Monday, March 21, 2011

The Elite 8

Ah, brackets.
Ah, Spring.

I know most of you are riding the high that was the opening week of the NCAA Men's basketball tourney. I would be right with you if stupid Notre Dame hadn't messed up my ENTIRE bracket last night. And while I'm somehow magically third right now in the CHTV/pocket doppler pool, I know it won't last. Therefore I am turning my attention to an even better bracket, the UEFA Champions League!!!

Anyone still here?

For those of you that didn't click the giant red X in the upper corner of the screen, thank you.

Champions League is one of the best soccer tournaments ever, and recently on twitter I was asked to help clear up some things about it.

Champions League takes the best teams from all of the European Leagues and pits them together in a season long knock out fight until one team is left standing to rule over all of Europe. How a team is selected differs in each country. In England the top three teams in the top league get automatic bids. The fourth place team must play in a play in round game. In Italy, its the top two teams that get auto bids and the third that has to play in. I don't know each country qualifiers, but suffice to say if its a country/team you haven't heard of, they probably get less auto bids. (we'll call them the mid majors). (the people who finish in their league just under the CL teams get thrown into the Europa League, the NIT of the Europe).

We start off with 32 teams. They get grouped together and play each other twice. The top two teams in each group advance into the KNOCK OUT stages, the third teams gets thrown into the Europa League (NIT) and the fourth team gets sent home. All of this happened months ago.

Then we're down to 16. The real sweet 16.
The confusion starts NOW.
The teams are not bracketed. Their names are thrown into a bowl and the UEFA committee literally draws names to see who plays each other. Rule, teams from the same league can NOT play each other. Also, people who finished number 1 in their group can not place a team that also finished first.
With me?
Okay, so then the teams are set to play each other twice. The teams in UEFA CL always play each other twice, except for the final, which is a straight winner take all game.
In the two games, obviously, the team that scores the most goals moves on. So you can lose the first game 2-1, but if you come roaring back and win the next game 3-0, you move on; its what we call AGGREGATE scoring. The aggregate score would be you 4 them 2. YOU WIN! and you advance.
But what happens if the score is 3-3 on aggregate?? are you sitting down? do you have a piece of paper out? AWAY GOALS. they are like magic beans. You want them. If after two games, both teams have scored the same amount of goals, the team with the most away goals advances. see, that's not that complicated. It's a pretty simple idea, until you start to think about it.
Example: in the first game, you are away. the game ends 0-0. in the next "leg" of the round, you are home. If the other team scores 1 goal, they are up 1-0 on aggregate. You would now need TWO goals to advance. one goal would make the aggregate 1-1; but the other team would have the away goal and they would move on.
These rules apply to all the knock out rounds of Champions League.

Okay, so if you followed all of that, and are still with me, give yourself a pat on the back.

Last Friday was the draw for the Elite 8 of Champions League. And NOW we are bracketed. The first group pits Real Madrid (pronounced Re-Al not real) vs Tottenham (pronounced Tot'nm) and FC Internazionale Milano (aka Inter) vs FC Schalke 04 (um, you're guess is as good as mine is on this one)
The second groups has Manchester United vs Chelsea (figure those are self explanatory) and Barcelona vs FC Shakhtar Donetsk (which is REALLY fun to try to pronounce. SHOCK TAR!!!) Each team plays each other twice, the winner moving on to play the other winner in their group. (Americans should be very familiar with this set up).

So now that you have yourself a primer, its time to fill out your bracket!!
If you're not the kind of person who likes to blindly fill out these things, let me give you a very American-ized back ground of each team.

1. Real Madrid. As much as people like to hate on both Chelsea and Man U (we will get to that later) Real is the New York Yankees (and sometimes the Washington Redskins) of the soccer world. Two summers ago, they broke the bank bringing both Ronaldo and Kaka on board. If there's a good player out there, asking for a lot of money, rest assured, Real will pick them up. Despite all their efforts though, Real still comes in second to power house Barca (see below). Real has won Champions League nine times. Is it time to make it a nice round ten?

2. Tottenham Hotspur FC (the full name of Tot'nm). English. need I say more? Tottenham is not a team generally considered a current powerhouse of England. The two years prior to making the CL, Tottenham finished middle of the table. Failing to qualify for Europa league. They're a good team, but this deep run into the CL is definitely helping their popularity. If you'd like to cheer on an English team but are turned off by Chelsea and Man U, Tot'nm could be for you.

3. Inter. They're good. Like really good. Played in last years final and just took our last years winner, Bayern Munich. They play at the San Siro, which has like 10 foot tall wire fences separating the field and the stands. When you watch games there you will frequently hear a loud bang sound that is very similar to a cannon going off. SB believes it is Inter executing dissenters. Their goalie, Julio Cesar sometimes has the face of a Disney character. So if you like Italy, power by force, and/or Disney movies, this might be the team for you.

4. Schalke. I got nothing. They're German. I really don't watch the German league, all I know about German teams is that Bayern Munich is their Inter. And I know about Werder Bremen because Bremen makes me think of the childhood story about the animals that took over the house from the jewel thieves. So if your German and like an underdog, this is your team

5. Manchester United. I am a Man U fan. And while Man U has it's fair share of haters, see my mentions column from Saturday night, Man U sells more jerseys every year than ALL of the NFL teams combined. They're owned by the Glazer family, who own the Tampa Bay Bucs, which I admit is off setting. Their coach is a knight. They talk big talk, and generally back it up. Real cool, Man U fact, they have twins on the team. What are the odds that twins would both be great a soccer, both play for one of the best teams in the world, and both play the same position, just on different sides? Man U has money but doesn't always spend it as much as Real. (They lost both Ronaldo and Tevez in the same off season, weren't going to pay). I'm biased, I think they're a great team. Most people think they're jerks. Which they can be. On Saturday a Man U player made an awful tackle on American Stu Holden (who currently plays for Bolton in England) and now Holden is out for 6 months. So currently Man U is especially hated. But if you want to be like me, cheer for a winner, and have the fun of saying GLORY GLORY, this is your team.

6. Chelsea. Chelsea and Man U are pretty much the same. Good players, good team, spend the money. They also have the world's best (okay, maybe second best to Ronaldo) flopper/actor in the world on their team, Drogba. (Drogba's the guy who played with a broken arm in the World Cup for the Ivory Coast). They're coach is Carlo Ancelotti, and he likes to raise one eye brow at a time and that makes me smile. Three seasons ago, Man U and Chelsea played in the final and it ended in penalty kicks in the rain. (with Man U the victors) Blood has been boiling even more so ever since. This is also Aaron Nagler's favorite team. So if being on Nagler's good side is important to you, This is your team.

7. Barcelona. Once you see Barca play, you'll stop and think to yourself. "Wait, I've seen this team before. In the World Cup. When they called themselves Spain." and you'll pretty much be right. If you're Spanish and really good and you're name isn't Fernando Torres, you are probably on Barca. Barca is fast, and good. And they have a lot of good players. And they beat Man U two years ago in the CL final and that kind of broke my heart.

8. FC Shakhtar Donetsk. They're from the Ukraine. And that my friends, is crazy. They're the Richmond of Champions League. or VCU.

I know some people find soccer boring, but I'm guessing most of those people watch random games, and not the top 8 teams in Europe battling it out for the most coveted prize.

So if you're like me and your NCAA bracket has fallen apart, get out a pen and join me in this one.

THESE ARE THE CHAMPIONS. (last years intro)