I became an atheist shortly after 5pm EDT on Saturday. How? Why? The 2012 Champions League Final. How could a supreme being let a team of over-aged, racist, manipulating, selfish, underhanded players win one of the biggest trophies on the planet? Not only win but consign Spurs to the secondary European competition and start a probable fire sale? Not only win but beat their opponents on their home field to complete a horror treble (second in the league, runner up in the domestic cup, runner up in the Champions League Final) a la Bayer Leverkusen in 2002? Not only win but let a disgraced captain—who hacked down an opponent in the semis to rule himself out of the game, who is up on charges of racism, who slept with a teammate’s significant other—lift a trophy of the highest order in football?
That first sentence was purely hyperbole for this post. I disavowed God years ago.
I have no idea what happened in the game in terms of tactics and personnel. I was at a bar with over 50 soccer supporters, drinking and ranting and yelling and taking pics and trying not to pull my ample hair out. The first half flew by and was more entertaining than I thought it was going to be. Chelsea actually came into the game towards the end and were the best team for the last ten minutes. A critical moment occurred when Gomez received the ball, beat Cahill and then blasted the ball into the stands.
The second half reverted to the typical script. Barcelona, Bayern, whoever, dominated Chelsea but couldn’t break them down; Drogba became isolated; time ticked away. I kept screaming at the screen for Munich to start crossing the ball, to start challenging the Chelsea rearguard. Guess what? They crossed the ball in for Muller to head home, a goal that had been coming for him. Immediately Heynckes subbed in Van Buyten for Muller. Made sense at the time but looking back that might have been the turning point. Five minutes later, Chelsea had their only corner kick of the match, and of course Drogba got away from his defender to score. On to extra time.
Basically Drogba committed two penalties in the last two Champions League games and got away with it. His foul on Ribery was idiotic. One, what was he doing in the box? Two, what did he hope to accomplish? Three, how could he have been so stupid? Robben’s penalty was horrible. Well struck but not nearly accurate enough. As someone tweeted: all those Germans and they let the Dutchmen take the penalty. After that there was only one result: The Team of Destiny would beat the Team at Home. I tweeted that and resigned myself to a Chelsea victory in the shootout.
Not much to say about the penalties other than Schweini missed his and that was that. Epic against Real Madrid, he didn’t strike it well enough and allowed Drogba to step forward and seize the moment, which he duly did, sending Neuer the wrong way before sprinting the length of the field, ripping his jersey off and soaking up the adulation.
Chelsea—sixth in the league, on the umpteenth manager in the Abramovich era, still in need of squad renewal—are European Champions. Those are the facts. I can’t change them, no matter how much I want to. All this game revealed to me is that I’m snakebitten this season. Just that simple. Barcelona went down to Real Madrid and Chelski; Manchester United had the title pried from their fingers in 120 seconds on #Survival Sunday; Juventus won the scudetto only after I stopped paying attention after four years of hardcore support. So now my strategy for the Euros is to root for Portugal, ensuring that this group of talented but brain dead players can’t win the competition.
When in doubt, I refer to Zonal Marking for analysis. ZM’s secret identity (Michael Cox) wrote this post for the Guardian shortly after the final whistle, identifying the key trends in movement and player choices, noting that Muller and Mata were critical the match. As for the final result, the substitutes proved the difference.
Roger Bennett (@rogbennett) summed up the game as only he can with witty and incisive and confusing comparisons and metaphors, while noting that Cech had been researching Bayern penalties since 2007 (diving correctly on all six, saving three), but he hit the proverbial nail on the head towards the end of his post:
This cup was won by repeatedly summoning glory out of the jaws of defeat through collective endeavor, resilience in adversity, indefatigable belief and gutsy pragmatism. The public profile of some of its players may make Chelsea tough to love, but its achievement is hard not to admire.
Jonathon Wilson broke down the tactics of the game, noting that both teams got their formations right but the difference was in execution. Both teams were without key players which forced interesting changes, with both teams coping—Bertrand doing admirably in such a big game and Muller and Robben swapping positions as examples—but Bayern didn’t convert their chances, Gomez being the notable scapegoat. Chelsea rode their luck, made their chance count and then Cech did the rest.
Raphael Honigstein was in Munich for another Final Failure for Bayern Munich, as memories of 1999 came back, with an English team snatching the trophy from Die Roten. There was talk of change, but for me only one change has to be made—Gomez. Get a clinical forward and Bayern can truly threaten the big boys and be yearly threat. That is all.
A couple of pods regarding Manchester United and Juventus.
Bobby and Eddie at the Manchester United Redcast were like me in that they started to believe at 85 minutes and then the moment, and the championship, was gone. They moved on to discuss how MUFC might respond to another challenger like Blackburn, like Arsenal, like Chelsea. They finished with a hope that Chelsea would win so that the Reds could poach Tottenham players.
The gang at Juventiknows got the pod back together to discuss the scudetto victory. They led off in terms of belief and where everyone celebrated the championship before moving on to praise for Conte and his preparation and flexible tactics. The next topic was the transfer policy of Marotta for this season and looking ahead to what they need for next (ie Pirlo replacement). They wrapped up with thoughts on next season, with more games and more expectations.
Paolo Bandini reviewed a Coppa Italia full of storylines—Juventus’ bid for an unbeaten double, Del Piero’s last game for Juve, and Napoli’s run at their first piece of silverware since Maradona. In the end, Napoli ran out 2-0 winners and now face the future, knowing that key players could move on.
Uli Hesse wrote a great column about the final weekend in Germany, with results from the playoffs and the German Cup Final, where Dortmund thrashed Bayern Munich 5-2. This result was the fifth straight win over the German power and was the most goals Die Roten have every given up in a final. Uli kept with the stats with this stunner: Unless the French Ligue 1 produces 167 goals on its final matchday, the Bundesliga is once more the highest-scoring of the major European leagues – for the 22nd year in row!