5 - Barcelona's soccer team is the defending champion of both the European Champions League and La Ligue, Spain's national league which is the best league in Europe, evidence for which is that Spain won the 2010 World Cup - and close to half the players on that team play for Barcelona. In short: they are the best team on earth by a mile.
4 - Most of the other half of Spain's national team play for Real Madrid, Barcelona's timeless rival, and pretty much the 2nd Best Team on Earth. They HATE each other. How much? The name Real comes from "Royal", as in the team's charter originally came from the Spanish monarchy, based, of course, in Madrid. Real is the Establishment team of Spain the way the Yankees would be America's Establishment team if they just went ahead and relocated their corporate offices to the top floor of Goldman Sachs. But Barcelona is no Red Sox, plucky outsiders embracing the underdog role. Barcalona is the capital of Catalonia - a region which doesn't even consider itself part of Spain. The games between them are about one echo away from an actual civil war, like if Alabama played Notre Dame in 1875.
3 - Along with all those World Champion Spaniards, Real has Christiano Reynoldo, an almost impossibly unlikable Portugese pretty boy who has won about half of the various international Best Player Alive-themed awards in the last 4 years. He is a preening, insufferable crybaby with jello-mold hair who turns every possession into a one-way tsunami of downhill energy, like a kick-off return in football. He finds space, outruns and outshoots everyone. His pompous goals come like thunder claps, from distances that seem safe and on breakaways too fast to react to. He is the PERFECT Madrid player and he makes you ask, "Where did that COME from?"
2 - Across from Reynaldo is Barcelona's Lionel Messi, who is Argentinian and has won the other half of all the Greatest Alive awards since 2008. His game is everything Reynaldo's is not. He does not dive, following a code of tough guy honor mostly absent in his sport. He does not lead chaotic breakaways. He waits in the center of your defense, alone and unafraid, then taps two, then three, then four mesmerizing passes around you and sprints through the heart of your defense like a skier flailing through chest-deep powder. He is the perfect Barcelona player and he makes you ask "How did he get THROUGH there?"
1 - This rivalry is so good, it is called "El Classico" and this edition is the centerpiece of a 5-game series that will be the best week of sporting events for the whole year, anywhere. Last week Barca and Real kicked off their respective Champions League semifinal series. The Champions League is the tournament between the best 16 teams in all of Europe - imagine if the top 4 teams from all 4 of America's main sports all collided every year in some contest (ping pong?) to figure out exactly who - the Giants? The Heat? The Cardinals? - was really the best team in America. THat's the Champions League - the best teams from England, Germany, Spain, France and the rest play down to a final. THis week Real and Barcelona are in opposing semifinals, which in the Champions League are home-and-home games decided on aggregate score. Barca has the English dons, Chelsea; Real the German dynasty, Bayern Munich. There has been an assumption all year that we were destined for an El Classico Champions League final, with Real and Barca sure bets to meet in the final game. Well, Chelsea and Munich both pulled off wildly unexpected upsets in the first round, not just tying but beating their Spanish visitors by a goal each. That means Real and Barca will both need to win their rematches early next week - which means that, along with everything else, today's El Classico will be a contest to grab momentum for those games.
400 million people are going to watch this game. Be one of them.
SUNDAY - North Carolina-Duke, 3pm, ESPNU or that online thing ESPN does that you have to use Time Warner to get.
5. This is the rematch to a game that should have ended Carolina's season and still might have.
4. On defense, Carolina stripped the ball from Duke and one of Carolina's defensemen picked it up. He spun away from pressure as the goalie sprinted out wide for a pass to begin a clear upfield. Except the ball whipped out of the defenseman's stick and slowly, excrutiatingly, dribbled over the goal line. Own goal. 12-9 Duke. Duke's sideline exploded, Carolina collapsed. It was worse than bad luck, it was proof that, yet again, they were somehow going to find a way to beat them.
3. As Carolina tried to regain its balance, Duke took the ensuing face-off and scored in 12 seconds, effectively ending the game, though the Heels did get it back to within 2.
2. Since then, Duke has shredded everyone they've played. They stomped #1-ranked Virginia 13-5(!) in Charlottesville to clinch the ACC and beat Syrcause for the first time since 1978(!!).
1. But back comes Carolina! The Heels also beat the then-#1 ranked team in the country on a hostile field, John Hopkins in Baltimore, and then took apart UVA in the semifinals - at UVA, revenge for getting thrashed a week earlier in Chapel Hill - to make this final, the first ACC final for Carolina in 4 years.
Well over 400 million people won't care about this game. Don't be one.