Saturday, May 9, 2009

European Champions League

The Champions League, Europe's most coveted club football tournament has reached its final stage for 2008-2009. On 27th May, Rome will witness the titanic clash between two of the arguably best teams in the European circuit........Manchester United & Barcelona.

In the semifinals, holders ManU simply overwhelmed Arsenal 4-1 in aggregate, a match which a lot of experts had predicted to go to the wire.
ManU had won the first leg at home 1-0, as Arsenal were completely outplayed in all departments. Both Rooney & Ronaldo, upfront were combining well, & the midfield & defense stood ground without much to worry. However, Coach Wenger said in the post match press conference that his team had plans to stop the ManU forward line in the 2nd leg, which would be at their home turf, & therefore enjoy the advantage. Recent history suggested that ManU had only won one encounter out of ten, when they would visit Arsenal at their home ground in Emirates. But, all speculations were put to rest, as Ronaldo mesmerised his opponents with his speed & footwork & power. The free kick goal from about 40 yards demolished any hopes that Arsenal had harboured & the final score line of 4-1 aggregate was a true reflection of the supremacy that ManU enjoyed. The team looks very cohesive & strong, with Ronaldo & Rooney upfront, Ferdinand in the back & Van der Sar managing the goal. The team under Alex Furguson's coaching looks extremely well knit & plays attacking football along with power & sudden bursts.

In the other semis, it was Spanish club Barcelona vs English club Chelsea. While Barca are known for their brilliant possession play & electrifying passess, Chelsea prefers to guard their defence with sudden bursts of counter attacks. However, this contest did not turn out to be very inspiring, as Barca kept possession of the ball for almost 7o% time & yet could not open the goal mouth of the heavily guarded Chelsea defense. On the other hand, Chelsea with their counter attack, kept catching the Barca defense off guard many a times, but could not capitalise on the opportunities, as Drogba kept faltering time & again. The fisrt leg at Nou Camp, Barca's home turf was a disappointing goalless draw, ensuring a tough 2nd leg fight at Chelsea's home ground.
Barca had come to this match with a resounding 6-2 victory over arch rivals Real Madrid in the Spanish League last weekend, & looked confident inspite of missing Puyol & Marques in their defence & Henry upfront.
However, it was Chelsea who opened the scoring through a brilliant left footer from their midfielder Michael Essien, in the 9th minute of the game. Barca kept possession of the ball, but just could not open the goal mouth against a very tight & stubborn defence of Chelsea. in the 65th minute, Eric Abidal was red carded for a foul against Anelka (replayes showed that he was not guilty), & Barca were left with 10 men only & a goal behind. It looked all over the bar shouting for the Spanish team, but they did not give up & continued their attacks through measured passes, & finally in the injury time, Iniesta scored a brilliant heart stopping goal to finish the Chelsea dreams of an all England finals. Barca had entered the finals through the away goal system.
True, the Norvegian referee, Tom Henning had a lot of questionable decisions, most of which hurt the Chelsea team, but the men in blue had themselves to blame for not finishing the game when they could. They allowed the 10 man Barca to claw back in the game & paid the prize for not being focussed in the dying moments of the game. Drogba, Ballack. Lampard, Anelka, Maulouda.....all failed to keep the pressure on the Barca goal, & allowed the spanish team to claw back through a brilliant left footer by Iniesta in the last few seconds of the injury time.

The finals on 27th May is a mouthwatering prospect, as both ManU & Barca play attacking football & have excellent players in their ranks. While, Barca would miss the services of Abidal & Daniel Alves at the back, they would feel slightly better, with the return of Puyol as the centre back & Henry at the front. ManU would miss Fletcher at the back, but are at their marauding best with Ronaldo in striking form. It is going to be a great match of skills between Ronaldo & Rooneyfor ManU vs Messi & Eto for Barca. However, I feel, Iniesta & Xavi in the midfield have been simply superb & their distribution skills might tilt it in the favour of the La Liga frontrunners.
For us viewers, it should be a good game of football, with skill dispaly at both ends. May the best team win.