Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Heartbreak. Absolute Heartbreak.

Barcelona 2-1 Arsenal.

Lehmann sent off 18

Campbell 37
Eto'o 76
Belletti 81

Holy shit, where to begin? The match lived up to the hype, but in a very different way.

If you missed the match, ESPN2 is replaying it tonight at 9.30 p.m. PST (12.30 a.m. EST), and it is totally worth checking out/taping/TiVo-ing.

Titi & Ronny: respect among badasses

A Beautiful Start
Initially I was less than pleased that Wenger opted to start with Pires instead of Reyes, because Reyes' fantastic pace would be difficult for Barca to defend, but then I quickly figured out what I assumed to be Wenger's plan: bring Reyes on for Pires after 60 minutes, and Reyes would be even more dangerous with his fresh legs against the tiring Barca players in the last half hour.

From the get go Arsenal came out and attacked, and in the first 10 minutes looked very dangerous. Henry had 2 wonderful chances, both well saved by Matt LeBlanc Victor Valdes. Ronaldinho missed the target with a free kick, and Deco had a shot saved by Mats. The beautiful game was on display for all who so eagerly anticipated the final between these two teams.

"We love you Arsenal, we do! Oh, Arsenal, we love you!"

The moment that changed the match
But the "dream final" lasted only 18 minutes. A wonderful through ball from Ronaldinho put Eto'o through 1-on-1 with Lehmann. Lehman came out, Eto'o tried to go around him, and Mats took him down. By rule the keeper must be given a straight red and sent off if he is the last defender and takes out a striker who is alone 1-on-1 with him. The referee blew the whistle and Mats was shown the red card. Fortunately for Arsenal this occurred about half a yard outside the box, so Barca had a free kick from 19 yards rather than a penalty kick.

Eto'o tries to round Mats

This will forever be the talking point of this match, and my $.02 is that the referee had no choice and did the right thing.

Mats goes for the ball but misses and takes Eto'o down

So Mats, arguably the best keeper in the world right now, is off and dodgy backup Manuel Almunia comes in. Mats became the first player to ever be sent off in a Champions League final, and given his history and zany personality something about that statistic just seemed appropriate. Midfielder Robert Pires must be sacrificed, and his night ends early. He was clearly gutted and you had to feel for him, being a Frenchman in perhaps his final Arsenal match being played in Paris, not to mention the fact that he was not named to France's World Cup squad, so this match was his World Cup Final. A sad way for him to end his storied Arsenal career if indeed he moves on.

The red mist descends on Stade de France: Mats is off.

So Wenger has to use 1 of his allowed 3 substitutions, has to sacrifice Pires to replace his keeper, and Arsenal now have to play the last 72 minutes with only 10 men to Barca's 11. Playing a man down for this long, against probably Europe's best offense, is an extremely tall order for Arsenal. This will mean that Arsenal's tactical options have been reduced to 1: play 4-4-1, defend, and leave Henry alone & stranded up front, hoping to somehow nick a goal from a set piece or a TH14 moment of magic. Additionally, they will eventually get extremely tired chasing the ball, while at the same time conceding lots of open space to Barca's feared attack. Think of a hockey team with a man in the penalty box defending the other team's power play. For 72 minutes. Arsenal were up against it.

When the whistle was blown the ball was falling to Guily, who promptly placed it in the empty net. If the referee had played advantage then Barca would have been up 1-0 and Arsenal would still have had 11 men. Ronaldino lined up the free kick, and from such a short distance the only way he would fail to score is if he missed the target or shot it into the wall. If he placed it where he wanted to there are not many goalies in the world who could save one of his free kicks from so close, and certainly Almunia (with no warmup whatsoever) is not among these select few. Fortuantely Ronaldinho just missed the target, and the score remained 0-0. At this point both teams probably wish the referee had played advantage, because Barca would have been 1-0 up, and Arsenal would remain at full strength.

So on we went with a game that now had an extremely different shape. Arsenal would defend, absorb Barca's pressure, and know that they would get very few good scoring opportunities that they absolutely must take advantage of. Barca would take their time, work the ball around, make Arsenal chase the ball, wear them down, and create many, many chances with their extra man.

1-0 To The Arsenal
Arsenal managed to win a free kick just to the right of the box when Puyol impeded Eboue's run. The replay made it seem like there was little contact, and in fact there wasn't, but in real time it sure looks like Puyol's cut across move impedes Eboue's run. For the Barca fans that have a big problem with this, they should be reminded of Puyol falling over and getting Shevchenko's equaliser for Milan disallowed in the waning moments of their semifinal for a non-foul on Sheva.

Titi prepares to take free kick.

Henry crosses what is essentially a short corner and the ball meets the head of colossus Sol Campbell, whose snap header is perfectly placed into the side panel of the net. Ecstasy. Improbably 10 man Arsenal lead Barca 1-0. Can they hold out for 53 more minutes for the most famous "1-0 to The Arsenal" of all time?

Sol scores an absolutly brilliant header

"One-Nil to The Arsenal!"

They weather the ensuing Barcelona storm and make it to halftime 1-0 to the good. Almunia makes an amazing save on Eto'o, who with his back to goal and Campbell on his back, receives a pass from Ronaldinho and makes one of the best turns I have ever seen, going around Campbell in a flash and creating space for a left footed rocket shot that Almunia somehow gets his fingertips on and diverts onto the post, the best friend of any goalkeeper. At halftime the Lehmann red card seems almost serendipitous, as it prevented a goal, although another 45 minutes on tiring legs will be extremely dicey.

Halftime. Can they hold on?

The second half started and Barcelona had a good bit of the ball, but Arsenal continued to go forward and attack despite being a man down. They were bravely runnning their socks off and courageously attacking trying to get a second, and they created three great chances to go up 2-0. Hleb barely missed the post with a low left footed shot, and Ljungburg forced a great save from Valdes, but TH14 had the best chance. With only the keeper to beat, albeit from a bit of an angle, he shot low and Valdes saved it. A golden opportunity gone wanting. It seems that all he had to do was chip Valdes rather than try to beat him low and it would have been 2-0 to the Arse.

Eto'o draws Barca level
Shortly after this the long, slow, grinding effect of playing a man down for so long begins to show, and Arsenal start to visibly tire. Finally in the 76th minute Barca proves too much, and Eto'o plays a brilliant 1-2 (give & go) with Larsson, finds himself 1-1 with Almunia, and slots it home to Almunia's near post. An absolutely beautiful goal and it's 1-1.

Eto'o finishes brilliant run & slots home to make it 1-1.

Almunia Remembers That He Is Almunia
Arsenal are clearly running on E now, and wave after wave of Barca attacks come forward. In the 81st minute Barca fullback Belletti goes on an overlapping run into the box, receives a great pass, and shoots from an angle hard but right at Almunia. Any keeper worth a shit blocks this shot, but Almunia somehow allows the shot to go between his legs and into the net. In 5 minutes Barca have gone from 1-nil down to 2-1 up, and Arsenal look damn near out of gas.

This image is so sickening, I cannot
even come up with a clever tagline for it

Nine minutes to go and now Arsenal need a moment of magic from Henry or some other form of circus shit to happen. The problem is that they have run their hearts out so valiantly but are now totally out of gas. Reyes needs to come on immediately, yet for some reason Wenger waits until the 86th minute to bring on the speedy fresh legs that were likely Arsenal's only longshot chance. The last 9 minutes are excruiciatingly painful, as Arsenal cannot even get posession, as Barca play keep ball, spread out, pass the ball around, and make the exhausted Arsenal players chase their fresh legs. Arsenal never even got a good chance and the match ended 2-1 to Barcelona.

Argentina 98, Solskjaer's dive 03, Portugal 04, left out
of FA Cup Final 05, now this.
Sol understands the book of Job.

An excruciatingly painful way to watch your team come from ahead to lose the biggest match in their history, especially because you knew 72 minutes a man down was going to be tough, and then you could see them slowly but surely wear down and run out of gas. Still, every Arsenal supporter should be proud of the team. They absolutely ran their hearts out, put up more than a valiant effort, and were couragoues. Plain and simple, you cannot fault the effort. Every single player on the team played great (apart from Almunia's howler). Henry, Ljungberg, and Ashley Cole especially ran their socks off. More frustrating that Mats definitely would have saved Barca's winner, and very possibly their equaliser.

Gutted: Freddy thinks what might
have been as Barca celebrate

It is one of those losses that leaves you absolutely gutted, making you almost wish that your team had been thrashed from the start and never had a chance, rather than take you to the brink of ecstasy before breaking your heart (think Red Sox, 1920-2003).

Much will be written about Henry & Wenger's heated converstations during the match, where Henry was wanting Wenger to bring on Reyes and go for it and Wenger chose a more cautious approach. Volumes will be written about what this means vis-a-vis Henry's monumental decision whether to stay at Arsenal or leave this summer, and most will prognosticate the this will make Henry lean towards leaving (I still think he will stay).

Ils sont desolee.
Is this the end for Titi?

So after all the buildup of the "dream final" featuring the "beautiful game" we got an altogether different, although just as compelling match where 10 man Arsenal took and valiantly held their lead only to be overtaken by lactic acid, Barca's relentless attack, and Almunia's howler in the end. And we are all left to wonder what might have been if 11 played 11 for 90 minutes and/or beyond. But such is football.

Slash Puyol lifts "the trophy with big ears"

I can only hope one day that Arsenal make it back to the Champions League Final, hopefully under Arsene Wenger, so that they might exorcise the demons of 17 May 2006 and finally become European Champions. As long as Wenger remains manager of Arsenal Football Club I will believe in my heart that this is possible.


Anonymous said...

Far be it for me to say that you should not feel gutted and all. But I'd imagine the sense of pride you are feeling at the moment at least somewhat tides things a bit.

Just imagine how bad it was for the Bayern Munich fans in 2000. Up 1-0 at going into injury time only to have 2 scramble corner goals go in over 100 secs to lose it. THAT is about as bad as I can imagine.

Kanu said...

I am gutted, although I certainly am proud of the lads for how well they played against all odds.

Yes, that must have sucked for Bayern fans in 1999. But that was a double lightning strike, it was out of the blue and happened so fast that they were just left in shock. A comparison to death would be heart attack or massive stroke - unexpected, out of the blue, shocking.

This was a different kind of horrible. Watching them slowly but surely get worn down and then perishing. Death comparison would be cancer or leukemia, which slowly sucks the life out of you and there's nothing you can do about it.

(those are just examples - I am NOT comparing the bummer of a sports team losing to the actual anguish experienced when a freind or family member perishes. Just using the example for descriptive sake.)

Kanu said...


The other thing that Bayern fans had to fall back on after that 1999 shock defeat is that before 1999 they had been to the final 5 times and won the trophy 3 times. So they could still walk around knowing that they were 3 time European Champions. Additionally, they then went on to win the Champions League again in 2001.

Overall I think a bit more gutting for Arsenal, having never even been to the final before, let alone won it.

Anonymous said...

The lesson to the comparison to Bayern? Arsenal will win it all in 2 years.

In all seriousness, if Henry stays, and given the performance of the rest of the squad (especially in the CL), I think Arsenal will celebrate the opening season of Emirates Stadium with something special.

Apparently, Henry kinda went off on the ref as well as Puyol and Marquez in the post match press conference. Slight better sign for Arsenal, when you go after Puyol, you are less likely to join Barca.

Anonymous said...

Condolences. That's all a fan can say to one fan right now.

Anonymous said...

A couple of thoughts:

I'm not sure I agree with TH14's statements about Hauge, or disagree with Kanu, but...

(1) There's an unwritten rule in soccer that you don't send off players in a cup final. There's a story about Cruyff getting booked early in the 1974 WC Final (I think), and when someone asked him about being worried about getting sent off he responded with incredulity with something along the lines of, "I'd never get sent off in a final." Argentina was similarly aggrieved when Monson was sent off in the 1990 WC Final (although I think most neutrals were probably excited that Argentina had not won the World Cup, given their style of play that year).

(2) There's another unwritten rule that when a player is sent off, the team that has the numerical edge is tracked more closely than the team that has 10 men. This unquestionably was not the case.

(3) If you watch the replay of the incident with the sending off, it appears that Toure lets up on the play just before Giuly puts it in the net. Not that he could have stopped him from scoring--certainly his odds of doing so would have been something like 5-10%--but it's pretty clear he heard the whistle and gave up on the play. No point here, really, except that once the whistle is blown in that situation you've really got one option as a referee.

(4) I think Wenger is off on his claim that the first Barca goal was offside, Eto'o clearly appears to be level. I've seen goals disallowed for less, but it's not clear one way or another.

(5) The stronger claim for offside might be made for when Eto'o broke through on goal, leading to the red card. The ESPN2 feed did a closeup of Ronaldhino right before he passed the ball and all of their replays were of Lehmann grabbing Eto'o, so it's impossible to tell for certain--but I've never seen anyone outside of Henry break free like that (there have been a million times where I've seen Henry do it, each time I think he's off, and then the replay shows him level). None of the Arsenal defenders called for it, though, leading me to think he was onside. Has anyone seen a decent replay?

Kanu said...

After watching the replay last night I took down my comments about the refereeing being one sided. Henry sure was pissed, and part of me can see why while part of me cannot. Titi's frustration began early when he won the ball in the corner with a clean, shoulder-down shrugging off of I believe Marquez, turned and had the ball in space, and was called for a foul. Then Marquez certainly should have been booked in the 24th minute for his late challenge on Henry - Henry was visibly upset, as this was just after the red card and Eboue getting a yellow (which was deserved). As Henry said in his interview "playing me when on a yellow is a whole different thing" (paraphrased), and he feels like if Marquez had a yellow with 66 minutes to go things might have been different, especially when Marquez challenged him in the air harshly towards the end of the game. Then at the end of the half Henry shot over the bar, it was very clearly deflected by a Barca boot, and the referee hgave a goal kick - a very incompetent call for both him and the linesman to miss. There was a late challenge by Van Bronkhorst on someone in the 2nd half that should have been a yellow card and was not given, and then Deco's dive outside the box int he 2nd half should have been a yellow. It's not just me & Th14 who thought this - on all 3 the ESPN commentators stated that they definitely should have been yellow cards. SO I think he is right to feel frustrated, but a the same time the foul that led to Arsenal's goal was pretty soft (although in real time it looked much less so), so it is hard for me persoanlly to say that this was the difference in the game. But he & the team are right to feel that Barca, up 11 men to 10, had 3 very clear yellow card offenses that were not given in accordance with your unwritten rule #2 . Bottom line for Henry is that he has 2 1-on-1s with Valdes and scored neither. He scored even one of those and Arsenal most likely do not lose.

Eto'o may have been behind the 2 defenders on his side, but I think he was played onside by the defender on the far side of the box. Either way it certainly is not definitive, so Wenger et. al should stop talking like it was clear cut - hopefully after they see the replays they will.

Yeah, there is no definitive replay of the Eto'o break that led to the red card, but I he was probably onside. Given that they showed replays of all 3 goals from an "eye in the sky cam", you would think that they could have shown the most important moment of the match from the same camera angle.

At the end of the day, Arsenal were brave, valiant, courageous, but it was not enough. Henry had 3 good chances, Hleb just missed, and Ljungburg had a great chance. Is they convert just one of these they win, that's just how it goes sometimes.

This morning I thought about how gutted I would be if Arsenal had finished 5th in the league, and CL qualification for next year was riding on yesterday outcome, and things turned out the way they did. Made me feel a little bit better about things. If Henry stays (or even if he goes to Barca and Arsenal get Eto'o in return) there is no reason to believe that Wenger cannot get them back to a CL Final in the next 5 years.

Kanu said...


Tom over at Arseblog says that Ash Cole played Eto'o onside on the red card incident:

Maybe on Sky or BBC or ITV or whatever they had they got some different angles then we got...

Kanu said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention this:

After all of that frustration for Henry, the referee booked Henry for a totally clean tackle where he got the ball. A total joke.

Now that I write all of these out, maybe I'm back on board that the refereeing was poor.

I would like to know definitively what the referees options were on the sending off. My understanding of the 'last man' rule is that by rule he had to be sent off, so the options were either no whistle/no foul, or whistle, red card. Yet people are talking about how he should have given Mats a yellow and let the goal stand, but was this even an option for him? I think not, but lots are talking like this was an option. Maybe later I'll take some time to research it properly. If anyone knows the definitive answer and can source it, please throw it up here for me. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I think the rule has something to do with stopping a clear goal-scoring opportunity, which, I would guess, means that if you let Giuly score the goal, Lehmann wouldn't have done. The problem is that once he blows the whistle, he's got no choice--if players on either team let up, there's no option short of a red that is fair in that instance.

Initially, I was pleased at the red card/no goal as opposed to the 11 men/0-1. But, in retrospect, it really killed the game as a contest. And, given the amount of fight that the Arsenal showed (and Almunia making plain his obvious limitations) I think the latter would have been a far better option. Which is easy to say now, of course.

Amazingly, I think if any other player had been sent off on 18 minutes (outside of Toure and Eboue, perhaps), Arsenal could have won this match. But losing Jens was too much.

The worst part about losing, for me, was the attitude of the Barcelona team, and the media, in the days leading up to the game (by which, I mean Rijkaard's comments about the gameplanning, the comments regarding TH14's future, Cesc's past, and anything said by the useless 'Gio'). Arsenal played them 10 v. 11 for close to an hour--and had outscored them--before fatigue set in. Perhaps a little humility is in order on their part.

Anonymous said...

Humility? From Barca? You kid yourself. Mourinho would find his tact before Barca comes anywhere close to humility.

Anonymous said...

I have not read any of the comments or have read the full post by Kanu. The reason is I want, as requested and also compelled, to give a neutral opinion about the match. Italian soccer is my arena. Inter my team. We have Flares, Ultras, small motor vehicles (Vespas) being tossed from stadio second levels, and yes those f’n Juve Milan fixers.
The Champions League final is meant, as many finals are, to be the ultimate meeting between the “Best” Two teams. A lot of nay sayers attacked Arsenal’s side saying that this would be a one sided affair and Barcelona would triumph simply on paper and no further discussion. They said Arsenal didn’t belong and this Cinderella story had to end. Ding dong Midnight is here!
But the clock struck 18’ and a decision had to be made. The rule is what the rule is. The red card was shown and away Lehman goes. I don’t care to focus on that because many times I feel that excuses take away from many other crucial points and junctures in a game. These points where teams are unable to capitalize should be addressed and the team stand to be judged for the sum total of minutes they play. I hate having to point to a single point in time to make excuse up for 90+ minutes of play. The announcers saying that this should have been a goal and leave the field level at 11 is, in my opinion, messing with rules that are very cut and dry. Exceptions have no place in making the game a “Better Match” (sure sounds like an ESPN statement).
However, I also did not like the calls “anticipated” by the referees. A lot of clean ball tackles were called fouls. A lot of tackles went unpunished. That yellow card must have felt neglected. Henry is Henry (God only knows what he was yelling at Wenger). Ashley Cole, I would like to say, played his friggin’ heart out last night. Ljungberg looked as if he was not to be denied and wanted the team and fans on his back. Believe me he could have handled it. You could see the heart in Arsenal there was a lot to carry last night.
On Barca’s side I would have to say that there was a bit of complacency when they started the match. Sol Cambell’s header shocked Barca, and shook the stadium as it tilted in favor of the Gunnars. At the half Arsenal even with 10 men I thought had the heart to carry them through but I felt the leg’s to carry them might tire. Barca had some thinking to do. Slowly but surely the attackers became the hunted. Arsenal tired and Barca poured on the pressure. But damn those referees for slighting the tackles by making them insignificant fouls. Sorry ok back to Barca. Ronaldinho was trying to make things out of thin air as he usually does. But last night it wasn’t the same R10. It looked like he was looking for calls instead of “Moving Forward”. I felt the man on a mission was Giuly and then when he came on Larssen. Pushing forward but never trying to nail the 35 yarder. Dean Cain (Deco) tried to flop his way to a penalty late as the “man of making a meal” tried to no avail. I’ve seen yellow cards handed out for that. Still the yellow card continues to whimper “Let Me Out”. I felt like they were determined to motivate this less than energetic Barca offense and played with the urgency necessary to get them back on track. Eto’o got his and it was a nice shot (Short side) but this second string goalie couldn’t close out? Goalkeeping 101 is close out and reduce the shooting angle. Defenders do play back into the goal as a goalie moves toward an impending attack. Don’t they?
The nutmeg heard round the world….. Close your legs. And a side note where was Reyes?
All in all the refereeing was lopsided and shotty at best. I would say that the Gunnars got the short end of the stick in that respect. Arsenal had their chances to score and so did Barca. Each held responsible for their missed opportunities. Sometimes numbers don’t lie (11 on 10). For 70 plus minutes 10 on 11 is an endurance match that is hard to win. It was a good and exciting game but not in the way I wanted. I’m sure a lot of people felt the same way. At least no one is screaming food poisoning. Friggin Spurs. My condolences Kanu.

I apologize that this post may be separate flows but a need to get it out in between the literal 12 meetings I had today may be the cause for some disconnect.


Kanu said...

Thanks Adriano. I'm glad that after witnessing some not so great Arsenal performances this season, you got to see the real Arsenal tonight, the ones that seem to play so well when they are totally up against it. I'm also glad that you got a glimpse of what Freddy looked like between 1998-2003,, and that you got to see that Ashely Cole is the best ledt back in the world. Period. Final thoughts tomorrow and then it's time to move on.

Are you going to switch your handle to A7 for the World Cup?

Anonymous said...

In regards to the send-off, soccer laws separate offenses into two categories, fouls and misconducts. The referee could have applied advantage to the take-down "foul" and therefore allowed the goal to stand. He could then go back and issue a card for the "misconduct" committed by Lehmann.

At that point, the decision between red and yellow would have to be made. Lehmann was the last defender on an obvious goal-scoring opportunity, so he still could have been given a red card, leaving it 10 on 11 with Barca up 1-0. However, with the goal being scored, it is more likely he simply would be shown the yellow and allowed to continue.

In the end, it is hard to say who this hurt more... Barca who lost their opportunity for a goal, or Arsenal who had to play their backup keeper who let through what should have been a rather routine stop.