A Tale of Two Semi-Finals

A Tale of Two Semi-Finals

Good news, sports fans. Gus and I have swapped roles for the week. While this has dire ramifications for the quality of Issue 10’s political analysis, the sports pages will temporarily boast a vocabulary consisting of more than the words “bro” and “fuck”. So enjoy this preview of the 2011-12 UEFA Champions League final while you can, because next week it’s back to “The Meat axe Guide to Dunedin’s Social Tee-Ball League”. It’ll be like going from watching football in full HD to watching on a single-pixel stream with Arabic commentary.

Real Madrid had enjoyed a fairly easy run before the semi-final, easily smacking down CSKA Moscow and sending APOEL FC crawling back to Cyprus. But Bayern Munich proved tougher competition, and after the two legs ended 3-3 on aggregate, it all came down to a penalty shootout. Cristiano Ronaldo dropped from “man-crush” to mere “idol” in my estimation by choosing the worst time to ruin his 25-in-a-row penalty record, and Kaka’s decision to aim for the exact same spot proved not to be a psychological masterstroke. But the highlight of the game came from Sergio Ramos’s penalty. In years to come, rugby coaches and biomechanics lecturers will use Ramos’s penalty as a perfect illustration of the motion required to kick a 50-metre penalty: Taking a huge run-up, leaning back, and striking the ball as hard as possible with the laces. Combined with the look of sheer determination on his face as he blasted the ball into the top tier of the stands, Ramos’s penalty was perhaps the most comically incompetent of all time.

The loss wouldn’t have felt right without some excuses from Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho, and he duly laid the blame on a combination of bad luck and player fatigue from the Clásico against Barcelona four days before the semi-final. One man who can’t be faulted for the loss is Iker Casillas, who capped off an amazing season with two penalty saves. He and Real Madrid will have to console themselves with the La Liga title.

To seize the opportunity to use a sporting cliché, full credit to Bayern Munich; they have a great squad and deserve their place in the final. Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry have been brilliant throughout the competition, Bastian Schweinsteiger provides a touch of class, and Mario Gómez is the Kaiser of tap-in goals. When you combine their man-to-man superiority over Chelsea with the home advantage factor, Bayern Munich are the big favourites to win the final.

Now for Chelsea. Let’s be honest, they don’t really deserve to be in the final. And half their team won’t be able to play anyway due to being suspended for a series of increasingly amusing fouls in the second leg. Ramires showed skills no one knew he had with a beautiful chipped goal, following on from his assist in the first leg; but we won’t get to see whether this trend towards passable ball control continues, as he picked up a yellow card and a suspension for backchat. Raul Meireles also won’t get the chance to contribute his own brand of mediocrity to the final after selflessly scything down Javier Mascherano, who was on a breakaway. And John Terry was sent off in the 37th minute for kneeing Alexis Sanchez in the back. He was going for stealth rather than power, and will rue not getting his full money’s worth from the red card.

Chelsea were outclassed by Barcelona in both legs, but Ramires’s crucial away goal allowed Chelsea to hunker down for the entire second half of the second leg, to the point where they used Didier Drogba as a left back and finished the game having had just 20% possession. And just as it was for several draw-hungry minnows in La Liga this year, the tactic of having the entire team defending in the goalbox was successful in thwarting Barça’s beautiful-but-one-dimensional attack patterns. They didn’t attempt to score goals from corners, or long-range shots. And it cost them. To be fair, Barça can also count themselves unlucky that Lionel Messi hit the post four times across the two legs. The frustration from the loss was the final straw for Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola, who announced his resignation shortly after the game.

Chelsea’s squad just hasn’t impressed this year – Meireles and Ramires are weak links in the midfield, and while Drogba and Frank Lampard have performed respectably they are both past their prime. Terry’s season might end in court, as he faces criminal charges over an alleged on-field racist comment. Fernando Torres has provided plenty of assists but very few goals. At the time of writing, Chelsea are sixth in the Premier League, so unless they pull off a miracle in the final they might not even qualify for the next Champions League.

But now for the most important issue of all. Tommy Smyth, the Irish commentator, provides the polar opposite to value-added commentary. Each and every comment he makes detracts from the overall experience, whether it’s a baffling reference to a third-division English game during a Champions League semi-final, a shameless attempt to get people to follow him on Twitter, or his trademark definitively-stated “That’s offside. No question about it”, followed upon viewing the replay by an equally decisive refutation of the offside ruling, coupled with severe criticism of the referee. He’d better not be commentating the final.

6:45am, Sunday May 20. Watch it. And put your flat’s food budget on Bayern Munich. If your flat goes hungry, pull a Mourinho and blame society for encouraging gambling.
This article first appeared in Issue 10, 2012.
Posted 12:51am Monday 7th May 2012 by Callum Fredric.