Tuesday, April 18, 2006

And Then There Were Four...

Champions League Semifinals 1st Leg

Today: AC Milan-Barcelona. Setanta. 11:45 a.m. PST.

Tomorrow: Arsenal-Villarreal. ESPN2. 11.45 a.m. PST.

*2nd legs to be played April 25, April 26

FYI - It would be inherently unfair if these matches were played at one team's stadium, so they play 2 games ("legs"), one in each team's home stadium, with the winner being the team with the most aggregate (overall) goals. Here's the trick: in the event of a tie the first tiebreaker is goals scored away from home (known as the away goals rule), which makes things very, very interesting. For example, if Milan beat Barcelona today 2-1 in Milan, then Barcelona would actually be in a great position, because all they would need is a 1-0 home win next week and they would go through on the away goals rule even though the aggragate score was 2-2.

So the first legs are crucial, and the 2nd legs are straight-up critical. In the 1st legs, a 0-0 draw bodes well for the home team since they didn't concede a home goal and all they need is a scoring draw on the road to advance. Conversely, a scoring draw benefits the road team, the higher scoring the drawthe more so, as then they only require a scoreless (or low scoring) draw at home to advance. If at the end of the 2nd leg the aggregate score is tied and each team has the same number of away goals, then extra time is played and then penalties if needed. Got it?

Italian giants and 6 times European Cup winners (2nd only to Real Madrid's 9) AC Milan, and their massively talented yet ageing squad, against Barcelona (1992 Champions) , the team currently considered by many to be the best in Europe, featuring superstars Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto'o, and 19 year-old Argentine sensation Lionel Messi among others. Then Arsenal (1st time semifinalists), the biggest club in the biggest city in Europe, host Villarreal (1st time semifinalists), a club representing a small Spanish city of only 47,000 residents, who have already knocked big city clubs Manchester United (Manchester), Rangers (Glasgow), and Inter Milan (Milan) out of the competition this year.

Of course I want to see a final between Arsenal, my favorite club by a mile, and Barcelona, my 2nd favorite club. This would be even cooler since just last month I was able to see each team play in their home stadium. Many neutrals are rooting for this final as well, since both teams are considered two of the biggest proponents of "Joga Bonito".

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