Thursday, May 18, 2006

Champion's League final Hangover

I'm sad. No, that's an understatement. I'm brokenhearted. It's the feeling of emptiness when all the while you feel like you're going to succeed but then, heaven came crashing down to make dream into a nightmare.

I retired early last night to watch the Champions' League final between Barcelona and Arsenal at 2:00 am this morning (Singapore time). It was a dream final, most people say. A culmination of a great season where two teams who reached the finals undefeated slug it out to become the best in Europe and lift the most prestigious club trophy in the world.

I like Barcelona. In fact, for the past two years I've been a fan of the Catalan giants more than i've been for Real Madrid. This was mainly because they play with flair and they entertain you with their game, with the brazilian wizard Ronaldinho at the heart of it.

But this morning I'm not a Barcelona fan. For this morning my heart was with the team i've supported ever since I came to Singapore. A team who have defied all odds this season to reach the final. A team that clawed their way from domestic league embarassment and translate their newfound confidence by demolishing Real Madrid and Juventus on their way to this final. A team that made Champions' League record of 11 clean sheets-- eleven consecutive matches without conceeding a goal... ARSENAL.

Back to this morning. Right at the start, there were moments that lifted me out of my seat (as I watched alone in the living room, staring intently to the big projection tv with a beer in hand) as Arsenal almost drew first blood twice from a Henry shot if not for The barcelona keeper's heroics.

The coldness of my beers seem to flush all over me when at the 18th minute to the game, Arsenal keeper Jens Lehman was given a red card for grasping the surging Samuel Eto'o instead of the ball, ejecting the keeper from the game and left Arsenal with 10 men on the pitch.

But Arsenal responded
by taking off Robert Pires to make way for Manuel Almunia. Ronaldinho then squandered two free kicks that follows after. Barcelona captain Carlos puyol fouled Emannuel Eboue, which prooved to be costly since Henry wasted no time to chip a free kick that was slotted home by Arsenal centreback Sol Campbell.

My heart surge. I began to believe that this can be a fairytale match afterall. That an underdog can overturn a favourite. David slaying Goliath... At least for the next 50 minutes.

With 20 minutes left, Henry again squandered a wonderful opportunity to deliver what would have been a fatal blow to the Catalanians. A clear pass by Hleb'sthrough the inside right channel sent the Frenchman steering his low shot too close to Valdes (the goalkeeper), who had got his positioning exactly rightand has no problem smothering the coming ball..

It would have been Henry's 50th goal in European competition, perhaps the final glorious act of a glorious Arsenal career, since rumour has it that he'll be wearing the Barcelona jersey next season.

But the fairytale ending was not to be. The promise, as what arsenal fans liked to call it, will not be fulfilled. Six minutes after that chance was spurned, Barcelona equalised, Larsson's flick inside the box allowing Eto'o to get round the back of the back four and squeeze the ball between Almunia and his near post. Eto'o was clearly offside, but referee allowed it. It left me fuming.

Worse was to follow for the Arsenal goalkeeper four minutes later when Larsson spotted Belletti's surge into the box. The substitute's momentum carried him past two Arsenal defenders and his shot found the net through the goalkeeper's legs.

It's ironic that a team who only conceeded two goals in the entire competition, unbeaten, and hasn't conceeded any goals in the past 11 matches have conceeded 2 goals within 4 minutes of the dying time of the match.

Barcelona was crowned champions of Europe. And for an Arsenal fan it was a bitter pill to swallow. Especially after all the belief and thoughts...

I haven't even finished my beer. It tasted like vinegar to me at that time.

Heartbreak aside, I have to give it to Barca. Their never say die spirit propelled them to a level above all others. They were champions of Spain two weeks ago, now they are champions of Europe.

With this win, and with a win in the world cup, Barcelona's talismanic playmaker Ronaldinho will surely be destined to be elevated to the same pantheon as Pele, Maradona and Cryuffs are in football history-- up there among the best. Ever.