Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Sad Day for the Home Crowd

Back when I was first married, my husband would occasionally watch a weekly West German football (soccer) match on PBS. This was back before the Berlin Wall fell. The announcer was named Toby Charles and he was English. Whenever the home team would lose, Toby Charles would inevitably say, "It's a sad day for the home crowd."

Last night was a very sad night for the home crowd in the annual Champion's League final. For those who are unfamiliar with the Champion's League final, it is the European equivalent of the Super Bowl. The best European football clubs play in the Champion's League tournament. The winner of the final gets glory, a huge trophy, a lot of money, and an automatic berth in the next year's Champion's League tournament. What made this year's final unique was that it was the first time that one of the clubs played in its home stadium. The final, between Germany's Bayern Munich and the London club FC Chelsea, was played in Munich's Allianz Arena. At the end of regulation and overtime, the score was tied 1-1. Chelsea ended up winning the match 4-3 on penalty kicks.

Bayern  actually outplayed Chelsea in every facet of the game.  But Chelsea played a very defensive game, which was also a successful strategy in the semi-final round against FC Barcelona. Bayern, like Barcelona, is capable of scoring a lot of goals. Both teams have many players who are dangerous goal scorers. But it's hard to score when there is a wall of defenders in front of the goalie. Bayern's scoring machine was shut down by Chelsea's blue wall (Chelsea wore blue uniforms) in front of the goal. While fans may be critical of a team strictly playing defense, it certainly worked for Chelsea.

Both teams have goalies who are among the best in the world. Bayern's Manuel Neuer is the German national goalie. He looks like he could play the part of an Aryan soldier in a World War II movie with his short blond hair, blue eyes, and tall, sturdy build.  Petr Cech of Chelsea is the Czech Republic's national goalie. He got a bigger workout than Neuer last night and can kick the ball almost all the way across the field. Cech looks like a 1920s American football player because he wears a soft helmet to protect his head (he had a bad concussion several years ago). Like Neuer, he is tall. But he is thinner and looks like he has a 3-meter arm span. Here is last night's penalty shootout, which shows both goalies (commentary is in Russian).

The main reason why the Champion's League is so special is because the European football leagues are the best in the world. Just like foreign players aspire to play in the NBA or NHL, football players from all over the world dream of playing for a European club. The best European football clubs are better than most countries' national teams. In fact, most national players from the top countries play for the best European clubs. Spain, Germany, England, and Italy have the best leagues. A club from any of those four countries is almost always in the Champion's League final.

There are a couple of things that I wish could be changed about football. One is that it's the only game where players get rewarded for faking an injury. The Italians are masters of diving and fake injuries, with the Brazilians (or any country which has a Latin-based language) close behind. With the way some players roll around on the ground and carry on with their theatrics, one would think that they just became crippled for life. The player who is closest to the diver usually gets penalized with a foul or yellow card. When the referee doesn't notice the dive, the "hurt" player gets right back up like nothing happened. Here is a video of the worst football dives. Some of the dives are very comical. Last night's game had some theatrics, but they were pretty minimal.

The other thing that I think should be changed is having a major championship, like the Champion's League final, decided on penalty kicks. To me that's the same as having Game 7 of the NBA championship being decided on free throws. I would rather see players dragging themselves on the field trying to score a goal in a third overtime period instead of playing for a penalty shootout. The Bayern-Chelsea match would have been even more exciting if the players had to play more than one overtime period.

Even though last night's game was disappointing for those of us who are Bayern fans, it was still epic. I hope that next year's Champion's League final is equally exciting. Who knows, maybe Bayern and Chelsea will have a rematch.

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