Wednesday, April 07, 2010

From Three to Zero

Last year in the Champions' League semifinals there were three English teams out of the final four. Now, with Manchester United's defeat by Bayern Munich, and after Arsenal's defeat by Barcelona yesterday and Chelsea's by Inter some weeks ago, there are none. The four semifinalists will be Inter Milan, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, and some French team (Lyon and Bordeaux play in the quarterfinal whose result, though over by now, I haven't seen).

Arsenal had showed some character in their first game of the match with Barcelona at home, coming back from 2-0 with two goals for a draw. They nosed ahead after 18 minutes at Barcelona with a goal, but from there on it was, let's say, "messy". Leonel Messi scored three minutes later, then again, and again, and again, for a 4-1 victory and 6-3 aggregate result.

Manchester's departure was a shock. They did lose, 2-1 at Munich, but immediately canceled out the deficit in the home rematch with two early goals. They scored again, and I thought it was over--but for some reason I stayed around. Then, Ulic, the hero of the first game for Bayern, came up with a goal shortly before halftime that was part his characteristic hustle, part slack defense.

After that, I couldn't leave. The 3-1 score meant Manchester United was ahead 4-3, but one more Bayern goal, if it were possible, would give them the match (because Munich would have two away goals to Manchester United's one, the tiebreaker if combined goals are equal). The shocking goal to win it for Bayern Munich was set up by a cheap foul, a second yellow (=red) card to Man U's Rafael, which left them a man down. The defending got kind of frantic, and the match-winning goal came from our old friend, former PSV/Chelsea/Real Madrid left winger Arjen Robben, and it was a thing of beauty, a hugely difficult long volley behind goalie Van der Saar, directly off a sharp cross from in front of him.

All English fans should breathe, sigh, and then agree with the thought that this is the fairest result. Supremacy, this year, should be determined through the Premier League championship, for which all three leading English teams still have a real chance. Chelsea has the lead by two points over Man U. and three over Arsenal, but Arsenal arguably has the easiest schedule of the three. All three play would-be contender Tottenham; Chelsea has a tough away match at nemesis Liverpool, though the 'Pudlians may be somewhat demoralized by their poor record this year and lack of incentive (other than sticking the needle, once again, in our Blues).

Meanwhile, in the Champions' Cup semifinals, Barcelona will have a tough matchup against Jose Mourinho's Inter and may well lose. Barcelona is going for a repeat win of historic proportions; no team has repeated in the championship since the change to the current Champions League format some 15 years ago. Both teams are compelling and deserving. I'm so thrilled by Bayern Munich's win today, though, that I might have to root for them to win it all this year.

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