Halftime: I arrive at my neighborhood soccer bar with three distinct goals in mind:
1) Avoid making any facile written statements in the well-worn (by me) “isn’t globalization interesting” / “here is a fascinating insight into the state of soccer in America” / “check me out, I went to fucking GRAD SCHOOL and here is the awful proof” vein. Suffice it to say the bar is packed and there are a bunch of chirpy Japanese kids who appear to support Inter sitting just behind me. We live in an international world and all that.
2) Check out the effect of the Big Volcano Bus Ride on Barcelona’s game. Based on the limp performance against Espan-who?, I fear FCB may have reached its, whaddyacallit, apotheosis (or zenith or crest or “high point”) against Arsenal and Real Madrid and may now succumb to the inevitable hazards of time and chance forecast for all men by the hit-making writing partnership behind Ecclesiastes.
3) Endeavor to make a $6 pint of Guinness stout last for 45 minutes, bringing my cost/minute ratio down to something like 13 cents per minute, i.e. just about one-fifth cent per second, i.e. essentially free. This is how I buy all my alcohol these days, and I’ve found it makes drinking an amazing bargain.
Halftime: Eric Wynalda speaks silently through the first-half highlights, as the bar mercifully opts for some light Celtic music. (It’s that kind of place. The aforementioned $6 Guinnie arrives with one of those artful shamrocks carved in the foam. And do I touch it? I do not. No drinking until kick-off.) These highlights reveal some amazingly bad, stagnant defending by both sides, then give way to an advert for the KFC Double Down, which seems oddly appropriate.
I am, by the way, sitting at the bar and taking notes in one of those little Moleskine notebooks for later transcription into cyberspace. Am I ashamed? Not a bit of it.
46: I can already tell that something is not quite right with Barcelona. They look awkward and lumber-legged. They look, in fact, a little like my Portland Futsal Men’s Division Three team, the Mighty Unicorns, which took a hammering last week.
GOAL: Oh dear. Speaking of futsal, Maicon converts a bobbling ugliness into a goal with an indoor-style toe-poke past Valdes. The Barcelona defense does not look like it has much snap, does it? Oooh, and isn’t that Maicon a piece of manhood? He’s built like a KFC Double Down.
51: In this crazy world, it’s nice to know you can count on some things. Carlos Puyol maintains his treasured one booking/game streak. I am reliably informed this means he will be suspended for the second leg, which means I will try to place a hefty bet on Barcelona going through regardless of the outcome here.
56: There has got to be some kind of incisive, gilt-edged football-as-metaphor metaphor in an exchange that pits Javier Zanetti against Lionel Messi, and not just because Zanetti looks like a 1930s Italian Futurist’s conception of a footballer and Messi looks like a 1930s Walt Disney conception of a footballer. But I’m afraid I don’t know enough about the sport to make it. The good news: I’ve barely touched the pint. The shamrock still looks mint. Maybe I’ll try to sell it to the Japanese kids, taking advantage of their alleged national mania for collecting Western pop-culture trinkets.
60: How much of Pedrito will survive this game?
62: GOAL: The clever lad in me says: Milito finally figures out how to bag a sitter! Just run a yard offside and wait for the ball to bounce off your head! Well, okay, fine—it was offside, as all the Barca players running around with their hands in the air, screaming like they just don’t care, would have one know. But here’s the deal, fellas: as is writ in Ecclesiastes, SHIT HAPPENS. If you play like that, the other team is going to put the ball in the net. You have no one to blame but yourselves, that idiot linesman and the FIFA conspiracy against video replay.
65: I think: is this game being played in molasses? Then I remember: no, just in Italy. HA HA HA! Seriously, though—did the Inter groundskeeper apply some kind of high-tech stick-um to the grass? No one seems able to run. I know that’s part of the game plan for Mourinho’s boys, but it’s seriously impeding my ability to think deep thoughts about the Nature of Art while watching Barcelona.
67: Check it out! Guardiola is standing just like I’m sitting! No Moleskine notebook, though. He’s a man’s man.
69: The terraces begin to emanate that shrill Italian whistling thing I found so exotic when I was a kid.
70: Maicon (double) down! At least Messi has done something, as he shatters his opponent’s face with his shoulder. Small, but densely built.
72: Balotelli comes on, which means something hilarious might happen, starting with his haircut. Can you tell I’m working my way through this pint? I am.
79: I just did a count, as part of my Big Year project, and tallied up 10,000 Internazionale Milan players, distinguishable by their blue shirts, in the penalty area.
83: Many observers credit this Barcelona side with inventing a new way to play football. Well, they’re right. Here, for example, the Catalans devise an entirely new sport in which the object of the game is to completely circumnavigate the opposing team’s penalty area without taking a shot on goal. Call it Zen Football: the goal is to realize that there is no goal.
87: Pique. Discuss amongst yourselves.
88: Two minutes and approximately two ounces of Guinness remaining. But what about stoppage time?
91: The American FCB supporters behind me are earnestly explaining the away-goals rule to one another, which more or less sums up how the club’s evening is going.
92: Balotelli skies a volley into orbit and then, of course, makes a gesture that suggests he’s angry with the earth’s rotation.
94: Oh, the Inter fans sure are acting Italian.
Full Time: And so it ends! Alleged soulless pragmatist Jose Mourinho’s Inter comprehensively outwits and outplays the poetic scientist/magicians of Barcelona. Let 1,000 flowers blacken and die! Seriously, is this what a long bus ride does to a troupe of hyper-fit professional sportsmen? When I was a youngster, we’d take a two-day bus ride if there was the mere prospect of a spin the bottle game at the other end.
If there’s one team that can nail down a 2-0 home win, it’s Barcelona. If there’s one team that can reduce the return leg to an existential void from which there is no escape, it’s Inter. We’re all cued up, then, for Round Due.