Champions League final one for the ages

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    Manchester United's Anderson, left, gestures as teammate Carlos Tevez looks on, during a training session ahead of Wednesday's Champions League final match between Manchester United and Barcelona, at the Rome Olympic stadium, Tuesday, May 26, 2009. AP Photo/Jon Super

    Manchester United's Anderson, left, gestures as teammate Carlos Tevez looks on, during a training session ahead of Wednesday's Champions League final match between Manchester United and Barcelona, at the Rome Olympic stadium, Tuesday, May 26, 2009. AP Photo/Jon Super

    The suggestion that UEFA conspired to knock Chelsea out of the Champions League can be put to rest. The inference that Europe’s governing body were desperate for an historically important final is a joke. UEFA proved long ago that they care little for history by revamping the European Cup in the first place.

    When UEFA introduced a group stage to what was then the European Cup in 1992-93 – thereby creating the re-branded Champions League – it signalled an awareness that football had transcended its working class roots and become a multi-million dollar industry in its own right.

    And while the face of European football has changed irrevocably, from the loss of the Cup Winner’s Cup to the G14 and beyond, few could begrudge the purists for purring in anticipation as Manchester United squared up to Barcelona in Rome.

    When the dust settles on what was hopefully an epic Champions League final overnight, all the talk will be of the showdown between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

    Few will still be grumbling about conspiracy theories – the odd Chelsea fan aside.

    My friend Morten is a life-long fan of Norwegian club Bodø/Glimt, and having long ago relocated to Oslo, he often flies home and away to support his team.

    After one particularly galling defeat away at Aalesunds last year, he fumed at having to share the same plane home as the referee – whom Morten labelled “incompetent.”

    The referee in question? None other than Tom Henning Ovrebo.

    But Ovrebo’s performance in the semi-final, second-leg between Chelsea and Barcelona will be confined to the annals of history by the time United and the Catalans run out at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

    Hopefully it’s a final that lives up to all the hype – particularly after last year’s showpiece event fell slightly short in Moscow.

    Any doubts as to the global significance of the Champions League final should be dispelled by the size of the media circus that descended upon Rome.

    If you flicked on CNN or the BBC in the build-up to the game, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the world was about to stop turning – at least for ninety minutes.

    Given the calibre of the two clubs in question, it’s no surprise that interest in this year’s final reached such frenzied proportions.

    Manchester United need no introduction, with Sir Alex Ferguson’s side hoping to become the first team to defend a Champions League title since the introduction of the new format.

    Likewise, Barcelona are one of the biggest names in world football.

    But it’s the style of football on display from Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering outfit that has everybody talking.

    I’ve been lucky enough to catch most of Barça’s games on pay TV this year and while critics swooned over their 6-2 demolition of Real Madrid this month, the Catalans were equally ruthless in coming from behind to hammer Athletic Bilbao 4-1 in the recent Spanish Cup final.

    Their free-flowing football has drawn widespread acclaim, even if their tendency to pontificate endlessly as flag-bearers of Catalan nationalism irks some – not the least their diametrically opposed city rivals Espanyol.

    For neutrals the showdown between United and Barça represents a dream finale to what is undoubtedly the premier football competition in Europe.

    UEFA supremo Michel Platini may be determined to strip back some power from Europe’s biggest clubs – not surprising, since former champions like Steaua Bucharest and Red Star Belgrade are these days largely forgotten – but even Platini must be pleased with the grandiose match-up between two of Europe’s undisputed elite.

    Here’s hoping the 2009 Champions League final is remembered first and foremost for the football on the pitch.

    The Stadio Olimpico is a notorious hotspot for hooliganism, and Roman police rarely hesitate to wade in with batons swinging – particularly when English fans are involved.

    One thing is certain: this year’s Champions League final is one for the ages – if only for the unprecedented media coverage it has generated across the globe.

    Hopefully the game itself lived up to all expectations.

    Mike Tuckerman
    Mike Tuckerman

    Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he settled in Brisbane, and has been a leading Roar football columnist from December 2008.

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    The Crowd Says (54)

    • May 28th 2009 @ 6:38am
      MVDave said | May 28th 2009 @ 6:38am | ! Report

      ManU didnt play apart from the 1st 10 minutes and no doubt that eto goal knocked the stuffing out of them. Well done to Barca they won easily on the night but…l would have liked to see United play with a more adventurous line up from the start. Fozzie for once summed it up well when he said United changed their game because of Barca whilst Barca played their normal game.
      Perhaps AF had too many choices and its always easy in hindsight. Next time they meet hopefully United wont be held back by selection and have a go.

    • May 28th 2009 @ 7:53am
      Koala Bear said | May 28th 2009 @ 7:53am | ! Report

      The only face saving out come to come out of the UCL Final for English football, was the reluctant return of the Chelsea reserve strip that was on loan to Man U for their UCL campaign, just before they took the field this morning … Well done Guus… 😆


    • May 28th 2009 @ 8:40am
      Slippery Jim said | May 28th 2009 @ 8:40am | ! Report

      Tuckerman, there is no need to try and create a straw man argument to dismiss the aberration that was Black Wednesday. No one, whether Chelsea fans or otherwise, really believed there was a conspiracy – the red card against Abidal is enough to dismiss that notion. The sight of Platini grinning from ear to ear, smarming neauseatingly and backslapping when the medals were handed out is disquieting, but does not make him part of any dark conspiracy.

      No, the real issue was and is the disgraceful refereeing lapses that occurred continually throughout the Chelsea Barca semi final. In fact, while you try and say that this will be quickly forgotten, the fact that you are still bringing it up in an article written on the eve of the final, yet do not even once mention the Arsenal Man Utd semi final shows that it will remain an inherent flaw in this seasons Champions League, and effect our view of the final for years to come.

      Speaking of which, Manchester Utd’s 2-0 defeat at the hands of Barcelona throws into sharp relief how effective Chelsea’s tactical performance was in the semi final.

      Not only did Chelsea remain undefeated over both matches, home and away, but in the second match Chelsea scored against Barcelona, a goal of sublime technical skill, and denied them a single shot on goal in the ninety minutes, with of course Barca’s flukey scuffed goal coming only in the third minute of extra time. Man Utd allowed 8 shots on goal in 90 minutes. Let us never forget that Barcelona should never have even been in the final, despite what neutral fans craving facile entertainment might have preferred, if even half of the penalties that any decent referee should have given at Stamford Bridge had been awarded.

      So tactically Chelsea played Barcelona – an outstanding team in their own right – exactly the right way, over both legs, and were only denied glory in the final because the useless referee and his assistants did not perform as well as the players on the pitch did.

    • May 28th 2009 @ 9:13am
      Brian said | May 28th 2009 @ 9:13am | ! Report

      Man U have been very successful lately and will be back but as the season got on they seem to get more and more defensive. Their performances of holding onto the 1-0 against Porto and holding on to 0-0 to win the EPL against Arsenal B come to mind. Eventually when they needed to atack Barca they didn’t seem able. Their defense was probably never good enough to shut down Barca’s to 0 goals and by not playing Tevez Ferguson seemed to lose the initiave. Of course if Ronaldo scores the free kick it could all be different but well done to Barca

    • Roar Guru

      May 28th 2009 @ 9:16am
      Pippinu said | May 28th 2009 @ 9:16am | ! Report

      A win for the beautiful game?
      A win for Catalan autonomy (and all former subjects of the Aragonese crown, and their descendants)?
      A strike against commercial excess and the commoditisation of football?
      A win for all humanity?
      A win for all short arses the world over?

    • May 28th 2009 @ 9:28am
      Slippery Jim said | May 28th 2009 @ 9:28am | ! Report

      Pippu, how on earth could saying a team that paid €80 million on players at the start of the season and has two players in the top 5 highest payed footballer’s in the world be a strike “a strike against commercial excess and the commoditisation of football”???

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