In Capitulation (Lyon 1-0 APOEL Nicosia)

Till only a few hours ago, every product from a Greek-speaking country was dismissed as crude, barbarous, and horrible—falling back into a dark distance, as if Herodotus’ narrative of the war with Persia, and its ethnographic lessons, were the products of a gentler race. Soon enough, artifacts of a Cretan origin will have to fight for a place near the African fetishes, masks and scepters at the Metropolitan Museum. The present Champions League show puts on a map a section of the world that the conventional football wisdom still hesitates to acknowledge. Mr. Ivan Jovanovic, the Serbian coach of Nicosia, has done an admirable job collecting and arranging these pieces. It is possible that, just like Romanesque is closer to us than High Gothic, we feel a special kinship with dogged defenses; it is perhaps, too, because our whole scale of values has undergone a change and we are stunned by ghosts of economic calamity, cowed by arbitrary assertions of technocratic power in Italy. The word “primitive” is, of course, ambiguous. Yet, the APOEL defenders have faces in which the sorrow and weariness of political chaos are expressed in the mouth and eyes as well as in the posture.

Compare that with the rapacious, yet ultimately ineffective, chain of stinging shots by Lyon, a paternalistic bourgeoisie of continental Europe, that tried to find its way through like in the midst of the metropolis a cat might catch a whiff of clean smell, coming from the outside meadows. Lyon has adopted the 4—2—3—1 formation that in France is just another name for universal boredom, but it has not managed to go beyond those sketches which in Germany, between 1925 and 1930, were called sachlich portraits, naturalistic exercises content of their own undertaker’s zeal. A sober revelation of Lyon’s attitude is Michel Bastos, who transformed himself into a footballing anachronism: with some of the external stuff of history, he spent half of this game spraying crosses with the lively movement and suspense of a wide-bottomed crinoline dress in a crowd (Bastos may be a bit old now, but he still has style).

It took almost half an hour of his work en masse to realize what a jugful of tasteless syrup it was: the striker being devoid of the most elementary capacity for scoring, his most conspicuous success was at landscaping. After such fruitless vitality, Bastos moved to the right, using only the left foot to advance, as the most Surrealiste conceit of modern inverted wingers. The team advanced to a goal, but Lyon’s imagination remained poor. The return leg will be a defiant show in archaic fashion: half-baked France, with its sentimental rhetoric, and half-ruined Greece, elevating the island of Cyprus, which once stood in the mouth of the Turkish lion, into a national symbol. ♦

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