Wednesday, May 23, 2007

AC Milan Are Champions of Europe

My caption: Too little, too late. Crouchie and Kewell should have started; at least they should have been on at half.

Official caption: Benitez brings on Harry Kewell for Bolo Zenden as Liverpool struggle to get back on terms in the second half (BBC)

Well, as a Liverpool fan, that was a bitter disappointment. Liverpool dominated play in the first half, all from the right side of the field where Jermaine Pennant ran rampant. The announcers kept talking about Zenden's lack of pace, as though this were some new thing; he has spent the season half lame, or huffing and puffing, clearly having lost a step or three from his salad days, which were not Merseyside. I heard Peter Crouch say in an interview that Bolo speaks four languages; perhaps he has used one of them to bewitch the manager. "I put a spell on you/'cause you're mine..." Harry Kewell looked a little rusty, but he is a world class left wing, had pace, and forced at least three corners as a result. Including the one at the end where Kuyt scored.

So those were Rafa's brilliant tactics: to start an old, slow, and injured left wing and stick with him for 57 agonizing minutes; and to leave out the second leading scorer in the Champions League until 12 minutes remaining. Rafa is hailed as a great tactician. Coach Mom has always doubted, and I have to agree with her today. That was just awful. The substitutions were so late. And why did he take off Mascherino, rather than Xabi Alonso? Mascherino had had a fabulous game. Alonso will be best remembered for the foul that gave Milan the free kick for their first goal, and a yellow card. When Inzaghi scored his second goal, I was appalled that the entire Liverpool backline had stopped dead to watch him go at Pepe Reina. If Mascherino with his young legs had been in the game, would he have made the run back to save that ball off the line? We'll never know. But he's got all the energy in the world compared to the other players out there, as West Ham left him on the bench all season. (And after watching him -- and Tevez -- play, you have to ask: Why? Were they nuts?)

I just don't get why Rafa doesn't trust Crouchie. As Tommy Smyth said in the post-game aftermath (in the seconds before ESPN2 whisked us off to some tractor pull), the game changed when Crouch entered. Liverpool suddenly had a man in the middle to make things happen, and shortly thereafter they scored on the corner kick. Crouch is not really that good in the air, because although he's tall he's rather willowy. But he's fantastic with the ball at his feet, has great touch, passes well, and sees the game like a creative midfielder. And there he sat, for 78 minutes, while Dirk Kuyt, who hadn't scored in the Champions League all season, ran around in circles. Kuyt has the worst first touch on the team. Half the time he can't even receive a pass, the ball just bounces off his dead feet. I'm always suspicious of players who get applauded for their workrate. I'd rather have fat Ronaldo, loafing up the field but scoring early and often. Workrate is overrated. Give me results any day.

ESPN had their usual muddled coverage. Why can't they show the substitutes bench? Then you can plot who you'd substitute in as the game goes on. Derek Rae and Tommy Smyth have their annoying verbal tics, but at least know the game; better than the moronic announcers we get for the USMNT games. But an hour before the game, they ran a promo that went thusly: "AC Milan. Maldini. Kaka. Versus Liverpool. Crouch. Gerrard." I said to myself, don't they realize Crouch might not even play? Of course they don't. They're ESPN, with the rights to soccer, but not the love. They cut away so quickly at the end, if I was a Milan fan I'd be screaming with outrage. I bet they'd stay for hours for the post-game interviews for some stupid NAIA college football tournament. Or a tractor pull.

NYTimes: A.C. Milan 2, Liverpool 1
Milan Wins 7th European Crown

BBC: AC Milan 2-1 Liverpool

Paul Doyle, Guardian BLog: Liverpool got everything right but their selection
Rafa Benitez found the perfect formation to stifle Milan, but he lacked the players to win.

Guardian (uk): Liverpool fans injured in ticket row
Two taken to hospital after fight breaks out

Guardian (uk): Liverpool have bravery but no breaks as Inzaghi inflicts Milan's revenge

Telegraph: Picture Gallery

SkySports: Gerrard gutted by Athens loss

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