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Thanks, Fox

Thanks to Fox, American soccer fans can feast on European soccer — including this week's Barcelona-Inter Milan match


We American fans of European soccer tend to be internationalist and Obama-ist. So one might assume that the very mention of the Fox network would provoke our considerable outrage. But the country's soccer minority knows more than most that Fox has many faces. And while its news/political arm might be alarmingly Attila-the-Hunnish, its sports arm, notably the Fox Soccer Channel, is our salvation. And never more so than this year when Fox wrested the Champions League away from ESPN, where it was a sadly, neglected treasure.

With ESPN's glut of sports, it only made room for two Champions League contests—one each on Tuesday and Wednesday—during game weeks. Contrast that with Fox's commitment to use its array of networks and affiliated outlets to broadcast multiple games from Europe's most compelling competition.

This week, with 16 games Tuesday and Wednesday in the first round of group play, it was a veritable soccer festival at my home. Thanks to Fox and DVR technology (and perhaps I should note that my wife is 1,000 miles away visiting her family), I watched three games Tuesday and three on Wednesday (and am recording another two Thursday, even though I already know the results). Granted only three of the broadcasts were live.

Still, it is not hard to avoid hearing European soccer scores in this country. Just resort to the childhood trick of sticking your fingers in your ears and humming mindlessly every time you suspect the commentators are going to update a game other than the one you are watching. Granted, this football feast can be a mixed blessing. So far this week, I saw two thrillers (Arsenal rallying to beat Standard Liege 3-2 after going down two goals in the opening minutes; A.C. Milan outplayed at Marseille, but winning 2-1 on two brilliant Clarence Seedorf-Filippo Inzaghi collaborations); three pedestrian and predictable 1-0 wins by English powers (Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea over Turkey's Besiktas, Hungary's Debrecen and Portugal's Porto respectively); and one classic soap opera.

The last was the glamour match of the day, pitting defending Spanish and European champion Barcelona against defending Italian champ Inter Milan. The 0-0 score is, of course, the one non-fans in America seize upon to bolster their case that soccer is a game were very little happens. But this game gave lie to the notion that a scoreless game is necessarily boring, as Inter withstood a ferocious and, at times, brilliant Barca attack. However, it was an individual match-up that made this more than a game and something of a soap opera.

Seldom does a defending champion do more than tinker with success, let alone dump a player like Samuel Eto'o. The Cameroon star had his best of five years with Barcelona last season. Not only did he tally 30 goals in league play, Eto'o scored another six in Champions, including the winning goal in the final against Manchester United. Not only did Barca send Eto'o off to Inter Milan, but they threw in 40 million euros to make the swap for Inter's high-scoring, Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic (29 goals last season). Eto'o was desperate to show that breaking up the Barcelona front line was a mistake.

Ibrahimovic, who adds size to the Barca attack that may prove useful, particularly against the bigger English teams, got a little motivational boost when Inter coach Jose Mourinho called the deal "good business" and suggested that the money enabled the Italian side to buy other players who would make Inter more of a threat in Champions. Eto'o was a non-factor in the game, a man who seemed to be trying way too hard and stumbling over his desperation. Ibrahimovic, by contrast, was a major factor, with what seemed to be a good scoring chance every few minutes. A trio of Barca magicians — Lionel Messi, Xavi, Thierry Henry—kept trying to link up with Ibrahimovic, but he always seemed slightly out of synch—a step behind or beside or a lunge or a leap away. By late in the game, he was so frustrated that he was reduced to firing off feeble, no-hope kicks from long distance.

It is, of course, a long season and only time will tell and that's why they play the games. Right now I know only one think for certain: I really can't thank Fox enough.