The champions league final this time was disappointing for more than the one obvious reason which is Liverpool’s defeat. I wanted to watch it on television since the online streams are often unreliable. For example I had to miss the England vs. Portugal penalties and I had to check scores online which was more frustrating than the England defeat. I was praying to god during the penalty shoot-out in the semi final with Chelsea that I shouldn’t lose the stream more than how I prayed for a Liverpool win. However watching it on TV here in America comes with a different price. You must watch TV here to know how much it sucks. The Ads lack creativity to the core. And if you love soccer/hate American sports then this is not the place to watch a special event such as the Champions league final. Watching the trash talk show ahead of the game was a bigger disappointment. I heard comments like “the best player in soccer keeps changing every 15 minutes” and then this was followed by “kaka is perhaps the best player in the game, may be even better than ronaldo (Milan)”. I don’t know how many knew that ronaldo was actually cup-tied, otherwise he would have played. Further Kaka and Ronaldo are different kinds of players. I definitely missed the likes of Andy Gray and Martin Tyler during the game and John Dykes and company ahead of the game. Another issue was the crowd volume; it was close to nil. I know how the atmosphere would have been in Athens but all you can hear on American TV is the continuous rambling of inept commentators. But these Americans are clever; they had someone who could fake the British accent well thinking that they can make up for the lack of content. Having said all this, they had a pitch-side commentator who I should admit was good at understanding the flow of the game and the tactical moves of the two managers. So in effect they the non-pitch-side commentators sounded crappier.
The game was very similar to the Liverpool – Manchester United game at Anfield this year which ended in a 1-0 defeat to Liverpool. Liverpool controlled the game throughout the 90 minutes only for a late winner by John O’Shea. Everyone talked about how adept Manu are at winning in the final moments but Liverpool’s heroics of playing the league leaders Manchester united as if they were playing southend united were long forgotten. It was a similar situation in Athens; Liverpool controlled the game from the start. Milan had no answer to Rafa’s tactical prowess. Kaka and Seedorf were nowhere to be seen. Milan was so naive to believe that kaka and seedorf would have a man each on them giving the others space to create chances. The truth: Ancelotti feared Liverpool. He needed Luck and he had it. Liverpool countered Milan’s 4-5-1 with a similar 4-5-1 with Kuyt as the one-top and gerrard helping him out right behind him. Zenden, Alonso, Mascherano and pennant were in midfield. Finnan, Carra, Agger and Riise in defense. The team was almost perfect (given the roster of course). The weakling – no prizes for guessing – Boudewijn Zenden. In my view this guy doesn’t deserve a red shirt and it’s good that he’s been told to leave. Alright then – Milan were playing oddo,maldini,nesta and ambrosini at the back. Pirlo, Seedorf, kaka, gattuso and jankulovski in midfield with Filippo Inzaghi up-front. Mascherano and Alonso limited the moves of Kaka and Seedorf brilliantly and Milan were kept quiet. So it was all Liverpool. It was all about creating chances and taking them. The first part happened. But it was one of those days when the finishing wasn’t top notch and the goals weren’t coming. Liverpool came close several times the best opportunity being Gerrard’s weak shot for a Dida save few yards in front of the goal. Xabi Alonso beat the keeper and the goal by a whisker with a 25 yard drive earlier on in the game. AC Milan needed a lucky break from the continuous pressure by Liverpool and it happened seconds before half time. Due to a un-carra like miscommunication between him and Alonso, kaka was able to get to the edge of the box and Alonso fouled him. The free kick was easily Pirlo material. But the shot wasn’t great and Reina looked to have had it under control only that it became a deflection off Pippo and the ball went into the goal. The goal is considered to be controversial since it is alleged that it was off the arm. But no official saw it and hence this crucial goal was allowed to stand.
Now it was a different ball game. Actually not.. It was a cagey affair from the beginning. A battle of the minds. It was all about who got the first goal and then it was just throwing back to defend and counter-attacking. Milan are far too experienced to make a mistake in that. Nesta was brilliant. But then the much awaited move of Kewell for Zenden happened after 59 minutes in the game. Kewell looked fresh and looked to change things around with his tricks on the left flank. Though it wasn’t exactly “Harry’s magic”, at least he took on the defenders with more courage than Zenden. An offensive move had to happen but it happened quite late in the game. Crouch, probably the most successful striker for Liverpool this season came in at 78 minutes for Mascherano. Kaka’s genius then became obvious. He played a magic pass to Pippo who finished his brace in style. But what this also showed was how Mascherano had kept a good watch on Kaka until then. But Crouch made an immediate impact. He forced a good save with a 30 yard drive. The goal for Liverpool came 5 minutes before time with a Kuyt header. A dramatic comeback was once again on the cards. But this time, time wasn’t on Liverpool’s side. Milan clinched to their one goal lead over 8 minutes. Pippo faked a blow from a Kewell cross and everyone knew he was wasting time. Kewell couldn’t help laughing, I was laughing with disgust. I got reminded of the World Cup final incident. And the referee somehow felt he should blow the whistle 20 seconds earlier despite the histrionics from Pippo and some subs from Ancelotti (an obvious time wasting strategy).
But there was good and bad to take from the game for Liverpool. Overall the teams were matched equally. There was no “daylight” between the teams as claimed by many. Liverpool played well with great movements. Jermaine pennant was awesome vs. Jankulovski (the weakling in Milan). Zenden was crap. And we are still not able to fathom why Rafa didn’t bring crouch earlier on and why he played Arbeloa when he could have played bellamy. Carra was phenomenal as usual. It was no humiliating defeat. A game that could have gone either way. Finally Rafa praised Milan (don’t know what for!) and admitted they were a great side(no arguments!). The carry-home message is Liverpool are definitely a force to reckon with in the future and are developing into a serious threat under Rafa.