Sunday, June 29, 2008

Spain Wins the 2008 European Championship

For the first time in 44 years, Spain has won a major soccer tournament, defeating Germany 1-0 in the Euro2008 Finals. Fernando Torres scored the only goal of the match in the 33rd minute.

Excerpts from "Spain win Euro 2008!":

Fernando Torres finally lived up to his billing as one of the world's great strikers on Sunday by scoring to make Spain the champions of Europe.

Torres, who had been overshadowed by teammate David Villa all tournament, scored in the 33rd minute of the final to topple the three-time European champions and earn his nation's first major title since 1964.

Touching a sliding pass from Xavi Hernandez past Philipp Lahm, Torres turned and ran past his marker on the opposite side, collected the ball and lifted a shot over sliding goalkeeper Jens Lehmann and into the far corner.

In the end, Spain was a deserved winner of the 13th European Championships, co-hosted by Switzerland and Austria.

Long known as underachievers who peaked between tournaments rather than at them, Spain reached the final at Ernst Happel Stadium with a string of beguiling attacking displays orchestrated by a vibrant midfield – and held true to their values in the highest pressure match.

Xavi, Andres Iniesta and David Silva swapped positions constantly against a midfield marshalled by Michael Ballack and eventually wore out their opponents until it seemed Spain was simply counting down time until the final whistle.

Germany dominated the opening exchanges until a lucky break in the 14th minute gave the Spanish their first chance on goal and a boost that clearly lifted their play.

On a rare foray forward, Iniesta sent a cross into the box from the left and German defender Christoph Metzelder stuck out a boot to send the ball rocketing toward his own goal. Only a diving reaction save by Jens Lehmann kept it out.

Spain never looked back.

With leading tournament scorer Villa absent because of injury, Torres was again the sole outlet in attack. He took Xavi's pass and finished off his chance by flipping the ball over Lehmann and watching it roll softly into the corner for his second goal of Euro 2008.

Germany replaced the struggling Lahm with Marcell Jansen at halftime but Silva still got in a 54th-minute shot that right back Sergio Ramos almost deflected in with a back heel.

Ballack, who had already received treatment for a head wound and was railing against every decision in Spain's favour, shot past the post and almost set up substitute Kevin Kuranyi with a cross that goalkeeper Iker Casillas just tipped away.

But from then on, aside from isolated passages of play, it was all Spain.

After winning their first title in 44 years having beaten Italy and Germany, Spain no longer need to think of themselves as an underachieving football nation.

The "Red Fury" won their second European Championships playing with flair, finesse and a determination that the team had lacked in so many previous competitions.

The Spaniards may not have as many trophies as the Germans or Italians, but the sparkling performance in Euro 2008 finally ended Spain's curse of exiting major tournaments in the quarterfinals.

The 1-0 win over Germany extended Spain's unbeaten streak to 22 matches and allowed embattled coach Luis Aragonés to end his four-year spell with Spain on a high.
Here's a clip of the goal by Torres. The replays show what an amazing effort he made. While watching the match live, I didn't think he had a chance on that one.

You can see more highlights here.

El País has a good slide show of the finals.

Spain became only the second team ever in the European Championship to win every game in their group and then go undefeated in the elimination rounds.

Now, La Furia Roja just has to continue its 22-game unbeaten streak all the way through the 2010 World Cup.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Spain Beats Russia - Advances to Euro2008 Finals

The Spanish national soccer team defeated Russia yesterday 3-0 on a rain-soaked field in Vienna to advance to the 2008 European championship match against Germany.

George Vecesy, in his New York Times article this morning, "Dashing Spain Transcends Its Anguish," explains what the victory means to Spain in context of their longstanding failure in major competitions:

This is something that has not happened in 24 years, most of them frustrating. Spain’s national team — La Selección — has disappointed so often, so graphically, so diversely. But on Thursday came the biggest win in a generation.

All the homegrown talent that is the backbone of La Liga, one of the toughest national leagues in the world, came through in the rain in Vienna. The Spaniards wore down Russia, 3-0, in the semifinals of Euro 2008, with their skill and experience topping the Russians’ earlier exuberance.

This is no small victory for Spain to qualify for Sunday’s championship match against Germany in Vienna. It will be the first final for a Spanish team in a world-level tournament since Spain lost to France in Euro 1984.

In between there have been so many losses way too early in tournaments, often under bizarre circumstances, that made Spanish fans ask exactly why their teams cannot live up to expectations, why their fancy players fold under pressure, why terrible things happen to them.

World soccer fans often get a little crazy when an American like me compares an international situation to our own little local sports. But the best way to describe Spain in American terms is to say that sometimes a hand comes out of nowhere to deflect a ball, the way it happened to the Chicago Cubs in the postseason in 2003. The Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908, and Spain has not won a major tournament since Euro 1964, when it beat the Soviet Union, the spiritual ancestors of Thursday’s losing side.

In between, La Selección has managed to disappoint. Things just happen, and a nation falls silent. I was in Spain in 1982 when La Selección lost. People were indoors watching television — and they never came back out that evening, not even for the traditional stroll or the late dinner. Everything just shut down.

Demonstrably the luck is changing, ever since Spain survived 120 scoreless minutes against its chosen nemesis, Italy, in the quarterfinals of this tournament, and Iker Casillas made enough key saves for the shootout victory.

On Thursday, the Spaniards displayed the meshed talent that has often gone missing in crucial matches. They showed individual flashes in the first half, wearing down the Russians, coached by Guus Hiddink, the Dutch master. In the second half, Luis Aragonés’s squad produced crisp outlet passes, dashing crosses, alert strikes and bing-bing-bing goals by Xavi Hernández in the 50th minute, by Daniel Güiza in the 73rd and by David Silva in the 82nd.

Now La Selección meets Germany, whose defense is more experienced, more purposeful, than the Russian defense. But if Spain can run that offense as it did in the second half on Thursday, then this could truly be La Selección’s year, or even its generation.

Unfortunately, Spain's leading striker, David Villa, the top scorer in the tournament, will miss the finals after a hamstring injury against Russia. On the plus side, the Spanish team has an excellent bench, as they proved yesterday, when two of their three goals were scored by second-half substitutes.

Spain vs. Germany will be broadcast live on ABC this Sunday afternoon, 2:30 pm EST.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Spain Beats Italy!

For the first time in 88 years, since the 1920 Olympics, Spain has defeated Italy in a major soccer competition. The Spaniards won 4-2 on penalty kicks, advancing to the semi-finals of the 2008 European Championship.

Their victory in the penalty round was due in large part to the brilliant performance of goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who guessed right on all 4 kicks by Italy, stopping efforts by Daniel De Rossi and Di Natale.

I was still in Spain when Casillas was suddenly thrust into the soccer spotlight in the 2000 Champions League with Real Madrid. He was only 18 at the time, but he played well. According to Wikipedia, "he became the youngest-ever goalkeeper to ever play in a Champions League final when Real Madrid defeated Valenica C.F. 3-0 four days after his nineteenth birthday." I've always liked him and was glad to see him star in an historic victory by the Spanish national team.

In a ridiculous effort to control video of the tournament for their own profit, UEFA has made it nearly impossible to find simple highlights of the matches. But one blog has the penalty round, at least until the UEFA Nazis bust them.

Up next for the Spanish team is Russia, who they defeated two weeks ago in the first game of the tournament. Germany and Turkey play in the other semi-final match. Spain hasn't won the European Championship, which is held every four years, since the 2nd tournament in 1964.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Cyd Charisse

Cyd Charisse in her favorite musical number, the "Dancing in the Dark" sequence with Fred Astaire in The Band Wagon (1953).

I was saddened to read this morning that Cyd Charisse had passed away on Tuesday at the age of 86. Born Tula Ellice Finklea in Amarillo, Texas, Charisse was one of those rare actresses who combined an erotic, animal physicality with elegance, grace and class. I always imagined her as something of a noble pantheress. She was certainly was one of the greatest dancers in movie musicals.

Luckily for us, she partnered on several occasions with the two greatest male dancers in film, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. Her dual animal/elegant nature worked perfectly with the strongest attributes of both of men. And it's notable that the best Astaire and Kelly musicals of the 1950s were the ones featuring Cyd Charisse: The Band Wagon, (1953) Silk Stockings, (1957) and Singin' in the Rain (1952).

As Astaire once famously said, "That Cyd! When you've danced with her you stay danced with."

The New York Times has an obituary (with a slideshow on her career), as well as appreciations by Verlyn Klinkenborg and Manohla Dargis.

Klinkenborg's favorite Charisse number is when she dances with her lingerie in Silk Stockings. She plays a stern Soviet commissar who has come to Paris to retrieve three Soviet emissaries who've gone astray in the city of lights. Ice cold when she arrives, she gradually gives in to Fred Astaire's romantic overtures, the charms of Paris, and the simple delights of captialism, including French lingerie. At one point, alone in her hotel room, she turns the photo of Stalin that she keeps by her bed face down on the nightstand. Furtively and with a feeling of shame at first, she begins to enjoy the silk stockings and then the nightie that she's secretly purchased. It's a beautiful, sensual number.

Part I:

Part II (a better print) is available at YouTube.

Dargis' favorite Charisse sequence is from The Band Wagon, but not the "Dancing in the Dark" scene.

I prefer the film’s “Girl Hunt Ballet,” a spoof of a Mickey Spillane pulp in which Astaire plays a detective who partners with a willowy blonde and a smokin’ brunette, both danced by Ms. Charisse. The blonde has her allure, but not the brunette’s sex appeal — or her dress, a red-hot number with tassels hanging from each torpedolike breast. “She came at me in sections,” the detective says of the brunette, with “more curves than a scenic railway.” Choreographed by Michael Kidd, the athletic number makes the most of her legs, which thrust through the front slit of her dress like a boxer’s jabs.
Here's a clip:

Cyd Charisse's own favorite performance, "Dancing in the Dark," ranks as one of the most beautiful moments ever in a musical. Jeff posted about the scene a few months back. Here's Klinkenborg's description of the sequence:
And if I had to choose only one moment to remember Charisse by, it would be her silent duet with Astaire in “The Band Wagon.” The song is “Dancing in the Dark,” the setting is Central Park, and, as usual, the overlapping illusions are nearly confounding. There they are — two professional dancers, carefully choreographed and rehearsed, playing two professional dancers dancing spontaneously on a soundstage that is meant to be Central Park, and all the while they are feigning an almost reproachful, amorous awareness of each other that conceals the hard-working awareness of two pros on the job. It was Cyd Charisse’s remarkable gift to move through the hall of mirrors that is the American movie musical and never be caught glancing at herself.
"Dancing in the Dark"

Charisse also had several famous dance numbers with Gene Kelly. It was her appearance in Singin' in the Rain that turned her into a starring lady. It's great watching Charisse with the athletic and powerful Kelly. She complimented him well.

And though I didn't really like Brigadoon that much, I did enjoy Charisse and Kelly in the "Heather on the Hill" sequence:

Thanks, Cyd. May you dance forever. . . .

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Obama's Got Pander!

Barack Obama became the Democratic nominee for President last Tuesday.

The very next day, as if to prove that he could pander with the best/worst of them . . . . well . . . .

Jon Stewart on Obama, McClain and Hillary Clinton pandering their little hearts out at the annual conference of AIPAC, the leading pro-Israel lobbying group in the United States.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Obama Nomination

I didn't vote for Obama in the primaries. He wasn't even my second choice among the candidates. But I have to admit that I started getting a little choked up Tuesday night after he finally gained enough delegates to become the nominee of the Democratic Party.

It's been a strange campaign so far. On one hand, I've been appalled by the outright racism expressed by a number of Democratic voters. Watching news clips of scary-looking people saying they would never vote for a black man shouldn't have surprised me, I guess, but it did. And it saddened me deeply. This was supposed to be the party that cared about people of color. It didn't help that the Clinton campaign engaged in race-baiting once it became evident they had a battle on their hands, which certainly contributed to the openly racist remarks flowing so easily towards the end of the primaries in places like West Virginia and Kentucky (and in one frightening woman from New York City screeching nasty remarks about Obama at the DNC Committee vote on Florida and Michigan).

Then, suddenly, after a seemingly endless campaign, an African-American man was standing before me as the Democratic nominee for president. How extraordinary! It was one of those beautiful but rare moments when the America I believe in and long for was able to blossom forth.

His speech last Tuesday night was one of the best of the campaign. "America, this is our moment. This is our time." That was riveting. Here it is if you didn't see it earlier.

The General Election

Obama should be able to defeat McCain in November. But I'm concerned about the way he lost control of the media narrative in the last part of the primaries.

After running such an impressive and well-planned campaign through the end of February, Obama's team was out-campaigned by Hillary Clinton more often than not the rest of the way. The constant battering by the Clinton camp seemed to knock Obama out of his game plan. While his team certainly reacts more quickly to a single attack than Kerry did with the Swiftboaters in 2004, they seem to have trouble with a constant barrage of potentially damaging statements or issues and struggled to maintain momentum after Ohio and Texas.

On the other hand, left to himself, I don't think John McCain could campaign his way out of a paper bag, and his team doesn't seem half as talented or creative as the Clintons. One theory says that if Barack Obama can defeat the Clintons, who many people consider some of the most brilliant politicians of the last 40 years, then he can defeat McCain. I agree with that up to a point. But what if - and I'm thinking of the evidence we have from this campaign - the Clintons actually weren't as brilliant as we made them out to be for so long? Or that they were operating like a once-great heavyweight champion who's now just a flabby, arrogant prima donna long past his prime, and who says stupid things because he's been hit in the head too many times? Then, Obama struggling until the very last primary in June doesn't look so positive.

Luckily, it looks like McCain is going to approach Obama the same way Clinton did - with disdain and disbelief that this young kid thinks it's his turn to be president instead of me, me, me, me me. You'd think McCain and his advisers would've watched the Democratic primaries and realized the mistake in underestimating Barack Obama.

Mark Halperin, at The Page, lists the ways in which John McCain underestimates Obama:

1. The astonishing enthusiasm that Obama inspires in his supporters — and how much it contrasts with the respect, but not passion, McCain enjoys from his own backers. (And the size of Obama’s crowds…)

2. The “Major League vs Little League” difference between Obama’s infrastructure and his own.

3. The inherent difficulty/sensitivity of running against two figures at once. McCain will have to 1) explicitly criticize a sitting Republican president before Republican audiences and 2) prevent the historic event of electing the nation’s first African-American president that many in the country (and the media) desire.

4. The ever-present danger on the trail that he might evoke Bob Dole with a Bob Dole-like misstep (fall off a stage, sound like a Washington fossil, seem angry and out of touch).

5. How little most Americans care about foreign policy (beyond the Iraq War) when the economy is in the tank.

6. How many voters (even Republican stalwarts) dread the idea of a virtual third Bush term.

7. How many members of the media dread the idea of covering a virtual third Bush term (and how much they buy Obama’s argument that McCain is an extension of Bush-Cheney).

8. The extent to which McCain’s lack of an economic message could make Obama (who also is challenged in adequately addressing the economy) seem like Bob Rubin, Bill Clinton, and Lou Dobbs all rolled into one.

9. That many of his party’s wiseguys and wisegals see polling data suggesting his chances of winning are no more than 30% (and how much it infects their cable TV appearances).

10. That in modern America, perception is often reality and style often beats substance.

11. That age is only a number unless it’s a really high number — then it’s a liability.

12. How old he looks when he is acting “presidential” on the stump – and how incongruous it makes his message of change appear.

13. How powerful debates might be when the allegedly inexperienced Obama of allegedly questionable judgment goes toe-to-toe with McCain, even on national security, and is therefore deemed of sufficient strength and stature to be president by many.

14. How valuable Obama makes voters feel (”we are the change we have been waiting for”) – while McCain’s campaign instructs and lectures voters.

15. How forcefully Obama will now move to the center as a mainstream, optimistic candidate celebrating both change and America’s greatness.

(I would add another: 16. A winning smile like Obama's connects with voters more than McCain's snide, arrogant little laugh that sounds like Beavis from Beavis and Butthead.)

Running mates will probably be important for both sides, as each candidate tries to bring together various elements of their respective parties and win some of the crucial swing states.

But I'll take a look at those in the future.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Funny How Time Slips Away

Feeling nostalgia for my youth in Austin . . . .

Here's Willie Nelson singing his beautiful song "Funny How Time Slips Away" at his 2nd Annual Fourth of July Picnic, 1974.

(With a very drunk Leon Russell. From what I've heard and read, there was a wee bit of drinking and toking at those 4th of July Picnics.)

To see just how time slips away, check out Willie singing the same song in the 1960s. It's the second one in the medley.

Al Green does a nice version of the song here.

Elvis Presley, The Supremes and Dave Matthews also do versions.