The UEFA Champions League was always special. Back since it was still called the "European Cup of Champion Clubs" (or a variation of that) and precisely when Belgrad’s Red Star shocked the world, it was obvious that this competition features the unrivaled highest level of soccer. Another hard to neglect factor was that these games were the last significant thing that the Jordanian TV had the broadcasting rights to show. So on Wednesday nights we will gather in the attic at (my friend) Ghassan’s house and watch the games over a few rounds. (of Trix of course).
A few weeks back I was flipping through the channels when I found a game between PSV Eindhoven and
Nevertheless, given the big names and the history of today’s teams, and in order to refute the constant (Jameedish) accusations of selling out and detachment from all the things that really matter, I will be watching.
(Five minutes until kick off): A quick check of the starting line-ups on the UEFA website in case our local provider continues with the habit of neglecting that “unnecessary” feature. Since the creation of the EU and the Boseman Case these meetings between the big teams are just ALL-STAR matches, except that they are not exhibitions. Of course tonight’s line-ups are loaded. Every starting player is a star on his national team, and don’t get me started on the reserves. I am actually excited about the game. This should be good.
00: Kickoff. And the first thing we notice is the all orange uniforms
04: I just realized that I have no idea what stage of the cup is this? I think it is group play. Who is in the groups? What is the standings? Which round? Whatever it is still
10: Frank Rijkaard gets some face time screaming and waving fron the bench. It really hurts to realize that most of your childhood heroes are working on their second and third coaching gigs.
13: First time Ronaldinho touches the ball tonight. THIRTEEN MINUTES into the game. We are informed that Khalid Boulahrouz (Moroccan origin) is going to be marking him like his shadow, and he will be assisted by another player when Ronaldinho gets the ball. Practically, another way of saying Ronaldinho is working on his 50th straight crappy game where he will not be doing anything significant.
14: First semi chance by anybody. A smart pass by Ronaldinho to the middle and a one touch lob leaves Zambrotta behind his man with a volley, but he completely whiffs on it. “A swing and a miss” shouts our commentator in recurring baseball terminology. On the bright side, it is good to see an Italian at his prime in
16: Essien gets past his man on the right side of the midfield and pushes the ball towards Drogba who surprises his marker and accidently passes him after bouncing the ball of his foot (it sure looked like it was by mistake, or maybe he is that good), and he tries to tip the ball in, but the keeper gets out on time. Shevchenko fumbles with the rebound for a second before Marquez tackles him instantly and clears the ball. Shevchenko is making sad faces and whining to the referee while our commentator declares: “You just get the feeling the Shevchenko is past his prime”.
23: A close-range ball exchange by
30: One of the few plays that reminds you why you watch this game. Five quick one- touch fluid passes (started by Messi and including a heel-pass by Ronaldinho) leaves Xavi inside the area. Xavi fakes out the charging defender (my favourite move in soccer) and chooses to go near side with the left foot. Good idea, closed angle and a save (the shot actually could have been off target to begin with). If only soccer would feature 4-5 such plays per game.
36: We can vaguely notice that Barcelons’s center forward is a very blonde
39: The scoring updates of the other games indicate that there is a team called Shakhtar currently invlolved and competing for this cup. (A wiki search claims that this team is from
40: Messi is a very exciting player. He takes a shot, and follows it up with a nice dribble but takes too long and loses it before he could fire.
44: Michael Ballack header of a corner kick is high. Good to hear the name of
45 +: Giovanni van Bronckhorst (who is now going with Gio on the back of his jersey for obvious reasons) gets a seemingly harsh yellow card. He collides with Essien, both players act like they were shot, Essien holding his shoulder, Gio covering his face. Seconds later they are both jogging casually nad setting up for the free kick.
First half report. One nice play. One chance for
52: The game pace has significantly picked up, and there is that post-goal sense of urgency in the field. the crowd is cheering, the ball is moving quickly, and you get the impression that there is a chance of a good game happening.
53: A Ronaldinho free kick bounces off the wall towards midfield, where Essien takes it and run the whole length of the field. He is flanked with two charging players: Shevchenko on the right and Carvalho on the left. Three-on-two situation. He fakes a defender, and decides to take the shot himself. It bounces of the other defender into the keepers hands. Shevchenko and Carvalho are just furious.
55: Another big
56+: Ooops. The
65: Is there a more stupid and irrelevant stat in all of sports than “time of possession” in soccer? Right now we are standing at Barca 56 %:
67: An impossible (maybe game changing) save that denies
73: Puyol who had a below average and is partially responsible for the goal is out. Presas is in. A brilliant, game changing substitution that could not have come at a abetter time. Ahhmm, I mean whatever.
76: Shevchenko is out. Robben is in. Are You serious? Robben who was easily one of the five best players of WC’06 is healthy and he is riding the bench?? Are you kidding me? These big clubs are destroying young talent by piling them up and stocking them on the benches at the prime of their careers. There has to be a spending limit or some form of a salary cap in international club soccer.
78: Inside the 15 minutes mark, the game has turned into the ever-exciting, always appreciated format of a slow-moving offense against a just-kick-it-away defense. ZZzzz.
83: Ronaldinho, the master of set kicks, is getting ready to take another close range free kick. (and no he will not be crowded by two defenders when he is kicking). The ball is hit off the wall into the stands. He follows up by taking the resulting corner kick, and it is a high curving kick, that heads straight out of bounds from the other side, without being touched. You have to appreciate such world-class skill levels.
85: Guili is working on the right side close to
88: A surprising shot by Deco between two defenders. Slow roller to the dead middle. Those are the dribblers, with absolutely no chance, that appears on the stat sheets as "shot on targets".
89: Another semi-chance for
91+: Drogba is out. Kalou is in. (Come on kid, it is your chance to show what you can do). Why do they do this? Does it really help waste time? Does Kalou have to take a shower now? Can he add this to his resume as a UEFA Champions league appearance?
92: Final Whistle.
The final result. Two-three nice plays. Four chances for
After another antagonizing afternoon with the “beautiful game”, here are a few positives that we can take out from the experience:
-The game ended quickly. Anything that takes less than two hours is worth checking out, keeping in mind that staring at a blank wall for two hours could have been as entertaining as this game.
-Lionel Messi is one of the most exciting young stars in the game right now.
-A good check on the status of some of the world stars after the world cup. The conclusion: They all suck. I really do not want to go over the lineups again, but seriously Michael Ballack, John Terry, Ronaldinho, Deco, Zambrotta, where were these guys?
-Give me Reason number 413 to lay off this snooze fest for a while.