CWC Preview: Barça – Atlante FC, Wednesday 11amEST, FSC/FSE
The sand drifts casually along, the footprints on the beach gently washed away by warm, clear seawater. The sky is blue as blue gets, the ocean turquoise, the sun casually sending you warmth and wonder, a breeze ruffles your hair. Your mind conjures up all the lovely scenes of Caribbean paradises, of half-naked beauties following you along, and then you realize you have no idea how you got here. It’s seven am and there’s sand down your shorts, what feels like gum in your hair, and your head feels like someone cracked it with a baseball bat.
The memories are, of course, slowly coming back: the thumping bass, thousands of gringos shouting and dancing with massive white-boy overbites, all having some sort of conniption fit as another song that sounds just like the previous song reverberates over the beach. A guy runs up to you and demands you pound the jesus out of this beer bong, you pansy. Things get hazy quickly, but dammit you love Cancun, you love the sun, the parties, and, of course, The Hobbit.
You see, Cancun, Quintana Roo is the home of Atlante FC and Atlante FC is the home of Christan Bermudez—the Hobbit—a 5’4” forward who is so adorably tiny that you just kinda wish he really did look a bit more like Elijah Wood. I’ve never been to Cancun—my Mexican friends would always ask me why not? You’re a gringo, after all, and all gringos go to Cancun at least once. I believe it’s a requirement for citizenship. Well, see, I went to Veracruz for Mardi Gras, so I think I’ve fulfilled that requirement; plus, I looked in my passport and it says something about enjoying burgers and freedom fries, but not a word about jager bombs on Mexican beaches with topless American chicks everywhere…hold on, why haven’t I gone?
This opening should piss off anyone who has ever been to Mexico, is Mexican, knows Mexicans, or knows anything about foreign travel; there is no fundamental truth to be found in the azure waters of the Caribbean and no amount of scantily clad women gyrating in front of awkwardly angled MTV cameras will make up for the abrasiveness of the cultural degradation and that guy screaming at you about manning up and shotgunning this or that or whatever other manly games are played in college to satisfy some primal need to get fucked up in new and interesting ways. Not that I’m completely innocent of any of those things, of course, but in my old age I’ve come to understand that I’d rather see the pyramids of Chichen Itza at sunrise. I’ll leave the games to the younger generation, to those who will appreciate the grandeur of not being able to remember the previous night.
We’re playing in Abu Dhabi, of course, not Cancun, but the temperatures are somewhat similar, with Abu Dhabi’s December average being 57F-79F (14C-26C), which is a pretty perfect temperature. There are beaches there, too, but not as many spring breaking Americans and a lot more yachts. Despite the global recession, this is still a land of plenty (media reports be damned), though it’s no Dubai. There are luxury hotels aplenty and quite a few absurdly expensive private villas and mansions. Sadly, I know little about the UAE in general or Abu Dhabi specifically, despite having lived in Al-Ain (admittedly as a young child), so I’ll just move on…
For the longest time I thought the team was named Atalanta, like the Serie A side, but, it turns out, its not. It’s Atlante and it’s not a bad little squad. I caught the second half of their game against Auckland City, which was a monologue, to quote the Fox Soccer en Español commentators, who were having trouble remembering exactly who Atlante were playing since they never had the ball, really, for any more than the time it takes to volley a ball 70 yards out of your half.
Atlante is a dangerous, attack-oriented team, but they’re going to have to play lights out to beat us. Their goalscorer is Rafael Marquez–wait. Lemme reread that. Yes, yes it is. Rafa Marquez. Oh god that’s not going to be confusing at all or anything. No way. Lets hope that our Rafa Marquez starts the match and goes up against his doppelganger very, very often so that the commentators are constantly flumoxed: “Rafa gets the ball and cuts inside where he’s stymied by Rafa! What a terrible job by Rafa! What a great job by Rafa! Who am I talking about!?”
After their Rafa comes The Hobbit and Santiago Solari with 3 goals each in the Primera. Let’s talk for a second about Santi Solari. I remember in 2001 there was an Argentine exchange student at my high school and she thought Solari was the bee’s knees. He never really was, of course, but it was fun to think so when I was hitting on that girl. He had just joined Real Madrid from Atleti (after Atleti was relegated) and was a big name in world football.
Solari was making inroads with the Argentine national team and was suddenly thrust headlong into the spotlight with the first galactico era. He ended up staying until 2005, playing in 113 league matches, but scored only 13 goals. Still, he was successful, but in 2005 he moved to InterMilan; after 3 years there and only 39 league appearances (4 goals), he moved back to Argentina with San Lorenzo and then in July of this year, he joined Atlante after being released by San Lorenzo. He’s now 33 and I don’t rate him particularly highly, but on his day he’ll put one past you and that, of course, will be unacceptable tomorrow. His statements about Barça and Atlante’s style (which is to play, baby) can be read here.
So, to us, to our squad.
First, to Messi, whose recovery has been given the “questionable” status by Sport, though the likelihood of him playing tomorrow is close to zero, I would think. He trained with the rest of the group Tuesday evening, but I don’t think that means he’ll even make the bench. If he does, I hope he only gets 5 minutes of play so that he’s as fresh as possible for the next match, which I hope is the final.
It also looks like Keita will be out for the match through injury, though he’s more likely to appear than Messi. I’m not entirely positive what keeps happening to Keita during matches where he shows no ill-effects and then misses the next through some sort of ankle or foot injury. Odd, but I suppose understandable if he’s made entirely of iron and adrenaline.
The man who should start in Messi’s place is a little spark plug named Pedro!. He’s scored in every competition we’ve been in so far this year and is looking to make it six-for-six (stop saying ‘something for something’!), which, obviously he’s going to do. Because Pedro! never fails. Not sure if you were aware of that, actually.
So my starting lineup: Valdes, Alves, Puyol, Marquez, Abidal, Busi, Xavi, Iniesta, Henry, Ibra, Pedro!
The reason I’m putting Busi out there is because that’s who I’m guessing Guardiola will go with. I’m not advocating Busi starting, because I want The Yaya to start, but I’m guessing that’s what’s going to happen, given The Yaya’s relatively tame match against Espanyol and Busi appearance later because of The Yaya picking up some sort of an injury (who let the Espanyol players carry kryptonite?). I’d much prefer The Yaya out there, but Pep usually goes for Busi when he wants more possession and less pure steel. I can understand that to a certain degree, but I think The Yaya’s versatility makes up for Busi’s La Masia-ness.
We’ll have to keep the ball away from them as much as possible to keep their lethal passing attack from getting between our sometimes wide lines, but if Busi starts, he cannot give away loose balls or they will be promptly turned into goals. So none of that, Surge of Biscuits!
Official Prediction: 3-1, goals by Pedro!, Ibra, and Puyol. You read that right.
Match time: Local/Abu Dhabi time, 8pm; Barcelona time, 5pm, EST/New York, 11am (check your local time here)
TV: The match will be aired live on Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Soccer en Español.
Liveblog: It is doubtful that I will be able to run the liveblog tomorrow as life is getting in the way (damn you, life!), so if you’d like to run it, please let me know by email me at info[at]barcelonafootballblog[dot]com. I apologize for any Isaiah-Typing-Randomly-In-All-Caps withdrawal YOU MAY EXPERIENCE.
One final note: the winner of this match will face Argentine team Estudiantes in the final, but as Guardiola says, the final doesn’t exist. This is only this match.
Visca el Barça!