Sunday, April 29, 2012

The End Of An Era

For the past four years we have witnessed the dominance of Barcelona FC over every other team there is in soccer. The class and style of its game is exquisite and quite admirable. And the quality of soccer played by Barcelona is impeccable and simply extraordinary, usually having complete possession of the ball, which gives them absolute control over its rivals.
Nevertheless, once you are at the top (when you are # 1), it is harder to keep up with yourself than for the other teams to keep up with you. When you are the best, teams start studying you harder, deeper and more carefully by analyzing plays and creating new tactics to use against you. Teams get used to your way of playing and even though you beat them, they still learn some more about your strategies, your strengths and, most importantly, your weaknesses.
For rival teams, this is an adaptation process that may take longer than they would like to, as fans suffer from their losses and get discouraged, but once the rival teams find the way to get revenge, it is a sweet moment for the team and the fans, as well.
Basically, that is what happened last Saturday against Real Madrid and last Tuesday against Chelsea FC. They obviously were not pretty ways to win, as they both (Real Madrid and Chelsea FC) played a very defensive game against Barcelona FC, in which the counter attack would be their best ally, and it worked for them. They believed it could work, executed their plan beautifully and proved to be the right move.
That being mentioned, I also want to add that it seemed to me like both Real Madrid and Chelsea FC wanted the victory more in those two games. I may be wrong, but I was lucky enough to watch both games live at Camp Nou and, almost at no point, I felt that extra effort by the Barca players. Fans were losing their voices cheering, shouting and singing for their beloved Barcelona, but, to me, the players did not seem to get electrified by those gestures.
I felt like they were missing that spark that they had been displaying for the past four years. Now it is like they have lost their "mojo". Even when they were down and needed to score (and the whole stadium was hopeful that they would score and come back to win it, like they usually do), I did not notice a sense of urgency by the Barca players, for the most part –until the last five minutes of the game.
In my opinion, coach Guardiola made the right decision stepping out of the coaching position at the end of this season, as it is time for a change in Barcelona FC. Now Tito Vilanova, who was Guardiola’s assistant coach, will be the new coach of the team and have the opportunity to provide the team with a fresh start and new ideas under the same concept that the team has been utilizing these past years.
Tito is a man who believes in “La Cantera”, is accustomed to the pressure and challenge of the media, team and fans, feels the colors of Barca and understands the objectives of the team. Therefore, this should be a fairly simple transition that, hopefully for Barcelona FC, will help them elevate their game and have a better season next time, overall.
As for Guardiola, I think it is easy to say that it has been an impressive coaching career for him. Guardiola and his team made history in the club. His success as Barca’s coach went beyond the three Ligas, three Spanish Supercups, two Champions Leagues, two Clubs World Cups, two European Supercups and one Copa del Rey that the team won. Guardiola’s team broke and set records, and displayed the best soccer in the world for four straight years. They were always the team to beat at any particular tournament, attracted fans from all over the world, and defeated 56 out of the 57 teams that they faced in the Guardiola era. Curiously, the one team they were never able to beat was Chelsea FC.

-Y gracias por no fumar!

Guardiola being thrown up by his players while celebrating his first
Champions League Cup. Picture from  

Saturday, April 21, 2012

"El Clasico" Is Upon Us

This year´s Real Madrid-Barça game could not come at a better time. About a month ago, Real Madrid was at the top of the Spanish League leading Barcelona by 10 points. Everyone had lost hope in Barcelona´s chances to win the league… even Guardiola! However, all this assumption had a complete turn around when Barça went on a long winning streak, and The Merengues could not finish up games that ended in surprising draws.

Therefore, Real Madrid is today four points ahead of Barça, and if Madrid wins today at the Camp Nou, they will pretty much seal the deal and celebrate at The Cibeles, where they usually gather with their fans to enjoy the league´s title. On the other hand, if Barcelona wins today, they will make the league even more interesting by positioning themselves only one point behind Real Madrid, hoping that Madrid will succumb against their pressure.

The point is that today both teams arrive hungry to this very meaningful game that promises to be very exciting and full of emotions, like always. They both need to win today to benefit their own interests, and the history of this rivalry will not disappoint, of course.

El Clasico has so much history, drama and importance behind it that it makes it not only the most followed soccer match in the world, but the most famous, emotive and interesting one. From fans to coaches to players, everyone wants to be part of the Real Madrid vs Barcelona games, somehow.

Throughout the years, this Spanish Derbi has gained more and more popularity due to many factors. For instance, Figo´s transfer to Real Madrid from Barça in 2000 intensified the feelings of the rivalry making them hate each other even more. And, the “battle of the best” between Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi has motivated both soccer clubs to be better and win it all to show their supremacy over one another.

In the end, El Clasico is about Real Madrid vs Barcelona fans, Mourinho vs Guardiola, their systems and tactics (Real Madrid buying the best players of the world vs the players of La Cantera of Barcelona), Los Merengues vs Los Cules, Adidas vs Nike, Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi, and the war for the Pichichi and the title of the Spanish League!

                                                                                - Y gracias por no fumar!

Messi of Barça (left) and Ronaldo of Real Madrid (right). Picture from cabletvdeportes

Sunday, April 15, 2012

One Hundred Years At Home!

Not too often we have a chance to commemorate the century of anyone or something. However, the Boston Red Sox are thrilled to be celebrating this season the one hundred years of existence of America´s most beloved baseball stadium: Fenway Park!

It is, in fact, the oldest baseball stadium in the country. Generations and generations of Red Sox fans and baseball fans from all over the world have come to visit this magical park that mystically makes you fall in love with it from the moment you walk into it. Its electric atmosphere, die-harded and unconditional fans, and fascinating players make you feel so involved and welcomed into the team that you feel that  you fit in… that you belong there… well, that you are at home, really! (except if you are a Yankee fan, of course)

This ball park has seen uncountable baseball prospects become stars, and stars become Hall of Famers. Fenway has also witnessed unbelievable plays go down to history like A-Rod and Varitek´s fight and last year´s triple play against the Rays, beaten curses like the Bambino one, and won championships like the two most recent ones in 2004 and 2007.

Let´s understand how big a celebration this is and how lucky we are to be a part of it. This is like one of those moon or sun eclipses that happen every 100 years and we have the opportunity to see. So, regardless of how disappointing last season´s ending was and how much it still hurts, it is time to put it behind us. Everyone on the team has done so already and is fully focused on this year´s team success, and so should we.

Opening day finally arrived to Fenway Park this past Friday after a long off/pre season full of changes. And, even though it did not begin the way we wanted to, the Red Sox should be serious World Championship contenders. They now have a new managerial staff, and players are committed to the new team policies and mentality, so let´s enjoy and take part of this special year for Fenway Park, the Boston Red Sox and ourselves: the fans.

This is a team that believe they can add up to the celebration by giving Fenway Park a very special gift for its 100th birthday. One thing is for certain though, Fenway Park will keep writing its history and being one of the most popular landmarks in the city of Boston for many more years, so happy birthday Fenway Park and many more to come!

- Y gracias por no fumar!

Opening day 2012 at Fenway Park. Picture from Alfredo Gago´s collection

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Tennis, Sun and Latin Flavor!

I had the pleasure to be invited to cover the 2012 Ericsson Open in Miami, Florida by Venezuelan's Magazine: "Pass Times" from Editorial Group Company EGE. The tournament ended this past Sunday, and it was my first time in such an event, but I promise you it will not be the last one.

The atmosphere that is created for this professional tennis tournament is so spectacular and enjoyable that you can spend the whole day there doing many different things. From having a picnic with your family and friends, to shopping (or getting acquainted with) all the latest tennis clothing and styles, to watching single or double matches (men or women) all the time you want. You can also participate in games and raffles, watch live music performances, and see the players practicing and interacting with the media and fans, signing kids' huge tennis balls and, occasionally, taking pictures with fans.

Undoubtedly, this is a special venue for people of all ages. Some of its best features are that tickets are affordable, each session is pretty well-organized, and it offers a great deal of excitement to kids and adults in all aspects of the 'tennis experience'. I must warn you though that the more games you watch, the more into the tournament you get, and therefore, the more players you want to follow and the more matches you want to watch.

The Miami weather is really a plus to this tournament. It is always hot and sunny during this time of the year down there, which may be too much for some people, but if you live up north (like I do) and are trying to take a break from the cold winter, then this is a great spot to be. With such great climate, fans have the opportunity to combine the tennis tournament with beach days and Latin food. But if you do not want to miss any tennis action, you can even get a tan at the tennis place, and trust me, you will!

Honestly, this is a tennis tournament that should not be missed, because even if you do not follow tennis or do not know much about it, you will get into it and start cheering for some player(s). You get to see the best tennis players in the world participate in this tournament, as they all love Miami's weather, crowd and the city in general. The players will make you feel the adrenaline rush go through your veins, stand up your seat and celebrate point after point very passionately.

This year's winners were # 1 in the world, Novak Djokovic for the men; and # 4 in the world, Agnieszka Radwanska for the women. Nevertheless, the real 'exclamation point' for me was not to watch the final matches, but to witness all the players' special abilities that characterized them, such as the speed service of Isner, the strength of Nadal, the concentration of Sharapova, the popularity of the Williams' sisters, the elegance of Federer, the discipline of Azarenka, the agility of Tsonga, the determination of Radwanska, and the class and tenacity of Djokovic, as the tournament unfolded.

The tennis Sony Ericsson Open truly is a close-up and first hand experience, so keep it in mind for next year... it will be totally worth it!

- Y gracias por no fumar!

Main entrance to Miami's 2012 Sony Ericsson Open. Picture taken by my crew.

Collage of pictures taken with my camera during the event. Djokovic at top right corner, Federer
at bottom left corner, Tsonga at bottom right corner, and my cousin and I at top right corner.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Do You Believe In Magic?

"When hope was almost all gone and things were tearing apart, a 'local hero' came back to the rescue", some of us may say. This local hero is very familiar with the city of Los Angeles, and L.A. is also very familiar with him. He is no other but Earvin “Magic” Johnson.

Less than a week ago, it was announced that Magic was part of the new ownership group that had bought the L.A. Dodgers. With this news Magic gave new life to the Dodgers organization and to its fans, as the people of Los Angeles recognize that this deal means so much more than the beginning of new ownership.
Magic has always been loved and admired by the people of L.A. He has given them happiness and sadness, but overall, he has given them hope, dreams and joy. Magic's input to the team is going to be invaluable simply because he means so much to the city, as well as the city means so much to him. He is part of the history of L.A. and has always been passionate about it.
Though he is not a baseball player nor does he have too much knowledge about it, no one is questioning his ability to help the team and the Dodgers organization. Magic has already expressed his excitement about being part of the Dodgers organization, and has shared some goals toward the team with the media, such as putting money into the renovation and improvement of the stadium, and helping the team conquer a championship sooner than later. And fans appear to be taking his goals very positively.
It has not even been a week yet and his impact on the team has already started to show. Opening day tickets sold out just hours after the news about Magic being one of the new co-owners of the team was released. Dodgers fans must be excited about it and understand that this is a huge step moving forward. Without a doubt, Magic will have a positive outcome in the city of LA and the Dodgers organization by bringing Dodgers fans back to the stadium and acquiring a group of players who will deliver the ultimate goal: be world champs! Just like he did with the Lakers when he won five NBA championships with them, and when he became a HIV activist to bring awareness around about the not well known disease (in the 1990s).
For Magic Johnson this new chapter of his life is a new battle that he will carry out until the objective is achieved. Basketball fans already know that he is a man of his word and when he promises something, he does not rest until the results he is after come along. Fans outside basketball who do not know Magic are about to find out that he makes things happen... even if he has to fight against all odds, just like he does every single day of his life with HIV.

- Y gracias por no fumar!

Magic Johnson celebrating Dodgers' ownership.
Picture from AP Images