Monday, June 23, 2008

let´s talk fútbol!

ok, well i know that many of you don´t follow fútbol, or soccer as it is known up north, but let me re-cap the ups and downs of what´s been going on lately with this sport in el salvador.

long live once!!

first, back in may, i was totally bummed because the soccer team for the department of ahuachapán got demoted to the ¨segunda división¨ of the national league. for almost the entire year, once municipal (11 municipal), the canarios, were playing without a head coach, or without the players receiving any paychecks. through some political battling being waged by the owner of the team and the other members of the front office, the owner simply decided that he wasn´t going to pay the players anymore. as the season continued, the team kept tying their games, neither winning nor losing, and ended up at the end of the season having the lowest number of points in the entire league. not only were they not receiving any money, their head coach quit (or was fired depending on who you ask) sometime before mid-season, and so one of the players was trying to be coach and player at the same time. so when the final game of the season came to pass, once needed to win the game in order to say in the 1st devision. well, they gave a mighty effort, but ended up not winning and being demoted. it was hilarious after the game though because all the players, including the captain of the team, went off on the front office during interviews and were actually smiling and laughing and whatever because they knew they gave it their best shot and were just glad to be rid of the disasterous season. most of the players will now either be scattered throughout the rest of the 1st division league, a few will end up playing for the team as it participates in the 2nd division (kind of like the triple A in baseball). mind you, this is the same team that actually WON the closing national championship (clausura) in 2006! and now they are no more, at least as far as the national level is concerned.

11 municipal, before they were demoted...

on to el salvador´s national team......last night´s match between el salvador and panama was probably one of the most exciting matches i´ve seen in a long time in any sport. i´m not sure if any of you follow the world cup (i posted about the world cup back in argentina lost and italy went on to win....). right now the ¨euro copa¨ is going on which is super important, right up there with the ¨copa sudamerica¨ and the world cup. television channels here pre-empt telenovelas, even the news, to air these matches. spain beat italy yesterday and the day before that, russia beat holland. so it´s down to germany vs. turkey and spain vs. russia for the semi-finals.

anyway, in order to qualify for the world cup, the granddaddy of all fútbol tournaments, countries like el salvador can´t simply just show up for the games. big teams like italy and france and germany and spain and argentina and brazil can pretty much do that. the style and quality of play is different in those countries. first off most of the big talent comes from these countries - many of the most talented players on the european teams (and in the world) come from brazil and argentina. so when it comes time to compete for the world cup, there´s no way brazil (who has ronaldinho and lionel messi) is not going to be competing. but tiny el salvador? no, they´ve got to fight for the chance to compete, even though it´s not likely they´ll make it very far. but it´s such a thrill to be able to play in the world cup it doesn´t matter if they go far or not.

so last night was do or die for el salvador´s team as they participated in the first qualifying tournament (with the ultimate prize being a spot on the world cup rotation). both el salvador and panama were playing for the right to go on to the next qualifying round. they previously played in panama and lost 0-1. panama then had to come to el salvador and play. because panama won the previous game by 1 goal, they only needed to win by 1 goal in order to qualify for the next round. el salvador, on the other hand, needed to win by 2 goals (since they lost by 1 in the previous game). it was a tall order for el salvador, it would be for any team, to go into a game HAVING to score 2 goals more than their opponent.

estadio cuscatlán during last night´s game (this photo is from el diario del hoy, one of the national newspapers here)

so they started the opening and played panama´s national anthem. then they played the salvadoran national anthem (¨saludemos, la patria orgullosos.....!!!¨) and i have to admit i was somewhat emotionally proud, seeing all those salvadorans in blue and white, stuffed into estadio cuscatlán. the game started and about 15 minutes into the game panama scored a goal. antonio was watching the game with me (of course he was watching the game, he´s male and he´s salvadoran, and more importantly, a latin american) and was like ¨they´ve lost it!¨ i was like ¨don´t say that yet, they´ve still got another whole half an hour, and then the other 45 minutes of the last half of the game.¨ but in all honesty, it was looking even more grim for el salvador because now they had to score 3 goals, not just 2. if the thought of scoring 2 was hard, 3 was almost an impossible order.

so the first half of the game eventually passed, it had poured rain for most of the time. there was even cloud cover on the field and i was wondering how the players could even see each other. half time was over and they started the second half and it was like el salvador couldn´t move the ball on the rain soaked field. panama was basically just trying to eat up the clock as they pretty much had the game in the bag. well, about 20 minutes in, el salvador scored a goal on a penalty kick and it was like ¨ok, yay!¨ but still, they needed 2 more goals and with only 20 some odd minutes more, that was a lot to ask. but after that goal, el salvador started to play much better....they were managing to move the ball, despite the puddles of water all over the field, they were passing better and they just seemed generally more ¨with it.¨

then by some miracle, at about the 38 minute mark, panama, who had started to play a little dirtier, committed a penalty in the box on el salvador. panama´s player was issued a ¨tarjeta roja¨ (red card), meaning he had to leave the game and panama had to play with only 10 players. on top of that, el salvador was given a penalty shot (when the penalty is committed in the box, the free kick is from a very short distance, where it´s just the goaltender and the guy getting the free kick...this is opposed as to the penalty kick i mentioned above, which was committed from farther away, so the kick was made in front of a line of players). whenever a team gets a penalty kick from close up like that, it´s like a 90% chance that it´s gonna go in. well, i guess it´s less than that, but it´s so random. the goaltender has to know which side the guy´s gonna kick the ball as well as if he´s gonna kick it low or high. this is how they end games that are tied...with penalty kicks from a very short distance. and it just seems like such a farce, because then it doesn´t really show how good a team just shows whether or not the goaltender can read the mind of the guy kicking the ball. for example, in 2006´s world cup, argentina lost their game not on the game itself, but on penalty kicks.

anyway, so the pressure was on eliseo quintanilla, who was the player to make the free kick. anything could have happened, really, but in the end he was successful and the ball floated in the goal perfectly. so now it was 2-1, in favor of el salvador and they needed to score just one more goal in order to not only win the game, but to go on to the next qualifying round. so the game continued and we´re yelling at the television ¨come on!!!!!¨ like crazy people. the minutes were winding down and there was literally no more time to score a goal when all of a sudden, luis anaya of el salvador had the ball and from 89 or so feet, kicked it towards the goal. the ball sailed through the air, hit another salvadoran player, chepe martinez, in the head and before we knew what had happened, the ball went into the goal. i kept yelling ¨no friggin´way!¨ and antonio was like ¨si es la verdad!¨ (it´s true!). it was completely insane. everyone who had fireworks in apaneca let them off and it was like christmas day or something. it was so unbelievable. seriously, i just kept yelling ¨no puedo creerlo!¨ and it was like i had just watched a badly scripted inspirational movie or something. it was so bananas!  the thing is, they had to play the game for like 3 more minutes because of the extra time the árbitros put on the clock so it was like ¨please, for the love of god don´t let panama score!¨ because even if el salvador won the game, if it wasn´t by 2 or more goals, they´d not make it to the next qualifying round.  but the minutes wound down and they did it.  as all the papers said today ¨sí se pudo!¨ (yes the team could!). 

here is a video of the highlighted moments from el gráfico, the sports paper here. remember, el salvador is BLUE, panama is RED!

here´s another one...if you´re into the whole thing. i can´t stop watching highlights of it. it was so nuts! 

anyway, so now el salvador gets to compete in the next tournament to see if they can make it to the world cup (which isn´t until 2010 believe it or not, in south africa). but i´m sooooo excited!

so that´s what´s going on in deportes here in el salvador. basically that´s what i´ve been doing instead of writing blog entries....watching loads and loads of fútbol!

adios for now and felicidades a el salvador!