Archive for May, 2011

A soccer showcase

May 27, 2011

It may be May 27 on the calendar, but for fans of the beautiful game, it’s like New Year’s Eve.

Barcelona and Manchester United will meet at London’s Wembley Stadium tomorrow afternoon (2:45 FOX) for the Champions League final – and it’s one of the more anticipated finals in recent memory.

Many of my friends who drop by here are now rolling their eyes.

“More soccer, Randy? Geez.”

Yes, more soccer. But first, a brief Champions League primer.

The Champions League is a competition of all of the club teams in Europe (or at least the ones that finished near the top of their respective domestic league the year before). It’s a long, winding process that began with 76 teams. Those 76 got whittled down to 32 teams for what is known as the group stage.

That’s eight groups of four that play home and away matches with the top two teams in each advancing.

Then starts the knockout phase that features home and away matches with winners being chosen based on aggregate.

That’s how we got here.

If you’re still here, let me give you a reason to tune in.

Aside from the World Cup, no event is as important as this one.

And the teams might just be better than the ones you’d see wearing a country’s colors.

Barcelona’s starting 11 is littered with stars from the Spanish national team, not to mention the best player in the world, Argentina’s Lionel Messi.

They play a style that can best be described as a slow dance, passing the ball quickly and rhythmically, putting defenders out of position and tiring them out.

And no one finishes like Messi.

It’s almost poetry, when full back Dani Alves or midfielder Sergio Busquets are spoiling the fun with silly dives and play acting.

Most observers say that this team is the best of its generation – and perhaps the best ever.

But Manchester United isn’t about to stand still for a coronation in its home country.

United, like Barca, is one of the biggest clubs in the world with a rich history.

Wayne Rooney is just a notch below Messi as one of the world’s finest forwards, but the Red Devils have a long list of stars in their lineup as well.

If my guess at their lineup tomorrow is correct, the Red Devils will have nine different national teams represented (England, Holland, Wales, Brazil, Mexico, Bulgaria, France, Serbia and South Korea).

The point is that, no matter who wins, it will make for quite the spectacle.

Flip over to FOX tomorrow and check it out.

Maybe then, you’ll see what I see.

It is, after all, the beautiful game.

To see my preview of the match, click here.

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A fight to the finish

May 23, 2011

I often tell my non-soccer loving friends, of which there are many, that relegation is the best-kept secret in the world to American sports fans.

There is nothing like it.

The final day of the NFL season always features 16 games – and most years almost all of them are a complete waste of time. Division winners have clinched, home field for the playoffs has been decided and a host of teams end up simply playing out the string.

That’s because, in American sports, there’s no penalty for finishing last. In fact, teams are rewarded for it with high draft picks.

In soccer (everywhere else in the world), a last-place effort gets you a one-way ticket out of the league.

There were 10 games in England yesterday on the final day of the Barclays Premier League season. And Manchester United had the championship already sewn up, even their game with Blackpool mattered.

Seven of the 10 games were important for league survival or places in European competition next season.

Wolverhampton fell behind 3-0 at the half, and looked to be going down to the Championship (the second division of English soccer), but two second-half goals kept Wolves in the Premier League.

And that’s worth about $90 million to the club, by the way.

Hugo Rodallega won’t be buying his own drinks in Wigan for a while, as his 79th minute goal kept his side in the BPL with a 1-0 win at Stoke.

There were also losers on Sunday.

Blackpool took a 2-1 lead against the champions, but fell apart late in a 4-2 loss.

Gone.

Birmingham couldn’t nick a draw against Tottenham, a sad end to a season that featured a Carling Cup trophy for the case.

Doesn’t matter. They’re gone, too.

Both clubs will join West Ham in the Championship next season, making way for Queens Park Rangers, Norwich and the winner of the playoff final between Swansea and Reading.

With relegation, there is a penalty for futility.

Just ask the folks in Blackpool and Birmingham.

Check out the highlights here

A red-letter day

May 14, 2011

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We’re live from Highland United Methodist Church in our state capital for the graduation celebration of my wife, Shanna Byrd Capps.

Yep, my first live blog from a church or graduation.

Shut up, conventional wisdom.

Anyway, I don’t really have the words to express how proud I am of my bride today.

So let’s tell the story while I think of some.

She went to Winthrop in the fall of 1997 and learned how to live away from home.

It didn’t work out so well, and she came home in March of 1998.

Hey, at least she got to meet me, right?

Anyway, she went back to school at Coker College satellite campus for Communications in 2001.

That was going OK, until life threw a change up. So, she stopped.

But we got an Ethan out of that deal…

After a few years jousting with the rigors of autism, she tried again – enrolling at Vance-Granville in 2007.

This time, it stuck. She got her Associate Degree in 2009, enrolled at N.C. State right after and – whenever they mail it – she’ll get her B.A. in Leadership in the Public Sector.

It basically means she’s awesome.

Anyway, it’s about as proud as I’ve ever been.

Great job, Shanna.

I love you!

FIFA on the take? You’re kidding me, right?

May 11, 2011

The Sunday Times took another step in its crusade against FIFA over the weekend when it released a story claiming that four FIFA committee members asked for bribes to vote for England to host the 2018 World Cup while two others took $1.5 million each to vote for Qatar to receive the 2022 World Cup.

Of course, FIFA is trying to spin the story today, asking for proof as if it would care to receive any.

You don’t have to be a soccer fan to know that this story stinks to high heaven.

But if you are a soccer fan, then you know that nothing much will come from FIFA’s so-called investigation.

Here’s the takeaway:

1. FIFA is the most corrupt sports organization on the planet. They make the IOC of the late 90s look like a bunch of choir boys. Sepp Blatter, the president who is running for a fourth term later this year, answers to no one.

FIFA refuses to shed light on their process of awarding World Cups, including the dubious ones back in December that gifted the 2018 and 2022 events to Russia and Qatar – backed by wealthy and morally questionable organizing committees.

And despite a glaring need for goal line technology and some sort of accountability for its referees, the organization does nothing. Should a government try to get involved with a nation’s federation, FIFA will step in and threaten to ban the country from international play.

It’s a cartel, people. Plain and simple.

2. The 2022 World Cup being held in Qatar is an absolute joke. Now, I know that I’m an American, and thus naturally biased towards the land of the free. But other than sand per square mile and per capita income, Qatar doesn’t win head-to-head competitions with the United States.

We hosted the most successful World Cup in history in 1994, helping to grow the game in this country and providing a financial windfall for FIFA and its member federations. We have ready-made stadiums, infrastructure in place and a host of cities ready to host millions of fans from around the world.

Qatar has 120-degree heat in the summer and will have to build every stadium from the ground up.

And it’s a desert.

But Qatar has something else, too.

Lots of money.

I believe with all of my heart that Qatar bought the 2022 World Cup.

It’s just too bad that FIFA had it for sale.