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The Triumph of Good over Evil! (1-1)

It was, quite possibly, the most extraordinary moment in sport that I have ever experienced (and I've been around, and experienced [live or on live TV] some pretty fabulous moments -- Mazeroski's home run, Gibson's home run, Fisk's home run, Laettner's buzzer-beater, that crazy shot Jordan hit to beat Utah, Dwight Clark's catch, Franco Harris's catch . . . hell, I'm old enough to remember [just barely, I admit, and it's one of those memories I'm not actually sure I had first-hand, but still ...] Sandy Amoros' catch!). And, in a nice touch that soccer fans will understand and appreciate, it occurred in a game that ended up tied 1-1!! Even those of you who don't follow international soccer -- and please, there's no need to repeat the usual "Here's why soccer really sucks," and "Americans will never love soccer" comments -- should appreciate this; it was a major moment in international sports history, of spectacular significance to maybe only a billion or so of your fellow-citizens of the planet, so it's worth knowing a little about what happened.

Here's the set-up: Barcelona vs. Chelsea in the semifinal round of the European Champions League, the big European club (as opposed to national team) competition. At stake was a place in the ECL Final in Rome on May 27th against Manchester United -- with the exception of the World Cup final, the most important (and most-watched) sporting event on Earth. It's the "second leg" of a two-game series -- the winner to be determined by the team with the most goals on aggregate -- or (importantly, as it turned out), if the two teams ended up tied on aggregate goals, the team with the most "away goals." The two teams had met for the first leg last week in Barcelona, and played to a 0-0 draw (more on that below).

Barcelona is a difficult team not to adore -- and I admit that I adore them. The soccer they have played this year is at a level far beyond anything I have ever seen before, and they are stunning to behold. It's not just that they've been winning a lot (though they have been winning a lot); it's that they've been winning by playing with truly extraordinary grace and beauty. [The pure aesthetics of soccer is something that is probably impossible to describe to those who don't watch the game, but every soccer fan understands what is meant by "beautiful soccer" -- crisp passes, intricate movement, brilliant improvisation, sensational technical skills with the ball at one's feet, all 10 field players moving together in an unscripted but magnificent ballet -- and no team plays (or, quite possibly, has played) more beautiful soccer than Barcelona has played this year.] And beyond just the magnificence of their play, Barcelona's a hard team not to love. Their history is glorious and inspiring; one of the few things Spaniards could do to protest Franco's fascism without risking imprisonment or death was to root for Barcelona, inasmuch as it was well-known that Franco was a fanatic supporter of Barca's great rival, Real Madrid. And with every big international soccer club selling off space on their jerseys and their stadiums to the highest bidders, Barcelona remains the only club in the world that has no advertising on their shirts -- in fact, in a deal they cut two years ago, they agreed to put the "Unicef" logo on their shirts and to pay Unicef for the privilege. Nice.

Chelsea has entered the top ranks of European clubs more recently, after being purchased by Roman Abramovic, the Russian oil billionaire, who has spent wildly (and usually wisely) to put together his team. They made it to the finals last year, only to lose to Man. U. in the most heart-breaking way imaginable -- a penalty shoot-out in which their captain and leader, John Terry, only has to convert a penalty kick for them to win, and Terry's feet slip out from under him and he sends the ball wide of the net . . . They came to Barcelona last week determined to slow down the incredible goal-making machine that is Barcelona FC, and they succeeded -- with some of the dullest and least imaginative soccer one can imagine. That's one thing about soccer: if one team gives up any hope of actually trying to score, it can go into a defensive shell, keeping everyone on the field back in the defensive third, and it's very, very difficult for the other team to get through to score. The soccer gods don't like it, but Chelsea seemed to have decided that was their only means of getting through to the final, to play for a 0-0 draw. Disgraceful, but successful; they got their draw, after a dull and lifeless 90 minutes.

So the scene shifted to London yesterday for the second leg. Again, Barcelona's in control of the action, Chelsea's sitting back in their shell ... But in the 9th minute, on one of Chelsea's rare forays into the Barca half, the ball ricochets to the foot of Michael Essien, Chelsea's wonderful Ghanaian mid-fielder, and he smacks it -- on the volley, with his off (left) foot, from 25 yards out -- into the back of the net. A true wonder goal! Golasso! And Chelsea's up 1-0, and now they really go into the shell -- if they can just hold on, they're off to Rome.

Barca attacks, and attacks, and attacks, wave after wave after wave, but can't break through. They just need one goal - because of the away goal rule, a 1-1 tie and Barcelona is the winner. But they can't get it. The frustration, for Barcelona fans, was excruciating -- I had to turn away on several occasions, it was just too painful to watch.

And then all was surely lost for Barcelona -- in the 61st minute, one of their defenders was given a red card for a foul that, as the replays showed, he clearly did not commit. It was a howler of a bad referee decision -- and it seemed to seal Barcelona's fate, for if they couldn't score (and it was now 90+61 minutes without scoring against Chelsea in the two legs) with 11 men, how could they score with 10?

[That's another thing about soccer -- Nick Hornby, in his fabulous book Fever Pitch, went off on a rant about the perfect soccer game, and he got it perfectly right: Your team, on the road, comes back to win 3-2 after trailing 2-0 ... there also has to be a terrible referee's decision against you [in the best of all worlds, a terrible decision that gives the opposing team a penalty kick, which they then fail to convert] because that will sweeten further your delight at the end . . .] O YE SOCCER GODS -- HEAR OUR PLEA!! HOW CAN YOU SO BE SO CRUEL, PUNISHING THE TEAM THAT HAS DONE YOU SUCH HONOR??

At the close of the 90 minutes, the referee signals for 4 additional minutes of "extra time." And in the 3rd minute, it comes -- a beautiful cross into the box, the ball falls to the great Lionel Messi, who pushes it wide to Andres Iniesta -- a Barcelona boy who grew up with the Barca youth team and is an integral part of the heart and soul of the squad -- and from 20 yards out, he cracks it into the net.

It is simply impossible to describe what that feels like, when that ball goes in, so I will not even try.

But if you're lucky enough to find yourself in Barcelona this summer and want to make some friends, head for any bar, buy a glass of beer, and stand up and shout: "A Andres Iniesta!!" Trust me, you'll make everyone there very happy, giving them an excuse to relive that moment.

Update: A word about the refereeing errors, about which many of you had comments. I completely agree - this was a very badly refereed game. That Chelsea supporters feel so-o-o-o aggrieved, however, is laughable — Barcelona had a man sent off for nothing. Pique's handball in the box should have been called, no doubt about it — so that might balance things out a bit. But the other so-called penalties that Chelsea fans are moaning about this morning were dubious at best — in particular, the final "handball" on Chelsea's final attack [the non-call that had Michael Ballack freaking out and screaming at the referee] was a very good no-call — the replay showed as clearly as you could wish for that there was no foul there.

Update #2. One commenter perfectly summarizes the issues and the debate here -- and by an astonishing coincidence, he just happens to be my son. [A first for the VC, I believe - inter-generational commenting . . .]

Neutral Fan:
Good post, but you neglected to mention something that all neutral observers must concede--Chelsea had a clear-cut penalty turned down. (Some would say two or three, but Pique's hand-ball in the box was indisputably a penalty.) If the penalty had been given, there's no way Barca would have advanced.
5.7.2009 11:32am
emazin:
Is there any data to back up the claim that the ECL final is the world's second most watched sporting event, or is that just soccer exceptionalism?
5.7.2009 11:42am
Chicago:
Just because attacking football is more interesting to watch hardly makes it "[d]isgraceful" for a team to adopt a more defensive approach -- let alone one so masterfully executed as Chelsea's. If that's the typical view of American supporters, I'd just as soon have the sport remain unpopular here. Also, shame on DP for failing to mention Ovrebo. The Norwegian referee was the worst I've ever seen, inexplicably sending off Abidal and denying multiple, clear-cut penalties to Chelsea. He should never referee again.
5.7.2009 11:42am
A.S.:
Jeebus, I didn't thik that David Post's posts could get any worse than his Sarah Palin posts from last year, but, amazingly, this one turns out to be even worse.

Turns out Prof. Post leaves out an important fact - there were at least FOUR penalties in the box on Barca that the referee failed to call. Including two clear handballs in the box.

So it's not like that Barca came back from insurmountable odds against an unfair referee. The referee was actively on Barcelona's side, not Chelsea's. (Note that this referee was so bad in the Euro's - incorrectly waiving off a Luca Toni goal - that he was banished from the tournament.)

That's life in sports, of course. You have to live with bad refereeing. But to portray the game the way that Prof. Post did is just not accurate.

(BTW - I thought Guus Hiddink created a marvelous game plan. I know most people hate superior defense in sports - whether it is the Baltimore Ravens or the Detroit Pistons Bad boys or whoever. I happen to enjoy a top-level defensive performance like that which Chelsea put on displpay for 182 minutes. The unfortunate part about playing defense is that, because the margin of error is often slight, it can be overcome by bad refereeing, as here.)
5.7.2009 11:46am
expat lumberjack (mail):
If the penalty had been given, there's no way Barca would have advanced.

If the penalty had been called in Barca, Barca would have had a one goal lead coming into the second leg.

If the ref hadn't given a red card to Barca in this game, they might have scored two.

If a had butterfly flapped its wings while Iniesta's mother was in labor with him, he might have been a worse footballer.

If, if, if.
5.7.2009 11:49am
jvarisco (mail) (www):
What about the TWO obvious penalties that Chelsea was not given? The guy swatted the ball away in the box. And the first one was a full yard inside. Worst refereeing I've seen in a long time. Chelsea was clearly the superior team, though. What did Barca have one shot on goal all game? In the 92nd minute?

Barca is going to be absolutely demolished on the 27th.
5.7.2009 11:59am
Bama 1L:
How has AK let a soccer post go nearly an hour without blockquoting himself?
5.7.2009 12:01pm
Steve:
I've never seen such a lengthy effort to describe an admittedly indescribable event. Anyway, video for those who think a picture is worth a thousand words.
5.7.2009 12:07pm
expat lumberjack (mail):
What did Barca have one shot on goal all game? In the 92nd minute?
Barca had 71% of the possession and 14 shots. Yes, only one was "on goal," but that's a silly category and should be ignored. A mis-kicked shot that rolls right to the keeper's feet is considered a shot on goal, whereas a brilliantly smacked volley that goes right over the bar is not.
5.7.2009 12:08pm
expat lumberjack (mail):
And highlights for those who missed it.
5.7.2009 12:08pm
hawkins:

Barcelona is a difficult team not to adore


Not if you support Real Madrid
5.7.2009 12:13pm
Bob White (mail):
I would remind you that to American soccer fans, saying a handball in a box should be a penalty isn't exactly a convincing argument. See, for instance, the 2002 World Cup and the non-calls on John O'Brien's punched out clear of a corner kick against Mexico in the Round of 16 and, more importantly, Torsten Frings' goalline save with his hand in the quarterfinal.

Prof. Post, I must object somewhat to your equating rooting for Barca with Franco resistance-Franco passed away in 1975, before I (and probably many other of your readers) was born. Of late, Barca fandom is more associated with Catalan nationalism, and one of Spain's less tractable problems is the intense regionalism and devolution in national authority.

I also note a nice anecdote from a Washington Post story on the Kosovo War. There was a 3 way conference call between US SecState Albright, UK ForeignSecy Cook, and German ForMin Fischer when suddenly Fischer uttered a few choice words. It turned out that he was watching the 1999 CL final and had just seen ManU score 2 goals in the 90th minute to beat Bayern. A nice example to follow for we slackers who read blogs at work.
5.7.2009 12:14pm
Sigivald (mail):
The triumph of good over evil... is a tie?
5.7.2009 12:18pm
JescLville:
I don't think waving the handball was as bad as you guys are arguing.

Pique's arm was up, and so I could see why a person would argue that it was a handball. But, even a clear striking of the ball by a player's hand is not a handball, so long as the contact came from the natural motion of the player's arm that happened to result in the ball striking the hand.

It was a close call, but a reasonable person could have seen that play and thought the contact was unintentional. I don't think it's completely unfathomable that the ref would let them play on.

On the other hand, Abidal's red card was preposterous. In general, I agree with most of your comments: Ovrebo seriously needs to consider a new career.
5.7.2009 12:19pm
hawkins:

Is there any data to back up the claim that the ECL final is the world's second most watched sporting event, or is that just soccer exceptionalism?


Aside from the Olympics, if that counts, I believe it would have to come down to the Champions League and the Super Bowl. I have no data, but I would expect the Champions League finals has more viewers.
5.7.2009 12:21pm
AK (mail):
How has AK let a soccer post go nearly an hour without blockquoting himself?

There was a specific request that there be no comments along the lines of "Here's why soccer really sucks." Believe me, it's a challenge to refrain here, because this post is, as they say, target-rich. However, my dislike of soccer is not as strong, apparently, as my desire to be a polite guest. Who knew?
5.7.2009 12:23pm
SP:
Personally, I got more from the two well played hockey games last night. Especially how they - gasp - broke their ties using an additional period (instead of made up referee drama time) to determine an actual winner.
5.7.2009 12:24pm
studentactivism.net (www):
Barcelona remains the only club in the world that has no advertising on their shirts

I thought this was a really cool factoid, so I googled -- and that sure looks like a Nike swoosh on the front of their jerseys.
5.7.2009 12:27pm
AK (mail):
Personally, I got more from the two well played hockey games last night. Especially how they - gasp - broke their ties using an additional period (instead of made up referee drama time) to determine an actual winner.

Now now, this is treading dangerously close to "here's why soccer really sucks" territory. I can do without your temptation, thankyouverymuch, especially considering that it's possible for me to interpret Post's request that "there's no need to repeat the usual... comments" about what an awful game this is as an invitation to list new reasons "why soccer really sucks." Please don't tempt me.
5.7.2009 12:30pm
expat lumberjack (mail):
Especially how they - gasp - broke their ties using an additional period (instead of made up referee drama time) to determine an actual winner.

The tie was broken using the away goal tie-breaker. Both teams had one goal. Chelsea scored at home, Barca scored away from home. Thus, Barca wins the tie-breaker. The tie-breaking rule is because it's generally regarded as more difficult to score away from home than at home.

Had both teams scored away goals or home goals -- a true tie -- they would have had an extra 30 minutes added to the game, separated into two 15 minute halves.

"Made up referee drama time" is silly. Soccer games are 90 minutes long. When play stops because of injury, the game is no longer happening, so the injury time gets added at the end of each half. It just so happens that association football does not stop the clock, but keeps it running and adds the time at the end.

I can use smaller words if you need clarification.
5.7.2009 12:30pm
hawkins:

Especially how they - gasp - broke their ties using an additional period (instead of made up referee drama time) to determine an actual winner.


No extra time was needed to determine a winner. Due to the away goals rule (which I find silly), Barca advanced on a tie. If both games had tied 1-1 or 0-0, then they would have gone to overtime.
5.7.2009 12:30pm
SP:
Oooooh, I'm not a soccer fan, so I must be a stupid American who lacks nuance! Or I could just find it silly that two teams who played to two ties still produced a "winner" - because the 0-0 tie just so happened to have occurred at one stadium versus another. Ties can happen, and soccer for whatever reason tolerates them. But to decide who "advances" when no one actual won - please, don't make digs about my intelligence.

A winner who didn't win. That's soccer for you.
5.7.2009 12:36pm
Somedude127 (mail):
I've got to say that I completely agree with the posters that have defended the defensive game of Chelsea. As the great Herm Edwards said, "We play to win the game!" It's not to put on a good show for the fans of both teams. It's to win it for your team and your fans. Chelsea made the conscious decision that they needed to play defensively to win the game. There's no shame in playing that way if it gives you the best chance to win.

Certainly running up and down the pitch and scoring many goals makes for a more exciting game, but if your team looses how much excitement remains? Chelsea should be commended for holding a goal scoring juggernaut to a clean sheet for 183 minutes. The one flaw in the Chelsea plan was believing that one goal would be enough. If they had pressed at Camp Nou and gotten an away goal, then one might have been enough, but as the rules stand they were at a distinct disadvantage in the second leg.

I think the real topic of discussion should be the efficacy of the "away goal" rule. Does it make sense to give essentially double points for a goal scored on the other team's pitch?
5.7.2009 12:36pm
hawkins:

I thought this was a really cool factoid, so I googled -- and that sure looks like a Nike swoosh on the front of their jerseys.


Do you not realize the difference between a logo and paid advertising. No major American sports have paid advertising, but most have logos.
5.7.2009 12:37pm
Graham (mail):
I'd place this year's Barca squad against the '03-'04 Arsenal "Invincibles" for a true display of "The Beautiful Game." Arsenal would win it 3-2 with an inspired 25-yard top-right corner strike from Thierry Henry (now of Barcelona, of course) settling matters in the 90th minute.

Now THAT would be a perfect game--particularly in Nick Hornby's eyes!
5.7.2009 12:40pm
Justin (mail):
The play inside the box in the first period that was called a foul outside the box was clearly not a foul at all - if anything was a penalty in the first half, it was Drogba's one on one where the Barca defender might have tugged on his shirt.

And the red card on Anelka's dive sort of negates any foul play call...Plus, Barca was denied a clear penalty in the first leg, and so you're talking about Barca advancing 2-2 instead of 1-1.

The second handball there was clearly no intent, and no penalty should have been given. Ballack, on the other hand, deserved a red card for putting his hand on the ref. Incidentally, by turning and yelling at the ref for a good noncall, Ballack missed the fact that the ball was bouncing right to him, and he could have put it back on net.

The ref was horrible to both sides, so for anyone to complain about the refs bias.....I don't buy it. I agree with Mr. if/if/if/if.
5.7.2009 12:41pm
Frog Leg (mail):
This game was a triumph of good over neutral. If Barca beats Man U, we will truly witness a triumph of good over evil.
5.7.2009 12:43pm
Justin (mail):
"As the great Herm Edwards said"

....Does not compute....
5.7.2009 12:43pm
expat lumberjack (mail):
A winner who didn't win. That's soccer for you.

No it isn't. It's a rule that was adopted by UEFA -- the body that runs the ECL -- to avoid the defensive soccer that flourished in the 80s and early 90s. There is nothing in the rules of association football that requires the away goal rule.
5.7.2009 12:44pm
MarkField (mail):
I had no particular dog in this fight when it began, but I did root for Barca after Chelsea's cynical display in the first game (and in this one). I leaped off my couch and shouted when Iniesta scored.

I think Essien's goal might well be the goal of the year -- even better than Ronaldo's free kick against Arsenal.

I also don't think the penalty decisions were as bad as some are claiming. The foul on Malouda clearly began outside the box (though it ended inside), and in that case the referee was right to spot it outside the area. As for the handball calls, those are notoriously controversial because the rule requires that the handling be intentional for a penalty. I wasn't convinced, but if one had been awarded I wouldn't have thought it egregiously wrong either. Just one of those things. The sending off was the worst decision; maybe Barca and Man U can agree to let Fletcher and Abidal play since both were victims of bad refereeing.
5.7.2009 12:45pm
dmv:
Lionel Messi: best player in the world?

Even if Juan Roman Riquelme is still my favorite, though.

What? No Argentina bias here...
5.7.2009 12:47pm
MarkField (mail):

if anything was a penalty in the first half, it was Drogba's one on one where the Barca defender might have tugged on his shirt.


Agreed. I also agree that the red card pretty much evened this out.
5.7.2009 12:48pm
resh (mail):
Damn good recap. I know the feeling. I wrote this.. years ago for another breathless event. A bit wordy, but not impossible to appreciate.

You likely weren't there. But you could have been. Another distant memory, some simple pause that passes by faster than youthful romance. Eyeblinks of where we have gone. Time secrets. But sometimes, at least, the
occasion leaves an echo, gives us a taste of life's effervescent flavor. Sometimes the moments speak of glory and of things grand. Those moments dare not hide, dare not rest. In them, we often find ourselves, who we are-the vitality of our pulse and the verse of our sentiment. We
find what is durable. Those moments give rise to gratitude, and often compel us to listen, to laugh and to someday say thanks. So I say thanks now-a healthy spirited thanks-for a moment long past but eternal in some cosmic way. Yea, eternal in some cosmic, durable way....

His name was Ali. Muhammed Ali. A.k.a., Cassius Clay. Boxer. Fighter. World Champion. The greastest of all time; "The Greatest of All time!" he'd shout. And he was right. Tall, gifted, handsome, Ali entered and conquered the boxing world like a meteor piercing the hapless
skies. He ravaged his competitors with a frenzy, fury and fire that equally measured his left jab and stunning foot speed. He danced in the ring, a Barishnokov of the pugilistic theatre. "Dance like a butterfly, sting like a bee" was his mantra, as it was the hailing exhortation of his ringside buddy, Bundini Brown. Dance and sting he did. Time and again. And those of us who watched him could only
wonder at his greatness.

The competitor that he couldnt thwart was the same one who imperils us all. Age. Old wrinkly Mother nature and her own mortal uppercut. He had begun to weather; time and the grinding assault of his steady combat were seering his once-leathered fabric. The speed and strength were fast
fading, the fire was dimming, the dance of the butterfly was coming to a Rachmaninov waltz. And worse, looming just beyond was a giant named George Goreman, who was in unrelenting search of Ali's now-teetering mantle.

George Foreman. Never had a goliath so viciously emerged on the modern boxing seen. Powerful, massive, an oak tree in shorts. He entered the ring and didn't just defeat his opponents, he ruptured them. He demolished them like a
lumberjack eviscerates a forest, with only fallen timber as remnants of the brutal attack. And now he was after the champ; the great but aging, if not emptied, Muhammed Ali. A hurricane pursuing a wounded butterfly, and, for the champ, there seemed nowhere to run.

He somehow ran home. To his roots. To the mystical confines that are the jungles of Zaire. There, waiting, inevitable, was confrontation with his destiny. There, waiting as doom and wearing the face of fatality, lurked Foreman. Yet here came Zaire itself. Ali's backdrop. His landscape. His people. And maybe his sanctuary. Maybe its chants and prayers and medicine and mystery could somehow save him, rescue him from what was assuredly his final curtain call. Every man must soon stare into the eyes of his reaper;
and the champ on this one misty, damp evening in the black jungles of Zaire was ready to greet his. George Foreman, mankiller.

When they entered the ring, I felt alive and enlivened. I also felt dead. And oh how I cringed. The death of one's hero is never a pleasant site. The destruction of one's hero is even worse, and nothing was going to stop
it on this fateful night- not the jungles, not the mystique, not the romantic intangible of Ali's erstwhile greatness. Foreman was too mighty and massive. His right hand too powerful, his vibrance and vitality too
overwhelming. To the victor go the spoils, and to the young and mighty fall the decayed.

Foreman attacked Ali with swinging blows that would have collapsed tall buildings. He hit the champion with punches, uppercuts, right crosses and rib-shots so powerful that the humid night air winced in pain. The mesmerizing glare of the roaring throng, thousands upon thousands of the
pro-Ali natives, blinked in desperation and gawked in hopeless fear. Suddenly they were heard.

"ALI BOOM-Bi-EH...ALI BOOM-Bi-EH...ALI BOOM -Bi-EH came their reverberating chant, their mystical glory song reserved for hero's and warriors, reserved for final moments of inspiration. "ALI BOOM-Bi-EH..."

The echo didn't cease. The natives of Zaire, Ali's soulmates, offered their final warcry. A simple fan, miles away, offered his tears. I look back now to the miracle which seemed to unfold. Ali somehow managed to withstand the barrage, the mighty assault of the mankiller. Foreman exhausted himself, literally punching himself unconscious from the humid air, if not from the mystical black-magic warchants of the Ali throng. Ali knocked him out in the early middle rounds, making Foreman fall like
that mighty Goliath. "ALI BOOM-Bi-EH...ALI BOOM-Bi-EH...continued the song, resoundingly.

Some moments leave us alone. Others alone never leave us.
Thanks, champ.

-resh
5.7.2009 12:49pm
AJK:
Why DO soccer teams have so much advertising on their jerseys? Is it because they have so many more teams per capita and need to find any revenue stream they can? Is the culture just more tolerant of it than in the US? Something else?
5.7.2009 12:57pm
gab:
I'm reading that the ref had to be smuggled out of England. This was after Drogba, after the game ended, shouted directly into the live tv camera, "This is a f$&@'ing travesty."

Whew, almost like the Lakers game last night...
5.7.2009 12:57pm
SP:
The difference between the Lakers game and the soccer match was that a bad referee decision isn't obviously crippling in basketball. Can you imagine the Rockets forced to play with four after Artest was ejected? And at least basketball is a seven game series - Joey Crawford would have his work cut out for him.
5.7.2009 1:01pm
k John (mail):
Referee 4- Chelsea 1. He ate 4 penalties against Barcelona
5.7.2009 1:04pm
k John (mail):
Ronaldo is far better than messi
5.7.2009 1:05pm
green-grizzly (mail):
Why the "extra time" if Chelsea was ahead 1-0?
5.7.2009 1:06pm
expat lumberjack (mail):
Why the "extra time" if Chelsea was ahead 1-0?

Taken from this site:

"The referee is the official timekeeper for the match, and may make an allowance for time lost through substitutions, injured players requiring attention, or other stoppages. This added time is commonly referred to as stoppage time or injury time. The amount of time is at the sole discretion of the referee, and the referee alone signals when the match has been completed. In matches where a fourth official is appointed, toward the end of the half the referee will signal how many minutes remain to be played, and the fourth official then signals this to players and spectators by holding up a board showing this number."
5.7.2009 1:14pm
Justin (mail):
PS - Kenny Cooper's goal the first week of MLS is the goal of the year.
5.7.2009 1:15pm
Bob White (mail):

Why the "extra time" if Chelsea was ahead 1-0?


Soccer uses a running clock that counts upward. Actual time is kept by the officials on the field and is not visible to anyone else. Because of stoppages for various reasons like injuries, the 45 minutes of playing time in a half takes longer than 45 realtime minutes. Any game time that takes place after the expiry of the 45 realtime minutes is referred to as "extra time." If there haven't been many stoppages of play, this can be as short as :30 or so, while I think the longest I've seen is 9.
5.7.2009 1:21pm
M.C. R.:
green-grizzly: Extra time would have been two extra halves, each of 15 minutes, tacked onto the end of the game, like overtime. Stoppage time is added to the end of each half to compensate for times when play cannot continue. For instance, when Didier Drogba rolls on the ground clutching himself, or when Dani Alves falls over for no reason.

gab: Drogba thinks his personage is sacred, and thus any attempt to dispossess him should be punished with a red card. Did you catch his screaming fit after Yaya Toure's perfectly clean tackle?

AJK: My suspicion is that it's because most European teams don't have sponsored arenas. The Bulls play in the United Center and the Redskins play at FedEx Field, but Barcelona plays at Old Trafford and Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. The only clubs which come to mind as having sponsored stadiums are Fulham (Reebok) and my club, Arsenal (Emirates Stadium). Wigan's place is named for their owner.

So, since they can't or don't sell the naming rights to the stadiums (believe me, most fans would riot) they sell ad space on the front of the jersey. Manchester United used to be sponsored by AIG, and is probably going to be blank next year. West Ham sponsors a charity for free, and Barcelona has the UNICEF logo.

MarkField: It was definitely solid, but Grafite's goal against Bayern Munich was the best this year, I think.
5.7.2009 1:31pm
expat lumberjack (mail):
M.C.R.: Fulham plays at Craven Cottage. Bolton plays at Reebok Stadium.
5.7.2009 1:33pm
Justin (mail):
MCR - the reason for the ads on shirts is a combination of a more capitalist attitude towards sports in Europe (they have ads on hockey circles and basketball courts too!), and a lack of commercial time in soccer.

Also, Samsung will be Man U's shirt sponsor next year.
5.7.2009 1:36pm
M.C. R.:
Expat: You're completely right, of course. My utter loathing of all things Bolton struck them from my memory.
5.7.2009 1:38pm
MarkField (mail):

MarkField: It was definitely solid, but Grafite's goal against Bayern Munich was the best this year, I think.


I hadn't seen that (don't know how I missed it). Definitely a contender; I'd hate to choose between them.
5.7.2009 1:40pm
StevenG:
Fifteen yard penalty for excessive use of parentheses and brackets.
5.7.2009 1:44pm
geokstr (mail):
Soccer? What's that?
5.7.2009 1:48pm
A.S.:
the reason for the ads on shirts is a combination of a more capitalist attitude towards sports in Europe

This is true. No socialist salary caps there.
5.7.2009 1:55pm
rick.felt:
Fifteen yard penalty for excessive use of parentheses and brackets.

Yeah, this post cries out for the full Dennis the Peasant treatment.
5.7.2009 1:57pm
Justin (mail):
5.7.2009 2:18pm
Justin (mail):
Sorry, the above is my "goal of the year" candidate, by Kenny Cooper. And I'm a DC United fan, fwiw.
5.7.2009 2:19pm
Fedya (www):
I'm reading that the ref had to be smuggled out of England.


Wouldn't be the first time Chelsea did this to a referee; see Anders Frisk.
5.7.2009 2:26pm
Chip Lupu (mail):
I was sitting in the left field corner at Yankee Stadium, about 10 feet from Sandy Amoros' catch in 1955 that saved Game 7 for the Brooklyn Dodgers (their only World Championship) over the Yankees. (My Dad and I are visible in many photos of the catch, including two on my wall.) I was then 8 years old, and nothing in sports for me has topped that experience.
5.7.2009 3:03pm
EverydayLiberal (mail):
SP: Goodness, I never miss an opportunity to empathize with someone who agrees with me that Joey Crawford is without a doubt the worst referee in the NBA. Hasn't he done enough to be released by the Commish? He just can't control his temper when he feels "dissed", prompting behavior like the Tim Duncan flap and his egregious officiating that occurred in one of the games of BOS/CHI in the current playoffs.
5.7.2009 3:06pm
Steve H (mail):
Or I could just find it silly that two teams who played to two ties still produced a "winner" - because the 0-0 tie just so happened to have occurred at one stadium versus another.


You would have loved the AC Milan - Inter Milan CL semifinal in 2003, where Milan went through on the away goals rule, even though both games were tied and played in the same stadium.

Milan was the "home" team for the first game (0-0 tie), and Inter was the "home" team for the second (1-1).

Given the purposes of the away goals rule, I guess it makes sense (Milan's fans filled the stadium in the first game, Inter's in the second). But still.
5.7.2009 3:46pm
DJ (mail):
This isn't a "soccer sucks" comment. I swear. But few other things I've read have better summed up why I can't stand the game. No doubt that final goal in extra time was thrilling, but that necessarily followed all of this:

"0-0 draw", "ballet", "Unicef", "penalty shoot-out", "defensive shell", "disgraceful, but successful", "dull and lifeless 90 minutes", "rare forays into the Barca half", "because of the away goal rule, a 1-1 tie and Barcelona is the winner", "red card for a foul that...he clearly did not commit", "there also has to be a terrible referee's decision…because that will sweeten further your delight at the end".

And this was a classic game? Pick up the ball and throw it, already!

Okay, I'm done.
5.7.2009 3:55pm
A.S.:
Wouldn't be the first time Chelsea did this to a referee; see Anders Frisk.

I think there is a typo here. I'll correct the sentence for you:

Wouldn't be the first time a referee did this to Chelsea; see Anders Frisk.
5.7.2009 3:58pm
Dave3L (mail) (www):
Why DO soccer teams have so much advertising on their jerseys?

You might as well ask: Why do broadcasts of American sports break for commercials every 3 1/2 minutes?

Forty-five minutes without commercial interruption would be unthinkable in US broadcasting. My guess is that soccer clubs make significantly less in broadcast rights, but have increased revenue from sponsorships.
5.7.2009 3:59pm
Azatoth:
resh - Fantastic write up of a truly immortal sporting event.

My favorite immortal sporting event (and I was there) was Jack Nicklaus winning the 1986 Masters, at age 46, over Greg Norman and Tom Kite.
5.7.2009 4:03pm
AK (mail):
"ballet", "Unicef"

Yeah, by now I'm used to the "ballet" and "poetry" and "brilliant" jibber-jabber from soccer fans, as if the smallish single-named foreigners whizzing around on the oversized field were hybrids of Nijinsky, Chaucer, and Einstein, but when I saw the "Unicef" thing I nearly lost it.
5.7.2009 4:24pm
Pendulum (mail):
Barcelona remains the only club in the world that has no advertising on their shirts

I must point out that my club, Aston Villa, no longer have advertising on their shirts, but charitably reference a children's hospice.
5.7.2009 4:30pm
Patrick from OZ (mail):
How few of the soccer fans on this thread know the rules??

Some examples:

The foul on Malouda clearly began outside the box (though it ended inside), and in that case the referee was right to spot it outside the area.

no, the rule states that where the foul contact begins outside and ends inside, a penalty must be awarded.

As for the handball calls, those are notoriously controversial because the rule requires that the handling be intentional for a penalty.

No, it requires intention for a red card, it only requires an actual handball in the box for a penalty. Pique's was beyond any doubt, even on first sight in realtime. The second, however, may not have been a penalty, since there is an exception for defending the body and it was very high up the arm.

OTOH, yes, Abidal's send-off looked very dubious. He probably shouldn't have been, and it is probably even more unfair for him than for Fletcher (at least Fletcher made the tackle in question).

But overall soccer suffers from a 18thC mindset, video refeering would be God's gift to the game.

And here's to Man U shattering all silly Barca dreams.
5.7.2009 4:36pm
Kane:
As Patrick mentions, a handball does not need to be intentional for a penalty to be awarded. The Pique handball was should have been called by either the linesman or the central, they were both in position to see the penalty.

Only thing that should be said is Glory, Glory Man United!
5.7.2009 5:04pm
scosm:
Good post, but I just wanted to point out that Andres Iniesta is not a Barcelona boy - he is from central/southern Spain - but he has been in the Barca youth system since he was a young teenager. When Barca beat their arch-foes Real Madrid in Madrid by a triumphant 6-2 score on Saturday, their captain, Carles Puyol, a Catalan, took off his captain's armband (which happens to be in the yellow and red of the Catalan flag) right after he scored a goal and kissed it in front of the Madrid fans. What a week for FC Barcelona!
5.7.2009 5:05pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):
I held off as long as I could but:


Actual time is kept by the officials on the field and is not visible to anyone else.


finally broke me.

Seriously? Secret timekeeping.

Something even worse than the the fact that the team winning in regulation lost on a tie even though the other game also ended in a tie. Based on a unique rule that if the visiting team defies all odds and actually scores rather than running around aimlessly for 90 minutes, they are awarded the game.

Now I know why English fans drink.


It's a rule that was adopted by UEFA -- the body that runs the ECL -- to avoid the defensive soccer that flourished in the 80s and early 90s.


Compared to the dazzling 0-0 and 1-1 soccer we see now. Were there negative scores back then?

Ok, done now.
5.7.2009 5:05pm
scosm:
A handball must be deliberate to be called a foul according to FIFA rules. I don't think you can argue that something is deliberate, but not intentional.
5.7.2009 5:06pm
DJ (mail):
Usually I call soccer "That Game Where Grown Men Fall Down and Pretend to Get Hurt." But I think I'll just call it "ballet, Unicef" from now in. It seems more apt.

Again, no slight to the soccer fans here. I'm cool that y'all dig it.
5.7.2009 5:08pm
AK (mail):
brilliant improvisation

In all seriousness, I would like a soccer fan to explain to me what this means. Please demonstrate to me that this means something and isn't just semantic blather.

If it's worth noting that there was "brilliant improvisation" in a game, that must mean one or two things:

(1) There is a portion of soccer that is not improvised. If so, how do we tell when we're looking at improvisation, and when we're looking at something scripted?

AND/OR

(2) There's a difference between "brilliant" improvisation and improvisation that is merely above average, average, fair, or poor. How do we tell the difference?
5.7.2009 5:28pm
DJ (mail):
Looks like my comment above gave AK license to take the gloves off. Sorry!
5.7.2009 5:52pm
MarkField (mail):

A handball must be deliberate to be called a foul according to FIFA rules. I don't think you can argue that something is deliberate, but not intentional.


Correct. Here's the rule:

A direct free kick is also awarded to the opposing team if a player commits any of the following three offences:
• holds an opponent
• spits at an opponent
• handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper within his own penalty area)

The rules go on to say that "A penalty kick is awarded if any of the above ten offences [I quoted only 3 above] is committed by a player inside his own penalty area, irrespective of the position of the ball, provided it is in play."

Here are the relevant guidelines for an official:

"Handling the ball involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with his hand or arm. The referee must take the following into consideration:
• the movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand)
• the distance between the opponent and the ball (unexpected
ball)
• the position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an infringement"


no, the rule states that where the foul contact begins outside and ends inside, a penalty must be awarded.


Here's the rule on placing free kicks:

"the free kick is taken from the place where the infringement occurred or from the position of the ball when the infringement occurred (according to the infringement)"

Referees always award the kick outside the area if the foul began there.


And here's to Man U shattering all silly Barca dreams.


I'm with you on this one. Though I will say that Barca is the one team which could beat Man U and I could accept it.
5.7.2009 5:52pm
Roger Schlafly (www):
I don't want to say anything negative about soccer, but just tell me this -- is this as good as it gets for soccer?
5.7.2009 6:47pm
M.C. R.:
AK: This is what comes to mind when I think of brilliant improvisation in soccer.

Also, I think it's fair to say that what're called "set pieces" (free kicks, corners and the like) are not particularly improvised.

Roger: As good as it gets, at least this year, would probably be either the Arsenal - Liverpool game at Anfield or the Chelsea - Liverpool Champions League game, both a few weeks ago. Both finished 4-4.
5.7.2009 8:08pm
Bama 1L:
AK, I really like world soccer but yours was a classic VC comment.
5.7.2009 10:09pm
Visitor Again:
I managed to hang on long enough to watch my team for the past 61 years, Manchester United (never, ever, Man U, except in the U.S.A., although Man United is accepted even in England) advance to the final, but couldn't wait long enough for next day's Chelsea v. Barca semifinal before calling on the paramedics to haul me away to the hospital for inability to breathe. Regrettably, the hospital admitted me, and there was no cable TV or internet stream there, so I missed Chelsea-Barca altogether. I'm back home now and, not to worry, someone will send me a disk of the match so I can scorn Chelsea's performance.

Chelsea got what they deserved. And it was no surprise. Read the English newspapers' football blogs and you will see many comments correctly predicting Chelsea would painfully learn the value of an away goal in the second leg. Their first leg performance, deemed anti-football by some observers, was a disgrace. And it is fitting that (if the reports I read are accurate)after Chelsea sat back to defend a very unsafe one-goal lead for almost the entire match, Barca managed to equalize during time added on (not extrs time, which was never played because the away goals rule eliminated the need for it). Chelsea paid the price for its negativity at virtually the last possible moment. What exquisite justice. The look on Frank Lampard's face said it all. I saw a photo of that.

The away goals rule is used only when a knockout competition has the same teams playing home and away legs, as in the European Champions League knockout round but unlike the World Cup final tournament, where each match is a one-off. The rule doesn't determine the winner of a match. So Barca were not winners who weren't winners. The second leg match at Stamford Bridge was officially recorded as a draw, as was the first match at Nou Camp in Barcelona. The away goals rule is merely an artificial contrivance that may determine which team advances to the next level of the competition when the aggregate score over home and away legs is even. If the aggregate score over the two legs is level but one team has more away goals than the other, the rule eliminates the need for the playing of extra time and for a penalty kick shootout. Proponents of the rule point out that it gives teams an incentive to play attacking football away from home--unless, of course, it is Chelsea playing away to Barcelona.

Anyway, we are getting the dream final in Rome on the 27th of May. May the best team win, may that team be Manchester United, but may the final be decided during play, during regulation time or after extra-time, without the need for a penalty kick shootout. That is another artificial contrivance that does not determine the winner of a match, but only which team advances to the next round or which team is declared the tournament champion in the event the score during play is level. Again, the official result in a penalty shootout match is always recorded as a draw. Penalty kick shootouts are not part of play; they come after play has concluded.
5.8.2009 8:23am
Visitor Again:
The competitor that he couldnt thwart was the same one who imperils us all. Age. Old wrinkly Mother nature and her own mortal uppercut.

I thought it was the U.S.A. Government, its unfair application of conscientious objector rules, and the boxing associations' unjustified suspension of Ali for three years when he was at the heighth of his powers. We got robbed of seeing Ali at his very best for three years.
5.8.2009 8:30am
sam post (mail):
beautifully said!

one thing my father neglects to say about the refereeing (which, it must be said, was certainly a factor) that must be acknowledged by chelsea's aggrieved apologists: the only legitimate penalty claim of the match, pique's handball, came AFTER the absurd red card. would it have even happened had abidal been on the pitch? in addition, no one who watched the FIRST LEG as well could possibly think chelsea got such a raw deal with the officiating: the referee in the first leg was also sub-par, but unequivocally in chelsea's favor. michael ballack, a crucially important player for chelsea, should never have played in the second leg after his BLATANT second bookable offense at the nou camp, and carles puyol, barca's captain and best central defender, would have been shoring up barca's defense except for his dubious suspension. and henry's penalty shout in the first leg was as clear as pique's hand ball. if chelsea had actually tried to play soccer instead of defending their slender lead against the best attacking team on the planet, i might feel a bit more sympathy.

in a larger sense, though, this post highlights something about the nature of soccer, about the philosophical debate that has been a part of it for so long but is rarely acknowledged in full: the debate between the "purists" and the "realists." For us purists, soccer is an art that shouldn't be degraded by the ugliness of defensive tactics. But we realize that competitive sports involve winners and losers as well. We feel that our beautiful game is perpetually under attack from the realists who try to prove that one doesn't need to play beautifully in order to win. That, in a nutshell, is why we can't bear to see a team like Chelsea beat Barcelona. It would make our beautiful game seem worthless. We support teams like Barcelona (or Man. Utd or Arsenal) as a way of championing what we believe soccer is really about.

There's always that fear that one defeat will be the end of attacking soccer as we know it, but of course the debate goes back for decades, and will surely never be settled. There will always be setbacks, when the best team, in our eyes, loses to a more defensive minded one (holland in 1974, brazil in 1982, portugal at euro 2004, etc.). The great thing about soccer is, there will always be teams committed to attacking. Barcelona in one such club, that, at least since the Cruyff days in 70's, has never changed its philosophy. You can hear it in every player's (and coach's) quotes. And that's why we adore them.

And what soccer fan isn't salivating at the thought of the final on may 27th, between the two best attacking teams on the planet? it should be one to remember.
5.8.2009 11:58am
Chicago:
Thanks, DP, for the update, but I'm not sure it's a complete answer to say that the bogus red card "balances" out the missed penalty. The penalty would have been a near-guaranteed one-goal lead, which (considering Chelsea's defensive performance) almost certainly would have seen them through to the final -- whether Barca were playing with 10 men or 11. By contrast, it was clear from well before the red-card decision that Chelsea were playing a defensive match, and as a result the red card was far less helpful to them than it would have been to a more attacking team. Anyway, all of this is a lot of "if"s, as one commenter noted, but it's easy to see why Chelsea supporters feel so wronged.
5.8.2009 12:39pm
Patrick from OZ (mail):
In fairness, the rules are long and complicated, and subject to official interpretation. So someone who reads them alone might miss key parts, not to mention the interpretations.

On the handball rule, it has been interpreted since as long as I have been alive that any contact is prima facie deliberate, subject to things like 'merely protecting the body'. In these circumstances there is no doubt about the penalty.

On the penalty/freekick rule, yes, if it was a freekick then it must be taken outside the area. But you have only begged the question, which is answered as follows:

if a defender starts holding an attacker outside the penalty area and continues holding him inside the penalty area, the referee must award a penalty kick


However, I do agree that Abidal was wrongly sent off.

The solution for soccer is two-fold: a video referee for penalties and red cards, and a zero-dissent rule. In rugby, you can be sent off for merely arguing with the referee, let alone screaming at him. Soccer should be the same. Similarly, the video ref could hardly disrupt the game more than the present exhibitions of rage do, and would be far fairer.
5.8.2009 12:44pm
Chicago:
Good comment by Sam Post, although I also consider myself a purist and am not certain why defensive tactics are somehow impure. (Maybe I should change my username to catenaccio.) But more importantly, I question his inclusion of Boring, Boring Arsenal on the "exciting to watch" list.
5.8.2009 2:34pm
MarkField (mail):

Good comment by Sam Post, although I also consider myself a purist and am not certain why defensive tactics are somehow impure. (Maybe I should change my username to catenaccio.)


As the father of a defender, but a fan of offensive football, my response is that there's a distinction between playing good defense -- organization, positioning, communication, etc. -- and tactics like repeated fouls and refusing to make any real effort to attack.

The line isn't always clear, but Chelsea crossed it IMO. Which is too bad -- I respect Chelsea players and blame Hiddink for the tactics. I'd like to see Chelsea give it a real go against Barca. As Sam Post said, we'll get to see that go for broke style in the final with Man United (spelled out in deference to VA, despite my internet spelling habits).
5.8.2009 4:06pm
Hal Dall (www):
Late to the party, but excellent post, and excellent comments, especially by by sam and Mark.

The penalties? Yes on Pique and at Barca against Henry. No on the others, the Eto'o claim particularly laughable. Red card (Abidal)-what did the AR say? I've been guilty of mistakes by failing to check with my ARs.

In any sport, a team cannot depend on (unbribed) officials to give them the game. Despite the ref, Chelsea had several golden opportunities to put away the game and did not!

Should be a great final. 4-2 Barca.

I'm a purist except when my team is outgunned!
5.8.2009 4:40pm

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