Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Champions League Final--Halftime Thoughts

• Interesting choice by Avram Grant to start Florent Malouda on the left wing instead of the more explosive Salomon Kalou, and by Sir Alex Ferguson to start Owen Hargreaves wide right ahead of Park Ji-Sung, who didn’t even make the bench tonight.

• Clarence Seedorf, who I am a big fan of, was very enjoyable to listen to, although Derek Rae is carrying the group once again. The Dutchman was able to provide insights as a player himself that the two commentators just can’t see.

• Testy, cautious first ten minutes, which everyone expected given the magnitude and significance of this game.

• Neither team looks like they have much energy at this point (20 minutes). Perhaps the extremely late local start time (which, by the way, is an injustice to the players) has had more of an impact than anyone would have thought.

• No way that should’ve been a yellow card for Makelele in the 22nd minute. Clarence Seedorf was spot-on; it was a complete accident, and to me, it even looked like Scholes was the one who went into that challenge more dangerously.

• Chelsea hasn’t done ANYTHING going forward in the first half-hour whatsoever.

• The best player in the world this season, Cristiano Ronaldo, rose above Michael Essien to make it 1-0 and as Derek Rae said, heading is a very underestimated facet of Ronaldo’s game. He has shut the critics who said he can’t score in a big game up. Oh yeah, and he’s halfway towards the goal tally I marked him down for today. Good left-footed cross by Wes Brown to allow Ronaldo to nod it past Petr Cech.

• There he is, the biggest embellisher in world soccer, Didier Drogba, on the ground again as a result of absolutely nothing in the 31st minute. Then he came back on one minute later and looked perfectly fine. Give me a break. There’s a reason soccer will never gain a major foothold in America, and it’s because of guys like Drogba who flop around needlessly, much like Ronaldo used to do.

• Great save by Edwin van der Sar on Ballack’s point-blank header. Chelsea’s best opportunity of the game by far went begging as Ballack should have done so much better.

• Two wonderful saves from Cech just moments later to deny Tevez and Carrick on the other end. This game is opening up nicely now as Chelsea has been forced to push the issue.

• Wayne Rooney has been invisible up to this point except for his ball to Cristiano Ronaldo to set up that two-shot flurry and his nice low cross to Tevez, who completely whiffed near the penalty spot. It hasn’t been too costly yet, but the Red Devils need Rooney to really step up if they want to win this game.

• I’m sorry, Ashley Cole’s antics after every call that doesn’t go his way are getting more and more tiresome and intolerable. You can’t continue to show up the referee by flapping and waving your arms and throwing a tantrum without getting punished, and I would hope referee Lubos Michel books him for unsporting behavior or dissent the next time Cole behaves like a petulant child.

• Ballack has been poor in the first 45, not only with that ugly free kick just outside the 18 before halftime but that missed header I wrote about earlier.

• Very important goal for Frank Lampard just on the stroke of halftime for Chelsea. Sure, it took an unlucky bounce from United’s point of view to spring Lampard, but he coolly put it home to give Chelsea new life and that’s something Ballack couldn’t do earlier. Big psychological boost for Avram Grant and his men.

• Chelsea was clearly outplayed in the first half, but the only thing that matters is it’s 1-1 (as I predicted it would be before United score twice more to win 3-1) and both teams will like their chances as the game goes on.

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