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.

Football Weekend….in the UK

It’s more often than not I wish we lived in the U.K. where the nation’s sport was football. No, not the American kind you find owners locking out players over their collective bargaining agreement and not being able to agree on $9 billion. That’s the NFL for you. This weekend kicked of the action in the English Premier League. Unfortunately being stuck at work on opening weekend I was only able to catch parts of about 4 games, along with highlights from the day.

For me the match of the day was Liverpool v. Sunderland. After the frustrating 2010-2011 season for L’pool it started off on the wrong foot with a draw against the Black Cats. After missing a penalty shot, Luis Suárez redeemed himself with a 12′ goal. That lead would last until 57′ minute when a beautiful volley found the far side of the goal from Sebastian Larsson. An early season goal that could end up being the goal of the year.

Not too surprising to see four games end in draws on Saturday, including the Gunners v. Newcastle and Joey Barton. Barton was deliberately stepped on by Alex Song, the officials missed it and that incident led to a later disagreement that involved Barton and Gervinho, who was red carded.

Today we will see how Manchester United starts against West Brom and Chelsea against Stoke City. Monday we will see other big off-season spenders, Manchester City v. Swansea City. It looks to be another great season in top flight football in the EPL. I plan to be very involved watching this season, as well as Serie A and the battle at the top in La Liga! Also great to know the Mexican League is very early to watch on Saturday afternoons. Viva Cruz Azul!

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.”