Friday, June 30, 2006

Happy Birthday To Me!

I only want one thing for my birthday - a convincing victory by Italy tonight over the Ukraine.


Thursday, June 29, 2006

World Cup Update: Tensions are High!

We've got a two day breather until the Quarterfinals start so I thought I'd try to squeeze in an update. The World Cup has not disappointed me yet except for one particular aspect - Italy seems to have become the most despised team here due to some questionable calls that have gone in their favor, a sentiment which I feel is grossly undeserved. It started in the Italy-US match a couple weeks ago. It was an extremely physical and brutal match played by both teams. There were three red cards given in the match, 1 to Italy and 2 to the US. All were justified. For sure the first two were and yet American fans who seemingly know nothing about the sport have not stopped whining that they were screwed. I'm sad to say that American fans here have become a bit of a laughing stock to the many Brits and Germans I've been watching the matches with due to their incessant complaining about calls that were proven correct in replays. Anyway, the US came away with a miraculous draw that gave them a great chance to advance to the second round if they had just beaten Ghana in their last match, a match that they ended up losing 2-1.

Italy and Ghana advanced from the real "Group of Death" and Italy drew the surprising Australia team, playing in their first World Cup since 1974. The match was in Kaiserslautern which is only 45 minutes away so my friend Mike and I went there to hang out in the Fan Zone with all the crazy fans and experience the atmosphere. It was an amazingly good time with fans from both teams well represented and in a festive mood. The match was a tight one until the beginning of the second half, the Italian defender Materazzi was given an absurd red card for a tackle in which there was almost no contact at all. So Italy were down to 10 men and Australia were in great shape but Italy went into their customary defensive shell and played some of the best football I've seen them play. The Aussies controlled the ball but they didn't get a single shot on net. Despite playing defensive, Italy even had the better scoring chances. Just when it looked like the games was headed into overtime, Fabio Grosso dribbled the ball into the Aussie box, around Bresciano and Lucas Neill. Neill stupidly slid towards Grosso as he dribbled by him and Grosso stumbled over him. The ref instantly awarded Italy a penalty kick. Every Aussie in the world, as well as most non-Italians, cried BS and claimed that Grosso dove. Did he dive? It sure liked like it. However, the fact remains that Grosso had a clear path to the goal which was impeded by Neill lying on the ground after his tackle, which is called obstruction and when it happens inside the box, it is a penalty kick. So it doesn't matter if he dove or not. Francesco Totti calmly stepped up and buried the kick with no time left on the clock and the Italians escaped with their lives. I honestly feel bad for the Aussies. It was a devastating and terrible way to lose a game in which they played fantastic. But, as can be expected, the whining started right away. A few Aussies started trouble outside the stadium after the match but nothing too bad.

For us, the real trouble was back in Heidelberg, from an American fan no less. We got back home around 10, just in time to watch the second half of the Switzerland-Ukraine match at the pub. There were a few Americans at the table in front of us who apparently didn't like the fact that I was wearing an Italy jersey. One of them made a sarcastic remark under his breath as I walked by on my way to the bathroom. I noticed he was wearing a jersey from a team back home so when he got up I asked him where he was from. Sure enough, he was from the Boston suburb of Somerville (affectionately called "Slum-erville" by the locals). I told him I was from Nashua and said "How 'bout them Sox?". He responded "No, how about that US team." and walked away. Later, when they showed the Italy-Australia highlights, he further showed his maturity by pretend-diving over chairs in the pub. He then proceeded to get up and commiserate with some Aussies seated near our table, complaining in a very loud voiced directed at our table about how the Aussies got F'd by the refs just like they did and how Italy F'ing sucks, etc. We ignored him but when I was walking out I tried to be the bigger man and said "Go Sox" to which he replied "Yeah, keep paying off those refs". I chuckled and held up my fingers in the OK sign and he started taunting me as I was leaving, chastising me for not supporting my own country, blah, blah, blah. He was about my size and I probably could have taken him but I wasn't about to get into a fist fight over a damned soccer match. I was content to just let him make an ass out of himself.

Anyway, we went back the next night for the Brazil-Ghana and France-Spain match and sure enough the three idiots come in with their US national team jerseys on. They shot us dirty looks all night but didn't bother me as I was sitting with a few of my English hooligan friends. I kind of hope they're there tomorrow night when Italy play Ukraine (unless they lose of course...).

So, if you're one of the many Italy haters out there who are convinced that they're paying off the refs, please explain to me why Conrad's shirt pull that should have given Italy a penalty kick near the end of the US match wasn't called? And also explain why Materazzi was given that absurd red card that almost cost them the match against Australia? The point is, in both games that Italy supposedly got all the calls, there was at least one huge call against them that could have cost them the match yet the whiners never mention those. Italians haven't complained about either of them even though they justifiably could have.

As the Italians say, "Calcio e cosi"...Football is like this.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Death by World Cup

As you may know, the World Cup is going on right now. It's taking place in Germany. The biggest soccer tournament in the world, which only happens every 4 years, is going on right in my backyard. So you can imagine how crazed I am right now. There is no sporting event - in fact, no event period - that I look forward to more than the World Cup. It started on June 9th and finishes on July 9th. For some reason, my building doesn't have German cable so I am forced to watch every match at the pub. In the first round, there are 3 matches a day - 3pm, 6pm, and 9pm. Each match lasts about 2 hours. I've been going to work early so I can get out early so every day I get out, go home, kiss the wife and kid, then head to the pub to catch the end of the first match. I head home after the last match ends around 11, crawl into bed, then get up and do it all over again. Thankfully the first round will be over soon because I'm exhausted. This World Cup might end up killing me. Occasionally the wife and kid come down to the pub with me - ostensibly to watch the matches with me, but they usually end up playing with the X Man's cars while I watch. The wife doesn't care about football but this is pretty much the only way she'll me over the next month...

As far as who I'm supporting...sorry but it's not the US. If you follow this blog then it will come as no surprise to hear that I support Italy. They looked really good in their first match so I'm hopeful. It's going to be tough this Saturday when they play the US though, my loyalties are a really a bit divided.

The best matches to watch are when England play as their fans are far and away the best in the world. Many of them have been teaching me some of their chants and songs. Some of them - especially the anti-German ones - are hilarious. Perhaps I'll post some eventually. Here's me and the X Man with a couple Brits that we watched last night's match with - they made me wear their England hat, which looks a bit ridiculous...

I'm sure you're wondering if I was able to get any tickets. The answer is no and I'm more than a bit pissed off about it. The stupid Germans only released something like one-third of the tickets for public sale. The rest went to corporate sponsors and the like. So the average soccer fan really got screwed in this World Cup. Thanks Germany! I hope you lose badly for what you've done. I've searched for tickets online and such but the cheapest tickets to any decent match is well over 500 bucks and, well, yeah, no thanks. But watching it in the pub surrounded by a bunch of rowdy fans is the next best thing so I don't mind.

We're about a week into it and here are some thoughts on the tournament so far...

* Brazil can be beaten. They did not look sharp in their opening match against Croatia and are not a lock to win the tournament. I would love to see someone beat them as I'm getting really annoyed by al the Brazilian "fans" who are coming out of the woodwork.

* Whenever the World Cup is played in Europe, the European teams usually do well and this year looks no different - the strongest teams so far have been the Czech Republic, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands. Argentina also looked good in their opening match.

* The biggest surprise so far has been Ecuador. They've won their first two matches convincingly (over Poland and Costa Rica) and if they beat Germany in the next match, they will win their group, relegating the hosts to second place. That would be one the biggest upsets ever.

* So far the biggest disappointment would have to be France. They were one of the favorites coming in but looked horrible against Switzerland in a match that featured some of the worst finishing I've ever seen.

* It's been a bad tournament so far for teams that begin with the letter "U". Both the US and the Ukraine turned in performances that were nothing short of embarrassing. The US had the misfortune of receiving one the toughest draws of the tournament but the Ukraine is in a weak group and could still recover.

* Best goal of the tournament so far is probably Torsten Fring's 35 yard laser beam in the opening match for Germany. Truly one of the best ever.

It's been a pretty good tournament so far. It'll get even better if Italy win their group...FORZA AZZURRI!!!!!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

I Have a Wine Cellar

So after an extremely stressful couple weeks, we are finally scheduled to move into our new place this Friday, June 2nd. After everything that has happened to us up to this point, I will not be surprised at all if something comes up that prevents that but for now I'm thinking positive. It'll probably be another few weeks before we get a phone line and internet installed so it'll be a while before I post pictures.

As I mentioned earlier, the place we are moving into is a dream come true. It's 200 square meters over two floors in a 400 year old converted house right in the heart of the Heidelberg Altstadt. The Altstadt (Old Town) is the historic part of Heidelberg, complete with a medieval castle overlooking it from high on a hill. We fell in love with it at first glance but we had to wait for the landlord to finally agree to rent to us (he didn't want to rent to Americans). It's on the third and fourth floor, but there is an elevator that opens right up to our front door. There's more storage room than we know what to do with. There's a balcony on the bottom (3rd) floor that comes off the living room and a huge terrace on the top (4th) floor, half of which is covered with glass. All the rooms are huge. The master bedroom actually has a walk in closet, very rare in Germany. Parking in the Altstadt is virtually non-existent but I have a reserved parking space in the underground garage adjacent to our building.

Now, the best part. After I had signed the contract, it occured to me that the listing mentioned a "keller" (cellar), which wasn't shown to us when we viewed the place. So when I dropped off the security deposit a few days ago I asked Frau Klinge (the landlord's daughter) about it. "Oh yes" she replied, "Come, I get the key and show it to you". I thought we were fortunate because a cellar to store junk in would be an added bonus for us. So we descended down the long stairway to a cool, dusty medieval looking cellar where Frau Klinge showed us our cellar. To my astonishment, it's a converted wine cellar! My eyes got ten sizes wide as Frau Klinge explained that the building was built 380 years ago and it was probably originally intended as a wine cellar. I had been worried about where to store my prized wine collection and was even considering investing in a cooler storage unit. So seeing that cellar was nothing short of a miracle.

"Fairy tales can come can happen to you..."