England, France, Sweden, Ukraine
Every group seems to have its own team headlining for all kinds of reasons off the pitch. Group D has two. England is ensnared in a team selection nightmare, while Ukraine’s politics are looking to upend any positives that would have come from hosting such a significant tournament. On the football side of things,France couldn’t have asked for better heading into the group stage. But on the pitch is where the talking will be done and hosts Ukraine will take a lot from home support, while Sweden has been quietly preparing to make a statement themselves.
Ukrainehas been embroiled in all the worse controversy leading up to these games. Many foreign politicians are boycotting the matches, thus diminishing the glamour of the tournament and the significant concerns of racist abuse towards players from Ukrainians is putting players and players families on edge even before a ball has been kicked. It will be up to the players to silence these critics and if an organized and exciting Ukraine come out and dazzle, the whole tournament will be better for it. If the old guard of Andriy Shevchenko and Andriy Voronin can’t score the goals and Ukraine start to get hammered, expect all the worst expectations to come to the foreground as fans become frustrated and embarrassed.
Swedenwas my dark-horse in this group. They have certainly proven that they are capable of competing with the best over the last few years and they have only improved as confidence has grown. They have a game-changer in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Johan Elmander can contribute the goals as well. This is an experienced squad; nine players are aged 30 or older. Look for the Swedes to be organized and methodical in attack. Everything will go through Zlatan and it may be about time for him to shake off the critics saying he doesn’t show up on the big stage.
Remember whenFrancewas an embarrassment to football, refusing to train and staging a revolt against the coach? It wasn’t that long ago, but since the end of the 2010 World Cup, France has been transformed and there are stirrings of greatness once again. Under revolutionary coach Laurent Blanc, France has regained some serious swagger. Riding a 21-match unbeaten run, Les Blues are showing flair and determination thanks to a fantastically gifted midfield and truly threatening strikers. Samir Nasri is riding a high of success after winning the English Premier League title, Franck Ribery has always had a nose for the biggest stages, and Yohan Cabaye has been a revelation since his move toNewcastle. Allow them to set up the likes of Karim Benzema, a Spanish league winner this year, and Olivier Giroud, a French title winner, and expect fireworks. This is a team filled with winners and they’re reclaiming their winning mentality.
There haven’t been the usual boisterous declarations ofEngland’s chances to win a major tournament this year. Could it be the fans are already disenchanted after three players have had to pull out of the squad because of injury? Is it because they’ve called up unproven and out-of-form replacements? Is it because their talismanic striker is suspended for the first two games? Perhaps all of the above, but regardless,Englandcomes into this tournament with significantly less expectation than usual. I can tell you where it started at least, and that was when Fabio Capello resigned the England job just months before the tournament started. So follows months of speculation with an anticlimactic appointment of Roy Hodgson, a capable, if lackluster choice. Then came the other talking points and expectation and excitement sunk lower and lower, culminating when Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard and Gary Cahill had to withdraw with injuries. To add insult to injury, arguably incapable replacements were called upon to fill the void when skilled, experienced players were available (more on that in a separate post). But regardless of all of this gloom and worry, England will still line up against France and with some skilled players ready to go. Ashley Young is a winger in fine form who can blow past a few defenders. Steven Gerrard can marshal the attack while Scott Parker holds down the fort behind him. England may be wounded, but it’s the wounded animal you have to worry about most. Perhaps the Three Lions will rise to the occasion and prove the doubters wrong. The manager has always done his best work when working with underrated players. Perhaps he can continue the trend on one of the biggest stages. Motivation and confidence will not be abundant in the England camp to start, but if they can pull off a win in the opening match against France, giving them a chance when Rooney returns, this team could blaze into the knockout rounds.
At first I thought France and England would go through in Group D. Then England started to unravel while France impressed and impressed. I look at the Swedish team quietly going about their business and I think they will prove very difficult forEngland. They have a fairly respectable record against the Lions and have a good chance of taking advantage of England’s deficiencies.Ukrainewill fight, but I doubt they will take much from their matches unless England really starts to tank, which is possible. In this I see France taking a lot of confidence on their way to being group winners, starting with a victory overEngland. Unfortunately England will then fall to Sweden, thereby essentially assuring they will not progress and with Rooney just about to return. He may light it up in the final match against Ukraine, who may not win a match. I believe France will dispatch the Swedes, securing first place as the Swedish team will have to be content with taking second and progression. England will return home to lick their wounds and attempt to reconcile in time for the 2014 World Cup. France excites me and I look forward to some mouthwatering matchups for them in the knockout round.
Croatia, Ireland, Italy, Spain
Two weeks ago I would have said this is the most straightforward group in the tournament. Spain is the dominant powerhouse with Italy the second strongest. These two were expected to cruise easily into the knockout stages and while the certainty has wavered in recent weeks, I still think that’s how it’ll end. But I wouldn’t be shocked if the Croatians or the Irish give us something to talk about before the quarter finals. This tournament keeps bringing up more talking points and twists as it gets closer, but I don’t think the major surprises will come from Group C.
The main story in this group has to be the newest Italian match-fixing scandal. Most of the Italian players are based inItalyand there have been significant arrests and investigations into alleged match-fixing, which has already claimed the place of one of Italy’s players on the roster. This could be a major distraction for the team as they keep an eye onItalyto figure out what is going on. This perspective was enhanced afterItalywas soundly beaten by Russia 3-0 in a tournament warm-up. But what happened last time Italy was under a cloud of scandal? They won the 2006 World Cup. They still have impressive players, volatile players, experienced and exciting new prospects. They’re missing a key offensive threat in Guiseppe Rossi, but Mario Balotelli will be happy to take his place as long as he stays on the pitch. There’s also Udinese’s Antonio Di Natalie coming off a good season and Antonio Cassano making a sensational return from heart trouble. Watching Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi play is a joy. They are true masters on the ball and behind them they have a true legend of a goalkeeper in Gigi Buffon. I’m not discounting them. Neither will the other teams in the group. Expect to see Italy in the next round.
Croatia has good players, but hasn’t been consistent enough to warrant significant consideration. But based on the instability ofItaly, they should be more confident about their chances now. If they hit a good run of form, they can certainly compete with Italy, so their chances to progress have had a confidence-building boost. Most importantly will be for Luka Modric to keep all the transfer speculation at bay and not allow it to distract him, while Nikica Jelavic needs to continue his impressive form after his move to Everton and put the ball in the net. Eduardo has fallen off the international radar since his big move to Arsenal and subsequent departure, but he could still score that important goal to carry Croatia.
Ireland surprised a few by making it to the tournament, but now that they’re here, they don’t want to be discounted. They aren’t here just to make up the numbers and they desperately want to progress. They have a slightly younger squad with lots of Premier League experience. Captain Robbie Keane is an old gun and will be flying the flag as the key MLS representative, but the man is still a class act professional and wants a successful last hurrah. Perhaps if they’d been drawn in Group A they might have had a better chance to progress, but looking at Italy and Croatia, let alone Spain, the men in green have a tough task ahead of them.
La Furia Roja. The undeniable pinnacle of football in the last eight years and the most beautiful side to watch in their flow. Spain is the team everyone wants to beat, yet everyone wants to avoid until the final. They hold both major trophies as defending Euro champions and having won the World Cup two years ago. If they win the whole thing, they make history as the first team to defend their Euro title while also holding the World Cup. This is a team built on flowing passing and endless patience. Do they have the ability to win Euro 2012? Absolutely. But they face a much stiffer test this time around. Teams know how dangerousSpaincan be. They’ll look to close off the passing lanes so essential to the Spanish style and hit on the counter attack. The good news for La Furia Roja? Germany and the Netherlands both tried to do that in two previous finals and failed. China recently showed that defensive organization and tireless work-rate can frustrate the Spanish, but at best China might have taken a draw. But Spain is certainly showing fatigue and a few cracks. All-time top goal-scorer David Villa isn’t in the squad. Heart and sole defender Carlos Puyol is missing. Fernando Torres hasn’t been firing consistently since before the World Cup. These are challenges Spain will need to overcome. There are bright points. Cesc Fabregas has been great withBarcelonathis season and is back to scoring goals. Xavi and Iniesta are as deadly as ever and Iker Casillas is unbeatable between the posts. I’m looking to Fernando Llorente to pick up the slack when it comes to goals and expect more from the midfield as well. That’s where David Silva and Juan Mata come into play, but they have to get in the side first. This is a team with at least the depth to challenge for the trophy, but they have the skills as well. Looking forward to a potential Dutch/Spanish semi-final in a few weeks time.
This group will be controlled by the Spanish, but second place is potentially up for grabs. If Italy keep their focus, it’s theirs for the taking. If they stumble, Croatia and Ireland are ready and waiting to pounce. I doubt there will be many shocking results, but perhaps a flurry of goals as all the teams can trust in strong offenses and serious goal scorers. I can only hope it doesn’t turn into a “shut down the Spanish” bore-fest. Take the impetus and play football!
Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal
The obvious Group of Death will provide three mouthwatering match-ups in the group stage. Three of the four teams have won the tournament before (careful if you’re guessing which hasn’t). There is obviously going to be one team going home early that might have thought of progressing deep into the tournament, but that’s football. All four countries have a decent chance of going through and I see this group going down to the final day to determine who goes on and who goes home. Expect some wild and chaotic results from this one, but whoever does go on should have a serious confidence boost after taking on three powerful sides and emerging intact.
Now these are some pretty impressive teams on paper, but in my opinion, only two are truly on form to progress far in this tournament. The Germans have been the epitome of improvement over the last two major tournaments, taking second and third at the last Euros and World Cup respectively. Both tournaments saw them fall toSpainin the knockout rounds and both times by a solitary goal (suddenly just had memories of when Fernando Torres was scoring). They were rock solid in qualifying, had a minor blip with a weakened team in the Euro warm-ups, but I think Germany is full of confidence and the skill to dispatch anyone on their day. A modest, but organized defense is ordered about by one of the top goalkeepers in the world in Manuel Neuer who will be desperate to forget about the penalty shootout loss toChelseain the Champions League final. Mesut Özil and Bastian Schweinsteiger will pull the strings in midfield, feeding the ball to the goal-scoring machine that is Miroslav Klose. Some may say that Mario Gomez is the main attacking threat ofGermanyafter the season he’s had in the Bundesliga, but let me slow that down for a minute. Gomez has not scored for Germany in the last two major tournaments. They progressed to the final and the third place game on both occasions without a goal from their “top striker.” This is a testament to the goal-scoring potential of the midfield, but also of Klose’s strike-rate, which is nothing less than consistent and prolific. Add in Lukas Podolski and Thomas Müller and you have yourself a deadly recipe in the final third.
Another team boasting a significant offensive threat is the Netherlands. Robin van Persie was in stellar form for Arsenal and defied all the odds by not getting injured this season! For the neutrals I hope it doesn’t come to haunt him at the Euros. Backing him up, probably from the bench, is Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who beat Gomez to the Bundesliga’s Golden Boot. Arjen Robben is the deadly man on the wing and had two chances to break Spanish hearts in the World Cup final two years ago. Wesley Sneijder is the attacking midfield danger and the Dutch can count on goals from Rafael Van der Vaart as well. Mark van Bommel will hold down the midfield in front of the defenders for possibly the last time in the orange kit. The Netherlands have shown themselves to be the attacking force of the last two tournaments, though they succumbed to fear of the Spanish passing game in the last tournament, resorting to physical tactics rather than their mesmerizing offensive skills. If they stick to what they’re best at, expect to see them causing the top teams in the tournament some serious trouble.
Portugal had the hardest and perhaps more surprising road getting to the Euros. A team boasting the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, Raul Meireles and many more shouldn’t have struggled so much in qualifying, let alone need a playoff win to reach the tournament. The Portuguese have gone from finalists in 2004 (losing toGreece) with a golden generation to being underdogs to their Iberian neighbors and foes from the main continent. Don’t get me wrong, Portugal can play and Ronaldo has proven himself a match winner time and again. Although they possess firepower, I don’t believe the team has the camaraderie and spirit to match up against the mental fortitude, organization and skill of the Oranje and Germans. Portugal may delay things with a draw or even a win, but I don’t think they can overcome both the Netherlands and Germany to progress. They’ll need a little help from Denmark to make it through.
Denmark won the tournament back in 1992 and has been a very respectable side in the years following. They’ll be the underdogs in this group with all the spotlight on the other three. However, I think Denmark will make a couple of the teams nervous, especially Portugal who I think the Danes match up well against. If Germany and the Netherlands cancel each other out, and Denmark grabs a draw against one and a win over Portugal, they may head into the last day with a serious hope of causing the upset of the tournament in the early rounds. Another Cinderella story to add to their football history? They are capable and in a Group of Death, no one is guaranteed a spot in the knockout stages.
While the chances for upset are high, I still think the Germans and Dutch are too much for their opponents and will take first and second place respectively. I think Germany will be too organized for the Netherlands, but the Oranje will make up for it by trouncing Portugal. The Iberians will then be further embarrassed after a shock loss to Denmark. I think Denmark will take third place in the group, leaving the Portuguese pondering what they can do to improve ahead of the World Cup in two years time. Meanwhile, the Dutch will be aching for a chance at revenge against the Spanish in the semi-finals whileGermanywill have eyes for nothing other than that European trophy.
Czech Republic, Greece, Poland, Russia
Euro 2012 is only a few days away and in the run-up I will be previewing all of the groups. This should be an interesting tournament, primarily for the football, but intrigue will be high because of the various problems facing Europe as a whole. This tournament will offer a break from some of the politics, but will also showcase some of the continents emerging talents, as well as proven performers. The Euros has always provided for some top-class football and I expect this year will be no different. First group for preview: Group A!
While this may not be the most exciting group in the tournament, it may prove to throw up some exciting, competitive games. They won’t be the most sparkling displays of football, but the teams will duke it out to make it to the knockout rounds. The favorites will definitely be Russia, especially after the 3-0 beating they gave toItalyon the first of the month. Behind them will be the Czechs, though they suffered a loss toHungaryon the same day the Russians were victorious. Then come the Greeks, winners in 2004, but facing the steepest of uphill battles. Pressure will be on the Greeks to show some solidarity and enthusiasm with their country at the heart of the European debt crisis. Finally Poland, co-hosts with a lot of pressure to at least give a good showing. They will feel that they have a reasonable chance to move on, especially if the two favorite cancel each other out. They’ve played well in the build-up and with hope for some additional support from a strong home crowd. Poland will want to upstage the performances o f Austria and Switzerland at the last Euros (both exited at the group stage).
While I think the competition in this group can be strong, Russia and the Czechs will progress as one and two, respectively. Poland is my dark-horse. They could provide an upset and if they do, I think it’ll come against the Czech Republic.Greecemay take a point off Poland, but I think they’ll finish at the bottom. All the squads in this group are fairly shallow and some are boasting some pretty veteran legs (Czechs and Greece). Russia shouldn’t have much trouble here and the Czechs could use that experience to take them into the next round.
I’ll go on the record and say the tournament winner will not come out of this group. However, the group stage should yield some drama because everyone will feel they have a chance to progress. Whoever does progress won’t look forward to the quarter-finals however. They’ll have to take on the first and second place finishers from the GROUP OF DEATH…
Chelsea1- Bayern Munich 1; Chelsea 4-3 on Penalties
For 80 minutes, this was not a breathtaking final. Bayern Munich bossed the Allianz Arena like it was their home stadium (oh wait…). Registering 43 shots and earning 20 corner kicks, the Bavarian club was the only attacking force on the pitch. But what matters more is that only seven of those 43 shots were on target and none of those 20 corner kicks created any danger.Chelsea on the other hand channeled the defensive spirit they showed so prominently againstBarcelonain the semi-finals to reach their second Champions League final. They were stalwarts, with David Luiz and Gary Cahill the deputized central pairing in the absence of suspended Branislov Ivanovic and John Terry. But while the game was boringly bossed by Bayern for 82 minutes, it was the final eight minutes that turned this final into something noteworthy.
Both teams were coming off mostly disappointing domestic form.Chelseahave been woeful in the Premier League and needed to triumph just to be in European competition next season. Bayern were, for the second year in a row playing second fiddle toDortmundand just got spanked by that same team in the domestic cup. I don’t care what you say, losing 5-2 in a CUP FINAL of any caliber is embarrassing. Chelsea were quite the opposite, playing well in the FA Cup Final against Liverpool and took the prestigious trophy home. In that regard, Chelsea had the advantage.
This was a game of two offenses against two depleted defenses.Chelsea were without their captain Terry who, in a moment of madness, suspended himself by kicking out at Alexis Sanchez. Ivanovic, Raul Miereles, and Ramires had all accumulated too many yellow cards to take part. Bayern were also without several key defenders as David Alaba and Holger Badstuber picked up yellows against Real Madrid in the semis. This could have created an offensive masterpiece with the ever dangerous Didier Drogba leading the Chelsea attack while being supported by Frank Lampard. Bayern would feel equally dangerous with the Bundesliga’s second top goal-scorer Mario Gomez leading the attack supported by the mercurial Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery. But instead, it was a clinic on how to dominate possession without scoring.
In most matches, registering 43 shots will probably provide a few goals. Enjoying 56% of the possession will also give you more opportunities to score and win the game. Bayern had every attacking statistic in their favor at the end of the Champions League Final, but walked away with silver medals around their necks. Only seven shots were on target to challenge Petr Cech. Combined, the two teams were able to put 10 shots on frame resulting in eight saves.Chelsea took nine shots themselves, three on target. What may show Bayern’s domination and, at the same time, wilted attack, is that Chelsea committed 26 fouls on the night.Chelseaset up a defensive blockade that would not allow Bayern a clear opportunity, but when one came, the German’s couldn’t capitalize.
Mario Gomez was useless. I’ve always felt he’s an overrated striker, made for the Bundesliga and not much else. Take in the fact that he hasn’t scored for the German national team in the last two major tournaments, along with his lack of goals for Bayern on the European stage and you can see that he is not a striker for the big games. He was extraordinarily wasteful, but he was one of many in the misfiring Bayern attack. Robben couldn’t make his trademark shot effective as he cut in from the flank, Toni Kroos couldn’t threaten from distance, while Ribery and Thomas Muller were sporadically dangerous. Bayern’s offense, while dominating, was more bark than bite. But the bite did come and while 20 corner kicks came to nothing, it was a cross that broke the Chelsea dam. While the Chelsea defenders marked up in the box waiting for a Ribery cross, Muller drifted in at the back-post and when the cross did come in from Kroos, the big German stooped to head the ball into the ground and off the crossbar into the net. Cech will have to be disappointed he didn’t do better and looked utterly bewildered as the German side mobbed their jubilant goal-scorer. But Cech wasn’t the only one in blue who could have done better because Ashley Cole had no idea Muller was even there! All credit to Muller though as his header was perfect, hard and into the ground to put off Cech and it put one hand on the trophy for Bayern.
It has to be said that Chelsea were a bit fortunate. They could have conceded more than one and up to when Muller put the Bavarians in front, the London team seemed incapable of pressing hard enough to find a goal. They had been reliant on counter-attacking play all night, but every time they surged, Bayern regained possession and resumed their offensive onslaught. But cometh the hour, cometh the man. A man who has been with Chelsea since the beginning of the Russian revolution. A man who helped bring the first Premier League title to the club under Jose Mourinho. As many ours have come and gone, he has been a consistent servant. Didier Drogba. One of the most lethal strikers in the world. He worked tirelessly in the semi-final, but had been abandoned up top for most of the match thus far. If there’s one thing about Drogba every defender should know it’s this: give him a half chance and you’ll concede. Drogba rose highest and, with a little help getting to the ball via a push from his defender, planted a thunderous header into the top corner. If Cech was disappointed about conceding, Manuel Neuer will really be kicking himself as he got a hand to Drogba’s header, but could only palm the ball into the roof of the net. It was unstoppable and with their first corner of the night, Chelsea had reclaimed a formidable grip on the Champions League trophy with less than three minutes left.
With tired legs and drained minds, the players took their places for extra time. Even the crowd was breathless after the exhilaration and conflicting emotions of the final ten minutes. Was it going to come to penalties again forChelsea? It nearly didn’t, though it was a penalty decision that nearly undid them. Ribery broke into the area and it was the hero from less than ten minutes earlier who made the mistake of sticking out a leg. Drogba was trying to put pressure on Ribery, but clipped the Frenchman’s heel and there was no doubt in my mind it was a penalty. It was four years ago that Drogba lashed out at Manchester United’s Nemanja Vidic to get sent off in extra time of the CL Final in Moscow. While he stayed on the pitch in this match, the threat of disaster was no less apparent. However, insomuch as Drogba was the hero in normal time, Cech was the hero in extra-time. Robben’s penalty was hard and low, but the big keeper was equal to the challenge, diving to his left to smother the Dutchman’s goal-bound shot. It nearly squirmed under him, but the tireless Chelsea keeper covered up quickly to rapturous cheers from the Blue army behind him.
I believe Bayern made a huge mistake letting Robben take the penalty. He had recently missed a significant penalty in the Bundesliga and hadn’t been consistent all night. While Ribery may have made a case to take it, he was on the sidelines injured. I think a better choice would have been Bastian Schweinsteiger or even the captain, Philip Lahm. Robben took a decent penalty, but Cech would have studied Robben ahead of time and the Dutchman just didn’t seem to have the confidence or certainty needed at this crucial moment. Although, I suppose the same could be said of Schweinsteiger as he couldn’t even watch as the penalty was taken.
After Cech made that all important save, Chelsea were still pinned back, though less so as Bayern appeared to lose heart. Extra-time dragged on and penalties loomed closer. Chelsea had never won a penalty shoot-out in Europe, while Bayern had never lost. Bayern were certainly not in a strong position heading into the shoot-out. They had removed Muller for the defensive Daniel van Buyten after taking the lead. Ribery had withdrawn injured from the Drogba tackle that had conceded the penalty. Chelsea on the other hand had brought on the slightly improved Fernando Torres and Flourent Malouda. Both teams could boast of incredible keepers. That being said, Chelsea stalwarts like Lampard and Cole would be reliving horrible memories of the defeat in Moscow. Bayern would draw confidence from a victorious penalty shootout against Real Madrid in the last round. It came down to five kicks each from 12 yards.
Bayern went first and the man I thought should have taken the penalty in extra-time, Lahm, buried his shot in the corner of the net. Cech guessed right again, even getting fingertips on it but couldn’t keep the ball out. The London club’s first penalty was taken by a man who has driven this team well, scoring goals and providing assists since his move from Spain, but Juan Mata hadn’t been as influential in this match and his penalty reflected that. Easy height for the goalkeeper, not nearly far enough to the corner and Neuer, who saved the first two Real penalties, saved Chelsea’s first. I was nervous about Gomez taking a penalty due to his absentee performance on the night, but he took his chance well and gave Bayern the lead. Then it was Chelsea’s turn to make me nervous with David Luiz stepping up, but he dispatched his penalty even more emphatically, smashing the ball into the top corner.
When was the last time you saw a goalkeeper take a penalty in a shootout of such magnitude? I was in a state of absolute astonishment as Neuer set up for German club’s third penalty. Perhaps that was the point, as I’m sure all of Chelsea’s players were equally befuddled. Keeper versus keeper. Neuer couldn’t have done any better, lashing his shot past the diving Cech, who hadn’t guessed wrongly yet, but was unable to keep the Bavarians out. Calm confidence from the Bayern keeper. He would then have to face the personification of penalty calmness for Chelsea in Lampard. He’s scored big penalties for club and country. He scored from the spot in Moscow four years again and kept his team in the shootout with another one, ripping a shot over Neuer, down the middle.
Bayern still had the advantage though. Ivica Olic had come on for the injured Ribery and was tasked with Bayern’s fourth penalty. He’s played a more bit-part role this season and was a workhorse for the twenty-odd minutes he was on the pitch. Up against a man of the stature of Petr Cech, Olic couldn’t come through for Bayern and copied Mata from shot to save. The ball was at the perfect height for Cech and too close to him and the Blue’s keeper palmed the ball to safety drawing the teams level. Cole was given the chance to put the Londoners ahead and made no mistake. Neuer nearly got a hand to it, so close. The responsibility came to Schweinsteiger to put the pressure back on Chelsea, but tragically he succumbed to the pressure himself, dragging his shot just a tad too far to the right and the ball rebounded harmlessly off the post. Cech may have gotten the barest of touches to deflect the shot, but the outcome was still the same. And so it came, with possibly his last contribution on a football field for Chelsea Football Club that Didier Drogba was given the opportunity to give the London club its first ever Champions League title. The trophy that Roman Abramovich has wanted more than anything else. His team has won Premier League titles, FA Cups, and Carling Cups. He’s hired coaches with the express goal of winning the European title. They’ve come within an inch of winning it before. Now the ball was at the feet of their most dangerous player. He duly obliged, stroking the ball into the corner with Neuer diving the wrong way. Let the celebrations begin.
Heartbreak for the Bayern players, but rapture for everyone wearing blue. However, I have to say one thing. I don’t feel the Chelsea players were respectful or graceful in victory. In fact, I think they were an embarrassment. After Drogba converted the winning penalty, many players streaked off in different directions. Some ran off on their own, some ran to the sidelines, some ran to the fans to bask in their own personal glory. There was no typical surge to the goal-scorer and keeper in an act of pure team spirit. This is simply because there may not be a large amount of team spirit in this team. Many of the players have been at the club less than two full seasons. Mata, Luiz, Torres, Cahill, Miereles… all have come within the last two seasons. In the celebrations, Jose Bosingwa looked like a complete fool, sauntering down the guard of honor as Bayern players were heading to get their runners-up medals. He, especially, was a disgrace for Chelsea. He was the first player up to get his medal and took the trophy away from Lampard and Terry to hoist it in the air after the initial cheer. Backtracking a moment, the Chelsea team seemed too preoccupied with their celebrations to let their leaders bring the trophy forward to be lifted for the crowd. Despite attempts to clear a path, Terry was left in the back as Lampard was able to find a bit of space and the trophy was haphazardly lifted in celebration. The only players with any class were the old guard. Drogba and Lampard ran straight to Cech, who was so crucial to their success. Lampard and Terry hoisted the trophy together, captain and captain on the night. I especially liked Drogba’s act of giving Abramovich the trophy to lift himself, a recognition of all the Russian has done for the club. And it was the site of Cech, Terry, Lampard and Drogba embracing on the pitch, the players who have been through thick and thin as others have come and gone, that should be a lasting image for the club in the pinnacle of its accomplishments.
UPDATE: Didier Drogba has confirmed that he will leave Chelsea FC.
Apparently nearly 3 billion…
Congrats to the men in Blue. Stay tuned for a game analysis and a Premier League season review!
Gracias for everything Pep! A legend among legends. Vamos Barca!