Thursday, March 12, 2009

The worst way to watch a shootout

I imagine that across the pond, Champions League football is kind of like Monday Night Football was here, in its heyday. It’s a midweek spectacle pitting the biggest clubs in the world against one another—clubs from other leagues that ONLY ever play each other in Champions League competition—in prime time.

It’s a big enough deal that ESPN broadcasts the games live here in the States. Unfortunately, they’re smack in the middle of the workday. Not to mention the Manchester United bandwagon is so effing full that they’re always going to get the air time ahead of my Gunners.

So yesterday I was stuck following the Roma v. Arsenal match online. In the knockout round, they play two matches, one at each venue, with the aggregate score used to decide the winner. In the event of a draw, away goals are the first tie-break, followed by extra time, and then penalties.

Arsenal went in with a 1-0 lead from their home leg but quickly went down 0-1 at Roma. Both teams squandered chances and finished deadlocked, each having scored a goal at home. Nobody scored in extra time, so it went to penalties.

Right as the penalty shootout got underway, UTRider walked over to my desk to ask if I wanted to go to the bakery next door. I declined. I couldn’t leave the game, even though there was no video, and reading a live match report of penalty shots is nothing more than unbearable suspense punctuated with matter-of-fact descriptions of the action: “Toure for Arsenal. Toure scores!” Followed by 30 excruciating seconds until the next update.

The worst part was that Rachel was at home doing the same thing and IMing me. But her gamecast was somehow ahead of mine, so she’d “cheer” before I knew what happened.

The shootout went on for ages. Arsenal missed their first, Roma missed their second, but then neither team missed for the next 11 tries. Halfway through, UTRider comes back and hands me a donut that I didn’t want but couldn’t resist (all part of his plan to keep me as plump as possible for cycling season). I nervously scarfed it down. I’m pretty sure it had cream in the dough. So now the nervous pit in my stomach had heavy, sugary, doughy goodness trying futilely to sooth it.

Finally Tonetto sent one over the bar and it was all over. I didn’t like Arsenal’s chances in penalties, but somehow they squeaked through.

The funny thing about European football is that for as big a bunch of pansies as the players are, what with guys getting hauled off on stretchers over a bump on the shin and tripping over mere blades of grass, the fans sure are rough. An Arsenal fan was allegedly stabbed by one of Roma’s Ultras on the way to the match, while Inter Milan manager Jose Mourinho is in hot water after an altercation with a fan at Old Trafford.

3 comments: