Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Chelsea Mourning

I must admit that I'm certainly not the world's biggest soccer fan. I watch the World Cup every four years and that's about it. I'll cheer for Canada if they ever get back on to the world's stage but it's difficult to go from watching a dazzling display between Brazil and Italy in a World Cup match and then trying to watch Canada plod along against Mexico in a Gold Cup qualifier.

In North America, where we celebrate the NFL "World" Champions and play the World Series, we owe it to ourselves to watch a truly world event. As millions tuned in to watch Chelsea play Manchester United in Moscow at the UEFA Cup Final, it felt good to be part of the global sporting community and celebrate the beautiful game. From my Canadian point of view, a well contested soccer match can be as rough as a good hockey game. Elbows are flying, guys are bleeding and if they had gloves, I'm sure they'd drop 'em.

One of the aspects of soccer that keeps it from gaining ground in North America is the diving which continues to plague the sport. Why can't the ref reverse his call if the injured player immediately springs up smiling and laughing? Even in today's great match Rinaldo drew a foul in the 19th minute that was clearly a dive. Once the call was made, he pops up instantly healed, laughs at his opponent and claps his hand at the ref to say - great call. Even the sideline photographers were shaking their heads in disgust at the blatant dive. As one of the world's greatest players it's a shame that he, and others, have to act this way. Rinaldo's beautiful header in the 26th minute for the opening goal was a prime example of his skill. He doesn't need the embellishments. Win on your soccer skills not your acting skills.

Frank Lampard helped Chelsea even things up with a goal in the 45th minute and it went back and forth to open the second half. Chelsea forward Drogba, who was sent off with a red card in extra time, almost made it 2-1 but he rang it off the post in the 77th minute. Lampard came close as well in extra time but as the light rain became heavier and then became a downpour, they were off to penalty kicks where Manchester United won and became UEFA Cup champs for the third time in their history, defeating Chelsea 2-1.

One last interesting note... Starting at 10:45 pm Wednesday night Moscow time and ending at nearly 2 am Thursday morning, this was the only UEFA Cup final to be played over two days.

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