Friday, May 25, 2007

Mighty Milan is the king of Europe

A befitting end to grueling and competitive season of football in Europe. The curtain fell on the continental scenario when AC Milan beat Liverpool 2-1 in Athens to lift the champion’s league for 7th time. Rewind the tape to the start of august, when Milan is shattered by match fixing bribing referee allegations, people shouting for Berlusconi’s head, the game is tampered. But the Milan players and coaches can do nothing about it. They don’t fix the matches, the officials upstairs do. Yet they had to fight adversity, they had to qualify for the champions league.

In an earlier writing I have discussed the season as a whole, how the two teams reached final, not going to do that now. I will keep my discussions on the final match itself. Liverpool played much more flaring attacking football from the beginning. They had to. They saw how Man Utd carried a 1 goal lead in san siro in semifinal, and got destroyed by playing not-so-pressure football from the beginning.
Rafael Benitez asked his boys to go out in the attack from the start, and they did. They used the flank pretty well, with Pennant and half-fit Zenden running down. Pennant was simply superb, and so was Mascherano. It is mascherano who never allowed Milan upfront players to settle down, he didn’t allow them to hold the ball, do slick passing. Milan was trying to free Kaka and Inzaghi, with little success.
Milan was doing another thing, giving up the possession near their defense number of times. But Liverpool never took advantage of those gifts. In today’s world, no body misses a chance to grasp on free gifts. If you don’t, you are lagging behind. That’s what happened to Liverpool.

Milan’s 1st goal was completely against the run of the play, Xavi Alonso sort of pushed Kaka, and Kaka did enough to earn a free kick. Pirlo’s shot deflected of Inzaghi’s shoulder to go in. Liverpool supporters call it luck. No it’s not luck; it is part of the game. The mix of players, who stand beside the wall, always follows the ball after the free kick, so there is always a possibility that the ball going to get deflected.

That goal changed the whole game. Milan came after the half time with more assurance that they can take their time and hold the ball, while Liverpool looked desperate with every second passed by. Seedorf and Kaka was not a factor in this game, but Jankulovski, Ambrosini, Oddo, Nesta and Maldini..They were huge factors. They never really allowed Kuyt or Gerrard to have a clear easy shot at goal.

Master tactician Benitez did two big mistakes. 1) He kept unfit Zenden on pitch for 60 minutes, and 2) he brought in Crouch on 76th minute. Too late. Dida is never comfortable on aerial balls, but Liverpool never tasted him in air. One would have predicted that Liverpool will have Crouch upfront, have pennant or zenden crossing from wings, and Crouch will try to nod it in. Or Gerrard will have some long-range shots. Did not happen. I think Liverpool, instead of sticking to the basics, tried to do too much. Tried to out think Milan. In the process, they lost their natural game.
The 2nd goal was a result of Kaka’s brilliant pass and Inzaghi’s immaculate finishing. The way Pippo just rolled the ball under onrushing Reina’s arm from an acute angle is really commendable.
That’s why Ancelotti started him ahead of Gilardino. He will be offside 15 times, will miss 10 times (as he did today, among them was one easy tap in from 8 yards out), but he will score the all important goal that matters. He did it against Bayern Munchen in quarterfinal. He did it again today. Kuyt’s equalizer in 89th minute ( only meant that the supporters will be on their toes till the final whistle. There is no more Istanbul happening this time. Those things do not happen every day. Milan is the king of Europe one more time. Paolo Maldini lifted the Champions league trophy one more time.
Viva Milan..

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A preview of 2007 Champions league final:Two teams,Different approach, same result

On athens, panathinaikos stadium, AC Milan and Liverpool will lock horns for the 2nd time in 3 years for UEFA champions league, to decide who is the king of europe, who is champion of champions. Gerrard and Maldini will exchange pleasentaries, shake hands, and in back of their mind, Istanbul will loom large. Shevchenko scored the winning penalty when Milan won it in 2003, Sheva missed the last penalty in tie-breaker when Milan lost two years ago. Sheva isnt

there with Milan this year. But the legacy of number 7 will be there. Xavi Alonso, Carragher, Gerrard, will remember that night. Maldini and co. will want to forget and take revenge.

In Liverpool and AC Milan, UCL got two most competent and consistent team in this year's final. Two teams with completely different approaches. Liverpool is a group of "men-at-work" under Rafael Benitez's instruction. Rafa knows the limitation of his players. Doug Kuyt and Bellamy is fast, Peter Crouch is good in air, but they are not Eto'o, Nistelrooi, or Drogba. Thats why you have to provide the ball into their area of strength, they are not going to create chance on their own. Thats why you have gerrard, ager, penant, zenden. They will float the ball across the area, put the ball in the air, and 6'7" Peter Crouch will try to head the ball in. Bellamy and Kuyt will try to outpace other defenders with off-the ball run. Mascherano and Carragher will get behind every ball, stop the oncoming centre-forwards. Chalked out strategy..when you attack seems to you the lanes are open, but when you get there..every where is stop sign.

Liverpool overcame defending champion Barcelona in 2nd round, got off an easy win with PSV in the quarter final, and "luckily" got past chelsea in the semifinal. Yes luckily. Chelsea shud have won that match in the 1st leg itself. But again, if you dont take your opportunities, you will fall behind in this opportunistic world.

On the contrary, Milan had a mixed campaign. They fought hard to get over the match fixing scandal issue, and had the luck of easy group in UCL. They sweat to beat Celtic. But suddenly after that , the campaign and the body language changed. The beat Bayern Munich 4-2 on aggregate, and 2-0 in Munich. Not many team beat Bayern in Allianz Arena. Milan's playing style is total artistry. they pass the ball in small areas, depend on individual brilliance to creat a thru ball or nagging pass. Kaka runs with the ball in a brisk pace, keeping the ball in front of him.

Pirlo is a cool customer..he takes his time, places the ball with a curling velocity in the feet of the destination striker. Seedorf is mixture of both, he can slow it down..he can play a quick one-two, and then he can unleash from the top of the box. Then there is the wall at the defence..Nesta, Ambrosini, Jankulovski, Oddo, and ever young Paolo Maldini. Think about this, Milan's current coach Ancelotti and Maldini played for Italy in 1990 world cup semifinal. Maldini played against Maradona..!!
Coming back to the discussion, Milan's defense is hard nut to crack. They screen the ball so well, never two defenders are on the same line. If you cross the ball in goalmouth, they will head and clear, they will not leave space infront of the penalty box.
The position Milan will struggle is upfront. Goals have been scored by Kaka (10 so far) and Seedorf. Inzaghhi , Gilardino are inconsistent. You cannot count on them. That is why I said in the beginning, the legacy of jersey number 7 will be there. Andriy Shevchenko will not play in Athens on 23rd May. But Mialn wish he could have played for them. Mialn will again need Kaka and Seedorf to score.
Dida and Reyna are also two completely different goal-keepers. Dida has got past his prime, he is susceptable to aerial balls, and Liverpool will put a plenty of balls in the air,no doubt. Reyna is good keeper, but he lacks the agility in one-on-one situation. If Milan can free Kaka or Filippo on one or two thru balls, it will be interesting to see.
All in all, it is clash of two different styles of football, two different modes of football. It will be a fascinating match. May the best team win.