Sunday, December 16, 2007

the morning after: the tokyo drift

That Grand Slam Sunday was possibly the most awful sustained massacre of football I have yet seen on a single weekend. No doubt it was as much of a lark for most of England as the now bi-annual Chelsea-Liverpool CL fixtures are, with all the passion and glory at stake, but for me it was as dire as your average Juve-Inter game, just without the broken bones and the nice hairstyles.

Admittedly I was spoiled by what my Times of India touted as "'the continental appetiser' to this fantastic weekend!". When I turned the TV off after the CWC final I have to admit it was in mild disapproval of what turned out to be the most pathetic defensive display on a football field in quite a while, but hindsight and the pain of what was to follow force me to admit that I was unduly censorious. It isn't often that I watch a match for which half-time feels like it's come way too soon. No doubt the Boca guys felt the same, since they appeared to send out the zombie equivalents of the men who'd challenged and confronted Milan with such intelligence and guile in the first forty-five.

The second half wasn't particularly hard on the eye, either. The fault is entirely Boca's, of course, for not having learnt what Cagliari and Torino have woken up to and letting Milan have pretty much the run of the midfield, thus not only letting them win, but win in style. No other European team would have done it quite this way. As Milan's exhibition game ['let us show you what we used to do before Italy and the rest of Europe woke up to our gameplan'] this was hilarious. The Seedorf-Kaka-Inzaghi nexus could not have been cooler had they been cryogenically preserved for a couple of those goals. [Yes, that WAS a 'they are so old!' joke.] Credit to Kaka, in spite of his giallo-incurring tee-shirt-exposive-compulsive-disorder: he is gifted with the sort of balance and precision that has been the rarely-attainable Tao of Milan for the last few years. His flair is in his economy and judgment; which is to say, he has precious little flair that hasn't been broken down and honed into a craft that is as mechanical as it is intuitive. Fond as I am of my classic rock analogies, I have to say it. The man is the Paul McCartney of the footballing world.

Boca blew it, I'm afraid. The trophy was never theirs to lose once Inzaghi whipped the first goal in. They're not a defence-minded side, but neither, necessarily, are Manchester United, who came up against a similarly cool and collected Milan at Old Trafford in April this year, and sneaked out as winners. Keeping a high line and pressing forward always wears the rossoneri out, especially in the last half-hour of the game, when they tend to panic. It takes only a moment to break Milan down; apart from the 22nd minute, when they were wandering around singing PIPPO PIPPO PIPPO GOL while Palacio scored, Boca just never took that chance.

A special moment of virulent hatred for the announcers on my telly channel, who persisted in referring to Boca's absent number ten as 'Juan Pablo Riquelme' and insisted, among other things, on this emphasising Europe's superiority over South America. I'm sorry, but no. Milan won over Boca, something they weren't able to do three years ago, and something Liverpool and Barcelona haven't been able to do against their own Brazilian opponents in the years since. And that's all there is to it unless you want to open the debate up beyond an arbitrary point-scoring exercise.

I really do think this victory meant a lot to Milan, for a number of reasons. Their ties with the bureaucratic footballing establishment - be it UEFA or FIFA - have always been close, and they approached this tournament with a seriousness that would no doubt have seemed excessive to teams that don't look beyond where the next TV rights deal is coming from. They are also a team who last won in Tokyo seventeen years ago - which is when Liverpool were still winning league titles - and are, unbelievably, captained by a man who was part of that 1990 side. The standards Milan have set themselves in terms of myth-making, and the sacrifices they've made to ensure its sustenance, will earn them a bit of ridicule in any justly-written history, but their Maldini story is going to stand the test of time.

Sometimes, I worry about these children.

[Obliged to Ruby for the picture.]


Anonymous said...

Of course Boca blew it. But they didn't have Riquelme and Milan had Kaka after all.

roswitha said...

They'd have been much more evenly matched had Riquelme been there: but they could have won it without him, too, and they just didn't try. Full credit to them for sticking to their footballing principles [- which I notice don't preclude the odd incredibly cynical foul] and not trying to choke Milan out of the game, even if they paid for it with tears.

Ritesh Agarwal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ritesh Agarwal said...

Yeah Roswitha, I too believe that Boca could have won without Riquelme.. But he is such a classy playmaker, and is simply irreplaceable.

A. said...

It is me again. I was the anonymous one above.

I thought it was a good exhibition of teams playing to good footballing principles.

Both were trying to win in style going forward. Even though Boca didn't play great there were some mitigating circumstances. The absence of Riquelme apart, I thought the Mexican officials were a little to eager to show that they held no Latin American bias, and as such much of the 50-50 decisions went Milan's way when the game was in the balance.

And just when Boca put Milan under lots of pressure, resulting in Ibarra hitting the post, Milan hit the killer blow on the counter.

They were also a little wasteful and panicky overall.

Had Riquelme been there, they would have played with more confidence. He was, as I recall, the difference way back in 2000 when Boca outdid that great Real side.

Martha said...

Yes, yes to everything you said about Boca gleefully ignoring the available evidence about how to beat Milan, and instead spending the second half offering everyone as much space as they could ever want. Very nice of them.

roswitha said...

Yes, both teams were quite wasteful, weren't they? Ambrosini's chesting the ball out of Dida's way and into the net -- well, but that's neither here nor there: both teams would probably have raised their defensive game a lot higher had it been played in less space: as I recall Milan made few mistakes against Urawa [and I'm not even going into the 'quality of opposition' argument there].

Funny you should mention the refs. I know I've just absolved my commentators of any intellectual self-determination whatsoever, but they were quite convinced that the refereeing was not up to scratch and decidedly anti-Milan. And to be honest I thought a couple of Boca's tackles should have been called. But yeah, Ledesma going out of the game was purely a reaction to Kaladze getting [a bit harshly, I thought] carded.

@ritesh: Him sitting out there forlorn in the crowd was certainly not a good thing.

roswitha said...

@ martha: Well, it doesn't ALWAYS work, look at Pippo Inzaghi coming between Liverpool and their Cup at Athens. But at least yesterday's game looked good. Thank heaven, eh?

Ritesh Agarwal said...

Sitting lorn was not his choice, but some thing he had to deal with because of FIFA regulations.. So bad for Boca ..

Brian said...

Kaka as Paul McCartney: that's the most precise Beatles metaphor I think I've ever seen. (Especially because Paul McCartney is clearly the attacking midfielder of 1960s pop music.) It gets at the deceptively smooth genius of Kaka and also at the faint hint of insipidity about him, the sense that his air of assumed innocence is really a curtain draped over an emptiness. In both cases the accomplishments seem to dismiss your suspicions ("Lady Madonna" couldn't have been written by an airhead, and Kaka's performance in the Champions League last year couldn't have been turned in by one) you really want to start a department store that would only sell white objects? Are you really going to let your wife play tambourine?

I worry that Kaka's career could enter a phase where he does whatever is the football equivalent of letting his wife play tambourine.

Last thought: If Shevchenko really moved to England because of his wife, does that mean he's now in the middle of his Lost Weekend?

A. said...

I put the Kaladze dismissal to blood rushing to the referee's head coupled with his (possible) unfamiliarity with the Georgian's modus operandi.

The Ledesma sending off was a clear example of one of the more annoying features of modern football, i.e. the referee on a crusade to prove to everyone who is God on a football pitch.

roswitha said...

Oh, special hell for the Sheva dig. I was saving my Lennon comparison for Ibrahimovic, too. I feer Sheva's career's already gone the Ringo Starr way, hasn't it - nothing to save him now but some miraculous meeting with a Bond girl and/or finding alcohol in a Jesus bottle. I mean. You know?

a: My overweening complaint with modern referees, particularly Mr Gonzalez of the CWC final, though, is much more serious. Someone should have warned him off the cycling shorts.

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