CAMP NOU - A BRIDGE TOO FAR FOR CHELSEA!
Posted: Apr 22, 2012
Last Wednesday night I found myself in ‘enemy’ territory, surrounded by an armada of Chelsea FC fans baying for my blood.
Last weekend, in this column, I had opened my mouth rather too wide and had described Barcelona as the ‘greatest team in the history of football’. I definitely was not thinking of the match that was to come up a few days later against a team with one of the largest fan bases in Nigeria. Apparently, Chelsea FC fans concealed their anger at my audacious proclamation, waiting and praying for the unexpected to happen against Barcelona FC so that loud-mouthed me can be made to eat humble pie. I love Chelsea FC too but I can’t describe them as the greatest team in the world, can I?
Like me, most football followers (except die-hard Chelsea FC fans), had written off the match as a one-sided walk-over for the spanish giants who had been devastating and most consistent in their annihilation of teams since the 2012 UEFA Champions League began. They expected more of the same against Chelsea FC. I was in that frame of mind and expectation when I set out to honour an invitation to Planet Heineken in Lagos, a magnificent, private football viewing centre set up for special clients by one of the major global sponsors of the champions league.
I was the special guest to take part in an interactive television show with a live audience of football fans. This was part of the football ‘feast’ prepared for local fans for the first leg of the second semi-final match between Chelsea FC and Barcelona FC.
Chelsea fans were waiting for me. They knew I was coming. They were more interested, however, in the result of the match. So, they held their peace until the final blast of the whistle. Then all hell broke loose and their loud singing and boos almost brought down the roof of the place filled with the vibrations of a victory that demonstrated man’s submission to the unpredictability of the game of football and to the will of the elements. In one of the most one-sided but very exciting and entertaining matches of this year’s championships, the stronger team, the team that played all the football, that did all the ball possession, that created more of the chances (and lost them all), that provided the better football in terms of the purity and attacking style of play, that made more attempts at goal, that totally dominated play, cruelly lost the match!
The statistics of the match belied the final scoreline. Barcelona FC did all the playing whilst Chelsea FC did the only scoring. Only Chelsea FC fans could have had the sort of blind faith (even though it was subdued) they had before the match started, believing that their wobbly team could get a win against the best team in the world. On paper the difference between them this season is like the honey and bitters.
I could understand, therefore, why there was so much taunting, extravagant jubilation, loud singing and dancing when I was ushered in before these fans in front of television cameras to talk about the match.
FROM MY MAIL BAG
Re- Barca, greatest team in history, Messi, greatest player!
I concur, Big Seg. What Barca do with soccer is surreal; what Messi does is unreal! My heart was once with Ronaldinho, who at some point the Great Pele endorsed as the greatest player of this era that left every other player a distant second. But how Ronaldinho fizzled out and became nothing but a spent ball-juggler. Messi is the greatest of all time - and I hope Pele would admit this and bow out to someone greater than himself! That is life. It may take another 50 years to have Messi also displaced as the “greatest ever”. That’s it.
Uncle Sege, I never thought the day would arrive that I would have cause to disagree with you on any issue concerning the beautiful game, but on your choice of the greatest player of all time, I disagree most respectfully. I’ll still go with Pele. You devoted scant attention in your analysis to the Pele phenomenon. I think people need to see Pele in action in his days at Santos and not just his escapades at the 1970 World Cup. For crying out loud, at Messi’s age, Pele had already won two World Cups.
Philip Mulwa · Nairobi, Kenya
Barca are great but neither the club nor Messi is the greatest, I believe Christiano Ronaldo is more accomplished that Messi.
Thanks for this piece of truth. Let the world read it. Barcelona the greatest best world club ever and Lionel Messi, I don’t know how to qualify him but the world is yet to see the talent in him. Messi - world’s best without comparison.
I FOUND MYSELF IN THE DEN OF VOCIFEROUS LIONS
I had to answer questions and to summarise the match.
Aided by plenty of luck and in the relative absence of the usual clinical finishing power of Barcelona FC, Roberto di Matteo, interim manager of Chelsea FC, got his team tactics right.
The team played a defensive strategy throughout the game. Every player in the Chelsea team fell back behind the ball to form a funnel of defenders in their box.
The closer you moved towards the Chelsea goal the more defending players you encountered. The players crowded the middle of their well organised defence choking off every Barcelona FC attack with an uncanny level of concentration that sustained for most of the match. They deliberately left the flanks open forcing Barca to launch their attacks from there. Of course, any team that plays from the flanks would have to depend on crosses and forwards with great aerial ability to score goals. Unfortunately, Barcelona FC is made up of ‘midgets’. The only tall player in the team, Piquet, warmed the bench throughout the encounter nursing an injury.
So, against an inspired defence of aerial ball masters, Terry and Cahill, Barcelona FC’s forwards could do nothing with crosses from the wings. Terry, with determination and his usual tenacity, blocked everything thrown at the Chelsea FC defence, diving, pushing, kicking, using his feet, body, head, anything, everything.
So, Barcelona FC had no option but to attack through the congested middle where eleven ‘possessed’ Chelsea FC players waited for them as planned.
Chelsea had planned to use the speed, experience and athleticism of its forwards in quick counter attacks to hit back at Barca. One of those attacks might lead to a lucky goal. This was the simple plan by Di Matteo to neutralise the well-oiled attacking machine of Barcelona FC. It worked to near perfection. Barcelona FC knew, of course, what was going on but did not alter their style. They unrelentingly kept on battering the middle of the Chelsea FC defence hoping to weaken it until something gave. Chelsea were lucky. They conjured one good chance out of nothing (a harmless dispossession of Messi in a harmless area of the field).
Lampard latched onto the ball, delivered one of the best ‘blind’ passes of the season, it found Ramires who took off in a dazzling run towards goal, squared the ball behind the chasing Barca defenders, for the matador, Didier Drogba, to clinically deliver his ‘poison’. Barcelona recovered in time from the shock of that goal, created several clear chances of their own, but failed to convert any.
That was the story of last Wednesday night.
Chelsea FC are a very great football institution with a rich history. They are veteran fighters at this level. Any team can write them off only at its own peril.
They have a deep, experienced reservoir of talent that, on a good day, can play and defeat any team in Europe. But the ongoing season has not been their best in recent years. Indeed, they have struggled through most of it beset by injury and an ageing population of players. Last Wednesday night was their best performance so far in 2012 and all credit must go to their coach for his sound tactics, and to the players for their tactical discipline.
Barcelona FC play a brand of football previously unseen and unequalled anywhere on the planet. Their performance always calls for a celebration of magic and artistry. In Lionel Messi they have a one-man rampaging army.
Last Wednesday, as the going got tougher and time started to run out for Barca, Messi took up the responsibility to change things and started to take on the entire Chelsea defence in wave after wave of a solo effort. Chelsea survived it all but barely. They had mother luck to thank.
Back to Planet Heineken. Interestingly and surprisingly, I did not find many Barca friends at the place. Instead, I found myself surrounded by Chelsea fans bent on fully savouring their well-earned victory.
I totally agree with them to enjoy it while it lasts because just as thunder does not strike in the same place twice so would the greatest football club in history not suffer defeat in the hands of a ‘minor’ twice in a row!
So, all attention must now shift to the battle next Tuesday night at the Nou Camp, the graveyard of many a visiting team! That may just be one bridge too far for Chelsea to cross!
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