Here we go, Miami, another historic moment. The first live team handball match on Dade County soil: the Coupe de la Ligue Finals. Today, semifinal #1 between #3 seed Chambery and #2 seed Montpellier.
Updates after the jump.
12:03 p.m.: A crowd of mostly partisan Frenchmen about 300 deep. We're not in Marlins territory yet, but close.
12:04pm. If you've never seen handball, the court is a little larger than a basketball court, with a net at each end that's about half the size of a regulation soccer net. There's a half line and a "forbidden zone" in front of each net that the offense isn't allowed to enter. Ever. Sort of like lacrosse -- dudes jump into it but have to release the ball before their feet hit the parquet.
Intros are over. A bunch of French guys who look like weekend warriors wear uniforms that look exactly like my rec soccer uniform from 1987.
12:07 p.m. "All right, Miami, are you ready for some handball?" blasts over the PA in English and French. Only the French version gets a response.
The ball is like a hacky-sack with elephantitis.
12:08 p.m. One possession. One goal. Yellow card on Montepellier. The guy scored basically by falling over, artfully.
12:10 p.m. Sick block by Montpellier! Sick rejection on N'Diaye! Sacre bleu!
12:12 p.m. There's no transition defense in handball. It's basically like power play after power play with even sides. The teams run weaves to try to get open and then dive rather violently into the line of defense.
First "free throw." They do this from seven meters (hooray, metric system!). Montpellier guy scores easily. One-on-one with goalie, it looks to have the difficulty of a free throw in basketball. Harsh penalty for a card.
12:15 p.m. Score is 2-2. New rule I'm suddenly aware of: The defense can basically tackle anyone within six feet of the forbidden zone. Awesome.
Another free throw. Another goal. 3-2 Chambery.
12:18 p.m. "Cham-bery! Cham-bery!" Nice goal from the top of the... key? Featuring a basketball-like pick. 4-3 Chambery. Then a sweet jump throw from the corner at the other end to tie the score.
Basically, this game is much faster than the American Airlines Arena's wireless connection, which I'm now convinced has also been shipped in from France.
12:20 p.m. So #11 for Chambery, Daniel Narcisse, is basically a pimp. A French pimp weighing in at 90 poids, 189 cm tall, according to my media guide.
Some dissatisfaction with the Chambery goalie until Montpellier gets a rare break-away, one-on-one, and he stuffs the Montpellier guy with one bare hand. This is the handball equivilant of fumbling on the goal line. Très embarrassing for Montpellier, and the momentum swings.
12:25 p.m. Good news for Miami. An entire Haitian-American elementary school class has entered and is immediately drafted into the Chambery crowd. All of the kids learn the Chambery chant in, like, two seconds and are immediately the most passionate fans.
Injury time out. The tallest Montpellier guy gets his first stateside mugging trying to sneak through the black-and-gold Chambery defense.
12:28 p.m. 9-8 Chambery after another seven-meter throw. You can do almost anything to an offensive player in the designated area short of murder, but it will almost always be a foul.
Another nice save by the Chambery goalie, who has begun to show some swagger. Apparently the French also have the universal hand gesture for "Not in my house!"
12:30 p.m. So I lied. There is a bit of a transition game if there's a turnover. Just like in basketball, guys run out on the break and try to get the ball ahead of the defense for an uncontested shot.
9-9. Another sick kick save by the Chambery goalie, whose ego has swelled to American proportions. I've also just noticed -- forgive me -- he has a gigantic ass for a man so thin.
12:33 p.m. The sponsor today is Lee Tiger's Hard Rock City, which, according to the Internet, is a band? In the meantime, the first missed seven-meter shot. Merde.
12:35 p.m. Check out the website for Lee Tiger's Hard Rock City. I guess it's a band. The site plays music. But why would a rock band be the main sponsor for a handball game? This reeks of French mafia.
12:38 p.m. Uh, oh, Chambery. You're already down 12-10, the equivilant of four touchdowns, and now your pimp Narcisse has an elbow injury...
but a goal by the white guy with dreadlocks (also awesome -- I wish I could pull this off in the States) gets them within one point.
12:41 p.m. Narcisse, healed by the power of Brie cheese, is back and determined to take over this game, Jordan-style. Montpellier's defense, though, has clamped down like Napoleon at the Battle of Lody.
13-12 Montpellier. I smell an upset!
12:44 p.m. ...except that Montpellier is the #2 seed and is favored. Oops! Credibility out the window!
The pace has picked up. We're close to the half.
12:46 p.m. 15-13 Monpellier and we have a time-out right before the half. French disco blasts overhead. Montpellier fans do a side-to-side arm dance. Montpellier sets up the offense... sweet jump goal by William Accambray, or "Little Bill," as he's known in the Montpellier brothels.
12:47 p.m. At halftime, Montpellier has stretched the lead to 16-13. The White Yannick Noah of Chambery gets rejected at the buzzer.
And there will be halftime entertainment, the announcer... um... announces!
12:55 p.m. The "entertainment" is an American girl singing original R&B songs directly to the elementary school children. The song is about how much hotter she is than other girls and how she always has to be the center of attention. "I don't give a damn/You know who I am." Sometimes it's better not to understand the lyrics.
12:58 p.m. The DJ takes over and immediately throws on C&C Music Factory, forever endearing himself to me. The elementary school children get up and dance. Classics never die!
1:04 p.m. Montpellier gets the ball first, with the lead, and immediately the top scorer from the first half, #20 Heykel "Agamemnon" Megannen, takes a finger to the eye and has to sit down. The door opens for Chambery.
1:06 p.m. Travel on the White Yannick Noah, #21 Benjamin Massot Pellet -- which sort of sounds like his nickname should be "Massive Pellets." Know what I'm saying?
Chambery has a new goalie in, and he has a faux-hawk! Très 2002!
1:07 p.m. Now I'm getting an up-close look at the Montpellier goalie, #16 Daouda Karaboue, and he has a very non-French calmness to his playing style. He's also started the half with two ridiculous leg saves on point-blank shots and then just hangs back and chews his gum.
1:10 p.m. Uh oh. Monpellier scores on the break to make it 18-13. Snore... until a sick goal from 90 degrees by Karel Nocar, who incidentally rode his bike to the arena today. Get it? No-car! No? Well, the French love it.
1:12 p.m. Monpellier is doing an excellent job keeping aforementioned Chambery pimp Daniel Narcisse from getting any good looks -- a Belichek-level half-time adjustment. As Bill Walton would say, "The Montpellier coach, Patrice Canayer, is one of the true marvels, not just of team handball, but in all of Western civilization!"
1:16 p.m. 20-16 Montpellier. This deficit just doesn't seem like it's going to be overcome.
Two straight muggings by Chambery on Montpellier's Wissem Hmam, whom I would not want to meet in any alley, dark or well-lit.
1:18 p.m. Three straight goals by Montpellier to make it 23-16. Time-out Chambery. Bill Walton: "That was the worst 45 seconds in the storied history of the Chambery franchise. They're bringing down not only their city, but the entire region of Burgundy!"
1:21 p.m. 23-17 Montpellier. Chambery gets a break-away, but Karaboue stuffs him like the glorious forest-dwelling creature his name suggests. Bill Walton: "Karaboue is a national treasure. And devastatingly handsome too."
1:24 p.m. Boos and hisses from the Chambery crowd as a violent collision is not called a penalty. But shortly thereafter, Hmam tears out a Chambery player's pancreas and is sent to the bench for two minutes. Bill Walton: "Oh, come on, ref! The pancreas is a superfluous organ!"
1:25 p.m. Beautiful backward flip throw by Montpellier's Issam Tej, followed by two straight goals by P-I-M-P Daniel Narcisse, who's just playing a different game than everyone else. Walton says, "Beautiful. His form in the air reminds me of John Keats. He's just all by himself, silent on a peak in Darien."
1:28 p.m. The Montpellier flood of April 10, 2009, just keeps coming. Xavier Barachet scores one to keep the gap at four goals, 25-21. Excellent save by faux-hawked goalie Michael Robin of Chambery.
And another by X-Man Barachet. Could the impossible happen here today?!
1:30 p.m. Another Chambery pancreas removed, this time by Issam Tej. And Narcisse, like a true superstar, steps in to defend his felled teammate. Words are exchanged at close range, but they're in French, so no one is offended and the game continues.
1:32 p.m. Seven-meter saved by Michael "Who Needs Batman?" Robin! Chambery gains momentum.
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1:33 p.m. The lead is down to two! 26-24 Montpellier. A gorgeous strike from Laurent Busselier, followed quickly by another stop by Robin and a Chambery goal! The lead is one! Bill Walton: "Never since the Council of Trent have I seen such a collapse!"
1:36 p.m. Chambery has a chance to tie but turns it over. Montpellier responds by drawing a seven-meter try. Robin extends his wings... to no avail. Lead back to two.
1:37 p.m. Lead back to one after X-Man scores again on the new Montpellier goalie, Nebojsa Stojinovic, who is quickly re-replaced by Karaboue. Bill Walton: "I don't know why they'd take him in the first place. Did you know he aced the baccalaureate?"
1:39 p.m. Montpellier strikes twice to push the lead back to three. Then Narcisse scores very pimptastically by catching a lob pass midair and slapping it past Karaboue. Bill Walton: "He has the grace of Grace Jones."