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A Champions’ League final to savour? May 18, 2006

Posted by fungus in Uncategorized.
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In a befitting manner, it rained as Arsenal's hopes of claiming a first Champions' League title were washed away by a combination of bad refereeing, bad spirit and plain bad luck. Barcelona are to be congratulated for winning the Champions' League but if Ronaldinho's shirt stayed on and not even Barcelona fans cheered where we sat what service could such a game have possibly done to football? Eto'o and Giully and Deco and Puyol and Iniesta were all champions before they walked on to the turf in Paris. If anything, the pulp of their achievement was sucked out by the incompetence of the officials and their victory will seem hollow when they lie awake at night wondering if they were, actually, the best in Europe. So, did the best team win? I'd love to say No but, honestly, who can say? For the briefest period, when Arsenal had their first choice team of eleven on the pitch, they seemed the snazzier of the two. Arsenal went in the underdogs and they knew they would have had to put the pedal to the metal right at the start. They did. Henry had a wonderful chance in the third minute and, although the pace for the next ten minutes was controlled by Barcelona, Arsenal seemed ready for big things. Going ahead with ten men, after Lehman's sending off, was unthinkable so they did the unthinkable. They went ahead.

Lehman's sending off I will not argue. It could be argued that the advantage could have been played and Arsenal allowed to play with eleven players, albeit a goal down. However, no one can find fault with what the referee did. His exemption from blame, however, ends there. No replays of the Eto'o goal were ever shown from the sidelines to let us judge for ourselves whether there was a hint of offside. And doubt there was aplenty. To give Henry a yellow card for winning a tackle where he didn't even attack a Barcelona player and to ignore the various fouls committed by the men from the Nou Camp is nothing short of evil. While Arsenal were working their posteriors off defending and attacking with ten men Barcelona were unwittingly given a twelfth, and maybe a thirteenth and fourteenth, player in the form of the referee and his assistants.

Henry's comments after the game were noteworthy. Speaking of the referee he said, "If he didn't want us to win it he should have said so at the start." This from one of Europe's most soft-spoken footballers is more than an indictment of the travesty that was the officiating at the stadium of Paris.

It was a depressing game to watch. Of course it was depressing for every Arsenal fan. It wasn't very rewarding for the Barca fans either and the match was a disappointment for every fan of football. But, and take a moment to think about this, can you imagine how it must have felt for Robert Pires to have had to watch the match helplessly from the sidelines for no fault of his? For what it is worth, Pires, I am sorry.

The silver medals around the Arsenal necks must feel heavier than lead. The hearts are heavy. Henry may move to Barcelona. For all Arsenal fans out there one wonders what there is to look forward to, if anything at all. Congratulations, Rijkaard. Well done, Ronaldinho.

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