Day: May 27, 2009

Match Of The Week: FC Barcelona 2-0 Manchester United

Sometimes, you have to wonder. Levels of fitness and skill have no doubt improved in football over the last couple of decades, but perhaps today was the day during which we started to lose grip with reality. Every British newspaper had a pull-out section, many choosing to lavish extravagant praise on a match that hadn’t even been played yet. But anyone that knows anything about football knows that the sums on the pitch don’t necessarily equal the parts. You can, on any weekend, turn up at a park pitch and there is a chance that you will see a more entertaining match played out between two sweaty teams of forty year-olds with beer guts than you might see on a Saturday afternoon in the Premier League. It’s part of the intrinsic beauty of football. For all of that, I can understand why the press got so excited. For all of the cynicism brought about by three decades of watching the game, Manchester United against Barcelona in the Champions League final was always going to release our inner eight year old and make most of us go, “Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! Foooootball!”. I suspect that it’s part of the reason why we still watch it when we’re old enough to know better. Tonight, though, Alex Ferguson – who has ridden his luck in all three of his previous European Cup finals – finally...

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Five Great European Cup Finals

If you open this morning’s newspapers, you’ll see that, in the opinion of the hacks, it’s already a foregone conclusion that this year’s European Cup final will be the greatest football match of all time. This may or may not come to pass, but it has some stiff opposition to overcome if it is to join as much as the greatest European Cup finals of all time. Although there were nine consecutive years during the 1970s and 1980s when no-one could manage more than a single goal in a European Cup final (and English teams were the worst for this – the halcyon days of English clubs in Europe featured five successive 1-0 wins for Liverpool, Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa between them), there have been many European Cup finals that have been breathtaking events. Here, in no particular order apart from chronological, are five of the best: 1960: Real Madrid 7-3 Eintracht Frankfurt – Real Madrid, of course, owned the European cup in its early years. They had already won the first four competitions by the time of the 1960 final, played at Hampden Park in Glasgow. The signs of greatness were already there. Real had thrashed Barcelona 6-2 over two legs in one semi-final, while Eintracht had beaten Rangers 12-4 in the other. A few weeks prior to this match England and Scotland had played out a...

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Three Times Lucky For Manchester United?

How often, then, do cup winners get lucky? Ahead of tomorrow night’s European Cup final in Rome it’s a question worth asking ourselves, because there is a tendency, in cup finals, for those moments of good fortune to be critically important. In this respect, cup competitions are very different to league seasons. A league season consists of a large number of matches. Teams may occasionally stutter at the top or pull off surprise wins at the bottom (see Hull City beating Arsenal at The Emirates for proof of this) but, generally speaking, things level themselves out by the end of the season. The cups, though, are a different beast altogether. One slice of luck or one brilliant piece of skill by a player that one might have thought singularly incapable of such genius can win a cup in a way that it can’t win a league competition. If a league season is a marathon and not a sprint, then a cup competition is a sprint and not a marathon, to an extent. I say “to an extent”, of course, because the indignity of losing to lower placed opposition isn’t something that the biggest clubs like very much. They very much understand that league seasons level themselves out. This was a very welcome side effect of the conversion of the European Cup into a mini-league format (along with the extra...

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