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Monday, February 19, 2007

Valencia CF 2, Barcelona FC 1

I knew there was a big game today, about as big as they get here in Spain. Barcelona is in town to play Valencia. They are first in the Spanish league and we are third. The game starts early for Spanish standards. 7 o’clock is when it kicks off, or whatever they say, in an effort to accommodate another big game between Sevilla and Atlético Madrid, which airs after the Valencia game ends.

I live a block from the stadium so I notice the buzz as soon as I leave my apartment in the morning. There is a big flea market in the parking lot adjacent to the stadium every Sunday. I usually walk through the crowd to look for books in Spanish. Today I find a copy of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel and a hard-bound Spanish/English dictionary before I call it quits and cross the street for a cup of coffee. At one o’clock in the afternoon the bar is already beginning to fill up with football fans. This isn’t any different than Sundays before a Seahawks game in Seattle.

The square adjacent to the stadium is packed with fans not lucky enough to have a ticket. Automobile traffic isn’t permitted on these streets on game nights, which makes it all a little more tranquil considering there are an extra 70,000 people in the neighborhood. There is also an army of cops after there was a riot at a soccer match in Sicily last week in which 80 some policemen were injured and one was killed by unruly fans. Soccer hooliganism isn’t s Spanish custom. As I admire the cops on horseback I make sure to avoid the piles of dung on the sidewalk. The only laws broken at Spanish football games have to do with littering—the streets are covered with empty beer cans.

My favorite stadium bar is packed to the rafters. The sidewalk in front is twenty rows deep with fans and getting a beer outside looks pretty hopeless. I push myself inside and up to the bar. The owner, Manolo, is a celebrity in Valencian soccer circles and he has seen me enough times in his place to pick me out in the crowd and serve me a beer. I ask him about his recent trip to England when the Spanish national team beat England in a friendly match. At the half I walk back over to the Bodega Iberica.

Valencia scores a goal set up by their master forward and play-maker, David Villa. He is one of the best players in the game. Everyone in Spain already knows this but it is a bit of a secret elsewhere. Valencia scores another goal almost immediately afterwards and things are looking good for the home team.

Brazilian superstar, Ronaldinho, pretty much has had his way when playing in Valencia’s Mestalla stadium but he misses two free kicks on this particular evening when he kicks high into the defensive line. On his third attempt he kicks a brilliant grounder that puts Barcelona within one point of Valencia with only minutes left in the match. We hung on to win this one. The season is getting really interesting.

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