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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Football Overdose

Valencia played number one ranked Barcelona last night to a heart-breaking 2-2 draw at home last night. Valencia was leading until Thierry Henry chipped in a ball in the 85th minute to even the score. Henry didn’t play the first half and went on to completely dominate the game when he entered well into the second half. La Liga (as the Spanish football is called) is really heating up in these remaining weeks of the season—at least for the teams in contention. Barcelona has been on top most of the year but Real Madrid has had an incredible few months and could be within four points of Barça if they win today against Sevilla. Valencia is desperately trying to hang on to their number four spot so as to gain a berth in next season’s Champions League. I have watched more matches this week than I can even count.

Last night we went to the Plaza de Valencia CF across the street from the stadium of Mestalla to watch the game. Tickets started at 60€ so I didn’t mind sitting outside the stadium. When we arrived an hour before the match there were already thousands and thousands of fans mobbing the small square. There were police everywhere and quite a few riding magnificent horses while displaying equestrian skills that would have made the Spanish conquistadors proud. When the Barcelona team bus pulled up to the stadium the crowd went bit crazy and a few unruly fans chucked beer and other debris on it when it drove by. The chant of the evening seemed to be “Puta Barça, puta cataluña” which I won’t bother to translate if you will forgive me.

I used to live over by the stadium and I would watch all of the important matches at a place called Manolo el del Bombo (Manolo the guy with the drum). Manolo is an icon in Spanish national football because he attends every game and can be seen with his trademark drum leading the Spanish fans. His bar has a big outside terrace with two big televisions. I have never seen such a big crowd in the square, not even for the Champions League semi-finals two years ago against Chelsea. The night didn’t lack for football atmosphere.

The is certainly no shame in drawing with Barcelona this year. I think they are one of the best clubs I’ve ever seen and I picked them to win this year’s European championship way back in September. Valencia had just come off winning five games in a row and is playing as well as I have seen them play in my three seasons here. We are only one point behind third place Sevilla and four points ahead of Villarreal with five games left to play. Unfortunately, most of those games will be tough as we have to play Real Madrid, Villarreal, and Atlético de Madrid. Needless to say, it’s going to be an exciting end for this season.

On the way home we stopped at La Flor de Ruzafa for a drink at the walk-up window. I just feel a lot more Spanish when I hang out at these places. I was talking with someone I met there and they asked me where I was from. Just to tease them I explained that I lived right around the corner less than two blocks away.

P.S. Real Madrid won their game against Sevilla and are now only four points behind league leaders Barcelona FC. They play each other this Saturday night.