Thursday, February 22, 2007

Champions League Round of 16: February 20

Lille 0 - 1 Manchester United
Congratulations, Lille! You have been officially awarded the prestigious title of Pissy French Bitches 2007 (previous holders: Arsenal). They are now (a) blaming Man United for the over-crowding in the away end and (b) claiming that the game should be replayed because the referee let Giggs's goal stand. Both of which are bullshit.

Let's start with the free-kick. Yes, quite often the referee tells the teams that they have to wait for the whistle to restart play. He didn't do that this time. So when Lille spent too much time faffing around setting up their wall and Giggs took advantage of that, they have only themselves to blame. It's understandable that they feel hard done by, especially since they'd previously had a goal disallowed for a push on Vidic, but reacting as if they were going to take their ball and go home is needlessly petulant. It's the sort of behaviour I'd expect in my rec league (where, instead of referees, you call your own fouls and the teams award each other "spirit points" after the game; yeah, it works about as well as you'd expect), not from professional footballers.

As much attention as is being paid to this -- and when I finally saw the game, I was a little disappointed, because I was expecting a bigger kerfuffle -- the more serious issue is the trouble with the away fans. There are conflicting reports as to what exactly happened, but basically: there were too many fans in the away section of the stands, possibly because of people using fake tickets, possibly because of stadium staff not actually checking tickets and just letting people in. Some of those fans felt that they were in danger of being crushed and tried to climb out, and the security people dealt with this by spraying tear gas at the crowd. Which, as you can imagine, was a big help. The whole thing is just boggling to me. I mean, having to segregate away fans behind wire fences is boggling enough in the first place, considering that I'm used to North American stadiums where you can sit anywhere. I can accept that it's necessary in other places, but if you're going to do it, isn't the point to make it less dangerous for the fans, rather than more so?

Right, so: Massive organizational fuck-ups aside, what about the game? Well, United started brightly enough, with lots of possession, but not enough of it was in the final third of the pitch. Although they lined up in the 4-4-2 I was hoping for (hallelujah!), they were lacking the final ball to the strikers or players really driving forward from midfield. Lille did a good job of harrying them and closing down space in the midfield; I thought Jean Makoun was their best player and it's easy to see why United were interested in him. Gradually, though, it was looking as if the game would peter out into a scoreless draw, until Giggs stepped up to give United a crucial away goal. Despit that, I hope they'll go all out to win the return leg at Old Trafford, because I thought a lot of their problem on Tuesday was due to their usual caution in European away games, despite the purportedly attacking formation.

Quote of the game, from one of the commentators after Cristiano Ronaldo was substituted after being effectively shackled by two defenders all night: "He's not a happy bunny, is he?" (No, he's not.)

Real Madrid 3 - 2 Bayern Munich
This was definitely the most entertaining game so far. (I can say that because I haven't watched Barcelona-Liverpool yet.) I'd predicted either no goals or a ton of goals; apparently a ton of goals it is. Both teams seemed to be taking turns showing off how badly they could defend, particularly against set pieces. Remember when Fabio Cannavaro won World Footballer of the Year? Yeah, me too. Vaguely. Bayern will probably be happy with the score, despite the loss, because the late goal from Mark Van Bommel to make it 3-2 means they need just a 1-0 scoreline at home to advance.

Quote of the game: One of the ESPN brain trust (I think for once it wasn't Tommy Smyth) praising Raul for outjumping the defender for Real's second goal. And neglecting to mention that said defender was Philip Lahm, who is quite a good player but is also approximately three apples tall.

PSV 1 - 0 Arsenal
Much like Real Madrid-Bayern, this was (cliché alert!) a game of two halves. Arsenal played their usual fluid possession football in the first half but couldn't capitalize on their dominance. PSV were pretty clearly playing for a draw, but I think Arsenal must have started to panic a bit at halftime when they weren't in the lead. As a result they didn't play as well in the second half, and they handed PSV a lifeline. I also read today that Thierry Henry has been carrying an injury, but I'm not sure that's enough to excuse him after another lacklustre performance in an important game.

Celtic 0 - 0 AC Milan
Both teams should be somewhat happy with this result: Celtic Park is never a welcoming place for away teams, but Celtic will be pleased to have kept a clean sheet and prevented Milan from picking up a useful away goal. Not so happy: anyone who watched the game, which was pretty dull aside from watching Gilardino falling down extravagantly.

1 comment:

Jones said...

That Gilardino clip is classic. Did someone neglect to tell him that he was playing soccer, not starring in Swan Lake? And then his reaction at the end. "What? A card? Pour moi?"

Ah, yes, well done Raul for outjumping someone who's a card carrying member of the Lollipop Guild. Excellent insight there from the commentary team.