The Battle is Won. The War is Not Over.

Agony and Ecstasy:  polarized ends of the pendulum, between which swings that fickle thing called “hope”.  That powerful glimmer of what could be – or maybe not – as it flirtingly sashays from one emotion to the other.  Hope is, according to the old adage, always the last thing to pop its clogs, and it did just that in quite a few stadiums around Europe over the weekend.

With the season over for most European leagues, let’s do a quick wrap-up of some of the results.


ENGLAND

EPL Logo
Yesterday, we watched one of the greatest finishes, ever seen, to an EPL season.  Man U won their game and then had to wait for 2 minutes until City, with an Aguero strike in the final minute, claimed its first Premier League Trophy in 44 years.

As a UK-based City-fan friend wrote to me, “Down to the wire just doesn’t describe what happened – no words can justify the gamut of emotions that we all experienced.  The first goal was like riding the most perfect wave; then we were dumped off our surfboards into the maelstrom of undercurrents, struggling for breath and doomed to drown. Suddenly, we popped up; could breathe again; found the sand beneath our feet and all was very right with the world.”

Somehow, Arsenal found its way into 3rd position with Chelsea finishing out of the table’s Champions League places.  Tottenham grabbed the last CL position for the 3rd round play-offs. However, if Chelsea wins the 2012 Champions League, then Chelsea will be in next season’s CL and Tottenham will play in the Europa League.  (See Champions League 2012/2013 for more details.)

EPL:
1st:  Man City
2nd:  Man U
3rd:  Arsenal
4th:  Tottenham


ITALY

Serie A Logo
Over in Italia, it was more cut and dried.  Juventus (with ex-Barça, and on-loan from Sevilla, player Martín Cáceres) won Serie A and remained unbeaten in all 42 games played (a record 43 counting their last game win from the previous season).  It was the farewell game for legendary Alessandro del Piero who has played for the Old Lady for 19 years.

AC Milan says goodbye to Inzaghi, Seedorf, Nesta, Gattuso, Zambrotta and Van Bommel with Galliani stating that it’s the end of an era for the Rossoneri.

Napoli lost out on a Champions League place (will Cavani leave?), finishing 5th behind Udinese and Lazio.

Serie A
1st:  Juventus
2nd:  AC Milan
3rd:  Udinese
4th:  Lazio


GERMANY

Bundesliga Logo
Bundesliga results were settled a few weeks back.  Klopp’s BVB Borussia Dortmund won its 2nd successive league title, beating Bayern Munich who sank, still claiming that they are the greater and better team.

Nails were driven into the Bayern casket when the team was trounced 2-5 by Dortmund in the DFB-Pokal Cup (German league’s Copa del Rey equivalent) on Saturday night for BVB to claim both league and cup trophies.  What a game that was – if you haven’t seen it, find a download and watch it.  Dortmund played like Barça at the end of Pep’s first season.

Third on the Bundesliga table was Schalke 04 which will be bereft of Raúl’s services next season, as he’s off to join Al Sadd in Qatar.

Bundesliga
1st:  Borussia Dortmund
2nd:  Bayern Munich
3rd:  Schalke 04
4th:  Borussia Mönchengladbach


FRANCE

Ligue 1 Logo
Ligue 1 in France will go to the wire in the last round to be played this week.  If they win or draw, Montpellier, with wonderboy Moroccan Younès Belhanda, is poised to top the table and keep Paris Saint-Germain in 2nd place.

PSG, (now re-invigorated with Qatari cash, Ancelotti as manager, and after a buying spree which included ex-Barça LB Maxwell), stuttered in the final weeks of the campaign, and Ancelotti has all but conceded the league to Montpellier HSC.

The third and fourth spots are already decided.

Ligue 1
1st:  Montpellier HSC
2nd:  Paris Saint-Germain
3rd:  LOSC Lille Métropole
4th   Olympique Lyonnais


NETHERLANDS

Eredivisie Logo
Despite their board room mutinies, Ajax managed to finish top of the Eredivisie for the season.  Twente didn’t have the best of seasons as they finished well out of contention for CL and into the play-offs for Europa League.

Eredivisie
1st: Ajax
2nd: Feyenoord
3rd: PSV
4th: AZ


SPAIN

La Liga Logo
With 1st and 2nd positions decided a couple of weeks ago, the interest lay in which teams would finish in the remaining CL spots, as well as those who would qualify for Europa League and who would be relegated.

First to go down was Racing de Santander – a team which not only suffered on the field, but was led astray by their new owner who hasn’t been seen since last season.

Sporting de Gijón was the next to fall, after sacking their beloved coach Preciado earlier in the season, and then not doing any better under Clemente.

At the other end of the table, Valencia claimed the 3rd CL position, while the CL play-offs 4th place depended on the last games of the season for Málaga and Atlético de Madrid.  Málaga had to win.

All the remaining La Liga BBVA games were played at the same time last night (Sunday 13th), and the focus was mostly on the games which involved the teams facing relegation.  Rayo Vallecano, Villarreal, Granada and Zaragoza were in the danger zone and their games ended, as follows:

Getafe vs. Zaragoza  0-2

Villarreal vs. At. Madrid  0-1

Rayo Vallecano vs. Granada  1-0

~ Zaragoza won against Getafe, so they were safe.

~ In the final minutes of their away game, At. Madrid’s Falcao headed home the winning, and only goal, in the match, giving At. Madrid the win, and the hopes of a CL play-off spot if Málaga lost.  Villarreal staying up was now dependent on Rayo Vallecano losing.

~ In the dying minute of their match, Rayo Vallecano scored against Granada.  The Granada players sank to the pitch, thinking that their First Division run was over after just one season.  Someone let Rayo’s Diego know that Villareal had lost, and he went around telling the other players, and suddenly everything was ok for Granada once more.

When the news of Rayo’s goal against Granada reached El Madrigal, the scenes were heart-rending.  I thought that Villareal’s president, Fernando Roig Alfonso, was going to collapse as he made his way down from his seat to the pitch.  Fans, players and management were left desolated.  They stood or sat in numbness, and no one seemed to have legs strong enough to carry them away from the stadium and the pain.

Málaga won the match against Sporting, and secured a Champions League play-off position for the first time in club history.  What a great start for the club in Manuel Pellegrini’s first full season.  Dutchman, Ruud van Nistelrooy, announced his retirement and will now leave the club.

Real Madrid won their game against Mallorca, and achieved a record 100 points haul in La Liga.

Levante, after topping the Liga table for a few weeks, also created history by finishing in 6th place, thereby qualifying for Europa League – the first European championship for the club.  They needed to win their last game to qualify and did so by beating a struggling, still down-hearted, Athletic Bilbao, 3-0.

Barça’s Victor Valdés created history twice, as he won his 5th Zamora equalling FCB’s Ramaletts’ record of 5.  Victor also recorded his 4th consecutive Zamora – a new record.

Lionel Messi won his 2nd Pichichi with a record 50 league goals and, with one game remaining, has a record total of 72 goals for the season.  Messi also won Europe’s Golden Shoe, and broke so many other records that he deserves a post of his own.

La Liga
1st:     Real Madrid
2nd:    FC Barcelona
3rd:    Valencia
4th:    Málaga
5th:    Atlético Madrid
6th:    Levante
7th:    Osasuna
8th:    Mallorca
9th:    Sevilla
10th:  Athletic Bilbao
11th:  Real Sociedad
12th:  Real Betis
13th:  Getafe
14th:  Espanyol
15th:  Rayo Vallecano
16th:  Real Zaragoza
17th:  Granada
18th:  Villarreal
19th:  Sporting de Gijón
20th:  Racing de Santander

La Liga Adelante (Second Division)

Galician derby rivals, Deportivo de La Coruña and Celta de Vigo will be promoted to La Liga BBVA for the 2012/13 season.  Depor is back in the first division after only 1 season, and Celta is back after 5 seasons.

Valladolid, Hércules, Alcorcón and Córdoba will contest each other in play-offs.  The winner will also be promoted to the first division.

*Edited to add:  silly me didn’t realise that Adelante isn’t over, so the above will only happen if no positions change before June 3rd.  Ha!

 

And that, my friends, is that!

 

Drumroll, please ….

So. Everyone recalls the ongoing season contest, kicked off in this post here.

Well. We scored 115 goals in La Liga this season, a number that nobody accurately predicted. Four readers (in chronological order of entry) guessed 113 goals: pr17, lea_terzi, G60 and Messiah10. None of those readers got the Clasic goal total right, guessing, respectively, 4, 2, 3 and 3. As so many of us painfully recall, we scored one measly goal (yeah, yeah, I know).

So the tiebreaker of tiebreakers becomes who went least over. lea_terzi is the winner of the signed copy of the Graham Hunter Barca book. Yup. Congratulations, and please fire your mailing address to kevvwill@yahoo.com, and I will take care of the rest.

Thanks to all.

And now, the end is here.

The last game of the season. The last Liga game for Pep before he leaves for a life of not being bear-hugged by Pinto, or being tossed in the air each time the team wins another damn trophy.

What the heck are we going to do over summer?  Feed Cuenca? Thank goodness for the Euros.

Barça travels to Seville to play Real Betis Balompié who are going on a promotional pre-season trip to China in July.  I’m sure that Roque Santa Cruz would much rather spend time on the beach working on his tan, but this is the price when you make it into La Liga.  There are bigger bills to pay.

Betis is mid-table with nothing really left to play for except pride, and the chance to brag about beating Barça on the green, green grass of home.

Puyol, Pinto and Alexis are out and injured. Blaugrana thoughts are already on the Copa del Rey, so they just want to get the game done and dusted, without further injury.  Messi will be looking to score at least 10 to match the number on his back.

The game happens at 22:00 local time.  Use this link to see what time that will be in your little corner of the world:  Real Betis Balompié vs. FC Barcelona

If you need to watch the game and it’s not on a TV channel near you, look here:  Links

If you were Barça Manager for tomorrow’s game, who would you play from who is available?  Should Pep play in midfield?

Go wild in the comments.

Of meteors, fandom and Yoda

A quick one, on migration, from casual viewer, to fan, to lover, to cule. I can imagine some long-time FCB fans, making this speech that Yoda made as he dismissed a young Luke Skywalker:

Ready are you? What know you of ready? For eight hundred years have I trained Cules. My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained. A Cule must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away … to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Cule craves not these things. You are reckless.

If, tomorrow, your local news program said that a meteor was going to be visible, streaking across the night sky, what would you do? Damn right, you would. You’d get yourself to the best observation point, and watch that once-in-a-lifetime sucker, gawking at it like the marvel that it is. Now imagine this Barcelona team as that meteor.

Not only here at BFB but in the world at large, we fans are many, spanning a range from “They lost. Whatevs,” to “They lost. I’ll be in my room with a pillow over my head.”

And constantly, whatever the sport, long-time fans scoff at bandwagon fans, as if they are these silly Johnny Come Latelys, who have no right to discuss or enjoy a team. But you know what? Many years and a pile of soci cards ago, I too was a newbie, stumbling across a highlight of a wonder goal and thinking “Boy, what the hell was that!”

Today, I love my club. Over everything. Players, presidents, boards, sponsorships, comings and goings. It is always, and always will be, the club. Does that make me any more of a fan than the person who saw that meteor streaking across the footballing sky, and said “I’m in!” No. Many of us, at the end of this season, have said “Well, the bandwagon will be a little lighter, now,” and we’ve said it for different reasons. I wrote a while back that you know you’re a true fan when a team can break your heart. And I believe that. But you can still be a fan.

Further, the glory that is Barca isn’t diminished because people are flocking to it because suddenly, our club is all the rage. It’s pretty funny to go from wearing a Barca shirt and having nobody react, to having strangers scream “Meessssiiiii,” at you, or give you the thumbs up. And that’s good funny, because casual fans become devoted fans become cules become (if someone decides to undo what RoSELL did) socis. And the club’s beating global heart continues to get stronger.

There is a certain arrogance endemic to sport, contained in the “Oh yeah? Well I’ve been a fan since even before the club was born. When the Big Bang was about to happen and that first piece of matter split, I was a fan. Neener!”

I have a seatmate at work who is a crazed Chicago White Sox fan. She has followed the club her entire life, as has her husband. One part of me wouldn’t be surprised if it was a condition of marriage. Her three children are all Sox fans. She has had a season ticket for decades, and bought a townhome in the shadow of the ballpark, as soon as they went on offer. In 2005, the White Sox won the World Series, and they did it in a swashbuckling, home run-bashing way that for many, was as captivating as our Barca is for casual baseball viewers. And she said of those casual fans, “Good! Bring them on. Even if they don’t become real fans, the team that I love deserves the attention.”

And it’s true, even as it runs deeper. Every now and again, during a particularly heated battle with a Premiership club, we will get some of those divine fans, who say “Hmph, how can you be a fan of Barca. You don’t even go to matches and probably don’t live in Barcelona! Hmph!”

As if that freakin’ matters. This season was the first in some time that I didn’t have a chance to get to Barcelona for a vacation, and matches. Life, circumstance all conspired to deprive me of the singular joy of clutching that ticket in my hand, sliding it under the scanner and having my heart leap as it beeps and goes green, even now, as if this is somehow a dream that can be snatched away — the scanner will buzz, flash red and I will wake up from my nightmare. And you walk into the Camp Nou …. and even when it’s empty, you swear you can hear things …. screams, bellows of rage, echoes of long-gone joy and sorrow. I didn’t go, and I miss it so.

None of which makes me a damn bit better than a Barca fan who lives in Canada, or India, or Nigeria, who might never get to a match, who follows matches on a craptastic Web feed and would say “Gesundheit!” if someone walked up to them and said “Benvingut!”

This place is extraordinary, in that there is none of that institutional arrogance. A fan who just decided to follow the club this season is as welcomed by the family as those who watched Gaspart grow up. And this is as it should be. Because nobody owns a meteor. It’s there for the world to look at, marvel at and discuss for years to come. The more the merrier. Welcome. Ain’t it pretty?