Chelsea: Best in Europe

Another amazing football final last night in Munich as Bayern Munich hosted Chelsea in the Champions League Final. Much like that last few games I have watch, including the nPower Championship Final yesterday, the last day of the Barclay’s Premiership and the semifinal match featuring Real Madrid and Chelsea, this has been one of the best finishes I can recall.

I wrote about the Manchester City thriller in stoppage time to steal the Premiership trophy away from Manchester United. Yesterday was another thrilling finale as West Ham United defeated Blackpool to gain entry into the Premiership next season in a late goal thriller from Ricardo Vaz Te. This game seemed to set the stage for the main attraction, Bayern Munich, hosting Chelsea in their home country, on their home pitch.

While it started a bit slow and didn’t seem like it had the pizazz the semifinals had when Chelsea played Real Madrid, the game alive in the second half. The football Gods must have been wearing blue, because Chelsea got break after break, not only for the 90 minutes of the match, but into extra time and then the shoot out.

It was Bayern’s night, yet they seemed to have forgotten their shooting boots last night as very little went on target.  After Thomas Müller put Bayern up 1-0 in the 83rd minute, it seemed the game was over, yet there was more magic to come for a team who’s destiny was written during this Champions League.

Chelsea struck back in the 88th minute when Mata corner kick found the head of Didier Drogba. The power and finesse of the header beat Neuer and we were tied. For much of the game, it was Bayern on attack and  Chelsea defending. Yet Chelsea was able to capitalize when it was needed.

Drogba, nearly turned goat when he committed a foul in the penalty box and Arjen Robben stepped up to take it. Even the sure footed Arjen Robben failed from the penalty spot as Petr Cech dove to his left to make a sure stop on Robber. The rest of the extra time periods went scoreless, it was off to the penalty shoot out.

Not sure where I stand on penalty shoot outs, as it’s a crappy way to lose a game, but there is much thrill and excitement in a 1v1 situation from 12 yards out. While Chelsea started off with a save from Neuer, it came down to the final kick for Chelsea and the boot of Drogba again. He sent Neuer the opposite was as he tucked the ball in the lower left corner of the net and sent Chelsea on to victory.

Much like the end of the Premier League, the last few rounds for Chelsea fans were heart stopping and thrilling to view, even as a non-Chelsea fan. They now take their place atop all others as Champions League Champions and the best in Europe. Some debate still will arise as to Chelsea being the best. Madrid is a very solid team, I was highly impressed with Bayern last night. Unfortunately much of the make up of Chelsea don’t hail from England, so while it’s a great club victory for the Blues, I fear England will have a tough time in the upcoming Euro 2012. As for the $1 billion spent on this Chelsea team, time will tell who stays and who goes.

What Does it Say?

I am sure the sportswriters all across the globe all have similar topics regarding the state of Italian football. What does it say, when three of the top Italian teams, in Inter, Juve and Roma all go down in defeat over the course of two days in UEFA Champions League play? Does this mean English football is that much superior to the game the Italians play?

I watch plenty of footie from the UK and Man U, Chelsea and Arsenal are much like their Italian counterparts in terms of quality of football on the pitch and their positions in the table every year. Of the three Italy v England matches, two of them were scoreless draws in the first leg. Only Arsenal managed a lone gone, courtesy of a penalty kick, after dominating Roma for much of the match. Arguments can be made for the other matches, as Mourinho defends his team’s play against the Reds, while Juve came close numerous times versus Chelsea, but came up short in the end.

Of the three Italian team, Inter’s exit is probably the most shocking, come up short in a 2-0 loss to SAF and the Red Devils. Seems only fitting though, that in his years at Chelsea he was at the top of his game, only to lose another match to Man U. This was the real title that Jose was after, not the scudetto in Serie A. Mourinho last won the CL in 2004 with Porto and exited in the semifinals twice while at Chelsea, so while his track record is proven, his team just did not have enough to finish off SAF’s Red Devils.

The Roma match was a roller coaster of emotions, being down 1-0 AGG heading back to the Olimpico for the second leg. After a dominating performance by the Gunners, it was talked about pregame to be much of the same. Yet Roma is always resilient and a tougher team to play in Rome and they proved it yesterday. It only took 9 minutes when Juan found the back the net, after a pass came through the box and was slotted past Almunia.

This was a big goal goal for Roma and their fans, as it allowed them to draw even on aggregate goals. Roma proved to be the stronger side much of the match and produce quality chances in front of Almunia, but could never finish. As with most matches, there was a controversial no-call by the Spanish referee on Matto, as he appeared to have his jersey pulled from behind by Clichy, causing him to go to the ground. Yet nothing was rewarded and game play continues.

Baptista had a horrible showing much of the match. He came on late in first period as Juan exited due to injury and seemed to be a step behind and a pass off. He did have a chance to seal a victory for Roma on a beautiful cross which was flicked on my Totti, but Baptista tried for the one-timer and it was for not.

Arsenal showed some prowess late in the second half and much of two, 15 minute overtime periods, but the score remained 1-1 as the match went to spot kicks. Dona was riding high after he saved the first attempt, as Roma converted. Unfortunately, Roma’s season would come crashing down after 7 penalty kicks when Max Tonetto stepped up and put the ball over the crossbar. While I don’t lay the blame on him, I do put some of the responsibility on the shoulders of Mirko Vucinic, who half assed an attempt right at Almunia, evening up the PKs after the second round.

So where does that leave Italy football? Sure, Inter will go on with win their third scudetto in Serie A, while Juve and Roma will both finish in the top five and be back in the Champions League next year. What does this say about the World Cup, upcoming in 2010? I don’t believe England has a better squad than Italy and now with many players imported to play in countries like England and Italy it’s more difficult to judge the on field talent when its brought together. The 2008 Italy squad was unique, in that all the players played in country. Not the case any longer. I do think Italian football will need to look within, in order to have better showing next year. Here is to Man U winning the Champions League, as well as the Premiership, the FA and the League Cup, which they have already completed.

A True Championship!

One of the BEST football games I have ever seen took place today (well yesterday) in Moscow. The Champions League Final! For the first time ever it was an all English final featuring Manchester U versus Chelsea.

Just a week prior to this match, Manchester United won the Premiership straight out, as Chelsea allowed a late goal for a 1-1 draw. Manchester United would have won regardless, even with a Chelsea win because of goal differential.

Today’s game was live from Moscow on ESPN. How I missed the live broadcast of it, I don’t know. I guess I was looking for a REAL football channel to cover the action, not a wannabe football channel. Thankfully we had two of the best announcers in Martin Tyler and Andy Gray.

I was able to catch the entire game on Setanta after it had been concluded and I knew the outcome (because I had to watch a penalty shootout on Soccerway.com), but that did not make the game any less dramatic or exciting.

Overall, the teams played very offensively, just look at 27 shots Chelsea had. An unheard of number! The action was all Manchester United in the first half, with some good end to end action and beautiful header by the second best player in the world, Christiano Ronaldo. Oh the best player, Kaka, of course!

A late, “excuse me” goal by Frank Lampard evened the team, as Edwin Van Der Sar slipped coming out, cutting down the angle, as the ball took two odd ricochets off players and ended up in the net.

The game was great into the second half, as there were some great chances for both team, especially Man U. Yet with all the action and excitement, no goals could be had by either squad. This meat overtime periods.

If the only unfortunate event, Didier Drogba, lost his head for a moment and had a swipe at Nemanja Vidic on the chin, late in the 114 minute after some “controversy” on a throw in by Manchester United. As the scuffle broke out, players had to be separated and when it was all said and done, two yellows and one red were handed out.

Now this event alone did not loose the game for Chelsea. It was just a black eye on Chelsea and looks even worse in how things transpired.

The penalty shootout was exciting! No other word can describe it. Petr Cech made a great save on Ronaldo, who pussy footed up the ball and was not rewarded. That alone was enough to give Man U the finger and present the CL trophy to the Blues. But more drama was to unfold.

England and Chelsea Captain, John Terry strode up the ball, rain coming down facing Edwin Van Der Sar. It was one of those sporting moments that defines “the agony of defeat” (remember the ski jumper on Wide World of Sports?). Terry made his approach and just as he struck the ball, his planted left foot gave out, and as if in slow motion, the ball went right, off the woodwork.

At that point Chelsea was done. It was truly Manchester United’s match to give away. Ryan Giggs and Anderson both scored, while Nicolas Anelka, the newest member of Chelsea took his shot, to the left that was saved by Van Der Sar. The match was over.

Truly one of the BEST matches to be watched, all-time. I have seen some good matches, some exciting matches, some dramatic victories. But this game captured the essence of “the beautiful game.”

Respect the Beautiful Game

When it come to sports, the USA has three that seem to dominate: the National Football League (American football), Major League Baseball and the National Basketball League. Sorry I don’t count the National Hockey League as a real sport any longer, at least in the US since it is carried on some third party cable channel that specializes in outdoor hunting. But what about the beautiful game? Wipe that puzzled look off your face and don’t call it soccer.

No, I am not a Euro, although I am a huge footie fan and follow teams and leagues in the UK, Italy, Spain and Mexico. Unfortunately, somewhere between youth “soccer” (AYSO) and high school many kids seem to loose interest in the game and decide to choose some “big three” sports during high school.

When it comes to sports talk radio I have begun to loose respect for many of the supposed hosts. First many do not understand the game, this goes for Americans as well. Not to get off my first thought, but the game is 45 minutes of continuous action. Unlike the the “big three” you can’t go for a beer and a dog or you will miss some of the action.

I had the utmost respect for Steve Saban until he started trashing football (soccer) after the NFL played a regular season game at Wimbley in the UK a few weeks back. Along with many negatives about the game, the fans, which I believe he referred to as hooligans and the field, there was much laughter as he thought his take on the entire situation was funny. What I find funny is you supposedly have “Major” League Soccer teams in the USA playing in an NFL stadium with yellow lines painted while the NFL lines are still on the pitch…err field.

He is not the only one there are many others some I like, others I listen to just because there is nothing on the radio stations to listen to. The same could be said about those who covered the 2006 World Cup in Germany (The Ugly side of Germany 2006) and they were even former “professional players in the US. Why is this? As I said many do not understand the game or find it boring with a final score of 0-0 (that’s nil, nil, not zero, zero) or a 1-0 final.

I have given up watching the NFL, I rarely watch MLB and can’t stand the NBA. I spend Saturday and Sunday (sometimes Wednesday) watching The Premiership or Euro 2008 or UEFA Champions League qualifying. Why? Because it is more exciting with more sportsmanship. So NFL, thanks for the years of exciting football, but I have quit and moved on to watching real football. So I’ll pour myself another pint, don my Watford sweater and go watch some footie on the DVR.

Another Sunday

So Week #2 of the NFL is here and it will be another weekend I don’t watch football and turn my television to Premiership and Serie A footie [soccer]. Northern California has to be the worst place in the country for NFL football at the moment. Two terrible teams in the Raiders and 49’ers, who I believe will have a combined 8 wins between them when the season come to an end. Even with all 16 home teams selling out this weekend, there are no second games on FOX in the morning and CBS in the afternoon. Then again the match ups of Raiders v Ravens and 49’ers v Rams are just not that enticing. It’s no wonder I play fantasy football and pull for individual players and not teams.

The footie schedule is much stronger on Fox Soccer Channel and GOLTV today as my favorite Italian Serie A club, AS Roma go up against Siena. I already have my DVR set to record this match since I will miss about half the game as I am driving home. But this is quickly becoming my regular Saturday and Sunday schedule, watching footie and forgetting football. The big game of the day is Manchester United v Arsenal at Old Trafford beginning at 8:00PDT. Other Serie A matches from Italy include Lazio v Palermo and Atalanta v Catania.

It’s not that I am loosing interest in the NFL, as much as I am gaining more of an interest at getting back into footie. Guess I have the World Cup to thank for that. Forza Italia! Of course if the San Diego Chargers are playing or another game of interest I will watch, but until that time, the TV schedule for the NFL has truly been ass! I would gladly pay $9.95, hell $19.95 to watch the Chargers play each Sunday. I know Comcast offers an MLB and NBA package, but I don’t believe there is one for the NFL, like Direct TV has. Even watching football streaming on the Internet, give me that option.

I bought the MLB package this year for $89.95. Now the price might sound steep at first, but when you consider you get every out of market baseball game, it is a small price to pay for nearly unlimited games! I get to watch the San Diego Padres at my leisure (except when they play SF). Not sure this would work for the NFL, but it would be a great option to have. I can even buy individual UEFA Champions League match for $9.95. Hopefully the trend in the future will be offer more events on streaming media. Guess time will tell.