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Champions League Final: Sneijder v. Robben

Well there’s been no love lost as of yet.  I begin to write this 20 minutes into the match.

It’s been a somewhat sedate beginning with more tackles than attacks.  Sneijder had one particularly ugly challenge on Robben.  Strangely Ribery was sent off in the first leg against Lyon for a very similar challenge.  As of 25 minutes Bayern have had the lion’s share of possession with precisely nothing to show for it.

As of 28th minute the possession numbers look like this: Bayern 67% – 33% Inter.  Boring stuff really.  The fact that I’ve been able to write this runner without missing a thing is testament to the lack of anything…

Sneijder is involved in Inter Milan’s opener.  His composure on the ball and a deft pass puts Milito through.  Add  a lovely finish by Milito and you have a goal that essentially sums up what Mourinho’s team is all about.  Inter have beaten Bayern in the first half through patience and the ability to take the single excellent chance they’ve been provided with.

At half time its Inter with the lead really the game feels like its over.  You have to feel like Mourinho is in the dressing room right now laying out his plans with his club saying, “Alright, we’ve got our goal and that’s all we need.  Let’s park the bus and frustrate for the next 45 minutes. ”

Without wanting to be guilty of stating the bleeding obvious Bayern really need to score.  I would argue that they shouldn’t score too early providing Inter with a lot of time to absorb the ensuing pressure and hit them again.  Were Bayern to score after teh 75th I would put my money on the Germans grabbing the second.  If it goes to Extra time regardless of momentum and the score my money switches to Inter.

Now in the second half there has been more excitement in the first 2 minutes then in the whole of the first half INCLUDING the goal.

Inter Milan eventually get their second goal through Milito.  The two goals were completely different each requiring a different set of skills.  Fifteen yards inside the Bayern half Eto’o sprayed a through ball for Milito, just hanging onside, who made an utter fool of van Buyten who ended up on his backside while Milito coolly stroked the ball past Butt.  Bayern have had incredible possession but have been able to create absolutely nothing.  Inter are now cruising to victory with Bayern meekly firing attempts at goal.

The final whistle blows and Inter are Champions.  Regrettably Bayern did not offer much of a test.  They were allowed to have an inordinate amount of possession but were able to create SQUAT.

As much as it pains me to say it they are worthy champions given the context.  And so how does this look for the Oranje?  As far as we can see all three vital Dutchmen emerge unscathed and ready for he World Cup.  Sneijder will go to camp with club football’s greatest prize.

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Inaugural Good Sport Award

We’re in the middle of the final round of Qualifying games for the 2010 World Cup.  That last games will be played on Wednesday.  There’s been ample time for stars to show off and throw their names into the hat for performance of the week. 

Unfortunately the best stories don’t always get the headlines.  So I’ve dreamed up the “Good Sport Award” in order to dole out some kudos if I feel they’re deserved. 

And the winner is:  Souleymane Diawara.  Who the snot is Souleymane Diawara?  Read the quotes below:

“I am sad and it is something that has been tormenting me for days. I never meant to hurt him. Before the game against Madrid there was a lot of anticipation. It was a particular dream. I think Madrid are the best team in the world. At last my dream came true, but because of the defeat and everything that happened with Cristiano it became something else.”

“It [the fax] says what I have in my heart. It says that I regret the damage that was caused and I wish for him to recover as soon as possible. Football will miss him. Marseille do not know if it has been sent yet, but I hope so. My intentions were never bad.”

I’ll quickly back it up for you.  Before the most recent World Cup Qualifying games many players were in action with their everyday clubs in the Champions League, the competition bringing together Europe’s best sides in one tournament.  Marseille from France and Real Madrid from Spain met and our winner Diawara for Marseille was tasked with shackling Cristiano Ronaldo, the world’s most expensive player.

Unfortunately Diawara was sent off for two yellow cards the second of which was for a tackle on Ronaldo that forced the Portuguese player to be taken off with a sprained ankle.

It’s rare to hear of a player who genuinely wishes the best for another player of greater skill.  In this case the injured player is the world’s most marketable asset.  While I may not think Ronaldo deserves to be at the World Cup he’s a player of incredible skill and creator of some breath-taking pieces of football.

Souleymane Diawara

Our friend Diawara seems to understand the larger picture of football worldwide.  Football as a whole is certainly poorer without a player like Ronaldo.  But now we can say that football would be much poorer without players like Souleymane Diawara as well, a definate role model in his own right (can Ronaldo say the same?).

Well done to him and let him serve as an example to all up and coming players.

Satisfying Predictability

There’s something deeply unsatisfying about Champions League Football in September and October.  I can scroll through all 8 groups and with accuracy that would make Miss Cleo’s head spin predict the two teams from each group that will advance on to the next round.  The tournament doesn’t really start until February.  Supports are obliged to follow their club through the monotony, checking the match reports and player ratings diligently until the drama really begins.

The most surprising result of Match Day 2 was AC Milan’s defeat to Zurich.  Given current form Milan’s stumble takes on a different look: they’ve been abysmal with a capital A…B…Y well you get the picture.  Shouldn’t a loss against the weakest side in their group prove crushing?  It should but that’s not the case.  Milan have such quality in their side that following manager Leonardo’s imminent departure, the most drama we can expect is Milan perhaps needing a point in their last game. 

Some pundits have been looking at Chelsea’s win, yes win, against Cyprus champions APOEL Nicosia and suggesting they are a side in decline.  They won 0 – 1.  Consider that the Champion’s League Group stage is so shockingly dull that when a private jet full of multi-millionaires travels to Cyprus to play a team whose location is so accurately described by Google Maps below that anything less than a 0 – 10 blowout is treated like a defeat:

How many Chelsea players could point to Cyprus on a map?  I don’t doubt they pay people for things like that.

So we’ve thrown out the hype of the Champions League.  What’s left?  We have the satisfying perdictability of the league.  Familiarity breeds contempt; the most talked about Champions League matches in recent years have been those between clubs from the same nation.  Liverpool v. Chelsea, Arsenal v. Manchester United and Chelsea v. Manchester United.

More significantly the players seem to care more.  Milan will move on from their defeat.  Chelsea, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Liverpool will all advance.  Last year Manchester United won the Premier League by 4 points: that amounts to one win and a draw over the course of 38 matches.  The year before the gap was 2 points and the title was decided at the death.

The Champion’s League Final is a culmination of a few months of sold out home games and carefully manoeveured away games.  The Premier League’s conclusion regularly provides a climax to the 10 month struggle.  A slog through hostile away grounds that have been waiting decades for the chance to knock off a title favourite or exact revenge for an injustice dealt decades earlier.

Now tell me that you’re not looking forward to exactly what you expected.