Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Champions League Quarterfinals & Champions Cup Semifinals

Later today, Juventus FC will host Liverpool FC at Stadio Delle Alpi, in Turin, Italy. Though some may surprised to hear this: I am rooting for Liverpool.

That's right! I am abandoning my rather consistent appreciation of Italian Series A clubs in hopes that my individual support will make-up for Liverpool's loss of Steven Gerrard during this match.

That's right. Steven Gerrard, the heart and soul of Liverpool, is out of the match with an injury suffered during 'Pool's loss to Manchester City this past weekend.

I have mixed feelings about Gerrard missing the match. During the round of sixteen, Gerrard told the media that Liverpool could not win the UEFA Champions League. I am disdainful of athletes who predict their own demise. I think it is wholly unacceptable to say your team can't win. One can be humble, afraid, and pessimistic without actually saying that the team can't win.

As an Arsenal supporter, I have only the slightest regard for Liverpool as it is; so to have to listen to their star, the heart and soul of their team, predict failure makes it even more difficult to support them. Still, I hope Liverpool wins in Turin.

Maybe it is just desserts that Gerrard cannot play. Maybe this is his penance for predicting failure. Still, I hope Liverpool wins.

My desire to see Liverpool win is not a noble desire. It is rooted in resentment, which makes my support of Liverpool as disdainful as Gerrard's prediction of failure. I want Liverpool to win in hopes that they can beat Chelsea FC, the only other remaining English team in the contest.

Chelsea is through to the semifinals, having laid waste to Bayern Munich (who beat my Gunners), and I do not want Chelsea to win anything. I want them to lose in the Champions League semis, then I want them to collapse in the Premiership and lose at least four of their final six matches. I don't like Chelsea. I used to like them enough. I don't like them anymore. That is another article for the future.

In other Champions League news. Stadia San Siro, in Milan, Italy, was the site of a the return leg between rivals AC Milan and Internazionale (a/k/a Inter Milan) last night. Both teams hail from Milan and share the San Siro, so both legs of the match have been held here.

AC Milan was the guest and was leading the tie when an Inter Milan goal by Esteban Cambiasso was disallowed and the fans went ballistic. Flares (yes, emergency road flares) rained down onto the field, the first of which struck AC Milan goalkeeper Dida and sent him sprawling to the ground.

This was not enough for the Inter Milan hoodlums as scores of flares were thrown, followed by whatever debris could be used as a missile.

German Referee Markus Merk ordered both teams off the field until things quieted and the debris was cleared. An attempt was made to complete the match, but the constant shower of trash forced the referee to abandon the match in the 75th minute.

AC Milan was declared the winner and will meet the winner of tonight's match between Dutch host PSV Eindhoven and French champions Olympique Lyonnaise.

Most importantly, though, is the need for Liverpool to win in Turin so they can meet (and beat) Chelsea.

I would be remiss if I failed to tell you about last week's first leg match between Liverpool and Juventus, at Anfield.

The last time these teams met in a European champions match was at Heysel Stadium, in Brussels, in 1985. Violent behavior int he stands led to a panic, a collapsed wall, and thirty-nine dead Italian and Belgian fans. All English soccer clubs were banned from all European competitions for five years.

In an impressive effort to make amends for the terrible behavior of the Liverpool supporters, which led to the violence and death at Heysel, the team presented apologetic banners carried the length of the field by Liverpool players involved in the 1985 match, that offered friendship to the visiting Italian supporters.

Nobody could predict what would happen, and it was disheartening to see half the Italian fans turn their backs on the apology and another large percentage flip the bird at the banner.

As I wrote to Withnail the next day: "The problem is really a spiritual problem, not a political or cultural problem. Apologies are given for one set of reasons, and accepted or declined for a completely different set of reasons. Neither side is required to do either, and the expectation of a desired response speaks to bad motives on the part of the apologists."

You have to offer an apology if you are sorry. The aggrieved is not required to accept it. Let's hope that time heals this rift and that it does not take another twenty years for the apology to be accepted.

Also tonight, MLS champions DC United will play the return leg of their tie with Mexican champions Pumas Unam in a CONCACAF Champions Cup Semifinal. This match can be seen live on FSC. I hate to cheer for DC United, but the mere fact that they have made it this far in the competition speaks such volumes about the progress of American soccer that it is impossible for me to do anything but raise a glass, toast a team I loathe, and wish them well in their attempt to beat a team as storied and powerful as Pumas Unam.

Dick Mac Recommends:

Playing for Uncle Sam
by David Tossell

See this article in the new forthcoming format.

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