Wednesday, May 23, 2007

This One Could Go All The Way

A few weeks ago we brought up the fact that Milan's drive to avenge the horror of their Istanbul experience could prove the deciding factor in this evening's Champions League Final rematch against Liverpool (and it is that, a rematch, Steven Gerrard's autobiographical musings have got sufficiently up Rino Gattuso's nose to guarantee that much).

The only thing that could save Liverpool, we felt, would be a pronouncement of sublime arrogance from Silvio Berlusconi. There's a good megalomaniacal media mogul! Didn't he oblige? "Milan will win in Athens, we will succeed because we have a superior class than our opponents," said the man with the thickest weave this side of Magee's of Donegal.

"Since Milan have already beaten Manchester during the season and Manchester having beaten Liverpool, the football rule wants that now Milan beats the same Liverpool," added Berlusconi, adapting the rules of conkers to those of association football.

Moving from the deep tan of Berlusconi to the deep purple of Alex Ferguson, and we find more fuelling words for the Liverpool fire. "I told Carlo [Ancelotti] at the end of our semi-final that there is no way he can now not win this competition," said Ferguson.

"Carlo gave me a magnificent bottle of wine. But I immediately told him there is no point in giving such a wonderful gift if he then fails in the final. In fact, I told him I would only drink his wine once I see him lifting the Champions Cup." Looks like Fergie still enjoys seeing Liverpool being knocked off their f#cking perch.

Of course, these two mild-mannered gents are not the only ones who see no other outcome than a seventh European title for the Rossoneri. Football teams are, it seems, only as good as their last game, and many seem happy to accept that the wonderful Milan performance in their semi-final second leg victory is the definitive proof of their superiority. Few care to remember, it seems, the toiling outfit of most of this season. Most have easily forgotten the side that only eked past Celtic by a solitary Kaka intervention after 210 minutes of football.

Plenty have transformed their workmanlike disposal of Bayern Munich (the fourth best team in the dowdy old Bundesliga, remember) into a masterclass it was not. And far too many have discounted the role of a jaded, strangely lacklustre and tactically inept Manchester United in providing Milan the stage in which to dazzle at the San Siro three weeks ago.

Surprising are the number of those who neglect to consider Rafael Benitez organisational abilities, and his absolute aversion to allowing his teams to be open to the lacerating thrusts of fluid attacking teams. Indeed probably the only time one of Benitez's Liverpool sides have been pierced at will was on that very evening in Istanbul that made him an Anfield legend.

In swooning at the combination of guile and grime that the Milan midfield possess, a substantial amount of observers are unwilling to consider that it is in this very area in which Liverpool's own greatest strength resides; that, in Javier Mascherano, they have the man for the job of plugging that hole from which Kaka springs so dangerously.

What I'm trying to say is that, despite what Berlusconi and Ferguson feel, it is simply not true that Milan are a fundamentally better side. In fact, in reality, there is little to separate these two teams.

And I'll go further: there's much to suggest that they will cancel each other out. And you know what that means. "That’s why we lost, you know," Berlusconi also said recently ahead of this evening's match. "The goalkeeper was trying to disturb our players’ concentration. This time we’ll be practising penalties against moving goalkeepers."

You better had, Silvio, you better had.

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