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Sport expresses itself in many different arts and forms. Football, soccer, calcio, fùtbol or fussball is the most followed type of sport on this planet, and probably on all the others, too. But this does not mean that this sport is the most meritocratic of all.
Not always the best side (i.e. the most talented one) wins the game, whether a Thursday night game between untalented friends or a Saturday night UEFA Champions Leauge Final, that is, or should be, the best expression of football this planet can offer. The gods of football, or the Lady luck, or destiny ( see Didier Drogba) often can influence a game. Bad refereeing can affect the result. But there is also another reason. Football, as you all know, is a sport in which the chances to radically change the course of the game are often few. In basketball, for example, you play for 40 minutes (48 in the USA) and your team has the ball every other possession in order to score. At the end, usually, the best team wins.
Not the same in football and we saw it yesterday. Football is a sport in which you can make one improbable, lucky shot and get away in the victory, is a sport in which you can score with your hand in injury time and get away with three points, is a sport in which you can score an offside goal and get away with the win. Therefore to win in these ways is intrinsically part of this sport. Yesterday the team with less quality won, the team that was playing non-football won. But did they deserve it?
They did for several reason.
The first is that they arrived against all odds to the Final. A side that was struggling this year both in the Premier League and in the Champions League and with a new manager made its way to Munich first recovering a 1-3 defeat against Napoli, then edging Benfica and finally surviving against the overall proclamed Lords of Football: the blaugranas from Barcelona. In my opinion they clearly deserved to pass against Barcelona because they were able to stop them, because the fought for the final, because they did not capitulate with a man down, because the Spaniards were not able to carry out a Plan B against the well-organized and focused Blues.
The second one is that Roberto Di Matteo did the best he could with (the little) what he had. He knew that the big boss did not trust him but instead of trying something new to impress Abraomovich he went with the “safety first” motto. Humility, sacrifice, defence and the Old Guard, who probably rules in the looker room, on the pitch. Yesterday night RDM managed once again to stop a better side, this time the German Panzers, that easily came at the end of the box but often did not know how to pass the English trenches.
The third is that die Roten missed too many opportunities to deserve the victory. It is inadmissible that one of the best teams in the World in the most important game of the year wastes so many chances. Arjen Robben, Frank Ribery, Mario Gomez, Ivica Olic and so on. They could and should have scored. Above all Robben will have several nightmares in the nights to come. The crystalline-talented Dutch was decisive, unfortunately, for the fortune of his team. He missed a penalty in the extra time and did decide not to shoot one in the final penalties. Robben probably has achieved less than expected in his career so far both for injuries and for some not exceptional performances in big games. He had already missed a crucial penalty this season against Borussia Dortmund in the game that could have reopened the Bundesliga (in the same game he also missed and incredible chance). He was also “guilty” of misfiring a great chance in the 62nd minute of the 2010 World Cup. These mistakes will probably increase the number of people who label Robben as an everlasting runner up and one who succumbs to pressure on big stages. But the Germans, as a team, failed also because with a late goal and few minutes left you should not draw back and change the way you play football, you should keep the ball and keep the pressure on the opponents and you should not relax on a corner when you know that in the other team there is a striker who came into the final with five goals in seven games. Bayern could then have scored twice in the extra-time, but we all know what happened instead.
The fourth is that yesterday the team that did not give up won against the team without the killer-instinct. Never leave your enemy agonizing and alive if you can kill him. Mentally Chelsea proved to be stronger and in these games this is not a trivial variable.
The fifth is Didier Drogba. A cheater? A diver? Probably. But diving is a illness that , unfortunately, affects all the football movement, from its unprofessional to its highest version, and not just some countries or some players (e.g. Italy, Drogba, Busquets, Ribery and Ashley Young). But Drogba is also a great striker, a great fighter, an example for his teammates, a player that had one chance in the whole game and made the most out of it. The emblem of this Champions Leauge.
The sixth is the exception. Exception to what? To the football rule. It has once been said that “Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans win.” The famous quote came after Germany won the 1990 semi-final on penalties against England. But there is always the exception that proves the rule.
The last is destiny, or fate, or the gods of football. These gods are not nice, are not lovely and they think to be very funny. But the truth is that they, often, give back what they have taken before. Do you remember the semi-final against Barcelona in 2009? Do you remember the fury of Didier Drogba? Do you remember the rainy final in Moscow? Do you remember the moment John Terry slip? Well, the Chelsea fans have been chasing the European dream for a lot of time now and maybe the gods of football wanted to reward them after many sorrows.
Photo courtesy of Reuters