Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Champions League Final Wrap Up

UEFA Champions League 2006 Finals
Barcelona (Spain) 2 - 1 Arsenal (England)
Eto'o, Belletti - Campbell
17th May 2006, Stade de France, Paris

FC Barcelona: Valdes, van Bronckhorst, Marques, Puyol, Oleguer, van Bommel, Deco, Edmilson, Ronaldinho, Eto'o, Giuly; Subs: Iniesta, Larsson, Belletti;

Arsenal FC: Lehmann, Ashley Cole, Campbell, Toure, Eboue, Pires, Hleb, Gilberto, Fabregas, Ljungberg, Henry; Subs: Almunia, Flamini, Reyes;

Match Report
I wrote a less formal one yesterday, on the thoughts of the game, at 5am! So was pretty tired then and my brain juice are running dry. Anyway we, the neutrals wake up expecting to watch a game that is free-flowing and attacking football. The 2 teams are reknown for their being attacking minded with flair players like Ronaldinho, Henry, Deco and Pires. But a fine footballing spectacle was spoiled by some controversial decisions by the Norweigian referee and this Finals might go down as one that is over-hyped, and forgettable in the end.

Starting Tactic: From the start, by looking at the squad list of Barca, you could say that Barca played into the hands of Arsenal by playing van Bommel instead of Iniesta. Van Bommel, more defensive minded, started ahead of an attacking playmaker, tells you that they're worried about Arsenal and therefore chose a more conservative approach to the game. Oleguer starting ahead of Belletti stumped me as well. Barcelona tried to cause confusion to the Arsenal defence by swapping Ronaldinho's position with Eto'o's, which means Ronaldinho found himself a centre-forward while Eto'o is being dragged to the left. This doesn't cause Arsenal problem, but it confuses their own players instead. To sum it up, their attack are in a mess in the first half.

First Half: Arsenal, being the underdogs, started brightly and should have been ahead through Theirry Henry. He nipped infront of Rafael Marquez and took a shot from a Hleb's cross. It was well saved from Valdes though. Then he worked Valdes again, this time round from outside the box. It seemed like Arsenal are fired up and Barcelona showing a little less hunger than them. Soon, Barca settled down and starts to take control of the game, but Arsenal never lose grip and still seemed pretty comfortable. The turning point of the game came in the 18th minute when Ronaldinho sent a through ball and Eto'o racing towards the ball before Lehmann came off his line and brought down the little Cameroonian. Below is the video of what happened.

Obviously tripped. The ball then bobbled to an unmarked Giuly on the right, who makes no mistake in slotting the ball into an empty net. But no, wait. The referee pulled out a red card and sent Lehmann off, the first ever player to be sent off in a Champions League Finals. Could the ref have done something else? I'll leave it to the expert of the law to judge it as I'm not really sure about it. Anyway down to 10 men, Arsenal had to take off Robert Pires, who is playing his last game in the Arsenal shirt, and replace him with a keeper, this time Manuel Almunia. We know what is to come. Arsenal, down to 10 men, were pegged back at their own half for most of the time before a quick break down the right by Emmanuel Eboue changed the score of the game. He took the ball past Puyol, but sad to say, he dived for the free-kick. Referee had no choice but to give a freekick just outside the box.

Seeing Henry on the ball before the free-kick and Sol Campbell in the penalty box, I've just got this bad feeling for Barca. My mind tells Barca defenders "watch campbell! watch him!". But the inevitble happens. He made an excellent run into the box before rising up and thumping the ball into the top right corner of Valdes' goal. 1-0 Arsenal. 1-0 to the 10men team. Reminds you of something? Liverpool 3-1 Everton, when Gerrard was sent off and we went 1-0 up. Seemed like a good omen to Arsenal! More so when Eto'o did a 180 deg infront of Sol Campbell leaving him helpless before hitting a shot that was saved and back off the Arsenal post. Arsenal survived and they went into the half time break with a goal in hand.

Second Half: Barcelona brought on Andrés Iniesta for Edmilson, who's clearly struggling. It was an inspired move by Frank Rijkard frankly. But he should have started him, that's my thought. He's a technically gifted player with a very white face, he moves the ball around gracefully like most Spanish playmakers do and has an eye for a killer-ball. As usual, Arsenal were pinned back to their own half for most of the 2nd half. They made Barcelona's life difficult by putting loads of men behind ball (that's the only thing they can do actually) and Toure as commanding as ever, put up an excellent display. Ronaldinho, whom everyone said before the match that he would turn on style and perform failed to break down the Arsenal defence and was very frustrated as you could see from his face. Henry faired no better as he squandered another 1 on 1 chance with Valdes and shouldhave done better with it and also the one he missed in the opening period of the game. And then another turning point of the game came, when Riijkard decided to throw on Henrik Larsson, a goalscoring machine in Scotland, and a Swedish legend. Little did Riijkard know what he did would change the face of the game.

The weather was all fine until around the 70th minute. It started to pour. Was it a sign I asked myself. Looking back, maybe it is. Iniésta threaded a ball to Larsson, who used him vast experience, flicked the ball onto a on-rushing Eto'o before the Cameroonian hitman stopped the ball before slotting it calmly past Almunia's near post. GAME ON!

Barca then brought on another Brazillian, Juliano Belletti to replace a lacklustre Oleguer, who doesn't know how to cross the ball properly the entire game and was piss poor when defending. The rain never stop. It got heavier and that's when Barcelona finally struck and took the last breath out of Arsenal, who have been hanging on for the last 60minutes or so. Henrik Larsson, yes, the substitue again was the provider of the 2nd Barcelona goal. He got the ball at the edge of the area before sending a defence splitting pass into Belletti's path, while Ashley Cole looked on in despair. Belletti then hit a shot at the direction of the goal before it went in between Almunia's leg and into the Arsenal's net. The 2nd only goal conceded in 10 games. A proud record broken, by perhaps the finest team in Europe currently. Barca then hung on the lead by playing the ball around while Arsenal couldn't do much as they're 10 men down and haven't got much option up front. So the European reign of Liverpool has ended and a new era has begun, the era of the Catalonians, the empire of Barcelona, who has just won the Spanish Primera Liga, did the double and crowned the 50th European Champion.

Final Thoughts: To all Arsenal fans, don't be too disappointed. You guys defended really well and showed grittiness. You could see the hunger in some of the players, but you guys were just being beaten by one of the best sides in Europe currently. Sometimes it's not the end product that matters, but the journey. You guys came a long way, from a rubbish European team that constantly get kicked out in the quater-finals and semis into a conqueror of Europe(almost) this season, a big well done.


Congratulations to FC Barcelona on winning the prestigous European Cup, or the UEFA Champions League for the 2nd time.

Ludovic Giuly with his kid!

Drogballs' Player Ratings:

Barcelona: Valdes 8, van Bronckhorse 7, Puyol 7, Marquez 7, Oleguer 6, Edmilson 6, van Bommel 6, Deco 6, Ronaldinho 7, Giuly 8, Eto'o 8, Belletti 8, Iniésta 8, Larsson 9 (MOM);

Arsenal: Lehmann 6, A Cole 7, Campbell 8, Toure 7, Eboue 8, Pires 6, Gilberto 7, Fabregas 6, Hleb 7, Ljungberg 8, Henry 7, Almunia 6, Reyes 6, Flamini 6;

1 comment:

rafanomejodas said...

watch it here frame by frame, thanks

You will find the real Barça's road to the final.
Mourinho, Koeman, Ancelotti, Wenger, Schevchenko, Henry... all of them are fed up. Discover why