He [Messi] was close, real close. I couldn't see him yet, but I could feel him, as if the subway train was being sucked towards Camp Nou and the tracks were being pulled back into the city. Whatever was going to happen, it wasn't gonna be the way they call it back in Wisconsin.
No, I’m not talking about Colonel Kurtz; I’m talking about Lionel Messi – the greatest ‘football’ player on the face of the earth.
Waiting for the last two years, I never thought I would have another opportunity to see him play live again. Tomorrow (Sunday), I will return to Camp Nou, one of the biggest stadiums in the world, as FC Barcelona takes on Osasuna, the worst team in La Liga. Expecting a massacre on the field, I hope Messi comes through with a goal. It will complete this 18 day journey…
However, Messi apparently had an injury Thursday night in the second leg of the Copa del Rey against Malaga; he was substituted in the 82nd minute. The club claims that the injury is not serious, but Messi did not practice yesterday.
Great, that’s all I need. Come all this way to see the greatest football player of my lifetime, and he’s sitting on the bench?! Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that…
Messi’s speed, passing, accuracy, and scoring are extraordinary skills that most football players cannot mirror. The man has a true gift, and unlike so many other superstars, he lives a pretty humble and quiet life (or so we think). He’s a special player with a special talent. When he gets the ball, let him go to work. When he doesn’t have the ball, he’s in position to strike when the opportunity presents itself. His team is an outstanding supporting cast of talented individuals. They, too, are superstars in their own respect. In general, Barcelona’s starting eleven is a well oiled machine, with very few flaws. It is why they are champions on a consistent basis, not only in Spain, but around the world. They are more than just the Yankees and Lakers of the world…They are ‘mes que un club’.
It’s been a week since I’ve written a blog. Obviously so much has happened between now and then, so I’ll try to recap my time in Munich and Barcelona. The game is Sunday, and I’ll fly home the following day. Still cannot believe how fast this trip has gone by, yet I feel like I’ve been here for months. Honestly, though, I’m ready to come home.
In Munich, I can say ate very well. Anticipating outstanding German cuisine, I didn’t have one bad meal when I was there. Almost every dinner consisted of schnitzel (either pork or veal), and almost every lunch consisted of a schnitzel sandwich. Although I’m not the biggest potato salad fan, I surely ate a ton of it. I also had my fair share of sausage, including bratwurst, bockwurst, and weisswurst. I even had something that look like pink bread – it was German meatloaf; you would have never have guessed it, but it was outstanding. Ironically, I didn’t drink as much beer as I thought I would. When I did, it was a lot of Hofbrau and Hachor Pschorr.
As for the sites in Munich, I experienced the Dachau Concentration Camp, an absolute fascinating, but depressing tour. It still amazes me how human beings have the power and will to exterminate millions of innocent human beings. We cannot forget these horrors…
Taking a two hour train ride south into the mountains of Bavaria, I also took a tour of the Neuschwanstein castle. It was built in the late 1800s for the king of Bavaria. The castle is absolutely amazing on the inside; everything – furniture, art, and the rooms – was in perfect condition. And yes, it kind of looks like Hogwarts.
In addition, I got a tour of the Allianz Arena, the home of Bayern Munich. Considering how big it is, it has the same capacity as Lambeau field (70,000 people). Did you know the media is allowed to drink alcohol? Yep. The pressroom there is enormous; it’s like the size of an auditorium. Behind it is a little cafeteria with a bar. Too bad we don’t have that luxury back home.
I also saw a Bayern Munich game. That was, by far, the coldest game I’ve ever been too. Plus, fans are allowed to smoke in the stadium. This resulted in a lot of second-hand smoke for yours truly. You can check out the game summary in my previous blog.
Did I mention the air was clean? Although it snowed almost every day, I have never inhaled cleaner air in my life!
As for Barcelona, I was looking forward to the change in climate. All this week, it’s been in the mid 50s to low 60s; the sun has been out every single day. While it was still way too cold to swim, I did hang out by the beach today (nothing like looking out at the Mediterranean Sea). Our hotel has a nice rooftop overlooking the city. I’ve spent my afternoons getting a lot of reading in from up there.
We’ve done a lot of walking as well, making tours to the Montjuic Castle which overlooks the Mediterranean Sea as well as Barcelona. We did a tour of the buildings and parks designed by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. Scattered across the city, they’re very unique in shape, size, and color. One of his famous creations, a mammoth cathedral called La Sagrada Familia, began construction in the late 1800s. IT’S STILL BEING BUILT TODAY! If you see this church in person, you will be convinced why they’re still working on it.
And of course, we got a tour FC Barcelona’s stadium Camp Nou…
All in all, it’s been an outstanding trip. It might be my last ever trip to Europe, but I’ve enjoyed every second of it. The culture, the food, the sites, and the football have been out of this world.
Besides, January is the perfect time to come, since there’s football on TV almost every day. When I haven’t been touring the sites or eating, I’m watching football in one of the local bars. Between the Premier League, English FA Cup, La Liga, Copa del Rey, and the German Bundesliga, I have been more into the sport than ever. I wonder what I’ll watch tonight…
Again, can’t wait to see Messi and company pounce on a crappy Osasuna squad.
To close my European Chronicles, I’ll use the opposite of what Kurtz said in Apocalypse Now…
Munich, Germany - Forward Mario Mandzukic came one goal short of a hat trick, as first place Bayern Munich roles over last place Greuther Furth 2-0 in a Bundesliga showdown at the Allianz Arena early Saturday night.
Bayern Munich (14-3-1, 45 points in the Bundesliga) started off a little slow against Greuther Furth, a team which is missing several players as well as a suspended manager. It took 26 minutes before Mario Mandzukic put Bayern on the board with a short shot from the center of the box into the right corner of the goal; Thomas Muller was on with the assist.
Extending the lead in the second half, Mandzukic scored again in the 61st minute with a header also from the center of the box, but this time into the left corner of the goal to make it 2-0 Bayern.
Greuther Furth (1-6-11, 9 points in the Bundesliga) played better than most expected. Despite possessing the ball for only 23% of the time, Furth’s defense did a solid job from turning this game into a bloodbath. Although Bayern had 22 total shots in the game, just five were on target; the Furth defense did the best they could, keeping Bayern from shooting inside the box, especially when Bayern had 17 corner kicks in the game (Furth had zero). Furth goalkeeper Wolfgang Hesl also had three saves in the game.
Staying nine points ahead of second place Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich continues Bundesliga action next Sunday on the road against ninth place Stuttgart (7-4-7, 25 points). Meanwhile, trying to fight their way out of relegation, Greuther Furth returns home to host seventh place Mainz (8-3-7, 27 points) next Saturday.
I’ll continue my football chronicles in the next couple of days. I’ll recap my time in Munich and preview the one thing I’ve been dying to see this whole trip…a Barcelona game. Stay tuned!
For the record, I’m an Arsenal fan (in the Premier League).
I’m a Bayern Munich fan (in the Bundesliga).
And most importantly, I’m a Barcelona fan (in La Liga).
Last Saturday, I watched the Premier League matchup between Fulham and Wigan. You can check out the game report in the previous blog I wrote. As the week progressed and the rescheduling of matches came into focus, there were two more matches I saw before hitting the plane to Munich.
On Tuesday night, there was an FA Cup redraw between Brentford (League 1) and Southend United (League 2). On tap for Wednesday night, a rescheduled Premier League matchup between Chelsea and Southampton was put into place. I got tickets for both games…
Truthfully, of the three football matches I’ve seen, the Brentford game has been the most exciting. I saw Brentford two years ago in my last trip to London in a normal League 1 regular season match. Unable to call that first game ‘exciting’, I hoped this second game had a little more energy than before. Although it was only the third round of the English FA Cup, the winner of this contest would play…Chelsea!
That’s one of the many reasons why I enjoy European Football. Every country has their top tier league, followed by weaker leagues below that. While each club is looking to win their league and be promoted to the higher league, most countries tend to have a league cup of some kind; some countries have multiple league cups. In England, there are two main cups - the Captial One Cup (use to be the Carling Cup) and the FA Cup. Bad football clubs from all leagues across England, for example, have the chance to compete in these cups against some of the best clubs in the country. Are you following along?
So, this Brentford vs Southend contest was serious business. Despite a slew of teams still fighting to see another day, the winner of this contest would host Chelsea, the victors of the UEFA Champions League, at an old stadium that most likely seats 10,000 people. Yes, there was a lot on the line…
Brentford forced the draw against Southend a couple of weeks ago to hold onto their FA Cup dreams. Bringing it back to their home stadium of Griffin Park, Brentford was on a mission to wreak hell on Southend…and that’s just what they did. However, Brentford had numerous scoring opportunities to make this game a shear blowout. Instead, the Southend defense did what they could to keep the Bees in their hive (Yes, Brentford’s mascot is the Bees). In the end, Brentford took care of Southend in a thriller 2-1.
The energy in that small, crappy stadium was an atmosphere I haven’t felt as a fan in a long-time. Fans from all sides shouting their favorite chants; fellow Brits saying some of the filthiest things to the officials when cheap shots weren’t called on the field; there were roars heard like no other when Brentford scored…even when they were just a hair off target. Whether you’re new to the sport or not, you, the fan, were part of a large cheering section family, supporting a team that you may never see again. There wasn’t a jumbo-tron telling fans to get loud or music to fire up the fans.
Walking out of the stadium after the game, I kept thinking to myself, ‘Are the Bees really going to play Chelsea, the 2012 Champions of Europe, in two weeks? At Griffin Park? This is crazy!’
Speaking of Chelsea, I bought a few tickets for the game at Stamford Bridge during the stadium tour on Monday. Stamford Bridge is one hell of a venue (can’t say it beats the Emirates, though…). Touring the locker-room, pressroom, and the field, I was impressed with everything they had to offer. It was definitely the supreme of supreme stadiums in England…but I digress.
Purchasing the tickets, I didn’t realize what section we were really sitting in. Eleven rows back to the left of the goal, I was quite impressed with where we ended up. The tickets were a little pricey – 52 pounds (about $85 give or take) per person, but you only live once, right? Anyway, there’s a rule that fans are not allowed to stand for a long duration throughout the match. Well, that went out the window, when some of the loudest Chelsea fans were all around us! Although I’ve become a serious Arsenal fan, how could I not cheer for Chelsea? Do I really want my ass kicked? I will say this – I have nothing against Chelsea as a club…yet. In the meantime, I’ll cheer for them when appropriate.
From an offensive standpoint, Chelsea dominated their side of the ball in the first half. Newly acquired striker Demba Ba put up the first score for the Blues, while midfielder Eden Hazard knocked in the second goal late in the first half. However, in the second half, Southampton battled their way back, firing in two goals to even the match. Having several opportunities to score, Chelsea came up with nothing. The match was drawn 2-2. For Chelsea, though, they need victories if they want to catch Manchester United and Manchester City for the Premier League title.
As for the city of London, it was nice to be back. Like most big cities, London has its positives and negatives. It’s one of the most universal cities in the world when it comes to ethnicity and culture; all walks of life can be found in London. There are some impoverished areas and there are some beautiful areas. The food, too, can be really good, but also a little questionable. Taking a wild guess, I would say there are tens of thousands of places to eat in London, yet I was trying to stick to the classic pubs. I’ve gotten a little picky to stay away from restaurants in shady neighborhoods as well as food served from outside vendors. Refusing to eat any of it, I stuck close to what I know best – sandwiches, pizza, beer, and fish n’ chips. However, cannot wait to eat the German food in Munich…to be continued…
Enjoying the vast amount of history London has to offer, I knew it was important to check out as much as I could. One day, we went to the Tower of London. Built close to a 1,000 years ago, the Tower of London served as the prison and protector of the riches. Inside the large castle, I saw the amazing armory, the different types of execution weapons, and the royal family’s extensive and world-famous Crown Jewels. It’s a must-see site in London.
We also took a walk around Camden Market, a large, outside shopping center with stands and booths all over the place. Things are pretty cheap there, and there are a lot of knockoffs. However, you can negotiate prices with the different store owners, and sometimes get a steal of a deal. In the end, I only bought one thing from there – a “Mind the Gap” shot glass for three pounds. And yes, I did go to Harrods with a couple of girls. Before you strip my man card, I was there to buy Mom a birthday present and to take a gander at their golf section.
Obviously, we did a walk-around of the city, seeing some of the important landmarks like Trafalgar Square, Big Ben and Parliament, Leicester Square, St. James Park, and Buckingham Palace (I caught the tale-end of the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham. That’s a site to see also!).
I’m also with a pretty good group of people. Spending the next 18 days with them, I’m not afraid to nip things in the bud if anybody starts getting on my case/out of hand. So far, things have been going well…Let’s keep it that way…
So there you have it. I’m now in Munich until Tuesday; on Saturday, we will see Bayern Munich play the worst team in the Bundesliga – Gruether Furth – at the enormous Allianz Arena.
I’ll have a game summary report in the next couple of days…Stay tuned!
London, UK - Fulham and Wigan were at each others’ throats throughout the course of the game, but after the dust settled at Craven Cottage, the Premier League duel ended in a 1-1 draw early Saturday evening.
Fulham (6-7-9, 25 points in EPL) struck first with a shot to the bottom left corner of the goal by midfielder Giorgos Karagounis (say that name five times straight). Receiving a loud roar from fans, the Greek knocked in his first Premier League goal of the season. It was his second goal with the team, after he scored a late-minute goal to force a draw against Blackpool in an FA Cup match on January 5th.
Coming off of an injury back on December 1st, Fulham’s goalkeeper, Mark Schwarzer, had his work cut for him. In his return, the Aussie provided six saves for the London club. However, midway through the second half, Wigan striker Franco Di Santo evened things up with a netted line drive from outside the box into the top right corner of the goal.
Both teams had a plethora of opportunities to score on either side. Fulham had 12 shots on goal, while Wigan had 17. Fulham, for example, penetrated Wigan’s side several times late in the second half. In the end, however, poor passing inside the box gave way to nothing. Time of possession was almost even – Fulham 49%, Wigan 51%.
Ironically, despite one yellow card the entire game, there were 26 fouls committed. Players tripping, colliding, and even shoving each other at times led to some high frustrations throughout the course of the game. Fulham star midfielder Damien Duff, returning off the injury list with a calf injury, saw a lot of the brute force by his Wigan counterparts. Being attacked and forced to the ground in several situations, Duff flashed his anger to the officials - even that didn’t help. The midfielder was pulled in the 82nd minute.
For Fulham, they remain where they are in the Premier League table. Tied for 13th with Sunderland, they’re one point behind Norwich and West Ham. The London club travels to Bloomfield Road to replay their FA Cup match against Blackpool on Tuesday, followed by a visit to Manchester City in EPL action next Saturday.
For Wigan (5-4-13, 19 points in EPL), the draw helps them move out of the relegation zone. They are now ahead of Aston Villa (19 points, 4-7-11), Reading (16 points), and QPR (14 points). Like Fulham, they play in a redraw against Bournemouth on the road on Tuesday. They’ll host Sunderland in an EPL match next Saturday as well.
Radio Joe’s next live match report…Brentford vs Southend United (FA Cup match, baby! Winner plays Chelsea in the next round...)
I’ll have a London culture blog later in the week as well…
Have you seen Apocalypse Now? If so, you might understand the italicized monologue below…
[Kenosha….shoot; I’m still only in Kenosha. Every time I think I’m gonna wake up back in Europe.
When I was home after my first trip, it was worse…I’d wake up and there’d be nothing.
When I was there, I wanted to stay; when I was here, all I could think about was getting back to Euorpe.
I’m here two years now…waiting for the trip…getting softer.
Every minute I stay in K-town, I get weaker, and every minute Sparky gets in front of a microphone, he gets stronger. Each time I looked around the 1250 studio walls moved in a little tighter…]
OK, that’s enough. You get the picture. And just so we’re all on the same page, I am not terminating a renegade colonel’s command. There will be no use of violence on this trip, folks…
Like Captain Willard in Apocalypse Now, though, I have been itching to get back to Europe for the last two years. It was an adventure like no other. Seeing some fascinating sites between London and Barcelona, I walked away from that trip with a few new friends and an addiction to European football (soccer)…and now, I cannot believe I’m going back for a second time!
This Thursday night, I depart on a gigantic 777 from Chicago. For the next 18 days, I will be traveling between three different cities across Europe – London, Munich, and Barcelona – with the main of objective of watching as many football games as humanly possible. Yes, in Munich, I will see a Bayern Munich game at the Allianz Arena. Likewise, in Barcelona, I’ll see my third ever Barca game at Camp Nou. However, in London, anything goes at this point. Due to the rescheduling of games because of the English FA Cup clashing with the Premier League fixtures, there’s nothing set in stone of what I’ll see just yet…stay tuned, though.
When I’m not watching football games, I’ll be seeing the sites, such as the Tower of London, the Dachau Concentration Camp, and the La Sagrada Familia (just to name a few).
And obviously the food will be outstanding as always…fish n’ chips in London, tapas in Barca, and…wait for it…SCHNITZEL in Munich!
Sorry to rub it in, guys, but I’ve been so excited to go back since signing up for the trip last summer. If you ever have an opportunity to travel overseas, please do it…put it on your bucket-list if you have to…
The trip is being operated through Carthage College’s (my alma mater) J-Term program. Although I’m no longer a student, I’m going back on this trip as an advisor/chaperone type deal. Outside of knowing my professor and his girlfriend, I know none of the 13 students in this group. I’m looking forward to meeting everybody (especially the ladies).
I will do my best to blog about the football games I see, as well as the places I tour. If you’re interested in what I have to write about, continue to keep your eyes peeled on the 1250 Facebook page, www.sportsradio1250.com, and my Twitter account @RadioJoeZenzola for my next blog. While I know most of Wisconsin could care less about European football, I know there are still some die-hard fans out there…you know who you are.
Oh, and by the way, while I was traveling on the last trip, the Packers won all of their games to advance to the Super Bowl. On the day I flew home, that was the day following the Packers domination of the Bears in the NFC Championship game…If you’re superstitious, use my upcoming trip as a sign of good luck…