Thursday, November 5, 2009

Minute By Minute Champion's League Food Fest Part 1

Friend of the Perfectly Weighted Through Blog, Chris Shaffer shares his seven hour epicurean quest to eat, drink and be Champion's League merry in a minute by minute format...

Scottsboro, AL: Now that Fox has wrested control of the broadcast rights to UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) Champions League (UCL) from ESPN, a plethora of home viewing opportunities exist that were not previously available during the reign of ESPN, provided you get Fox Soccer Channel. On matchdays that include a game played in Russia or the Ukraine with an early start time, the possibilities become almost NCAA Basketball Tournament-esque. November 4 (also matchday 4) was one of these days. The following chronicles my experiences watching two consecutive live UCL games followed by a third game on tape delay, or seven straight hours all told.*

Here’s the lineup:

11:00am CDT: Pre-game Show

11:30am CDT: Barcelona (Spain) @ Rubin Kazan (Russia) LIVE

1:45pm CDT: Liverpool (England) @ Olypique Lyon (France) LIVE

4:00pm CDT: AZ Alkmaar (Netherlands) @ Arsenal (England)

*Important note: To enhance the authenticity of the experience, I will supply myself with a characteristic sampling of food and beverages from each of the countries represented in this three-game smorgasbord. Alas, Denmark is not one of them. Since I’ll be watching the games from a corner of Northeast Alabama, only two sources will be used for food and beverages: Walmart and the Conoco gas station that sells wine and liquor.

Procurement: OK, for Game One I need something Spanish (Catalonian would be even better, but, I’m trying to be realistic) and something Russian. The beverage acquisition proves easier than expected: not only does Conoco sell Stolichnaya vodka, they even have a Spanish Rioja. Unfortunately, Walmart doesn’t sell caviar or fried sturgeon fingers, but don’t most Russians drink their meals anyway? Eating in Spain makes me think tapas, especially since I don’t have time to make paella myself. Tapas at Walmart means TGIFriday’s frozen jalapeno poppers and some frozen veggie egg rolls.

For Game Two a four-pack of Boddington’s Pub Ale and frozen battered cod fillets take care of Liverpool. As Lyon is considered the gastronomic capital of France, I had to aim high. Unable to locate the foie gras on my own at Walmart, I asked a staff associate who happily directed me to the gun counter. So it looks like frozen pommes frites will have to do. These may also be considered “chips.” Brilliant.

Game Three: I think I’ll let my Liverpool purchases cover both English teams, thus taking care of Arsenal. That leaves the Dutch. That means Heineken, but what food item? Boy, am I drawing a blank, until I remember that Dutch mega-company Unilever Corp. owns Good Humor Ice Cream of Green Bay, WI. A box of Good Humor “Cookies & Cream” bars in hand, a toast to the land of windmills, wooden shoes, hash bars and prostitution. Cheers.

11:00am : Fox Soccer’s Pre-game Show
Hosted by the ubiquitous Max (since when is Cuba a soccer country?) Bretos, with analysis from Scot Bobby McMahon and Englishman Warren Barton. According to Bretos, the “stakes are at an all-time high.” Well, I’m sure glad I’m watching.

11:03am: Aha, Kazan is the city, Rubin apparently just a sandwich. Time to turn on the oven and make myself a Stoli screwdriver.

11:10am: Place tapas, ie. jalapeno poppers and egg rolls, in oven. Evidently Kazan is the capital of Tatar Russia. Credit to Fox for showing the cityscape and not just the stadium. Barcelona’s Leo Messi is interviewed. An exciting player but a poor interview. Turns out he is “tranquillo.” Also turns out he’s scored only one goal in the Champions League so far this year. According to Bobby McMahon, this is precisely why Barca brought in giant Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic: “he’s Barcelona’s ‘plan b,’” but ‘plan b’ hasn’t scored in UCL this season either.

11:25am: Pre-game pearls of wisdom: Warren Barton explains that Rubin Kazan are a counterattacking team. Against mighty Barca, who isn’t? Kazan’s key player is Argentine midfielder Alejandro Dominguez. It’s cold in Russia in November. Better freshen this screwdriver.

11:30am: As the teams emerge from the tunnel at the Central Stadium, it becomes evident that it’s really, really cold in Kazan tonight. Says Max Bretos, “I think the temperature just dropped here in the studio.” The previously mentioned temperature of 10 degrees centigrade was in error. It’s 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Barca players visibly shiver during the playing of the Champions League Anthem. Only Austrian referee Konrad Plautz looks unfazed.

4’: Kazan Coach Kurban Burdyev is feverishly working worry beads in his hands. He wears only a coat and tie. He used to coach Turkmenistan.

12’: Stadium PA announcements are made in Russian and English. They are used to recite an interminable list of local dignitaries in attendance, just in case you need to know who to bribe next time you’re in Kazan.

25’: Kazan just completed their first pass of the match. My tapas are ready. Jalapeno poppers are surprisingly good with vodka. Maybe I should’ve bought the fried cheese too.

30’: Last year, Kazan hosted the International Ice Hockey Championships. Stats show Barcelona with 75% of possession. Honestly, it seems like more.

35’: “It’s not been a thriller,” says the commentator. I wonder what Tommy Smyth of ESPN would say. No, not really.

Halftime: 0-0. Time to uncork the Rioja. FSC analyst Warren Barton is starting to remind me of the Geico gecko. Too bad Walmart didn’t have any Manchego to go with this fine Rioja. Can you fry Manchego? Heck, in Alabama you can fry anything.

50’: Apparently the temperature has continued to drop. Barca’s Brazilian defender Dani Alves is wearing short sleeves. Andres Iniesta looks pallid and seriously ill. Not to worry, Iniesta always looks this way. Austrian Referee Konrad Plautz seems to be a no-nonsense guy and utterly humorless. He may be the perfect referee. He may be the perfect Austrian.

60’: Rubin Kazan’s 18-yard box resembles the Alamo, albeit a much colder version. Yet Barca still haven’t scored. I think you could describe Rubin’s kits as Rioja colored.

75’: Substitute Alex Bukharov seems to have given life to Rubin’s moribund offense. Camera cuts to Barcelona’s bench, where players are snuggling under shared blankets. Really.

80’: Great commentary: “This one’s really heating up. Barca look ready for a final flurry.” Really.
Kazan is capital of the autonomous region of Tatarstan and is considered Russia’s third capital city. Who knew?

87’: Rubin Kazan sub Bukharov has been really good. Why didn’t he start? Barca sub Thierry Henry looking old and cold.

Fulltime: 0-0. Barcelona Coach Pep Guardiola, wearing lavish-looking down parka, shakes hands with Rubin Coach Burdyev. Burdyev is still wearing just the coat and tie.

Next, Chris watches the Liverpool vs Olympique Lyon match in Part 2.

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