Thursday, 3 May 2007

Arevaderci Manchester

Manchester United bowed out, no crashed out, no spectacularly fell out of the champion’s league against AC Milan in their semi final 2nd leg. Although they were mauled by Milan at least they left with their dignity intact, didnt they? Actually no, that was, as their champions league ambitions now are, in pieces. United found themselves 3-0 down and all but out of the competition when an altercation took place that involved a particularly upset Gennaro Gattuso and ended with him being booked for unsporting behaviour, grabbing someone by the throat is unsporting isn’t it?
Why the altercation? Kaka went down injured, it turned out to be cramp but all the same the ball was put out by a Milan player and when play resumed United kept possession instead of doing the sporting thing and returning it to Milan, this incensed Gattuso.
Post booking Gattuso put his English skills to good use with a multitude of insults, all clearly lip readable toward United players as well as a few universal hand gestures. A desire to win saw United throw sportsmanship out of the window, that coupled with woeful play saw them get what they deserved in the end, a beating.
As in the first leg Kaka was excellent and if this form continues Liverpool will have to pay special attention to him, Seedorf was also impressive for Milan and even though he wasn’t the captain the Milan number 8 Gattuso seemed to be leading the team. He was substituted a minute after he was booked for his own sake rather than tactics I think.

The pitiful claps at the end of the game by some of Manchester United’s travelling support summed up their team who never really threatened to make the game interesting and it is worth noting that Milan had a sort of second string defence out as Cafu and Maldini were left out of the starting line up, although Cafu came on to replace Gattuso.

Goals from Kaka (11), Seedorf (30) and 66th minute sub Gilardino (78) won the game but United were left playing catch up after the first goal and it was Milan who looked the more likely to go and get more goals. The 1999 champion’s league winners looked lackluster and devoid of passion and the team selection suggested either scant pickings or a defeatist attitude. Either way a team with John O’Shea and Wes Brown as your centre back pairing are not going to win you games like these, equally players like Darren Fletcher looked out of his depth and Carrick failed to live up to his ridiculous price tag. All the players you would expect or hope, if you’re a United fan to provide the moments of match winning brilliance, Giggs, Ronaldo and Rooney all failed to turn up and as a result left Milan with a clear path to their 2nd final in 3 years.

Ronaldo was booked in the 83rd minute for unsporting behaviour but by that time the game was well and truly out of United’s reach and Milan were more than deserving of the win on a thundery night at the San Siro and few could argue that Milan deserved to go through overall. United will rue not making much of a tactical effort to keep a clean sheet at home as that is surely why they went out and why Milan and Liverpool both progressed. The 2 away goals for Milan seemed to give them the confidence to attack United from the first whistle and why they never gave in and were rarely under much pressure. Alex Ferguson isn’t much of a tactician but instead has individual talent to rely on in players like Rooney and Ronaldo but when they desert you and you don’t have a real game plan to fall back on you end up getting humiliated, that is what happened tonight. Alex Ferguson and the Manchester united obsessed media may well blame the performance and starting 11 on the fact that they had 3 trophies to play for, congratulations but you will get no sympathy from me or most football fans.

Trying to win everything and ending up winning nothing is what happens when you are greedy, Chelsea may be able to testify to that at the end of the season as they may well end up with nothing (well nothing worthwhile, the League cup rarely takes pride of place in many top trophy cabinets).

So to Athens’ Olympic stadium for a repeat of the 2005 final, dubbed by some as the greatest final ever, I can’t disagree. This seasons final wont be the first time the stadium has hosted such an event, in 1983 it hosted the European cup final which saw Hamburg beat Juventus 1-0 and in 1994 the Champions league final with Milan beating Barcelona 4-0.
The home of AEK Athens it underwent a 260 million Euro renovation in 2004 in time to host the opening and closing ceremonies as well as the football final of the summer Olympics in 2004.

On the 23rd of May 2007 it will host the 52nd final of the premier European cup competition and Liverpool will be looking to equal Milan’s 6 European cups/champion’s leagues.

Rafael Benitez and Carlo Ancelotti will both be confident going into the final with their respective semi final wins but will psychology have a role to play and will Milan minds be cast back 2 years when they step onto the pitch? Time will tell but I for one hope that Milan remember that night in Istanbul when they thought they had the game won and their names on the trophy and I hope Gattuso again touches ole big ears when he walks out onto the pitch.

All that is left for me is to find a place to watch the game with the few reds I know. Finding somewhere that stays open till 3.45am (KO time in Korea) and beyond on a Thursday morning isn’t that easy but a few well placed phone calls to the local foreigner bar should do the trick.

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