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.]