12 March 2009

Roma vs. Arsenal: Between cataclysms

The vibes were bad from the start. Firstly, RTE had elected to show the Manchester United-Inter match. This speaks less of the importance of that game than of the fact that were Cesc Fabregas undergoing actual apotheosis, our national broadcaster would still show us the bowling section of Manchester United's bowling 'n' hookers bonding session, live and in full (followed by some grumpy analysis about how badly they would fare in the hookers section). This necessitated the chasing-up of dodgy web streams and...well, we'll get to that.

Then there was the team news: Arsenal would line out with the same XI as in the first leg. This was bad. Bendtner on the left could not work twice.

(I realise that I could have omitted the unnecessary "on the left" and "twice" from the previous sentence. Strunk and White would be displeased.)


Roma scored early, not least because people have started to pay attention to Arsenal's fine defensive record of late, and that sort of thing always leads to trouble. The play flowed like a mountain. The bad vibes got vibier. And then the web streams started acting up.

That's "streams", plural, because every one I tried had some problem: stuttering or bad sound quality or non-existence. And they all had a Sky commentator whose voice registered broadcasterly authority without betraying any emotion, which was utterly depressing given the miserable fare and the dread that lay ahead. He was joined by Alan Smith, the non-non-midfielder, non-ex-Coppell-assistant Alan Smith, whose vocal presence was a constant reminder of glory days — a strange kind of glory, but glory all the same — which jarred with the pervading hum of doom.

Underpinning everything was the juxtaposition of the pomp and bluster of the Champions League with the ultimate futility of this match. Approximately 16 billion people in 837 countries watched Man Utd-Inter, and while it apparently didn't quite turn into celestial warfare, it had a greater chance of doing so than this had. This was more like a crappy tale about a minor deity who a colonising force didn't even bother to incorporate into their own belief system. Neither team could have a role in this tournament greater than being turned into a shrew.

And this gave rise to another juxtaposition: the parallel awareness of this futility and the self-delusion required to give a damn. This was made manifest as most of the rest of the match was unseen by this pair of eyes. The story had to be pieced together from score updates and liveblogs, with a dash of paranoid fantasy for flavour (I bet Bendtner's going to miss any second...). All the while, various streams were in turn dialled up and cursed as they malfunctioned in manifold inventive fashions. And for what? For the chance that, despite the knee-jerk pessimism, that single away goal would arrive and deliver the cheap hit which would soon give way to the dawning reality. I've never been addicted to heroin, but I bet this is a thousand times worse.

There was a pile of CDs beside the computer. I took the top one, a Hank Williams compilation, put it in the machine and selected Shuffle. It played 'I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive'. This didn't help.

The game, it seems, trundled along to a shoot-out, which was accompanied by a belated discovery of a working stream. Eduardo missed the first penalty, which only a bastard, or a Roma fan, could have taken pleasure from. Vucinic missed soon afterwards; I was listening along to a radio commentary that was a few seconds slow, and the kick co-incided with the delayed sound of a loud firework explosion, which struck a comic contrast with the shot. Other than that, the players kept scoring, despite the overall quality of the penalties not being great. (Diaby...you lucky git.) Finally, Max Tonetto blazed, as I believe the technical term is, his shot over. Arsenal celebrated like they didn't know that when people celebrate like that, they end up dead in the next scene.

So, the good news: Arsenal are in the Champions League quarter-finals!

The bad news: Arsenal are in the Champions League quarter-finals.


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