Thursday, May 18, 2006

Champions' League Final

In the end a hidebound referee ruined what was rapidly shaping up to be a classic exhibition of end-to-end attacking football. Jens Lehmann's red card in the nineteenth minute- while admittedly in strict accordance with the rules- hurt the game when counting the goal and showing the keeper a yellow card would have been a much better decision. The referee has since admitted his mistake, but for the disconsolate Arsenal fans it is too late.

It was a determined, heartening and often desperate rearguard battle from a club whose success over the decades has been built on defensive stability. Nine out of ten clubs in Arsenal's place, after going a man down against a team like Barcelona would simply have wilted and let themselves be swamped. But showing passion, determination and heart, this small working class club from London did English football proud on the night.

After Sol Campbell's bullet header, Almunia's wonder save and some last-ditch defending, it was just beginning to look like the London club's night when Eto'o and Belletti- both set up by Henrik Larsson- scored to break Arsenal hearts. 2-1 to Barcelona the final score, but not before a couple of Thierry Henry misses which on any other day would have been in the back of the net.

The best team in Europe deservedly lifted the trophy, but Arsenal can go out with their heads held high and prepare for next season. Take a bow Barca and Arsenal.


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