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Thursday, May 26, 2005

Kings of the Kop

if you were to ask me, "What's so interesting about football?"
i would have showed you last night's Champions League Final between Liverpool and AC Milan.

last night's match has got to go down as among the best ever Cup Final. probably THE best ever. and i haven't seen only a handful of games, i tell ya. though i have been lucky to watch a number of memorable ones, last night probably takes the cake.
and why shouldn't it be? coming back from 3-0 in a cup final against superior opposition, Liverpool should be applauded for such a super-human effort. i'm no Liverpool fan. my team sucks big time (sorta like me), but my love for the game never stopped me from appreciating quality performances like the one showed by Liverpool. it was great to watch as a neutral. it doesn't matter which team u support, even if u're an Evertonian; don't call urself a football fan if u didn't enjoy last night's game. unless maybe u're an AC Milan fan. heh.
i went into last night's Final as someone who wanted Liverpool to win. being the sucker for underdogs that i am, i couldn't help myself. and plus, i've always had a soft spot for English teams playing in Europe. some people may call it lalang (ehem), but it really isn't. i've never revealed this (maybe due to the fact that i never enjoyed Man United's dominance) but on the night of the European Cup Final at the Nou Camp in 1999, my heart and soul was for the Red Devils. i jumped and screamed as Solskjaer (betul ke spelling ni) and Sheringham stole it from underneath Bayern Munich's noses. 6 years on, i celebrated Liverpool's triumph for the simple fact that they are an English team.
why English? i grew up watching English league football. my early heroes were the likes of Rush, Grobbelaar, Barnes and Linekar. see the Merseyside connection? thank you.
and plus, i never enjoyed Italian football. too technical. boring. yeah...u win matches that way, but u don't win the fans. like what we used to say back in college when we lose: Biar menang di hati peminat. yeah, it's cheesy. but it's great for sour grapes like us.
critics may argue that Liverpool aren't really good ambassadors for the Premier League, in contrast to the free-flowing football of Chelsea and Arsenal. but what they lack in technicality, they make up with their passion and desire. because football isn't just about tactical and technical know-how. it's how much you want it. and how u were going to fight for it.
so here's my take on last night's Final, a fitting end to what has been an incredible season:

The Final score: Liverpool 3 - AC Milan 3 (Liverpool win 3-2 on penalties)

The Final score they didn't tell you: AC Milan were leading 3-0 at half-time. 3-0!! with Milan's starting 11 that reads out like a Fantasy Football manager's dream team, honestly u didn't believe that Liverpool could do it, could u? i certainly didn't. u had a back four of Stam, Nesta, Cafu and Maldini. air liur aku pun meleleh type nama-nama ni. and i'm not even talking about the strikers yet.

Man of the Match: omigod. do we really have to name one? there were so many heroes of the night. it's funny that the match was a Tale of Two Halves. Liverpool looked like crap in the first 45. and AC Milan were not really pretty in the 2nd 45 too. but if they are names to be mentioned, Carragher was the pillar of strength in the Liverpool backline. as he has always been all season long. Dudek should be noted for the 2 point blank saves in Extra Time. and of course, winning the penalty was largely because of him, who mentioned Grobbelaar's antics in the '84 Final as his inspiration. talk about licking the Kop.
but ultimately, my vote would go to Captain Marvel himself, Steven Gerrard. his goal started Liverpool's revival in the 2nd half. sometimes, u need that little bit of magic from special players. though it wasn't one of his better games, i give it to him because when your team is down 3-0, u need leadership on the field that honestly believes your team can do it. and Stevie G provided that leadership. with style. will u still be in Liverpool next year? now that's a question for another day.

Quote of the match:
"I said Milan was going to win it, but not by this scoreline. I thought it was going to be a close game."
One of ESPN's football pundits, during half-time. Errr...care to rephrase?

You knew Liverpool's name was on the Cup when:
Dudek makes a mind-boggling point blank save from Shevchenko, of all people in extra time. i think that will be Shevchenko's only miss of the season. one out of a hundred. maybe a million.

Special mention goes to:
The medic team for last night's game. they ran into the field carrying the stretcher for numerous times, only to be dissapointed that no player was seriously injured. like what Andy Gray said, "It keeps them fit."
And kudos to Rob Hawthorne and Andy Gray for great commentary. there's something about Andy's voice that's uniquely 'football'. somehow, i keep on hearing his dissapointed voice saying, "Push it away, son. Push it away. Ohhhh." as PSV's keeper let in a late goal to put Milan in the Final.

so an end to another memorable football season. what a night it was. tak sia-sia aku stay up. it's ironic though, that the 2 best teams in the semi-finals didn't feature in the Final. but since when was football fair? sometimes u have to accept that certain things were meant to be. u could be 3-0, 4-0 up...but if u're gonna lose it. u just lose it. thank you to AC Milan for being such a sport. they were humble in defeat and that's great to see. it wouldn't be a memorable game without both sides playing a part.
congratulations to Liverpool for such a Herculean performance. u guys really proved that when the going gets tough, the tough gets going. so now Liverpool can really start asking if they can defend their Cup for next season. i certainly hope so, because when it comes to this issue, you'll never walk alone on this one.

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