the fifth consecutive time, and at the hands of Argentina for the second consecutive time. This match was nothing like the 2006 meeting in Leipzig, Germany, though. The Argentines scored in the 20th minute in a clear offsides position, causing the Mexicans to lose concentration and concede another a few minutes later. Carlos Tevez blasted a third goal at the start of the second half, putting the game out of reach. Mexico's lone bright spot was Javier Hernandez, the Manchester United signee who struck a morale-saving goal in the 70th minute. Mexico was severely outplayed throughout the match and came home without fulfilling it goal of getting to a fifth game.

Both countries will now watch the rest of the World Cup with a tinge of remorse, wishing it was their countries battling for the title. They will only have these memories to tide them over the next two weeks and the next four years:

Landon Donovan scores in stoppage time against Algeria In 20 years, this will still be remembered as the moment in which America cared about soccer. I'm not saying this is the moment which will make America fall in love with the sport, that has been erroneously predicted for the past 30 years. However, there is no denying the joy that America felt when Donovan slotted the ball home to send the Americans into the knockout stages. A quick Youtube search is all the proof you need.

Javier Hernandez scores his first World Cup goal Hernandez, also known as Chicharito which is Spanish for little pea, is Mexico's next great hope. A rising star with club team Chivas de Guadalajara winning the scoring title even though he only played nine of the 16 games, Hernandez was signed by club giants Manchester United. He instantly became the hottest thing since sliced bread in Mexico and was expected to lead his team to glory. Unfortunately, he wasn't given the starting spot in the opening games but he showed his worth scoring a game winning goal against France only 10 minutes after he had come on as a sub. The goal was his first ever in a World Cup and made headlines even in England.

English Goalkeeper Robert Green commits the gaffe of the tournament Down a goal and being completely outmatched, the U.S. was in trouble against the mighty English team. And then lightning struck. In great play by Clint Dempsey, twirling past his defender twice, Dempsey unleashed a dribbler, a very weak shot on goal that all goalies in the world, no matter what age could stop. Except Robert Green. The English keeper fumbled the ball, bouncing it off his chest and into the goal. It was one of the few fortunate breaks the U.S. would receive in the tournament but one that will forever be known as Greene's Gaffe.

Mexico opens the World Cup It's not the greatest memory in the world for Mexican fans. Up against host South Africa, a team only ranked 83rd in the world, Mexico had to come from behind and was lucky to come away with a tie. However, the game as a whole will be remembered for historic purposes. It was only the second time Mexico opened the World Cup and the first time since 1986 when it hosted the tournament. All eyes focused on Johannesburg, where the Bafana Bafana gave El Tri all that they could handle.

Comeback kings This is more than one memory, it is the tournament for the U.S. summed up. The U.S. fell behind in three of four of its games and came from behind to at least tie every single time. They set a new World Cup record coming back from a 2-0 deficit at halftime against Slovenia to tie the game at 2 (and win it, but a glaring decision by the referee invalidated a legitimate goal in the 86th minute). America won admiration from the worldwide press for its never-say-die attitude and its uncanny ability to score goals in closing minutes. The U.S. might have been bounced out, but there is no doubt they left it all out on the field each and every game, and at the end of the day, that's all you can ask for from your team.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Second Week Thoughts

"You're doing that mighty well coach."

The second round of group play of the 2010 World Cup is just about in the books, and it couldn't have been any more different than the first round. There has been intrigue, upsets, scandals and most importantly, goals. Lots and lots of goals. The first round had only 25 Jabulanis find the back of the net. In comparison, with one game to go, 39 goals have been scored in this round for an average of 2.44 a game. Increased scoring has brought renewed excitement to what was a dull tournament. More goals, however, are just the introduction into what has been a fascinating week of soccer. Here are the top three story lines from around the world.

1)France does what it does best: quit
France came into the tournament in the most controversial fashion possible, beating Ireland 2-1 in a playoff on a Thierry Henry handball. They are determined to leave the World Cup in the same manner. It is no secret that French Coach Raymond Domenech is not well-liked in France. Not by the fans, not by the players, not even by his employers the French Football Federation, who already hired his successor for after the World Cup. Things hit a new low this weekend, though. Star striker Nicolas Anelka, upset with his boss' decision to sub him off in France's match with Mexico, let Domenech hear about it in the locker room at half time going off in a profanity-laced rant. That did not go over well with the French skipper who threw Anelka off the team and sent him packing.
This wasn't enough drama for the French, though, they wanted more. Captain Patrice Evra went to the press saying there was a traitor in the locker room who disclosed the rift between coach and player and that he would be found and punished. Apparently Evra found him in the form of fitness coach Robert Duverne. Evra confronted Duverne who had none of it and quit the team, marching off the practice field and throwing his credentials to the ground. This still was not enough drama for the Frenchies. The team, in an act of "solidarity" walked off the practice field, refusing to train, in a show of support for the exiled Anelka. Now that my friends, is prima donnas at their finest. Can you imagine this ever happening in the United States? Only in the World Cup can a reigning world power act like a bunch of babies. The French newspaper Le Parisien said it best, "To have the worst football team at the World Cup was already unbearable. To also have the most stupid is intolerable … The mutiny at Knysna will forever remain the Waterloo of French football."

2)Power Outage
Did I forget to mention that France lost the game against Mexico and is now almost assuredly out of the World Cup? Yea, that happened too. France currently sits in a tie for last place in group A with South Africa. In order to advance, they would need a victory over the host nation in their final match as well as a lopsided score in favor of either Uruguay or Mexico. Chances of that happening, slim to none. France is not the only super power in serious danger of embarrassing elimination. Italy, the reigning world champions, have only managed two draws in what was widely considered the easiest group in the tournament. After tying Paraguay 1-1 in their opener, the "Azzuri" let fearsome New Zealand score first and had to rely on a phantom penalty kick to avoid the ignominy of being the victim of the Kiwis' first ever World Cup victory. Italy now faced Slovakia and must win in order to advance. The Italians should take care of the Slovakians without much difficulty, then again, that's exactly what they said about their first two opponents.
Joining the underachieving club is England, the father of all underachievers. They too could only muster a tie against the fearsome Algerian squad that hasn't scored a goal in the World Cup since 1986. Sitting with two points in group C, a loss by the "Three Lions" would leave them out of the knockout stages for the first time since 1958. I can't wait to see the headlines in London if and when that happens. Rounding out the struggling powers are Germany and Spain. Germany was unfortunate in their 1-0 loss to Serbia and still might advance, but they need a draw or a win to assure themselves of a spot in the final 16. Spain plays later today, attempting to bounce back from a shocking 1-0 loss to Switzerland. They must beat Honduras and still have to take on a surging Chile after that.

3)"disMALI" refereeing
We all have little bias towards our home teams and feel that referees always have it out for us. However, there is no bias when I say the United States got robbed by Malian referee Koman Couliably. None. We got screwed, hosed, jobbed, whatever you want to call it. The U.S. had made one of the greatest comebacks in World Cup, overcoming a 2-0 half-time deficit against Slovenia to tie it up on a goal by Michael Bradley. I'll let the one and only Peter King take it from here:
"With the score tied at 2 in the 86th minute, the United States had a direct kick on the Slovenian side of the field. There was much pushing and shoving in front of the goal, both before the ball was in the air and while it flew toward the net. Replays showed three American players being bearhugged by Slovenians -- and Americans, in the case of at least two scrums, hugging back. But in the case of an earlier hero, midfielder Michael Bradley, Slovenian Aleksander Radosavljevic did his best Ray Lewis imitation, practically dragging Bradley down just feet from the goal. As the ball fell to earth, American sub Maurice Edu pounced on it, flicking it hard into the net for what appeared to be the winning goal. But in his first World Cup game, referee Koman Coulibaly, from the landlocked West African country of Mali, ran into the fray and blew off the goal. At least four Americans tried to find out what the call was. But Coulibaly, who, according to several U.S. players was all but mute during the game (a rarity in world-class games, they say), didn't inform either side what call he made. We still do not know what the infraction was that Coulibaly called, and under the idiotic rules of FIFA, Coulibaly doesn't have to say what the infraction was. He might go to his grave with it."
The goal would have given the U.S. the victory and almost assured them of their qualification to the knockout stage, but one blind official ruined it for the Americans. "We waited our whole lives for this, and you feel like it was taken from you,'' said goalkeeper Tim Howard.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

First Round Reactions

From The Reporter web-site, written by yours truly.

By Andrei Greska

One round of group play of Africa's first World Cup is officially in the books and there is only one thing that comes to mind: Snoozefest.

I'm sure by now you have read all about the dreaded vuvuzela, the plastic horn driving fans bonkers with its incessant bee-like hum, as well as the fearsome Jabulani, the new adidas ball criticized by everyone from the players to the water boys.

The fact is, the only reason such a big deal was made about both is because the play on the pitch has been nothing to write home about, so writers don't. Scoring is down, teams are playing too defensively and referees are having outstanding performances during this tournament. The soccer played has not been of the highest quality, resulting in too many low-scoring ties.

Nevertheless, the first round of group play was not without its interesting plot lines. Here are the top four:

Switzerland beats Spain
Do you remember the 1997 Bulls team? You know, the one that won an NBA record 72 games and is widely considered as the greatest regular season team ever. Well, Spain is the '97 Bulls on steroids. They don't have a Michael Jordan on their team, instead they have 10 Scottie Pippins. Every single player on that team can ball. In fact, in the past two years, they played 50 games and lost exactly one game, to the United States no less. They were heavy favorites against the Swiss, who while not completely incompetent, are not a world power by any stretch of the imagination.

But that my friends, is why they play the games. Spain attacked and attacked and attacked some more, outshooting Switzerland 24-8. The ball simply refused to go in. Then in the 75th minute, a long ball skipped over the Spain defense, rattled around in the box and ended up in the back of the Spanish. It proved to be enough as the game ended 1-0, handing Spain a shocking defeat and the biggest upset in the World Cup since Senegal beat France in 2002.

U.S. beats England 1-1
I know you can't win by a score of 1-1, but the draw against England sure felt like a win for the United States. After falling behind in the fourth minute when Steven Gerrard slotted home a great ball, the U.S. rallied and controlled much of the first half. It paid off near the end when Clint Dempsey put a weak shot on goal and England keeper Robert Green committed the gaffe of the year, allowing the ball to bounce off him and into the net. The U.S. held on in the second half as England put all hands on deck and went into full attack mode. The result puts the U.S. in great position to advance to the next round for the first time since 2002. They play two relatively easy teams now in Slovenia and Algeria and should post W's for both of them.

North Korea impresses
It's hard to root for North Korea. Their dictator is a menace to the world, their army is about to start a war with South Korea and their country is sealed off to everyone else. Yet here was this plucky team, up against five time World Cup Champion and No. 1 ranked team, Brazil. This was going to get ugly. North Korea was ranked 105th in the world, hadn't been to a World Cup since 1966 and even had to train in a public gym in South Africa. After on half, the score was 0-0. No matter what happened the rest of the match, they could hold their heads up high knowing they held Brazil scoreless for 45 minutes. The game ended 2-1 in favor of the South Americans, but North Korea won respect from the rest of the soccer world.

South African celebration
South Africa is the weakest team ever to play host to the World Cup. Ranked 83rd in the world, most predicted it would become the first host nation to not advance from group play. It opened against Mexico, not a power but definitely respected nation when it comes to the beautiful game. At first Mexico dominated, playing keep-away for the first 20 minutes. South Africa gained confidence as the game progressed and in the 55th minute, launched a lethal breakaway that ended with a rocket shot in the upper 90 to send the stadium and the nation as a whole into a tizzy. Although it could not hold on for the victory, the tie gave the Bafana Bafana reason to believe it could continue to perform well at the biggest stage.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

At long last, my reactions to a 1-1 'loss'

The first round is only a few games from being completed and I have yet to write a single word about it. Not Mexico, not the U.S., not Germany, no one. This stems from my deep disappointment with Mexico in the opening match against South Africa. They shit the bad. Pardon my French but that is the best way to describe it. They came out fast and furious, nearly scoring in the second minute, then after 20 minutes of completely possessing the game, they wilted. Sure, they had a much better first half than South Africa, but that was not the same team that beat Italy and almost ripped South Africa a new one. This was the old Mexico, the one that gets tense in close encounters and forgets how to play. It was disappointing to say the least. It was disheartening.

It only got worse when Tshabalala broke past the back line and lazered in the best goal of the tournament thus far. Just imagine, the last goal scored on Mexico was Maxi's miracle, now this? Kill me now. You want to know the worst part, I didn't watch the game live. I angered the Mexican soccer Gods and they punished me for it. Instead of watching the game I have been dreaming about for four years, I went to the Blackhawks parade. I'd do it again too. Had I watched the game live, I might have passed out. Seriously, I would have turned off the TV, that's how much confidence I have in this team. So in the end, I am expecting the worst from my green men, and praying for the best. I've been let down too many times. It's sad to say, but Mexico's weak showing has dampened the whole competition for me. Bummer.

Here are three thoughts from the disappointing point gained against the host nation:

1) Franco must sit. He had three point blank chances and didn't convert. He had his shot and proved what most knew all along, he's not a big game player. He's done at West-Ham and will probably move to a European Minnow or Mexican team for next season. He makes good runs so he is not completely useless, but his finishing is subpar, to say the least. Thanks for your time Guille, but your moment has passed.

2) Chicharito has to start. I find it funny that coach Javier Aguirre trusted an aging striker with little future over the crown-jewel of Mexican soccer. There is a reason Manchester United signed Chicharito and it's not because he sits on the bench well. He puts balls in the back of the net. Period. He isn't tested, he is not a veteran, and he has yet to prove anything at the World Cup, but that doesn't matter. He needs the chance to prove himself. Give him the start Aguirre, or all the players will be watching the rest of the tournament from their behinds.

3.) Dos Santos is the best player we got. Chicharito may be the future, but Gio Dos Santos is the now. I know they are the same age, but Dos Santos proved he brings the most to the table of anyone on the field. His dashing runs and tremendous skill saw him terrorize the South African back line. Had his shot in the opening minutes not been deflected away from goal, Dos Santos would be the name you would be hearing the most. He is special, and hopefully he can keep playing at that level the rest of the World Cup.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Disappointed, yet relieved

The Goals...

The Full Highlights...

Before the game...

Mexican National Anthem...

South African National Anthem...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

More World Cup Hype

From the online edition of The Reporter newspaper by yours truly.

Do you remember what you were doing on June 25, 1998? Doubt it. Most people couldn’t tell you what they ate for breakfast yesterday. I was 7-and-a-half years old and I can still recall it as if it happened this morning.

Seated around my grandparents’ kitchen table in Guadalajara, Mexico, my whole family erupted in delirious bliss as Luis Hernandez of Mexico scored a miracle goal in the third minute of stoppage time against Holland to tie the game at two, sending Mexico into the knockout stages.

This was the equivalent of the Doug Flutie “Hail Mary” play, or Michael Jordan’s shot over Craig Ehlo, only 20 times bigger. It wasn’t just a team or a city being lifted, it was the entire country. At our small kitchen, it was pure pandemonium as hugs and screams reigned supreme. Mexico had done the impossible and I had front row seats. I haven’t missed a Mexico game since.

That’s the World Cup for you. It sounds so cliché to say it’s more than a game, but it truly is. It’s a matter of life and death.

During the 1998 edition in France, 151 people were treated for “football related problems” at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in Scotland. Heart attacks also increased by 25 percent on the day and in the two days after England lost to Argentina in penalty kicks.

It didn’t get any better in 2002. Reports show heart attacks increased by 60 percent in Switzerland during the World Cup, and they weren’t even in the competition!

It’s not all gloom and doom though. Heart attacks actually dropped in France when its national team won the whole shebang. That’s the amount of emotion invested in this tournament. A loss might kill you, but a victory could save your life.

Now, I know these are all examples from outside the U.S. There just isn’t that emotional investment in this country, yet.

This summer is an opportunity for the sleeping giant to wake. The U.S. has one of its best teams in terms of talent, with over half the team plying their trade in the upper echelons of European soccer. Landon Donovan is back to his world-beating 2002 form, showing he can play with the big boys with his successful loan-spell at Everton. Clint Dempsey is scoring unfathomable goals for Fulham, and will played in the Europa Cup Champioship last month. Phenom Jozy Altidore is a man amongst boys and proved that even at the tender age of 20, he can compete with the best in the world.

Unlike the 2006 fiasco where it faced three stud teams, it has a manageable group with England, Algeria and Slovenia as its first round opponents. Soccer-wise, this is a great opportunity to jump on the bandwagon without fearing you will be left with egg on your face.

The intangibles make 2010 the year of the U.S. fan as well. South Africa is only seven hours ahead, meaning the games will be on TV at a reasonable hour. All 64 matches will be broadcast in HD for the first time ever. And for an even more enhanced viewing experience for the rich people out there, put the 3D glasses on because ESPN is unveiling the world’s first 3D network by broadcasting 25 World Cup games in three dimensions.

So come June 12, plunk yourself in front of the big screen. The match against England will be the most watched soccer game in the history of the U.S., guaranteed. You do not want to miss out on that.

Who knows, you may fall in love and make some memories of your own.