Well. WELL. It’s the biggest night in the entire history of world football, until this time next year, when it will be EVEN BIGGER. Liverpool vs Milan will not be a patch on the match that these two teams played out two years ago, of course, when Milan began their post-match celebrations at half-time and gifted the trophy to the English club. Inside the stadium, as we speak, the stadium is filled with Liverpool supporters. The whole ground seems to be filled with them. I’m not sure how they managed this. Well, I do really. They bought loads of tickets on the black market.
First of all, though, a brief history lesson. Milan have won the European Cup six times, and Liverpool have won it five times – both of them once in what could be described as “recent” times. Liverpool have only lost a European Cup final once, and that was on the dreadful night of Heysel in 1985. All to play for, then.
On paper, there’s not much between the two teams tonight. Milan have the experience, but Liverpool have the undeniable advantage of their extraordinary home support. Both teams have one player each that you could describe as “match winners”. Kaka more Milan, and Gerrard for Liverpool. Curiously, Gerrard will be playing “in the hole” tonight, leaving Dirk Kuyt as a lone striker. This much alone would lead me to believe that we could be in for a dour’s evening football. Now, here are the teams:
AC Milan team: Dida; Massimo Oddo, Alessandro Nesta, Paolo Maldini, Marek Jankulovski; Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo, Massimo Ambrosini, Clarence Seedorf, Kaka; Filippo Inzaghi.
Liverpool team: Pepe Reina; Steve Finnan, Daniel Agger, Jamie Carragher, John-Arne Riise; Jermaine Pennant, Javier Mascherano, Xabi Alonso, Steven Gerrard, Bolo Zenden; Dirk Kuyt.
Right, then. Back just before kick-off – and if you were wondering, the title of this post is a reference to what Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho are, I would like to imagine, thinking this evening. Thanks to OTF for that.
7.35: ITV have, unpredictably, crawled approximately half-way up the collective backside of Liverpool FC for the purposes of the pre-match warm up. A simpering interview with Jamie Carragher and the rigorous analysis of Kenny Dalglish alongside Steve Ryder and Andy Townsend in the studio. If Liverpool lose tonight, you can have no doubt that it will be “a tragedy for English football”. My arse, will it.
7.45: Clive Tyldesley’s on form tonight. Milan won the toss, and chose to play in white. That’s okay, though, because Liverpool always win the European Cup in red. So, to summarise, Clive, both teams are going to win tonight. “The spirit of Liverpool”. Ugh. Only two hours of this nonsense to go though.
7.47: First attack of the night. Gerrard crosses the ball towards Pennant, but the ball curls away from him. “Jermaine Pennant – European Champion”. Sorry. I just can’t see it.
7.50: Tyldesley says that “there is no bigger fan of the game” than Rafa Benitez. Funny. I’d always thought that he looked like someone that didn’t much like football, myself. Liverpool look the stronger of the two teams so far, but it’s obviously too early to draw any conclusions from this.
7.53: I’m having a few difficulties spelling “Tyldesley” with any consistency here. I’ll be calling him “Clive” from now on.
7.56: First real chance of the night. Sloppy defending lets Pennant in and, to be honest, he should have scored. Good save by Dida, and cleared by the defence.
7.59: Pennant cuts the ball back to Gerrard, who goes for the volley and makes a complete dog’s breakfast of it. Milan are playing as if they haven’t even realised that the match has started yet.
8.03: Shot from distance for Milan, comfortable for Reina, but the pitch looks a little bumpy when they show the reverse angle. Well held. The Best Supporters In The World are a bit quiet at the moment. Too much sambuca at lunchtime, I’ll wager.
8.07: An arm across Kaka’s face by Daniel Agger there which warranted a yellow card. Milan are starting to splutter to life though, and some of their interplay is joyous to watch.
8.11: A recurrent theme of these matches seems to be the quality of “the final ball”. Neither team has really found its feet in this respect yet, and I suspect that the match ball itself may be to blame. It’s silver, in case you’re not watching and were wondering.
8.13: Alonso comes as near as anyone has come so far to the opening goal with a low drive that flashes wide of the post. Liverpool are the better team. How odd. I’m agreeing with Clive.
8.19: The two teams are engaged in a lengthy spell of passing the ball to and fro between each other at the moment. It’s not massively exciting, but still about twenty times better than the FA Cup Final was.
8.21: Great chance for Kuyt, whose shot is charged down. It looks like its only a matter of time before Liverpool score. Milan are defending really poorly – allowing Liverpool far too much space in the last third of the pitch.
8.25: Controversial statements of the evening part one: Liverpool would be two up by now if Zenden wasn’t on the pitch. Yellow card for Gattuso. No surprises there, then.
8.29: GOAL: Milan 1-0 Liverpool – As if by magic, Milan have the lead, and it’s a complete and utter fluke. Pirlo’s shot hits Inzaghe on the arse, and the ball sails past a helpless Reina. Lucky, lucky boys.
8.30: Half-Time – Milan 1-0 Liverpool – You have to laugh, really. Milan have been completely outplayed and scored with their second half-chance, and it came off someone’s backside. Liverpool have got to lift themselves in the second half but, if Milan tire, there’s an easy way back for them. I can’t see them not scoring tonight. Back in fifteen!
8.50: The second half kicks off with Neil Peart, Carl Palmer and Stewart Copeland having an impromptu jam session behind the goal. Drum solos: worst of all the musical solos.
8.53: We’ve started the second half much the same as the first half was. Liverpool supporters are singing for Harry Kewell. I’m blaming the sambuca for that, too.
8.56: I think I’ve just spotted the problem with the ego of Premiership footballers summed up in one sentence. Pennant had the ball with Zenden wide left and screaming for it, in acres of space. A half-decent performance in the first half and it goes to his head. He tries to take on three players at the same time and is bundled off the ball. Does he do this sort of thing a lot?
9.00: Milan are starting to get more and more into the game. Pirlo was harshly ruled offside, and Liverpool’s passing is starting to look for and more careless. Time for a change. Ooh – and a yellow card for Mascherano.
9.04: Rafa Benitez has been watching too much “Big Brother”. Harry Kewell is getting warmed up to come on for Liverpool.
9.06: Chance of the night for Steven Gerrard, who’s put through on goal but shoots tamely at Dida. That’s a bad, bad miss.
9.12: Riise flashes another shot wide. They’ve still got time to get one back, but Milan are looking reasonably comfortable at the moment. I just briefly thought about how sweaty David Pleat must be at right now. I almost had a moment, there, I can tell you.
9.15: Gerrard shoots just wide. He’s trying to make up for that miss, you know.
9.16: Prediction number two of the evening – Liverpool aren’t going to score from inside the penalty area tonight. Milan are mediocre, and it looks as if they’re going to be the European champions. I told you all that European football was in a state of crisis.
9.20: Milan look out on their feet, to be honest. Crouch is coming on for Javier Mascherano. They’ve got to go for it now, I guess. Skeletor’s going to need some decent service, though, and Kuyt has had precious little of that so far.
9.25: I-Spy Book Of Liverpool In European Matches (Losing edition) – Shot of three blokes looking as if they’re going to burst into tears… 50 points.
9.26: GOAL – Milan 2-0 Liverpool – Brilliant run from Inzaghe to get onto Kaka’s pass, round Reina and into the empty goal. Game over, I think, unless Liverpool have got something amazing up their sleeves, and I don’t think they’ve got it in them tonight.
9.28: Crouch shoots from distance and forces a good save from Dida. Clive is now desperately going on about That Night In Barcelona and That Night In Istanbul. Not tonight, Clive.
9.31: Arbeloa on for Finnan. If this changes the course of the match, I’ll eat my left eye.
9.32: GOAL – Milan 2-1 Liverpool – Nothing to do with Arbeloa, I should point out. A free header for a clearly offside Kuyt from a corner. I may substitute my eyeball for a meatball while no-one’s looking, by the way.
9.35: FULL-TIME – Milan 2-1 Liverpool – That’s it for Liverpool. They’ve been the better team on the evening, but missed two great chances and paid for it. To be honest, after two years ago, when Liverpool basically pick-pocketed the trophy on Istanbul, Milan deserve it. You can argue that they shouldn’t have been in the competition at all (I certainly would), but they’ve been the best team in it since it started, and I don’t think there’s much arguing with that. Liverpool will be back next season, bankrolled by a multi-millionaire. They don’t need too much sympathy tonight.